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Graphic Novels, redux

OK, I know I’ve already said it’s been quite a year for historical fiction (and, you know, I stand by that), but we’ve had some amazing graphic novels to read this year, too. I don’t know if we’ll replicate This One Summer’s total dominance at the YMAs (OK, maybe I’m slightly overstating there!), but I did have a rave for Nimona, and I’ve got some more excitement for two other titles here. How far will they go? Well, I’d be happy (though surprised) to see one in the final five, and ready to argue hard for the other.

babayagaBaba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll
Candlewick Press, August 2015
Reviewed from final copy

Baba Yaga’s Assistant has received two stars since its publication in August, and it’s got some buzz behind it as well (Emily Carroll’s the artist, and there was a lot of love for Through the Woods last year).

The art here is what I’m most excited about. Carroll is thoughtful about her color choices, and Masha’s (and the little kids) healthy glows are nice contrasts with Baba Yaga’s gray, tough skin tone. Baba Yaga’s body language, too, is fab. She slinks and stalks through her house, the woods, sneaks up in her mortar and pestle. Her long fingers and even longer nails flow through the panels, subtly threatening each character while beckoning to a lonely girl like Masha. Her beady red eyes stab at the reader, and her sharp teeth show through her stretched out griiiiiiiiiiin. Carroll’s horror-inspired art is a great balance to the sweetness of the whole of the story. The famous chicken-legged house is full of grays and purples and blacks, contrasting with the other portions of the book.

McCoola and Carroll bring a lot of the traditional folklore elements into the story. Carroll differentiates them visually by eliminating her pencil lines, making them seem like illustrations from a warm picture book (another great visual contrast, particularly to the moments in Baba Yaga’s house), the panels surrounded by patterned borders. Masha takes her cues from the heroines of the old tales, giving an inspired kiss, collecting a colander full of snakes, putting a pair of false teeth to work. This folklore is a gift from Masha’s grandmother, and it adds thematically as well as visually to the story, showing the many ways that connections between mothers and daughters sustain and strengthen us. Sadly, other parental figures (*cough* dad *cough*) suffer in comparison.

What are its chances at the table with RealCommittee? I’m betting they have looked at it, and I bet they had good stuff to say about it overall. But to make it to the top five of the year? That is a lot of consensus for 9 librarians to come to, and there are a lot of books to talk about. I’m not ready to peg this as a contender, but I’d be happy to be surprised by it at the YMAs.

Moonshot SOFT CoverMoonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection (Vol 1), edited by Hope Nicholson
AH Comics, November 2015
Reviewed from final copy

And now, on a totally different note, here is a totally different reading experience — although it, too, thematically explores the importance of storytelling (so it’s only, like, a key change, or some other music analogy that I’m failing to make). And of course, it’s also comic format, although it has various contributors, rather than a single team. Moonshot was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, and was published very late in the year by AH Comics, all of which could potentially make it tricky for RealCommittee to track down. I believe it’s also only been reviewed by SLJ at this point — though it did make it to SLJ’s Best of 2015 list.

So it’s not technically different — there’s even a mixing of traditional stories with genre (though in this case, it’s not just horror, it’s more broadly sf, with a few dashes of steampunk thrown in). But somehow, it feels like a completely singular reading experience to me — memorable, haunting, unique. Some of the stories are adaptations of traditional stories, some are new stories. A few were previously published, and most were written for this collection. The stories draw on a wonderfully diverse mix of science fiction, horror, and historical elements. The stories manage to be set in and be about the past, the present, and the future almost all at once; there are visual and thematic layers within and between the stories that link them into a unified whole, without losing their cultural specificity.

The art really shines; it’s clear that the authors and artists have carefully and thoughtfully paired up. Vision Quest: Echo; Ochek; The Qallupiluk: Forgiven; First Hunt were some of my favorites. In each case, the art amplified the story, adding subtle details and resonant moments. Mack’s use of Indian Sign Language throughout Echo was just gorgeous, literally telling the story in another way, allowing it to flow in all directions on the page, actually reminding us of all the different ways we communicate. menten3’s evocative, otherworldly art marries horror and beauty so effectively that the reader even manages to find some sympathy for the Quallupiluk and its eventual forgiveness.

There are a couple of factors that RealCommittee could (potentially) get stuck on; we’ve noted before, anthologies can sometimes get short shrift. Trying to gauge each story individually and as a smaller part of a seamless whole can be hard to come to consensus on.

There are a couple of practical concerns, too. The late publication date and comparatively limited distribution might have kept them from finding it (although committee members are always, always reading and looking, throughout the year, so I’m not trying to assume anything here). Going with the assumption that they were able to track it down, I would have to guess that Moonshot could go far at the table. It’s such a strong collection overall, and it’s so stunning; I know I’d be ready to argue strongly for it. And if nothing else, I hope you all go out and get it and share it with all your teens; it’s well worth it.

About Sarah Couri

Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.

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