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Graphic Novelty²

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September 2020

Free Comic Book Day 2020

Free Comic Book Day had been scheduled for Saturday, May 2nd, and for very obvious reasons didn’t happen. I had brought FCBD to my previous library for several years and had big plans for my new library, but it had to be cancelled. With many of the issues already printed- what were the publishers and comic book stores to do? So, they decided to release the issues on a weekly basis from July 15th- September 9th. But I am resourceful and know that September 25th is National Comic Book Day, so my new library patrons will get comics after all on that day, albeit in a smaller outside the library (in a tent) event.

Here were some of my favorite issues this year, minus any DC comics that I had originally put in an order for since they pulled out of the event (boo, hiss!) since they no longer work with Diamond Comic Distributors.

Dark Ark: Instinct

This dark what-if tale was fascinating. Many of us have heard the biblical story of Noah and the ark saving people and animals for the future, but this tale speculates that a sorcerer Shrae builds an ark to save the unnatural animals. In this short story, a spider/human hybrid is about to give birth on the boat so her mate seeks nourishment for the forthcoming babies. But instinct takes over when she thinks she can not feed them and her mate discovers what she has done when he was briefly away and his actions doom them to extinction. The art was necessarily dark and sketchy with pink and red overtones. Cullen Bunn continues his excellent storytelling in this series.

X-Men/Dark Ages

The first story was about the X-Men with the second about the Avengers. I had no idea what was going on in the X-Men story although it had gorgeous art. Different universes, tarot cards, and ominous warnings were all I got out of it. The next story was centered around Tony Stark (whom I dislike) but at least I understood what was happening. When Iron Man’s powers are strictly based on technology, what happens when the world goes dark?

Spiderman/Venom

This issue contains two stories- the first about Spiderman and Black Cat and the second one being about Venom. In the first story, Peter and Felicia are battling it out with Vulture and working well as a team. The sexual tension is high and Peter questions what Felicity is up to, as she can’t always be trusted. In the next story, Eddie Brock is warning the Avengers team that the extremely dangerous villain Knull is readying to attack. His symbiote Venom is friendlier than I remember, and the two have to battle another villain, Virus. Both stories are good lead-ins to their respective future narratives.

Bloodshot, featuring X-O Manowar

The meh Bloodshot story was only a few pages long and didn’t even list the author and illustrator, although it did show Vin Diesel on the front cover as he will be portraying him in a future movie. I enjoyed the longer second story about X-O Manowar during his Viking childhood. It connected the mythology of his ancestors with his space-traveling future.

The Resistance

The evocative cover drew me in, and this story ended up being my favorite FCBD issue as it was a complete first issue of a new series, not just a taste like so many FCBD stories are. In fact, the narrative is eerily similar to what we are going through now, as a pandemic sweeps through the globe. In this tale, the pandemic is even more deadly, with a 95% fatality rate. But suddenly, the virus stops- as if a switch were turned off. The remaining world needs to regroup, with hints that there might be a mystical or otherworldly reason for what happened. The art is solid and was appropriately shadowy considering the storyline.

I also read Invincible by Robert Kirkman and The Boys by Garth Ennis, but they are simply reprints of their first issues but as a lead-in to new series on Prime Video that they wish to hype.

I appreciate that FCBD was not scrapped and adapted so readers could still pick up free issues. The comic book stores and publishers made the best of the situation with the unforeseen pandemic and DC pulling out of the event. It builds goodwill, drives people to comic book stores and thus increases sales at both the stores and for the publishers.

-Nancy

Plate Tectonics: An Illustrated Memoir

Illustrator Margaux Motin chronicles her mid-thirties in this graphic novel memoir. It was a time of upheaval for her, as she got divorced and found herself raising her young daughter on her own. Through a series of loosely-connected vignettes, we see Margaux try to juggle these changes and get back on her feet while keeping her head up, staying connected with friends, and finding love again.

I’m all for little vignettes to tell a bigger story, but these seemed far too scattered to be effective. I felt at times as if I was reading a collection of Motin’s work rather than her memoir. The tone of the writing is inconsistent, and I think that was the biggest problem. On one page we are dealing with a deep personal issue, and on the next we’re presented with a funny moment with the daughter. I honestly didn’t even realize it was supposed to be a cohesive narrative until a love interest showed up, and we got a couple vignettes of him in a row. I can see the appeal of this style, and for the most part the whole book was light-hearted in tone, but these switches were too abrupt and jarring for me.

I have to admit that reading has been very hard for me lately due to the pandemic and related anxiety, so perhaps my own limited mental capacity crippled my ability to follow and enjoy the story to its full potential.

To make up for this, Motin’s art is wonderful. Her figures are in a tall, willowy style that recalls fashion illustrations, but are also a little cartoony and exaggerated, to play up the melodrama and visual gags. There are some pages with photographs of (usually) landscapes, where Motin has drawn in a figure on top of them. These were cool to look at! Their placement served, not necessarily as chapter breaks, but all the same a little break up of all the vignettes that make up the story.

There are a few adult themes, scenes, and instances of strong language, but they are few and far between and (for the most part) tasteful and I would give it to a teen. While I found the tone and writing inconsistent, the art was more than enough to salvage this read for me.

– Kathleen

Motin, Margaux. Plate Tectonics: An Illustrated Memoir. 2019.

The Low, Low Woods

The Low, Low Woods is an atmospheric and surreal horror story set in the dying coal town of Shudder-To-Think, Pennsylvania.

Elements of feminism and malevolence come into play, as two young women El and Vee realize something is terribly wrong in their town. Years ago a fire moved underground into the coal mines, forcing their closures and gutting an already fragile economy. In addition, women began to exhibit strange episodes in which they were losing large portions of their memory. When this seems to happen to the two friends on an evening at the movies, they want answers. Readers then discover there is already a layer of magic, as a strange deer/human hybrid is sighted, skinned men are hiding in the woods, and there are rabbits everywhere with human eyes. There is somewhat of a Paper Girls vibe in this story, further supported that El and Vee ride their bikes everywhere, but late in the story the narrative takes a sharp and confusing turn. A witch who is trying to combat the cruelty of the men in the region, as previous sexual assaults are implied in the story but not seen, but her spells don’t always work the way she intended. The remainder of the story is the young women trying to give agency back to the women affected by the dark magic.

The illustrations by artist Dani are dark with a color palette using a lot of black and red. The panels are varied, often with a large picture with smaller ones layered on top with black gutters. But the lines can be imprecise and lacking details. For example, El who is a larger woman is often drawn blocky. But I did appreciate that the various characters were given a diverse look. There was a lot of dialogue and information given in text boxes, with a small font that made reading challenging.

I have read a previous short story, Blur,  by the author Carmen Maria Machado through LeVar Burton Reads, and she is known for her LGTBQ+ storylines in the horror genre. While this story wasn’t exactly to my liking, I like how Hill House Comics is using a variety of authors to reach different audiences. I was pleased to receive an advance copy through NetGalley and I plan on reading more of this label’s graphic novels!

-Nancy

A Bride’s Story (Vol. 9)

In this volume, we return to Pariya and Umar’s story. Pariya’s family is finishing rebuilding their house and the family’s business, and so Pariya’s father is starting to move faster on her marriage negotiations. Though her friendship with Kamola and other village girls is slowly sharpening her social skills, Pariya still frequently stumbles over her words, especially when it comes to Umar. An opportunity arises for them to run an errand together to the next town over, but they have trouble on the way back and are forced to stay the night in a stranger’s house. Though the reason is innocent enough, the fact that it happened may very well be enough for their engagement to be called off. Can they keep their stopover a secret from the rest of their village?

This volume also featured short stories about other characters, such as Amir, Sherine and Anis, and the twins Laila and Leyli.

The more this story progresses, the more I appreciate the wide variety of female characters within it. Pariya’s arc is turning into one of the most interesting and satisfying. She is strong, independent, and possesses other masculine qualities about her. But, she’s also very shy and fumbles over her words, sometimes to her detriment as others often mistake her meaning. She is learning to be more open and communicate clearly with who she hopes to be her future spouse – and that’s not an easy thing to do at the best of times. The main thing is, we see her trying and bettering herself in a way that is organic and never feels forced.

Though we do get this vast array of women who are very different, they are all supportive of each other. Amir and Kamola, along with some other village girls, offer to help Pariya with her bridal sewing once it becomes apparent she needs help. That’s amazing! That’s something that the world needs more of!

As ever, looking forward to the next volume.

-Kathleen

Mori, Kaoru. A Bride’s Story (Vol. 9). 2017.

Brain Camp

“Something isn’t quite right at Camp Fielding” is the premise for a summer camp from hell experience for a pair of young teens.

I actually read this YA graphic novel a few years ago and never reviewed it, and while recently taking a walk through my local library I spotted it and checked it out again. I also re-discovered why I didn’t review it, it just wasn’t that great, but Kathleen and I are honest in our reviews and I can share reviews even if they aren’t completely positive.

Jenna and Lucas are underachieving teens who mysteriously are selected for an all-expenses-paid summer camp, that they never applied for, under the premise that it will boost their college readiness skills. Their parents eagerly agree and off they go the very next morning arriving a week later than most campers. These two misfits bond with Dwayne and the three immediately notice that something is very off at the camp. Campers seem to be growing intellectually in leaps and bounds, but a strange bird-like creature is controlling the camp directors and feathers ominously appear in connection with unexplained events. When Dwayne is sidelined it is up to Jenna and Lucas to figure out what is happening and try to save all the campers from an insidious plot.

Faith Erin Hicks is a favored author/artist of mine (Friends with Boys, the Nameless City trilogy, Pumpkin Heads and Comics Will Break Your Heart), although in this book she strictly provides the art. And the art is what elevates this meh graphic novel. She draws appealing characters and really shows emotions and nuances that help push the narrative forward.

Taken in parts there are some good elements in the story- there is an attempt to show some racial and socioeconomic diversity, issues with growing teen bodies are addressed, and there is an interesting supernatural twist. But stitched together it didn’t quite work. As I said earlier, the art by FEH elevated the story and I have read many books by her since.  I believe a YA audience will enjoy this story and art as they consider how they themselves would save the day like Jenna and Lucas did.

-Nancy

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