Category Archives: Comics

When Stars are Scattered

Omar and his brother Hassan, two Somali boys, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Separated from their mother, they are looked after by a friendly stranger. Life in the camp isn’t always easy and the hunger is constant . . . but Omar devotes everything to taking care of his young brother and pursuing his education.

Faber

This is set to be one of my favourite graphic novels of all time. You will laugh, cry, rage, and cheer many times over the course of the book, a study in empathy, as Omar and Hassan experience the ups and downs of life in a refugee camp with the dream of resettling in America hanging over their heads. It is based on Omar Mohamed’s account of real experiences of growing up, so obviously the relationships are real, but they are brought off the page so beautifully and in so few words, through the skillful work of Victoria Jamieson (brilliantly coloured by Iman Geddy).

Narrated by Omar, we see his perspective of the environment and people, and how it changes when he was feeling hopeful or down. Bad things do happen to them, as well as good things, and Omar talks them through and shares his feelings with the reader. One panel that really struck me was after Omar had been talking to a friend who’s family had been chosen to be resettled, he tries so hard to be positive all the time but can’t help but think “It’s not fair”. He tells us:

…Of course, thinking like this doesn’t do you any good. Somalis even have a word for it. BUFIS. It means the intense longing to be resettled. It’s almost like your mind is already living somewhere else, while your body is stuck in a refugee camp…

We first meet Omar and his brother Hassan once they have already been living in the camp for a long time (have a read of the first chapter in the extract) and the way their journey to the camp is told to us, as it recounted in Omar’s UN interview for potential resettlement, is really powerful. We follow them for years, until Omar is 18, and I was particularly moved by the relationship with Fatuma, how they came to be together, and how Omar realised more and more with age how lucky they all were to have one another.

Enjoy this exclusive extract of WHEN THE STARS ARE SCATTERED

It does have a happy and hopeful ending for Omar and Hassan, but doesn’t let you forget the thousands more people still stuck in the limbo of refugee camps. I think this is essential reading for, well, everyone aged 8+ frankly.

Huge thanks to Faber for sending me a copy for review and inviting me to join the blog tour. WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERD is out in the UK now!

No! Nobrow!

I have been a fan of Nobrow and their picture book imprint Flying Eye Books for a good few years now. I have reviewed a number of their titles (you can find the reviews here and here). I have written about them for the Federation of Children’s Book Groups here. I have interviewed their authors and illustrators and championed their books for years as they produce works of quality and beauty that catch the eye of readers of all ages. I have used them to turn reluctant readers on to the joys of reading many times over the years.

Over the past few days on twitter I found several threads accusing them of exploiting new and upcoming authors & illustrators and acting in a less than ethical manner against other small press publishers. Several years ago at a publisher event in London I was chatting to a publicist and mentioned that I was a fan of their work and the publicist (off the record) asked if I had heard the rumours about their low payment of creators and claiming rights to works created by authors and illustrators they published. I said that I had not and thereafter dug around but was never able to find anything about this so I marked it as unproven and moved on.

Below is a screenshot of an email allegedly sent by Alexander Latsis in 2013

Source: https://twitter.com/deadtreesanddye/status/1253762564032520195

Illustrator Lucy Haslam has been creating an epic twitter thread about ELCAF (the East London Comic Art Festival) and Nobrow. It is definitely worth a read for detailed background information about what has been happening for a number of years.

Illustrator Eleni Kalorkoti tweeted this about an offer from Nobrow in 2018:

This discussion was not a total pile-on, several creators spoke up positively about their interactions with Nobrow, including CILIP Kate Greenaway winning illustrator William Grill:

Astrocat creator Ben Newman:

Kellie Strøm:

and a few others.

Nobrow has also released an official statement that can be read here:

A Statement from Nobrow

It should definitely be read in full. In the statement they challenge the claims that their contracts are unfair and have promised to do research into comparative advances and royalties. They also go on to deny that they do not prevent their creators from working with other publishers and state that the screenshot of the e-mail was released without permission and out of context although it is hard to imagine what the context was without further information about that discussion as the e-mail alone appears to be pretty damning.

The full statement rather than allaying the fears and allegations seems to have inflamed opinion in more areas, with Paul Duffield‘s take being worth a read:

When this type of situation erupts it is not always easy to identify who is in the right, I support small publishers and creator rights but I think in this instance the number of dissenting voices that have been raised about unfair treatment as well as those raised in defense show that this situation is not clear cut to outside observers. I think that Valerie Pezeron‘s views as laid out in the thread below most closely match up with mine – they are definitely worth a read.

The vocalization of the long-term unhappiness of many of the authors and illustrators is an indication that people are no longer going to be quiet if they perceive themselves to be treated unfairly, this is good as it can act as a warning to others that may find themselves in a similar situation and can strengthen collective bargaining if enough creators band together. We may be witnessing the birth of unionisation in the author/illustrator world beyond what the Society of Authors and other groups that already exist.

I remain a fan of many of the authors and illustrators published by Nobrow, but this fandom is now tinged with a concern over what they may have experienced during the creation of their works for their publisher. Is it a fair and rational feeling? I don’t know, but it is human to have concern for the welfare of others and I am also concerned for those currently furloughed by the publisher and for everyone else impacted by the Covid-19 shutdowns across the world.

Comic Scene

Tony from Comic Scene kindly sent me copies of the first six months of this new magazine to have a look at, and I asked if he’d like to do an introductory post for the blog. Not only has he written a blurb about the fascinating range of articles, as well as reviews and original comic strips, he has also very generously included a special offer and prize draw for librarians who would like to encourage wider reading of comics and graphic novels, see below!

ComicScene Magazine is a new magazine which guides librarians, adults and children to what classic and contemporary comics to try, and what graphic novels from U.K., US and European publishers people should be reading.  It also introduces you to the exciting and eclectic work of independent and small press comics.  For those who love superhero movies and TV shows they go back to the original comic source of the films and TV.  Many of the original comics inspiring films, such as the Avengers, are over 30 to 40 years old, so a rich source of material to explore.  Did you also know publishers like Rebellion are publishing new Roy of the Rovers comics and bringing back girls comics like Tammy, Jinty & Misty? Comic Fans love the magazine – but the main aim of the title is to help those parents/carers who casually read boys and girls comics when they were younger to revist old friends or recommend comics to their children and grandchildren.   From the current issue they have also introduced some of the best comic strips being produced today with plans for a dedicated pull out comic section for adults to give to their children to encourage reading and improve literacy.  It’s the only monthly magazine dedicated to comics and comic culture being published today in the U.K. and Ireland and we’d recommend it as your guide. The magazine is available to buy in selected WHSmiths, McColls and Easons in Ireland, and it can be ordered in any newsagent or comic shop.  Just pop your postcode into the shop finder to check what local stores stock the magazine. Libraries can also subscribe monthly to the magazine or subscribe in print or digital from £2.50 a copy digital or £5.50 in print (with free digital copy).

On the ComicScene shop they have just added the first six months of the magazine in a £30 pack and if a library purchases a pack and/or subscribes before the end of July they will be put in a draw to get their subscription back for the year PLUS £100 of free Graphic Novels (email comicsceneuk@gmail.com when you have made your order).

With sales of graphic novels for children on the rise and University courses now available to study producing comics and comic history who knows – you could be inspiring the next comic writer or artist by introducing the magazine to your library!

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea!

The first two Narwhal books by Ben Clanton

These graphic novels are a brilliant introduction to the medium for young readers, written and drawn by Canadian Ben Clanton they are short and simple but wonderfully silly, about the adventures of best friends Narwhal and Jelly. The first two books are out in the UK now!

Narwhal and Jelly meet for the first time in the first story

I literally laughed out loud at the banter, the stories are just joyful and so much is said in very few words. I can’t imagine anyone of any age, from 5+, not loving this series (book 3 is due in September). They tackle friendship, embracing difference, and all sorts of emotions, and they’re totally adorable and really funny. For information lovers, there are pages of facts about creatures mentioned in the stories.

Yes, that is a narwhal and a jellyfish enjoying waffles on the other page!

When Egmont asked if I’d like review copies for the blog I jumped at them (thankyou for sending them to me), because the glimpse of the comic strip on the press release immediately brought to mind another underwater character that I love, who could really do with a Narwhal and Jelly in her life: Lucy the Octopus by Richy K. Chandler. He’s visited two of my schools to do comics workshops and all of the students have had a great time with him, I highly recommend getting him in. When he visited my current school a couple of years ago he gave us a couple of printed volumes of the webcomic (still available to buy), but there is now a hardback graphic novel you can buy for your library to bring cheer to the lives of all your anxious (& possibly bullied) faves (recommended to age 9+)

Dark Nights: Metal

The Dark Knight has uncovered one of the lost mysteries of the universe…one that could destroy the very fabric of the DC Universe! The dark corners of reality that have never been seen till now! The Dark Multiverse is revealed in all its devastating danger–a team of twisted, evil versions of Batman hellbent on destroying the DC Universe!

I first read of the demon Barbatos in Batman 452, the first part of Dark Knight, Dark City trilogy – you may remember it, it had the Mike “Hellboy” Mignola cover, actually the covers for all three issues were by Mignola. I remember tracking the comics down for ages before finding them for sale at a stall on Cape Town train Station. It was these three comics that made me a Batman fan – written by Peter Milligan, they detailed the Batman hunting for his foe the Riddler through the streets of Gotham, plagued by riddles that made no sense, flashbacks to the founding fathers of the United States of America engaging in a sacrifice to raise a demon. This was the stuff of ‘70’s pulp horror novels and the satanic panic of the ‘80’s, it had teenage me hooked!

Flashforward 27 years to the release of Metal – a miniseries to end all miniseries, centring on the nightmares of the Batman, the world is slipping into darkness, twisted beings from the darkest realities stalk the night. All of them wearing the symbol of the Bat and towering above them all, its name spoken only in whispers is Barbatos!

I had to, read it I mean again and again. How could the Batman triumph against his darkest selves, the story was dark and twisted, referencing the darkest aspects of the Batmythology, this is honestly I think Scott Snyder’s finest written work featuring the Bat!

The artwork by Greg Capullo fits the tone of the story perfectly! I have not read a comic illustrated by him since I cancelled my Spawn subscription. His work is better than I remember it – and I remember it being phenomenal!

Snyders words and Capullo’s art blend together to bring you the darkest takes on the Darkest Knight and it works perfectly!

God, I was 15 again, a Batfan for the first time and I revelled in it!

I have read Metal even, maybe eight times since I received a copy and tonight I am going to read it again!

You should too – go on treat your shelf!

Akissi: Tales of Mischief


What do flying sheep, super-missiles, and grandmother-attacking coconuts have in common?

One feisty little girl!

Join Akissi and friends as they get up to all sorts of antics around their town in the Ivory coast.

There’s loads of fun to be had… as long as they manage to stay out of trouble!

I have been aware of Marguerite Abouet’s work for a few years now as a friend introduced me to her Aya series of graphic novels about a young woman living in Yop City in Côte d’Ivoire in the 1970’s. Written by Marguerite and illustrated by her husband and partner Clément Oubrerie.

Akissi, published in English by Flying Eye Books was a welcome return to West Africa, a series of the comic misadventures about the eponymous heroine, a small girl living in a village somewhere in the Côte d’Ivoire. Written for a young audience, this comic will be a hit with readers of all ages.

Marguerite Abouet is a keen observer of the lives of small children, she has captured several things that I have found my toddler doing and going by the cartoons I have many more to look forward to; although I hope and pray that we never acquire a pet monkey! There was one incident in the book involving Akissi and her older brother Fofana that took place one night when she was too afraid to go outside that mirrored an event from my childhood (I am not going to say which one in case my brother ever reads this).

My favourite vignette (and there are so many to choose from) was Sunday Feast, it made me laugh out loud (although the hilarity as tinged with a hint of guilt at the potential blasphemy)

Akissi is funny, heartfelt and a very real look into the lives of children!

The art in this volume is by Mathieu Sapin who captures the frenetic energy of children running around or just being, perfectly!

The Corbyn Comic Book

Politics and Cartoons have gone together since man first put pen to paper to pillory politicians for perfidy in print and picture.

It is far rarer I think that our ruling classes are celebrated in cartoon form, Barack Obama was one such leader and now (thanks to the folks at SelfMadeHero) Jeremy Corbyn is another.

A few years ago Mr Corbyn seemed like an archaic left-over from Labour’s more left-wing militant past; a reminder that politicians were not all slick carbon copies with PPE degrees from prestigious universities.

Then one day he was chosen to run against his more centrist colleagues in a leadership contest…

and he won.

The words “Labour will be unelectable for a generation” were bandied around, murmurs of mutiny from the Parliamentary Labour Party became louder, votes of no confidence to remove him happened; attempts to undermine him became an almost daily occurrence, with briefings to the press and high-profile resignations happening with tiresome regularity.

Throughout all of this he became more and more popular with the electorate; not that you would believe this considering the vituperative attacks by Britains right-wing press.

Theresa May, believing what she read & heard from the news about Labour being fatally weakened by an unelectable Corbyn; saw her chance to destroy all meaningful opposition to her Brexit plans and called a snap election.

She did not win.

Labour under Corbyn pulled them back enough to prevent a Conservative parliamentary majority, wiping out the Tories’ electoral lead and forcing them to go hat in hand to smaller parties to prop up their failing government.

Written and drawn in a variety of styles The Corbyn Comic Book is a collection of over 30 one to three page comic strips celebrating Corbyn the man, the jam lover, the Prime Minister?

Yes this comic is an indulgence, but it is wonderful and a window into how Jeremy Corbyn is seen in the minds of some wonderful comic artists.

I am a fan*!

Get it today!

*Of both Corbyn and this comic

The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship by Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham

Today, the 18th May 2017 marks the 156th anniversary of the ship that became known as the Mary Celeste, the ship that achieved notoriety when it was discovered adrift and deserted in the Atlantic Ocean, off the Azores Islands, on December 5, 1872.


Another mystery ship is the Mary Alice – the ghostly ship whose crew travels the seven seas unbound by time first set sale in the first issue of the sadly scuppered weekly comic The DFC, then, as now it was penned by the inimitable Philip Pullman. The original artist was the phenomenal John Aggs; when it took to the high seas in the pages of The Phoenix it was redrawn by the equally talented (but new to me) Fred Fordham. The Pullman/Fordham collaboration is now available as a graphic novel, produced by David Fickling Books and the Phoenix Comic.

I grew up of tales of ghostly ships and spectral schooners, living as I did on the coast with a father who was an ex-navy man and The Mystery of The Ghost Ship reawakened that part of me that thrilled to nautical tales of hair-raising mystery and derring-do. With a no-nonsense heroine teamed up with a mysterious boy and a whole crew of time-displaced sailors all trying to get back to their timelines and survive an all-powerful foe determined to destroy them for reasons of his own.

This book is a thing of beauty, a hardback with a beautiful full-colour dust jacket that hides a gorgeous navy blue cover emblazoned with a mysterious, glowing Macguffin. Speaking as a somewhat obsessive book collector – the outward appearance of items that I choose to keep on my shelves is incredibly important – almost as important as the art and story contained on the pages within and believe me when I say the reread potential in this tome is incredibly high – the story works just as well huddled up in bed under the duvet at midnight with a torch (my favourite reading location) as it does on a bright summer day at the seaside!

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia Butler, John Jennings and Damian Duffy

I’m black, I’m solitary, I’ve always been an outsider!
~ Octavia E. Butler

Octavia Butler has been described as the greatest science fiction writer of her generation, not the greatest female science fiction writer or the greatest African-American science fiction writer, she is simply put, one of the greatest! Her words cut across class, race and gender and have found a home in the collections of millions of readers the world over!

She was awarded two Hugo Awards, two Nebula Awards and the PEN Lifetime Achievement Award. She was also the first science fiction writer to win a MacArthur “Genius” fellowship.

Kindred is one of her best-known novels; the tale of Dana, a modern young woman swept back in time to an earlier period in history, in this case the antebellum South, a time of cotillions, southern gallantry and all very romantic unless, like Dana, you happen to be black…

Kindred is a story of contrasts, of kindness, humanity and cruelty, of a modern world (in this case 1970’s California) where people are free to live their life and marry whomever they please and a time where people are treated as chattel, bought, sold an abused as they are considered less than human.

This graphic novel version of Kindred, adapted by Damian Duffy and John Jennings with the agreement of the estate of Octavia E. Butler is a beautiful hardcover, with an eye-catching dust jacket that looks as perfect on a shelf with novels as it does with other works of graphic art.

Damian Duffy has pared back Octavia’s text, preserving the essential story but making it flow perfectly for this graphic adaptation; John Jennings brings the text to life with his amazing artwork, imbuing the characters with movement on the page without glossing over the bloody and brutal mistreatment of humans by their fellow man. He has captured the cold cruelty of the slave owners in contrast with the pain and damaged humanity of the slaves. This is not a pretty story, no matter the beautiful artwork that adorns the pages; indeed it is shocking to modern liberal sensibilities and makes uncomfortable reading to be confronted by callous indifference to human suffering, but is necessary to remind ourselves how easy it is for us to dehumanise others and although we have come far, there is still a distance to go before we treat each other equally.

Kindred is rightly considered a classic of the science fiction & literary genres. Duffy & Jennings’ version is a perfect gateway for readers to encounter Octavia’s work.

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia Butler, illustrated by John Jennings and adapted by Damian Duffy. Published by Abrams ComicArts (£15.99)

HiLo The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick

I have had a copy of Hilo written and drawn by Judd Winick since December – it is a comic book that I loved and have been meaning to write a review of since I read it. However I have been dragging my feet with this and I have no idea why.

Last night I had a dream, and in that dream I wrote a Hilo review and compared it to The Iron Man by Ted Hughes – this is better known internationally as The Iron Giant thanks to the fantastic Warner Bros. animated movie. When I woke up I was confused as on the surface they two beings appeared to be completely different; on deeper reflection I realised that the stories had a number of similarities, my brain also threw about Osamu Tezuka’s Astroboy and Frank Miller and Geof Darrow’s The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot into the mix as well as the parallels to Judd’s early work The Adventures of Barry Ween Boy Genius (the book that made me a Winick fan-boy)

Judd – if you do read this can you *please* let me know if Barry Ween will ever come back – thank you!

ANYWAY! Hilo The Boy Who Crashed to Earth is funny, sweet and contains some surprisingly hidden depths to the surface story of a mysterious boy who falls to Earth and the children that become his best friends.

There is a lot of screaming and running away from alien monsters and pathos in the form of familial relationships and the feeling of not fitting in with both Hilo and D.J. filling the role of outsider Hilo on earth and D.J. within his family.

JW has always been championed diversity in his works and HiLo is no exception, a Caucasian from another dimension with a Hispanic and African American as best friends who get equal development within the story.

HiLo is a fast-paced, enjoyable romp for all ages and there are two other books in the series that are also available so there will be no long waiting for more once you have finished it!
If I could sum up HiLo The boy Who Crashed to Earth in one word then it is:
OUTSTANDING!

HiLo The Boy Who Crashed to Earth is published in the UK by Puffin