The 2021 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards were announced this week at Comic-Con. The awards have several categories specifically for comics for youth. Here are the winners and nominees in those categories:
Dragoslava is a kid and also a vampire. Born in 1460, Drago has seen a lot of Halloweens and history. They live with their two best friends Eztli and Quintus who are also vampires. Long ago, Drago made a witch angry and now has been cursed to be her servant. When she calls on them to retrieve her grimoire, Drago has to set off on the quest to Baneberry Falls. As the three little vampires reach the Midwest, it’s Halloween, a holiday that they excel at since they don’t need costumes. Plus they get to scare some of the older bullies who are out stealing candy. The three friends reach a creepy mansion, perfect for the local witch to live in. But it turns out that she lives with a vampire too. Now they just have to figure out who took the grimoire, who to trust, and who is out to get them.
This graphic novel is full of humor and just enough blood to be spooky but not frightening. The dynamic mix of witches and vampires adds to the fun with magical and undead powers on display. The characters are all interesting with full backstories, some of which is shared with the readers. The book offers a fully realized world where the characters feel like they have been living for some time and you have just popped into their lives. The characters are interesting and not stereotypical. There are lovely LGBT moments in the book too with lesbian couples and Drago themselves using they/them/their pronouns.
The illustrations are a marvelous mix of homey mundane and fang-filled spookiness. Drago pops on the page with their bald head and black cloak. The colors are rich, including poisonous greens, autumnal oranges, and dark blues and purples.
A spooky and funny graphic novel full of friendship and fiends. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Quill Tree Books.
The Paul Bunyan myth gets transformed by a young Chinese-American girl growing up in the logging camps in this graphic novel. Mei shares her stories about Auntie Po just as freely as she shares her stellar pies. She is the daughter of the camp cook and helps out her father in the kitchen. The manager of the camp loves her pies and is friends with her father, but that only goes so far. The Chinese men logging are fed separately. When her father is fired, Mei is left behind at the camp with her best friend. Mei uses her stories of Po Pan Yin, Auntie Po, to give all of the children in the camp a heroine they can believe in. Mei must find a way through the politics of race and privilege to find a future for herself and her father in America.
Khor offers a mix of tall tale and riveting real life in this graphic novel. She weaves in LGBT elements as Mei has feelings for Bee, her best friend. The use of sharing tales to provide comfort combines seamlessly with also offering food. Mei is a girl with a future that seems out of reach much of the time, but comes into focus by the end of the book. The book looks directly at racism in the years after the Chinese Exclusion Act and offers a mixture of characters that are racist and allies for Mei to encounter and deal with.
The art focuses on the characters themselves, sometimes offering glimpses of the Sierra Nevada scenery too. Chapters begin with different logging tools being featured and described. The art is full of bold colors, the huge Auntie Po, and the busyness of a logging camp and its kitchen.
A fascinating look at logging from a Chinese-American point of view combined with some really tall tales. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
The author of Fake Blood returns with another fantastical graphic novel. Vega’s parents have moved her from Portland to Seattle, leaving behind her best friend. Vega loves astronomy, something she shared with her best friend. She still has her telescope, but no one to watch the stars with. To help her transition to her new home, Vega’s parents send her off to a summer camp designed to help her make new friends. Vega isn’t interested in making new friends, so she is stand offish to the other kids. As things around camp get stranger, including a camper who changes his appearance regularly to try to make friends, rocks that are speakers, no cellphone service, and really strange food, Vega must join forces with the other campers to figure out what is actually going on.
Gardner’s middle-grade graphic novel is a genuine look at moving away from friends and the struggle to regain your footing and make new ones. Gardner though takes it much farther explaining the weirdness of all summer camp experiences in a fresh way. When all is revealed at the end of the book, readers will have the satisfaction of having figured it out along with Vega and the other characters. The pacing of the different elements is nicely done as is the consistent look at loneliness and friendship throughout.
Gardner’s art style is bold and clear. She offers readers a diverse cast of characters, including Vega herself who is a character of color and also has two fathers for parents. The format feels larger than most with some of the images taking up the entire page with great impact. The entire book feels effortlessly modern.
A perfect summer read, particularly for those who have done summer camps. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
When Reggie arrives at his cousin’s home to housesit during their summer vacation, he gets a warm welcome from the huge monster family who are all busy in the cave complex below the main house, making clothes, fixing pipes, and playing cards. Reggie has left his life of exploring and finding treasure for a quiet summer alone. When his first morning is interrupted by a vivacious doglike monster named Emily, he is a bit overwhelmed and not ready to stop being alone and grumpy. Emily though persuades him to head out into the field and explore his new surroundings, discovering a beach but also a rather intimidating cave. Reggie heads over to Emily’s woodland home a little later, meeting her large family and enjoying a spiced apple for his return home. When Emily goes missing, it is Reggie who knows just where she might be, but he has to face his fear of dark caves and revealing his fear to find her.
This graphic novel for chapter book readers offers a world full of furry monsters who are marvelously human, full of self doubt, a need to prove themselves, and struggles to be honest with one another. Readers will love the small world that is built here, full of wonderful nature like the woods, beach and cave. The world is populated with all sorts of monsters, some scaly, some furry, and some shapeshifters. The art style is full of small details that fill out each of the settings. The mushrooms on the shelves in the family cave complex, the spilling bathtub, the toys spread all over the room.
The writing is just as joyous as the illustrations. Reggie is a grand grump of a character, ready to sulk his summer away until Emily literally bounds right into it. Emily is the perfect foil for Reggie, both visually and in personality. But Emily too has her own struggles with her siblings and family that play out on the page. The two become friends naturally, bridged by warm drinks and shared snacks.
A fuzzy monster of a graphic novel full of caves, serpents and surprises. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Fifteen-year-old Morgan has a plan. She just needs to survive high school and then she can leave her small island and become the real person she keeps secret from everyone. She has a group of friends, but she’s different from them. Her family has fallen apart with her father leaving, her mother sad and her little brother raging. Morgan is about to have another huge secret to keep. When Morgan meets Keltie, she rediscovers someone she met as a child. With a kiss, Morgan allows Keltie to take on a human form and leave her seal form behind. The two become close friends, but Morgan is worried about people seeing them touching or together at all. Keltie though has something she hasn’t told Morgan either. As the secrets pile up, Morgan has to see if she has the courage to live as the person she truly is before it’s too late.
From the author of The Witch Boy trilogy comes this magical sea breeze of a graphic novel that is just right for summer beach reading. The twist on a traditional selkie tale is lovingly created, offering moments of real connection, beauty and pain. Morgan is closeted and pretending to be everything she is not. It’s great to see that as she moves into her truth, she becomes better connected with her family as she shares things with them. The setting of the novel is a large part of the story with the seaside, the island and the seal nursery just offshore.
The illustrations show that setting with detail, inviting readers down to the beaches, out to the seals, deep underwater, and onto the rocks. They are drenched in summer sun, tantalizing moonlight, and the blue greens of the sea.
Beautiful, aching and full of LGBTQIA magical fantasy romance. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Nubia: Real One by L. L. McKinney, illustrated by Robyn Smith (9781401296407)
When Nubia heads into a store to talk to Oscar, a boy she likes, everything goes wrong. The store is robbed, and Nubia finds herself using her Amazonian strength to stop the robbers and protect everyone in the store. The problem is, that Oscar witnessed what she did. Nubia and her mothers have had to move multiple times when people have seen her feats of strength just to protect her and let her have a normal life. Her mothers get advice from D, who helps relocate them and assess the dangers. As one of her best friends is targeted by a predatory classmate, Nubia learns that she can’t just sit by and let things happen to those she loves. But as a Black woman, the world sees her as a threat already, it’s not as simple as Wonder Woman has it.
McKinney, author of A Blade So Black, has created the voice of this graphic novel, focusing on modern issues like Black Lives Matter and the problem of being a super hero in a world that sees Black people as the problem, not the solution. McKinney centers the problems that Nubia faces into these larger societal problems, giving them a serious weight. Her text is lively and her dialogue is natural and deeply explores what Nubia is experiencing as a Black woman.
The illustrations by Smith are marvelous. I love the height and strength of Nubia. I adore the messy look of Wonder Woman, as if she has run her hands through her hair in frustration several times on her way into the room. The images of Nubia’s mothers are great, from their determination to their deep caring to the celebration of Nubia despite what the world might say.
A graphic novel for our times and for our future. Appropriate for ages 11-15.
First introduced in Sir Simon: Super Scarer, this new graphic novel continues the partnership of Simon and Chester. Chester is bored, there’s nothing to do and Simon refuses to play clowns with him. But when Chester is digging in the items in the attic, he discovers a hat that is just right for being a detective. Simon, the ghost, wants to be the lead and Chester happily acts as his assistant. They set up their detective agency in the attic, complete with the right sort of lighting. Now all they need is a mystery to solve. They search for one, and then hear a strange “snork” noise coming from the kitchen. They discover a pug dog there, and now must solve the mystery of who owns him. There are lots of false leads, some fake legs, and dreams of a rich reward before the mystery is ultimately solved.
Full of lots of humor, this graphic novel is ideal for new readers who will love the format and the engaging storyline. The two characters are marvelous together, each happily playing along as the other takes their ideas in a new direction. The results are a hilarious book with a good mystery at its center but lots of silliness along the way. The writing is strong and the two characters are great fun to spend time with.
The art in the book is immensely inviting. It is richly modern with plenty of humorous visual jokes. I particularly guffawed when Simon tries to have fake legs and then doesn’t quite understand how to use them successfully. The question of whether the pug is a real dog is also a hoot as is their searching the kitchen for clues. There’s so much to love visually here.
A funny mystery for new readers to solve. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter (9781338568912)
Maggie discovers that she has severe allergies that make her sneeze and also break out in hives when she interacts with any animals with fur or feathers. But Maggie is determined to find a pet that will work for her. She starts with a list of potential pets. The fish died too quickly, the lizard loved her brothers more, hedgehogs are illegal, and some animals just aren’t interesting. Meanwhile at home, they are expecting a new baby in a few months and Maggie often feels like the odd one out since her younger brothers are twins and always doing things together but without her. Then a new girl moves into the neighborhood. Maggie and Claire become close friends, until Claire gets a puppy of her own, the ultimate betrayal. Perhaps there’s a different solution, and all it will take is one mouse to test out!
There is so much empathy and heart in this middle-grade graphic novel. It captures the essence of being a middle grader, of not quite fitting in yet and feeling emotions deeply. Friendships are difficult, full of misunderstandings and possibilities. Add into that severe allergies and a growing family, and you have a book that is full of challenges to navigate. Maggie is a strong protagonist, full of ideas and a hope that her allergies can be overcome somehow.
The art by Nutter is colorful and inviting. It depicts a busy and loving family, Maggie’s physical allergy reactions, and then her newfound connections with people who just happen to be animals she can be around.
A sunny and welcome look at allergies, friendships and family. Appropriate for ages 8-12.