Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Graphic Novels: Reviews & Challenge Wrap Up (Literary Feline)

The Graphic Novels Challenge required that I read at least six graphic novels this year, and I had agreed to read eight. I managed to read one book for this challenge earlier in the year. My husband had slipped a copy of Criminal Volume 1: Coward onto my TBR pile a while ago, sure I would like it. He was right. And it was a great way to start off the challenge: a crime fiction graphic novel about a thief, caught in a tight spot.

Next up was Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, both books 1 and 2. Persepolis has gotten quite a bit of attention in recent years, and a movie was even made based on the books. In many ways, Persepolis is Marjane's coming of age story, of her finding her footing at a tumultuous time in her country as she grew from child to womanhood in Iran during the Islamic and Cultural Revolutions. And yet this book is so much more than that. The novel touches on the toll war takes on ordinary people; oppression, specifically that of women; and about the difficulties of being an immigrant, including the loneliness and hardships of starting over. It is also a story of endurance and strength, of hope and dedication.

What stood out for me most in the novel was how Marjane's parents stood up for her and supported her choices, even when they knew she was going to make mistakes. Their love for their daughter came through in the pages, as did her love for them in how she portrayed them.

This is a story that could have been told with just words, but it would have been a much longer book. The author's choice to tell her story through words and art is very effective. It is the combination of words and pictures that draw the reader in. The black and white artwork is bold and stark, fitting for the story told. The characters are well developed, their individual stories and feelings coming to life on the pages. I was moved to tears and laughter as I read the two volumes of Persepolis. This is one I cannot recommend enough.

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I followed that up with Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, an autobiographical graphic novel. Fun Home is another book that is much more than what it appears to be on the surface. The book tells the story of Alison and her father, of their relationship before and after his death. She never quite felt like she understood him when she was growing up and it was only after she came to understand and accept that she was a lesbian that she learned her father had long hidden his own homosexuality, hiding it behind a wife and three children. Alison's story is tragic on many levels, but there is also humor and clearly love for her family etched in just about every frame. It was only after her father's death that she was really able to know the man. The reasons surrounding his death raised their own questions and doubt in her. While her mother chose to stay with her husband all those years, it was quite clear that she too had suffered, and her pain and resentment emanated off the pages.

An aspect that stood out for me throughout the novel was the juxtaposition of Alison and her father. How similar and yet different they were. Alison could not help but compare herself to her father, looking for commonalities and perhaps answers about her own identity. This was brought out in both words and through the artwork in a very natural way.

Alison Bechdel's artwork was very telling. She captured the emotions of those in her book. Much like I found with Persepolis, the author's story could very well have been told solely in words, but it has a much more powerful and meaningful effect told in graphic novel format.

One facet of the book that will attract book lovers is Alison and her father's love of reading. At one point in the book, while describing her parents, the author writes, "I employ these allusions to James and Fitzgerald not only as descriptive devices, but because my parents are most real to me in fictional terms." [pg 67] True to her word, Alison Bechdel's entire book is full of literary references and comparisons. One of my favorite quotes from the book is "I didn't understand why we couldn't just read the books without forcing contorted interpretations on them." [pg 200] I am sure many of us can relate to that sentiment.

Both Fun Home and Persepolis deal with heavy topics. In both cases, the authors open themselves up to the readers, sharing their painful stories. These are books well worth taking the time to read, even by those who shy away from reading graphic novels.

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I did make one substitution for the Graphic Novels Challenge. Instead of reading Aleksandar Zograf's Regards From Serbia, which I still plan to read at some time in the future, I picked up the copy of Dave Sim's Judenhass, which my husband sneaked in between the graphic novels I had yet to read.

Judenhass is a different kind of graphic novel. It is more message than story. I am really not sure what to say about this one. It is powerful and moving, and it made me feel angry and ashamed for the world's part and lack of action during one of history's most terrible moments, that being the Shoah, or Holocaust. Judenhass is Dave Sim's remembrance not only to the horrors of the time, but the prejudices and ill will that lead up to it. The author writes that given the views and prejudices about Jews for so many years, centuries even, the Shoah, was, in fact, "inevitable." The images throughout book are haunting; the quotes from respected as well as those not so respected historical figures, including political leaders, authors, and other well known people say it all.

In the Acknowledgments and Bibliography section, Dave Sim writes:
Unfortunately in this age of diminishing attention spans it seems to me that there is also a need for distillations of the facts that allow even the slowest reader and the most reluctant teacher to comprehend and convey some measure of the enormity of the Shoah and the profound level of enimity against Jews which made it possible. I hope that JUDENHASS--with roughly a 25-minute reading span--will serve that purpose.
It most certainly does.

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I followed the serious reading material up with something lighter. Andi Watson's Slow News Day was the perfect segue. A wannabe TV sitcom writer takes a job as an intern for a small town newspaper in England. The newspaper is struggling and advertising is slowly edging out the actual news stories to try and keep the paper afloat. Katherine Washington is hoping her experience at the paper will provide insight for a project she is working on. She is teamed up with the Wheatstone Mercury's sole newspaper reporter, Owen, who takes his job very seriously. It is no surprise that he resents the young woman's encroachment on his turf, especially someone who is not as dedicated to the job and the outcome as he is. Both comic and touching, Andi Watson's novel is delightful and entertaining.

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Next up was Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home by Joss Whedon and Georges Jeanty. This particular graphic novel picks up where the television series left off. Where once she was the only vampire slayer on earth, she is now one of many, and she has taken it upon herself to help train and organize those like her to fight demons and vampires. In this novel, Buffy and friends are threatened by an old enemy and an army that want Buffy dead. With Joss Whedon at the helm, it was no surprise that the witticisms and humor from the TV show came out in the graphic novel as well. Light, action packed and fun, it was good to visit with Buffy, Willow and Xander again, if only for a short while. Even in the comic world, Willow is the witch no one should dare mess with.

I finished off the graphic novel challenge with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume One by Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill, Ben Dimagmaliw and Bill Oakley. Set just before the turn of the 20th century, six extraordinary literary figures are united to fight against an evil that threatens to level England. I had seen the movie version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen years ago and was curious what the graphic novels might be like. This first installment proved to be a rollicking adventure. Mina Murray of Dracula fame held her own amongst the men she fought along side: Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Hawley Griffin and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen were filled with colorful artwork and stories that were impossible to put down. They were a cap to an enjoyable graphic novel adventure.

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The Graphic Novels Challenge gave me the opportunity to finally read those graphic novels I had been meaning to get to for some time. I wish I was better equipped to discuss the artwork of these novels in a way that they deserve. While words and art both tell the story in these books, the artwork itself is what most stands out and makes these stories what they are. The images on the pages say so much more than words could ever say. I admire the artists and their ability to tell a story through art so effectively.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
by Marjane Satrapi (translated by Mattias Ripa & Blake Ferris)
Pantheon, 2003
Nonfiction (Graphic Novel); 153 pgs

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return
by Marjane Satrapi
Pantheon, 2004
Nonfiction (Graphic Novel); 187 pgs

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
by Alison Bechdel
Mariner Books, 2007
Nonfiction (Graphic Novel); 232 pgs

by Dave Sim
Aardvark-Vanaheim, 2008
Nonfiction (Graphic Novel);
Slow News Day
by Andi Watson
SLG Publishing, 2002
Fiction (Graphic Novel); 160 pgs

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home
by Joss Whedon and Georges Jeanty
Dark Horse Books, 2007
Fantasy (Graphic Novel); 136 pgs

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume One
by Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill, Ben Dimagmaliw, and Bill Oakley
America's Best Comics, 2000
Fantasy (Graphic Novel); 192 pgs

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sky Doll - Reviewed by Chainletters

Sky Doll by Barbera Canepa and Alessandro Barbucci.
Original review here.

Sky Doll is the flagship in Marvel’s new line of comics imported from Soliel, a premier European publisher.

Noa is a life-like android, known casually as a “Sky Doll.” With no rights or freedoms, Sky Dolls serve the needs of the state - no matter how lascivious or depraved. Knowing nothing but a life of such service, most dolls comply. But not Noa; she dreams of more. And the arrival of two missionaries, Roy and Jahu, proves to be her ticket out.

Hoping to escape her slavery, Noa stows away on their ship. But these agents of Lodovica, the Holy Mother, are not all they appear to be, and Noa is taken across the stars, an unwitting participant in a war between religions.

Sky Doll is a masterpiece. Beautifully detailed artwork and fantastic coloring are perfectly partnered with a thrilling plot line and a truly immersive world. Each chapter reveals something new about the characters and how their hidden pasts all weave together. Ending with a real promising hook (and stunning state-side sales), Sky Doll promises that its eventual continuation is well worth the wait.

Please note that both the artwork and material of Sky Doll is for mature readers only.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel
by Siena Cherson Siegel and Mark Siegel

Published in 2006.
64 pages (according to amazon.com, as the pages aren't numbered).
Robert F. Sibert Honor Book in 2007.

To Dance, a children's graphic novel recommended to me by my goodreads friend george, is a delightful look at the life of an aspiring ballerina.

Cross-posted from my book blog.

Janes in Love
by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

Published in 2008.
176 pages (according to amazon.com, as the pages are not numbered).

From the back cover: The coolest clique of misfits plays cupid and becomes entangled in affairs of the heart. People Loving Art In Neighborhoods (P.L.A.I.N.) goes global once the art gang applies for a grant from the National Foundation for the Arts. And the Janes will discover that in art and in love, general rules don't often apply.

What I thought: I loved The Plain Janes, and I loved this sequel. Maybe it's just my inner teenage-girl - but I truly hope for more episodes in this Minx graphic novel series.

Cross-posted from my book blog.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gloom Cookie v2 - Serena Valentino

The follow up to the first collection sees a new illustrator, John Gebbs. Overall his illustrations were not quite up to Ted's (volume 1) apart from the first chapter which was stunning with a beautiful boarder around each page. The whole gang are back and some more of the plot is revealed. More of Damian and Lex's past is shared, we learn more about Sebastian and Chrys including the monster and Vermilion is back with more terrible gothic poetry.

I liked that we learn more of Isabella and her reasons for being the way she is. You come to pity her up to a point and understand why she treats Lex as she does. It is also now out of her control, the curse being so old. Vermilion has also decided that Lex is his true love, but he has other problems with rival Lord Delchi in town who is dating Lex and Chrys' friend Lyndi.

My favourite gothic soap opera. I look forward to getting some more free time so I can have my next fix. Another stunning collection.

Gloom Cookie v1 - Serena Valentino

The first Gloom Cookie collection by Serena Valentino (Nightmares and Fairy Tales) is illustrated by the wonderful Ted Naifeh (Kin with Holly Black). It introduces a whole cast of gothic and fantastical characters. You have Lex (a petite and pretty goth) who is in love with Max (a tall cyber goth type). He does not love her sadly, but the evil Isabella who doesn't even notice him. Isabella has a history with Damion who in turn has a thing for Lex. Then there are Lex's friends Sebastian and Chrys who make a lovely couple. Things are not all they seem here either. Sebastian sees monsters everywhere and Chrys, well you will have to read the collection to know more about her.

There are also some great secondary characters like Vermilion who writes terrible gothic poetry and Sebastian's monster. The story of Lex and Damian starts to be explained and we delve into Isabella's past as well as Sebastian's parentage. I loved all the Vampire the Masquerade references, Valentino really knows her goth culture!

The stories blend elements of fairy tale, fantasy and gothic culture in a spell binding mix. Ted was just the right person to illustrate this collection as the artwork is stunning. It is just the right blend of hunour and seriousness, poking fun at itself and the goth culture it portrays in a loveing and endeering way. I look forward to more in this series.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mail Order Bride, by Mark Kalesniko

Mail Order Bride, by Mark Kalesniko
Copyright 2003
Fantagraphics Books
Graphic Novel
261 pages
Author's Website
Challenges: Dewey's Graphic Novel Challenge

What led you to pick up this book? I love me a graphic novel and all. I picked this one up for a graduate class originally (back in 2006 or so), and I ended up not taking the class. However, I guest lectured in the same professor's undergrad version of the course, and he invited me to take part in a conference call with Kalesniko. It was great fun, and I really enjoyed chatting with the author.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. From the publisher: Monty Wheeler, a pathetic, emasculated, 39-year-old virgin struggling with his own societal demons, expects Kyung Seo (his Korean mail order bride) to fulfill his female Asian fantasy stereotype: domestic, obedient, hardworking and loyal. But Kyung, tall and accent-less, is much more human than Monty is ready to accept. Kyung soon finds, in addition to predictable dissatisfaction with her husband's inane expectations, outspoken inspiration in Eve Wong, a western-born Asian woman. Could Eve be Kyung's ticket to rebellious self-fulfillment, or do her actions not always ring true? Through explorations of art, passion, identity and rebellion, the reader must ponder strength and cowardice while Kyung herself fights a potent war between independence and safety.

What did you like most about the book? This is one of those cases where I really liked everything about the book. The illustrations are stunning, the story is both provocative and quite funny, and it made me think! What more could a girl ask for?

What did you think of the characters? I found Monty exceedingly annoying. I wanted to shake him (and the majority of his friends) and tell them to snap out of their stereotypical assumptions. If you've read American Born Chinese, by Gene Yang, this book has much the same type of message. It confronts ethnic stereotypes in a very clever way.

Share a favorite scene from the book: Near the end of the book there's a big showdown between Monty and Kyung wherein they basically both come to realize that their assumptions about each other are not as black and white as they originally assumed. They realize they're both at fault for the disintegration of their relationship. It's a very powerful scene--both in image and written text.

Recommended for those who like graphic novels and a good story in general. If this were made into a written novel, I think it would be just as powerful and entertaining a story.

In general, I'd call the writing, illustrations, and story beautiful! And a really quick read. I polished it off in an hour or two.

Note: This is my fourth graphic novel for the challenge.