Diving Into Sub-Genres: Graphic Memoirs


We each have our own preferred genres of choice. Kate loves horrors and thrillers, really anything that will keep her up at night! And Serena enjoys escaping through hidden doors into realms of magic and adventure. We also read mysteries, historical fiction, graphic novels, etc. etc. And that’s not even counting the multitude of sub-genres contained within each greater genre. In this series, one of us with present a list of our favorites from within a given sub-genre of one of our greater preferred genres.

I really love a good memoir, and while I don’t really review many of them on here (if any?), I usually read a couple a year. What I like about memoirs as opposed to autobiographies is that there is usually a central theme to a memoir as opposed to an all encompassing life story. And one way that an author can make a memoir stand out is to do it in graphic form, therein creating a graphic memoir. As someone who also loves graphic novels, this is obviously a format and genre match made in heaven as far as I’m concerned.

What I love most about graphic memoirs is that with the images and visuals that graphic formats bring, there are other layers and storytelling techniques to bring personal stories to life. With the right image design and the right story you can make something very powerful and unique, and I’m always looking for new ones to read. Here is a list of some of my favorite graphic memoirs, that cover a range of topics and experiences, and have graphics that make the stories all the more fantastic.

Book: “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi

We have talked about this book multiple times on this blog, so I won’t dwell too much on the story itself (if you want to see our thoughts, here is our Book Club Review, and here is my separate Review). But it has to be on this list because it is one of the most referenced graphic memoirs, and one of my very favorites. It follows Satrapi’s life story of growing up in Iran during and after the Cultural Revolution, her education in Europe to escape the conflict, and her return home. It not only contextualizes a fraught time in her home country’s history, it also tells a relatable story of coming of age while contextualizing the history and culture without being overly critical, nor glossing over the details. The artwork is unique and striking, and while it isn’t really ‘realistic’, it conveys all of the emotions that Satrapi wants for her life story. I love this book. Read it if you haven’t.

Book: The “March” Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Ill.)

Another series that I reviewed on this blog, and another powerful history lesson along with the life of one of the most important civil rights figures in American history. This book is written by and about John Lewis, congressman and Civil Rights leader who helped organize and implement the 1960s Civil Rights Movement for the rights of Black Americans, starting with his childhood and going up through and beyond the March on Selma. I love this series as it is deeply personal and has a lot of insight from Lewis, while also creating a very accessible history to the Civil Rights Movement. At times it’s heart wrenching and devastating, at other times it’s inspirational and hopeful, and it is always powerful. The artwork by Nate Powell is gorgeous and conveys all the emotional beats of the story as Lewis tells it, and it just fits with the narrative. This graphic memoir is a must for people who want to learn an important moment from one of the most important players. God I miss John Lewis.

Book: “El Deafo” by Cece Bell and David Lasky (Ill.)

This cute graphic memoir is more in the middle grade range, but I really enjoyed it when book club read it a number of years ago. It follows Bell’s childhood experience of being a hearing impaired child who transfers from a school for the Deaf to a public school, and getting used to her new Phonic Ear which will help her hear her teacher. Bell one day can hear her teacher (who has a microphone for the Phonic Ear) even when she is out of the room, and starts to believe that she has superpowers. She takes on the superhero alter ego of El Deafo, a Listener for All. But being a Superhero is just another way of being Othered. I love this sweet, cute, and funny graphic memoir, as it feels very real and relatable, has moments of humor and poignancy, and tells a coming of age story that has some great representation while also being very easy for kids to see themselves in. And the pictures are so cute, with Bell and everyone else being represented by a bunny!

Book: “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel

I have a distinct memory of my sister retrieving this book from her room and tossing it into my hands, saying that I needed to read it. And boy was she right! Bechdel, potentially most known for The Bechdel Test, is a comic writer and author who was coming to terms with her sexuality while having a fraught and tense relationship with her father when he died suddenly. She had also discovered that he, himself, was a closeted gay man, and his death meant that he took many secrets and revelations to the grave before she got any answers. “Fun Home” is her examination of this time in her life and before, as she becomes more comfortable in her own skin and reconciles the man she saw her father as (a creative and brilliant man who saw his kids as constraints) and who he never could be (a gay man who could be himself). Bittersweet and funny, “Fun Home” has become a hit Broadway show and spawned another graphic memoir. I think it’s lovely, and the graphic aspect lets Bechdel find and reveal answers about herself through text AND imagery.

Book: “They Called Us Enemy” by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker (Ill.)

George Takei became famous when he played Sulu on “Star Trek” back in the 1960s, his role in that show being revolutionary as a Japanese American man playing a front and center role in a TV show in the 1960s. As a child, he and his family were imprisoned at Rohwer Internment Camp during WWII because of their Japanese ancestry. “They Called Us Enemy” is his story of being a child at this internment camp, and what that experience was like for him and his family, and how it affected him the rest of his life. This is another good history lesson memoir that looks at a VERY dark time in American history, and Takei’s story is powerful and deeply upsetting. His reflections of not only his memories, but his memories of how it affected his parents, especially his father, bring another layer to this memoir, and the artwork is both evocative but also tender and gentle when the content calls for it.

Book: “Hey Kiddo” by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Jarrett J. Krosoczka was just a little boy when it became clear that his family structure was quite different from his classmates. His mother was out of the picture due to her struggles with addiction, and his father was never in the picture to begin with, so he was raised by his grandparents, who hadn’t planned to raise their grandson. This memoir is about Krosoczka’s childhood with his grandparents, as well as what it was like to be a family grappling with addiction, and while he is at the center of this story (it IS a memoir, after all), he also does a really good job of showing the far reaching pain and fallout of how devastating addiction can be for everyone involved. It is introspective and empathetic, as well as incredibly raw, and he intersperses his artwork (as well as his connection to art and how it helped get him through difficult times) with actual letters from his mother, and it will almost assuredly leave you in tears as you read it.

What graphic memoirs have you enjoyed? Let us know in the comments!

Kate’s Review: “Locke & Key (Vol. 4): Keys to the Kingdom”

Book: “Locke & Key (Vol. 4): Keys to the Kingdom” by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez (Ill.)

Publishing Info: IDW Publishing, July 2011

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke & Key unwinds into its fourth volume in Keys to the Kingdom. With more keys making themselves known, and the depths of the Locke family’s mystery ever-expanding, Dodge’s desperation to end his shadowy quest drives the inhabitants of Keyhouse ever closer to a revealing conclusion.

Review: After I set “Locke & Key (Vol. 4): Keys to the Kingdom” down, I realized that I only had two collections left until the end. This re-read has gone by pretty quickly, and it had been long enough that I feel like I’m finding brand new things with each moment I turn the pages. I had been talking a bit about how patient and deliberate Joe Hill has been up until this point, but in “Keys to the Kingdom” things have started to speed up, which means that the intensity has started to build as well. And that has mostly been a positive thing.

Plot progression has picked up again in this volume, and boy does it ever! Hill covers a lot of territory in this collection, but he manages to do it in such a way that it doesn’t feel like it’s bloated, nor does it feel like things are being rushed. He opts to focus on certain things, but does show snippets of the Locke kids battling it out with Dodge over keys, as well as conflicts they are having with each other in the story arc “February”. I liked how it puts in the effort to have development for our characters, but doesn’t get bogged down in EVERY conflict they have with Dodge. We also get to see more backstory to Rendell and his high school friends, as Kinsey, Tyler, and Dodge run into Erin Voss, Rendell’s childhood friend who is now committed to a mental asylum. Kinsey is desperate to know what the connection is to Rendell, Voss, and the secrets they were keeping, while Dodge wants to keep Erin’s mouth shut since in her addled state she still recognizes him as her childhood friend. This also led to a kind of awkward within present context optics plot point, in which Kinsey and Bode use one of the keys to change their race so they can visit Erin, as her rantings make it seem like she is super agitated by the presence white people (let me just say that this isn’t the case, though I won’t reveal what I mean). I definitely understand the way that Hill used it to make a greater point about how Black people are perceived by white people in American society, and there is a moment that I thought was genuinely poignant at the end of the issue, but pretty much putting Kinsey and Bode into magical black face so they can learn a lesson about the humanity of Black people didn’t really land for me. It just felt a bit patronizing. But by the end everything had made a comeback for me, as a significant plot development that signals the last third of this series knocked my socks off. I knew it was coming, but it was still VERY well done, and ups the stakes to the highest levels they’ve been thus far.

And in terms of character development this volume was top notch. For Tyler, he is starting to feel the weight of all the difficult things in his life, and it’s making him overwhelmed and under severe pressure. His only solace is his girlfriend Jordan, whom he is head over heels in love with, and while Jordan obviously cares deeply for Tyler, she is pretty damaged. Which, of course, leads to problems down the line, and Tyler starts to think that being strong is something he can achieve through magic, much like Kinsey tried to extract her fear through the same means. It’s a pretty heavy moment when Tyler feels enough despair over everything that he turns to something that may not work out the way he wants it to. And speaking of Kinsey’s issue, we see all of that coming to a head now too, as having a lack of fear and grief has not only affected her relationship with Nina, it has also started to affect her friendships. Funnily enough, having no fear and no grief has made Kinsey a pretty shitty and selfish friend, and the most interesting part of this entire arc for me is that she recognizes this, but literally cannot bring herself to care because of her actions with the Head Key.

And finally, the art continues to be visceral and gory, but with a bit of a nostalgic twist in one of the stories. The first story, “Sparrow”, involves Bode trying to make friendships but preferring isolation, and he eventually puts himself into the body of a sparrow for a bit of time. And this is all drawn and written in a way that is in tribute to “Calvin and Hobbes”, a comic that has been near and dear to my heart since I was a small child. While it’s true that some of the juxtapositions of the nostalgic and bright Watterson style mixed with the gore and violence of “Locke & Key” is unnerving, I honestly thought that it was super charming and fun to give Bode this kind of adventure with a loving tribute to a cartoonist and storyteller that clearly inspired the Hill and Rodríguez.

“Locke & Key (Vol. 4): Keys to the Kingdom” has left us two thirds of the way into the story of the Locke family, and we are now heading for the final showdown between them and Dodge over the keys in Keyhouse. I know where we are going, and I’m still a little nervous to tread into the places that I know are coming up. But Hill and Rodríguez have something truly wondrous in store, and I’m ready.

Rating 8: Some things come to a head in this volume plot wise, with some social commentary and “Calvin and Hobbes” love thrown into the mix, which is a pretty good combination for the start of the final issues of this series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Locke & Key (Vol. 4): Keys to the Kingdom” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Coming of Age Horror Novels”, and “Required Reading Graphic Novels”.

Find “Locke & Key (Vol. 4): Keys to the Kingdom” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?”

Book: “Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?” by Harold Schechter and Eric Powell (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Albatross Funnybooks, July 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: One of the greats in the field of true-crime literature, Harold Schechter (Deviant, The Serial Killer Files, Hell’s Princess), teams with five-time Eisner Award-winning graphic novelist Eric Powell (The Goon, Big Man Plans, Hillbilly) to bring you the tale of one of the most notoriously deranged murderers in American history, Ed Gein. DID YOU HEAR WHAT EDDIE GEIN DONE? is an in-depth exploration of the Gein family and what led to the creation of the necrophile who haunted the dreams of 1950s America and inspired such films as Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs.

Painstakingly researched and illustrated, Schechter and Powell’s true-crime graphic novel takes the Gein story out of the realms of exploitation and gives the reader a fact-based dramatization of these tragic, psychotic and heartbreaking events. Because, in this case, the truth needs no embellishment to be horrifying.

Review: A statement I am about to throw out there is going to sound weird and perhaps a bit screwy, so I need to proceed with a caveat: true crime as a subject matter is depressing. It is a genre that is predicated on the suffering and victimization of others, transformed into a kind of ‘entertainment’ (though admittedly I don’t think that I’m, like, ‘entertained’ in the ‘wheee this is fun!’ sense of entertainment whenever I consume it). Like it’s ALL depressing. But for me, one of the more depressing stories is that of Ed Gein, murderer, grave robber, and recluse whose furniture and decorative creations were made of body parts. Gein has always bummed me out because it is VERY easy to trace his warped sense of self to the massive amounts of abuse he was subjected to from a very young age. It sure doesn’t excuse what he did; plenty of people are abused and don’t turn into the kind of guy who makes a belt out of women’s nipples. But It is just another example of how trauma has long reaching consequences. And that brings me to “Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?” by Harold Schecther, a new comprehensive true crime narrative from a true crime giant. This time in graphic novel form!

(And it probably goes without saying, but this book has SO MANY CONTENT WARNINGS. From child abuse to spousal abuse to necrophilia to gore to animal abuse, proceed with caution)

In terms of how Schechter tackles the story of Ed Gein, from childhood to murders, I thought that he did a pretty good, comprehensive job. The research is obviously there, the sensationalism is to a minimum (even kind of scolded, as in the book there is a section on people who turned his gross crimes into urban legend lore just for attention), and the way that Gein’s crimes influenced modern horror are well parsed. He starts with the premiere of “Psycho”, a story that takes inspiration from Gein’s twisted and abusive relationship with his mother, and slowly starts to tell the tale of Gein and how he potentially went from mild mannered and scared boy to small town monster. It’s nothing I didn’t already know, but Schechter is great at contextualizing the story. As I mentioned above, Gein’s life was one of horrendous abuse, from the physical the the emotional to the religious, as his mother was tormenting and supremely controlling, his father was an at times violent alcoholic, and due to his suppressed and weird nature, his peers ostracized him… which then sent him more under the wing of his mother Augusta… who was very unwell. There’s a reason that “Bates Motel” explores the depths of Norman Bates’s mother in the way it does. But all that said, Schechter doesn’t feel like he’s making excuses for Gein. There isn’t any sympathy put his way. A little bit of pity, sure, as we do see what a scared and abused little boy he was. But no sympathy, especially since his victims (including possibly his own brother!) were wholly separated from his misery.

I think that the biggest stumble for me with this book is that I’m not sure that being a graphic novel really added much to the story. Don’t misunderstand me, Eric Powell has a really well done final product with his illustrations, and they have a weird and unsettling energy to them that still feels based in realism. But I’m not certain that we gained anything from this story being in a graphic format. I’ve definitely seen graphic formatting add more to historical events, either through the visual literacy aspects of graphic novels or through contextualizing complex or heavy subject matter, especially for younger audiences. But in the case of “Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?”, I don’t know if it really enhances the story with a visual element. But again, the style itself was well done. Man did he get the Ed Gein look down.

Source: Albatross Funnybooks

“Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?” is a well laid out summary of the Ed Gein story and all the dark and depressing facts it has to offer. The comic aspect doesn’t enhance it, per se, but the overview is comprehensive without succumbing to exploitation or bad taste.

Rating 7: A pretty comprehensive (and therefore deeply disturbing and depressing) history of Ed Gein and his crimes, though the format felt at times unnecessary.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?” is included on the Goodreads list “Comic Book Club Recommendations”.

Find “Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Girl from the Sea”

Book: “The Girl from the Sea” by Molly Knox Ostertag

Publishing Info: Graphix, June 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: From the author of The Witch Boy trilogy comes a graphic novel about family, romance, and first love.

Fifteen-year-old Morgan has a secret: She can’t wait to escape the perfect little island where she lives. She’s desperate to finish high school and escape her sad divorced mom, her volatile little brother, and worst of all, her great group of friends…who don’t understand Morgan at all. Because really, Morgan’s biggest secret is that she has a lot of secrets, including the one about wanting to kiss another girl.

Then one night, Morgan is saved from drowning by a mysterious girl named Keltie. The two become friends and suddenly life on the island doesn’t seem so stifling anymore. But Keltie has some secrets of her own. And as the girls start to fall in love, everything they’re each trying to hide will find its way to the surface…whether Morgan is ready or not.

Review: It has been a long time, like a LONG time, since I’ve watched “Splash”, a romantic comedy about an uptight land dweller (Tom Hanks) and a whimsical mermaid (Daryl Hannah), but it was the first thing that came to mind when I read the description for “The Girl from the Sea” by Molly Knox Ostertag. An isolated or lonely person on land finds love with a gentle and kind sea creature? I mean, that’s a trope that is timeless in and of itself. But to make things a little more unique, Ostertag went a bit more in the direction of “The Secret of Roan Inish”, as instead of the tired mermaid being used, we instead are given a story with a selkie, a mystical creature that can take on seal form as well as human form.

“The Girl from the Sea” is a gentle fantasy story, one that charmed me almost immediately and kept a smile on my face as I read. I felt that Ostertag did a really good job of portraying the turmoil within Morgan, and how her relationship with Keltie, a human disguised selkie, helped her open up and accept herself. Keltie is as simplistic and genuine as you would expect her to be, but I thought that Morgan has a lot of nuance and complexity in which she does have her reasons to not come out to her loved ones, but some of it may very well be a bit of projection on her part. Having her encounter with Keltie and be drawn to her, and perhaps start to fall in love with her, is a nice dynamic, as Keltie is incredibly free in herself, while Morgan is not. I also thought that Ostertag was good about showing how complicated coming out can be for a person, even when her friends and family are, for the most part, loving and supportive. Morgan is not only dealing with her own identity and how to express it, but she is also dealing with a recently split up family dynamic, and how that pain is affecting her and her mother and brother. The undercurrent of that trauma is always present, either through Morgan’s insecurities, or through implied anger and aggression issues her brother has been displaying. Morgan has a lot on her plate, and she compartmentalizes in a fairly realistic way.

And on the flip side, there is Keltie. She is a selkie, and while she is free in some ways, there are constraints that could very easily be applied to her life that Morgan could never understand. I thought it was neat that Ostertag took the mythology of the selkie and incorporated it into this story in the way she did. It brings in themes of identity and transformation, but it also makes other themes like environmentalism and conservation relevant to the story at hand. Keltie isn’t as interesting and Morgan, but then, that kind of makes sense, since she is a fantasy creature and therefore has a lot of fantastical elements. She also balances out Morgan, and makes their romance feel all the more sweet.

I really like the artwork. I’ve read other stories by Ostertag, and while I wasn’t as into those tales as I was this one, I have always appreciated her style and aesthetic, and that translates to this story pretty handily.

“The Girl from the Sea” is a lovely romance about finding the person who accepts you for who you are, realizing they may not be the only ones, and finding out how to accept yourself. It’s gentle and sweet and I highly recommend it for anyone who likes a love story with fantasy flair.

Rating 8: A sweet and emotional love story with themes of transformation and being true to yourself.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Girl from the Sea” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Pride Graphic Novels”, and “Gay Pirates and Sea Creatures”.

Find “The Girl from the Sea” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Locke & Key (Vol. 3): Crown of Shadows”

Book: “Locke & Key (Vol. 3): Crown of Shadows” by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez (Ill.)

Publishing Info: IDW Publishing, July 2010

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The dead plot against the living, the darkness closes in on Keyhouse, and a woman is shattered beyond repair, in the third storyline of the Eisner-nominated series, Locke & Key! Dodge continues his relentless quest to find the key to the black door, and raises an army of shadows to wipe out anyone who might get in his way. Surrounded and outnumbered, the Locke children find themselves fighting a desperate battle, all alone, in a world where the night itself has become their enemy.

Review: I continue to find myself becoming completely immersed in this re-read of “Locke & Key”, Joe Hill’s fantastic dark fantasy horror series. I think that it had been long enough since I read it that I had forgotten some things that have been nice surprises, which is good. But even the things that I have stark memory of are still hitting me where it hurts. I didn’t remember that it’s a slow build up of actual plot progression in favor of character development, and that is made pretty clear in “Crown of Shadows”.

Dodge is making some moves in this book when it comes to trying to get the keys, though it wasn’t as much as I thought it would be. His first big plot point is dealing with the angry ghost of Sam, who is still trapped in Key House and is PRETTY pissed that Dodge manipulated him. The other is his continued quest for the keys. We are about halfway through the series at the end of this, and while Dodge does have some moments of significance here (outside of Sam’s ire), Hill is still taking his time. The biggest development is a Shadow attack on Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, in which Dodge uses literal shadow creatures to try and find the keys and take out anything, i.e. the Locke Kids, that stand in the way of that. It’s the first significant battle between Dodge and the kids, with Tyler at the helm for the most part, and I was once again enthralled with the directions Hill took this, even though I’d read it before. It’s a BIG battle, but we still don’t really know what Dodge’s end plan is, and why he wants all these keys. Again, I know that we get there, and I know that Hill is biding his time, but it just surprised me that we still haven’t gotten clarification on that, NOR have we found out much more about where Rendell fits into all of this outside of a couple sinister clues. It’s a slow burn. Hill is good at that, but I just wanted a little more clarity right now as I think it’s going to get a bit hectic, if I remember correctly.

But it’s the subplots involving Nina and Kinsey that really stuck chords with me as I re-read “Crown of Shadows”. When I initially read it, I don’t think that Nina’s plight caught my attention as much as it should have, as when I read it this time I was just shattered for her and where she is. She’s still drowning in the trauma that she has endured due to the brutal murder of her husband, as well as the violent rape committed against her during the home invasion, and now that Duncan is off dealing with Brian’s injury she is adrift with her three children, and her dependence on alcohol is far more obvious to them now. Her agony is compounded by the horrible guilt she feels as a mother who can’t give her children the love and support and protection that they need, and that sends her into an even deeper spiral, which leads to more drinking, and it just keeps cycling. Hill always covers this with empathy and care, and it never felt exploitative to me. He just knows how to tell it the right way. But then we get an interesting development involving her daughter Kinsey. When we left Kinsey in the last volume, she had used the Head Key to remove her sense of fear. We now see that playing out in two ways in “Crown of Shadows”. The first is the obvious way: she isn’t fearful of risky or dangerous situations anymore. In this volume Kinsey finds herself in a couple of dangerous situations. The first is the aforementioned shadow attack at the house, in which she is cool as a cucumber and completely unphased, while the second is when she and her new friends get trapped in a cave with rising water. While the other teens are understandably freaking out, Kinsey is casually trying to figure out a solution. She’s also a bit more adventuresome in her interactions with others, no longer insecure about being around other people. But the less obvious path Hill takes her upon has everything to do with Nina and Nina’s emotional spiral: Kinsey has absolutely no problem telling her mother what a fuck up she thinks she is, completely comfortable to unload on her whenever Nina has a bad moment. Hill ties the idea of empathy to fear, at least it seems that way to me, and that is SUCH a fascinating theme to lay out with these two women, with one who is consumed by it and one who has excised it, and how bad both scenarios are.

“Locke and Key (Vol. 3): Crown of Thorns” may have given Dodge just a little more ground in his quest to get the keys, but the lack of key movement gave the Lockes, especially the women, more time to shine. Things have to be looking up for the Lockes soon, right? I mean, I think I remember the answer to that question, but we’ll see when I go on to “Keys to the Kingdom”!

Rating 8: We get some slow plot progression and some dark but well done character development, and “Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows” continues the moving tale of the Locke Family, and those who are after them.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Locke & Key (Vol. 3): Crown of Shadows” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Coming of Age Horror Novels”, and “Graphic Novels That Are Quality”.

Find “Locke & Key (V0l. 3): Crown of Shadows” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “Locke & Key (Vol. 2): Head Games”

Book: “Locke & Key (Vol. 2): Head Games” by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez (Ill.)

Publishing Info: IDW Publishing, 2009

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Following a shocking death that dredges up memories of their father’s murder, Kinsey and Tyler Locke are thrown into choppy emotional waters, and turn to their new friend, Zack Wells, for support, little suspecting Zack’s dark secret.

Meanwhile, six-year-old Bode Locke tries to puzzle out the secret of the head key, and Uncle Duncan is jarred into the past by a disturbingly familiar face.

Open your mind – the head games are just getting started.

Review: I am definitely enjoying going back and reading “Locke and Key” if only because of how it still manages to surprise me on my second read through. I’m curious to try and give the Netflix series a chance again, as I watched the first few episodes and then kinda lost interest. But reading “Head Games” has reminded me that Joe Hill was laying groundwork for so many things early on, and while it’s a slow process, you can see that it’s all going to fall into place as time goes on. “Head Games” takes its time. But it is definitely laying a lot of foundation, while still hitting emotional beats.

There is still a fair amount of groundwork to be laid out in this series, and “Head Games” continues to slowly peel back the origins of the demon Dodge, who has taken on the form of a teenage boy named Zack, and gone to the high school gym teacher, Ellie Whedon to be used as cover. Because this form is the exact replica of Rendell Locke’s high school friend Luke Caravaggio, who was Ellie’s boyfriend at the time. We don’t know as of now what happened to Luke, nor do we know when we start what hold Dodge has on Ellie, and Hill carefully and methodically starts to reveal various elements of Ellie, Rendell, and their connections to Dodge and the keys. Ellie’s story is particularly sad, as she is wracked with guilt over the unknown thing that happened in high school, and is trying to care for her special needs son Rufus. Dodge/Zack knows just how to manipulate and terrify her, and it reinforces the insidiousness of Dodge, as well as some dark secrets that Rendell and his friends may have been hiding.

We also get to see Dodge/Zack start to realize that staying incognito may not be so easy. After all, Duncan Locke, Rendell’s brother and the uncle to Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, was a little kid during the time that Rendell et all were headed on an unknown dark path to Dodge and the keys, and seeing this new teenager hanging out his nephew and niece could be tricky for the demon should he put two and two together. This also opens up the door to see a little bit more about Duncan’s life now, having to step in as a parent to his nephews and niece given that his sister in law is incredibly traumatized and unable to care for them too well at the moment. We also see his romantic life at the front of a subplot, as he and his boyfriend Brian find themselves targets of homophobic violence. It’s not super great that this is the big storyline for Duncan, but I will say that it does flow into a bigger picture storyline with Dodge and the keys, so that’s something anyway.

But in terms of straight up fantasy world building, “Head Games” starts to dig into the depths of another one of the keys that the Locke siblings have discovered. The focus this time is on the Head Key, in which a person can insert the key into their head, and open up their consciousness and imagination to add things, or remove them. Bode stuns his siblings with this trick, and while Tyler is interested in what you can add (after all, inserting a book makes it so you know all the contents within that book), Kinsey, still deeply feeling the trauma of her Dad’s murder and the family attack, is more concerned about what you can remove. And decides to remove her ability to fear, and her ability to cry. Going through the first time I didn’t think too much of it, as there was still so much going on that I was trying to wrap my head around, but now that I’m going through again with a lot more knowledge, I could appreciate just how utterly heartbreaking Kinsey’s arc is. While Bode was probably too young to understand everything that happened as of now, and while Tyler has been pushing it down, Kinsey’s deep pain has made it so she just doesn’t want to deal with any of it anymore, and decides to remove crucial parts of herself to do so. It’s such a fascinating place to take this Head Key storyline, and I think it’s so well done.

And the illustrations are still excellent. Gabriel Rodríguez really gets to let loose in this volume, since the Head Key is so abstract and outside the box.

A look into Bode’s mind. (source)

Rating 8: Still a lot of groundwork being laid into the mythos, but “Locke & Key (Vol. 2): Head Games” is starting to slowly unravel all the secrets of Key House.

“Locke & Key (Vol. 2): Head Games” continues to bring a strong dark fantasy/horror feel to a cerebral and funky series. I am very stoked to go back and revisit the next volume, as I’m sure I will continue to be surprised at what I do and don’t remember.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Locke & Key (Vol. 2): Head Games” is included on the Goodreads lists “Graphic Novels That Are Quality”, and “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”.

Find “Locke & Key (Vol. 2): Head Games” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “Glorious Wrestling Alliance: Ultimate Championship Edition”

Book: “Glorious Wrestling Alliance: Ultimate Championship Edition” by Josh Hicks

Publishing Info: Graphic Universe (Tm), October 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC via NetGalley from the author.

Book Description: Step into the ring at Glorious Wrestling Alliance, the universe’s least-professional wrestling company. The Great Carp, an amphibious wonder, is feeling the weight of his championship. Miranda Fury has donned a mask to smash wrestling’s glass ceiling. And Gravy Train is desperate for a new gimmick, but it’s hard when you’re shaped like a giant gravy boat.

Collected in colossal full color for the first time, Josh Hicks’s cult-hit comic covers identity, anxiety, and leg drops. In this hilarious love letter to the surreal theater of pro wrestling, the insecure grapplers of GWA lock up, throw things, throw each other, and occasionally curl up into little balls.

Review: Thank you to Josh Hicks and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I’ve been with my husband since we were in high school, and I distinctly remember his bedroom being adorned with pro-wrestling posters. Just recently his mother cleaned some of his stuff out of storage at her house, and one of the items was a framed poster of The Rock that is now sitting in our mudroom, waiting to be placed somewhere in our home. I didn’t get into pro wrestling until recently, when a now closed (DAMN YOU COVID) bar in Minneapolis had a Mexican food and pro-wrestling theme. We would go there for drinks, and watch old school matches, and now I appreciate it for the entertainment that it is. So when author Josh Hicks reached out asking if I would be interested in reading his graphic novel “Glorious Wrestling Alliance: Ultimate Championship Edition”, I absolutely jumped at the chance!

“Glorious Wrestling Alliance” follows the wrestlers of the Glorious Wrestling Alliance, a quirky and a little bit of a hot mess in some ways wrestling organization. They are popular and well loved, but their CEO, Ricky Lovett Junior, has the company teetering. On top of that their reigning champion, Great Carp (a being with a fish head for a head and a human body), is suffering from anxiety, one of their bigger heels Death Machine is more interested in poetry than wrestling as of late, a frontman named Gravy Train wants to switch up his character in spite of the fact he is literally shaped like a gravy boat, and Miranda Fury wants to be taken seriously, when the women’s division is sidelined. We have our various moments of focus on each of these characters, and their storylines range from the funny, to the poignant, to the inspirational. You can’t help but root for all of them in their personal missions and goals, and seeing some rise while others start a free fall feels both VERY wrestling, but also very typical of stories about fame. There are definitely absurdist elements to this story (see above: a fish head guy and a man shaped like a gravy boat), but there are also relatable and familiar themes that shine through the absurd. My favorite was definitely Miranda’s arc, as she dons a mask and an androgynous look so that she can wrestle with the guys and be taken seriously. I felt that Hicks captured the frustration of being a woman in an industry that still has a lot of misogyny intertwined with it, and I liked seeing her persevere and kick butt, a lot of the time with humorous results.

Along with this, as a novice pro-wrestling fan who doesn’t see much of it outside of the annual Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania, and the occasional Smackdown here and there, there were a number of cute Easter eggs that I spotted here and there on the pages. From similarities to trajectories that some wrestlers took post-wrestling (a budding writing career? That feels like Mick Foley to me!) to a one off character who is saying Ric Flair’s trademark ‘woo!’, I liked seeing the little references here and there to broader wrestling lore. And I have to imagine that there was a LOT there that a more knowledgable fan would be able to pick up on with ease. Maybe I should make my husband read this, I’m sure he’d spot a lot.

And finally, the artwork feels a lot like quirky cartoons a la “Steven Universe” or something that you may see from Noelle Stephenson, and it worked well for the tone and tongue in cheek attitude that this story has. And the character designs for some of the wrestlers and their mental states are really, really cute. I especially liked the moments where you would see an HP bar for the character depending on what was happening to them in the moment.

The guffaw I let out at this entire panel…. (Source: Graphic Universe)

I thought that “Glorious Wrestling Alliance: Ultimate Edition” was a hoot!! It makes me want to dig up some old hilarious wrestling clips and watch to my heart’s content. There is so much love for the art form on these pages, it’s delightful.

Rating 8: A fun, funny, and sometimes poignant story about pro wrestling and some quirky people who have devoted their lives to it, for better or worse.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Glorious Wrestling Alliance: Ultimate Championship Edition” isn’t on any Goodreads lists at the moment, but I think that it would fit in on “Wrasslin'”.

Find “Ultimate Wrestling Alliance: Ultimate Championship Edition” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Locke & Key (Vol. 1): Welcome to Lovecraft”

Book: “Locke & Key (Vol. 1): Welcome to Lovecraft” by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez (Ill.).

Publishing Info: IDW Publishing, 2008

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Locke & Key tells of Keyhouse, an unlikely New England mansion, with fantastic doors that transform all who dare to walk through them. Home to a hate-filled and relentless creature that will not rest until it forces open the most terrible door of them all…

Review: Back when I was still in graduate school, I decided to look into Joe Hill’s comic series “Locke and Key”. I didn’t know that much about it outside of the fact that I loved Joe Hill, and I checked out Volume 1, “Welcome to Lovecraft” from the library with very little to go off of. I eventually tore through the whole series, with my husband giving me the complete set as my graduation present in 2015. Since I’ve had a good time re-reading graphic series that I’ve loved, I thought that I would make my next re-read “Locke and Key”. I remembered how much I enjoyed the series overall. But I had forgotten how bleak the first volume is. Like, holy shit this is relentless in its bleakness bleak.

Had it been a weekend evening as opposed to a midday during the week that I finished this volume, I would have been Roy Kent upon finishing. (source)

“Welcome to Lovecraft” introduces us to the Locke family, which has just experienced an unspeakable tragedy. The family patriarch Rendell was a principal of a high school, and two of his students broke into his home, raped his wife, murdered him, and attempted to hunt down his three children Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode. Now the surviving family members are moving back to Rendell’s childhood home out east, a humungous and strange mansion called Keyhouse where Rendell’s brother Duncan lives. What appears to be a couple of psychopathic teenagers run amok is, anything but, however, as the surviving assailant, Sam, is communicating with something otherworldly that is living in the well of Keyhouse from his prison cell across the country. This first volume does a lot of heavy lifting, from giving voice and perspective to all of the Locke kids (and how they are all faring after this tragedy), to slowly unfolding the demonic presence in the well, to staring to sprinkle in the magical systems and objects that Keyhouse has hidden within its walls. It is a LOT, but Hill manages to fit it all in without it feeling overwrought or hurried. Granted, the magical systems are barely touched upon as of yet, but I am a-okay with building up the family members and their dynamics first. Hill isn’t in a rush, and I think that the characterizations benefit.

The magical elements we do have remain shrouded in mystery. We know that there are keys, and we know that they can do different things, like make you be able to leave your body and travel in a ghostly manner, or change from male to female. But where they come from, and what the deal is with the demon in the well, who is communicating with both murderer Sam and youngest Locke, Bode. They keys are important, and we get a taste as to why. I loved how we slowly see how the demon in the well (unnamed as of yet) inserts itself into both Sam’s consciousness, and the role that it plays in Sam’s violence AND how it manipulates Bode because of his age and naivete. Again, we don’t know much about this demon yet. The creepiness is well established through other means.

But I had really forgotten how freakin’ dark this first volume is. From the attack on the Locke Family at the beginning to Sam’s cross country murder spree after he is set free by the well demon, I found this volume harder to read now than it was the first time I dove in. I will say that some of the worse stuff is left off page in terms of graphic content (specifically Nina Locke’s rape, and it is a relief that we didn’t have to see it), but Hill absolutely pulls out the horrors in the aftermath of it all. I don’t remember the rest of this series being this upsetting, but who knows, maybe I blocked it out? My point is that there are lots of content warnings here. None of this seems exploitative to me in how Hill writes it, but it’s still disturbing.

And finally, I had forgotten about how much I really like the art of Gabriel Rodríguez. It definitely has a ‘cartoon-y’ vibe, but he really knows how to capture pain, sadness, joy, and all things macabre in his designs.

Even though diving back into “Locke and Key” was a bit rough with “Welcome to Lovecraft”, I have a feeling that this is once again going to be a successful re-read. This is old school Joe Hill, and it was clear even then that he was a horror and dark fantasy force to be reckoned with.

Rating 9: A fantastical and incredibly grim start to a dark fantasy series I love, “Locke and Key (Vol.1): Welcome to Lovecraft” will suck you in from the get go.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Locke & Key (Vol.1): Welcome to Lovecraft” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”, and “Comics + Graphic Novels To Read for Halloween”.

Find “Locke & Key (Vol.1): Welcome to Lovecraft” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Bubble”

Book: “Bubble” by Jordan Morris, Sarah Morgan, & Tony Cliff (Ill.)

Publishing Info: First Second, July 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Based on the smash-hit audio serial, Bubble is a hilarious high-energy graphic novel with a satirical take on the “gig economy.”

Built and maintained by corporate benevolence, the city of Fairhaven is a literal bubble of safety and order (and amazing coffee) in the midst of the Brush, a harsh alien wilderness ruled by monstrous Imps and rogue bands of humans. Humans like Morgan, who’s Brush-born and Bubble-raised and fully capable of fending off an Imp attack during her morning jog. She’s got a great routine going—she has a chill day job, she recreationally kills the occasional Imp, then she takes that Imp home for her roommate and BFF, Annie, to transform into drugs as a side hustle. But cracks appear in her tidy life when one of those Imps nearly murders a delivery guy in her apartment, accidentally transforming him into a Brush-powered mutant in the process. And when Morgan’s company launches Huntr, a gig economy app for Imp extermination, she finds herself press-ganged into kicking her stabby side job up to the next level as she battles a parade of monsters and monstrously Brush-turned citizens, from a living hipster beard to a book club hive mind. 

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this graphic novel!

In terms of podcasts, while I’ve dabbled outside the non-fiction realm, I really haven’t listened to many fiction series. I did “Welcome to Nightvale” for awhile, I listened to “The Black Tapes” (probably my favorite of the fiction ones I’ve listened to), and I tried out “Limetown”. But overall, it’s gotta be true crime, movies, or books for the topics I wanna listen to. So I had never heard of the podcast “Bubble” when I saw that it had been adapted into a graphic novel by Jordan Morris and Sarah Morgan, the creator and a writer for the show itself. While I wasn’t certain about what to expect, the premise was promising and intriguing: a dystopian world, a stunted society that seems perfect, and a dangerous wilderness of creatures that could kill you? That all sounds great. Throw in some humor and it sounds even better. So I gave it a go, because I hoped it would stand on its own two feet, outside of a podcast shadow. And I don’t think that it quite did.

That isn’t to say that this is “Welcome to Nightvale” levels of inability to stand on its own. Here is what I liked about “Bubble”: the premise really is a good one. I liked the idea of Fairhaven, a typical city that runs on capitalism and the gig economy, and the people who live there and work within that economy. Satire about the drawbacks and pitfalls of a late stage capitalist society is kind of ripe for the picking, but “Bubble” does it well. Our main character, Morgan, is a woman living in Fairhaven now, but was raised in the surrounding wild area called The Brush, which is inhabited by creatures called Imps that are dangerous and prone to attack humans. Morgan knows how to deal with them, and when an Imp gets into Fairhaven she will kill it and bring it to her roommate Annie who will make it into drugs. Morgan’s company, however, starts up a social media gig app (think Task Rabbit) that will give people the ability to go kill Imps for profit. Throw in a hapless Postmates delivery guy named Mitch who is attacked by an Imp and given powers, and you have some fun main characters who are just trying to get by in a gig economy whose stakes are pretty damn high. I liked Morgan and Annie, and Mitch feels very Chris Pratt in “Parks and Rec”, so he’s pretty charming. And really, the entire idea is fun, especially when they all have to go into the Brush on a mission, involving a mysterious stone and the Brush living father Morgan left behind. SO much potential, right?

The problem I had was that “Bubble” never quite explored the potential enough for me. This is a story that really should have some pretty wide and complex world building to it, both inside Fairhaven and outside in The Brush. And we see bits and pieces of both when our main characters are interacting within. But we don’t really have the time to explore backgrounds, histories, or dynamics, as the plot is constantly moving forward. It’s entertaining, it’s quite funny at times, and the characters have lots of fun things to say to each other. But I never really felt like I got a true feel for the setting they are in. And the only character that I feel really got a lot of depth was Morgan, while everyone else, outside of a few hints and tidbits here and there, really kept in static place as the tale went on. There just wasn’t much room to breathe, and I don’t know if that is because that’s how the podcast goes, or if it’s more a limitation when translating the podcast story to a graphic novel. I suppose that I could go listen to the podcast to find out, but the story we have at hand isn’t really compelling enough for me to go and do so.

That said, I really liked the art! Tony Cliff has some vibrant color schemes that feel sleek and futuristic, and I enjoyed the character designs as well. The Imps in particular are pretty cool.

(source: First Second)

“Bubble” has its moments and some great ideas. I just think that it could have gone further.

Rating 6: A lot of entertaining moments, witty banter, and cool imagery. But it feels very rushed and not well expanded upon, world building wise, and some of the characters fall flat.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bubble” isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but I think it would fit in on “Podcast Books”, and “Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Graphic Novels”.

Find “Bubble” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Sheets”

Book: “Sheets” by Brenna Thummler

Publishing Info: Oni Press, August 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

Book Description: Marjorie Glatt feels like a ghost. A practical thirteen year old in charge of the family laundry business, her daily routine features unforgiving customers, unbearable P.E. classes, and the fastidious Mr. Saubertuck who is committed to destroying everything she’s worked for.

Wendell is a ghost. A boy who lost his life much too young, his daily routine features ineffective death therapy, a sheet-dependent identity, and a dangerous need to seek purpose in the forbidden human world.

When their worlds collide, Marjorie is confronted by unexplainable disasters as Wendell transforms Glatt’s Laundry into his midnight playground, appearing as a mere sheet during the day. While Wendell attempts to create a new afterlife for himself, he unknowingly sabotages the life that Marjorie is struggling to maintain.

Review: Who says that ghost stories need to be scary? I know that when I cover them on this blog, they usually are. But there are also kind and friendly spirits, not just ones that want to make peoples lives miserable. “Sheets” by Brenna Thummler is one such tale, a ghost story for kids, but instead of focusing on scares and bumps in the night, it takes on friendship, loss, and moving on from tragedy. All themes that can fit within a ghost story pretty well. I had high hopes for this story, as ghosts are definitely my jam. “Sheets”, however, didn’t really give me what I wanted from it.

But let’s talk about what I did like first. The themes I mentioned above are all very well done in the narrative. We have two main characters, both of whom are dealing with these themes in different ways. For Marjorie, a thirteen year old girl running the family laundromat, she is still mourning the loss of her mother and adjusting to her new life. Her father has been so depressed that he doesn’t leave his room, and Marjorie is left to care for her brother, the family business, and to take care of herself. On the other side of the coin is Wendell, a ghost who lives in a world of other ghosts (who all wear sheets) who died when he was very young. He doesn’t really feel like he fits in in his new afterlife, and decides to hitch a ghost bus (loved this idea!) back to the living world. Where he finds himself in Marjorie’s laundromat, and their worlds collide. Both characters are dealing with loss and sadness, and I thought that Brennan did a really good job of exploring grief in ways that kids could understand without being condescending or grim. I especially liked her take on what the Ghost world is like, with lots of different designs for a bunch of stereotypical sheet wearing ghosts and some really humorous moments.

My biggest qualms with this story, however, really dock the points that I would have given it. Namely, the complete lack of any empathetic, responsible, and caring adults in Marjorie’s life, bordering on complete criminal negligence. I understand that this is a book written with a kid protagonist, and as such needs to give the protagonist more agency and independence than a regular kid would have in the real world. But I really struggled with it in “Sheets”. Marjorie is a thirteen year old girl who is running the family business herself, as after her mother died her father has been completely overtaken by depression and barely leaves his room. And if that had been the extent of it, I might have been able to swallow it down. Depression can absolutely be completely hobbling, and it’s not unrealistic for him to fail his children and to have Marjorie feel like she needs to pick up the pieces. My BIGGEST problem is that the customers she does have aren’t asking ANY questions as to why this child is running this place! Hell, they even get mad at her when Wendell messes things up, more inconvenienced about their laundry than they are concerned about a child, a CHILD, having to run the business in which they are patronizing! We get a couple adults who do question her life and how she’s doing here and there, but it’s never pursued. Perhaps it is strange for me to be questioning this in a story about literal ghosts, but I couldn’t get past it. It seems really farfetched, and spoiler alert, it isn’t really resolved! We get a deus ex machina at the end and Marjorie is STILL running the darn laundromat instead of, you know, living her life as a child. I’m just not sure about what this tells kids about Marjorie’s circumstances. Because oh man, her Dad really needs to get his act together.

And this could possibly be because of the fact the story itself feels a bit half baked. Marjorie interacts with Wendell here and there, they never really have super in depth moments, but we just kind of have to believe that the way it all wraps up is because of their friendship, which I never felt like was really explored. There is a connection that Marjorie and Wendell share even before he became a ghost, but it feels convenient and twee, and not used enough that it really felt important. Had their connection been stronger, both before and after his death, it would have been a more enjoyable relationship. As it was, it was hard to invest in the two of them as friends.

I did like the artwork though! It’s quite unique, and the designs of the ghosts are pretty darn cute. And as someone who appreciates a nice color scheme, I really liked the palette in this one.

“Sheets” didn’t give me the feel good ghost story I was anticipating, but I absolutely can see myself recommending it to kids who are looking for something ghostly, though maybe not too scary.

Rating 6: A really good examination of different kinds of grief, but ultimately felt half baked and unrealistic (even taking into account we’re dealing with ghosts!).

Reader’s Advisory:

“Sheets” is included on the Goodreads lists “Spooky Graphic Novels for Kids”, and “Friendly Ghosts”.

Find “Sheets” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!