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Category Archives: Graphic Novel

Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists, edited by Chris Duffy

Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary CartoonistsPremise: Gather a selection of classic fairy tales, pair each of them with different cartoonists, and you get this collection of visual interpretations of many commonly known stories, with a few obscure ones for good measure.

Fairy tale classics like Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and Rapunzel are set along with other lesser known stories such as Azzolino’s Story Without End and The Boy Who Drew Cats. Each of them is unique in their own right, especially interpreted for this collection.

Themes: Fairy tales are ways of telling legends to children, but the stories remain with us through adulthood. Often they remind us how the perseverance of goodness ends in triumph over wickedness. And even when things don’t quite turn out right, doing good will still bring happiness and prosperity. At least, that’s what we want to believe, which is why these stories continue to endure.

Pros: The artwork is fantastic for every story, but there are several that stood out to me. I liked the bold cutout style of the simple yet colorful Little Red Riding Hood by Gigi D.G., especially contrasted by the drab brown and gray color palette in Luke Pearson’s The Boy Who Drew Cats. Brett Helquist’s painting like quality is beautiful in his rendition of Rumpelstiltskin. I also appreciate how Joseph Lambert interpreted music through his art in Rabbit Will Not Work. One of my favorites is because of how Graham Annable managed to tell Goldilocks and the Three Bears without a single word. The facial expressions are just whimsical. One of the best things about Fairy Tale Comics is that in just about every story the art adds to the telling of the story, making it more accessible to the reader.

Cons: Reading some of these stories anew reminded me that many fairy tales, especially from the Brothers Grimm, are pretty inappropriate for too young an audience. Some of the interpretations use language I don’t really want my child using, with words like “stupid” and “dumb” and “idiots” that should not be in a child’s vocabulary as long as can be prevented.

Recommendations: While most of the stories are retold versions from the Brothers Grimm, Fairy Tale Comics brings in some fairy tales that I hadn’t heard before. Each of these adaptations is unique to each artist, but as a collection they are visually stunning, making the sum of the whole even greater than the individual stories themselves. While it is really meant for an older audience than Nursery Rhyme Comics, Fairy Tale Comics is a book that comes nicely on its heels. I might wait until your child is at least old enough to read for themselves so that they can appreciate the artistic nuances as they enjoy the story. Just be mindful of swears, witches, and giant rats.

Fairy Tale Comics on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in Childrens, Graphic Novel

 

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Boxers/Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Boxers (Boxers & Saints)Saints (Boxers & Saints)Premise: Little Bao is a Chinese peasant tired of the Western missionaries that are infiltrating their country and corrupting it with their religion and ideals. The Westerners are also converting some of the Chinese people to their religion and gaining protection from the Chinese government. Bao creates a rebellion, energized through the visions of Chinese gods, that turns out to be incredibly successful, storming through the countryside and gaining strength as they fight for Chinese values.

At the same time, a young Chinese girl is taken in by some of the missionaries in a search for identity and acceptance. She is the fourth girl of the family but the only one to live, so instead of giving her a real name, her family names her Four-Girl, four being a Chinese homonym for death. It is with the missionaries that she finds love and a forgiveness she dreams for, including a new life with a real name: Vibiana. She faces the Chinese rebellion with an unexpected decision of faith, one inspired by a great Christian follower from the past.

In this two volume series, we see that there are multiple sides to every conflict. When stories intersect, the greatest of decisions are made, and the smallest influence can make all the difference in the world.

Themes: Religion is all over both Boxers and Saints, especially in the way each perspective comes across to the other. Bao sees the Christian missionaries and the Chinese who convert as devils by their corruption and abuse of villagers, while Vibiana converts to become a “devil”, finding the forgiveness and acceptance she was actually seeking all along. When given both perspectives, we can see that it is the individuals who are corrupt or good, not necessarily the religion itself.

With each protagonist being the hero of their own story, perspective becomes key as both Bao and Vibiana experience the conflict with their own histories. How they see people is colored by their past, and when those beliefs are really challenged they learn what true strength, bravery, and compassion are really about.

Pros: Visually, these two books are stunning, with drab browns and grays highlighting the contrasting stunning colors of the Chinese rebels in Boxers and the illuminated gold of the ghosts in Saints. These stories give some perspective on opposing viewpoints that can cause the reader to consider how they judge others. It also emphasizes the damage of war on a country and the terrible things that can be justified on any side of conflict. I liked the way the character stories intersect and come full circle as you read both books, especially mirroring each other in juxtaposition for mercy and compassion for others in the end.

Cons: Compared to Boxers, Saints is a little short. The missionaries come off as unlikeable and evil, even in their own book. The protagonist in Saints has motives that seem genuinely naive for her interest in the Christian faith, though it is hard to believe the missionaries wouldn’t have made it clearer the truths of their religion earlier on in their studies. The connection between Bao and Vibiana seemed a little too open-ended at the end of Boxers, making up for it a little by the decisions they both make in Saints. Most importantly, it’s hard to imagine reading one of these without the other. I’m not sure why these are even offered for purchase separately.

Recommendations: The Boxers & Saints duology infuses an air of fantasy into an historical account of the Boxer Rebellion as we get both perspectives of the rebels in Boxers and the Chinese Christians in Saints. While both of these volumes are interesting on their own, the most impact is made when they are put together as contrasting stories, giving the reader more to consider about worldview and religious beliefs, especially in the context of war. Boxers and Saints are insightful stories that can expand how we perceive the beliefs of others, including for someone with a strong grounding in their own beliefs. If you are going to consider a purchase, make sure you get both books, perhaps in the boxed set.

Gene Luen Yang’s website
Boxers & Saints Boxed Set on Goodreads
Buy the Boxers & Saints Boxed Set on Amazon
Download Boxers & Saints for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction

 

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Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci & Sara Varon (Illustrator)

Odd DuckPremise: Theodora might have some quirks, but she leads a quiet, perfectly normal life, in her own eyes. She stays home when all the other ducks are flying south for the winter. She practices balancing her teacup on her head when she swims and she practices flapping her wings for a time when she might need to fly. When Chad moves in next door, Theodora instantly realizes that he is odd. He is unorganized, builds strange creations in the front yard, dyes his feathers different colors, and talks nonstop.

But Theodora soon discovers they have some things in common. They like and dislike some of the same books. They like to watch the stars and eat some of the same foods. Through their time together they become good friends. But when they overhear someone mentioning that “odd duck” within earshot, neither of them is sure which one they are talking about. It might just be too much for either of them to either point a finger at the other or to accept that they themselves might just be an odd duck.

Themes: Odd Duck tackles the many aspects of friendship, including being alone, meeting new friends, enjoying spending time together, arguing over the smallest things, and reconciliation. Theodora was happy by herself, but when she meets Chad they hit it off and love doing things together, especially when they learn they have some shared interests. When they fight over the silliest of misunderstandings it will take some self-examination and humility to reconcile the relationship.

Not only does Odd Duck show aspects of friendship, it also highlights being yourself regardless of what others think and standing by your friends when others look down on them for their differences. When one of them is called odd, Chad and Theodora don’t know who it is that they are talking about, but it ends up hurting their friendship when they care what others think of them. It is only when they accept each other for who they are and realize that they might also be a bit odd that they are able to put aside those differences and go back to being friends.

Pros: Odd Duck does a great job quickly forming characters that stand out through some humorous things like Theodora practicing flapping her wings and Chad dying his feathers different colors. The contrast between these two ducks is obvious, but the way in which Castellucci and Varon manage to display through them a tight bond between friends, and the ways in which a friendship can quickly dissolve because of pride and shortsightedness and be reconciled out of true remorse is pretty amazing. The art is simple and colorful, but it makes the humor more pronounced without sacrificing emotion in the characters. It is in the understated moments where Odd Duck manages to evoke some real emotion.

Cons: Just as the title states, this book is a little odd. Though children will probably enjoy it in spite of being odd, they might not exactly understand all the little oddities it contains, such as putting mango salsa in duck food, practicing flapping, and dying feathers. There is potential for people to use this book to push unadulterated acceptance and approval of alternative lifestyles or for others on the opposite side to denounce it for a perceived political agenda. I think Odd Duck manages to sidestep those issues and deliver a clean, helpful message for children and adults to be nice, to accept others for who they are, and to be true to your friends.

Recommendations: Considered a children’s book, Odd Duck manages to have a lesson for everyone of all ages on how to treat others, when to stick by your friends, and what to think of yourself when others consider you to be odd. With some great but simple art, you’ll find yourself going back through to find the little details that Varon has sprinkled throughout the frames. Castellucci has written an easy to read, yet profound, story that doesn’t talk down to the reader or go down the road of being preachy or cheesy when it comes to giving a message of acceptance of others’ differences. Many people could do themselves well to read this charming little gem of a story, however odd it may be.

Cecil Castellucci’s website
Sara Varon’s website
Odd Duck on Goodreads
Buy Odd Duck on Amazon
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Childrens, Graphic Novel, Humor

 

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Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes by Matt Kindt

Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange CrimesPremise: The city of Red Wheelbarrow has had a spike in crimes, but only because the new detective in town is solving them with a perfect record. With his amazing deductive thinking and use of new spy technology, Detective Gould is catching every criminal in town.

But the recent string of crimes are as strange as they are seemingly connected, and Detective Gould is facing his biggest challenge yet. As he attempts to track down the culprits of these confusing crimes, Gould might just have found his match for solving crimes. In fact, the challenge to solve the crime might be much more intentional and personal than he knows.

Themes: Becoming too immersed into a job can cause strain on personal relationships. Detective Gould begins to learn this as his marriage suffers, as do his other relationships, as the expense for being extremely good at his job and pouring everything into it.

Another theme in Red Handed is the questioning the contrast between law and justice. As Detective Gould makes arrests, the criminals are arrested under the law, but justice is still under scrutiny by the manner in which they are made. Can causing something terrible to happen through intentional yet completely legal means be considered justice?

In pure crime fiction fashion, Red Handed poses mysteries to be solved by a crack detective searching for clues and motives. With a twist of an ending, solving the crimes becomes more personal as the crimes themselves are turned back onto Detective Gould.

Pros: I love that we get a little glimpse of a story before we know what it means, only to see it later on and to have it make more sense and continually bring a new layer of depth to the main plot. The little previews of upcoming and past threads in each of the different character stories add so much more depth to each thread and to the overall story. The retro noir feel of the art style fits perfectly with the crime genre. Kindt knows when to be sparse with his art and when to be more elaborate. I especially like how he makes the newspaper clipping type scenes of Detective Gould solving the crimes actually look more like early sketches with remaining pencil lines compared to the rest of the book. With hints at violence and sex, Red Handed manages to stay fairly clean by doing the more risqué things off screen.

Cons: I actually found myself flipping back constantly as new story threads were introduced to find the little hints and previews that only made sense once you reached them later on. It was a bit confusing as it jumps around and could be something that might either keep people from appreciating the story from start to end or confuse people so much that the story makes less sense on the first read through.

Recommendations: The interweaving stories in Red Handed make the seemingly inconsequential threads come together into a masterfully woven tapestry full of depth and intrigue. Crime fiction and mystery readers will absolutely love what Matt Kindt has done with Red Handed. Not only does he tell a deep, multifaceted story, but he is an incredibly talented artist. The story jumps around a bit and the art looks retro with a hint of noir, but it feels timeless in that it could be placed anytime within the last seventy years or so. If you are looking for a crime fiction graphic novel that gradually gives you new revelations but leaves you guessing until the very end, Red Handed is probably right up your alley.

Matt Kindt’s website
Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes on Goodreads
Buy Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes on Amazon
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Graphic Novel, Mystery

 

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Mastering Comics: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures Continued by Jessica Abel & Matt Madden

Mastering Comics: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures ContinuedPremise: Many artists have the desire to create comics but might not know where to begin when it comes to layout, style, or the techniques necessary for creating print and digital art. Mastering Comics is a textbook covering topics including character and reader perspective, storytelling, artistic techniques, conversion to screen, penciling, inking, lettering, and much more.

Themes: One of the main things covered in Mastering Comics is creating thumbnails as a sketch of what an artist is going to eventually make into a more detailed drawing through penciling, inking, and shading or coloring. The thumbnails are there as a guide as you go about telling the story without having to worry about spending too much time adding detail before the story or artistic details have been thought out.

Mastering Comics takes time talking about layout, especially as it pertains to how people will see the pages individually, as you turn the page, and as the composition as a whole. It looks at the visually pleasing aspects as you look at the page, as well as the natural progression of reading through dialogue boxes and narration, color schemes, and artistic style.

Another topic covered is considering the digital realm of publication. Mastering Comics talks about how to draw for the screen, especially with what resolution to scan at, how to save your documents for adding ink, color, and shading, and also for thinking about how it will be viewed on the screen when compared to the printed page.

Pros: Not only does Mastering Comics cover a wide array of topics for artists, it manages to do so in an easy to understand way. The artistic examples in the book are fantastic. I like that they offer extended examples and content on their website, especially if you haven’t read the previous book or are simply looking to expand your artistic knowledge. Having not read the previous book, I still felt like there was plenty of help in the drawing aspect to help a beginning artist, such as with perspective and size and placement relationships between people and objects.

Cons: Mastering Comics makes some assumptions about your level of artistic ability and knowledge, though it is fairly forthcoming about those assumptions. The authors give references to the previous book for guidance on art and beginning drawing techniques, though they don’t always go into much detail with those references. Some of the step-by-step instructions on creating computer graphics are not as clear as they could be (or should be in some cases).

Recommendations: This “definitive course in comics narrative” lives up to its claim. If I were going to look for a definitive place to research cartooning as a career or as a serious hobby, Mastering Comics would be a perfect starting place. There is so much in this book to talk about, it can’t be covered in a review, but must be experienced from reading through the examples and working through the exercises. After reading this textbook it made me want to get into starting a comic. I enjoyed going through Mastering Comics so much that I forgot I was reading a textbook.

Drawing Words and Writing Pictures website
Mastering Comics: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures Continued on Goodreads
Buy Mastering Comics: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures Continued on Amazon
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2012 in Graphic Novel, Nonfiction

 

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Bloody Chester by J.T. Petty & Hilary Florido

Bloody ChesterPremise: Chester Kates is a scrawny loner with no family in a town full of losers. When he is given the job of burning down the ghost town of Whale to make way for the railroad, he accepts it. The only problem is that there are still a few people living there.

A mysterious illness has taken over Whale, and only three people remain alive: the priest and his son, and Caroline. All Chester has to do to complete his mission is to get them to leave and set the buildings on fire. The real problem is convincing them to do so. The priest assumes he is infected with the strange plague and will not leave, and his son will not leave his father. Caroline will not leave the town until her father comes back from his claim in the mine, which gives Chester yet another challenge to complete his mission.

Chester grows fond of Caroline and has nothing to lose in finding her father or in confronting the supposedly infected priest. There are figures in white that haunt Whale, and the infected dead bodies around town are a chilling warning to keep out. As Chester tries to complete his task, he also begins to learn the cause of the plague and must make terrible decisions for how to bring about redemption for Whale.

Themes: The theme of redemption becomes clearer with every page, as Chester seeks to redeem Whale of its pestilence, as the residents seek redemption for themselves, and as Chester unwittingly encounters it through his decisions.

In this period of time where racism was prevalent, where other races are considered “animals” by some people in society, Bloody Chester tackles this topic subtly as a matter of fact thing in everyday life, which is then brought to the forefront for everyone to face.

There is also a bit of romance in Bloody Chester, though it plays more of a supporting storyline to keep Chester on task, while also providing some conflict in his quest to burn Whale to the ground. He must convince Caroline to leave, though now that he cares for her it makes the means for doing so more difficult.

Pros: The art is consistently beautiful and molds the characters well. The climax of the story is moving, leading to a resolution that, while crushing for all of Chester’s goals, was the right thing to do in spite of his goals. Redemption is brought to everything simultaneously, including Chester himself. As I read Bloody Chester I didn’t know what to think of it, but when I reached the end I was surprised at the impact it had in getting me to think.

Cons: Some of the artwork choices were odd, such as putting in words to explain an action, which reminds me of the campy original Batman series. I don’t know if it was intended, but if it was, then it doesn’t seem to fit with the intentions of the novel. I wish it was a bit longer with more back story behind some of the characters, especially Caroline. It is also somewhat foul and gruesome, not recommended for children.

Recommendations: For a story that is seemingly dark and soulless, Bloody Chester has an unexpected amount of heart. With curious artwork that sometimes doesn’t quite fit the tone of the story, it manages to lighten the mood of this dark tale into one of redemption for the lost souls. Bloody Chester is not recommended for children or young teens due to its language and sometimes gory images. There is some racism fitting for the time period that some may find offensive. In these days where political correctness reigns, I only fear that people will miss out on a good story by choosing not to read it for this single reason. Certain characters are offensive, not the story or the author. When it comes down to it, Bloody Chester is actually quite the opposite from racist. It is a story of honor and righting past wrongs.

Bloody Chester on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2012 in Graphic Novel, Western

 

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Baby’s in Black by Arne Bellstorf

Baby's in Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and The Beatles in HamburgPremise: When Klaus Voormann wakes Astrid Kirchherr in the middle of the night, it is because he has just heard something incredible. The band that he hears that night pulls them back night after night to listen to them in spite of the grungy dive they play in. From the moment Astrid sees the bass player, Stuart Sutcliffe, she is intrigued, and the music of The Beatles changes their lives forever.

As The Beatles try to hit it big, Stu and Astrid draw closer together. They encourage each other to create art, Stu with his paintings and Astrid with her photographs. Astrid encourages Stu to pursue his passion to push the limits of his painting, even if it means leaving the band in order to take classes and sell his art instead.

In this true love story between Astrid Kirchherr and the “fifth Beatle”, Stuart Sutcliffe, we get a glimpse of the early career of The Beatles. But more than anything, we get to see two people fall in love, all the way to its tragic ending.

Themes: Baby’s in Black is a love story. The romance between Astrid and Stu takes center stage as The Beatles perform in bars and jazz clubs. From the very first moment they see each other the sparks are flying.

There is quite a bit of introspection in Baby’s in Black, and not just for Stuart as he chooses his life direction with the band or with his art, but also for Astrid, Klaus, and The Beatles. The Beatles make choices for breaking contracts, finding gigs, changing band members, and traveling the world. Klaus follows The Beatles fervently, but also discovers a penchant for playing the bass. Astrid has the most introspection of all in her relationship with Stu and the discovery of self that comes with the loss of love, and it is expressed most poignantly through brief dream sequences.

Pros: The understated looks between Astrid and Stu say so much more in a few panels than any dialogue could over several pages. There is a sense of hopefulness in the face of tragedy at the conclusion, with Astrid coming full circle in her dreams but being better off having known Stu. The Beatles are supporting characters, and yet they don’t overshadow the focus of the story.

Cons: A few of the characters are drawn very similarly, and it took some time to pick up the subtle distinctions between them. There is a definite lack of exciting action because of the minimalist style of the drawings and dialogue. More dialogue might have helped invite readers less inclined to read a story where The Beatles play only a supporting role.

Recommendations: Baby’s in Black is as bohemian as the main characters the story is about. The minimal dialogue and dream sequences highlight the subtleties of the expressive faces of every person, especially the looks between Astrid and Stuart. The black and white drawings bring to mind seeing footage of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, and this beautiful love story ending in tragedy will leave you hopeful about life, for the art that was created, and that which is to come. Baby’s in Black is lovely and artsy, and encourages the reader to enjoy every minute of life we are given. Though perhaps not entirely an engaging story for everyone, this is a must read for Beatles fans.

Arne Bellstorf’s website
Baby’s in Black on Goodreads
Buy Baby’s in Black from Amazon
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2012 in Graphic Novel, Nonfiction

 

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