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Why the Best Horror Book of 2020 is Clown in a Cornfield

Clown in a Cornfield
Clown in a Cornfield, cover

To an extent, the title of Adam Cesare’s latest book, Clown in a Cornfield, feels like an affront to expectations. We have a YA horror book about teens navigating social media, high school, and rage-filled teachers all hinging on the promise of an actual clown possibly picking off kids in a cornfield. Having read Cesare’s excellent, and surprisingly meta, cannibal movie homage Tribesmen, which shows a profound love and understanding for 1970s horror cinema, I knew something else was hiding in the fields. And that something turned the book into one of the best examples of horror fiction in the context of Trump’s America, and the year’s best in the process.

Clown in a Cornfield follows Quinn, a high schooler that moves into the town of Kettle Springs with her dad following the death of her mom. Now an ex-city girl, Quinn goes about understanding the town and its people but also the looming presence of its recent past, the thing that divides the town into those who see progress as moving forward and those who see it as keeping up with traditions. This is where the titular clown comes in. The rest deserves to be read.

The setup is deceptively recognizable, seemingly on purpose. The story starts with a look at Quinn and her dad going though a short adjustment period, Quinn in particular getting to know the people she’ll eventually get to rely on to survive the deadly events that clown authors.

Cesare takes his time putting every piece in place before taking the reader through a hellish gauntlet of inventive slasher violence, all of which takes cues from John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and a lot of 1990’s horror movie imagery if only to build on them and make them his own. Once the killing begins, the book settles into high tension and doesn’t let up even when commenting on the ideas that prop up the story.

The buildup to the clown horror comes with a few twists on the formula that sets this story apart from the conventional slasher. The teens that drive the story don’t fit the traditional mold of jock, nerd, hot, or final girl characters of old. Instead, Cesare skillfully dodges some of the sexual and “school as a rite of passage” subtexts that govern a lot of classic slasher stories in favor of showing a group of teens that more genuinely reflects the current state of American society.

Adam Cesare

Instead of prom and homecoming queen and king competitions or relationship woes tied to characters losing their virginity, Cesare creates a cast of young Americans that talk about guns, are comfortable around them, and know how to handle them; that embrace social media and make it a point to flirt with its most dangerous aspects; and who know perfectly well what they represent to the older townsfolk (hints of The Lost Boys here).

Kettle Springs is a small town where it’s not hard to imagine every other car sporting a ‘Make America Great Again’ bumper sticker. And yet, the book doesn’t judge the entirety of the town for its conservative leanings. On the contrary, it provides a more complicated human panorama of it, with varying degrees of political inclinations even within the targeted group.

This is perhaps one of the most impressive things Cesare accomplishes with his characters. He breaks away from the black and white morality of the traditional slasher, in which the ‘good’ teens and the ‘bad’ teens could be identified from a mile away, in favor of presenting teens that are not just different from one another but also from the preconceived notions we have of them. This bleeds over into the book’s take on what small-town America was, is, and could be.

Explaining what Cesare does with slasher morality in the story would result in spoiling some the book’s biggest surprises, but it does make for one hell of a killer clown. Frendo is a part of the town’s economic history, being the face of an abandoned factory that at one point was at the heart of Kettle Springs. He was a symbol of success at one point only to later become an imposing symbol of defeat.

Frendo wastes not a single instance of violence on simplicity. Every death, blood spurt, or dismemberment is masterfully choreographed, unafraid to go into detail, leaving the reader with just enough information to let him or her fill in the rest. It’s also hauntingly realistic in parts. Whereas many slasher movies go over the top to create memorable death sequences, Clown in a Cornfield keeps things more plausible, holding back to make the more explosively violent parts truly unforgettable.

Frendo is one unsettling clown, but what drives the killings and how sinister things get in the process is what really scared me to the core. Unlike the Freddies and the Jasons of the genre, Frendo is one killer I completely believe can come after me. Whereas the aforementioned slashers are known for carrying a sense of dark fantasy and myth about them, Frendo seems like an actual inevitability should America continue on the path it’s currently on.

Adam Cesare gave us an important horror book in 2020, one that hits closer to the real horrors America has lived through these past four years. Its commentary on tradition, progress, and what’s expected of newer generations is as sobering as it is terrifying. Give Clown in a Cornfield a read and make sure your windows are closed and your doors locked because Frendo isn’t the stuff of nightmares. It’s the stuff of reality.

IDW Unveils New Middle-Grade and YA Graphic Novels for Summer 2021

IDW Publishing and imprint Top Shelf Productions have unveiled their Summer 2021 lineup of middle-grade and YA graphic novels. Here’s a look at their spectacular line-up for next year:

Better Place, by debut author Duane Murray and Shawn Daley (Samurai Grandpa), tells the story of Dylan, a young boy in a new neighborhood whose best (and only) friend is his grandad. Together, with the power of imagination, they entertain themselves as Red Rocket and Kid Cosmo, saving the world daily from evil. But when Dylan learns that his grandad is suddenly gone to “a better place”, the sidekick ventures off on a grand adventure to find his superhero. Better Place (ISBN 978-1-60309-495-5), a touching story about family, grief, change, and growth, will be released as a 160-page paperback in August with an MSRP of $199.99 US ($25.99 CAN).

Better Place

Chibi-Usagi: Attack of the Heebie Chibis, by Stan Sakai and Julie Fujii Sakai, makes the rich world of multiple award winner Usagi Yojimbo accessible to readers of all ages in this chibi-style original graphic novel. Stan Sakai’s beloved rabbit samurai has won countless fans over his 35-year history, thanks to a clever blend of thrilling action, heartwarming characters, and realistic portrayal of Japanese culture. In this tale, Chibi-Usagi and his friends must rescue a village of clay people from the threat of the dreaded Salamander King. Chibi-Usagi (ISBN 978-1-68405-790-0) will be released as a 120-page paperback in June 2021 with an MSRP of $12.99 US ($16.99 CAN).

Chibi-Usagi: Attack of the Heebie Chibis

The Girl and the Glim, the exciting debut graphic novel from animator India Swift, with colors by Michael Doig, gives the classic new kid in school story a wild science fiction twist. Thirteen-year-old Bridgette is nervous enough about starting class at her new school, but just when she thinks the bullies will be as bad as things can get, her life is turned upside down by an otherworldly being from outer space that only she can see! Now, the new kid is the only thing standing between her classmates and total destruction in this wildly imagined, beautifully drawn story about the importance of friendship, human connection, and doing what’s right. The Girl and the Glim (ISBN 978-1-68405-741-2) will be released as a 128-page paperback in August 2021 with an MSRP of $12.99 US ($16.99 CAN).

The Girl and the Glim

Marie Curie: A Quest For Light, written by Frances Andreasen Østerfelt and internationally acclaimed Danish astrophysicist Anja Cetti Andersen with art by Anna Blaszczyk, focuses on the exceptional life and groundbreaking research of Marie Curie, the first female Nobel Prize winner, who expanded scientific understanding and created new opportunities for women. Curie’s unique drive, against all odds, to understand Nature’s ways and laws led to ground-breaking discoveries, which revolutionized medical theory and practice. Marie Curie (ISBN 978-1-60309-494-8) will be released as a 136-page paperback in August 2021 with an MSRP of $17.99 US ($23.99 CAN).

Marie Curie: A Quest For Light

Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken Vol. 3: Macaroni and Bees?!?, by Ray Friesen, is the latest installment featuring the ridiculous adventures of the fan-favorite flightless fighting friends. Whether they encounter werewolf shampoo, time travel, or anti-gravity popcorn, the bouncy battle birds are always engaged in the ultimate competition: to see which friend will win once and for all. Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken Vol. 3 (ISBN 978-1-60309-497-9) will be released as a 64-page hardcover in August 2021 with an MSRP of $9.99 US ($12.99 CAN).

Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken Vol. 3: Macaroni and Bees?!?

The Science of Surfing: A Surfside Girls Guide to the Ocean, by Kim Dwinell, is the coolest way to experience a beach vacation and learn at the same time. Sam and Jade, from the pages of the beloved graphic novel series The Surfside Girls, explain the science behind the amazing wonders of the sea — everything from life-sustaining plantlife to aquatic animals to crashing waves. Plus, there’s a whole step-by-step chapter on how to surf. The Science of Surfing (ISBN 978-1-68405-837-2) will be released as a 136-page paperback in July 2021 with an MSRP of $9.99 US ($12.99 CAN).

The Science of Surfing: A Surfside Girls Guide to the Ocean

DC Reveals First Look at Mariko Tamaki’s ‘I Am Not Starfire’ a New YA Graphic Novel Illustrated by Yoshi Yoshitani

Next summer, New York Times bestselling author Mariko Tamaki is teaming up with talented artist Yoshi Yoshitani, and letterer Aditya Bidikar to debut I Am Not Starfirean original young adult (YA) graphic novel that follows Mandy, the daughter of Starfire, as she navigates the highs and lows of high school along with the pressure of having a DC Super Hero for a mom.

Filled with the same humor and wit readers have come to expect from Tamaki, I Am Not Starfire introduces seventeen-year-old Mandy—an original character—who is struggling to find her own identity as she deals with her school crush while also learning to understand her mom who feels so different from her.

I Am Not Starfire is available to pre-order now and hits stores everywhere books are sold on August 10, 2021.

Seventeen-year-old Mandy, daughter of Starfire, is NOT like her mother. Starfire is gorgeous, tall, sparkly, and a hero. Mandy is NOT a sparkly superhero. Mandy has no powers, is a kid who dyes her hair black and hates everyone but her best friend Lincoln. To Starfire, who is from another planet, Mandy seems like an alien, like some distant angry light years away moon.

And it’s possible Mandy is even more distant lately, ever since she walked out on her S.A.T.s. Which, yeah, her mom doesn’t know.

Everyone thinks Mandy needs to go to college and become whoever you become at college, but Mandy has other plans. Mandy’s big plan is that she’s going to move to France and…do whatever people do in France. But then everything changes when she gets partnered with Claire for a school project. Mandy likes Claire (even if she denies it, heartily and intensely). A lot.

How do you become the person you’re supposed to be when you don’t know what that is? How do you become the person you’re supposed to be when the only thing you’re sure of is what you’re not?

When someone from Starfire’s past arrives, Mandy must make a choice: give up before the battle has even begun, or step into the unknown and risk everything to save her mom. I am Not Starfire is a story about teenagers and/as aliens; about knowing where you come from and where you are going; and about mothers.

I Am Not Starfire

Mad Cave Studios Goes Maverick with a New YA Imprint

Maverick logo

Mad Cave Studios has announced its all-new young adult graphic novel imprint, Maverick! The lineup, which will kick off Fall 2021, includes bi-monthly releases from industry veterans and talented newcomers, featuring titles: Nightmare in Savannah; World Class; Needle & ThreadGood Game, Well Played; Of Her Own Design.

Mad Cave’s very own Editor-in-Chief, Chris Sanchez, will be overseeing every Maverick title and working closely with the editorial staff as well as the creatives behind each title.

Check out what’s coming to comic store shelves soon!


Nightmare in Savannah

(W) Lela Gwenn (A/CO/CA) Rowan MacColl (L) Micah Myers 

Football is a religion where Adrian “The Colombian Cannon” Molina comes from, and thanks to his wicked right leg he has a clear shot at the promised land of the European Junior Leagues. But when a football scout offers him a full scholarship to an elite prep school in London, the news seems too good to be true. His enrollment hits a snag upon meeting the team’s star striker, Titan Evans. Titan is everything Adrian is not — rich, powerful, and connected. Most of all, Titan possesses a hunger to dominate the pitch no matter who or what stands in his way. The constant fighting, teasing, and bullying intensifies Adrian’s crippling anxiety as he is constantly concerned for his spot on the team. All of that changes the day Luciano DeSilva, the team’s star midfielder, takes him under his wing and gives Adrian the confidence to be himself and value not only his position on the team but in the world.

Nightmare in Savannah

World Class

(W) Jay Sandlin (A/CA) Patrick Mullholland (CO) Rebecca Nalty (L) Justin Birch

Football is a religion where Adrian Molina, aka The Colombian Cannon, comes from, and thanks to his wicked right leg, he has a clear shot at the promised land of the European Junior Leagues. But when a football scout offers him a full scholarship to an elite prep school in London, the news seems too good to be true. His enrollment hits a snag upon meeting the team’s star striker, Titan Evans. Titan is everything Adrian is not — rich, powerful, and connected. Most of all, Titan possesses a hunger to dominate the pitch no matter who or what stands in his way. The constant fighting, teasing and bullying cause Adrian to experience crippling anxiety as he is constantly concerned for his spot on the team. All of that changes the day Luciano DeSilva, the team’s star midfielder takes him under his wing and gives Adrian the confidence to be himself and value not only his position on the team but in the world.

World Class

Needle & Thread

(W) David Pinckney (A/CO/CA) Ennun Ana Lurov (L) Micah Myers

Choosing between living the life you want and living the life your “supposed to” is not always an easy choice. Noah, embracing his truest-self, wants to pursue a career in costume design, something his loving, but traditional, parents would never approve of. Azarie, the perfect, model daughter of a very stern, political family, dreams of embracing the hobbies she secretly loves, hobbies her social circle would never abide by. The two live different lives and their social statuses keep them from ever crossing paths until they have a chance encounter that exposes some common ground: the desire to live the life they’ve chosen for themselves. Together, the two set out to put it all on the line and show everyone who they really are and what they want to achieve through the unlikely medium of cosplay. Their friendship will be tested and their faith in themselves and each other will be tried, but by staying true to themselves they discover that they truly need each other.

Needle & Thread

Good Game, Well Played

(W) Rachael Smith (A/CO/CA) Katherine Lobo (L) Justin Birch

It’s 2005, and Sienna is really not looking forward to flying back into her hometown to say goodbye to one of the people she called family. Though that feels like a lifetime ago.

It’s 1999. And Sienna is looking forward to what is shaping up to be the Perfect Summer in her Perfect Life. She has a job working in the local video game store, Game Champ, with her four best friends, and that’s how it was going to be forever… At least that’s what they thought, until Jason Silver, the money-hungry landlord threatened to shut down the store. Now, the kids must work together to save Game Champ, but with Art’s huge crush on Sienna, Jo’s crippling self-doubt, Sid’s obsession with his band, and Hope’s mysterious living situation getting in the way… how likely are they to succeed?

Good Game, Well Played

Of Her Own Design

(W) Birdie Willis (A/CA) Jess Taylor (CO) Stephanie Palladino

In the small town of Holden, sixteen-year-old Brie Page has been struggling with a tremendous bout of writer’s block. And that’s a problem. One of many she has, actually. Parents that constantly fight, her former best friend/current bully Viv Kinsley, and the gorgeous new girl Kay Ardiger are causing a bit of stress. Brie used to hide from it all by creating her own fictional worlds and stories, but all of that seems so far away now.

All of that changes when an unexpected encounter with a mischievous bookseller, Ambrose Chance, leaves Brie with a magical pen. One that breaks through her writer’s block and causes her stories to flow onto the page… Too bad the whole town of Holden had to get caught up in it too when her stories come to life. Now, when the most important people in her life are stuck in fantastical tales, Brie needs to save them by diving into her worlds and facing her worries head-on. Which would be fine… if only she was better at writing endings.

Of Her Own Design

Review: Supergirl #37

Supergirl 037There has been an interesting trend at DC Comics in the past year.  Instead of portraying its young adult and new adult heroines as hopeless children, it has started to show more characterization, dealing with problems that might actually affect them, in addition to dealing with superheroics.  With Supergirl it seems as though the same approach is being taken, though due to the nature of the character it is perhaps not as pronounced.  This goes back to the same problems that all of the Super characters have lobbied against them, namely that with so many superlatives next to their names and their powers, that there is just not as much to draw the reader in.  The characters are never really threatened who cannot be harmed, and while some readers still adore these characters, others find the lack of a real threat to be boring.

What has worked so well for instance for Batgirl is thus a little dulled down here.  Supergirl is still on the Crucible and even though its true nature is not yet revealed, it would seem as though something is not right about it.  This is still an engaging environment for her, only just not as engaging as those faced by either Batgirl or Olive Silverlock.  At the same time, for the first time since Siobhan, there are supporting characters in this series that have more going for them than being stock secondary characters, and there are even two, in Tsavo and Maxima.   Tsavo particularly plays an important part in this issue as his background comes back to haunt him and he is forced to intervene on his home planet with his new allies.

The end result is an issue which shows that this series is moving in the right direction.  So often in this series it has felt like the character was waiting inside her own universe for some kind of purposeful meaning, and it seems as though it might finally be finding it over three years later. I thought that the cover was clever as well, as though it seems to be a representation of Kara’s search for an identity, it is actually tied into the issue in an interesting way.  This is not the best material that DC has to offer, but it is still a fun read and every issue seems to be getting better, and for those that have been waiting for a good time to finally pick up this title, this might be the start.

Story: K. Perkins and Mike Johnson Art: Ema Lupacchino
Story: 8.3 Art: 8.8 Overall: 8.3 Recommendation: Read