2024 is off to a terrific start, as we’ve added an impressive selection of new comics and manga to Comics Plus in the past month. I’m particularly pleased that this month’s advisory has picks for every age level, and a few have already found their readers and jumped onto the most popular list. I always try to be as inclusive as possible, but I don’t just add any old title to these Advisories; if it’s here, you know I think it’s worth your readers’ time to check out.
Sequential art is a medium limited only by the imagination of its creators, but this month’s selections seem to skew a bit closer to home, or at least aim to hit us where we live. More than one boasts the potential to have you come out the other end slightly wiser than when you started reading it. That’s the magic of art right there!
Among the new additions last month was the debut of a new age level, specifically for our youngest readers in preschool to first grade: Emergent. We haven’t officially announced this one yet so you’re hearing it here first, and it will soon include hundreds more picture books! I was pleased to see the latest release in Immedium’s popular The Asian Hall of Fame series become one of our first new additions for the age level, as that adorable red panda, Dao You, takes readers on a whirlwind adventure through the history of mankind’s most popular game in The Discovery of Chess. Like the other books in this series, this title strikes a nice balance between concise and informative, as adults and children alike can learn something new as they read them together.
For younger readers ready to explore reading on their own, we have a new wholesome selection everyone can feel good about, and it joins the new trend of books featuring a dyslexia-friendly font: Birtle and the Purple Turtles (Andrews McMeel). A cute exploration of the friendship which forms between a curious turtle and a baby bird who gets mistaken for one, Birtle is almost Seussian in the way its simple metaphors convey very important lessons. The relationships formed in this seemingly simple children’s story go beyond mere tolerance to become an unbiased celebration of diversity, as well as an encouragement to be true to oneself. It’s a terrific addition to your SEL readalikes, as well as an excellent suggestion for any young reader’s first foray into graphic novels.
For younger readers ready for the next step up, we have a similar selection and, true to its name, Frankie and the Creepy Cute Critters (Oni Press) explores the struggles of a bat-winged fairy in a world of butterfly fairies, and how her love of all things creepy makes the perceived gaps between them even wider. Initially, anyway… Our leading lady has more in common with a scientist than traditional fairy princesses, and the book even wanders into S.T.E.A.M. territory for a spell as our protagonist uses her curiosity and powers of observation to conquer the unknown and, thanks in no small part to her supportive mother, ultimately shows others how “creepy” animals can also be cute. Now doesn’t that sound cute?
Teens are in for a real treat this month! I’d like to highlight a classic that’s going to show my age a bit, as I remember when Courtney Crumrin (Oni Press) was a little black & white book just starting to make a name for itself over twenty years ago. Now remastered in full color, I was excited to get the entire run of one of the original “witchy little goth girl” comic stories ever published added to Comics Plus. Think Sabrina (Archie Comics) meets Hellboy’s (Dark Horse) darker edge, and you’ll get a feel for why this series is just so fun — and just a little bit wrong.
Speaking of fun, I suspect it won’t be long before Princess Princess Ever After (Oni Press) firmly takes its place as one of our most consistently popular titles. Featuring a pair of somewhat non-traditional princesses, the familiar tropes and classic roles of the fairy-tale romance are all turned on their heads, which only strengthens its underlying universal themes of courage, compassion, and love. It’s a great read, plus, K. O’Neill’s art is kind of adorable.
Arguably among the most challenging [read: important] titles we’ve seen for teens in a while is What We Don’t Talk About (Avery Hill). Charlot Kristensen’s debut offers an unapologetic view into the lives of a young interracial couple when they’re forced to confront obliviously racist behavior from one side’s immediate family. The sadly too-familiar arguments quickly split into sides for which there can be no middle ground, and ultimately has the characters (as well as the reader) examining where they truly stand. It’s a powerful read.
Speaking of impressive debuts, the publisher Avery Hill is a brand new Comics Plus partner, and The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott is another notable title from their first additions to our ever-expanding catalog. With accomplished linework and a cool urban style, five-time Eisner nominated creator Zoe Thorogood examines the life of a young, struggling, “antisocial” artist who learns she will soon be robbed of her eyesight — and so decides to dedicate her remaining time left to creating enough portraits to complete one last gallery show. All that remains is to find the perfect subjects, and it’s a mission that will show our titular heroine a side of her city and its inhabitants that her social anxiety would have never allowed before. It’s an emotional rollercoaster with more than a few unexpected turns, but it’s the sort of ride that shows us that what’s worth immortalizing isn’t always what you’d first expect. I really dug this book, though (big surprise) maybe I just like art about art.
Comics are literature too, don’t get me wrong, and engaging with sequential art should be considered “reading” even when no text is involved. The sweet spot for comics is its unique combination of image and text, but sometimes it’s nice to just focus on a book’s art for a while. The detail-rich inkwork of Dan McDaid’s Dega (Oni Press) gives a nod to manga greats like Katsuhiro Otomo, Yukito Kishiro, and Shirow Masamune, while Tillie Walden’s debut, The End of Summer (Avery Hill) seems more like a dreamy homage to Windsor McKay. It was the quiet visuals of Owen D. Pomery’s Victory Point (Avery Hill) that honestly caught my eye the most this month, though. With a clean, concise style that feels like the charm of Mœbius meets the precision of Chris Ware, this detailed exploration of a fictionalized “failed architectural utopian” town is somehow so convincing you may find yourself searching the internet to learn if such a place truly exists.
For our mature readers, James Bond: 007 (Dynamite), the latest comic series featuring everyone’s favorite British secret agent has hit our virtual shelves, this time penned by the infamous Garth Ennis. Nobody does hardcore action quite like the acclaimed author of Preacher and The Boys (Dynamite), and there’s a good reason this book is rated for Adults.
On the other side of mature reads, Balls Up (Europe Comics) joins the tapestry of informative social issue books, taking an often humorous but thoroughly deep dive into the generally under-examined world of male contraception. The impressively experimental One Soul (Oni Press) is also worth your time to discover what all the critical acclaim is about. It’s a seemingly non-linear narrative concerning eighteen different people scattered across history, whose lives from birth to death (and seemingly beyond) are all still lived out in parallel. Ray Fawkes’ masterful use of juxtaposition creates an experience unique to the medium, and the end result is something truly poetic. Be sure to enable “Show 2 Page” in the Comics Plus reader for the best visual experience. Wow… just wow!
Honestly, that’s just a small sample of the great comics and manga added to Comics Plus last month. With literally thousands of titles to choose from across a wide range of genres, I could keep writing forever! Be sure to check in every month for more highlights, and browse our expanding list of past Rob’s Advisory selections.
Until next month, here are some more honorable mentions that (mostly for space reasons) didn’t quite make my list, but you may also enjoy checking out:
- Aggretsuko: Out To Lunch #1 (Oni Press)
- Breakwater (Avery Hill)
- Disney Darkwing Duck: Justice Ducks #1 (Dynamite)
- Evolution – Darwin, God, and the Horse-People (Europe Comics)
- Invader Zim: Best of Gaz (Oni Press)
- Kaijumax (Oni Press)
- Permanent Press (Avery Hill)
- Rick and Morty Compendium Vol. 1 (Oni Press)
- Sleeping While Standing (Avery Hill)
- The Whiz Kids from DARPA (StoryArk)
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Rob Randle is the Production Director for LibraryPass, and has worked in and around the comic book industry in various capacities, including as a book reviewer for the NY Journal of Books, and a judge for various comic book industry awards—the 2006 Eisner Awards, among others. Before joining LibraryPass, he had been the Director of Publishing for iVerse Media LLC since 2010, and prior to that was a purchasing manager for Diamond Comic Distributors where he helped to manage the monthly Previews catalog for close to a decade starting in 2002. Additionally, Rob occasionally does freelance work as a comics creator, and is the author of the critically acclaimed graphic novel Serial Artist. Rob holds a B.A. of Illustration from the Maryland Institute, College of Art (MICA).