Book Review – IC in a Sunflower by Mitsukazu Mihara

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Science Fiction / Short Stories
Publication Date: January 9th, 2007
Publisher: TokyoPop

Integrated Circuit in a Sunflower is an interesting title, in more than a linguistic sense. Mihara’s art is lovely, and the delicate sense of innocence it has purposefully works at odds with the cynical, morbid themes the stories explore – the ethics of cloning, dehumanization and abuse, quirks that develop into diseases. There’s not quite enough time given to any of the questions this manga tries to propose for it to brand itself in my mind, though. The stories operate like haiku, poetic yet sinister hints of a larger picture.

I liked most of the stories, particularly the title story and “Alive”, which is about human children being cloned to use as organ donors. Still, I had a similar issue as I did with Mihara’s Doll series, in that I appreciate the importance of what it’s trying to say, in regards to man’s relationship with technology, and how some aspects of scientific progress could easily benefit or corrupt human relationships, depending on the route taken to test them out, but it felt inexplicably dark-hearted and unclear.

This is not as bad for that as Doll was, but that disjointedness is still there and kind of mars my enjoyment of some honestly clever concepts. It’s difficult to explain and probably kind of petty, but it’s like the feeling of a sinking gut – uncomfortable, but in a sense that can’t be pinpointed. I suppose that means it succeeds at horror as well as it does sci-fi, but I’m not sure.

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Book Review – Brazen by Pénélope Bagieu

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Full Title: Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World
Genre: Biography
Publication Date: March 6th, 2018
Publisher: First Second

There is no more straightforward way to put it – this graphic novel is phenomenal. If you need a boost of vitality and determination in such trying times as these, look no further than Brazen. This book makes you reflect on yourself and say, I could do this too. The obstacles suddenly don’t seem so insurmountable anymore, at least for awhile.

Though if I did learn one important fact in this collection, it’s that most artistic and scientific fields historically have been overseen by, well… bigots and incompetents, and even with the efforts of these wonderful women and others, are still very much in dire need of an overhaul in their bureaucracy and ways they practice. Most, if not all of these women, even those alive in more recent years, have had to struggle for recognition because of these institutions and their staunch attitudes that they can do no wrong. If we hope to make any positive change to this little gloom-ball we live on, sometimes the system has to be challenged.

Bagieu tells the shortened but fascinating legacy of thirty important women, both influential and underappreciated, in all their determination, wit and triumph, giving each of their stories their own unique colour scheme. Not only is Brazen a visually beautiful and charming book, but it never feels anything less than passionate and heartfelt on the artist’s part, and is one of the most inspiring collections I’ve read.

What surprised me is that I actually knew most of these women. I’m very familiar with Tove Jansson, Nellie Bly, Josephine Baker, but I didn’t know the sheer extent of their accomplishments. That’s something a simple search won’t really elaborate on. Some of these women were practically the nucleus of their field, it being nonexistent or a hopeless train wreck before they came along. Continue reading “Book Review – Brazen by Pénélope Bagieu”

Book Review – To Dance by Siena Cherson Siegel

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Memoir / Sports
Publication Date: October 1st, 2006
Publisher: Atheneum-Richard Jackson Books

To Dance is the story of Siena Cherson Siegel’s journey from her desire to be a ballerina at age six to her debut performance with the New York City Ballet as a young adult. Siegel was faced with being unable to compete several times, due to being flat-footed, personal issues or injuries, yet prevailed with optimism. It’s an uplifting story told in whimsical watercolours by Mark Siegel.

While To Dance is light-hearted, Siegel doesn’t spare the brutal honesty of ballet, and how extraordinarily difficult it can be to break into its ranks at all, much less achieve fame. The art of ballet and its behind-the-scenes has for some reason, always interested me more than actual ballets have. It is definitely a demanding profession, asking so much of you, physically and mentally, that it takes an insane amount of determination to succeed in. Thus, I have a lot of respect for ballerinas. I’ve heard this graphic novel described as “symphonic”, and I think that fits quite well, the art flowing as smoothly as a lifeline.

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Book Review – Smashed by Junji Ito

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Horror / Short Stories
Publication Date: April 16th, 2019
Publisher: VIZ

An unabashed Itoholic, I’d already read most of these shorts years ago. To see them together in such a physically, artistically beautiful collection however, is much appreciated. Smashed is a peculiar mash-up of two or three previous books by Ito that never made it into English translation during their run, one being the infamous and beloved Yami no Koe, or Voices in the Dark. I noticed them blending books with their reprint of Ito’s Frankenstein last year. It is needlessly confusing, but hey, horror manga is actually starting to be taken seriously as an art now, thank the Great Old Ones, so I’m not complaining.

Smashed is admittedly not the strongest set of stories, I suppose, but this is the kind of Ito I like best. The stories that lurk here are eldritch and teeming with a preternatural urge for revenge, existing somewhere in-between visceral and psychological horror. They’re all at least decent story-wise and will give you a twisted sort of Stendhal Syndrome art-wise. I don’t ever find horror books that terrifying, so I can’t estimate a fair judgment of whether it might be to someone else or not, but Ito is always inventive, which is what I admire in the genre.

“Bloodsucking Darkness” –★★★★
A reverse vampire tale wherein someone drains their own blood to feed another who is starving. This is an unexpected and strange metaphor for eating disorders. It’s bittersweet and surprisingly in-tune with such a difficult topic, for what it is. “Bloodsucking Darkness” reminds me of another short, “Bio House”, except slightly more wholesome. Both have to do with a woman who finds herself drinking blood under unlikely circumstances.

“Ghosts of Prime Time” –★★★
Imagine being such a painfully unfunny comedian that you have to possess people into laughing at your jokes. “Ghosts of Prime Time” focuses on a comedienne duo who are that terrible, and kill their critics as well. Like many of these, this skirts the edge of social commentary but I have no idea what exactly it’s supposed to mean, if anything. It’s not particularly creepy but it is relatable.

“Roar” –★★★
This one is also not scary, however, the concept of a phantom flood which a living person can still drown in is really unique. This is a simple ghost story but thought-provoking in its own way. Continue reading “Book Review – Smashed by Junji Ito”

Book Review – Doll Vol. 1 by Mitsukazu Mihara

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Science Fiction / Drama
Manga Demographic: Josei
Publication Date: August 10th, 2004
Publisher: TokyoPop

What are the consequences of creating a person who cannot bleed? Who has no natural will, someone to do your dirty work or the things biologic humans wouldn’t dare? Doll, the lacy, angsty brainchild of artist Mitsukazu Mihara, attempts to answer such a question.
Doll is a prime example of a good mature graphic novel – it’s discomfiting and can be deeply off-putting with its dichotomy of feminine, soft artwork while probing into brutal, cruel themes. It’s a somewhat obscure gem with sharp observations about what makes something sentient “human”, but has some issues which detract from its good qualities pretty strongly. At least enough to make it more difficult to like than it should be.

I get that it’s the whole point that you’re supposed to be sympathetic to the Dolls, who are more or less android slaves with limited human senses and emotion. The consequences of synthetic life do feel real and overwhelming, but did the human characters have to be so insufferable?
The born-of-flesh humans in this series are vile, pampered, bundles of dysfunction waiting to get even worse and are just miserable to read about. They cause most of their own problems and leave their androids or in some cases, other real people to take the blame.

The only exceptions are the heiress in the first story, and the strict mother. Those two women have some of the strongest scenes and their narratives showcase how destructive society can be to women and assault victims, not helped at all by the introduction of what is essentially a new sub-type of human that anyone can destroy and abuse without consequence.
The most memorable part of Doll was “Maria” by far, though. A callous businessman falls in love with his Doll, so much that he has her illegally transplanted with human skin, nerves and parts to seem more real. Suspecting that she is a robot, even after the transplant, his jealous employees have no problem attacking their boss’s new “girlfriend”.

“Maria” alone is worth reading it for, even if a lot of this series’ characters so far are hideous people. I feel “Maria” says it all.
When something sentient, something living in every sense, is that close to a human eventually the differences will blur. Doll portrays a dystopia and a miracle of science at once.

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Book Review – Lychee Light Club by Usamaru Furuya

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Dystopian
Manga Demographic: Seinen
Publication Date: April 26th, 2011
Publisher: Vertical

What makes a human? Emotion? Fear? Intellect? Or is it just flesh?
I always hesitate before labeling a book “insane”. “Insane” doesn’t tell you anything. But… a guy gets impaled through the stomach by a toilet in this book. I’m afraid the word I need for this doesn’t exist, so I’ll have to settle for “insane”. “Pathologically brilliant” may serve as a better substitute, if you so prefer.
Somewhere in the dimension beyond where anything is offensive was this story’s birthplace. It’s a great statement about dogmatism, but the blackness of its humor has pinned open more than a few eyelids, so be prepared!

Lychee Light Club is a mad dystopian drama about a high school chess club that devolves into a death cult à la Lord of the Flies. They become obsessed with Nazi occultism and eternal youth, and don’t care who they have to blind, disembowel or execute to get it. Mostly adults and bullies they don’t like at first, then each other. No one’s really off the table.

I imagine this is what LotF might’ve been if it had had a bleak industrial setting and Roger had usurped the group instead of Jack. Club captains Zera and Jaibo are much like Roger and Jack, with their callous cruelty multiplied by ten. Kamiya and the original Light Club’s members are almost voices of reason. Almost. But they too have shed their fair share of blood.

The club’s ultimate downfall is a robot they create together to bring them this coveted eternal youth – named Lychee for the fruit used to fuel him. Lychee is made out of human bits and scrap metal, but the human in him is what becomes their undoing.
A little bit of involuntary nausea and perhaps splurging is inevitable with some of this manga’s imagery, but it’s by Furuya, so it’ll be the prettiest nausea you’ll ever get.

I don’t turn down ero-guro books as a rule if I happen to find them. They tend to be obsessive and erotic and disgusting, and kind of like force-feeding your future nightmares new material, but every one I’ve ever read has been so good. Ero-guro is above all a genre of satire and is very self-aware. Lychee Light Club is in part an affectionate parody of the controversial artist, Suehiro Maruo and his (in)famous masterpiece, The Laughing Vampire, which had a similar dystopia. Maruo even shows up in a cameo as a crazy old street prophet. Fitting..?

The Laughing Vampire… oh, I could go in circles for months about how much I enjoyed that book. It’s kind of disappointing that many readers won’t get that Light Club is an homage to it, but it’s hilarious for those who do.
This comic’s not for everyone. The foul content is top-capacity, and you probably wouldn’t be able to let your poor old obaasan borrow it, but if you’re tired of reading stable and regular manga, the Light Club’s always waiting for you.

Book Review – Silent Hill Comics (Part II) by Tom Waltz

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Paranormal
Demographic: Older Teen / Adult
Publication Date: October 20th, 2015
Publisher: IDW Publishing

I am a pretty hardcore Silent Hill fanatic. So much that it tires others, in fact.
To me, the series is an interactive artwork combined with the nuance of a novel’s characterization. Sure, it’s got quirks and bad entries on its belt but I don’t care. I genuinely don’t understand how you could enjoy horror or surrealism and not love something about Silent Hill.

As I said in my review of Omnibus I, the early comics are a terrible place to begin the series but I’m also hesitant to recommend them to fans because they barely share a canon and make some rather… interesting alterations…
Omnibus II is a squillion times better than I, on the other hand, so I’m comfortable recommending these to anyone. These are fantastic and do the series justice. A little odd storywise, but the dialogue is good and the art is godlike in places. (Or devil-like? Whichever you prefer…) The physical books of the omnibuses do not match, which is irritating but minor.

A quick rundown and my thoughts on each:

Continue reading “Book Review – Silent Hill Comics (Part II) by Tom Waltz”

Book Review – Silent Hill Comics (Part I) by Scott Ciencin

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Paranormal
Demographic: Older Teen / Adult
Publication Date: October 14th, 2008
Publisher: IDW Publishing

Silent Hill is one of my eternal favourite video game series. The original quartet in my opinion is something of a “heaven experience” – beautiful but tense. It is the closest I feel we’ve come to an interactive nightmare that anyone could have right in their living room. The fact that everyone interprets the quartet so differently and yet tends to love it dearly the same can attest to that. It’s strangely personal for a lot of people, something a video game doesn’t typically manage. Why is this, do you think?

Silent Hill is entertaining first and foremost, but it was also an (underappreciated) innovator in serious, mature themes for the medium and dealt heavily with religious abuse, depression, childhood trauma and suicide with a thin coat of surreal horror. Plus the format gives a sense of venturing into someone else’s inner, secret dreams and decoding them. It catches people off-guard, in the best way.

If you’re familiar with Silent Hill already, then you’re aware there can be a lot of… iffiness with its spin-offs. At best, you get something rare and amazing like Shattered Memories, and at worst you get an endless stream of pachinko machines coming out your ears.

The comics are a mixed bag but far from unholy. The second omnibus is loads better, but the first omnibus does have consistently good art and a few interesting stories.
If you are not familiar with it and thinking the comics would be a place to begin Silent Hill‘s story, that may not be a good idea. Unless you just love horror comics for what they are and want to try them out for that reason, the original quartet or the first film would be worlds better. Shattered Memories or Origins wouldn’t be bad either.

You can in fact go into the first omnibus not knowing anything about the series at all and it won’t make much difference. I promise. Omnibus II has somewhat to do with the series’ canon, but these comics included in I eschew it.

My general consensus with Omnibus I is that it’s frustrating but readable. They totally ignored everything established by the series. Despite having full rights to do whatever they wanted!
However… the art is impressionistic and often pretty, and if you ignore that it’s supposed to be Silent Hill they are much better as stand-alone comics. The short stories in the middle are really fun. The physical book is also of very high quality materials.

Now that I’ve rambled on forever, here’s a quick rundown of each:

Continue reading “Book Review – Silent Hill Comics (Part I) by Scott Ciencin”

Book Review – Parasyte Vol. 1 by Hitoshi Iwaaki

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Science Fiction
Manga Demographic: Seinen
Publication Date: July 26th, 2011
Publisher: Kodansha

All about a boy and his alien mutation.
I don’t think I’ve read a book before that actually made the idea of having a sentient being burrowed up inside your arm sound awesome, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything.

Parasyte asks what separates humans from what they see as “lesser” life sharing the same Earth. Is mankind indeed the parasite? A sort of self-made malignancy eating up their own planet, that answers their conflicts with other species with extermination of that species? When an alien race lands on Earth and begin usurping the bodies of humans, will humans and these parasites be at odds because they are different or because they are on the level of rivals?

I’d low-key sought out this manga for awhile, but was kind of mixed about actually starting it because of the iffy status of its being in print at the time. Fortunately, Parasyte has since returned to regular print in an even better version (an anomaly for horror manga in English), so I don’t actually regret hesitating this time.
This was thoughtful and intense and surprisingly fun. Weirdly adorable too, thanks to the parasite Migi and his squirmy bug-eyes. Others have remarked that Parasyte can be something of a gorefest, which I suppose is true but I didn’t really get that from it. Not moreso than any other dark seinen series, anyway. You’d probably like it a lot even if you dislike rampant explosions of guts. Its violence is a little more tasteful than that, I think.

Book Review – Bake Sale by Sara Varon

Bake Sale

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Fiction
Demographic: Middle Grade
Publication Date: August 30th, 2011
Publisher: First Second

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Bake Sale is adorable, how could you dislike it? It’s absurdly charming and colourful like a child’s dream. I think it’s something an adult would actually relate to more, though. The obstructions life throws down get more imposing and colossal as it goes, but it takes the same sort of dedication at any age to chisel through them, whether you’re a breathing food or a human (or both!) And sometimes it really does take just one good friend who understands your dream to help.

Cupcake has a pretty wonderful life – he has his own bakery, churning out top-quality desserts. And yes, he does make miniature edible versions of himself, not that it’s strange.
Even so, Cupcake still clashes with self-doubt and burnout with his skills. His spirits are lifted when his best friend, Eggplant, presents him with an opportunity to meet his hero, the famous chef Marzipan. Cupcake is hit with a flood of inspiration then, his creations better than ever in his determination to meet Marzipan.

Despite all the saccharine in its insides, Bake Sale isn’t actually saccharine, it’s genuine to the point where it’s hard not to smile reading it. I do wonder how Cupcake reasons eating cakes and feeding food to other food, however…

Well, possible cutely-drawn cibocannibalism aside, it’s a precious story for when you’re feeling a bit lost with your work.

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Book Review – The Jungle Book by Crystal S. Chan (Adaptation)

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Adventure / Classics
Manga Demographic: Shounen
Publication Date: April 28th, 2017
Publisher: Udon Entertainment

A lively retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s classic – the saga of a boy raised by the inhabitants of the jungle making up the first half, with the second being a series of individual short stories.

It’s a vibrant adaptation, and I appreciate that the artist goes their own way and doesn’t drawn too much from the iconic 1964 Disney film, considering how infused that adaptation has become with peoples’ image of the original.
I’ll admit that I only really know the Disney version, which I enjoy a lot but I know deviates from the novel, notably in tone, and cuts out some of the darker acts. I haven’t gotten the chance to read the original yet, though I feel from what I know about it that Chan’s version is probably a truer echo of Kipling’s novel than the animated movie was. I especially found the half with the unrelated stories interesting, because I hadn’t really known those existed – I had thought it was mostly about Mowgli and the jungle clans.

The Jungle Book is very symbolic of both the dangers and positives of both humans’ and animals’ instinct to behave as clans – how they can choose to accept an outsider as one of their own (as the wolves do Mowgli) or cast them out like a pariah (as the humans eventually do to him when he attempts to join them). Mowgli is sort of the sole exception in an environment where humans, or even humanesque animals like the monkey clan, are something strange and destructive, and to be kept away from. But only because the animals chose to raise him rather than kill him or leave him to die.

As for the art in the book, it’s very cute and crisp and the characters show a wide range of emotions. Some of the animals in particular look amazing, especially Baloo the bear and the tiger Shere Khan. It’s totally a good adaptation, overall.

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.]

Book Review – Graveyard Shakes by Laura Terry

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Horror / Paranormal
Demographic: Middle Grade / Teen
Publisher: Graphix
Publication Date: September 26th, 2017

Graveyard Shakes focuses on Katia and Victoria, two sisters from the countryside who get accepted at a prestigious boarding school, and stand out like two bright yellow thumbs. Struggling to fit in, they eventually get into a fight and in their separation, run into two very unlikely parties – the ghost of a young boy and a corpselike child, Modie, whose father is keeping him alive through forbidden magic.

Charming and light-heartedly ghoulish, never fully stepping over the fence into morbid territory. It would make a fantastic book for Halloween. Though short, the story ends up being surprisingly sweet, and I liked Katia and Victoria’s characters. It would’ve been nice to see Katia and the ghost boy get a bit of further development, however, and I feel like there are key elements of the story that could’ve been elaborated on, such as the mysterious scarab that drains life.

The art is Edward Gorey-esque and painstakingly coloured in vibrant, supernatural blues, reds and violet shades. The style reminds me of early American animation and horror films, having that same “bright macabre” look.

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Graveyard Shakes is a beautiful graphic novel with an interesting premise, though not as fleshed-out as it could have been, still makes for a entertaining read that has horror flavours without being gruesome.

Art – 5/5
Story – 3.5/5
Characterization – 4/5
General Score – 4/5

Book Review – The Damned, Vol. 2 by Cullen Bunn

★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Full Title: The Damned, Vol. 2: Ill-Gotten
Genre: Horror / Mystery
Demographic: Older Teen / Adult
Publisher: Oni Press
Publication Date: April 17th, 2018

This series is growing on me like a pair of horns. A more intense brand of darkness than the first volume, Ill-Gotten continues the seedy intrigues of demonic gangsters and a man, Eddie, who is cursed to die and be revived repeatedly, always at the cost of innocents.

While the previous entry was largely backstory and prelude, the second digs its teeth into the rotten meat of the underside, both the writing and characterization more vivid, gritty and gruesomely decadent this go around. Their dichotomous world of wealth and grime is a bit more developed, and the nature of its curses becomes more clear.

The idea is something fresh, successfully intermixing paranormal horror and 1920’s gang drama, and the art is clean and stylish, reminiscent of both classic American comics and the dark, chiaroscuro work of Mike Mignola. I recommend highly.

Art – 5/5
Story – 4.5/5
Characterization – 4/5
General – 4.5/5

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

[Read my review of the first volume here.]

Book Review – The Stories of Edgar Allan Poe by Stacy King (Adaptation)

★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Classics
Manga Demographic: Shoujo
Publication Date: October 17th, 2017
Publisher: Udon Entertainment

The Stories of Edgar Allan Poe is a worthy compilation of the horror master’s most popular tales, adapted to a sleek manga style. Each is the exact dialogue and malcontent spirit of the original, and each features a different artist.

The collection succeeds at recreating that overbearing fog of ghoulish madness and lurking abyss that permeates the originals. I always love a bit of trivia and making-of tidbits, which are included as well. I rate these individually based on the art and amount it captured the essence of Poe’s writing.

  • THE RAVEN – Art by Pikomaro ★★★★

“For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore – nameless here for evermore.”
The iconic poem of a dead love and a harbinger bird gets a more traditional shoujo look, meaning softer, more petal-delicate looks to the characters and settings.

  • THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO – Art by Chagen ★★★★

A man takes revenge on the unfortunate Fortunato with a plan to bury him alive in a catacomb wall. The story is sinister and creeping, with a sleek art style to match.

  • MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH – Art by Uka Nagao ★★★★

The proud, hedonistic and shameless few laugh in the face of the suffering many, to which Death does not take kindly. Most would choose The Raven, but forever I have been a Red Death fangirl. I think that, at least for Poe’s more famous works, it tends to get the least genuine appreciation. The body horror pervading the original is downplayed. However, the art style is good, and it’s conveyed surprisingly well in black and white for being a story drenched in colour metaphors.

  • THE TELL-TALE HEART – Art by Virginia Nitouhei ★★★★★

Be still, my festering heart. The ambiguous madness of a younger man possessed, for some reason beyond even his own comprehension, to kill an older man. He succeeds, but yet he can never stop hearing the man’s heartbeat. A subtle horror matched by a subtle, delicate art-style.

  • THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER – Art by Linus Liu ★★★★★

A ravenous gloom grows inside a mansion, engulfing a brother and sister in illness, despair and insanity while their guest cannot do more than watch them fall apart. The art in this one was my favourite – it has a bit of a Junji Ito aura, especially in the characters’ eyes, and it melds powerfully with the story.

 

[I received a copy of this through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Book Review – CITY Vol. 1 by Keiichi Arawi

★★★★ 3.5 Stars

This CITY is the definition of quirky, but it certainly has nothing at all to do with an ancient bird statue. Definitely not. And nobody in this city uses said bird statue to hang out their laundry to dry, and no one worships it either. Nope, not in this city.

However, it is true that there is one girl in this city who owes several hundred yen to every single citizen, and it’s also true that planting expensive Haniwa statues in seemingly random locations is a popular hobby. This city might or might not also be home to a semi-demonic obāsan who demands chores rather than souls.

CITY is a quick, cute slice-of-life read. Light, surreal humour just dances in its pages. I especially like the weird little background details, for example the “wanted” posters at the police station showing overweight snakes and anime villains. The art style is adorable, though personally I feel like it would “pop” more if it had all been in colour, like the cover illustration. The characters are all off-beat and random, in a good way. In tone it reminds me somewhat of the more oddball American newspaper comics, like The Far Side.

Art – 4/5
Story – 3.5/5
Humor – 4/5
General – 3.5/5

I received a copy of this through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review – The Dreaming by Queenie Chan

The Dreaming: The Collection

★★★★★ 5 Stars

Eerie as the tangled, labyrinthine woods it takes place in, The Dreaming is an unexpected treasure.
Murders and disappearances begin to occur in a remote boarding school in Australia – some suspect a madman, some suspect the secretive, sour-natured principal, and some think it is the wild bushlands surrounding the school.
A haunting and foreboding place, the bushlands are a never-ending depth of gnarled trees which appear to “bleed” red sap, and is where some of the missing have been found.
While it has a creepy paranormal air, The Dreaming is also a story of losing someone you care about to the unknown, and the horrors one might have to face or act upon to save a life.

There is so much to be loved about a boarding school murder-mystery which incorporates Australian myths, and executes it all fantastically. Also there is something unique to be said about it having a nearly all-female cast whom all have distinct personalities, even if the character doesn’t show up for very long.

Jeannie is a resourceful and intuitive protagonist, and her twin sister Amber is equally likeable though they are only similar in looks – Amber is more of an introverted daydreamer, who easily falls prey to the strangeness of the school and its forest. Miss Anu, at first a double-faced and strict teacher, turns out to be one of the best and strongest characters in the series. Even the principal who seems to have a phobia of twins has a twin-like nature herself, and is only a bitter face hiding a tragic history.

The Dreaming‘s artwork flatters an already inventive and creepy story – a seamless, beautiful mix of traditional manga and digital art. The lavish outfits, which play such a crucial part of the story, strangely don’t look out of place in the woods, as if to say that this is a place where there is no difference between the civilization of the school and the primal wildness outside.

Since there has to be a negative somewhere, hard as it may be to scout out, the plot does kind of slow in the second book, which is more dramatic and setting-up for the reveals of the third. There is really nothing bad to say about it as a series, though.

Characterization – 4.5/5
Plot / Story – 5/5
Artwork – 5/5
Book 1 – 5/5
Book 2 – 4.5/5
Book 3 – 5/5
General – 5/5

Book Review – Thornhill by Pam Smy

★★★★ 4 Stars

Thornhill, in which the past and present are webbed together in faded cruelties and a loneliness that runs deep to the heart.
A beautiful, but more tragic than terrifying sort of ghost story where atmos clings like the mist behind the rain.

The past is told in the form of a diary, the present in the form of images – a girl, Ella, moves into a house in 2017 with a view of the ruins of an orphanage across the fence, which keeps the forgotten story of a girl, Mary, who lived there in the 1980’s.
Ella’s plot is more of a conduit into the supernatural side of Thornhill and its restless history, but Mary’s is where the true flesh and soul of the story lies.

Mary is the outcast and black sheep of the orphanage, but her unnamed tormentor and bully is the angel, who can do nothing wrong in anyone else’s eyes. No matter how she hurts Mary though, Mary never says a word and keeps solace in her attic room.
As the others leave the orphanage, the two are eventually alone, both forgotten and mistrusted, horribly warped by Thornhill.

In a way, a spiritual sequel to The Secret Garden, Thornhill is a haunting drama about children who made invisible by their loneliness.

Art – 5/5
Story – 4/5
Characterization – 4/5
General – 4/5

Book Review – Black Comix Returns by John Jennings

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Stylish, vibrant and extremely diverse mix of artists and graphic novelists – for an art or comics enthusiast it’s like being a kid in a candy store. Or I guess I should say an art supply store.
This collection features mostly indie artists, but of all mediums – digital or traditional, cartoon or realistic, full colour or monochrome, you name it.

While it’s true of any multi-artist gallery that some of the styles won’t be my favourites, I can’t deny that everyone in here has buckets of talent. Seriously, the work here is pure, gleaming eye candy and is fantastic. I also thought the essays featured were well-written, as well as important – especially the one regarding diversity and artists, and that while it’s vital to have diversity in fiction, it’s even more vital to have diversity with its creators.

But just to add, it’s not a book of short stories. They do talk about the books these artists have worked on or written, but there aren’t many full comics featured. Most of the comics are snippets from larger works. That’s not to say they aren’t lovely, though.

I received a free copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review – The Damned, Vol. 1 by Cullen Bunn

★★★★ 4 Stars

Full Title: The Damned, Vol. 1: Three Days Dead
Genre: Horror / Mystery
Publisher: Oni Press
Publication Date: April 20th, 2010

Bizarre occult noir at its best with sleek, chiaroscuro art. A mobster who is cursed to always be reanimated after he dies is caught in the midst of a gang war between demons.

The Damned is a creative cross-breeding of lurkers in the dark, 1920’s gangster film aesthetics and a grungy urban underbelly. The mystery is fast-paced and intriguing, if a little disjointed – at first it can be hard to keep up with what’s going on, but this smooths out nicely and in short time.

I love especially how it’s drawn, notably the scene where Eddie meets The Worm in the sewer. The art is clean-lined yet gruesome, and is reminiscent of old-school American comics.
There isn’t much bad to say, but like I mentioned, early on the story and figuring out who’s who is mildly confusing.

Art – 5/5
Story – 4/5
Characterization – 4/5
General – 4/5

 [I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Book Review – Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

★★★★★ 5 Stars

“Oh, but you must travel through those woods again and again… said a shadow at the window. And you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time…

But the wolf… the wolf only needs enough luck to find you ONCE.”

Any forest is an entity – pure, primal nature that hides a great many strange, dangerous things. Come winter fog or summer light, the deep places of the wilderness don’t change. Something is always hiding, lurking for just one chance at human flesh or soul.

Into the Woods captures this atmosphere with dreamy, haunting perfection. This book is a beautiful lady with a set of inhuman jaws, gnashing greedily just behind a kind smile. It is a rich green grove of trees where a horrific sacrifice has taken place.

With vibrant brushstrokes, Carroll paints for us five nightmares all tied to the woods… alien body horror, brotherly jealousy, sisters who disappear into the snow, psychics who pick up an unwanted tag-along, and a retelling of the dark fairytale “Bluebeard”.
My personal favourite is the chilling first short, “Our Neighbors House”.

The art is rich and almost psychedelic, and reminds me somewhat of a more colourful Edward Gorey combined with the Grimm Brothers. But truly I love the characters’ expressions – it gives them so much life (or lack of life).

Into the Woods is phenomenal and I would recommend it to anyone, many times over.

Our Neighbors House – 5/5
A Lady’s Hands are Cold – 5/5
His Face All Red – 4/5
My Friend Janna – 5/5
The Nesting Place – 4/5
Art – 5/5
Story – 4.5/5
General Score – 5/5