Editor: Kazu Kibuishi
My rating: 3.5 of 5
The great thing–the scary thing–about boxes is that they can contain just about anything. Or nothing. You’ll never know until you open them. It could be something that will change your perspective for the better. Or it could be something that will wreak havoc with your life. Maybe it’s an opportunity for a second chance. But then, maybe it’s best left closed–after all, once you’ve imagined all the things it could be, perhaps whatever it really is might be a disappointment. You never know. . . .
As with Kibuishi’s other Explorer books, The Mystery Boxes is a collection of graphic short stories by various authors/artists focusing on a theme–in this instance, boxes. You’ve got quite the gamut of stories here from creepy (“Under the Floorboards” in which a wax doll tries to take over a little girl’s life), to corny (“Whatzit” in which a weird alien kid is pranked and returns the favor), to moving (notably “The Keeper’s Treasure” and Kibuishi’s own story, “The Escape Option”). Honestly, my opinions about these stories range widely, with some of them being lots of fun and others just being kind of “huh?” for me. Some of them, I just don’t quite get what the author was getting at, I guess. But then, there are stories like “The Keeper’s Treasure,” “Spring Cleaning” (goofy but amusing), and “The Escape Option” that I think still make Explorer: The Mystery Boxes well worth the time to read it.
Author: J. P. Ahonen/Illustrator: K. P. Alare
My rating: 4 of 5
Previously published as Perkeros
WARNING: Mature Audience
Perkeros–an avant-garde band just beginning to find its place in the local music scene. Band members include art-student keyboardist Lisa, singer/guitarist Aydin (who keeps mixing pizza with his music), bassist Kervinen (it’s hard to tell which of his stories are for real and which are a product of too much experimentation in the sixties), and drummer Bear (who is, in fact, a bear). And Aksel, the lead guitarist whose extreme nerves and obsessive perfectionism (plus just obsession) over the music may just be enough to shatter the band. Certainly enough to get him ousted from the house by his pragmatic girlfriend. But when the members of Perkeros encounter the seemingly impossible and horrifying results of music gone wrong in another band, it may just be enough for them to reconcile their differences.
Sing No Evil was quite a unique find, and I’m glad to have read it. For one thing, I think it’s the first actual Finnish book I’ve read–I don’t know whether there just aren’t many released in English or if I’m just blind, but I almost never see books by Finnish authors here in the U.S. So that was neat. Plus, this is an extremely dynamic and engaging graphic novel, although I’m rather baffled as to how to classify it. Imagine if Kazu Kibuishi took over the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel–you might end up with something kind of similar. The art style is really nice, and yes, kind of reminiscent of some of Kibuishi’s work. I like the character designs a lot, and the music scenes are fabulously trippy (the cover is a great example of this, actually). But the story itself is this weird (but fascinating) mix of new-adult slice of life stuff–your basic story of young adults trying to work a band into the mix with relationships, work, and higher education–along with some really trippy quasi-demonic deathmetal stuff. It’s kind of creepy (one of several reasons I would label this an adult graphic novel). Of course, there’s some random magical-realism stuff thrown in, too, like Bear being a bear and also being a legitimate member of the band . . . but also being the only animal in this sort of situation in the story. I quite enjoyed the mix in the story, however challenging it was to classify, and the mix of drama, adventure, and humor was nicely balanced. Also random but fun, there are any number of random references just thrown in–I almost died laughing when I saw that Bear’s winter home had a sign saying “Sanders” over the door. Anyhow, I don’t think Sing No Evil is for everyone, but for those interested in a dynamic new adult/fantasy graphic novel with a focus on music, it might be interesting to try.
Editor: Kazu Kibuishi
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Perhaps it’s a place where festivities turn to horror. Or maybe it’s a place where stories are broadcast from all over, where magic is made. It may not be an actual place at all, but rather something symbolizing our sense of self. Whatever the case, the idea of a lost island, isolated and strange, is tantalizing and full of equal parts fear and wonder. Come and see what’s there to find.
I’ve read one volume of Kibuishi’s Explorer series previously, The Hidden Doors, which I quite enjoyed. The Lost Islands brings a similar experience–a collection of graphic shorts by a variety of authors/illustrators, all somehow connected by the titular idea. It’s great to see the immense variety that is presented in this collection. You’ve got light, fluffy pieces and scary, adventurous stories and even one that’s contemplative and psychological. All in all, it’s a good selection; I don’t think there was a single story I didn’t enjoy. The art is all excellent, again with a good bit of variety between styles. The stories are generally middle-grade appropriate, but recommended for basically all ages, in my opinion. I especially appreciate that the stories aren’t just existential occurrences; they focus on ideas such as hard work, self-awareness, being true to oneself, and the importance of being a good friend. I would definitely recommend Explorer: The Lost Islands, and I look forward to reading more by the authors/illustrators represented here.
Contributors: Jake Parker, Chrystin Garland, Jason Caffoe, Dave Roman, Raina Telgemeier, Braden Lamb, Michel Gagné, Katie Shanahan, Steven Shanahan, Eric Kim, Selena Dizazzo, & Kazu Kibuishi
Editor: Kazu Kibuishi
My rating: 4 of 5
The great thing about doors–and perhaps the scary thing, too–is that you never quite know what might be behind them. Just look what Lucy found when she opened the wardrobe doors to play hide-and-seek! In this collection of graphic shorts, we find (and open) doors in closets and in tombs–even in the mind itself!
I have loved Kibuishi’s Amulet books, so I was very curious to see what sort of collection he would pull together. And I must say, I very much enjoyed this collection. There’s a lot of variety, but the “hidden door” theme ties the stories together nicely. There are funny stories, and thought-provoking stories, and wonder-filled stories–and maybe they’re all a little bit of all of those. In any case, they share a beauty, charm, and warmth that is quite delightful, one that can be appreciated by everyone from grade-school kids to adults. Definitely recommended–especially for those who would like to try out the writing styles of different graphic novelists.
Contributors: Kazu Kibuishi, Jen Breach, Jason Caffoe, Steve Hamaker, Faith Erin Hicks, Douglas Holgate, Johane Matte, Jen Wang, Mary Cagle, Denver Jackson, & Noreen Rana
Author/Illustrator: Ben Hatke
My rating: 5 of 5
Zita the Spacegirl, vol. 2
Being famous isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, you know? Zita quickly finds this out after she and her friends save Scriptorius. Soon her picture is plastered on walls everywhere she goes, and everywhere she is greeted by huge crowds wanting to meet her and get her autograph. Sometimes she’d really just love some time to herself, right? So when Zita encounters a robot that almost-perfectly mimics her, she decides to take advantage of the situation for a while and let this robot take her place–just long enough for her to get a break. The only trouble is that robot-Zita sees itself as the real hero, as Zita herself, and volunteers the crew to go save a planet . . . leaving the real Zita and her friend Mouse behind!
I absolutely loved the first Zita graphic novel, and I think Legends of Zita the Spacegirl is a strong follow-up, consistently portraying the things that I loved in the first volume. Zita is a strong character, and she encounters a lot of strong individuals along her journey–several of whom have a huge impact on her. I really loved the introduction of Madrigal in this volume; it’s clear she and Piper have a history, and I’m really curious to see that developed more. And I appreciated that robot-Zita, although wrong for a good part of the story, has redeeming aspects to her as well. The plot is exciting and full of adventure, but definitely ok for elementary-age kids. It even highlights important character traits like loyalty and self-sacrifice, while avoiding being “preachy” in the slightest. And I just love the art; it’s gutsy and adorable, whimsical and eclectic. Actually, it reminds me a lot of the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Kazu Kibuishi, while still having its own unique quirks that are just fantastic. I would highly recommend Legends of Zita the Spacegirl to just about anyone of any age; it’s a wonderful story!
Author/Illustrator: Ben Hatke
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Zita the Spacegirl, vol. 1
Zita had to push the big red button–I mean, come on, wouldn’t you? Trouble is, her best friend Joseph got sucked into some warp-hole portal thing when she pushed the button. So now she’s responsible, and being who she is, Zita is determined to follow her friend and get him home safely, whatever it takes. Pushing the big red button again, she finds herself in a busy alien metropolis–one full of all sorts of creatures and robots she’s never seen before. Also, a metropolis doomed to be struck by an asteroid in only three days. Everyone is trying to get off-world as quickly as they can, and Zita’s got a daunting deadline in which to find Joseph. Actually, finding him turns out to be easier than expected; he’s been kidnapped to use as a sacrifice to stop the asteroid. But rescuing him is something Zita couldn’t possibly do alone, so it’s a good thing she’s been busy making friends in this new world.
Wow. I’d heard good things about this graphic novel, but I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy it that much. Zita and her friends are wonderful characters, full of individuality, experiencing conflicts, and growing as they go along. I especially enjoyed the Piper’s character, even though he seems like a bad guy at times. And Zita herself is so perky and indomitable and ready to befriend anyone that she’s quite captivating. I’m definitely looking forward to how the group as a whole develops over future volumes of the story. The art really fits the story as well–attractive, interesting, and just rough enough to support action and movement well and be kid-friendly in feeling. Which is something I love: the story is definitely a great one for kids to read, even elementary kids. Yet the plot and characters are developed enough to be fun to read for grown-ups as well. Oh, and the art is full-color throughout; it fits nicely with the general style. Actually, the whole style is pleasantly reminiscent of Kazu Kibuishi’s work Amulet without feeling “copy” like at all. I would definitely recommend this first volume of Zita the Spacegirl, and I will certainly read the following volumes myself.
Author/Illustrator: Kazu Kibuishi
My rating: 5 of 5
Copper and his dog Fred have the most unusual adventures. Sometimes it’s surfing incredible waves or going fishing. Other times, they travel in space or hop across mushroom tops over a huge gorge (ignoring the nearby bridge). Occasionally, they even do something normal like go shopping. Whatever the case, their imaginations illuminate the situation, providing both fun and insight–even if Fred does get a bit carried away.
My first experience with the work of Kazu Kibuishi was his incredible graphic novel series, Amulet. I was delighted to find this collection of his webcomic, Copper, at the library recently (although many of the comics presented in this volume are also available at his website. While his other works are more traditional graphic novels, Copper is more of a comic-strip sort of work. Most of the clips are only one page long and are completely self-contained, although there is something of a continuity and connection between them. I love the art style used in these comics; it’s classic Kibuishi, but with a simpler, more basic design than most of his other works. It really works well for the story. The characters are wonderful as well. Copper himself is optimistic and cheerful, but basically level-headed. And immensely imaginative–a substantial portion of the stories take place in his head, transforming the mundane into the incredible. And Fred . . . a talking dog with an imagination as huge as his boy’s. And I just love the way he’s so pessimistic about things at first, but then when he tries them, he ends up getting carried away and overdoing it. Too funny! I think Copper is a great collection for anyone, young or old, who enjoys creativity and a good laugh.