This graphic-novel featuring a middle-school theater production and its cast and crew is a fun and quick read: its characters are in seventh and eighth grades, and it’s written for a middle school/junior high audience. Callie, the pleasingly-purple-haired protagonist, is the set designer for her school’s spring musical: she’s loved musicals since she was little, but she can’t sing, so has found her way to the stage crew. Her best friend, Liz, is the costume designer, but Callie is sometimes a little distracted from friendship by boy drama: she’s initially smitten with Greg, but hm, twins Justin and Jesse are awfully cute, and meanwhile, why is Greg’s younger brother Matt being such a jerk to Callie lately? Callie sometimes is gossipy without meaning to be, but can be trusted with secrets that matter: when one of the aforementioned boys comes out to her as gay, she assures him she won’t spread the news around. Meanwhile, Callie’s not the only one with romantic drama: the play’s leading lady keeps getting broken up with, and other characters are slow to figure out who they are or aren’t interested in. More interesting, to me, were the logistical challenges of putting on a play: costumes and sets and possibly-malfunctioning props, and is anyone coming to see this thing, anyway?

I like Telgemeier’s art, which is a little manga-style (in the characters’ exaggerated facial expressions, with bulging eyes and wide-open mouths at moments of emotion or humor), satisfyingly crisp, and beautifully colored. The wordless “Overture” and “Intermission” sections are fun and attractive, and overall the balance of text and pictures felt right on to me. The book is mostly straightforward panels featuring dialogue via speech bubble, but I especially liked some of the more playful bits, including one section where Callie and Jesse are portrayed inside the pages of a book they’re flipping through, and one panel where Callie frustratedly increases the volume on a movie she and Liz are watching to drown out her little brother’s distracting (and nonstop) conversation.

I don’t know why it has taken me so long to read this book. I was a fan of Allie Brosh’s blog before the book was published, which may be part of it? I mean, partly it felt like there wasn’t any urgency because I’d already read a lot of these pieces in blog-post form, and partly it felt like there wasn’t any urgency because I knew the book was going to be amazing, so I was sort of saving it. (Does that make any sense at all? Do you do that with books you’re sure you’re going to love?)

So, right: this book contains eighteen comics in Brosh’s signature style, which is a combination of autobiographical text + color drawings done in Paintbrush (which is like MS Paint—as Brosh puts it in her FAQ, these drawings have “a very precise crudeness”), and they’re pretty much all amazing. I laughed out loud on the train while reading this; when I was at home I flopped on the couch and rolled around while laughing, and read things out loud to my boyfriend even though he read this book before I did. Not that this book is all light reading—some parts of the pieces about depression (part one and part two: these are seriously worth reading) made me teary-eyed, though they have moments of humor, too.

Highlights for me include basically all the parts about Brosh’s dogs (they’re so funny! she draws them so hilariously!), especially the one where she gives “simple dog” an intelligence test. I mean, this comic contains this sentence: “This dog is uncoordinated in a way that would suggest her canine lineage is tainted with traces of a species with a different number of legs—like maybe a starfish or a snake” (20). Remind me again why I took so long to read this in book form?

Near the start of Photobooth: A Biography, Meags Fitzgerald talks about taking photobooth pictures with a friend in 2003 to celebrate the last day of classes of tenth grade, and how, after that day, she got very into photobooths: taking photobooth pictures, learning about the history of the booths themselves, and collecting photobooth pictures taken by others. The rest of the book talks about Fitzgerald’s experience with all those things, and also about various photobooth-related travels she’s taken, including a trip to California for the International Photobooth Convention and visits to photobooth warehouses in Montréal and Holland.

I am really fond of this kind of book in general—I find it easier to find “graphic memoirs” or illustrated travel journals or nonfiction comics that I like than I do to find graphic novels I’m excited about—and also, I like photobooths. So it’s not surprising that I really liked this book. Fitzgerald’s drawings of photobooths, photobooth pictures, herself, and various people she met on her travels are really satisfying, and pair well with the text. I liked reading about various different angles of photobooth history/production/art/culture, including but not limited to: how chemical photobooths work and what their charms are, and how they’re largely being replaced by lower-maintenance digital ones; the precursors to the photobooth and various inventors and companies whose work shaped the photobooth landscape; why photobooths appealed to Fitzgerald in high school, and how her relationship to them has changed over time, along with the art she’s made in them; how photobooths have been used by various artists and ordinary people throughout their existence. (Speaking of Fitzgerald’s photobooth art, I like it, and you can see more of it here and here.)

This book makes me nostalgic for my own photobooth experiences circa 2004-2007, when New York City, like other places, had more non-digital photobooths than now. I was amused to be reminded of the existence of, where the picture for the now-departed photobooth at the Wonder Wheel has me in it. More photobooth pictures featuring a younger me are here and here and here. Awww. Also, this:

I don’t remember how I found out about Liz Climo’s Tumblr, and I don’t remember how long I’ve been reading it, but I seriously love it, so I was very excited about this book, which is a mix of comics from her Tumblr and new ones. As the back cover puts it, this is a “charmingly quirky animal kingdom, a place where grizzly bears, porcupines, rabbits and anteaters all grapple with everyday life with wit and humor.” It’s organized thematically into four sections (“love and friendship,” “holidays and celebrations,” “family,” and “daily life”), which I think mostly works, though some of the ones in “holidays and celebrations” felt a little repetitive to me. But, I mean, I can’t really complain. I laughed out loud multiple times while reading this, and kept interrupting my boyfriend to show him pages I particularly liked. I like Climo’s style, which is visually simple: these are mostly one-panel or two-panel comics, generally with a white background, so the various animal protagonists and the jokes/wordplay are front and center. (Example joke, from page ten of the book: An otter says to a clam, “why are you mad at me?” The clam says, “because you called me selfish.” Otter: “no, I called you shellfish.” Clam: “oh. well, that’s accurate.)

Some favorites:
Don’t be afraid
Relationships are complicated
Mmm, ants
Never pass the ball to Larry