Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Reboots and continuations of superheroes

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these books here.

And now back to superheroes. I feel like there are more traditional superheroes than usual on the list, but am too lazy-slash-busy-with-other-life-things to go and look at old lists to back up the claim. My perspective is likely skewed. You may be anticipating more dissatisfaction but I liked all of these except for one – the one that you might thing I’d most like. Coincidentally, Brian Michael Bendis wrote none of them. I kid, I kid. Speaking of kids and what they grow up to be:

NEW SERIES, OLD CHARACTERS

QW_001_COVER_SOOK

Quantum and Woody, Volume 1: The World’s Worst Superhero Team

James Asmus, writer

Tom Fowler, artist

Valiant

Anticipation/Expectation Level: Went into it blind. Liked the goat on the cover.

My Reality: I found myself laughing aloud at this. Even though the premise is that Woody is a blundering ass who thinks he’s charming – which usually is a grating character type – and he causes his adoptive (Black) family heartache and problems, up to and including getting him and his adoptive brother new powers. Woody is grating, but not so much that he ruins the comic.

In looking up info about the book I saw that it is a reboot of a beloved 90s comic, so that is a fact. In the original comic Quantum and Woody are not brothers – I think the change is a good decision – it adds that Spiderman tinge of responsibility to the goings on. And there are probably other nods to the original that I didn’t get, having never read it. But that didn’t matter to me. I enjoyed it for its sense of fun and absurdity, and deadpan humor mixed with over the top situations.

Will teens like it?: I think they would. If they can find it.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

quantumandwoody

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Volume 6: City Fall, Part 1

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Volume 7: City Fall, Part 2

Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz and Mateus Santoluoco -some combination of writing and art I have not been able to define because IDW’s website is super slow and Amazon and Goodreads are no help to me.

IDW

Anticipation/Expectation Level: Although my most popular piece of writing and the thing I will be remembered for after I die is probably my defense of the TMNT movie from 1990 (and I think that’s great), I am not invested in the Turts in the wider world of popular culture. Except for the Original NES video game. It was fun to watch my sister play that. So I had never read the original comic or the new comic. I thought it might be fun, though.

My Reality: I confess that I read City Fall Part 1 and got bored during City Fall Part 2 and stopped reading because no one was forcing me to except myself. I think this is because of my personal reading tastes and not a failure of the comic. I think Eastman’s woodblock-influenced art is a compelling style and so is the other dude’s. There’s action, betrayal, pizza, quips, and pizza quips. April is, like, a teenager or something, and there’s a new girl who is kind of shady but also kicks ass, so I don’t see why it’s not a good comic. And it has good reviews from people who have followed it, so I’m going to defer to them. I feel like it’s not that exciting, but I don’t have any good arguments to put forth supporting my claim. I just wasn’t into it.

Will teens like it?: Inconclusive – I haven’t heard any teens talk about TMNT, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like these books.

Is it “great” for teens?: Clearly I’m not thrilled by it.

Art Taste:

tmnt001

 

silversurfer1

Silver Surfer, Vol. 1: New Dawn

Dan Slott, writer

Mike Allred, artist

Marvel

I haven’t read this yet because the holds list is long and there are only 2 volumes in the whole library system, and I guess people don’t read comics as fast as I thought they did. I predict that I would probably like it based on liking Slott’s writing on Superior Spider-Man and that I dig the cover.

redsonja1    redsonja2

Red Sonja vol 1: Queen of the Plagues. 

Red Sonja vol 2: The Art of Blood and Fire

Gail Simone, writer

Walter Geovani, artist

Dynamite

Anticipation/Expectation Level: Gail Simone is cool, even though I wasn’t into her Birds of Prey.

My Reality: Art of Blood and Fire came out in November and doesn’t even have a record in my library system yet, so I have no hope of reading it before the end of January unless I pay for a digital copy, and that’s not in my budget, sorry, so I’m basing my review on only the first volume.

Queen of Plagues is a tight origin/near-death/mythos-establishing story. I’m glad that for most of this Red Sonja was out of her customary chainmail bikini because it just makes me feel cold to see that. Volume one covers aspects of Sonja’s childhood, coming of age, and present state of confronting a plague and someone *important* come back from her past with a new, life-threatening attitude regarding Sonja. It’s not confusing in the book.

Superheroes, whether sci fi or fantasy, have been brought low as a plot point many times. So much that it might be seen as a tired trick if not written well. Simone writes it well in Red Sonja. Geovani backs it up with tight art – not exploitative but not going against the hyperbolic nature of Sonja’s existence. She’s not cheesecakey but she does wear a bikini normally. Geovani manages to make that not seem weird and objectifying.

Will teens like it?: I see lots of teens into the fantasy adventure stuff, and I think they would like this.

Is it “great” for teens?: It is grandiose, well written, and nicely illustrated, so yes.

Art Taste:

Layout 1

msmarvel

Ms. Marvel V.1: No Normal

G. Willow Wilson, writer

Adrian Alphona, illustrator

Marvel

Anticipation/Expectation Level: Very high.

My Reality: Lived up to the hype! Gosh, I loved this. Again, classic themes done well. Kamala Khan is struggling with her identity in multiple ways: as a Muslim kid in her family, as a Muslim kid in Jersey teen culture at large, and as a nerdy teenager among other teenagers. Then she becomes Ms. Marvel and is struggling with her secret identity, and how it intersects with her racial and cultural identity. Khan lives in a universe where the Avengers et al are real, so there’s also a real fanfic come to life element to her journey.

I have written here about how I was a big fan of Wilson’s novel Alif the Unseen, so I was glad to see her as a writer here. She makes it feel authentic and hyper-real, and Alphona’s art is the perfect complement, with thin pen lines and faces that can move from realistically modeled to frowny faces in a panel or less – both styles are gorgeous and fun. I’m also a fan of the coloring work.

Will teens like it?: They better because I’ll be shoving it in their hands.

Is it “great” for teens?: Heck yeah.

Art Taste:

kickass

ShadowHero-Cov-final2

The Shadow Hero

Gene Luen Yang, writer

Sonny Liew, artist

First Second

Anticipation/Expectation Level: Gene Luen Yang! High expectations. Also Sonny Liew is fantastic.

My Reality: It might be easy to believe that Yang dreamed The Shadow Hero up on his own, but it is based on a golden-age comic book whose origins are fantastic in and of themselves – its writer was not allowed to make his hero Chinese, so he just never showed the guy’s face! And a turtle like shadow follows him and is never explained! Click through from the cover image to see more info on Yang’s site.

The new imagining of The Shadow Hero is more complex and narrative based than its forebear. Set in 1930s Chinatown in San Francisco, it involves a young man, Hank Chu, who just wants to follow his dad and manage a grocery, a Chinese mob situation, ancient animal spirits and a mom who just wants a brave superhero son to be proud of, because after all, Americans have superheroes, so Chinese-Americans should, too! And her husband isn’t standing up to his extorters.

Liew does a great job evoking the era, and his customary great job drawing small-featured, a bit physically exaggerated characters who can change moods by just a subtle crook of an eyebrow or twist of the mouth.

Will teens like it?: Yes, but they might not rush to grab it off of the shelf because of its old-timey look.

Is it “great” for teens?:  Yeah.

Art Taste:

Shadow_New-1024x576

CONTINUATIONS

Batman_-_Death_of_the_Family

Batman Vol 3: Death of the Family

Scott Snyder, writer

Greg Capullo, artist

DC Comics

Anticipation/Expectation Level: I like Batman and Scott Snyder writing Batman, usually.

My Reality: Scary and grotesque, just how we like Joker stories, I think? Snyder keeps putting Batman in situations that play on his weak humanity. Joker’s story plays out very much like a serial killer drama, and that’s really what he is. In this case, gritty superheroism isn’t tiring to me.

Will teens like it?: Yes. Especially if they’re into Hannibal

Is it “great” for teens?: It’s a great example of a dark superhero book, so yes.

Art Taste:

jokercreep

 

We’re in the home stretch! I even got a free Crunchyroll trial so I could read some more manga. See you next week.

“I Used to Think I Was a Good Person”: The Dogs of Balboa

A Review of The Dogs of Balboa by Rose Christo

Self-published,  2014

The Dogs of Balboa Rose Christo

by REBECCA, August 4, 2014

hook

While walking home one day, fifteen-year-old Michael Mirez sees a sexual assault and runs away in fear. Over the next year, Michael self-destructs, endlessly punishing himself for not stepping in to do more. Now, Noah Flattery, the boy Michael saw assaulted shows up at Michael’s school, and Michael sees his chance to try and make it up to him. But what starts as a relationship of guilty protection becomes so much more, and Michael isn’t sure if he can handle it.

review

Gives Light Rose ChristoAn important thing to know about the world: there is a series called Gives Light, written and self-published by the inimitable Rose Christo and, before you do anything else, you should read it. I’m telling you this because I want to improve your quality of life. (Also, you should check out our interview with the very smart and funny Rose Christo HERE.)

Whew, okay. Now that we’ve taken care of that, let’s talk about The Dogs of Balboa, a book that has a similar tone and dynamic to the Gives Light series—and what a welcome dynamic it is!

Our narrator is Michael Mirez, whom we come to know as a responsible kid who loves his older brother, Joel (who joined the army at eighteen), and sisters, respects his father, a terse Spanish lawyer, and feels protective of his mother, a wheelchair-bound former-reindeer-farmer from Lapland. Michael is kind and funny, and thinks of himself as a good person. All that changes when Michael sees a boy being raped by two men in an alley. Michael wants to intercede, but, terrified, runs to his best friend, Tamika’s, house and calls the police instead. After that day, Michael never lets himself off the hook again.

Michael’s opinion of himself changes drastically that day, and he doesn’t believe he deserves anything good in his life. His guilt even causes him to fail his sophomore year. He spends his time in Joel’s room, confessing things to him that he can’t say out loud. How everywhere he looks he sees the personal failure that’s come to define him. Rose Christo has a way with this kind of character. Her portrait of Michael’s guilt and trauma over what he witnessed and his reaction to it are exquisite.

The boy from the winter alleyway crept back into my head. I almost vomited. Truth was, that boy was always in my head. Mostly he lingered toward the back somewhere, just out of sight. It was whenever I was in danger of thinking something really hypocritical—or relaxing, even for a moment—that he made his comeback, that he reminded me I didn’t deserve respite and he wasn’t going away. He was never going away. What had happened to him was never going away. If I had just said something. If I had just opened my mouth.”

earth5Then, on the first day of Michael’s (second) sophomore year, he runs into a beautiful Native American boy smoking in the bathroom and everything changes. Because it’s the boy he saw in the alley that day a year before. And suddenly, all Michael wants in the whole world is to keep this boy—Noah—safe. It begins with Michael walking him to and from school, where they develop a rapport. Michael notices that sensitive, jumpy Noah seems to feel safe around him. But this only serves to heighten Michael’s fear that he cannot ever truly keep Noah safe; that he’d already let him down too severely.

Almost without noticing it, Noah and Michael begin spending all their time together, where they realize they’re both fascinated by space—planets, constellations, black holes. But, no matter how close they get, Michael sees every interaction as pointing out his own failure; as pointing out that he doesn’t deserve to be happy.

“A part of Noah was stolen last winter. Noah wanted to go to space to get back to himself, the unmovable, indomitable part of himself that stood still with the ethers while the earth shook. I wanted to go to space to get away from myself. I wanted to stop being Michael. Noah stood his ground while I ran away.”

The closer they get, the less Michael feels he can bear to lose Noah’s friendship, so he avoids telling Noah that he is the one who witnessed his attack. But the closer they get, the more Michael feels like he’s assaulting Noah all over again by enjoying his friendship without confessing. And, little by little, Michael is beginning to question whether his feelings for Noah stop at friendship . . .  because he’s beginning to feel something very much like love.

The image of the violent practice that gave this book its title

The image of the violent practice that gave this book its title

The Dogs of Balboa is pitch-perfect; a poignant and chilling exploration of the horror of suddenly proving to yourself that you aren’t who you thought you were, and the horror of living with the aftermath. Michael, it’s clear, did nothing wrong. But after being confronted with a version of himself that he found lacking, he is unable to live with that self. Noah has his own version of events, but Michael isn’t sure he’ll ever be able to revise his opinion of himself. Christo is a master at character-building through voice and reaction, and Michael and Noah are no exception. They are delightful, complex characters who each possess something that the other one desperately needs.

As with all her novels, Christo’s secondary characters—Michael’s siblings, Noah’s sister, their friends from school—are fully-developed and help build the world. The Dogs of Balboa explores multiple different cultures, from Michael’s mixed heritage and Noah’s Native American household, to the large Gujarati population at their school.

The Dogs of Balboa reminded me of Gives Light in some ways. An unlikely friendship between two boys that’s based on unconditional protection on one side and unconditional acceptance on the other; issues of guilt and redemption; trauma, both person and cultural; and sexual assault. But this isn’t a rehashing of Gives Light by any means, merely a very worthy and very welcome follow-up. The Dogs of Balboa is a beautiful book you won’t forget.

readalikes

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (2012). When Aristotle and Dante first meet, they seem an unlikely pair. Aristotle is angry at the world, with a brother in prison and frustrations around every corner, and Dante is thoughtful, with academic parents and a paranoia that he’s not Mexican enough. But Ari and Dante quickly become inseparable, and this story of their relationship is a gorgeous testament to the ways we sometimes need someone unlikely in order to discover ourselves.

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart, by J.C. Lillis (2012). Psh, y’all, J.C. Lillis’ debut novel is a masterpiece of the friends –> boyfriends genre. Like The Dogs of Balboa and Aristotle and Dante Discover the UniverseHow to Repair a Mechanical Heart features two opposites who form a close friendship. Brandon and Abel have a fan vlog about their favorite tv show; now, they are embarking on a journey to see the show’s appearance at comic-cons across the country . . . and a journey of lurve. My full review is HERE and our interview with the so-delightful J.C. Lillis is HERE.

procured from: bought, as I will with EVERY Rose Christo book that comes out!

Lisa Jenn Bigelow: “Put your characters through the wringer!”

Today at Crunchings & Munchings we’re proud to welcome Lisa Jenn Bigelow, author of Starting From Here. It’s a new contemporary fiction title that we co-reviewed/discussed on Wednesday (click through to find out what it’s all about).  She joins us today to talk about how coming out is still hard to do, diversity in YA fiction, the dreaded “dead dog book”, and where to eat in Pittsburgh.  Yay!

Starting From Here Lisa Jenn Bigelow

C&M: I really liked that this was a story about the way kids’ lives can be really hard when they don’t have money. Can you talk a little bit about why it was important to you to portray characters that had material concerns as well as social concerns?

LJB: I grew up in a working class neighborhood. Both my parents had higher education, but they were in the minority. And while we always had enough money, we were careful, and I grew up hyperaware of how much things cost. When I got to middle and high school, several affluent neighborhoods joined the mix, and social tiers became obviously tied to economics. The popular kids, the preps, the student council, many of the athletes—they were from the rich (by my hometown’s standards, anyway) neighborhoods. You couldn’t not notice that.

I think well-off kids are the norm in YA books, and when money’s an issue, often it comes out as abject poverty. I wanted to represent the kids around the corner from me, the kids on the line between being “haves” and “have-nots.” That’s an underrepresented segment of the American population. Especially in today’s economic climate, I think those kids are the majority.

lisa jenn bigelow and carly

Photo by David Sutton

C&M: There have been more and more queer characters in YA books being published in the last few years. Have you noticed any trends (or types, or stereotypes) that have begun to emerge within these books? Did you find yourself trying to embrace/resist/complicate any of these with your own characters?

LJB: On the whole, I think we’re moving away from stereotypes and toward greater diversity. We’re seeing more queer girls and trans characters. We’re seeing more characters of color and different cultures. We’re seeing more stories that move beyond the “coming out” sub-genre. We’re seeing more genre fiction—fantasy and science fiction and even historical fiction—starring queer characters.

One of my favorite trends is the growing recognition of the fluidity of sexuality and gender. Characters aren’t so quick to label themselves. They’re more comfortable following their hearts without taking a hard line on whether a particular attraction makes them gay or bi or what-have-you. That’s something I really liked about Very LeFreak, by Rachel Cohn, which stars a girl who might best be described as pansexual—if she were one to care about labels.

very lefreak rachel cohen

In Starting from Here, Colby identifies strongly as gay, but the two girls she’s involved with don’t want—or aren’t ready—to label themselves that way. I want teens to know that it’s totally okay not to. I think it’s more important to simply feel what you feel at any given moment and to accept those feelings without judging yourself or worrying about “what it makes you.”

C&M: What do you think of the cover? I’m super into it – no generic photograph of a person staring off into the middle distance — and it reminds me of the iconic David Levithan covers. I especially like how the truck is pink and the heart is yellow. Did you have any input on it?  Were you hoping for a certain vibe from the cover?

LJB: The cover’s awesome—no thanks to me. My nightmare was actually that the cover would be a stock photo of an empty country road with one of those yellow diamond-shaped road signs with the title printed on it. So I was thrilled with what the designer came up with. I think it’s very appealing and distinctive from the slew of stock-photo-girl covers out there. I do love that it evokes David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, and also the hardcover edition of Lauren Myracle’s Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks—two great books by two of my favorite authors.

peace love and baby ducks lauren myracle  boy meets boy david levithan

C&M: Starting From Here is set in rural-y Michigan. What’s your connection with the area and why did you decide to set it there?

LJB: I grew up in the Kalamazoo area—technically in Portage, which is a smallish city just south of Kalamazoo proper. It has one huge, commercial road running through the center of town, but drive a mile or two to either side, and you basically end up in the country. Cornfields, trailer parks, lakes and nature preserves. My own neighborhood was right near the commercial center, but over the course of eighteen years, I got a feel for just about the whole town. It’s all remained very vivid to me, plus I get a refresher course every time I visit my parents.

The culture of the area is just as important. When Starting from Here was on submission, there were actually editors who expressed confusion as to why Colby had qualms about coming out to her father. I think that’s cosmopolitan New York talking. Anyone who follows the news should know that in most of America (including New York), coming out can still be a dangerous thing. Coming out can mean being harassed, ostracized, disowned, assaulted, or even killed. Kalamazoo County may have gone Blue in the 2012 presidential election, but Southwest Michigan is, overall, a pretty conservative area. Things have changed for the better there since I was a teen, but I wanted to reflect the reality that things are still far from perfect.

kalamazoo michigan

Kalamazoo by Dave Sizer on flickr (creative commons)

C&M: Mo the dog is a huge part of the story, and in some ways the heart of the story (please forgive me for that cheesy phrasing). Rebecca and I, as devoted cat owners and animal lovers, were both very touched by Mo’s inclusion. So we wanted to thank you for showing the responsibility and love that pet ownership entails! Although, thankfully, this is not a dead dog story, those types of stories are notoriously divisive. Where do you come down on the Old Yeller issue? Do you have a dog?

LJB: Funny you should bring up Old Yeller. The very first chapter of the very first draft of Starting from Here had Colby talking about how she’d read that book over and over again, until she didn’t have any tears left. That’s how I feel about “dead dog books” at this point in my life. I read Where the Red Fern Grows, as well as various other tearjerkers, so many times when I was a kid, but I got to a point where I was tired of crying. Maybe because real life seemed hard enough.

this dog will lighten the mood. by RollanB on Flickr

Now whenever I pick up a dog book, I flip to the last page—something I normally don’t do—to see if the dog makes it to the end alive. If it doesn’t, forget it. I’ve had to say goodbye to three dogs in my life, and it’s terrible. I still tear up when I think about my dog Carly, who died a year and a half ago–she’s the German shepherd mix in my official author photo. She was more neurotic than the average dog, but I loved her to pieces.

I adopted another dog last fall—another shepherd mix, incidentally. Her name is Saffy, and while she’s middle-aged, she’s very energetic and loves fetch and going in Lake Michigan. She’s also a total cuddle. Now I’m searching for a second rescue to make us more of a pack.

Anyway, that was actually the initial inspiration for Starting from Here: I wanted to write an “anti-dead dog book.” A book that kicks off with an awfully close call but doesn’t end in tears. A book that shows how a dog can save someone’s life simply through love, no fatal acts of heroism required.

C&M: Colby’s trust issues get worse and worse and she eventually reaches a breaking point. I thought it was a really truthful portrayal of a character with a lot of love to give and a fear of being hurt. It’s a fine line when you have one of your characters do hurtful things to the people around them and to themselves, but Colby is never unlikeable. Did you ever feel bad about putting her through that process?

LJB: Will I sound callous if I say “not really”? That’s how the novel-writing game is played: put your characters through the wringer! I guess the hardest thing was making Colby convincingly self-absorbed. She feels like the world is out to get her, when it was obvious to me (as it will be to readers) that isn’t true. If I knew her in real life, I’d want to give her a good shake. But we’ve all been there, and I hope readers can make that connection.

The most emotional scenes for me to write were, unsurprisingly, when Colby hits bottom. But they were also some of the most satisfying. I figured that if I could make myself cry—me, the puppetmaster, the one person who should be immune to emotional manipulation—then those scenes would touch readers, too.

C&M: Does your work as a youth librarian influence your writing, and if so, how so?
LJB: As a youth librarian, I’m immersed daily in books for young people. I read reviews of them, purchase them, read them, review them, discuss them, suggest them. All these activities have given me a strong awareness of what’s being published (which is far beyond what you are likely to see on the shelves of a big box store), what kids like to read, and what reviewers and award committees are looking at. On the one hand, it makes me read–and therefore write–more critically; on the other, I’ve become more generous in my definition of what makes a “good book,” because as a librarian you have to accept that it’s different for everyone. Above all, being a librarian gives me perspective. There are so many very good books out there that don’t get starred reviews, don’t win awards, don’t make the bestseller list, and go out of print within just a few years. A lot of that is luck; it’s just how the business is. So you just have to hope your book will find its readers and touch their lives before it fades away. And libraries, which treasure books as long as they have the shelf space, play an instrumental role in that.

BONUS QUESTION:

Tessa: Tell me about your favorite place(s) to go in Pittsburgh!

LJB: You’re making me nostalgic. I went to Carnegie Mellon University, which doesn’t have a particularly nice campus but is a great home base for what Pittsburgh has to offer. For ice cream, I have to go with Dave & Andy’s. For pizza, the Church Brew Works. My friends and I loved Sree’s Foods for Indian. Sree himself ran a food cart next to campus and was a kind and generous man. He died last year, unfortunately.

one of the buildings at CMU, taken by Flickr user jiuguangw

I could go on all day about food—have I mentioned Bloomfield Bridge Tavern makes tasty pierogi?—but onward. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is a beautiful old building, and I checked out many a YA book from it while I was in college. Bonus, the art museum is right next door. I also love Pittsburgh’s wooded parks, especially Schenley and Frick. The best part of Frick Park is Hot Dog Dam, a swimming hole for dogs. So cute!

Tessa: Those are indeed all wonderful Pittsburgh places.  Thank you for visiting, Lisa, and giving us thoughtful answers and a great book to read and recommend.

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