I realize I’m not breaking any news by saying it’s been a strange few weeks, but man…it’s been a strange few weeks! If you’re like me, staying home may have seemed like a fun idea for the first forty-five minutes. Then began the fidgeting, the laps around the living room, the trips to the snack cabinet, all while scolding the dog that 2 p.m. is not dinnertime. Even removed from the stressful headlines and creeping anxiety, long days at home are not easy for me! If you, like me, might be looking for an escape, then let me lead you to the wonderful world of Hoopla’s digital comics and graphic novels.
Margo wrote a wonderful introduction to Hoopla last week, and while the streaming tv and music are great, it’s the comics where I get my money’s worth – a pretty easy task since the service is FREE with my library card! If you’ve never read digital comics, it is definitely a process that takes some getting used to. If you have one available, I’d suggest using a tablet or computer instead of your phone. One really nice feature that Hoopla offers is the ability to zoom in on individual cells of a comic, allowing an easier reading experience, albeit sometimes at the expense of the big picture. To activate the zoom, simply click once with your mouse on a computer, or tap the screen twice on a phone or tablet.
Wondering where to begin? I get it! There is an almost-overwhelming number of titles to choose from, and you can’t really go wrong. But if you do want some suggestions, here are some old favorites and recent titles I’ve enjoyed.
New Kid by Jerry Craft
Well, this one feels like cheating. New Kid is an incredible read and a slam dunk recommendation for readers of all ages. The main character is endearing and relatable, his experiences are profound and enlightening, and Craft’s artwork and storytelling are skillful and moving. It is no wonder that New Kid was the first graphic novel to ever win the Newbery Medal.
This incredible book follows Jordan, a young black seventh grader attending a new school, a private academy where he will be surrounded by wealthier classmates and be one of the few students of color. As Jordan struggles to adjust and adapt to this new environment and the ways that his identity and family background affect his treatment, he also has to contend with the more traditional new-school experiences: making friends, dealing with teachers and parents who might mean well, but sometimes don’t get it. In a clever bit of storytelling, Craft features Jordan’s sketches within this book, allowing the reader to see more directly how Jordan’s treatment by others makes him feel.
No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant
In some ways, this quick moving graphic memoir takes the concept of New Kid and throws it into reverse. This book follows Hazel, a 17-year-old home-schooled senior as she embarks on a summer job clearing invasive ivy from a park in Portland, Oregon. Hazel’s life to this point has been rather sheltered and she is not completely prepared for the diverse range of experiences, backgrounds, and identities she encounters among her new co-workers. This frank book does not shy away from uncomfortable encounters in Hazel’s life and while at times her personal growth seems to come a bit too easily, I appreciate the way that Newlevant examines privilege and prejudice in a relatable coming of age story.
I Am Not Okay with This by Charles Forsman
If you are a Netflix fan you might have stumbled upon a strange, violent, and darkly hilarious new show called I Am Not Okay with This. And if you, like me, found out the show was based on a comic, you might’ve wished you could read it. Great news! This very adult comic is on Hoopla. Truthfully, the black-and-white line-drawn style was not what I was expecting from this story, but I loved it nonetheless.
Like the TV show, this comic follows a teenaged girl named Sydney as she grapples with her romantic feelings for her best friend, a tense relationship with her mother, the death of her father, experimentation with sex and drugs, and her violent, uncontrollable superpower. You know, the normal teen stuff! This comic is equal parts twisted and delightful and I loved every second I spent with it.
Dept. H by Matt Kindt & Sharlene Kindt
This is one where I feel like the less I tell you the better. Of all the comics I am writing about, I find the artwork here to be the most gorgeous. Dept. H follows Mia, an investigator who travels to an undersea research station to solve a murder. Things quickly grow….complicated (and deadly!) as her romantic and familial connections to the station and its inhabitants pull her in conflicting directions. This is a taut and surprising comic that crosses genres with ease while building a fascinating world.
Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki & Steve Pugh
Are we in the midst of a Harley Quinnaissance? I think we might be! She has the big DC movie, which I really wish I could watch (release it now!) and the animated tv show on the DC Universe streaming network, which I really wish I could watch (bring it to Hoopla!). Luckily, Breaking Glass provides a delightful YA origin story for Harley. Follow Harley as she makes her way in Gotham City, makes some good friends named Ivy and Joker, and finds a way to save a drag queen’s cabaret from the evils of gentrification. I’ve always been a Marvel person, but Harley might just make me switch sides.
Rebels: These Free and Independent States by Brian Woods, Andrea Mutti, and Lauren Affe
Let’s move on to some history. This book is actually a follow-up to Rebels: A Well-Regulated Militia, which is unfortunately not available on Hoopla. When the library is able to reopen, find it there! Luckily, both these books work perfectly well as standalones. In this newer collection, Woods tells the story of John Abbott, a young ship builder caught up in the chaos, violence, and politics of the War of 1812. This book might best be considered high drama with a side of history, but it gives fascinating context and vivid color to an oft-forgotten period in US history.
Simon Says Vol. 1: Nazi Hunter by Andre Frattino and Jesse Lee
Listen, we know not to judge a book by its cover. This time I’m asking you not to judge one by its title. Like Rebels, this comic takes a true piece of history and embellishes, perhaps at times wildly. I don’t know how much in common this comic’s Simon has with the actual Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, so I am assuming it is all fiction. That said, this is a thrilling romp of a noire comic. It follows Simon, a Jewish artist in Germany shortly after the Nuremberg trials. Simon lost his family at the hands of the Nazis and he is now driven by a single task: to take his revenge one Nazi officer at a time. Violent vigilante justice meets unimaginable trauma in a story that feels destined for film or series adaptation.
Of course, Hoopla doesn’t just have comics, so I also want to highlight the three albums (all on Hoopla!) that I was listening to while I wrote this.
Chika Industry Games and Jay Electronica A Written Testimony
They say good things come to those who wait, and these two albums prove it! I’ve been a fan of Chika for a few years, since she started popping up on Instagram ripping incredible freestyles and building a devoted following. Ever since, I’ve been waiting for a proper album and she delivered with Industry Games. Chika is not afraid to go dual threat and crush a hook, but she truly shines as a rapper, bundling incredible lyrical dexterity and clever wordplay with effortless swagger. This is a rising force to be reckoned with.
On the other hand, I truly have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for Jay Electronica’s debut full length. Twelve years? As an artist, he has been elusive and enigmatic, and at times plain infuriating, so I had no idea what to expect from this album. It turns out he gave us a masterpiece. No one else rhymes quite like he does, and he brought ALL of the heat to this album, building on beautiful production, complexly layered references, and perfect delivery. If all of this doesn’t move the needle for you, JAY-Z also features on nearly every track.
Overcoats The Fight
I almost always listen to hip-hop, but when I don’t, I’m probably bopping to Overcoats. This duo makes the perfect blend of electro-pop and indie folk. Harmonized vocals, soaring melodies, and maybe even an occasional hand clap. What are you waiting for?