My 5 Star Top Ten List

2020 has been a year in which I read many trilogies:  Shades of Magic by Schwab, Lady Astronaut series by Kowal, Star Trek: The Janus Gate by Graf, The Broken Earth by Jemisin, and The Dam Keeper by Kondo and Tsutsumi

My top 10 list (in chronological order that I read them)

The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson

(A sequel to Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, which takes the thrills to the next exciting step.)

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

(What makes us the wise man of the ape species?)

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Each of the three books in the ongoing series so far are 5 stars in my opinion. I love the alternative history space race that is firmly rooted in real science and math.)

Blacksad written by Juan Diaz Canales with art by Juanjo Guarnido

(This is a film noir detective story with animal characters. It is a bit like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?)

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

(The middle volume with a sort of Olympics for Magicians is the peak)

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark

(This is a slim steampunk adventure set in Cairo by a hot speculative fiction writer.)

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

(A classic text of the ’60s Civil Rights era that is still useful for understanding current racial tensions in America.)

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

(A great start to her Hugo Award winning trilogy with a couple nice twists near the end.)

The Dam Keeper: Return from the Shadows by Robert Kondo and ‘Dice’ Tsutsumi

(Perhaps this ending of the trilogy with its community joining together is the best part.)

Citizen Illegal by Jose Olivarez

(This is a poetry book recommended by the virtual book club on this blog as a book to start the conversation about immigration.)

-Byron

Nicole’s Top Ten of 2020

This year I stayed quite nicely tucked into my reading comfort blanket of weird, atmospheric, and dark reads for the most part. I read more than one collection of short stories, and one novella, which reflects my unpredictable ebb and flow of reading ambition the past ten months: some days I couldn’t focus on reading for more than fifteen minutes, while others days I was inspired to plant myself on the couch and read all weekend. Below you’ll find my ten favorite books I read this past year: including some supernatural thrillers, weird and beautiful science fiction, horror short stories, literary fiction, and more!

Tiny Nightmares: Very Short Stories of Horror Edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto

If It Bleeds by Stephen King

The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

In the House in the Dark of the Woods by Laird Hunt

The Strange Bird by Jeff Vandermeer

Bunny by Mona Awad

Circe by Madeline Miller

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

What I’m Reading Now- Comics

Hello readers! I haven’t been particularly inspired to write as of late, but after a wee holiday break over Thanksgiving and some relaxation time, I have returned to the keyboard. I’m ready to share some of what I’ve been reading these past few weeks, get you some great bookish gift recommendations (coming at you later this month!) and I’m also very ready to see this year out the door. Bye, 2020. It’s been real.

Today I’m listing some great comics I’ve been enjoying recently. I’m a huge Hoopla fan and per usual, all of the titles shared below are available on Hoopla with your library card!

Basketful of Heads Vol. 1 by Joe Hill

Is this actually a story involving a basketful of heads? Why yes, it is. Talking heads to be exact – not to be confused with the band. It is also the story of June Branch, a young woman who after narrowly escaping an attack with her life, finds herself in possession of a supernaturally powered Viking axe that seemingly allows decapitated heads to continue living after their bodily departure. As she tries to save her kidnapped boyfriend she discovers that all is not as it seems in this small town. It’s all the fun and weirdness I love from Joe Hill with a dash of crime, mystery, and some solid humor sprinkled in.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott

This graphic memoir from actor and activist George Takei is truly amazing. I recently read it for the second time to discuss in RRPL’s teen graphic novel book club, Comix Club, and was once again struck by this moving and eye opening story. Readers learn all about Takei’s traumatic experiences as a young child forced to live in the Japanese-American internment camps with his siblings and parents in the 40s. An important and often glossed over aspect of American history, this personal account of the terrible treatment many American citizens endured is a book that everyone should read.

The Red Mother Vol. 1 by Jeremy Haun

After suffering a mysterious and brutal attack while out with her boyfriend one evening, Daisy is not only left without her boyfriend but she also wakes in the hospital missing an eye. After receiving a prosthetic eye, she begins to have strange visions and see a dark and ominous creature staring at her amongst crowds- that nobody else seems to see except her. This first volume doesn’t reveal much and leaves readers with quite a cliffhanger, so I look forward to what is revealed in the next collected volume.

Dune: The Graphic Novel: Book 1 by Frank Herbert. Adapted by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson

I enjoy science fiction from time to time, but have yet to read any of the sci-fi classic Dune. It always seemed somewhat intimidating and I must admit some classic science fiction titles tend to strike me as a bit too male-centric for my tastes. This graphic novel adaptation is a great way to dip your toes into the series if you are like me and don’t want to commit to the traditional novels! With the new Dune film slated to be released soon there will surely be a new influx of interest in this series so now is a great time to dive in.

What have you been reading? Any new graphic novels that you have loved? Stay safe and happy reading!

My Top 10 Favorite Horror Graphic Novels

As promised, I’m back this week to share some of my all-time favorite scary, spooky, and otherwise guaranteed to keep you up late at night books. It was so difficult narrowing this down, so I decided to share my top ten favorite horror graphic novels this week- saving my favorite traditionally formatted prose novels for next week.

Below you’ll find melancholy stories of hauntings and witches, disturbing tales of otherworldly creatures, horrific murder mysteries, and more tales that will leave you contemplating whats lurking in the shadows long after you close the book’s covers.

  1. Harrow County by Cullen Bunn
  2. Wytches by Scott Snyder
  3. Clean Room by Gail Simone
  4. Revival by Tim Seeley
  5. Coffin Hill by Caitlin Kittredge
  6. Black Hole by Charles Burns
  7. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa
  8. Outcast by Robert Kirkman
  9. Locke & Key by Joe Hill
  10. Redlands by Jordie Bellaire

Check out one of these great book today at the library or pop on over to Hoopla to read graphic novels without ever having to leave your couch!

New Graphics Novels to Read Now on Hoopla

Throughout the past few weeks I slowed down on my reading a bit to dive into some tv shows and films, but now that I’ve nearly finished all three seasons of Hannibal (an amazing show and noteworthy if for nothing other than truly disturbing and beautiful cinematography) I’m getting back to my lengthy to-read list.

Hoopla has gotten some really great new graphic novels that I am so excited to read! Here are my top recently released graphic novels you can read right now on Hoopla- some were new just in the past month and some are releases from earlier this spring that I missed during the chaos that was April and May. Better to read late than never is a mantra I often tell myself.

From sci-fi adventures to superheroes (sometimes hero-ish? looking at you Catwoman) to stories about adorable cats, there is something for everyone in the titles above.

I also just snagged the first five single issues of The Low, Low Woods, a newer comic series put out as part of the Joe Hill presents Hill House Comics of DC. I am quite delighted to crack open issue #1- the series is by the author of one of my favorite short story collections, Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado! If you haven’t read Her Body and Other Parties and you like weird feminist fiction- check it out now here on OverDrive! You won’t be disappointed. And since I generally love anything Joe Hill puts out or helps to publish, this should be a stellar series. Volume one is slated to be released this fall if you are more of a “wait for the collected volume” sort of reader *wink wink*.

Happy reading and stay safe out there!

Imagine Your Story- RiverCon Interview with Dan Gorman and Josh Nealis

Welcome back to our RiverCon interview series! RiverCon, our first annual mini-con at the library, was moved to at home activities to keep everyone safe this summer. We have also adapted our summer reading inspired RiverCon panel discussion to blog format so you can enjoy “meeting” great local comic artists and authors from home!

This week is our final week of interviews and I have not one, but two comic creators for you- Dan Gorman and Josh Nealis. Dan has done sequential work for various comics, including AC Comics and Dark Horse, and he also creates weekly cartoons for the Akron RubberDucks. Josh is an artist and owner of Cutthroat Comics and Publishing.

Dan Gorman Image from http://www.dangormanart.com/
Josh Nealis Image courtesy of Josh Nealis

What inspired you to pursue a career in comics?     

Dan: I always had the ability to draw even as a very small kid. I originally thought I’d be a syndicated cartoonist, which still might happen, some things are in the works. When I was 12 I fell in love with Spider-man Comics and it was at that point that I decided I wanted to be a comic book Illustrator.

Josh: I had previously been in a heavy metal band. We decided to call it quits. Afterwards, I knew I needed to still be creative. I started a review website for movies, video games, and comedy specials. After about a year or so, it wasn’t fulfilling my creative needs. I had always wanted to write a book, and an idea popped into my head and I ran with it. That book became, Stuffed Squirrels & Porcelain Angels. Once the floodgates opened all these ideas started pouring out. So I decided to do all of it. Books, comics, children’s books, even a self help book. I write whatever pops in my head.

Was there a favorite comic book you read in your youth?       

Dan: My Mom always bought me Archie’s when I was a kid, but it was The Amazing Spider-man that captured my attention the most. I also loved and still love Peter Porker Spider-Ham and Anything drawn by Mike Zeck. His work on Spidey and Captain America is my favorite.

Josh: As far as specifically comics, I loved the X-Men. I had toys, the comics, watched the shows. I mostly stuck to Marvel, but I do have a soft spot for DC, as well as some mid 90s Image franchises like Spawn, and The Maxx, and WildC.A.T.S. And the always popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, although I never had the comics.

Why do you think storytelling, specifically in the comic or graphic novel format, is important?       

Dan: Storytelling helps us deal with issues we ourselves are experiencing. Both as a creator and reader the medium of comic books has inspired me to overcome situations in my own life. When I see my heroes are in trouble but fight to defeat whatever challenge they face, it gives me the confidence I can also defeat my challenges. Whatever form storytelling takes.. whether its comics.. movies.. books.. video games.. whatever it is.. participating in that process.. from either side is therapeutic and cathartic. Stories are meaningful even if they aren’t true.

Josh: Well comics are great for learning how to read. It’s not overwhelming, or overly wordy. Plus you get the art with it. As an artist, writing comics is totally different from a novel. You get to collaborate and see your thoughts come to life right in front of you. Plus, you get two art forms wrapped into one. A well written story with colorful characters, and dramatic art, not only the images but the words and sound effects as well.


How have folk tales, fairy tales, or mythology influenced your work? 

Dan: All of our modern heroes are influenced by mythology and folklore. Studying and reading about heroes from the past sparks the imagination. My original character, The Akron Knight, has influences from Greek and Roman mythology, modern day comics, and concepts from film and animation. All of those images and stories can be seen in the mythos of The Akron Knight. 

Josh: A lot of my work, has morals and meaning tied in with the story. I don’t often come right out and explain it to the reader. I let them figure out the point. A great story makes you think. Not just about what happened, but why. When you think about the fairy tales and mythology, etc, they are still popular for that reason. The themes stick with you. Depth makes a great story.

Do you have a favorite folk tale, fairy tale, or myth?   

Dan: I always gravitated towards Greek and Roman mythology. So many great stories and lessons to be learned in those tales. I don’t know that I can site just one as being my favorite.  They all kind of work together in my opinion.

Josh: I love Robin Hood. So much that my son is named after him. But, I love Greek mythology. I like religious mythology as well. King Arthur. Really anything like that has always interested me.

What is a favorite comic book or graphic novel that you have read in the past year?

Dan: I don’t get to read a lot of stuff that I’m not currently working on.  That’s the catch 22 of being a busy creator.  If it’s not a script you are working on its difficult to find time to read other stuff. With that said, the only GN I sat down and read from start to finish this year was “Kringle” written by David Hayes and published by Source Point Press.  I drew the backup story. I will warn you, its not for kids. It’s a very adult-themed book. So certainly read it before you decide to let your children read it.  It could ruin Christmas for them for life lol.

Josh: Aside from my books and comics right? I read Mr. and Mrs. X. really liked that. Absolute Carnage was pretty cool. I am currently reading the Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles cross over. It’s pretty neat so far. I also started Saga recently. It’s very creative, but is for adults. Sorry kids.

Pencil drawing by Dan Gorman.

Thanks so much for following along with us here as we got to know some Ohio comic creators and artists just a little bit. I hope you have enjoyed reading these interviews as much as I have enjoyed conducting them!

Fingers crossed for an in-person panel one day in the future. Until then- don’t forget you can read stellar comics and graphic novels without ever leaving your home thanks to your library card and Hoopla! Happy reading and stay healthy.

Imagine Your Story- RiverCon Interview with Clare Kolat

Image courtesy of Clare Kolat.

Welcome back to our RiverCon interview series! RiverCon, our first annual mini-con at the library, was moved to at home activities to keep everyone safe this summer. We have also adapted our summer reading inspired RiverCon panel discussion to blog format so you can enjoy “meeting” amazing local comic artists and authors from home!

This week we hear from Clare Kolat, a talented Cleveland native who is a spectacular comic creator, artist, and designer. Clare’s comics have been featured in Vagabond Comics, The Ohio City Tremont Observer, and Cleveland Scene Magazine. You can learn more about Clare and her work by visiting her website- just click here!

What inspired you to pursue a career in comics?

Clare: Making my own stories and art always came naturally to me. I’ve found mountains of books and comics I made as a kid in my parents’ attic. Somewhere along the way, I realized that it was something I could keep doing as an adult, so I never stopped! 

Was there a favorite comic book you read in your youth?

Clare: While growing up in Mentor, my parents always got the News Herald, and for a time, they would include reprinted copies of old Spider-Man comics on Sundays. I would always grab the newspaper and shake out my comic to read first thing in the morning! I was also really into manga because of Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon.

Image courtesy of Clare Kolat.

Why do you think storytelling, specifically in the comic or graphic novel format, is important?

Clare: Stories teach us valuable lessons and let us escape to worlds outside our understanding. They let us explore, grow, and share experiences with others we would never have otherwise. I absolutely think graphic storytelling is important as well. It’s a highly accessible medium. Anyone can read comics. Even if you don’t necessarily understand the words, the art is there to guide you through the story. It is really unique in that way. Comics are for everyone. 

How have folk tales, fairy tales, or mythology influenced your work?

Clare: I’ve always loved fantastical stories and magical worlds. Fairytales and mythology always gave me an exciting place to escape. They offer you a different perspective and an opportunity to find magic in the mundane.

Image courtesy of Clare Kolat.

Do you have a favorite folk tale, fairy tale, or myth?

Clare: It’s so hard to pick one. I’ve really been getting into American folklore lately, especially stories about Appalachian cryptids and ghosts. I love the story of the Tailypo and did my own version for Vagabond Comics issue 9.

Image courtesy of Clare Kolat.

What is a favorite comic book or graphic novel that you have read in the past year?

Clare: Again, it’s hard to pick just one favorite, but to name a few Paper Girls, My Favorite Thing is Monsters, and Pilu of the Woods are all excellent.

Be sure to join me next Thursday morning for our final Imagine Your Story RiverCon interview! Stay safe and happy reading.

Imagine Your Story: RiverCon Interview with Karly West

RiverCon, our first annual mini-con at the library, was moved to at home activities to keep everyone safe this summer. We have also adapted our RiverCon panel discussion to blog format so you can enjoy “meeting” amazing local comic artists and authors from home! Each Thursday morning from now until July 2nd you can read a new interview right here on Read it Or Weep.

Our first RiverCon interview kicks off with Karly West! Karly is the author and artist of The Scholarly Banana: Fitcher’s Bird and a Rocky River native! Read more about Karly here.

What inspired you to pursue a career in comics?

Karly: I have a lot of weird, varied interests that I stubbornly refuse to give up! As a kid, I wanted to be an artist, an author, and a teacher. College was the same story: I interviewed with the journalism department, the art department, and the education department, but I had the worst time making a decision. For whatever reason, even though I loved each of these subjects, none of these career paths felt like the right fit for me (note: I earned my degree in education, but I’ve worked as a professional artist since 2010). In 2016, I created The Scholarly Banana as my “dream project” that would enable me to do everything I loved in one fell swoop: Writing, Researching, Design, Sculpture, Photography, Photoshop, Teaching, and…being weird, I guess! I’m happy to say that this has been the most creatively satisfying (and challenging) thing I’ve ever done.


Was there a favorite comic book you read in your youth?

Karly: Fox Trot. Back in the 90s, I collected all the Fox Trot anthologies and spent countless hours drawing the Fox family. My honorable mention goes to Dilbert. Although I’ve never worked in a cubicle before, I think Scott Adams is hilarious. Side note: His nonfiction books are great, too.


Why do you think storytelling, specifically in the comic or graphic novel format, is important?

Karly: Pictures are just another form of communication, so a well-designed, well-written, artistic book should be the best of both worlds, right? Graphic novels are incredibly cinematic. They’re like highly-polished storyboards! But unlike movies, graphic novels let us enjoy stories at our own pace, which is fantastic. I love to re-read my favorite books to analyze and admire all the subtle details. Graphic novels and well-designed picture books are great for that. 


How have folk tales, fairy tales, or mythology influenced your work?

Karly: I’ve been a voracious folklore nerd since 2002! More than anything, I love learning about the history and analysis of these ancient, influential stories. My favorite fairy tale books tend to be research-focused, though I don’t always have the mental energy to read college-level texts anymore. I created The Scholarly Banana to solve this problem! The Banana showcases the most exciting facts about folklore studies in a casual, friendly, and irreverently joyful way. It’s like a quirky, artsy CliffsNotes. But with fairy tales. And a banana.

Photo courtesy of Karly West.


Do you have a favorite folk tale, fairy tale, or myth?

Karly: The Story Of Grandmother is the tale that first got me hooked on folklore studies. Haha, I know the title sounds lame, but this is one of the craziest stories I’ve ever read! It’s an old French version of “Little Red Riding Hood.” However, the girl in this story doesn’t have a red hood, she unwittingly eats her grandmother for lunch, and she arranges her escape by telling the wolf that she has to go outside to use the bathroom. No joke. That’s the story.


What is a favorite comic book or graphic novel that you have read in the past year?

Karly: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. It’s beautifully creepy. Can I get some honorable mentions for this too? I’m a big fan of Reza Farazmand’s Poorly Drawn Lines (IG @poorlydrawnlines) as well as Patt Kelley’s single-paneled comics (@pattkelley). 

Thanks so much to Karly for participating in our blog interview! Keep your eyes peeled for her next Scholarly Banana book- The Juniper Tree!

Imagine Your Story @ RRPL- Countdown to RiverCon!

Only three more days to go until we kick off Rivercon! What is RiverCon you ask? RiverCon is a celebration of comic books, graphic novels, and manga that you don’t want to miss. Originally envisioned to be a mini-con at the library, we’ve adapted our event so you can enjoy awesome comic content and activities safely from home this June!

Saturday from 9 am – 1 pm yours truly, along with Teen Librarian Ms. Megan, and Children’s Librarian Ms. Amanda, will be passing out RiverCon@Home kits to pre-registered patrons in front of the library. We even have comic-themed face masks to stay safe, courtesy of Ms. Megan.

Here’s a look at what you can expect for this Saturday, June 6th. There is something for everyone!

  • 9 am- 1 pm: Patrons who pre-registered for a RiverCon@Home activity kit (if you didn’t claim your kit yet click here!) can pick-up their kits by stopping at the front entrance of the library to grab your kit from one of the librarians. You can also sign-up early for one of our super fun summer reading programs!
  • Pre-registration for kits will end June 5th, but fear not- we will have unclaimed RiverCon@Home kits on hand to pass out to anyone who stops by on a while supplies last basis!
  • What will my RiverCon@Home kit include? A RiverCon magnet, materials to make your own upcycled comic book bookmark, blank panel pages to draw your own comics, a librarian curated graphic novel reading list with discussion questions to explore at home, superhero stickers, Hoopla swag, and more!
  • 2-3 pm: Teens and adults can learn all about the interesting history of comics and graphic novels in Cleveland from CSU literature professor Jeff Karem at our Graphic Novelists in Cleveland webinar. Register today to get the Zoom link to join emailed to you the day of the event!
  • 2-3:30 pm: Kids ages 8-12 can sign up to participate in our online Nintendo Gaming Tournament. We’ve got plenty of spaces left so snag your spot to play today!

The fun continues all month with our first ever Community Cosplay Contest running from June 6th- June 29th! Find all the necessary information for participation here. We want to see your creativity! All ages are invited to bring to life your favorite characters for a chance to win a sweet prize bag. Two lucky winners will win a selection of graphic novels and gift cards to Carol & John’s Comic Shop, Immortals Inc., and Mitchell’s Ice Cream!

Keep checking back here every Thursday, June 11- July 2 to read interviews with talented local comic artists and writers! We will be talking to Karly West, creator of The Scholarly Banana, comics designer and artist Clare Kolat, and Tony Isabella, creator of Black Lightning, to name a few.

Later this month families will also be able to a enjoy a super-fun superhero storytime via YouTube with Ms. Amanda as part of our RiverCon program lineup! Keep your eyes peeled on the website for more details.

We can’t wait to see you! Happy Reading and Happy Summer!