Short & Sweet: Fionna and Cake, Awkward, Junji Ito’s Fragments of Horror, and More!
Every month, WWAC’s staff reads a lot of comics. A lot. Short & Sweet (Or Sour) is our regular showcase for bite-sized reviews of the latest books!
Jen Wang (writer and cover artist), Britt Wilson (artist)
July 15, 2015
Card Wars! First it was an Adventure Time episode (“Floop the pig!”), then it was an actual licensed card game, an app, and now it’s a comic. Okay, this is definitely a comic aimed at selling games to kids, but with that bit of commercialism out of the way, is it any good? Yes, fortunately. Starring Fionna and Cake (the Rule 63, fanfiction versions of regular Adventure Time heroes Finn and Jake), Wang and Wilson’s Card Wars is an amusing story about the lighter and darker sides of fandom.
Cake the Cat is an ardent fan of the holographic game Card Wars, though her usual playmate, Fionna, is less enthused. (Having tried and failed to share my friends’ love for games, like Settlers of Cataan or Cards Against Humanity, I relate to Fionna’s frustration a lot here.) When Cake tries to enter the Card Wars Gaming Tournament, she’s rebuffed by a group of gamers (amusingly drawn by Wilson as green slugs) acting as gatekeepers to the Card Wars fandom. Using Fionna and Cake as the protagonists of Card Wars is a smart choice, and it gives the comic a nice bite of social relevance—if you’ve been on the Internet at all this year, you’ve probably heard about how, uh, welcoming the gaming fandom can be towards women. But really, if you’ve ever been a fan and had your love of something policed by others for some garbage reason—for your gender, for being new, for not knowing the “right” people—it’s easy to root for Cake and her determination to be the best Card Wars Player in the world.
Svetlana Chmakova (writer and artist)
When I heard that Svetlana Chmakova was publishing a new comic, I immediately asked for a review copy; I have fond memories of her previous works, such as Dramacon, which probably shows my age and memory (for those remembering: Dramacon was published by TokyoPop from 2005 to 2007). But as I recognized the name—and recognized her past work—I of course wanted to read Awkward as soon as possible.
Awkward is a story of trying to navigate through middle school. I remember the awkwardness and teasing inherent in middle school when I was going through it, and that sense is preserved in the comic: there are the mean kids, there are the club kids, and each club identifies themselves as itself and against other clubs. In Awkward, this plays out in the art club and the science club: if you are in the art club, you’re supposed to be against the science club. And unfortunately for our protagonist Penelope Torres, she finds herself not only noticed by the mean kids and running away from the quiet Jaime Thompson, but also caught up in the club spats between the art club and the science club. The science club members tend to view the art club as “artsy-fartsy” and not doing “real” work, while the art club members view the science club as “boring.” When things come to a head, the clubs get canceled and lose their tables at the club fair, and Penelope has to find a way to bring the clubs together again.
It’s an amazing, cute story, and at the back of the book there is plenty of behind-the-scenes information from Svetlana about character composition, backgrounds, and more, which helps to understand the work that went into Awkward, from the rooms reflecting the sponsor teacher’s personalities to the sketches of the club members. If you are looking for a good summer read, regardless of age, Awkward is the book to pick up.
Junji Ito (mangaka), Masumi Washington (editor), Nick Mamatas (editor), Jocelyn Allen (translation and adaptation), Eric Erbes (touch-up art and lettering), Sam Elzway (cover and graphic design)
In the manga industry, Junji Ito’s name is as synonymous with horror as Rumiko Takahashi’s is with zany romcoms. Following an eight-year break from terrifying readers, Ito marks his return to the genre with Fragments of Horror, a collection of short stories. These tales range from a man who must hold his head in place or risk its falling off to a woman whose new husband’s family performs a death-defying ritual at funerals.
Before even jumping into the contents, it’s hard not to admire the physical book. Hardcover with an embossed dust jacket, this is one of those books you see in a store and are compelled to pick up and hold. The cover image channels Edvard Munch’s The Scream, while the textured overlay reflects nightmarish creatures. Ito’s art style bears the realism of 80s and 90s manga, with distinctly Japanese-looking characters, detailed settings, and gore that skates the line of hilarious and horrifying.
As with any collection, some pieces will grip readers more than others. In his afterword, Ito noted that he struggled to storyboard the first piece, “Futon.” It is admittedly one of the weaker installments, feeling more like a warmup to what follows. The collection picks up momentum as it goes, hitting every staple side-effect emotion of horror from paranoia (“Tomio ● Red Turtleneck”) to sadness (“Gentle Goodbye”) to repulsion (“Dissection-chan”). In particular, “Blackbird” stands out to me as an ideal balance of gore and psychological horror. I for one will be steering clear of red meat for a while thanks to that story.
Rather than the more Western notions of slashers in the woods or demonic spirits in the attic, these tales thrive on unsettling ideas that creep into your mind late at night. There is an understood powerlessness in Ito’s characters; in place of heroes and villains, we’re given ordinary people subject to the whims of the strange and otherworldly. Even when the plot technically has a resolution, Ito always has a parting twist of the knife in the final panel, leaving readers with a sense of incompleteness—perfect for suggesting that the creepy-crawlies of his stories aren’t finished with you. Chomp!
Ida Neverdahl and Oystein Runde (writers and artists), Agnes S. D. Langeland (translator)
Moscow by Ida Neverdahl and Oystein Runde is a wild ride from start to finish, full of gut-busting laughs and thoughtful commentary. I loved every moment of it.
Ida and Oystein are part of a group of comic artists headed to Russia for a comics festival. Moscow is the resulting work that followed. As stated on the back of the book, it’s a comic “about radical Russians, handsome Kazakhs, moving moles … and unexpected love.” And honestly, that’s the best way to sum up this book, because saying more would give too much away.
As a travelogue, it’s one of the funniest I’ve read that still manages to cut you to the quick on the more serious topics. Ida and Oystein utilize their artistic styles to their full potential; it’s not hard to see why some scenes are drawn by Oystein and not Ida or vice versa. Oystein is a master of those hard-hitting moments I mentioned earlier. Seeing the depiction of the tanks crawling down the Russian city streets was a gut punch that I’m not likely to forget anytime soon. Ida has a fantastic sense of comedic timing. Her inner thoughts and daydreams are some of the funniest sequences in the book—I particularly loved her montage with the Russian special police.
My one critique of the book is that there is one page where the lettering is completely off—as in the speech or thought bubbles are on one side of the panel and the actual dialogue is on the other. A quick proof-read could have fixed it, and I hope they’ll do so if this manages a second printing. Other than that, I highly recommend Moscow to everyone. It’s a book so good that you’ll for sure be put on Putin’s government watch list just for reading it.