Graphic Novels, March 22, 2019 | Xpress Reviews

Too-often-shameful chapters of Indigenous and Canadian history; Bunn and Torres slowly freeze readers’ fears; Carroll turns in a bold tale of adult gothic terror; captures the descent from idealism to frozen despair; fine fodder for adults and teens via book clubs, classrooms, and late-night debates among friends

Week ending March 22, 2019

Akiwenzie-Damm, Kateri & others (text) & Tara Audibert & others (illus.). This Place: 150 Years Retold. HighWater. May 2019. 272p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781553797586. pap. $36. Rated: Teen+. ANTHOLOGIES
This anthology of illustrated stories, spanning 1867 to the present, by Indigenous creators in Canada aptly demonstrates the graphic medium’s ability to combine fact, truth, and creativity into rich depictions of history. The best selections pair straightforward narratives with lucid artwork, such as Katherena Vermette and others’ “Annie of Red River,” which tells of revenge on a chauvinist, and Chief Frank T’Seleie’s eloquent defense of his people’s land against an oil pipeline in Richard Van Camp and others’ “Like a Razor Slash.” Less successful entries are those affected by artistic pretension, including Chelsea Vowel’s concluding “kitaskînaw 2350,” which is ill-served by sf conceits. For readers concerned about accuracy, or who wish to read further, a select bibliography is included. Some disturbing content and scenes of violence; suitable for young adults and up [advance readers’ copy used for review].
VERDICT Supported through the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter initiative, this collection brings some important, too-often-shameful chapters of Indigenous and Canadian history out of obscurity, in fine style; recommended for all graphic novel readers and those interested in North American history and/or Indigenous peoples.—J. Osicki, Saint John Free P.L., NB

Bunn, Cullen (text) & Mark Torres (illus.). Cold Spots. Vol. 1. Image. Feb. 2019. 120p. ISBN 9781534310483. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781534313989. Rated: Mature. SUPERNATURAL HORROR
An expert at locating missing persons, Dan Kerr is called in by Mr. Warren to find his daughter Alyssa and her daughter Grace. Dan agrees, particularly after discovering Grace is the offspring he never knew was his. The trail eventually leads him to remote Quarrels Island just as an out-of-season, chilling cold descends on the surrounding area; one shop owner is found frozen solid in his office after helping direct Dan. Finally reaching the mysterious locale and making it past a folk shrine of discarded toys and handwritten notes, our protagonist is picked up by a patrol and taken to the gilded Quarrel family mansion housing Alyssa and her child. Eventually, Dan uncovers the shocking truth: undead spirits are drawn to semicatatonic Grace like ghostly moths to a living flame, and the Quarrels, who possess a sinister motive behind their aid, have no intention of letting anyone leave until Grace has completed a task involving the dank tombs of their family crypt.
VERDICT Writer Bunn (Harrow County) and artist Torres ( Judge Dredd) slowly freeze readers’ fears with a compellingly frightening tale of ghosts and family secrets under an entertaining narrative that ultimately reaches a temperature of true zero.—Douglas Rednour, Georgia State Univ. Libs., Atlanta

redstarCarroll, Emily. When I Arrived at the Castle. Koyama. May 2019. 72p. ISBN 9781927668689. pap. $15. Rated: Mature. HORROR
Stepping out of the blackness of a rainy night, a mostly feline woman arrives at a forlorn castle with but a single purpose: to kill the vampire dwelling within. Yet once face-to-face with the seductive bloodsucker’s beauty, she’s unsure of how to accomplish the simple matter of driving the right piece of wood into her enemy’s heart. The vampire offers her visitor the use of her recently vacated bath to knock the rain-born chill from her bones, causing the woman to forget momentarily her dire purpose. But after spying the true creature beneath the delicious undead beauty through a keyhole, the killer’s resolve returns. The planned confrontation is strangely embraced by the fanged specter, which ushers her increasingly bewildered nemesis through door after door of the castle maze to unveil stories of those who came before but failed to stop her eternal midnight reign.
VERDICT Carroll (Speak) turns in a bold tale of adult gothic terror and a cunningly crafted supreme achievement of comic art mastery. Once read, this wickedly perfect nightmare will live in readers’ minds throughout eternity.—Douglas Rednour, Georgia State Univ. Libs., Atlanta

Remarque, Erich Maria (text) & Wayne Vansant (text & illus.). All Quiet on the Western Front. Dead Reckoning: Naval Inst. Jun. 2019. 176p. ISBN 9781682473337. pap. $24.95. HIST
German novelist Remarque’s 1928 novel introduces a motley crew of soldiers—from peat digger to postman—and then pins you to the witness stand as World War I kills them off horribly. Relentless, captivating, and iconic for conveying the tedium, brutality, and senselessness of war, the story’s small triumphs, such as stealing and eating a goose, sneaking sex across enemy lines, or seeing a hated schoolmaster humiliated keep the men going. This adaptation from Vietnam veteran Vansant (Knights of the Skull , among numerous other military comics) nails the novel’s doomed fascination—of narrator Paul Bäumer’s original army gang, none survive. Also, the historical detail of uniforms, weapons, and settings has been well researched. However, the rather somber-colored art seems too homogeneous for its content, and many of the characters appear too much alike. Yet perhaps that’s partly the point: the ultimate uniformity of violence and death that sucks them all in the end.
VERDICT Unsparing of gross atrocities and small humiliations alike, Remarque’s chronicle and Vansant’s images capture the descent from idealism to frozen despair experienced by soldiers over millennia of combat. Adults and teens interested in war will learn much, in and outside of classrooms.—Martha Cornog, Philadelphia

Warner, Andy (text) & Sofie Louise Dam (illus.). This Land Is My Land: A Graphic History of Big Dreams, Micronations, and Other Self-Made States. Chronicle. May 2019. 160p. maps. ISBN 9781452170183. pap. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781452170275. Rated: Teen+. HIST
The United States was formed with the intent to create a more perfect union of people in our country—an ambition envisioned on a smaller scale by the eccentric founders of these 30 self-made collectives. Warner (contributing editor, The Nib; Brief Histories of Everyday Objects) classes their attempts as intentional communities, micronations, failed utopias, visionary environments, or strange (but unrealized) dreams. Most had progressive goals. And, amazingly, half still exist and can be visited today, such as the Oyotunji African Village in South Carolina and the Principality of Hutt River in Australia. Colorful fauvist drawings and maps from artist Dam (contributor, The Nib) bring these would-be “better tomorrows” to life with grace and verve. Yet the collection lacks context. How were the 30 selected out of probably many more possibilities? Still, Warner’s choices challenge readers in productive and entertaining ways, prompting questions such as: What are the commonalities among the 30? How would you design your own “self-made state”? How might modern cohousing situations relate to these marginal efforts?
VERDICT Less a complete chronicle and more a tantalizing Rorschach test for speculation and research, this thoughtful collection about visionary living makes fine fodder for adults and teens via book clubs, classrooms, and late-night debates among friends.—Martha Cornog, Philadelphia

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