A post-apocalyptic quest novel about kids trying to save the world, or at least themselves

The Wrenchies is one of the most intense, dizzying, and labyrinthian graphic novels I’ve ever encountered. I’m still not exactly sure what I just read. But I liked it.

It’s hard to describe The Wrenchies. It’s a gorgeously drawn and colored 304-page graphic novel that takes place in several time periods (including a post-apocalyptic, post-adult future). The Wrenchies is a comic book within the comic book, about a group of young crusaders out to save the world. And there are the future Wrenchies and the original Wrenchies that are actually the Wrenchies from the comic book within the comic book. Confused yet? There are also wizards and magic, dark elf energy vampire zombie thingies that are filled with bugs, aliens from Proxima Centauri, mad scientists, time-travelers, a future world populated only by kid gangs (one of these gangs being the titular Wrenchies), and a scientist who lives inside of a robotic Golem-like creature. Intrigued yet?

This Lord of the Flies on acid story with Watchmen-like ambitions has so many layers, characters, plot threads, and graphical eyeball kicks on every page that you give up after awhile trying to keep everything straight. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The beautiful and richly detailed art is an absolute delight to drink in. The numerous cutaways of the various underground forts and lairs that the kids live in, the wacky inventions, the fourth-wall-breaking arrow-marked call outs on many of the pages, and the sheer crazed inventiveness of the Wrenchies’ world and its contents are worth the price of admission (and the understandable confusion).

Everything about this book requires your time and attention. We tend to breeze through comic books… er… graphic novels. This really is a 304-page book that needs to read at the pace of a novel, lingering for awhile on every page (and there are many hidden gems to encourage you to do just that). Everyone that reads it (and likes it) says they’re definitely going to read it again. I’m definitely going to read it again.

Although it’s basically a young adult novel (in attitude and subject-matter), it has some disturbing violence and a fair amount of profanity in it. But if you have a YA reader for whom these are not issues, they’ll likely adore this book. And as an adult, if you’re OK with a book that defies easy digestion but rewards deeper engagement, join The Wrenchies on their perilous quest.

Check out a gallery of sample pages from The Wrenchies at Wink.

WWI trench poetry given gorgeous graphical treatment

I’ve always been fascinated by WWI trench art – objets d’art fashioned from bullet and shell casings and other materials found in the trenches and battlefields of that hellish quagmire. My general interest in WWI military history has also brought me to other artistic expressions of it, like Benjamin Brittens’ War Requiem and the war poetry of Wilfred Owen. 

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics was put together by New York Times’ bestselling editor, Chris Duffy. The collection honors the centennial of the “Great War” in a unique way, by combining some of the most celebrated “trench poets” of the time with some of today’s most accomplished cartoonists. The works of such poets as Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen are given the comic strip treatment by Garth Ennis, Peter Kuper, Hannah Berry, Anders Nilsen, Eddie Campbell, and others.

The textual spareness of the comic form really does lend itself to poetry, so it seems a perfect marriage. But I have to admit, while I really enjoyed and was moved by the experience of this book, the disparity between the writing style of early 20th century poetry and modern comic art did seem at odds at times. And as poetry is supposed to be personally-evocative, I thought the pieces that worked best were the ones that kept the art sparse, moody, and not a literal interpretation of the verse. I really enjoyed the soldier’s songs and how they were comically interpreted.

All in all, Above the Dreamless Dead is a very bold and innovative way of re-enlivening this literature in a new way. The poetry is intense, haunting, and sad, the art is top-notch, and the production on this little volume is impeccable. Bravo to First Second, a publisher I get a bigger crush on with each new release.

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics by Chris Duffy (editor)

Take a look at other beautiful paper books at Wink. And sign up for the Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

Megahex - An occult-dressed stoner comic

Megahex, by Simon Hanselmann, is a collection of his Megg and Mogg strips, first featured on his Girl Mountain Tumblr. The comic is an existential stoner tale that is part Furry Freak Brothers, part Beavis and Butthead, and part Jean Paul Sartre (with some Jackass thrown in for good measure).

The comic concerns Megg, a green-skinned witch, her familiar/friend, the cigarette and weed puffing black cat, Mogg, and a whack-a-doodle supporting cast: Owl (an anthropomorphized owl), Mike (a warlock), Robot (guess), Booger (a female Boogeyman), and Werewolf Jones (who likes to cheese-grate his scrotum). This bizarre group of friends do little more than sit around, bong-ripping themselves into oblivion, while playing cruel pranks on each other and pontificating on the state of their miserable lives. The witch, warlock, and other horror movie “dress,” at first seems superfluous (the series takes its name and affect from the 70s Meg and Mog comics, about a witch and her cat). But after awhile, it’s obvious that the monstrous nature of the characterization is an outward expression of crippling alienation and how they truly feel about themselves. They are not monsters, they just feel that way.

It would be easy to dismiss Megahex as another stoner comic. But there’s so much lurking beneath the seemingly superficial surfaces – questions about friendship, loyalty, love, drug addiction, sexual identity, and hopelessness. There are plenty of hysterical Darwin Award-worthy situations in Megahex, but that’s not likely to be your takeaway. And what you’ll leave with is far scarier than any spook house frights; the fear of looking deeply at yourself in the mirror and finding a monster (or nothing) in your place.

Note: I love that more publishers are starting to do book tour videos, where an unseen hand pages through the book. You can see one such video for Megahex here.

Megahex by Simon Hanselmann

Take a look at other beautiful paper books at Wink. And sign up for the Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

Cory coming to NYC, LA, SF, SEA, AUS, MSP, ORD!


A reminder that I'm heading out on tour with In Real Life, the graphic novel I co-created with the wonderful Jen Wang, starting at New York Comic Con this coming weekend.

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Con/Game: a story from the In Real Life universe


To celebrate the imminent release of In Real Life, the graphic novel that Jen Wang and I created from my story "Anda's Game," we've collaborated on a comic about a con game in gamespace, just published on Tor.com.

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Excerpt from In Real Life, YA graphic novel about gold farmers


In Real Life is the book-length graphic novel adapted by Jen Wang from my short story Anda's Game, about a girl who encounters a union organizer working to sign up Chinese gold-farmers in a multiplayer game.

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The ineffable joy of transforming boring scientific explanations into exciting comics

Cartooning entomologist Jay Hosler‘s forthcoming young adult graphic novel Last of the Sandwalkers masterfully combines storytelling with science; in this essay, he explains how beautifully comics play into the public understanding of science — and why that understanding is a matter of urgency for all of us.

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A strong, self-absorbed female protagonist pushes the boundaries of spacetime

Leigh Alexander talks to Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan O’Malley about his new book, Seconds, and moving on to a new character–one for whom the imagined burdens of middle age loom large.

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Steampunk/singularity mashup: Sun of Suns is now a graphic novel


Karl Schroeder's 2006 novel (review) set a new bar for imaginative worldbuilding and exciting adventure sf.

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Moonhead and the Music Machine

Fresh from the always-great Nobrow Press and comics creator Andrew Rae is Moonhead and the Music Machine, a surreal all-ages graphic novel that tells the coming-of-age story of Joey Moonhead, whose head is a moon, and whose freak-flag is just starting to fly. Cory Doctorow reviews a fine, funny and delightful tribute to album rock, outcast liberation, and high school social dominance.

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This One Summer [excerpt]

An excerpt from Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s brilliant graphic novel.

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Cleopatra in Space: trailer for kids' graphic novel

[Video Link] I'm a big fan of Mike Maihack's artwork, and he's got a new graphic novel called Cleopatra in Space. It's published by Scholastic. My 11-year-old daughter, Jane, enjoyed it.

cisWhen a young Cleopatra (yes, THAT Cleopatra) finds a mysterious tablet that zaps her to the far, REALLY far future, she learns of an ancient prophecy that says she is destined to save the galaxy from the tyrannical rule of the evil Xaius Octavian. She enrolls in Yasiro Academy, a high-tech school with classes like algebra, biology, and alien languages (which Cleo could do without), and combat training (which is more Cleo's style). With help from her teacher Khensu, Cleo learns what it takes to be a great leader, while trying to figure out how she's going to get her homework done, make friends, and avoid detention!

Cleopatra in Space

Winner of the Remix "The Fifth Beatle" giveaway

I recently reviewed the incredible graphic novel biography, The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, written by Vivek J. Tiwary and illustrated by Andrew C. Robinson and Kyle Baker. (It was just nominated for two Eisner awards!)

Last week I announced that Wink (a paper book review website that my wife Carla Sinclair edits) was holding a giveaway of the rare signed, numbered, slipcased "Limited Edition" of The Fifth Beatle, which is limited to 1500 copies, signed by all three creators and comes with an exclusive tip-in page of art. Entrants to the giveaway were asked to write their own text for the word balloons in the panel above. (Clockwise L-R John Lennon, George Harrison, Brian Epstein, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney. NOTE: John has 2 balloons.)

The entries were judged by Vivek J. Tiwary himself, and he selected a winner for the limited edition and a runner-up for a regular edition.

Here are the winning entries

My daughter Poesy reviews Hilda and the Black Hound


Luke Pearson and London's Flying Eye Books have published the fourth Hildafolk kids' graphic novel, Hilda and the Black Hound. Like the earlier volumes (reviews: Hildafolk and Hilda and the Midnight Giant and Hilda and the Bird Parade), it's nothing less than magical, a Miyazaki-meets-Moomin story that is beautifully drawn and marvellously told.

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The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation, a nuanced and moving history of race, slavery and the Civil War


The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation sat in my pile for too long, and it shouldn't have. I loved The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation, the previous effort by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell, so I should have anticipated how good this new one would be. Having (belatedly) gotten around to it, I can finally tell you that this is an extraordinary, nuanced history of the issues of race and slavery in America, weaving together disparate threads of military, geopolitical, technological, legal, Constitutional, geographic and historical factors that came together to make the Civil War happen at the moment when it occurred, that brought it to an end, and that left African Americans with so little justice in its wake.

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