This year marks First Second’s tenth anniversary! For the past ten years, we’ve been publishing graphic novels around the clock—and we’re delighted to celebrate that this February. Whether you’re a fan of science fiction, fantasy, horror, or adventure, we’ve got something to satisfy every reader! Head below for 10 of our favorite can’t-miss titles!
“It was a crazy night. Absolutely crazy.”
Gene Luen Yang had won the Eisner Award for Best Writer.
This year’s Eisner Awards ceremony was in early July, during the 2015 Comic Con International in San Diego. The Eisners are the most prestigious, high-profile awards in the comics industry, and they’re judged in a two-tier system, with books being selected for the ballot by a small diversely-employed team of industry judges that changes every year; then everyone in every part of the comics industry—from authors to reporters to librarians to retailers to educators and professors and publishers—votes to select the winners. It’s a system that rolls up quality, popularity, and industry acclaim/appreciation into a single award—and as such, it’s a bellwether for the state of the comics industry.
Nursery Rhyme Comics, out recently from First Second Books, celebrates rhymes for kids of all ages. (You can check out interpretations from Craig Thompson, Kate Beaton, Mike Mignola, Tony Millionnaire, and more at this link.) But what about adults of all ages?
There are plenty of nursery rhymes for them, too! First Second asked three contributors from Nursery Rhyme Comics to illustrate some very adult verses, ones that would never make it into a contemporary kids book.
And now we present: the comics review round-up section of Steampunk Week. Step on board, strap yourself in, and stay for a few books with pictures!
Return of the Dapper Men, by Jim McCann and Janet Lee
Thing #1 to know about Jim McCann and Janet Lee’s Return of the Dapper Men is that it is lovely. The book is 11 x 9 ½, it’s got a cloth-bound spine, the title is embossed with gold foil, and the whole thing looks like it could come from ye olde steampunk era. The foreground colors for the book are done in marker, and for the backgrounds, some crazy technique with cutting out the parts where the background should be and replacing them with a painted board is used (or so the back of the book helpfully tells me).
Thing #2 is that there is tea in the book, in the end and in the middle (though unfortunately, not in the beginning). In fact, at one point one of the characters (predictably, a Dapper Man), wants tea so much that he takes the time to make a tea plant grow, harvest the leaves, dry them, and then brew some tea. That’s dedication.
Series: Steampunk Week
Comics are full of monkeys. It turns out that monkeys are fun to draw! And also cute. In honor of Tor.com going ape this week, I’ve put together some of my favorite simians featured in comics.
The archetypal Monkey King is one of the main characters in Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese. Yang tells the Monkey King’s story as a story of identity, making a parallel to the story of the Asian-American immigrant. The Monkey King is looked down on by the gods and must prove himself by being true to himself; the immigrant must similarly find a balance between the culture of the country he now lives in and his original identity. This book is very good; it’s won the Michael L. Printz Award. And also there is a monkey who flies around on a cloud.
If there’s one thing that would make monkeys better, it’s wings. They’ve got expressive faces; they’ve got opposable thumbs; they’ve even got most excellent tails. All they need to be the best ever animal is flying.
Of course L. Frank Baum realized this early on in his life.
One of my favorite parts of The Wizard of Oz is the flying monkeys. Quick recap, in case you’re one of the people who hasn’t re-read Baum in a while: Oz has a tribe of flying monkeys. They belong to the Wicked Witch of the West, because she has the Golden Cap that allows her to give them orders (because of complicated backstory involving former rulers of Oz and disputes about bathing). Eventually Glinda gets the cap, and good (read: altruistic) witch that she is, she gives it to the monkeys.
The re-reading part:
Comet in Moominland is the first of the Moomin books—we are being clever with our re-read here by reading the books in order! It is a new and innovative technique we are pioneering—and it begins by helpfully not explaining anything that is going on, utilizing the time-honored tactic of letting the reader figure it all out him- or herself.
The first thing there is in Comet in Moominland is a cave. Moomintroll and Sniff discover it, and proceed to fill it with pearls. (Sniff, by the by, is one of those friends who is very nice but also kind of pathetic; depending on your own niceness quotient, you either end up wanting to pat him on the head reassuringly a lot or leave the room so as not to hit him out of aggravation. Most people fall somewhere in the middle of this scale; Sniff’s moments of pathos may be aggravating, but are also completely explicable. Who doesn’t want a cave all to themselves? That they discovered? Because clearly, that would be awesome.) However, upon their later return to the cave, Moomintroll and Sniff discover Something is clearly Up, because the pearls have rearranged themselves in the shape of a star with a tail . . . as have the local seagulls and the ants. Clearly, it is a secret society!
(It is not a secret society.)
The next thing there is in Comet in Moominland is a comet. (Didn’t see that one coming, did you?) After discovering that all the things in nature were arranging themselves in the shape of a comet because of their psychic natural intuition about the existance of a comet that would cause a grave ruckus, Moomin and Sniff head off to an observatory, because alas, they do not themselves posess psychic natural intuition and must therefore look upon the comet with a telescope. Their journey contains crocodiles, a waterfall, a marked lack of lemonade, a new friend with a mouth-organ and a disctinctive lack of regard for material wealth (he’s a Marxist), and also the samba.
Here is the bit that encapsulates the whole of the book: upon discovering that there will be comet of great danger, Moomintroll says, “We must hurry home as fast as we can. If only we can get home to mamma before it comes, nothing can happen. She will know what to do.”
So they go home (there is a pause on the way for samba, lemonade, and miscellaneous encounters with octopi that occur while they walk on stilts above the dried-up ocean). And because, in a book, there cannot be a smoking cave in the first chapter without it going off by the end of the story, Moominmamma wisely evacuates the Moominhouse to the cave, at which point they fall asleep and miss the comet entirely.
Also at some point Moomintroll falls in love! And at the end when they don’t die, he and the Snork Maiden (who is the one he falls in love with) curl their tails together and it is adorable.
The commentary part:
Here are the things I have to say about this book:
1. A fantastical land in which the solution to problems is going home so your mom can fix everything? That is kind of awesome. It is even more awesome because Moomimmamma is really the sensible one in this story; also she makes jam and pancakes and things, so clearly she should be the one to fix the world when it goes all wonky, rather than having someone else less talented and coordinated and with less skill in pancake-making just stumbling over the solution coincidentally.
2. Best description of gratuitous autobiographers ever!
“Mostly my pappa writes in a book called ‘Memoirs.’ It’s all about what he has done in his life, and as soon as he does something else, he writes that down, too.”
“Then surely he hasn’t got time to do very much?” said the Snork Maiden.
“Oh, well,” said Moomintroll. “He makes sure of doing things now and again, even if it’s only to give himself something to write about.”
3. There is a dragon. And a carnivorous tree that eats people. They are in the same book as obsessive-compulsive collecting creatures who only wear house-dresses. The dichotomy is somewhat striking.
4. Let’s not all be killed by a comet that comes by to destroy the earth, okay? It seems like it would be kind of worrying, if only because I do not know of many comet-proof caves in the New York City area, and unfortunately, my skill at pancake-making is distinctly sub-par.
Moomins! They are round and fuzzy creatures filled with adorability who live in a small valley and live a generally pastoral kind of life. There is Moomin (who is the cutest) and his parents and a variety of other creatures who together have very ordinary experiences. But you know how sometimes you’re reading someone like Shirley Jackson and her writing makes the ordinary more extraordinary than the extraordinary could possibly be? The Moomins are like that. Except they are extraordinary in the first place, being fantastical hippo creatures like the ones at the right, and they star in a series of books and comics by Tove Janssen, also at the right, eyebrow quirked.
So we bring to you a whole week of Moomins, in celebration of them being awesome, and also in celebration of the fact that FSG and Square Fish are republishing the series with packaging that looks like it actually comes from this century, and Drawn & Quarterly is collecting all the excellent Moomin comics, and the New York Review of Books is publishing Tove Jansson’s novels for adults, so all in all, a lovely conflation of events. Check back on the front page every day this week for a Moomin round-up!
Tales from Moominvalley is Jansson’s last prose book about the Moomins. It’s a collection of short stories:
- A meditation from Snufkin about how sometimes people just don’t get it and you have to be mean to them. But then you feel bad about it. Luckily for Snufkin, the Creep he’s mean to doesn’t at all notice and becomes a better Creep for it. If only that was the universal experience!
- An instructive story about how a person’s own faults seem all the worse when he or she sees them in someone else. This is especially the case when the situation involves person-devouring black fungi and cupboards that are only big enough for one person to perch on the top.
- The story of a Fillyjonk who discovers that she quite likes losing all her possessions and becoming a new person. (Though perhaps it’s the adrenaline that’s making her feel this way; she’ll regret it later.)
- A story about Snufkin and Moomintroll about how entirely unuseful it is for your friends’ pets (or siblings, or whatnot—in this case whatnot, or more specifically a partially golden dragon) to like you better than they like your friends. This is even the case when your friend’s dragon burns holes in everything and bites everyone (except you). He will still love it.
- The next story is about a Hermulen who (in his retirement) builds a silent amusement park instead of the dollhouse he wanted. Everyone is skeptical (except the small children, who are usually either are the most skeptical of all or filled with implicit faith—it turns out that it’s the latter this time), but everything eventually turns out for the best.
- The story of an invisible child. And apple-cheese, for some reason.
- Moominpappa runs away from home (again) and has an entirely unsatisfactory escape from normalcy in which he thinks to himself, “If this is a wicked life I’d rather eat my hat.”
- Sniff learns that if you give things away, you will not actually get them back ten times over and feel wonderful afterwards. You will only not have things. Luckily for him, sometimes people can be persuaded to give the things back.
- The Moomin family awakes from hibernation just in time for Christmas—an event that seems to be causing a lot of consternation for their friends. What is this Christmas menace? Can they escape it?
“He’s got such a lot of feelings, this Moomintroll,” has to be one of the most poignant lines to ever exist. Is there a better way to describe how you feel when small children and cats and other things with large wobbly eyes look up at you in a filled-with-emotion sort of way? No, there is not.
And Tove Jansson clearly also has lots of feelings, which shine through in these stories–I feel like she went out into the world and had feelings, and then extruded them and strained them through some cheesecloth and poured them this book, which made me feel like going out into the woods to live deliberately, possibly with the companionship of a small partially golden dragon, if I could convince it to like me best through lack of endeavor. (I probably couldn’t–and I even know who it would fly off to be with instead).
One of the things I like so much about books for kids and teens is that sometimes, when an author does it right, there’s a great immediacy of feeling, and I remember what it was like to be a kid and feel everything close to the surface and deep down, both at the same time. Tales from Moominvalley is kind of a marvel of a book, because not only does it make me remember what that was like, but it pulled on my gut and made me feel like that, too–in nine separate stories peopled with different characters and situations. (Well, okay—I wasn’t scared of Christmas in the last one. But everything else.)
Moomins! Read them, people.
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