Author/Illustrator: Keezy Young
My rating: 5 of 5
Being a ghost, Blue had missed human interaction . . . until he found Hamal, a guy who can actually see and talk to ghosts. The two quickly become friends–okay, Blue maybe has fallen a bit in love–and the small gardening shop Hamal works at soon becomes a popular hangout for a number of lonely ghosts. But something dark is creeping into the area, and Hamal seems to be at the center of it all. How far will Blue have to go to protect the guy he cares for and the other ghosts?
Taproot was one of the most charming, refreshing stories I’ve read in a while. Originally a webcomic, it’s now available as an updated single-volume graphic novel. But yes, it has that independent, webcomic sort of feel, which is delightful. The main characters are just absolutely lovable and sweet; like, I wanted things to work out well for them right from the start. And, not to give away too many spoilers, but I promise, they do get their happy ending. The art is really nice–distinctive and attractive. I really love the mix of bright colors with dark, especially the way the panels are overlapped to provide a fade-in at certain points. It’s used well to emphasize the contrast of light and darkness in the plot itself. As for the plot, again, a good mix of feel-good fluff and eeriness that resolves well and left me feeling happy. Taproot is the perfect sort of story for when you need something short to cheer you up and make you believe in hope again.
Authors: Tom & Nimue Brown
Illustrator: Tom Brown
Hopeless, Maine, vol. 1
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Hopeless . . . both a place and a state of being on this cursed island off the coast of Maine. It is a place where the sun never shines, a place that invites demons–both metaphorical and actual. Salamandra is found alone (apart from the creepies) in a huge gothic house. Not a place to leave a child, so she is brought to an orphanage where she fits in not one bit. In her friendless state, she is approached by a smiling girl . . . whom no one else can see.
Personal Demons is not your typical graphic novel, that’s for sure. It’s more atmospheric rather than action oriented. And the atmosphere is done brilliantly. The whole setting is this eerie, dark gothic island inhabited not just by people but by all sorts of oddities that appear inspired by Hieronymus Bosch himself. The art is beautiful but atypical. (I believe this started as a webcomic, and there’s the freedom and individuality of style to this graphic novel that you would expect in a high-quality webcomic.) It’s done almost entirely in a dark monochromatic palette, barring a few flashes of brilliant color to emphasize the presence of magic (and yes, there’s definitely magic in this story). For the art, the concept, and the actualization of the concept I would have to give this book a 5 out of 5 rating. Where it fell flat for me, personally, was in the story itself. I didn’t fall in love with the characters, and the plot was not particularly original . . . thus the 3.5 instead of 5 stars. Still, Personal Demons is definitely an interesting graphic novel if only for the originality of the concept and the art–well worth giving it a try.
My rating: 4 of 5
Have you ever seen the little girls of the forests, alone and beckoning? Hopefully you never will. But if you ever do . . . run!
The Little Girls of the Forests is a strange but intriguing short story, just the sort that would be perfect for telling around the campfire. Creepy, chilling, unbelievable, but with just enough credible detail to give the reader a moment’s pause. It’s written in a first-person style that almost evokes the idea of a memoir or a research journal–something of the sort of style that writers such as Poe used to employ. The addition of another individual’s “experiences” with the creepy little girls in the story adds authenticity, as do several details that are colorfully thrown in. I know the author personally, so I’m probably biased, but I really enjoyed this story. Plus, it’s super short (seriously, 5-10 minutes to read, tops), so why not give it a try?
You can find The Little Girls of the Forests here on Wattpad.
Author: Brenna Yovanoff
My rating: 3.5 of 5
The town of Gentry is very good at keeping secrets and not noticing horrible things. Mackie Doyle knows this better than anyone . . . after all, he’s the best-kept secret of them all. When he was little, he was placed in the crib of Malcolm Doyle–a fey changeling to replace the stolen human child. But instead of creating an uproar, Malcolm’s parents chose to treat Mackie as their son, hiding the fact that he wasn’t human as best they could. But now as Mackie is in high school, it’s not so easy being a fake; blood makes him sick, all the iron around him everywhere is slowly poisoning him, and now he finds himself approached by individuals who aren’t even as convincingly human as he is . . . which isn’t particularly, not that anyone seems to notice. Because Gentry is good at not noticing.
The Replacement was an unexpected find for me, a dark paranormal romance with a refreshing twist. I have to admit, I’ve gotten extremely tired of vampires and zombies, even though there are some excellent stories featuring these beings. But having a contemporary story that looked back to the old legends and fairy tales of the fey and their habits of stealing children in exchange for “luck” or “protection” or some such was a pleasantly creepy change. I think the way Yovanoff handled the concept worked well too, especially in Mackie’s character–the extreme allergy to iron allows for all sorts of interesting plot developments, since the element is so commonplace we don’t even notice its presence usually. But Yovanoff also did a great job of keeping the story human, of putting people in Mackie’s life to love him, whatever he may be. I did have a few minor issues with the plot development, although I realize they were probably necessary for the story to flow. For one, the romantic development felt too fast for me; I mean, I totally think that Mackie fell in love with the right person, it was just like “whoa, they’re kissing already?!” you know? The other thing was the complete paralysis of the parents. I get how a town could overlook awful stuff happening around them when it’s convenient. We do it all the time, you know we do. But mother instincts are pretty crazy strong things, and I can’t see any real mom not realizing that her baby’s been exchanged–or not doing something about it when she realizes, however futile her actions may be. But still, in spite of these relatively minor issues, The Replacement was an eerie, exciting teen paranormal romance that I would recommend, especially to those who really enjoy the genre.
Author/Illustrator: Stephen Collins
My rating: 5 of 5
Dave lives on the island of Here in a neat, tidy house on a neat, tidy street. Every day he follows the same, orderly routine. In fact, he detests disorder, as do all the denizens of Here. But one day everything changes for Dave, one day all the disorder that haunts his nightmares seems to burst forth from his nearly bald body to form a beard. An enormous beard that won’t stop growing no matter how it’s trimmed and treated. A beard so disorderly and gigantic that is seems ready to devour the entirety of Here. So of course, the people of Here do what they have to do; they deem the beard “evil”.
I really enjoyed The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil much more than I expected to. It felt like a mix of Shaun Tan, Dr. Seuss, and The Stanley Parable, not that that makes any sense but it’s true nonetheless. There’s exactly that sort of combination of silliness paired with a deep, unsettling underlying tension. Because this story really is a parable about us all, not one that I could spell out the moral to but one that’s valuable to consider nevertheless. It’s a scary but important reflection on human nature. The textured, stylized art and the sporadic, sometimes-rhymed writing work remarkably well with the theme. Actually, the entire graphic novel is just fitted together in every detail in a way that just works. If you’re at all of a philosophical bent, I would definitely recommend The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil.
Editor/Illustrator: Chris Van Allsburg
My rating: 5 of 5
The basic premise behind this fantastic collection of short stories is nearly as odd as the stories themselves. Supposedly, a person calling himself Harris Burdick came to editor Peter Wenders sometime around 25 years ago, dropping off a collection of 14 drawings with titles and one-line descriptions. This Burdick then left, promising to bring the accompanying stories the next day, only to never return. In The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, a group of incredible authors take these illustrations and create the stories that might have accompanied them.
Whatever the truth about Harris Burdick and his illustrations may be, this is an excellent collection of stories from a brilliant group of writers. In keeping with the concepts of the illustrations there is an eerie, Twilight Zone sort of feel to the stories. Mostly, they’re about fairly ordinary people to whom some extraordinary events occur. There is a spine-tingling quality to these stories that is simply delicious. Anyone who likes the unusual, or who simply likes short stories, should check out this creative collection.
Featured Authors: Sherman Alexie, M. T. Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, Cory Doctorow, Jules Feiffer, Stephen King, Tabitha King, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire, Walter Dean Myers, Linda Sue Park, Louis Sachar, Jon Scieszka, Chris Van Allsburg, & Lemony Snicket