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Graphic Novelty²

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Nancy

I'm a busy mom and teen librarian! I manage to fit in some time to be the co-writer of the blog Graphic Novelty².

Book Love

Book love- I know it well. If you too love books, then this is the book for you!

Author Debbie Tung has created a relatable book of strips that details how bookworms feel about their beloved books. Drawn in black and white within a simple four panel format, the comic showcases a woman obsessed with books (I assume she is based on the author herself) and her understanding husband. So many of the strips hit home for me, as I have loved books since childhood. Libraries have always felt like home, so it comes as no surprise that I am a librarian, surrounded by what I love.

The premise of the book is all about book love, so there is no plot or characterization, it is ALL about loving books and sometimes avoiding interacting with people in favor of the books. Each strip can stand alone. At times the strips become a bit one-note, yet that is the basis of the book. As I do all the social media for my library, I hope some of these adorable strips become available for re-print (with author credit, of course!) because posts on book love are always a big hit at my library.

Thank you to NetGalley for giving me an advance copy; I just wish it was being published a few weeks earlier, so people could scoop up copies to give to the book lovers in their life. So, if you are a bibliophile, this book of comics is for you, and will be available in January!

-Nancy

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Of Dust and Blood: The Battle at Little Big Horn

The 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, aka Battle of the Greasy Grass, is featured in this beautifully illustrated graphic novel.

The reader is witness to the days preceding the battle, and the battle itself through the eyes of a scout for the 7th Calvary named Greenhaw and a Lakota Sioux warrior named Slow Hawk. Author Jim Berry, hoped to give an equitable viewpoint of the battle in this piece of historical fiction, so he framed the narrative to be from two fictional men from either side, and who interact with the real historical figures of Sitting Bull, General Custer and Crazy Horse. Berry introduces the story with information about how he collected the historical research and how he reached out to the Native American community for translation assistance and fact checking. A map, art gallery and bibliography round out the book.

We first meet Greenhaw, who is penning a letter to his lady love Rose. Many of Custer’s scouts were Native American, or were of mixed ancestry and could translate for him, but that is never addressed in the story. While brave, he just wants to make it out of the battle alive, and be reunited with Rose.  Slow Hawk is a Lakota Sioux, who wishes to avenge the death of his brother and parents. In the panel below we see him replicate his brother’s war paint on himself, in order to honor him. When Crazy Horse gifts a new horse to Slow Hawk, he is ready for battle and will do what ever it takes to win. The chaos of battle is evocatively shown, and you are thrown in the middle of the battlefield, as leaders are making split second decisions that aren’t always the best. You will root for both Greenhaw and Slow Hawk to survive, but in war nothing is certain.

The art is a wonder in this story. Val Mayerik, who has illustrated for other graphic novels such as Conan and is the co-creator of Howard the Duck, completely elevates this story. He should branch out in his art career as the way he depicts war scenes and moving horses was just outstanding! While this story is certainly an abbreviated version of the battle, Mayerik’s art helped tell much of the tale. His strong coloring and care in which he drew the Native Americans and landscapes gave an authenticity to the entire narrative.

As a history fan, as soon as I saw this graphic novel listed on NetGalley I knew that I wanted it. The device of using fictional protagonists worked, as there are other novels about the leaders on either side of the battle, and this format allowed for balanced and sympathetic portrayals of both sides.  However, there were a few choices by the author that I questioned. In the introduction, a casual mention is made of a Native American descendant of Custer, as oral tradition says that Custer had a child with a Cheyenne woman – yet this fact is disputed, so giving a small explanation should have been included for those who are not aware of the story. I applaud that the Lakota language was used in the narrative, but a dying soldier speaking Italian with no translation was also shown, to jarring effect. I came away knowing that the author really did his research and wanted to give an accurate portrayal of this controversial battle. I recommend this book, both for the historic representation and the gorgeous art!

-Nancy

LeVar Burton Reads: Season One

Ever since I discovered LeVar Burton Reads, which is an outstanding podcast showcasing short stories, I have listened to LeVar’s melodious voice on a weekly basis, and kept track of the stories through my Goodreads account. Now that I have finished season one, I am ready to share!

Kin by Bruce McAllister

Kin is a short story that builds momentum as you suddenly see how the title relates to the relationship between an Earth boy and an assassin alien. Young Kim contacts an Antalou alien and convinces him to prevent the forced abortion of his yet-to-be-born sister. At first you will wonder why this alien follows through on the boy’s request, but this quietly menacing story will show you how the mercenary alien recognizes that the two share a kinship of character. Evil can put on an innocent face and the alien knows Kim’s true nature will soon reveal itself.

The Lighthouse Keeper by Daisy Johnson

This magical realism short story tells of a solitary woman who is a lighthouse keeper. One night while swimming in the ocean she comes across a unique fish and becomes entranced with it. Worried that the local fisherman will catch it, she tries to protect it, although many townspeople think her actions strange. While the tale was poetic and filled with symbolism, I did not connect with the woman or the narrative in a larger sense.

Empty Places by Richard Parks

Empty Places, a high fantasy short story about a wizard and a rogue, started slow but ended quite satisfactorily. The wizard employs a thief to put an unknown package in the nursery of the newborn prince. The thief, having some morals, asks if the package will hurt the child and the two have a battle of wits as they journey towards the castle. While you might assume the wizard is up to no good, there was a surprising and poignant ending.

What It Means When a Man Falls From The Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Author Lesley Nneka Arimah quickly world builds and establishes believable characters in this short story. This story is an interesting mix of magical realism, sci-fi and even folk lore with the idea that “grief counselors” can use advanced math equations to take away people’s grief. But as the story advances we learn that taking on other’s people sadness is too heavy a burden and there are repercussions. This tale is layered and you will think of the metaphors in the story long after you finished it.

Graham Greene by Percival Everett

The short story Graham Greene is refreshing, not only in how it’s told but that it is set on a Wyoming Arapaho reservation. The story subverts your expectations and details a story about Roberta, an 102 year old woman, who is looking for her son before her death. She claims she has not seen him in decades and entreats Jack, who had worked on a water project on the reservation years ago, to find him. Given a picture, but few additional details, Jack goes out into the community to search for him. Not only does Jack make some assumptions about the son, but so do people who see the picture he has (hence the name of the story). The ending is bittersweet and you will think back to Roberta’s motivation for the favor and why she specifically asked Jack to do it.

Chivalry by Neil Gaiman

This short story was sweet- no more, no less. A British matron finds an interesting chalice in a local thrift sale only to discover it is the mythical Holy Grail when Sir Galaad comes to her door in search of it. Mrs. Whitaker lives a quiet peaceful life, so her reaction to a knight requesting this holy relic is surprisingly subdued. She puts him off as she is fond of the chalice on her mantle piece- not because she is hoping for some great power for owning it. Sir Galaad persists and offers her several rewards, but she ends up giving it to him more out of kindness than any desire for what he is offering her in return. She is content in simple pleasures while he wants a grand adventure, but ultimately both are chivalrous to one another and both are happy with the end result.

The Second Bakery Attack by Haruki Murakami

The Second Bakery Attack is a short story that details an unusual robbery by newlyweds. This odd tale has a husband and wife wake up in the middle of the night ravenously hungry, and while they search their apartment fruitlessly for food, the husband shares that he once robbed a bakery store with a friend back in his college days. The wife believes they must rob another bakery store to break the curse of their hunger, but they end up robbing a Tokyo McDonalds of 30 hamburgers instead. Mysteriously the wife has a sawed-off shotgun that her husband knew nothing about, so you begin to wonder how well this married couple truly know one another.

1,000 Year Old Ghosts by Laura Chow Reeve

A bittersweet short story about how a family tried repressing memories to avoid pain, but the practice has long term consequences for the women. The story is told from the granddaughter’s perspective, and she recounts how her grandmother taught her how to remove her bad memories and pickle them in jars. The Chinese grandmother and granddaughter share a kinship, while the mother disapproved of the practice, and soon you see why. By removing the bad memories, gaps are left and the entire memory becomes corrupted. The good memories left become hazy, with no corresponding bad memories to balance them. A coping mechanism started in one generation ends up affecting future generations, and you hope that the granddaughter will stop this practice and appreciate and cope with the life she is living now.

Navigators by Mike Meginnis

This short story grew on me, as you start to realize how the title of the story ties in with the narrative. Joshua is a young boy living with his newly divorced father who bond over the RPG Legend of Silence they play together every day. The twist in the game is not to level up, but for the heroine to lose her power by the end of the game. This parallels their lives, as father and son are living in diminished circumstances, with unpaid bills and food rationing. You hurt for this little family, for as they pour their attention into navigating the game, they are not navigating real life well. Joshua’s mother is not in the story, yet her presence is felt, and you hope that once they reach the conclusion of the game, the father will find some stability for them both.

The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu

Bi-racial Jack is a young boy who is comforted by his Chinese mother one night after a nightmare as she folds him an origami collection of paper animals. She breathes life into them and the small menagerie become Jack’s favorite play toys. But as Jack grows up, he becomes embarrassed by his mother in his American neighborhood, and tries to fit in with his peers by rejecting her language and customs. His mother becomes silent, stung by his exclusion, and his origami animals are forgotten. During his college years, Jack’s mother is dying of cancer, and only after her death does he receive a letter from her in one of the origami animals that explains how she came to be a mail-order bride to Jack’s white father. The tale of her youth was heartbreaking and explained so much, but it was too late for Jack to rectify their relationship. The excellent story about identity brought into sharp focus how some mistakes can not be fixed, and how becoming Americanized can sadly lead to rejection of one’s culture and heritage.

No Man’s Guns by Elmore Leonard

Author Elmore Leonard is known for his Western tales and crime/thrillers, some of which have been adapted to screen- Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Hombre, 3:10 to Yuma and Jackie Brown. In one of his earlier Western short stories, No Man’s Gun, a newly-discharged soldier runs into trouble on his journey home, and he must fight for his innocence in a case of mistaken identity. He has to convince a group that he is not an outlaw as to avoid a lynching. He narrowly avoids the quick frontier justice by out smarting someone who was trying to double-cross him, and there is a hint he will ride off into the sunset with a woman he recently met on the trail. If you are a fan of westerns, this short tale will interest you.

Goat by James McBride

When a 12 year old boy shows a talent for running, which could lead to scholarships and further schooling opportunities, a well-meaning teacher tracks down the family of her student, nicknamed Goat. She finds out the family has more needs than she ever envisioned, but she is determined to do right by the family, and helps them with paperwork that will help Goat at school and for an older brother to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War. The story seems to be going in one direction, when the birth certificate twist at the conclusion of the story changes everything and puts a pall on the entire story.  That ending…no, just no.

These twelve episodes were a varied lot- different genres included magical realism, western, sci-fi, fantasy and realistic fiction. I will absolutely be listening to further episodes, as LeVar sucks you into the story no matter if you think you’ll like the story or not. Check out the podcast LeVar Burton Reads yourself, “but you don’t have to take my word for it.”

-Nancy

The Sleeper and The Spindle

A reimagined fairytale combining parts of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty into one story, that because of the author Neil Gaiman, you know will be a dark and whimsical tale.

Snow White is about to have her wedding and her happily ever after, but she’s really not into her Prince and would rather have an adventure without him. She kisses him goodbye and heads off with three dwarfs to look into a sleeping sickness she heard about in the kingdom over. You are already off-kilter from that start, and the rest of the story follows suit. When she arrives at the castle you assume you are about to meet Sleeping Beauty, and are half expecting a romance to develop between the two women. But that’s not where Gaiman goes, and the surprise ending elevates this short story.

The book is more a novella with lots of illustrations, too long and mature in theme to be a children or even a junior book, but not quite a teen book or a graphic novel either. I enjoyed the twist ending but it is really Chris Riddell’s illustrations in black and white with gold leaf that pushes the book beyond a simple fractured fairytale. His illustrations are lush and detailed, with the gold touches used to great affect. This story is worth a read, especially if your like your fairy tales a bit on the creepy side.

-Nancy

Gaiman, Neil & Chris Riddell. The Sleeper and the Spindle. 2014.

I Feel Bad: All Day. Every Day. About Everything.

As a mother, I feel bad and doubt myself every flippin’ day. Not a day goes by that I at least once (and up to 100+ times) ponder how I am messing up. So when this book popped up on my Goodreads suggestions list, I tracked it down.

Orli Auslander is a mum who shares her worries and regrets in 100 sketches of how exactly she feels bad. She opens the book with an introduction of how after she had her first child she began to journal and draw how she felt guilty in her daily life. In this collection she shares her worries on her parenting, sexuality, religious beliefs, extended family and the greater world around her.

(In my case it would be reversed, with me boring my family with my Star Trek thoughts)

At times she seems to over share, but the point of the book is for her to be brutally honest, and for readers to find situations in which they can relate to. I actually applaud her for showcasing her anxieties for it takes courage to admit in our social media obsessed world that we are not perfect. There are only a few people in my life I will share the REAL me with.

Auslander’s illustrations have been compared to Roz Chast’s, and I can see why. She captures the essence of the moment in a seemingly simple sketch, while letting her neurosis shine through. Her ink drawings have a distinctive feel, for she depicts expressive large eyes, and gives her pictures a swirling layered look.

As I do not watch a lot of television, I did not realize a new NBC comedy is based off this book, when I first picked it up.  I watched the pilot this morning and thought the diverse cast did a nice job with the source material. So, for anyone looking for a book on the realities of parenthood and adult life, give this collection of strips a read, and realize you are not alone!

-Nancy

I Heart Characters: A Kickass Who’d Have Your Back

Today is my first time using the writing prompt I Heart Characters!  It is a weekly meme hosted by Dani @ Perspective of a Writer to showcase book blogger love for characters. Each week she supplies a topic and we supply the character from whatever media we love and link up so others can blog hop and share the character love. ♡

This weeks topic is: A character you super admire for their abilities! Share with us when and why you think they’d have your back.

My choice is Nightfall from the ElfQuest saga. I fell in love with ElfQuest when I was in high school and my boyfriend who was collecting them introduced me to the World of Two Moons. Sometimes our dates would consist of us sitting side by side reading for hours and debating the finer points of elf lore. That my high school boyfriend eventually became my husband makes this series dear to my heart.

Nightfall is a Wolfrider, a warrior for an elfin tribe that rides wolves and live in the woods, or as they call it, The Holt. She is an amazing archer and a devoted mate to Redlance, a plant shaper. Best friend to Cutter, the leader of the Wolfrider’s, she always has his back and is ready to fight for the tribe at a moment’s notice. However, when not needed to defend the tribe she is gentle and kind, and her gestures of friendship make her a contrast of yin and yang. Later in the epic series, she and Redlance have a daughter Tyleet, and this mother and daughter duo became my absolute favorites. Nightfall goes to show that you can be tough and tender at the same time. Although she is a warrior, she does not let that get in the way of being a loving partner, mother and friend to others.

Check out the ElfQuest site for yourself, and fall in love with the Wolfriders!  Online, you will find the website includes decades worth of the comics in chronological order since the story’s creation in 1978, and a who is who list of characters.  A four book conclusion to the series, The Final Quest, wrapped up earlier this year, at the exact 40 year mark in which it started.

I am pleased that I can give a shout out to a favorite character from a series I have been reading since the 1990’s. ElfQuest was my first introduction to graphic novels and it’s storytelling scope and exquisite artwork makes it “One of the most beautifully crafted, well thought out comic book fantasy epics of all time” as Comic Book Resources so aptly said about this classic series.

-Nancy

Tyleet & Nightfall ♥

Gothic Tales of Haunted Love

Gothic tales + haunted love + diverse characters = yes, please!

This strong anthology has 200+ pages of short illustrated stories that are horror-themed, as they are a tribute to 1970’s Gothic pulp novels. Each story has a different author and illustrator, with lends to many different styles within this collection. The stories are extremely diverse, with characters of different nationalities, cultures and sexual orientations plus they take place in several different time periods. This variety will give every reader some stories that they will absolutely connect with as there are stories with revenge motifs, historical heartbreak or the supernatural.

As with any anthology there are some stories that are stronger than others. Pair that with a graphic novel format, and there are some illustration styles that will not appeal to everyone, but the art as a whole is well done with evocative coloring. The book includes eighteen new stories, and one reprint of an original Korean Gothic comic. A prologue, art gallery and author bios round out the collection.

My favorites included:

Crush– Janet Hetherington, Ronn Sutton, Becka Kinzie & Zakk Saam: An African American governess falls in love with a widowed Sea Captain, father of the seven children she cares for. When he disregards her as a love interest, she obtains revenge.

The Return– David A Robertson & Scott B. Henderson: A Native American woman comes back from the dead to be reunited with her fiancee, but she finds a better man who sees beyond her beauty to what was in her heart.

Green, Gold, and Black– Cherelle Higgins & Rina Rozsas: Set in Jamaica on the eve of a slave uprising, an enslaved woman is giving birth. She is chained by her white mistress, for her husband had raped the woman and the child is his, and she is consumed by jealousy. This is the most heartbreaking of all the stories, although I found a nugget of hope in the end, depending on how you interpret the mother’s visions.

Mistress Fox– Megan Kearney & Derek Spencer: A bride shares an unsettling dream with her guests the morning after her wedding – the night before, her new husband had killed a maid that he was having an affair with. You know she is framing her cad of a husband, but there is one more sly twist at the end.

I received an online copy from NetGalley for an unbiased review back in April, but I had downloaded it close to it’s expiration date, and had to do a quick review based off only one day at looking at it online. That just wouldn’t do, so I ordered a print copy for my library, so I could re-read it and have library patrons enjoy it too. And isn’t that the point- to purchase a book you’d like to read over and over again- and then share it with others?!

-Nancy

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

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)

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