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Eisele, Terry & Bowman, Brent – Far Tune: Spring

Website (Terry)
Website (Brent)

Far Tune: Spring

I’ve read a whole lot of series ending graphic novels over the years, and one thing that really impressed me about this one was how assured it was in wrapping things up. Granted, there’s no magic ring to be tossed into a volcano at the end, just a young woman trying to adjust to life in Ohio schools after living in a refugee camp and then London. Still, you need a conclusion for something like this, and Terry and Brent really landed this sucker. Things start off with a completely silent recap of Fartun’s leaving the refugee camp, and the decision to make it silent was brilliant. All we needed was to focus on her wide-eyed awe at just about everything she was experiencing (often while her father and brother were sleeping), from the little things like power locks in cars to getting on an airplane and actually flying away. From there the bulk of the school portion of the book deals with Fartun (and her friend Bea) getting back from spring break and discovering that they have to do a big project that covers three different classes. They come to the same conclusion separately; Fartun can write and Bea can draw, so why not combine their project to make a comic about Fartun’s time in the camp? They get approval, go to Laughing Ogre to get some resource material (always nice to see a great comic shop get recognized), and we get to read what sure looks like the actual comic that they made reproduced in this volume. There’s also a lot going on here with Fartun’s family, as the conflict between her more traditional father and his children (her and her brother) comes to a head. No sense getting too far into spoilers for the last volume of a series, but let’s just say that arranged marriages and forced relocation for “wayward children” are both things that are perfectly fine in the more antiquated parts of that culture, and neither of those things would go over well with children mostly raised in America. This whole series is another thoroughly impressive achievement, taking a lot of time to tell a story that’s too often glossed over or ignored entirely. It’s absolutely worth checking out, although if you wait a few years and happen to have kids (or grandkids, or nephews/nieces, etc.) I’d have to imagine this series being taught in schools. Anyway, I’m looking to see what he comes up with next, unless he wants to take a few years off to recover… $10

Eisele, Terry & Bowman, Brent – Far Tune: Winter

Website (Terry)

Website (Brent)

Far Tune: Winter

A bit of personal history here, which applies to why I used the sample image. Back in my early days of working at the Board of Elections in Columbus (I’ve since moved on to a different BOE, which confirms that I’m a glutton for punishment), I noticed that a whole lot of names that we got from the naturalization process were for January 1st of whatever year. It took me a few years to get a solid answer as to why that was the case, but if you’re curious, Fartun lays out the reasoning here. I’d just let everybody pick their own birthday, which is one more reason why I’ll never rule the world. Anyway, this volume picks up shortly after the holiday break is over, and we’re shown exactly why that’s an odd time to be in Ohio from somebody who went from a refugee camp to a few years in London. We see a bit more of the camp too, including more detail about how Fartun’s mother died and her reaction at the time. There’s a constant background tension around her brother and father; guess I’ll find out in the next volume whether it gets resolved or if it’s just a part of trying to fit into a foreign (and often hostile) culture. This volume spends a lot of time on slam poetry, so if you’re as unfamiliar with it as I was you’re going to learn a few new things here. We also see some of the more overt racism so far, as Fartun is forced to participate with another school because her bully told everybody to boycott the team if she (Fartun) was on it. It’s a fascinating subculture, with a lot more rules that I would have guessed. Oh, and there’s also a bit of Somali mythology, as she tells her friend Bea the story of Dhegdheer, essentially a monster that was used to keep children from wandering off but with a tragic backstory. There are at least a few actual poems included from the time depicted (still in 2005), which was a nice touch, and it showed that she had some serious poetry skills right off the bat. It looks like the series concludes in the next volume (so much for my theory for their being a book for each of the four seasons), and these are some hefty books that are currently going for $10 each on Amazon. Or maybe a package deal if you’re lucky enough to run into Terry at a con…

Eisele, Terry & Bowman, Brent – Far Tune: Autumn


Far Tune: Autumn

If you’re wondering why a book would be called “Far Tune,” Terry and Brent don’t leave you in suspense for long. This book (and this series of books, I believe the plan is for one covering each season) is about a young Somali girl named Fartun, and “far tune” is how she helps out people who are confused as to the possible pronunciation of her name. Seems obvious to me from the spelling, but never underestimate the willful ignorance of Americans. This starts off with Fartun and her family (father, mother and brother) in a refugee camp in Kenya. Things aren’t great, obviously, but the people there are living as best they can. We flash forward a bit to 2005 with the family living in a rough looking apartment building in Columbus Ohio. Bit by bit we get pieces of Fartun’s life at the time, including her family dynamic (her mother had sadly passed away at the refugee camp, leaving just the three of them), her awkwardness with her two Somali friends (later revealed to be because she hadn’t clued them in as to where she was going to school for ninth grade), and of starting at a new school. This takes up a significant chunk of the book, but Fartun was lucky enough to find a friend very quickly, so she was able to settle in, or at least pick up a routine. This a roundabout way of me saying that the story surprised me at several turns, as I was afraid this would be a tale of bullying or having to compromise to fit in, but no, Fartun was remarkably self-assured at that age, while of course still being aware of the potential for problems all around her. I was also worrying about overt racism being inescapable, what with the time frame and all (9/11 cast a long shadow against anybody who was brown, kids who weren’t old enough to notice at the time), but while it does pop up here and there, overall this is just the story of Fartun living her life, trying to fit in her daily prayers and dealing with her family/school/work dynamic. Terry (the writer) said at CXC that he got to know Fartun later while he was teaching, and I’m hoping he gets into that in one of these volumes because it seems like there’s a story to be told there too. It’s a solid first book of the series, as I’m very tempted to just tear through the series so far (yes, of course I bought all three books that were available; after “With Only Five Plums” I’m thoroughly on board for whatever project Terry is working on). Give it a shot, there’s a lot to like here. $10 (although if you’re lucky he might be willing to do a package deal for a few volumes)

Eisele, Terry & Riddle, Jonathon – With Only Five Plums Book 3: Life in the East is Worthless



With Only Five Plums Book 3: Life in the East is Worthless

I’m just going to go ahead and assume that you’re already read the first two volumes of this series, as it would be silly for you to read a review of the final volume otherwise. This third volume begins with Anna finally getting back to her home village, where she discovers that it has been completely removed from the map. The Germans didn’t just destroy the buildings and kill the people, they also rerouted rivers, smoothed down hills and generally did everything they could to remove any trace of her old village. Terry and Jonathon do a heartbreaking job of showing how this process was completed based on accounts after the fact, but the Germans also taped everything (this information was used at the Nuremburg trials). This would have been the most heartbreaking thing in any other story, but at this point we still aren’t clear on what has happened to all of the people from this town, especially Anna’s family. This is all revealed, with the men being separated from their families and killed and the children being separated and sent away (and told cruel lies about being reunited with their families). Some of the children were sent to German families and adopted, and in one of the only uplifting parts of this story we learn that most of these children were eventually recovered and returned to their surviving family members. But the ones that didn’t survive, the ones that weren’t adopted… that’s a brutal tale. It’s only human nature to want a happy ending out of an unimaginable atrocity like this, for at least something good to happen to Anna after everything she’s been through, but her story of what happened to her family took any hope for that away. Still, this series should be required reading, and I’m hoping it ends up being taught in classrooms. If you think that humanity as a species couldn’t possibly do something like this again and we should stop remembering this horrible time, look at the state of world affairs. It’s easier than ever to think of different people as “other,” as not really people at all but just numbers, and this will only increase as global warming really kicks in and resources get scarcer. Without some preparation for this likelihood I’m afraid that we’ll be back at a similar juncture in human history sooner than anybody thinks. Sorry to get all grim on you, and I’m hoping that I’m just being unduly cynical, but either way you should give this series of graphic novels a chance. It’s vitally important that we’re not allowed to forget what happened. $9


Eisele, Terry & Riddle, Jonathon – With Only Five Plums Book 2: This Dark Age



With Only Five Plums Book 2: This Dark Age

This is the second of three volumes, so you might want to at least read the review for the first volume before reading this. Or, ideally, read the actual first volume. Anyway, this time around Anna tells the tale of her life immediately after getting separated from her baby, completely unsure about what has happened to the rest of her family. She mentions that she probably wouldn’t have had the strength to go on if she had known what happened to them at this point, so I can once again assume that it’s not going to end well for them. She talks about the experience on the train, packed in like cattle and unsure of where they were going and what would happen to them when they got there, and of how the older women would sometimes tell stories to pass the time. They eventually get to the concentration camp of Ravensbruck, and she again goes into excruciating detail as to what happened to her when she arrived. This volume actually tells most of the story of the war, as we see her trying to survive her three years in this camp, the various sections of the camp and how people would change when (or if) they came back from them, and her eventual march to an unknown location and fate. There’s even her moment at the end when a decent fictional story would have the heart to end on a happy note… but this, by and large, is not fictional. I still have the third volume yet to go, which contains the details of what happened to Anna’s tiny home town and her family, but I’m going to have to wait a few weeks to work up the nerve to go back into this world. No matter how many times I see them it’s always profoundly depressing to read the details of this era, as it’s unpleasant to think about just how close to savagery humanity is at any given moment and how little it takes to push us over that edge. Not that I’m saying that everybody would have behaved like the Germans in WWII, but there have been more than enough other atrocities committed in the years since that’s it’s clearly not that big of a leap for humans to make. Terry Eisele and Jonathan Riddle do a remarkable job of telling this story, as they’re perfectly content to let Anna’s words speak for themselves while still painting an uncomfortably vivid picture of exactly what she went through. This deserves to be seen by as many people as possible, so please give it a look. $10


Eisele, Terry & Riddle, Jonathon – With Only Five Plums Book 1: The Time Before



With Only Five Plums Book 1: The Time Before

What a haunting and riveting story this is, even though this is only the first of three books. There were all sorts of horrors going on during World War II, and this is the tale of Anna Nesporova and her life in the small Czech town of Lidice. Jonathon spends an admirable amount of time setting up Anna and her family as people, as it would have been easy to jump right into the more heartbreaking elements of the story. Actually, that’s not completely accurate, as getting to know that Anna still remembers the way her brother’s smile ticked up at one corner of his mouth more than 60 years later is pretty much the definition of heartbreaking. But we briefly see Anna grow up and get a good idea of her life in general before things start falling apart. An assassination attempt was made on an important German officer in charge of keeping the peace in Lidice and it was suspected that Anna’s brother (who had left them two years earlier in the hopes of sparing them this kind of attention) was involved. The Germans decided to make an example out of her family, but Anna managed to survive due to her pregnancy. I know that things are going to get grim but nothing is really known about what happened to her family or baby at this point, although I know enough about the history to know that it wasn’t anything good. Jonathon made the choice to let this breathe as a story told by Anna, so there are very few word balloons and a few times when he briefly pops into the story to try to get more details out of Anna or to ask her if she’d like to take a break. It’s impossible to avoid comparison to Maus when you’re talking about a comic set in World War II, and in the early stages I’d say that this has the potential to be as important as that. Who knows how people will actually receive it, but this is a story that needs to be told, especially as things get worse in Europe again. The recent anti-gay marriage marches have shown that homophobia and racism are right there under the surface, and it needs to be made clear to this generation that something like this could happen again, sadly enough. Humanity never seems to learn. On that cheery note, give this comic a shot. I think this is self-published and it deserves a wider audience. Oh, and I didn’t make it clear in the review, so I should mention that this is all based on conversations with Anna, but that some things are fictional, or events that happened at the time but not necessarily to Anna. $10