Review: Toil and Trouble

When you aim to re-tell a famous story, especially one as entrenched in the literary culture as Macbeth, it’s easy to fall into the trap of conformity. In a sense you’re working uphill against the preformed ideas your audience has about the story and the characters. In Toil and Trouble, Mairghread Scott is fearless in her retelling. The book is a bold take on a hidden tale within the play. Scott manages to pay tribute not only the original source and invoke a number of influences from history and myth. toil-and-trouble-tpbThe Toil and Trouble Hardcover is a chance for anyone who missed out on this series when it first premiered. The story follows Smertae, one of three witches tasked with overseeing the fate of Scotland, as she attempts to not only save the country, but a man who she sees as the rightful heir to the throne. Opposing her is her sister and fellow witch Riata, who has her own plans for the future. The third witch and oldest sister is Cait. She is stuck in the middle desperately trying to keep them together against the pressures that bubble within the family and threaten the land. Scott has done a masterful job with these characters, each of the witches have their own histories and motivations. Within their interactions, you can see how their unique perspective puts them at odds with each other.

As I said earlier, Scott has made a clear distinction between her story and the original play. The first and most prominent example of this comes in the form of Lady Macbeth. Instead of giving her the same motivation (or should I say lack of motivation) as in most tellings of the Macbeth play, Scott crafts a tragic backstory which fits well within her narrative. It makes the story that much more poignant and heartbreaking. Another small, but important distinction between most interpretations of the play, is that this narrative includes people of color throughout. An inclusion which I find refreshing. It is a brilliant way to challenge the audience’s perceptions of the time period while remaining true to the original source.

Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews do an amazing job here as well. Their art scheme is elegant, with bright vibrant colors and an attention to detail creates a subtle shift in tone throughout the book. Character designs and color choices create a connection between the art and the plot, with the art getting darker as the story progresses. The art feels almost like a medieval tapestry, a grand telling of an old fable. It’s great to see two relatively new mainstream artists perform so well in their debut.

This edition also offers a deep dive into the creative process. Essays, sketches, and a breakdown of the script are all included in the back. Archaia has done wonders with this and anyone who is interested in the nitty gritty of comic creation this book provides valuable insight.

In short, Toil and Trouble is a great comic. Scripted by a talented writer and brought to life by two up and coming artists. If you like comics, this is one of the good ones.

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Toil and Trouble Writer: Mairghread Scott Artist: Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews Publisher: BOOM! Studios/Archaia Price: $29.99 Format: Hardcover; Print/Digital

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Review: Hilda and the Stone Forest

Luke Pearson’s Hilda series has become one of the books I look forward to the most. The biggest reason being that Pearson has created a magical world that doesn’t feel like a repeat or homage to other familiar fantasy worlds. Instead, it feels fresh, new, and utterly unique. Up front, I’ll tell you that I’m pretty sure I’ve missed a volume of Hilda between The Stone Forest and my last review. Hilda and her mom have moved to the city, but the city has this Attack on Titan feel to it, in that Trolls are kept at bay by a stone wall. We quickly learn that Hilda has stopped telling her mom of her adventures which continue to happen at a breakneck pace. To the point that she finds herself grounded after sneaking out.

hildaandthestoneforest_cover_print_rgb-e1468934446202Which doesn’t last long because she tries to break out using Tontu’s portal, which is at the exact moment that her mother was going to let her see the fireworks that she was sneaking out to see. Some pulling happens, and Hilda, her mom, and Fig end up in a stone looking forest. After a lot of wandering, they discover they’re inside the mountain of the trolls. Speaking of the trolls, they’re having problems of their own since a two-headed troll is being a bully to everyone and hogging all the food.

While the story is one of Pearson’s best, the ending is a jaw dropper. Mostly because it doesn’t have a clear-cut ending, but rather a continuation. Not having read all of the Hilda’s I don’t know if this has happened before, but I’m going to guess not. I will not spoil the ending, but in flipping back through I can see where Pearson masterfully wrote in hints about the outcome.

The art continues to be impressive as Pearson also grows as an artist with each volume. He maintains the look of the series, but you can see that more and more detail has been added. That and the visual storytelling is deeper. This is by far the most emotion that has made it into this series as Hilda grows up some and becomes more defiant, while her mother just wants her safe and to be included in her life. Much of this comes from the artwork alone.

While I don’t know if this next bit is a spoiler, not for the book, but for the readership in general, there’s an announcement that Hilda will be coming to Netflix next year. Yay! I cannot wait to see what they do with it and hopefully Pearson is heavily involved, so it maintains the tone and spirit of his books.

In the meantime, though, if you’re a fan of this series you should absolutely be looking forward to this volume. It instantly became my favorite of the series and is a true testament to Pearson’s development of this world and his craft. And if you haven’t checked out Hilda, then you are missing out.

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Hilda and the Stone Forest Creator: Luke Pearson Publisher: Nobrow/Flying Eye Books Price: $19.99 Format: Hardcover; Print/Digital

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Review: Marie Antoinette Phantom Queen

I’m going to break editorial kayfabe and reveal that Marie Antoinette Phantom Queen has been up for review for as long as I’ve been writing for this website. Every week when I’d sign up for which release I’d review, this book would be nestle towards the bottom of our column reserved for only the most indie of indie comic books. Days went by, and it was there, then weeks and same result.

Then one day I threw myself into the pile of very indie titles and found this beautifully drawn, wonderfully colored comic. I couldn’t believe this had gone untouched for so long, that this went un-reviewed. I made a vow that when I had a week with fewer reviews going on, I’d read this one.

Now that I’ve read this book, I can tell you why this wasn’t talked about for so long. The answer is that, well, it’s French.

European comics took a stylistic turn away from the rest of Western comics at some point in history. They moved away from narrative, moved away from dialog and character and became more about the presentation of art and its visual juxtaposition of ideas.

Marie Antoinette Phantom Queen reads like a pastoral daydream. The line work is immaculate, the colors so soft and war they’re almost like watercolors. When a page portrays a rolling landscape or pristine neo-classical structure, the image could be enlarged and placed on a wall in a museum.

Marie Antoinette Phantom QueenDespite being enthralled by the art, I could never stop being tripped up by the narrative. Here we follow a painter in the 1930s as she inadvertently becomes the spiritual medium for the ghost of Marie Antoinette.  The art so strongly captures each period in vivid detail with particular attention to capturing the beauty of the settings’ styles of dress and with colors that provide this rich texture I’ve never quite seen in other comics.

The story’s pacing moves at a rhythm I could never match. Some scenes felt like they moved through too quickly or with too little connective tissue. Then while there is a horror and tension to Marie Antoinette’s history and imprisonment during the French Revolution, I kept expecting a sharper and harsher visual edge that I never found. The present story of the painter moves at a much more docile pace where events that should cause drama ended up sorting itself out. The internal narrative structure never matched my expectations. When I expected a scene to linger, to indulge in a character moment it was already over, but then when a scene might have traditionally been simply quick exposition connective filler, the pages waited here a little longer. Marie Antoinette Phantom Queen was a story that never match that narrative formula of Western comics but not in a way that challenged it but rather just different.

Here the narrative presents two different women who are turned victims of circumstance by simply existing as women in restrictive periods. Marie Antoinette was tortured, executed and desecrated for simply being born into her life—a life where she had no say or influence on political systems of royal France.

While in the 1930s, Maud becomes the target for her deceased husband’s son as he tries to steal her inheritance. Both women end up helping each other, but the story never has the sharp dramatic beats I expect. Maud’s former step-son tries to institutionalize her, but every effort comically fails, Maud has to find Marie Antoinette’s true remains but doing so turns out to be relatively easy due to her ghost friend’s powers.

There’s still a delight in this story. Maud and Marie Antoinette build a charming and beautiful friendship, and the story’s closest thing to a villain is legitimately funny as everyone one of his attempts at ruining Maud’s life fails. This could be a story that lingered on the cruelty of history especially towards women but instead focuses its content to empower.

I can’t blame a comic, however, for not doing something it isn’t trying to do. Marie Antoinette Phantom Queen invites you a fantastical, lazy afternoon story—one you might read on a porch overlooking a field or read over a cup of tea on a quiet rainy morning. This is a story you breathe in slowly rather consume, a story that’s beautiful and funny and moves at a pace you discover rather than one tied to a formula. Most importantly, however, a story that takes a tragic history and forces us to remember and engage with it so that we can create a better future.

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Marie Antoinette Phantom Queen Writers: Rudolphe & Annie Goetzinger Artist: Annie Goetzinger Publisher: NBM Publishing Price: $17.99 (Print); $9.99 (Digital) Format: Hardcover; Print/Digital

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Review: Milo Manara’s The Golden Ass

Much like Manara’s Gullivera, The Golden Ass loosely based on the literary piece it takes its name. In this case, it’s The Golden Ass of Apuleius. That said, there are two ways to read and enjoy this book. The first is knowing the source material well enough to see what Manara is doing referencing and ultimately changing. The other is the way I read it. As erotica. Having never read The Golden Ass of Apuleius, all of its inferences were lost on me. Having read The Golden Ass and thus Manara’s take on the story, I would never read the original. After all, how can it possibly stack up to Manara’s version?

The Golden AssThe story if you can’t tell, takes place at the peak of the Roman era which makes it perfect for Manara. The main character dabbles in some witchcraft and instead of being transformed into a bird he’s converted to a… Ass. Like a donkey ass, not like a person that just says some mean shit with no remorse. He must eat roses to transform back and of course, that means he’s not going to be able to do that for some time. He ends up going on all kinds of adventures due to his ass like state, some sexy, some dangerous, plenty of them weird.

The Golden Ass is not the strongest of Manara stories. It’s still incredibly enjoyable, but if you’ve read a great deal of his work (which I have) then you might forget to put this one on your list, it’s that forgettable. Personally, I feel it’s due to the story. It is an old tale and told in an ancient style. Even Manara’s attempts at somewhat modernizing it, don’t do enough. In the end, it’s just a dull story without much of a message. Unless the message is, “don’t fuck with magic.” In that case, the message rings true.

The art, of course, is the main reason you should pick it up. Aside from Manara’s marvelous linework, beautiful woman, and gorgeous set pieces; there is a great deal of watercolor done. It’s masterful, to say the least. The bulk of the water coloring is a purplish grey color, but all of the people have flesh tones to make them stand out on the page. There are even more subtleties in the coloring with lipstick and flowers. It’s a story that you don’t technically have to read. Not that it’s not worth reading once, but Manara’s visual storytelling is so compelling that you can understand everything that’s happening without ever reading a word. I almost wish there was an only art version because it might be better.

If this is your first Manara piece of work, that’s okay. Like I’ve said, it’s worth reading even if it’s not his best. It’s still incredibly significant, and I would take it over a lot of other comics that exist on the shelves of bookstores and comic shops. If it’s your first encounter with Manara, then read it and then dive into the rest of his work. You won’t regret it.

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Milo Manara’s The Golden Ass Creator: Milo Manara Publisher: Humanoids Inc. Price: $19.95 Format: Oversized Deluxe Hardcover; Print/Digital

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Review: Warship Jolly Roger Vol. 1

Probably as good a time as any to explain my personal rating criteria here on Bastards. Despite the attempt to standardize grading across the board, every critic approaches rating tiers with different agendas as to how to qualify quality. When I go one star (more often than I'd like this year, but thems the breaks), it's something either without redeeming qualities or where the redeeming qualities are overcome by the titanic ineptitude of the writing or art. Two stars, a book is flawed, not unreadable but made less than purely enjoyable by creative factors. Either there is room to improve or your artist kicked all of the ass for you. Three, a book is enjoyable on a purely entertainment basis, not a wildly good time but I found myself pulled in and it did its duty on all fronts. Four, the book did more than required, telling a story strongly with confident art that merits special recognition of talent. In almost all cases, a book I enjoy will not exceed four stars. Five stars are retained for God Tier books, the kind of story that stays with you long past the end of the year, the kind that gets put in the deep memory banks as the reason you read comics in the first place. For me, the book often usually has to have some sort of depth or artistic ambition that go beyond straight entertainment, books that use the medium ambitiously to tell meaningful stories or push the art form into the future.

Warship Jolly RogerWarship Jolly Roger isn't high art. It's entertainment, of a pretty straight forward variety. Its story has been done before, famously, and this edition doesn't add a whole lot more to the formula. Despite this, and with the preceding clarifications, I couldn't bring myself to give this book less than a five out of five.

A French import first published in 2014, but reprinted and translated by Magnetic Press for an English-speaking audience, Warship Jolly Roger concerns a former general of a vast galactic government, betrayed and sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes most foul, getting involved in a bloody jailbreak and fleeing into the galaxy on the lam with a handful of prisoners with traditionally colorful backgrounds. Collecting the first two bulky chapters of the ongoing series, the first volume is a hefty but brisk read with a grand scope.

While a familiar story, nipping bits and pieces from other works, Warship Jolly Roger is exceptionally tightly crafted, cinematic in the best way possible and with a small tidy cast that fit pre-ordained archetypes, but doesn't fall victim to letting that excuse lazy writing. The story is episodic but keeps a solid central arc that keeps the chapters bound to a driving skeleton, preventing the drifting feeling later chapters of Saga began to result in.

An important feature to the book's story is the 'anti' part of the anti-hero characters. Are you watching Warner Bros.? When you want to tell a story about a rag-tag group of criminals gathered under less than ideal circumstances, this is what it fucking looks like. No soft-shoeing the fact they are criminals, and pretty unpleasant ones at that, this isn't a story of lost souls finding each other and discovering their humanity. These are murderers and torturers each living for whatever personal agenda they feel compelled to pursue. While not trying to constantly scandalize you with their growing rap sheet of sins, they do make it clear early on that none of them can be trusted and that they will do things that are difficult to excuse as a reader. Think a few steps less pleasant than the pilot to Firefly before Fox made Joss clean it up, back when Malcolm Reynolds was comfortable with ventilating teenage stowaways into space. It puts a big time clock on this team's viability as a working unit, waiting for the moment it all goes south and these crazy kids start murdering each other.

Sylvain Runberg keeps a tight ship in the script, but the x-factor that pushed this into the perfect score range for me was Miki Montllo's incredible art. Digitally painted, Montllo's style is reminiscent of early 2000's Disney concept design, recalling to me the expressive stylized look of films like Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet, only planted in a universe of gunmetal and blood. While not familiar with Montllo as a creator, my impression is he has to have a background in concept art, as his art has the gesturally bold and creatively relaxed feel of concept art for film or animation. The environments are detailed and lived-in, minor background characters have remarkable personality, and the action is given an animation that makes you temporarily forget the image is technically static.  Montllo is the kind of artist I would follow on Twitter but unfollow the same day because looking at their output, the sheer head-shaking perfection of certain images, is incredibly depressing to a selfish and jealous artist like myself. Goddamn, if this book doesn't make amazing look easy.

Warship Jolly Roger is perfect pulp sci-fi, a simple story told so strongly and seemingly effortlessly (even though the work put into it is clearly on the page) that you wonder why more people haven't gotten even half as close to this good with so many attempts. It's the R-rated Disney sci-fi adventure film you wish could have gotten made if Columbine and a shaky script hadn't sunk Titan A.E. right out of the gate. I am not overly familiar with how the European comic market works, but my impression is comics in mainland Europe are released in larger volumes that take longer to produce, aiming more for large serialized graphic novels than the rapid production and release of American and Japanese comics. The way this book reads and looks, I can't help but wish American comic readers had the patience for something similar, this story not being so reliant on stop-go cliffhanger hooks and thinly stretched premises to keep publications going. When creators have to justify a slower release scheduled it has to result in something more intentionally crafted, and the result can be amazing. I've been waiting nearly a decade for a new translated chapter of Skydoll, but I'm willing to wait because that comic is masterful.  I'm not a pure-blooded snob, I don't hate pulp and fantasy storytelling, it just sucks so goddamn much of the time that it forces me to read more high-minded material as basic entertainment. Warship Jolly Roger is broad entertainment done not only right, but exceptionally right, a big ass bloody flag planted in the chest cavity of the withered corpse of boring post-apocalypses and sloppy cheeky trash comics that take storytelling and quality nods from modern-day Troma. It's not going to save the world or reinvent the medium, it's just going to tear ass through the galaxy while looking so good it makes me want to never draw again. Five stars. Suck it, art.

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Warship Jolly Roger Vol. 1 Writer: Sylvain Runberg Artist: Miquel Montllo Publisher: Magnetic Press Price: $19.99 Format: Hardcover; Print

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Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Villains

I’ve always found it monumentally difficult to review short story/one-shot collections, or rather I’ve found it difficult to review them fairly as, due to their extreme diversity in creative voices and talents, you’re always likely to find at least one really good segment and one really bad segment, leading to most collections ending up as a middling review if taken on aggregate. Often it is the theme that allows collections to stand out, more so than a single one of the varied creative voices in a collection, due to its ability to draw out the best in these different creators. For example: a writing prompt such as ‘love’ would probably draw out more boring, indistinct stories than would a prompt such as ‘the rogues gallery of four mutated turtle ninjas living in the sewers of New York’, which is itself a strong premise.

Regardless, TMNT Villains is another one-shot collection that continues the habit of its strong entries and its weaker entries coming together to create something of a blur. However, the strength of the ‘Turtles’ set-up and the generally above-average talents of the people involved in the collection does create more good than bad and for that I am grateful.

The two stand-out pieces of the collection are ‘Alopex’ and ‘Bebop and Rocksteady’, for two completely different reasons. Alopex stands out from continuity-keeper stories (such as the collection’s ‘Shredder’ and ‘Old Hob’ stories) by having a very deep connection between art and story which leads me to believe that the artist and writer, Sophie Lynch and Bryan Campbell respectively, were either very good friends or at least dedicated to the act of communication.

Sophie Lynch, acting as both artist and at least partial colorist, uses colors to place extra emphasis on allowing the images to explain unambiguously what the subtext of the events and dialogue is trying to subtly communicate. Alopex speaks through her teeth, calmly, about betrayal and cowardice while her violent, visceral actions and movements are surrounded by warm, manic colors. No narrator is needed to tell the audience that Alopex is seething inside, overcome by a rage that she is only barely managing to keep from boiling over. This story is one of the finer examples of TMNT_VillainsCollection_HC-Coverdialogue and visuals working together to create a compelling story that speaks what it needs to with a perfect blend of visuals and writing.

The ‘Bebop and Rocksteady’ entry is appealing for a much simpler reason, that reason being that in the right hands, Bebop and Rocksteady are natural scene stealers and scriptwriter Dustin Weaver knows exactly how to use them. The best writers use Bebop and Rocksteady not as simple comic-relief but as a much needed source of relationship-levity. The difference here is that while the Turtles themselves are fun-loving and prone to jokes, Bebop and Rocksteady, their wisecracks and their relationship lighten the mood for the Turtle’s entire rogues gallery, meaning that their job is to allow characters like Shredder or Karai to be as incensed and brooding as the writer wants to make them while still giving the story enough color and lightness-of-heart to make it still feel like a ‘Turtles’ story. Bebop and Rocksteady are at their best when bumbling just a little and enjoying each other’s company. I can’t give TMNT Villain’s ‘Bebop and Rocksteady’ a higher review than saying that it accomplishes this dynamic perfectly and I highly recommend reading, if nothing else, this extremely enjoyable entry.

Even the low points of this collection are skillfully written and drawn, the Shredder story paints a unique and colorful picture of a classic villain, one that often feels incongruous with the Shredder we’ve known for so long, but, again, unique nonetheless. The stories for Krang, Baxter Stockman and newcomer villain Hun are all entertaining enough, though they don’t stick out in any meaningful way besides the inherit oddities of writing stories for the Turtles world which are entertaining in themselves.

The low-points of the collection manifest in Old Hob and Karai’s entries, which already have the disadvantage of being placed directly in the timeline of the ongoing comic series but do very little to combat this problem. It feels like no coincidence that both of these comics are origin stories (actually, most of these comics are origin stories or at least allude to the origins of these characters as villains) in that it’s the most efficient use of time for these characters, as in their origins need to be explained eventually, might as well use that time here.

Old Hob, while he is a welcome addition to the Turtle’s timeline, simply talks too much. His origin story is a flashback, narrated by Old Hob himself, recounting a series of events that are uncharacteristically standard and boilerplate for the TMNT universe. The writing is perfectly acceptable, there’s simply too much of it. Karai’s story on the other hand is a legitimate bore, split into two parts, the first being perhaps the most standard origin story that ‘Turtles’ has ever had, the second being a fight sequence with brainwashed and arrogant Leonardo, leading to an unexciting fight sequence between two extremely unpleasant characters. I’d recommend skipping it entirely.

I’m giving Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Villains a 4/5, leaning positive due to the strength of its better entries standing out more than the slight tedium of its lesser entries. I would personally recommend buying the digital issues of the characters you’re interested in, but as far as collections go, this is a pretty solid entry playing with some fun and unique concepts. This reviewer gives Turtles Villains a resounding “sure, why not?”

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Villains
Writer: Various
Artist: Various
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Price: $34.99
Format: Hardcover; Print/Digital

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Review: The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo

Stories of children and monsters is nothing particularly new, but Drew Weing brings a fresh take to the combination with The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo. What’s particularly rich about the story and world that Weing has created is the depth to the story. Weing is clearly setting up a world that can continue to tell stories, but he doesn’t lose his focus on the plotline he’s telling. Instead, there’s a great mix of interwoven moments.

The story follows Charles. He’s a young boy that’s none too happy about his family moving from the suburbs to Echo City, a place that looks and feels like New York, but can be its own creation thanks to it not sharing the name. His family is living in the penthouse of an old hotel turned apartment complex, while his dad remodels the place for the owner. We don’t know exactly what his mom is doing, but “grant forms” are mentioned. Again, this is one of those details that while mentioned, don’t play out in this volume.

Charles discovers a problem with the building… someone has stolen one of his battle beanies. He blames his dad at first until he finds frightening monster eyes peering out at him from his bedroom closet. The next day he runs into the only other kid at the building, Kevin, and asks him about it. Kevin gives him a business card to call to solve his problem. Enter one Margo Maloo. She arrives almost immediately coming in from the window which surprises Charles. They begin the investigation in the closet where a secret panel is revealed. Upon taking it down they find the old kitchen of the hotel and inside they find Marcus the Troll.

Margo Maloo 1From this point we learn that Charles is a kid journalist and he wants to blow the entire world of monsters open so that kids know about it. Margo forbids it and tells him that it needs to remain a secret along with her identity. Again, Weing sets up an element to be played on in future instalments of the series.

There is, of course, a lot more to the story as its broken up into three chapters. Charles continues to investigate monsters even if he can’t go to press with it. Because of this he ends up getting involved in two more incidents with Margo and one has his life on the line.

Weing’s characters are extremely relatable. Even if you don’t relate to Charles, you’ll find another character. Charles reminds me a lot of Hubert from Futurama. Not just because of his design, but some of his actions. While that was what I liked about his character, Weing manages to balance Charles out. He’s never too whiny, he’s never too “I’m a journalist,” he walks a fine line. Most importantly, though, we never forget he’s a kid. Margo is the only one that doesn’t act like a kid and that is with intention.

The format of the book is reminiscent of old Garfield books. That is to say that while it doesn’t follow a three by two panel layout, it’s roughly the same shape. Something about this format really works to Weing’s benefit and gave me familiar tingles of childhood comic strip collections.

Weing’s artwork is very impressive. The monsters have unique designs even if they have familiar labels. Marcus the Troll looks nothing like a troll you’ve seen before. The humans range from different nationalities to different builds/body types. Echo City as a result feels a lot like a big city in which a lot of cultures co-exist. Which is also a theme with the monsters when Margo takes Charles and us as the reader into their world. Weing’s sequential art is really fantastic. His range of layouts give a wonderful flow to the story and work well with the format. The art is extremely detailed, but very inviting. Just flipping through the pages you can find yourself lost in the world again.

Since this is a book published by First Second, I didn’t particularly doubt that I would enjoy it. I was, however, surprised by just how much I enjoyed it. Yes, it’s for a younger audience, but it’s so well-written and accompanied by fantastic art that you really wouldn’t think that at first glance. I know a lot of people don’t believe in the term “all-ages”, but in my opinion The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo definitely fits the labelling.

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The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo Creator: Drew Weing Publisher: First Second Books Price: $15.99 Format: Hardcover; Print

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Review: Bera: The One-Headed Troll

To begin with, I can’t wait until my son is of appropriate age to read Bera: The One-Headed Troll. It’s probably one of the first books meant for children that didn’t just outright say the moral of the story. It is clear and present if you pay attention to it, but there isn’t that strange moment in which a character breaks out exposition to make sure you got it. Bera is an emotional journey for sure and not just for the main character of Bera. As the reader I felt hope, sadness, joy, and a sense of family. And sure I could point out that I have a new family and that’s why the story touched me so deep, but I don’t think it’s that at all. Eric Orchard actually crafts a story that is just so wonderfully deep that it can crack the hardest of hearts.

Bera is the pumpkin gardener for the Troll King. As the narration is quick to tell us, the story isn’t about the King or the kingdom. Instead it’s about a child. After making her delivery, Bera hears some nasty mermaids playing catch with a human baby. Bera rescues the baby, but the mermaids vow revenge.

Bera The One Headed TrollNot knowing how to care for a child Bera asks an ancestor’s spirit. The ancestor isn’t much help, but suddenly she warns Bera of an evil approaching that means to do her and the child harm. It’s a witch that has fallen from grace and no longer serves in the Troll king’s court. Bera lies to her and keeps the child hidden, but this gives her the urgency to get the child back to where it belongs. Bera sets out to find a hero to help her because she doesn’t think she can do it on her own. Which, if you’re paying attention, is one of the lessons/morals that Bera will learn.

Eric Orchard’s story is paced wonderfully. Once the journey kicks off, it continues going and takes place over the course of just a few days. This keeps things going and gives a sense of urgency to Bera’s journey. Orchard’s dialogue is intentionally strange at times because we are dealing with fantasy creatures. It’s never difficult to read though and I enjoyed the way each character still and their own unique voice and yet each character fit in with the world.

Orchard’s art is also quite different from most books geared towards younger readers. These are trolls and witches after all. They’re all quite ugly or just a little off to look at and that’s okay. It fits the story perfectly and I couldn’t help but fall in love with Orchard’s designs. His fantasy creatures didn’t look like they were inspired by other people’s creations. Instead he gave them all his own twist.

Again, I can’t wait to share this book with my son one day. It was touching, full of adventure, and just heartwarming. Whether this is the one story we’ll get out of Bera, it will be memorable for me due to the amazing story and incredible artwork.

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Bera: The One-Headed Troll Creator: Eric Orchard Publisher: First Second Books Price: $17.99 Format: Hardcover; Print

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