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Graphic Novel Suggestions

Graphic novels have been growing in popularity but it seems at times that prejudice against them remains, with a lingering doubt about their literary merit. But as a former elementary teacher, and now a current teen librarian, I can say confidently that graphic novels are a magnificent way to bring a story to life. And other educators agree, as teachers and librarians on the 2014 New York Comic-Con panel Super Girls: Using Comics to Engage Female Students in the High School Classroom listed these benefits and skills that are strengthened by graphic novels: “motivating reluctant readers, inference, memory, sequencing, understanding succinct language, and reading comprehension.” To find out more about how graphic novels can be used in education go to the website CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund for they have featured articles that are designed to lessen confusion around the content of graphic novels and to help parents and educators raise readers.

There is great variety within graphic novels, with many genres available beyond the stereotypical superhero stories (although those can be great too!). No matter your interest, there is a graphic novel for you, so I have pulled together some of my favorites to highlight.

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Diversity is key in literature and even stronger when an #ownvoices author can share their experiences with the reader. As such, here are a few Diverse Reads:
Roughneck
Roughneck by Jeff Lemire is a beautifully told standalone tale of a brother and sister’s quest to reconnect with one another and their cultural identity written and illustrated by the talented Jeff Lemire. Lemire handles the storyline of Derek and Beth’s Cree heritage with grace and respect and show the reality of native families becoming disenfranchised from their cultural heritage. The ending is open to interpretation, and while I at first looked at it one way, re-reading it I saw a more melancholy but poignant way of concluding the story.

 

The graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s story, Kindred, was extremely well done. Butler’s original novel, published in 1979, was a groundbreaking story that liberally dipped into historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy within a time-traveling framework. The author
herself called the story “a kind of grim fantasy”, and this adaptation shows just that. This was a heartbreaking story, and through the juxtaposition of main character Dana’s experiences in two different centuries, this fantasy novel actually gives a highly realistic view of the slavery era.
Image result for the outside circle

The Outside Circle, written by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and illustrated by Kelly Mellings, tells the fictional tale of a Canadian First Nations man that comes to terms with his heritage and who begins to take responsibility for his life. The story is based on the reality that many Native people face (in Canada and the US), for the government took away thousands of children from their families over the years, breaking the circles of community and fragmenting generations of people with no connection to their tribe anymore.

 

 

Strange Fruit by JG Jones and Mark Waid has an interesting premise: what if a black Superman landed in the segregated South during the 1920s? This magical realism tale is based on the historical 1927 flooding that affected many towns in the South along rivers. As the threat of disaster looms in this story, and racial tensions are mounting, an explosion occurs nearby. An alien ship has crash-landed and out climbs a naked black man, whose ship disappears into the river muck. This novel raised more questions than it answered, but was certainly thought-provoking.

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Even though most people who know me would agree that I am a friendly woman who smiles a lot and has a good sense of humor, I obviously must have a dark streak for I love Dark and Disturbing books:

Locke & Key is truly one of the best graphic novels I have ever read, hands down. It just dominates. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are superb storytellers, and the six-volume series is strong from beginning to end. The story starts with a family tragedy as the Locke family is terrorized by two students who have an ax to grind with the father, Rendell. After the father’s murder, the shattered family leaves California and heads to Massachusetts to start over at the Locke family estate but malevolent horrors await them there. The new Netflix series based on this series is strong and choose to show more of the fantasy vs horror aspects of the story.

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët was macabre, unsettling and gruesome. I loved it. This seemingly sweet graphic novel starts out with a lovely young woman having tea with a prince, and it is going splendidly well, that is until great globs of red stuff start falling on them. As everyone runs for safety, the view shifts away for a long shot, and you see little creatures pouring out of the orifices of a dead girl. And the story continues to go sideways from there.

Another series that I found outstanding was Revival, written by Tim Seeley and illustrated by Mike Norton. It was an atypical living dead story, in which a handful of dead suddenly came back to life. They quietly rejoin their former lives, not even realizing or remembering their deaths. Their new existence sets the town on edge, with media scrutiny, a government quarantine and religious fanatics taking over the region. I loved this series even before I won​ a contest run by Seeley and Norton, in which I was drawn in as a cameo character in the eighth and last volume. I will talk about this honor until my dying day.

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Sometimes real life is stranger than fiction and these non-fiction stories or based on fact stories are a great example of Real and Gritty:

The March trilogy is a perfect example of how graphic novels can bring educational content alive. This non-fiction series is a vivid account by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell about Lewis’ human rights struggle and the greater Civil Rights movement. Students can learn so much from these three novels as they bring history to life and supplements what textbooks only briefly touch on.


Briggs Land by Brian Wood and Mack Chater is an absolutely riveting series about “an American family under siege” by both the government and their own hand. Set in rural upstate New York, Briggs Land is a hundred square mile oasis for people who want to live off the grid. Established in the Civil War era, the Briggs family would give sanctuary to those who wanted to live a simple life, but this anti-government colony has taken a dark turn in recent times. The village that grew within its fences has morphed into a breeding ground for white supremacy, domestic terrorism and money laundering.

Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia is “a historical epic of America’s founding” and is very accurate in describing this exceptionally good graphic novel by Brian Wood (again!) and Andrea Mutti. It gives a window into the Revolutionary War era based in the NE corner of our new nation in the late 1700s. Divided into six chapters, Wood first gives us a lengthy portrait of the fictional character Seth Abbott and his journey from farm boy to one of the well-respected leaders of the Green Mountain Boys. Then we are given shorter non-linear vignettes of other loyalists and patriots and their contributions to the war.

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Now that I’ve covered other genres in graphic novels, I want to share some Classic Superhero stories that go deeper than most:

Although Superman: American Alien by Max Landis has Superman in the title, it is really focused on Clark Kent stories. Each of the seven stories features a different artist and are put in chronological order to fill in the gaps in the Superman canon. We start with Clark as a boy learning how to fly, move through his adolescence, and finally settle in his early years in Metropolis. Every story is strong and fits in seamlessly with what we already know about Superman. I highly recommend this book, for it humanizes him. All seven stories are excellent, and they flow and connect into one another to form the larger picture of who Clark Kent is and who he will be. A must buy for Superman aficionados!

Kingdom ComeKingdom Come, written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Alex Ross, was praised by IGN with the statement, “One of the greatest comic book stories of all time”, and they were not far off the mark. I am typically more a Marvel fan, but this DC story was fantastic for the moralistic debate featured in the storyline. The artwork is top-notch, with a distinctive photo-realism look and holds up 20 years after first being published. This book stays true to each character’s back story, so kudos to the team’s familiarity with the history of all the superheroes! As such, the epilogue was a perfect ending.​

Vision- Little Worse Than A Man by Tom King and illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta is as far from a superhero story as possible. While grounded in the Marvel universe, with cameos by other Avengers and villains, this book is about our definition of humanity. This quietly ominous story had such power and felt especially moving to me to read at this time when I worry about our nation’s future. I feel some in our country have embraced a bullying rhetoric, and turn a blind eye to facts and justice for all. It’s sequel Little Better Than A Beast was equally strong.

 

Marvel 1602, written by the esteemed Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert, was marvelous (get the play on words?)! The story was a perfect way to freshen up the franchise and reboot some of the hero’s storylines. The story takes place in 1602 and is an alternate world in which Europe and colonial America’s history is jumbled and out of order due to a rift in the timeline, with America’s first child of European descent, Virginia Dare, surviving and traveling overseas to London with her bodyguard Rojhaz. Court intrigue during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I abounds, and there are several betrayals, with many of the mutants needing to travel far to escape persecution for being “witchbreed”. Eventually, America becomes a sanctuary for these people with magical abilities, and an answer as to why they are in 1602 is made clear.

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While I could wax poetic about many other books, I hope those featured encourage you to pick up a graphic novel for the first time or introduces you to new titles if you already are a fan.  Happy Reading!

-Nancy

*This post was originally on another blogger’s page as a guest post, but as the blog is no longer active, I transferred it back here, since I wrote it myself back in 2018. I have learned to keep a copy of my guest posts as I learned the lesson the hard way when another post written by me disappeared when another blog was deactivated.*

Best Reads of 2017

As we did last year, we went through all the graphic novels we read and reviewed this year to give you a Top 10 list – the best of the best!

RoughneckNancy: Roughneck is a beautifully told standalone tale of a brother and sister’s quest to reconnect with one another and their cultural identity written and illustrated by the talented Jeff Lemire. Lemire handles the storyline of Derek and Beth’s Cree heritage with grace and respect. The reality of native families becoming disenfranchised from their cultural heritage, is mirrored in the excellent book The Outside Circle, which also deals with First Nation individuals whose circles of community were broken which led to fragmenting generations of people with no connection to their tribe anymore. The ending is open to interpretation, and while I at first looked at it one way, re-reading it I saw a more melancholy but poignant way of concluding the story.

 

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Kathleen: A review of this book is upcoming, but last week I read this graphic memoir, Lighter Than My Shadow . The illustrations were all drawn by hand by the author, who suffered from anorexia when she was younger. This is the story of her recovery, and all the difficulties and choices that came with it. I don’t want to spoil my own review (edit-added link!), but suffice it to say for now that the illustrations are among the most beautiful and effective that I’ve seen this year.

 

Nancy: This graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s story, Kindred, was extremely well done. Butler’s original novel, published in 1979, was a ground breaking story that liberally dipped into historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy within a time traveling framework. The author herself called the story “a kind of grim fantasy”, and this adaptation shows just that. This was a heartbreaking story, and through the juxtaposition of Dana’s (the main character) experiences in two different centuries, this fantasy novel actually gives a highly realistic view of the slavery era.

 

 

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Kathleen: Beauty is an adult fairy tale in graphic novel form. It tells the story of Coddie, a fishmonger, who wants nothing more than to be beautiful so she’ll stop being the laughingstock of her small village. When a fairy grants her wish, however, she quickly learns that she can now have whatever she wants – at a steep price. The child-like art belies the serious messages and themes within. The figures are loose and almost caricature-like. The writing is phenomenal, with unconventional characters and fairy tale tropes turned slightly askew. If you like your fairy tales with more of a brothers Grimm than Disney flavor, this is perfect for you.

 

Nancy: Although the Superman: American Alien has Superman in the title, it is really Clark Kent stories. The seven stories are chronological and fill in the gaps in the Superman canon. We start with Clark as a boy learning how to fly, move through his adolescence, and finally settle in his early years in Metropolis. Every story is strong, and fits in seamlessly with what we already know about Superman. I highly recommend this book, for it humanizes Superman. The seven stories are all excellent, and they flow and connect into one another, to form the larger picture of who Clark Kent is and who he will be. A must buy for Superman aficionados!

 

5820769-21Kathleen: Unfortunately, DC Rebirth has been a hit or miss for me, but the one story that I’ve consistently loved is Wonder Woman. Bringing Greg Rucka back to her title was the best decision they could have made! After discovering that she’s been tricked into thinking she could return to Themyscira at will, Diana sets out to discover the truth of herself and who has deceived her once and for all. She is vulnerable and human here, and I’ve cried shamelessly as she struggles to figure out the truth – her own truth, the truth of who she is. Greg Rucka is without a doubt one of the best writers of Wonder Woman. The art is nothing to sneeze at, either, beautifully detailed as it is!

 

Nancy: Vision- Little Worse Than A Man is as far from a superhero story as possible. While grounded in the Marvel universe, with cameos by other Avengers and villains, this book is about our definition of humanity. This quietly ominous story had such power, and felt especially moving to me to read at this time when I worry about our nation’s future. I feel some in our country have embraced a bullying rhetoric, and turn a blind eye to facts and justice for all.

 

 

 

 

91epsqx38slKathleen: The memories of her childhood ice-skating days became the subject of Tillie Walden’s graphic memoir called Spinning. The uncertainty of moving to a new city, starting middle school, and discovering her body and her sexuality make Tillie’s ice-skating routine comforting to her – until she starts questioning that, as well. The art is fantastic: only purples and yellows are used, and yellow quite sparingly, to highlight important parts of the story. Great blocks of deep purple around a single figure illustrate Tillie’s loneliness and uncertainty more than her words could.

 

 

Nancy: Briggs Land is an absolutely riveting new series about “an American family under siege” by both the government and their own hand. Set in rural upstate New York, Briggs Land is a hundred square mile oasis for people who want to live off the grid. Established in the Civil War era, the Briggs family would give sanctuary to those who wanted to live a simple life, but this anti-government colony has taken a dark turn in recent times. The village that grew within it’s fences has morphed into a breeding ground for white supremacy, domestic terrorism and money laundering. The second volume is scheduled to be released in late January, and I dearly hope it stays as strong as it’s debut volume was.

 

 

gunslinger-rebornKathleen: Like the rebel that I am, I read the graphic novel adaptation of The Dark Tower series titled The Gunslinger Born before I started the books. But let me tell you, it left me desperate for more and started my new-found obsession. The young Roland sets out with his two best friends to Mejis, where they are sent by their fathers to stay out of trouble. What they find in that sleepy little town is a conspiracy loyal to the Crimson King – and Roland’s true love, Susan, who may doom them all. I can’t say enough about the art in this book. I was in love with the stark contrasts and the way the figure’s faces were usually in shadow, leaving the reader to guess at their true intents. If the seven book series scares you, try reading the graphic novel first and seeing how fast you devour the books after that 😉

And there you’ve got your must-reads of 2017! We spanned several genres and publishers, and each of us had a DC and Marvel choice. Surprisingly Image didn’t make the cut. Here’s hoping 2018 brings us many more excellent graphic novels… we don’t think they made it hard enough for us to choose ;D

– Nancy and Kathleen

Discussion Post: Graphic Novel Adaptations- Yes or No?

Welcome to my first discussion post, in which I hope to debate graphic novel adaptations!

When we are first introduced to a chapter book, is the subsequent graphic novel adaptation done well or not? And in fact, for some readers the graphic novel may actually be the first and only introduction  to the literary work, so how the work is portrayed is extremely important.

To start off, I read graphic novel adaptations of classics that I have read in the past, so I could compare the two. While Fahrenheit 451 is the authorized adaptation, as it was published while Ray Bradbury was still alive, the other two obviously are just some of many adaptations that have been written and/or drawn over the years.

Fahrenheit 451– originally by Ray Bradbury, adapted by Tim Hamilton

The book includes an introduction by Ray Bradbury, which gave it an excellent gravitas as you then moved into the illustrated story. This adaption was solid, and knowing that it was approved by Bradbury helped me feel that it represented what the author was trying to convey in his initial novel.

Wuthering Heights– originally by  Emily Brontë, adapted by Sean M. Wilson

I have to admit I have not read the original in all it’s entirety, for my hate for both Catherine and Heathcliff prevented me from reading every word. But I read most of it, enough to know the broad plot lines. This adaptation further cemented my thoughts on the story. I hated almost everyone in the story, except for the maid Nelly. Thus, this was a solid representation with Gothic illustrations that matched the mood of the story.

Spot on commentary from Kate Beaton in the book Hark! A Vagrant. What was the deal with the Brontë sisters trying to make complete assholes into romantic heroes???

The Picture of Dorian Gray-originally by Oscar Wilde, adapted by Ian Edington & Ian Culbard

This was a rather short adaptation of the morality tale, so it ended up being more of an introduction than a complete retelling of the story. Some of Wilde’s biting wit made it into the story, but the black and white illustrations were rather simple and cartoonish. I hope that after reading this adaptation, readers will then move onto the original.

Kindred– originally by Octavia E. Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy & John Jennings

I had not read the novel before I read the graphic novel, but it was adapted so well, that I WANT to read the chapter book. Now that’s a sign of an excellent adaptation, that instead of replacing the original, I want to further delve into the story. While not done until after Butler’s death, this version was done with her estate’s permission.

Silent Partner & The Web, originally by Jonathan Kellerman, adapted by Michael Gaydos & Andie Parks

I have been reading author Jonathan Kellerman’s books for years. He has a long running thriller series centered on psychologist Alex Delaware and his cop best buddy Milo Sturgis and the crimes they solve. As the series had been going on 30+ years, I assume the author wants to reach out to a new audience, thus two of his previous novels have been adapted into graphic novels with a third in the works.  However, these versions are HORRIBLE, as the two adapted were were among his early, most convoluted books. This was obviously done with Kellerman’s approval, but has not received the best feedback in other’s reviews.

So what are your thoughts on graphic novel adaptations? Should classics be adapted, once their creator is dead? What about more modern books, done with the author’s permission and collaboration? Discuss!

-Nancy

Kindred

This graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s story, Kindred, was extremely well done. Butler’s original novel, published in 1979, was a ground breaking story that liberally dipped into historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy within a time traveling framework. The author herself called the story “a kind of grim fantasy”, and this adaptation shows just that.

The story begins in 1976 California, when a newly married black woman named Dana is unexpectedly sucked back into antebellum Maryland in the early 1800’s. A young white boy is drowning in a nearby river and she wades in to save him, although his parents are strangely aggressive towards her afterwards. When the father levels a rifle at her, she is transported back to modern day. Only gone a minute in her time, she is justifiably confused as to what just happened.

Dana is soon sucked back again, but at a different year in the past, as she meets the boy again during a time he is in danger. She gets to know Rufus and truly discovers the location and time period she is in. It is during this second journey that she realizes she is in extreme danger, for she will be perceived as an escaped slave due to her color. When she is sent back to her home after being threatened with death, she is able to ascertain that she is sent to the past when Rufus is in danger, and she goes back home when she is threatened with death.   On her third journey her husband Kevin grabs hold of her, and he too goes back in time, where they meet Rufus again as a young man.  Kevin’s experiences as a white man in the past are much different than hers, and the gulf between the two is shown in stark contrast.

Eventually we discover the tether between Rufus and Dana- he is a distant ancestor of hers and she needs to ensure his survival if she and future family members are to exist. And this is where she needs to make a soul-corroding choice, in regards to a young slave woman Alice, whom Rufus is enamored with and who will be her many times great grandmother. This, and a myriad of other choices she needs to make, shows how slavery chipped away at both blacks and whites, and Dana comments “I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery”. This was a heartbreaking story, and through the juxtaposition of Dana’s experiences in two different centuries, this fantasy novel actually gives a highly realistic view of the slavery era.

Damian Duffy has adapted Butler’s classic story into a tense narrative, with chapter breaks that tie into Dana’s journeys to the past. The experiences Dana and Kevin have, and the loss of humanity we witness, are deftly portrayed. The dialogue heavy narrative is a perfect vehicle to be shown as a graphic novel, and Duffy’s vision of Butler’s work is spot on. An introduction by fellow author Nnedi Okorafor, and some concluding information about Butler and her other works, was a good way to bookend the story.

The illustrator, John Jennings, brings the story into focus with his evocative illustrations. His sketchy art is reminiscent of The Dark-Thirty, a children’s supernatural short story collection about the slavery era, drawn by Brian Pinkney. Jenning’s work truly is graphic and the depictions of the extreme violence will make you cringe, but it is a crucial part of the narrative, and it should make you cry out for all the injustices inflicted upon the innocent. An interesting choice was showing modern day in sepia tones, while the past was a full array of colors. Dana and her husband lived a rather mundane life, so her experiences in the past became more real and vivid to her.

This was my first introduction to Kindred, as I have not had the pleasure of reading the novel, but instead of replacing the first, it has just increased my interest in the story. While a wonderful adaptation, I hope to someday read the richly imagined original.

-Nancy

Butler, Octavia E, Damian Duffy & John Jennings. Kindred. 2017.

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