Start 2021 with a Cozy Graphic Novel!

by Claudia J.

As we approach the quiet season of winter and start 2021, cozy reads will definitely be on the top of my list to recover from such an unprecedented year. You may recognize the typical books that are categorized as cozy from our adult fiction collection: fun mysteries filled with humor and intrigue, romances that capture the hearts of fans around the world, and hopeful, literary tales that keep readers optimistic. But did you know that you can find some of the best cozy reads in our graphic novel collection? 

Yes, you read right! Graphic novels, which include Japanese manga and traditional comic books, are as diverse as our fiction and nonfiction collections. While their beginnings stem from comic strips in newspapers and classic superhero tales, graphic novels have expanded to include a plethora of plots that readers of all ages can enjoy. In fact, while I will always enjoy a traditional novel, I happen to be a long-time graphic novel fan.

I am excited to share some of my favorite cozy choices that will leave you smiling well after the last page: 

Note: In regards to all of my series picks, my reviews are for Volume 1 only. 

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks 

Illustration of two teenagers in overalls standing with

I find myself always missing autumn and Halloween right after they have ended! If you feel the same, then you will revel in the crisp, fall nights depicted in Pumpkinheads. You may recognize Rainbow Rowell of young adult fame with novels like Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, and I can see why she is one of the most critically acclaimed authors. Two teenagers have seasonal jobs at one of the best pumpkin patches in the country, and every Halloween they come together to revel in the best of the season. Yet, this year is different: they’re seniors in high school and getting ready to go to college next fall. What if they make their last shift an adventure they’ll never forget? With gorgeous illustrations by Faith Erin Hicks, Pumpkinheads is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for every reader who loves pumpkin patches, hayrides, apples and, of course, the crisp air of Halloween. 

Flying Witch (series) by Chihiro Ishizuka

Illustration of a young girl dressed in a sweater and shorts sitting next to a black cat, holding a broom. With the eaves of a house and a stand of trees

Keeping with the Halloween theme, I had to choose Flying Witch to be on this list. Unlike the fantastical nature of Harry Potter or the ghoulish vibes of the Sanderson Sisters from Hocus Pocus, Flying Witch evisions witches as….well, normal people, with some exceptions. Makoto Kowata is a witch-in-training who travels to Aomori, Japan to stay with her cousin and his family. A bit forgetful but also amazingly kind, Makoto navigates the new town, a relaxed lifestyle, as well as learns how to be an independent witch in the most comedic ways possible. Despite my earlier mention of Halloween, Flying Witch can be read at any time of the year since all four seasons are featured in the story. Be prepared for a fun, gentle read with a dose of magic thrown in. 

Am I There Yet: The Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood by Mari Andrew

Like much of the media I discover, I happened to learn of Mari Andrew and her beautiful work on Instagram. Her combination of reflections, color, and unique calligraphy drew me in immediately. When she released Am I There Yet, her work effortlessly transferred from my screen to the page. Her majestic use of words and illustrations provided me with a sense of calm and were immensely relatable to my current stage of life. While her words are very uplifting, Mari also tackles harsh realities while softening the blow with poignant moments of humor and happiness.

Emma (series) by Kaoru Mori

Traditionally, manga is characterized by magical beings, action-packed fights, and occasional monsters. However, Emma is uniquely placed in Victorian England. Kaoru takes readers on an intricate journey of forbidden romance between an intelligent but quiet maid and an up-and-coming aristocrat. While many stories begin in a similar fashion, what I enjoyed about Emma was the fascinating use of manga art to tell the story, along with the slow burn of the budding romance. If you have ever wanted to read a manga series but you are unsure of where to start, Emma would be an excellent choice for you! 

Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu (series) by Natsuya Semikawa 

In the medieval town of Eiteriach, its citizens have grown weary of the continual, basic menu. While fulfilling, it leaves something to be desired. Enter Nobu, a mysterious pub that appears almost magically one day. It becomes the talk of the town, known for its unique cuisine and the warmth of its staff. But can it persuade even the toughest customers? This was one of my favorite reads of the year. Natsuya does an excellent job drawing out the flavors of the cuisine with her art. Coupled with its low-key, heartwarming story, Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu will leave you hungry for the meals but also for the rest of the series. 

Stargazing by Jen Wang

The cover depicts the two protagonists seated side by side, with a book open in the lap of the child seated on the left.

A story of an unlikely childhood friendship takes plenty of unexpected turns in Jen Wang’s Stargazing. I was fully engaged with the story of Christine and Moon, two girls on the verge of becoming teenagers with different backgrounds and personalities. Heartwarming and beautiful, this graphic novel has just the right amount of topics that can relate to all ages: cultural differences, friendship, health, and even small crushes. The best part of Stargazing is that it is a perfect book for adults to read with their children and discuss afterwards. The blossoming friendship alone is enough to cozy up to this colorful read. 

Snow White with the Red Hair (series)  by Sorata Akiduki 

I tend to lean towards slice-of-life graphic novels as opposed to fantasy, but Snow White with the Red Hair is a welcome exception to my rule. For fans of the Disney classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this series is nothing like the princess we have come to know in our childhood. Shirayuki (“Snow White” in Japanese) is a cheerful, red-haired girl living in the countryside of Tanbarun. Her red hair is so unique in the land that the prince of Tanbarun, Prince Raji, tries to force her to become his concubine. Refusing a life of serving a prince, she cuts her hair and runs away to the forest in search of a new, independent life. With many more twists and turns, this series is a treat for readers who enjoy light fantasy with a touch of female empowerment. 

Carry this Book by Abbi Jacobson

We could all use a little comedy every now and then, especially during these turbulent times. Abbi Jacobson of Broad City fame brings the weird, hilarious view of our bags in Carry this Book. Part faux exposé, part examination of our everyday objects, this book contains the real and imagined objects inside the bags and storage of our icons. Ever wondered what’s in Michelle Obama’s clutch or Harry Potter’s duffel bag? Well, here you go. I struggled with putting this book on the list since it is technically an art book, not a graphic novel. However, I thought it was so creatively put together, and provides stories on fictional characters as well. Abbi does a fantastic job at creating a book that gives such an intimate view of imagination, and how the things we carry everyday may share a deeper look into our personalities than we thought. 

The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story by Marie Kondo

Marie Kondo has taken the world by storm with her organization tips and tricks from her published books on the KonMari method as well as her Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. So it would seem natural that she would take her methods to a narrative level with her manga book. Chiaki, a young woman in Tokyo, struggles with a lack of direction with her clutter and personal life. Through a series of lessons, Marie Kondo takes her on a magical journey of cleaning up her home and getting her life in order. I absolutely loved that this book was not only an engaging read for readers who love manga, but it also provided some major organization pointers and tricks and offered a quick introduction to the KonMari method. Double points for an engaging story and organization assistance! 

Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (series) by Akiko Higashimura 

Illustration of a girl dressed in red and white with an arti

To round out the list of cozy graphic novel reads, I want to end on a hopeful note. Journeys begin with hard work and that is how Akiko Higashimura’s story began in high school. Writer and artist of Princess Jellyfish and Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Akiko provides a look into her teenage beginnings of becoming a popular mangaka. So when she signs up for an art class expecting an easy path to stardom, she is rudely surprised by her militant art instructor who expects perfection out of his students. Nevertheless, this art instructor’s weird style of motivation may be the key to Akiko’s art dreams. While this series is meant for teens, I think adults would enjoy this trip down Akiko’s memory lane. Too often, we reach adulthood and forget the dreams and goals we had in our childhood and teenage years. Blank Canvas explores the feelings of invincibility we have as teens while also providing a dose of realism towards reaching goals that seem insurmountable. 

Readers of all ages can find some cozy joy with these picks from our graphic novel collection! All titles are available here at Howard County Library System, so request one today and try something new to start this new year! 

Claudia J. is an instructor and research specialist and has worked for Howard County Library System for almost five years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.

The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks In Arles

By Nina L.

We know them today as giants of art history, but in 1888 French artist Paul Gauguin had an estranged family, a background in financial trading, and limited artistic success. Vincent Van Gogh, a 35-year-old Dutchman, had failed miserably at several vocations before turning to art with the encouragement and financial support of his brother Theo.

The Yellow House, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles, by Martin Gayford, is an intimate and revelatory look at a time when Van Gogh and Gauguin lived together in a self-styled artist’s colony of two. They were an odd pair, full of contrasts – Gauguin cerebral, Van Gogh emotional, but both drawn to the idea of inventing a new art of the future. The book follows the events as they unfold day-to-day with granular detail.  Drawing on the copious letters of both artists, Gayford makes it easy to imagine being in the house looking on as the two men worked in the small, cramped, ten-foot wide studio filled with the heavy atmosphere of tobacco and turpentine.  

While living in Paris, Van Gogh dreamed of starting an artist’s colony in the south of France. He settled on Arles, a provincial town on the way to the Mediterranean coast. Both he and Theo admired Gauguin, enticing him to Arles with the offer of free room and board in exchange for his paintings.  Van Gogh, who later became the greater artist of the two, regarded Gauguin as a mentor and had high expectations of living and working together. In anxious anticipation of Gauguin’s arrival, he set about transforming the little yellow house, carefully choosing furnishings, brightening the exterior and interior with paint, and hanging his art work throughout the house, including his newly created Sunflowers. The first few weeks went well, with exchanges of ideas and daily painting trips to the surrounding countryside, but when the weather turned cold and rainy, spending all day in the small, cramped space didn’t bode well for the two large personalities.

By late December of 1888 the relationship was fraying and Gauguin considered returning to Paris. On December 23rd, while feverishly working on a painting, Van Gogh suffered a mental attack and cut off part of his ear with a razor. He then wrapped the ear in newspaper and took it to a local brothel with instructions to give it to one of the women. Gauguin, alarmed at Van Gogh’s deteriorating state, had spent the night in a hotel. Returning to the house the next day he discovered a trail of blood and Van Gogh deep asleep in bed with no memory of the previous night. The traumatic events ended the dream of living and working together. Gauguin left for Paris, later moving to Tahiti, never to see Van Gogh again. For the rest of his short life Van Gogh struggled with mental illness, which Gayford attributes to bipolar disorder, gaining fame only after his death.

After reading the book, I found myself looking at the world differently, imagining how Van Gogh or Gauguin would see it. One of Van Gogh’s breakthroughs was in placing contrasting colors side by side. Placing colors together which are opposites on the color wheel creates a visual frisson, or what Van Gogh called electricity. He even had a box of yarn to test out color combinations before using his paints.

Interested in creating art work in the style of Van Gogh? Here is a project suitable for any age. Take some time to look at one of Van Gogh’s paintings, such as A Starry Night. Use a blue or gray colored pastel or construction paper along with chalk pastels in white, yellows, oranges, blues, and purples. Black can be added as an accent. Lightly sketch in your own version of A Starry Night. Look at how Van Gogh painted the wind, winding around the canvas, or the stars radiating out as if glowing. Working from dark to light, use thick, short broken strokes and follow the contour of shapes, repeating the pattern over and over until filling the composition. You may find yourself seeing the world just a little bit differently.

Did you know? You can even borrow a framed print of a Van Gogh painting or one from Gauguin via the HCLS Art Collection.

Nina L. is a Customer Service Specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS. She loves art, yoga, dogs, cats, and reading horizontally.