Posts tagged ‘Graphic Novel’

City of Light, City of Dark

City of Light, City of DarkTitle: City of Light, City of Dark
Author: Avi
Illustrator: Brian Floca
ISBN: 97805311068007
Pages: 192 pages
Publisher/Date: Orchard Books, c1993.

People! The land you wish to build on belongs to us, the Kurbs. Still, we are willing to lend you this island as well as our power so you may have the light and warmth you humans require. But there is a price. Each year you must enact a ritual to show you acknowledge that this island remains ours and is governed by our rules. If you fail to perform this ritual-be warned!-the consequences for you will be dire! (8)

Before people had arrived in New York, the Kurbs controlled the lightness and darkness. When people landed on the island, the Kurbs agreed to hide the power somewhere on the island and give the people six months to find it as the land progressively got colder and darker. If it wasn’t returned noon on December 21st, it would be plunged into darkness, but if it was returned it would gradually get lighter and warmer until it was hidden again on June 21st. One woman needs to find the power and return it to the Kurbs, but a greedy blind man, his reluctant assistant, and a young girl and her friend are all searching for it too for very different reasons. Who will find it first?

This is Avi’s version of the Persephone myth, adapted for modern-day New York. I liked the concept, but with my love of Avi’s stories, I was surprised at the narration, which seemed rush and disjointed. The book starts as a mixture of text and graphic novel panels, and then eventually transitions to only graphic novel format. There is too much plot time between the background setting flashback in the beginning and then the bulk of the story. It took him that long to track down the token… Really? Maybe other reviewers are right and it would have been better as a textual novel, as large amounts of the plot are layer out in stilted, expository dialogue.

With Floca’s recent Caldecott Award win, and repeated recognition by the Sibert committee, I was surprised by this first effort at illustrating a novel. Maybe he should stick with the picture book format and continue to color his drawings. I expected more of the sweeping skyline that we see on the cover of the original publication, but the black and white renderings found in the interior seemed rushed, vague, and not detailed. On page 35, he actually draws arrows to guide readers from panel to panel, which seemed unnecessary and awkward. All told, it would be a nice thing to provide readers who are interested in stories influenced by mythology, but it is not the best work of either the author or illustrator.


WonderlandTitle: Wonderland
Author: Tommy Kovac
Illustrator: Sonny Liew
ISBN: 9781423104513
Pages: 160 pages
Publisher/Date: Disney Press, an imprint of Disney Book Group, c2008.

“Seems you’ve been incriminated, bunny-rabbit. For suspicious dealings with the Alice monster…”
“But, I–”
“Monster? What’s this about?”
“While you were gone, there was an impostor here! She wrecked some of the rooms, and shot the groundskeeper out of the chimney like a pea out of a peashooter.”
“I thought she was you at first!”
“Thought she was me?”
“Well, she was a girl like you, and was wearing some sort of dress, and she had some sort of hair on her head–I don’t know! I suppose I was distracted at the time.”
“Am I that nondescript? I know I’m just a maid but…”
“Bong! Bong! Bong! Time’s up, Rabbit! Your days of favor with the Queen are over!” (21-22)

Mary Ann has just returned to Rabbit’s house when they are told by the Chesire Cat that the Queen is on her way. She’s been wrongly informed by the Tweedles that Mary Ann is “the Alice monster” who wrecked so much havoc in Wonderland. When the cat tricks Rabbit into calling the Jabberwock, Mary Ann finds herself plummeting down another hole and meeting another Queen. But will this queen be anymore helpful than the first, or has Mary Ann gotten herself into deeper trouble?

When I think of fractured tales, I think of Grimm or Andersen fairy tales and not necessarily Alice in Wonderland. But first we had this graphic novel, then Wondla, then the movie, and now there is the television series Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, and suddenly it’s become a classic. The inside jacket informs readers that this book “collects six Eisner Award-nominated chapters originally published as single-issue comics”.

Tommy Kovax and Sonny Liew prove to be a successful team. Just paging through it you realize the variety of layouts, which I think contributes to the unsteadiness of the reader. It is Wonderland after all, and you never know what you will find in this tops turvy world. We also see the political rift that Alice’s visit caused, as a back story is added involving a group that the Mad-Hatter describes as “followers [...] who call themselves “The Curious” (96). It’s lines like that and many more, along with the somewhat disjointed narrative, that harken back to the original and the Disney movie (especially the artwork) but the team makes it their own story. Readers never quite get the definitive answer they are looking for in comparing Mary Ann and Alice, who have multiple differences but even The Curious recognize that they might have an advocate in the mild-mannered maid after their original departed.

There is no author’s note that reveals how the illustrations are done or what was used, but here again there is variety. The Queen of Hearts garden scenes and the Mad Hatter’s tea party are bright and full of light. Then with literally a flip of the page in some cases, Mary Ann and her companions find themselves underground or in the Tulgey Wood, with a shadowed background and more muted browns and blues. Overall, I wonder how satisfied Mary Ann will be when she finally has a chance to return to her duties of cleaning Rabbit’s house after her adventures. Readers however should be satisfied with the tale.

Monster on the Hill

Will Eisner Week 2014Did you know it’s Will Eisner Week this week, from March 1st through March 7th? Neither did I until I stumbled upon the announcement of the celebration in January. Will Eisner Week “is an annual celebration honoring the legacy of Will Eisner and promoting sequential art, graphic novel literacy, and free speech.” Looking for more information? Visit the website. In honor of Will Eisner Week, I’m going to take this opportunity to review graphic novels, which I’ll readily admit I don’t read enough of. My third featured book will be last year’s Monster on the Hill, by Rob Harrell.

Monster on the Hill



Title: Monster on the Hill
Author/Illustrator: Rob Harrell
ISBN: 9781603090759
Pages: 185 pages
Publisher/Date: Top Shelf Productions, c2013.

“That reminds me. Who do you ‘ave watchin’ over your town while you’re here? One of the retired guys? Jimmy the Gomper?”
“YOU LEFT YOUR TOWN UNMONSTERED?? ARE YOU CRAZY? The Murk senses these things, Rayburn!! He could be on his way there now! What, did you sleep through town guarding 101?”
“Actually, yes. It was dreadfully dull.”
“He Guys. Check out this rock I found! It looks just like Town Father Stevenso… What’s the matter?”
“We may have a problem.” (70-71)

Rayburn is a horrible monster, who really doesn’t venture into the neighboring 1860s English town and certainly doesn’t ravage it like he is supposed to in order to promote tourism. So a disgraced doctor and a loudmouth newsboy embarks on a journey to give him the confidence he needs. Their journey takes them away from town to visit an old friend. But while Rayburn’s gone, the town might have a real monster to worry about. It’s a race to see who gets back to town first, Rayburn who can protect the townspeople or the Murk who wants to terrorize them.

Rob Harrell’s oversized drawings really pack a punch with this story that plays on just about every genre’s stereotypes. I envision Timothy the town crier/urchin/newsboy as a distant ancestor to Loud Kiddington from the 1990s TV show Histeria!, repeatedly shouting in a cockney English that just begs the word “governor” to pass his lips (and it actually does). The distracted and disgraced doctor Charles Wilkie speaks in a prim and proper manner that brings to mind Giles from Buffy, with his stoic face accentuated by his glasses and white hair covering his head, chin, and eyebrows. When Rayburn fights a venus fly trap like plant, your guess is fulfilled when he promptly gets his head stuck in its jaws and is shaken like a rag doll, being flung up and down, at one point doing the splits across its gaping mouth before emerging triumphant and doing a victory dance mimicking an end zone dance at the Superbowl.

The energetic text is filled with exclamation points, which seem to appear on almost every page. Sound effects are thrust into the pictures comic book style, and I’m sure words like “Ka-THOOMP!” and “YEEAAUGH!” would just improve a read-aloud experience in some story-tellers capable hands. My one quibble with the story is the whole premise of cities reaching out to a monster to continually rampage a village doesn’t strike me as a smart PR move. The monsters are treated like athletes, with trading cards and toys made in their likeness. Maybe it is similar to disaster tours of volcanoes and mob scenes, or maybe it’s like the Godzilla movies where as long as it’s another city, it’s fun to cheer on the monster? All I know is that readers who enjoy those types of things will welcome this over the top addition to graphic novel collections. One idea for a curriculum connection would be to have children design a monster for their own town.

SPF 40

Will Eisner Week 2014Did you know it’s Will Eisner Week this week, from March 1st through March 7th? Neither did I until I stumbled upon the announcement of the celebration in January. Will Eisner Week “is an annual celebration honoring the legacy of Will Eisner and promoting sequential art, graphic novel literacy, and free speech.” Looking for more information? Visit the website. In honor of Will Eisner Week, I’m going to take this opportunity to review graphic novels, which I’ll readily admit I don’t read enough of. My second featured book will be last year’s SPF 40 by Sharon Emerson and Renee Kurilla.

SPF 40
Title: SPF 40
Series: Zebrafish
Author: Sharon Emerson
Illustrator: Renee Kurilla
with help from Didi Hatcher and the team at Fablevision
ISBN: 978141697085
Pages: 117 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2013.

I didn’t realize initially that this was a sequel, but it is a continuation of a story. The other slightly confusing part is who wrote this. I originally thought that picture book author Peter Reynolds, since the cover proclaims “Peter H. Reynolds and FableVision present” but then the title page specifies the true author and illustrator, which I have always thought was a little unfair to authors when they don’t get cover recognition.

Regardless of who is responsible for putting together this story, it’s a sweet simple story with a lot of players. Gummy bear loving Plinko and fuscia haired Tanya (who’s in remission from leukemia) are off to be camp counselors, where they make friends with a diabetic named Scott and a red-haired Coley, who strikes me as overly enthusiastic about everything. Walt and Jay are teeming up not only to drive the library’s book mobile around, but also distribute Jay’s comic book. Purple haired Vita is the only one left behind, and while her first year in Southside High was huge, her first summer is turning out to be a bust. What will she do to occupy her time, instead of sitting in front of the television?

You might have noticed that I stressed hair color with a lot of the characters. That doesn’t just emphasize the colorful and varied cast, but it also signifies that you’d better be paying attention to names, because they are mentioned very infrequently and I found myself relying on their faces instead of their names to distinguish everyone. Maybe if I had read the first book first I wouldn’t have been so clueless with names. The hair color isn’t the only thing that is colorful, with all the pictures are bright and bold and eyecatching.

The book covers a lot of ground not only with characters, but also with topics. While they seem young, they are obviously also older then they first appear. Walt and Jay drive the library bookmobile, Vita has a dog friend Pepper who’s owner takes him to be read to hospital children, turtle hatching, and medical research involving glow in the dark fish and wireless insulin distribution. While I wish some of these topics were covered a little more, the limited exposure definitely keeps the story lines moving, making it a fast read.


Will Eisner Week 2014Did you know it’s Will Eisner Week this week, from March 1st through March 7th? Neither did I until I stumbled upon the announcement of the celebration in January. Will Eisner Week “is an annual celebration honoring the legacy of Will Eisner and promoting sequential art, graphic novel literacy, and free speech.” Looking for more information? Visit the website. In honor of Will Eisner Week, I’m going to take this opportunity to review graphic novels, which I’ll readily admit I don’t read enough of. My first featured book will be last year’s Bluffton, by Eisner Award nominee Matt Phelan.


Title: Bluffton
Author/Illustrator: Matt Phelan
ISBN: 9780763650797
Pages: 223 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2013.
Publication Date: July 23, 2013

Henry Harrison realizes that the summer of 1908 is going to be different from every past summer when he sees an elephant stepping off train in his small Michigan town. That was the first summer the traveling vaudeville performers pay a visit and stay for their summer long vacation. Henry quickly meets Buster Keaton, a young slapstick comedian who travels and acts with his family. In other ways though, Buster is just like Henry who enjoys baseball, swimming, fishing, and playing elaborate practical jokes on people. Henry doesn’t know how he is going to survive the rest of the year while he waits for their return, which seems dull in comparison after their numerous adventures together.

I think “subtle” is the best way to describe this graphic novel. The mood of Matt Phelan’s story is portrayed primarily in the watercolor illustrations. Summer skies are bright blue over green grass and it feels like the sunshine can pop from the page and warm you if you sat there long enough with the book open on your lap. In contrast, the shorter winter sequences are painted with less color, and primarily blues and grays, with Henry’s shocking orange hair turning a muted mustard yellow in one school room scene.

Dialogue drives the action and provides conflicting views of the vaudeville lifestyle. Henry of course is jealous of Buster, who can do flips, is nationally admired, can travel the world, and doesn’t have to go to school. But readers also witness the flip side of a coin, as Phelan includes controversies about Buster’s age and accusations of child abuse, with hints of possible alcoholism. Buster was essentially forced into the family business, whereas Henry’s father, who owns a hardware store, alleviates his son’s fears of that same fate. “I never expected you to take over the store, Henry. Unless that’s what you wanted. [...] You’ll have lots of choices to make, Henry. Don’t worry so much about what you are going to do, Henry. Concentrate on who you are going to be.” (191-194)

Following that exchange is a poignant scene where Henry simply leans against his father in silence, soaking in the support. You have to wonder if Buster gets the same kind of support from his father. In an earlier spread, you do get the sense that Buster enjoys his life, taking opportunities away from his father to engage in his signature style of comedy. But long looks towards more traditional families lead readers to think more deeply about his desires. A quiet book that packs a punch with the range of subjects covered, it gives a glimpse of a time long past.

Bill the Boy Wonder

Title: Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman
Author: Marc Tyler Nobleman
Illustrator: Ty Templeton
ISBN: 9781580892896
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Charlesbridge, c2012.

Bob told Bill that Bat-Man would be published and asked Bill to write it–without credit. Because such an arrangement was fairly typical, and because writing gigs were tough to get, but mainly because Bill was an agreeable sort, he said yes.
With that, Bill took on his second secret identity.
However, he would soon realize that he had been blind about this Bat.

I’ll be the first to admit that while I know slightly more than the uninitiated about comics, I do not follow them religiously like some people I’ve met in my journey. I can have a conversation about the movies, but whether or not they follow the “cannon” or the comic books is beyond what I know. So I was somewhat comforted to find out in my reading this book that MOST people wouldn’t know about this secret second creator of the superhero who become Batman. It’s incredible to think that this story first came to fruition 1939 and is still, over 70 years later, going strong and attracting new followers.

While Nobleman makes a valiant effort to present the facts in an impartial manner, you can tell that this lack of recognition sticks in his craw. Bob Kane hired Bill to do the writing and other artists to do the drawings, and insisted they all work anonymously. Nobleman reveals that even after word got out that Bill wrote the stories and at the very least contributed to the creation of Batman (although it was never proven how much), Bob still would not amend his contract “requiring that he always be listed as the sole creator of Batman.” And then, readers find out in the extensive author’s note that Bill’s only granddaughter wasn’t receiving any of the few royalties that Bill could claim for his contributions to such an iconic piece of our culture. Nobleman’s passion for this topic really shows by the work, and he strongly suggests that the only reason DC Comics hasn’t added Bill’s name is that their hands tied by legalities.

Templeton’s artwork is very eye-catching, and distinctly suited for a story revolving around the early age of comics. With very minimal shading, the bright and bold pen drawings use vibrant colors that really draw readers into the story. The layout also mimics panels of a comic book, although understandably the text boxes are larger than what you usually find in a comic.

The author’s note reveals the research that went into writing this book, with references to interviews, published articles and books, and containing previously unknown photos of Bill. And just like Batman, Nobleman’s research ultimately resulted in “writing” a wrong. While he can’t do anything about the legal side or the past, Nobleman has ensured that future generations will know the truth behind the mask. A definite point of interest considering all the recent Batman movies, this book could serve as a possible bridge for comic book fans to pursue non-fiction titles.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Lizann Flatt over at The Flatt Perspective.

Rapunzel’s Revenge

Title: Rapunzel’s Revenge
Author: Shannon and Dean Hale
Illustrator: Nathan Hale
ISBN: 9781599900704
Pages: 144 pages
Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury, c2008.

I didn’t anticipate the whole sticking-a-sack-over-my-head thing.
Her henchman, Brute, used to give me piggyback rides. This time, being thrown over his shoulder wasn’t so fun.
We traveled for days.
It got pretty hot and stinky under that sack.
Brute didn’t let me see again until we were in a forest as green as Mother Gothel’s garden.
It wasn’t exactly the kind of place I’d care to take an afternoon stroll.
Mother Gothel had grown a creepy tree with a hollowed-out room high up, perfect for imprisoning a trouble maker. [...]
So. There I was.
Nothing to do. (20-26)

Just after Rapunzel discovers that Mother Gothel is thankfully not her real mother, and has instead kidnapped her and thrown her birth mother in the mines, she is thrown into a towering tree and left there for years. Using her long hair as a whip and lasso, Rapunzel finally escapes and finds herself helping an ex-thief named Jack. The two pair up to rescue Rapunzel’s mother, but along the way they discover that they’re not the only ones who need a little help in this rough and tumble world.

It’s unique to see Rapunzel in a position of power, as she saves Jack several times. While there are nods to a few other fairy tales (readers find out that Jack used to have a beanstalk), this is not your typical hodge-podge retelling conglomeration like Michael Buckley’s Fairy-Tale Detectives. Instead, the Hales place the story in a setting more similar to a Western than Once Upon a Time, with expressions like “Yee-Haw”, gun slingers, outlaws, travel via wagons and horses, characters who share some aspects of Native American culture, and what could pass as a plantation cotillion.

I like this version that Shannon and Dean Hale have written and Nathan Hale has illustrated. The illustrator is quick to point out that he has no relation to the husband and wife writing duo. It’s an interesting thing to note since the text and the illustrations compliment each other so well. There are times when Shannon and Dean allow Nathan Hale’s drawings to take over and tell the story, which is unique and I wonder who came up with the idea first and how they collaborated to put it all together. The illustrations are bright and vibrant, but their coloring reminds me of a digital paint by numbers rather than containing the shading and tints that come from hand drawn artwork. I don’t know how true that observation might be, not being an artist myself, but that’s the best way I can describe what I see. It seemed slightly out-of-place that the map came 20 pages after Rapunzel and Jack find and use that same aid.

Overall, a speedy read for graphic novel fans and a good first exposure to fantasy fans who aren’t familiar with the format.


Title: Meanwhile
Author: Jason Shiga
ISBN: 9780810984233
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Abrams, c2010.

“Are you an inventor?”
“Why, yes, I have over 150 patents to my name. [...] In fact, I was just about to test some of my inventions when you walked in. Would you like to help?”
“Well, these are my oldest and most exciting inventions. There’s the killitron 2000, my untested doomsday device. Then we have the SQUID, which can transfer memories between people. And last is my time travel machine. Which invention would you like to play with, Jimmy?” (unpaged)

Jimmy’s first choice is whether or not to buy the chocolate or vanilla ice cream. From there, he could meet up with an inventor and have the opportunity to play with three different inventions. He could meet-up with himself from another time. He could have to save the world from his own mistake. Or, he could just go home after eating ice cream. The choice is yours in this graphic novel meets Choose-Your-Own Adventure type book.

Maybe I missed something in the execution. While trying out different paths, I kept coming back to the same outcome. I used to love Choose Your Own Adventure Stories when I was younger, but I kept getting a bad case of de ja vue with this book because it seems like a lot of paths end the same way. The twisting and turning format that forces readers to follow lines off the page reminded me of the snake game (does anyone else remember that game, where the snake eats the apples and grows longer? No? Maybe I am getting old.) In any case, the plot seemed to solely involve the time machine, and any other plot line was really only a delay in getting you to choose the inevitable.

The book warns readers on the very first page that “Most [of the different adventures] will end in DOOM and DISASTER. Only one path will lead you to happiness and success.” I really wish that wasn’t the case, because I think that probably encouraged my feelings of “where have I seen this before.” I feel other positive outcomes should have been possible. An interesting concept that I wish would have made more sense to my brain, because I was really looking forward to enjoying this book and was disappointed when it fell flat.


Title: Mercury
Author: Hope Larson
ISBN: 9781416935889
Pages: 234 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing Division), c2010.

Two stories, two parallel lives, play out in this graphic novel by Eisner Award winning author Hope Larson.
The year is 1859 and Josey house is playing host to a traveler who turns out to be a prospector. Mr. Currey is anxious to strike a deal with Josey’s father, confident that there is gold on the farm, and they set off down the mine shaft together. Josey’s mother is not as taken by the traveler as her husband and daughter, and her foreboding feeling might just prove right in the end.

The year is 2009 and Tara’s house has burnt to the ground, forcing her to move in with her aunt, uncle, and cousins while her mom works far away. Getting reacquainted with her classmates she left two years ago, Tara learns that she might have to leave again as her mom searches for more permanent work. Cash-strapped Tara turns to her last option… searching for buried gold. Will a mysterious family heirloom assist her in finding what she needs most?

While the beginning is a little choppy with no clear introduction of the characters, readers quickly catch-up and become engaged by this tale involving buried treasure and a little magical realism. Although it takes place in Nova Scotia, Canada and contains references for that area, little asterisks and footnotes help American readers follow the dialogue, and the setting could just as easily be northern United States.

The back and forth perspectives between Tara and Josey lend intrigue, because you see how the actions in 1859 affect the events 150 years later. It also allows the action to progress at a clip, and Larson cuts out the potentially slow parts. Jumping off points between the two stories are chosen well, and I could picture this being made into a movie. For instance, on page 164 the sun sets on Tara’s story, and the following page has the sun rising in Josey’s tale. Expressions are well designed and easy to read, eliminating the need for extraneous dialogue. Sound effects are added in a style similar to comic books, with “Slap”, “Groan” and “Clap” appearing in a larger than life manner.

All in all, a fast, enjoyable read. I would be interested in reading a sequel, where the “heirloom” is explored a little more, as something tells me that there is more than meets the eye.


Title: Resistance: Book 1
Author: Carla Jablonski
Artist: Leland Purvis
Colorist: Hilary Sycamore
ISBN: 9781596432918
Pages: 121 pages
Publisher/Date: First Second, c2010.

Paul Tessier lives with his two sisters, Marie and Slyvie, and his mother in the free area of France during World War II. The rest of France is occupied by German soldiers, who are steadily entering the free area, rounding up Jews, and hunting out members of the Resistance. When Paul’s friend Henri gets accidentally left behind when his parents get taken, Paul hides him in their wine cellar. But the secret is hard to keep as the number of people who know Henri’s hiding place grows. Can Henri get out of France before the German’s find him?

By the subtitle and the open-ending, it seems that this is the first in a possible series. I have to admit though, the cover art is more intriguing than the story it contains. The cover features Paul aiming a slingshot (set apart from the rest of the cover with bright red elastic) at the back of a soldier’s head, which doesn’t happen in the book. The plot is less striking, imitating multiple other stories where Non-Jewish children help a Jewish child by hiding him away and sneaking him off to a safer area. I’ll admit there are details that intrigue, such as the trick with chocolate towards the very end. There are also scenes that steal your sympathy, most notably page 24 where Marie climbs into her older brother’s bed and he covers her with the comforter. But extreme close-ups of people’s faces make them look like exaggerated and distorted drama masks. The narrative is interspersed by Paul’s drawings, and while some of them make sense, others are just jarring to readers. There is a subplot involving Paul’s missing father that does not get explained at all, so you’re really not invested in his well-being. In my opinion, the most jarring scene on page 96 also gets glazed over, and loses the impact it could have had. The author’s notes at the beginning and the end of the book are informative, and provide the necessary background to understand and reflect on the story. If it’s your first exposure to Holocaust fiction, it works, but there are other options that would leave more of an impact.


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