January 30, 2009

Sandman: The Kindly Ones - Neil Gaiman

The Kindly Ones is one of my favorite of the Sandman series. There’s a little of everything in this one. It wraps up a few story lines, brings characters from previous Sandmans and has a very dramatic ending. Events put into action in previous issues create problems in The Dreaming. Nuala, the Faerie tries to help, but causes more harm. We find out what happens to the Ravens. We learn about Puck and revenge and responsibility. A new Corinthian, Lucifer and the Angels and a baby Daniel all play a role. No matter what Dream tries, the Kindly Ones keep coming, until Death arrives for Dream.

January 28, 2009

Sandman: Brief Lives & Sandman: Worlds' End by Neil Gaiman

Sandman: Brief Lives v. 7

The story of the Endless continue in the 7th volume of Sandman. In this one, Delirium enlists the help of Dream to find their missing brother Destruction. Destruction abandoned his realm about 300 years ago, Age of Enlightenment convincing him that humans could cause enough destruction without him. Delirium however misses him and thinks things would be better if he came back to the family. Dream reluctantly agrees to help. During their search, they encounter people whose lives have been touched in some way by Destruction and trouble ensues. Dream, Delirium and Destruction do meet up and the family reunion isn’t all that Delirium hoped for and was difficult for Dream also but for different reasons.

I love this series, the stories are odd and entertaining and I always feel like I’m missing levels of meaning. It’s worth reading and pondering and rereading.

Sandman: Worlds' End v. 8

Worlds’ End, the 8th of the Sandman series has a great phrase - “it’s a reality storm”. I love that. In the Inn at Worlds’ End people, fairies and other creatures have congregated to wait out the snow storm and to pass the time, they tell stories. Are the stories true tales of their lives or just made up tales to pass the time? While Dream appears briefly this is not a tale of the Endless. While I love the idea of the Inn at Worlds’ End and reality storms, I missed Death, Dream and Desire.

January 27, 2009

Review: The Great Cow Race by Jeff Smith

This is the second volume in Smith's Bone series. If you haven't read the first book, you might want to skip to my thoughts, but there are no real spoilers.

My Summary: This adventure centers around the village of Barrelhaven's spring fair. Poor Fone thought he'd spend the fair days with Thorn, but she is flirting with Tom the honey seller. Meanwhile Phoney is back to his old tricks, setting up a betting scam with Smiley's help. Gran'ma Ben is practicing for the annual cow race, and the rat creatures are still craving a Fone Bone quiche. How will it all work out?

My Thoughts: This volume is even better than the first; I couldn't put the book down, and I read it all in a single sitting. The plot is getting more complex, with intertwining stories and hints that some characters are not what they seem to be. Although Smith had me laughing out loud, there seems to be a sinister side to life in the valley. It's not yet clear how this evil will affect the villagers and what role each individual character will play. The full-color art continues to be awesome.

Here is the best endorsement I can make: My husband doesn't like animation, doesn't read the comics, and doesn't like fantasy. But he was laughing so hard at the last chapter in the book (the only one he read) that he now wants to read the whole series. He was impressed with how easy it was to grasp the characters' personalities in just a few panels, and he was amazed by the details in the drawings and by how much information each panel conveyed.

Two days after finishing The Great Cow Race, I went to library to get volume 3. Volume 4 was out, but I put a hold on it. I bet I read through the series in short order.

Cross-posted at my blog Beth Fish Reads.

The Great Cow Race at an Indie

Published by Scholastic, 2005
ISBN-13: 9780439706391
Rating: A+

January 26, 2009

The Amazing Spider-Man: Revelations

Revelations by J. Michael Straczynski
The Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 2

Pages: unpaginated
Finished: Jan. 25, 2009
First Published: 2002 (contains previously published comic books)
Genre: graphic novel, fantasy
Rating: 2.5/5

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

First sentence:

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you the following Special Bulletin.

Comments: SPOILERS! I guess I'm pretty much going to call this the mopey volume. There are no villains for Spider-Man to fight and everybody pretty much mopes around. The first story has nothing to do with the running plot but is a soppy 9/11 piece, you can just here the Star Spangled Banner playing in the background. But it was fun to see members of the X-Men, The Avengers and the Fantastic Four helping out with the rescue operation. Then the story picks up again and Aunt May does a lot of moping around because she's found out about Peter really being Spider-Man. Then Peter mopes around because he's found one of his students is homeless and lives with a bunch of other homeless children and finally we get to end with Mary Jane moping around because even though her new life is glamourous she is unhappy. The one good thing about this issue is that is does set up the various storylines for the next volume. I certainly hope we get some Super-Hero action in the next volume.

January 24, 2009

Review: Out from Boneville by Jeff Smith

Out from Boneville is the first volume in Smith's Bone series.

My Summary: Phoney Bone, the richest guy in Boneville, gets run out of town because of his dubious business dealings. His cousins Fone and Smiley join him in exile, and soon the Bones are lost in the desert. After the three are overtaken by a swarm of locusts, Fone finds himself alone with only a scrap of a map, which may be real or one of Smiley's practical jokes. Fone decides to follow the map, and along the way he sees Smiley's cigar butts, scattered in the sand like a trail of bread crumbs.

Fone eventually ends up in a beautiful, lush valley, and it seems that his luck has changed. Now all he has to do is find his cousins so they can all go back home. The good news is that he is able to make some friends; the bad news is that giant rat creatures seem to think Fone would make a tasty treat. Will Fone be able to escape the rats? Are Phoney and Smiley lost forever? How will Fone ever find his way back to Boneville?

My Thoughts: I loved Out of Boneville, and I even chuckled out loud in a few places. Fone is just so darn cute! The interactions and contrasts among the three cousins offer good dynamics, and Thorn and her grandmother are great characters. This first volume sets the scene for the longer tale, and although the plot isn't all that sophisticated so far, it's a great read.

The full-color drawings are absolutely brilliant. I am particularly taken with the characters' faces—from the monsters to the baby possums—and the eyes and the general expressions are fantastic. Two of the simplest panels show the first snowfall of winter; they are hilarious in the context of the story. Can't wait to read the rest of the saga.

This was cross-posted at my blog Beth Fish Reads.

Published by Scholastic, 2005
ISBN-13: 9780439706407
Rating B+

January 23, 2009

Incognegro, by Mat Johnson

I read Incognegro for this challenge and the Diversity Rocks challenge. I'm drawn to graphic novels that depict realistic scenarios, so I was intrigued by a this tale of a lighter-skinned African-American newspaper reporter who goes undercover in the 1930s to expose public lynchings.
I highly recommend this book, which opened my eyes in more ways than one. I wrote about the experience on my blog, Worducopia.

January 21, 2009

The Fountain by Darren Aranofsky and Kent Williams

Olga here from Get thee to a Punnery! Continuing my complete disregard for my actual list, here is my review for Darren Aranofsky's The Fountain.

Darren Aranofsky’s The Fountain (published by Vertigo Comics in 2005) is a visually interesting over-sized graphic novel based on the movie of the same name. Published a year before the film was released, Aranofsky’s intentions were to preserve a part of his project just in case Hollywood “f**ks him over.” A prudent notion, considering his film was met with mixed (and confused) reactions.

Having never watched the film, I borrowed The Fountain from the library thinking I could read this instead and get pretty much the same thing, albeit with ninety percent less Hugh Jackman. The film runs at about an hour and a half; in today’s world of thirty hour Lord of the Ring marathons, this is a fairly quick watch. But at 176 big pages full of cool drawings, the graphic novel wins. I think I read this in under an hour.

As can be imagined, the story is similar to the film. It revolves around the same couple in three different time periods—1535 Spain and Central America, present day, and “the future” wherein we will all be riding around in giant space bubbles in the nude, if Aranofsky gets his way.

The central theme of all three stories is the loss of the great love. Tomas traipses through each time period, bellowing, crying and nearly stamping his feet in effort to save the woman he loves. Inevitably, they all die, though. Sorry, I didn’t give away the ending. It’s pretty much a given.

I wasn’t terribly impressed with the graphic novel, and I can understand why the film was met with mixed reviews. The story is a great idea. It has so much Romeo-and-Juliet potential, it could be Romeo and Juliet. But the execution falls flat on its face. The novel is drawn by Kent Williams, an artist widely respected in the industry. While some images are visually spectacular, there are parts of the graphic novel wherein background characters are little more than drawn lines. Perhaps one could argue that Williams and Aranofsky are trying to emphasize Tomas’s intense focus on his love, and so the rest of the world appears little more than hazy outlines, but it just looks unfinished.

See for yourself:

Each story ends with Tomas’s love dying in some fashion. In 1553, she sacrifices herself for the glory of her queendom. In the present day, she quietly dies in a hospital bed as Tomas receives word that they have found a cure for her cancer. Most bizarrely, in the future (remember, floating through space in a bubble), she is sacrificed to give life to the tree inside the bubble.

That I don’t get. The first two, I’m cool on. Tragic, romantic, ideas I can grasp. The final pair I can’t come to terms with. Why are they in that bubble? What’s the point of her dying if Tomas is just going to float through space alone?

Perhaps it’s just too meta for me.

Three stars

A Distant Soil by Colleen Doran

--to be clear A Distant Soil has technically two series. The first, published by WaRP Graphics back in the mid to late 80's was magazine sized and lasted only 9 issues. The second series, the currently ongoing series originally began publication under Colleen's imprint--Aria--then became part of the fledgling comic publisher Image around issue 13. The origins of both stories are similar--Liana and her brother Jason are the half-breed children of an Ovanan exile and Liana is the Avatar etc etc, but many of the characters have different roles/personalities. I will be covering the current series.

Title: The Gathering (volume 1), The Ascendant (volume 2), The Aria (volume 3), Coda (volume 4)
Series: A Distant Soil
Creator: Colleen Doran
Genre: Science Fiction, romance, action, paranormal, fantasy
Publisher: Image Comics
Link:(vol 1) Amazon, (vol 2) Amazon (vol 3) Amazon (vol 4) Amazon

Synopsis: (from http://adistantsoil.com/about) Jason and Liana are the children of Aeren, a fugitive from the planet Ovanan, a world of powerful,beautiful and ageless psionics. Both children possess extraordinary powers. Jason, only 17 years old, is a disruptor, capable of short circuiting the energy systems in machines as well as in living beings. Liana, 15 years old, is the most powerful form of psionic in the known universe: she is an Avatar, a being who can draw on the life force of all the Ovanan people and wield that force as a weapon. Avatars are the religious leaders and protectors of Ovanan, but only one Avatar can exist at a time, and as long as Liana lives, she is a threat to Ovanan which has sent its massive warship the Siovansin to assassinate her.

Rieken, the leader of the Ovanan Resistance movement, and his bodyguard D’mer have also come to Earth in human guise to save her. They gather a brave team of human men and women to travel to the Siovansin to destroy the Hierarchy, the center of Ovanan’s corrupt government. Antonio Minetti, a policeman; Brent Donewitz, a teen gang member; Serezha Kirov, a Russian dissident; Corrine Brenegar, a clothing designer; Dunstan Achenlock, a magician whose powers are real; Christopher D’Errico, a medical student; Reynaldo Cabrera, a homeless boy; Bast, an Ovanan living in exile on Earth; and the legendary Sir Galahad from the other-dimensional world of Avalon, all join forces to protect Liana and Earth. Reserved Rieken, however, has a terrible secret he is hiding from his champions, a secret that will test the loyalties of his followers, and challenge everything they believe and, ultimately, the fate of the world will rest on the slender shoulders of the fledgling Avatar Liana. Warring factions within the Resistance threaten everything Rieken fights for and threaten the future of Earth and Ovanan alike.

Review: There isn't much I can say that won't ruin the story for you as you read onwards. Pretty much the synopsis you read up top is for the first HALF of the first volume. From there it only gets better and more complicated.

A Distant Soil (ADS) and I go a long ways back. Over a decade in fact when I was a young girl just beginning to find out what comics were and Miss Doran was doing a night signing at my local comic shop. I still remember the nervousness I felt when I approached her table and she warned me about the content. Unfortunately (or Fortunately for me) my dad was going through a tough time and if I asked for it he gave it to me.

I fell in love with the art first. The artwork on volume one's cover is gorgeous. It still manages to take my breath away whenever I look at it. From Rieken's robe to the multiple blue hues used for space...I just love it to death. And the inside illustrations, though in B&W, were no small cookies either!

If you've been reading the comic as long as I have you'll see the steady progress Doran makes from the initial issues to issue 38 (the last published issue) now. Admittedly the original issues came out in a time when big hair was the fashion and ripped jeans were cool, but her lines become sharper and cleaner and the action feels more real. More like a moment frozen.

As for the story itself--I'll warn you right now this takes no punches. I'd label this as 16 and older with the caveat that homosexuality, pedophilia, suicide, violent death, abuse, mental torture, rape...pretty much everything you can think of is either implied or shown. That being said it also is very well choreographed and awe-inspiring. Its definately an 'epic' work in scope--over-throwing an oppressive empire, ending centuries of slavery and genocide, saving millions...nothing is easy and nothing is done easy.

There is humor as well--moreso in the beginning then later on. Especially between Liana and Rieken, they are unfortunately psychicly bonded--what one feels/sees/hears the other does (especially stronger emotions/thoughts). The old saying 'two's a party, three's a crowd' is very apt. Both experience thoughts and feelings they never wanted or needed and watching them try to block these out is oftentimes hilarious. Later D'Mer also gets to poke fun at Bast and her ::ahem:: ample chest.

Despite the sporadic nature of its publishing (ADS is still an indy comic that Colleen funds out of pocket) I highly recommend this series. Recently Colleen has been posting pages up on her new blog A Distant Soil and plans to have the entire thing--over 1000 pages of it--up at some point. For now she's posting a page a day for a while, but you can always buy the trades if you really want to find out what is happening.

original post here

January 20, 2009

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley

I've read my first challenge book-Castle Waiting by Linda Medley. I loved it, and you can read a full review on my blog.

The Case of Madeleine Smith by Rick Geary

The Case of Madeleine Smith by Rick Geary
A Treasury of Victorian Murder #8

Pages: unpaginated
First Published: 2006
Genre: graphic novel, true crime
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Monday 23 March 1857 at 2:30 AM, Mrs. Ann Jenkins is awakened by a furious pounding at the front door of her lodging house.

Comments: This next book in Rick Geary's fabulous series is no less supreme than the others. This time around we have a new-to-me case of Madeleine Smith who was put on trial for the poisoning death of her secret paramour. It is only because the man had kept over 190 letters from her that she became the suspect. Very interesting case. The poisoning murderess is always such a fun story to read.

Needless to say, Geary's b/w illustrations add to the story and the ambiance of Victorian times. I'm always fascinated with Victorian crime cases as it shows how policing was done when they only had the clues, early medical science, and their minds to solve a case. An interesting outcome to this case. The book definitely leaves me wanting to read Victorian crime and fortunately there is one more book in this series.

January 19, 2009

Watchmen by Alan Moore and David Gibbons

Watchmen takes place in the 1980s in an alternative United States. The main difference between this reality and ours is the existence of superheroes, whose presence influenced historical events like the war in Vietnam, and are now influencing the Cold War. The world is on the verge of nuclear conflict, but the presence of the all-powerful Doctor Manhattan gives America an advantage over the Soviet Union. This advantage disappears, however, when something forces him to go into exile.

The main characters of Watchmen are The Comedian, Doctor Manhattan, Nite Owl, Ozymandias, Rorschard and the Silk Spectre. The book opens with The Comedian being murdered. Rorschard, the only non-government sponsored superhero still active after public discontent caused them to be outlawed, suspects that someone is out to get them all. Subsequent events suggest not only that he might be right, but also that there might be more to the whole thing than one could have imagined.

There’s so much I want to say about this book. Let me begin with the characters: all of these heroes are extremely ambiguous characters. As the story advances, we get more background information about all of them, information that allows us to form a detailed psychological portrait. And yet never for a moment do we feel that we have them all figured out. The characterization is too rich and complex to allow that.

Another interesting thing is that these characters have very different ways of looking at the world, and so we get to experience the reality they live in from several different points of view. I think this reinforces what is for me one of the main themes of the book: that reality is often ambiguous, that in real life things are never easy to categorize.

These characters are fascinating, but they’re not exactly likeable. But they also aren’t easy to dismiss as villains under the guise of heroes. They are complex, they each have their motivations, they are human. They are human beings with a lot of power and responsibility – perhaps more power than one person should ever have.

Power is another important theme, as are justice, revenge, fear, war, and the concept of “necessary evil”. Watchmen poses a lot of questions for which there are no easy answers. Therefore, it doesn’t attempt to answer them easily. Perhaps it could be said that the characters each have their own answers, but the book as a whole doesn’t advocate any one stance. And that’s s big part of what makes it so interesting. Apologies if I sound horribly vague here. It’s just that I want to go on and on about this book, but I don’t want to give away the whole plot.

As it’s often pointed out, another thing Watchmen is about is the superhero genre itself. In a world where superheroes are real, comics about them aren’t all that popular. Instead, pirate stories are big. The main plot is alternated with a story called “Tales of the Black Freighter”, from a comic one of the characters is reading. It’s interesting to realize, as you read on, how this story parallels the main plot.

I was particularly interested in the way the story questions the concept of a “hero” – it addresses not only its necessity or its flaws, but also everything that makes it interesting and appealing and be such a big part of our imaginations. In this way, it had some parallels with Perry Moore’s Hero, and like I said the other day reading them side by side was really interesting. Actually, the stories have some similarities too. I don’t mean this negatively, but having finished Hero first made me guess something about Watchmen that might have surprised me otherwise.

This is definitely a book I want to read again. I bet I’ll discover new things in it every time I pick it up. One last thing: I so love the quotations at the end of the each chapter, and the fact that the chapters were named after the quotations. The sources range from Bob Dylan and John Cale to Nietzsche or William Blake to The Bible.

Originally posted here.

Laika by Nick Abadzis

Laika by Nick Abadzis

Pages: 203
First Published: 2007
Genre: graphic novel, history
Rating: 2.5/5

First sentence:

I am a man of destiny...I will not die...

Comments: This is the true story of the Russian space program in it's infancy. They stunned the world when they sent up the first satellite, Sputnik. The Premier wanted to send another one up within a month on the celebration of the October Revolution. So this time they decide to send a dog into space but because of the short time frame they cannot work out a plan to bring the dog back, she will die in space.

The book concentrates on the scientists and dog handlers working on the program within a 'know what you need to know' atmosphere. No one knows the reality of the situation until the end. The book particularly centers on a woman who is newly hired to work as the dog handler; she is a great animal lover and becomes attached to the dogs, especially the one who will eventually die in space.

Honestly, this book did nothing for me. The story did not tell me anything I did not already know. I found the fact that the dogs talked to the woman to be rather disconcerting. I realize it was supposed to show that she felt she was communicating with them, but still....talking dogs in a true story put me off. I also found the pages very cramped. There were way too many frames per page for the size of the pages and everything felt squished on the page, leaving the print rather small to read. You need a good light when reading this book. In all it did what it was supposed to do, retelling the story from a human point of view but it left me bored. Obviously it is a sad story and perhaps if I was a dog lover I may have enjoyed it more. If you like books like Old Yeller perhaps this might be more your style than mine.

January 16, 2009

Review: Artemis Fowl (Graphic) by Eoin Colfer and Giovanni Rigano

Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel was adapted from the first entry in the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer and Andre Donkin with art by Giovanni Rigano and color by Paolo Lamanna.

My Summary: Artemis Fowl is a twelve-year-old genius whose family life is falling apart. His father, a kind of Irish mobster, has been kidnapped; his mother has gone into a psychological decline from the strain; and the family fortune is rapidly dwindling. The boy is left in the care of Butler, his body guard, guardian, and friend.

Artemis must find a way to replenish his funds so he has the resources to track down and free his father. His plan involves tricking the fairy world into surrendering one ton of their gold. The only problem is that Artemis must first learn all about fairies and then try to find one! Captain Holly Short, the only female elite police officer, is the lucky fairy to be entrapped in Fowl Manor.

As the fairy police arrive--bringing a centaur, a troll, a dwarf, and special weapons--Artemis must hope that he has made no mistakes.

My Thoughts: The graphic version of this novel works beautifully, and the drawings are absolutely amazing. While it is true that my images of the characters didn't match those of the artist, I quickly adjusted. I loved how the background information was presented on separate pages, one of which appeared before each chapter. Those pages were set up as if they were file folders, complete with sticky notes, photos, business cards, and scraps of paper. It was easy to tell the difference between spoken words and a character's thoughts, and some of the balloons were color coded to help differentiate characters' dialogue.

I'm not sure how this book would work for someone who hadn't read the print novel, but I enjoyed it. The second in the series will be out as a graphic novel in August, and I'll be looking for it.

Cross posted on my blog Beth Fish Reads.

Published by Miramax Books, 2007
ISBN-13: 9780786848829
Rating: A

January 15, 2009

Kathrin's Minor in Graphic Novels

After some pondering, I decided to stick to a Minor in Graphic Novels. I have so many books to read for challenges, I want this to be manageable. If I find the Minor is too easy and early completed, I'll simply "upgrade".

I will pick my 6 graphic novels from the following list:
1) Marjane Satrapi: Persepolis 1
2) Marjane Satrapi: Persepolis 2
3) Harvey Pekar: The Quitter
4) Adrian Tomine: Summer Blonde
5) Daniel Clowes: Ghost World
6) Will Eisner: A Contract With God
7) Alison Bechdel: Fun Home – A Family Tragicomic
8) Seth: It’s A Good Live, If You Don’t Weaken
9) Peter Kuper: Stop Forgetting To Remember
10) James Vance: Kings In Disguise
11) J.M. DeMatteis: Brooklyn Dreams
12) Paul Spiegelman: Maus 2
13) Bryan Talbot: Alice In Sunderland
14) Kyle Baker: Why I Hate Saturn

Note: My list is rather long because I don't know which books I can get a hold of. After all, I'm in Germany and some books aren't available here.

January 14, 2009

Coming Home by J. Michael Straczynski
The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 1

Pages: unnumbered
First Published: 2002 (contains previously published comic books)
Genre: graphic novel, fantasy
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: I hadn't intended to read this but my son brought home an armload of superhero graphic novels to look at and I saw that this one was Volume 1 of a series. It has been a long time since I've read good old Marvel or DC superheroes and Spidey just called my name and I had to read it. I used to be a big fan of comics when I was about 11 to 17.

First sentence:

Hi, this is Peter.

Comments: Spider-Man has just moved back to his home town and is drawn to his old high school. There he remembers what it felt like to be picked on and teased all the time but while there he realizes that bullying is on a completely different level than when he was a kid. The school is virtually unsafe. When the science teacher quits Peter Parker takes over the job. One night while laying about on the side of a building he meets a man who has the same powers as he does and he meets Ezekiel for the first time. Ezekiel has come to warn him of the enemy who is coming for him, a vampire like creature who sucks the life energy from superheroes to keep alive.

The beginning chapter inserts bits here and there to briefly bring the reader up to par on how Peter became Spider-man enabling a newcomer or someone who hasn't read the comics for a long time to dig right in with this book. I love the bold reds, blues and purples that pop out at you on every page and the illustrations are intricate making one look deeply into the pictures. The story is typical Spider-man, comedy alongside superhero fighting with an added dash of morality. A gripping story with a cliff-hanger ending which will send me off to find Volume 2.

January 13, 2009

Zot! The Complete Black and White Collection by Scott McCloud

Hi guys, Olga of Get Thee to a Punnery! I need to be smacked. I have yet to read anything from my list. However, I have the full Sandman series waiting for me at a friend's, so that will soon be remedied. 'Til then, please be content with the following review.

Zot! is a comic created by Scott McCloud, who is better known for having written and drawn Understanding Comics, a comprehensive work on the creation of comics. I found Zot! The Complete Black and White Collection at my my library after not finding a book I was looking for. I seem to have this allergy that prevents me from leaving the library empty-handed. So, I chose Zot!

Zot! is a series that combines the superhero elements of classic comic books with the newer genre of real-life, relationship based graphic novels. I suppose if you were to ask me the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel, that would be it, although that's not necessarily always the case. The definition of a graphic novel and a comic book is highly debated, and this review isn't where I would necessarily lay my lines down about that.

Anyway, I digress.

Zot! tells the story of a blonde-haired superboy named Zot who comes from an alternate earth, and his relationship with Jenny Weaver, a teenage girl from our own earth. The first half of hte collection is comprised of the 'superhero' stories in the series. Zot (real name Zachary Paleozogt) battles a host of villains who are all in some form or another caricatures of the villains McCloud grew up on.

The second half of the collection deals with more introspective, personal stories. McCloud deviates from the classic superhero format by literally exiling Zot in Jenny's (i.e. our) earth and moving the focus away from him. Entire issues of Zot! are devoted to characters that were introduced as minor players in previous issues, such as Ronnie, a comic book obsessed school friend, or Terry, Jenny's best friend who comes out in an issue.

Zot! was published in comic form from 1984 to 1993, and the stories that McCloud introduces, if you look at the time he was writing and drawing them in, are ground breaking. My favourite story has to be Jenny and Zot's first time. The story is left open to allow the reader to decide for themselves if anything actually happens.

What I liked most about the collection was McCloud's commentary. He provides insight into his drawing habits and his personal thoughts about each story. You can really tell he's an incredible perfectionist and it pains him in some ways to publish this collection, warts included. Personally, I didn't think there were any warts, but I'm not an artist, let alone a graphic novel artist. I liked knowing what he thinks of his own stories.

The stories themselves were fun to read. While not terribly complicated by any standards (McCloud admits that he had little knowledge of how to write a story when he first started drawing Zot!), they're interesting and humourous, as well as touching. I could understand Jenny's (I want to say motivation here, but it's not a play...c'mon Olga, work that vocabulary!) desire to flee her world and live in Zot's, where everything is just better. We've all been there before, and we don't have to be fifteen to feel like that.

The characters also made Zot! a good read. Each one, be it a villain or a friend, has a story and they're all interesting. I could go on and on. Seriously, if you happen to stumble upon this collection at the library, I suggest you take it out. It's not McCloud's best work, but it's a really great read nonetheless.

Rating: Four Stars

Robot Dreams by Sara Varon

I just realized that this is my first post for this challenge! I will be reading at the minor level, and blogging about it here and at my blog. I'm terrible at making lists ahead of time, but besides this book, I plan on reading Maus by Art Spiegelman, and one of the Sandman books by Neil Gaiman. I have not yet decided for the other three books, although after reading the reviews posted here, I will probably check out Fables. I am also interested in reading more Alan Moore.
Robot Dreams was so different from what I expected. It is a story told entirely in pictures, and as it has no words to read, it can be "read" in less than half an hour. At my library this book is shelved with the older children's materials - with the chapter books actually. This makes no sense, as not only is it not a chapter book, but it tells a different sort of story than most kid's books. The pictures are sort of childish, but I think if you're expecting a childish story, as I was, you will be surprised.
Robot Dreams is a story of friendship lost and found. Dog (obviously none of the characters have names, as their are no words) builds Robot from a kit, and they become best friends, doing everything together. Until they go to the beach, where Robot makes the mistake of getting wet. His entire body freezes up so that he cannot get back on the bus to go home with Dog. So Dog leaves, saddened and wondering how to help his friend. Unfortunately, he is unable to save Robot, and Robot gets left on the beach for months all by himself. Meanwhile, Dog tries to find a friend with which he can spend all of his time, like he did with Robot. Although the story has an uplifting and rather hopeful ending, I found Robot's fate to be rather tragic. This was a strange and enchanting little book, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a rather different sort of graphic novel.

January 12, 2009

Review: Violent Cases

Violent Cases
by Neil Gaiman

Synopsis from bn.com:

An exploration of the trappings of violence and the failings of memory, Violent Cases marks the beginning of the astonishing and award-winning collaboration between author Neil Gaiman and the artist Dave McKean, offered in its first Dark Horse edition, in softcover format with cover flaps. Set only in the memory of its author, this brillant short story meanders through levels of recollection surrounding a childhood injury. After dislocating his arm, a young boy is taken to see a doctor - an aged osteopath who was once the doctor of legendary gangster Al Capone. Through studied observations and painstaking attempts at truthful recall, the author reconstructs his tattered memories of the events surrounding his meeting with the doctor, and delves into the psychological complexities that emerged from the doctor's bizarre tales of Capone's life of crime. Gorgeously illustrated in mixed media by Dave McKean, Violent Cases is a sensuous and thought-provoking meditation on our memories.

My thoughts:

This was a quick and interesting read. It was drawn in browns, blues, grays, so it has dark feel to it, and slightly sinister. This was Neil Gaiman's first graphic novel and apparently one of his favorites. I didn't really get it. That's not to say I didn't like it, I just had another one of those moments when I felt like I wasn't seeing the bigger picture.

I recommend this as a quick read, especially if you get it from the library.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Challenges: 100+; Read and Review: A to Z; Graphic Novel; Dream King; 999

Morrison and Quitely: All-Star Superman vol. 1

Lex Luthor: "Did you know that ‘Moby Dick’ can be recited at frequencies so high, Melville's masterpiece becomes a sonic drill capable of carving through solid rock?
Luthor contines: "..literally boring a passage through the Earth!"

(Incidentally, I've never understood why comic book writers (or letterers as the case may be) feel the need to bolden some words. If it's some sort of guide on how to read the dialogue… well, many people manage to read books without the need of bolded words…)

I read some parts of this one first as a Finnish translation in the Finnish DC Special – comic. Alas, the editors had decided to put in the aptly acronymed ASBAR (All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder) together with Superman (two issues of both in the same Finnish issue) and since I don't want porn in my mainstream superhero comics, I couldn't continue buying it. Fortunately, a few of the Finnish libraries had the good taste to get volume 1. Unfortunately, they don't have vol. 2.

This is written in the style and spirit of the earlier Superman stories. As far as I know, it's not part of the (current) Superman canon because at the start of the story Lois doesn't know that Clark is Superman and also because of what happens in the first issue.

The trade has six issues and six separate but intertwined stories (in other words, they can be read separately.)

"…Faster…" Starts the comic off with a bang. The first manned flight to sun is in trouble because Lex Luther sabotaged the ship. It's, of course, part of Luthor's campaign to kill Superman. Of course, Superman comes to the rescue but afterwards he hears some startling news: his cells have absorbed so much solar radiation that not only is he three times stronger and developing new powers, but he's also dying from the overexposure. Superman asks that nobody else is told about it so only the scientists at P.R.O.J.E.C.T know about. Some of the rest of the comics show how Clark is dealing with the news.

"Superman's Forbidden Room" and "Sweet dreams, Super woman…" A two-part story. Clark has told Lois that he is really Superman but Lois doesn’t really believe him. Superman takes Lois to his Fortress of Solitude and shows her around. He also has a great birthday gift for her: a serum which gives her Superman’s powers for one day. Unfortunately, now that she is has super powers, she appears to be the most eligible single woman in town.

"The Superman/ Jimmy Olsen War". Another twist on the classic tales. This time the ones where Superman is being a jerk towards Jimmy. Here, Jimmy is a star reporter and his column is called "For a Day". Essentially, he lives other people's lives for a day. This time, the director of the scientists in P.R.O.J.E.C.T. is stepping away from Earth for a day and Jimmy gets to be the director for a day. Of course, he quickly gets into trouble.

"The Gospel According to Lex Luthor". Luthor has been sentenced to death for crimes against humanity (finally, the justice system works!) and is currently in jail. Clark has been given permission to interview him and Luthor tells about his views on Superman and how Luthor himself should be the dictator of the world. Alas, the super villain Parasite is in the same jail…

"Funeral in Smallville". This is a story from Superman's youth and features Krypto! Pa Kent needs some help with the harvest and three mysterious men appear to the farm.

I'm not really a fan of Superman but that's mostly because very, very few writers can handle him without making him loose his powers (or at least without diminishing his powers), changing his personality, or downright forgetting some of his powers. Perhaps I should say that I'm a fan of the character of Superman but he is usually written appallingly poorly. I usually like him the most with JLA because there the writers have to invent big menaces for the whole team to tackle.

Here, Morrison not only can write him with full powers but indeed, increases his powers threefold. I have to admire that! I really liked the stories although they are probably aimed at older fans than me. For example, I'm not familiar with Samson and Atlas from the two-parter story although they appear quite funny in small doses.

I also liked this Lois Lane who is, apparently, also tricky to write. I like that fact that she didn't believe at first that Superman is Clark. I also like her behavior when she had the super powers.

I'm not really a fan of Quitely's work but it suits the stories there. Although he draws Superman a huge neck!

Cross posted to my blog: http://mervih.wordpress.com

January 11, 2009

The Plain Janes by Castellucci and Rugg

In the beginning MainJane, living in Metro City, is hurt in a bomb attack. She find an unconscious man beside her on the sidewalk after the attack, along with his sketch book embossed with "Art Saves" on the cover. The bomb, the man, and his sketch book lead her to change her perspective on life and the world around her.

Her parents move her to a small suburban town out of fear of the attacks. There she makes friends - a group of Janes - by getting them involved in "art attacks" around the town, random anonymous art, meant to beautify and make people think. While most of the teenagers eventually get into the concept, the adults (led by the police), fear it. They try to control where people can go and when out of fear of these "attacks." Meanwhile, Jane writes to the unconscious John Doe back at the hospital in Metro City, so we see her thoughts as if she were writing in a diary.

I liked the book, but the ending wasn't very satisfying. I know that there is at least one follow-up to this (which I'll read if my library acquires it), but I would've liked to see a more solid conclusion to this. It's interesting that both this and the other book I read, Persepolis, have a message about strong females standing up against fear mongering.

 - Nichole (getting one more in before the new semester starts!)

Delayed Replays by Liz Prince

Amazon.com Product Description:

With this second collection of comic strips after the critically-acclaimed Will You Still Love Me If I Wet The Bed?, Liz Prince continues to explore the intimacy of the couple, while at the same time revealing snippets of her life as a young cartoonist. Sentimental and humorous, these little gems of chaotic relationships and life come off like the best of daily newspaper strips.

Liz Prince's comics are slice of life comics. Funny encounters, funny situations, and even funny noises! It's all there! They remind me a little of Julia Wertz's Fart Party comics. Like Wertz sometimes, Prince uses a very rough sketchy illustration style for her comics.

I had a lot of laugh out loud moments reading these comics. The author has a sassy yet cute attitude which comes across great! A few of the characters seemed familiar from her previous comic, Will You Still Love Me If I Wet The Bed? but I was a little uncertain who was who. I thought I knew which was her boyfriend (he appears a lot in her previous collection) but by the end I was a little unsure. It would have been nice in the front or back to have a list of characters to keep everyone straight.

All in all, this is a great, little and fast collection of random slice of life comics!

4/5 Stars

Have you ever read any autobiographical comics before?

This is a cross post with my own blog!

Mervi's list

Hi! I'm Mervi and I'm a comic book addict. I've read comics from my teens so over a decade now. However, I've written reviews about them only rarely. Somehow, I feel it's quite a bit harder than writing reviews about books. I've also had a blog only a couple of years and I didn't write much reviews before I started the blog.

Anyway, I’m going for the doctoral, although I know only the first few trades I’m going to read.

My edited list:

1. Morrison and Quitely: All-Star Superman vol. 1
2. JLA: Gods and Monsters
3. JLA: the Nail
4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer vol. 1: The Long Way Home
5. JLA: Earth 2
6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer vol. 2: No Future For You
Yay, Minor!

7. JLA: American Dreams (Finnish edition)
8. JLA: Rock of Ages
9. JLA: Strength in Numbers
10. JLA: Justice for All
11. JLA/Avengers
12. JLA: World War III

Yay, Major!

13. JLA: Tower of Babel
14. JLA: Divided We Fall
15. Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, vol. 1
16. Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, vol. 3
17. Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, vol. 2
18. Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne: vol. 4

Yay, Masters!

19. Buffy the Vampire Slayer vol. 3: Wolves at the Gate
20. Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne: vol. 5
21. Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne: vol. 6
22. Hellboy: Seed of Desctuction
23. Hellboy: Wake the Devil

I also have some vague notions of rereading Elfquest or Sandman. Alas, I’m such of fan of these series that I don’t know if I can do coherent reviews of them. I might also or instead reread Avengers and JLA trades.

I'm from Finland and so I tend to read Finnish translations if they are available.

January 8, 2009

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown

Pages: 241 + Notes & Index
First Published: 2003 (was previously published as comic books between 1999/2003)
Genre: graphic novel, biography
Rating: 3/5
Awards: Harvey Award

First sentence:

Do you mind if we go over it again? I just want to make sure that my notes are in order.

Comments: Louis Riel is an infamous Canadian personage. His story is very controversial and the story of what happened back then and what is politically correct to say happened can cause heated debate. In brief, Louis Riel tried to form a provisional government and negotiate with the Canadian government even though Canada had bought the land in which he and the Metis (half white/half Indian) lived. He captured English prisoners and executed one causing a furor in English Canada. Riel was eventually hung as a traitor.

This book is very biased to the Louis Riel, hero, side of the story. There are many things that I'm sure the author took license with and made up conversations between the Prime Minister and others to promote the big, bad, conservative, English government view point. However, even though the book is unabashedly pro-Riel, the author did manage to show the opposite viewpoint of him by showing Riel to be the man who thought God had talked to him and told him he would be resurrected three days after his execution. Whether he was a hero of the Metis people or a madman fanatic my person view is that either way he was a traitor to the country of Canada. This is what *I* was taught in school but a more revisionist point of view is taken nowadays to be politically correct.

While I laughed at many parts of the book that I think were supposed to be serious, I did enjoy reading the book. It was fun to read and the Canadian history aspect was great to see in a graphic novel. I'd love to see more in the same vein! If you are already familiar with the story of Louis Riel, I think you'd enjoy reading this. But don't start here if you know nothing of the history. Here's a website with a brief intro and a little video that was part of series shown here on Canadian television.

Anita Blake Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures, Volume 1 & 2

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Guilty Pleasures, Vol. 1

Synopsis [bn.com]
New York Times Best-Selling author Laurell K. Hamilton offers readers a brand new experience in the world of Anita Blake! Fusing mythology, werewolves and vampires with a story loaded with mystery, action and romance, the Anita Blake novels take place in a world where vampires, werewolves, and other creatures of nightmare have been declared legal citizens of the United States. Anita Blake is an "animator" - a profession that involves raising the dead for a living. Anita Blake is also known as a fearsome hunter of criminal vampires, and she moonlights by investigating cases that are far too much for "conventional" police. But as Anita gains the attention of the vampire masters in her hometown of St. Louis, she also risks revealing an intriguing secret about herself - the source of her unusual strength and power. As a special treat, Anita Blake fans will also discover an original side story featuring Anita and Dolph, written specially for the hardcover edition by Laurell K. Hamilton. Collects Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures #1-6

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Guitly Pleasures, Vol. 2
Synopsis [bn.com]
The hit adaptation of Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series continues! What price will Anita pay in order to save her friend's life and solve the Vampire Murders? Will she actually kiss Phillip? How far will Edward go in order to find out where the daytime resting place of the Master Vampires truly is? Where is Jean-Claude? And most important, who is behind the Vampire Murders? What's next for Anita Blake, you ask? The answers to all of those questions are here! Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures #7-12

Seeing Guilty Pleasures illustrated in these two graphic novels was fun and exciting. Seeing the characters I came to know and love (or hate) was so great that I was giddy with excitement while reading both. I quickly devoured the illustrations and pages since I already knew what had happened in the story.

For those who have never read Guilty Pleasures Anita Blake is an animator for a living. She's hired to raise the dead back to life for Animators Inc. She's also a vampire hunter, better known as the Executioner. Vol. 1 starts off with the Anita meeting with Willie, a now-vampire who she knew before his change. Willie is trying to hire Anita to find out who is killing off the master vampires in the city.

While Anita refuses to help she is quickly dragged into the vampire night life as she is forced to accept the job by the oldest vampire she has ever met, Nikolaos. A sadistic child-like vampire with an unpredictable and hot temper.

The two graphic novels follow Anita as she goes about tracking the murderer down while trying to basically stay alive and sane at the same time. The reader will meet some crazy characters that will definitely make you want more.

I really enjoyed seeing the book adapted into graphic novels. I loved the way Anita was depicted. She was just as I imagined. I recommend any Anita Blake fan to read these and anyone who hasn't to take a peek as well. Be sure to read the novel though, it goes into so much more depth.

Romeo and Juliet by Esther Pearl Watson

Amazon.com Product Description:

This remarkably well-told, bizarre and updated version of the classic tale of love and loss will blow your mind. Narrated by Donkey Kong, and set in a urban high school. Instead of poisoning themselves, the young lovers prove their devotion to each other by crushing themselves under a Coke machine. By Esther Pearl Watson, regular contributor to Bust magazine.

Esther Pearl Watson is hilarious, random, and very unique. When I heard she did a version of Romeo and Juliet I just had to read it!

The comic was funny and very very random, if a bit short. Having her strip, Unlovable to compare it to it didn't exactly live up to my expectations. Don't get me wrong, the illustrations were great, the story was funny and it was very very random. I just think the author truly shines with her Unlovable strip, which is why I'm very glad all the Unlovable comics have been collected into a book!

But anyways, it was definitely fun comparing her comic to the Romeo and Juliet we have all read! If you are ready to try an short indie comic with familiar content this is the place to start!

3.5/5 Stars

What's one remake of a story you enjoy?

This is a cross post with my own blog!

Embroideries, by Marjane Satrapi

This wasn't on my planned list, but after reading Persepolis I discovered my library had Embroideries by Satrapi... in with the regular Fiction instead of the Graphic Novel section. This is a very quick read, basically a conversation during tea with the author and 8 female relatives and friends. It has as much (or more?) dialogue as it does graphics. The women talk about men, sex, marriage, divorce, and... embroideries, of a sort. I couldn't imagine having such a conversation with my mother and grandmother!

This doesn't have nearly as much impact as Persepolis, nor do the graphics in it. The graphics are really just there to show you who is speaking. But, it's another tiny peak into the behind-closed-doors lives of free-thinking Iranian women.

It's interesting, but I wouldn't go through a lot of trouble tracking it down.

January 7, 2009

Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age edited by Ariel Schrag

This isn't one of my chosen twelve, but I thought I would include my review to this website anyway. Any graphic novel review is a good graphic novel review, right?

Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age
collects the unpleasant, embarrassing, and often humourous memories of a group of artists from the junior high years. Best friends, horse camp, betrayals, first kisses, and parachute pants all combine to breathe life into the childhood memories that so many of us try and repress. It’s true. We all have, to varying degrees, really effed up stories of pre-teenage years.

In the spirit of Stuck in the Middle, I give you a tale of my own from those tender years when I thought in all honesty I would grow up to be the bride of Leonardo DiCaprio (or one of the Backstreet Boys.)

I never went to middle school, but that didn't prevent me from going through similarly painful juvenile rights of passage. As a child my family moved around a fair bit. By the time I was in the seventh grade, I was in my sixth grade school. As everyone knows, moving not only uproots you, it also turns you into the newest pariah of any given school. I don’t blame my parents for changing my schools very often, but I certainly know that I will never do the same to my own children.

In the seventh grade, after moving once again in the summertime, I happened to be close enough to go back to my very first elementary school. Figuring that I would at least have somewhat of a connection to these group of children, I begged, whined and complained until I was enrolled in St. J’s once again.

Of course, nothing ever goes right, especially not when you’re the new kid. I was immediately ostracized by former friends, having made the grave mistake of leaving on a bad note the first time around—I stole a robin’s egg from my class and was caught. That was the very last thing my schoolmates remembered about me before I moved away, and so I was the pariah once again.

But, I was resourceful. I made friends quickly, girls who came to St. J’s long after the incident, and thus had no memory of my egg-stealing.

Fairly soon I was fully embraced by a group of about five or six girls. The number of us changed constantly since we were always not speaking to this girl or that girl, but for the most part we got on really well.

The problem with prepubescent girls is, they are like mercury. Moods and alliances could change in an instant, without provocation. We were like ticking time-bombs, ready to go off at one another.

This became a harsh reality for me one evening. Out of nowhere I received a phone call from R.—she accused me of making fun of her voice. Bewildered, having done no such thing, I denied it vehemently, but there was no use. I was already a Benedict Arnold. The news spread quickly—Olga’s a teaser. And that was that.

The next day at school I was ignored by all of my friends, left to stew in the mess that I had made for myself by allowing myself to become a target.

Heartbroken, I was forced to tell my mother the details (after being yelled at on the phone once again by a friend the following night). My mother was livid, and no doubt even more bewildered than I was, having received a hysterical and no-doubt confusing explanation from a distraught pre-teen.

The next day, she took me to school. Instead of dropping me off, she went down to the schoolyard with me, and—to my horror—bitched out the very girls who had ostracized me for the past thirty-six hours in broken English.

God bless my mother. She was my greatest champion, fighting that battle as best she could with half-finished sentences growled at the girls. At least they had the courtesy of looking shame-faced.

I was convinced this was the end of my social life completely. R. and the rest of the girls apologized half-heartedly in front of my mother. When she left, I was left alone once again.

But then something miraculous happened. At lunchtime, I was invited to sit with them. Once more I was welcomed back into the fold, and in the blink of an eye all was forgotten. There was no need to discuss what just happened—it was over! Why bring up the pain, when we could just move on with our lives and share a bag of Doritos and talk about our crushes again?

I’ve never been able to forget that event, even though the details have become fuzzy. I still don’t quite get what happened, but it serves as a reminder that middle school—your thirteenth year especially—is f**king scary. You couldn’t trust anyone, and you couldn’t be trusted. That best friend who just yesterday was braiding your hair over lunch, could be pointing the finger of blame on you today.

I’m glad I’m not thirteen anymore. This collection of comics from that unsettling age is a great journey down memory lane, but it makes you think about your own hellish recollections. The best part of the book is knowing that everyone goes through the same thing—no one gets out of middle school without having been scarred by it.

Rating: Four Stars

For more reviews (graphic novel and non!), check out my website.

January 6, 2009

The Book of Ballads by Charles Vess and Others

Books Completed: 9
Date Completed: January 7, 2009
Pages: 192
Publication Date: September 30, 2004

Reason for Reading: Graphic Novel Challenge

Illustrated and presented by one of the leading artists in modern fantasy, here are the great songs and folktales of the English, Irish, and Scottish traditions, re-imagined in sequential-art form, in collaboration with some of today's strongest fantasy writers. Here are New York Times bestseller Neil Gaiman with "The False Knight on the Road"; popular mystery author Sharyn McCrumb's version of "Thomas the Rhymer"; acclaimed children's writer Jane Yolen with "King Henry" and "The Great Selchie of Sule Skerrie"; popular novelist Charles de Lint's contemporary reworking of "Twa Corbies"; Bone creator Jeff Smith with "The Galtee Farmer"; Emma Bull's version of "The Black Fox," and much, much more. Introduced by award-winning editor and writer Terri Windling, and finished with full lyrics and discographies of the classic versions of these songs and tales, The Book of Ballads is an event in the worlds of fantasy and graphic storytelling alike.
Luck was with me when I was at the second-hand bookstore on Tuesday! I have tonnes of credit there, but haven't been having much luck finding books that interest me lately. Tuesday, I brought home quite the pile! When I found this book I almost did a happy dance right in the store! Think about it... This book is illustrated by Charles Vess, who is an amazing artists. The stories included in each comic are retelling ballads, which are something that I love! And, then, there are the authors of each comic. They are some of the best fantasy authors out there. Add in the fact that Terri Windling does the introduction, and you have everything that this folk tale fangirl needs! I mean, the book is second-hand, so it is not as nice as it would be if I had bought it new, but it is hardcover and has a beautiful cover! I hope the rest of 2009 is as wonderful reading-wise as this first week has been!

The book includes stories by Neil Gaiman, Jane Yolen, Sharyn McCrumb, Midori Snyder, Lee Smith, Elaine Lee, Delia Sherman, Charles de Lint, Jeff Smith, Charles Vess, and Emma Bull. Charles Vess is the main illustrator. Jane Yolen and Charles de Lint have two stories included. The best thing is that they not only rewrite these ballads, but the actual ballads are also included. I thought that was a great idea! If that is not enough for you, also included is a discography so you can actually find singers that sing these ballads and hear them for yourself! So, yes, I loved this book! It took so many wonderful things that I love and brought them all together! I am so happy that I went to the bookstore because this is a book that I will be holding onto for years to come. I also intend to spend some time looking up some of the music so I can hear it myself.

Blankets by Craig Thompson

I finished my first book of 2009 last night. Blankets is an autobiographical graphic novel by Craig Thompson. He tells the story of growing up in an extremely fundamentalist Christian family, falling in love for the first time, and finding his own way in the world.

Blankets is heartbreakingly honest and amazingly drawn. Thompson's words are haunting, but the emotion that he portrays with the pen-and-ink illustrations is profound. This book made me sad on so many levels. As a parent, I was horrified with the abusive discipline Craig's father inflicted on Craig and his younger brother, Phil. As a Christian, I was extremely sad to see how cold-hearted and mean and ungracious the Christians in Craig's life had been. It makes me sick to know how many Christians are exactly like that - they suck all the joy out of loving God.

I closed the book with many questions left unanswered: did Craig ever get in touch with Raina, his first love, again? Was he ever able to address the issues of his upbringing with his parents or brother? Did he come to some measure of peace with God, or did he lose his faith completely? I'm still thinking about Blankets - a true sign of a good book.

4 out of 5 stars

Side note: this wasn't one of the original titles on my Graphic Novel Challenge list, so I still have six to go. Oh, well, it counts for my 100+ and Support Your Local Library Challenges.

January 4, 2009

The Complete Persepolis

Let me say first that I do not have much interest in biographies, history, or politics. Persepolis is basically all three of those things, and I loved it!

The author, Marjane Satrapi, tells her story of growing up in Iran and what it was like to be in the wars there. As a 10 year old at the time, she remembers the change from being very free in 1978 to having to wear the veil in 1979. She also tells of her time as a teenager in Austria, where her parents sent her to be away from the war, and for education free of the restrictions of Iranian rules. She also shows how many Iranians were behind closed doors, where the veils could come off, and people who were more liberal minded would hold parties and use forbidden things (music! games! make-up!), for which there was a strong black-market for. Basically, it challenges what the US-centric thinking is of what Iranians are like.

Because of my lack of interest in history and politics, I am probably not fully understanding some things... despite that, ye olde review word "compelling" applies to this novel. I read it in a few hours with barely a break, it just kept me wanting to see what would happen next. There was some humor injected into what was largely a horror story of war, plus the intriguing story of this brave woman who was taught to stand up for her freedom amidst oppression.

One of the things I am having a hard time grasping is that her parents seemed to prefer the life/freedoms they had under the Shah, and yet didn't seem to agree with the Shah either. My parents and siblings actually lived in Iran for a few years in the 60s (I wasn't born until '78), but I think that asking for information from them would only give the western view of events and not really help with the view the author is trying to convey.

The artwork is very simple black and white drawings, but the way facial expressions are used to mark the emotions is amazing (especially during the younger years).  The 1st and 2nd panels on the first page had me hooked with the impact of "this is me" and then "this is my class photo"... a group of girls nearly identical because they are hidden by their veils.

Anyway, I found Persepolis fascinating and highly recommend it.

Fables - Volume 2: Animal Farm by Bill Willingham

Books Completed: 5
Date Completed: January 4, 2009
Pages: 128
Publication Date: August 1, 2003

Reason for Reading: Graphic Novel Challenge

FABLES: ANIMAL FARM is a highly imaginative political thriller that tells the modern day story of fairy tale characters as they struggle for their freedom. After their homelands were attacked and conquered by the mysterious Adversary, the mythological characters from fables and folklores were captured and the non-human beings were forced to live on a farm in upstate New York. Unhappy with their captive life, Goldilocks and the Three Bears and the Three Little Pigs lead a rebellious uprising that quickly turns deadly. Now caught in the middle of an animal revolution, Snow White must find a way to make peace on the farm or become the next victim in a bloody massacre.
The second volume in the Fables series, I had to read it! I looked at my other books and thought I might want to read something different, but no, this was the book that was calling for my attention. Something tells me if I had all of the books in the series available to me, I would probably read them all in the month of January! Considering that I am not very fond of reading books by the same author in a row, that is very high praise from me indeed! I think a lot of it is nostalgia. I read a lot of fairy tales and nursery rhymes as a kid (still do, really) and I enjoy seeing them all together in one story. This novel also draws on Animal Farm by George Orwell and Lord of the Flies by William Golding, which I thought was a nice touch.

Once again, we see Snow White and her sister Red Rose caught up in all the excitement. They have gone out to the farm, the second settlement for the Fables. Snow White is hoping to mend bridges with her sister, but instead they caught up in an uprising that might lead to lots of loss of life. Some other characters are: Goldilocks, The Three Bears, characters from The Jungle Book, The Three Little Pigs, and many more. Little Boy Blue, Bluebeard, The Big Bad Wolf, and Jack (of Beanstalk fame) are just some of the characters that make a return appearance.

The book is really beautiful, though. It is just as much about the written word, as the pictures. There are some fantastic artists involved in this series. I was just book browsing again (I have gift cards left) and my shopping cart now contains the next four volumes in the series... At this rate, I am never going to use the cards, but I am having fun changing my mind every five minutes!

The Series:
Fables: Legends in Exile
Fables: Animal Farm
Fables: Storybook Love
Fables: March of the Wooden Soldiers
Fables: The Mean Seasons
Fables: Homelands
Fables: Arabian Nights (and Days)
Fables: Wolves
Fables: Sons of Empire
Fables: The Good Prince
Fables: War and Pieces
Fables: The Dark Ages

Other Reviews:
Heather (A High and Hidden Place)
Rhinoa (Rhinoa's Ramblings)
Chris (Stuff as Dreams are Made on)
Nymeth (Things Mean a Lot)

Anyone else? Let me know!

Fables Volume 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham

Books Completed: 4
Date Completed: January 3, 2009
Pages: 128
Publication Date: December 1, 2002

Reason for Reading: Graphic Novel Challenge, New Author Challenge

Who Killed Red Rose?
In Fabletown, where fairy tale legends lives alongside regular New Yorkers, the question is all anyone can talk about. But only the Big Bad Wolf can actually solve the caes - and, along with Rose's sister Snow White, keep the Fabletown community from coming apart at the seams.

Fables: Legends in Exile
collects the first five issues of writer and creator Bill Willingham's acclaimed new Vertigo series (suoerbly illustrated by Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, and Craig Hamilton), and includes a new Fables short story written and illustrated by Willingham.
I heard about this series ages ago, but I still think that I could not easily get it back when I first wanted to. With my gift cards from Christmas, though, I found that it was now available and bought the first two volumes. Yesterday, I sat down, opened up to the very first page, and I knew that I was going to love it. It is everything that I enjoy in a fairy tale retelling. I wish I had started reading this series years ago! I cannot wait to read the next book, and I have a strong desire to spend the rest of my gift card on more books in the series! Yep, I am late to the game, but I think I became a Fables fangirl in the space of one evening!

The series takes fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters and puts them together in a contemporary setting. Their world has been overrun by darkness, so those that have survived have had to move to our world and live alongside human beings. Those that cannot pass as humans, though, live as a group deep in the wilderness. All evil has been forgotten and forgiven, so all of them are starting off a new life with amnesty. In this story we see characters like Snow White, the 'big, bad wolf', Red Rose, Jack (from Beanstalk fame), Prince Charming, Beauty and her husband, and so many more characters! As I was reading and discovering new characters I would get all excited as I remembered where they came from originally.

It was great! This is an awesome idea for a series. I am so excited to read more from it. I can safely say that something from Fables will be on my Best of... list for 2009!

Other Reviews:
Heather (A High and Hidden Place) - I blame Heather. I know for a fact that, wow, 3 years ago it was her that made me want to read them! (I am sorry it took three years...)
Rhinoa (Rhinoa's Ramblings)
Chris (Stuff as Dreams are Made on)

Anyone else? Let me know and I will add you to the list!

Mishel's List

Hi everyone! Mishel here from mis(h)takes. Sorry I'm so late posting my list. I had technical difficulties (thanks Laza for helping!) I've always wanted to read graphic novels but never really had the time. So I plan to make time for some this year. I'm gonna start with the Minor Level, but I hope to upgrade throughout the year.

1. Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures Volume 1
2. Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures Volume 2
3. The Boys Volume 1: The Name of the Game by Garth Ennis
4. The Pro by Garth Ennis
5. We3 by Grant Morrison
6. The Filth by Grant Morrison

John's 1st Graphic Novel- Seth: It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken

Until Remi brought this book to my attention, I had thought it was just a Tragically Hip song. But when I found out it was first a graphic novel... er, picture novella... by some guy from Toronto who simply went by "Seth," it was enough to pique my interest. (According to Wikipedia, Seth borrowed it from a Maurice Chevalier song.)

So, when I joined up with the Graphic Novels Challenge, this one simply had to make my list. Not having ever read a graphic novel before I didn't know what to expect, but one look inside and I knew this wasn't it. With bold but minimalist lines (I'm no artist, so forgive me if I'm not describing this well), it wasn't the busy, grainy pictures I remembered from the few superhero comics I read as a kid. Likewise, there's no superhero action.

I also hadn't expected to be caught up in the words. The narration at the beginning, followed by the very realistic conversations when Seth (yes, he stars in his own book) visits with his mother and brother, is so engaging that I began to worry I wouldn't focus on the visuals at all!

Slowly but surely the artistry got to me. It's amazing how well he was able to set a mood with a few subtle shadows. Entirely wordless pages seemed as integral to the plot as the dialogue:

It's odd that such a slow-paced, sometimes depressing book, would engage me as much as it did (maybe he should illustrate a couple Alice Munro books for me). Perhaps the self-awareness won me over (at one point Seth even refers to his inclination towards "navel gazing"). Or, more likely, I was taken in with the irony. Seth is portrayed as someone never quite comfortable living in the now, someone nostalgic for a time before he even existed. Yet, for all that, the present-day Toronto seems drawn in such a fond, nostalgic light. If there's any message to be taken away, it's that a life is most beautiful when you appreciate the flaws.

(Cross-posted at The Book Mine Set)

January 3, 2009

Happy New Year!

Hello everyone! I'm so excited by how many people have joined this challenge. I got a little behind during the holidays on sending out invites to join the blog. I just sent out what I think were the last of them, up to this point, but if you haven't received one yet or if I haven't updated the participants list or the blog roll, please leave a comment and let me know. I'll get to it right away!

Review: The Demon of River Heights by Stefan Petrucha

Nancy Drew, girl detective, is now starring in a graphic novel series written by Petrucha and drawn by Sho Murase. The Demon of River Heights is the first in the series.

This was my first-ever graphic novel! Rather than just cut and paste my review, I hope you don't mind if I send you to my blog, where the full review is posted (here). I gave this light, fast read a B- rating.

Note: If you want me post a full review here, too, just let me know.

January 2, 2009

Review: Clumsy

I completed my first book for the challenge, reading Jeffrey Brown's Clumsy this afternoon. Clumsy documents a year in life of a long distance relationship between Brown and a girl named Theresa. It's graphic and intimate, almost painfully so, and the way it's drawn and put together gives readers the sense of reading someone's journal, peeking uninvited in their sketchbook, or peering through their bedroom window. It's that personal. Brown is deliberately unflinching in his portrayal of the relationship, and sometimes it's uncomfortable reading, but it's impossible to look away. Many scenes are tender and sweet and are sure to remind readers of their own young love. As stated in the synopses on Powell's, there's a lot of sex. But it's possible to look past all of the sex to the heart of a work that's pretty bold and heartfelt. I definitely enjoyed it for it's rawness and honesty. It's a quick read, but deserves time and consideration for full impact.

[cross-posted at my blog]

Review: Fables #11: War and Pieces

Title: Fables #11: War and Pieces
Author: Bill Willingham
Illustrators: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Niko Henrichon, Andrew Pepoy
Genre: Graphic Novel, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Published: 19 November 2008
Collects Issues: 70 - 75
Pages: 177
Rating: 9 / 10
Challenges: Graphic Novels Challenge, Winter Reading Challenge, Sci-Fi Experience
Awards: Fables has won 14 Eisner Awards so far

Synopsis (from the back cover):
Fables Attack! The final battle between the free Fables of the mundane world and the Empire occupying their former Homelands is about to begin, and the scrappy storybook heroes have already managed to even the odds considerably. With his previously unstoppable wooden soldiers neutralized, the Adversary is about to get his first taste of high technology in the form of steel-jacketed bullets and laser-guided bombs. But the ruler who conquered a hundred different worlds didn't do it by fighting clean - and he's still got a surprise or two left to spring on the residents of Fabletown

My review: This was the first book I read in 2009, and I don't think I could have made a better choice. In War and Pieces, the war against the Adversary reaches it conclusion, and I found it very satisfying. The story starts out with Cinderella's clandestine mission to get the upper hand on the Empire; watching Cindy in super-spy mode made me wish she had her own spin-off. It would be just like Alias! And seeing Beauty's confused/enraged reaction to Cindy getting her own mission ("SHE-ONLY-SELLS-SHOES!") is priceless.

The war itself is told through Blue's perspective, and I really felt sympathy for him in this book. He's melancholy because he's been rejected by Rose Red (he has the worst luck with women!) and because being in the war reminds him of the past. He's a key figure, though, because he's able to use the Witching Cloak to keep the front lines supplied and to keep all the bases up-to-date. There's also a scene towards the end that had echoes of Blue-as-Neville in the final Harry Potter book, which made me love him even more.

There's so much to enjoy in this book. The conclusion of the "War with the Empire" story arc, of course, but also the return of some characters and plot points we hadn't seen in a while (Briar Rose turns out to be pretty important, and the zephyrs and magic beanstalk also have parts to play in the war). Prince Charming actually turns out okay in the end, which was pretty amazing. Flycatcher is mentioned but never seen, but after giving him his own story arc I guess that's forgivable.

I highly recommend this book to everyone - Fables is one of my favorite comic books, and this is a an impressive end to a long-running storyline. I'm glad the creators opted not to finish the Fables series with the end of the war, because I love the world they've created and I'm looking forward to more.

Other reviews:

If you've reviewed this book as well, leave a message in the comments and I'll link to your review.

Cross-posted to casual dread.