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Graphic Novelty²

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October 2018

Mary’s Monster

In honor of Halloween and the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, I choose Mary’s Monster, a poetic and beautifully evocative book about Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, the author of the classic 1818 novel. This fictionalized biography by Lita Judge details Mary’s life from childhood onward and is told in free verse.

Mary was born into a literary family- mother Mary Wollstonecraft was a writer while her father William Godwin was a political philosopher. Her mother died when Mary was an infant, also leaving an older half sister. William remarried, which brought step siblings into the family, in addition to having a son with his second wife. Failed business ventures and an unhappy family life plunged the family into poverty and discord. Mary was sent to live with family friends in Scotland for two years, and when she returned as a teenager, tensions at home were still high.

Soon after returning she met Percy Bysshe Shelley, a young poet from a rich family who seemed enamored with Mary’s scholarly family, and her father and step-mother hoped he would help them with some debts. Quickly Percy convinced Mary that his marriage to his pregnant wife Harriet was over, and he seduced her easily. Step-sister Claire is also taken in by his words, while the rest of the family is scandalized by Mary and Percy’s affair. The two girls steal away with Percy and head first to Paris, then around Europe.

But words don’t pay the bills, and the trio are soon destitute with Mary pregnant. Shunned by her family, she delivers a daughter but the baby soon dies, and Mary is heartbroken. Throughout the next few years, Mary endures Percy’s whims, with him dallying with Claire and him stringing along his wife Harriet until she commits suicide. Two more children are born and die during their travels, with only their fourth child, a son, surviving to adulthood.

During this time Percy, Mary and Claire visit Lord Byron in Geneva, Switzerland, and the famous challenge is issued for them all to create a horror story. The genesis of the story takes root, and Mary begins her magnum opus. Mary takes threads of despair from her own life and weaves them together with biting political and society commentary to create the Frankenstein masterpiece. Despite his many flaws Percy encourages Mary to write and believes she has just as much right to be creative and write as he does. It is only after Percy’s accidental sailing death a few years later, leaving Mary a widow at twenty four with a young son, does Mary claim ownership of the Gothic story that had originally been published anonymously.

Dark and lovely, the art brings Mary to life, just as Mary brought the creature Frankenstein to life. Judge’s moody black and white watercolor illustrations, paired with the sensuous verses, effectively show the ideals and passions that ruled Mary and Percy. Mary’s tumultuous life helped shape her into a masterful writer, and led her to create an unforgettable novel. She and her creature won’t soon be forgotten.

-Nancy

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Guest Post on Reads and Reels

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is an extraordinary and ambitious graphic novel. Equal parts memoir, murder mystery and coming-of-age drama, the art in this book is beyond amazing, and was a perfect read during this Halloween season.

But…you’ll have to check out the blog Reads and Reels to find it, as I shared this incredible book as a guest blogger on Shanannigan’s site. Please head on over to her site to read my post- Guest Post: My Favorite Thing Is Monsters.

-Nancy

(Picture from Emil Ferris)

Batman: White Knight

Been a while since we’ve done a Batman title, eh? I knew I had to read this as soon as it popped on my radar.

Once again, Batman confronts the Joker. Once again, Batman puts the Joker in Arkham. But this time… Joker is cured? Batman force-fed the Joker an unknown medication that seems to have driven him sane. The newly reformed Jack Napier, along with Harleen Quinzel, are now on a crusade to save Gotham from Batman. Not too many people take him seriously at first – come on, it’s gotta be another of Joker’s schemes, right? – but as time goes on, and Jack doesn’t let up, it becomes very clear that he is serious, and that he won’t stop until Gotham is delivered from her Dark Knight and corrupt police force. Will the public’s opinion of Jack change? Will Batman be revealed as the villain after all, or will the Joker come back out of the woodwork?

W o w. This is definitely a Batman comic worth reading. It challenges a lot of things that Batman has previously gotten away with, and then some, revealing no clear answers in the process. It makes you question if Batman is really doing good, or if he’s just another criminal in a mask and cape. His design in this one – with a Dracula-esque collar, more angry scowl lines on his cowl, and hints of fangs – definitely hint that Batman is more of a villain than he lets on, and we see it in the art. Obsessively detailed and cinematic, with many Gothic elements in the architecture and character designs, the art is a constant reminder of the seedy city we’re in. This stellar start to the DC Black Label series is provocative, thought-provoking, and will have you mulling it over long after you’re finished.

– Kathleen

Murphy, Sean, and Matt Hollingsworth. Batman: White Knight. 2018.

Scarlet

Scarlet is a vigilante who is determined to fight back against a corrupt system and she uses violence for change. Written by Brian Michael Bendis, who is known for his skill in writing character’s dialogue, Scarlet is a deliberately provocative story meant to push boundaries. Originally released  in 2010, it is being re-released for it’s timely story line during this #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and Women’s March era, and I obtained a copy through NetGalley.

Scarlet is living life as a typical Portland teen when she and her boyfriend get targeted by a dirty cop’s drug pat down. When her boyfriend punches the officer and they make a run for it, they are followed and shot at. Her boyfriend dies, and Scarlet is sent to the hospital in a coma. The police cover themselves by painting the couple as drug dealers and the officers are hailed as heroes who saved the community from a drug cartel. When Scarlet awakens, she is furious and decides she wants revenge.

The gimmick is that Scarlet breaks the fourth wall and talks to the reader. Thus, the narrative is from her perspective and she is sharing what she wants you to know, so you get her spin on the action. This mostly works, but at times it’s a bit pretentious. Scarlet isn’t always likable, and can definitely be perceived as an anti-hero.  Her unsavory ‘violence is the answer’ motto is tempered by the realization that some big changes in our world have only come to fruition through violence. Martin Luther King Jr was able to further the Civil Rights Movement through love and non-violent means, but he was counterbalanced (and helped) by Malcolm X’s methods, as Gandhi was also helped by radicals. This is an uncomfortable truth that should be further delved into.

The artwork is stylized with an edgy noir vibe. Mostly drawn in black and white or with a muted earthen color palette, some splashes of color include Scarlet’s red hair, blood and occasional details such as a pride flag. The art is sketchy at times, but also includes photographic type detail. Artist Alex Maleev is fond of closeups of people’s faces, which can be hit or miss at times, but his unique style is a good match to the story.

This series is worth looking into further to see if Bendis finesses this culturally relevant story and develops Scarlet into more than a gun-toting cop killing hottie.  I look forward to Scarlet moving from vigilante to true revolutionary.

-Nancy

Fables (The Deluxe Edition): Book 15 and Series Recap

Okay, I’ve put it off long enough. I procrastinated and procrastinated, never wanting this series to end. So finally I made myself sit down and finish it.

Rose Red and Snow White have never been the best of sisters. But Rose Red made an unforgivable choice, and Snow is going in full defense mode to protect her family. Soon the big players of Fabletown, for better or worse, are picking sides. Most of the normal citizens want nothing to do with the conflict that is quickly escalating into a civil war. What’s more, a big bad ghost from all their pasts is back to haunt – and kill – every one of them. In the end, who will be left standing? Will Fabletown even be left?

… I am left speechless after the ending to this phenomenal and epic story. Once again, Bill Willingham pulled a sucker punch on us. Of course, I can’t say too much without spoiling it, but rest assured that the ending is fitting for the series.

So instead, I will talk about the series as a whole. Fables is a prime, if not the best, example of a graphic novel series that is not a superhero story. Because it’s not, it’s not constrained by a lot of the writing tropes and pitfalls that plague superhero comics. I found that this is especially true as far as characterization went. Though superhero stories have come a long way in creating more morally ambiguous characters, the writing still clearly separates “good” and “evil” characters. Throughout the Fables series, many more characters are on the morally grey spectrum, and some swing more towards the “good” and “evil” side as the series goes on. Not only is it just more skillful writing, it makes for much more interesting character development, especially over a long series such as this one.

The art – guys, the art is some of the best I have ever seen. It’s a small pet peeve of mine in superhero comics when they switch artists too fast, to the point where you get 4 different artists, and by extension, art styles, in one trade paperback. For the most part, the penciling is done by Mark Buckingham for the main series. The Deluxe Editions have spin-off issues and one-shots that are done by guest writers and artists, who are all very talented, but Mark Buckingham’s artwork is really what made the series come to life for me. His ability to create intricate detail to distinguish many, many characters from one another is no small feat. One of my very favorite things about the art in this book are the borders that line the edges of each page. I’d never seen it’s like in a graphic novel before, and it really gave the books a “fairytale storybook” feel. Many times over the course of this series, I caught myself studying the art more than reading!

Much love, time, and creative energy went into this series, and it shows. This fascinating mix of fairy tales, noir, high fantasy, and adventure, with excellent characterization and suspenseful writing, has already and will appeal to a wide range of readers. Because there is some gore, strong language, and adult content (never gratuitous), I would save it for older teenagers and adults. If you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for??? As for me, I’ll be starting it over =P

– Kathleen

Willingham, Bill, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, and Dan Green. Fables (The Deluxe Edition): Book 15. 2017.

Manifest Destiny: Volumes 5 & 6

The reimanging of the Lewis and Clark expedition continues as history, colonization and government conspiracies are shaken up together into a unique tale about the Corps of Discovery.

Volume 5: Mnemphobia & Chronophobia

In November of 1804 , Fort Mandan is built in North Dakota so the corps could winter safely before continuing on their journey in the spring. As soon as the fort is finished, a dense fog rolls in and everyone begins to experience paranoia and delusions.  All the creatures that the corps have encountered seem to come at them, and the past sins of the soldiers come back to haunt them. Thus the title of the book comes into focus, as the fear of memories and anxiety over the passage of time are shown.  It is during this chaos that Sacagawea goes into labor while battling her own private demons. Little Jean Baptsite’s birth is tempered by the knowledge of the subterfuge Lewis and Clark are planning regarding the infant, and Sacagawea’s strange acquiescence about it.

The art remains strong with layouts that are fresh and unique. The era is beautifully rendered with the clothing, guns, buildings and landscapes accurately drawn. Plus the creatures are freakishly awesome!

Volume 6: Fortis & Invisibilia

Mutiny! A few weeks after the dangerous fog, nerves are frayed and Lewis is obsessively monitoring the arch discovered nearby. Sargeant Pryor preaches to the soldiers and develops a following, creating a rift between those who align with him, and those that stay true to Lewis and Clark. Eventually Pryor plans a coup and the leaders are ejected from the fort along with others. The ghostly conquistador from Volume Four is moving between soldiers hoping to find the strongest leader to fulfill his diabolical plan for conquest. This volume was a bit of a convoluted mess, and I was having trouble keeping straight who was who among the soldiers.

This story dragged for me, as two volumes have been set in the fort, and the dead of winter hasn’t even begun. They need to pick up the pace of the storytelling for there is still much to tell of the journey, and they are nowhere near the Pacific Northwest yet. I checked when the next issue is out, and I don’t see a date yet, so I am worried that this series will ignobly end before the journey can be properly told. Despite my rough start with this series and these shaky middle volumes, I hope the entire scope of this re-imagined  journey can be properly told.

-Nancy

Read the proceeding volumes: Volume One, Volumes Two-Four

Blackest Night: Green Lantern

While I’ve read some of the Blackest Night stories (like the WW one), I’ve never actually read the main arc!

While the War of Light – the conflict between the ring bearers of the emotional spectrum – rages on, a threat to the entire universe arises. Black Hand has risen from the dead by the light of the Black Lantern ring. Across the universe, the dead are rising again. Those who have died and come back – Superman, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman – are being sought out by the black rings of death and becoming Black Lanterns. Hal Jordan, the best of the Green Lanterns, must find a way to stop the war and unite his fellow Lanterns against the Black Lanterns. Not only are the Lanterns in danger of being snuffed out – the whole universe is, too.

Holy crap! IT’S SO GOOD!!! I shouldn’t be surprised, because Geoff Johns penned it, but still!!! The action! The pace! The high stakes! It’s everything you want a superhero story to be, and then some. The writing assumes you’ve read past stories, and I feel like the story skipped between issues. From what I understand, the whole arc was told throughout multiple heroes’ books at the same time. The issues within are all sequential, so the skipping feeling makes sense. However, this collection has cover pages with recaps and more context between each issue, which is really helpful.

The art is some of the best I’ve ever seen. The coloring, of course, is stellar. So many Lantern colors and constructs playing off each other – eye candy! I think the layouts of all the panels are cinematic, with many wide shots of epic Lantern battles and close-ups of characters, highlighting tension. The figures are solidly drawn, in many dynamic and creative posts. I’m happy to report little to no gratuitous shots of Star Sapphire, Indigo-1, or any other heroines.

The only part I don’t like? That I didn’t read this sooner!!! I will be finding and devouring the rest of this arc.

– Kathleen

Johns, Geoff, and Doug Mahnke. Blackest Night: Green Lantern. 2010.

Punk Rock and Trailer Parks

After my positive review’s of Derf Backderf’s books My Friend Dahmer and Trashed,  blogger Richard of From the Long Box, suggested I read Derf’s first book Punk Rock and Trailer Parks. Derf takes us back once again to Ohio during the late 1970’s.

Although fictionalized I believe the main character Otto, also known as The Baron, is a version of the author himself. Otto is a band geek in his senior year of high school, who lives in a trailer park with his alcoholic great uncle. A fan of the emerging punk rock scene, he often heads into nearby Akron to see concerts at The Bank. Told over the course of a school year, we follow Otto as he briefly fronts a punk band himself and interacts with real life singers and bands such as the Ramones, the Plasmatics and Klaus Nomi.

This book was filled to the brim with different plot threads, and at times it veered between the mundane and pathos. In addition to his trips to The Bank, Otto moons over an unrequited love interest, participates in hijinks with his friends against other schoolmates and a pervy teacher, and endures the death of a close friend.  For a self described nerd, he sure got some action, from two very unlikely women. There was a bit too much crammed into this graphic novel, and in future books he tightens his narrative.

Derf’s artwork is very reminiscent of Robert Crumb and of Don Martin from Mad magazine, with people drawn in an unusual caricature-type manner. It is all drawn in black and white, and while not an attractive art style, it does get that underground comix vibe right. Despite Derf illustrating the comic The City for years, you can tell his style has evolved throughout his three books, as this book has the grittiest look. I’m assuming he slightly adjusted the next two books to make them more appealing to a larger audience.

Although this was my least favorite of Derf’s three books, I still enjoyed the ride. He not only has a distinct voice and art style, he captures the nostalgia and allure of the punk rock scene in an authentic manner. If music helped define your teen years, give this book a read!

-Nancy

Derf has since written an online sequel- you can follow Otto’s further adventures at The Baron of Prospect Ave. The Baron lives on!

Def. Punk Rock and Trailer Parks. 2008

The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman

Everyone knows Superman. Big guy, born on the planet Krypton but raised in Smallville, Kansas. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Fights for the ideals of truth, justice, and the American way. What you might not know is the fascinating story of how the idea of Superman was born.

Joe Shuster is a quiet kid growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. He likes to read comic books: the pulps, adventure stories, and detective mysteries, but the science fiction stories are his favorite. He dreams of becoming an illustrator some day, because of his talent for drawing. Through a cousin, he is introduced to Jerry Siegel, a writer with the same passion for comics. Together, they prove an indomitable team of not only creators, but friends.

When they came up with the character they called “Superman,” it was already after a series of successful and unsuccessful publications together, but they knew they were onto something big. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it as big as they thought. Through a string of corporate manipulations, Jerry and Joe were coerced into selling the rights to Superman. These two boys had basically built the superhero comic industry, and they were getting nothing for it. Joe was just content to get a paycheck and provide for his family, but Jerry was ready to fight for more. What’s more important? Staying silent and getting by, or raising hell and demanding change?

Though the book does center more on Joe, Jerry’s story is so entwined with his that it’s almost a dual biography. And though I knew their names, I had no idea how much Jerry and Joe had gone through to get Superman, the first and now arguably the world’s most popular superhero, published. At the time, between the World Wars and during WWII, there were biases and discrimination against Jewish people, which is partially why it was so hard for them to sell their work. Ultimately it was why it was so easy for publishers to manipulate them. Their story is heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful… like someone else we know, huh? 😉

The art is wonderful. It’s soft, more painterly than graphic, with very little of the hard lines and shading that we’re used to from superhero comics. The warm palette it’s rendered in evokes the nostalgia associated with the time period and the wonder of two teenagers deep in the creative process.

The best thing about the book is, it’s meticulously researched. There is a bibliography at the end for further reading, and a comprehensive notes section. I found the story so fascinating that I read through the notes! I am planning to check out a few of the materials listed in the biography, so I can learn more about Jerry and Joe’s story. This is essential reading for all Superman fans, but anyone interested in the history of the comic publishing industry will love it too.

– Kathleen

Voloj, Julian, and Thomas Gampi. The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman. 2018.

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