Archive for the 'comic books' Category

“Through the Woods” by Emily Carroll

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

woods

For my most recent, fifth book group, Beer + Comix held at Wild Rumpus bookstore in the Twin Cities, I read Through the Woods by Emily Carroll a graphic novel collection of short story/fable-type things.

Carroll’s work reminded me strongly of Angela Carter’s reimagined, feminist retelling of old fairy tales. They felt hauntingly familiar even though they are Carroll’s own work. The art and interplay with text were lovely to read.

The collection has four stories with young women as main characters. The central story is “His Face All Red” which is available online. The stories made for a good discussion, as they are open to interpretation, and all the spookier for it.

“Fables v. 20: Camelot”

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Like Unwritten, Fables the comic series is coming to a close. In this collection, Camelot, we have tension between sisters Snow White and Rose Red. Snow is being fierce while Rose is being stubborn about what is probably a bad idea. Leigh Duglas is up to no good, and what’s going to happen with Bigby Wolf? I enjoyed this collection a lot more than I did the previous one, Snow White, and especially the issue set in something like the afterlife.

The Unwritten v9, 10: Fables & War Stories

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

As the comic-book series The Unwritten closes in on its ending, I read the two latest collections, Unwritten: Fables and Unwritten: War Stories, back to back.

I had a moment of panic when I started Unwritten: Fables, which crosses over with the Vertigo series. The Fables-verse seemed in a very strange place from where I remembered it. Quick answer: don’t panic. This is like an elseworlds, it doesn’t fit into strict continuity, things are weird in the Fables world of this book because the Unwritten world has de-stabilized all stories. Just go with it and enjoy it, and appreciate the many similarities and differences. As always, I liked spending time with Frau Totenkinder.

The Unwritten: War Stories
has Tom recovering from the events in Fables. All the war stories begin to come alive, and Pauly Bruckner has some more tough times.

These were tantalizing reads as the series is about to end, and I’m hoping the creative team can stick the landing. As I’ve mentioned before, this series is full of geeky goodness, and fans of Sandman, Fables, and other mythic literature will likely enjoy it.

“Saga v1″ by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

The Saga comic-book series has quickly developed a rabid fan base. Vaughan is a popular writer, but I had problems with his former series Y the Last Man (too static art), and Ex Machina (hated the ending). Saga, though, reminded me of his earlier work on Runaways, which I enjoyed a lot more. Saga volume 1 collects the beginning of the series.

Vaughan describes it as “Star Wars for perverts” and that’s not inaccurate. It’s not for the weak of stomach, and has graphic violence, horror, and sex. It also has a great sense of humor, a winning cast featuring star-crossed lovers Alana and Marko, a ghost babysitter, a sidekick cat who can tell who is lying, a living tree spaceship, and more, more, more. And Fiona Staples’ art is entertaining as all get out.

“The Shadow Hero” by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

I liked Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s The Shadow Hero as I read it, then even more when I read the back matter detailing the admittedly sketchy history of the actual Golden Age comics hero The Green Turtle.

Yang (American Born Chinese, Boxers, and Saints) writes and Liew illustrates, and it’s a good partnership. Like American Born Chinese, this mixes myth and the struggle of Chinese Americans. The main character is Hank, a young man who works in his father’s Chinatown grocery. The balance of realism, superhero tropes and Chinese myths drew me in quickly. This is a fun read with serious undertones, historical echoes, plus, perhaps my favorite part: Turtle God!

“Smile” and “Sisters” by Raina Telgemaier

Friday, September 12th, 2014

smile sisters

I read Raina Telgemaier’s second book, Drama, before I read her first, the comic-book memoir Smile. I liked Drama, but didn’t love, and figured I’d check out Smile at my leisure.

In the comic shop a few weeks ago, they had a box set of Smile plus Telgemaier’s new book, Sisters. I hemmed and hawed about buying them. You know the drill–not supposed to spend money, not supposed to buy more books, not sure I’ll like them, blah, blah, blah. Then, to absolutely no one’s surprise, I bought them.

To MY surprise, however, I was not the first one to read them. 11yo Drake and 8yo Guppy tore into them as soon as we got into the car, then traded, then re-read them. I’d bought them for me, hoping the boys might, maybe, be interested in these books even if they were about girls. Both boys had read both books multiple times by the time I got to them.

And they’re just lovely. Smile is the story of Raina’s childhood accident when she loses her two front permanent teeth, and has to navigate dentral trauma and drama in her early teens. Sisters is another window that focuses on her relationship with her younger sister Amara, and a cross-country car trip in a van.

The art is well done and accessible, the stories and emotions full of stuff to relate to. It was a joy to visit Raina’s childhood both times, even when it was difficult and sad.

A few days later, one of Drake’s friends down the street borrowed the books, then returned them. Apparently his mom and older brother had also read and enjoyed them in the meantime.

I’m not sure I’ve ever bought books that were so loved by so many, so quickly! A definite win.

“Embroideries” and “Chicken with Plums” by Marjane Satrapi

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

I followed up my recent re-reading of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis with two of her other memoirs about her family, Embroideries, and Chicken with Plums.

embroideries

Embroideries expands on the life of Marjane’s grandmother, and stories are told by her and her friends in regular women’s gathering for tea. The stories are about marriage, sex, love, and its lack. The intimate setting of a small living room contrasts with the oppressive regime outside in Iran, and makes this small book a real gem.

chicken

Chicken with Plums is the story of one of Satrapi’s great-uncles, a musician in an unhappy marriage. In flashbacks, we learn his history in music and love. This is the second time I read the book, and both times it failed to connect with me emotionally as Satrapi’s other books did. Neither the story nor images remain with me, as they do from the other books.

“Stardust: Being a Romance Within the Realms of Faerie” by Gaiman/Vess

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

stardust

After I finished re-reading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I felt ambivalent, meaning torn, not indifferent. My favorite part of the book was the Hempstock family. A friend told me that the Hempstocks appeared in two other Gaiman works, Stardust and The Graveyard Book. I took my lovely edition of the graphic novel off a dusty shelf and dove in, probably for the first time since I read it in the individual issues when they came out in 19xx, and subsequently earned a World Fantasy Award. After that, Gaiman made a prose novel out of it, and after that it was turned into a movie. But before all that, it was a four-issue comic-book series, and that is what I re-read.

The tale starts with a young man named Dunstan Thorn, but soon shifts to the future and Dunstan’s son Tristan, who makes a rash promise to a pretty girl. An adventure in the land of Faerie begins, which includes murder, mayhem, witches, unicorns, falling stars, prophecies, a weird small farting creature, truth, and lies.

Gaiman and Vess have obvious affection for a good fairy story. Gaiman’s market is straight out of Christina Rosetti’s poem The Goblin Market, and Vess’s illustrations hark back to Arthur Rackham’s classic fairy drawings. While Tristan’s tale is fun and interesting, the only Hempstocks that appear are dull and conventional, nothing like their sparkling sistren in The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

This is an entertaining diversion, made better by its illustrations. Thus, I can’t see the value in seeking out the prose novel, but I remember the movie was pretty good.

“Seconds” by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

seconds1

Seconds is a standalone graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley, author/illustrator of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series. Scott Pilgrim was about a twenty-something Canadian slacker boy. Seconds features Katie, a 29-year-old chef on the verge of opening her own restaurant.

Katie has a gorgeous ex named Max, a weird server working for her named Hazel, a money pit of a new restaurant, and a hot affair going with the new chef at Seconds. Katie starts having weird dreams, and after a rough night, she finds something weird in the dresser that came with the house. If she eats a mushroom and writes down something she regrets, she gets a second chance to make it right. Then things get really weird.

Seconds is funny and charming, with manga-influenced art and its Japanese folk mythology.

One of my favorite aspects was when the narrator of the story would argue with Katie, and the words would clash with the pictures. From page 11, which you need to see to get the full effect:

Narrator: Katie was stressed out.
Katie: I’m perfectly fine.
Narrator: She was sleeping too little, worrying too much, feeling old.
Katie: She was in her twenties and young and totally great.
Narrator: At 29, she felt like everything was slipping away.
Katie: Um, no.
Narrator:…and she was talking to herself more than usual.
Katie: [scribbly ball of frustration or cursing]

It’s also a lovely coming-of-age tale about that liminal time of 29 when big, scary things often happen in life, and an entertaining, sometimes scary meditation on the old adage of “Be careful what you wish for.”

“Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

persepolis

I read Marjane Satrapi’s two comic-book memoirs, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, years ago when they were released in the US. I recently selected them for one of my book groups, as some members had never read a graphic novel or memoir. Not only do I think they are accessible and compelling, but I think they’re great examples of the comics medium, showcasing how deceptively simple black and white art can convey a story with multiple layers and meanings.

Persepolis 1: The Story of a Childhood, is about Marjane’s youth in Iran, where her parents are wealthy intellectuals. She provides history of the country, as well as numerous small but telling details of her life, and her parents lives, under the increasingly repressive religious regime of the Ayatollah after the Shah was deposed.

Satrapi and I are nearly the same age. Some of my first political memories are of the hostages in Iran, and the US media’s portrayal of heroes and villains in the uprising. I only wish I’d had a book like this when I was younger, but it’s better late than never.

Persepolis 2:The Story of a Return, is harder to like, but a more complicated book. In the first book, Marji is a charming child, and a pawn of the history happening around her. In book 2, she grows to adolescence, and adulthood, making flawed and human mistakes while still portraying the evolving political environment and oppression, as well as her and her friends and families small rebellions within it.

The volumes are available separately, or together in a collected version. Additionally, there is an animated film for which Satrapi was a collaborator. It is lovely and evocative, both similar and different to the books, but leveraging motion and sound to tell the story in different ways. If you haven’t read the books, do so, then see the movie.

“Sex Criminals: One Weird Trick” by Matt Fraction

Monday, August 25th, 2014

sexcrim

As I try to catch up on my book blogging, I keep an eye out for opportunities to condense and collapse, two books by an author, or graphic novels. Should I pair a graphic novel with the novel that spurred me to re-read it? Or should I pair it with the other graphic novel I read near it, which was superficially very different, yet perhaps lurkingly the same. As I type this, I’ve gone with the latter, but we’ll see how things end up. I may have to give each of them their own entry.

Let’s just get this out of the way, then, especially for you kind readers who visit from Semicolon’s Review of Books. One of the graphic novels is a collection of the series Sex Criminals: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. It was recommended by a friend who leads a local book group. I had passed on it because of its title both when I saw the comic coming out monthly and when I saw it collected, but my friend was adamant that it was great, so I gambled the $9.99 (well played, Image Comics marketing) for the collection, and ended up glad I did. While it is definitely weird, and about sex, it isn’t depraved. In fact, it’s often kind of sweet. Really!

Suzie is an average young woman who works in a library about to be bought by a large corporation. There is one weird thing about her, though. When she has an orgasm, time stops, and she can wander around in it while others are frozen. One night at a party, she and a guy named Jon hit it off, and she is startled to learn he has the same ability. Jon is a book-loving geek, and he and Suzie are quickly fascinated and infatuated with one another. With their rising passion, they conceive the idea to rob the bank that’s destroying the library and buy back the books with what they steal. They’re like Robin Hood, with orgasms. Unfortunately, they’re alarmed to find there are some sort of sex police who can also move in stopped time, intent on stopping Suzie and Jon, no matter how well intentioned.

Sex Criminals is one weird trick, indeed. Suzie and Jon are so charming, though, and the questions about who and what the time police are, have me waiting eagerly for the next collection. So eagerly, in fact, that I am now reading it monthly, not waiting for the trade.

OK, well, there you go. Apparently, I think Sex Criminals deserves its own entry.

“Boxers” and “Saints” by Gene Luen Yang

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

boxers saints

As if I don’t have enough book groups–I attend three on a regular basis–a friend asked if I wanted to attend a graphic novel discussion of Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers and Saints.

Oh, wait, and I’m doing a readalong of Moby Dick, does that count? And reading a string of books along with my boys this summer. So I probably shouldn’t have said yes but did anyway. Story of my life. I set aside Moby and Walden (which, frankly, aren’t that hard to put down, though they kind of put me down–to sleep that is) and picked up Yang’s graphic novels, which are companions and meant to be read together, ideally with Boxers (the big one) first.

Boxers tells the story of Little Bao, a boy in 1898 China who sees his family and village devastated by the effects of foreigners and Christianity. He and others join together, harnessing the power of Chinese gods to defend against the “foreign devils.” But what happens when the tenets of kung fu clash with their attempt to preserve their culture and beliefs?

Saints is the story of Four-Girl, befriended and taken in by Christians. She sees visions, first from Chinese myth and later from Christian myth. She is a pleasingly complex character, and I was more drawn in to her story than to Bao’s. The stories intersect, and I was glad to still have Boxers at hand to refer back to.

Like Yang’s autobiographical American Born Chinese, these contain history, personal stories, and magical realism. I knew little about the Boxer rebellion, and was glad to read about it.

“American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

abc

A friend invited me to a book discussion of Gene Luen Yang’s graphic historical novels Boxers and Saints, so I figured I’d finally seize the synchronicity and pick up Yang’s highly acclaimed, award-winning first graphic novel, American Born Chinese.

The stories of three beings interweave: the ancient Monkey King of China, a boy named Jin Wang moving to a new school in the US, and an American white boy named Danny whose cousin, Chin Kee, visits and embarrasses him on a regular basis.

I enjoyed the exploits of the monkey king and Jin’s story. Less clear to me, and far less enjoyable (though not intended to be) were the episodes with boring Danny and his offensively caricatured cousin Chin Kee, embodying numerous American stereotypes of Asians, and set to a visual laugh track. These sections were discomforting, deliberately confronting racist stereotypes, and felt less balanced than the other two story lines when all three intersected.

I wanted to really like this book, I can see why it’s so highly praised, I question my reasons for merely liking it but in the end, that’s what it was: I liked it.

“Skim” and “This One Summer” by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

Friday, June 6th, 2014

I picked up the graphic novel This One Summer by cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki at the comic book store, flipped through it and thought it looked good. Then I flipped it over, and something about the range of blurbs sold me. Hope Larson and Craig Thompson are graphic novelists whose work I admire. Sheila Heti wrote a critically acclaimed book that a few of my friends really hated. Daniel Handler is Lemony Snicket. The range of blurbers, as well as their sincere sounding blurbs, made me put it in the weekly to-buy pile. I devoured the book, and thought it would have held its own among some of the young-adult classics from The Summer of Shelf Discovery I did a few years ago.

thisonesummer

This One Summer is told from Rose’s view. She and her parents go to Awago Beach every summer. But this year, as she’s stepping away from childhood and dipping her toe into moody adolescence, her parents are fighting, her friend Windy is provoking, and everything seems to be changing. As the book progresses we learn more about why Rose’s mom is so distant, and get insight into a drama the local teens are enmeshed in. We discover, with Rose, lovely things, sad things, disturbing things. The book deftly evokes that awkward age, and the push/pull between teen and adult weirdness and longing for childhood innocence and fun.

skim

After I finished, I sought out the cousins’ first book, Skim. The main character is also a young girl’s coming-of-age novel. Skim is the unkindly bestowed and stoically endured nickname for Kim, a not slim girl in Canada who is interested in Wicca and the tarot. She also has to manage well-meaning but unhelpful parents, a new crush, and school society after a tragedy intrudes. Her friendships at the girls’ school she attends ebb and flow, with mean girls and cliques and other slices of life.

This is the thing about school dances. They make like it’s supposed to be this other-worldly thing, but really it’s just the people you see every day dressed up, standing in the gym in the dark with Red Hot Chili Peppers playing.

Both books are lovely to look at and well written. They touch on sexuality, sexual orientation, friendship, and parents, the often fraught battlefields of the pre-teen and teen years. I’m glad to have read them both.

Two Graphic Novels

Friday, May 16th, 2014

I am trying to catch up on my book blogging, so I may do a couple of combo-pack posts like this one. I’m doing my comic-book and graphic-novel reading in between bigger books, so they’re kind of like mortar in a brick wall.

iron

I’m really enjoying the current run of Wonder Woman, and the latest graphic novel collection is volume 3, Iron. Wonder Woman is trying to figure out what shenanigans the Greek gods are up to, and where the heck Zeus has gone. I’m really enjoying the art, and the portrayal of the gods.

nemo

Speaking of bad-a$$ female protagonists, the latest novel in Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen features Janni, the original Captain Nemo’s daughter, who goes after the men who kidnapped her daughter. Much of this is in German, though it’s not impossible to follow, since as we all know, Nazis are bad.

The Unwritten v. 8: Orpheus in the Underground by Carey and Gross

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

unwritten81

The Unwritten: Orpheus in the Underground is the 8th volume in the Unwritten comic book series about a boy named Tom Taylor, whose father wrote a popular series of books starring a boy wizard named Tommy Taylor. This volume featured the return of many favorite previous characters, and satisfying redemption of one particularly nasty one. If you like graphic novels like Sandman or Lucifer or Fables, you should be reading this series.

“The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice”

Monday, September 30th, 2013

tommy

Now, HERE is a good entry into the excellent and involving comic-book series The Unwritten. In The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice, we get origin stories for both Tom Taylors, the real one and the fictional one. In alternating segments, illustrated in alternating styles, we learn how writer Wilson Taylor simultaneously created both his real son Tom and his fictional character Tommy.

In what has been told piecemeal throughout the series so far, we get the backstory of Tom’s mother, her pregnancy, and Wilson’s machinations to create a living embodiment/mirror of a fictional creation.

This alternates with the text of the first Tommy Taylor book that Wilson was writing, the Ship That Sank Twice about a boy named Tommy, his friends Sue and Peter, and their magical adventure.

Like all of Unwritten, this is a twisty-turny tale that has literary references upon references, yet is good no matter how many you get or don’t, e.g., the Dumbledore-ish character is called Tulkinghorn, a name from Dicken’s Bleak House. I really enjoyed how it joined together and filled in so much of what readers knew and didn’t know.

While I liked the idea of the alternating styles, crisp pencils for the “real” world and softer watercolors for the fictional one, many of the segments had a different style. The credits page indicate that Peter Gross did all the layouts but several different artists did the finishing, This range of art styles made it feel uneven, rather than balanced, to me. This was a lovely, involving book. I would have preferred to have waited for one that Gross would have illustrated all himself, or at least half and half with another artist like Jon Muth, whose style I was reminded of in the fictional sections. But, I quibble. It’s a lovely book, well illustrated, and well told. It’s both a good entry in the series and a good possible entry point for new readers.

Fairest v2: The Hidden Kingdom GN

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

punz

The long-running comic-book series Fables is one of the more consistently entertaining ones, and I liked the first storyline of Fairest, so thought I’d give the second one, Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom, a try. The theme of Fairest is to focus on backstory of the “pretty princesses.” And interesting backstory it is, with much darker, more kick-butt background than is imagined by little girls playing Disney dress up.

The image above is from the last issue in the storyline. I use it instead of the front or back cover images, which I found more, oh, what word am I looking for here: trashy, salacious, slutty… Just, not for me. One of Rapunzel’s past lovers was a woman, and this story revolves around that relationship. Sometimes I wonder if the creators of Fables are doing equal-opportunity love, or to pander to those who’d snicker and drool behind their hands. I choose to hope for the former.

Rapunzel gets a message via a fleet of killer origami cranes, the first of many visual nods to Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazoaki. After she escaped from the prison tower of her youth from her adoptive mother (Frau Totenkinder in one of her many guises), Rapunzel spent a lot of time in Japan. I read a brief interview with the author, who said that Japanese ghost stories obsessed with hair seemed a natural fit for Rapunzel. She goes in search of one part of her past, but of course things turn out sideways, and she doesn’t get the happy ending she’d imagined. Along the way, we’re given more tantalizing hints about Totenkinder, my favorite character from the Fables-verse.

Like volume 1 about Cinderella, good, and worthwhile but not required reading, and better in pieces than as a whole. Better to start at the beginning of the Fables graphic novels then to jump in here.

“A Matter of Life” by Jeffrey Brown

Friday, July 19th, 2013

life

A Matter of Life is part of the growing comic-book memoir genre–think Persepolis, Fun Home, and Blankets. I was going to pass this one by when the comic shop guy personally recommended it. Every so often I wonder if he even reads comics any more. But he’d read this and liked it, so I got it.

You may recognize Brown’s art from the wildly popular Darth Vader and Son, which my own sons love, and we’ve shared with many others as gifts. It has a sweet sensibility that combines the love and frustration of parenting with the imagined interactions of Darth Vader and a little Luke Skywalker. There’s now a sequel, Vader’s Little Princess.

But prior to these hits, Brown was known as a comic-book memoirist, and A Matter of Life is in that vein. In short visual stories, we see shots of life, past and present, with Brown’s father and then his son, and all three of them together. As the son of a minister, he declared himself an atheist in his teens and made everyone uncomfortable. Then, when he becomes a father, how does he explain the universe to his son Oscar, without lying, but also without disrespecting the people he loves?

It’s a deceptive book–short, easy to read, often sweet and funny, but with topics as weighted and fraught with mystery and history as the dinosaur skeletons on the cover. The hardcover edition is pleasingly sized with quality paper, typical of publisher Top Shelf’s fare. Being a child, being a parent, struggling to articulate what he believes–Brown’s struggles resonated with me a great deal.

See also: “Exploring a Crisis of Faith with Confessional Comics” at NPR.

“Who is AC?” by Hope Larson

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

ac

I love most of Hope Larson’s graphic novels, Gray Horses, Chiggers, Salamander Dream, Mercury, with the exception of her adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time. I was interested to see how I’d like the oddly titled Who is AC? which is written by Larson, whose art I really like, but illustrated by manga artist Tintin Pantoja.

Lin is moving to a new town with her family. She’s a writer who puts out her own ‘zine. On the plane she gets a mysterious phone call that somehow results in superpowers, and further shenanigans ensue in creating a villain. There are a handful of strong female characters.

There’s lots going on with a big cast of characters. Good and bad lurk in the cyber-background and while this is clearly the beginning of a series, it is a standalone story. While it worked better for me than Foiled and Curses Foiled Again, this feels more disposable than Larson’s earlier works.