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Graphic Novel

The Witcher (Vol. 2): Fox Children

Geralt and his traveling companion – the dwarf Addario Bach – embark upon a ship bound for Novigrad in exchange for their services. The crew is on a rescue mission and they need protection. They are looking to recover the elf girl Xymenna, daughter of fur tannery heiress Briana de Sepulveda, who was kidnapped by a vulpess. Geralt instantly claims they are mad: a vulpess is a rare creature, but deadly in that she fights with illusions and deception. The crew and the Witcher bicker as the ship steers ever more slowly into the swamp and eventually loses its’ way. Now they must band together to decide what’s real if they are to make it to their destination alive.

I’ve been reading the Witcher novels, which prompted me to pick the graphic novel series back up. The thing I enjoy most about this universe are the very gray areas in which it operates. There is no truly good character or creature, nor truly evil character or creature. The art reflects that with blocky figures and backgrounds and stark shading, creating an ominous atmosphere which forces you to guess character’s intentions. It was a fast, quick read (unlike the novels in my experience, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing) that would be good for the beach 😉 Looking forward to more!

– Kathleen

Tobin, Paul, and Joe Querio. The Witcher (Vol. 2): Fox Children. 2015.

The Disney Bros.: The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy

This slim graphic novel presents the start of the Walt Disney Company’s story. Together with Ub Iwerks, brothers Walt and Roy Disney start their own animation studio in 1928. Walt is the face of the company and the creative force; Ub is the main artist and animator; and Roy handles the business and financial aspects. We see the little studio grow and push the boundaries of animation – first adding sound, then color, then a full feature-length animated film called Snow White in 1937. We see the animation studio grow into a media conglomerate and a theme park revolutionary. We also see the Disney brothers and Iwerks grow together, then apart, then together again to create something the likes of which the world had never seen.

For everything it tried to accomplish – present Walt in a neutral light, track the founding and building of the company – it fell short in every case, because it was too short. Disney history, especially that of the man Walt himself, is fascinatingly convoluted and I felt there was a lot of context missing from it as a result of the short length. It felt from the art style and writing that this was supposed to be for middle-grade or YA readers. In that regard, I can appreciate the effort; as an adult reader, I found too much lacking for it to be particularly educational or enjoyable. It really needed to be the length of Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics (208 pages to Disney Bros’ 112) for it to be effective from a narrative standpoint.

It was more effective in its presentation. There were chapter breaks in order to give young minds (and older ones) a breather 😉 The colors were bright, cheerful, and very Disney-fied. Though it was hard to distinguish individual characters from one another, the figures were drawn in a visually pleasing manner: short, lean bodies with big heads and bulbous noses, recalling cartoon strips popular at the time.

While I didn’t enjoy this as much as I hoped, middle grade and YA readers will get an abbreviated look at how the Disney company started. The “Further Reading” section at the back will allow them to further satiate their curiosity.

– Kathleen

Nikolavitch, Alex, and Felix Ruiz. The Disney Bros.: The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy. 2020.

The Great Gatsby: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

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

Heartstopper (Vol. 1)

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

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

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

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

– Kathleen

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

City of Secrets

Ever Barnes is an orphan living in the old Switchboard Building in the city called Oskar. He isn’t supposed to be living there, but he has a secret. A very important secret that his father entrusted him to guard. Besides, the employees of the building tolerate his presence so long as he stays out of the way. That all changes when Hannah Morgan spots Ever while visiting the building with her father, the building’s new owner. She wants to be his friend, and help him, for she hates to think of him all alone in the gloom, but Ever keeps pushing her away. Once Ever starts to be followed by shadowy men, can he keep refusing Hannah’s help?

The city of Oskar is an intriguing place, and it’s as much a character as the people residing in it. Its secrets lure you deeper into the mystery. To me, an adult, the story was a little predictable, but the middle grade target audience will be on the edge of their seats the entire time.

Sketchy ink and watercolors drew up a steampunk world. The linework is busy and lively. There is a sepia undertone to all, which makes it seem like the entire thing was printed on yellowed newsprint or toned paper. This fit the steampunk aesthetic perfectly. To me the steampunk elements seemed a bit watered down, probably to better focus on the characters, but more of them would have been welcome.

Middle-grade readers will be thrilled by this steampunk fantasy mystery.

– Kathleen

Ying, Victoria. City of Secrets. 2020.

Paying the Land – Take²

I realized shortly after wrapping up this review that Nancy had already reviewed this graphic novel in April. Read her post here!

Joe Sacco travels to the Mackenzie River Valley in northwestern Canada. This is where the indigenous peoples called the Dené have lived for generations. This is also where mining and fracking have taken place, as the area is rich in natural resources. The Dené, and other peoples indigenous to the area, have challenged treaties in order to officially have the land recognized as theirs, even as the mining and fracking are taking place and creating jobs that are otherwise hard to come by.

Through mainly interviews, and a little bit of historical research, Sacco presents a work that successfully presents both sides of a sticky issue. The presentation is interesting in that it’s heavy in both journalistic and oral history elements. Much of the testimony is from in-person interviews and storytelling, which is an important part of the Dené culture. What Sacco does is weave these interviews and stories with history and his own observations. It does make for dense reading, even if it’s in graphic novel form.

The art style is no-nonsense. Care is taken to render both the scenery and characters in a realistic manner. Clean cross-hatching is used for the shading. Though it’s nice to look at and study on a technical level, it somehow feels sterile and dry. I suppose that has to do with the subject matter, but a little more personality in the art would have been welcome in order to make the interviewees come to life.

Though the storytelling and art are a technical marvel, I personally felt there was heart and soul missing from this very real story about very real people. I agree with Nancy that this would be an excellent resource to use in the classroom.

– Kathleen

Sacco, Joe. Paying the Land. 2020.

Witchlight

Sanja is in the market when a fight breaks out between a witch and some local ruffians. She interjects, only to get kidnapped by the witch, who goes by Lelek. In exchange for her freedom, Sanja offers to teach Lelek to fight with a blade. Lelek accepts, for she is on a quest to find the missing half of her soul. Together, the two women journey across the land, discovering who they are, and confronting their past in order to move forward.

The main plot point of the kidnapping really killed this one for me. If you can get past it, it’s a tale reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast in which two people are thrown together by circumstance and have to learn to love and accept first themselves, then each other. It’s made even more powerful by the fabulous representation of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities. Fantasy sorely needs more representation and in that respect, this graphic novel delivers.

The art couldn’t decide between two wildly different styles: those being cartoony and ancient Asian. The figures were rounded with stylized features, but (as was often the case with ancient Asian art) the field of depth was often too flat for them to be effective. Their expressions were also very flat and ambiguous… honestly, it was very hard to tell what anyone was thinking or feeling a lot of the time. On the other hand, the landscapes and backgrounds worked very well with the blends of styles they used. The environments were more interesting to me than the characters themselves.

In my opinion, the only thing this graphic novel did well was its representation and diversity in characters. I found the main love story problematic because of the Stockholm Syndrome-esque elements. The art clashed two different styles to its detriment. I’m disappointed because this was well-reviewed even before publication. You’re not missing anything if you skip it.

– Kathleen

Zabarsky, Jessi and Geov Chouteau. Witchlight. 2020.

Palimpsest

In this graphic novel memoir, Lisa Wool-Rim Sjoblom chronicles the search for her birth family. She was born in Korea and adopted by a Swedish family when she was very young. She grew up having extraordinarily contradictory feelings: being told she was lucky for being adopted, not belonging and wanting to know about her birth family, but never wanting to ask so she wouldn’t offend her adoptive family. She tried unsuccessfully to find her birth family as a teenager, but tried again between having her first and second child. With the full support of her husband, Richey, Lisa tries to navigate all the red tape surrounding the Korean adoption agencies. She faces contradictions and even outright lies at every turn. Who does she believe? How can she ever find her birth mother, her blood family?

Unsurprisingly, Lisa is now an adoption rights activist because of her experience. I was horrified and deeply disturbed at the revelations Lisa unveiled about the agencies unwillingness to cooperate with her, and the cover-ups and lies. Transcripts of emails and official documents prove this. All she wanted to know was the truth about her past – why was it so hard for her to get it? Why did she and her husband have to resort to detective work to find out to truth?

Richey proved to be a real MVP. Not only did he fully support Lisa in her mission, he acted multiple times on her behalf to reach out to agencies and people he thought would be able to help her. Nowadays I think it would be a no-brainer for married partners to support each other like this – but to read about it, matter-of-factly and with little fuss, was very encouraging to see.

Lisa is also an illustrator, so the art of this graphic novel was superb. It’s all rendered in a nostalgic warm brown sepia which recalls old documents and thin rice paper. Like ancient Asian art, the perspective is very flat, mostly on one plane without much depth. This allows the rounded figures and their emotional expressions to take center stage – and there are a lot of emotions, but it never feels overwhelming or melodramatic. Though there is at times a lot of text, email transcripts and documents are given their own special panels, and considerable efforts are made to ensure speech bubbles are spaced out evenly.

I have to say this is one of the hardest graphic novels I’ve ever read – but it was worth it. This eye-opening account of one woman’s quest to find her family roots after adoption reveals established, yet disturbing, practices that make it extraordinarily hard for adoptees to find out their own information. The art appropriately conveys all the complicated emotions involved without being too melodramatic. Highly recommended.

– Kathleen

Sjoblon, Lisa Wool-Rim. Palimpsest. 2019.

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