Archive for the 'comic books' Category

“American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang

Thursday, June 26th, 2014


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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.

“Foiled” and “Curses, Foiled Again” by Jane Yolen, ill. Mike Cavallaro

Friday, April 26th, 2013


Foiled by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mike Cavallaro is a middle-grade graphic novel about Aliera, an introverted girl who fences who is ostensibly in high school, though she feels much younger to me. There’s a cute new guy at school who seems a little odd and when she tried to meet him at the train station, things become really odd. Aliera’s only friend is her wheelchair-bound cousin with rheumatoid arthritis. She just got a new practice weapon (NB: not a sword) that her mother picked up cheap from a Chinese woman at a tag sale. (I don’t like the Mystical Asian cliche).

My description of the book won’t flow, because my experience didn’t either. It also ends just as it’s getting good. While I know this is part of what a series does, I do feel that each volume should have a complete story, and I didn’t think this one did. So I had hopes for the sequel, Curses Foiled Again. Alas, this worked even less for me, as a big villain was revealed, whose identity, past actions, and motivations I didn’t buy at all.


The illustrations are strong. Aliera is smart and funny, but as a whole, this didn’t work for me. There’s little subtext, so it’s all on the page, and the story isn’t complex enough to fully engage me. Perhaps because I’m not the target market? My children, 7 and 9, both boys, loved them.

“The Unwritten v. 7: The Wound” by Peter Gross and Mike Carey

Friday, April 12th, 2013


Yay! I thought when I got the weekly pile at the comic shop and it included the 7th graphic novel collection of Peter Gross and Mike Carey’s comic-book series The Unwritten: The Wound, about a Harry Potter-like guy who finds that truth and fiction have a very complicated relationship. The problem with these six-issue collections, though, is that this bunch of 6 issues didn’t tell a complete story. It doesn’t stand alone, and merely leaves me hoping that closure comes in volume 8. So, you should absolutely be reading The Unwritten, as it’s one of the best current series out there. But v7 didn’t satisfy on its own.

Also recommended? Brian K Vaughan’s Saga. I buy that one monthly; can’t wait for the collections.

“Building Stories” by Chris Ware

Saturday, April 6th, 2013


I thought Building Stories by Chris Ware was going to be one of the books I skipped in this year’s Tournament of Books. I don’t care for Ware’s precise and ultra-iconic art style, and no matter how many times I tried to read Jimmy Corrigan, I couldn’t get into it. Ware seemed like one of those chilly, distant writers who disdain their subjects. Also, it costs $50 retail. It comes shrink wrapped, and so couldn’t be tried before the buy. When I did finally ask about it at my comic shop, they were out of stock and it was between printings. But then trusted friends like Amy and Kate said it was worthwhile, and I was in a socialist bookstore where they had it back in stock, so I took the leap.

There are 14 elements in the box, in book, strip, newspaper, and other forms. The main character is perhaps a young woman, since most of the stories center on her and her life from childhood to old age. But the conceit is that the brownstone building she lives in as a young woman tells some of the stories, so we also see into the lives of others in the building, and even into some of the local bees. It’s clever and engaging, and its also spookily insightful at times, with the main character sometimes saying things that are true but so ugly that most don’t even write them into journals. There were complex interesting women in this story and their lives were treated with compassion and respect. So while Ware’s style is chilly and distant, his storytelling was not.

Many of the commenters at the ToB advised against ending with the Bee book (NB not the Bee newspaper, but the book; they’re different.) That was good advice. I read it early, and found it amusing. Some readers speculated that there is an advised order of reading printed on the back of the box. I don’t think this is so–there’s a diagram showing where such items appear in the brownstone, but no order, which I think is the point. You can peek into and slip out of these lives, the stories go back and forward in time, there’s no exact beginning and end.

I would have preferred if the contents of the stories would have match the form of the object–like one of the old woman’s letters, the journal of the young woman, a children’s book that told the bee story. As it was, with its seemingly random pairing of story and object, this felt more to me like a “look at me, look at me, look at me now!” trick. And it IS worth looking at, and spending time with. But I was fatigued as I approached the end, and was glad to be done with it. My eyes were burning and tired from the tiny type, even though I have bifocals AND used a magnifying glass. (which would have been a useful addition to the box.) The $50 price tag is steep for a book, though perhaps just a fraction of what such an art object is worth. It does smack of white elitism to me. One of the judges enraged the commenters by belittling the work, but I did like this:

its elaborate packaging allows the thing to double as an oversized merit badge of taste and sensitivity to be displayed on the coffee tables of the McSweeney’s set.

Worthwhile, and I own it, so anyone who wants to borrow it can.

“Fables v 18: Cubs in Toyland” by Bill Willingham et al.

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013


Can this series really be on its 18th collection with Fables: Cubs in Toyland? I continue to enjoy this comic-book series about a group of fairy tale characters who exist alongside the real world, disguised from it. This tale focuses again on the several “cubs” or children of Snow White and Bigby Wolf, spending most of its time with Therese (the princess-y one) and Darien (her brother the pack leader.) It is spooky, creepy, sad, and involving. As usual, the ending leaves me wanting to tear right into the next volume. Good stuff still.

“Revival: You’re Among Friends” GN by Seeley/Norton

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Revival, Vol. 1: You're Among FriendsRevival, Vol. 1: You’re Among Friends by Tim Seeley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Found myself wanting to like this more than I did. I found some clumsy visual storytelling like an text dump on a spread, and multiple characters who look too like others.

Everything reminded me of something else, so nothing felt fresh or original. Newscaster reminded me of Cersei from Game of Thrones. Main character reminded me of something by Rucka (forget which title: Stumptown?) Art and main character design reminded me of Whiteout. CDC guy reminded me of Sayeed from Lost.

Yet it says noir right on the cover, and part of noir is its embracing of tropes. In my experience, a critique of a noir work that says it’s cliche misses the point, and yet that’s what I felt after reading this. Am I missing the point? Not in the mood for noir?

It has an intro by Jeff Lemire who writes Sweet Tooth, which I love, so I feel I should love it by the transitive property. Not sure whether I’ll continue with this series.

BUT, props for the Dessa and Rhymesayers poster in one character’s dorm room!

View all my reviews

“Wonder Woman: Blood” GN by Brian Azzarello

Friday, February 1st, 2013


I read comic books, but not generally superhero ones. It has probably been about fifteen years since anyone at the comic shop said to me, “Hey, you should check out Wonder Woman.” But a friend recently said I might like the new story line, which centered on the Greek gods. I recently enjoyed spending time in ancient Greece when I read The Song of Achilles. Then I saw the striking art by Cliff Chiang on the cover of the collection of the series’ reboot, Wonder Woman: Blood, and I thought it might be time to try again. I’m glad I did.

As part of DC Comics’ reboot, many of the series regulars have aspects old and new, so it’s a good time to start reading. I’m familiar with the Wonder Woman story, having seen all 3 movies (the Cathy Lee Crosby one and both Lynda Carter ones) when I was a girl and watched the ongoing series with Lynda Carter.

In this new take on the character, Zeus is missing, other gods are jostling for the throne, and Diana learns some shocking news about her origin while taking on the protection of a young woman who Hera is trying to kill. This collection is of the first 6 issues. I really like Chiang’s art, and his strong, distinct portrayals of characters, and will snap up the next graphic novel as soon as it comes out.

“The Finder Library v. 2″ by Carla Speed McNeil

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013


Finder is one of the longest running independent comics out there. Hard to describe, creator Carla Speed McNeil once copped to “aboriginal sci-fi,” and that works as well as anything.

The “through” character, even if he’s often just in the background, is Jaeger, half-aborigine, and thus shunned by all. He can play civilized, but prefers the wild, and this combination seems to drive women wild, though he’s honest and doesn’t pretend he’ll ever settle down. This is a sexually explicit series, so if that makes you uncomfortable, it probably isn’t for you.

Four stories are contained in Finder Library v. 2: Dream Sequence, Mystery Date, The Rescuers, and Five Crazy Women. There’s a mix of high-low, funny-tragic throughout the book. Dream Sequence and The Rescuers are mostly tragic, while Mystery Date and Five Crazy Women are mostly comedy. McNeil’s black and white art is accessible, but nuanced. These stories bear fruit on re-reading, and the end notes in this collection are worth checking out.

In brief, to avoid spoilers:

Dream Sequence: a popular virtual world is invaded by a predator.
Mystery Date: a student of anthropology and prostitution tries to figure out her mysterious new professor
The Rescuers: the baby of a privileged family is kidnapped, and the story interwoven with the tribe of aborigines camping in the area.
Five Crazy Women: Jaeger gets (and deserves) no sympathy from a long-time friend as he pours out some of his checkered past with women.

If you haven’t checked out or heard of Finder before, look for the collection Talisman, and if you like that, seek out the two library collections for the entire series. For ongoing new stuff, check out McNeil’s website.

For those of you familiar with this series and with Friday Night Lights, I have a theory: Jaeger = grown-up, alterna Tim Riggins.

Fairest: Wide Awake GN by Bill Willingham

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Fairest is the newest spin off from the popular comic-book series Fables, and Wide Awake collects the first seven issues. It tells backstories of some of the female characters, in this case Sleeping Beauty. (Not to be confused with Beauty of Beauty and the Beast–different character in this world. Unlike Prince Charming, who was actually the same guy to all the ladies–Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella. He got around, that one.)

This story picks up in series continuity just after the Fables defeated the armies of the Emperor. We’ve got Ali Baba, a bottle imp (not a djinn, sorry!), the Snow Queen and Sleeping Beauty. There are fights, there’s romance and things don’t quite have a fairy-tale ending, which I appreciated. In addition, Fairest: Wide Awake is capped by a one-shot story about Beauty and the Beast, with a surprising reveal about their history.

As with the best of the Fables series, Fairest is a fun, fast read, that plays around with storytelling and mythologies in interesting ways.

“August Moon” GN by Diana Thung

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

August Moon by Diana Thung
August Moon by Diana Thung is a children’s graphic novel heavily influenced by Hayao Miyazaki’s films in general and My Neighbor Totoro in particular, though it’s rather like Princess Mononoke crossed with the latter, as there are bad guys with guns. There’s also a little bit of Seuss’ The Lorax.

It’s cute and sweet and has likeable child protagonists in Jaden and Fi, but I found it hard to read visually at times. For example, there would be multiple panels of a character facing different directions when they were only supposed to be moving in one direction–this was disorienting. My difficulty could also be a factor of many small panels per page. My 9yo son Drake read this and really enjoyed it. He has much sharper eyes than I do.

The Unwrittten GN vol. 6: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words is the sixth collection of the excellent ongoing Vertigo comic-book series about a man named Tom Taylor who learns he may be the incarnation of his father’s famous fictional creation, a very Harry Potter-esque boy magician named Tommy Taylor.

In this collection, stuff happens. A LOT of stuff happens. We get some answers finally, actually, rather a lot of them. There are laugh-out loud funny lines, and the pleasing sense of many storylines converging, and finishing while a new start is made. Overall, this was a very entertaining segment of this engaging ongoing series about stories, literature, and a grown-up boy magician.

The Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

The Manhattan Projects (yes, it’s plural) by Jonathan Hickman is a graphic-novel collection of the first issues of the Image comic book series. It’s an alternate history of famous scientists like Einstein, Oppenheimer and Feynman, with sci-fi and horror. The story reminds me of Warren Ellis and Planetary, but it’s a little less gratuitously violent, while Nick Pitarra’s art recalls Frank Quitely’s. If you’re a science nerd who can stomach horror, then you’ll like this.

“A Wrinkle in Time” graphic novel

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

I really, really wanted to love the graphic-novel version of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson. So I was surprised and disappointed to find I didn’t even much like it. And I feel terribly, terribly guilty about this. I love the novel–it was one of my first favorites as a kid. I love Larson’s work. In Gray Horses, Chiggers, Mercury, she’s a great artist and storyteller. But for me, this adaptation didn’t work.

The aspect that gave me the most trouble were the character depictions. I’ve held this book so close, for so long, that I have my own pictures in my head of what the characters look like, even the minor ones, and many of Larson’s clashed with the ones in my head. Obviously, someone coming to the book for the first time via this adaptation wouldn’t have the same issue.

Related to that, though, was the trouble I had with the character of Meg. When I’ve read the book, which I did last summer, I’ve related to gawky, socially inept Meg. When I read this book, I was irritated by her. Seeing her on the page made me less able to identify with her.

I am torn as I write about the book. I wanted to like it. I don’t want others to skip it. But it didn’t work for me. Here’s hoping it works better for you.