Thoughts of the Graphic Sort

A place where I can discuss my addiction to graphic novels.

Archive for March 2012

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan & Nico Henrichon

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Oh, Brian Vaughan, I just can’t get enough of you!  After reading Y: The Last Man (posts on that series coming soon), I needed to read everything else his hands have touched.  I came across Pride of Baghdad before I read Y, but it sat on the shelf for a few years.  After I finished Y, I remembered I had it and couldn’t wait to read it.

Pride of Baghdad was inspired by the true story of four lions who escaped from a zoo during an American bombing in Iraq.  Vaughan tells the story from the lions’ point of view as they navigate the war torn streets and try to find freedom.

Not only is Vaughan’s storytelling in top form with this novel, but Henrichon’s artwork absolutely dazzles.   Vaughan and Henrichon pull no punches–the devastation of war is right in your face, through the text and the artwork, which makes the plight of the animals even more intense and gripping.

This is one of those stories where my only complaint is that it is too short.  I wanted more time with the lions, to see more of the world through their eyes, but it is fitting I was denied this request since war has the tendency to butt in where it’s not wanted.

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Written by JP Weezey

March 28, 2012 at 8:00 am

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly & JM Ken Niimura

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I was excited about reading I Kill Giants–the title itself was enough to get my attention.  And then I read the description and was even more intrigued.  Barbara is a loner, an odd kid, who escapes into a fantasy world to avoid dealing with real life.  As the fantasy world starts bleeding into reality, Barbara becomes more and more convinced that something big is coming and it’s her duty to stop it.

Barbara is just enough of a smartass to make you feel sorry for her.  A kid who backtalks like her must be dealing with some major issues, right?  And she really is, but it’s not until much later in the book that you realize what exactly is going on.  Things and situations are hinted at, but it’s never really clear what is wrong until the final confrontation.  And what a confrontation it is: Barbara’s fantasies culminate in one big doozy of a battle that threatens herself and those around her.

The fantasy becoming reality is the most interesting, and also the best, part of the story.  As other people become affected by Barbara’s fantasies, the story perfectly blends reality and fantasy while keeping it all believable.

I was impressed with the final villain, from his true purpose in the story to his overall appearance.  Niimura did an excellent job portraying a monster that brings an important message along with tons of doom and gloom.

Barbara is definitely a character you want to root for and hug at the same time.

Written by JP Weezey

March 26, 2012 at 12:52 pm

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The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert

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Graphic novelist Emmanuel Guibert used reporter Didier Lefevre’s photographs from his 1986 trip to war-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders to create The Photographer.  Guibert intersperses his drawings with Lefevre’s photographs to create an account of the selfless doctors who risk everything to care for those who need it most.

The Photographer is a tome of a graphic novel.  At almost 300 pages and the size of a coffee table book, it is a bit daunting, actually.  But Guibert skillfully arranges each page with a mixture of text, drawings, and photographs to keep the story alive and moving along.

The photographs were what really made the novel magic for me.  Seeing the real people, the images that Lefevre actually saw on his trip, made me pause and really appreciate what an undertaking this journey was for him.  From paying off clan leaders for safe passage, to being unable to save the smallest children caught in the crossfires, to climbing mountains in the dark to evade trigger-happy soldiers, Lefevre’s time in Afghanistan is an eye-opening experience.

But it is his dealings with everyday people and tasks, such as when he tries to intervene in their guides’ mistreatment of their pack mules or when the locals make fun of him for not being able to grow a beard, are the moments that truly stand out for me.  I was fascinated by how even the mundane tasks were so different and made things difficult for the doctors and Lefevre.

The Photographer is a clear, unflinching account of what war does to those who can’t fight back.

Written by JP Weezey

March 23, 2012 at 8:00 am

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Salem Brownstone by John Hattis Dunning & Nikhil Singh

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Surprised doesn’t really describe how I felt when Salem Brownstone arrived in the mail.  Shocked and awed may be more apt.  The book is HUGE, and I don’t mean page length.  It’s a really big book.  At 12×9 inches, it pretty much dwarfs everything else on my shelves.

The cover is actually fabric with labels affixed to the front and back listing the title and so forth.  And the artwork inside is equally as impressive as the cover.  It reminds me of Edward Gorey, and since the story is a gothic fantasy, it’s an apt comparison.

Salem inherits his estranged father’s house and learns that his father was in the midst of a battle with otherwordly creatures from Midnight City over a scrying ball.  As the new owner, it is up to Salem to protect the ball and he achieves it with the help of his familiar and members of Dr. Kinoshita’s Circus of Unearthly Sights, which happens to be camped right next door.  Dr. Kinoshita’s Circus of Unearthly Sights is pretty much the coolest name for a circus I’ve ever heard.

Although marketed to middle-schoolers, I got a bit lost in the narrative at times but not enough that a few re-reads of certain pages didn’t help clear things up.  Once I literally had to say, “screw it,” and keep reading even though I didn’t understand the implications of what someone said because the story just keeps moving forward, whether you’re with it or not.  But it doesn’t matter if you re-read or move forward, just checking out the book is completely worth it with illustrations as grotesque and provocative as these:

The lush artwork creates a moody vibe that's perfect for this gothic tale of circus freaks and secret meetings under a full moon.

Dunning and Singh are completely in sync in Salem Brownstone. Singh’s visuals perfectly complement Dunning’s story and I hope to see more collaborations from them in the future.

Written by JP Weezey

March 21, 2012 at 8:00 am

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Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi

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Satrapi returns to her graphic novel memoir with a tour de force of sex, drugs, teenage rebellion, and identity crises.  Marjane is now a teenager and in Vienna to attend high school.  Although she has left the horrors of revolution behind in Iran, she now has the horrors of adolescence to deal with.  Feeling like an outsider no matter where she goes, Marjane attempts to fit in only to feel like she is betraying her heritage, her religion, and her mother.  Heavy stuff for a teenager alone in a foreign land.

I loved teenage Marjane.  She is troubled, misunderstood, wanting to do the right thing but also wanting to fit in (rarely are these two wants the same when you are a teenager), and lonely.  She is exactly like every other teenager in the world and that is Satrapi’s gift.  She has created a complex, emotional bildungsroman that everyone can relate to and yet still find Marjane’s journey into adulthood interesting and unique.

For me, Persepolis 2 surpasses volume 1 in terms of story telling and narrative arc.  Instead of experiencing the world through the stories of those around her, Marjane is thrust out into the world on her own and she has to find something to hold onto to survive.  As she slowly becomes accustomed to certain aspects of Western culture, she realizes she is an outsider at home and abroad.

The novel follows Marjane for a decade as she progresses from adolescence to adulthood.  Through it all, she continues to struggle with being part of a culture that refuses to acknowledge her basic human rights simply because she is a woman.  But in the end, Marjane stays true to herself and becomes and inspiration for girls everywhere.

Written by JP Weezey

March 19, 2012 at 8:00 am

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Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

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Precocious children walk a fine line between endearing and annoying.  That precocious boy from Jerry McGuire?  Annoying.  Hit-Girl from the graphic novel Kick-Ass and movie of the same name?  All kinds of awesome.  But Hit-Girl is one of only a few precocious children who didn’t make me cringe after every sentence she uttered.

The annoyingness level of precociousness is subjective, and I admit I have a low-tolerance for precocious children, but I was completely annoyed by the child Marjane.  I felt Satrapi tried too hard to make her quirky and she just ended up being irritating.

But that’s not to say I didn’t like Persepolis.  In fact, I rather enjoyed the novel, and once the story moved from Marjane and began focusing more on the world and lives of those around her, I was really drawn in.  Satrapi’s skill lies in explaining complex histories succinctly without making it feel like you’re reading a history book.  Marjane grows up amidst a revolution and turmoils that have been brewing for decades, and we learn about what’s going on in Iran through conversations with her family, friends, and constant protests in the streets.

Check out the artwork:

I love how she uses the monochrome palette to her advantage by effectively filling panels with deep blacks and stark whites.  She has a simple, clean drawing style which really keeps the story flowing.

Persepolis took a while to grow on me but when it did, I was glad I stuck with it.  Satrapi does a great job of bringing a land in the midst of a revolution to life for those who live in a world where torture and bombings are just vague ideas.

Written by JP Weezey

March 16, 2012 at 8:00 am

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Castle Waiting Volume II by Linda Medley

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After I finished Castle Waiting Volume I, I creepily stalked Fantagraphics’ website for news on Volume II.   When it was announced Medley was finally returning to the series, I ordered and read each new issue as they were released.

But after issue 10, I decided to wait until they were compiled into a single volume before purchasing any more Castle Waiting.  I hate to say it, but Volume II seemed to lag when compared to Volume I.  Sure, the artwork is sill excellent, the characters are still charming and loveable, but Medley seemed to have switched gears and this left me wanting more of what made Volume I great.

Instead of the wonderful back stories that made the first volume so entertaining, here she devoted pages to castle exploration and introduced some new, but not novel, characters to the mix.  Although we finally learn more about Jain’s mysterious past and the surprising, and touching, pasts of some of the other characters, I felt Medley spent too much time taking us on a tour of the Castle’s mysterious hidden passages and secrets.

Medley’s strengths are with her characters and their inventive histories.  There were touches of what made Volume I so great, like when we find out what’s behind Iron Henry’s iron heart and what’s ailing the doctor, but these moments are too short to make the time spent restoring the Castle rewarding.

But even though I was a bit disappointed in this follow-up, I still love Castle Waiting and can’t wait for the next volume.  And Volume II isn’t a complete letdown–learning about Iron Henry’s past and seeing manly Chess play with a baby is worth the extensive tour of Castle Waiting.

Written by JP Weezey

March 14, 2012 at 8:00 am

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