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Review: Ginseng Roots #8

Ginseng Roots #8

When it come sot fulfilling your promise, it is never more ingrained than in immigrant families. My own family, came with their own set of challenges, and those pressures transferred to their children, me and my cousins. We were often told to either go to medicine or law. Like many families but it feels as though they had the pressures of the “old country” on us. The audacity of hoping for a better life for you, your family and maybe, being part of this “American dream”, is what pushes so many of us to do better.

It is often in that push to do better than those who came before, that the struggle of living within the “hyphen” becomes suddenly apparent. As it is usually the generation who is born into the new country, who finds themselves often conflicted. They are both a child of immigrants and someone born to this nation they have always known as their home. In Ginseng Roots #8, Craig Thompson takes a look at a particular Hmong family and find out just how important legacy is.

Within this issue we find about Chua and Chua’s family, as we soon find out how the cultural differences lead to his father being named Abraham, because the Mennonites who lived there, never anyone who was not white, but eventually adopted the name for religious reasons and also, to assimilate. Chua would work the fields with his Dad every day after school, but after Junior year, he would drop out,  and he would eventually take over the family business, as that became all he knew. By the issue’s end, we get a full exploration of who Chua is and just how important his Dad, Abraham, was to him and to this community.

Overall, Ginseng Roots #8 is an issue which will remind many Minari, but is much more heartfelt, because this true story. The story by Thompson is authentic. The art by Thompson is incredible. Altogether, Chua’s journey shows sometimes legacy finds its way to you.

Story: Craig Thompson Art: Craig Thompson
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Purchase: Zeus ComicsUncivilized Books

Review: Ginseng Roots #7

Ginseng Roots #7

The journey of immigrants across the world and their contributions to society are far-ranging and prolific. The need to emphasize this point is one that seems to need to be reinforced during the pandemic. In America, xenophobia and nativism have suddenly become synonymous with what it means to be part of the national identity. This, of course, is not isolated to the United States, but seemingly everywhere, making BIPOC understandably cautious.

As people who were once welcome to shores worldwide were now being looked at as burdens. What is strangely true is that no country on earth would thrive without outside influence. Just about every modern innovation has its ties back to immigrants or people of color. In Ginseng Roots #7, Craig Thompson gives readers another reveal, of the first family to harvest ginseng in America, who just so happens to be Hmong.

We find the Thompson siblings who come to the realization that their Saturday’s watching cartoons were no more and they would have to spend their weekends working the ginseng gardens with 30-50 other workers, of whom half were Hmong immigrants. One of those workers, Chua, we find out that his family was one of the first to harvest ginseng in America and definitely the first to harvest in Wisconsin. As Thompson regales the reader on the long and arduous journey the Hmong people have had to face, being displaced everywhere they settled from China to eventually aid to America in their fight in Vietnam.  We also find a bit of back-story about Chua’s family, how they never felt at home wherever they went and how it took a family in Tennessee to sponsor his, for their journey to come to America. By the issue’s end, Thompson gains an appreciation of his friend, Chua but ultimately, the immigrant journey.

Overall, Ginseng Roots #7 is an issue which shows just how many people this one root affects. The story by Thompson is genuine. The art by Thompson is amazing. Altogether, Thompson imbues Chua to the reader and gives an utterly compelling look at refugees.

Story: Craig Thompson Art: Craig Thompson
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Purchase: Uncivilized Books

Review: Ginseng Roots #6

Ginseng Roots #6

The older I get, the more I appreciate my surroundings. When I say surroundings, I especially mean working in my garden. When I see my neighbors work in their gardens as well, I often ponder the meaning of life in my solace. This is usually where I come up with some great ideas for stories and even books, as I frequently find something I truly come to endear, peace.

As I watch my plants and grass grow, the fruits and vegetables come to bear. Often in writing, we like to compare the seasons to growing up. As cliché as it is, it’s so very true. You can even compare it to raising children as time is all you have in abundance and in short supply. In Ginseng Roots #6, Craig Thompson gives readers a fascinating parallel, where we see the ginseng grow, as he grows up.

We find the Thompson siblings working the ginseng gardens, as we get a quick and dirty lesson in the stratification process, one that resembles their eagerness for the school year to end. As Thompson guides the reader through their home life, and how each individual Thompson sibling was treated, where they endured strict discipline from their father and they had one on one time with their mother and their collective love of books. He also goes onto giving the reader a lesson in how the sterilization procedure and interestingly compares it to when he and his siblings being baptized, as the family becomes even more tethered to the church, Craig starts seeing just how they demonize things they don’t understand. By the issue’s end, Thompson’s parents because of the church’s influence, make the decision that secular education is sinful, dividing the siblings for the first time in their lives.

Overall, Ginseng Roots #6 is a very personal issue that gives the reader more insight into the dynamics of the Thompson family. The story by Thompson is authentic. The art by Thompson is spectacular. Altogether, Thompson makes you feel like you are eavesdropping but makes you feel right at home with the Thompsons.

Story: Craig Thompson Art: Craig Thompson
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Purchase: Uncivilized BooksZeus Comics

Review: Ginseng Roots #5

Ginseng Roots #5

How we use the soil beneath our feet says a lot about humankind. Humans have toiled the land for our sustenance. This fact makes the future bleak, as this skillset is slowly disappearing and fewer and fewer farmers exist. Industrialization has made this profession an option but it’s still a necessity for our future.

Unfortunately what happens is that the world tilts to big corporations and the world of farming has gone this way as well. Family-based farmers are slowly becoming a thing of the past. The tradition goes back further than most people would even know. In Ginseng Roots #5, Craig Thompson gives readers another lesson in history. It’s one that shows how early Americans ate off the land.

We find the Thompson siblings visiting their neighbor, Bear, who also owns a Ginseng farm, as we soon find out it has been with his family for a very long time, going back to when the French first came to America and started to trade with the Native Americans. As Thompson eventually tells the reader of the Beaver Wars, where the French, Dutch and indigenous peoples fought each other to reap profits off of the natural resources that the land yielded and how it lead to the Treaty Du Chen which divided the state of Wisconsin amongst the tribes and designated plots of land for white settlement. We also find out how the Great Depression and the age of industrialization where the introduction of chemicals into soil gave a crushing blow to what were Ginseng empires all throughout Wisconsin, as the rule of Chairman Mao, changed China’s trade agreement in 1950 from agricultural to industrial, making the need for Ginseng from America almost obsolete. It was not until 1970, where the American Ginseng industry got revived, but one dependent on the chemicals that the big corporations mass-produced. By the issue’s end, Thompson introduces us to his other love after comics, guns, one which allowed him to find himself.

Overall, Ginseng Roots #5 is a mesmerizing issue that is a pure master class. The story by Thompson is genuine. The art by Thompson is breathtaking. Altogether, Thompson gives the reader, a class in geopolitics.

Story: Craig Thompson Art: Craig Thompson
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Purchase: Uncivilized BooksZeus Comics

Review: Ginseng Roots #4

Ginseng Roots #4

As a native of New York, I have seen the city change over the years. My neighborhood changed demographics within waves of five to ten years. It went from being influential to the middle class. Then right after I joined the military, it went through one more transformation, gentrification.

Neighbors whom I knew for a lifetime, lost their homes. It wasn’t lost on me that this was part of the larger machine. As it is with the “Haves and Have Nots”, those with money have choices. Those who don’t are at somebody’s will.  In the years since then, it has increasingly more prevalent and pervasive, with no urgency for equity. In Ginseng Roots #4, Craig Thompson gives readers another dimension to gentrification, as he illuminates the reader on how it affects rural communities.

We find the Thompson siblings visiting an old friend, Rollie, whom they work for in the summers they did not work the Ginseng gardens. There they did even more grueling work, rock picking. The reader soon finds out just how crucial the work was to pruning ginseng, and how it helped the different Ginseng farmers. The reader eventually finds out there are a plethora of different types of ginseng roots, and all of them are used differently, even inspiring some childhood friends to make Ginseng beer. By the issue’s end, Thompson tethers his childhood experiences to the concept that ginseng is more than root to him and the people he loves.

Overall, Ginseng Roots #4 is a fascinating issue that illuminates while it educates. The story by Craig Thompson is authentic. The art by Thompson is wonderful. Altogether, Thompson gives the reader an issue that focuses on something that matters.

Story: Craig Thompson Art: Craig Thompson
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Purchase: Uncivilized Books

Review: Ginseng Roots #3

Ginseng Roots #3

As a fan of Star Wars, what I loved about the books before Lucasfilm Story Group was that they filled those gaps. Many of the books that came between the original trilogy and when they were bought by Disney were monumental. As it brought to life those characters in ways not even the current canon has satisfied. My favorite being Heir To The Empire.

What I also loved were the comics that came from Dark Horse. One of the immensely heralded comics was Dawn Of The Jedi. As it introduced to first ones to be called as such, and how their pillars of faith came into being. As the book answered all those questions, us Star Wars nerds wanted to know.  In Ginseng Roots #3, Craig Thompson does the same, answering those questions about why the world has come to depend on this particular root for all its needs.

Thompson dives into the metaphysical origins of the root, introducing us to the # Sovereigns, in Chinese mythology, relaying the legend of Shennong and how the Father Of Medicine discovered its purpose. We also find out about “Ginseng Hunters:, who would  scavenge forests for this “God root”, as it enhance one’s own “Qi ( life force) . We also find Craig back home, enjoying all its comforts, as we get a front row seat at the International Ginseng Festival.  By issue’s end, Thompson gives us a concise history of the root and even gives a mini solo adventure, with his brother, Phil.

Overall, Ginseng Roots #3 is a special issue that educates the reader. The story by Thompson is genuine. The art by Thompson is outstanding. Altogether, Thompson gives the reader, a complete rundown of why this root is important.

Story: Craig Thompson Art: Craig Thompson
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Ginseng Roots #2

Ginseng Roots #2

One of my favorite shows of all time is the short-lived October Road. The series focused on a famous writer who goes back home and suffers the wrath of the town and its people he wrote about. The show only lasted two seasons and suffered from extended episode count fatigue. The story’s premise remained undeniable nonetheless.

It dove into why writing any autobiography can ultimately be problematic. As the intention is everything, but so is perception. Ultimately, it is how you make those people feel when you write about them, is what the main character learned right away. In Ginseng Roots #2, Craig Thompson returns home and introduces us to the people who made those summers.

We find our author flying back home to Wisconsin, where Marathon is hosting the first-ever International Ginseng Festival. We also meet our author’s sister, who was omitted from his previous work, but shares the same memories as her brothers, toiling day after day in the Ginseng gardens, but had a wholly different experience, as she often felt solitude, away from her brothers, an issue the family finds difficult to deal with at present. We also meet Harold and Judy, their neighbors who once were some of the biggest Ginseng farmers in the area, and who employed the family, to only quit because of the changing nature of the soil. By the issue’s end, we get a more complete picture of who our narrator is and what lead him to write this immensely entertaining and affecting book.

Overall, Ginseng Roots #2 is a personal issue that brings home the struggle of the working class. The story by Thompson is heartfelt. The art by Thompson is prominent and engaging. Altogether, Thompson much like Nick Garrett in October Road finds that sometimes going gives us the reason to aspire for more.

Story: Craig Thompson Art: Craig Thompson
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Purchase: Uncivilized BooksTFAW

Review: Ginseng Roots #1

Ginseng Roots #1

As a child of immigrants, it’s never lost on me about the sacrifice they made. My parents came from different parts of the world to only meet in the “greatest city in the world”. Storybook romances only happen in the movies, but my parents came close. For children who have had to listen to hours of stories by their parents growing up, the main lesson we were to learn was, that “our life is easier”.

My mother used to talk about how hard it was growing up poor in the Philippines. As my father would tell us how he had to work the sugar cane fields on Trinidad. While we did not grow up rich, we were far from well off. In the debut issue Ginseng Roots #1, Craig Thompson connects his childhood to the geopolitics of America-China relations which start right in his backyard.

We find a younger version of our author and his brother, Phil, waking before dawn, as their summer camp, this particular year, was not with their friends but on a Ginseng garden, where he and his brother will toil for the rest of the day, harvesting roots. As we find out that this particular farm in Marathon, Wisconsin, was the largest producer of American ginseng in the world in 1980. As we soon find our narrator and his brother discovering comic books this particular summer but having the naiveté of children, that they reveled in the fact they would get paid for what they did, no matter the weather. By issue’s end, Thompson would give us a history of the root and its supply chain while endearing it to the summer he worked at this ginseng garden.

Overall, Ginseng Roots #1 is a vast and inherently heartfelt love letter to “working-class guilt” and the survivor’s remorse we often feel after rising above our station. The story by Thompson is simply, beautiful. The art by Thompson is striking. Altogether, Thompson proves with this book, how masterful a storyteller he is and how some trials we go through, make us who we are.

Story: Craig Thompson Art: Craig Thompson
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Purchase: Uncivilized Books

Review: Ginseng Roots #8

Ginseng Roots continues to explore creator Craig Thompson‘s life. This issue continues the focus on the Vang family and their connection to Thompson’s world, ginseng, and Vietnam.

Story: Craig Thompson
Art: Craig Thompson

Get your copy now! To find a comic shop near you, visit http://www.comicshoplocator.com or call 1-888-comicbook or digitally and online with the links below.

Zeus Comics
Uncivilized Books

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Brett’s Favorite Comics of 2020 and a Reflection on the Past Year

The Recount #1

It feels weird writing a “best of” list for the past year since it’s been so difficult for so many. Writer Ron Marz Tweeted something like any comic that helped to get you through it is a favorite, and deep down I agree with that. It’s been a rough year for so many and it’s one where the comic industry was forced to mature and face reality in many ways.

Things shifted for everyone.

Publishers canceled projects, shifted schedules, and looked to go directly to the consumer. Creators looked for new ways to earn money and also go directly to the consumer. Stores were forced to market more taking to video, email, and social media to keep customers aware of the latest offerings and remind them of classics they might have missed. Some stores didn’t make it through the year. Others expanded. New ones joined the industry. Consumers had more choices than ever before that made it easier to escape the world burning around them and find enjoyment in make-believe worlds where justice prevails in the end.

In the end, though 2020 looked bleak, it left the comic industry as a whole stronger than ever before.

It feels weird doing this “best of” but at the same time I feel like I want to “honor” and spotlight the comics that got me through the year and had me excited to read the next issues. This is what I’ve read so if you don’t see something mentioned it’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, I just might not have read it. Sorry, I can’t read everything (there was a massive glut in webcomics and manga for me).

So, in a bit different spin I’ve split this list into three sections.

  1. Comics where I’ve only read one issue so far, because that’s what’s been released, but am excited to see what comes in the new year.
  2. Comics I enjoyed each month and are kind of a “silver medal” for me. I wanted to acknowledge them but also didn’t want this to be an overwhelming essay. They’ll get more of a nod when I do a video of this.
  3. The ones I was excited to read each month or had an impact on me. These are the ones that go into my regular suggestions of comics to read down the road. The art, the stories, the presentation, they’re all at that “top of the game” level.

All of these are listed in no particular order (hell it’ll probably just be in alphabetical). Enough with the rambling… lets get on with some comics!

2020 gave us one, here’s ones I’m excited to read their second issues in 2021!

  • Batman: Black & White #1 – The first issue had some solid stories but it’s the art that really stood out. It was mind-blowing and one of the best comics visually released this year. Almost every story broke away from standard panels and was just amazing to look at. I have no idea if future issues will be like this but here’s hoping.
  • Black Cat #1 – The last volume was a lot of fun to read and this first issue continued that. Despite being a King in Black tie-in, the issue kept the focus on what Black Cat does best, steal things as everything collapses around her. There’s just a certain style and attitude that the creative team nails with this. It was a fun debut that you could just sit back, laugh while reading, and enjoy.
  • M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games #1 – Marvel’s trying to make M.O.D.O.K. a thing. It’s kind of been his year between an upcoming HULU series, a popular miniature in Marvel: Crisis Protocol, and this comic. The first issue had me laughing and I’m hoping that continues.
  • The Other History of the DC Universe #1 – John Ridley is one of my favorite creators out there. His work in film and television have blown me away. It looks like DC has given him the opportunity to deliver a brutally honest take about the DC Universe from the perspective of people of color and the first issue is one of the best things I read all year. I can’t wait until the second and this man should be allowed to do whatever he wants.
  • The Recount #1 – The issue hit a bit close to reality. The President is a crook and assassinated and there’s an uprising to purge the country of everyone who supported him, from the Vice President down to voters. It was a hell of an opening issue and one that was chilling in so many ways.
Shang-Chi #1

Comics to check out…

These were all great reads and should go on your reading pile. These are ones I made sure to read every month and jumped at reading as soon as they crossed my desk. They’ll all get more love in my video version of this.

The comics that really stood out for the year.

All of these comics were ones that kept me thinking well after I read them and I’d be happy to read them again. Many are still ongoing while others have wrapped up their runs. Each stands out in its own special way.

Ginseng Roots #3
  • Black Widow – Kelly Thompson, Elena Casagrande, Jordie Bellaire, and Cory Petit are the main creators on what’s been released so far and every issue has been amazing. Black Widow has been captured and brainwashed into believing a domestic life is real and hers. There’s been a great mix of humor, action, in this spy thriller and it’s sure to ramp up now based on the latest issue’s final moments. This is a great mix of storytelling and visual coolness.
  • Dead Day – Man, I really want this to be done as a television series and absolutely need more comics. Ryan Parrot, Evgeniy Bornyakov, Juancho!, and Charles Pritchett deliver a masterclass in world-building. Not only do they deliver an interesting story but have crafted a bigger world. For one night, the dead return, and while the comic really told the story of one family, each issue fleshed out enough of what this event’s impact would be elsewhere to get you to think and imagine.
  • Far Sector – N.K. Jemisin, Jamal Campbell, and Deron Bennett have breathed a breath of fresh air into the Green Lanterns with this series. We’re taken to an alien world where a new Lantern named Jo must solve a murder which takes her deep into a corrupt society. It does what science fiction does best, explore our real world. The visuals are stunning as well in what is a comic that’s timely capturing the current zeitgeist.
  • Ginseng Roots – Craig Thompson explores his childhood in what’s one of the most original comics this year. In a small format and with minimal colors, the comic tells us the history of ginseng and Thompson’s childhood.
  • Harley Quinn Black + White + Red – DC really shook things up this year and one way was a greater focus on digital releases. This series was an anthology that delivered a different creative team with every chapter. We got to see over a dozen different takes on Harley Quinn each of which was entertaining. If you want to see how much the creators matter when it comes to the storytelling, here you go. This is also a perfect example of where digital comics should be going from major publishers.
  • Kill a Man – This story focused on a gay man’s battles within the world of MMA was an updated take on the Rocky formula and done so well. You can come at it as a fan of MMA, as someone who’s LGBTQ, both, or just wanting good storytelling. Emotional with great action, it’s a home run from the team of Steve Orlando, Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Al Morgan, and Jim Campbell.
  • Superman Smashes the Klan – The miniseries was collected and it’s amazing. Gene Luen Yang, Gurihiru, and Janice Chiang deliver a comic that captures the heart of Superman. Based on the groundbreaking radio play where Superman takes on the KKK, this comic is amazing in every aspect, from the story to the visuals. Add in some extra material from Yang about his own experiences and it becomes a comic everyone should read and one that helps define Superman in one of his best depictions ever.
  • Vlad Dracul – Matteo Strukul, Andrea Mutti, Vladimir Popov, and Joel Rodriguez tell us the story about the very real Vlad, the inspiration for Dracula. I learned a hell of a lot and would love to see more comics like this. It’s a crazy read that can be enjoyed for the history and education and/or the brutal story itself that would fit any fantasy world.
  • We Live – The first issue was perfection and got me to choke up. Each subsequent issue has built upon the world. In this story humanity is almost over but a mysterious entity from space will save 5,000 children but first they must get to extraction points. This is a few kids’ stories and their journey of survival. By Inaki Miranda, Roy Miranda, Eva De La Cruz, and Dave Sharpe each issue is visually amazing plus there’s some awesome bonus music you can listen to while reading.
  • Yasmeen – Talk about an emotional gut-punch with each issue. Saif A. Ahmed, Fabiana Mascolo, and Robin Jones tell the story of Yasmeen who was captured and tortured by Isis and her attempt to deal with the PTSD while settling after in the United States. Just an amazing blend of storytelling and real recent history.
Almost American
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