October is Graphic Novel Writing Month, and to celebrate, why not try reading a gem from this genre? Queen of Kenosha, (Animal Media Group) written by Howard Shapiro and illustrated by Erica Chan, is a vibrant tale featuring a heroine who is passionate about the work she does, both in the music industry and as a secret operative. 

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It’s 1963 New York City, and Nina Overstreet is anything but your typical recruit for an undercover mission to bring Nazis down. Primarily a singer trying to make it big with a record company with the help of her close friend and agent Christina, Nina also lends a hand at a karate class to make ends meet.

However, after seeing Nina defend herself with her karate skills, Nick Ladd, a secret operative working to bring down the Nazis, observes her fighting skills and fresh perspective and recognizes her potential as a unique addition to a challenging mission. Her travels for her music profession would allow her to go many places without raising suspicion.

Nick’s confidence in Nina is cheering, but the other members of the team are less enthused. The boys’ club Nina enters is quick to make aggressive decisions in order to attain information and discover the identity of the mysterious Alex heading the Nazis. These ex-FBI agents rarely pause to contemplate the morality of their work. Agent Granger especially presents difficulties as a co-worker given his misogynist attitude and maniacal drive to make the Nazis pay for death of his family.

Weighing the ends with the means is a process Nina knew she would encounter in her employment, but she did not often expect the cruel treatment and brisk attitudes coming from her own team. Injecting compassion and a more level-headed approach to missions, her point of view is often rebuked at first.

Nina’s determination to make the world a better place fuels her resilience to keep voicing her opinions and staying with her position, despite the insults that are hurled at her. Ultimately though, Nina’s aptitude for looking at the big picture and the professional manner she handles her missions earns her respect on the team.

Nina and Nick develop a strong friendship (burgeoning on something else), and through all of their dangerous missions to capture Nazi contacts and bring justice to those hurt, Nina retains her love for music and her dream to follow in Bob Dylan’s path with meaningful music.

Effortlessly weaving the protagonist’s  passion for music not just into the plot, but also into the structure of the story, Shapiro starts each new chapter with a list of songs. Some are from big names of the time like Bob Dylan, others are written by the fictional character Nina. Curious to what her lyrics would sound like? You can flip to the back for a sample of her songs.

As the security of their mission is compromised by a mole, large sacrifices are made and everyone, including readers, will be reeling, with the betrayal.

This first installment of the Thin Thinline Trilogy has plenty of action to keep you rapidly flipping the pages (but not too fast, the art and its subtext is too good to miss).  A big twist at the conclusion will leave you longing for the sequel. Fans of music, espionage, and graphic novels alike will rally for the coming of age tale, Queen of Kenosha. 

Queen of Kenosha will be available for purchase October 9th, 2018. 


Howard Shapiro has written four children’s books, three graphic novels and a biography. He lives in Pittsburgh, PA where he runs the day-to-day publishing side of Animal Media Group LLC bringing twelve years of indie publishing experience to the role.


Erica Chan is a freelance illustrator based in Brooklyn and alumni of the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program at the CMU School of Visual Arts. She’s currently working on several comics projects, including one for Amazon Publishing.