Short and Serial: Summer Comics

I am at the start of yet another summer of back to back summer school sessions. I teach writing online and in the summer, students are allowed to take a 15 week course in just 5 weeks. It’s crazy and I’m teaching two sessions that nearly overlap…

No, I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m letting you know that in times of extreme busy-ness, my reading list usually pares down to things like magazine and literary journals, rather than novels. However, in the last year I’ve gotten so much more into comics and they’re the perfect summer school balm to soothe my need for good storytelling, while providing a more substantial story arc.

I talked last week about Monstress, which I still absolutely recommend, but this week I’d like to tell you a little about the other comics I’ve been enjoying recently. While Monstress is written and illustrated by women, some of the following have male/female collaborations. To be honest, I’m not sure how that affects things in a larger sense. I’m not a wide comics reader, so I can’t speak to the issue on a larger level, but I have noticed that both Monstress and Pretty Deadly, which have women at the helm of the creative team both have a distinctly different vibe from other comics I’ve read. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the narration, art and story arcs overall have a slightly different vibe from comics I’ve read where men and women have collaborated.

Even in the case of Pretty Deadly vs. Bitch Planet, both written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, the narrative style feels distinct, and not just because they are different types of comics. Something about Bitch Planet, despite its overtly feminist themes feels more masculine than Pretty Deadly, with its mystical story arc and strange narrative style.

I know this is a less-than-well-supported assessment. In fact, it’s pure opinion, based on nothing but my feelings, but I do see a subtle difference in the ways the stories are told. Not that any are worth more than others, but after almost three years of reading nearly all fictional work written by women, there is an almost intangible way that women tell stories that differs from the way men do. I’d love it if someone else could speak to this in a more intelligent way!

Onto the recommendations:

Pretty Deadly, by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

While Monstress is currently heading up my favorites list in the comics department, Pretty Deadly is a close, close second.

In Pretty Deadly:

Death’s daughter rides the wind on a horse made of smoke and her face bears the skull marks of her father. Her origin story is a tale of retribution as beautifully lush as it is unflinchingly savage.

Saga, by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

I’ve loved Saga from the first issue. Fiona Staples brings amazing life to Brian Vaughn’s storytelling. Much like Monstress, Staples’ art is detailed in a way that is simply mind-blowing.

In Saga:

When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe. Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds.

Bitch Planet, by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine DeLandro

I’ve just gotten started on Bitch Planet. And if I’m honest, I’m a little on the fence about it. One of the things that I love most about Monstress, Pretty Deadly and Saga are the beautiful art and I’m simply not as attracted to DeLandro’s style as I am to Takeda, Staples or Rios’. But I’m enjoying seeing where the story goes and I’d recommend giving it a read.

In a future just a few years down the road in the wrong direction, a woman’s failure to comply with her patriarchal overlords will result in exile to the meanest penal planet in the galaxy. When the newest crop of fresh femmes arrive, can they work together to stay alive or will hidden agendas, crooked guards, and the deadliest sport on (or off!) Earth take them to their maker?

Allison Carr Waechter is waiting for the rain so she doesn’t have to go water the garden. 


Monstress Continued

24426209Last year in November I raved about Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s brilliant first issue of Monstress. The series is through Issue 6 now and you’ll be able to buy the compiled Vol. 1 in July. It’s safe to say I was deeply intrigued after the deluxe first issue (it was 66 pages!), but now I am enthralled. Mostly, I know that folks who are already comics readers have either already picked up Monstress or have heard the buzz, so I’m really trying to reach our readers that maybe typically don’t read comics, but that tend to like the kinds of books that Nicola, Alyssa and I tend to recommend27279102.

Over the past few years I’ve grown to like comics more and more. I love art, I love stories, I love fantasy and sci-fi and comics often blend those qualities in brilliant ways that I adore. Still, I have a bit of a hard time getting into any series that’s just started because I lose focus early and forget what’s happened — this happens to me with books, movies, podcasts… I love a series, but I typically need something significant to dig my teeth into to really get into a series. Liu and Takeda gave me just that, and I am practically addicted to the story.

Monstress is about a young woman named Maika Halfwolf who has a mysterious and ancient monster living inside her body. It times of distress it often takes over and commits atrocities to protect her (and by extension, itself). Maika lives in a world where her kind, the Arcanics, are in an uneasy truce with a race of witches called the Cumaea. While the Cumaea view the Arcanics as a “race,” the term applies broadly to groups of magical creatures that can pass as human, part animal, or even all animal.

27881799The Cumaea, as an organization, are a group of women who are endlessly savage in their acquisition of power. They are beautiful, highly educated and fantastic warriors, but are also vicious, conniving and violent. They have enslaved thousands of Arcanics for their own means, consuming them for 28695374power, using them for manual labor, or conducting heinous experiments on them. In Issues 1-4, we get a pretty good look at the Cumaea, but in Issues 5 and 6 we start to understand more about the “Courts” of the Arcanics, which aren’t seeming much better than the Cumaea, from Maika’s perspective.

I said in my first recommendation for Monstress that one of the most fascinating things about it was that its worldbuilding is primarily based on matriarchal structures, which has an interesting effect on how the story is told…. if only because it doesn’t seem to matter at all. There has been no sacrifice of power or violence to acquiesce to more “feminine” qualities. The female characters in these books are everything good, bad and the dozens of shades in between. It’s exactly these shades of grey that make the series being primarily populated by female characters so unique.

They way Monstress is paced feels a lot like reading a novel. Its themes of war between races (and some things about the “races” themselves) reminds me  of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. I think 29071035people who loved that series for its complexity will adore Monstress. In terms of aesthetics and worldbuilding, I think that people who typically enjoy manga-style artwork will be thrilled by Takeda’s intricate style.

I am consistently floored by how beautiful her work is and have read each issue several times just to look at the pictures again and again. Comic book covers are 29277177often more intricate or artistic versions of the art you can expect to see in the book (they’re meant to draw the reader in, like any book cover, after all!), but in this case, they are simply beautiful renditions of the heart of each issue’s primary conflict or theme. The images you can expect to see in the books themselves are just as stunning, frame by frame.

Overall, I realize this is just the beginning of what Takeda and Liu are trying to accomplish and that thought excites me more than what they’ve already put out. I expect that Maika will only become more complex, that her relationship with the mysterious Tuya will result in more surprises and I’m looking forward to seeing what becomes of a certain Lord Corvin in Issue 7.

I hope you’ll pick Monstress up if you haven’t, that you’ll pick it back up if you lost track of it and that you’ll love it no matter what.

Allison Carr Waechter’s summer school semester just started, so books with pictures are just the ticket. 

Down a Darker Path: The Comics of Emily Carroll

91bldT8CbtL81gs3Mk0AALIt’s almost Halloween and I think we’re all looking for something a little scary to read. How about something downright terrifying? If you’re looking for something that will get under your skin and give you chills, something to only read in the daytime, then I suggest the work of Emily Carroll.

Carroll’s work has largely been in the realm of webcomics, which is fantastic for you (and me too!) because right after you read this, you can skip over to her website and get going. Carroll’s illustrations have an almost delicate quality; it’s similar to the work of Edward Gorey. They’re gorgeous and almost all of her comics have a fairytale-like quality to them.

I can almost guarantee that if you like Angela Carter or any of the other dark fairytale adaptations that I’ve recommended here in the past few months, that you’ll like Carroll’s work. In addition to her collection of webcomics, Carroll has a “real” book out, though you could always do what I did and buy the digital version, which seemed fitting after reading the webcomics.

Through the Woods is mostly new tales, conjured up from Carroll’s brain for the printed page. The exception is “His Face All Red”, which I strongly suggest you read in its webcomic version first to catch the original movement of the frames, which is much creepier than in the book. The other tales are new, though the prequel to “The Nesting Place” is one of Carroll’s webcomics, “All Along the Wall.”

Because the comics are so short, I almost don’t want to tell you what they’re “about.” Because short form horror depends so much on novelty, it seems wrong to give too much away. I’ve included some of the pages from Through the Woods at the bottom of this post so you can see Carroll’s beautiful work — I’m hoping it’ll draw you in and that you’ll click over to her website and enjoy a taste of her storytelling, before checking Through the Woods out from your library or buying it.

My recommendation would be to start with the webcomics. Many are interactive (like “Margot’s Room,” where clicking on objects will reveal a larger story. Others are somewhat less interactive for the reader, but Carroll’s use of scrolling up and down and left and right all add to an immersive experience that is difficult to come by in a book.

Through the Woods is worth it though. Carroll clearly knows how good horror should be constructed in a highly visual medium like comics and her page turns are well timed and the stories are well paced. However, while all of this is well and good, and obviously attractive to me as someone who likes scary fairy tales, this is only the tip of what make these stories so interesting.

Overall, what I like best is Carroll’s use of the unknown, the pauses, the gaps, and loose ends. Many of her stories don’t tie up nicely. It’s rare for Carroll’s stories to have a pat ending where the reader gets to know “what happened.” Many have classic horror endings, where one storyline is tied up nicely, but it’s obvious that another horror is lurking around the bend, and those are satisfying. However, my favorites are when Carroll gives us the puzzle pieces, but it’s clear that some are missing. Whatever our imaginations conjure up is most definitely more terrifying than any “answer” Carroll could give us.

This is the genius behind these short pieces, they engage our imaginations so deeply that we’re left thinking about the missing pieces of the plot, or the open endings for days. I also like that Carroll delves into scary territory that isn’t totally reliant on gore. I mean sure, there’s some gros s stuff, “Out of Skin” for instance, is a little more gory that I typically prefer, but Carroll’s ethereal illustrations render it palatable. The “scare” in most of these tales is visceral, but also psychological, and the double-down is really effective.

I’m always in for suspenseful stories, but I’m kind of a lightweight when it comes to horror, so coming from me, this is a big deal! Again, this reminds me most of Angela Carter’s work in The Bloody Chamber. It’s horrific, but it’s also beautiful. The balance is what makes it work for me, I think. This idea that horror and beauty so often go hand in hand is something I think women understand especially well. So please, go check out Emily Carroll’s beautiful webcomics and should you be further motivated, Through the Woods is available now.


From “Our Neighbor’s House” in Through the Woods


From “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold” in Through the Woods

Allison Carr Waechter is ready for the thinning of the veil. See you all on Halloween, you beautiful wraiths!

Fresh Reads!

Fresh Reads

Some of our contributors and favorite authors have new work out! Check it out: 

On her personal blog, The Prattle of Hastings,  Nicola reviews Jodi Meadows’ The Orphan Queen:

Jodi Meadows’ The Orphan Queen has everything I look for in a book: political intrigue, magic, supernatural threat, and kickass heroines.

Click here to read her full review. 

Esther Fishman reviewed Cherry Tree’s first issue which features work by our contributor Kate Gaskin:

I was most impressed by the work of Matthew Lippman and Kate Gaskin. Their poems seem to contain an emotional charge drawn from their respective life experiences, rendered in explosive language that jumps off the page. It is not always a comfortable feeling, but it makes for very exciting reading.

Click here to read the full review.

Kate also has new work appearing in Issue 9 of Kindred. Click here to pick up your copy.

Kyle reviews artist Jenna Bryan’s work on her personal blog, The Dusty Soul:

Spotlight artist, Jenna Bryan is this year’s Momentum subversive. As a skilled printmaker and sculptor, Bryan produces unique works that push the boundaries on aesthetics. Bryan refers to her artistic process as the Progress in Work, challenging the counterpart phrase Work in Progress, stating “I think it’s important to remember that the most progress is being made when the work is being put into it. Only at its active state is it progressing.”

Click here to read the full review. 

Contributor Jennifer Stewart Fueston’s essay “Apples and Honey” appeared on You Are Here:

I have never been much of a gardener, nor someone who relishes yard work and the natural rhythms of planting and harvesting. This is probably because in the first decade of my adult life I moved five times—in four different countries. Occasionally my apartments might have hosted a few pathetic geraniums, but both physically and metaphorically, those years were not ones in which I was “putting down roots.” I was a traveler and a missionary, perpetually single, and free of family demands.

Read the full essay here. 

We hear through the grapevine that Elysium author, Jennifer Marie Brissett is working on a new novel! In the meantime, check out her short story “A Song For You”:

Science fiction is the art of the future, yet we rarely come across a story that so cogently expresses the future of art as this one. Here, Jennifer Marie Brissett makes a real effort to imagine how beauty, and not just technology, will evolve along with our species. What does the music of tomorrow sound like, and can we still be moved by a song, even when it’s torn from the lips of a brokenhearted android?

Read the story here.

In other big news, Sabaa Tahir, author of An Ember in the Ashes will write a second book! We congratulate her and pat ourselves on the back for raising our voices, practically begging for a sequel. Here’s the news from Tahir herself:

But of all the awesomeness of the past few weeks, one moment stands out: when Penguin finalized a sequel for EMBER last week. The tour I went on was spectacular; the reviews both scary and great; the New York Times list simply mind-boggling. But the sequel….the sequel gave me my heart’s wish: to tell the story that I need to tell. To stay with characters who have become such a huge part of me.

Read The New York Times article about how An Ember in the Ashes’ success led to a sequel. 

Thanks for catching up with us!

– Allison



Shapeshifters, magic and gay dads: NIMONA by Noelle Stevenson

nimona noelle stevensonI am very picky about my graphic novels. It comes, in part, because of my raging feminist nature – there’s not nearly enough female characters in most mainstream graphic novels and comic bind-ups for me to really love. It’s why I became so quickly obsessed with Rat Queens and Saga. But it wasn’t just the female characters I loved. Their worlds were fascinating and the plots hooked me in.

Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona doesn’t have a dark of a world as Saga and it doesn’t have as many characters as Rat Queens. But it’s fun and fierce, with characters that no reader will soon forget.

Nimona is a shapeshifter who decides that she needs to be the evil villain Lord Ballister Blackheart’s squire. Blackheart accepts (albeit reluctantly and only because Nimona’s murdering people left and right) and together they pair up to take on the Institute of Law Enforcement and Heroics and its golden boy Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. Along the way, Blackheart discovers there may be more to Nimona than a girl with magical powers; Nimona discovers that Blackheart’s heart might not be black; and Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin looks fabulous and struggles with the guilt of deeds long past.

It’s an amazingly fun story and a wicked fast read. (I devoured my advanced copy of the upcoming printed version at a diner over ice cream. Reading Nimona with ice cream is the best way to read Nimona. Reading anything with ice cream is the best way to read anything.) I absolutely loved the dynamics between Goldenloin and Blackheart, and Nimona’s determination (and habit of shapeshifting into large destructive dragon-esque creatures) endeared her to me. I’ve been talking about the characters and giggling with other fans ever since I finished it.

Nobody should be surprised that Stevenson’s Nimona is so memorable. It was her first work and what landed her on the map. Now, with her comic Lumberjanes and her absolutely amazing Wonder Woman issues, those who haven’t read Nimona certainly need to go back and read it.

But perhaps the best thing about Nimona isn’t the comic itself, but how much fun it continues to be once you put it down. There is no bigger fan of Nimona‘s characters than Noelle Stevenson herself, and so following her on Tumblr and Twitter means that the series never really ends. She’s constantly sketching the characters in alternate universes, where Nimona is a little older, or Blackheart and Goldenlion are her gay dads, or the Director is a giraffe. (She does have an impossibly long neck.)

Nimona was originally a web-comic that could be read for free online, but with the release of the book in May, only the first three chapters are available online. But trust me – you’ll want to own this one.