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Octavia E Butler

LeVar Burton Reads: Season Two

Ever since I discovered LeVar Burton Reads, which is an outstanding podcast showcasing short stories of all types of genres, I have listened to LeVar’s melodious voice on an almost weekly basis, and kept track of the stories through my Goodreads account. Now that I have finished season two plus his live broadcasts, I am ready to share!

Repairing the World by John Chu

Lila and Bridger are two linguists who are tasked with repairing holes in their world from other dimensions. Typically you might think of linguists as being a cerebral job, but this job is very physical, as aliens must be understood and subdued before being killed or sent back where they are from. This sci-fi short story juxtaposed futuristic inter-planetary travel with Lila and Bridger’s world being discriminatory to those who are LGBTQ+. When Lila sees how Bridger’s life is in peril for loving a man, she thinks, “If she was going to prevent other worlds from intruding, this world ought to be one worth preserving”. This ends the story on a hopeful note, for you hope that she and others will fight for change in their world, just as readers should be doing the same in our real world.

The Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar

Schoolage Anisa is an immigrant from Lebanon whose family now lives in Glasgow, who is fascinated by owls. She processes her anxiety about her father who still travels to his family’s war-torn region and the memories she has of home by studying predatory owls. While she briefly rejects her family’s background and Arabic language, by the end she is starting to accept her heritage, and becomes more comfortable with herself. This was an engaging short story about embracing your culture.

Unassigned Territory by Stephanie Powell Watts

Stephanie is an eighteen year old Jehovah’s Witness, who is at a crossroads in her life. She travels the rural backroads of North Carolina with a partner hoping to bring new believers into her faith, but at times she faces skepticism and discrimination, as she is black in a typically white congregation. While a believer, she doesn’t have the same fervor for proselytizing as her friend and wonders if she should go to college or marry young to someone from her church. An unknown future awaits this witty young woman, and you will wonder what choice she will end up making.

Mrs. Perez by Oscar Casares

This short story is about Lola Perez, a 68 year old widow who lives in Brownsville, Texas near the Mexican border. Mrs. Perez put her husband and daughters first for many years, and it is only now that she is widowed that she has developed a passion for bowling. She is quite good at it and takes pride in the trophies she has won, so she takes it hard when her prized bowling bowl is stolen from her home. The quote “she wore the nervous smile of a young woman who realizes she has just boarded the wrong train” about a memory Lola has while looking at a picture of her honeymoon, was beautifully descriptive in this slice-of-life story. What Mrs. Perez does at the end of the story when she sees the thief, shows that you shouldn’t underestimate quiet women.

The Baboon War by Nnedi Okorafor

The Baboon War was my first story that I have read by Nnedi Okorafor, although I recognize her name from the YA series Akata Witch and for for penning the graphic novels Black Panther and Shuri. Known for her magical realism stories, I’m glad I was able to listen to the short story that appears in her collection Kabu Kabu. In this story, a group of three girls find a shortcut through the forest on their morning walk to school. But they are attacked by a group of dangerous baboons who steal their lunches from them. These three plucky schoolgirls refuse to give up this shortcut they find, and for ten days keep using the path while thinking up different ways to outsmart the baboons and put up with strange rain storms that only seem to occur in the forest. On the last day the girls carry no food but the baboons still attack them as they run to school. This earns them the respect of the monkey troop, and there is a strange supernatural aspect at the end of the tale between the girls and baboons.

Furry Night by Joan Aiken

Borrowing liberally from folk tales and fairy tales, this story is about a werewolf who meets his match. Sir Murdoch, a lycanthropist and famous theatre actor, plans to retire to his English estate. He employs a personal valet to combat his well-known anger which turns him into a werewolf. This young man is to inject Murdoch with wolf’s bane to turn him back into human form, but even with this precaution, there is worry that Murdoch will wolf-out as he is upset that an annual village race will infringe on his land. A young woman with a connection to Murdoch’s past gets involved with the men, and the ending was rather predictable. This story had a 70’s vibe, which is hard to explain, but I recognize the type of writing right off. While not my sort of story, I think readers who enjoy British fantasy type stories will like it.

Different Kinds of Darkness by David Langford

Different Kinds of Darkness is a perfect example of a compact but powerful story. This dystopian tale is set in a world in which some mathematical formulas have become so developed that viewing an image of it can kill you instantly. Terrorists use these images on posters and once on television to kill thousands. Parents have taken to extreme measures to keep their children safe by implanting a biochip into their optic nerves. Not fully understanding the situation, some students rebel and form the Shudder Club, in which they expose themselves to a dangerous image for longer amounts of time, which basically inoculates themselves against other images. Their motto “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger” becomes prophetic when something happens at their school. The children prove to the adults another path can be followed to combat the dangerous world they live in, but the author David Langford still expertly avoids the trope of children knowing more than adults.

The Great Wide World Over There by Ray Bradbury

A melancholy tale that really makes you wonder if it is better to have had something that is later taken away or never know what you are missing. In this short story we are introduced to Cora who is a middle aged illiterate farm woman. Her nephew comes to visit the farm for a month and helps her write letters that bring the world to her doorstep. She displays kindness to a neighbor who pretends to receive mail, by truly sending her a letter, but the summer ends on a bittersweet note when Benjy heads home and Cora realizes she never learned how to read and write herself. This is not a happy story by any means, but it will make you ponder choices made and the resulting consequences of those actions.

My Dear You by Rachel Khong

This story left me disquieted as I listened to a young woman navigate Heaven after her untimely death in an accident while on her honeymoon. This subjective view of the afterlife was surreal as her memories of her family and husband faded as the years wore on. A meeting with her husband years later felt hazy and unfinished, and my thoughts were that these lost memories of hers could be like what Alzheimer’s might feel to someone – the memories are no longer there, but the feelings of love and belonging remain.

The 5:22 by George Harrar

With a bit of a Twilight Zone vibe- Walter, a staid man who craves routine, has his train commute schedule upended to his dismay and doesn’t know what to make of it. While plausible explanations are given, the reader needs to decide was the story edging into magical realism, or was it simply odd coincidences that led Walter down a different (and possibly better) path?

A Fable with Slips of White Paper Spilling from the Pockets by Kevin Brockmeier

When the story began first began I thought the premise was too similar to Chivalry by Neil Gaiman, but this story took the idea of a mortal finding a holy item in a better direction. In this case, a man finds an overcoat of God’s in a thrift shop and discovers that prayers from nearby people appear as slips of paper in his coat pockets. Often he can do nothing about the prayers, but on occasion he is able to intervene and help certain individuals. This fable makes you realize that we never can help everybody, but we can always help somebody, and this help could make a huge difference in someone’s life. So if everybody helps somebody, we might just be answering someone’s prayers!

Childfinder by Octavia Butler

I was impressed with how Butler combines science fiction into a larger narrative about racism and being true to yourself. In this story a black telepath who has the unique ability to discover children with untapped psi abilities is threatened by a white woman from an unnamed society that controls and harnesses telepaths and is upset that she left the organization to work only with black children. This telepath mentor is able to shield her young protégés, but at a cost to herself. Butler makes a brilliant connection early in the story with Harriet Tubman, that parallels what happens later in the story.

The Winds of Harmattan by Nnedi Okorafor

A melancholy tale, this story is set in Africa during the slave trade with a woman who is born a magical Windseeker, and despite advice she marries a man who seems to accept her power at first. After a few years of marriage and having two boys, she still goes into the forest to levitate, which leads the villagers to accuse her of witchcraft. The ending brought me to tears as the male patriarchy won- there was no redemption for her, and even her beloved boys forgot her. But unfortunately this magical realism tale was true to life, as sometimes there are no happy endings no matter how hard you want it to end otherwise.

As Good as New by Charlie Jane Anders

As Good as New was a clever short story that combined the unlikely elements of an apocalyptic disaster, a genie-in-a-bottle and playwrights into one story. Marisol is a pre-med student who cleans houses for extra money to get through school when a devastating earthquake occurs and she is lucky enough to be in a mansion that has a fully stocked safe room. Two years go by and she leaves the room to find the world ravaged by a fungus and improbably discovers a genie who used to be a theatre critic. Granted the typical three wishes, Marisol realizes she needs to plan the wishes carefully and a talky battle of wits occurs. The narrative was very meta in how the story played out, in relation to the criticisms that the genie mentioned in how he critiqued plays in the past and it all tied together in a pleasing way.

Money Tree by Nalo Hopkinson

In this particular story a brother and sister listen to Caribbean folklore about their family’s connection to the water with a mamadjo/mermaid mother and a tale of lost pirated gold. This allegorical tale makes connections between greed and familial relations, and incorporates the transformative value of water with the sister in healing from her grief.

Black Betty by Nisi Shawl

This short story was about racism through the perspective of a dog who is given a voice modifier and can “talk” to humans. At first I thought this story of Betty the dog was going to be like Black Beauty and follow the travails of a dog through many families, but it took an interesting turn, and went deeper than that to touch on prejudice and belonging. There was a touch of humor when Betty meets a cat who can talk, then there was a worrisome interlude, before ending on a hopeful note. While the story was a bit uneven, I listened to the last half again so I could pick up on some details I missed the first time around, and enjoyed it more the second time.

The Fliers of Gy by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Fliers of Gy began as a science fiction narrative, describing the humanoid but feathered inhabitants of the planet Gy, but turned into a fascinating allegory about different types of personalities and how they shape us. Despite having feathers, the inhabitants of Gy typically do not fly. Only about 1 in 1000 of them develop true wings after puberty, but it is an excruciating experience and afterwards they are pitied for this new development. While you might think the ability to fly would be envied, and many of the flyers embrace their new ability, the wings are prone to catastrophic failure which makes every flight a risk. The last lines of the story with a flyer who chose to remain grounded so he could raise a family was beautifully melancholy: “Do you ever dream of flying? Lawyerlike, he was slow to answer. He looked away, out the window. Doesn’t everyone? he said.” This story brought into focus for me the difference between those who are ordinary and responsible and those who are artistic and bold. I have always been a person who can be counted on and is practical to a fault, yet I do have some tendencies towards creativity. I currently am balancing motherhood, work and sick parents and feel very overloaded, so the yearning for freedom is something that I very much related to. This was a lovely story that I will think on for awhile.

Season Two had some excellent entries with Different Kinds of Darkness and The Fliers of Gy being my favorites. If for some strange reason you haven’t discovered LeVar’s podcast, you must tune in,  “but you don’t have to take my word for it.”

-Nancy

Check out my reviews for Season One!

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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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