Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of 3×4, The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall, and Sheets

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On this episode of the Comics Alternative’s Young Readers show, Gwen is joined by her new co-host, Dr. Krystal Howard, an assistant professor in the Liberal Studies and English departments at California State University, Northridge. Krystal has been reading, writing about, and teaching children’s and YA comics for a number of years and has a particular interest in gender and comics studies. In 2017, Krystal’s essay “Gothic Excess and the Body in Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost” appeared in Gwen’s co-edited volume (with Michelle Ann Abate), Graphic Novels for Children and Young Adults, and she has another comics-related essay, “Comics Grammar in Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s Picture Book Collaborations” that is forthcoming in The Artistry of Neil Gaiman: Finding Light in the Shadows. Regular listeners to the Young Readers show will already know Krystal from her spot as a panelist last summer on a special roundtable that Gwen and Paul Lai hosted on the future of children’s and YA comics.

Before they begin discussing the books for this month’s show, Gwen and Krystal mention the wonderful contributions of Paul Lai, who has recently graduated with his doctorate from the School of Education in Language, Literacy, and Culture at the University of California, Berkeley, and who has begun a new position as Director of UC Berkeley’s prestigious BE3 program, which stands for Berkeley Educators for Equity and Excellence. Paul intends to return to the Comics Alternative family from time to time as a podcaster, and Gwen and Krystal wish him the very best in his new role.

During the main portion of the show, Gwen and Krystal discuss three new releases: Ivan Brunetti’s 3 x 4, published last month by TOON Books and geared towards early elementary readers, and two Halloween-oriented middle grade graphic novels: Drew Weing’s The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall, which is the second in the Margo Maloo series from First Second books, and Brenna Thummler’s debut, Sheets, put out by Lion Forge’s Cubhouse imprint.

Both Krystal and Gwen found Brunetti’s 3 x 4 to be a great addition to the plethora of STEM-focused comics that have been published in the last five years, including First Second’s Science Comics series and Mike Holmes and Gene Luen Yang’s Secret Coders. Krystal praises Brunetti for his inclusion of a diverse and eclectic group of young people, and Gwen notes that for the detail-oriented child, every page offers up an opportunity to discover the many ways that the number 12 can be divided into sets!

Next, the two PhDs consider Drew Weing’s follow up to his highly successful first volume of the Margo Maloos series: The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall. Gwen appreciates Weing’s decision to continue focusing on the costs of gentrification, while Krystal notes that the inclusion of teenage characters adds a new dimension to the series.

Finally, Gwen and Krystal discuss the amazing debut by Brenna Thummler, Sheets (Lion Forge), which takes place in a lake resort town and focuses on the struggles of a young woman who has become the proprietor of her family’s laundromat, all while trying to fit in at middle school. Her interactions with Wendell, the ghost of an eleven-year-old boy, end up making life a lot better for both of them. Krystal points out Thummler’s attention to figural placement and atmospherics, and Gwen suggests that while some of the plot points might seem a little far-fetched, the novel holds together well and deals with class conflict in a manner that is also present in Weing’s Margo Maloo series.

In November, Gwen and Krystal will be back with another set of books to review, as well as 2018 best-of-list recommendations for our listener’s winter holiday celebrations.