• A Beginner's Guide to Immortality: From Alchemy to Avatars

    Featuring simple, bold, and colorful illustrations, A Beginner's Guide to Immortality examines humanity's never-ending quest to discover the secret to eternal life. The book is categorized into five options on extending one's life: Elixirs, Meeting Immortals, Visiting Magical Places, Patience, and The Future.

    Starting with a look at historical figures such as Gilgamesh's search for youth-restoring seaweed and Qin She Huang's hunt for a fruit which grants eternal life, the book touches on the unsuccessful search for mythical life-extending tools like alchemical elixirs, the philosopher's stone, and the flesh of the ningyo fish. The folkloric Moon rabbit is shown is vibrant yellow, stirring its cauldron of the Elixir Of Life.

    The journey continues to mythical places where some form of a fountain of youth supposedly exists in Bimini, St. Brendan's Island, and Tir Na Nog. A dynamic full-page illustration of a maiden soaking in a mountain stream in bold aquamarine evokes an idyllic atmosphere. Real-life places such as those in Earth's Blue Zones occurring in Sardinia, Okinawa, and Loma Linda, California, where inhabitants regularly live to upwards of 90 years, are also investigated.

    Venturing into the realms of biology and other sciences, long lived animals such as naked mole rats, planarian worms, and a jellyfish known as turritopsis dohrnii are described. A gene that centenarians may possess known as FoxO is examined. Healthy routines like eating well, regular exercise, and flossing are suggested. A humorous full-page illustration of famous literary immortals is shown, featuring amazons, wizards, Pinocchio, and Dracula.

    Ending the book with options that might exist in the future, cryogenics, mummification, cloning, and inserting one's consciousness into a digital avatar are all represented. The theory of biomechanical immortality is vividly illustrated in emerald green with an enormous robot having its puny human brain installed as pleased scientists look on. Finally, the belief in an afterlife in world religions is presented.

    A Beginner's Guide to Immortality is a lively, quick read, exploring concepts in history, science, literature, and geography, and presented in an easily digested manner. Charmingly illustrated in a blocky, comic book style, with chunky images of futuristic robots with glowing brains, medieval alchemists mixing strange chemicals, and Ponce De Leon wielding a metal detector, it's an informative, humorous book.

    – SD

    A Beginner's Guide to Immortality: From Alchemy to Avatars

    by Maria Birmingham, Josh Holinaty (Illustrator)

    Owlkids

    2015, 48 pages, 7.4 x 0.6 x 9.7 inches, Hardcover

    $11 Buy on Amazon

  • The bestselling series by the creators of Death Note, now available in a complete box set

    "Is becoming a successful manga artist an achievable dream or just one big gamble?" The back cover of every Bakuman. poses this question, the central question to a series about the highs and lows of professional art, and the troubles an artist has to endure for their work. In Bakuman., two high school students named Mashiro and Takagi team up to create manga, taking on the roles of artist and writer, respectively. They have different and unique motivations for pursuing this path, Takagi doing it to avoid falling into the trap of a boring life, while Mashiro endeavors to impress the girl he loves. They're both incredibly well developed characters that struggle, win, lose, and never accept defeat. Over the course of the 20 volumes in this set, we're offered an in depth chronicle of their attempts at success.

    Manga fans may recognize creators Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata as the team behind the popular Death Note. While Death Note was a high concept mystery, Bakuman. is a much more accessible "everyday life" kind of story that blends comedy and drama with ease. Now excuse me while I gush a little, because I think Bakuman. may be my favorite manga series. Any manga/comics fan should read it, but I cannot recommend it enough to anybody working in an artistic medium. Ohba & Obata use the simple plot to develop a complex reflection on the nature of creation. In their journey, Mashiro and Takagi have to confront the reality of achieving their dreams, struggling to discover if it was worth the struggle. They make sacrifices in the balance between art and commerce. They learn that life is what happens while you're working towards your dreams, and that while it's important to have a goal, it's also important to appreciate where you are. There are no superpowers, no fights, no action scenes, just real character driven drama.

    The complete set pictured here also includes a double-sided full color poster, and a bonus "issue" of Otter No. 11, a fictional comedy series produced within the main story of Bakuman. The box itself is of high quality, with gorgeous illustrations on every side, and a velcro flap that seals in the volumes. If you're already a fan of Ohba & Obata, this is the best value for your money. New adopters should at least check out volume one, which introduces the boys on their first summer creating manga, racing to complete a demo work before school starts again. If you're looking for a change of pace from your usual superhero or shonen fare, Bakuman. will not disappoint.

    – Alex Strine

    Bakuman. Complete Box Set (Volumes 1-20 with premium)

    by Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata (Illustrator)

    VIZ Media LLC

    2013, 3864 pages, 7.5 x 5.3 x 5.0 inches, Paperback

    $159 Buy on Amazon

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

  • The League of Regrettable Superheroes: Half-Baked Heroes from Comic Book History

    Superman always left me cold. Virtually omnipotent, unerringly virtuous, and slightly boring, Superman is capable of rescuing kittens from trees, leaping over buildings with a single bound, and routinely saving the entire planet from certain cataclysm. He always wins. Sure, he was sort of killed once, he's been naughty on occasion (usually due to some form of Kryptonite or an alternate reality), and he certainly has a fascist streak in the current movies, but his most recent controversy is whether he's wearing the red trunks or not. Yawn.

    I was always fascinated by the C-squad heroes, the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time group just below Aquaman and Elongated Man in name recognition. Red Tornado, the 1940's heroine who fought crime while wearing a bucket on her head, utilizing only her fists and wit. Mr. Terrific, the Golden Age 'Man of 1000 Talents', who rarely used any of them. Phantom Stranger, a mage with omnipotent powers who was merely a narrator in his own book, generally only appearing in the first and last panels. And then there's The Legion Of Superheroes, whose members included Bouncing Boy, who had the ability to inflate himself and bounce around, Ferro Lad, who could turn himself to solid iron, and Matter Eater Lad, who could eat anything, which inspired the indie rock group Guided By Voices to write a song about him. Don't even get me started on the League Of Substitute Heroes, the minor leaguers with questionable abilities not quite up to snuff to join the Legion.

    The League Of Regrettable Superheroes examines the careers of a few of the comic book history's least likely heroes. Snarky and humorous, the book pokes good-natured fun at the heroes who couldn't quite make the big Leagues. Beginning in the Golden Age and working right up to the modern age, it features full page images of the comic's front cover, a page from the interior of the book highlighting some of their less-than-spectacular exploits, and a sidebar gives important statistics. Some of the characters presented include: Bozo The Iron Man, a Nazi-slugging robot with a inexplicably menacing grin on its face. Doctor Vampire, a caped physician who is actually not a vampire, but battles them. Fantomah, the beautiful heroine who transforms into a hideous skull once angered. Kangaroo Man, a daredevil explorer fighting fascism with his trained kangaroo sidekick. Mad Hatter, the rhyming crime-fighter whose fighting togs do not include a chapeau. And finally, The Puppeteer, whose day job as a puppet maker has almost nothing to do with his powers or origin.

    With its gorgeous full page images of the comics and humorous descriptions of the heroes, each second-stringer gets a few pages of glory. Zipping along through 70 years of comic book history, The League Of Regrettable Superheroes is a fun, quick read.

    – SD

    The League of Regrettable Superheroes: Half-Baked Heroes from Comic Book History

    by Jon Morris

    Quirk Books

    2015, 256 pages, 7.3 x 1.0 x 9.3 inches, Hardcover

    $18 Buy on Amazon

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

  • A book on how to up your Instagame

    With over 4.3 million followers, Aimee Song is certainly the Instagram expert. Her debut book, Capture Your Style, aims to teach readers how to transform their Instagram photos, showcase their life, and build the ultimate platform.

    Whether you're into snapping stylish outfits, delectable food, awe-inspiring architecture, or wanderlust-inducing travels, this book covers them all. With sections about editing photos, hashtags versus geotags, curating the ultimate grid, working with brands, and pricing (just to name a few), Song's publication is the all-in-one guide for those wanting to 'up their Instagame'.

    Add-in pages upon pages of beautifully curated photographs from Song's own Instagram feed and you've got yourself a publication that isn't just educational, but pretty inspiring too.

    This is a must-read for individuals interested in pursuing the platform more seriously, particularly those who are bloggers or wishing to become social media influencers.

    – Melanie Doncas

    Capture Your Style: Transform Your Instagram Photos, Showcase Your Life, and Build the Ultimate Platform

    by Aimee Song

    Harry N. Abrams

    2016, 208 pages, 8.0 x 0.5 x 8.1 inches, Paperback

    $12 Buy on Amazon

  • When an Elephant Falls in Love — an irresistible meditation on the quest for connection

    Award-winning children's author, Davide Cali, teamed up with visual artist, Alice Lotti, to create When an Elephant Falls in Love, a book about the sweet and silly things one does for love.

    A no-named elephant works hard to impress the one he adores. He tries to eat healthy foods (no cheesecake!), he takes daily baths (and washes behind his ears), he tries on stylish neckties, and he leaves flowers on a doorstep (but runs away before the door is opened). He's unsure, confused, gleeful and sometimes sad. He's normal. He's in love.

    But does he enchant his beloved?

    Charming pen and ink illustrations accompany text that is understandable to children and truly relatable to adults as well.

    Appropriate for ages 4-8.

    – Carole Rosner

    When an Elephant Falls in Love

    by Davide Cali, Alice Lotti (Illustrator)

    Chronicle Books

    2016, 32 pages, 7.8 x 0.5 x 10.5 inches, Hardcover

    $10 Buy on Amazon

  • 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

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

  • 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. Some are extraterrestrial in nature, and each one has its own back story for added fun. Choosing your next robot to build can be hard, but worth it in the end.

    The really fun part is seeing your finished creations glow! Here's a pro tip from one mad scientist to another: use a black light to make the glow-in-the-dark stickers spark and sizzle with intense light. It's awesome!

    Papertoy Glowbotscontains hours of tinkering fun at home, at school, or on the go. And, you don't have to raid your father's tool box or take apart the toaster looking for spare parts. The only tool you'll need is glue.

    Papertoy Glowbots: 46 Glowing Robots You Can Make Yourself!

    by Brian Castleforte

    Workman Publishing Company

    2016, 196 pages, 8.4 x 0.7 x 11 inches, Paperback

    $19 Buy one on Amazon

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

  • 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. The bright side was the emergence of the independent press and creator-owned series such as Elfquest, Love and Rocket and, ahem, the Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles, all also covered here.

    Now, of course, superheroes are again hugely popular thanks to the movies. And comics, in the form of collected editions and graphic novels, are widely available in bookstores. But the days of sipping a Slurpee at 7-11 and plucking comic books from the spinner rack are, sadly, gone forever. With the help of this book, at least, we've still got the memories.

    – John Firehammer

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

    Comic Book Fever: A Celebration of Comics: 1976-1986

    by George Khoury

    TwoMorrows Publishing

    2016, 240 pages, 8.5 x 0.7 x 10.9 inches, Paperback

    $27 Buy one on Amazon

  • 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. Aside from a high degree of correlation to tattoos (either by having them or by giving them or both) and for preferring bones over beanie babies, they appear to be the same everyday folks who you might encounter in your neighborhood, not knowing they have hair sculptures and jars of brains on their mantels. Their aesthetic tastes are unique, as are their reasons for collecting. But as Gambino notes, the common thread is a love of history. They have a passion for learning and curating and for the thrill of the hunt.

    The book itself is a beautiful hardcover with black-edged pages, a nice touch. The photographs are well done and abundant on matte pages. Captions are small, but explain clearly what you're looking at. This book isn't for everybody, but to those it is for, it will be a nice addition to their own collection. The folks herein have undertaken the various dangers of acquiring their pieces, spent large sums of money, and painstakingly displayed them. It can be gross, but it is never dull. You might as well take a peek. You know you want to.

    – Aaron Downey

  • 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.

    After reading Woman Rebel, I went online to learn more about Sanger and was immediately slammed by my own ignorance as to what a controversial person she is today. Aside from any expected generic criticism of Planned Parenthood, she is described as a "racist eugenicist" and guilty of "black genocide." Bagge addresses this controversy in his afterword "Why Sanger?" He delves into how she advocated birth control to women of the KKK (that's right – the KKK – another reason why this book is full of surprises) as well as black women living in Harlem. Bagge gives lots of examples of how her legacy has been dissected over time, and Bagge's description of her critics is great: "It's an irony festival!"

    Regardless of how you feel about Margaret Sanger's legacy, this book is an illustrated education into a woman, that as Bagge puts it, "lived the lives of ten people," and is directly responsible for the access women have to reproductive health care in 2016. The only actual criticism of this book for me is that I wanted more. The book could be twice the length, and dive deeper into more details of her life, because it seems they are endless.

    – Amy Lackpour

  • 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!

    – Melanie Doncas

  • 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. Going back to my hometown and dancing with old friends to great music was one of the highlights of 2015. Yes, I dressed in black.

    Well, let's segue into the review. The Coloring Book For Goths is a humorous coloring book requiring only one color: black. Geared to the current coloring book fad, it has one joke. Once you color it in, the page turns completely, thoroughly black. Featuring crows, black widow spiders, pentagrams, coffins, and crypts, and making references to Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Smith, and Friedrich Nietzsche, the book often only makes a passing reference to the goth subculture.

    Some pages are funny and clever – a page of Metallica lyrics, pages exploring oblivion, the unknown, and the unknowable – but there are just as many embarrassing pages that belie a rudimentary understanding of the culture. An insecure killer whale? A polar bear in witness protection? Embarrassing tattoos? Unfortunately, someone enveloped in the goth culture would probably never purchase this book, and tourists to the culture probably won't come away with a better understanding of it. It both embraces and pokes fun at the culture. Still, it was cute and made me snicker, because while we may have a serious demeanor, goths (and former goths) can take a joke.

    – S. Deathrage

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

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

    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. The story concludes with the twin calligraphic symbols denoting the word friend displayed atop the reunited Lin and the titular dragon.

    Niemann's artwork is clean and modernist in style, and his novel approach to integrating expressive, ebullient images with the sparse, minimalist strokes of traditional calligraphy proves both endearing and effective. Although this is a book that can be read quickly, the reader should also take time to examine and enjoy the interplay between pictures and meaning that the author meticulously constructs.

    – Lee Hollman

  • 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. Your life is now, today, in whatever situation you happen to be in. Life is happening all around you, and it's crucial that you not miss it.

    The storytelling alone is incredible, but the art pushes the novel to even greater heights. Moon and Bá employ a realistic style that makes their São Paulo feel like the real city. This is crucial considering the more fantastic elements they periodically introduce into the book; they tiptoe across magical realism, and the art helps to keep you grounded. Their work is incredibly rich in detail, while the color has an almost sun bleached quality to it that appears lifelike. This is a masterful novel by any metric.

    – Alex Strine

  • 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. Instead, take your time exploring Scrooge McDuck's family tree, the character web of Sin City, and the pie charts of every weird pizza the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have eaten. You never know when that information might be useful.

    – Megan Hippler