Search

Graphic Novelty²

Tag

First Second

What Unites Us: The Graphic Novel

Journalist Dan Rather wrote What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism in 2017. This is the graphic novel adaptation of that book, which is a series of essays. The graphic novel is broken up into chapters, each talking about a specific topic on American patriotism. The first chapter defines patriotism and it is that definition that guides us through the rest of the book. Through stories both personal and historically significant, Rather illustrates how patriotism has evolved since he was a child. As patriotism encompasses many forms, so too does Rather talk about patriotism through the lenses of inclusion, exploration, and more.

The illustrations were lovely. Though they were minimalistic, to let the writing take center stage, they were still carefully crafted. Each line has purpose, with no frills or fuss. Red, white, and blue are the only colors used. Often, a whole panel will be red or blue, though some combine the two. For example: red can be the entire foreground and blue the background. Very occasionally the two will mix into what looks like a watercolor bloom.

Rather himself was the main “character,” who served as the narrator for the book. He “speaks” his essays to us, which gave it a nice personal touch, as if you were having a conversation with him. He mentions various public and historical figures, all of whom are drawn true to life.

While overall the book was thought-provoking, and I appreciated that he did not sugar coat yet remained optimistic… it’s a white man’s optimistic view of American patriotism. I would like to see, and will be seeking out, graphic novels which speak to women and BIPOC’s points of view on America then and now, and what we can do to make this country better for everyone. This graphic novel was published in a series called World Citizen Comics, more of which I’ll check out.

Happy Fourth of July for our American readers!

– Kathleen

Rather, Dan, Elliot Kirschner, and Tim Foley. What Unites Us: The Graphic Novel. 2021.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World

I loved Brazen! Stories of 29 kick-ass women are shared- spanning centuries and continents.

I only recognized a few names- Margaret Hamilton, Josephine Baker, Temple Grandin, Betty Davis, Nellie Bly, Hedy Lamarr, Mae Jemison and Peggy Guggenheim. The other twenty women were new to me, but now I want to know more about all of their lives!

Author and illustrator Pénélope Bagieu gave each woman three to five pages and would start their story at their birth before proceeding chronologically and would touch on what made each woman so unique. Many of the women are from years past, but Bagieu is able to capture the time period and mores of the era, to showcase how the woman (or sometimes women as there were two groupings of sisters) were rebels for their generation. She covers their lives in broad strokes, glossing over many aspects of their lives, yet sharing the fundamentals and getting to the essence of the story. These stories were also perfect to read in bite-sized portions, I could read about a few women at a time, and looked forward to the next time I could pick up the graphic novel and read a few more short biographies.

Nellie Bly

Each page typically has nine panels and is done in a cartoony manner, yet is accurate in how the women looked and their various environments. Color is used sparingly, to add contrast or to heighten the effect of a momentous event. Bagieu saves the real artistry for a closing two-page spread that is filled with color and symbolizes what they stood for. I looked forward to how she would convey their lives and what art style she would use- Art Deco, Surreal, Nouveau, Impressionism (both Neo and Post) or Modern Art are among the different types. My favorite was Betty Davis’s, for I had to turn it sideways to understand it, and all it’s parts perfectly came together to form a complete picture and vibe.

I applaud the diversity found within, for Bagieu choose an Apache warrior, a Chinese empress, an astronaut, a volcanologist, a Greek gynecologist, athletes, singers, painters- even a bearded lady! I do wonder where she got her information from, for a brief work cited would have led additional weight to her character studies. But I have spent time myself looking up additional information about the women in this book, and that is always a good sign of a strong non-fiction book when I want to know even more about the subject or person at hand. In the end, she lists 30 additional women to learn about, and I’m all in for reading another book about more brazen women!

-Nancy

A Map to the Sun

Ren the basketball player meets Luna the surfer one morning when Luna asks to play ball with her. The two form a fast friendship and for the rest of that summer, they’re joined at the hip. However, when Luna moves from Los Angeles back to Oahu due to her sick mom, she ghosts Ren. She comes back unexpectedly in high school – looks like permanently. Luna inserts herself into Ren’s friend group, trying to pick their friendship up right where it left off. Ren is guarded and aloof, not wanting to get hurt again, and feeling she can’t meet Luna where she’s currently at. When new teacher Marisol starts a girl’s basketball team, Luna and Ren join along with Nell, Jetta, and So. All have their strengths and weaknesses, all are trying to escape from something, and all are using their place on the team to do it. Can they come together as a team?

The art is a big draw for this one. It’s rendered in neon, L.A. colors that vibrate off the page. At the same time, there’s a dreamy pastel quality to it. The palette of both the artwork and dead space between panels changes depending on the mood of the story at any given moment. This did make it hard to read at times, such as when purple font is on a red background.

At its’ core, this is a story about friendship. Finding and making friends, maintaining the relationships, building your friends up and working together. Each girl has a different ethnicity, background, or sexual orientation. This isn’t treated as a novelty within the story – it’s just who they are. They are all refreshingly accepting of one another, and that’s what it’s about. These girls need to come together to form an effective team, especially Ren and Luna, whose fraught history serves as the main conflict. Everyone has friend troubles that they’ve needed to overcome in order to move forward.

A Map to the Sun might look like a sports story at first glance, but it’s much more than that. It’s an ode to the power of forming female friendships and working together to build something bigger than yourself. Rendered in vibrant neon, the art will imprint itself in your mind as well as the story.

-Kathleen

Leong, Sloane. A Map to the Sun. 2020.

Child Star

“Hollywood makes you grow up fast”.

Based on true stories of television child stars of the 1980s, this graphic novel basically fictionalizes the life of Gary Coleman, star of Different Strokes, as Owen Eugene and is heavy on the nostalgia factor.

Told as if this story was a documentary, we know almost immediately Owen is dead, as he is spoken about in the past tense by his family and business associates who recount his life. His parents share his early years and the health problems that would stunt his growth, making him look younger than his actual years. This served him well for many years, as he could portray a character younger than himself, but had the intelligence to make it seem as if he were a comedic prodigy. He became the breakout child star in a sitcom, with the catchphrase ” I don’t understand” becoming his Achilles heel in later years. Behind the scene manipulation of sitcom storylines show the artificiality of it all, with the child actors taking the brunt of it. His parents, agents and producers use Owen for their own gain. He never gets to rest, as he is hustled from his television series to various television movies with no break for years. When he becomes a teenager, he is still forced into juvenile roles as he looks much younger, and when he truly begins to look older the roles dry up as his short stature and typecasting prevent him from being taken seriously in adult roles. His adult life is a series of disappointments, with two disastrous marriages (some issues are brought up but not explored) and a steady decline in his health. 

The artwork is cartoonish, drawn with broad strokes. The layout is comic strip style, often with nine equal panels. A limited color palette was used- black and white with different color gradients of pink and red for shading. The art captures the essence of the many different people being interviewed, with a few caricatures of real people like Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Farrah Fawcett. 

Pop culture is laid bare in this narrative, with adult readers like myself, uncomfortably looking back at the sitcoms of our youth. I couldn’t help but feel bad for stars of my youth like Coleman and Emmanual Lewis who couldn’t make the move from child star to adult actor. Even actors and actresses with no physical impairments were so jaded and broken by the system, that drug abuse and faded careers become the norm for some of them. And while this book spotlights the heyday of the 80s sitcom, has Hollywood fared better nowadays? Today many failed young Disney actors or musical pop groups have fame yanked away from them. While not a perfect book, this sobering story will make you think about what secrets lie behind the laugh tracks. 

-Nancy 

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

Go With The Flow

A friendship story. Period.

Go With The Flow is an empowering book about friendship, pushing back against injustice, and yes, menstrual periods. The story revolves around four sophomores- Abby, Britt, Christine and new student Sasha. When Sasha unexpectedly has her first period at school and leaks through her pants to her horror, the other three girls take her under their wing and help her get a pad and a change of clothes. While in the bathroom they discover the pad dispenser is empty, as usual, which angers them. But their kindness leads to a friendship with Sasha and soon their trio is now a quartet.

The narrative takes place over a school year, as the four girls navigate school, crushes, bullying and of course their changing bodies. Abby, in particular, takes it upon herself to object that the school administration doesn’t prioritize women’s health and access to sanitary supplies, while they always find the money for the football team. She steps up her protest by staging provocative art about periods in the building that gets everyone’s attention, yet puts her friendships at risk. Abby is later able to achieve a broader audience with a blog post that goes viral and is able to raise money that will go to schools to help with providing access to supplies to students.

What I appreciated was the varied home experiences of the girls. While two girls come from two-parent homes, one lives with her single mom, and another with her Grandma. One girl is questioning her sexuality, while another faces an unknown medical future as she possibly suffers from endometritis. When Sasha’s mother finds out she had her period, she doesn’t offer her any advice, she just silently hands her supplies with no guidance on how to use tampons. This is true to life for some girls who gain their knowledge through their peers and now a book like this. Not all the narrative threads are tied up, but I found that refreshing, for we are only looking at a window of time in their life.

The illustration were cute and anime-like and will appeal to a middle school audience. Each page had typically three to five panels and they flowed well, but there was enough variety with splash pages and some blog entries to mix it up a bit.  Appropriately, the color palette is red. The art will remind you of Raina Telgemeier’s, which is praise indeed.

I applaud the author and illustrator, Williams and Schneemann, for taking a taboo subject and making it completely relatable. This is a perfect book to put in the hands of preteens, for it can serve as a primer for what to expect. This sweet tale about bodies, friendship and activism is a winner.

-Nancy

Are You Listening?

Bea is alone, trying not to be scared walking down the side of the road, when she’s picked up by the least likely person imaginable. Lou is the local mechanic and remembers Bea from working on her family’s cars. The two young women, both in denial that they’re running away from something, decide to ride together through West Texas. Though they are practically strangers, they start to connect and form a friendship of sorts, especially after picking up a cat who’s gotten lost. On their way to Lou’s family, they decide to reunite Diamond with her family in the town of West – but no one can tell them where it is, and it’s not on any map Lou owns. The closer they get to West, the more curious and perilous their road becomes. Will these two perfect strangers stick together as things get rough, or go their separate ways?

Tillie Walden keeps getting better and better. Both her art and her writing have improved significantly over the years, and this volume is no exception. They are so closely intertwined it’s nigh impossible to talk about one without the other.

This volume looked and felt more manga-like to me. The characters are rendered stylistically and without much realism, but each was still recognizable. The landscapes too, are stylized – they could be anywhere at all out in the wilderness of the American West. We flip often between the cramped space of Lou’s car and the vast, empty landscapes, which at once forces the reader to be an uncomfortable passenger with Lou and Bea, and yet all alone at the same time.

Great swaths of color are used here: moody, cold blues and purples, dull oranges and pinks. The detail that impressed me most were the circles of light used to convey the passing of streetlights as the characters drive by. The colors suit the story, which is set in winter, perfectly, as well as the secrets the characters are hiding from each other and the isolation they feel even as they are stuck together in a tiny car.

This surreal, yet very real, story is ultimately a muse on human connection. A must-read for any fan of Walden’s work, and for those who like a dash of surrealism in their graphic novels.

– Kathleen

Walden, Tillie. Are You Listening? 2019.

Pumpkinheads

I have been waiting on this graphic novel by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks for years and it is finally here!  An article was written about this duo collaborating back in January of 2014 and as I was then a fan of Rowell because of Eleanor & Park, I checked out Hicks’s work and loved her books too. But the wait was so long…

Pumpkinheads does not disappoint and is so adorbable! I eagerly scooped up a copy that I had ordered for my library’s graphic novel collection before it hit the shelves (working at a library has its perks). The story takes place on Halloween night at a popular pumpkin patch farm, and if you aren’t from the Midwest you might not know how big of a deal that pumpkin patches, corn mazes and apple orchards are in the fall. Attending is an EVENT. Friends Josiah and Deja, who have worked at the patch for years, are facing their last night as employees as they are seniors and will be at college next fall. Josie is morose about leaving the patch, while Deja wants to grab the opportunity to live it up, and that includes pushing Josie to talk to another employee he has a crush on.

What follows is an adventure around the patch that pushes them both out of their comfort zone and on a journey of discovery about themselves. What I love about Rowell is that she captures teenage life perfectly. Senior year is a difficult time for many, as you are almost at the end of your school career and thinking of the different path you will soon be taking, yet you need to live in the here and now. It’s easy to get caught up in your head about choices you should make in the future and lose sight that one can still enjoy the moment they are in and that they can build a bridge between the two. The characters are believable, with spot-on conversations and interesting backstories.  Deja’s personality is especially nuanced, and I liked how she was portrayed. Her race, sexuality and size do not define her, they are just a natural part of who she is. And while Josie was more a rule-follower, he ended up having a believable arc of self-discovery and learned how to not be so passive.

The art by Hicks is so fresh and inviting, and is truly reminiscent of local patches that are similar in a way to amusement parks. Hicks captures emotional moments perfectly and the pacing builds to a very satisfying end between Josie and Deja. Her backgrounds included fun details and the recurring runaway goat carried through with a certain someone getting a well-deserved comeuppance on the last page. Colorist Sarah Stern uses a warm palette with a lot of oranges (of course!), golden yellows and mellow purples. The colors are evocative of autumn and bring the story further to life. A map of the imagined patch is on the inside covers, which further world-builds and an enjoyable interview between the two creators concludes this fun book.

This graphic novel was everything I hoped it would be and I will be singing its praises to the teens at my library. I believe this book will become a classic to be revisited every fall.

-Nancy

Rowell, Rainbow & Faith Erin Hicks. Pumpkinheads. 2019.

The Divided Earth

The Divided Earth is the final book of The Nameless City trilogy, and wraps the narrative up in a thrilling and satisfying conclusion!

Preceded by books The Nameless City and The Stone Heart, the story takes place in the fictional city Daidu, named by the Dao’s, the most recent conquering nation. However, due to centuries of conquest, the inhabitants of many different nationalities simply call it The Nameless City. This politically important Asian city sits alongside a mountain pass and is the only route to the sea, making it a critical location for trade and military movements. An ancient people carved a passageway through the mountain, but the technology they used has been lost to the ages.

The main characters are teen Kaidu, a Dao recently of the distant Homelands who is sent to the city to train as a soldier, a street-wise girl named Rat who has lived in the city her whole life, Ezri, who is the General’s son and who has just taken drastic measures to rule the city and his dangerous bodyguard Mura. These four young people have just discovered a mystical tome in the monastery that they believe has powers to dominate all the surrounding nations.

Ezri and Mura take the book that holds the formula for making Napatha, a powerful fire that can destroy armies and eat through stone, and plan to use it for the Dao nation to remain in control of the city. Both have complex and diverging reasons for wanting this power, and author Faith Erin Hicks deftly weaves in their back stories to explain their viewpoints. We see in the above panel how Ezri desperately justifies his actions, and his layered portrayal shows that he isn’t crafted to be a pure villain in the story.

Additional characters come into play, as adults from Kai and Rat’s life play integral roles in trying to thwart the war that Ezri and Mura are intent on starting. The conclusion has Ezri and Kai, two young men who come from privileged upbringings, face off. Paired with that, is the poignant confrontation between Mura and Rat whose backgrounds include tragedy and broken homes. These matches between the pairs show how similar starts in life don’t always lead to the same paths; as love and support from others and your own personal integrity can help shape you.

The conclusion is satisfying, with a three year time jump to show a realistic wrap up to the story. A few details were a bit pat, but as the story is geared towards young readers, the arcs for the four main characters ended appropriately. I was invested in the city’s inhabitants and would love to visit them again in a future story by Hicks. As such, I was excited to be approved for this book by NetGalley, so I could get a sneak peek at how the series concludes.

Hicks has crafted a story that tied in adventure, friendship and the cost of war.  She creates a believable world inspired by 13th century China and her artwork was wonderful with the precision of her backgrounds and how she captures emotion.  The coloring by Jordie Bellaire is lovely- and her work should get a shout out, as a colorist’s work establishes an aesthetic that is a crucial part of the storytelling. This captivating trilogy is a must read, not only to a YA audience, but also with older readers who will enjoy the nuanced tale.

-Nancy

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑