With support of the publisher, Shelf Awareness celebrates BOOM! Studios and some of its outstanding fall graphic novel titles that push the boundaries of traditional genres.
With support of the publisher, Shelf Awareness celebrates BOOM! Studios and some of its outstanding fall graphic novel titles that push the boundaries of traditional genres.
A Thief Among the Trees by Sabaa Tahir and Nicole Andelfinger, drawn by Sonia Liao (On Sale Now)
In A Thief Among the Trees, the first volume in a new graphic novel prequel trilogy, readers return to the world of Sabaa Tahir's bestselling YA series An Ember in the Ashes. The story follows Elias, Helene and Tavi, Fivers training at the Blackcliff Academy to become elite military recruits for the Martial Empire.
The trio is sent on a dangerous mission to Isle South to steal a heavily-guarded poison. They quickly find themselves facing plenty of surprising foes, including other Martial Empire recruits. As they try to complete their mission, Tavi, Helene and Elias will uncover some shocking truths about the Martial Empire and make difficult choices in order to survive.
When it came to writing A Thief Among the Trees, Tahir said she wanted to explore the themes of friendship, sacrifice and choices. The most surprising part of the process, she found, was how much fun it was to work as a team. Writing An Ember in the Ashes was generally "a very solo process," she explained, and at most she collaborated with a single editor. But working with writer Nicole Andelfinger on the script and artist Sonia Liao on the art "was a joy."
"It forces your brain to work in an entirely different way," said Tahir, who had not previously written a story for a graphic novel. "Some stories are best told through prose, but this kind of story, which to me was both heavy on action and emotion, needed very strong art and a strong script. Working on it forced me to be a better storyteller and I loved that."
While A Thief Among the Trees is Tahir's first foray into writing comics, she's been a reader of comics since childhood. She grew up in the Mojave Desert, at her family's 18-room motel, and occupied her time by reading fantasy novels, stealing her brother's comics and playing guitar. She began writing while working nights as a newspaper editor.
Nicole Andelfinger has written for several comic book series from BOOM! Studios, including Jim Henson's Dark Cyrstal: Age of Resistance, Adventure Time, Regular Show, Rugrats and Steven Universe, and she's also worked on the Munchkin series from Simon & Schuster. Andelfinger called the story Tahir told in An Ember in the Ashes "truly inspiring," and said it was an honor and a dream to collaborate with Tahir and Liao, but also "a bit nerve wracking" to work on a prequel to a bestselling book series.
"You never want to be the person who comes into the sandbox and accidentally tips it over!" remarked Andelfinger. "But between our editors at BOOM!, Sabaa's clear story direction and Sonia's amazing ability to make words into pictures, I feel like we did good by Ember."
And noting that while "everyone's mileage will vary," Andelfinger said her takeaway from story of A Thief Among the Trees was "a reminder to always examine systems and to question the intent, and to challenge yourself on your own beliefs."
Based in Westford, Mass., Sonia Liao earned a BFA in Illustration from Maryland Institute College of Art and has worked for publishers like BOOM!, Sourcebook Fire, Red 5 Comics and Global Tinker. Liao praised the "rich world and history" of the Ember in the Ashes series, and pointed out that while A Thief Among the Trees is set on a single island, readers can tell from the story, as well as the varied worldviews and backgrounds of the three main characters, that "there's a greater world beyond."
Liao called the graphic novel a "fun, adventurous story with plenty of character. The world it introduces readers to is clearly vast and complicated, but still relatable through the filter of each character's eyes. It's definitely the kind of book I'd check out from the library in middle or high school."
Tahir added that any reader can enjoy A Thief Among the Trees without having read An Ember in the Ashes, and she feels it would make a great read for anyone from reluctant readers to "graphic novel pros."
Slaughterhouse-Five by Ryan North, illustrated by Albert Monteys, with color assistance by Ricard Zaplana (Archaia/BOOM! Studios, September 2020)
This is the first faithful adaptation in graphic novel form of Kurt Vonnegut's classic anti-war novel, which was published in 1969. Part science fiction and part based on Vonnegut's experience as a POW in Dresden during the 1945 firebombing, the book stars Billy Pilgrim, who runs a successful optometry business, has a loving family, and witnessed the firebombing of Dresden. Billy Pilgrim becomes unstuck in time and travels to the planet Tralfamadore, reads fictional SF novelist Kilgore Trout and meets Kurt Vonnegut. His journey is at once a farcical look at the horror and tragedy of war, where children are placed on the frontlines and die ("so it goes" is one of the book's refrains), and a moving examination of what it means to be fallibly human. The tale found special resonance because it was published at the height of the Vietnam War.
Vonnegut's black humor, satiric voice, and incomparable imagination first captured America's attention in The Sirens of Titan in 1959, and then with Cat's Cradle in 1963. Graham Greene called him "one of the best living American writers." He died in 2007.
"Like most people, Kurt Vonnegut has been one of my favourite writers since I first read his books decades ago, and it was honestly a terrifying challenge and then a true joy to adapt his most famous work for a new medium," said writer Ryan North. "Terrifying at the start because this is Kurt Vonnegut, and I've loved him forever, and I didn't want to screw this up. And then joy as Albert's pages came in and my script was transformed into something wonderful and clever and heartfelt and real. I'm so proud of the work we've done together, and I believe that can be seen when you read it.
"My goal was to make a book that felt like it was indigenous to comics, that if someone could read it without somehow having heard of Slaughterhouse-Five, they would think 'Oh what a great comic!' and not 'Oh, that was a solid adaptation of a prose novel.' I wanted a book that lived and breathed its medium from the first page. Throughout it we tried to do things that were essential to comics, that you could only do IN comics, so that the book itself would argue for its own existence. I hope we've succeeded!"
North said, too, that he wanted "to convey how much heart the book has, how much of the original soul of the book and of Kurt himself is in it, and how much comics can help readers who are maybe scared off by Big Books of 20th Century Western Canon. Comics are intrinsically fun, fun to read, fun to look at: hold up a page of prose next to a page of comics and your eye will always go to the comics first. It's my hope that this new medium will bring new attention to Vonnegut's work, and also reach people that a novel perhaps couldn't. It's a book that honours the original Vonnegut text while also transforming it into something more modern for current audiences. And it's a terrifically moving comic."
North emphasized that the message of Slaughterhouse-Five is "as unchanged in the graphic novel as it was in the original prose novel: that war is a tragedy, a horror, and it is made by humans, and inflicted on humans, and it may be as inevitable as glaciers--but also, that humans are not all bad, and some are good, and we humans can still have hope."
North is the Eisner Award-winning writer of How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler and the writer responsible for Dinosaur Comics, the Eisner and Harvey Award-winning Adventure Time comic book series for BOOM! Studios, the bestselling anthology series Machine of Death and the New York Times bestselling and Eisner-Award winning Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series for Marvel Comics. North has also written a New York Times bestselling series of choose-your-own-adventure books based on Shakespeare's classic plays Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. His latest book, How to Invent Everything, is a complete cheat sheet for civilization. He lives in Toronto, Canada.
For artist Albert Monteys, too, at first the idea of adapting Slaughterhouse-Five into a graphic novel was overwhelming. He said, "My first reaction when BOOM! proposed the project was 'this can't be adapted, it is what it is, it's structure is purely literary.' Then I got to read Ryan's wonderful script and I understood that not only was it possible, but a graphic novel was the best format to adapt Slaughterhouse-Five. A book about a man unstuck in time told in a medium that can be defined as a series of images unstuck in time, where the reader reconstructs the narrative. After I understood that, the rest was easy. All we needed was a lot of hard work!"
Monteys called the collaboration "very enriching." He explained: "I usually write my own comics, and usually when I draw someone else's script, I feel like I'm wearing someone else's suit. I felt Ryan's script as mine from the first moment, the same way that Vonnegut is part of my writing influences so this suit did fit very naturally. Ryan's script had so many good ideas I felt compelled to do justice to them."
A longtime fan of Slaughterhouse-Five, Monteys added that while he thought he had the book "all figured out," in working on the graphic novel, "I've discovered a whole new book! I've made connections and found new meanings in places I didn't notice before. To sum it all up, I've discovered what they mean when they talk about classic works that never stop talking to us. Slaughterhouse-Five is definitely one of those. Vonnegut managed to put so much life in such deceptively simple language.
"There is definitely a message about war and what it does to people, but that, as valuable as it is, is just the surface of Vonnegut's book. Slaughterhouse-Five is a book about trying to find meaning and failing to do so. That's why the book resonates with us to this day. It's about fleeting moments of joy, of sadness, of confusion and definitely, it is a book about those moments when we realize we're, after all, lost at sea."
He added that he and Ryan have "been very faithful to Vonnegut's book, but we also acknowledge the condition of the book as a graphic novel adaptation in the book itself. That means we've taken a few liberties which, what a paradox, actually bring us closer to Vonnegut than an absolutely literal adaptation."
Monteys is a Spanish graphic novelist and illustrator, best known for his work in El Jueves, a weekly satirical magazine that he directed from 2006 until 2011. Monteys also created the series Carlitos Fax for the children's magazine Mister K. In 2014, he founded a satirical monthly publication Orgullo y Satisfacción (Pride and Satisfaction) with several other cartoonists, and began to publish a science fiction comic, ¡Universo! (Universe!) in Panel Syndicate, winning a 2017 Eisner Award nomination for Best Digital Comic.
Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera, illustrated by artist Celia Moscote and colorist James Fenner (BOOM! Box, November 2020)
In Juliet Takes a Breath, critically acclaimed writer Gabby Rivera adapts her bestselling novel into a graphic novel that tells a striking queer coming-of-age story exploring race, identity and what it means to be true to your amazing self, even when the rest of the world doesn't understand.
Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn't sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But don't worry, Juliet has something kinda resembling a plan that'll help her figure out what it means to be Puerto Rican, lesbian, and out. See, she's going to intern with Harlowe Brisbane--her favorite author, whose latest book on feminism and finding power in your body has Juliet ready to stomp the patriarchy and fall forever in love with herself. There's just one problem--Harlowe's clueless, not from the Bronx, and doesn't have the answers. Okay, maybe that's more than one problem but Juliet never said it was a perfect plan...
"I'm so excited to be working with BOOM! Studios on the Juliet Takes a Breath graphic novel," Rivera said. "We're blasting new energy into the story and lush colors all over the page. Get ready for a Juliet Milagros Palante who's gayer, chubbier, and more confident than ever before."
Born in the Bronx and living in California now, Rivera is a queer Puerto Rican author whose mission, she said, is "to create the wildest, most fun stories ever." She's the first Latina to write for Marvel Comics, penning the solo series America, about America Chavez, a portal-punching queer Latina powerhouse. Rivera's critically acclaimed debut novel Juliet Takes a Breath was published in September 2019 by Dial Books and called "f*cking outstanding" by Roxane Gay. (Penguin Books is publishing the paperback in March 2021.) Currently, Rivera is the writer and creator of b.b. free, a new original comic series with BOOM! Studios, and her podcast joy revolution is coming soon. When not writing, she speaks on her experiences as a queer Puerto Rican from the Bronx, an LGBTQ youth advocate, and the importance of prioritizing joy in QTPOC communities at events across the country. She added that she writes "for all the sweet baby queers, and her mom."
Celia Moscote, a storyboard artist and illustrator in the Los Angeles area best known for their work on the animated film Tina and the Gucci Flip Flop, as well as their representation of diverse characters within their zines, comics, and character designs, commented that working on Juliet Takes a Breath has been "such an amazing experience, I'm really glad that I got so lucky to work with such wonderful people on my first big graphic novel. I cried when I first read it! It's a story I wish I had when I was first trying to navigate the world. Being able to relate some of my own personal experiences to Juliet's really helped me as well, and I wish that for any artist working on a graphic novel because it made me love the job so much more. It's an absolute honor to be able to bring such an amazing cast of characters to life. Family drama, sexual re-awakenings and a bunch of incredibly smart and hot women--what more could you ask for?"
Shannon Watters, Editor, BOOM! Studios, added, "Juliet Takes a Breath is such an important novel about coming of age and coming out so it's been a wonderful experience to be able to live in this world and relive this story as we adapt it into a graphic novel. We are very excited to be working with Gabby and Celia to create this graphic novel that will introduce new readers to Gabby's powerful writing and Celia's incredible illustrations, while giving longtime fans a beautiful new version to discover."
The Sacrifice of Darkness by Roxane Gay, Tracy Lynne Oliver, art by Rebecca Kirby, coloring by James Fenner (Archaia/BOOM Studios, October 2020)
The Sacrifice of Darkness is the full-length graphic novel adaptation of Roxane Gay's 2013 short story "We Are the Sacrifice of Darkness." Set in a world that has lost the light of its sun, the story follows the journey of a woman and a man through this new, frightening landscape. As the narrative explores notions of identity, guilt and survival, the characters find that sources of light and hope remain, even in perpetual night.
Gay is the bestselling author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, Bad Feminist, Hunger: A Memoir of My Body and Difficult Women, in which "We Are the Sacrifice of Darkness" was originally published. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and her writing has appeared in a plethora of publications and collections, including Best American Nonrequired Reading 2018, Best American Short Stories 2012, McSweeney's, Tin House, Virginia Quarterly Review and many more. The Sacrifice of Darkness is also not her first foray into the graphic medium: in 2017 she wrote six issues of Marvel's Black Panther: World of Wakanda.
"Some stories don't leave you and such was the case with my short story 'We Are the Sacrifice of Darkness,' " said Gay. "When BOOM! Studios approached me about writing a graphic novel, I immediately knew what kind of story I wanted to tell--one about family and sorrow, faith that survives in a world of darkness, true love and an indelible bond between two people with the world against them."
Writing with Gay is Tracy Lynne Oliver. Based in Los Angeles, Oliver has published pieces in Medium, Fanzine and Occulum, and her story "This Weekend" appeared in the anthology Best Microfiction 2019. The Sacrifice of Darkness is her first graphic novel.
" 'We Are the Sacrifice of Darkness' was one of my favorite Roxane Gay stories, so I was more than thrilled with the opportunity to transform it into a graphic novel format," said Oliver. "I once again fell in love with the characters and their struggles and yearning for love, warmth and light in this dark, cold world they were thrust into. I am so excited for readers to see this story brought to life in such a visually stunning way."
Gay called it a "thrill" to work with Oliver to bring breadth and depth to the world she created in her short story. "She is an amazing collaborator who always pushes me creatively."
Comic artist and illustrator Rebecca Kirby drew The Sacrifice of Darkness. Based in Philadelphia, Pa., she is the creator of Biopsy and Cramps, original comics that were featured on Vice and Waves as well as in Fantagraphics Now: The New Comics Anthology #4.
Kirby said she had a great time illustrating the story Gay and Oliver crafted. "It's been an incredible experience working with everyone as we create a graphic novel full of striking contrasts and tender moments splashed across the page. I hope fans will have just as great an experience reading it."