Graphic Novel Round-Up: January

Americus by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill — Life in the small town of Americus isn’t easy for a bookworm like Neil Barton. It only gets harder when his best friend is sent to military school, forcing Neil to face his freshman year of high school alone. And to make matters worse, local activists are trying to get the town library to ban his favorite series: The Adventures of Apathea Ravenchilde. For the first time in his life, Neil is going to have to stand up and take action. And it just might be the best thing that ever happened to him.

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang — Dennis Ouyang lives in the shadow of his parents’ high expectations.They want him to go to med school and become a doctor. Dennis just wants to play video games—and he might actually be good enough to do it professionally. But four adorable, bossy, and occasionally terrifying angels arrive just in time to lead Dennis back onto the straight and narrow: the path to gastroenterology. It’s all part of the plan, they tell him. But is it? This powerful piece of magical realism brings into sharp relief the conflict many teens face between pursuing their dreams and living their parents’. Partnered with the deceptively simple, cute art of newcomer Thien Pham, Gene Yang has returned to the subject he revolutionized with American Born Chinese. Whimsical and serious by turns, Level Up is a new look at the tale that Yang has made his own: coming of age as an Asian American.

Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim — Winner of the Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz awards, this graphic novel is a story about a group of young people navigating adulthood and personal relationships. It is told with such sympathy and perception that the book was immediately hailed as an important new work. Derek’s distinctive voice as an author, coupled with his clear, crisp, expressive art has made this story a classic. And this classic is now back in print, in a deluxe edition from First Second.

“21”: The Story of Roberto Clemente by Wilfred Santiago — A graphic novel biography of Puerto Rico’s greatest baseball star. 21 is an all-ages graphic biography of baseball star Roberto Clemente: No other baseball player dominated the 1960s like him and no other Latin American player achieved his numbers. 21 chronicles his early days growing up in rural Puerto Rico, the highlights of his career (including the 1960s World Series), the prejudice he faced, his private life and his humanitarian mission. Santiago captures the grit of Clemente’s rise from his impoverished childhood, to the majesty of his performance on the field, to his fundamental decency as a human being, in a drawing style that combines realistic attention to detail and expressive cartooning.

The Arctic Marauder by Jacques Tardi — In 1899, “L’Anjou,” a ship navigating the Arctic Ocean from Murmansk, Russia, to Le Havre, France comes across a stunning sight: A ghostly, abandoned vessel perched high atop an iceberg. But exploring this strange apparition is the last thing the sailors will ever do, as their own ship is soon dispatched to Davy Jones’ locker via a mysterious explosion. Enter Jérôme Plumier, whose search for his missing uncle, the inventor Louis-Ferdinand Chapoutier, brings him into contact with the sinister, frigid forces behind this — and soon he too is headed towards the North Pole, where he will content with mad scientists, monsters of the deep, and futuristic submarines and flying machines. Told with brio in hilarious slabs of vintage purple prose, The Arctic Marauder works both as ripping good adventure story and parody of same, and, predating as it does the later and not dissimilar Adèle Blanc-Sec series, is a keystone in Tardi’s oeuvre in his fantastical mode.

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