The world of Akame ga KILL! is like a frenetic mash-up of The Hunger Games and Attack on Titan. The premiere volume of the 2010 manga series made its U.S. debut in March, pitting vivacious and foolhardy swordsman Tatsumi against the Capital, an affluent city rife with corruption and depravity.
Surrounded on all sides by roving gangs of assassins, rebel armies and nomadic tribes of ferals, the Capital is many impoverished settlers’ only hope — or option — for survival. Tatsumi embarks for the Capital from his village with his friends Sayo and Ieyasu, dreaming of becoming a renowned mercenary. The three are separated during an ambush; Tatsumi assumes his friends will journey to the Capital to regroup, so he does the same, utilizing his superior skills in battle to aid fellow travelers along the way.
When he arrives, Tatsumi is awestruck by the sights and smells of the city. Amidst the aristocracy, he finds a tavern and encounters Leone, a cat-like vixen who cons him out of all his earnings from the journey’s battles. Now desperate, Tatsumi sheepishly accepts an offer of lodging from a wealthy family in exchange for his service as a guard at their estate.
As quickly as Tatsumi settles into his new routine as a sentry, a team of brutal assassins assaults the estate and murders the entire family in cold blood. Tatsumi protects the family’s youngest daughter from a skilled female ninja, but she cajoles the girl into revealing her family’s terrible secret. The assassins are impressed by Tatsumi’s unwavering demeanor and “kidnap” him after the ordeal to offer him a choice: join their ranks and become a killer by trade or die.
Akame ga KILL! Vol. 1 is filled with characters who hide their lunacies behind perfect façades absolutely begging to be sliced in twain, and there is no shortage of bloodshed in the first volume. Manga and anime fans who revel in seeing justice gracefully dispensed with a katana will surely dig this.
There’s a new sheriff in town. The town just happens to be a rundown mining hub on a fringe planet populated by all manner of ill-tempered aliens, and the sheriff just happens to be Clara Bronson, a single mother looking for a fresh start. Copperhead: Vol. 1 is a genre-bending classic in the making, and the recent release of its first collected volume makes this the perfect time to jump onboard.
As if Sherriff Bronson didn’t have enough on her plate helping her son adjust to their new home and earning the respect of her grumpy deputy, Budroxifinicus, things get particularly tough for her when she gets called to investigate the brutal massacre of a local family on her very first day on the job. The investigation that follows leads Sherriff Bronson from neighborly squabbles to the seedy criminal underbelly of the local mining industry. Look no further for a tense mystery that’ll keep you guessing to the very end.
Writer Jay Faerber and artist Scott Godlewski have crafted a truly unique world here. The dusty mining town at the heart of the story is populated by a colorful cast of humans and aliens alike. Crooked industry tycoons, artificial humanoid soldiers leftover from a war long concluded and the wild creatures lurking in the wastes just outside of town are just a few of the fascinating inhabitants that come into play. Colorist Ron Riley ties the package together with a unique mix of vibrant colors and gritty textures that grant a distinct Old West style to the science fiction world. The final result of this fantastic collaboration is a world that fits in somewhere between Fargo and Blade Runner. The quirky cast, unforgettable setting and intricate plot make for a truly exceptional take on the classic murder mystery that’s sure to entertain.
Automatons! Higher mathematics! World domination! The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua contains everything inquiring minds could ask for. A history of the nascent development of computing, it contains a detailed and thoroughly researched account of the collaboration between Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage in their creation of the Analytical Machine (now known as a computer). Not limited to just explanations of the mechanical and theoretic processes, Padua also delves into contextualizing the machine’s creation with profiles of the people, culture and time period that had an influence on its formation. Any dryness you might expect of such subject matter is diverted by speculation of what Sherlockian adventures could have happened if the groundbreaking machine actually managed to be produced in the Victorian era of its imagining.
Padua’s zeal for her subject is infectious and her research has yielded amusing vignettes of the characters who were involved in the creation of computation, including cameos by George Eliot, Lewis Carroll and Queen Victoria. Despite her frequent demurrals to expertise, she concisely breaks down the complex engineering of her subject (with diagrams!) so that it is understandable for those of us who aren’t engineers, mathematicians or wizards. Be warned: It is text heavy for a graphic novel, primarily because the number and density of footnotes rivals those of the late Terry Pratchett. Like The Great Pratchett, however, the footnotes contain amusing digressions whose levity make them worth the effort.
Andrew MacLean, a rising powerhouse in the world of comics, gives a fresh, intimate take on the ever popular post-apocalyptic genre in ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times. Written and illustrated by MacLean, ApocalyptiGirl is an in-depth character study of sorts, following Aria, a loner with a mysterious mission, and her cat, Jelly Beans, as they navigate the crumbling remains of civilizations past.
MacLean weaves fresh concepts together with some of the more familiar tropes of the post-apocalyptic genre. Sure, there are wandering bands of marauders and gunfights aplenty, but Aria isn’t your typical gruff drifter. She is an enthusiastic and often cheerful character with loads of pep and an unending well of affection set aside for her trusty feline sidekick. To categorize Aria only by her zest for life is to discredit the depth that MacLean has built into this character. Readers will follow her through scenes that range from serene to violent and heartbreaking to joyous, each revealing complex new facets of Aria’s personality.
You won’t find any barren badlands in this post-apocalyptic landscape. Aria’s world is one of cozy subway hideouts and sprawling ruins long reclaimed by nature, all vividly depicted in MacLean’s unmistakable style. Quiet moments of solitude and bloody action sequences alike are made equally impressive by the precise line work and expressive muted color palette.
ApocalyptiGirl is a masterfully crafted science fiction slice-of-life story that will have readers rooting for Aria from start to finish. For maximum post-apocalyptic fun, pair with Mad Max: Fury Road!
Mark is newly married and expecting his first child. As a demolitions technician, he has largely avoided many of the dangers and moral dilemmas usually associated with blowing things up, working from the safety of a lab and planning his future around his growing family. But his plans are frustrated when his promotion is denied and he is instead relocated to the paradoxically named Eden, Texas. Faced with a future of being cash-strapped in the scrublands, he apprehensively takes an offer from his profligate friend Jason to do contractual work for a secret military organization in Quanlom, an anonymous country in Southeast Asia. The Divine by Asaf and Tomer Hanuka is a visceral story of Mark’s descent into the civil war that is tearing the country apart.
Despite the violence implicit in his arrival, Mark remains a sympathetic protagonist, always trying to do the right thing in the face of many terrible choices. Quanlom’s war is a story of multiple narratives of conflict, with the added mystery of strange forces controlled by the rebelling faction’s child soldiers. What might have been a prosaic guts-n-glory plot is tempered with an instilled acknowledgment of the inherent atrocity of war. The premise of the book came about from the authors’ investigation of Apichart Weerawong’s famous photograph of Johnny and Luther Htoo, Burmese child soldiers, and the dazzling artwork does not neglect to reference the traditional art and design of the Southeast Asian setting. Readers may recognize Asaf Hanuka from his biographical graphic novel The Realist released earlier this year.
Eddie Campbell’s Bacchus introduces us to a world where the gods are among us, but can’t quite cover their bar tab. A tragedy some hundred years ago left most of the Greek gods dead, and now Bacchus, the God of Wine and Revelry, is an old man with the “deadest looking face you’ve ever seen,” and the only hints of his former glory are the two horns that occasionally peek out from under his hat before he falls down drunk at the bar. But when he sees his old rival Theseus being interviewed on live television, he gets a taste for the old days and sets out to settle the score.
Thus begins one of the most epic shaggy-dog stories ever put to print. Bacchus’ adventures are never what you expect them to be. He’ll set out on a quest, get discouraged, stop somewhere for a drink and then decide to visit the islands instead. It’s less an Odyssey than a pub-crawl through Greek mythology. And at his side is his faithful follower, Simpson, a Greek literature buff whose history lessons fill in the blanks for Bacchus, whose recall isn’t what it used to be (“It’s all a bit of a blur after I invented wine,” says Bacchus, on childhood.) Along the way they get wrapped up in mob rivalries, the search for the skull of Poseidon and a really weird guy named the Eyeball Kid.
Campbell’s detailed artwork and historical knowledge result in a book that’s both highbrow and slapstick, that knows when to be reverent and when to let the drunk god belch. It’s a must read for fans of Alan Moore’s classic From Hell, which Campbell illustrated, or the mythology-dense fiction of Neil Gaiman, whom Campbell also illustrated in The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains.
With the release of its third volume, the conclusion of the series’ first major story arc, now is the perfect time to catch up on Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera’s pulp sci-fi romp Black Science. Grant McKay and the Anarchist League of Scientists seek the infinite possibilities of the multiverse using the taboo science of interdimensional travel, but things go astray when they discover that “the Pillar,” the device they’ve designed to navigate them through other dimensions, has been tampered with, and is now juggling them between seemingly random alternate realities and parallel dimensions.
The inks and colors by Matteo Scalera and Dean White, respectively, are vibrant and full of energy. This spectacular art team transports the reader to fantastical locations: a swampy landscape ravaged by a war between humanoid fish and frogs, a parallel North America where Native Americans have advanced technologically far beyond the rest of the world and a planet inhabited by flying spider-hippos and millipede-like religious fanatics are just a few examples. (It’s exactly as much fun as it sounds.)
As action-packed and outlandish as Black Science is, Rick Remender’s strong sense of pacing keeps the drama focused on the characters. In addition to the threats that the group encounters as it tears through the walls of reality, the members also struggle with more personal troubles like handling the responsibilities of parenthood and dealing with the aftermath of infidelity.
Those who enjoy Black Science may also want to try Rick Remender and John Romita Jr.’s take on Captain America, which is infused with a similar sci-fi flair.
Fans and producers of graphic novels and comic art will converge in Bethesda this weekend, September 19 and 20, for Small Press Expo 2015. Many storytellers are slated to speak about their art, including three with recently released graphic novels.
Jessica Abel takes on a challenging topic to visually present in Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio. Abel leads readers on an in-depth behind-the-scenes tour of a number of popular National Public Radio shows and podcasts, from the first conception of an idea to the final edit and broadcast. The seeds for Out on the Wire were sown back in the late 1990s, when This American Life host Ira Glass came across Abel’s work and suggested she try drawing “radio comics.” That led to her spending a week with his show’s staff as they were putting together an episode. The result, a pamphlet called Radio: An Illustrated Guide, which is excerpted in the book. Readers will note how much technology has changed since 1999 and appreciate the degree to which Abel’s craft has expanded. Literal representations of radio personalities and their narration give way to more imaginative depictions of stories and ideas. Fans of NPR will pore over the pages of this fascinating, highly detailed graphic novel. It’s highly recommended to anyone interested in the art of producing radio and podcasts.
Bill Griffith, known for his absurdist syndicated comic strip Zippy the Pinhead, makes his first foray into graphic memoir with Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist. His story begins with a letter from his mother’s brother, Uncle Al, who has come into possession of a box of family photos and memorabilia. Soon he’s off to North Carolina to explore his history. Griffith’s childhood in 1950s and ’60s Levittown, New York, was not one to be remembered fondly — his military father and aspiring writer mother had a cold, distant marriage. His father remained a mystery to him, as did the reasons he was physically abusive to both Griffith and his sister. His mother never intervened. But she had her own escape, in the form of a secretarial job in New York City that turned into a 16-year love affair with her boss, Lariar, a prolific writer and cartoonist. Griffith maintains an exquisitely realistic style throughout the exploration of his family history, choosing to depict only himself in cartoony manner, with a long pointy nose and two prominent front teeth. How would his life had been different had he been mentored by Lariar? Did his father know what was going on? Readers will lose themselves in the detailed panels as Griffith shares his discoveries. Fans of David Small’s Stitches and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home will appreciate this emotionally honest and graphic look back at growing up surrounded by secrets in an emotionally distant family.
Before it was a critically acclaimed independent film, The Diary of a Teenage Girl was a hybrid graphic memoir/novel by artist and writer Phoebe Gloeckner. First published in 2002, Diary has been reissued with new material to coincide with the opening of the movie. Gloeckner’s alter ego Minnie Goetz is a 15-year-old year old coming of age in 1970s San Francisco with a liberal librarian mother and a pesky younger sister. Gloeckner has been both praised and criticized for her raw, honest portrayal of female sexuality, particularly because Minnie’s ongoing partner and object of lust is her mother’s 35 year old boyfriend. As much a celebration as a cautionary tale, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is unlike anything you’ve read before.
In The Sculptor by Scott McCloud, David Smith has made a deal with Death. He is given 200 days to make his mark on the art world — for the things he makes to come out just as he imagines them. But he's David Smith, awkward and angry, and a man of strong opinions and often hard edges, stiff and unbending. With his mortality in short supply, David has just met the love of his life.
The Sculptor is a great many things. It is made up of the countless small moments and memories that make up a life. It is made up of the big ideas that drive those moments. This is a metacommentary on the expression of life through art, and if that sounds intimidating, it shouldn't be because this story comes from the capable hands of Scott McCloud, who literally wrote the book on graphic novels as an art form (Understanding Comics, 1993).
With Understanding Comics, McCloud took apart graphic novels, studying how pieces large and small, overt and subtle, fit together to create tones, ideas, impacts and stories. The book is a masterwork of art criticism, necessary and friendly reading for anyone who wants to understand graphic novels or any other form of narrative art.
In The Sculptor, McCloud has put the parts he explained back together, and the result is nothing less than a masterpiece. This is not a book so much as it is a symphony, with great rising movements, drumming beats, soft counter melodies and a wave of pictures and people living through ordinary lives in extraordinary ways.
This is a big read, with questions about art, integrity, family, love, purpose. But it is also a peaceful read. Everything is colored in a soft, blue-gray that never stresses the eyes. David walks the simple, complex and bittersweet joys of growing into a new love. The images come with the wild energy of an artist pushing their boundaries as hard as they can, living alongside quiet domestic scenes, neither ever drowning each other out.
Which is better, to live a good life or to throw everything into a calling?
Katie’s having a rough time in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds. Her restaurant just keeps getting farther and farther behind, her ex-boyfriend has started showing up at her job and, in one phenomenally disastrous evening, one of her waitresses gets burned — and it’s her fault. She gets lucky, though. In a small box in the back of her dresser, she finds a mushroom and a notepad that allow her to rewrite a day that went wrong. Things improve so much that she ignores the rule about only making one wish. That’s when things start to get weird.
O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series was one of the biggest comics of the past decade, a rampaging tour-de-force that fused relationships, video game mechanics, a Toronto setting and indie music. Seconds is a quieter story, more focused on the tail end of one’s 20s. Reality may warp, but this is a story about homes, families and making a place in the world, not just falling into one. When Katie uses a mushroom to undo all the time apart from her boyfriend, she winds up in a relationship that doesn’t work because she hasn’t been present for it. Homes need to be built, not cheated into.
When O’Malley created Scott Pilgrim, he published in black and white, creating art that went for dynamism over nuance. Seconds is a full-color print in soft reds and pinks, navy blues and ochres. Even though Seconds is set during a Canadian winter, this is a warm book. Scott Pilgrim made fighting a metaphor for personal history. Seconds toys more with security and running away, using that soft palette to shade in the nuances of what it means to both screw up a home and grow up enough to fix your mistakes.