Strawberry and the Soul Reapers, by Tite Kubo

Second page of third chapter (which is in English in the original – I checked):

Someone commented on social media that this isn’t my usual reading fare, and it’s true. Back in November I was at Brussels Comic Con, and also needed a new phone case; and I spotted a stall selling manga-style artwork including this rather striking young warrior woman. So I bought it.

I thought it must be just something that the stall-holder had invented, but young F was certain that it was a canonical manga, and after a bit of crowdsourcing with his friends, confirmed that it is Rukia Kuchiki from the BLEACH by Tite Kubo. So I invested in the first volume, Strawberry and the Soul Reaper, to become better informed.

It’s a fairly basic story of Ichigo Kurosaki, a kid with red hair (unusual in Japan, to say the least), who finds himself drawn into the grand supernatural battle between the good guy Soul Reapers and the evil spirits called Hollows. Rukia Kuchiki, the character on my phone case, is one of the immortal Soul Reapers (based on the traditional Japanese shinigami, only cuter), but ends up giving her powers to Ichigo and having to become a normal(ish) schoolgirl.

I wasn’t blown away by it, though I can see why the core audience (which I’m not in) would like it. I would have liked to see more sensitive exploration of Ichigo’s abusive family situation, and I was sorry that the promising character of Orihime was introduced and then apparently got dropped. (Though I believe she comes back in later volumes.) Those who like this sort of thing will find it the sort of thing that they like. You can get it here.

Even though it’s about a teenage boy with magical powers, I did find a scene where Rukika and Orihime are talking to each other about Orihime’s injured leg. Ichigo is in the vicinity but not in the conversation. (Read right to left.)

The end of story about the phone case is that less than three months after buying it, I found that I needed to upgrade to a new iPhone in order to be able to run my Apple Watch. So if you’d like the Rukika phone case, it’s surplus to my needs right now.

This was my top unread book by a non-white writer, and also my top unread comic in English; next on those piles are Babel, by R.F. Kuang, and Land of the Blind, by Scott Gray.

Jaren van de olifant, by Willy Linthout

Second frame of third chapter:

An apartment block. A man is looking down from the roof at the outline of a human figure drawn outside the front door.

First published in 2009, this picked up the hat-trick of the three major prizes for comics in the Dutch-speaking world, the Bronze Adhemar, the Stripschapprijs and the Pix St-Michel (Dutch category). It’s an intense and moving portrait of a man coming to terms with his son’s suicide; his struggles with his marriage, his work, therapy, drugs, and his fantasies about his son’s survival.

Linthout has now expanded the original edition with two extra chapters (for a total of ten), and my hardcover copy also includes, as an appendix, an interview with the author and his therapist. One of the new chapters very consciously erodes the barriers between protagonist and author (they were slim anyway). It’s a gruelling read in places, but also has shafts of grim humour (there’s a particularly poignant scene around a book launch). Really recommended. You can get it here.

Sins of the Father, by Nick Abadzis, Giorgia Sposito, Eleonora Carlini and Arianna Florean

Second frame of third story (“The Long Con”):

More adventures of the Tenth Doctor with comics-only companions Gabby Gonzalez and Cindy Wu. The first of the three stories here features another sound monster taking advantage of the Jazz era in New Orleans; the second is the opening part of the conclusive adventure in this sequence of comics, bringing back the Osirans and Sutekh; and the third is a neat little multi-Doctor adventure with Ten, Eleven and Twelve. I am consistently impressed by the quality of this series, though it has now reached the stage where you’d need to have been reading it from the beginning. You can get this volume here.

Partitions irlandaises, by Vincent Bailly and Kris

Second frame of third page:

  • Dave Baker. A wee French guy. A bit crazy, But I like him.
  • You don’t know me at all, never mind my filthy alpha male side.

I picked this up on spec in Filigranes one day, a French bande dessinée about two kids in Belfast twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement. Of course they are from opposite sides of the peace wall, of course it turns out that their fathers were both senior paramilitaries back in the day who took an active role in each others’ destinies. There is attention to local circumstantial detail (eg a scene in Roselawn cemetery) while also missing the bigger picture of how people talk to each other. But it’s well meant, and does its best to show people getting on with new lives despite their history; humanely depicted sex scenes; also lots of French slang which I really had not picked up from colleagues. I’ll get the second part as well. You can get it here.

This was my top unread comic in a language other than English. Next on that pile is Jaren van de oliphant, by Willy Linthout.

Two graphic novels: Saga, Vol 10, by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan; Once & Future Vol 4: Monarchies in the UK, by Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora and Tamara Bonvillain

Two Hugo finalists in the Best Graphic Story or Comic category.

Second frame of third part of Saga, Vol 10:

After the brutal end to volume 9, and the subsequent three-year pause in publication, I wondered how the authors would manage to pick it up. I need not have worried; time has passed for the main characters as well, and we see a lot of the story from the viewpoint of Hazel, the little girl whose parents have been at the centre of Saga up to now. Lots here about smuggling, blended families, evil galactic plots and so on. Ends yet again on a cliff-hanger. I’ll give this a high vote, but not sure how it would appeal to those who have not read the previous nine volumes. (Six of which were Hugo finalists, the first winning in 2013.) You can get it here.

Second frame of third chapter of Once & Future Vol 4: Monarchies in the UK:

I had actually read this last year, because I have been enjoying this series so much: King Arthur comes back as an undead demon revenant, and our hero, his grandmother and his girlfriend are desperately mobilising a small group of allies across the real and unreal realms. Cracking humour, great characterisation; maybe a bit less tied into the underlying mythos than previous volumes, maybe that’s not a bad thing. Will also get a high vote from me. You can get it here.

Revolutions of Terror, by Nick Abadzis, Elena Casagrande and Arianna Florean

Second frame of third part:

Next in the sequence of Tenth Doctor comics, this one published in 2015 but set immediately after the departure of Donna. The Doctor visits Brooklyn, and ends up with a new companion, Gabby Gonzalez, fresh from working at her father’s laundromat – where it is the washing machines that provide the terror of the title. I must say I’ve always thought of them as potentially a gateway to another dimension; there’s something primordial and strange about the rotational sloshing of the water. The opening three-part story is very good, the other two parts are a new story, “The Arts in Space” which is a bit sillier but still gives Gabby some more characterisation as well as just being fun. This series clearly had a lot of vim. You can get this here.

Next up is The Weeping Angels of Mons, by Robbie Morrison with art by Daniel Indro and Eleonora Carlini.

This was actually the first non-Clarke book that I finished reading in March, so my blogging here is almost exactly a month behind my real-life reading.

Operation Volcano, by Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel

I realised a couple of weeks ago that I had paid for a couple of Humble Bundles of Doctor Who comics published by Titan over the years, and now had dozens of unread books to add to my Librarything catalogue. (Which is going to mean a big jump in the number of unread books that I log at the end of this month.) I’m going to go through them in order of internal chronology, hopefully at a rate of one a month, which will be enough for several years to go…

So that means starting with Operation Volcano, a collection of Seventh Doctor stories first published in 2018 as a three-shot series and then collected as a graphic novel. The majority of pages are taken up with the title story, by no less than Andrew Cartmel and Ben Aaronovitch, which takes the Doctor and Ace to Australia for an adventure of alien infiltration with Group Captain Gilmore. It’s a well done, densely written adventure, which perhaps shows that the comics medium does not suffer the same limitations as the screen.

Second frame of third part of “Operation Volcano”:

There are also three shorter stories in the volume. “Hill of Beans”, by Richard Dinnick, takes the Psychic Circus from The Greatest Show in the Galaxy to a planet ruled by a president who looks just like Donald Trump. the art is by Jessica Martin who played Mags in the TV story and whose character features here. I’m afraid it did not really work for me.

“The Armageddon Gambit”, by John Freeman and Christopher Jones, is a less ambitious but more successful Doctor-and-Ace-outwit-the-aliens tale. Given that it is the third story in the book, I’ll give you its second frame as well.

(I think we know the answer to the alien commander’s questions)

Finally, an unexpected treat: a six-pager from Paul Cornell and John Stokes, “In-Between Times”, which explores the relationships between Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright, the First Doctor and the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan. Rather lovely; and I suspect it may be the most recently published new First Doctor comic as of the time of writing.

You can get Operation Volcano here (if you didn’t get the Humble Bundle like I did). Next up is an Eighth Doctor volume, A Matter of Life and Death.

Junker: een Pruisische blues, by Simon Spruyt

Second frame of third chapter:

She’s been that way [sick] for as long as I can remember.

Won the Vandersteen prize in 2015, for best Dutch-language comic of the year. It’s a moody Bildungsroman about a young noble in declining Prussia; his father is a war hero but has only one leg, his mother has been ill for years, the servants are leaving, the castle is falling down, and his older brother is just mean. I thought the art was evocative and well executed, and the way in which the faces of everyone other than the protagonists is blurred out is a nice focussing gimmick, but there didn’t really seem to be much happening in terms of plot. You can get it here.

Snotgirl Volume 1: Green Hair Don’t Care, by Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung

Second frame of third part:

An impulse purchase when I was in Seattle in February, having very much enjoyed Scott Pilgrim a few years back. Lottie Person is a fashion blogger in LA, whose allergies combined with medication have occasionally disastrous nasal consequences. On top of that she keeps meeting potential doubles and, by the end of the first part of the story, she thinks she may have killed someone accidentally. On the one hand I’m not sure how interested I am in reading about fashion bloggers; on the other it’s really rare to find a comic in which every character is as well delineated and differentiated as they are here, a combination of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s writing and Leslie Hung’s rather gorgeous and sympathetic art. This first volume ends with nothing resolved, so I guess I will get the second to find out what happens next, which means the creators have succeeded in hooking me. You can get it here.

Scherven, by Erik de Graaf

Second frame of third section of Scherven:

Chris: “It’s about time you had a wee chat with her.”

I picked this up on spec last year from one of the local comics shops. It’s a story of young Dutch people in the occupied Netherlands during the second world war; after it’s all over, the protagonist, Victor, meets up with his ex-girlfriend, Esther, and reminisces in a series of nested flashbacks about the good times, the bad times and the terrifying times with their friend Chris, who got killed by the Germans (this is not a spoiler, the first page shows his gravestone in detail). The plot is yer typical young-folk-under-occupation tale; the art consciously refers to Dutch propaganda posters of the period, and as is often the case with graphic stories sometimes catches feelings and events that mere prose cannot. It’s backed up by photographic and documentary evidence about what happened to the real people on whom the story is based, which I guess makes it more immediate, though personally I’m generally happy to accept that fiction can have truth without being tightly linked to actual historical events.

The title translates as “Splinters”, and a second and final part of the series has now been published with the title “Littekens” / “Scars”. To be honest I made yet another of my mistakes in buying it – I thought it was by a Flemish writer, and it wasn’t until I got to the bits about Queen Wilhelmina that I made sense of the various hints that it was not set in Belgium after all. Still, it was engaging enough that I will probably get the second half.

You can get it here in Dutch and here in French; not yet in English apparently.

This was my top unread graphic novel in a language other than English. Next on that pile is Junker: een Pruisische blues, by Simon Spruyt.