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First Second sent out its latest catalog earlier this week, highlighting all the graphic novels it will release next spring. The bad news is, there’s still no Battling Boy on the schedule, nor do the Box Brown Andre the Giant or as-yet-unrevealed Becky Cloonan books appear. But the good news is there are projects featuring the likes of Faith Erin Hicks, Matt Kindt, Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen, Dave Roman and many more.
Here’s the rundown:
Odd Duck, by Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon. “A heartwarming tale of the perils and pleasures of friendship featuring two ducks who are both a bit odd.” Varon has done several graphic novels for First Second, including Bake Sale and Robot Dreams, while Castellucci wrote the Plain Janes books for DC’s Minx line, as well as several Young Adult novels.
Primates, by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks. A new science book from Jim Ottaviani, the author of thwe well-received Feynman, “with Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Biruté Galdikas and all sorts of primates.” Wicks, meanwhile, has a fun blog where you can check out her work, which includes several kids titles like Spongebob and Adventure Time.
Bake Sale (First Second) Sara Varon trades in the anthropomorphic animal characters of her previous comics Robot Dreams and Sweater Weather (and her children’s picture book Chicken and Cat) for a new source of character design: anthropomorphized foodstuffs.
I really enjoyed the waves of cognitive dissonance I got from seeing Bake Sale’s star Cupcake, a cupcake, making cupcakes, and other such weirdness as an animated chicken leg walking its dog in the park, a bag of sugar excitedly ordering brownies and, perhaps most disturbingly, seeing Cupcake chopping up a carrot for his carrot cake…only to visit a restaurant a few pages later and placing an order with a carrot, named Carrot! (Also, there’s a panel where Cupcake learns his place in the band has been filled by a potato, and responds, “A potato?! Everyone knows potatoes have no rhythm!” Why is Cupcake so racist against potatoes? And I’m pretty sure he’s eating mashed potatoes with his meatloaf sandwich in that scene…)
Another difference between Bake Sale and Varon’s previous works? I was able to read it without bawling my eyes out (as I did with Robot Dreams) or even getting a little choked up (as with Chicken and Cat). Which isn’t to imply that her latest is lacking in emotional content—Varon’s cute, simple cartoon characters are remarkably communicative of complicated feelings, and her visual storytelling is masterful. There remains an almost elegiac quality to it.
As insufferably precious as Sara Varon’s comics can seem at first glance, they’re frequently suffused with a melancholy that belies their outward cutie-pie nature. Most of her books deal with the tricky nature of friendship, both our essential human need for connection and companionship and also how we often define our own identity through our contact with others. She rarely sugarcoats these relationships, either — Robot Dreams had a rather nasty betrayal at its focal point after all. That all can seem like heady stuff for an all-ages book, but Varon smartly refuses to delve too deep into psychology blather, preferring to keep the actions and visuals as simple and self-explanatory as possible.
First Second sent out their latest catalog earlier this month, highlighting all the graphic novels they’ll be releasing in the fall. This is the imprint’s fifth anniversary, so congrats to Mark Siegel, Gina Gagliano and the rest of the crew for five great years of making awesome graphic novels.
Here’s a rundown of what to expect from the publisher later this year:
Americus, by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill: Tim spoke with Reed about this one last year; it’s about a teenager fighting to keep his favorite fantasy series on library shelves when it’s targeted by “Christian activists.” You can read it online here.