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Graphic Novelty²

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May 2018

Guest Post on Perspective of a Writer

Graphic novels have been growing in popularity but it seems at times that a prejudice against them remains, with a lingering doubt about their literary merit. So when Dani from Perspective of a Writer asked me to share a post on her site about my passion for graphic novels, I was happy to oblige.

As a former elementary teacher, and now a current teen librarian, I want to let readers know of this genre’s merit and direct them to novels that will make them fans if they weren’t already. Get ready to find out examples of books that I put under the categories: Diverse Reads, Dark & Disturbing, Real & Gritty and Classic Superhero. Please take a look at my Ultimate List of Graphic Novels!

-Nancy

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Fresh Romance (Vol. 1)

Romance isn’t really my thing. I’ve read a few romance novels, but I find the actual romances uninspiring, forced, or too problematic – definitely not romantic! So I picked this one up already pretty ambivalent about it.

I’m happy to report I was pleasantly surprised by this anthology! There are four stories inside, all romances, but of differing flavors ;D

  • School Spirit by Kate Leth, Arielle Jovellanos, Amanda Scurti, and Taylor Esposito. High school friends Miles, Corinne, Justine, and Malie are planning for prom and graduation. Malie and Justine want to go together, but their relationship is a secret and they’re not sure if they’re ready to make it public. Corinne has a magical gift and technically isn’t allowed to date mortals like Miles. Will prom night be the one night they’re allowed to be themselves, and together? Or will they find themselves ripped apart by those who don’t understand? A sweet and salty tone combined with inclusive characters and brightly colored artwork made for a delicious read.
  • Ruined by Sarah Vaughn, Sarah Winifred Searle, and Ryan Ferrier. A historical romance that begins on Catherine Benson’s wedding day. She marries Mr. Andrew Davener, a lucky marriage to be sure, after Catherine was involved in a scandal the previous summer. They are both nervous around each other, each keeping secrets of the past from the other. How are they to rebuild their reputations and make their marriage work? This one ended on the worst cliffhanger!!! I’ll be seeking out the second volume for sure to find out what happens! The art is clean, simple, and yet bearing that certain expressiveness and dignity called to mind with classic English literature. Beautifully rendered.
  • The Ruby Equation by Sarah Kuhn, Sally Jane Thompson, Savanna Ganucheau, Steve wants, and Sonia Harris. Ruby is stuck working in a coffee shop on Earth making people fall in love. Gross! She knows she’s destined for more, and she can’t wait to finish this mission so she can herd laser seahorses in another realm. She can skip making multiple matches if she makes one big, great match – one involving an individual who’s given up on love entirely. I found the art too overly detailed and cluttered in this one to really get into it.
  • Beauties by Marguerite Bennett, Trungles, Rachel Deering, and Kris Anka. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast in which the Beast is captured by Beauty’s father, a merchant prince. The prince and his first two daughters each love the Beast, but as a possession. Beauty loves him as an equal, and frees him from her family’s prison. How are they to hide when they are being hunted? The artwork looked like old woodcuts or prints like you might find in an old volume of fairy tales.

Overall, I enjoyed this anthology. There was something in it for all kinds of romance readers – even the reluctant ones like me 😉

– Kathleen

Various. Fresh Romance (Vol. 1). 2016.

Saga: Volume One

An epic sci-fi adventure with liberal doses of violence and sex! Hey, if that doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will.

I have been circling this graphic novel for years and kept on pushing it off for one reason or the other. But recently Dani from Perspective of a Writer reviewed it, and I was pushed to finally pick it up myself.

The story drops you right into the birth of our narrator, Hazel. Literally THE very moment she is born with her mother Alana cussing and screaming, while her calm father, Marko, helps. You can tell that the parents are of different species, with their baby showing characteristics of both. Alana has no time to recover, as moments after the birth, the two fugitives are on the run as soldiers burst into the room trying to capture them. We learn that their two species are at war, and their secret marriage and birth of a hybrid child is strictly forbidden.  That this love blossomed among enemies must be kept from the public, and was eerily reminiscent for me of one of Star Trek: DS9 best plotlines on the series that showed the hate between the Bajorans and the Cardassians that cruelly ruled their planet for years.

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The action never stops as this new family seeks to escape certain death and we find out that not only are the leaders of their respective races plotting their demise, but paid assassins are also on their trail. Just as they maneuver out of one scrape, they are thrust into another; however, with so many multi-layered villains, you are not sure if perhaps one will prove to be their salvation or not.

With the plot device of Hazel narrating the story, we obviously know that she survives until adulthood, but her references to her parents are deliberately vague, as to invite questions of their fate(s). Alana is sarcastic but kind and a true warrior, but Marko is my real favorite. He reminds me of my husband – a handsome and strong man who will do whatever it takes to protect his family. Marko is incredibly battle weary and will only use his family sword when absolutely necessary. Spoiler alert- there is a time it becomes necessary.

Fiona Staples’s art is perfect for the story. She immediately establishes the looks of a large cast of unique characters and creates believable alien worlds, with some awesome two page spreads. She definitely does not shy away from the explicit, for as I mentioned in my introduction there is a lot of sex. OMG, a lot. In many comics, sex is implied, but you don’t see the actual bits and pieces. Here you do. There is also a lot of violence, but it wasn’t gratuitous, as that’s realistic for a story about warring nations.

Now that I have finished the first volume, I will definitely be picking up future volumes. While the sex was excessive, the rest of the narrative is top notch. For me to be reminded of Star Trek: DS9 is the best compliment. I want to find out what happens to Alana, Marko and their baby, who is a symbol of their love and of hope for the warring empires.

-Nancy

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Vaughan, Brian K & Fiona Staples. Saga: Volume One, 2012.

Spyro: Reignited Trilogy

One thing I don’t think I’ve told you guys: I LOVE Spyro the Dragon.

Not that Skylanders crap, though. Jeez, they made him UGLY. That shouldn’t have been possible, and yet they managed to do it. No, when I say I LOVE Spyro the Dragon (yes, it must always been in caps), I mean I’m a Spyro purist. Original trilogy plus Enter the Dragonfly because it was the first one I ever played. It doesn’t live up to the original trilogy, but has a special place in my heart nonetheless. As a wee lass, I was captivated by the bright candy colors, the phenomenal music, the way every unique level was infused with obvious love, and of course, by our favorite wise-cracking purple dragon and his sparkly dragonfly sidekick. Though I’ve replayed them many times over, and I didn’t get 100% in the first game until I was already an adult (thanks, Tree Tops), they have never lost their charm for me.

So you can imagine me, a woman in my mid-20s, learning they’re going to remake the series, and that it will be available this fall, and bursting into tears of joy. Watch the trailer below!

As you can see, they are completely revamping it. All the models and levels have been reworked, updated, and in HD. I don’t mind at all that it looks different – my mind knows it is, but in my heart, it looks exactly the way it looked to me as a child. They couldn’t have done better than that ❤

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I know this news is a little old, but they announced one more thing yesterday that I just had to share…

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He’s getting a Funko Pop figurine!!! LOOK HOW CUTE HE IS!!!!!! I LOVE HIM 😭😭😭

Man, this is a great year of gaming for me. We’ve gotten more news about Kingdom Hearts III than the past 13 years combined, SoulCalibur VI is getting the original roster back, and now a Spyro remake. My inner middle-schooler is sobbing with joy… okay… it’s me on the outside too…

Kathleen

The Flash: Rebirth (2010)

Barry Allen sacrificed himself during the Crisis on Infinite Earths to restore balance to the Multiverse. He’s escaped the Speedforce and was brought back to life, a feat that no other Speedster has been able to accomplish. Everyone – the League, the citizens of Central City, and his family – are overjoyed to have him back. In fact, the only person who’s not happy about it is Barry himself. He feels a strange urgency, like time is running out. But for what, he’s not sure. The world is telling him to slow down, but Barry feels he needs to go faster than ever. He’s not entirely convinced he escaped the Speedforce on his own – he may have been set free. But by who, and for what purpose? Could he have been brought back to life just to die again?

As big a fan as I am of the show, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to actually pick up a Flash comic. I absolutely loved it! The artwork was dynamic and crackling with power and emotion. You know anything Geoff Johns writes is going to be good, but this story was just phenomenal. The emotional pull of Barry’s dilemma and his family willing to do anything to help is what makes this story special. The story is just as fast-paced as you’d expect a Flash comic to be, but the love that was obviously infused into the story and characters carries a lot of weight. I will definitely be looking for more.

– Kathleen

Johns, Geoff, and Ethan Van Sciver. The Flash: Rebirth. 2010.

Northlanders: Book Two and Three

Three weeks ago I read Northlanders: Sven the Returned (Book One) and I said “This is a series (that continues on with different characters and dates) I will not continue.” Yet…here we are. When I heard that Book Three included a short story on Sven whose story was all of Book One, I ordered it. Then I thought, well, I should get Book Two just to keep it in order. Damn it all- I was hooked.

The Cross + The Hammer: Book Two

While Book One had taken place in AD 980 on the Orkney Islands of Scotland, this story takes place in occupied Ireland in the year AD 1014. The story centers around brute father Magnus and his pre-teen daughter Brigid who are on the run. Former monk Magnus is on a crusade to kill as many of the King’s men as he can while defending his homeland, despite having his beloved daughter by his side. Lord Ragnar, using unlikely detective skills (for that era) tracks this vigilante. But Ragnar is no noble Norse leader; he and his fellow soldiers leave as much destruction as Magnus does, each feeling their cause is worthy and justified.  Then the last chapter pulls the rug out from under you, and everything you thought about this father and daughter is suddenly upended. I had to re-read the concluding pages several times to truly understand what had just happened. Not all the pieces fit (you have to have a suspension of disbelief) but I applaud the author Wood for trying something new.

The artist is Ryan Kelly, different from the artist in Book One, and he ably recreates the Irish countryside and it’s inhabitants. The men are rugged and battle weary, but Brigid is always drawn as a beautiful waif, making her a studied contrast with her father.

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Blood in the Snow: Book Three

This volume is broken into several vignettes (similar to how Wood wrote Rebels), where as the two previous books dealt with one extended story at a time. While I at first only planned to read the last chapter about Sven, I was sucked into the other stories, that were all drawn by different artists.

Lindisfarne– Northern England AD 793: Teen Edwin hates his bitter father and older brother and when Vikings land near his home he leads them straight to his village. Conniving Edwin sides with the Northlanders and forever turns his back on his Saxon kin.

The Viking Act of Single Combat– Northern Europe AD 790-1100: Six generations of two neighboring lords battle regularly. Two ugly Vikings battle to the death. Whatevs.

The Shield Maidens– Danish Mercia AD 868: Three widowed Danes escape and become shield maidens who were women warriors who fought alongside men in Scandinavian folklore and mythology. They escape to an abandoned Roman fort and defend themselves against the invading Saxons. Fate is intertwined into the story, so how they succeed seems less due to their own prowess than just luck. The very dark coloring and lack of individualization of the three women made this female-centric story less powerful than it could have been.

Sven The Immortal– Oslo Norway AD 1009: Sven and Enna are back! As is original artist Gianfelice and his issue with eyes! Sven has been in exile for several decades when young men who want to prove their manhood by killing the fabled Sven Of Orkney, decide to find him. Sven sends his two children into hiding, and he and Enna prepare for the attack. These young bucks underestimate the greying Sven but he shows them that he can still battle with the best of them. While I won’t spoil how he and Enna persevere, I will say that I was extremely happy with the ending. Sven- who knew that your character would end up being so appealing to me?

There are seven books total in this Northlanders series, and while I truly don’t plan on reading the remaining four, never say never!

-Nancy

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Wood, Brain & various artists. Northlanders: Book Two + Three. 2009 +2010.

Above The Timberline

Above The Timberline by Gregory Manchess is a unique book, that isn’t quite a graphic novel, instead it is a highly illustrated book, a so-called “painted novel”. Very reminiscent of the Dinotopia book series (minus the dinosaurs but add polar bears) by James Gurney, this large sized book has 240 pages of lush paintings that transport you to another time and place.

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Set in the year 3518, a cataclysmic event approximately 1500 years ago (that just happens to match our current date!) caused the Earth’s mantle to spin faster than it’s crust, resulting in huge tectonic shifts. Continents broke away and collided with others destroying cities and plunging them underground, with the original equator thrown towards the poles, and the poles at the new equator. Society was disrupted and much technology was lost as a new extreme ice age descended upon everyone. Now the current population seems to be in the early 20th century with British overtones, but bits and pieces of past mechanization such as airships remain so the entire setting has a steam punk vibe.

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Polar bears as pack animals and allies

The premise of this alternate future has the son of a missing famed explorer searching for his father who had been seeking a lost city under the snow. We have past journal entries from the father, Galen, that provide clues for Wes to follow. Soon into his journey through the Phantom Waste he meets up with some nomads and it just so happens that a lovely young woman of the tribe, Linea, helps him escape. Her knowledge of the terrain is invaluable as they work together to find Wes’s father, ahead of a former friend now turned villain who wants the glory for himself.

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Rhinos had to adapt and now have furry coats!

The artwork is exquisite. Manchess is known for his art in Newsweek, Time, Atlantic Monthly, and National Geographic and the beauty of his work can not be understated. He vividly creates a believable tundra landscape, and paints his characters, animals and interior backgrounds with precision. Although Manchess has contributed art to other books, this is the first he has authored, and at times the characterizations were thin. However, the narrative is set up for more adventures so I’ll definitely check out what further exploits await Wes and Linea!

-Nancy

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A Bride’s Story (Vol. 2)

Things are good in the Eihon household. Amir has met a young woman named Pariya, an outspoken, accomplished baker, and the two become fast friends. Mr. Smith, a long-time guest of the household, has finally decided to move on to continue his research, resulting in a bittersweet parting. Amir and Karluk’s bond has deepened. However, Amir’s family has come to take her back. They were turned away by Karluk’s grandmother in the first volume, but they are back to take Amir by any means necessary. They insist Amir wasn’t the girl they intended to send to marry Karluk. The entire family – even the village – stands their ground to protect Amir. When it’s all over, how can Amir forgive, forget, and move on?

The first volume was mostly about Amir and Karluk’s relationship, but here we have multiple plot threads going for different characters. It added some much-needed plot and depth to the story. It’s really more of a study in the traditions and customs of the people as it is an actual story, but the leisurely pace is appealing to me at the moment. I’m happy to report the art in this volume was just as superb as the last! Looking forward to the art in the next volume too 😉

– Kathleen

Mori, Kaoru. A Bride’s Story (Vol. 2). 2010.

Free Comic Book Day 2018

For several years in a row, I have brought Free Comic Book Day to my library. I pick up a good selection of titles from my favorite comic book store, Graham Crackers, and offer them to the library patrons when they come in. I also had some Star Wars and superhero crafts available for kids to do as well. I know, I know…I’m pretty awesome to offer such epicness to my library community.  As an added bonus, I love getting a sneak peek of the titles, and this year I went a bit crazy and picked six. But…none of them wowed me, as I think last year’s selection was better.

Free Comic Book Day Vol 2018 Avengers

Now I know comics can’t always follow whats going on in the movies, but having two Avengers stories that don’t correlate with what many of us saw on the big screen is confusing. In the first story, Black Panther and Odin, Thor’s father, talk of a threat that has been hidden for a million years. We get flashbacks to six God’s from the past that must be ancestors to modern day superheros. It’s hopelessly muddled and doesn’t make sense at all. The second story about Captain America is penned by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and picks up where last year Hydra’s story ended. This second story has some possibilities.

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A lighthearted romp with Han and Chewie getting into a scrape and then out of it. Typical Han Solo antics but the character is drawn with a face that looks more like actor Alden Ehrenreich than Harrison Ford. A nice tie with the upcoming Solo movie, but it didn’t advance his story line at all.

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This version of Bond isn’t drawn to resemble any of the past cinematic Bonds, and that’s just as well, as not to muddle our perceptions of him. 007 is being sent out on a mission, and due to some new regulations will not have his gun on him while he travels. This issue is a prequel to a future story, and humanizes James as he prepares to leave on this new job. The story and the clean art seem promising.

Image result for free comic book day 2018 invasionI picked up this title thinking the cover looked pretty cool, before I realized it was a Captain Canuck story. I almost put it back down after that realization, but then I would have missed the awesomeness of Canadian Trudeau, American Trump and Russian Putin facing off against one another at a United Nations General Assembly. Trudeau is portrayed as the voice of reason (true in real life) while Trump especially gets a comical (also true to form) depiction. Go Captain Canuck- save our world from alien invasion!

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I am not a fan of steam punk at all, but I picked the title up as I needed some female representation in my selections. This issue has two stories set three years apart, and is filled with the tired tropes of Mechanika having to find her origins, but as soon as she finds a clue, something prevents her from following it. This bionic female is sexualized with completely ridiculous outfits. Although the artwork is absolutely beautiful, I could not get past her comical vest that pushed out her breasts. Come on now. 

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This final story was a last minute grab for me, once I saw that it is an 80’s coming of age crime story, as I’m a sucker for that era! The opening story line appealed to me, as Diego works at a mob owned business, and (true story) I’m almost positive I worked at a clothing store that was a front for the mob when I was in high school. The plot then veers into cheesy 80’s movie territory with the story of a nerdy boy who wins over a hot girl. It was cute, but I don’t know where the continuing story will go. Also, the stylized cover doesn’t adequately represent the art inside, it’s completely different. I don’t like bait and switch.

So, I really question if I will continue with any of these stories. While I didn’t hate them, none grabbed my attention enough to make me rush out for future issues. Time will tell.

-Nancy

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