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Graphic Novel

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.

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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.

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

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)

The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman

Everyone knows Superman. Big guy, born on the planet Krypton but raised in Smallville, Kansas. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Fights for the ideals of truth, justice, and the American way. What you might not know is the fascinating story of how the idea of Superman was born.

Joe Shuster is a quiet kid growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. He likes to read comic books: the pulps, adventure stories, and detective mysteries, but the science fiction stories are his favorite. He dreams of becoming an illustrator some day, because of his talent for drawing. Through a cousin, he is introduced to Jerry Siegel, a writer with the same passion for comics. Together, they prove an indomitable team of not only creators, but friends.

When they came up with the character they called “Superman,” it was already after a series of successful and unsuccessful publications together, but they knew they were onto something big. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it as big as they thought. Through a string of corporate manipulations, Jerry and Joe were coerced into selling the rights to Superman. These two boys had basically built the superhero comic industry, and they were getting nothing for it. Joe was just content to get a paycheck and provide for his family, but Jerry was ready to fight for more. What’s more important? Staying silent and getting by, or raising hell and demanding change?

Though the book does center more on Joe, Jerry’s story is so entwined with his that it’s almost a dual biography. And though I knew their names, I had no idea how much Jerry and Joe had gone through to get Superman, the first and now arguably the world’s most popular superhero, published. At the time, between the World Wars and during WWII, there were biases and discrimination against Jewish people, which is partially why it was so hard for them to sell their work. Ultimately it was why it was so easy for publishers to manipulate them. Their story is heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful… like someone else we know, huh? 😉

The art is wonderful. It’s soft, more painterly than graphic, with very little of the hard lines and shading that we’re used to from superhero comics. The warm palette it’s rendered in evokes the nostalgia associated with the time period and the wonder of two teenagers deep in the creative process.

The best thing about the book is, it’s meticulously researched. There is a bibliography at the end for further reading, and a comprehensive notes section. I found the story so fascinating that I read through the notes! I am planning to check out a few of the materials listed in the biography, so I can learn more about Jerry and Joe’s story. This is essential reading for all Superman fans, but anyone interested in the history of the comic publishing industry will love it too.

– Kathleen

Voloj, Julian, and Thomas Gampi. The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman. 2018.

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

Think you understand comics? Think again! Author and illustrator Scott McCloud has created a unique educational graphic novel that can be read for pure enjoyment but also could be used in college-level courses that teach the art of illustration.

I have known about this book for several years, as it was originally written in 1993, but reading it seemed daunting. But when a certain erudite blogger suggested that Kathleen and I read it, not once but twice, I had to give it a go. Joshua at White Tower Musings– this is for you!

Divided into nine chapters, McCloud first begins with ascertaining how to define comics. After using accurate but long definitions, he uses comic’s giant Will Eisner’s short definition: comics is sequential art.

Image result for understanding comics

Since cartoons can sometimes be considered a lesser art form,  McCloud puts cartooning in a bigger framework- he goes back in time to show how hieroglyphics and picture manuscripts have evolved into comics. There is a rich history that provides the building blocks for this “new” art medium of today.

Once we push past the history of comics, we move into the parts that make the whole. How vocabulary is incorporated into comics is addressed as is the effective use of gutters in a sequence. These frames form closure to an idea, and a thought is imparted.

How lines are utilized got a chapter, with some perceptive thoughts on how lines can convey feelings and moods. I thought his comment about how Rob Liefeld’s “hostile and jagged” lines expressed the anxieties of those growing up in the 90’s quite accurately. And it’s true! Image Comics broke away from Marvel at the time when Gen X was at it’s most angsty, and these artists had a new style of drawing that obviously met a need.

Image result for understanding comics

While most of this graphic novel was in black and white, a chapter on color used it sparingly to make several points. Color can be used to set a mood, establish a scene and add depth. Adding color can expand the reader’s experience and artists continue to experiment with different palettes to establish atmosphere.

I also appreciated how McCloud moved beyond the parts that make up a cartoon- he also looked at the big idea. Art has meaning and he ties it into resemblance and the picture plane. There are so many ways to impart representation in styles such as surrealism, expressionism, cubism and impressionism. Words and pictures have great power when harnessed together and artists have freedom in how to create their works of art, which includes cartooning.

To make an Infinity Gauntlet comparison, cartoonists will use space, line, color, closure, words and icons in helping them get their message across. These “gems” are the building blocks of effective illustration.

Image result for infinity gauntlet glove

Reading this book took me quite awhile, as it’s information heavy narrative could overwhelm me at times. But I stuck with it and the knowledge that I picked up has made me look at comics with new appreciation. Already a fan of cartoons and graphic novels, McCloud’s astute analysis and deconstruction of this art form further elevated the genre for me.

-Nancy

Speak: The Graphic Novel

The 1999 YA novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson was a poignant, uncomfortable but terribly necessary novel about a teen-aged girl surviving rape.  It is on many school reading lists, but also has been banned by some school districts for it’s mature content. In fact I had a long conversation with a conservative friend about the book, when our children read it during middle school for an English class, and whether parents and students should have the choice to opt out of reading it.

This graphic novel adaptation recently came out and was penned by the author and illustrated by Emily Carroll, best known for her eerie graphic short story collection Through the Woods. Carroll was an excellent choice, as her inky black, white and gray panels perfectly captures Melinda’s depression and internal struggle. Her depiction of realistic looking teens gives it a timelessness, so that you don’t even notice that no one has a cell phone, as it is based in the time frame it was originally written in.

As Melinda begins high school she knows she is an outcast, as most of the school knows she is the one who called the police to bust a drinking party a few weeks prior. Her former best friend Rachel won’t  associate with her and other students jeer at and bully her. Her only friend is Heather, a new student, who doesn’t know her past. Melinda’s depression is quickly established and the ongoing closeups of her bitten bloody lips that signify her anxiety establish Melinda’s descent. Her parents’s marriage struggles blind them to their daughter’s muteness and retreat from society. It is only much later in the book that we discover the real reason for Melinda’s struggles- her rape by a popular senior at the summer party. I do not feel I am spoiling anything by saying Melinda was assaulted, for I feel most readers picking this book up are aware of the novel’s subject matter.

The narrative covers a school year, and in the end Melinda grows stronger and has some hard-won redemption. This adaptation, at 372 pages long, compared to the 198 pages of the chapter book, still had me at the edge of my seat during the scary confrontation between her and her rapist at the conclusion. I truly was impressed that this version is as strong as Anderson’s first book, and perhaps even more so, as Carroll’s illustrations aptly depict this difficult subject matter and Melinda’s journey towards recovery.

As to my earlier conversation with my friend about the subject matter, I voiced that I felt it was too important a topic to ignore, and students should read it. I stand by that opinion and would recommend it to teen readers who all should be educated as to the horrors and fall-out of sexual assault.

-Nancy

Anderson, Laurie Halse & Emily Carroll. Speak. Text 1999 & Pictures 2018.

Pashmina

Priyanka Das – or Pri, as she likes to be called – is an Indian-American teenager who has a lot of questions about her roots. Her mother doesn’t like to answer her questions about India, however. The question of her father is especially off-limits. Her Uncle Jatin is the closest thing she has to a father. But once his wife becomes pregnant and her baby cousin is born, he has no more time for his niece. One day, the lonely Pri finds an old suitcase in her mom’s closet. Inside is a beautiful shawl that transports her to India whenever she puts it on. She follows her visions to India, to her family, and to her destiny.

This is an adorable little graphic novel. It’s aimed at middle-grade readers, with language that’s a little easier and simple panel sequences. The characters are so expressive and lively. The majority of the art is in black and white, but the parts where Pri puts on the shawl and is transported away are in full, stunning color. At the heart of the story is discovering who you are and learning to follow your heart and the choices you make. I quite enjoyed it as a young adult, but pre-teens will love it.

– Kathleen

Chanani, Nidhi. Pashmina. 2017.

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