Every Day is Free Comic Book Day at the Library

This Saturday, May 4, is Free Comic Book Day! Every year, comic shops across the country team up with publishers to release a special slate of free comics to visitors. While there are typically around 50 free comics, many shops only receive some of the titles, so it is a great opportunity to visit several participating shops if you are able to do so. Everett Comics has generously shared with us some of the comics that they will be offering this year, and you can swing by the Main Library to pick one up. Our supply is limited, so we encourage you to stop by on the early side. Free Comic Book Day is also a great opportunity to support your local library and comic shop by borrowing and buying comics while you grab your free issues. Need some reading inspiration? Here are a few titles I’ve enjoyed recently.

81-ESBJPq+L.jpgLandry Walker’s The Last Siege is the perfect book to tide you over between the last few episodes of Game of Thrones. This limited run is collected in a single, savage volume. It follows the occupants of a medieval castle, filled with the last holdouts resisting a ruthless conquering army. As the castle’s defenders, who are completely out-manned, prepare for their final stand, interspersed sections of prose narrative deliver a backstory that connects the castle’s mysterious champion with the invading army’s leader, adding weight and drama to the impending clash.

The Last Siege is propulsive and addictive. As the story unfolds and a decisive battle looms nearer, it becomes increasingly difficult to give the artwork the time it deserves. And yet, the artwork demands attention. From the suspenseful drama of the opening pages, to the incredible wordless pages capturing the climactic battle, Justin Greenwood’s artwork is both beautiful and frightening, pulling you into a world filled with blood, death, and treachery.

91QDCZYyB9LChristopher Cantwell’s debut comic She Could Fly was far more of a gut punch (in the best way) than I was expecting. The book opens with a distant blur, a woman flying over the city of Chicago. Luna, a teenager who is struggling with her mental health, sees the flying woman and her curiosity with this phenomenon quickly blossoms into obsession. As her interest in the flying woman intensifies, so does Luna’s obsessive behavior. At the same time that Luna is spiraling down a flying woman rabbit-hole, there is also grander, deadly intrigue connected to the flying woman. It involves (deep breath) a disgraced scientist, his sex-worker girlfriend, Chinese spies, US Federal agents, and hitmen for hire. As Luna’s world collides with this larger conspiracy, she is pulled into a dangerous world of money, lies, and far too many guns.

Needless to say, there is a lot going on in She Could Fly, and it would be easy for such a story to feel unwieldy or disjointed. But Cantwell, the co-creator of the television show Halt and Catch Fire, develops this story with precise pacing and clear direction. And Cantwell’s masterful story management is supplemented by Martín Morazzo’s wonderful, strange, and engrossing artwork. I also appreciate Cantwell’s direct but sensitive portrayal of Luna’s mental health struggles. In interviews about this book, Cantwell discusses the fact that, like Luna, he has lived with Primarily Obsessional OCD so he understands the importance of carefully portraying Luna’s experiences. She Could Fly has a sequel in the works, and I cannot wait to spend more time in Cantwell’s disturbing and compelling world.

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With Free Comic Book Day also falling on May the Fourth, it would be criminally negligent not to mention some Star Wars comics. And there are so many creative and exciting new comics coming out of the Star Wars and Marvel collaboration. If you’re feeling Sithy, Darth Vader – Dark Lord of the Sith follows young Vader as he helps build the Empire following the events of Episode III.  Doctor Aphra, who has quickly become one of my favorite characters in the Star Wars universe, has her own series now! I’ve already raved about this incredible character, but if you haven’t discovered her yet now is the time. The Poe Dameron comics are incredibly fun, and they are catching up with the events of Episode VII, which makes things extra interesting. If you loved Donald Glover’s portrayal of Lando in Solo, be sure to grab Lando: Double or Nothing and revel in his ridiculous banter with his droid companion, L3. Then there is Thrawn. Grand Admiral Thrawn may be the best character in the old expanded universe, and bringing him back was an inspired, long overdue, decision. He was incredible on Rebels, unmissable in the Zahn novels (both the ones set in the old canon and the new) and is a delight in the comics based off Zahn’s more recent work.

Clearly I am amped for this Saturday. What will you be picking up this weekend? Which free comics will you be looking for?  Let us know in the comments!

Star Trek, Soccer, and Ancient Persian Kings

From the opening pages of Adib Khorram’s brilliant debut Darius the Great is Not Okay, it is painfully clear how much truth there is in the title. Darius Kellner, the sweet and immediately endearing teenage narrator, is struggling. For starters, Darius is a target at school. His taste in pop culture gravitates towards the nerdy, he is somewhat obsessed with tea (provided it is properly brewed and unsweetened), his medication makes him gain weight, and he is half-Persian, exposing him to the lamest and cruelest Islamophobic taunts the bullies at school can concoct.

Darius-the-Great-Is-Not-OkayIf these problem aren’t enough, Darius is also feeling isolated from his family. His mother’s side lives in Iran and while his mom and little sister speak Farsi, Darius’s language skills are undeveloped. Whenever they gather around the computer for a video chat, Darius can’t help but feel like an outsider. He also fears that he perpetually disappoints his father. Darius seems to have inherited very little from him: not his fair all-American looks, his math skills, nor his ability to blend-in and “be normal.” They only have two things in common, clinical depression and a love for Star Trek. As the gulf between father and son widens, Darius sadly reasons that his younger sister is his replacement – a chance for his parents to get things right.

When his grandfather’s health takes a turn for the worse, Darius’s parents decide it is time to travel to Iran and meet his mother’s family. Darius is apprehensive about this trip but also eager to discover connections to his family and his people’s history.  In Yazd, the city his family calls home, Darius continues to struggle to find acceptance. His grandfather and uncles tease him about his weight and are puzzled that a healthy young American boy would need medication (antidepressants) to be happy. In Yazd, Darius also makes a friend, perhaps his first best friend, a teen named Sohrab who lives down the street. Sohrab has had his own struggles with intolerance and oppression and he seems to understand Darius and embrace his individuality. His friendship with Sohrab allows Darius to see himself in a new light – as someone who might belong. But he is aware that their time together is running short and he must figure out how to reconcile the version of Darius he has discovered in Iran with the life waiting for him at home.

This is a special book on several levels. Khorram notes in the book’s afterword that he “wanted to show how depression can affect a life without ruling it” and he strikes that balance masterfully. I appreciated that it is just one small part of who Darius is. It does not define him. Novels that deal with mental illness often focus on diagnosis and characters’ struggles to win their lives back. Many of these works are compassionate, essential works for young readers, but it is also important for youths to have books like this one where depression is a detail in the story, not the story itself.

Khorram also skillfully weaves family history and Iranian cultural heritage into his book without ever distracting from Darius’s powerful struggles with identity and self-worth. Like real relationships, those in this book are nuanced, weighed down by past hurts, miscommunications, and words left unsaid. But this book is also about a loving family, determined to reconnect and support each other despite sometimes not knowing how to do so. Rooting for Darius as he bonds with his grandparents and navigates Iranian customs, family politics, and traumas big and small is incredibly rewarding. Darius is a character you won’t want to leave and won’t soon forget.

Hard to Hide Crazy

I’m crazy. I can say that. I’ve been tested and found insane. I mean, it wasn’t an inkblot test where I see a cloudy black splotch and say it’s obviously Charles Manson teaching a fish how to fold fitted sheets. The test was more like a doctor asking me “How long have you felt this way (this way being medical talk for “depressed)?” I answered “All my life. And whatever lives I’ve lived before if reincarnation is actually a thing.” I know people will frown on me for equating depression with the term ‘crazy’ because when people hear the word ‘crazy’ they think of toothless people who smell like urine yelling at a wall while addressing it as Mr. Stalin.

I call myself crazy because it’s oddly more acceptable than admitting I’m in a decades long battle with mental illness and all I’m armed with is a spork and a smart mouth. And for a VERY long time I hid my anxiety/depression from a lot of people, even some members of my family not only because I was (am?) ashamed of it, but because I didn’t want to get the ‘look.’ You know the one I’m talking about. A couple people, friends or co-workers, find out you struggle with a mental illness and they raise an eyebrow in a way that says “That explains A LOT.”

Along with the look is the way some people will treat you, like you’re fragile: stumbling on the edge of something horrible and the next thing they say will send you right over the edge so they speak to you like you’re a freaked out cat hiding under the bed with a rubber band wrapped around its tail. I’m not fragile. Not outwardly. I’m funny and an extrovert while I’m at work. Well, at least I think I’m funny. I can sometimes hear my boss sigh like ‘Oh my God, dial it down a notch, Jennifer.’ I’m not totally out of the depression closet but I don’t go up to strangers and say “I get sad for reasons I will probably never understand.” I don’t let my crazy show too soon. You gotta dole that stuff out bit by bit.

When I started reading Eric Lindstrom’s A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, I recognized and fell in love with Mel Hannigan, a 16-year-old girl with bipolar depression. I’m not bipolar but I empathized with everything Mel was going through. She had an older brother named Nolan who was also bipolar. She never comes out and says he died, but I don’t think me writing that fact is a spoiler alert. She and her mother have moved to a house left to them by Mel’s grandma shortly after Nolan’s death.

Mel’s Aunt Joan has moved in with them. Mel calls her HJ (Hurricane Joan) because she suffers from bipolar depression as well. I’m no expert but here’s the low-down on bipolar depression: not all people experience it in the same way. Some people get bitchin’ highs, the manic side of bipolar, and they’re so full of energy they don’t sleep for days. They have all of these ideas and plans and they’re going going going. And then they crash into a deep depression. Mel keeps track of her moods in a clever way (that I think I might steal): She refers to her moods by referring to them as animals:

Hamster is Active

Hummingbird is Hovering

Hammerhead is Cruising

Hanniganimal is UP!

The Hamster is her head, her pattern and speed of thinking. The Hummingbird is her heart, how fast it’s beating or ‘speeding.’ The Hammerhead is her physical health: “Cruising when I’m fine, slogging or thrashing if I’m sick.”

Mel works in a retirement home and has a special knack with older people. There’s Dr. Jordan, a retired psychiatrist who is the only person outside her family who knows about her mental illness. He checks in on her without pressuring her and she’s comfortable talking with him. There’s a new resident who just moved in, Ms. Li, who has a grandson named David who seems like a jerk at first. But there’s a definite attraction between him and Mel.

That’s another thing that worries her: relationships and her mental illness. It’s not an exaggeration to say that some people will head for the hills as soon as they find out you have depression/or are bipolar. Or even if a relationship is working out, the fear is very real that your significant other will get bored or fed up with your brain and will leave. Mel’s not even sure a relationship would work with anyone.

And friendships are also a problem. Someone you thought of as your best friend can call you a bummer and say adios. It’s a risk. A year ago Mel had a group of friends she was joined at the hip with. Annie, Connor, and Zumi. Annie was the alpha of the group and I’ll go ahead and say it: she was a real manipulative bitch. If something didn’t interest her or had nothing to do with her, she’d ignore it, even if it’s something that mattered to a friend. Mel’s not really fond of her but Zumi is in love with Annie even though her love is egged on by Annie but unrequited. Zumi is Mel’s best friend along with Connor who seems to play the role of the only dude in a trio of girls.

Mel never tells them that she had a brother named Nolan. She also doesn’t tell them about her bipolar depression because she is a little ashamed of it and she doesn’t know how they would react. Then something happens that ends the friendships, leaving Mel out in the cold. A year later Mel makes two new friends, Declan and Holly. She doesn’t tell them either. I get it. When you keep something that big from friends or family members, you feel like you’re protecting them. And at the same time, you feel like you’re protecting yourself.

But Mel’s past makes an unwanted appearance when she thinks she’s coping pretty well and doing everything she can to deal with her mental illness. She begins to amp up, the illness taking over her mind, to the point of no return for her.

Eric Lindstrom’s beautifully written book about mental illness is a must read for anyone struggling with depression and for loved ones who want to help and understand the illness better. Not only is it a good story in itself, but it’s also a way to help others open up and ask for help.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my medication.

My Raccoon is half asleep

Otter is swimming

Squirrel is snacking.

No seriously, there’s a damn squirrel in the bird feeder again.