My Top Ten Picks for GGNT 2015

by Tessa

Friends, I’m going to post my Top Ten from the nominations list which is posted on the ALA page.

However! After seeing a picture of the committee with their top ten picks, it seems that the ALA list of current nominations was not the final nominations list, because there are books on the official top ten that are NOT on the ALA list. Such as: Trillium, Seconds, In Real Life, Through the Woods, and that book that Thomas is holding that I don’t recognize.

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This is disappointing to me as a lover of order and detail, and as a blogger who wanted to cover all of the nominations. This is how I feel:

giphy

On the other hand, I’m happy that Through the Woods is there, because I was wondering why it hadn’t made the list. It’s definitely one of my top ten books I read last year.

So with my disappointment registered, here are my Top Ten, from the information that I have at hand, which is not complete, in no particular order:

1. Through the Woods, Emily Carroll

2. Beautiful Darkness, Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoet

3. El Deafo by Cece Bell

4. Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood by Nathan Hale

5. Moonhead and the Music Machine by Andrew Rae

6. Ms. Marvel V.1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

7. This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

8. Tomboy by Liz Prince

9. Above the Dreamless Dead edited by Chris Duffy

10. Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley

 

Overall, I thought that 52 of the 81 listed nominations were “great”, with 40 of those being really great.

 

Keep your eye on the ALA site to see an update on the final list… if they remember to update it.

Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: More Non-Fiction Comics

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these comics by clicking here.

This is the last of the batch!!! I’ll be posting my picks for Top Ten next week… what would yours be?

Also: HAPPY 3RD ANNIVERSARY, Crunchings & Munchings! Rebecca registered us on WordPress 3 years ago.

masterful-marks

Masterful Marks. Cartoonists Who Changed the World – 16 Graphic Biographies

Monte Beauchamp, editor

Simon & Schuster

Anticipation/expectation level: Picking up the book and flipping through it made me anticipate the act of reading it, because of the wonderful variety of drawing styles, many of them in the style of the artist that they are profiling. But an email discussion about the book pointed out some issues that I hoped wouldn’t be so prominent (spoiler alert: they were).

My Reality: Beauchamp has selected 16 figures who he thinks influenced comics history. The biographies are drawn by a wide range of artists and written by Beauchamp and others. I’m going to quote the publisher’s copy about the book to give you a better idea of the idea:

In a first-of-its-kind collection, award-winning illustrators celebrate the lives of the visionary artists who created the world of comic art and altered pop culture forever.

Sixteen Graphic Novel Biographies of:
• Walt Disney • Dr. Seuss • Charles Schulz • The Creators of Superman • R. Crumb • Jack Kirby • Winsor McCay • Hergé • Osamu Tezuka • MAD creator, Harvey Kurtzman • Al Hirschfeld • Edward Gorey • Chas Addams • Rodolphe Töpffer • Lynd Ward • Hugh Hefner

The story of cartoons—the multibillion-dollar industry that has affected all corners of our culture, from high to low—is ultimately the story of the visionary icons who pioneered the form.
But no one has told the story of comic art in its own medium—until now.

In Masterful Marks, top illustrators—including Drew Friedman, Nora Krug, Denis Kitchen, and Peter Kuper—reveal how sixteen visionary cartoonists overcame massive financial, political, and personal challenges to create a new form of art that now defines our world.

So, according to that, these are the figures that created comics – obviously not true. This is also not the first book that tells comics history in the comics form – there’s the Comic Book History of Comics,  comicbookhistorywhich is longer and more expansive, and might even include women! Actually, I’m not sure about that. But Masterful Marks definitely does not include women. It does manage to include Hugh Hefner, who was an amateur cartoonist and a publisher of comics artist. But it does not not an actual woman who creates comics or publishes comics. No Francoise Mouly. No Lynda Barry or Trina Robbins or Alison Bechdel or Tove Jansson or Jackie Ormes. Masterful Marks is narrowly focused because its editor is narrowly focused.

The comics themselves are lovely. But they are short. There is a lot of information to get into 16 pages or whatever, and so many of them have panels that are too crowded with narration, or panels that just have the biographical figure listing facts about themselves with no arc to the comic. The Walt Disney comic is just 2 anthropomorphic animals roaming the countryside – there is no point to that one being a comic at all.

Some of them are really great! Drew Friedman draws a personal story about how he knows Harvey Kurtzman, and because it has a personal connection that frames the story, it works. It doesn’t try to encompass the man’s entire life.

But not enough of them are great to make this book work. I would love to see full length, even 48 page comic biographies using this conceit, but the collection isn’t coherent enough to be even a rough history of comics, and the comics themselves are hamstrung by the length limitation.

Will teens like it?: I can see teens missing out on a lot of information trying to use this as a resource for a paper.

Is it “great” for teens?: No.

Art Taste:

masterful-marks-rcrumb

masterful-marks-addams

09-Shuster

dreamless dead

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics.

Chris Duffy, editor

First Second

Anticipation/expectation level: Chris Duffy puts together some really excellent collections of comics adaptations of prose works for First Second, so I figured this had a good chance of being great.

My Reality: The poems and the art in this collection work so, so well together, better than I ever thought they would. The panels of the comics let the reader slow down and not rush through the poetry. It’s a treat to see how each artist tackles and interprets the pieces they have chosen/are assigned. Above the Dreamless Dead is a wonderful book to think about history, visual literacy, and poetry. And a great companion to read with Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood! The artists include Luke Pearson, Eddie Campbell, Anders Nilsen, Danica Novgorodoff and Hannah Berry, among others.

Will teens like it?: They’d be lucky to come across this book.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

dreamlessdead1 dreamlessdead2 dreamlessdead3 dreamlessdead4

MADISON-SQ-TRAGEDYcover

A Treasury of XXth Century Murder:  Madison Square Tragedy – The Murder of Stanford White  

Rick Geary, writer and artist

NBM ComicsLit

Anticipation/expectation level: I like Rick Geary’s historical murder books. They are usually well-researched, with a well-balanced structure of plot, art, and historical context/facts.

My Reality: I was especially interested to read this because of the Pittsburgh connection – the murderer was Harry K. Thaw of Pittsburgh. As this book shows, he was a real jerk and suffered from a combination of mental illness and wealth that allowed him to shoot a man in the face, beat and emotionally abuse his wife, and feel like it was his right to do so, and suffer barely any consequences for it. Stanford White sounds like a creep, too, but that doesn’t mean he should have been shot in the face. And poor Evelyn Nesbit. This is really her story, and it’s not a happy one.

I think a good comic book about history gives a full story and makes the reader want to dive more into the subject, and Madison Square Tragedy had exactly that effect on me. I closed the book and started looking up Thaw’s home in Pittsburgh, hoping it was still standing (it’s not – but the carriage house was on the market for over a million dollars a couple years back, and that’s a Pittsburgh valuation, which means it would sell for much more in any other city). I did find articles about Thaw’s home and his trial in the New York Times database, and they were fascinating. And I want to know more about Evelyn.

Will teens like it?: I always wonder if the “old timey” stylization of Geary’s art is a barrier for teens – I think that teens who are into true crime stories could get past it, but I don’t think these books, however worthy, are ever going to be shelf-jumpers in the teen section (I just made that term up).

Is it “great” for teens?: I still think it’s great.

Art Taste:

gearypreview

strangefruit

Strange Fruit – Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History

Joel Christian Gill, writer and artist

Fulcrum Publishing

Anticipation/expectation level: The title certainly got me interested!

My Reality: As Gill’s first collection of comics, it shows a progression from competent to assured – you can see him relying on a similar format for story and panels for the first couple stories, then starting to branch out and become more comfortable with using his writing with his art. Consequently, the book gets more powerful as it goes along. Gill starts out with Henry “Box” Brown – the slave who shipped himself to freedom. That is the most well-known of Gill’s subjects – as promised, these are heretofore uncelebrated narratives in Black history, and I love that he has found them and started the celebration.

Will teens like it?: Yes, especially teens looking for subjects for their Black History Month projects.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

strangefruit41

colonial comics

Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750

Jason Rodriguez, editor

Fulcrum Publishing

I’m still on hold for this, wah waaah. The cover has such lovely colors!

Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: One-Off Fantasy/Magical Adventures

by Tessa

Read about the whys of this series here.

Possibly my favorite genre of comics, and one of the larger lists to be culled from the nominations this year – graphic works are suited for describing the fantastic if done well, and there’s a lot of fun and variety in these selections, so if yo u find your attention waning partway through, please take a break and come back to appreciate the back end of the list with fresh eyes.

singnoevil

Sing No Evil

JP Ahonen, writer

KP Alare, artist

Abrams

Anticipation/Expectation level: Another one I’m on hold for – excited to read this! Although the comics I’ve read about people in bands are usually disappointing, this one looks like it could be fun.

Art Taste:

singnoevilpreview

giganticbeard

The Gigantic Beard that was Evil

Stephen Collins, writer and artist

Picador

Anticipation/Expectation level: Based on the title, pretty high?

My Reality: It’s one of those gentle stunners of a book that is somewhere closer to adult picture book on the graphic novel spectrum. A fable-like story about an island named here where everything is in its place, surrounded by a sea that leads to There, an unknown place of frightening chaos. An inhabitant of the island has one hair on his chin that goes haywire, causing problems for all of the island’s society and culture.

The text is gentle, with a sure tone and an almost-rhyming feel. It is very rhythmic and I sang part of it to my cats as part of their integration therapy. The art is penciled, with a sense of lighting that adds to the otherworldliness and gravity of the story. Collins balances the softness of his pencils and the lulling of his words with the helplessness of the unknown that lurks beneath both. It is a treat.

Will teens like it?: Yes, it doesn’t have an immediate hook apart from the great title, but it’s not hard to get into and provides its own rewards.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes – much like The Arrival, this is the kind of book that isn’t marketed towards teens but would be great to use in a book club, to introduce to an arts loving teenager or foist upon a book club with success, because there’s not really an impediment to getting something from it other than the thought that it might not be like what one is used to reading.

Art Taste:

The Gigantic Beard that was Evil

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Buzz!

Ananth Panagariya, writer

Tessa Stone, artist

Oni Press

Anticipation/Expectation level: It looked fun, but I knew nothing of it going in. I like the name Tessa.

My Reality: Like Hicks’ and Shen’s Nothing Can Possibly Go WrongBuzz! is a solid entry into the teen high school slightly off adventure comic market. It’s easy to pick up off the shelf and recommend because it’s a new concept (underground spelling bees) running on standard tropes (outsiders who used to be insiders take on powerful conglomerate with the help of a talented newbie, betrayal from sort of within happens). And there’s nothing that is objectionable unless you object to a hint of magic. The action starts quickly and escalates quickly and the art is dynamic, hitting a spot between Faith Erin Hicks and Brian Lee O’Malley (as does the tone of the story). In short: fun.

For me, the action was a bit too quick and I never felt any resonance with the characters or their struggles, everyone was a bit too blithe. However, I don’t really count my feelings as meaning much because I’m not the ideal audience for this book. I don’t think it’s meant to be resonant, and I don’t think it has to be to be a successful comic. In fact, as a teen services librarian I wish for more of these fun, one-off books for my shelves.

Will teens like it?: Yes.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

buzz_panels

breathofbones

Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem

Steve Niles and Matt Santoro, writers

Dave Wachter, artist

Dark Horse

Anticipation/Expectation level: I’v always been a fan of golems.  I was interested to see what this book would do to distinguish itself in the saturated WWII market. (Pretty sure there are even already books about golems in WWII).

My Reality: A straightforward tale, as far as a tale about using a Golem against Nazis goes. A boy loses his father to World War… One, I think. Or two. Anyway, enough time that he grows up a bit in between. He’s waiting in a small village with his grandfather and other elderly people, all Jewish or mostly Jewish. He’s still waiting when a plane crashes outside of town. This is bad, because it is an Allied pilot who will bring scrutiny from Nazis. There is barely enough time to flee, so his grandfather entrusts  him with the secret of golem-making, and makes a Golem.

In keeping with the folsky, mythical vibe of the Golem, the tale is focused on the elemental parts of the story: good over evil, nobility over greed, sons discovering their strength in the absence of fathers and father figures. The Golem itself is elemental: the protection of earth and faith. The historical detail of the story adds another layer of pathos and dignity. And the art is gorgeous: detailed, black and white with a nice flowing sense of space and shadow, highlighted by brushy washes of grey and black. Unfortunately, by focusing on the elemental parts of the story, the story ends up being kind of forgettable. It’s evocative during reading, but might fade from the mind over time, merging with other golems or other WWII tales.

Will teens like it?: I can see some teens liking it.

Is it “great” for teens?: It’s good. I don’t know if it crosses over to great. For teens. But I bet someone else could argue it.

Art Taste:

bobtag1p3

lilychen

The Undertaking of Lily Chen

Danica Novgorodoff, writer and artist

First Second

Anticipation/Expectation level: High, because I read Slow Storm and Refresh, RefreshI loved those books and was excited to read a longer work with a more clearly defined plot from Novgorodoff.

My Reality: If The Undertaking of Lily Chen were a movie it would be a fast talking movie in the mold of 30s and 40s flicks and it would be a farce, only set in China and having to do with a less-loved son finding a corpse to bury with his dead, too-venerated older brother. It’s a strange mix but one that works – Novgorodoff is good at finding the groove in uneasiness.

The main story is a chase/road trip type format, with Deshi Li dealing with the abrupt and violent end of his brother (by his hands), his place within his family, and his desperation to find a corpse or someone to murder to become a corpse bride. He runs into Lily Chen, who is brassy and adventurous in contrast to Deshi’s sad and anxious mode. She is trying to get to Shanghai from the poor countryside by any means possible. She becomes Deshi’s target and companion. The story, as it is, is not the strongest part of the book. The central idea of the ghost marriage as an impetus is interesting, but not enough to sustain the whole book – that would fall on Deshi’s shoulders, and he never really proves himself as a main character. Lily, being the titular character and the more naturally active person, is compelling, but so concerned with her movement away from her past that it’s hard to admire more than her gumption.

What really pulls everything together is the art. Sweeping, melancholy vistas of mountains. Twlight and dawn-light. Out of body experiences. Novgorodoff mixes delicate watercolors with pen-line shadows and outlined characters, the exaggerated with the realistic, creating a world slightly beyond the real.

Will teens like it?: Yes. It’s intriguing and well-paced.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes  – the shortcomings of the characterization are balanced out by the art and themes that emerge near the end.

Art Taste:

lilychen lilychen2

MoonheadCoverFull

Moonhead and the Music Machine

Andrew Rae, writer and artist

Nobrow Press

Anticipation/Expectation level: I like Nobrow.

My Reality: This hit all the sweet spots for me. Palpable depictions of awkwardness that lead to heartwarming scenes of celebration of being weird. Joey Moonhead has a moon for a head. No one talks about it, but he and his family are the only ones who are visibly different from all the other humanoids. Joey is out of it and kind of shy, but he wants to build a music machine for a talent show. His first attempt is pitiful but he is discovered by a new friend – a ghost-person, dresssed in a sheet, who is kind of a musical genius, and he blows off his long time buddy to pursue the dream.  I found it to be relatable, a story that has been told, but a heartfelt, personal take on it that works. Rae’s art is all clear lines with a great sense of storytelling beats through the pacing of the panels. And he draws great creatures.

Will teens like it?: Teens might think it’s too weird or off their usual path, but I bet they would like it if they gave it a chance. Or they might think its message is too simple.

Is it “great” for teens?: I think it’s great!

Art Taste:

Moonhead_Page14-600x402

moonheadpreview

downsetfightcover

Down Set Fight!

Chad Bowers and Chris Sims, writers

Scott Kowalchuk, artist

Oni Press

Anticipation/Expectation level: Verging from neutral to vaguely wary about sports content.

My Reality: Down Set Fight! is unapologetically a book about fighting. To be specific, it’s about a football player who is most famous for fighting on field and has abandoned his career and aged into being a high school coach. Until mascots start seeking him out to fight him. (There’s also a back story with his sleazy dad.) The fun the writers had dreaming up the mascots is readily apparent, and although there’s a mystery element to the plot, it is really all about Chuck fighting mascots and figuring out why they want to fight him. It’s all done with a sense of whimsy and over-the-top violence that isn’t gruesome or realistic in anyway, and I admire that.

Will teens like it?: You could sell this to a teen.

Is it “great” for teens?: I don’t know if it’s great. I’m on the fence.

Art Taste:

pachyderms

BEAUT_DARK_cover-full

Beautiful Darkness

Fabien Vehlmann, writer

Kerascoët, artists

Drawn & Quarterly

Anticipation/Expectation level: Read a preview of this last year and really, really wanted to read it.

My Reality: Possibly one of the best books I’ve read, period. It is beautiful and terrible – terrible in the sense of being deeply frightening. Or maybe the right word is horror, or is there a word of witnessing the consequences of bad decisions or acts of god(s) and being struck by the impassive blankness of nature? It’s that. There are very visceral moments in here that will stay with a person.

So, the book is about these tiny fairy-ish people who emerge from the body of a dead girl in a forest. It’s not clear who they are or how they ended up in the body but they now have to survive in the forest. Some are oblivious to the dangers, some scheme to get power, some try to help out, some go out on their own. The team of Kerascoët is the perfect choice to illustrate this world, with their sure, delicate pen lines and richly colored, realistic backgrounds.

Why should I say more when you could be reading this book?

Will teens like it?: Yes. It might scar younger readers, but will also fascinate them.

Is it “great” for teens?: I mean… it’s great.

Art Taste:

BEAUTIFUL-pg61-817c1

Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Sci-Fi

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these here.

I had 4 sci-fi titles bunched up together. Two of them are not going to make it to my eyes in time.

ringworld

Ringworld, an adaptation of the sci-fi classic by Seven Seas, could not be procured even through my library system’s excellent ILL department, and I don’t think I’d like it enough to spend money on a digital copy. I would if I were actually on the committee, but luckily I don’t have to. It sounds like a cool idea, and I am tempted to read the original prose novel.

rust3

I am sad that my library does not have Rust V.3: Death of the Rocket Boy, by Royden Lepp, because it’s been out since May of 2014. This is a series, originally published by Archaia, that I’ve been following since it first came out. Each of its volumes has made it onto the Great Graphic Novels list, and last year the 2nd volume was in our top 10. I want to read the next (last?) installment of this story in an alternate historical time about a jet-pack/boy and his adventures in Canadian farmland. But I’m willing to bet that it makes it on the list again this year. I would buy a copy but it wouldn’t make it to me in time. Bad planning, me.

But anyway, on to what I did manage to read:

boom_woods_v1

The Woods Volume 1: The Arrow

James Tynion IV, writer

Michael Dialynas, artist

BOOM! Studios  

Anticipation/Expectation Level: It was on my radar but I didn’t know anything about it other than the cover looked cool.

My Reality: I had so much fun reading this. In many ways it’s very much a classic high school adventure, but the high school is suddenly transplanted to an alien planet with an extra-mysterious conspiracy added in (I will say no more about that). There’s a survival/road-trip element as a group of the students head out with a super-smart loner at their head, following him because he says he knows whats going on and because the scene inside the school itself is turning into a shitshow, with the gym teacher using all of his Machiavelli against the go-getter Student President, with the principal as a pawn between them. The jocks, nerds, and everyone in-between have roles to play. It gets heavy in a couple of places, but mostly maintains its humor within the tense situations. I loved the coloring here – very purply and saturated.

Will Teens Like It?: Yes, I can see myself booktalking this one for summer reading or something.
Is it “great” for teens?: yes.

Art Taste:

dinosaurnow ourfuture

alexada_tp_v1

Alex + Ada Volume 1

Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn, writers

Jonathan Luna, artist

Image

Anticipation/Expectation Levels: Pretty much the same as The Woods.

My Reality: Yay! This is speculative sci-fi that explores technology, identity, AI, android rights, loneliness, responsibility, and grandmothers who mean well. Luna’s style of drawing is perfect – very realistic and flat, with an eye for subtle changes in facial expressions. I almost feel like Alex is too good to be true, but I have to remind myself that there are guys out there who wouldn’t be total creeps in this situation. And he may change in the following issues. If you can’t tell from the cover and my rambling, Alex is gifted a robot companion by his grandma because she thinks he is being depressed for too long after his breakup. Alex is weirded out that Ada, the android, has no opinions and defers to his wants and needs. So he decides to figure out what to do about it.

Will Teens Like it?: Yes

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

AlexAda03_mnchmnch

Reading the Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: New Superheroes, new series

by Tessa

Read about the reasons for this reading series here.

Every year brave teams of writers, artists, inkers, publishers etc. launch or re-launch a superhero series, going up against the big names of the pantheon. Last year one of the standouts was The Hypernaturals, from BOOM! Studios, which looks like it only existed for two collected editions. But every time I feel a little spark of hope that one of them will gain some readership momentum and last for a little while.

Or just get read and appreciated.

Last week I reorganized my list of what comics I have left to review, to put them into genre and format categories. And it turns out there are only 2 entirely new superhero comics left on my list. I really liked one and really didn’t like the other.

Let’s start with the good news.

mara01_COVER

Mara

Brian Wood, writer

Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire, illustrators

Image Comics

Anticipation/Expectation level: I liked the cover and I like Brian Wood’s writing. I liked Ming Doyle’s art in the Tantalize adaptation even though the story was …eh.

My Reality: When I read this in March I wrote this on Goodreads: “I love the character designs, color palette, even the font choices. I was into the whole global volleyball phenomenon, so I wanted to read more about that and get to know Mara and Ingrid and everyone more through their interactions on the job. Mara’s transformation [into a superhuman] was so quick that there wasn’t much change from when we first meet her to when she feels inhuman – I think slowing down the action could have made it easier to understand her feelings–not make her more likeable or unlikeable, I don’t care if she’s likeable or not, but I wanted to get in her head more. And it was great that although everyone was generally beautiful they all looked like they had real faces, not ideas of faces.”

When I re-read it last week, I agreed with myself, but I liked it even more. It’s too bad that this only lasted six issues. I’m not even sure it was supposed to last longer, but Wood has created an interesting world that definitely could have been slowed down and expanded on without feeling like a rehash of other worlds and similar themes. Mara lives in a world where sports and the military are the ways out of poverty. Children are sent on those paths from a very young age. No one ever seems to achieve real independence, but it’s the best option in a broken global system. In that way, Mara, who is a top volleyball star from what might be a future US/North American empire, has a sort of Katniss-y feel to her – you wonder what her personality would be like if it had been allowed to develop normally, but she still has a strong presence as a character and makes a fascinating protagonist.

Will teens like it?: Yes. I don’t see any major impediments to teen liking.

Is it “great”for teens?: Definitely. It would even make a fun discussion book because it does end and isn’t just a jumping off point for a series.

Art taste:

Mara3

 

And then there’s

 

BRILLIANT_01_CVR

Brilliant

Brian Michael Bendis, writer

Mark Bagley, artist

Icon / 2012, Marvel, 2014

 Note: I’m not even sure this is eligible for the list because it looks like it was first published in 2012. But I’m going to review it anyway because I read it and took all these pictures of the ways it irritated me and I need to feel like I went through all that for a reason.

Anticipation/expectation level: Neutral. The cover did not look promising and I didn’t like Bendis’ latest All New X-Men that much, though.

My reality: What I think Bendis was going for here was “super-smart teen patter mixed with mumblecore sensibilities”. It read as self-satisfied smart teens not saying much at all. So many exchanges like this one:

patter

Um, well, yeah.

Or this:

I don't know what is happening either

I don’t know what is happening either

The basic premise is that hot-shot MIT type new adults figure out a way to develop superpowers. At least one of them starts using this power to rob banks and get money for more experiments, because the powers are taking over. This causes problems. They expect their friend who just returned from studying abroad or something to figure it out for them but he’s conflicted. If you want to see an inventive treatment of this plot, please watch Chronicle.

I was more interested in witnessing the alternate universe that these people live in.

A universe where a nice normal red haired girl with flipper hands, a nice girl whose choice of party outfit is a baggy hawaiian shirt, suddenly starts dressing in spandex capri pants to chill out in her dorm room once she becomes a real crush of the protagonist:

Untitled drawing

A world where stockings with seams are worn with the seams on the front. A world where a college professor also loves crop tops and capris, and chases down the stoner she slept with to destroy his cell phone. A world where house loungewear is hacked up bits of athleticwear.

totallynormal1

A world where having an argument with friends, jogging, and asking your hallmates for pot are EXTRA DRAMATIC activities with all the attendant eye-widening and posing involved.

normalstandingaround normaljog wtfpotsmokers

So, I was a little distracted from the story.

Will teens like it?: Yes, teens who are looking for a quick superhero read and have a thing for crop tops.

Is it “great” for teens?: It doesn’t feel like anyone was trying on this title. I’m sure that’s not true, but that’s how it feels.

Art Taste: see above.

 

Reading the Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Already reviewed from Telgemeier, Tamaki(s), Pope, and Smith

by Tessa

Read about the whys of this series here.

Sometimes you eat too much pizza. Sometimes you review a book on a nominations list that you were planning to write mini reviews on. Sometimes you do both when the mini-reviews are to be written. I already did the work, so you can clicky click to the reviews!

sisterstelgemeier

Sisters

Raina Telgemeier, writer and illustrator

Graphix (Scholastic)

I reviewed it on here!

Excerpt: “Telgemeier’s writing and drawing makes me feel comfortable, like I’m reading a surprisingly interesting (and long) cartoon in a newspaper. Her family stories have the rhythm of a good sitcom, replete with punchlines and realistically wacky situations. I was so happy to slip back into those rhythms. . .”

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes. Telgemeier is my go-to author for realistic teen comics, and this one is no exception.

RiseofAuroraWest-200x300

The Rise of Aurora West

Paul Pope, Writer

J.T. Petty, Writer

David Rubin, Illustrator

First Second

I reviewed it on No Flying No Tights

Excerpt: “The daughter of Arcopolis’s late science hero, Haggard West, the gritty Aurora has a room full of secrets and a calling to kill the monsters that have overrun her city. The Rise of Aurora West is a bracing piece of the fantastic. It will retain fans of theBattling Boy world with a compelling mix of new backstory and connections to that which is to come.”

Is it “Great” for teens?:  Yes. I love the adventure, danger and mystery in the world that Pope has created, and Aurora has a complex and emotionally layered story to tell. (Just wish it were in color).

thisonesummertamaki

This One Summer

Jillian Tamaki, illustrator

Mariko Tamaki, writer

First Second

I reviewed it here!

Excerpt: “It’s a summer made of moments, and some of them will affect Rose in obvious, rememberable ways, and some of them are the kind that pass by and come back in embarrassment or with a laugh years later, or might never be remembered at all. Here we get to see them play out and wonder which are which.”

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes. I think everyone should read this. It’s gorgeous. Read it. Read it. Read it.

barbarianlord

Barbarian Lord

Matt Smith, writer and illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

My review is over at No Flying No TightsHere’s a small excerpt:

“Those who come to Barbarian Lord looking for a simple adventure will find their fair share of fights, trolls, political machinations, and swords. However, some readers may be put off by its formal language and sentence construction (e.g. “Your gods are as grim as your land. You should look to Skraal, who flies over your mountain god and must then be his better”). For those who love traditional storytelling and the epic deeds of gods, monsters, and men, there is much to enjoy herein. Barbarian Lord subverts expectations by delivering more than it seems at first to offer—just as Barbarian Lord is more than a brutish warrior beneath the grimace.”

Is it “great” for teens?: I don’t know! I definitely like it. I can see some teens getting into it. Once more of them read it I’ll get back to you….

Reading the Great Graphic Novels 2015 nominations: a hidden Holocaust story, an American dust bowl, tragic trenches, and a controversial birth control crusader

by Tessa

Read about the reasons for this series of posts here.

Sometimes I think reluctance to read about history or historical fiction is that it takes a bit more effort to get into the world (same with sci-fi). Comics that deal with historical events do a lot of the work for you, adding in the dress and buildings of the time. Which leaves you to drink it in and emotionally connect. Since I had a backlog of titles to talk about, I’ve been able to separate them into genres for these posts, and this is a post about comics wtih historical themes.

hidden

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust

Loïc Dauvillier, writer

Marc Lizano, artist

Greg Salsedo, artist

First Second

 

Anticipation/expectation level: None. I’d skimmed some positive reviews. I liked the cover design.

My Reality: Hidden is a deftly done look at the Holocaust for younger readers. A small girl learns about what happened via her grandmother, Dounia, who was so young herself during the War that at first her parents don’t even tell her what the Star of David is meant to signify when the Jews are forced to wear it – she thinks she’s a tiny Sherriff. If that sounds too cutesy, don’t worry. Hidden walks the line between gentle and real. Dounia goes through a heartwrenching separation from her parents, and the stakes are high for her throughout the war, but she doesn’t have to survive the concentration camps, and she does get a happy ending. The fact that she’s telling her story for the first time to her granddaughter adds an extra emotional layer. The art has that Bande Dessinee feel to it (I will get better at describing this but not today) in its detailed backgrounds and muted color pallette, but the characters are simply designed, which may lead to confusion in younger readers who can’t tell all the adults apart .

Will teens like it?: I think this is geared much younger. Readers are meant to identify with the granddaughter and Dounia, and they can’t be more than almost tweenage.  Teens can definitely enjoy it, but I wouldn’t say it’s for them.

Is it “great” for teens?: It’s great, but teens are ready for a harder look at this time period.

Art Taste:

a page from Hidden, via Haaretz

a page from Hidden, via Haaretz

 

greatamericandustbowl

The Great American Dust Bowl

Don Brown, writer and illustrator

Houghton Mifflin

Anticipation/expectation level: Again, great cover design.

My Reality: This book is great! It’s small (but tall) and retains the air of a picture book, in the deceptive way that Raymond Briggs’ books can. Brown uses the page to emphasize the immensity of the environment in western America, the small person constantly in comparison with the huge sky, the stretching dirt vistas, and the towering clouds of grit that would more and more frequently come to destroy homes and lives, or at least make them a daily struggle. Brown takes us through the facts of the situation, including quotes from people who lived through it, inserted into text bubbles from his drawn characters. I find it hard to imagine reading this book and not wanting to know more.

Will Teens like it?: If someone pushes them to read it.

Is it “great” for teens?: Oh yes.

Art Taste:

DustForBlogSlide

treatiestrencheshale

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood

Nathan Hale

Amulet Books

Anticipation/expectation level: HIGH. I have read and cherished the reading experience of each book in this series: One Dead Spy  (American Revolution), Big Bad Ironclad (Monitor and Merrimack (why isn’t that a rap duo yet)), and Donner Dinner Party (cannibalism frontier tragedy).

My Reality: I dunno, this might be the best one yet. I have read about World War I in the context of history, art history, English Literature, and War Movies, I knew that it basically shocked Western Civilization to the core, but I have never encountered a book that got through to me exactly how and why it was so shocking and stupid and a waste of life.

If you haven’t read a Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales book before, the premise is that Nathan Hale, Revolutionary patriot/spy is on the gallows. He utters his famous last words: “I only regret that I have one life to lose for my country,” and they are so historic that the gallows become a history book, snap him up, give him knowledge of the future, and spit him out. He then drags out the time before his execution explaining historical events to the dumb, always hungry executioner and the arrogant British soldier.

The books are packed with small panels, done in 2 or 3 colors, very factual but also very funny.

 

World War I is a huge subject, and much bigger of a focus than any of the other books in the series, but Hale makes it work by casting countries as representative animals (like Maus, but with less psychological weight to the animals) and making good use of maps. Each section of the book opens with a representation of the war as a hungry mechanical Ares, that gets increasingly scary and full of bloodlust as the book goes along:

1018140833a

 

It’s very effective.

Will teens like it?:  I think so. I should foist some on some teens.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes. It’s great for adults, too. And I think it’s marketed to younger ones.

Art Taste: see above for my stunning cell phone pics.

womanrebelbagge

Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story

Peter Bagge, writer and illustrator

Drawn & Quarterly

Anticipation/expectation level: Low. In my time during grad school I somehow managed to pick up the ONE BOOK in Pitt’s library about birth control/obscenity laws that was not pro-Sanger or directly about Sanger (for some light reading? I can’t remember). It’s called The Sex Side of Life: Mary Ware Dennett’s Pioneering Battle for Birth Control and Sex Education by Constance M. Chen, and I’m pretty sure it’s the only book of its kind because I spent a lot of time tracking it down by finding the correct subject headings and doing many searches in Pitt’s library catalog. This was before I had Goodreads aka the Dark Ages. ANYWAY. Mary Ware Dennett did some pretty rad things for women and birth control information dissemination, and Margaret Sanger was threatened and made jealous by it, according to Chen, who sees Sanger as more focused on the press than reform.  Sanger doesn’t come off too well in the book — here’s one choice description: “Like other unthinking people, whether liberal or conservative, Sanger was myopic and intolerant.” (162). Chen’s low opinion was convincing, so much so that that is almost the only thing I remember about the book lo these years later, even though the book is about a whole other person. (Seems like Margaret Sanger had that effect on people for most of her life.)

On the other hand, that is one side of the story. A side with research to back it up: Sanger was intolerant. For instance,  a reader of the NY Times wrote the paper in response to a review of Sanger’s life to note that in”her 1926 Vassar College graduation address, entitled “The Function of Sterilization.” Sanger praised the infamous anti-Semitic and anti-Italian Immigration Act of 1924, which she said had “taken . . . steps to control the quality of our population. . . . While we close the gates to the so-called ‘undesirables’ from other countries, we make no attempt to cut down the rapid multiplication of the unfit and undesirable at home.”

But she also had a really interesting life, one that was recently touched upon in an excerpt of Jill Lepore’s new book on Wonder Woman, published in the New Yorker. In it, Sanger’s unusual marriage situation is discussed – it was an open arrangement. So I was interested to read a book about her and get a better view of her.

My Reality: I wish that this book had provided a better view of Margaret Sanger. I realize that Peter Bagge deals in hyperbole and grotesque figures, and this could work with Sanger, who was a sensationalized figure and used it to her advantage in pushing her agenda forward. I don’t think his drawing style worked to the advantage of the book. When it comes to real people in a comic book, they can be drawn without a slavish devotion to realism, but the way Sanger and her contemporaries are drawn leaves little to their characters but big gestural emotions – either bug eyed and gape mouthed or glaring and growling, with a pace that sets Sanger continually clomping from one place to another, one bed to another, and one year to another with no time for the reader to catch their breath or find their place in the story.

Bagge works in roughly chronological order, stringing together important scenes from Sanger’s life. We see some of her personal experiences that he uses to show her opinions being crystallized, and we see more public moments in her life, where Sanger is speaking and fighting entrenched ideas about women, and we see personal anecdotes that show her as a woman with radical sexual ideas. I didn’t get a great sense of context, of who else worked in the movement and helped Sanger, or even of personal growth. Sanger as a character here comes pretty much intact, only gaining the confidence she needs to speak out and make her voice be heard. The way she is drawn and written makes her one-sided. And that’s fine. History needs people willing to be assholes sometimes, especially when the culture is an asshole to you. But I wouldn’t call this a nuanced portrait of an asshole. It’s very frenetic, bombastic, and jumpy, leaving me with a mish-mash of impressions of Sanger giving eye-daggers to one and all. I’d probably gain more respect for Sanger from other sources and learn more about the movements she helped start or continue.

Will Teens like it?: It’s attention catching enough that teens into social justice or social movements could be attracted to it.

Is it “great” for teens?: I don’t think that this covers the bases that I want to be covered with a historical biography, so no.

Art Taste:

WOMANREBEL-bagge38

And, the real Margaret Sanger:

sanger

Reading the Great Graphic Novels for Teens 2015 noms: Gandhi, giants, and other real lives

by Tessa

Read about the whys of this series here.

It’s always fun to see what kind of comic biographies and memoirs are published in a year. You never know who you’re going to learn about.  Here’s my take on the nominated bios and memoirs.

gandhiquinn

Gandhi: my life is my message

Jason Quinn, writer

Sachin Nagar, illustrator

Campfire Bookas

Anticipation/expectation level: I wasn’t a fan of the other Gandhi graphic novel I’ve read (that got on a GGNT list), so I just hoped that this one was better. I had enjoyed Jason Quinn’s take on Steve Jobs from Campfire press, as well.

My Reality: I am convinced that no one should try this again unless they are Osamu Tezuka and want to do a bio of Gandhi in the same vein as the multi-volume Buddha – that is, comprehensively, with humor, and not so concerned with the facts. Because the fact is that there are a lot of facts about Gandhi, and when they try to be shoehorned into one book it tends to turn into a mess of jumping around in time, explicating things, and hero worship. Which is how I feel about this.

The setup doesn’t make sense to begin with. Gandhi is near the end of his life about to go out to a rally, and starts to reminisce. It doesn’t ring true that anyone would reminisce about their life as if they were explaining it to an audience, in chronological order. Why the weird framing device?

The art and panels are well-designed, with an eye to keeping the eye fresh. Characters are portrayed in a realistic style that has an energetic aesthetic – a nice change to comic biographies that feature leaden art that seems to be worried it won’t be realistic enough, and sinks under those worries.

1018140831

Here’s a terrible cell phone photo for an example.

The thing is that they tried to fit too much into too small of a book. As you can see there are Too many words, but the art has a light, life-filled energy, and the panels fit the story, instead of constraining it into a fixed number per page. Yet even creative paneling can’t help pacing that is jumping years with each page turn. There’s not enough time or room to explain who everyone is or give a proper context to the social and political situations. The authors use Gandhi to gloss over any uncomfortable issues in his life (probably leaving worse ones out, I don’t know, I haven’t read a proper biography that tries to be objective). I was left with the general feeling that Gandhi was a great guy, and the rest of it was a blur. And that’s why I don’t think it’s a very good introduction or short overview either – I just get the feeling that we’re not getting the whole story.

Will Teens like it?: Teens will definitely like to use this for any reports or papers they need to do on Gandhi

Is it “great” for teens?: To be great it would need to be a lot longer and more comprehensive.

Art Taste: see above.

boxerhaft

The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft

Reinhard Kleist, writer and artist

Self Made Hero

Anticipation/expectation level: I knew nothing about this and barely looked at the cover or jacket copy before starting to read it.

My Reality: This was fantastic! And heartbreaking. My visual literacy failed me because I didn’t notice the people on the cover who are clearly entering a work camp during World War II. The book opens with a boy on a mysterious drive with his angry, menacing father – Harry Haft. Soon it goes to flashback and the man that was just so alarming and unlikeable becomes sympathetic in short order. (Not a)Spoiler: at the end of the book the trip at the beginning is revealed and, if you are like me, will leave you sobbing. I feel like most people could just pick up the book and read the story fresh – no synopsis needed, but if you want one:

Harry gets sent to the concentration camps early in the war, and even younger than the age limit at which the Nazis were then taking people – because of a simple mixup that might easily never have happened. He endures years going from camp to camp, making what allies he can, protecting who he can, and being made to box other inmates. Even when he makes it through he has anger, grief, and life to contend with.

Kleist’s art reminds me of Nate Powell’s. He’s very adept at using black brushstrokes and maneuvering around light and shadow to make powerful splash pages and to bring out the oppressive atmosphere of the camps. The world opens up on the page, with panel borders often eschewed in place of white space.

Will Teens like it?: They might not pick it up off of the shelf without a hand-sell but it’s an engaging story that is tightly paced and has a great chance of hooking a teen brain.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes

Art Taste:

Boxer Title Slide 3

dumbestideaever

The Dumbest Idea Ever!

Jimmy Gownley, writer and artist

Graphix/Scholastic

Anticipation/expectation level:   I’d read the last of Gownley’s Amelia books, and liked it, but didn’t have the attachment of reading the full series.

My Reality: Gownley tells the story of his own adolescence, framed through his rediscovery of comics and discovery of seeing himself as a comics artist, due to being grounded by illness. He struggles with first love, being bored in a small town, and the perils of success at a young age. As a writer, Gownley knows how to keep on the level of tweens and teens – his pacing is steady and hits the right notes of pratfalls and embarrassments and dumb jokes but doesn’t forget the depth and immediacy of feeling that comes with growing up and feeling grown up. He also treats the creative journey seriously and shows it as work, and work that teens can do – not something that’s magic, and not viewed through a hackneyed lens of nostalgia. It’s a hard balance to strike! His art is simple, with the heightened physicality and gestural faces suited to the story (think Raina Telgemeier and Lynn Johnston)

Will Teens like it?: Teens are the best audience for this (not that adults won’t enjoy it) – and they already do like it.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes, it has fun, understands them, and treats them like humans.

Art Taste:

Dumbest-Idea-Ever-page-19-46d99

andreboxbrown

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend

Box Brown, writer and artist

First Second

Anticipation/expectation level: High. At some of my most impressionable times in childhood I watched The Princess Bride (over and over) and saw the first Andre the Giant Has a Posse stickers before Shepard Fairey became famous. But I didn’t know much about him or his wrestling career, and so was looking forward to the comic.

My Reality: I did learn so much more about Andre. Box Brown goes to great lengths to research his life and provide a picture of the whole man, warts and all, drawing heavily on interviews, videos of wrestling matches, and articles (detailed in a lenghty endnote/bibliography section). It’s a book about Andre, but it also necessarily presents a backstage view of the business of wrestling, and that proves fascinating as well.

His pared down figures and carefully composed panels have a surety to them that adds to the feeling that this a story that comes from dedicated time – an analogue to a long-form profile in a magazine like the New Yorker. The world that Andre lives in is clear and unchangeable, and often cruel, just as Andre’s disease is unchangeable and inevitable. Andre has to navigate both as best he can, and the struggle, kept inside, is shown through his actions more than his words. At the end of it, I didn’t feel like I knew Andre as a person, but I felt like I knew his world. I couldn’t tell if it was because Brown wanted to stick closely to his sources and not speculate about Andre’s feelings, or if it was because Andre was naturally a private person, and no one really knew him in that way. But it’s definitely a book that sparks an interest for more – and that is something that I think makes a nonfiction comic great.

Will Teens like it?: Teens who are into wrestling will definitely like it. I wonder how many teens know who Andre the Giant is… but he has a story that is interesting regardless of his level of fame, and the anecdotal nature of the story is good for teen readers.

Is it “great” for teens?: I’m on the fence.

Art Taste:

Andre-Giant-Acromegaly

fifthbeatle

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story

Vivek Tiwary, writer

Andrew Robinson, artist

Kyle Baker, artist

Dark Horse

Anticipation/expectation level: Skeptical. There are a number of Beatles comics from different angles (okay, I don’t know if there are a number. There’s at least one other). What angle is this working, and what does it add to what’s already out there? How does it stand up?

My Reality: It’s very hard to argue that anyone involved with the Beatles was more important than the Beatles. One might be able to make a case for Brian Epstein, their manager, who worked tirelessly to get them signed after rejections all over the place, and had a lot of great PR ideas and ambitions for the band. However, I don’t know if this is the book that really seals the deal on that argument. The endeavor feels uneven as a reading experience. For example, Baker and Robinson’s art is in some ways a perfect fit for the time period it’s representing – the faces are fresh but a bit mischievous and elfin, the bodies fit well in their jaunty, modern clothing, all angles and curved, swooping hair. The light of Liverpool is foggy and hushed, except when Epstein falls into his daydreams of matadors – but the faces also look too posed – they’re not speaking, they’re cutouts behind speech bubbles. The establishing scenes are reused in several places as if to cut corners, and the art can at times take a turn for the too-digital, clashing with the penciled feel of the rest of the pieces. The story, too, propels itself on Brian’s ambition. He feels a connection with the Beatles – which is explained through a confusing mashup of a live show and an anecdote about a matador. Then the reader is left to take the drive at face value and go along for the ride – as are the Beatles themselves, mostly shown as jokey and game for Epstein’s help – the lucky recipients of his magic touch. Then there’s Moxie, the figment of Epstein’s imagination who is also sort of real? I’m not sure what the book is trying to impart other than an awareness of Brian Epstein, but it looks good doing it.

Will Teens like it?: Unless the teen is a huge Beatles or 60s nerd, probably not.

Is it “great” for teens?: I would not say it’s great. Or for teens. But I don’t regret reading it.

Art Taste:

fifthb1p3

 

Next week: more books!

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