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Quick Reads for September 2018: Graphic Novel Review

September 28, 2018 by

I got hooked on graphic novels after reading Alan Moore’s The Watchmen. While some may view comics as an indicator of humanity’s literary decline, I disagree. Graphic novels offer a unique and creative vehicle with which to tell a captivating story, investigate a stimulating topic, or ask some difficult questions. Here are three I read recently that had me thinking long after I put them down.

collage of graphic novel covers

Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

Fake news, internet trolls, witch hunts, conspiracy theories – these have all become part of the American landscape. The impact of these forces on the lives of ordinary people is the subject of the first graphic novel ever nominated for the Man Booker Prize: Sabrina by Nick Drnaso.

The main character is Calvin Wrobel, recently divorced, with an ex and young daughter in Florida with whom he occasionally Facetimes. Calvin is in the US Air Force, working nights at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado as a boundary tech.

In Chicago, a young woman named Sabrina leaves home one evening after talking with her sister Sandra and is never seen alive again. Sabrina’s boyfriend, the emotionally shattered Teddy, is an old high school acquaintance of Calvin’s; Calvin offers hospitality to Teddy, who soon moves in with him from Illinois.

cover of graphic novel Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

Their nightmare escalates some weeks later when Sabrina’s killer mails a videotape of his crime to a news outlet. This ignites a brush-fire on social media as the killer’s name starts to trend along with video downloads of the tape.

In an all-too-common scenario, Sandra, Teddy, and Calvin become the target of internet bullies and fake news paranoia. The wounded suffer repeated injury in an arena with no quarter for grief and privacy.

Accused by a “truth warrior” of covering up the real facts and being a crisis actor, Calvin is harassed with threatening emails. Teddy, now unable to leave his bed, loses himself in the bluster of a conspiracy radio talk show host who encourages “amateur sleuths” out there to uncover the unsanitized story, suggesting it was all staged. “Nothing just happens. Every news story is as strategically manufactured as the ads wedged between them…When you’re willing to acknowledge these patterns, you might never sleep soundly again…”

Sabrina made me think on what we’ve become, haunted me with our pandemic loneliness, and made me ask myself what might be done to alter it. It also made me recall the many places the Bible doesn’t mince its words on liars and those giving false witness:

There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. (Prov. 6:16–20)


Come Again by Nate Powell

I liked Powell’s earlier book, Swallow Me Whole, and his rendering of civil rights history in the acclaimed March Trilogy. He’s a master storyteller and every page is a work of art. So I was excited to see something new from him.

This fictional tale focuses on a single mother, Haluska, and her son Jacob who live in a 1970s intentional commune called Haven Station, deep in Arkansas’s Ozark Mountains. This ramshackle farm comprised of a few remaining families is a fading dream.

Or is it a nightmare? On the surface there are alternative energy projects, a farmers’ market, “community,” and “friendship,” but beneath that façade all has been ripped apart by toxic powers from within – the secrets of the adults in the community.

book cover of Come Again graphic novel by Nate Powell

Haluska describes it thusly: “In a community like this, we are each other’s business. Work together, share what you have, or pack up for the square world. So a secret is just about all you can own. Still, this isn’t a town for gossip… folks prefer to snoop. Hungry, hard-working dirt-diggers. Rather than ask straight questions, we follow clues…”

It’s an ominous trip into the chasm of suspicion and guilt. There’s a darkness that eats at the pages in a battle with the light, the smeary black of secrecy hindering revelation of the truth.

A glance back to the “revolution of love” championed by the generation, Come Again examines the responsibility that comes with parenting because it’s always the kids in the end that pay the price for their parents’ transgressions and indifference to calamity.

Reading this as someone living in intentional Christian community, I was reminded that for communal life to not be completely destructive it has to be honest, faithful, and based on a lot more than ideals and a “howdy neighbor” friendliness.


Illegal by Eoin Colfer

This one’s for readers young and old: a vivid look at the plight of immigrants as told through the eyes of a twelve-year-old Ghanaian boy named Ebo. Orphaned, he leaves his dead-end town to pursue his siblings who have run away to Europe.

Eoin Colfer and illustrator Giovanni Rigano have created a deeply affecting story of a young boy’s journey to reunite with family and the constant obstacles and tragedy he faces. The treacherous Mediterranean crossing alone with its high casualty rate is a scenario no child (or adult) should have to encounter.

cover of graphic novel Illegal by Eoin Colfer

Ebo’s story is fictional but based on extensive research and survivor interviews. There’s a short illustrated account from “Helen” at the end that gives a snapshot of an actual immigrant life.

Illegal asks you to step back from the politics surrounding this complex issue and reflect on the words of Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, “You, who are so-called illegal aliens, must know that no human being is illegal. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?”

Especially a child.


About the author

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Jason Landsel

Jason lives in upstate New York at the Woodcrest Bruderhof.

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