What We Need in Here Are Some Comics! A Brief 2021 Round-Up
Folks, the year 2021 is about to enter into its fourth month and if you’re anything like me then you’ve a hankering to celebrate this momentous occasion by enjoying some good old-fashioned comic books. Well, the publishers have been limiting their supply of galleys (with a couple notable exceptions) so I certainly haven’t seen everything available quite yet. That said, there are some really keen comics for kids coming out this year! I’ve made a selection of a couple of my favorites that you will NOT want to miss. So come one! Come all! Come enjoy this smattering of graphic novels for the discerning young reader:
Agent 9: Flood-a-Geddon! by James Burks
On probation for continually destroying property on missions, when the evil King Crab comes a-calling, there’s only one secret agent with the guts to save the day. Hooray, for Agent 9! This is a good old-fashioned spy thriller but with a hero that has a lot of learning to do. Aside from the well-crafted action sequences (I never had trouble figuring out what was happening from panel to panel) I loved that Agent 9 is gender neutral throughout. Even the flap copy avoids gendering the cat. SLJ decided it was female, which I thought was somewhat presumptuous, but if you want to see the feline in this manner then that is your choice. And you can believe that this cat may scratch and claw its way into your top picks.
Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd, ill. Michelle Mee Nutter
From best birthday to worst. All Maggie wanted was a puppy of her own. Now she’s discovered she’s horribly allergic. Will this twist of fate dash all her plans of pet ownership or will she find a workaround? As my daughter pointed out, you can pretty much figure out the plot from the cover. She also, I should probably mention, got furious at this book when the main character wasn’t allowed to keep the mice she’d snuck into her bedroom. My kid has a keenly honed sense of justice and there simply was no reasoning with her on that point. That aside, this is a darn good encapsulation of what life is like with a severe allergy to animal dander.
Black Sand Beach: Do You Remember the Summer Before? by Richard Fairgray
I don’t put a lot of sequels on my lists but to be fair there are very few people working in the field of children’s comics right now with the guts to go weird. And Fairgray has never, to the best of my knowledge, disappointed in this respect. Now if you decide to read this latest in the Black Sand Beach saga, be warned. There is a price to pay in not reading or rereading the first book in the series just before reading this book. It’s just as weird. Just as gross. It’s got a vibe no one can match. I adore this horrible horrible world.
Just Pretend by Tori Sharp
This one took a read and reread before I discovered what it is about this book that truly makes it stick out. We’re none of us unfamiliar with middle grade comic memoirs. Raina Telgemeier didn’t birth the form, but she certainly made it the most popular with kids. Tori Sharp doesn’t have anything as drama worthy as extreme dental surgery to fall back on, of course, but that’s part of her charm. Set in the 1990s, it’s the story of young Tori, dealing with divorced parents, mean siblings, and shifting friendships. She’s also writing a fantasy novel with a pretty cool pre-Amulet / post-Secret of NIMH feel to it. When I read it to myself I liked it but wasn’t quite feeling it yet. When I read it to my daughter, I began to appreciate Sharp’s ability to embrace parts of her family’s dynamics that both do and don’t make sense. At first, the book felt disjointed, as when the dad and older brother separately kicking or knocking holes into the walls and then regretting it. I was soon to realize that this is what sets Sharp apart. In one sequence the dad is forced to act like a dad by the daughter and take his son’s friend to task for bad behavior. Afterwards, however, rather than comforting his daughter he goes and hides in his car like a pouty child. And so, to a book unafraid to show those moments when people don’t always make sense, I salute you!
Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable, ill. Stephanie Yue
I mean, I was always a fan of the Guinea P.I. books that Venable and Yue used to create together so I knew this would be a lot of fun. It’s a fun romp with plenty of jokes that land. The economic realities of living in NYC are particularly well identified. I loved that you see actual dollar amounts on the page. And who can dislike a book that contains a cat named Mr. Aaron Purr Sir?
Lemonade Code by Jarod Pratt, ill. Jey Odin, lettered by Crank!, designed by Sarah Rockwell, and edited by Robin Herrera and Shawna Gore
In my childless days, I don’t suppose I quite realized that when I became a parent the frequency with which my white middle-aged female self would have to attempt to read rap lyrics in graphic novels, out loud, to my kids. Lemonade Code makes this painful occurrence happen quite frequently and even has its own accompanying Spotify page (though it has yet to contain the promised “songs and verses from Daph Dolla$ herself”). The book is a nice deep dive into some serious science fiction concepts. Our antihero, Robbie Reynolds, has created the ultimate lemonade stand. Any flavor you want, no matter how weird or gross, can be turned into a lemonade. Meanwhile, new neighbor Daphne Du-Ri has set up her own, very simple, stand across the street. You do realize, of course, this means war! But “war”, in this case, is going to culminate in nanobots, other dimensions, deep deep coding, and quite possibly the end of the world. Some of the jumps between panels happen so quickly that it can take some getting used to (I had to reread the ending several times to figure out exactly what’s going on) but the storyline itself holds together well. There are at least two mistakes in the text, so FYI there, but otherwise this rather delightful tale of misguided revenge is a lemonade-flavored delight.
Simon and Chester: Super Detectives by Cale Atkinson
Simon’s a ghost, Chester’s a human, and they’re both seriously bored. When Simon decides they should open a detective agency, they never expect to encounter a real mystery involving a mysterious, rather cute, pug. We’re always on the lookout for younger graphic novels, but too often those books can come across as just “meh”. This book is a lot of fun and definitely on the young side of the equation. I appreciate any title where the jokes land, and the sequence in which Simon “walks” with his “legs” down the street was fantastic. It may also have the best literary pug in a book that I’ve seen in a long time. And it’s a legit mystery! Checks off a lot of boxes and is cute to boot.
Sylvie by Sylvie Kantorovitz
School, friends, art, love, and writing all influence young Sylvie as she tries to figure out what she wants to do with the rest of her life. This is, to be perfectly blunt, a delight of a book. I didn’t know what to expect but I was encouraged by the Dylan Meconis blurb on the cover. My 9-year-old daughter was very into this book since she herself likes to plan out her life 15 years on down the road. The art is particularly simple but effective. It’s a cool slice of life from an average Jewish family living in France, without much unpleasantness at all (aside from the mom, who has some serious issues that she is just not working on). Really cool.
Tell No Tales: Pirates of the Southern Seas by Sam Maggs, ill. Kendra Wells
Join Captain Anne Bonny and her swashbuckling crew as they duke it out with the terrible Woodes Rogers who’s almost more ghost than man. Foof! You can always tell when a comic is written by a history buff. Sam Maggs (who has a name worth of piracy right there) packs this puppy chock full of more pirate facts than you would imagine, and has the backmatter to combat any queries. A very LGBTQIA+ positive retelling of the adventures of Anne Bonny and Mary Read. And yes, I admit it. I learned a lot. The info about Queen Nanny and the Windward Maroons of Jamaica should inspire another book right there (though I believe it does appear in this year’s very adult graphic novel by Rebecca Hall Wake: The Hidden History of Women-led Slave Revolts). Swashbuckling, fun, plenty of jokes, and BIPOC historical representation. What’s not to love?
Filed under: Best Books, Best Books of 2021
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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