The Case of the Team Spirit (by John Allison) is the comic I’m most looking forward to booktalking for middle-school students next year. It’s about a group of six 11-year-olds (three boys, three girls) in Tackleford England (a made-up place) who solve mysteries. This mystery is about the hex that’s been put on their local football (soccer) team. This gets right to the heart of one investigator, while the rest are, well, less into football, but they do like their friend.
These characters are funny, and all of them are clever. The supporting characters, also great. I have a special affinity for Mr. Beckwith the young teacher who has this exchange with one of our detectives:
Charlotte: Sir how come you got rid of your beard?
Mr. Beckwith: My wife said it was scratching her.
Charlotte: Worr sir you are married?
Mr. Beckwith: Yeah I got a wife… am I giving away too much? Maybe I just have a piano. I didn’t want to scratch the piano with my chin.
Charlotte:Sir can I sit down on account of being confused?
Mr. Beckwith: Yes Charlotte.
Though Bad Machinery is a webcomic which you can read for free on a screen, the book is a beautiful widescreen kind of thing about the same size (and orientation) as a laptop screen. But it is batteryless.
So yes. Great stuff, and you will learn Britishisms.
My librarian friend Jamie picked up the first two volumes of The Sixth Gun on a whim recently and recommended I read them. Very glad I did. They’re set just after the American Civil War and the titular guns are basically forged in hell demon weapons that are bound to their wielders.
In Cold Dead Fingers we meet Drake, our badass antihero who’s been hired to look for the guns. The last owner of one of them (the one that let the wielder see the future) had been killed and hidden on sacred ground, but his old posse (with guns that spout hellfire, or plague, or grant eternal youth, or summon golem armies from the people they kill) kill all the priests and dig him out. The future-glimpsing gun gets bonded to the daughter of a preacher who’d been hiding it. Lots of crazy action happens, culminating in Drake being bound to the other four guns.
The second volume, Crossroads, has Drake down in the swamplands looking for information about the guns and what to do with them. There we discover what a magnet for trouble weapons forged by the devil are and how vodoun spirits would also like to get their (metaphorical) hands on such things. More crazy action happens.
These books have an excellent melding of crazy action, magickal weirdness and characters you care about. Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt (both of which do sound like fake names) are telling a pulpy tale that’s worth following, especially if you’re a fan of the Weird West (and stuff like Deadlands) like I am.
I enjoy stories of Russia’s history, especially when they’re about the Russian soul, which always seems so different from mine. Petrograd, by Philip Gelatt and Tyler Crook, is about a British spy in Petrograd during the Great War (hence the interstitial name between St. Petersburg and Leningrad). The British want to make sure the Russians and Germans don’t come to a separate peace so they push their Petrograd office into making sure that doesn’t happen, by killing Rasputin.
Cleary is one of the spies. He’s in bed with revolutionaries, feeding information to his masters and the tsarist secret police, and hobnobs with princes (for more information). When Cleary is pushed into plotting assassination he’s clearly out of his depth and the book focuses on what kind of a man he is trying to be.
It’s a great book, done in a bigger hardcover than a lot of Oni Press’ stuff. The art is detailed and brushy (reminded this untutored eye of Craig Thompson’s work, but with more traditional page layouts) with faded orange washes throughout. It’s a great non-gamourous spy story with violence and repercussions and talk of “Russifying one’s soul.”
Bryan Lee O’Malley (best known for Scott Pilgrim) drew and wrote a high school road-trip book called Lost at Sea, and it’s fucking excellent.
The story is about four young people heading back to Canada from northern California. The viewpoint character is a quiet girl who doesn’t quite fit in, and she narrates how the difference is that she has no soul. I loved the inconsequential and the really important dialogue, the out-of-the-blue things that happen that follow the kind of road trip logic you abandon yourself to. It’s a different feel from Scott Pilgrim, much more realistic. And I love that the story ends before the road-trip is over. It just ends when the important stuff is over, and all the rest is what turns into road-trip inside jokes.
I think the thing I really appreciate about this is how so many road stories seem to be about guys going off to find something in themselves, but girl road-trips seem a bit rarer. In any case, this is a definite YA recommendation.