Manuelito, A Graphic Novel

By Elisa Amado
Illustrated by Abraham Urias
Publisher: Annick Press
Publication Date: April 9, 2019


Manuelito is a grade-school boy from a rural Mayan village in the highlands of Guatemala. His community was rife with violence from various groups including the armed civil patrol (PACs, in Spanish), Maras (gangs), and drug dealers. This story portrays the reality of illegal immigration as a consequence of widespread violence, poverty, and drug trafficking. Manuelito’s school closed and with nowhere else to go and nothing else to do at his age, his family decided to send him to the US to live with his aunt.

The PACs were walking around the village more and more with their guns.
“But suddenly, everything began to change. The PACs were walking around the village more and more with their guns. We tried to pretend that everything was okay.”

After days of traveling, both with and without the assistance of a coyote (people smuggler), he was able to traverse the perilous journey from his village to arrive miraculously in Long Island, NY. He took buses, endured days of traveling with strangers, crossed/swam rivers to get across, and walked for miles just to arrive at his destination.

He was separated from his close friend, Coco Loco and were not afforded the truth to his friend’s demise. Time and again, he wondered where his friend could have gone, if he were taken back to Guatemala, sold to gang members, or worse… He had also encountered other individuals who had stories as tragic as his; rape victims or runaways from identical types of violence.

Nonetheless, the story ending was depressing. Despite having reached his destination and were finally living in an ideal world with his aunt, he had to face the harsh truth that US authorities were in constant search of undocumented immigrants to send back to their originating countries.


I liked the book cover. At first glance, I saw an innocent boy who had a story to share. It seemed auspicious based on other things such as the two boys running together on the bottom of the spread, men on the background who might be working at their farms, and a peaceful village behind them. Alas, it is a lie and quite the opposite is true.

Manuelito’s story may be that of just one person but it is similar to the hundreds of thousands of people, including unaccompanied minors, who cross the US borders on an annual basis. We get slight glimpses of his journey from his Mayan village to Long Island, succinct and to the point; graphics that are accompanied by short descriptions.


The advanced review copy (ARC) had blurry images, some drawings were indistinguishable even. The illustrations seemed like they were outlines and were drawn over images. The stories and descriptions were written in ALL CAPS! I don’t think I’ve ever read a book (or most of it) that was written in all capital letters. There were more than enough instances of bad grammar and incomplete sentences (or no sentence structures). The dialogue bubbles could also have been structured and arranged better for me to be able to follow along with the conversations.

Unfortunately, this story needed more depth to be memorable in my opinion. It is very timely to what crisis the US is facing on its borders but this graphic novel did not successfully embody that crisis and failed to execute a more affecting storytelling.

I give this book 3 (out of 5) stars.

Images copyright: Elisa Amado and Annick Press Ltd. I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. #Manuelito #NetGalley

Stolen Words

Stolen Words / kimotinâniwiw itwêwina

By Melanie Florence
Gabrielle Grimard (Illustrations)
Dolores Sand (Translation)
Publisher: Second Story Press; Dual language (English & Cree) edition
Publication Date: September 17, 2019


This is a very poignant story, a story of a little girl asking her grandfather how to say a certain word in his Cree language. However, he is saddened because he does not remember his language, it has been stolen from him as a young boy. This story introduces to young readers the brutality of Native Canadian history, though in a profoundly artistic way, of their residential school system which was created for “the purpose of removing Indigenous children from the influence of their own culture and assimilating them into the dominant Canadian culture, ‘to kill the indian in the child’” (Wikipedia).

“Clutching a dream catcher she had made from odds and ends.”

“How do you say ‘grandfather’ in Cree?”

The story and the artwork/illustrations blend harmoniously to create this beautiful yet emotional tale. The story takes you into an emotional roller-coaster ride from a happy, care-free day after school, to an anguishing moment when the grandfather retells his story of younger days. The most haunting image depicts sad, young Cree boys in residential school having their words taken away from them portrayed as a bird flying out of their mouths and it being locked up in a cage by the white man.

Stolen Words Children's Book
“They took our words and locked them away”

The little girl comforted her grandfather by giving him the dreamcatcher that she had made and presenting him with a gift the next day. She gave him a book, a book that consisted of the words he had lost. As he turned the pages, he whispered the words and they “felt familiar in his mouth.” And, as though they have been imprisoned within the pages, the words broke free from their cage as he uttered them once again.

I loved this book. I love books that are bilingual in that they tell the same story in two different languages. In the United States, we can learn something from this narrative. Where, with at least 350 languages are spoken (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015), I believe that it is important to integrate these languages in our schools and our daily lives, especially in children’s books, because they tell the story of our cultures and the history of how we became a nation presently.

Images copyright: Melanie Florence and Gabrielle Grimard, Second Story Press. I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. #KimotināniwiwItwêwinaStolenWords #NetGalley


The American Dream?: A Journey on Route 66 Discovering Dinosaur Statues, Muffler Men, and the Perfect Breakfast Burrito.

By Shing Yin Khor
Publisher: Zest Books; 1 edition
Publication Date: August 6, 2019


I was intrigued when I saw Shing Yin Khor’s book about the “American Dream” and, although it was her interpretation of her American Dream, I was absorbed by the illustrations and the promising content.

I want to start with the illustrations. I am also an illustrator and an artist myself (although, not very good) so I do appreciate looking at the nicely done watercolor illustrations and visual contents. I especially love the two-page spreads of landscape illustrations of Owl Canyon, AZ, and Blue Mesa at the Petrified Forest National Park. I love the contrasting color schemes used on the sunset, dusk, the expanse of the landscape, and a few sprinkles of stars in the darkening sky. I liked how she used movements on the paintings to convey people’s (and animals’) expressions and feelings. I like the color scheme overall.

Blue Mesa, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ
Copyright, Shing Yin Khor

In the beginning, the author described how she longed to understand the concept of the American Dream and hoped to achieve this by undertaking a road trip with her dog, along the historic Route 66. To her, the forgotten era of “tacky roadside attractions, and tiny abandoned towns, and little diners and motels” were the characterization of America “more than anything else.” She had lived in Los Angeles for a number of years and wanted to explore the “real America.” She met people, both friends and strangers in different towns and cities, who aided her in her journey with her quest.

She liked using peculiar words such as “kitsch” and “outsiderness” and, as another reviewer had stated, the writing style may be more suitable for younger readers. Her attention to detail is apparent, however, it can be improved. For instance, the map of the U.S. did not match her state maps–Chicago is by the water and not landlocked (pp 10-11). I couldn’t actually tell if her dog, Bug was a girl or a boy. She referred to the dog as “she/her” but female dogs don’t normally raise their hind leg to pee 😉

In a sense, I somewhat relate to her story. I too am an immigrant to the U.S. but we have two different interpretations of what embodies the American dream.

Towards the end, and halfway through her journey, she had become exhausted and “skeptical that the American dream still existed” but remained hopeful of its potential, just like the deserted waterpark she was sitting on at the time. She may have finally realized that her journey had become ineffectual, as I have also felt the same while getting closer to the end of the book. Her last half of the trip (from Texas to Illinois) seemed rushed compared to the beginning, where she spent almost a quarter of her time mostly in Arizona. By the end, she felt unaccomplished by taking the long road trip. I also felt unfulfilled after going through the rest of the book.

I think that the book title The American Dream? depicts its content precisely, in that she was left uncertain of her purpose in taking this journey (hence having a question mark.) I give this book 3.5 (out of 5) stars.

I cannot help but compare Khor’s memoir with another recently published book with (almost) the same title, I Was Their American Dream by Malika Gharib. I highly recommend Gharib’s book, where she also described her upbringings in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious household and community, and how she had managed to get to where she is now. Read my review to I Was Their American Dream.

Image copyright: Shing Yin Khor’s Portfolio, sawdustbear.comI was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I Was Their American Dream

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir

By Malaka Gharib
Publisher: Clarkson Potter
Publication Date: April 30, 2019


I first learned about Gharib’s I Was Their American Dream on social media then shortly after, I saw it at a local book fair so I had to get it!

This graphic memoir explored significant topics about race and diversity that many of us in America constantly experience. It conveyed something that was familiar to me and yet so unique. Stories like this that are diverse on religion, culture, and nationality topics are rarely seen. Unless I search for them on the Internet and forgotten bookshelves at the library, I don’t get to see stories that I can relate to or read about. More importantly, it was portrayed in a creative way and on a “trendy” medium such as a graphic novel, so I was very excited to have found this book.

This book is quite relevant to me on many levels having immigrated to the United States when I was a teenager. I have certainly been “whitewashed” after having moved away from home at an early age. It is a continuous struggle for me to try and connect with my heritage and I could empathize with many of the instances mentioned in this book. The questions Gharib were asked as a high school student, “What are you?” was a reminder to when I was intermingled with other military service members. Having served in the military, I was exposed to many different types of racial backgrounds and nationalities. Questions such as “What are you?” and “Where are you from?” were more common than having asked, “What’s your name?”

What are you?
“What are you?” Image Credit: Malaka Gharib,

Finally, the illustrations and graphics are unpretentious. I like the simplicity of it which supplemented to the great storytelling instead of inundating it with more unnecessary details. As one reader had pointed out, Gharib had used the colors red, white, and blue extensively to represent her American culture among the amalgamation of other events in her life. It’s like she’s telling us that with all the pages in the chapters of her life, they paint the colors that make her a true American.

The one thing that I regret was not knowing that Gharib herself was at the book fair, and it would have been cool to get her autograph my copy 🙂


You can find this book on


In The News

Kay Nielsen’s East of the Sun and West of the Moon

One of the illustrations from Kay Nielsen’s book East of the Sun and West of the Moon
Designed by STadeoDesign

Kay Nielsen's East of the Sun and West of the Moon
So she rode a long, long way, till they came to a great steep hill. There, on the face of it, the White Bear gave a knock, and a door opened, and they came into a castle where there were many rooms all lit up; rooms gleaming with silver and gold; and there, too, was a table ready laid, and it was all as grand as grand could be.

Above is an illustration redesign of one of the images from Kay Nielsen’s book East of the Sun and West of the Moon. I added colors to a black and white image found on the public domain. You can read the book online or download the ebook from Please don’t forget to add a reference link to this blog if you would like to use the image.

I recently learned of Kay Nielsen while doing research on fairy tales, myth and folklores, illustrations, and picture books in general. I came across a copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales (copyright 1924, printed 1932) at a local used book store and I just could not believe my luck! Kay Nielsen “illustrated books with the publication of Fairy Tales by Hans Andersen in 1924. That title included 12 color plates and more than 40 monotone illustrations.” ( You can view or purchase a copy of the same Fairy Tales here if you are interested.

East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Illustrator: Kay Nielsen
Here is the original illustration from Gutenberg.

Nielsen’s illustrations are categorized under the Art Nouveau movement from the early 1900s, which I am obsessed with. Naturally, I am now obsessed with Kay Nielsen’s work. I am however in search of the original copy of East of the Sun and West of the Moon, if not, I can settle with the newer edition, which still looks very good.

This project allowed me to accomplish several tasks all at once. First, I have been meaning to practice my drawing/painting skills using digital tools. I have only used acrylic on canvas and doodled on my journal using a pencil whenever I get the chance. I have been creating illustrations for years but they were mostly logos and marketing materials. Second, I wanted to finally use my Wacom tablet that I received as a gift many years ago! I was very glad to learn that it was still compatible with my computer. Finally, I am fortunate to have Photoshop CC from my job and able to use it while I’m off work. I am also going to be using Krita, “a professional FREE and open source painting program,” which I’ve found only recently and I am excited to learn and start using it.

My goal is to continue drawing and painting in order to hone my skills and also to imitate Nielsen’s illustrations. Eventually, I would like to come up with my own designs and publish them as well. I will continue updating this blog with more of my version of Nielsen’s artwork as soon as I have them.

You can follow me on Twitter @stadeo17 and IG @santadeophoto.

Flag Contest Entry: Monongalia County Commission

Monongalia County Flag Contest (October 2017)
Entry for the Monongalia County Flag Contest (October 2017)

In August 2017, the County Commission of Monongalia, WV announced a contest in designing a new county flag to be flown at the courthouse square after its renovation this fall.

The commission requested that designers observe the following rules when submitting their proposals:

  1. The design should be simple and colorful using up to three colors (and possible other symbols)
  2. Use meaningful symbolism: images, colors, and patterns should relate to what it symbolizes
  3. The overall design should be distinctive to distinguish it from other flags
  4. Submissions are required to include the county seal and the year the county was formed

The first three rules appear to be taken from the Five Basic Principles of Flag Design of However, the last requirement completely ignores one of the principles:

4. No Lettering or Seals; never use writing of any kind or an organization’s seal.

Thus, my design did not follow all the rules demanded by the Commission. My conscience did not allow me to plonk down the county seal on my design 😉 . Below is my entry to the contest, submitted on August 30, 2017. Read underneath it for the meaning and symbolism of each item on the flag, as well as the final results!

Monongalia County Courthouse is the most distinctive and recognizable symbol of the county. Incorporated on the county seal, the courthouse is one that is loved by [county] residents and enjoyed by visitors. The year 1776 was included to signify the county creation by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on that year.

The golden rope encircling the courthouse is also derived from the county seal representing unity, continuity and connectivity of the “mother county” and its surrounding areas; including the northern West Virginia and several Pennsylvania counties.

The blue background represents patriotism and harmony. Blue is the color of water and the sky which is harmonious in the county landscape. It represents Monongahela River where the county takes its name. It also represents the first native settlers of the area, the Mound Builders (or the Adena people).

Alas! My entry did not take the price. A local Morgantown HS student won among 85 applicants of the design competition for the Monongalia County Flag. You can view the winning entry on one of my tweets. Nonetheless, I actually received an award for an honorable mention with a certificate and a small prize, so thank you Monongalia County Commission.

For your musings:

United States Space Force

United States Space Force Logo -
United States Space Force Logo –


The logo above was based on the existing Shield of Air Force Space Command (no copyright infringement intended.)

The centrally dominant globe represents the earth as viewed from space, the earth being both the origin and control point for all satellites. The emblem is provided its distinctive appearance by two symmetric ellipses representing the orbital paths traced by satellites in earth orbit, the satellites themselves being symbolically depicted as four-point stars. The 30-degree orbital inclination and symmetrically opposed placement of the satellites signify the worldwide coverage provided by Air Force satellites in accomplishing space-based surveillance, navigation, weather, missile warning and communications missions. The slight tapering of the orbital ellipses represents the characteristic eastward motion. The centrally superimposed deltoid symbolizes both the Space Force upward thrust into space and the launch vehicles needed to place all satellites in orbit. The distinctive dark blue background shading and small globe and stars symbolize the space environment.

The enlisted rank designs below were entirely of my own conceptualization and did not mean any copyright infringement from other designs. Basis and reference of designs are indicated on links below. When using images, use “Copyright:” and to include the link to this blog. Thank you for viewing!

These two sets of insignia are similar except for the color schemes: gold/black and blue/white.

United States Space Force Enlisted Ranks -
United States Space Force Enlisted Ranks (Gold)
United States Space Force Rank -
United States Space Force Rank (Blue)


The design of the enlisted ranks are based on the U.S. Air Force enlisted rank insignia.

The rank structures and pay grades are based on and a combination of both the

United States Marine Corps rank insignia and the United States Air Force officer rank insignia.

(As of June 2018) The U.S. Space Force (USSF) (if approved by Congress) is a proposed sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces intended to have control over military operations in outer space. It would absorb the operations and duties of the Air Force Space Command, a major command of the United States Air Force that currently handles and supports most of the country’s military operations in space.

My previous design for the US Space Corps logo/seal:

United States Space Corps Seal
United States Space Corps Seal

Reference and latest developments can be found on Wikipedia: United States Space Force.

Flag of Howard County

I redesigned the flag of Howard County, Maryland to depict a cleaner and more modern design. No copyright infringement is intended.

It is described as “a red and white design which incorporates part of the Maryland flag.” The colors also reflect the exact colors of the flag of Maryland, including the red and gold.

Howard County Redesign Flag, Maryland
Howard County Redesign Flag

The top left quarter, a “sheaf of wheat in gold symbolizes the agricultural heritage of the County” which can also be found on the original seal of Howard County dating back from 1840. The bottom left quarter depicts a golden triangle “symbolizing the unique position of Howard in the future development of the eastern seaboard.”

The flag of Howard County, Maryland was established in 1968 through a contest and was designed by Jean O. Hannon.


The Proportional States of America

I have thought about “revising” the U.S. map/state lines for a while now. Think L’Enfant and Ellicott’s Federal City design. On a designer’s perspective, I have constantly become a little annoyed by looking at state borders that do not make any sense. Panhandles and Delaware’s Twelve-Mile Circle? Don’t get me wrong, I love history and geography and I often find myself browsing for hours through Wikipedia pages on how a certain state (or country, town, territory, etc.) came to be. Their history, after all is a part of what defines them as an entity.

Proportional States of America, Copyright STadeo Design

My thought process was not based on historical events or some failed ratification of law some time in history, it was based, sort of, on the already existing borders. Without political influences, the proportional map was made by superimposing the current state borders so that they can still be distinguished somewhat. I also drew parallel lines in order to form a linear border system on almost all of the states.

Proportional States of America, Copyright STadeo Design

The Proportional States of America, in order to become proportional, the state lines had to be further divided or extended. For instance, California would have to be divided into two states to prevent having a weird “L” shape. The US-Mexican border would have to become a straight (slanted) line extending from San Diego to the tip of Texas, in Brownsville. Panhandles are now absent (ID, OK, FL, and AK?).

I do not consider this an “alternate history,” instead it is an alternative design of the United States, considering that all states joined the “Territories” at the same time in. Furthermore, the Proportional States of America would now have 54 states including the District of Columbia (DC), Puerto Rico (PR), Guam, and California (Sur).