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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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Hey, Kiddo

Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author and illustrator of children’s books as Good night, Monkey Boy and the Lunch Lady series, reflects upon his childhood and family life in his graphic memoir. As a young child, Ja (as he’s known to his family) goes to live with his grandparents. He loves them, but he wants to live with his mom, like he always has. His father isn’t an option – he isn’t in the picture. The grown-ups explain that his mom had to go away for a while, but that she’ll be back soon. So Shirley and Joseph, Ja’s maternal grandparents, take on a toddler as their own children – Ja’s aunts and uncles – are finishing high school and going off to college. Ja grows up raised by his grandparents and writing letters to his mother, exchanging hand-drawn cards and replicas of cartoon characters by post. Shirley and Joe reveal to Ja after a few years go by that his mom isn’t coming back. She’s a heroin addict and she’s in jail. As Ja grows up and grows more absorbed in his art, he uses it to escape his feelings, his anger. How can he accept his mother? His family?

As someone whose family situation was similar to Jarrett’s growing up, this one hit me a little hard. As a life-long illustrator, Krosoczka’s art perfectly conveys the palpable love and pain in the pages. Loose, squiggly lines suggest tumultuous movement and a child-like innocence. The colors are somber, however. The entire book is rendered in grey scale, except for differing tones of a deep, burnt orange, at times bordering on red, for emphasizing important parts. The author’s note at the back confirm my suspicion that the mediums used were ink and Conte crayon ;D He used a mix of digital and traditional media, but I was totally fooled until I read the notes on the art: I thought it was all pen and paper. This was my first experience with his work, and I can safely say Krosoczka is, without a doubt, a master illustrator.

What makes this memoir especially unique and an intimate experience for the reader are the family artifacts used through the book. Each chapter has a title page with scans of letters, photos, Krosoczka’s childhood drawings, and even his grandparents’ wedding invitation. The vulnerability and trust it must have took to share these is monumental. Seeing these reminds the readers that this is a very real story, which makes it at once heartbreaking and inspirational. Here, Krosoczka is sharing his story, a story that many people would keep hidden out of shame or embarrassment. It may convince others to come forward and share their experiences with family addiction.

Though this is a book by a children’s author, it is not a children’s book. There are adult themes and strong language. The youngest reader I’d give this to would be a 7th or 8th grader, depending heavily on the maturity of the child. It would probably do well in teen collections. A heartfelt and masterfully illustrated memoir.

– Kathleen

Krosoczka, Jarrett J. Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction. 2018.

Trashed

“An ode to the crap job of all crap jobs” is an excellent introduction to this graphic novel that is equal parts fiction, non-fiction and memoir.

Trashed is written by Derf Backderf who is most famous for knowing serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in high school and writing a book about him, My Friend Dahmer. In this book here he too recounts stories of his youth as a trash collector, but fleshed it out to bring it up to date and add facts about the garbage collecting industry. This book about trash is surprisingly good and has a rather timeless feel.

Derf switched the narrative away from himself and writes the story from fictional college drop out JB’s perspective. JB and his friend Mike suffer through an entire year of garbage collecting in their hometown, starting as easily grossed out newbies to being stoic workers in a year’s time. They work with a misfit crew:  their boss who never gives them a moment’s peace, the hipster roommate, the truck driver who is a genius but has no common sense, a creepy racist, along with a few good guys.  Small town politics are shown along with the realities of just getting by in a working class environment. And of course there is the endless supply of garbage that people heedlessly throw out, not thinking of the workers, much less the impact their waste has on the world. Out of sight out of mind.

Interspersed among the narrative are the non-fiction segments that show how trash collection has evolved from medieval times to present day. These sections will really make you pause and think of your own goods consumption and subsequent trash. Its sobering to realize that despite recycling efforts America’s trash is a huge and growing issue. A brief mention is made of how other countries handle their waste in better ecological ways than we do, but going into more depth than that would veer off too far from the narrative.

As I said in my Dahmer review, Derf’s artwork is very reminiscent of Robert Crumb and of Don Martin from Mad magazine, with the angular and strangely jointed people. It is all drawn in black and white, and while not an attractive art style, it does get that underground comix vibe right. This subject matter is certainly socially relevant and satirical in nature, with Derf drawing with loving detail the most disgusting parts of the job. Because I read this book after his first, I could not help but compare the two books to each other as his style is very distinctive and the Ohio setting is the same. I kept on expecting a teen aged Dahmer to appear as some of his characters look eerily familiar to how he drew him in the other book.

While this graphic novel may not be a light heartened romp, it is worth a read for its humor and insight into an issue we should be more informed about.

-Nancy

Backderf, Derf. Trashed. 2015.

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls

I put this book on hold at work thinking it was a collection of fictional stories in graphic novel format. What I got was an interesting mix of mini memoirs, both written and in comic format, written and illustrated by many different female creators. I was surprised, but didn’t enjoy it any less 😉

The central theme of the stories is love, which is interpreted many different ways. The majority of the stories, of course, deal with romantic love. From dating mishaps to long-distance relationships to exploring sexuality, it’s all covered here. The love of friends, comics, nerd culture, video games, and fictional characters are all covered here as well, though of course the most impactful are those that deal with real relationships. That the creators are all sharing their own experiences makes it all the more emotional and resonating.

The format varies from story to story. Some are all written word. Some are strictly comics. Still more are a mix of both: written word with one or two illustrations or a few short comic panels that emphasize a point. No two stories are alike, because no creator worked on more than one story.

As ever with anthologies, there are some great stories and some not-so-great stories. I personally found more on the “great” end of the spectrum. There were a couple I finished by skimming and only one or two I skipped entirely after the first few paragraphs. Hope Nicholson, the editor, did a very good job of making sure the quality of the content was top-notch! A few that stood out to me especially were:

  • “Minas Tirith” by Marguerite Bennett
  • “Waxing Moon” by Meags Fizgerald
  • “Yes, No, Maybe” by Meagan Kearney
  • “How Fanfic from an American Girl Captured an English Boy” by Megan Lavey-Heaton
  • “Love in the time of Ethernet: Geeks & LDR” by Natalie Zina Walschots

The love of fandom and for significant people in the authors’ lives permeates all, along with self-love and acceptance. These girls are geeks and proud of it! The confidence and vulnerability in all these memoirs are at once inspiring, comforting, and heart-warming. Some of the stories have a little more mature content, but not enough to where I wouldn’t give it to an older middle-schooler. If you’ve got any younger geek girls in your life who need a confidence boost, hand them this. It’ll be just what the doctor ordered.

– Kathleen

Nicholson, Hope (editor). The Secret Loves of Geek Girls. 2016.

Lighter Than My Shadow

Katie always had a difficult relationship with food, even when she was a little girl. She was a slow and picky eater. Soon she developed a ritual for herself, where everything had to be cut the same size, chewed a certain number of times… her parents showed no concern, as lots of children develop their own way of doing things. Her relationship with food grows worse as she enters high school. She is bullied, and she binges when she comes home upset. Everything around her is changing so rapidly, and Katie feels she has to be perfect in everything. Her feelings of inadequacy are squashed by self-control and dedication – to her schoolwork, her appearance, and starving her body to the right shape. Though she’s admitted to therapy multiple times from high school throughout college by her family and friends, Katie ultimately has to choose recovery for herself.

This is a stunning memoir. Each and every illustration was drawn by hand, in what looks to be ink. The medium is used to great effect. Katie’s negative thoughts are portrayed by dark, dense clouds of scribbles. If you look close enough, you can pick out words: mean names and feelings that her illness would call her. It makes her mental illness a real, physical character in the story as much as Katie and her family are. The most harrowing illustrations are those of a close-up of Katie in the throes of a difficult moment, the black scribbles closing in on her.

Lighter Than My Shadow is not an easy book to read. But it does give us a first-hand account into anorexia, an oft-misunderstood and deadly mental illness. It’s not always about being skinny, as Katie shows us. It can also be about the conflict of the perception of ourselves vs. others’ perceptions of us, self-control and dedication, and the quest for perfection. Ultimately, it’s a map through one person’s recovery, and a demonstration of how she chose it. I was moved to tears at her “breakthrough” moment. A brave and wonderful message of hope in the face of the darkness of your own mind.

– Kathleen

Green, Katie. Lighter Than My Shadow. 2017.

Spinning

Tillie Walden’s routine consists of waking up at the crack of dawn, going to synchronized skate practice, going to school, going to figure skating practice after school, then going home and doing her homework before sleeping. The next day, it happens all over again. On the weekends, she competes. The routine is familiar. Comforting. During an uncertain time in her life, Tillie clings to it with all she has. Her family has just moved from New Jersey to Texas. She transfers to an all-girls private school, but still has problems with bullies and grades. She also falls in love with her first girlfriend. When everything is changing – family, friends, feelings, even skating – what will Tillie hold onto, and what will she find the strength to let go of?

I’ve been waiting for this GN for a while after reading a great review in a publisher’s journal at work. There was a picture of the cover accompanying the review, and I was immediately drawn to it – purple/yellow is my favorite color combination. I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint. It completely sucks you in and keeps you in your seat until the very end. Tillie’s story of change feels just like yours – that period in middle school when everything is changing, and you don’t know what to hold onto and what to let go of. I was not an ice skater, but her stories of the cliques of the other girls in her groups resonated with me.

The art is sparse and two-dimensional – there is often an object or figure in one panel, the background either a block of white or deep purple. Yellow is used sparingly, to highlight only important or dramatic parts of the story. Lots of negative space portrays Tillie’s feelings of loneliness and emptiness better than her words could. A beautifully rendered graphic memoir.

– Kathleen

Walden, Tillie. Spinning. 2017.

 

Stitches

I loved this graphic novel memoir! Some books really call to you because of past life experiences and I could relate to the experiences in the story because I was raised by an extremely angry father myself, so while our bios were completely different, I could connect at some level.

Author David Small was raised in Detroit with a taunting older brother, a father who was a radiologist plus an angry and repressed mother. Growing up in the image conscious 1950’s, David was a sickly child who tried to make the best of his dysfunctional upbringing by escaping into his art. At age eleven a growth began to grow on his neck, but his parents didn’t get him surgery for three more years, until it had metastasized into cancer. They kept the fact that it was cancer from him, and after he discovered the truth he was left with additional emotional scars in addition to the physical stitches and loss of half of his vocal cords.

The mother in this book was so very unlikable, and while Small didn’t portray his father in the same way, the fact that his father allowed the family to exist like that made him equally culpable. Such horrible undercurrents were running through that family over the years, and the choice for the parents not to tell their son he had cancer was inexcusable. Later he discovered that his mother was a lesbian and had significant health issues herself. Pair that with a toxic marriage, it’s no surprise that David and his brother were doomed to an unhappy childhood. However, the ending showed that with proper help from a therapist and finding supportive friends, an unhappy childhood does not prevent you from a successful and happy future.

His illustrations were so well done, with the reader easily seeing the family resemblances through the generations, and his eyes/face moving between child and teen. The drawings were all in black and white, which I thought focused you more on the narrative than on potentially distracting colors.  I enjoyed the Alice in Wonderland theme throughout, from him playing Alice as a child, to the very obvious White Rabbit therapist analogy. Of course, I enjoyed him finding peace and a passion/vocation that would move him away from his dysfunctional family. Page 302 made me tear up, seeing him as a young adult finally receiving the affirmation he deserved.

-Nancy

Small, David. Stitches. 2009.

Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale

The author of this book, Belle Yang, writes the story of her father’s family here. She returned home after college, and again after spending three years in China, her ancestral home, to escape an abusive boyfriend. During her time at home, she alternates between arguing with her father and listening to his tales of his family. His grandfather, the Patriarch, had four sons. The eldest was Belle’s grandfather, the rest her great-uncles. One New Year’s Day during World War II, they are all reunited at the Patriarch’s estate, where they would live for several years. One decision – to let the third son oversee the farming lands – will put the entire family through trials that both echo through generations and the land of China. Through her father’s stories, her family and their strife come alive in her mind. She gave them new life by writing and drawing their story, which turned into this graphic memoir.

I was alternately reminded, art wise, of Persepolis and of Chinese ink paintings as I read – undoubtedly where inspiration came from. The entire book is in black and white, with many different markings to show textures: a thatched roof, steam off a mug, reeds blowing in the wind. The figures are stylized, bordering child-like, but the impact of the story and the struggles of each character are conveyed perfectly. I was moved to tears near the end. This tale of family history, conveying China’s history during this period, is compelling and beautifully written and drawn. Deserves a place right next to Persepolis on your bookshelf.

– Kathleen

Yang, Belle. Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale. 2010.

Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir

Every summer, Maggie Thrash goes to Camp Bellflower. The languid days pass each as they did the day before, even the same year before. But this year… something’s different. No, it’s not the explosion of boy bands (though none are worth mentioning save the Backstreet Boys, at least in Maggie’s opinion). Nor is it the Potter craze, with everyone passing the books around and dying for the girl in front of her to finish it. No, Maggie… feels differently. Towards a counselor in the camp, specifically. What’s weird is, her name is Erin. Her feelings are sending Maggie into a huge tailspin. Could Erin possibly feel the same way? She lives in the South, and the camp is in Appalachia, where homophobia is very real and could be harmful… but she’s not a lesbian, is she?

I read the whole thing in one sitting… and was late coming back from lunch at work because of it. The brutally honest portrayal of teenage feeling sucked me in and held me until the abrupt, painful conclusion. Maggie’s dilemma is every teenager’s dilemma of first love… whomever you’re attracted to. The art was simple, almost childish, as it was rendered in what looked like colored pencil and watercolor. Yet somehow it conveyed all the confusion, uncertainty, and melodrama of teenage girlhood flawlessly. This is a story that wouldn’t have worked in any other format.

– Kathleen

Thrash, Maggie. Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir. 2015.

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