Category Archives: comics & graphic novels

Threads from the Refugee Crisis by Kate Evans

Threads from the Refugee Crisis

Threads is the firsthand report of Kate Evans, a cartoonist who volunteered in 2015 and 2016 in “The Jungle” of Callais– a refugee community that the author describes as the “Disunited Nations” because it houses refugees fleeing conflicts in Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. Cartoonist Alison Bechdel (Dykes to Watch out For & Fun Home) describes the form of Evans’ book as “comics journalism at its finest.” While most of the frames follow Evans’ as she meets people in the camp, other pages and chapters offer creative zoom-outs or zoom-ins on different aspects of crises hitting refugees hardest. She writes:

“To protect some of the people described in this book[,] their identities have been altered and some characters have been conflated. But everything you are about to read really happened.”

The effect of this formal choice is to create a multi-voiced and multi-perspective work that shows the humanity existing in the maddeningly destitute camps situated amidst one of the richest areas of the world. This in turn helps show how different “threads” of the refugee crisis make gordian knots or rapidly unravel (it’s a bit of a mixed metaphor) in ways that further oppress and traumatize people fleeing horrible violence. I especially appreciated the amount of this work that focuses on what people would see on the screen of a smart phone. Phones are interspersed across the pages showing twitter feeds of callous, cowardly internet trolls in the UK and across the world who are afraid of young orphans and those most traumatized by the 21st century’s worst conflicts, and whose fear is expressed through sickening rage (the conflicts, Evans reminds her readers, have been either instigated or exacerbated by American, British, and European colonialism, militarism, and economic woes. She notes that while we seem to have unending money to fuel the crisis, we can’t find any will to spend money to allay it).

Reading this beautiful book impacted me viscerally– at times it feels like you’re being gut punched by the stories and images– and other times furious at the cowardly tweets, the needlessly violent riot police, or the opportunistic politicians damaging the less fortunate to further their careers. Evans is hardly a neutral bystander. She screams at border police officers pinning a small child to the ground who tried to get to the UK: “You have an obligation to do your job in the most humane way possible!” Yet my fear in writing this review is that I’m making Evans’ book seem a mawkish, simplistic morality play where refugees=good and xenophobic Europeans and Americans=bad. It’s not that at all, though that’s not all that far off how this book ultimately made me feel. For one, it doesn’t portray the European volunteers as saints– they are at times incompetent and are uncomfortable walking the line between volunteering and embarking on “misery tourism.” The refugees themselves are not saints either, though Evans fiercely defends the refugees from all the racist, xenophobic slurs and logics that are so common in today’s political discourse.

Everyone should read this book.

Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Must Read
Challenge: Book from a small press published in 2017

Persepolis by Marjane Santrapi

Persepolis

Persepolis is the most compelling graphic novel I’ve read since Maus. It follows the life of the young Marjane (the author), a spunky and independent six year old who is living in Tehran during the start of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The revolution unfolds before Marjane and her parents, who are committed Marxists and initially thrilled about the deposition of the western-backed shah, who tortured his dissenters in his secret prisons and got put in power through a western-funded coup. Marjane soon learns that life is much different under the new regime. She is forced to wear a veil at school, which she rips off at recess because it’s hot and oppressive. She is forced to beat her hand against her chest and chant funeral hymns for the “martyrs” of the revolution who are killed in the war against Iraq. She is forced to knit hats for the male “martyrs”- boys as young as 13 who get sent to the front lines of the battlefields in Iraq. She watches communist relatives and family friends disappear in Iran’s secret prisons, only to never emerge again. Throughout the horrors of the regime, Marjane never loses her fighting spirit. She stands up to her religion teachers, idolizes Western fashion, and hangs ACDC posters on her wall in defiance against the regime’s anti-Western rules. You can’t help rooting for her to escape the clutches of the regime and the terrifying police who snatch up dissenters in the night.

This book is written for young adults and is an easy read. I recommend if for anyone who wants to understand the history of the U.S.-Iranian conflict, and for anyone who likes reading about girls with chutzpah.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by:  Andrea Gesumaria
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: A book with a one word title

Battlestar Galatica Season Zero Omnibus v.1 by Brandon Jerwa

Battlestar Galactica (BSG)I’ve never read a graphic novel before. I looked over the display and picked this one. I’ve never watched Battlestar Galactica (BSG) or read any of the books. In the book Captain Adama and his crew are battling the Cylons. Reading the book with no background on Battlestar Galactica is extremely confusing. The book was fast paced, with a lot of action as the cover suggested. It had a lot of rough language and violence and shouldn’t be read by a young child, even though it is basically a comic book. It probably does appeal to young men and Battlestar Galactica fans. I think these books are good if they can keep young people reading. I didn’t like it.

[Editor’s note: Adapted from the 2004 – 2009 TV series.]

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Shelley Clark
Rating: Not Recommended

Dark Rain: a New Orleans Story by Matt Johnson

Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story

Dark Rain, illustrated by Simon Gane, is a graphic novel that cinematically portrays the large horrors and small hopes triggered by Hurricane Katrina. Two ex-cons down on their luck realize that a crooked bank in the in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward (where the worst and most lethal flooding occurred during Katrina) is left abandoned. The one, working as a salvage diver (and who is an ex Air Force badass) agrees to transport the other to the bank and steal the already-stolen loot inside. But as they crawl along the crowded highways, navigate the flooded streets, encounter those left behind– both alive and dead–, and square off against a private security firm named “Dark Rain,” the original mission gets complicated and confounded.

Dark Rain is in many ways similar to another graphic novel about Katrina, Josh Neufeld’s A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge. Johnson and Gane’s novel is more plot-driven, even thriller-esque, using the high-stakes caper as an excuse to bounce from the Ninth Ward to the Convention Center, the Superdome, scenes of “looting” and paramilitary violence. The art is not monochromatic, but is a wash of browns and blues that make the world of post-Katrina New Orleans haunting. True to form, Johnson’s dialogue snaps with razor sharp satire and humor, even in the bleakest of settings.

It’s a lean graphic novel, so one can read it in a day.

Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Recommended
Challenges: Book you can read in a day.

Serenity: Those Left Behind by Joss Whedon

Serenity: Those Left Behind
Serenity: Those Left Behind bridges the gap between the show ending of the show Firefly and the movie Serenity. It answers the question when and why did the various crew members start to leave and how did the agent from the film get involved in the first place. The plot is a bit muddled, but overall this is a strong continuation to the series. The artwork is excellent, particularly the characters. Frankly though, the opportunity to fly with the crew of Serenity again is what’s really worth the price of admission.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Andrew Polgreen
Rating:  Highly Recommended

Eureka by Andrew Cosby/Jame Paglia/Brenden Hay

Eureka

If you enjoyed the show, this graphic novel is worth it for the walk down memory lane. The story follows the same monster/event of the week style of the series and everything is wrapped up nicely at the end. I generally liked the art, the characters were recognizable without being exact replicas. Like most Eureka plots, the actual details of the story were a bit weak, but honestly it’s always been about the characters and anyone picking this up knows that.

Availability:  COSMOS,
Review Submitted by: Andrew Polgreen
Rating:  Recommended
Challenge: Book with a one word title

The Sandman: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman

Sandman: Season of Mists
In this volume (#4) of the Sandman saga, Dream’s associates convince him that he may have been hasty condemning the woman who loved him to 10,000 years in hell. Gaiman must really want the reader to understand that the Endless are not like us. Lucifer has had a bone to pick with Dream from early on in the series and this story builds to a large scale fight. Somewhat surprisingly Gaiman subverts all this and the latter half of the book turns into more of a lesson in politics with a literal Deus Ex Machina. The ending fits the mood and themes of the story, but it still feels like a bit of a cheat. nonetheless this is a great volume in the series and well worth the read. [Issues #21-28]

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by: Andrew Polgreen
Rating:  Recommended