At long last, the first Sweet Valley High graphic novel (published by Dynamite Entertainment) is here! I enjoy reading comics and graphic novels, so I was excited to see the twins in this format. (By the way: may I give your local comic shop a plug? If you haven’t yet purchased this volume and would like to, and you have a nearby comic shop, try calling them up and asking them if they have it. If they don’t, see if they will order it for you and then go pick it up and pay when it’s ready. You’ll get your book quickly and give them some much-needed business! Check out Dynamite’s site for a comic shop locator.) Because this is my first graphic novel review, I want to be sure and give a shout-out to the folks behind this volume: Cover/artwork/inks by: Devaki Neogi, Writer: Katy Rex, Colors: Pippa Mather, Letters: Cardinal Rae.
So what we have here is a line of brand new stories set in the present day, rather than a full re-do of the original series. I think I prefer it that way. There’s only so many times you can re-tell the original stories before it gets old (literally AND figuratively!). With that said, I think you’re going to recognize some classic SVH tropes here … lol. To give a quick spoiler-free review, while I wasn’t blown away by this story or by the art, I did like both of those things well enough. Initially, I found the story a little “eh”, especially because the storyline didn’t flow well between panels in some cases (and I have a funny example of this below). But then it picked up and I ended up finding it cute and funny, if hardly earth-shatteringly original. I also thought it brought the twins into the current era effectively while sneaking in clever little throw-backs to the original series that made me chuckle. The art was good overall, although in places it looked a bit wonky to me (most noticeably, eyes not aligned, and this one guy’s muscles looked “baggy” to me). It did work for me as a whole, and was generally fun to look at and illustrated the story well. I especially liked the expressiveness of each character; I thought that was well-done, and I also enjoyed looking for the little details in each scene (such as all the little things in each twin’s room that illustrate the individual personalities).
Here’s a quick synopsis of the plot from the back cover: “When Jessica falls in love with her poetry teacher, she begins to act like her studious twin sister Elizabeth to impress him. Now it’s up to Elizabeth to make sure that all’s well that end [sic] well – but with Jessica playing her role, will anyone be able to tell which twin is which?”
Let’s take another look at the front cover.
The title of this book is a bit awkward, but I like the cover art. I especially dig the throw-back to the original SVH cover layout, with the flag in the upper left and the circular design. There are some random fall leaves here and there drifting down the cover, even though this story takes place in the summer, so I find that … super random. Maybe this story was originally supposed to take place in autumn. Across the top of the cover, we have Roy Marlowe, who is Jessica’s teacher, at left, followed by everyone’s favorite Todd Wilkins. Todd doesn’t really look the way he was described in the original series. Below Todd and Roy are close-up face shots of our twins as well as full length portraits. Interesting clothing choices for the two girls. The shoes make me feel like I’m headed straight back to the 1990s, but then again, some of these things are coming back in style. (The story is set in the present day.)
Also, remember how I had seen an alternate cover posted somewhere but couldn’t find it? When I opened the book to the title page, there it was:
I believe I read that this image appeared as the cover on a version given away at a comic con. Which cover do you prefer? I’m neutral on this one.
Warning: THE SPOILERS WILL NOW BEGIN. If you haven’t read my blog before, I do FULL recaps with complete spoilers. If you don’t want to know everything that happens, STOP HERE!
This story opens with the twins and their friends enjoying the summer before their junior year at Sweet Valley High. We start with an unseen narrator telling us about how Sweet Valley is idyllic and perfect. We get a view of the beach, which has no “Beach Disco” but does have a “tiki zone.” We cut to the Wakefields’ house, where Liz is trying to read while Jessica blasts music at top volume.
Four of Jessica’s friends come over. There’s Lila Fowler, still rich and bragging:
I honestly don’t like the way she is drawn at all.
This is Amy Sutton (on the right):
As you can see, Amy now has short brown hair. But as shown in other panels, she still loves to talk about diets!
The redhead in the panel above is Ellen (!). They don’t give her last name, but I’m wondering if this is Ellen Riteman from the Sweet Valley Twins series. Ellen never showed up in SVH that I’m aware of, but that would rule if they added her here and kept her original personality. Ellen was hilarious (although she wasn’t a redhead). I like the way she is drawn.
I have no idea who the person on the right in this panel is:
She’s drawn about the way I would expect Amy to be drawn, except that she looks like someone’s mom, but Amy is definitely the brunette on the left. Maybe this other girl is supposed to be Cara or even Caroline? They haven’t named her yet, so stay tuned.
Jess and her girls watch the latest episode of a soap opera called Young & Beautiful, starring apparent twins who look just like the Wakefield twins. We get two pages of scenes from the soap opera which seems a little unnecessary, but entertaining enough. Lila mentions Jessica won’t be able to come to Bruce Patman’s barbecue because of her summer school class, in a typical Lila Fowler “rubbing it in” way. Jessica starts cooing about the hot T.A. (teaching assistant), Roy Marlowe, who instructs this class. Why is she having to take the class to begin with? Well, it seems she missed a lot of English classes during her sophomore year (because of cheerleading practice or something?), so Mr. Collins kindly set up a transfer credit from Sweet Valley University. Wow, that’s nice of him. Jessica is all aglow about Roy and how she’s sure he likes her. Then Ellen expresses doubt that Jessica’s TA would be interested in her, because she’s not studious enough. Womp womp! Jessica’s mood shifts way down. Then Lila says she has to go because her online followers are expecting to see her latest makeup tutorial streamed that night. Mysterious blond girl reminds the others that Lila is their ride home, so Jessica’s friends are all shown on their way out of Casa Wakefield. Then Liz shows up and finds Jessica sitting alone, looking sad because she’s thinking about what Ellen said, and asks her what’s wrong. Jessica mumbles that everything’s fine.
Here’s an interesting face Jessica makes when Ellen says that college boys without a car and muscles are not worth someone’s time.
We cut to the Sweet Valley “municipal” pool, where Liz is lifeguarding while also reading a book. Uh … are lifeguards allowed to do that? LOL. Liz tells a kid to stop running and then a lady comes over to yell at Liz for yelling at her dumb ass kid. Then Todd shows up and tells the lady off for yelling at Liz, and Liz gets upset that Todd is interfering with her job. Then Todd and Liz get into a mini-argument about how busy Liz is these days with all her extracurriculars and volunteer work, and how Todd doesn’t get to see her much anymore. Liz says it’s important to her to get into a good college and Todd pulls a douchey old “More important than me?” Same old same old!
After that scene, we cut back to the main story with Jessica, and a scene with Jess and all of the girls back at her house, even though they just left for the night, and are wearing the same clothes they were just shown leaving in. There’s no explanation, so I’m confused. Did they leave and come back? Had they not actually left yet when Liz came into the room to find Jessica by herself and staring into space? What? Yo, this is bothering me!
Anyway, the girls help Jess pick out clothes from Liz’s closet, that she can supposedly wear to impress Roy and make him think she’s studious and serious like Liz. We get a fun couple of panels of Jessica modeling. But can I just say the clothes the girls pick for Jessica from Liz’s closet largely seem like things Jessica could’ve had in her own closet? I don’t think there’s that much of a difference in how the girls dress so far, other than Liz occasionally looks more sporty.
Jessica goes to class in one of Liz’s outfits, looking straight out of the 90s with a mint green and black striped off the shoulder dress, which has a big black belt, plus black boots and a big black floppy hat. She makes sure to sit in the front row and give long, rambling answers to Roy the TA’s questions about Twelfth Night. I like that nobody is complaining about her big hat blocking their view. After Roy praises her answers and moves on with the reading, she daydreams and starts making up a list of “Smart Clothes” which apparently includes things like “shoulder pads” “satchels” and “Burberry”. Haha! After class, Roy asks Jessica to stay after for a minute and tells her he was impressed with her answer. Jessica does some babbling about how much she loves poetry, so Roy invites her to bring some friends with her to an upcoming poetry reading while Jessica chews on her lip and tries to look sexy or something.
Back to Liz and Todd’s boring bickering! Todd comes to Liz’s model United Nations meeting to pick her up for their weekly Wednesday date. Liz has to drop some extra food off at the local shelter, so she tells him she’ll drive over to the shelter in her own car and then meet him at the park. Then when she does show up at the park, she’s wearing a different outfit than she just was! Did she go home and change? Todd has prepared a picnic with his mom’s rosemary chicken and some pie, but Liz spends the first several minutes wrapping up loose ends and answering messages related to her extracurriculars on her phone. By the time she’s done, Todd is pissed and they have another mini-spat. They’re both annoying, so this is definitely true to the original series. Todd stomps off soon afterward to make an early basketball practice that Liz forgot about. We learn that Liz and Todd share an iCalendar and these kids are definitely more organized than me and my husband, two late-thirty-somethings.
That night, Jessica and Liz watch TV and Liz has a mini breakdown and starts bawling about how busy she is and how Todd just doesn’t understand. Jessica comforts her and tells her she should date an older man. She then starts bragging about her upcoming “date” with Roy (the poetry reading that Roy obviously didn’t think was a date). Jess is acting like they’re already an item, so that’s pretty true to her character, lol. Liz gets very concerned because Roy is an adult and Jessica is only 16, and seems like she might be about to tell Steven and their parents, who have just arrived home. So Jessica backs down and tells Liz she was just exaggerating.
By the way, here’s Steven Wakefield:
The way they have him walking in reminds me of a sitcom where A.C. Slater or somebody would walk in and everyone in the audience would yell, “WOOOOOOOOO!”
And here are Ned and Alice Wakefield:
They look … older than I was expecting? (Note: They’re dressed up because they’re coming back from a play or some such.)
After her conversation with Liz, Jessica goes upstairs to sprawl on her bed and text Lila about how annoying it is that Liz almost ratted her out. Jessica’s bedroom is purple, just like it is in the later SVH books. Meanwhile, Liz is texting with Todd, who’s trying to set up a Saturday date with her. Liz reminds him that her iCal says she’s busy that day “teaching blind children to ride horses rescued from circuses and factories.” HAHAHA. I LOVE how this book riffs on the Liz character like this. She’s not just a do-gooder, she’s an impossibly do-goody do-gooder.
Saturday arrives and Todd goes out shopping with his mother and mopes around while she shows off how rich they are. For a late lunch, they go to “La Rotonde des Expatriates”. I love that they’re still putting French restaurants and names in these books. (Francine Pascal has a house in the south of France and reportedly loves all things French.) The restaurant just happens to be the same one where the poetry reading is being held. Jessica is there, only she’s dressed like Liz (and how we might actually expect Liz to be dressed this time – cardigan, buttoned-up blouse and headband). Jessica doesn’t see Todd, but he sees her, and he thinks she’s Liz. Todd starts texting Liz to see if she will admit to not being at the horseback riding lesson. He sees Jessica pick up her phone at the same time, so when Liz texts Todd back about the trails she’s riding and how things are going, he thinks he is seeing Liz sitting there in the restaurant texting back lies. Instead, it’s really Jessica texting Lila about the poetry reading. Roy Marlowe comes on the stage and reads a poem while Jessica moons over him and then yells “Woo hoo! Poetry!” (No, really!) Todd is outraged and storms out of the restaurant with his mom without Jess (or Liz, obviously) having a clue.
Jessica then goes to class the next week looking all Lizzed out again, and takes a selfie of herself with Roy teaching in the background and posts it to her freakin’ Instagram with the hashtag #MrsJessicaMarlowe. Lila catches up with her later and brings her a unicorn frappucino that she says Winston Egbert made (because he works at Starbucks) but Jessica turns her nose up at it. Then Lila starts planning a pool party for her house that weekend, but Jessica makes it clear she thinks that’s childish.
Todd takes Liz out on a surprise date to La Rotonde. She is delighted because she hasn’t gotten a chance to go there yet. He tries to get her to say she’s been there before and she doesn’t get what the fuck is going on. Todd confronts her about what he saw. She tells him the obvious, that he’s stupid for not realizing that was Jessica, especially since in this book he’s known Liz her entire life. He doesn’t believe her and storms out, leaving her to find her own way back from the restaurant. Oh my god, he’s such a jerk. Liz texts Jess to come pick her up, but Jessica says she can’t because she’s on a “date.” By that she means she went to the local art gallery to stalk Roy, then ran into him and made sure to snap a selfie. She then gets stuck in an awkward conversation with Roy and his adult friends about art and picking up kids from daycare.
Jessica comes home and starts talking about her supposed relationship with Roy and freaking Liz out again. She assures Liz that they just have a special understanding and Roy is perfectly willing to wait until she turns 18 to make their relationship “official”. Then Liz has a Skype call or something with Amy Sutton about some letter of recommendation thing, and I guess Liz and Amy are kinda friends in this one, and maybe Amy is a tad less boy crazy. Liz asks Amy what she knows about Jess and Roy, and Amy says Jessica and Roy are serious and it’s all over Jessica’s Insta. Liz is upset because she’s worried Roy is pressuring Jessica to sleep with him, and Jessica has never done that before. Amy does some babbling about how that’s probably what he expects but that she doesn’t KNOW that’s what’s happening. Liz checks Jessica’s Instagram for the first time in the past few days, and sees lots of posts about supposed dates she’s been on with Roy. There’s even a #winegram post where Jessica posts a close up of two glasses of wine and alludes to being on a dinner and drinks date with Roy. #scandalous
Liz decides to take things into her own hands. She dresses up as, well, as herself, and then goes over to SVU to talk to Roy in his office, posing as “Jess”. The ruse works because Roy doesn’t know Jessica has a twin. Roy is obviously uncomfortable about being alone with Jessica, especially after “Jess” mentions she wants to take a “romantic” walk. Then “Jess” alludes to their dinner date and he is confused and asks her if she’s referring to the alumni party that she helped with, that he actually couldn’t make it to. Liz quickly realizes that Jessica was exaggerating everything. As she goes to leave, she hears Roy on the phone with a wife or girlfriend, talking about the baby they’re expecting! She overhears Roy set up a plan to make a trip to Sunnyside Bay beach as a mini-babymoon.
Unbeknownst to Liz, Todd was at SVU at the same time for “SVU Orientation” (what? Is he supposed to be older in this book?) and he sees Liz giggling at Roy. Of course, this time he can actually tell the twins apart and knows it’s Liz. He leaves without confronting her.
That night, Jess and Liz are hanging out on the couch where Jess paints Liz’s toenails as Liz knits. This is actually a really cute sisterly scene. Then Todd barrels in and ruins it. He starts hollering at Liz about seeing her around with another man. Liz doesn’t want to expose what she did to Jessica, so she starts making up some obvious bullshit and begging Todd to trust her. He doesn’t, and barrels out. Liz breaks down, and to make her feel better, Jessica offers to help her do something Liz-like … like help organize canned goods at the shelter or go brush the shelter dogs. Wow, this Jessica is definitely much better than the original series’ Jessica! But Liz tells Jess she would rather go to the beach in the morning.
The next morning, Liz wakes Jess up. Jess then snaps an Instagram of herself lounging in bed for her Insta, looking off at an unknown something to one side, and she captions it “Lazy mornings with bae.” Bruce Patman has this to say in response: “OMFG jessica are you SLEEPING with him?! seriously?!” Damn girl, you’re gonna get someone arrested.
Liz and Jess hit the beach where Liz makes sure they run into Roy Marlowe and his pregnant partner, Jennifer. Jessica is thoroughly embarrassed, and comes down off her Roy cloud – especially when Roy announces he’s coming to Sweet Valley High to teach in the fall – and everyone is bound to realize Jess wasn’t really dating him and had made a bunch of that shit up. Roy then introduces the twins to his nephew, Ben Marlowe, who’s their age, super muscular, and also coming to SVH. There’s a panel where Roy introduces Ben, and Roy suddenly looks like he’s about 50 years old and with no chin, like King of the Hill. I don’t know if they did that on purpose, but I think it’s hilarious. Compared to Ben, he no doubt suddenly DOES look way older to Jessica!
Liz and Ben take an interest in one another, and Ben starts texting Liz to ask her about the student newspaper. Meanwhile, Todd sends Liz a snapchat of himself in his swim trunks asking her to forgive him, but she ignores it. Jess barges into Liz’s room and expresses some mild shock that Ben is texting Liz and not her. Then Liz goes on a coffee date with Ben, and we have our set up for the next book.
Other stuff: Steven comes home from a date with Tricia Martin in this book and, just like in the original series, Jessica doesn’t approve because Tricia’s sister is “trouble” Betsy Martin. Oh boy, I guess we can look forward to that whole story again!
There’s a scene where Jessica is drawn in some panels without a headband, and in the following panels she suddenly has one on.
The SVH cheerleading team is now called the Boosters. This was originally the name of the cheerleading squad at Sweet Valley Middle School (from the Sweet Valley Twins series).
Roy Marlowe’s office door suddenly changes to say “Prof. Roy Malory” in one or two panels. Not only is the last name wrong, but he is supposed to be only a T.A., not a full fledged professor. I’m guessing he was originally a professor in the story and the editors didn’t update all of the original graphics by mistake.
Amy has a unicorn phone case with a horn coming out of it. Liz has a phone case with some kind of cat image on it.
Jessica’s Instagram name is DEVILINABLUEJESS. Amy’s is the totally boring BOOSTERAMY and Lila’s is LOVE.LILA.XO. Bruce’s is PATMAN.PLAYA.01. I’m DYING!!!
One of the twins mentions that they are going to help their mother make vegan sloppy joes for a conservation event.
Liz reads a book titled “Chicken Soup” something or other. Is it supposed to be one of those Chicken Soup for the Soul books? I used to read those in high school, no joke. They had a couple for teenagers too. Do they still publish those?
In one panel it’s said that Liz and Todd have been dating since the second grade. In another panel that gets changed to the sixth grade (which would be Sweet Valley Twins). Maybe the first panel was an exaggeration / joke?
Coming up next: The ending makes clear that another graphic novel is planned, in which Liz will be caught between Ben and Todd. It implies that Ben is or will become Jessica’s crush. Hopefully Ben’s muscles will be drawn better in the next book. And speaking of the next book, I haven’t heard or seen anything on when book #2 is coming out or what it will be called. This may well depend on how well #1 sells. I think grown-up SVH fans will flock to it, perhaps not in droves as with Sweet Valley Confidential (partially because SVC seemed to have far more buzz), but the nostalgia will draw in many. Whether younger readers will pick up this new series, and feel they can relate to the stories, remains to be seen – and right now, I seriously have my doubts. What do you think?