Posts from the ‘Graphic Novel’ Category

The Wicked and the Divine

Wicked and Divine vol 1.jpgWicked and Divine vol 2.jpgSeries: The Wicked and the Divine
Titles: The Faust Act (vol. 1), Fandemonium (vol. 2), Commercial Suicide (vol. 3), Rising Action (vol. 4), Imperial Phase part 1 (vol 5), Imperial Phase part 2 (vol 6)
Creators: Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
Illustrators: Matthew Wilson (colorist) and Clayton Cowles (letterer) and others (depending on the issue/volume)
ISBNs: 9781632150196 (vol 1), 9781632153272 (vol 2), 9781632156310 (vol 3), 9781632159137 (vol 4), 9781534301856 (vol 5), 9781534304734 (vol 6)
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Image Comics, Inc., c2014-2018′

Every ninety years twelve gods return as young people. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are all dead. It’s happening now. It’s happening again. (back cover)
Just because you’re immortal doesn’t mean yo

u’re going to live forever. (unpaged, vol 1)

Wicked and Divine vol 3.jpg

Wicked and Divine vol 4.jpg

This is a smart, complicated, topsy-turvy comic series is a work in progress, with October’s volume seven  collecting the final installments of the first arc of this monthly publication. Readers are introduced to Laura, a seventeen year old South Londoner who is enamored with the Pantheon, both the idea of it, and the people who make it up. However, starting with an assassination attempt after a concert, readers realize just how dangerous it is for the gods and their followers. Nonbelievers are trying to prove trickery, and gods are trying to prove superiority, both among the public and among themselves. As the body toll rises, the clock is ticking for all of them to prove and discover who they all are, to each other and to themselves.

There are several tantalizing cliff-hangers throughout the collected volumes where grand reveals are dropped out of nowhere and readers are left scratching their heads and trying to process the shift in perspectives. Drawing from both little and well known mythologies, the large cast, changing identities, and table-flip worthy surprises may frustrate readers in the best way. A book about a group of twelve deities called the Pantheon could have gone the easy route of twelve white, Greek-based gods and goddesses, and the research and thought they put into the work is appreciated. However, there are some bread crumbs that fall like rocks, and you don’t recognize their significance until they are mentioned later in the story, leading me to encourage binge reading and rereading to find all the little clues and allusions hidden throughout the story.

Many websites have mentioned the effortless diversity portrayed, with gender (male, female, transgender person), sexuality (bisexual, asexual), and ethnicity (Asian, African American, bi-racial, white) all represented in a variety of options and combinations. There’s also some interesting social issues mixed in, including an abusive relationship where the woman is the overly dominant half, and a goddess who controls her powers through her alcoholism. Sex, nudity, and promiscuity are common among the deities, with most of their “performances” sparking a trance like state compared to the ultimate orgasm or drug trip, so I wouldn’t recommend this series to conservative audiences.

The whole story line provides commentary on celebrity culture, death, and pursuit of power. Most of the characters in the Pantheon are selfish, egotistical, brooding, and border on pathological, with one or two notable exceptions. Altruism doesn’t seem to exist. Whether it’s the power that has corrupted them or their moodiness was a pre-existing condition is hard to determine. In the beginning, they reminded me of a reality television show, with attention-seeking, self-motivated behavior with little impulse control or motivation to develop it. Yes they have different characteristics (as explained in the previous paragraph) but their uniformity in behavior (basically acting superior to everyone else) splits slightly by the second half of the series as loyalties are questioned and divisions form.

Wicked and Divine vol 5.jpg

Wicked and Divine vol 6.jpg

The artwork is stunning, multi-dimensional and engaging, ranging from underground raves to meeting rooms that look like they belong in the movie Tron. The scenes where we see the deities reincarnate are uniform but unique in their own way, adding specific elements to represent each god and goddess. Fire, lasers, and supernatural elements are all brightly rendered. Each character gets their own font when they go “Super Saiyan” to borrow from another series, adding to the artistic uniqueness but also serving a purpose, cluing readers to pay attention before something even happens. With any series, there are one or two times where the story diverges, but all plot points usually, eventually, converge. In the case of the artwork, most of the backstories are told in Commercial Suicide (volume 3), with guest artists stepping in to provide a differential style of artwork to each deity. It’s slightly jarring upon first reading, especially since some of the chapters are exceedingly short and give you little time to acclimate. The final story line of volume 3 featuring Sakhmet was an especially jarring art style from the typical depictions. Each volume also contains bonus content that gives you a glimpse of the creative process, which I think is especially beneficial to budding creators, regardless of their age.

We’ll have to wait for the last installment to see just what happens when the plots finally do coalesce, but it’s a lot to bring together in the “final” volume of this story arc.

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The Tea Dragon Society

Tea Dragon SocietyTitle: The Tea Dragon Society
Author/Illustrator: Katie O’Neill
Lettered by: Saida Temofonte
Designed by: Hilary Thompson
Edited by: Ari Yarwood
ISBN: 9781620104415
Pages: 72 pages
Publisher/Date: Oni Press, Inc., c2017.

“I don’t want blacksmithing to be forgotten. . .
. . . I want to keep making objects for people to love and give them a story. Maybe one day, someone’ll think about who gave it to them or where they bought it. Or who they shared it with. Or who owned it long ago.
. . . That’s a kind of magic, isn’t it?”
“I believe it is.” (56)

Greta is learning from her mother the art of blacksmithing, an old skill that made blacksmiths as important as magicians but now is a dying art. Upon encountering a dragon in the market, Greta returns her to her owners and begins to learn how to care for the unique creatures. Tea-shop owners Hesekiel and Erik have recently picked up a stray of their own, a promising prophetess named Minette who is suffering from self-protective memory problems. All these stories converge into a year long collection of vignettes exploring friendship, loyalty, and memory.

These are sweet characters occupying a world where its residents have a mixture of human and animal attributes that don’t seem to phase anyone. Pale-skinned Minette has tiny antlers, a tail, and cloven hooves, dark-skinned Greta has horns that are smaller versions of her mother’s and a squared off nose, and Hesekiel’s gray fur, elongated face, ears, and bent legs remind me of a kangaroo. The two most human characters are Greta’s dark-skinned father and wheel-chair bound Erik, also dark-skinned (but lighter then Greta and her father), with braids mimicking those of his magic wielding partner, Hesekiel. A group photo from another time shows several other types, including something resembling an abominable snowman, possibly an escaped elf from Lord of the Rings, and someone with a long bushy squirrel’s tail. The diversity is never remarked upon, and the small cast of characters makes the whole community feel very intimate and close. It’s not just diversity in physical attributes, but in relationships (same sex vs. heterosexual) and professions (mom is a blacksmith).

It’s also surprisingly tight-knit, as even in the market scenes you see no one besides the named characters. There is no supporting cast except for that one previously mentioned group photo shown during a retold story and a blink and you’ll miss it (I know I did) street vendor and no customers even though we come in contact with four business owners. The story is equally narrow in plot, as Minette’s memory loss is relayed as a matter-of-fact, and just as easily brushed off as it’s not a problem because she’s making so many good new memories with people who care about her.

The dragons uninspired names reflect the tea that they are used to create. Half have round, squat bodies like dogs, and the other half are more slender and serpentine in nature, with the narrower tails that have a puff of fur at the ends. In fact, the non-textured coloration means none of them have the scales that most people picture when the word “dragon” is used. Unique attributes are given to each dragon that make them seem more like Pokemon. More intriguing is Greta’s sidekick Brick, who seems to be an animated burning coal that does nothing but follows Greta around, although he also seems to get left out of events regularly. How did he come into existence? What is his purpose? He reminds me of the soot sprites from Spirited Away.

You can tell that this quirky society is an act of love for the author, and its quiet moments will allow readers to have a quiet moment to themselves with this book. It’s a simple meandering plot with very little tension, action, or mystery. More of a character study, it’s done so beautifully that you probably won’t mind, but instead hope to be reunited with them soon. This is the quintessence of a feel good story.

rainbow books From HB 6-2016I’m making an effort to review stories centered around gender during June, in recognition of June being LGBT Pride Month. Stay tuned for more.
Image used from Horn Book’s 2016 Pride Month Kickoff

The Witch Boy

Witch BoyTitle: The Witch Boy
Author/Illustrator: Molly Knox Ostertag
ISBN: 9781338089516
Pages: 217 pages
Publisher/Date: Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2017.

“I don’t understand why Juniper and Hazel and them can all learn how to talk to trees and make potions and do spells and I can’t. It’s not fair.”
“But, Aster, that magic isn’t for you. How many times do I have to explain that?”
“But I want to learn it!”
“Women and men have different types of magic, and witches pass down their knowledge from mother to daughter. That’s how it is and how it’s always been, my son.
But it’s not like there’s nothing for you! Soon your shapeshifting will begin, and with it, the ability to see demons and to fight them. You’ll be one of the men.” (7-8)

In an insular community in the woods, a family of witches and shapeshifters pass along their skills to their daughters and sons, respectively. All except for Aster, who is more interested in learning magic and spells then shape shifting. When first one, and then multiple, young shapeshifters go missing, the family rallies to find them, but they still don’t stop to listen to Aster’s findings. Past problems come back to haunt them, and Aster might be the only one who can figure out what’s going on in time to stop it.

I find myself evaluating my views about this book. I originally felt that this is a relatively heavy-handed, thinly-veiled allegory of coming out as transgender, which a number of reviewers and bloggers have mentioned. However, I am reminded of Tamora Pierce, who wrote the Alanna series about a girl becoming a knight and assuming the disguise and role of a boy in order to accomplish her goal. Upon reading that series when I was younger, and even today, it never dawned on me to make those same assumptions about Alanna. Alanna was simply a tomboy, much like myself at that age, who enjoyed pursuing hobbies that were typically deemed masculine. Aster, in the same way, doesn’t want to be a woman, he just wants to do things that are identified in his society as feminine. That’s not transgender, but instead it’s fighting societal stereotypes of gendered activities.

I think the difference between my perception of Alanna and Aster is not only the modern day awareness of non-gender conforming actions, but also the use of this characteristic in the stories. Alanna’s story, while dependent upon keeping her identity a secret, has other traits that appear throughout the story, such as her impulsiveness, reluctance to ask for or accept help, her fears and hopes and dreams and motivations. Aster wants to do what “girls” do and has the magic of a witch inside of him, even though everyone else perceives him as a shapeshifter and expects him to be a shapeshifter. He seems quiet, but he is dedicated to his family, even though they continue to deny him his desires. That’s the entirety of our knowledge about his personality. The story is dependent upon the “I want to do what I’m not allowed to do” troupe with very little backstory or explanation of how or why events proceed as they do. His entire purpose is to be recognized as someone who can perform feminine tasks, which doesn’t yield itself to much engagement from readers.

There are a number of additional questions regarding the background of the characters. They all seem to be related, but there is no information about where the in-laws came from and how people who married into the family acquired their powers. What prompts these disappearances to begin now, after all these years? Even after the cause of the disappearances is discovered, the culprit’s consequences are left unresolved. As already discussed, the transgender analogy is not quite the appropriate term, but if you insist on using it that label also falls apart at the end, where one of the characters claims to have a little bit of both witch and shapeshifter. Is that a nod to individuals who identify as pansexual or intersex? Instead, I think it’s meant on commentary that men and women can pursue tasks regardless of if they are seen as masculine or feminine in nature.

The artwork is similar to a lot of the graphic novels produced by Graphix, with solid, digital illustrations. I’m beginning to hope that in the future we see more variety in the artwork of graphic novels done by that company. They have good stories, but there is a sameness that is starting to make their work distinguishable from other publishers. The scenes where we discover the cause of the boys disappearances are appropriately scary and thematically colored in a wash of red, definitely distinguishing it from the more cheerful and vibrantly colored outdoor daily scenes.

It’s a nice story, but I feel like the commentary on it’s merits might be misguided. A sequel arrives on shelves later this fall, so we’ll have to see if more character development occurs. Aster’s new friend Charlie takes center stage alongside Aster on the cover, so maybe more interplay between their two lives and worlds will give us more interest and insight in their personalities then the one-dimensional portrayal provided.

rainbow books From HB 6-2016I’m making an effort to review stories centered around gender during June, in recognition of June being LGBT Pride Month. Stay tuned for more.
Image used from Horn Book’s 2016 Pride Month Kickoff

Run For It

Run For It.jpgTitle: Run For It: Stories of Slaves Who Fought For Their Freedom
Author/Illustrator: Marcelo D’Salete
Translator: Andrea Rosenberg
ISBN: 9781683960492
Pages: 175 pages
Publisher/Date: Fantagraphics Books, Inc., c2017 (original edition published by Editora Veneta, c2014)

Run For It (Cumbe) tells stories of black resistance to Brazilian slavery (1500s-1800s). Many Africans and their descendants rebelled; both directly, by running away to escape settlements known as mocambos, and indirectly, in the small acts of everyday insurrection on the plantations—which demonstrate the tensions inherent in a society shaped by violence. These stories, some of which are inspired by historical documents, offer an opportunity to reflect on that world. (Introduction, unpaged)

Four short stories, each only about forty pages long, portray similar and stereotypical aspects of slave society. Kalunga begins with a relationship between two slaves, but when one wants to run and the other wants to stay, both their lives are affected by the tragic results. Sumidouro, told through jumps between past and present, is about a protective mother who is determined to avenge the wrong enacted on her child. Cumbe portrays what happens when slaves outright and stage a rebellion. Finally, Malungo is about the love a brother has for his sister and his efforts to keep her safe.

Each of these tales rely heavily on the visuals, and each of the violent endings don’t quite turn out the way you expect. The author’s biography mentions he’s a teacher, and it shows in the bibliography and glossary, which is organized alphabetically instead of order of appearance, making it only slightly more difficult to find what you are looking for since it references only the first occurrence of the terms or images. Since the introduction alludes to inspiration from historical documents, I wish he’d also included references of where and from when those inspirations came from, although considering all of the bibliography titles are in a different language, I doubt I would have been able to consult the original material. The black and white illustrations are dark, possibly reflecting the dark futures of the characters portrayed. A moody tome of yearning, this will find an audience with those searching for well-researched reflection on life and the cost of freedom. Possibly recommend to those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement for a unique spin on themes of vengeance, righteousness, and revolution.

Wires and Nerve: Gone Rogue

Wires and Nerve Gone Rogue.jpgTitle: Gone Rogue
Series: Wires and Nerve (#2)
Author: Marissa Meyer
Illustrator: Stephen Gilpin (based on art by Doug Holgate)
ISBN: 9781250078285
Pages: 324 pages
Publisher/Date: A Feiwel and Friends Book, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, c2018

“So, can we all start by agreeing that there is absolutely no way we are letting Cinder sacrifice herself to this psychopath?”
“No one is agreeing to anything yet.”
“I know you, Cinder, and I know you started planning how to trade your life for theirs the moment you heard about his.”
“That’s not true. I started planning a way to get them back safely.”
“And have you come up with a plan yet that doesn’t involve getting yourself killed?”
“Thorne is right. Steele is trying to lure you into a trap.”
“Yes, OBVIOUSLY this is a trap! But what am I supposed to do? We can’t just ignore him!”
“He has Winter and Jacin!”
“And Wolf.”
“And Tressa…”
“And now he wants the Queen of Luna! Aces, Cinder, Would you think of your own self-preservation for once?” (168-169)

The conclusion to the Wires and Nerve series begins with Wolf considering his future with Scarlett when their farm is surrounded by Steele, the big bad wolf-soldier from the previous graphic novel. He recruits Wolf for his revenge towards Cinder, and after Cinder and her entourage arrives on Earth Steele kidnaps Winter, Jacin, and Tressa. Demanding Cinder in exchange for the hostages and threatening the lives of the Earthen public, the fight is far from over. Iko is tasked with a key part in the final showdown, but can she fulfill her role without tipping off Steele that she might be more than he thinks she is?

Firstly, I was slightly disappointed that we saw almost nothing of Thorne and Jacin in this episode of action. Heck, Jacin gets captured TWICE by the wolf-soldiers, and he’s supposed to be a former Lunar guard for the royal family, implying some fighting prowess even if he did want to become a doctor. Even Kai had some blink and you’ll miss them occurrences where he said the necessary “Yes we’ll have military support” or “I’m your emperor so you must listen to me” dialogue, then receded into the background, not contributing in the final battle scene except to tell Steele he’s lost and to ask Cinder if she was hurt. Cinder was a token character, less so then Kai and the others because we saw her navigating the political side of things on both Earth and Luna. It was emphasized repeatedly that Steele was after her for what she represented and not because of who she was, which also lent to the feeling that she was being typecast, although the fought it admirably by arguing again and again that she was nothing like the previous rulers. The few romantic scenes of her and Kai together will satisfy fans of the series (like myself). That was also probably the reason for Scarlett and Wolf’s scenes together, although seeing Wolf stumble over his obviously more submissive and overprotective nature towards Scarlet’s alpha role was a tender moment in an otherwise tense political thriller of double crosses.

The cast was there, and they served their purpose when called upon in a fight, but the main focus was Iko and Liam Kinney, which on the one hand disappoints me but also satisfies me that Iko got her opportunity to shine in the spotlight. I enjoyed the evolution of Iko and Kinney’s relationship because it felt natural. Besides a subtle nod to increased heart rate, there is nothing overtly romantic, which I had worried about it becoming after reading the first one. The story line as a whole seemed to emphasize Iko’s humanity, even though she was an android, and Kinney’s ultimate acceptance that there is more to Iko then wires and circuitry. We get glimpses of Iko’s original programming through some files that Cress recovers, but the underlying question of nature versus nurture persists through much of the story. Iko’s quirks have always been accepted by her friends and previously people who didn’t appreciate them were cast as outsiders. When she gets paired with Kinney, this is the first time that Iko has to continually justify and understand her existence. I like to think that they become really good friends due to this increased self-awareness, both of themselves and their assumptions towards the other person.

A satisfying and quick read that closes out the series that ties up the loose ends for the legion of fans. I got to hear the characters in the audiobooks, and now we get to actually “see” the characters in the graphic novels. I’m sad to see it end, but I think it’s a good place to stop and appreciate the format change.

Last of the Sandwalkers

Last of the Sandwalkers.jpgTitle: Last of the Sandwalkers
Author/Illustrator: Jay Hosler
ISBN: 9781626720244
Pages: 312 pages
Publisher/Date: First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2015.

Our mission is to look for life in this vast nothingness. This was my idea. My plan. And at that moment, it seemed insane. Impossible. Stupid. Terrifying.
But then I took my first step into the desert sand and I had the strangest feeling that I was…
…home.
With that, my doubts evaporated. I walked into the desert and never looked back. (4)

Bug’s Life crew, move over. There’s a new group of tiny explorers on the scene, one part Indiana Jones, one part MacGyver. There’s Lucy, the tinkerer and unlikely leader; Professor Owen, stuffy tag-along supervisor who secured funding; Professor Bombardier, the matronly care-taker of the group; Mossy, the brawn of the operation; and finally Raef, who doesn’t really know his role in the group because he’s suffering from amnesia. When the majority of the group get separated from one of their own and the archaeological find of a lifetime, it’s going to take all their ingenuity and teamwork to get back across the desert. Fighting foreign insects and unknown creatures, they quickly realize that it’s a bug eat bug world out there, and they are on the bottom of the food chain. And it doesn’t help that one of the team might be hoping they all don’t make it back.

If you want to see a graphic novel that packs science into a suspenseful story, Jay Hosler does it right. A biology professor at Juniata College, he appears to know his stuff as both a scientist and a cartoonist. He effortlessly weaves cool insect facts into the plot featuring five characters that are five different types of insects. The characters and readers are in the same position, learning new interesting facts about the way these new creatures eat and protect themselves. Readers also get see the scientific process at work, because although most kids might come to the correct conclusion, the insects routinely alter their understanding of what they found based on new information and discoveries. Want more information? He cites his inspirations chronologically in the included annotations, going chapter by chapter, page by page, panel by panel. While his references seem to skew more scientific then school-age, they range from Charles Darwin’s autobiography and university publications to National Geographic articles and NPR blogs.

No stone or leaf is left unturned in his detailed black and white illustrations, with painstaking backgrounds filled with action. The team gets into one hazard after another, and as one members predicts repeatedly that they are going to die, they routinely ban together, utilizing their strengths. It doesn’t hurt that in addition to encountering road blocks and hazards they also encounter some street-wise strangers who are willing to aid them in their journey. There were some great dynamics and personalities in the group, and their conversations with each other read very natural and true to real life. The repertoire and back and forth banter mimics some conversations I’ve had with my friends, ranging from idle threats and teasing to chastisements and encouragement and some flashbacks that are seamlessly incorporated. This is most certainly an asset to teachers focusing on critical thinking skills, the scientific method, adaptations, and bugs in general, but it’s also a fun read for those seeking tales of adventure and ingenuity.

Spinning

Spinning.jpgTitle: Spinning
Author/Illustrator: Tillie Walden
ISBN: 9781626729407
Pages: 395 pages
Publisher/Date: First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2017.

In New Jersey, the discipline and tension of practice had terrified me. But I found myself missing it. The screaming, the crying, the exhaustion. It seemed so far away now. I had hoped that the simple familiarity of synchro would make me feel comfortable here. But even that didn’t work out as planned. I quickly found out that skating here operated on an entirely different system than the one back in New Jersey. Formations had different names, levels and titles changed, even judging was different. The one part of my life that I thought I understood was plunged into confusion with everything else. (57-58)

Tillie Walden’s graphic memoir recalls her years of competitive figure skating. Starting when she was five, the sport had been her only focus, monopolizing her time outside of school and dictating who she was close with during her childhood. While we don’t see many details about her early years, we get the impression that they were joyful. When she finished fifth grade her family moves from New Jersey to Texas. After that move, her parents were less involved in the sport then she was, often making her feel alone. “Skating changed when I came to Texas. It wasn’t strict or beautiful or energizing anymore. Now it just felt dull and exhausting. I couldn’t understand why I should keep skating after it lost all its shine.” (139) She relied on the small acts of friendship and camaraderie in her teammates, and even found forbidden romance. But when that abruptly ended and her art pursuits bring the joy and feelings of accomplishments that she was no longer feeling with ice skating, she quit without looking back before starting her senior year of high school.

It’s a story of trying to find your place in the world. Tillie is struggling throughout the novel with her identity of an ice skater being the only way she and others see herself. Latching on in turn to her first girlfriend, her coaches, and fellow skaters, she’s looking for the support and attention that skating previously provided her before moving. The slow unspooling of the years of early practices, taxing competitions, and disconnectedness with her fellow skaters begin to take their toll, and readers can empathize in those feelings that something has got to give. “I was starting to realize that skating wasn’t what it seemed. I always thought of it as simply a sport. But with that sport came a lifestyle. And it wasn’t optional.” (262) Once she finds an alternative for this lifestyle in art, she is allowed to find a passion that ice skating had been lacking. Bright patches of yellow emphasize light sources and break up an otherwise monochromatic color scheme, with focus on faces except in cases where wide lens landscapes mimic the reflective internal narration and the emptiness that Tillie is feeling.

But by the time I finished the story, I found myself in the same position as Tillie. Why did I continue? While yes there is the revelation at the end that she finally builds enough courage to quit a sport, it’s quickly over and is hardly the climatic finish were were hoping for. “How easy it was. I couldn’t help but wonder why I hadn’t done this sooner. But I didn’t have an answer. Even now, I’m still not sure. [… After the last lesson] I cried whole way home with my eyes wide open.” (362-370) After the monotony of skating, I would have liked to see her evolution post-skating, especially the development of her artistic aspirations. While I connected with her feelings of loneliness, it was difficult to connect with her when skating was such a major part of her little character development. Traumatic events are alluded to but never elaborated, and I feel like she is still holding herself back from connecting with readers. A contemplative collection of nostalgic considerations, possibly best suited for when you are facing your own moody state of stagnation.

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