Panel Mania: ‘Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics’

There’s a reason why Jack Kirby, co-creator of such iconic comics characters as the Fantastic Four, Black Panther, and Captain America, is called the “King of Comics.” One of the great innovators in the history of American comics, Kirby (1917-1994) is arguably the greatest superhero comic book artist of all time.

In the new graphic biography, Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics, comics artist and biographer Tom Scioli pays tribute to Kirby in a vividly illustrated and comprehensively researched examination of Kirby’s life and career, from his rough-and-tumble childhood on the Lower East Side of New York to his military service during World War II to the transformative comics he created for Marvel and later for DC.

In this 11-page excerpt, Scioli depicts Kirby’s early life on the Lower East Side and his early interest in becoming a cartoonist and comic book artist.

Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics by Tom Scioli will be published in July by Ten Speed Press.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

Panel Mania: ‘Stuck Rubber Baby’

Originally published in 1995 by DC, the late Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby is a pioneering graphic novel that explores politics, race, sex, and identity in the African-American and LGBTQ communities in the Jim Crow south.

In July, First Second Books will publish a new edition to mark the book’s 25th anniversary featuring rare phots, archival material, and an introduction by Alison Bechdel. Set in the fictional town of Clayfield, a stand-in for Birmingham, Ala., where Cruse went to college, Stuck Rubber Baby is the story of Toland Polk, a closeted young white gay man struggling to understand his sexuality in a town that is as viciously homophobic as it is brutally racist.

The book is partially based on Cruse’s experiences growing up in the 1950s and ’60s south, and is notable for its portrayal of Polk’s close relationships with members of the black community—queer and straight—during some of the most dangerous years of the Civil Rights Movement.

In this nine-page excerpt, Polk and his friends plan a visit to the Melody Motel, a secret meeting point for socializing (and political organizing) among local integrationist whites and blacks, as well as local straight and queer communities.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

‘Between Everything and Nothing’: Featured Nonfiction from Joe Meno

In today’s installment of featured nonfiction—curated by none other than our own Carolyn Quimby—we present an excerpt from Joe Meno’s Between Everything and Nothing: The Journey of Seidu Mohammed and Razak Iyal and the Quest for Asylum.

The book, which follows two Ghanaian refugees, 24-year-old Seidu Mohammed and 32-year-old Razak Iyal, in their quest for political asylum, received a starred review from Kirkus, which called the book and “Ambitious exposé of the troubled immigration system” and “A well-paced and engaging account, highly relevant…”

Month after month went by at the Eloy detention facility with Razak wondering when he would finally face the immigration judge and be freed. After the attempt on his life by thugs hired by a corrupt member of parliament and his half-siblings, he had fled Ghana for Brazil, had crossed border after border on foot and by bus, and survived being robbed of his birth certificate, passport, and other documents. But nothing prepared him for this endless waiting.

Finally, after eight months of detention, Razak stood at his third hearing before the same judge who, having reviewed Razak’s documents, stated he needed to see evidence of the threats against Razak’s life before he was able to make a ruling. “Please prepare any and all evidence that you have,” the judge ordered. 

Razak felt despondent and decided to speak directly to the judge in English. “I can’t make long-distance calls back home. The calling cards only give you two minutes. I can’t use the internet. What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to get evidence?” 

“I understand your concerns but I need proof that what you claim in these documents actually happened. If you get me the proof, then we can figure out how to proceed. You have one month to show me some kind of evidence.” 

After the hearing, Razak tried to contact the immigration lawyer he had spoken with but got no response. He spoke with other detainees; all of them were facing the same impossibility. None of them had any answer on how to attain evidence while being held inside a detainment facility. 

Because there was no newspaper article or specific police report documenting Razak’s assault, because he could not materialize demonstrable proof of the corruption of the local police and the involvement of the member of parliament in his family’s inheritance of land, he had no way to proceed. If he had been given access to the internet, there would have been a trove of newspaper articles about Parliament Member Mustapha’s predilection for corruption, and criticism by members of his own political party.

If he had been allowed long-distance phone calls back to Africa, he could have gathered testimonies from witnesses—his mother and aunt and fiancee Cynthia or the local Islamic elders. He could have asked for their help in gathering documentation from Accra, such as his hospital records.

But without any basic privileges and lacking the support of an attorney, Razak could see no way to supply evidence for his claim.

By then he had only two weeks left before meeting with the judge again. He called his uncle Malik in New York and explained the situation.

“Would you be willing to write a letter on my behalf?”

As it turned out, Malik had gone back to Ghana in 2014 and spent three weeks there. During that time Malik learned what had occurred between Razak and his half-siblings.

His uncle agreed to write a letter explaining the complications of Razak’s case, arguing that if Razak was sent back to Ghana his life would be in danger. He then had it notarized and mailed it on to Razak in Arizona. Razak had the letter sent to the judge. In the meantime, Razak’s uncle had contacted Razak’s mother, who wrote a letter of her own, describing what happened, which was sent to the judge as well.

During his fifth and final hearing on August 1, 2014, nearly one year after arriving in the United States, Razak stood before the immigration judge and was deeply disturbed to hear his asylum had been denied. 

“You have failed to produce any necessary evidence.”

“But my uncle sent a letter explaining everything.”

“All you’d been able to show are letters from your relatives. We need actual evidence to decide your case. I’m sorry, but there’s just not enough evidence to continue. You don’t have an attorney, so we’re going to have to deny your case.”

One year after presenting himself at the border, after one year of being incarcerated, the judge formally denied Razak’s asylum plea. Razak was furious.

“How can you keep me here for one year and then deny my case? You want to send me back home? Why didn’t you send me back home from the beginning? You let me waste my life here for one year!”

The judge slowly removed his glasses and looked over at him. “Would you like to appeal my decision?”

“How long does the appeal take?”

“It’s nine months before a decision is reached. But you’d have to stay here during that time.”

Razak did not need to think about it for a single second. “No.”

“If you say no, then you will be deported back to Ghana. The deportation order will be final.”

Razak lowered his head and with a deep sense of grief and frustration, said, “I understand.”

The judge put his glasses back on and said, “We will send all the necessary documents on to your deportation officer.”

Razak was led back to his unit, where the walls themselves seem to crumble beneath the wave of anger he was feeling.

One week later, Razak’s asylum officer appeared with a number of documents for him to sign. Razak looked over the paperwork and said, “I’m not going to sign anything.”

“If you don’t sign, they’re going to keep you here a long time. You better sign it, then we can go from there.” 

“If I don’t sign it, how long will I be here?”

“I don’t know. A long time.”

Razak eventually conceded and signed the papers, accepting the ruling of the immigration judge, giving up his right for appeal. His bond was also immediately canceled.

“We’re going to send all of these documents to the Ghanaian consulate in D.C. It’ll take a few weeks. We’ll see what the consulate says.”

One month later, at the beginning of September 2014, Razak was called in by ICE officers for an interview with his consulate on the phone. On the telephone, a woman at the embassy asked Razak several questions first in English, then in Twi, an Akan dialect spoken in Ghana.

How are they treating you over there?

I’m doing okay.

Did you get an attorney?

No.

What did you have when you came into the United States? Your birth certificate? Your passport? Your ID from Ghana?

No, all of that was stolen from me in Mexico.

What do you have to prove you’re from Ghana?

I was born in Rich hospital in Accra.

Anybody can say that.

I grew up in Ghana, I went to school at Kanda Estate.

Okay, I can check on that. You’ll hear from us. Can I please talk to the officer?

Razak handed the phone back to the ICE officer and listened carefully to the officer’s responses. The Ghanaian embassy needed to verify Razak’s identity in order to issue travel documents. Without the travel documents, the U.S. could not deport him. But Razak had no faith in either institution. From the officer’s expressions, there was no way to know how much longer he would be detained.

By then something had shifted. Razak’s frustration at having lost his asylum case turned to a disquieting sense of disbelief. Although his plea had been denied months before, he was still unable to be released. His dream of staying in the U.S. was now superseded by the much more pressing reality of needing to escape the detention facility, of returning to some version of life, even if it meant facing a grave, mortal threat from his siblings and the unfair political system back home.

But there was no end in sight, no sign of reprieve, only more days, pacing the halls at Eloy.

One day Razak spoke with his asylum officer who—also frustrated by the lack of response from the Ghanaian embassy in Washington D.C.—asked Razak to write a letter to the Ghanian consulates in D.C., New York City, and Houston, in order to verify his identity so that he could be released. Razak wrote three letters, knowing that by doing so, he would be deported and returned to a corrupt political system and the certain danger he had already faced back home. 

In his cell, Razak came to the conclusion that he let everyone down, his fiancée, his mother, his family, that he had been removed from them for so long. He had been unable to start a new life in a new country, could not find a way to support them, or even hear their voice. It would be better to face whatever he had too face in Ghana than to go on, separated from them, detained at Eloy for another year, another month, another day.

One of his back teeth began to hurt a few weeks later. A medical staffer inspected Razak’s tooth and decided it would have to be pulled. In order to receive proper dental care, he would have to be sent out of the detention facility to a county hospital nearby.

In the morning an ICE officer called his name and brought him to a separate room, where they instructed him to put on an orange jumpsuit—the uniform convicted criminals wore in the facility.

“Why do I have to put this on?”

“We’re taking you out of the prison.”

“But I already have my green uniform.”

“Listen, I’m just doing my job. Just do what I ask you to do.”

“I’m not going to wear that.”

“If you don’t put it on, you’re not going to the hospital.”

Razak stared at the jumpsuit again and said, “Then I’m not going.” The ICE officer nodded grimly and then brought Razak back to his unit.

Later that same day, another ICE officer found Razak and told him the van had arrived to take him to the medical facility.

“The van is here. You need to put on that uniform.”

“Why are you making me wear that uniform? Why do you want people to look at me like I’m some kind of criminal?”

“No, you’re going right to the hospital. You’re not walking around the city.”

The pain in his tooth was unrelenting. He looked at the uniform and, against his better judgment, put it on. Once he was dressed, the officers bound him in chains, handcuffing his wrists to his waist and putting manacles on his ankles. It was worse than he had imagined. It took three officers to lead Razak into the modest county hospital. Two of the officers carried rifles. Razak entered the waiting room, having difficulty walking with the chains about his ankles. Everyone looked up and began to gawk—adults, children, the elderly—while some moved away, a look of pure terror crossing their face. Deeply ashamed, Razak lowered his head, afraid to make eye contact with anyone.

In the dentist’s examination room, Razak was led to a reclining seat. The officers waited uncomfortably in chairs like exhausted parents. Finally the dentist appeared, looked at Razak, and asked, “Who are you?”

“I’m from Ghana. I’m here for asylum.”

“And how are you finding our country?”

Razak frowned and the officers gave the dentist a look of discouragement. Even here, in this small, unseen place, in this most common and mundane of human moments, he would not be allowed to be treated like a person, to engage in a basic, civil conversation. The dentist began his examination and eventually concurred that Razak’s tooth would need to be removed.

The dentist turned to one of the officers and asked, “I need to remove this man’s tooth. Can you unlock his handcuffs please?”

The officer glanced at his partner and then shook his head. “I’m sorry. That’s against protocol.”

“Really?” the dentist asked.

“I’m sorry,” the officer responded. 

Razak shook his head.

The tooth would have to come out with Razak bound in the chair like a victim of some outdated torture.

Later, after the procedure, Razak asked to use the bathroom. One of the ICE officers escorted him to the lavatory.

One day at the library, Razak met another asylum seeker who asked how long he had been detained.

“For more than a year and a half.”

“You’re here for asylum?”

“Yes.”

The other man studied him for a moment and said, “You know, there’s an organization called the Florence Project. They help refugees get released.”

“How can I talk to them?”

“I have a number and address. I can give them to you.”

The man opened his bag and gave the phone number and an address with a name. Benjamin Harville. “Write to Benjamin or call him. Here.” Reaching into his bag again, the other man produced a stamp—which at the moment seemed like a small, magical thing—and handed it to Razak.

Razak wrote furiously, explaining his case and how he had been in detention for more than a year. He sent it to the Florence Project, a not-for-profit agency that provided legal aid and social services for detained migrants throughout Arizona. After a week, he received a response saying someone from the organization was planning to come to visit him on December 15, 2014.

Benjamin Harville, a tall young man in his early thirties who was a staff attorney for the Florence Project, arrived with a legal assistant and asked to look over Razak’s documents. Benjamin went through his asylum application, looked over his other paperwork, and then asked, “Do you know that they’ve violated your rights?”

“No.”

“The Department of Homeland Security has violated your rights.”

“How did they do that?”

“If you lose your asylum case, they have three months to coordinate with your embassy to deport you. If they are unable to produce the necessary documents, they have another three months to comply or they have to release you. But they’re still keeping you here.”

Razak sat at the table, stunned. He felt a jolt of shock and relief overcome him. 

“You know what, Razak? We’re going to write a letter to the District Court of Arizona. We’re going to send a copy to you. We’re going to send one to the warden, and we’re going to send a copy to your deportation officer. These people are violating your rights. Do you understand?”

Razak nodded.

“It might take a week or two, but we’re going to file these documents and send it to you.”

“No problem. I can wait.”

“Usually you have to pay to submit these documents to the court, but we’re going to pay it for you. We’ll send you the receipt that it’s been paid.”

One year and nine months after first being detained at Eloy, Razak received a receipt saying the letter had been received by the District Court of Arizona, along with a copy of the petition. The petition challenged Jon Gurule, the warden of the Eloy facility, for Razak’s immediate release based on the U.S. Supreme Court case Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678 (2001), which successfully argued that aliens with a final order of removal could not be detained beyond a 180-day period unless the alien’s removal was significantly likely to occur in the foreseeable future.

One week after that, the court replied, asking Razak’s asylum officer why he was still being detained, and giving ICE twenty days to comply with his release.

The asylum officer approached Razak in his cell, asking, “What are you trying to do? Are you trying to mess with my job?”

“Why are you keeping me here?”

“You should have talked to me before you went to them,” the officer complained.

“Why do I have to talk to you? I did everything you asked me to do. Now I’m doing everything I can to get out of here.”

The warden of Eloy invited Razak into his office. Uneasily, Razak he sat down across from the desk as the warden announced, “The court has already issued its response, so you have to be patient. They’re working to get you released.”

“I want to go back. I’d rather go back to Ghana then be here any longer.”

Days later Razak found out that Fred, who was also from Ghana and who had also lost his asylum plea, had written to the District Court of Arizona and had successfully petitioned for his release. 

A few weeks later, Razak was sitting in the common room watching the news when a correction officer named Peterson told him he had a visitor. 

“It’s someone from USCIS. Good luck.”

“Thank you.”

Razak was led to a small conference room and immediately saw a different asylum officer. A tall African American man sat across from him and smiled. “Razak. You’re going to be released.”

“Released to where? Am I being sent back home or somewhere else?”

“You’re going to New York.”

Tears welled up in Razak’s eyes and creased his cheeks.

“I’m sorry. I know you’ve been here a long time, but it was part of the process.”

Razak was too stunned to speak.

“You know where I’m from?” the officer asked. “I’m from New York. I see your uncle’s address here. He’s close to Yankee Stadium. That’s where I grew up. When you get there, there’s a lot of bad guys, troublemakers, make sure you don’t get mixed up with them.”

On the way back to the unit, a female correctional officer who worked near the visitation area stopped him to say, “I know you’re a good guy. You’ve never gotten in trouble with anybody. They kept you here a long time. I’m so sorry for that.”

Razak stopped, nodded, then kept walking.

Although he had lost his asylum plea, the Department of Homeland Security was legally obligated to release Razak while the U.S. government continued its deportation proceedings. It was a complicated victory, knowing he would be freed from Eloy but could be sent back to Ghana at any moment. 

Immigration officers contacted Razak’s uncle in New York, asking if he would provide money for a bus ticket across the country. Malik had no idea his nephew was still in the United States: he thought he had already been deported.

“Can I talk to him, please?” his uncle asked the immigration officer.

Razak took the phone and listened.

“Razak, is that really you? I thought they had deported you. I haven’t heard from you. Is it really you?”

“It’s me. They released me today. They want to know if you’d be willing to buy me a bus ticket to New York. I’m so sorry to call you like this.”

“Of course, don’t be sorry,” his uncle said. “Ask them what I need to do.”

The ICE officer helped Razak’s uncle send a wire through Western Union for the bus ticket.

Razak’s uncle also spoke with Razak’s friend from Ghana, Munil, who then contacted his fiancée Cynthia back in Accra and gave her the news.

On May 6, 2015, Razak was freed from the Eloy detention facility. Before his release, he signed an Order of Supervision, agreeing to report in person to the DHS/ICE field office in New York City. He also agreed that he would assist ICE in obtaining any necessary travel documents and that he would not leave New York for more than forty-eight hours without first contacting ICE. Once he had signed his release papers, once he was finally able to remove the khaki jumpsuit, he told himself he would not allow anyone to put him through anything like that again. No imprisonment, no shackles. Never.

It would be a two-and-a-half-day bus ride from Phoenix to New York. ICE officers returned Razak’s meager belongings to him, some clothes, his diary, and his portable Koran, but he had no other documents, nothing but his asylum applications and release papers. Officers brought Razak along with a few other men who had been released to the bus station. He took his seat in the middle of the bus and waited for the sound of the door closing. He could not believe he was finally free. A cold sense of disquiet set in. Once the bus pulled away, he stared out at the passing terrain, feeling as uncertain and as lost as ever.

Published June 2020 by Counterpoint Press. Copyright © 2020 Joe Meno. All rights reserved.

Panel Mania: ‘Weathering with You’

Acclaimed director Makoto Shinkai not only directed the Weathering with You anime released in 2019—he also wrote the novelization published in the U.S. and the forthcoming manga adaptation.
It’s the story of Hodaka, a teenage boy who runs away from his small island home to the big city of Tokyo during a time when it seems to never stop raining. In Tokyo he meets Hina, a young woman who appears to have a mysterious power to affect the weather—indeed he discovers she can stop the incessant rain and bring out the sun.
In this 10-page excerpt from the manga, Hodaka is onboard a ship heading to Tokyo when a storm begins to form ominously in the sky, taking a mythological shape before showering the ship with a powerful, drenching rain that nearly sweeps him overboard.
Weathering with You Vol.1 by Makoto Shinkai with art by Wataru Kobuta will be published by Kodansha in June. The excerpt is presented in a vertical scroll with the first few pages in color. Remember that manga reads from right to left on the page and within each panel.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

Panel Mania: ‘Cuisine Chinoise’

A rising star in China, cartoonist Zao Dao makes her North American debut with Cuisine Chinoise: Tales of Food and Life, a delightful collection of food-themed short stories inspired by Chinese folklore and filled with monsters, demons, unusual heroes, and sumptuous dishes created with unlikely—and sometimes disgusting—magical ingredients.
Dao’s drawings offer great variety, alternating between lively comic caricatures, richly illustrated street scenes, and moody vignettes full of magic and fantasy.
In this 11-page excerpt from the story Hai Zi, a highly creative young chef—who is despondent because patrons have abandoned his restaurant’s unusual fare and because his father is gravely ill—is thrilled when two mysterious and hungry visitors arrive at his door.
Cuisine Chinoise: Tales of Food and Life will be published by Dark Horse in June.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

‘A Children’s Bible’: Featured Fiction from Lydia Millet

In our latest edition of featured fiction—curated by our own Carolyn Quimby—we’re excited to present an excerpt from A Children’s Bible by Pulitzer Prize finalist Lydia Millet, out today from Norton.

Kirkus called the novel—about a group of friends and their reunion gone wrong at a summer house—”A bleak and righteously angry tale determined to challenge our rationalizations about climate change.” And The New York Times Book Review hailed the title, saying, “This superb novel begins as a generational comedy…and turns steadily darker, as climate collapse and societal breakdown encroach. But Millet’s light touch never falters; in this time of great upheaval, she implies, our foundational myths take on new meaning and hope.”

Days passed slowly. It was a season of no storms and little rain. By the calendar it wasn’t fall yet, but somehow it wasn’t summer anymore either. Summer had been another time, when we had a great house to go back to, a shining lake, and the blue ocean.

In the mornings we took care of the donkeys and goats and helped Mattie in the vegetable garden. We made lunch in rotation. As afternoon wore on, we washed dirty clothes in the cottage sink and hung them out to dry. We scrubbed ourselves down with cold water, shared toothbrushes until they fell apart, and used small dabs of toothpaste. Those of us with periods had to cut a single sponge into pieces. We boiled the pieces on the stove to sterilize them.

The angels refueled the generator with gas from the silo. They liked to patrol the woods. We took turns cooking dinner with Darla and the angel named John, who’d been a sous-​chef once. After dinner Sukey would take the baby to her mother’s grave and give her a bottle and rock her to sleep. She was building a cairn at the grave with rocks from the stream, a couple more every day.

We mostly kept the lights off in the cottage, to save power and maintain a low profile. A few nights Rafe made fires outside, but we rationed them for safety. We’d gather close around the fire while the angels tried to teach us their hippie songs.

Darla said singing was good for your health.

“It’s like smiling,” she said. “The more you do it, the more you want to!”

Juicy spat.

They taught us a famous, sad song that went “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again,” and a cheerful one called “Spirit in the Sky” that Jack liked because it talked about Jesus, his imaginary friend. The rest of us were OK with it because the angels said it was ironic. Written by a Jew from Massachusetts.

“Never been a sinner, I never sinned,” we sang, off-​key as the karaoke version played on our puck-​shaped speaker. “I got a friend in Jee-​sus.”

Sometimes we yelled it, almost defiantly: “Never been a sinner! I never sinned!”

A photo came by text, onto Rafe’s phone from David’s. A view of the library in the great house. Chairs and tables and sofas had been pushed to the sides of the room, against the tall bookshelves, and a row of mattresses had replaced them.

On the mattresses lay parents, and beside them David and Dee and Low. Zooming in, we could see thin red lines running between the arms of young and old. Graceful loops of tubing.

It reminded me of a news story I’d read, with photos, about a pharma­ceutical lab. In it were hundreds of horseshoe crabs whose blood was being harvested for medical testing. The machines siphoned off enough blood that the crabs didn’t die but lived to be harvested again and again.

The company called it blood farming.

Beside me, Jack stared at the image as I zoomed. In the back, small and blurry, was the fireplace, and above it a painting of hunters with their hounds.

He touched the tip of his finger to the screen, moved it along a red loop of tube from David to David’s mother. Tracing the swoops.

“He’s going back where he came from,” he said.

Jack and Shel were at a crucial moment in their “childhood journey,” according to Darla. The time away from school and other kids their age could be “inhibiting their social and educational development.”

She had an idea. “Our very own prairie school!” she cried, clapping her hands in delight. We cringed.

They could take classes: biology taught by Mattie, history taught by John, and poetry taught by her.

“The angels don’t have enough to do,” said Terry, when we conferred about it. “Could get antsy. Even destructive.”

“Idle hands do the devil’s work,” said Rafe.

So we said yes. They could “teach” the little boys, if they wanted. We thanked them for their interest.

Sometimes I’d sit in a parked car, motionless. I’d remember factories. I’d seen them onscreen in a hundred variations and always had the sense of them out there, churning, whirring, infinite moving pieces. Making the stuff we used.

Now I wondered if they were still busy, manufacturing. Or were shuttered and dark. Were other factories in other places doing the work they used to do? Or were certain components no longer made at all?

I let my eyes rest on a dashboard, its vinyl surfaces, the dust on the curves. I wondered what was behind the plastic and what parts of it were already obsolete.

My phone had ceased to interest me since the news started repeating, bringing a wash of grimness whenever I looked. I solved the problem by ignoring it.

The others abandoned theirs too—​days would pass between updates. Rafe and David texted a check-​in at night, just: OK? out. And OK back.

For a while that was it.

Before the storm we’d caught sight of the parents’ screens sometimes, snagged their devices when we needed a quick fix. Gotten flashes of TV through a doorway. But these days we mostly had what was in front of us, the cottage and barn and long grass in the fields. Long and short, tussocks and bare patches. Topography. We had the wood of the walls and fences, the metal of the parked cars with their near-​empty gas tanks.

We had the corners of buildings and the slope of the hills, the line of the treetops. The more time passed, the more any flat image began to seem odd and less than real. Uncanny delicate surfaces. Had we always had them?

We’d had so many pictures. Pictures just everywhere, every hour, minute, or second.

But now they were foreign. Now we saw everything in three dimensions.

From A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet (W.W. Norton, 2020). Copyright © 2020 by Lydia Millet. Published with permission of W.W. Norton. All rights reserved.

Bonus Links from Our Archive:
A Year in Reading 2014: Lydia Millet
A Year in Reading 2012: Lydia Millet
A Year in Reading 2007: Lydia Millet

Panel Mania: ‘Giant’ by Mikaël

Set in 1930s Depression-era New York City, Giant by Mikaël follows the story of a massive, laconic Irish immigrant (who harbors a deep secret) as he works high above Manhattan on the construction site of Rockefeller Center.
When one of his fellow Irish steel workers falls to his death from high atop the fast-rising tower, Giant is tasked by the union with informing the victim’s wife back in Ireland of her husband’s death. Instead he writes the wife pretending to be her husband, lying to her about his life in New York and sending whatever money he can to her.
In this 10-page excerpt, Mikaël renders the vibrant rough streets, colorful characters, and desperate poverty of 1930s New York City, while Giant exchanges letters with the unsuspecting young widow as she dreams of reuniting with her husband. Giant will be published in May by NBM.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

Panel Mania: ‘Poems to See By’

Published to mark the celebration of National Poetry Month, Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry by Julian Peters offers a series of delightful, often moving visual recreations of classic poems using a variety of visual styles.
Among the poets whose works are recreated in this book are Maya Angelou, W.H. Auden, Tess Gallagher, Langston Hughes, Carl Sandburg, W.B. Yeats, and others.
In this 10-page excerpt, Peters offers a five-page black and white version of Seamus Heaney’s “The Given Note,” and a five-page full-color version of Dylan Thomas’s “The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower.”

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

‘Starling Days’: Featured Fiction from Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

In today’s edition of featured fiction—curated by our own Carolyn Quimby—we present an excerpt from Starling Days by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, out today from The Overlook Press.

Publishers Weekly called the book a “bleak and eloquent novel,” adding that “Readers willing to brave the darkness will find a worthy, nuanced portrait of a woman’s struggle for self-determination amid mental illness.” And, in its starred review, Kirkus called the novel “Poetic and understated…Complex and resonant.”

Chapter 1

August

She wasn’t expecting the bridge to shudder. It was too big for trembling. Cars hissed from New York to New Jersey over its wide back. That August had been hot, 96° Fahrenheit hot. Heat softened the dollar bills and clung to the quarters and dimes that passed from sticky hand to sticky hand.

It was night and the air had cooled but humidity still hung in a red fog in Mina’s lungs. Wind galloped over the Hudson, pummeling the city with airy hooves. The bridge shifted, the pylons swayed, and Mina closed her eyes to better feel her bones judder. Even her teeth shook. The day’s sweat shivered between her bare shoulder blades. The tank top felt too thin, and the down on her arms rose. She took a step forward along the bridge. The tender spots between her big and index toes were sore from too many days in flip-flops. She took the sandals off. They swung from her fingers as she walked. Under her feet, the rough cement was warm. She wondered about the people driving their shadowy cars. Were they leaving over-air-conditioned offices, or bars cooled by the thwack of ceiling fans? Were they going home to empty condos, or daughters tucked under dinosaur quilts?

The bridge was decked out in blue lights, like a Christmas tree, like those monochrome ones shopping malls put up. Still, it was beautiful. Mina readied her phone to take a picture. She watched the granulated night appear onscreen. Perhaps her hands wobbled, because the photo was a blur. It was nothing she could send Oscar. But she wasn’t sure it was a good idea to send him pictures. Not tonight.

She stopped in the middle of the bridge. Hello, Manhattan. Downriver, apartment blocks spiked upwards. She couldn’t see Queens and the walk-up apartment building she’d grown up inside. Nor could she see the Park Slope apartment, in which Oscar was working late. He’d have a mug on his desk, the coffee gone cold hours ago. The photo of her would be propped up behind his computer. The sparkly stress ball she’d bought him years ago as a joke gift would rest at his wrist. Every hour or so he’d roll it between his palms. When he was working, he didn’t notice time. She was sure he wouldn’t yet be worried. She’d said she was meeting some friends after the tutoring gig. He didn’t know she’d texted the group that she was feeling unwell and would miss movie night. He wouldn’t expect her for at least two hours. No one was expecting her. She was unwitnessed. She lifted her face to the breeze.

The river was as dark as poured tarmac. They said that when a body fell onto water from this height, it was like hitting the sidewalk. The Golden Gate had nets to stop jumpers. She imagined the feeling of a rope cutting into arms and legs. Your body would flop, like a fish. How long did they have to lie there before someone scooped them out? There was nothing like that here. People said that drowning was a good death, that the tiny alveoli of the lungs filled like a thousand water balloons.

She lifted one purple flip-flop and dropped it over the water. She didn’t hear it hit. The shape simply vanished into the black shadow.

That was when the lights got brighter and the voice, male and certain, lobbed into her ears. 

“Ma’am, step away from the rail.”

The police car’s lights flashed blue and white and red. Once she’d had an ice-pop those colors and the sugary water had pooled behind her teeth.

“Ma’am, step away from the rail.”

“Good evening, Officer. Have I done something wrong?” Mina asked.

“Please get into the car,” he said. There were two of them. The other was younger and he was speaking into a radio. It was hard to make out his words over the wind and traffic. Was he talking about her?

“This is a public walkway,” Mina said. “It was open. I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Ma’am, get into the car.”

“I don’t want to get into the car. Look, I was just getting some air. I was thinking. I’ll go home now.”

“Ma’am, don’t make me come over there.”

Mina had never been in a police car. She’d read once that the back doors only open from the outside. Who knew what would happen if she got into the car?

The window was rolled down and the cop stuck his head out.

There was a lump on his upper lip, a pimple perhaps. “Where are your shoes?”

“It’s hot out,” she said. “Where are your shoes?”

“I don’t want to tell you about my shoes,” she said. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m an American citizen.”

“Ma’am, where are your shoes?”

She lifted up the single flip-flop she had left. “The other one broke,” she said.

Behind him, other cars continued into the night. Did they even notice her standing in the dark, a small woman with bare legs and feet? She was aware of the bluing bruise she’d caught banging her knee on the subway door. In the shower that morning, she’d skipped shaving her legs. In the beam of his headlamps, could he see hairs standing up in splinters?

“Ma’am, I really need you to get into the car. I can’t leave you here. What if something happened to you?” In his voice, she heard the insinuation that normal women, innocent women, didn’t walk alone on bridges at night.

“I’m fine,” she said.

Mina knew her stubby ponytail was frizzy. Bleaching black to Marilyn Monroe–blonde had taken four rounds of peroxide. Now it stood up in breaking strands. If she’d conditioned it, would this cop think she was sane? If she’d blow-dried it, would he have let her go home? And, of course, there were the tattoos twining up her arms.

“We can talk about it in the car,” he said. His shadowed friend was bent over the radio, lips to the black box.

Mina was tired. It was the heat, or perhaps the wind. So she got into the car. The seat was smooth. Someone must’ve chosen the fabric specially. This must be wipeable and disinfectable. People probably spat on this seat. They probably pissed on purpose and by mistake. Between the front and back seats was a grille. She would not be able to reach out to touch the curve of the cop’s ear or straighten his blue collar. The flip-flop lay across her knees.

The cops wanted to know her name, address, phone number and Social Security. She gave them.

“We’re taking you to Mount Sinai,” said the cop.

“I was just going for a walk, clearing my head. I don’t need to be in a hospital. I was just clearing my head.”

Damn. Repeating yourself was a habit of the guilty. Mina tried to slow her breath.

“See it from my point of view,” he said. “You’re walking alone on the bridge at night. I can’t let you out. I don’t know what would happen.”

Only then did she understand that they must do this every night, drive back and forth across the bridge looking for people like her.

“I have to go to work tomorrow,” she said. “My husband will want to know where I am. Please, please, just let me go to the subway.”

“We can’t do that, ma’am.”

The car left the bridge and fell back into Manhattan. She kept telling them she wasn’t trying to cause trouble. She said it so many times that the word “trouble” began to sound like “burble” or “bubble.” Heat rose in her eyes. She pushed the water off her face.

Finally, they agreed that she could call her husband, and they would go to the paramedics parked near the bridge. If the paramedics said she was okay, she could go home.

“Oscar,” she said. “Oscar, I need you to come get me. They won’t let me leave until you come get me.”

Published April 2020 by The Overlook Press/ABRAMS. Copyright © 2020 Rowan Hisayo Buchanan. All rights reserved.

Panel Mania: ‘The Oracle Code’

The Oracle Code—by bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp, with art by Manuel Preitano—updates the Batman story of Barbara Gordon, daughter of Gotham City police commissioner James Gordon, who is paralyzed after a gunshot wound.

Reimagined by Nijkamp, an autistic YA author and advocate for the people with disabilities, Babs Gordon is now a teenager using a wheelchair, struggling emotionally with her disability. But she’s also a world class hacker who turns sleuth after she realizes something’s not quite right at Gotham City’s Arkham Center for Independence.

In this 13-page excerpt, Babs slowly comes out of her shell, trains using her wheelchair, and teams with a patient whose brother is missing in an effort figure out what’s going happening at the Arkham Center for Independence.

The Oracle Code published this month by DC Graphic Novels for Young Readers.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.