A couple of summers ago, I reviewed some books, as I am wont to do. One of them was An Augmented Fourth by friend of the Ladies and local celebrity Tony McMillen. Since then, Tony’s written and drawn a comic, Lumen. Since the first four issue arc has just drawn to a close, it felt like a good time to tell you all about it – you can get in on the ground floor of what I hope will be an ongoing series, while still getting a complete story.
The story of Lumen begins with a young man, Esteban Vela, who stumbles upon a suit of armor and a lantern one day after following a falling star. It sounds romantic, except for two things – one, the armor still holds its previous occupant. Two, Esteban lives in the Nocterra, a world enshrouded entirely in darkness. There are no stars, not even falling ones, and being too romantic in a world like this is will get a boy killed. Still, inspired by tales of “the legendary Vaquero Rubus Bramble…the hero who was supposed to lasso the sun,” Esteban decides not only to take the armor, but promptly finds himself embarking on an epic quest.
You see, while the sun is gone, devoured by “the Beast that fell to earth,” there is one source of life and light in the Nocterra – lumen, a glowing substance that allows plants to grow. It also provides energy; it’s the power source for Esteban’s armor as well as the various weapons and mechs designed by his nearest neighbor, Detta the science witch. It’s Detta who sends him on his quest, to obtain the lumen horde in the southern castle. All that stands in his way are giant fungus monsters, the Fun Guys, who thrive in the darkness of the Nocterra. No problem for a hero, right?
The story has many of the best elements of a fairy tale – a magical destiny, a witch, a quest, even an animal companion and a pretty girl – while still managing to feel entirely new and unique. McMillen has clearly spent a lot of time on world-building, thinking through the rules of his night universe and how it operates, and he deploys it brilliantly, through the illustrations and actions of the plot rather than through tiresome exposition. Likewise, the characters all have distinct voices and personalities – I could hear Esteban’s cocky bravado (and its undercurrent of doubt and fear) in my head perfectly.
McMillen’s art is likewise wholly unique, loose and smudgy, yet sharp and distinct when it needs to be. The use of color is amazing in a book about a world cast in darkness, and book three has a multi-page sequence that manages to be clever without being gimmicky. And the Fun Guys – well, no one draws a monster like Tony. Each are named after actual mushrooms – there’s a great single page shot of different types in issue that looks cool AND had me reaching for google to see what a “Gristly Domecap” looks like here on our Earth.
All told, Lumen is an impressive debut comic from a writer I know is only getting better, and I can’t wait for the next arc.
If you want to read Lumen, the first copies are sold out in print but available online at McMillen’s Etsy shop, and the later issues are available either online or here in Boston at Comicazi and Hub Comics. Even more exciting, the first issue is up for FREE over at Tony’s website. So get on over there and check it out!
It can be hard for parents to navigate the shelves at a comic shop, particularly if they haven’t read a lot of comics themselves. The misconception that all comics are for kids is waning, but hasn’t totally been extinguished yet. Luckily, most shops have a section devoted to all-ages books, and staff trained to make recommendations. Here are a couple that I’ve enjoyed, if you need to spark some ideas.
This post took a couple of twists in my mind – I need to get back to my Flash recaps, and I really have an all-ages round-up review that I need to get to you all, but inspiration wasn’t coming on those fronts. Then I realized I hadn’t written my now-annual webcomics recommendations, and I have three more that are drawn and written by women. So boom! More suggestions of fun comics I think you should check out and which are freely available to you on the internet-enabled device of your choosing.
Lackadaisy by Tracy J. Butler
Update schedule: Erratic, I guess? But there’s a pretty big archive built up, and they are always worth the wait.
Plot: In 1920’s Saint Louis, a gang of misfits and ne’er-do-wells attempt to help young widow Mitzi May maintain her once prosperous speakeasy, the Lackadaisy, after the untimely death of her husband. Her competition includes gangsters, voodoo-practicing twins, and former employees, and her allies are lunatics, drug addicts, and young men with an unhealthy zeal for firearms. Oh, and did I mention that all of the characters happen to be cats?
That conceit could be annoying, but Butler pulls it off beautifully – her artwork is gorgeous, and she takes advantage of the cartooniness of anthropomorphic animals to allow her characters to express a full range of emotions. Slapstick zanieness? Yeah, we got that, but we’ve also got some real poignant moments, too. The writing is also top-notch, and has me really caring about what happens to the Lackadaisy and its denizens.
Bonus: The Gallery This little round up of extras has a ton of amazing content, from silly mini-comics to some drop-dead knockout illustrations of the cast as humans. Plenty to keep you occupied while you wait for the next post.
The Meek by Der-shing Helmer
Plot: A young girl with green hair and mysterious powers makes a promise to her dying mentor to travel to the heart of the empire she lives in to find “the center.” Meanwhile, the emperor himself is plagued by border disputes with the neighboring country – and by visions of a tiger only he can see.
I’m not gonna lie – this one is hard to explain. Think epic fantasy quest with a bit of an environmentalist theme, although I feel like that doesn’t do the story justice – it sounds like I’m talking about Ferngully. The truth here is far more complicated and subtle – Helmer has put a lot of thought into the rituals, religions, and political structures of her fictional lands, but manages to weave them into the narrative in a way that feels natural. (Although the comic does have its own wiki if you want to do further reading.) The art is masterfully colored, and shows an understanding of movement and flow that I really appreciate.
Bonus: For a while, The Meek was on hiatus – so she started another whole comic called Mare Internum. It’s about life on Mars and it is getting seriously creepy and beautiful right now. She is also responsible for this. I don’t know how to tell you to feel about that.
Sakana by Madeline Rupert
Updates: T, F
Plot: Jiro and Taro Sakana work in their uncle’s fish stall – Jiro is a salesman, while Taro is a rather too good butcher. The comic follows their adventures trying to figure out women, excessively cranky co-workers, and navigate adult life.
While all three of these recommendations have occasional jokes and levity, Sakana easily has the lightest heart. The title is a big clue of what you’re in for – “sakana” means fish in Japanese. Full of silly puns and cartoony art that favors Chuck Jones-style overreaction over subtlety, at its core Sakana is still about a family and its problems, and the emotions are real and gripping.
Bonus: Rupert writes and draws for Boom! Studio’s KaBOOM licensed kid’s comics, including Adventure Time, Regular Show, Bravest Warriors, Bee and Puppycat and Steven Universe. If you like those properties I can almost guarantee you’ll like Sakana.
So what else should I be reading? Have any of you followed up on my other recommendations and what did you think? To the comments, friends!
I don’t know how it is for everyone in the rest of the world, but here in Metro Boston, we’ve been having one of the most scorching-hot summers in recent memory. This is the kind of weather that turns apartments into saunas, that saps all of your strength, the kind in which moving even a little bit causes rivers of sweat to pour down your back. When its this hot out, there’s only one thing for it – find a beach or a room with air conditioning, grab a good book and a cold beverage or popsicle and refuse to move until the heat breaks.
But maybe you’re unsure of just what to read. You’ve blown through The Hunger Games, read the new Neil Gaiman novel, and made your way through all of the Song of Ice and Fire books (get writing, George.) What’s a genre-loving bibliophile to do? Well here are my personal recommendations for some great, entertaining reads to help you beat the heat through the power of escapism.
The Diviners by Libba Bray
You remember when I awarded Libba our first “Honorary Lady of Comicazi ” distinction, don’t you? So you know this lady writes some seriously gripping fiction in a variety of genres. Her latest series, The Diviners, is a clever take on horror. Set in 1920’s New York City, it’s the story of Evie O’Neill, a vapid flapper from Ohio who’s sent to live with her uncle (in his creepy museum of the occult) after a party trick backfires on her. It turns out that there’s more to both Evie and her party trick than meets the eye – she’s a “diviner,” someone with supernatural powers. When Naughty John, super-creepy ghost murderer extraordinaire, shows up in New York with a plan for godhood, Evie might be the only one who can stop him.
There’s far more to it than that, obviously, but if you like ghosts, supernatural powers, and/or the Roaring Twenties, this might be the book for you. It’s also the start of a proposed trilogy, so don’t expect the story to resolve neatly.
Recommended for: Ghost lovers, amateur historians
Steer clear: If you hate slang. This book is loaded with it. That jake?
The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett
You might think you’ve read this story before. A group of misfits and outsiders have special powers. Feared by “normal” society, they band together to use their powers to run one of the most effective crime syndicates the world has ever seen.
Sorry, bub, the X-Men this ain’t, despite the similar themes at play. Taggert, our narrator-protagonist (it might be a stretch to call him “hero”) certainly has mutant powers – he can manipulate bodies, including his own, on a molecular level. He can fix your teeth or literally rearrange your face. When we meet him, he’s using these abilities to benefit a powerful Moroccan druglord, Nordeen, who has some terrifying abilities of his own. But when his ex-girlfriend asks for his help tracking down her missing daughter, Taggert begins to reconsider his abilities and the choices he’s made.
Jama-Everett uses his story as a sharp commentary on race and power dynamics (yes, this is a story where the main character is explicitly NOT white. Shocking, I know), but the book, his debut novel, is still a fun and fast-paced thriller.
Recommended for: Mutants, misfits, anyone who’s ever felt partway between one thing and another
Steer clear: If you’re squeamish. This is a book about a gangland thug who can mess up people’s insides. It’s bound to get gross at times.
Oh god, you guys, these books! When I first read them, about a year ago, I was dying for someone else to read them so I could talk about them. Luckily, Tiny Doom obliged. In fact, this series is from whence her alter-ego sprang. The two of us may do a longer post on them at some point, but for now, I’d be over the moon if some of you also read the series and reported back to us.
Flora Fyrdraaca is the second of her name – her older sister, the first Flora, was killed by the Birdies in the war for Califa – the alternate-history California in which the stories take place. The Birdies (that’s the Aztecs, baby) have won the war and rule Califa from afar thanks to their superior magic, and since her parents are the general of the rebel army and one of its greatest soldiers, Flora’s family is a bit down on its luck. Their family home, Crackpot Hall, isn’t as reliable as it used to be – rooms are never quite where you left them. When Flora decides to take house’s unreliable elevator as a shortcut one day, she kicks off an adventure involving house spirits, Dainty Pirates, and more trouble than she could possibly imagine.
That summary doesn’t do justice to the scope of this series, but I think it gives you enough to decide if these are waters into which you wish to dip your toes. I love these books in huge part because I love Flora – she’s red headed, a little plump, cranky, and impatient – a far cry from the impossibly perfect heroine. All of the women in these books are fierce – Flora’s mom is the general of the Califan army, for heaven’s sake. Throw in foppish rebel pirates, ghostly octopuses, haunted boots, and some very creepy villains, and I’m sold. I will throw in the caveat that the first book is my least favorite – it was good enough to move me on to book 2, but that is where I really fell in love, so give it a chance if it doesn’t move you at first.
Recommended for: Adventurers, girls of spirit, red dogs, dainty pirates
Steer clear: Again, the slang. Wilce fills her alternate universe with some alternate language. If that bugs you, you’ll have a tough time.
That should be enough to keep you busy for the rest of the summer. If you have other great, off the beaten track book recommendations, share them in the comments – I always need new books! Or you can put them up on our shiny new Facebook page -did you know we had a Facebook page? It’s true – go like it!