Tag Archive for children’s comics

Review: Hilda and the Black Hound by Luke Pearson

Hilda and the Black HoundChildhood can feel like a magical time, full of mystery and infinite possibilities. Sadly, as we get older, the creatures and monsters we dream up fade away and we’re left with a reality that’s much less interesting.

And that’s exactly why Luke Pearson‘s Hildafolk series is a delight. In Hilda’s world, magical creatures are commonplace, to the point of being mundane (did you dog have antlers like Hilda’s pet, Twig?). The charm of these books are effortless and joyful.

As Hilda and the Black Hound (Flying Eye Books/Nobrow, 2014) begins, Hilda’s mother decides it’s time she makes some friends in Trolberg and signs her up for the Sparrow Scouts. Meanwhile, the house spirits known as Nisses are being banished from their homes while the big black hound of the title is being spotted all over the city of Trolberg.

Hilda is an infinitely sweet heroine, and her desire for knowledge always leads her to want to help. She wants to give something to the Nisse Tontu when she first spots him, despite her mother’s insistence to leave him alone because Nisse are only kicked out of their houses when they do something bad (“But wouldn’t it still be a good thing?” she pleads, regardless). Her belief in the goodness of people (and creatures!) does often lead her into trouble, it’s what gives her strength and makes her someone to root for.

Pearson’s art has a playful softness to it. Hilda’s huge, round eyes reveal her constant curiosity and the Nisses are all big noses and beards. The color palette is usually muted primaries with a few twists of brighter purples and darker shadows and the backgrounds offer enough detail to make the world feel lived in without taking away from the deceptive simplicity of the character design.

Pearson shines in action scenes, which are often wordless. He lets panels flow into the next, moving the readers’ eyes along at a quick pace, making the book feel more like watching an animated cartoon. These parts of the book are often quite funny and since Hilda is rarely afraid, neither are the readers.

Pearson also packs in plenty of plot into the slight page count, but the story never feels overburdened, even with a few playful surprise thrown in. He balances Hilda’s real-world concerns (living up to her mother’s expectations as a Sparrow Scout) with her more magical concerns in a quiet, understated way. Hilda is ultimately just trying to do good and make those around her happy.

These are gorgeous books and Flying Eye, like Nobrow before it, continues to be a publisher to watch. The Hildafolk books all feel like they’re children’s books for the ages as soon as you read them and Hilda and the Black Hound is a beautiful addition to the series. My only complaint is that it’s probably another year until the next one, but I know it will be worth the wait.

Copy of Hilda and the Black Hound provided by the publisher.

Growing Up With Graphics at Politics and Prose

Eleanor Davis, left, Nathan Hale, Andrés Vera Martínez, and Mark Siegel with moderator Michael Cavna at Politics & Prose on April 27

Eleanor Davis, left, Nathan Hale, Andrés Vera Martínez, and Mark Siegel with moderator Michael Cavna at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., on April 27.

We’re in the middle of an amazing era of comics for children and teenagers. There’s truly something for all interests and reading levels right now with more and more comics coming out every week.

Still, as much as both children, parents and educators are embracing comics, some still view them with some doubt and suspicion. Growing Up With Graphics at Politics and Prose on April 27 tried to answer some of these lingering questions and enlightened the audience about this medium.

Moderated by the Washington Post’s Michael Cavna, the lineup of creators was diverse, in both subject matter and audience. Eleanor Davis is known for both her Stinky books for Toon Books and Secret Science Alliance. Nathan Hale is illustrator of Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack and creator of his own series, Hazardous Tales. Andrés Vera Martínez is probably best known for Little White Duck, based on his wife’s childhood in China. While Mark Siegel is a comics creator in his own right (like with last year’s Sailor Twain, which as was pointed out at several times during the panel, is not for children), he’s probably more significantly known as the editorial director of First Second.

Cavna offered some background and context for the panel with a story about his daughter having a book report rejected because it was about David Small’s Stitches. The teacher decided since it was a comic, it was not a “real” book. He then had the panel introduce themselves by saying how they got into comics.

Davis said she grew up with comics. Her parents really liked classic newspaper strips so they were always around. In junior high school, she started reading manga and by high school and later, developed an interest in zines, minicomics and self-publishing. Hale said since he didn’t have a comic book store in his town, his only exposure to comics were through newspaper strips and it was his interest in illustration that lead him to comics. Siegel talked about growing up in France, where comics are much more accepted, and how his family had a set of Tintin books that got passed down through the generations.

Martínez’s story was more at the heart of what the panel was about. He said he was a reluctant reader and his uncle introduced him to Marvel Comics. He was attracted to the art initially and the majored in art in college. He did some illustration work and storyboards for ad agencies (which he called “comics on speed”). His agent found him the job working on Before They Were Famous: Babe Ruth and while the subject matter didn’t particular interest him, the artform of comics did.

Cavna noted that all of the panelists had collaborated with someone else, and most with a family member or spouse. He asked what the best and worst parts of such collaborations were.

Martínez said his wife didn’t think her stories were interesting enough to be shared, so she took some convincing. But, he said, once the book found a publisher and he told her their trips to China could be tax write-offs, she got more and more excited. Probably the best part of it, he said, is when they got to be on NPR and his wife was starstruck by the whole experience.

Davis said that while Secret Science Alliance is “technically my book” she kept showing pages to her husband Drew Weing and getting his advice on them, that it got to the point where she wondered if she needed to give him credit. As it turned out, she ended up facing a time crunch and had him ink the book for her.

She said it was pretty great working with him and it was “a relief to work with someone you can fight with.” She said she loved that she knew there was one other person who was as emotionally involved in the book as she was.

Cavna then asked what obstacles they face when creating comics for children.

Siegel said that he thinks when it comes to booksellers and librarians, the battle has been won. There are so many comics for children right now, they can fill bookstores on their own. Hale said that while a few educators may not be fans, reluctant readers usually turn them around.

Davis said that she felt the people who say comics aren’t “real” books just don’t like comics, period. She said it’s “like me talking about video games” – that’s just not something she’s interested in. Her attitude seemed to be that not everyone was going to enjoy comics regardless of what anyone did and that was OK.

Martínez said technology has helped – with PowerPoint and projectors, you can bring comics into classrooms and to school groups and everyone gets to see what they’re about and how the children react to them. The children tend to love it and he likes visiting them.

There was then a discussion about comics literacy – that some people, especially adults, find comics hard to read. Hale mentioned he only started reading comics when he was 19 or 20 and he struggled a bit initially. He said it’s more like watching a movie with subtitles.

Siegel agreed that prose and comics do different things and use different circuitry in the brain. He said “you read the words and you read the pictures” and sometimes that can be a difficult skill for people to learn.

Cavna then asked about demographics – both in terms of age groups and gender.

Siegel said First Second tries to have something for all age groups each publishing season – from younger readers to teens. He said that graphic novels do need to be sold into a specific age category, for good or bad.

Davis said she thinks that reading comics gives children a lot of confidence and they don’t mind reading above or below their age level as long as the comic is good. She said she has older children who like Stinky and younger ones who like Secret Science Alliance.

As far as gender goes, she said when she started reading comics “it was a boys’ club” and the general consensus was there was “something about girls that makes them hate comics.” The manga boom proved that to not be true, though, and she’s delighted at how many great comics there are right now for girls.

Martínez said he did set out to make his wife a role model for girls and he did have his daughter in mind when doing that. He wasn’t trying to write for a specific age with Little White Duck but liked that having everything take places through a child’s eyes made the events and history more accessible.

Hale said that while his publisher markets Hazardous Tales toward boys, girls like it too, especially the dark and gross parts. He said his next one is about the Donner Party and it was the girls who wanted to know everything. “Little girls are morbid,” he said.

Cavna asked how they balance the growing digital market when it comes to their comics. Davis laughed and said “I pray every day my younger readers don’t find my online stuff.” Martínez agreed and mentioned he did some comics for the TV show Dexter, which he has tried to bury a bit (lest you think he’s ashamed, he also laughed and said “Dexter bought us a car!”) Hale said his online site is very clean and he finds it good for exercising his skills but he likes print more.

Siegel mentioned his experiences serializing Sailor Twain online before it was published. He said it was good for research and gave him time to revise and work things over and it led to other things that may not have happened if he had just published it in book form.

Cavna concluded by asking what memorable things people have said or written about them. Martínez bowed out, saying GoodReads and such was too scary.

Hale laughed and said a review said his art was “wobbly” and he suffered from “same face syndrome” which he didn’t even know it was a thing until he read that.

Siegel told a story about the Prince of Persia graphic novel First Second published. He said he read on a video game message board that someone wrote “The art sucks! It looks hand drawn!”

After that, the panelists tookquestions from the audience (I couldn’t stay for this portion, though).

The four creators did make a good case for comics and their abilities to reach a wider audience of readers. I’d like to think skeptical members of the audience were convinced and will be happily buying titles by them and others for the children in their lives. At the very least, I think everyone left with the impression there is clearly something to this whole comics-for-kids thing, and I couldn’t ask for anything else.

Announcing Near Miss: Mainstream Comics for Women and Girls

This year will mark 15 years since I first started Comicsgirl and 10 since it was resurrected as a blog. To celebrate these milestones, I am launching a yearlong project called Near Miss: Mainstream Comics for Women and Girls.

While focus of my blog has evolved since the early days when I wanted to write about comics I thought women and girls would enjoy, I’m still fascinated by this subject and I wanted to explore the successes and failures that the big three publishers — Marvel, DC, and Image — in reaching a female audience.

This isn’t going to be academic, nor is it meant to be. My general  guidelines in selecting a title were:

  • Except for earlier romance comics, the titles needed to come out, more or less, in my lifetime.
  • I didn’t want anything from the past five years since I wanted to be able to have perspective on these comics.
  • Other than one notable exception, I avoided titles that were direct tie-ins with cartoons or toys.

The list was compiled with input from knowledgeable friends. While there may be some debate as to why a title was or wasn’t selected, this isn’t meant to be definitive or comprehensive. Mostly, it is meant to be fun.

Near Miss will be a semi-regular feature throughout all of 2013, with the first one appearing next week. Follow the specific posts through the category page. There are some other components to this project in the works, too. More will be revealed during the year.

I hope you join me. I’ve enjoyed putting this together so far and I think you’ll enjoy the results.

This project is sponsored by Big Planet Comics.

Review: Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

After saving the world (well, a world) in Zita the Spacegirl, Zita’s back and dealing with her new-found notoriety (aided in part by Piper, of course) as well as more galactic threats, robots and other assorted creatures in Ben Hatke‘s sequel, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl (First Second, 2012).

After a robot accidentally replaces Zita, she finds herself on the run from the law. She’s aided by the beautiful and mysterious Madrigal and a living ship as she has to get back to her friends and stop another threat.

Light on dialogue and heavy on action, Hatke pushes the plot forward at every moment.  His style is a little bit looser than it is in the first book but still retains the dynamic, animated quality the first one had. Colors are a bit more vibrant and bold than they were in the first book. Hatke’s skills at presenting the openness of space or vast landscapes is complimented by the intimacy of his smaller moments. He uses the space of his pages and panels well.

His images and creatures continue to be creative and delightful. Hatke is a wonder at building worlds were anything is possible and so giant space heart monsters and living ships that look like flowers don’t feel out of place. He’s clearly having fun and it’s hard to not get caught up in that.

Silent scenes (although some are peppered with sound effects) do more to convey Zita’s wonder, fear and perseverance than any dialogue could. She’s growing into a strong and capable young heroine (and her interest and fascination with Madrigal points to a possible future path for Zita). She’s fun, likeable and a realistic little girl and I can see why people of all ages continue to connect with her.

Still, the book has a manic, breathless quality and I felt we didn’t get to spend at much time with Zita since she was always on the move. The other returning characters also suffered a bit — Piper, especially, isn’t given much to do — and the new ones drop in and out. I imagine Madrigal will be showing up again but while I loved the way Robot Zita’s story was resolved, it felt a little rushed.

But there’s more Zita stories coming and as much as I’d love for Zita to get back home, I want to follow her planet-hopping adventures for as long as possible.

Ben Hatke will be signing copies of his books at Big Planet Comics Vienna (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and College Park (3 to 5 p.m.) on Nov. 10. This was rescheduled from Nov. 3.

Review: Drama

Theater is a strange life. Like many forms of art, it tends to attract people who don’t quite fit in elsewhere. For everyone I know involved in theater, this started early. It’s something they fell into and never fell back out of. It’s their passion. It’s their life. Even if they end up doing something else, they never quite leave it behind.

As much as Raina Telgemeier‘s Drama (Graphix/Scholastic, 2012) is about crushes and young love, it’s also about the theater and the community of friends it creates.

Our cute, purple-haired protagonist, Callie, has found her passion early. She loves theater — but refreshingly, her heart is backstage. It’s great to see a young girl character in a story about theater that isn’t interested in being on stage. She’s too busy making big plans for her set design and puzzling out special effects. She’s not toiling away in obscurity waiting to be discovered; instead, she knows exactly what she wants to be doing and does it well. She has her moments of self-doubt and confusion (usually involving her relationships with boys!) but her confidence in herself is delightful.

I loved the realism of Callie’s relationships with the boys in her life — her initial boldness with Greg and her tentative affection toward Jesse as well as her playful and sweet friendship with Justin. Equally great is how she relates to the girls in the book — while there is a bit of conflict with her best friend Liz, they’re clearly best friends. Even Bonnie, who’d be a “mean girl” in another book isn’t presented to be that much of a threat but just someone who runs in a different social circle.

I don’t think Telgemeier’s art has ever been stronger.  She seems to have pulled in a few more manga-inspired touches — big, expressive eyes and exaggerated facial expressions. As sharp and perceptive as her writing always is, much of the joy of this book is in the silent panels. Her ability to communicate complex emotions, from Callie’s joy, concentration and worry, and quiet moments with deceptively simple lines is unrivaled. Telgemeier makes comics look so effortless.

While my advance reader copy was mostly in black and white, the few pages of color by Gurihiru that I did get went far to set the mood of this book. I can’t wait to see the whole thing in color.

Perhaps the greatest joy of Drama is how perceptive an eye and ear Telgemeier has for kids of this age. She never talks down to them. One of my major complaints about a lot of middle grade and young adult novels is that the characters seem to act like an adult’s conception of what kids and teens should be like rather than how they actually are.  In some ways, Callie and her friends may seem a bit older than their 12 and 13 years, but in other ways, they’re exactly how I remember being at that age, just with more computers and text messages. You don’t realize how young you are: you end up being a strange mix of innocent and perceptive, smart and awkward. These are kids figuring out who they want to be and that’s something that’s easy to relate to at any age.

And to me, that’s the greatest takeaway of Drama: how much of myself, even now, I saw in it. I’d love to tell Callie and the kids her age reading about her that these things get easier — that boys stop being confusing and that everything goes the way you want. But I can’t. What I can say, though, is that if you believe in and admire Callie, you’ll have a pretty good head start on the rest of us.