Having won the 2015 Eisner Award for both “Best New Series” and “Best Publication for Teens,” Lumberjanes, by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis and Brooke Allen, is a series to keep an eye on. The Lumberjanes, a group of five snappy scouts at a camp for “Hardcore Lady Types,” are an endearing bunch whose wacky adventures are sure to elicit smiles.
The power of “Friendship to the Max” gets the girls through a number of sticky situations, ranging from dodging their strict cabin supervisor after hours to battling sea monsters armed only with their scrunchies. Yetis, were-bears and outhouses full of raptors aside, Lumberjanes is a book about friendship and individuality. April, Jo, Mal, Molly and Ripley each have their own quirks and skills that, when combined, make for an unstoppable force of feel-good girl power.
Fans of other offbeat series like Adventure Time or Bee and PuppyCat will feel right at home with Lumberjanes. Allen’s artwork is stylized and modern, the action is exhilarating and the zany sense of humor has something to offer readers of all ages. The film rights have recently been picked up by 20th Century Fox, so read Lumberjanes soon before everyone else is wondering “what the Joan Jett” this series is all about!
Gotham Academy’s Olive Silverlock doesn’t pretend to be a slice of life protagonist. She’s a high school student at a gloomy Halloween-Castle-esque school in the heart of Gotham, dealing with hauntings, crocodiles in the pipework, mysterious and unwelcome cult meetings in the friendly campus mausoleum and, of course, semi-regular visits from Bruce Wayne himself. Authors Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher follow the creed of “start your story as late as possible” — although this is only volume one, Olive’s life is already in chaos as she deals with the outcome of her mysterious summer. Everyone seems to be whispering about what happened to her, and what it was that could be causing her to act so distant, even frightening. What connection does Olive’s new demeanor have to her mother, recently committed to Arkham Asylum? Will it strain her relationship with her boyfriend Kyle to the breaking point, or alienate his sister, chipper genius Maps? Don’t look for answers just yet, because the story’s just getting started.
Gotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy is teen experience expressed honestly and beautifully. With grounded yet fantastical writing and Karl Kerschl’s absorbing artwork, each page brings you fully into a wonderfully gothic and magical universe comparable to Narnia and Hogwarts. Kerschl’s environments especially should be commended, since he elevates each page to the style of classical painting with his detail, lighting and diverse color palettes.
Sam Bosma’s debut graphic novel Fantasy Sports is a late gift to any kid who felt gym class lacked a Tolkien-esque quality.
Fantasy Sports introduces us to Wiz, a young magician beginning her internship in the mage’s guild under the tutelage of the older, grumpier Mean Mug. It’s not going great. They don’t get along, and Wiz is less than thrilled that Mean Mug doesn’t seem to know any magic. But after a chewing out from their supervisor, the two are sent to prove themselves on a treasure hunt in a mummy’s tomb. This leads them to evil skeletons, magic puzzles and a basketball game with a smack-talking mummy (of course).
Similar to Scott Pilgrim or Adventure Time, this book mixes the tropes of fantasy and video games with the heightened drama of adolescence. Like peanut butter and chocolate, it works like a charm. Although a couple of crude remarks make this book inappropriate for young children, older readers will find it infectiously fun. You’ll feel yourself swept back to a time when a friendly game of basketball had the life-or-death stakes of a boss battle.
Popular even before it was complete, award-winning before it was published, Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona is a unique debut graphic novel about heroes, villains, monsters and peeling off those labels to see the people underneath. Our story begins when longtime supervillain Ballister Blackheart receives an unexpected visitor in his secret lair — stout little Nimona, a young and eccentric shape-shifter who insists on becoming his evil sidekick. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Nimona’s commitment to evil might be a little more heartfelt than Blackheart’s, and the question of which side of the fight is truly righteous comes into question not too long after.
Emotional backstory, in-depth character writing, a complex, strangely believable fantasy universe that combines medieval-style armor with apparatus of science fiction are all to be found in Nimona. Stevenson’s cartooning style, often praised for its expressive energy and humor, proves equally effective when expressing the dark, dismal and threatening — and a cool shadow dragon or two. LGBT readers can take note of the warm handling of the gay relationship in the book as well. It is written so subtly it has the effect of normalizing the subject rather than pointing aggressive arrows towards it.
After working on her last series for four years, mangaka — that’s someone who writes and illustrates manga — Go Ikeyamada has a super-fun and adorable new series called So Cute It Hurts!! The first volume of So Cute It Hurts!! follows identical twins Megumu and Mitsuru Kobayashi as they meet their first real high school crushes at the same time. Apparently, it’s a twin thing.
Megumu, or Mego for short, is a hapless history otaku who knows everything about Japan’s feudal warlords. Mitsuru is really good with a kendo sword and fights for his school team, but he’s even better with the ladies from the visiting schools. While his body is agile, his mind is not so sharp, and he’s bombing his history class. Knowing that his sis is well-versed in Japanese lore, he asks her to swap clothes with him and go to his all-boys school to take a test and save his grade. Mego likes her brother, but not enough to agree to such a hackneyed scheme.
When she wakes up the next day, Mego finds a wig and a note from Mitsuru in her room and realizes that he’s already absconded with her books and school uniform. Begrudgingly, she equips his slacks and hoodie and heads to his school, only to be accosted by the third toughest guy in the entire student body. Meanwhile, Mitsuru, dressed as Mego — “I’m so cute it hurts!!” — witnesses the class beauty tormenting a girl for being different, and can’t help but intervene. Neither Kobayashi twin realizes they’re about to meet the person of their dreams, but as their school days progress they draw closer to the fateful encounters that’ll leave them breathless and starry-eyed.
So Cute It Hurts!! is filled with lots of manga in-jokes that fans of the medium will appreciate, but newcomers will still laugh out loud at the silliness of the plot and the situations in which the twins find themselves. Ikeyamada’s art mixes traditional anime styles with adorable chibi stand-ins on nearly every page, giving the story a very light-hearted feel. So Cute It Hurts!! is shaping up to be a great teenaged romantic comedy that manga fans should definitely check out.
Writer Reki Kawahara and designer abec have experienced unbridled success in the past half-decade with their original series Sword Art Online. In 2009, the first SAO light novel about virtual reality video games with real-life implications was released. The novel has since been expanded to 15 volumes and has spawned two seasons worth of anime, three PlayStation games, a handful of mobile games and eight manga adaptations. The most recent manga book to arrive stateside is Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops, and it’s just as fun and endearing as the original SAO. It’s definitely cuter, too.
In SAO:GO, series favorites Suguha, Rika and Keiko are coping pretty well with the aftermath of the Aincrad tragedy, and are still just as hopelessly addicted to online gaming as ever. The trio play the new VRMMO Alfheim Online religiously, and are ecstatic to find a new add-on quest has arrived after a long day at the SAO returnees school. Dubbed “the Angel’s Whisper Rings,” the adventure has the young ladies aiding an angel in strife while proving their devotion to one another to earn powerful rings of friendship.
The three dive into Alfeim Online ready to take on the new high-level quest as their avatars Leafa, Silica and Lisbeth, using their previous experience with the angel in SAO as a starting point. On their way to find her, the trio encounters a familiar dual-wielding swordsman clad in a midnight-black coat. Fans of the series will know it’s fate that unites the girls with this swordsman, but will never foresee the impending twist that makes SAO:GO an enjoyable departure from the previous SAO adventures.
SAO:GO is a quirky, adorable spinoff of the Japanese megahit Sword Art Online. Readers who have enjoyed SAO arcs Aincrad, Fairy Dance and Progressive will find so much to love about Girls’ Ops. Gamers and anime fans alike should also check this out.
Journalist, novelist and activist Cory Doctorow has teamed up with illustrator and cartoonist Jen Wang to create an unprecedented graphic novel about a girl gamer who discovers real social issues lurking behind the colorful facade of her favorite online world. In Real Life is one of the first books written for the burgeoning audience of self-identifying girl gamers, which is growing at an exponential rate as more girls — and women — embrace their passion for gaming.
Anda, the heroine of In Real Life, enjoys playing Dungeons and Dragons with her friends during their lunch period, kicks butt in her Python computer programming class and walks the high school halls worrying more about surviving a tough boss fight than she does about staying fashionably relevant. With her mother’s blessing (and credit card), she delves into the digital world of Coarsegold Online and becomes totally enthralled, allying herself with a guild of other like-minded girl gamers. Quests call Anda and a feisty guildmate to a hidden verdant enclave lousy with gold farmers — players who repeatedly collect valuable items to sell to other players for real money. Anda and her friend defeat the illicit farmers and take their items and gold to stymie the questionable practice.
Initially, Anda is excited to be completing quests and leveling up her character, but after a gold farmer shows some compassion and helps her obtain a rare item, she begins to ponder the consequences of her actions. Who are the other players behind these foreign avatars? Why do they congregate in droves and move around in secrecy? What does "Ni Hao" mean? And most importantly, what happens when they’re killed and lose their farming progress?
Doctorow’s purpose-driven storyline presents many social issues that may be unknown to people who have yet to be acquainted with online gaming, and Wang’s adorable artwork inspires a world teeming with vibrant beauty and softens the blow of an otherwise rough reality check. In Real Life is a great read for anyone who enjoys young adult graphic novels, and is essential for MMO and gaming fanatics.
When it comes to comic books and graphic novels, Jeff Lemire is a 21st century Renaissance man. Hailing from Canada, he has been recognized numerous times for his prowess in both storytelling and artistry. Lemire has written and drawn most of his works completely on his own, but he also fares incredibly well when teaming up with other writers and inkers at DC Comics.
Lemire’s sci-fi brain bender Trillium is an eight-issue comic series published over the span of August 2013 to April 2014. In Trillium, adventurers Nika and William are torn from their worlds by occult magic and thrust together in an alien jungle on a foreign planet. Through this supernatural machination, the couple becomes intertwined, although they don’t realize it at first since they’re unable to communicate due to language disparities. Nika and William fight to understand each other while combing the flora and fauna in search of the rare trillium flower, which is thought to be the only possible cure to a sentient, space-travelling supervirus that has decimated humanity.
Trillium is confounding and strangely beautiful. Navigating dimensions with William and Nika is a thrilling experience with a rewarding narrative that endears readers to persevere. Throughout the series, Lemire toys with conventional comic layout standards and actually has readers flipping the book upside down and reading from back to front, conveying the disorientation the characters are feeling. Lemire’s signature mixed medium art style leaves each page messy and scrawled, evoking hysteria and tension. His ability to convey emotions through his characters’ faces is incredible; oftentimes it isn’t what’s said, but what’s left unsaid that resonates in Lemire’s works. The same is true of his 2008-2009 Essex County Trilogy, which has been praised as one of the best Canadian graphic novels of its decade.
There was a time when child sleuths were all the rage, when Nate the Great, Encyclopedia Brown, the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift solved crime along with just being kids. John Allison has brought mystery solving-teens back, and they are wittier than ever. Bad Machinery: The Case of the Good Boy is based on a the daily "Bad Machinery webcomic. It's girls vs. boys as babies go missing and any number of large, hairy beasties may or may not be invading the neighborhood.
Representing the girls, there's Lottie, all attitude and puff jackets. Shauna is the brains. Mildred has just found an incredibly large, friendly dog who just so happens to drink from a cup.
On the boys' side, there is Linton, most notable for a profound lack of tact. Jack is the quiet one who attracts the ladies. Sonny is sort of like a human Golden Retriever.
John Allison once described his writing style as word mangling, and it starts with the very first page.
"It's perfectly natural for babies to be out in nature, Carol!"
"The babies are getting quite dirty."
"Stop FUSSING and help me make their gruel."
It's all sideways from there, as bullies, scouting, stinky younger siblings, and dogless families are navigated. There's a missing magic pencil and a case of arson. Everything is bounced through at a well-measured pace. Allison has been writing comics in this universe for well over a decade now, and he knows exactly what he wants to do with every panel. The art looks intentionally rough and energetic.
While the main story is found online, the book ends with six pages of supplemental material that won't be found anywhere else. They're the perfect, silly complement to an already high-quality print.
Canadian cousins Jillian and Mariko Tamaki team up on This One Summer, a swirling, breathtaking graphic novel that recounts the time in a girl’s life when childhood innocence comes to a crashing end. Rose, an only child, goes to cottage country north of Toronto every summer with her parents. There, they meet up with another neighbor family, including Windy, who has been Rose’s slightly younger playmate for years. Windy, too, is an only child, and the two find themselves quickly reacquainting and sharing their days together. But Rose’s adolescent leanings, coupled with tension between her parents, mean that this summer will be different.
Jillian Tamaki’s purple-blue ink illustrations perfectly capture the churning, confusing and sometimes somber moodiness that Rose endures as the events of the summer pass. From carefree days splashing in the lake and watching slasher DVDs with Windy to dealing with her parents’ marital breakdown, Rose’s progression is clearly defined. Her first crush, on a convenience store clerk (who has troubles all his own), is well-depicted in all its unrequited awkwardness. Mariko Tamaki’s words are equally effective, as many older teens and adults will see their own lives in the thoughts and actions of the young friends. Frank language and mature topics such as depression and pregnancy are handled carefully but without patronizing to the intended age of the readership. Particularly successful is the way the Tamakis choose to tell the tale — without judgment or outspoken morality. The bittersweet conclusion is open-ended and purposely lacking forced resolution, showing that adolescence — and life itself — is a continuum that will go on long past that one summer.