Perfectly on-point comics document the horrors and awkwardnesses of life

When you meet someone new, do you know what to say but still say the wrong thing? How much do you overanalyze everything that’s happening in your relationships? What do your brain, your heart, and your uterus think when their expectations of you are too high? Adulthood is a Myth explores these questions and more in over 100 comic strips.

Writer and artist Sarah Anderson compiled the best of her work from the online “Sarah’s Scribbles” collection and created plenty more comic strips to explain the insecurities and set back introverts face as they come into adulthood. These crisp black-and-white comic strips cover stressful situations like trying on clothes, being in crowds of people, obsessing over your flaws, and making the inevitable but always ill-advised comparisons to people who have figured out more than you have. Other comic strips show the unnamed main character having fun with her body fat, embracing her imperfections, and finding pleasure in little things like lying on warm laundry, wearing men’s hoodies, and embracing holiday costumes.

If the title doesn’t make you want to pick it up, the fuzzy sweater on the cover might convince you. Read it all in one sitting or start wherever you’d like as you linger over the expressive drawings, wonder about the talking rabbit, and generally relax with the knowledge that the things that made you think you were weird and alone are universal among introverts.

– Megan Hippler

Adulthood is a Myth: A Sarah's Scribbles Collection by Sarah Andersen Andrews McMeel Publishing 2016, 112 pages, 6.5 x 0.3 x 8.0 inches, Paperback $12 Buy on Amazon

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Origami meets robots in a book of 46 DIY glowbots

Attention, fellow mad scientists and monster creators! It’s time to put down our scalpels and electrodes and move into the twenty-first century. We need to upgrade our bio laboratories, transforming them into modern mechanical/electrical engineering labs. Anybody can pump several thousand volts into a creature created from spare parts. But, it’s the modern robot that gives us true control over every tiny detail of our creations, right down to the 1’s and 0’s of their digital brains. Imagine the horror and chaos that we can unleash with an army of mass-produced metal-monsters . . . mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Papertoy Glowbots is a collection of forty-six robot designs by fifteen notable papertoy artists from around the globe including the author, Brian Castleforte. These robots glow, taking the previous book, Papertoy Monsters, a step further. Some have glow-in-the-dark stickers while others require the use of glow sticks, night-lights, or battery-operated tea light candles. One way or another, they have the ability to light up in some fashion.

Every robot is printed on both sides, so the finished toy has colorful graphics inside and out. Pieces are perforated for easy punch-out, and they are pre-scored for easy folding. Even the slots are pre-cut for easy assembly (no dangerous craft knives to contend with). Construction difficulties range from easy to advanced, and is recommended for everyone nine years or older, but my seven-year-old nephew gets a kick out of them too.

The book contains a variety of robots ranging from cyborgs to fully autonomous metal bots and mechanical horrors driven by living beings. Read the rest

Comic Book Fever — a love letter to 70s and 80s comics

If you're an aging comic book fan, say in your late 40s or early 50s, Comic Book Fever will scratch the hell out of any nostalgic itch you've ever felt about the hobby. George Khoury's picture-heavy examination of comics and comics culture from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s triggers a flood memories.

There are the comics themselves: Landmark runs of the X-Men, Teen Titans and Daredevil. And the artists: Frank Miller, George Perez and John Byrne. Not to mention all the ads, toys and snacks.

Remember ROM Space Knight, Big Jim and Micronauts? And all those superhero ads for Hostess Twinkies? Or the classic Jack Davis-illustrated ad for Spalding basketballs featuring Rick Barry and Dr. J?

Heck, this book even includes a feature on Grit, the family newspaper that lured generations of comic fans into selling its tabloid door to door with the promise of cash and prizes.

There are also features on such classic stand-alone comics as Captain America's Bicentennial Battles by Jack Kirby; the first-ever DC-Marvel match-up, Superman Vs. Spider-Man, and the Neal Adams-illustrated Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali. They don't make 'em like that anymore. And that's the point.

Comic Book Fever celebrates the mass-market popularity of comics even as this popularity was starting to fade. By the end of the period covered, comics were no longer something that every kid grew up on, but a hobbyist product available only in specialist comic book shops. The industry's move to direct marketing and emerging competition from other pastimes, such as video games, spelled the end of an era. Read the rest

Morbid Curiosities – A dark and delightful glimpse into 18 macabre collections

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Morbid Curiosities: Collections of the Uncommon and the Bizarre by Paul Gambino Laurence King Publishing 2016, 160 pages, 7 x 9.8 x 1 inches (hardcover) $22 Buy a copy on Amazon

Dark and delightful, artistic and unusual, Morbid Curiosities: Collections of the Uncommon and the Bizarre is a glimpse into 18 fascinating collections of oddities. But more than that, it is also a collection of the collectors themselves. Author Paul Gambino’s familiarity with these traders of the macabre has granted him access to their greatest finds and most beloved possessions and in turn into their psyches as well.

We are talking about the types of things that most of us don’t encounter grouped together outside of museums: Jars of diseased organs and the owner’s own placenta; shelves of human skulls of various shapes and histories; exhumed items; masks; ephemera; the letters and art of serial killers; antique wax anatomical dummies; shrunken heads and mummies; parts of deformed people and animals; vintage prosthetic devices; poisons; Ouija boards and séance contraptions; a hangman’s record book and tape measure...and the list goes on.

Gambino presents the collections to us succinctly, with great visuals and a thoughtful introduction. And in doing so, he also presents to us a look at the folks who champion these items, who go to the ends of the earth to acquire them, who save them from garbage bins and bonfires, and who display them lovingly, beautifully, as objet d’art.

Their collections are every bit as ghoulish as you would imagine, but the collectors themselves are a variety of folks with regular lives. Read the rest

Woman Rebel – Peter Bagge's graphic bio of the controversial founder of Planned Parenthood

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Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story by Peter Bagge Drawn and Quarterly 2013, 104 pages, 6.8 x 9.1 x 0.7 inches (hardcover) $15 Buy a copy on Amazon

When I think of Peter Bagge, I think of his work in Hate or Neat Stuff, both comics about teenage angst and living in suburban malaise. Therefore, when I saw he wrote Woman Rebel, a biography of Margaret Sanger (the woman responsible for Planned Parenthood), I was curious. Once I started reading, it made perfect sense. Discontent, anger, and frustration with the status quo translate perfectly to the life of Ms. Sanger. Margaret Sanger is most famously known as the founder of Planned Parenthood and for her endless fight for women’s access to birth control in the early 20th century. The book highlights key moments in Sanger’s life – it starts with her childhood (she was born in the 1880s to Irish immigrants) and takes us through her early work as a nurse, mother, and eventual activist.

What makes this biography unique are Bagge’s illustrations. His faces, especially the contorted, frustrated ones that work in Bagge’s earlier work (say, on his teenage anti-hero Buddy Bradley) cross over really well. There is a lot of sadness and anger in Sanger’s life, whether it was her mother (who had 18 pregnancies in 25 years) or Sanger herself facing the many smug and misogynistic critics attempting to halt her progress. There is a lot of emotion in this book, the same that made Sanger persevere. Read the rest

Craft for the Soul shows us how to constantly generate ideas and create cool stuff

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Craft for the Soul: How to Get the Most Out of Your Creative Life by Pip Lincolne (author) Penguin Books Australia 2016, 216 pages, 6 x 9 x 0.9 inches (hardcover) $28 Buy a copy on Amazon

When it comes to dishing out all there is to know about living a creative life, Pip Lincolne is certainly your go-to woman. She’s the author of several creative titles and the talent behind popular blog Meet Me at Mike’s. She is also the founder of multiple inspiring projects, including worldwide craft group Brown Owls and the eMag series The Good Stuff Guide.

For some, stumbling upon Pip Lincolne’s book, Craft for the Soul, might seem a bit like discovering a rare gem. Sure, there are plenty of books about creativity, as well as numerous books filled with cute craft projects, but Lincolne has seamlessly blended the two to produce a book that is bursting with all things creative. Nestled among her down-to-earth advice about morning rituals, keeping active for creativity’s sake, and how to constantly generate ideas (among plenty of other topics), you’ll also find her favorite delicious recipes, along with adorable illustrations, inspiring quotes, and crafty DIY projects.

The author stresses that each and every one of us are capable of filling our day-to-day lives with more creativity, happiness, and fun. And for those of you thinking you don’t have a creative bone in your bodies – the pang of inspiration you feel every time you turn a page will certainly have you thinking otherwise! Read the rest

The Coloring Book for Goths: because goths (and former goths) can take a joke

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The Coloring Book for Goths: The World's Most Depressing Book by Tom Devonald Atria Books 2016, 96 pages, 5.5 x 7.5 x 0.4 inches (paperback) $9 Buy a copy on Amazon

I wasn't a big fan of high school, and my high school wasn't a big fan of me. Weird, awkward, and music-obsessed, I was a concert-tee-clad speck in a sea of polo shirts and boat shoes. My 30th high school reunion was last July. A friend of mine from high school, who has a sadistic sense of humor, added me to the reunion Facebook page. One of the organizers for the event asked the group what songs they wanted to hear at the reunion. They all commented with one singular word, "Eighties." The organizer tried their best to be diplomatic, and calmly asked which particular songs they wanted to hear, which then prompted the response of, "Eighties." This went on for a while. Finally, someone commented with Starship's "We Built This City."

Needless to say, I didn't attend the reunion. I try my best to avoid situations where I might accidentally hear one note of Starship's "We Built This City." In a strange coincidence, some of my friends who didn't attend my high school organized a gothic/punk/industrial 'club kid' reunion the weekend prior to my high school reunion. During the early-to-mid '80s, the midwestern city I lived in had a great alternative music club scene. We would spend most of our evenings dressed in black and coiffed outrageously, dancing to Bauhaus' seminal track "Bela Lugosi is Dead," Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," amongst other doomy, angsty, deep cuts and non-hits. Read the rest

The Pet Dragon – A whimsical girl-meets-dragon story that also introduces Chinese characters

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The Pet Dragon by Christopher Niemann Greenwillow Books 2008, 40 pages, 9 x 11.8 x 0.4 inches (hardcover) $16 Buy a copy on Amazon

Chinese characters are wonderfully expressive, straddling the fine line between the written word and illustration. Esteemed graphic designer and picture book creator Christoph Niemann realized as much with The Pet Dragon, a whimsical story about a Chinese girl who raises a baby dragon to adulthood. In his introduction to the book, Niemann states that he had fun imagining connections between the calligraphic characters and their meanings. Reading the book, it’s clear that the author has a love of his subject and was very much enjoying himself.

The story is straightforward. A young Chinese girl named Lin receives a baby dragon who grows too quickly to stay in her home. After breaking a vase, Lin’s father condemns the baby dragon to its cage. The wily dragon escapes, leading Lin on a quest to find her beloved pet. Niemann enriches his tale by transposing Chinese characters on top of his illustrations to demonstrate the relationship between each symbol and what it represents. A forest is shown as a series of trees with the symbol for tree superimposed on them, the curving lines below indicating the roots and the extended lines at the top stretching outward for the branches. The upraised slashes and crossed lines in the symbol for father become the raised eyebrows and nose on his face, while the character denoting mountain has its three upward prongs displayed over a towering mountain range. Read the rest

Moon and Bá's Daytripper is a masterful novel by any metric

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Daytripper by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon Vertigo 2011, 256 pages, 6.7 x 10.2 x 0.5 inches (softcover) $12 Buy a copy on Amazon

I don’t think it would be too hyperbolic of me to say Daytripper is one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read. It’s a big story told in small moments. The epic, emotional core is powerful and life affirming, but brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá get there through the lightest touch of character.

Without giving too much away (because there is so much to discover), the story is about Brás de Oliva Domingos, an aspiring novelist stuck writing newspaper obituaries. His life is both unique and unremarkable, and we meet Brás at a different age in each chapter. Theses ages are told in a non-linear fashion, and mostly feature life-changing moments. The twist is that these moments rarely seem life changing as they are happening, as is usually the case in real life. We live each day as if it is any other, only noting the important bits later.

For Moon and Bá, recognizing the personal is a matter of life or death. Brás spends most of the book pining for more in his life, always dissatisfied with where he is. It’s as if he’s constantly waiting for his “real life” to begin. Moon and Bá suggest that life isn’t the point when you finally find the success you’ve been craving, or when you finally meet the love of your life, or any number of other things. Read the rest

Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe

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Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe by Tim Leong Chronicle Books 2013, 196 pages, 7.4 x 9.4 x 0.6 inches (softcover) $20 Buy a copy on Amazon

How has Superman’s logo changed shape since it was first created in 1938? How long do comic book characters tend to stay dead? How do the populations of fictional cities compare to New York City or London? Tim Leong’s Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe uses bright maps, word webs, graphs, and flowcharts to answer questions like these and illustrate correlations among different comic book characters. Most of his information comes from the usual Marvel and DC superhero comic books, but he also analyzes information from such classics as Tin-Tin, Peanuts, and Archie comics.

The smartest graphs show Leong’s skill for bringing together information into succinct visuals, such as the charts showing that superheroes tend to wear primary colors while supervillains tend to wear secondary colors. Other spreads draw information from the comic book business or affiliated merchandise. For example, some infographics discuss which demographics reads comic books, which characters won most often in Marvel Universe Trading Card Series, and which comic book writers are the most prolific. Still other pages use the graphs to make sight-gags without providing any insight or trivia. These pages, such as the graph entitled “A Personal History of Saying ‘Good Grief’” which is drawn as the pattern on Charlie Brown’s shirt, are briefly amusing but not the pages to study. Read the rest

Nimona – A modern medieval world where the bad guys are good and the good guys often aren't

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Nimona by Noelle Stevenson HarperTeen 2015, 272 pages, 6 x 9 x 0.7 inches (softcover) From $8 Buy a copy on Amazon

A few years ago, I had the good fortune of discovering Noelle Stevenson's comics through an interview she did with Danielle Coresetto of the webcomic Girls with Slingshots. I read Nimona when it was available in full online and fell absolutely head over heels in love with the comic, blasting through it from start to finish in one sitting. When I revisited the site a few months later to show it to a friend, I was delighted to find out that it had been picked up by HarperTeen and was to be published later that year – no one deserved a publishing deal more than this incredibly talented illustrator and writer.

The graphic novel is set in a fresh fictional world of Stevenson's imagining, inspired by the medieval fantasy scene but infused with science and technology. The titular character, Nimona, is a shape-shifting young girl who has foisted herself upon her favorite super-villain, Ballister Blackheart, as his sidekick and general mischief-maker. In a Despicable Me-esque fashion, the moral and big-hearted Blackheart has dedicated his life to grand (and mostly failed) schemes against the Institution of Law Enforcement & Heroics, a shadowy corporation with shadowy motives that ousted Blackheart years before. Nimona herself is brash, mischievous, and reckless – and in a split second, can turn into a rhino to smash through a steel door, or into a dragon to fly off with a massive chest of gold. Read the rest

My Dad Used to Be So Cool – so what the heck happened?

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My Dad Used to Be So Cool by Keith Negley Flying Eye Books 2016, 48 pages, 9.1 x 10.7 x 0.4 inches $11 Buy a copy on Amazon

To believe that your own parents are “boring” or “typical” is a pretty common thought amongst children. Unless your parent is a spy or superhero, you aren’t going to refer to them as “cool.” And why would you?

Keith Negley’s book, My Dad Used to Be so Cool, illustrates the dynamic between a son and his father. The story is told from the son’s point of view as we journey through his fantasies of what his father used to be like when he was younger. Through descriptive illustrations and minimal word usage, a world that we are all too familiar with is created. The son sees his father doing laundry and vacuuming just like every other child has seen their parent do. Nothing particularly “cool” about those daily tasks, right? The son begs the question, “What happened?” A life event changed the father from a tattooed rock and roll super star to a laundry-folding dad. What was it? The answer – his son.

Negley perfectly demonstrates the sacrifices a parent makes for their child, but how beautiful those sacrifices really are. This story opened my eyes to how “cool” my own parents actually are. At 18 years old, I am not a parent but I can honestly say that the daily struggles and chores that any parent deals with are nothing short of remarkable. Read the rest

DC reprints the classic Batman/Harley Quinn story Mad Love as a coloring book

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Coloring DC: Batman: Mad Love Featuring Harley Quinn by Paul Dini (author) and Bruce Timm (illustrator) DC Comics 2016, 7.5 x 11.5 x 0.4 inches (softcover) $10 Buy a copy on Amazon

Over the past few decades the dynamic duo of legacy comic book companies, Marvel and DC, have introduced hundreds of new characters. Most have failed to catch on (sorry, Adam-X, the X-Treme!), and while recently many new characters have garnered acclaim and small cadres of devoted fans, the new Ms. Marvel and Prez have yet to become the next Wolverine.

2016 has seen two major breakthroughs that may pave the way: Marvel’s Deadpool and DC’s Harley Quinn. Both were created in the 1990s and have suddenly become the superhero equivalent of rock stars, with T-shirts and tchotchkes available at every Target and Hot Topic in America. One of them even has their own make-up line (I’ll let you guess who). My dad in his 70s now knows these characters, which I find equally amusing and eye rolling.

Which brings us to coloring books. Okay, maybe not directly, but the ascension of Harley Quinn as a character and the recent popularity of coloring books for adults has created a perfect storm, and now we have Coloring DC – Batman: Mad Love Featuring Harley Quinn, a coloring book written and drawn by her creators Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. This oversized tome contains a few extra stories of DC heroines and villians on the undercard, but the prime material is a reprinting of the terrific Harley story Mad Love. Read the rest

Big Trouble in Little China continues, in comic book form, with John Carpenter still at the helm

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Big Trouble in Little China Vol. 1 by John Carpenter (author), Eric Powell (author) and Brian Churilla (illustrator) BOOM! Studios 2015, 128 pages, 8.6 x 10.2 x 0.4 inches (softcover) $11 Buy a copy on Amazon

(Do I really need to give a spoiler alert for a movie that came out in 1986?)

“Have you paid your dues Jack? Yessir, the check is in the mail.” After shaking the pillars of heaven and defeating Lo Pan, Jack Burton drove off into the night with a monster sneaking up on him from the back of his truck. That’s sadly where this incredible movie ended. It joined the ranks of other cult '80s movies bold enough to tease a sequel that would never come to be. Thankfully much like Lo Pan was in the film, this story isn’t quite dead yet.

The comic picks up right where the movie ended with Jack driving his semi, the Pork-Chop Express, in the rain monologuing into his CB. From there it spirals into ninja punching, demon spewing, and Jack Burton awesomeness. What makes me especially happy is that this is a true extension of the story, as the film's director John Carpenter is back, working with the Goon’s Eric Powell, with Brian Churilla doing the artwork. It’s an awesome creative team up. Comic Jack is a caricature of his Kurt Russell counterpart, which seems oddly fitting and adds to the zaniness of the world.

Fans of the movie will definitely be into this comic. Read the rest

Papertoy Monsters – Build 50 3D toys with just paper and glue

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Papertoy Monsters: 50 Cool Papertoys You Can Make Yourself! by Brian Castleforte (author) and Robert James (illustrator) Workman Publishing Company 2010, 124 pages, 8.6 x 11 x 0.9 inches (softcover) $15 Buy a copy on Amazon

As a child, I often viewed school as an evil creature that could be temporarily subdued only by sickness, weekends, government holidays, and art/craft Fridays. Among my favorite Friday activities were the various papertoys that I got to color, cut out, and assemble. Some were mechanical, some were static, some would have a specific purpose, and some would just be neat little creatures to play with. But, they all had the same feature that I found so intriguing: they were three-dimensional toys born from a single sheet of two-dimensional paper. Three decades later, I can finally relive those fond childhood memories as well as share them with my nephews.

Papertoy Monsters is a collection of 50 monster designs by 24 papertoy artists from around the globe including the author, Brian Castleforte. Building one of these monsters is pretty straightforward, and the only required tool is some glue. The author recommends some other tools, but glue is really all that is required. Inspiring mad scientists have it so easy nowadays.

Every monster is printed on both sides, so the finished toy has colorful graphics inside and out. Pieces are perforated for easy punch-out, and pre-scored for easy folding. Even the slots are pre-cut for easy assembly (no dangerous X-Acto knives to contend with). Read the rest

Dharma Delight: A Visionary Post Pop Guide to Buddhism and Zen

Dharma Delight: A Visionary Post Pop Guide to Buddhism and Zen by Rodney Alan Greenblat Tuttle Publishing 2016, 128 pages, 7.5 x 10 x 0.5 inches (softcover) $11 Buy a copy on Amazon

Peace of mind can be a hard-won trophy in the best of times. Other times, well, simply being may be the best we can do. Dharma Delight is a visual diary of one man's journey into Buddhism. Author Greenblat takes the reader through the basic aspects of Buddhism, including its founding, its core tenets, a few of the more prominent teachers (er, Buddhas, not instructors), and a few basic zen practices all accompanied by his own bright, bold paintings and drawings.

The book is somewhat slight, more of a primer than an in-depth examination of any one part of either Buddhism or Greenblat's relationship to it, but I found this to be the most engaging facet of the book. What I mean is, the book often lays out a single concept or story or koan on one or two pages, letting the reader focus on the idea being presented rather than stuffing loads of concepts and history into a confined space.

By allowing the content so much room to breathe, each painting or set of paintings comes into clear relief. Greenblat squeezes lots of detail and tiny, almost hidden prose messages into each vibrant piece of art; his style is a distinct form of pop art, somewhere between the neon, day-glo of the 1980s and the comic book reproductions of Lichtenstein. Read the rest

Twisted History – A grisly page turner about history's worst despots, traitors, and murderers

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Twisted History: 32 True Stories of Torture, Traitors, Sadists and Psychos...Plus the Most Celebrated Saints in History by Howard Watson Firefly Books 2015, 176 pages, 7.5 x 9.4 x 0.5 inches (softcover) $18 Buy a copy on Amazon

The careers of history's worst despots, murderers, assassins, and traitors are examined in this lurid and grisly page turner. The usual suspects are all featured: Hitler, Stalin, Jack The Ripper, Vlad The Impaler, and other unsavory characters. Some lesser known fiends, such as Gilles De Rais, the French nobleman who murdered 140 children in the 15th century, Lavrentia Beria, Stalin's henchman who was responsible for the execution of 22,000 Poles in the Katyn Massacre, Tomas de Torquemada, who executed 2,000 Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, and Thug Berham, the Indian serial killer who strangled almost 1,000 people, are also given a moment in the spotlight.

Comprised of a brief overview of the villains' crimes against humanity, with Fact Files showing their history, legacy, and circumstance of death, descriptions of their downfall and punishment, often including torture, and photos of their jail cells or gravesites, Twisted History keeps things short and sweet, compelling the reader to continue turning pages to see what unspeakable horror could possibly follow the last. The mood is lightened briefly by recounting the lives of honorable figures who've made the world a better place, such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Then it's right back to the scoundrels, the outlaws, the killers, and thieves. Read the rest

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