Everything that’s new is scary when you’re a kid. Everyone remembers how hard it is to try new food, make new friends or move to new places. But what if you found out that your new neighbors really were monsters? That’s where Charles finds himself in Drew Weing’s excellent all-ages story The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo.
Charles is a conservative kid. Like really conservative. He even has his own conspiracy blog. He hates foreign food, art museums, opera and he especially hates the monster that lives in his closet. No one believes it’s real, but luckily Charles meets someone who does: monster expert Margo Maloo. Together they journey into the troll’s lair, expecting to “take him out,” but in a surprise twist, Margo knows him! His name’s Marcus. He’s actually a pretty cool guy.
It turns out that Margo is more of a monster mediator than a monster hunter. This means that sometimes she helps kids get rid of monsters, but more often it’s the other way around. We discover that monsters of the city have their own secret community whose way of life is under constant threat from encroaching humans. As Margo drags Charles along on a number of adventures involving these friendly neighborhood ghosts, goblins and ogres, he learns to be more open-minded toward his new and scary neighbors.
Inspired by '70s kid lit like Harriet the Spy, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The Cricket in Times Square, Margo Maloo is an imaginative mystery comic with a strong message of empathy. To stay up to date on Margo’s whereabouts, make sure you follow her faithful assistant Charles F. Thompson on Twitter.
Many readers will be surprised to learn that Raina Telgemeier is one of the most successful graphic novelists working today. Her comics may not be the stuff of spectacular blockbuster movie adaptations, but she has an uncanny eye for the subtleties of school age friendships, romantic relationships and the pain of braces (which hits especially close to home for me). She connects with readers — especially young ones — and this has led to her books outselling popular comics like The Walking Dead or whichever superhero book Marvel or DC are pushing this week. Telgemeier outpaces them with personal, self-contained stories about children and, with her new book Ghosts, Telgemeier has taken yet another step forward as a storyteller. Retaining her signature warmth and breezy humor, her subjects now include death, family illness and ghosts.
Ghosts follows a family who’s just moved to Bahía de la Luna, a seaside town whose ocean air is especially good for Maya, the youngest daughter who has cystic fibrosis. But the protagonist of the story is Catrina, Maya’s older teenage sister.
Maya is a classic child, silly and wise. She has a peace with the world that’s hard to retain when you become Catrina’s age. But Bahía de la Luna is not your average town, and the girls begin spotting ghosts and real-life spooky, scary skeletons. Maya has questions for the ghosts, but Catrina is terrified of them and the uncomfortable feelings they stir up about her sister’s health. Through many lessons, Catrina will learn that inviting ghosts into her life may be the healthiest thing she can do.
Ghosts is the perfect all-ages read, full of beautiful landscapes, cartoonish humor and wisdom. Leave it to Telgemeier to take the heaviest of subject matter and make it jovial.
The biggest hero of our time, the only creature that can rescue this dimension from an invasion of demons, the Greatest Warrior of our world…is a bean-shaped little scamp. More monster than human, more lazy than adventuring and more gluttonous than anything, the protagonist of Help Us! Great Warrior is not exactly the picture that comes to mind when imagining a legendary hero. She’s a three-foot-tall orb that wears boots and a bow on her head. She wields a sword and shield when she feels like it, but mostly because one’s shaped like a heart and the other has a cute bunny for a handle. When called upon to save the world by Hadiyah, the legendary guardian and keeper of the hero registry, her response is an awe inspiring, “Nah.” Only when her villagers are threatened — and with the encouragement of her best friend Leo — does she finally drag herself into battle.
Quirky is an understatement when it comes to the adorable, whimsical, bizarre story of Help Us! Great Warrior. It’s artistically bright and bouncy, with soft and appealing characters that make an instant and lasting impact as you enjoy each page. The humor hinges on the bizarre and unexpected, reminding readers not only visually but story-wise of other children’s epics like Adventure Time. Prepare to be enchanted by Great Warrior and her journey. She’s especially great for kids and especially inspiring for young girls, but a delight to all ages.
Yo-Kai Watch is poised to become the next Pokemon! The Nintendo 3DS game about tracking and befriending cute little Japanese folklore-inspired ghosts has landed stateside and brought with it an anime show and a manga series. Kids everywhere can get their Yo-Kai fill no matter their preferred medium.
In the first volume of the manga, Yo-Kai Watch hero Nate Adams — an ordinary elementary school student — is on his way home one afternoon when he happens across a capsule machine made of stone. To Nate’s surprise, the machine still works and grants him a stone capsule. At first he feels slightly underwhelmed by the rock, but then it goes nuts and poofs out a floaty, unibrowed, blue Yo-Kai called Whisper.
Whisper is super grateful for being freed and pledges to serve Nate as his personal butler. He even gifts Nate a swanky watch...a Yo-Kai watch! The watch emits a special light that reveals the otherwise invisible Yo-Kai to its wearer, which Nate quickly realizes makes him his look like a crazy kid as he converses with his invisible familiar in front of his friends and family.
It’s for the greater good, though. Each chapter pits Nate and Whisper against a mischievous Yo-Kai hounding people around town. First is Jibanyan, a fiery two-tailed cat who vows to get revenge on the car that ran him over. Then there’s Happierre and Dismarelda, two bulbous spirits who alter the moods of everyone and everything around them but balance one another quite perfectly. Next comes Mochismo, an animated rice cake who haunts a child who never finishes his rice cakes whenever he’s treated to them. That’s not even all of the Yo-Kai Nate meets in volume one — they’re everywhere!
Children who know and love every last Pokemon or teens who grew up with the critters should definitely check out Yo-Kai Watch.
I sat down with British illustrator and comic artist Luke Pearson while he was in town for the Small Press Expo to discuss his recent work and his ongoing graphic novel series, Hilda.
Between the Covers: How has Soft Spot [the animation you’ve been collaborating on with fellow comic artist Phillippa Rice] been going?
Luke Pearson: Phillippa is the driving force behind Soft Spot. All the stop motion stuff is entirely her. I’ve been doing smaller bits within those episodes. We haven’t collaborated that much before, so it’s nice to have something that’s actually both of us. We’re both just kind of experimenting and playing around.
BTC: You’ve also joined the pantheon of people working for Adventure Time doing some storyboarding.
LP: I’ve boarded four episodes overall and I’m hoping I can do more at some point. They’re very time consuming because I’ve always done it freelance with quite big gaps in between. It’s quite hard to get back in that mindset.
BTC: You’ve spoken before about how you’re inspired by Scandinavian myth in the creation of your own series, Hilda, but I see a lot of original world building and myth making.
LP: The Scandinavian folklore is like a jumping off point really. So much fantasy in general comes from those same stories and people just twist them and reinvent them in their own way. What I was trying to do with that was portray them in a way that is closer to how they are in the oral tales, rather than sticking a grand mythology onto them. There’s tons of stuff in Hilda which is just made up as well. I think as it goes on, it’s evolving into its own thing and the place she lives in has less of a point of reference with a real world place.
BTC: Hilda exploring the world seems like a central theme. Are you also figuring out what the rules for that reality are as you go along, or is it building on something you already know?
LP: It’s not really building towards something I already know. There are certain things that I have had locked down in my head from the start, I’m not totally winging it. But I don’t have a big bible that I wrote beforehand with all the stuff in there. I think that would feel counterproductive. As time goes on my tastes and interests change, when I draw each book I want to feel like I can change my mind about things. I’d rather do that than be a slave to this thing I made up five, six years ago that maybe I don’t agree with anymore.
BTC: Do you consider your audience as you’re working? Do you censor yourself because you know you need to appeal to kids?
LP: I don’t censor myself because I know they’re not for really little kids. It wouldn’t cross my mind to do a super dark Hilda story. What’s the point? I would just do a different comic. I want it to be a little bit scary and weird. I think kids can handle more than some people can give them credit for. If there’s a scary thing in the story, I want them to actually be scared of it. I don’t want to just put some big, goofy monster in that everyone is acting afraid of but isn’t actually scary. I always aim to resolve things in a way that is comforting.
BTC: Your next book, Hilda and the Stone Forest, is going to be coming out next year. Is there anything you can share about that project?
LP: It’s a bit different to previous ones in that it’s the first one where I feel like you probably do need to have read at least one of the other ones to get it. I’ve always been reluctant to do that in previous books, I wanted each one to be a standalone thing, but as I get deeper into the series it makes less and less sense. I feel like people enjoy the way the world is growing and it feels like a shame to gloss over all the other things. The start of the book will be the kind of things Hilda’s been getting up to. Hilda has so many magical-ish friends and tricky ways that her mom is getting slightly irate. She’s off on adventures all the time, possibly covering up how dangerous they may or may not be. It will be the first story where Hilda and her mum actually go on an adventure together.
BTC: I really like the way you’ve been portraying their dynamic. They’re obviously parent and child but they get along and it’s not stereotypical, you convey a more complex relationship.
LP: I’ve just naturally become more interested in exploring the mom character. She was just there in the first couple of books to explain how Hilda exists in the world, because she can’t live on her own. That character’s just been evolving to the point where, in this one, they’re co-leads. It’s tricky to do but I want the child reader to slowly pick up on the fact that she’s not just a mom, she is a person. It seems like in a lot of children’s fiction the parent is just a source of comfort or a source of antagonism and that’s it. They’re like a caricature. I like the idea of a kid empathizing and relating to the mom in a personal way rather than relating their idea of their mom. It’s hard to see your own parents like that until you get older.
BTC: Are you finding any of your own childhood emerging when you’re writing?
LP: I had a pretty comfortable, pleasant childhood but stuff does kind of come through. The last book all the stuff where she joins the Sparrow Scouts, that was kind of based on my experience as a scout.
BTC: Did you enjoy scouts?
LP: Yes and no, which I think I was trying to get across for Hilda. I like the idea of it and I did have fun at times, but I also didn’t enjoy it that much for not quite the same reasons as Hilda. I was just always very shy. I liked messing around but I always felt like I wasn’t very good at actual, legitimate scout stuff. As a kid I basically only enjoyed sitting and drawing and making stuff up.
BTC: What are you reading right now?
LP: I’m actually reading the Earthsea series for the first time. It’s really good. I’ve only read the first book so far but it’s incredible. I’ve had this boxed set since I was a kid, I think they were my mom’s. I’ve been carrying them around forever.
The next Hilda book, Hilda and the Stone Forest, is due to be released in Spring of 2016.
If you already love the Crystal Gems from Cartoon Network’s hit show, Steven Universe, Volume One is a collection of short stories to enhance and enrich your interaction with the characters and their world. Writer Jeremy Sorese and artist Coleman Engle bring to life Steven and his space-warrior guardians Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl as they go on magic-laden adventures in the name of protecting the Earth and developing Steven’s budding magic powers. Including life-skills lessons and graphic shorts just for fun, the book includes wisdom about friendship, family and even a recipe or two!
The comics are light, lusciously colored and beautifully drawn. The mood ranges from laugh-aloud funny to softly melancholy and meaningful, taking advantage of the full artistic range of both the artists and the writers. Although familiarity with the animated cartoon will enrich the reader’s appreciation of these graphic shorts in context of their larger world, the book is a delightful introduction to Steven’s home of Beach City and a great read for kids and adult-sized kids alike.
Make sure to pair your Steven Universe experience with Gem Glow, or similar reads such as Adventure Time, Bee and Puppycat and Bravest Warriors.
The legends of Bigfoot and his cryptid relatives (Yeti, Chupacabra, etc.) have been around for centuries, but author/illustrator Kevin Sherry has put a new spin on this old standard. In The Yeti Files #1: Meet the Bigfeet, Sherry tells the story from a Yeti’s point of view. Told in semi-graphic novel style with lots of illustrations, the reader is introduced to Blizz Richards, the Yeti narrator, and many of his friends and relatives. After receiving an invitation to a Bigfeet family reunion, Blizz relates how such reunions used to be held annually until his cousin Brian broke the code of the cryptid community and vanished forever.
Filled with silly humor, the story follows the plight of Blizz and his helpers — a goblin, an elf and an Arctic fox — as they try to find Brian and thwart the attempts of an evil cryptozoologist who wants to expose the cryptids to the world! While elementary aged children will undoubtedly enjoy the illustrations and offbeat story, Sherry has put enough subtle details in his drawings to entertain older readers too. The vocabulary can be a bit daunting, but Sherry does explain some of the more difficult terms (for example, cryptid is “a hidden animal whose existence has never been proven”). The first book in a new series, the story ends with a teaser for the next installment which may involve the Loch Ness Monster!
Kevin Sherry is a local Baltimore author who also founded Squidfire.com, an online t-shirt business.
At turns hilarious and poignant, Sisters marks Raina Telgemeier’s latest autobiographical graphic novel reminiscence of her childhood and adolescence. This family story is a companion of sorts to her earlier Eisner Award-winning Smile. The events of a fateful summer of her early adolescence are clearly depicted in episodic arcs which show the early days of two young artists. As the book opens, Raina, her younger sister Amara, and little brother Will are packing camping supplies with their mom as they travel from San Francisco to a family reunion in Colorado. This road trip doesn’t go quite as planned, of course, and the journey plainly displays a long-seething sibling rivalry between the two girls. In flashbacks, Raina’s initial desire for a baby sister quickly turns sour when Amara’s personality doesn’t match Raina’s expectations.
And there are other issues at play here as well – Raina’s father has been laid off from his job, and her parents’ relationship suffers because of it. A string of ill-conceived pet adoptions, culminating in a snake escape, adds another wrinkle of tension among the family members. But the concerns are limited compared to the amusing situations Raina finds herself in. Telgemeier’s signature vibrant line-drawings are deceptively simple, and her characters are portrayed with expressive detail. The full-color illustrations make for an appealing package which is easy to follow, given the non-linear chronology. Readers can easily empathize with the Telgemeier family and their frustrations and triumphs. Sisters is a quick, pleasurable read, and the book will become a sure-bet for siblings dealing with conflict.
Koji Miyamoto’s 13th birthday is quickly tarnished by the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a half-Japanese American during World War II, Koji’s life dramatically changes on that fateful day. Gaijin: American Prisoner of War is a graphic novel by Matt Faulkner which describes this ugly period in American history in heartbreaking detail.
Koji’s day begins innocently enough as he listens to the Lone Ranger on the radio while helping his mother with the dishes. When the attack is announced, he and his mother have to look up Pearl Harbor in the atlas. Koji immediately wonders if his Japanese father could have been flying one of the attack planes. His father had returned to Japan the summer before to take care of a sick family member. After a night of bad dreams, Koji heads to school only to discover he is persona non grata everywhere — at school, on the streetcar and on the street. As the government increases restriction on Japanese Americans, Koji’s innocence is lost forever when he is sent to a “relocation camp.” Outside of the camp he is ostracized for being half-Japanese, inside he is tormented for being half-white.
Faulkner’s novel is a powerful piece of historical fiction told graphically. Koji’s journey to adulthood under terrible conditions is beautifully detailed in color as he deals with discrimination, tough choices and growing up. Faulkner also neatly teaches the reader about a dark piece of American history, when over 110,000 Americans were made prisoners of war in their own country.
For more information on the subject, Faulkner has created a website - www.gaijinamericanprisonerofwar.com.
Beloved character Hello Kitty returns to delight in a third graphic novel Hello Kitty: Surprise! by Jacob Chabot and Ian McGinty. A compilation of 10 short stories, this nearly wordless book follows Hello Kitty and her friends on a myriad of adventures. Whether they are enjoying a day at the beach, finding a large, mysterious egg or going on a pirate adventure, each story has some sort of unexpected twist that will keep you wondering what could possibly happen next. Can a book really transport you to another place? And what will Kitty’s parents do when they come to Kitty’s rocking birthday party? Hello Kitty fans are sure to enjoy!
If you are looking for a picture book to enjoy with your little cat lover, look no further than Nat the Cat Can Sleep Like That written by Victoria Allenby and illustrated by Tara Anderson. It’s daytime, and while the world buzzes around him, Nat the cat is enjoying his naps. Whether in dresser drawers or in front of doors, on the stairs or on chairs, this orange tabby can be found sleeping in all kinds of strange, albeit realistic places. Despite all that his black and white kitten buddy tries, Nat will not let the noise of the piano the kitten’s juggling act disturb him from getting a nice daytime snooze. However, there is one thing that Nat cannot sleep through. Can you guess what that is? To find out, you will just have to pick up this whimsical rhyming book filled with playful and fun illustrations.