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Graphic Novelty²

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Kathleen

I'm an artist/librarian in Chicago who loves reading, creating, and playing video games!

The Great Gatsby: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

K. Woodman-Maynard presents a graphic novel adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In the 1920’s, a young man named Nick Carraway leaves his home in the Midwest for New York City. There, between shifts working in bonds, Nick befriends his neighbor, Jay Gatsby. He’s fabulously wealthy, and mysterious too. He’s hoping to reignite his relationship with an old flame: Nick’s cousin Daisy. Only problem is, Daisy is married to polo athlete Tom, who has a flame of his own on the side. Nick, as both an active and unwilling participant to both affairs (including his own with golfer Jordan Baker), serves as our narrator during this ill-fated summer.
 
Gatsby is one of the few books that I was forced to read for school that I go back to of my own volition. The exposition and dialogue seemed lifted straight from the book to me, and this was mostly true. Woodman-Maynard explains in an author’s note at the end of the book that some wording was changed to either make more sense within the context of the graphic novel, or to make more sense to modern audiences. The text placement was odd at times. It tried to sit in the environments, and sometimes does to great effect, but at other times it’s just confusing to figure out where to read next.
 
Watercolor illustrations evoking magazine advertisements from the decade make up the art for this book. It is, for the most part, extraordinarily effective. The reader is fully immersed in the empty, meaningless decadence of the Roaring ’20s. The colors were bright, and the palette varied from page to page. Often, one sequence or a few pages would be in one monochromatic palette, and the next few would be in a different palette: for example, blue and yellow to pink and purple. This was effective at underscoring different moods at differing points of the story. There are full pages signifying chapter breaks, and these are among the best illustrations in the book.
 
Visual metaphors add an element of playfulness to the book as well. The first time Nick meets Daisy and Jordan, they are depicted as literally floating down to the couches where they’re resting. It seemed to me that the qualities of the writing were emphasized more than anything else. Some things, such as the green light or J.T. Eckleberg’s billboard, seemed oddly not emphasized.
 
Overall, this was a lovely adaptation of “The Great Gatsby.” The illustrations were perfectly suited for the times the story takes place in. Some of the text placement, and missing emphasis on important story elements, were confusing or off-putting for me. For high school students, this is a perfectly suitable first introduction.
 
– Kathleen
 
Woodman-Maynard, K. The Great Gatsby: A Graphic Novel Adaptation. 2021.

Heartstopper (Vol. 1)

Charlie is seated next to Nick one morning in class, and it starts an unusual friendship. See, Charlie is quiet and shy, and also happens to be one of the only gay person in his all-boys school; Nick is a rugby player a grade above him. So it’s a surprise to Charlie when Nick asks him to join the rugby team. What’s even more surprising in that learning from Nick, Charlie starts to get good at it! He also starts falling for the older boy the more they hang out, which is not a good idea. Nick is about as straight as they come. Charlie’s deepening friendship with Nick makes Ben, Charlie’s fling, jealous and possessive. Nick stands up for Charlie, only making his crush worse. As they get closer, Nick starts questioning himself too… is Charlie more than just a friend to him?

This welcome addition to the growing LGBTQ+ representation in graphic novels is very cute. It’s sweet without being saccharine and feels real without being overdramatic. The tone is just right, as is the pacing. We are pulled along by the boys’ heartstrings as they get to know each other, and by extension themselves, more.

Quick, lively linework and a non-traditional panel layout capture high school’s frenetic energy perfectly. The primary color is mint green in thin washes to build up value. Black and white is used as well. The monochromatic palette allows for greater focus on the story and characters. While the character designs seem simple, they are very effective in conveying the character’s emotions.

Overall, this was a highly comforting read. This is only the first volume, and so ends on a cliffhanger, but I can’t help feeling that it’ll all turn out okay. For a light, quick, sweet read that’s chock-full of LGBTQ+ representation, look no further.

– Kathleen

Oseman, Alice. Heartstopper (Vol. 1). 2020.

Victor & Nora: A Gotham Love Story

Victor and Nora meet in a cemetery. Victor’s older brother, Otto, is buried there. He died in a horrible fire, which Victor blames himself for. Though Victor is only 17, he is an intern at Boyle Labs working on a cryogenic project called Accela-Freeze. If he can figure out the formula, it will successfully freeze a subject without destroying its’ DNA, and could have healing potential. Nora’s mother, who died when she was 10, is buried in the same cemetery. Nora has a rare disease called Chrysalis, which will eventually take her mobility, then her memories, before she dies. She intends to kill herself before that happens, though she has told no one, and wants to live her life to the fullest before she does. The two teens can’t help but be drawn to each other: the fire to the ice. When they get too tangled up in each other, how can they possibly let go?

Mr. Freeze is my favorite villain, so I was delighted to learn of this graphic novel about Victor Fries – by Lauren Myracle, no less! I really enjoyed her last DC YA graphic novel, Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale, so had high hopes for this one. It did not disappoint, and I loved it even more than Under the Moon.

Both characters are obsessed with death in different ways. Victor thinks he can cheat death, and wants to delay the inevitable. Nora accepts her fate, and wants to make the most of the life she has. The most compelling dialogue between these two is their conversations about their respective viewpoints. This truly was a whirlwind romance: you, as well as the characters, are propelled forward by your morbid curiosity to the conclusion you know is coming, and yet it still punches you in the gut.

The color palette alternated between cold blues (Victor), and warm pink/oranges (Nora). The more the story goes on, the more they blend to create lovely purples, which is a neat visual cue as to how close the characters are getting to each other. While most of the book was in a whimsical, yet realistic style, some parts are stylized differently during conversations or monologues – such as in a Tim Burton-esque style, or that of a romance novel cover. Of course, there were fun visual Easter eggs for Batman fans sprinkled here and there.

This is already on my Best Reads 2021 list. Victor & Nora is a love story with provacative themes about life and death, written and illustrated beautifully. Though it takes DC as its’ source material, it really could stand on its’ own as a story unrelated to the Batman mythos. Highly recommended.

– Kathleen

Myracle, Lauren, and Isaac Goodhart. Victor & Nora: A Gotham Love Story. 2020.

Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio

On Monday, May 4th, 1970, the National Guard opened fire on Kent State students peacefully protesting the Vietnam War. Thirteen seconds and sixty-seven shots later, four students were dead and nine more wounded. Derf Backderf recounts the weekend leading up to, and the events of, that tragic day. Rising political and social tensions, both in the state and nationwide, coupled with angry students and fed-up, sleep-deprived Guardsmen, created a ticking time bomb which exploded into Monday’s events.

Backderf (who also penned My Friend Dahmer, which Nancy’s reviewed) used interviews, eyewitness accounts, and archival materials to build the narrative, from multiple viewpoints. Most prominently, we see the last days of the four students who were murdered. We see what the Guardsmen, campus and Kent police, FBI, and other law enforcement agencies’ responses were throughout the weekend. We see reactions of Kent citizens (who were not college students) and beyond to a lesser extent. Though much is still unknown about the event, this is as comprehensive a picture as you can get.

The presentation of this book, through the difficult subject matter, is exceptional. The entire book is in black and white. Figures are long and lanky, outlined in thick black ink, evoking a ’60s and ’70s art style without being too distracting or hokey. Though it’s text-heavy, great care is taken with especially wordy sequences so that panels aren’t cluttered. Chapter breaks are given at the start of each of the four days chronicled here, and timestamps in especially important spots. At some points where maps and aerial view shots are needed, there are arrows indicating movement of people, and numbered labels to help put the sequence of events together. There is also an extensive notes section at the back Everything is laid out very clear, in black and white (forgive the pun), making this hard read a little easier to get through.

No doubt about it: this is a very difficult read. Though the events here took place in 1970, many elements still hold true today. Paranoia, clashing ideals of the young and old, misinformation and generalization of a population… sound familiar? Your morbid curiosity compels you forward to the tragic conclusion, hoping for answers that unfortunately cannot be revealed or provided, whether through willing silence or simply being lost to time.

The stellar presentation of the difficult subject matter has already put this graphic novel at the top of my 2021 best reads list. A hard read, and a hard won one. Required reading for all.

– Kathleen

Backderf, Derf. Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio. 2020.

Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics

Tom Scioli presents this unofficial Jack Kirby biography in “first person.” The author’s note at the beginning states that the prose was adapted from sources such as interviews, where Kirby recounted events in his own words.

Jack’s parents were from Galacia, though Jack and his brother David were born and raised in the Bronx, New York City. Jack’s childhood was rife with childhood gangs, Sunday and pulp comics, and his mother’s stories. As he grew up, he took odd jobs before breaking into an artistic career by drawing the in-between shots in animation. Eventually he started drawing comics. The biography details his career, first drawing comic strips, then superhero comics for both Marvel and DC, including his creation or co-creation of many, many characters we know and love today. We also see his personal life, from getting married, to time served in World War II, to his many, many collaborations with other creators, to his children being born and his parents and brother passing away, and how they all eventually made their way into his work – art imitating life.

The “first person” literary device was extremely effective. Though Kirby is gone, through this graphic novel, “written” in his own words and with his own distinctive voice, he lives again. The intimacy and immediacy of the narrative would have been lost without it. There are some passages that are in what I believe to be German and Hebrew, which only add to this effect. Though no translation is provided, you can get the gist of what’s being said from context =) There are some instances where different characters “speak” in the same style, but their exposition boxes are in different colors to indicate the shift.

Not only was the “prose” in the characters’ own words, the art was in Kirby’s own style. There were plenty of examples of his work, in the style of the times. As the book went on, you could see it change and evolve. The touch that was most fun for me were the pencil smears. The exposition boxes, speech bubbles, filler space, and some illustrations all had pencil smears on them. It wasn’t overpowering – everything is still legible – but it added an earthy, tangible touch to the book: like you’re holding a precious original instead of a mass-produced item.

The element that was least effective for me, and took me out of the experience at times, was the character design for Kirby himself. Every other character had small eyes, sometimes mere lines and dots for pupils without the whites, which was common practice at the time. Jack Kirby had big, anime-esque eyes. I imagine this was a deliberate choice made to differentiate him from other characters, but it looked weird and out of place. In that vein, a “cast of characters” page and yearly (or decade) timestamps would have also been helpful for navigating a dense read with many people in it.

The end of the book has a meaty “Notes” section, a bibliography, and an index.

All in all, this was an enlightening and endearing look at one of the most influential people in the comics industry. I learned a lot, and it was a real treat to get an “insider look” on how Kirby worked, and how his work was influenced by his eventful life. The “first person” prose is what makes this biography so special. Coupled with the resources at the back, I could easily see high school students using this graphic novel for a biographical project. Recommended for anyone who wants to see how comics were made.

– Kathleen

Scioli, Tom. Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics. 2020.

The Lost Carnival: A Dick Grayson Graphic Novel

Dick Grayson is a teenager working with his family as the main act of Haly’s Travelling Circus: The Flying Graysons. However, Dick wants more out of life. It’s been two weeks into the summer and already he’s chafing at the long months of performing for thin crowds before he goes back to school. He sneaks his best friend and magician Willow out for a party. In breaking up a fight, a girl who banished dark creature with a mysterious power vanishes before Dick can talk to her. He wanders to the carnival that’s set down across the road from the circus in order to find her. Luciana warns Dick not to get too close to her, because she isn’t all she seems, but the two can’t help but see and grow fond of one another. Amid tensions between the carnival and the circus, and Willow suddenly falling very ill, Dick must solve the mystery of the Lost Carnival – and Luciana – in order to save his best friend.

I fell in love with the cover of this graphic novel, and hoped that the whole book would use the black and gold Art Deco elements. Unfortunately, they were reserved only for the cover pages and chapter breaks =( The rest of the book is deftly rendered in white and cerulean when we are with the circus, and red and yellow when we enter the Lost Carnival. The color palettes are mixed for great effect at crucial moments in the story. There is somehow an old quality about the book in the thick, shaky linework and gentle shading.

The main theme of the book is time. Time that has been lost, and appreciation for the time that we have, especially with loved ones. Most readers will know that Dick Grayson eventually loses his parents, is taken in by Bruce Wayne, and becomes the first Robin and eventually Nightwing. There is also a point made about a child’s path not needing to be the same as their parents’, and that’s okay! I wish the book had spent a little less time on the romance and a little more time with Mr. and Mrs. Grayson to highlight these points further – though I understand that Dick is a teen and this is a YA graphic novel, which is likely why this wasn’t the case =P

I VERY much enjoyed the Dark Tower reference on page 37… if you get it, you get it 😉

This story is set before Dick Grayson becomes Robin, so it doesn’t require too much background knowledge. The limited color palette is used to great effect. Though too much time was devoted to the romance for me, the themes of time and carving your own path independent from your parents are adequately handled. The target audience and Dick Grayson fans will enjoy it.

– Kathleen

Moreci, Michael, and Sas Milledge. The Lost Carnival: A Dick Grayson Graphic Novel. 2020.

Seen: True Stories of Marginalized Trailblazers: Edmonia Lewis

Seen: True Stories of Marginalized Trailblazers is a graphic novel series, newly published in September 2020, that focuses on highlighting historical figures of different colors, races, gender, and sexual orientation. The first volume is about Edmonia Lewis. She was a Black/Native American sculptor who lived and worked from 1844 – 1907. Throughout her childhood, she created Native American wares (baskets, moccasins, and the like) with her aunts. She was educated at the abolitionist Oberlin College, which was radical for the time. A scandal at Oberlin caused her to move to Boston and seek out a sculpting tutor. After a few months, she opened her own studio and was successful in selling marble busts of abolitionist figures. In order to better connect her work with fine art, Edmonia moved to Rome in 1866. She spent most of her remaining life there, working and creating, until her death in London in 1907.

While a small, short graphic novel, it is positively packed with information. The writing is straightforward and matter-of-fact, with little embellishment or fuss. But Edmonia Lewis’ story was so fascinating that it doesn’t feel dry at all! This series is obviously made for the classroom: there are definitions sprinkled throughout for words students might not be familiar with, a reference list, and a teaching guide for grades 6-10 at the end.

My only complaint about the presentation is that the book is much smaller than I expected. The small size, of course, makes for small font. For how text-heavy this graphic novel is, it could have been bigger to more easily accommodate bigger text. Younger students and those needing special accommodations for poor eyesight will struggle with it.

Also journalistic in presentation was the art. Precise line and color work made for not only a clean foundation for all the text, but more accurate depictions of Edmonia and her artwork. As far as I could tell, the illustrations of her sculptures were very true to life – er, well, marble!

I highly enjoyed this first in a new series, and learning about their flagship heroine: sculptor Edmonia Lewis. She was an inspiring figure in both life and work. I imagine students will enjoy it as well, even if they are made to read it for school 😉 Highly recommended and can’t wait to see what other figures they highlight.

– Kathleen

Walls, Jasmine, Bex Glendining, and Kieran Quigley. Seen: True Stories of Marginalized Trailblazers: Edmonia Lewis. 2020.

Wonder Woman 1984

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

In order for me to fully critique the movie, it’s easier to spoil it. The movie is still in theaters, and will be on HBO Max until January 25th, so there is still ample time to watch it even from home =)

A young Diana participates in a contest on Themyscira. Though she performs admirably for most of the race, she cheats to get to the end. Her Aunt Antiope pulls her out of the race, explaining that no good thing is worth getting dishonestly.

In the present day, it is 1984 in Washington, D.C. Diana works at the Smithsonian while moonlighting as Wonder Woman. A new coworker, Barbara Ann Minerva, is asked by the FBI to identify articles from a robbery. Diana has taken a liking to Barbara and offers her help (also, Diana was the one to stop the robbery, as Wonder Woman 😉 ). The two women become friends, but Barbara begins to grow jealous of Diana.

Businessman Maxwell Lord also takes an interest in Barbara, but for a different reason. He was behind the attempted robbery and is after one of the artifacts: the Dreamstone. It can grant one wish to anyone who holds it. It has unknowingly been used by both Diana and Barbara: one wish for more time with a loved one, and one wish for becoming like someone else. Maxwell Lord wishes to become the Dreamstone, so he can make everyone else’s dream’s come true – but at a terrible price. For as the wishes get granted, something gets taken away. In Diana’s case, Steve Trevor being back means the gradual loss of her powers. How can she let go and renounce her wish, when she finally has everything she ever wanted?

I’m sure you guys have been wondering for my take on this movie. I’ve been putting it off because… I didn’t like it. I was entertained enough to sit through it once. Don’t get me wrong. My expectations weren’t very high to begin with. I figured they wouldn’t be able to top the first movie, and I was right on that. I just wasn’t expecting it to be… that bad.

My biggest issues were with the length of the movie and the writing. It could easily have been 45 minutes shorter. WW84 suffers the Aquaman problem of wanting to use more villains in a single movie than they know what to do with. As Aquaman underutilized Black Manta, his arch nemesis, in favor of Orm; WW84 did the same thing with underutilizing Cheetah, her arch nemesis, in favor of Maxwell Lord.

And, oooh boy, did they mess up with Cheetah. It felt as if they tried to do the New 52 route, where Diana and Barbara were close before Barbara’s transformation. But it was so rushed, so little time dedicated to building their relationship, to where it might as well not have been in the movie at all. I was SO hoping and looking forward to seeing Diana build a female friendship equivalent to Carol Danvers’ relationship with Maria Rambeau in Captain Marvel (Nancy’s review and my comparison of CM and WW). These relationships are so, SO important and I was hoping there would be more of it in the DCEU after CM’s release. Instead, we got one work scene, one dinner scene, one gross scene of a drunk guy trying to assault Barbara, wherein Diana saves her and leading Barbara to make her fatal wish – and that was it. That was the only time dedicated to their relationship. At that point they may has well plopped Cheetah into the movie as an arch nemesis, with no context, as was the case with some villain introductions over comic book history.

Speaking of gross guys… this movie is full of them. And full of the gross, blatant misogyny that made Captain Marvel so insufferable for me to sit through. I get that it was the ’80s, and maybe it is a somewhat realistic representation of what women went through at the time, but I was totally surprised at the lack of subtlety from the first movie to this one. The microaggressions that were so effective in the first movie are totally missing here, in favor of the insultingly obvious “jokes,” unwanted advances, and the like. “They Captain Marvel‘d it,” I said to my husband later: an inside joke with us that means a complete and total lack of subtlety.

I don’t know that much about Maxwell Lord in the comic book lore, and I’m not opposed to the character making an appearance in the DCEU, but I do believe that the movie focused way too much on him, to Cheetah’s detriment. To me, he felt like the epitome of the ’80s sleazeball character, though I believe he’s supposed to be a Lex Luthor equivalent. I would have liked to see less of him – perhaps him effectively stealing the stone back, but not much more than that – in favor of a more developed relationship between Diana and Barbara, and a more gradual transformation from woman to Cheetah, from friends to enemies. They still could have had their showdown in the end. Diana’s speech about truth and honesty would still have been effective had she just been talking to her friend instead of the whole world.

(My bias could be because I’m just not a fan of Pedro Pascal… but I think my point about the writing still stands)

The best part of the movie for me, hands down, was Steve and Diana’s role reversal. This time around, Steve is the naïve one, the fish out of water, and Diana is his mentor. Of course, Gal Gadot and Chris Pine were able to recreate their magical chemistry from the first movie. But that was about the only carryover. I did also appreciate that Steve was able to lead Diana to more of her powers developing, namely the ability to make an invisible jet, and the power of flight. The contest at the beginning was a welcome scene, as we never got a “traditional” contest of Amazons to see who would be worthy to take up the mantle. I was so excited to see the same young actress who played little Diana in the first movie to reprise her role!

I found no issue with the cinematography or editing. It was a nice movie to look at, but in a different way than the first. The look of these movies reflected the times they were set in. The first movie, set in World War I, was more toned down and monochromatic. There was a bit of a sepia tone overall. WW84 was brighter, more vibrant without being as garish as the decade is known for being. Unfortunately, due to all the issues I have with it, I found it to be all beauty and no substance.

Of course, my very favorite part was the mid-credits scene… if you know, you know 😉

I have seen people both love and hate this movie. I can see it both ways. Fans of Wonder Woman the character will always love anything Wonder Woman that comes out. Fans of Wonder Woman comics will always be critical.

I can see it both ways, and I find myself more in the middle. As a fan of Wonder Woman the character, I was entertained enough by the movie. It was nice to look at, the action sequences were adequate, and Hans Zimmer’s score was effective. The message of truth and honesty is much needed in these times. But as a fan of Wonder Woman comics, I was so shocked with the nosedive the quality of the writing took, and Cheetah being cheated out of adequate character development and screentime, that ultimately… this movie was a miss for me. I didn’t love it by any means, but neither do I hate it. I meant to watch it again before reviewing, but I honestly couldn’t bring myself to. Truly, you are not missing anything if you don’t get around to seeing it. I was hoping to see it in theaters later, perhaps a re-release when it’s safer, but now I don’t think I will.

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Kathleen

Jenkins, Patty. Wonder Woman 1984. 2020.

A Thief Among the Trees

Elias, Helene, and Tavi have embarked on a mission to the South Isle. The three are Fivers – students at Blackcliff Academy who have been recruited into the Martial Empire’s military – and this mission is an important one. They are to steal vials of a poison that is manufactured on the island. However, they are ambushed and separated when they reach the shore. In trying to regroup with the other two, Elias discovers that the group making the poison is also testing it – on captive children. When he meets back up with Helene and Tavi, they are joined again by their Fiver classmates, sent to compete with them on the same mission. Competition between the Fivers is fierce and can often turn deadly. Will they find a way to steal the poison as originally assigned, or will they do something about it?

This graphic novel is a prequel story to the popular YA series Ember in the Ashes, also by Sabaa Tahir. I think this book expects you to have read the main series first – I haven’t and I was totally lost. There was very little exposition to explain the significance of the poison, the Fivers and Scholars (and the differences between them in this case). I skimmed through again before this review to make sure it wasn’t just pandemic brain, and I think my point still stands. I also found on my skim-through that there was not a real sense of urgency to the story, though there should have been (though, again, this could be due to my lack of knowledge about the series). If I had to pick one, more exposition about the world these characters live in would have been most welcome.

Nevertheless, the dilemmas presented in the writing are well done. There are serious questions of the ethics of what the characters are doing, and each of the main characters has a different point of view. Multiple sides of the same issues are presented, making for a fascinating, multi-faceted read. This is where this book really excelled: the story simply would not be the same without these multiple viewpoints.

I found the art somewhat lacking. Though use of color and lighting was decent, I found it very hard to distinguish between the characters, as they all wore basically the same clothes. Of course, the main characters are part of a school, and thus are wearing a uniform, but even the “bad guys” wore the same dark shirts and pants, in the same colors and styles. If there is any special significance to it, it was obviously lost on me. I also found the anatomy and poses very stiff.

It’s obvious that prior fans of the series, who have read the books, will enjoy this more than I did. While the art is serviceable, the careful presentation of ethical questions, from all sides, presented in the story is what sets this graphic novel apart.

– Kathleen

Tahir, Sabaa, Nicole Andelfinger, and Sonia Liao. A Thief Among the Trees: An Ember in the Ashes Graphic Novel. 2020.

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