Graphic Novel Review: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
Charlie Mackesy

I’ve been wanting to read this short graphic novel for a long time, but it’s always checked out at the library! I finally got my hands on it and, in an effort to tell you more about my new experiences reading graphic novels, I want to share my review of this lovely little book.

While the beautiful illustrations suggest that this is a children’s book, the author clarifies in his introduction that this collection of encouraging sayings is for readers of all ages. We may have heard most of these adages, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to be reminded, for example, to be kind to ourselves and others, that it’s okay to be scared of the world out there and that friendship and love are the most important things in our lives.

In a simple style, Mackesy covers all the fears and insecurities we experience. He writes that it’s okay to cry, for example because “Tears fall for a reason and they are your strength not weakness.” I especially like the line, “When the big things feel out of control focus on what you love right under your nose.”

I enjoyed reading this inspirational book and looking at the illustrations. I will note that the pictures and sentiments remind me a lot of Christopher Robin and Pooh, however, which diminished my feelings for the book a bit (honest opinion). But I suppose there’s nothing wrong with being reminded of the wonderful adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood, especially when the message is so positive.

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Graphic Novel Review – Kusama by Elisa Macellari

Kusama: The Graphic Novel
Elisa Macellari

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In an effort to learn more about graphic novels, I picked up Kusama by Elisa Macellari. It’s all about the famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, who came to New York in 1958 when she was in her twenties and became a pop art sensation, all the while struggling from severe psychic disorders. To cope with her anxiety, hallucinations and intense feelings of depersonalization, she used art as a form of self-medication.

In her early years, she drew and painted and later moved to performance art, sculpture, installation and other forms of abstract art. Her art represents feminism, sexuality, minimalism and surrealism. Much of her expression is represented in red and white polka dots and her naked performance art, representing free love and homosexual sex during the sixties, often occurred in public places. I’m not an art expert, so I’ll stop there, but you can find plenty of information about her online.

By Terence Ong – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

So, on to the graphic novel. Graphic novel is an umbrella term, but this one is actually a graphic biography. I was struck by how powerfully the illustrations, all in red, white and black, and the words came together to depict Kusama’s life, especially her childhood and her fragile mental health. Her parents fought, her mother berated her and her father was unfaithful. I thought the author/illustrator did a fantastic job showing Kusama’s hallucinations, sadness and feelings of detachment while chronicling her life. Through the pictures, I could tell how lost she felt and understand the therapeutic power of her art.

Macellari also tells how Kusama, desperate to leave her unhappy home in Japan, wrote to the American modern artist Georgia O’Keeffe for advice. The two began a correspondence and O’Keeffe offered to show Kusama’s art at galleries in New York. Soon after, Kusama made the move to New York.

Kusama returned to Japan in 1973 and disappeared from the art scene for twenty years. The Japan she knew had changed and she had trouble fitting in. She admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital to treat her fragile mental state where she used art as therapy. Slowly, her art became recognized in Japan. At ninety-three, she continues to create and is recognized worldwide.

Now, Kusama reflects on her life and career and her parents. “My entire life I have swung between feelings of love and hate for my parents. If I have got to this age, I owe it only to them. They prepared me for the light and shadows of life and death.”

A note about adult graphic novels. These are not kids’ books! They are colorful and inviting, but the pages inside are for adult eyes. I found this book compelling and extremely readable. I read it twice to let it all soak in. There are plenty of biographies about Kusama. This is a good place to start. Its minimalist presentation fits perfectly with the artist’s style.

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Graphic Novel Review – Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast

Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York
Roz Chast

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A few years ago, my work friend recommended Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York. Since then, I’d seen this graphic novel all around the library, but hadn’t read it. I finally brought it home to read this week and laughed so hard I was crying. Chast’s book began as a simple guide book for her daughter, who was headed to college in Manhattan. The family had moved from Brooklyn to a suburban town when her children were small and Chast wanted her daughter to fall in love with the city the way she had at that age. She writes, “I wanted to introduce her to Manhattan and didn’t want them to ‘get off on the wrong foot.’” Also, she wanted to make sure her daughter knew how to get around!

This isn’t a travel guide, but it will help you get around. And Chast includes plenty of clever cartoons to help a person understand streets, avenues, uptown, downtown, the east side and the west side. She points to Manhattan’s idiosyncracies, but also to its attractions, including parks, museums and other “Stuff to Do.”

I could have used this guide years ago when I volunteered to be a chaperone for the annual sixth-grade trip to New York. We left on three middle school buses at 7:00 am and arrived in New York at 9:00 am for an 12:00 lunch at ESPN and a 2:00 pm Broadway show. Another mom and I were put in charge of eight boys (including our sons) and told to explore the city! Those eight boys wanted to do about ten different things, including going to a sneaker shop to buy sneakers we could have gotten at the local mall and visiting FAO Schwarz. After lunch, when we finally got to the theater district, we were right in the middle of a throng of people much like in this picture. I was sure we would lose them while crossing the street.

One of the things I liked best about this book is how inclusive the author is. And although she pokes a little fun at tourists, she really just wants everyone to love New York the way she does. Chast has been a cartoonist for the New Yorker since 1978. She also wrote and illustrated the award-winning graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? in which she explores the topic of aging parents.

You don’t have to be a New Yorker to like this book, but I think it might help to have visited the city or to be interested in it. I grew up in a New Jersey town outside New York and have visited the city many times, but I’m a full suburbanite now. And I definitely don’t know my way around Manhattan. You can ask any extended family member to verify. I’d also recommend Going to Town for readers to get a taste of what graphic novels are like. Not all graphic novels are funny, but this one is!

Do you read graphic novels? What types do you like? If you haven’t read any, are you interested? Leave a comment below!

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Honor Girl – A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash

Honor Girl – A Graphic Memoir
Maggie Thrash


Honor Girl is a graphic memoir about the author’s coming-out experience at a summer camp in the mountains of Kentucky. When Maggie returns to Camp Bellflower at age fifteen, friends, traditions and camp activities are largely the same, until she meets Erin, a college-age camp counselor. Her crush is undeniable, but also frightening and confusing and Maggie makes her best effort to sort out her feelings, spending her free time at the rifle range where she is trying to earn a Distinguished Expert certification.

Rumors spread, however, when Maggie’s camper friends begin to question her relationship with Erin, subjecting Maggie to embarrassing jokes and conversations. Despite the taunts, she is surprisingly strong and her good friends are generally accepting.

The story has a coming-of-age and camp camaraderie feel to it and even readers who have never attended summer camp will ease into life in tents and canoes. The author tells her story with humor and light sarcasm, making Honor Girl an easy read, without a heavy message. And while the story is about Maggie’s feelings for another girl, its appeal is in the author’s ability to describe her experience in the same way as a traditional boy-girl crush.

I have not read many graphic novels or graphic memoirs, so this was a nice change. Like a comic book, it’s mostly illustrated dialogue, with occasional narrative. Honor Girl is a Young Adult book, but I would recommend it to any reader who likes to try different genres. As for the artwork, I did find the illustrations a little difficult to follow. They are simple drawings and it was sometimes hard for me to figure out who was who, as many of the faces are similar. All in all, however, a good (and fast) read.

Do you read graphic novels or memoirs? What are your favorites?

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Archie – The Married Life Book 2 by Paul Kupperberg

Archie The Married LifeArchie – The Married Life
Two Worlds. Two Loves. Two Destinies
Book Two
Paul Kupperberg

Illustrated by this talented team of artists:

Archie 10Rating:

Imagine your favorite Archie comic book characters, once forever locked in the glory days of high school, now twenty-something adults, making their way in the fantasy town of Riverdale. You may ask, “Who did Archie marry? Betty or Veronica?” Well in an alternate universe, anything can happen and here is where Archie lives in two worlds, married to fresh-faced and hard-working Betty in one, and hitched to rich-girl Veronica, daughter of the ruthless, money hungry Hiram Lodge.

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this familiar looking comic book. I’d read plenty of Archie comic books as a girl, but I’d never read a full graphic novel before. This is a substantial work of more than 300 pages of entertaining plot, dialogue and terrific graphics, with a great variety of illustrations, bubble thoughts, plot summaries, zoom-outs, silliness, subtle jokes and amusing wordplay. In addition, there are just enough shady characters and wholesome romantic innuendo to sustain a mysterious plot.

Both stories revolve around Mr. Lodge’s obsession with controlling the town of Riverdale and the upcoming trial of Reggie Mantle, who has been charged with trying to bribe the mayor. An additional common subplot covers Jughead’s rapidly expanding Chocklit Shoppe business, soon to be a nationwide franchise.

Paul Kupperberg is a veteran comic book writer and does an excellent job presenting these modern and edgy stories, while retaining the happy fantasy of the eternally optimistic and ultimately good and universally good-looking Archie characters.

Check out these screen-shots and you’ll see what I mean.

Archie 9
Look how happy and enthusiastic the gang is!


Archie 5
Jughead just wants to flip burgers…


Archie 6
Archie may be getting into a little trouble here!

Here’s my recommendation:  if you’re looking for a fun diversion and an easy read, try reading one of these graphic novels. There’s a lot more to them than you think!

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