Two new graphic novels share a tale of youths seeking love; are they perfect for your valentine?

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula

Image: First Second Books

If you’re still looking for a gift for that special someone in your life…well, let’s be clear–you’re running out of time.  But don’t panic: it’s not too late to high-tail it to your local bookstore!  (Or, if you’re lucky, you’re in one of the cities that has same-day Amazon delivery!)  Either way, I have two books to suggest that may be that gift you’ve been seeking.  Freshly released on earlier this February, these two graphic novels offer the reminder that love often comes in unexpected packages.

Andi Watson (author of Glister and Gum Girl) presents us with Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula.  The book is perfect for all ages.  It’s an ideal selection for someone who needs the lesson–or reminder– that they must remember to support themselves too, whether its speaking out against authorities or putting their own needs first.

In this simple tale, Princess Decomposia is a girl in desperate need of a friend.  She is saddled with managing the Underworld while her hyperchondriac and orthorexic father and King Wulfrun, is bedridden.  As the King peruses wellness magazines and bemoans vague ailments, Decomposia is swamped with state duties and neglecting her own needs. When her fickle father sends the palace cook packing, Decomposia hires Count Spatula, an idealistic baker, as the new cook for the household.  Spatula struggles to win over the king, but he quickly warms to Decomposia. He’s more than a chef; he’s practically a therapist. He eases tensions with foreign dignitaries with the same deft he applies to creating a smooth custard. At the same time, he lightens Decomposia’s woes, coddling her like a poached egg.  Along the way, he also helps her learn how to delegate responsibilities, recognize her own emotional needs, and most importantly, to stand up to her overbearing father.

The plot is simple and the spare artistry of the novel reflects that.  Meanwhile, the back pages and covers are filled with sketches of characters,or perhaps character details, that never made it into the book.  It’s a pity, because the panels are perhaps a little too basic.  The story and artistry could have stood to take a cue from the culinary creations that Count Spatula whipped up for the Decomposia and the castle’s visitors–they could have been a little more rich and flavorful. Nevertheless, it’s a pleasant tale of a young woman gaining independence, a little friendship, and management skills!

Scott McCloud's The Sculptor


For readers seeking a less confectionery tale of romance, I suggest Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor.  This intense work from the author of the nonfiction graphic novel Understanding Comics examines one artist’s quest to understand love, life and happiness.

We meet our protagonist, David Smith, in a period of intense turmoil.  He is a young sculptor who has reached the bottom–or so he believes.  He’s lost everyone he’s loved, his friendships are unraveling, Russian mobsters are chasing him, and his promising career has imploded.  A figure from his past–Death, naturally–arrives and gives him a Faustian bargain.  David will receive the ability to sculpt anything he desires with his bare hands in exchange for just 200 days to live.  As David revels in the artistic opportunities he has now gained, he is also cursed with indecision over what will be his legacy. As if that isn’t enough existential anxiety, he also meets the love of his-now significantly shortened-life.

I won’t sugar-coat the fact that this novel is not an easy read. (It most definitely wasn’t the best choice to send to reviewers over the holidays!) The graphic artistry is meticulous and emotive, while the storyline is compelling. If you still have friends that think “comics are for kids” this is the book to convince them otherwise. With a plot that tackles mortality and meaning, love and loss, the book is a figurative–and literal–tome. Still, if you can handle more angst than a 1990’s Nirvana song, it’s a great story and one that fans of authors like Neil Gaiman will appreciate.

Reviewers Note:  I received these books from First Second Books as part of my role reviewing books for I am no longer reviewing books for that site, but will continue to review other books I have received and I welcome new publications for review.  All genres are accepted, although I specialize in urban fantasy (e.g. Danie Ware’s Ecko Rising), historical romance (e.g. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series), fantasy (I’m a gal that loves Tolkein and Eddings!) and steampunk/alt history (e.g. David Barnett’s Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl).