There’s an episode of The Simpsons in Season 7 called “Summer of 4 Ft. 2” where the family goes on summer vacation in a beach town, and Lisa is shocked to discover that within her dwells the potential of being liked. I vividly remember when it first aired, in the middle of my teenage years (I am old), and that I was as shocked as Lisa by the revelation that even those who feel lonely and weird might find people who care about them.
For the last two decades, that episode has been frozen in my brain as the perfect, ideal “coming of age” genre story — teenage disillusionment and desperation yielding to vulnerability that is rewarded. If I had a longer attention span, it probably would have been Catcher in the Rye; and if I had been born 25 years later, it might be Delicates, a wonderful new comic by Brenna Thummler.
Thanks as always to Phoenix for pointing out this week’s top comics! And thanks to the band of weird children in a small Connecticut town in the mid ‘90s who proved that episode of The Simpsons correct.
Do not be put off by the startling length and heaviness of this book, which can be easily digested in under an hour, or savored slowly over the course of many. Delicates is a sequel to the book Sheets (you don’t need to have read the first book to enjoy the second), and features an eighth-grader named Marjorie who is friends with a group of ghosts. As Marjorie stumbles towards popularity with a group of easy-going new friends, she can’t help but notice that another girl named Eliza seems troubled, lonely, and haunted by something perhaps less supernatural. Writer and illustrator Brenna Thummler has perfectly captured the uneasy malaise of straddling childhood and adulthood, of fearing your own invisibility and worrying about whether you’re worthy of love. It’s Freaks and Geeks with talking sheets; and although the characters sometimes speak with a wisdom that seems beyond their years (the 13-year-olds can feel like therapists for the adults) the book makes some important observations about paying attention to what those around us say and do, rather than what we imagine their story might be.
And now for an abrupt change of pace: Marvel’s new Alien series launches this week with an intriguing premise. Several decades have passed since the events of the original films (you need only a passing familiarity with the general vibe of the movies in order to follow this book), and a security chief named Gabriel Cruz is struggling with flashbacks and dreams of past encounters with Xenomorph monsters. Into this bubbling cauldron of emotions strides his estranged son, Daniel, who seeks a reunion with his father… but also, perhaps, a bit more. I personally could have done with maybe 10% fewer lines of dialogue (it’s a bit more poetic in some places than it needs to be) and I’m not wild about the art — even in the nightmarish flashbacks, the style is extremely literal, particularly in comparison to the painterly composition of Ridley Scott’s films. Still, the book does a nice job of juggling two fronts: There’s the personal drama of moving through terrible memories and rebuilding family; and then there’s a bang-crash action of monsters and space stations and a secret plot. And then, of course, there’s also the promise of alien horror in future issues — a staple of the franchise that we barely have time to fully explore in this first issue.
I’ve lost count of how many guides I’ve read to running fun sessions of Dungeons & Dragons (or tabletop role-playing games in general), and I’d place Dungeons on a Dime’s In the Red among the best. Emphasizing readability and character role-play, the book is an excellent guide for Game Masters of all skill levels, and its lean text and helpful illustrations are an inspiration. You need only read the first few pages for some helpful guidelines, and then you’re plunged directly into a series of wonderful character-focused adventures. Author Brian Tyrell has done an excellent job of distilling the game down to its most essential component — having fun with your friends — with lots of pictures to illustrate the adventure. Players who seek numbers-heavy tactical play, minmaxing, and complex puzzles will probably be disappointed, but those who enjoy slipping into character and breathing creative life into improvised interactions will cheer. If Friends at the Table is your jam, I suspect you’ll find the book deeply engrossing.
MORE COMICS: BUILD A ROBOT, GET A DOG, AND VISIT AFRICA
I’m fascinated by A House Without Windows, based on true accounts of people struggling through poverty in the Central Africal Republic; the book comes with a QR code that you can scan to experience the real-life settings in VR. Also consider Seen, by Rachel Carson, which shines a spotlight on true stories of marginalized trailblazers.
There are two books this week that tackle memoiring through nontraditional art and narrative structure: I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is a meditation on ‘90s teen heartthrobs and Oregon’s white nationalism; Red Rock Candy Baby is a gorgeously-produced work of art that looks like a zine disguised as a luxurious coffee table book.