YA Materials: INTRODUCTORY HORROR MANGA & ANIME FOR TEENS

WRITTEN  by KELLY FERNANDEZ, KHARISSA KENNER AND HAL SCHRIEVE

Happy Halloween! The world is full of existential dread, and nothing encapsulates that better than Japanese horror manga! Themes of oppressive evil, inescapable death, and environmental devastation caused by inexplicable dark spirits and the consequences of human error abound. Very on topic and relevant; very spooky. For teenagers who like American horror comics or movies, or saw The Grudge and want to explore material in a similar vein, there’s no better place to start than these titles.

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Uzumaki by Junji Ito

Uzumaki, possibly the most internationally famous Japanese horror manga, takes place in a small rural town where its people are being taken over by a strange curse that creates paranoia and an obsession with spiral patterns. The story plays with a traditional horror trope in Japanese manga: the idea of there being no escape from the spreading evil. Themes of post war and alienation are evident; the town is wiped off the map as the insanity grows. Uzumaki’s surreal, disturbing, and detailed images provoke shock. Meanwhile, the plot itself builds a slow, deliberate suspense to keep readers on edge.

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Kitaro by Shigeru Mizuki

Mizuki’s Kitaro features a powerful ghost/monster boy who uses his abilities for good. He protects humans from monsters, spirits and other non Japanese creatures such as Dracula. Kitaro is intended for a younger audience, but serves as an introduction to spooky monster tales, cutesy horror, and Japanese folklore (the English edition includes a monster glossary). The manga features some light body horror –Kitaro’s father is an eyeball–and some detailed, ghastly imagery. There is some slapstick violence that would appeal to those who love cartoony, classic manga.

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The Drifting Classroom by Kazuo Umezu

Umezu’s psychological horror The Drifting Classroom involves a small-town elementary school that is transported into a desert-like dimension where there is no food, water or civilization. The series contains many story arcs. The main character, a young student, survives each terrifying incident to tell the story to others; there are themes of postwar social destruction in the apocalyptic setting. Umezu incorporates extremely violent and bloody imagery, disturbing visuals (ex. Black doll eyes and wide screaming mouths) to make for a heart-pounding horror manga.

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School Zone by Kanako Inuki

School Zone centers around a school that is haunted by 13 ghosts. The main character, a young boy, is possessed by a single benevolent ghost who charges him with putting the other ghosts to rest to free the school from its curse. Inuki’s grotesque and detailed visuals are cute, yet are still effective for shock value. The manga takes on themes of cruelty and bullying among adolescents; plot arcs are full of vengeful spirits, violent deaths, and psychological horror.

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Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories, directed by Tomoya Takashima

Tomoya Takashima’s Yamishibai is an anime horror anthology stylistically based on traditional Japanese street theater. In every episode, a mysterious old man tells a scary story to the neighborhood children. Yamishibai’s slow paced stories are inspired by urban legends, myth and yokai (spirit monsters/paranormal entities). The main character within the old man’s story is often traumatized, dies, or their fate is completely unknown. The creepy soundtrack builds suspense and adds fear to the frightening images and jump scares.


RESOURCES

Bryce, Mio and Jason Davis (2010). Overview of Manga Genres in T. Johnson-Woods (ed.), Manga: An Anthology. New York, NY: Consortium Publishing, pp. 34-55.

Bush, L.C (2001). “Manga” in Asian Horror Encyclopedia. San Jose, CA: Writer’s Club Press. Pp. 117-120.

Lu, A. (2002). Horror Japanese-style. Film Comment, 38(1), 38. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.queens.ezproxy.cuny.edu/docview/1703127?accountid=13379&rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo

Martin, D. (2009). Japan’s Blair Witch: Restraint, Maturity, and Generic Canons in the British Critical Reception of Ring. Cinema Journal, Volume 48(3), 35-51. University of Texas Press. Retrieved from https://muse-jhu-edu.queens.ezproxy.cuny.edu/article/265922

Thompson, J. (2010). The History of Horror Manga in Manga: A Complete Guide. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

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Books for Ages 8-10: Middle Grade Books about Girls and Music

 

Music opens us up to brand-new emotions and depth of feeling, and has the strongest effect on us when we’re young. These two middle-grade novels take on the heavy topic of starting middle school and navigating independence, responsibility, and friends while also diving passionately into new musical interests. Both books are profoundly hopeful. The protagonists of both of these books are relatable and face realistic stakes; these books are perfect for students just starting middle school or for whom junior high still looms a couple years ahead. 

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez

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Perez, Celia (2017). The First Rule of Punk. New York, NY: Viking. 

ISBN: 978-0425290408

336 pages. 

12-year-old Malu is moving with her mom to Chicago—and leaving behind everything she knows and loves about Gainesville, Florida. Goodbye to her dad’s record store, Spanish moss, her favorite pizza place, and everything she feels confident in about punk culture. Hello to a city she doesn’t yet know anything about—and to two years with her mother, who Malu thinks is way too uptight. Malu calls her mom “SuperMexican” to tease her; in contrast to her laid-back dad, her mother is always trying to talk to her about Mexican history and art and culture, and while she supports Malu’s artistic inclinations and her zine projects, she is suspicious of skateboards, weird hairstyles, or pants with holes in them. When Malu starts her school year, though, her mom’s concerns about dress code pale in comparison to the drama she encounters at school. On her first day, when she comes in wearing punk dark eyeliner, two other Mexican girls in her class tease her and tell her to act more normal. As Malu learns more about Chicago and the Mexican-American punk scene and real bands that preceded her, she starts a band—but things don’t immediately get easier. Offensive school fiestas, a ban on punk music in the school talent show, and more make Malu uncertain of how to reconcile different parts of her identity in public. 

Malu isn’t a perfect protagonist, quick to jump to conclusions and equally quick to idolize her dad over her hardworking, hyper-smart and hyper-caring mom. But her struggles at the start of middle school, her artistic ambition and abundant interests and passions, pull the reader along on a narrative ride that’s fun every step of the way. The integration of Malu’s zines into the text of the book, plus a hefty dose of information both about Mexican-American art and history and local punk scenes in Chicago, make this a great novel for young people developing their own tastes and interests in music and seeking out ways to express their identity in public. While the stakes never get impossibly high and Malu is surrounded by caring adults and ultimately finds like-minded friends, the fear she feels of alienation is profoundly real, and makes the reassuring triumphs she achieves all the sweeter. 

All Summer Long by Hope Larson

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Larson, Hope (2018). All Summer Long. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

ISBN: 978-0374304850

176 pages. 

As the school year bleeds into summer, 13-year-old Bina is looking forward to spending her days with her best friend and next-door neighbor, Austin. Bina and Austin have spent every summer tallying points in their Summer Fun Index—rescuing cats, getting ice cream, playing basketball, and having adventures in their neighborhood. But this summer, Austin tells Bina at the last second that he’ll be gone for half the summer at soccer camp. So without warning, Bina finds herself all alone. She spends a few weeks watching TV on the couch, until one day she locks herself out of the house when she goes to get milk and, when trying to get the spare key to her house from Austin’s bedroom next door, she runs into Austin’s sister, an older teenager who had to quit her job as a lifeguard after breaking her arm skateboarding.

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Austin’s sister likes the same indie bands as Bina, and Bina starts to find new bands she likes through her record collection. As she practices guitar, she starts to think about what she could do to make music a bigger part of her life. But when Austin comes back from camp, he’s still acting different, and at the same time, his sister seems to remember suddenly that Bina is just a kid, and abruptly ignores her. Will she end summer as lonely as she began it? Will she ever find other people that like the same music? Can she ever start a band?

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Even though the story focuses on Bina’s introspection, passion and loneliness, the story is fast-paced, partly because of Bina’s incredible energy and wide range of passions. The book is full of a large cast of characters, including Bina’s extended family and Austin’s mother and friends. I really like the fact that Bina’s best friend is a boy with interests very different from hers, and that the book tackles how to handle a changing friendship in middle school. The two-tone yellow and orange art adds dimension to the simple, liquid lines Larson uses to illustrate Californian suburbia. The most vivid art is saved for the facial expressions of the characters, which are stylized and expressive. The struggles Bina has with navigating responsibility and independence, and her efforts to understand the interests and occupations of adults and older teenagers, make this a great book to help bridge the difficult transition to middle school and adolescence. In addition to being thematically very similar to The First Rule of Punk, this is a great book to pair with Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, or This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki.

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris

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This bulky, enormous graphic novel is dense enough to knock out a mugger. Its cover, with a blue-faced woman rendered in ballpoint looking, shocked, at the viewer, intimidated me when I first saw it at the Strand. The small font inside made me worried that I wouldn’t be able to flip through it as easily as I could other new GN releases as I waited to meet my friend at the coffee shop. So I put off reading it. But I know that if it had been released four or five years ago, when I spent long afternoons at my local library or the comics store in Lacey, Washington, I would have grabbed it, settled into an uninhabited corner on the floor, and sunk into its pages. It has the right resonance to be the perfect book for a rainy afternoon, or a day when the power is out altogether. Unlike most GNs, which take between thirty minutes and an hour to read, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters will take you three hours to skim and a good six if you are trying to fully ingest it.

 

To get into this book, you have to acclimate yourself to its terms. Pages inside are drawn with colorful ballpoint on notebook paper, and alternate between narrative graphic novel scenes and full-page inky renderings of wolves, mobs, Frankenstein’s monsters, and city crowds.

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It doesn’t look like anything else, which could be one reason Fantagraphics–known for their preference for unusual, daring work and medium-bending stylistic flair–brought it forth into the world. I finally read it, after everyone I knew assuring me for months that it was exactly my thing, that I would adore it, that it was spooky and yummy and smart and insanely complicated. I found that it is, in fact, one hell of an incredible story. Or rather, two stories– removed from each other by twenty-five years and an old tape recorder. My reference points are not everyone’s, but if I were given a tissue sample and instructed to name names, I would call it part Harriet the Spy, part noir detective novel, part war novel, part horror comic fantasia, with a heavy injection of Lynda Barry and Alison Bechdel memoir and a ridge of nodules down its spine that reeks of John Darnielle’s work concerning monster empathy and revenge.

 

If that doesn’t get you hooked, I would add that it has another beating heart in addition to the above: it’s also an exploration of what it feels like to be a smart, gay child, to lose a parent, to see someone like oneself alive in the distant past, and to feel like a monster.

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My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is narrated by a precocious eleven-year old who draws herself as a werewolf with an underbite. Karen Reyes lives in Chicago with her Appalachian-Irish-Cherokee mother and her tattooed, artistic brother, Diego Zapata, who goes by Deez.

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Karen and Deez, who are half-Mexican, are not welcome everywhere in 1968 Chicago, but their mother’s reputation as a “saint” protects them against the worst prejudice. Mama Reyes is full of superstitions and has one bright green spot in her eye, which Karen thinks of as a magic safe island.

 

Karen feels like she and her family are outsiders in constant danger and longs for a monster to come out of the night and bite them all so that they will be ensured protection from the mobs of boring, stupid people she feels populate the world outside outside, like the old woman who tells her brother to dance on down to the taco joint when he joins her and her mother at a diner. At school, Karen’s former best friend and love interest, Missy, has been instructed to ignore her, despite their common love of horror movies.

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She feels alone, with few outlets besides her journal.

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The stakes of her life get higher one morning in February, when her upstairs neighbor Anka, a Holocaust survivor who is known to be slightly mad,is found shot in the heart, and Karen begins to suspect that her family knows more than they are letting on about the murder. Anka was never Karen’s close friend– Karen knows that she loves plants, and has a garden of potted foliage on the landing that Karen sometimes hides in for fun. Karen also suspects that her brother and Anka have been sexually involved. She doesn’t initially suspect her brother of anything more serious, though she notes the alibis of everyone in the building and concludes that several people’s alibis, including her brother and mother’s, come up short.

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Shortly afterwards, Karen learns a new piece of distressing news: her beloved mother has cancer. As she tries to deal with this information, she encounters Anka’s husband, Mr. Silverberg, a jazz musician devastated by the loss of his wife. After Karen overhears a woman describing Anka as a monster in the hallway, and making vague accusations about something from the past, Karen and Mr. Silverberg sit down to listen to a cassette tape recording of Anka’s memories of the Holocaust, which Mr. Silverberg says will explain everything.

 

The following narrative is both heavy and heady, but it is possible to follow the thread of the story while losing track of some of the details. I will say that while some of the scenes between Karen and the suspicious husband who has survived Anka test my ability to suspend disbelief, the structure of Anka’s story-within-a-story and the direct connection the text makes between the memories of the Holocaust and the carnalities and absurdity of 1960s detective and monster comics is a brilliant jump into mostly unexplored areas of cultural analysis and memory. “Karen’s” involved art depicting Anka’s memories draw visual parallels between teenage Anka and modern-day Karen, and explore Anka’s obsession with and dependence on Olympian gods as parallel to Karen’s own interest in the icons of horror movie culture. There is a tense parallel about how men’s control of female sexuality is akin to beheading Medusa; Karen frantically reproduces this fable over and over in bloody ink within the segments of story about Anka, while musing about what she knows about straight sexuality and how she is afraid of it. Art Spiegelman has praised the book, and while this is a looser translation of history than Maus, it maintains a tight emotional immediacy that hits home.

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At the same time, Karen is grounded in 1960s reality, and her own elementary-school anxieties and drama. A gut-wrenching scene, for me, comes when Karen visits her ex-friend Missy’s birthday party, to which she was invited against Missy’s mother’s wishes, and she and Missy steal a long hug in the stairwell together. Missy loves vampires as much as Karen loves the Wolfman; Karen thinks she is beautiful beyond belief, though she draws her with realistically awkward long front teeth. They are blood-sisters, and Karen has established, earlier in the story, that she feels like even if Missy treats her badly at school, there is a part of her, the real part inside, that the world is trying to kill, and which it’s Karen’s job to keep alive. As they embrace, both children transform, in Karen’s mind’s eye, into a vampiric femme fatale and a hairy, brutal wolf-monster, holding onto one another in the darkness of the stairwell before Karen returns home. When, later, her brother Deez calls Karen out for always drawing herself as a wolf-man, Karen explains that it’s because she’s a lesbian. She knows, despite her age, what she wants, and feels that it is right–but she knows that other people don’t understand her desires, which makes them monstrous.

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Franklin, the tall black kid from Karen’s school, knows too–which is why he protects her from bullies who are trying to beat her up under the elevated track one day before school. After she runs away, Franklin and Karen (and a young, malnourished refugee from a mining town named Sandy) spend a day at the art museum. On the way home, they discover Martin Luther King Jr has been shot. As one man tells Franklin about what happened, another comes up and begins insulting Franklin, calling him a “faggot” and telling him that he does not belong to a movement for black liberation because of his physical affect. It is only at this point in the narrative where you see that Franklin wears a fur coat and tight pants. Comments by Ferris have implied this character might be trans. I’d love it if that were true. It’s a case of implied versus stated, and Franklin gets mad at Karen and we don’t see him again, so it’s impossible to elaborate on this one. But I get a sense that Ferris is pretty cool, so my hopes are high for her intent.

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I don’t really know how to elaborate here beyond what I’ve already said–my tendency is to totally spoil books by gushing about their entire plot line. I think in this case even if the spoilers are covered it’s still an exciting book, but I’m going to cut myself off before I dig my own grave.

 

Basically, sit down and spend time with this book. It’s so good and so interesting and juicy–a fat morsel of all the monsters we have to take in their skim-milk versions from other places. Read it with your friends and talk about it. Draw yourself as a monster. Get into journal comics and break into your neighbor’s house.

Review: Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

This review is in the style of an SLJ review.

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Chmakova, Svetlana (2015). Awkward. Hachette Books/Yen Press.

Ages 8-12. In this all-ages middle-school graphic novel, friendship and teamwork are threatened by social division. When Peppi, a new student at school, falls in the hallway, she feels humiliated when a much-bullied nerd, Jaime, helps her to her feet. She feels terrible, but isn’t able to offer an apology immediately, because studious Jaime is in the Science Club and Peppi has joined the Art Club, and the two groups are at war. Just a few weeks later, the principal announces that all clubs need to scramble in order to prove their value to the school if they want to be featured in the club fair. After a disaster involving subterfuge by the Art Club, Peppi and Jaime have to step up to improve relations between their two groups and cultivate friendship instead of enmity. Svetlana Chmakova, known for her teen fiction series Dramacon and Nightschool, maintains her humane concern for conflict resolution in this story for younger readers. In Awkward, she moves into a full-color, pastel palette. Her character designs, while still manga-inspired, both reflect the diversity of a North American public school and are full of Chmakova’s more individual artistic character. Side characters have a richness that is satisfying to older readers.  VERDICT An astonishingly sweet, energetic story about with layers of emotional and social complexity likely to be attractive to anyone who has ever set foot in a middle school.

Breakdown of a comics page: Blankets by Craig Thompson

This week, I chose to analyze the construction of this page from Blankets by Craig Thompson.

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The page begins with a broad top panel depicting black, imaginary waves, and ends with an image of the bed that Craig and his brother ripped the cover off during high-stakes imagination games. In this page, Thompson uses panels with traditional black frames that contain the action. However, the panels are shaped in a way that emphasizes the direction of movement and action on the page; the central gutter intersection is pulled toward the right margin of the page as if tugged by the shark’s nose. Though the four central panels are bounded in disparate moments, they echo the motion of the uncontrolled waves in the top panel of the page. The final bottom panel returns the reader to stillness and reality and enables the eye to flow easily up to the top of the following page.

The way that Thompson uses alternating shots of reality and metaphor/fantasy throughout the book is apparent in this page. While the scene describes a game of imagination play between children, Thompson continues to alternate between naturalistic depictions of events and hyperbolic visual exageration for emotional impact.

In addition, this page reflects an ongoing theme of safety/lack of safety in beds and sleeping spaces that Thompson uses as a motif throughout Blankets. While this page depicts a mundane domestic scenario, there is a tension throughout the book that threads together the comfort of a safe bed and the dangerous and/or sexual charge of intimate domestic space. More traumatic or anxiety-inducing scenarios following this one outline moments where the safety of a bed is removed or returned, such as when, after the brothers urinate on one another, Craig’s brother is made to sleep in a closet, or when Craig as a teenager is afraid of being caught in his girlfriend’s bed. The shark that appears in this page returns as a motif of danger and guilt in a scene where teenage Craig burns all of his art in a barrel behind the house and a cartoon shark emerges from his mouth.

 

Craig Thompson’s fluid motion lines, detailed inkwork, and intense black spaces make this page visually appealing and fluid. While his style is not hyperrealistic, it is playful and animated, and has an active, vibrant feel even in just two high-contrast shades. In considering Thompson’s style, I like to compare it to Alison Bechdel’s.

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Both authors write vividly about a complicated, semi-traumatic adolescence and use visual representations of literary or religious metaphor throughout their works centered on domestic life. However, the artists’ styles are markedly different. Where Bechdel uses thin, careful black linework with blue shading, usually relies on naturalistic images of her family, copies literal maps and letters, and selects real objects or photographs to use to illustrate comparisons or metaphors, Thompson leaps into the imaginary, the surreal, and the strongly emotive.

 

I remember reading Blankets in middle school repeatedly during the hour between the time school ended and my mother was able to get out of work to pick me up. I would sit in the library and totally dissolve into the images. The way Thompson illustrates excitement and fear, uses varying line widths and visible brush strokes, and alternates panel layout, was very different than in the manga I had grown used to reading, though I found shonen manga emotive and compelling as well. The melancholy tone of the graphic novel and the use of metaphor make this work memorable, and this page demonstrates well what makes Thompson’s techniques so distinct.

sequential art on the shelf: eight years later, and Karen Green’s observations still applicable.

In 2010, Karen Green published an article in Publisher’s Weekly which pointed out that cataloging and shelving inconsistencies in the LC system used by most academic libraries resulted in comics being hard to find either online or in person. Spread between PN6700-6790, NC1300-1766, and a number of subject-related categorizations, the placement of comics in the academic library is generally up to the individual librarian to determine, and none of the placements have a great deal of inherent rationality. Green also noted in 2010 that independently published comics without ISBNS often do not end up in academic collections at all, or else are placed in pre-cataloged areas with only a “skeleton record.”

My experience looking for comics in academic libraries from 2014 to the present has demonstrated to me that these inconsistencies still persist. In my undergraduate experiences at the University of Washington in 2014-2016, comics could mostly be found in the PN6700s in one library, but some were also scattered among novels in the fiction section or sorted by subject. Non-fiction graphic novels could be anywhere. The experience of searching for a specific graphic novel could be so frustrating that it was preferable to request the books online and have them delivered to the holds desk. As Green says, the fact that LC headings can’t seem to figure out if comics need to be held in one place or another, or even apply consistent headings to works by one author, implies that some revision needs to be made to the way the headings function with respect to the medium. Eight years after Green’s article, whatever changes or considerations it stirred among librarians remain invisible to me on the university shelf. This is a persistent problem that needs to be resolved; the purpose of the LC system is to sort items physically in a way that makes coherent logical sense so they can be found by students and faculty looking to read them.

The problem of figuring out how to classify graphic novels–by format and then by author or content or title–seems to stump our profession in a range of settings. Public libraries face the question of whether to situate all graphic novels firmly in 741.5 and then sort by author, or to distribute GNs throughout their fiction and nonfiction collections by subject. As a user, I favor the former system for reasons of usability, though I think that nonfiction graphic novels can also belong in Dewey classes relevant to their subject.

 

References

Green, K. (2010). ‘Whaddaya Got?’ Finding Graphic Novels in an Academic Library. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/comics/article/45109-whaddaya-got-finding-graphic-novels-in-an-academic-library.html

Cyril Pedrosa’s Equinoxes

Review in the style of Publisher’s Weekly.

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Equinoxes

Cyril Pedrosa. NBM, $44.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-68112-080-5

The central reappearing characters in this volume include an aging activist, a rising politician, a misanthropic divorced orthodontist, a Neolithic adolescent, and a girl with a camera. In some sense, the central plot concerns a government effort to built an airport and a citizens’ protest against the development.

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Pedrosa focuses, with initial languor but then with increasing specificity, on the fears each character has about the meaning of their art, their vocation or their survival. The structure of the story, which flickers between characters, scenes and locations, and includes breakout pages of all-text soliloquies, encourages the reader to burrow deeply into the quotidian struggles of each individual.

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Pedrosa’s art floats from dreamlike pastels into heavy, oceanic inks and scratches of graphite; his palette is muted enough to throw ocassional bright lights or colors into shattering focus. Readers who are unused to nonlinear storytelling or find the enormity of this volume intimidating will still find plenty to admire in the rendering of emotional dialogue and ordinary moments between characters.

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