Howdy! This page is part of a guide to comic books recommended for younger readers (along with some stuff their parents might like as well. This page covers the letters "X", "Y" and "Z." Other books are linked to below.

So, come celebrate that groovy, geeky, magical medium that we all grew up on... and share that special sense of wonder with someone smaller and newer than you. By the way, this is a work in progress, and your recommendations are always welcome... )








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The X-Men -- see X-Men profile


"Yakari, v.1: Yakari And Great Eagle"
Written by Job
Illustrated by Derib
(Cinebook, 2008)

The beginning of a delightful European graphic novel series that stars a kind-hearted, earnest young Sioux boy named Yakari, who receives a visit and a vision from his protector totem, the Great Eagle of the book's title. Great Eagle reveals to Yakari that he has the gift of being able to speak with animals, and while the adults in his tribe don't know about this gift, soon one of his friends, a girl named Rainbow, realizes that Yakari has a special relationship to nature. One might imagine that a French series about Native Americans would be rife with the sort of blithe ethnic stereotypes than made Asterix & Obelix a delight, but thankfully this is not the case -- Swiss-born cartoonist Claude de Ribaupierre (aka Derib) is also the author of the more realistic action series Buddy Longaway, which also explores the American West, and seems to have an empathy for the material. In the "Yakari" books, we never see white men (although there are horses, so this must take place after or during the Spanish conquest...) and tribal life is presented simply and matter-of-factly, without any pernicious stereotypes. (There is one character named Slow Motion, but any presumed idleness or stupidity on his part is never elaborated on, at least not in the English translations...) All in all, this is a wonderful series for younger readers, full of magical scenarios and earnest moral values. Yakari is always a hard worker and a true friend; he endeavors to improve the world around him, and his honesty and loyalty are repaid by the various animals as well as by the spirit world. Plus, Derib's artwork is a delight: his panoramic landscapes, in particular, evoke a sense of true wonder. (A)


"Yakari, v.2: Yakari And The White Buffalo"
Written by Job
Illustrated by Derib
(Cinebook, 2008)

When famine looms, Yakari meets another animal spirit, the White Buffalo, who leads his herd back to the prairies where the Sioux tribe waits. While searching for the buffalo, Yakari and his horse, Little Thunder, cross over rugged desert landscapes and artist Derib unfolds rapturous, arid vistas to his readers. Nice one, although I don't quite buy the plot point of Yakari convincing the buffaloes to willingly bring themselves back to where the tribe is, just so they can be hunted down and restore the balance of nature. If I was one of them critters, I'd stay hid. (A)


"Yakari, v.3: Yakari And The Beavers"
Written by Job
Illustrated by Derib
(Cinebook, 2008)

A key episode in the Yakari stories, where he meets the local band of beavers, who live on a river near Yakari's village. The beaver lodge has a rich cast of characters -- more varied and distinctive in many ways than the humans that Yakari lives with -- and they are hard workers and strong allies. In this book, Yakari must win their trust, but once he does, they become loyal, steadfast, good-natured friends. By the time you make it to this book, you'll be hooked! (A+)


"Yakari, v.4: Yakari And The Grizzly"
Written by Job
Illustrated by Derib
(Cinebook, 2008)

Here, Yakari confronts a tyrannical, massively powerful bear... While out in the forest, Yakari and Little Thunder meet with beavers and other animals that plead with them to help find their missing relatives. It turns out that they have been abducted and enslaved by a gluttonous, lazy grizzly bear who lives high in the mountains, and who has no problem bullying other animals into gathering his food for them. The terrified animals beg Yakari not to interfere, but always loyal to his friends, he does, and his solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem is ingenious and surprising. One of the more action-packed early books. (A)


"Yakari, v.5: Yakari And The Stranger"
Written by Job
Illustrated by Derib
(Cinebook, 2008)

A lost, half-starving pelican drifts all the way into the desert and is found by Yakari and his pals. The bird is too weak to fly, so Yakari takes him in and tries to fatten him up and give him shelter until he is strong enough to make it back to the ocean. The trouble is, the pelican is extremely annoying despite being nice, and turns out to be a difficult guest. Because he snores so loudly, he gets kicked out of Yakari's camp, then stays with the beavers until they, too, are driven crazy by his noise. All of Yakari's animal friends turn on the bird, and even on Yakari when he defends him... But ultimately the kind-hearted boy wins out and gets the animals to help nurse the pelican back to health, and when he is better, he proves to be a valuable addition to their group. (B+)


"Yakari, v.6: Yakari In The Land Of Wolves"
Written by Job
Illustrated by Derib
(Cinebook, 2008)

(-)


"Yakari, v.7: The Island Prisoners"
Written by Job
Illustrated by Derib
(Cinebook, 2010)

In this volume, Yakari and Rainbow are stranded on an island, along with a family of moose, who in turn are being hunted by a fearsome wolverine. The children help protect the moose from the merciless predator, and along the way add new members to the menagerie of animals who call Yakari their friend. This is a solid adventure, with a menacing villain and a suspenseful plot. (A)


"Yakari, v.8: The White Fleece"
Written by Job
Illustrated by Derib
(Cinebook, 2011)

When a cranky eagle attacks one of Yakari's tribesmen and steals the talisman that gives him strength, Yakari decides to pursue the eagle to its aerie. It turns out the eagle has been terrorizing all the other animals on the mountainside, but with the help of a herd of mountain goats, Yakari confronts the bully and gets the amulet back. However, he doesn't stop the eagle from bullying the other critters, so the story ends on an unsatisfying note -- things are okay for the humans, but the marmots and goats are still under his thumb. (There's also a weird sequence where a hungry Yakari suckles from the teats of one of the goats... I guess that's true to nature, but kind of a little bizarre.) Anyway, this wasn't my favorite Yakari book, but it's nice to see the series continue. Worth checking out. (B)


"Yoko Tsuno, v.1: On The Edge Of Life"
Written & Illustrated by Roger LeLoup
(Cinebook, 2007)

An action-packed adventure story featuring the teenage heroine, Yoko Tsuno, a Japanese-born Belgian citizen who holds an engineering degree and loves to solve mysteries across the globe. The series, originally published in French in the 1970s, is sort of like Nancy Drew with a scientific twist. One of the greatest features is artwork, an excellent example of the European "clear line" style, with detail-oriented, realistic artwork and, in particular, an amazing dedication to architectural detail. This story is set in a German city filled with medieval chalets; the graphic presentation is pretty stunning. This particular volume is a little confusing because, although it says it's "Volume 1," this was originally the seventh Yoko Tsuno story published in the original French editions, so in a sense we are coming in on the middle of the action, rapidly introduced to a preexisting cast of characters. Some sort of republication rights issue, I'm guessing. Regardless, it won't deter most readers -- this is a fast-paced, science-oriented adventure story with a strong female heroine and quite suitable for younger readers, with no sexual content or extreme violence, etc...The recurrent imagery of a little girl suspended in a watery tank may be a bit disturbing for younger readers, but overall this is well worth checking out. (B)


"Zot!: The Complete Black And White Collection: 1987-1991"
Written and Illustrated by Scott McCloud
(Harper Books, 2008)

Along with the first series of "Love & Rockets," Scott McCloud's "Zot!" was one of the few comic books that I bought new off the stands in the late 1980s... I was a recovering lifelong Marvel junkie, and a few books had brought me back into the fold -- DC's revamped "Swamp Thing," "Watchmen," stuff like that -- and there was a swirl of charming black-and-white, small-press "ground level" comics out there that rekindled the sense of fun and wonder that the superhero books once had, but had lost in the muscle-bound monotony of clones, alternate realities and anti-mutant pogroms, and gimmicky fake deaths. "Zot," however, was one of the few books that really enthralled me, and that I eagerly awaited when it came out on the stands.

There was the first series, the color stories, that introduced the characters and their lighthearted adventures that seemed devoted mainly to a fun, nostalgic vibe for the old, Siver Age era of simple action and heroism. (These stories have been reprinted by Kitchen Sink Press... also worth tracking down...) After wrapping that series up, McCloud took a sabbatical, then returned with this second series, a more mature, more accomplished, and much more ambitious project that took comicbook storytelling to a very surprising place. Under the cover of a goofy, fun, fantastical reexamination of sci-fi/superhero genre, McCloud crafted an emotionally resonant coming-of-age epic.

This omnibus opens with the ebullient young Zot, a tirelessly optimistic teenage superhero from a futuristic alternate reality coming back to visit his Earth friend, Jenny Weaver, and then stay with her in her world. He brings some of his hip, wise-cracking teenage future-world friends with him, and initially the series has the same giddy, adolescent tone as the first series. But over the course of the next couple dozen issues, the feel of the book changed -- the play-action violence became more real, the hero had to accept the kind of consequences that our real-world existence demanded, and Jenny slowly but surely emerged as the book's true hero. Also the cast widened, as did their emotional depth. Jenny's geeky high school friends -- D&D-ers, comicbook readers, nerds and sexual outcasts -- were all given their own space to emerge as three-dimensional characters, with one emerging as a romantic rival in a triangle between Jenny and Zot. Two issues stood out at the time, and still do now: In issue #30, we were treated to "Autumn," a poignant story that focussed on Jenny's mother, a recently divorced single parent who laments the loss of her own youth and innocence, while issue #35 ("The Conversation") in which Jenny and Zot debate the wisdom of having premarital, teenage sex, remains an intellectual highwater mark for the comicbook medium. In the next episode, the series ended, with a bittersweet finality, but a sense of purpose and grace that is rarely seen in canceled titles.

Author/illustrator Scott McCloud has since gone on to become an expert in explaining and advocating for the graphic novel medium, but he has never really tried to present a story on this scale again, and really, why should he? Few authors create genuine masterpieces, but here he has, and it's a marvelous legacy, beautifully gathered in this thick, compact omnibus volume. This is one of the best, most resonant comics I've ever read, and it is highly, highly recommended. (A++)




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