Cover art by M.S. Corley
I’m on vacation and have a few new Kindle books to read on my phone, handy for the plane or the odd moment. This is one was a free download through Freebooksy, a great way to sample new authors. It’s no longer free on Amazon, but at only $3.99 for Kindle is still a bargain.
If you’ve enjoyed the Harry Potter books, I’d recommend this one. Tommy Black is a boy living with his grandfather in New York, leading a secluded life with few friends, his parents having died when he was very young. Tommy’s grandfather seems an ordinary sort, an elderly man who needs his intricately carved cane to walk, but as the pair are heading to dinner at a favorite restaurant one evening, the grandfather reveals himself as something more. They are met by magical beings called Shadows, who want the cane. It’s apparently a very powerful magical staff. When Declan Black won’t give it to him, the Shadows attack, and even the magic staff is not enough to protect them. Tommy and his grandfather flee to the restaurant owned by Declan’s old friend Baraz, and soon the restaurant is under attack by other magical creatures from Persian mythology: Djinns and Ifrits. Declan makes war on them with his magic staff, but as young Tommy watches in fear, he is losing the battle. When all seems lost, Declan gives the magic staff to Tommy and orders him to flee with a protector, Mister Ali, on a secret escape route underground that will take them to a boat on a magic river. Tommy has known nothing of the complex magic his grandfather has been long involved with, or anything much of magic at all, but he finds he has the power to create light with the staff himself, to show their way, and even to fight off evil beings like the Shadows. Thus begins an epic journey and battle across several continents as Tommy struggles to understand his new place and power, with magic creatures out to capture the powerful staff from him, and new allies in Mister Ali and a girl named Naomi he meets on his way who is a talented magician herself.
Despite my synopsis, this book has layers and is not a simple good versus evil tale. Tommy uncovers secrets about the magic he’s a part of that helps him understand and sympathize with some of his enemies, and others in the magic community that at first seem on his side and willing to help him are later revealed as enemies also out to capture the staff. It’s nicely done, the characters are well developed and real, and the situations and plot are exciting and full of unexpected twists and turns. The comparison to Harry Potter is only in the set-up of a boy thrown into the deep end of magic and having to figure things out on the fly, and a few other minor similarities, overall it’s different enough to stand on its own.
Image © Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Why is this book so popular? I’m sure lots of other comics creators would like to know and are attempting to figure that out. I can only say what I like about it. First, it’s quirky and unpredictable. SAGA began as a sort of interstellar Romeo and Juliet, but quickly jumped on to new storylines. For one thing, the star-crossed lovers from different planets did not die, and in fact now have a growing child, and are hiding out in a rural community. There they do what they can to get by: Alana is now acting in a soap opera (well disguised), while Marko is a stay-at-home dad for their toddler Hazel.
Meanwhile, many very dangerous people are looking for them, including a robot prince who is an odd mixture of flesh and a TV screen for a face, various bounty hunters, military organizations, etc. Brian deftly uses them to build tension while the main characters have their own marital strife and personal soap opera going on at home. Then there’s the extended family including the spirit of a dead girl, Marko’s mother, and a pet walrus. The characters are all interesting and very human, there’s elements of suspense, humor and romance, and one feels that action is always just about to happen, and probably not in a good way. This book is definitely a page turner. It’s gotten pretty complex with a large cast, and at the beginning of this volume there’s an in-story recap of at least some of the plot, which I found helpful.
In all, excellent reading, I’m always ready for more. Highly recommended.
Image © Charles Fetherolf
About two years ago I sat next to Charles Fetherolf at a small convention, and he was kind enough to give me this comic he wrote, drew and self-published. It’s a story of prehistoric man, specifically the men and women of one small tribe living in a vast northern wilderness, struggling to survive and find food, dealing with dangerous animals, and even more dangerous rival clans. The writing is well done, though the phonetic spelling for speech is sometimes hard to read, and the art is beautifully atmospheric black and white with gray washes and textures. The story and characters took me right with them into their difficult life and relationships, as the men struggle for dominance in their own clan, while still keeping the women and children together and safe. It’s quite well done, unlike any other comics I can think of, and recommended.
Images © Peanuts Worldwide LLC
For the last few volumes of this series covering 50 years of Charles Schulz’ wonderful comic strip, I’ve been waiting for it to go off the track. Get bad. Show that Schulz had overstayed his time. We’re almost to the end, and it hasn’t happened! The lines may be a little shaky at times, but the writing and humor are still sharp and hilarious, and the drawing remains a case study in casual simplicity that is much harder than it looks.
Okay, there are a few more of Charlie Brown lying awake at night pondering his fate, and I have to say I’ve never found Snoopy’s brother Spike funny (more sad than anything), but there’s hardly a page in this book that didn’t make me laugh or at least smile. What a remarkable achievement.
Image © Gene Ha
Gene is a friend, and someone I’ve enjoyed working with many times, even a partner on one of my signed prints, so you have to expect I’m going to be biased on the subject of his new project, let’s get that out front. MAE does not need any special favors to get a positive review from me, though, I like nearly everything about it. Nearly? I’ll get to that.
As you can easily see if you look at the cover above, Gene is a very talented artist. He’s a new writer, and on that front, he does well here. Mae is a small-town college girl returning to her high school haunts to have pizza with an old friend, Dahlia, but soon finds herself involved in some kind of trouble and confusion revolving around the return of her sister Abbie, who disappeared years earlier. Even before we see Abbie, we encounter angry people who are out to do her harm, and when we finally meet Mae’s sister, she’s in jail. Abbie spins a highly unlikely tale to Mae about where she’s been — some kind of other world, a fantasy world where Abbie has been living a very different life, including becoming Queen of a tribe of talking cats. Mae is skeptical, but pretty soon some very weird characters show up that indicate Abbie was not making it all up. And they also are out to do her serious harm! It’s a wild ride, and a fun one, with terrific art and coloring (Gene assisted by Rose McClain and Art Lyon) and cool hand-lettering by Zander Cannon.
Okay, the part I didn’t like? Gene seems to be taking inspiration from Japanese Anime art, not in a major way, but he’s taken on that style’s penchant for very large eyes. I’ve never been a fan of Anime art, but at least there it’s kind of a cartoony exaggeration. Gene’s art is more realistic, and the large eyes tend, to my eyes, to simply make the characters look much younger than intended (college-age, mostly). This created a dissonance that kept pulling me out of the story, as if 12-year-olds were acting and talking like 20-year-olds. And I’m probably in the minority on this point, but there it is. In any case…