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Graphic Novel

Bury the Lede

Madison Jackson interns at the prestigious Boston Lede newspaper, and she’s determined to prove that she deserves to be there. She picks up a crime scene in progress on a police scanner, the address of which is tied to a prominently social and wealthy family. Madison hopes to snatch up the scoop that will prove her worth, but she ends up being the scoop. Celebrity Dahlia Kennedy, accused of murdering her husband and son, refuses to talk to anyone but Madison, creating a social media storm that puts Madison right in the center of her own story. She tries to navigate the spotlight she doesn’t want, while trying to navigate her working relationship with Dahlia. They both want Madison to get to the truth, but Dahlia’s information doesn’t come easily, or cheaply. How far will Madison go to get the full story?

According to Wiktionary, to “bury the lede” means:

To begin a story with details of secondary importance to the reader while postponing more essential points or facts.

This graphic novel is aptly titled, as there are plot points that come up during the second act like a punch to the gut and change everything. I can’t say more without spoilers, but suffice it to say that this story wasn’t at all what I expected. It’s a psychological thriller in which you think you know the real story, who the characters really are, but by the end you find you don’t know anything at all.

The art was a little wonky – in some ways good, in some bad. The bad: the characters are rendered passably well, except for multiple instances where facial features are skewed one way or another for seemingly no reason. Lips, nose, eyes, would be slightly off-center or askew even when we’re looking at a character head-on. This occurred too often to be a printing error, and was off-putting and distracting for me. That said, the use of color, especially in the background as paint splatters, were effective in communicating lights, a mood, or a sudden emotion.

This graphic novel contains strong language, nudity, blood and gore, and love scenes, which puts it at high school age and up. The majority of the love scenes are between an LGBTQ+ couple. I must commend writer Gaby Dunn for the way these characters were written – they are characters, first and foremost, who just happen to be gay. As it turns out, Gaby herself is publicly bisexual and non-monogamous, and is a writer for various publications and media. She knew how important it was for the sexual orientation of her characters to not be a huge deal in the story, which can not only make the book awkward, but make it seem forced for the sake of inclusion and not serving the story. More media, not just graphic novels, with LGBTQ+ characters should strive to this standard.

-Kathleen

Dunn, Gaby, Claire Roe, and Miquel Muerto. Bury the Lede. 2019.

The American Dream?: A Journey on Route 66

A lifelong dream of author Shing Yin Khor’s is to travel on Route 66 from Los Angeles to Chicago. Her family emigrated to the United States from Malaysia when she was a little girl, so she grew up both in her home country and her new one. Though she spent the later half of her childhood and early adulthood in the glamorous City of Angels, she had always been intrigued by the mythical ’60s Americana that Route 66 stood for. So with nothing but the bare essentials and her dog, Bug, Shing sets off in her tiny car along the fabled road, hoping to gain better understanding of her adopted homeland, and herself.

This graphic memoir is part diary, part fact book. I learned a lot! Her personal story is littered with the history of Route 66. She divides the book into chapters by the states the highway runs through – first California, then Arizona, then New Mexico, and so on. However, the first 3 chapters are the longest, and so packed with information, that the remainder of the book feels rushed and far shorter by comparison.

Shing’s art is delightful. I can still see sketch lines of the pen or pencil beneath the watercolor, which I adore! It never feels unfinished, though. Her forms and colors are loose and quirky, more concerned with conveying an idea or a feeling than how things actually are. I think this was a good choice, so we readers could feel what was going on in Shing’s head and heart throughout her journey.

In her epilogue, she writes that she took her trip 6 months before the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. It forces the reader to wonder how the trip might have turned out if Shing, a Malasyan immigrant, had taken her trip after the election – or whether she would have taken it at all.

– Kathleen

Yin Khor, Shing. The American Dream?: A Journey on Route 66. 2019.

Cheshire Crossing

What do Alice Liddel, Wendy Darling, and Dorothy Gale have in common? Well, everyone thinks they’re crazy. Each girl has claimed to have gone to a different world and had fantastical, yet harrowing, adventures. They are sent to Cheshire Crossing under the pretense of getting the best medical care. However, Dr. Rutherford, the director, and Miss Poole, their nanny, actually BELIEVE the girls. Dr. Rutherford believes he can teach the girls to control their powers to step in and out of alternate realities – and whatever other powers they may develop. Alice, having none of it, tries to escape. As Wendy and Dorothy try to stop her, the girls accidentally unleash the Wicked Witch upon Neverland, where she teams up with Captain Hook. Can three untrained girls and their nanny possibly have a hope of fixing their mistake?

Nancy reviewed this one for School Library Journal, and at her encouragement I took a stab at this one too. Andy Weir and Sarah Anderson are a lively creative team. They took the question of “What happens after happily ever after?” and decided that for these girls, ever after was not so happy. They are a little more grown up, and perhaps a little more hardened, than you remember, though they have not lost their original charm. It made for a fun romp across the real world, Neverland, Wonderland, and Oz.

I have to admit, like Nancy, it too left me a little confused as to which audience it was meant for. The writing and themes were undoubtedly for a YA audience, but the illustrations skewed years younger. If I didn’t know any better, at first glance I’d say it was a middle grade graphic novel, because of the straightforward panel layout, rounded forms, exaggerated features and facial expressions, and bright colors. In this way, this graphic novel is not as effective as it could have been. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have because I couldn’t get past the disconnect between the writing and the art.

For the target audience (I’ll say upper middle grade to YA), Cheshire Crossing is a fun, empowering take on classic female characters, and going off the cliffhanger ending, with much more in store.

– Kathleen

Weir, Andy, and Sarah Andersen. Cheshire Crossing. 2019.

The Perineum Technique

Contemporary video artist JH and Sarah met on a dating app, and hit it off right away. They meet on Skype regularly for hook ups. Though Sarah is elusive, cold even, JH can’t stop thinking about her, and starts to become obsessed. Despite his best efforts, he can’t seem to convince her to meet in real life. When finally she does cave, she asks him to meet at a swinger’s party, and asks a vow of abstinance lasting months while she’s on vacation. JH will do anything she asks, if only for the chance to get close to her. When she gets back, will they finally have a chance?

This is a very adult graphic novel that focuses on the juxtaposition of emotional intimacy in the age of online dating. We only focus on the “relationship” from JH’s point of view. We see him struggle with trying to connect to Sarah, but just like him, we readers are left to wonder about and draw our own conclusions about how Sarah is feeling. The most effective panels are of JH, alone, staring at his computer screen or his phone, waiting for an answer.

Though there is nudity, there is very little explicit sexual content. Instead we experience JH and Sarah’s sexual acts through visual metaphor, some of which are JH’s video art pieces. I found the cliff sequences quite clever: JH and Sarah are falling down a cliff, holding onto swords or daggers that make marks in the cliff face. For the most part they are parallel to each other, but sometimes they cross. Sometimes the sword or dagger marks wobble with increased or decreased frequency. To me this suggests the level of excitement or involvement that both parties have in the sexual act.

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Page 76 of The Perineum Technique, showing one of the visual sexual metaphors.

Though some of the mind games shown here probably went over my head, as I’ve never dated online, I was impressed by the artwork and the alternative ways that sexual acts were portrayed. We see two young adults struggling to find what they need, when they might not even realize they need it. Though I tend to roll my eyes at the “intimacy vs. technology” cliche, I found this one to be the most effective I’ve read so far.

– Kathleen

Ruppert & Mulot. The Perineum Technique. 2019.

Banned Books Week: Graphic Novels

Banned Books Week this year runs from September 22nd- 28th, and I’d like to take this time to shine some light on how many graphic novels have been challenged over the years. The site Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is an outstanding resource on how to fight censorship and this particular page guides you through specific cases of challenged comics and graphic novels.

As a librarian, it is important that we provide books on ALL topics for ALL people. While sometimes we might choose not to order a book or to place a book in a location that we feel is age-appropriate, patrons should have full access to books that they wish to read. I have read many challenged books, in all genres, over the years and am a better person for it. The following five graphic novels are but a few that have been challenged over the years.

Batman: The Killing Joke by  Alan Moore and  Brian Bolland

Reason challenged: Advocates rape and violence

This graphic novel about the Joker’s possible origin is considered a DC  classic, but it’s extreme violence and implied rape has put it on several banned lists.  The ambiguous ending between Joker and Batman can be interpreted in many different ways. This draw your own conclusion setup is what elevates this story and changed the way graphic novels are written and illustrated.

 

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Reason challenged: Sexual content

So what exactly is so controversial in this boldly colored YA book that it has been on the Top 10 banned list multiple times, considering it was nominated for a Harvey Award and was a Stonewall Honor Book? Well, Callie meets twin brothers who get involved in the musical, and one is gay and the other is questioning. While their level of coming out to the other students is part of the narrative, this tween-friendly book is very accepting of their identity. Author Telgemeier said, “that while she and her editors at Scholastic were very careful to make the book age-appropriate, they never considered omitting the gay characters because ‘finding your identity, whether gay or straight, is a huge part of middle school‘.” Hell yeah, it is!

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Reason challenged: Nudity, sexual content, and unsuited to age group

Author and illustrator Bechdel chronicles her childhood through her early years of college, in a non-linear memoir. The Bechdel family lived in her father’s small hometown of Beech Creek in Pennsylvania, and her father helped run the family funeral parlor. Alison and her younger brothers named the funeral parlor, Fun Home, hence the name of the novel. Her parents were trapped in a loveless marriage, with the father hiding his homosexuality, although as the years wore on his affairs became less and less discreet. Bechdel’s raw autobiography was turned into a musical play that showed on Broadway. That this book, and perhaps the play, can affect people deeply is a testament to the power of family and how it shapes us.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Reason challenged: Profanity, violent content

I first read this intimate memoir, written in graphic novel form about the author’s experience of growing up in 1980’s Iran, soon after the Paris bombings in late 2015. I felt it timely, for although the terrorists had not been from Iran, much of the Middle East was getting a bad rap. This book humanizes another culture and shows how extremism in any culture or religion is done by the few radicals against the many who suffer because of it and should be read widely for the message it conveys.

Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Reason challenged: Sexual content, anti-family, nudity, offensive language, and unsuited for age group.

An epic sci-fi adventure with liberal doses of violence and sex! We learn that the main character’s two species are at war, and their secret marriage and birth of a hybrid child are strictly forbidden.  That this love blossomed among enemies must be kept from the public, and the book’s message of enduring love is more nuanced than you would think.

Celebrating free expression is important, for “Censorship leaves us in the dark. Keep the light on!”

-Nancy

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.

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies

Ellie idolizes old singers and movie stars: Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, John Lennon, Elliott Smith, and more. One thing they all have in common? They were all drug addicts. Ever since she found a mixtape her mother made for her father (both drug addicts themselves), containing songs written and performed by drug addicts, Ellie has been obsessed with the old stars and their struggles with heroin, amphetamines, cocaine, you name it. So you could say it’s no surprise Ellie winds up in a rehab facility. What is surprising is she meets a boy. Skip is trying desperately to not throw this last chance away, whereas Ellie has no plans for getting sober. Once they realize their attraction for each other, will they recover together, or spiral back into old habits?

This one isn’t what you expect it to be. You go in expecting one thing, but by the end, it’s quite another. Brubaker and Phillips pull no punches here. The writing is excellent, big plot twist aside. We alternate between the present day and flashbacks to Ellie’s childhood, which give us more context. Each of Ellie’s flashbacks relate to the next slice of the modern day story in subtle ways that you only truly pick up on with a second read through. Sometimes flashbacks are too obviously related to the main story, but the fact that they aren’t here shows a deft hand. I was highly impressed.

The art uses color more than solid drawing to convey the overall mood and individual emotions.  Don’t get me wrong: the drawing is great, but color was the focus here. The modern day sequences are rendered in saturated pastels. While the characters for the most part are solidly colored in, the backgrounds are splashed with hardly-mixed color, suggesting chaos and uncertainty, even if the palette is cheerful. The flashbacks are in greyscale, but the splotches remain, again conveying the turbulence of Ellie’s childhood. The art suggests something is going on long before it happens, which is arguably more important than foreshadowing in the writing of a graphic novel.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that this isn’t the first collaboration by Brubaker and Phillips. This is a novella from their series called Criminal. Excuse me while I go check it out 😉 I was, again, very impressed with this graphic novel, and the way the writing and the art worked together to the conclusion you didn’t expect. I anticipate more good stuff from these guys.

– Kathleen

Brubaker, Ed, and Sean Phillips. My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies. 2018.

Grand Theft Horse

Nancy and I both hope you all are having a wonderful holiday so far! For my post this week, here’s a review of a graphic novel that starts on Christmas Eve… that makes it a Christmas story, right? =P

Gail Ruffu is a wanted woman. Her crime: Grand Theft… Horse? Believe it or not, it’s true! She was the first woman since 1850 to be charged with such a crime. However, she had very good reason. In order to protect Urgent Envoy from the brutality of horse racing, and an apathetic co-owner, Gail stole him from the racing stables on Christmas Eve 2004 and spirited him away to a boarding stable. She told no one where he was, though the co-owner, a former friend of hers and a lawyer to boot, cracked down with a lawsuit, hired a private investigator, and resorted to blackmail to try and get Urgent Envoy back. Gail stood her ground even as she lost all her money, her training license, and her way of life. She lost it all in order to do the right thing – but will it pay off in the end? Can she win the case that’s gone all the way up to California’s Supreme Court?

… Wow. Just wow. This is a tale so big it seems unreal, but it really did happen! The author, G. Neri, is Gail’s cousin, and upon hearing the story from Gail herself, he thought, “That would make a great book!” (Introduction page). There’s more than just the story of Urgent Envoy’s case here: Gail’s childhood and early adulthood are touched on as well, to explain how she grew to love horses and ended up in the racing circuit. The writing is succinct, tense, and conversational, as if Gail herself were telling us the story.

The artwork is tense, too. Corban Wilkin’s linework is blocky, angular, and even so, curiously expressive. He managed to not only convey horses accurately, but give them expression and personality without making them caricature-like. I finished a painting of horses in the fall that took me TWO YEARS – so believe me when I say, what Wilkin did was no easy feat. In fact, I’m jealous. I’m ready to scrap my whole painting X,D

This graphic novel is part Western, part legal drama, and part animal lover’s tribute. Above all, it’s an underdog story. Gail went up against impossible odds for the sake of a horse’s well-being. You’ll be rooting for her the whole way through.

– Kathleen

Neri, G., and Corban Wilkin. Grand Theft Horse. 2018.

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide

Graciela Iturbide is a famous photographer who was born in Mexico City in 1942. But, she didn’t start out wanting to be one. She wanted to be a writer when she was a girl. However, Graciela was from a wealthy and conservative family, and young girls simply didn’t have careers in the arts. When they grew up, they married, had children, and kept house. Graciela did do that for a time – until her daughter passed away. Then, she turned to the camera and what had before been only a hobby became her life’s work. She travels her home country of Mexico, and abroad to India and the United States, capturing portraits, landscapes, and birds. She looks for symbols, true reality, and death behind her lens. Her work has gone on to receive worldwide recognition and awards… and she’s not done yet.

This is quite an interesting graphic novel. It’s a memoir, a retrospective, a catalog of photographs, and an artist’s biography. Like Iturbide’s photographs, the art is all in black and white. The reason she only photographs black and white is, that’s how she feels reality is captured. Her photographs are a study in value and symbolism. There are a few within the book, and they are marvelous. The artist recreates some in his illustrations, and they are delightfully true to the source material. They are rendered with strong black lines but with gentle washes of grey to give tone.

Iturbide’s work strives toward understanding. Understanding her Mexican culture, the role of women and femininity, the juxtaposition of rural vs. modern life, and much more. Her work is held at many prestigious museums, including the Getty, who published this graphic novel. I hope it is the first of many portraits of modern artists and their work!

– Kathleen

Quintero, Isabel, and Zeke Peña. Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide. 2018.

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