I’ve had a lot of time to think lately. Like many of you, I’m not a huge fan of too much mental downtime, and as this whole shelter-in-place things has stretched into its next month I’ve felt an increasing need to fill some of the empty spots between my ears. I’ve done so, at least in part, by giving myself little challenges that feel productive, if only to me. I’ve improved my bread baking skills. I’ve taken on knitting projects for which I had to lean new stitches. I made my first soufflé. I wrote a horror novella.
Some of these challenges have gone well. Some have been less successful (why does this lace pattern scarf suddenly have 107 stitches? I don’t…damn it). As I was contemplating the sum total the other day, however, I realized I hadn’t yet done any sort of comics challenge.
And thus Comics A–Z was born.
I’m going to pick a topic and then, I’m going to find y’all a book for (hopefully) every letter of the alphabet under that general umbrella. Don’t worry, I’m not going to inundate you with 26 recommendations at once; we’ll go with 4–6 per post.
Since we’re all (rightfully) very much in our feelings at the moment, let’s start with EMOTIONS.
Pete and Al Montague love solving mysteries. And it doesn’t hurt that they and their adopted sister Charlie happen to have some magical ability that gives their natural detective skills a bump when they need it. Of course, these teenage phenoms can’t ignore the appearance of a ghostly witch in their small, New England town; they’ll figure out where she came from, why she’s back, and what she wants even if it’s the…death of them in The Montague Twins: The Witch’s Hand by Nathan Page and Drew Shannon (Knopf; July 14)
Set in 1969, The Witch’s Hand is the perfect blend of history, family drama, and paranormal adventure that will captivate readers as much as its mystery captivates its heroes.
In sharing the story of how she found joy, and a new self, after Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis syndrome took her vision, her hearing, and so many things she loved, Vivian Chong has given all of us who have struggled, and continue to struggle, with chronic illness a great gift: Dancing after TEN: A Graphic Memoir (Fantagraphics; 6/2). Though retracing her steps must have been painful and difficult, when a corneal transplant gave Chong 20% of her vision back for mere weeks, the artist, dancer, and musician rushed to render her experiences in paint and ink, ultimately teaming up with Georgia Webber to finish the book not only for herself but for all of us who find ourselves unable to go home again. “It’s okay,” Chong reminds us. “I know it hurts. But when you’re ready, you can, and will, build a new home.” “You can’t add more time to your life,” she explains. “But you can add more life to your time.” When we’re not enough for ourselves, Vivian Chong is willing to be enough for all of us.
We all know Lois Lane is one of the most determined reporters ever to walk the halls of the Daily Planet, so is it any doubt she’d have been a tween vlogger phenom, especially in a little town like Liberty View?
Lois’s best friend Kristen gets it and she thinks Lois’s passion is amazing. But she also feels left out and hurt when Lois seems to forget about her, especially since Kristen is going to sleep away camp for the whole summer. Things get even more confusing when Izzy, another girl Kristen and Lois’s age, moves onto their street and Lois’s best friend suddenly isn’t always there when Lois wants her to be.
Thirteen-year-old feelings are big, especially where lifelong friends are concerned. Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge by Grace Ellis and Brittney Williams can’t fix everything but it will help remind kids, and their adults, that people don’t get angry if they don’t care and they don’t hurt if they don’t miss you when you’re gone. If one of your friends seems angry, it may be that they’re hurting so take a second to pause, reflect, and talk it out.
Akiko Higashimura’s Tokyo Tarareba Girls focuses on protagonist Rinko’s quest to find the perfect man before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (good news, Rinko, you have an extra year). Will she find the right man in time? Will any of her crushes develop in to true love? What is love anyway? Why can’t Rinko just enjoy her friends and her career for the rest of her life? Why does the obnoxious Key have to be so damn handsome?
All bets are off when it comes to matters of the heart.
Rarely have I read a comic or graphic novel as joyous as Hikaru Nakamura’s Saint Young Men. I use that adjective both literally and figuratively: I mean, at one point, Jesus and Buddha form a comedy duo and tell dad jokes that are…actually pretty funny. The book’s larger storylines are frequently hilarious with our two heavenly, saintly figures trying so very hard to remain calm and collected while facing annoyances like paying rent or wanting a nice rice cooker outside the household budget. Having advice foisted upon them by parents and older siblings. Having their souls yanked back home when they’re in the middle of enjoying the bouncy castle.
There’s more to Saint Young Men than remembering to laugh at the absurdities of daily life, however. In watching Jesus and Buddha discovering the wonders of the human world, one can’t help but absorb some of their wonder, some of their light. And that, especially in these times, is a very special sort of (completely secular) grace.
Ten down. Sixteen to go! I bet “x” is going to be a lot of fun.