Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Historical Fiction

by Tessa

Read about what this series is here.

Some of these are more historical than others. But they are all set in history, which is what I’m choosing to call historical fiction.

sallyheathcote

Sally Heathcote, Suffragette.

Mary Talbot, author

Kate Charlesworth and Bryan Talbot, artists

Dark Horse 

Anticipation/Expectation level: I hoped it would be more focused on the movement and less on one person (due to my experience with Woman Rebel)

My reality: Please click on the art sample to read a well thought -out review from Forbidden Planet. I liked this title and thought it covered so much, with a realistic, period-appropriate art style, mostly black and white with pops of color that helped define scenes and keep the eye fresh. The reader sees a long arc of the women’s voting rights movement in Britain through the eyes of an orphan, Sally Heathcote, who is rescued from a workhouse by one of the main ladies in her youth and becomes deeply involved with two of the competing societies and a secret guerrilla movement. I knew nothing about this history and it was both sadly familiar and fascinating. It is a lot to take in. I should have read it more slowly. And the prologue that teases the split between two factions, I felt, just served to confuse instead of hook. I never felt like I really grasped why the split occurred- at first I thought it was because of differences in opinion regarding violent protest, but then both sides seemed to approve of that in some way. Still a worthy endeavor, I hope there are more comics coming through with such scope and focused vision.

Will teens like it?: I don’t know. I think it might be great in the classroom and welcome there. A bit heavy for the casual reader, but nothing that screams NO TEEN APPEAL.

Is it “great” for teens?”: Yes, this is one of those that I think belongs on the list despite limited appeal for the browser.

Art Taste:

sally-heathcote-suffragette-talbot-charlesworth-cape-04.jpg

LesMiserablesManga-cover

Les Miserables

Victor Hugo, author

Crystal Silvermoon and Stacy King, Adaptors

TszMei Lee, artist

UDON Entertainment

Anticipation / Expectation level: Les Miserables, judged only by its plotline, is kind of perfect for a manga adaptation. If you’ve read it or seen the musical, you know it is full of personal relationship drama enmeshed with life or death, youthful idealist vs. the ruling class drama. It deals with class issues, being a fugitive from the law, etc. So despite the fact that it is a long-ass book being made into a shorter ass book, I thought that this could possibly be entertaining.

My Reality: Unfortunately, cutting out all the detailed moral drama, description of setting and feeling from the book, plus losing the opportunity for maddeningly catchy and heart-pulling music makes for a bland soap opera of a plot. Even the art lacks the usual verve and dynamic panels that are part of most manga (this is probably why it’s the only manga I’m not covering in a manga-only post).  Which is not to say that I think the adaptors or artist did a bad job or made bad choices. Just that when the job is done, well or badly, it takes away something integral to the enjoyment of the story. I never felt immersed in the drama. I got the songs stuck in my head without the benefit of having heard them sung. The politics of the time is the vaguest backdrop – the war itself a blip. This is the least connected to history of these 3 novels.

Will Teens like it?: I wonder if manga loving teens would go for the classics in manga form. The ones I know would rather read a classic.

Is it “great”for teens?: No.

Art Taste:

FCBD-LesMis-Preview-4

47ronincover

47 Ronin

Mike Richardson, writer

Stan Sakai, artist

Dark Horse

Anticipation/Expectation Level: I’ve heard great things about Stan Sakai!

My Reality: 47 Ronin is a national legend in Japan, a tale about honor and revenge. As far as a story with a lot of talking in interior spaces can be, it is well-adapted for comics. Richardson has done a ton of research and Sakai’s art is so pleasing – it’s round and cartoony but solid and realistic. The colorist does a great job as well, giving the whole thing the muted but rich feel of art on parchment (or I guess rice paper in this case?).

Will Teens like it?: I can see kids who are very into Japan really liking this.

Is it “great” for teens?: It’s a solid entry in the legendary adaptation, so I would say yes.

Art Taste:

47ronin1p2

 

 

Get ready for even more posts in even less time as I try to get everything mini-reviewed by the end of the month!

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Finally, Outlander!

A Review of Outlander (episode 1), created by Ronald D. Moore and based on the books by Diana Gabaldon

Starz, 2014

Outlander

by REBECCA, August 13, 2014

Battlestar GalacticaY’all, I have been dreaming of seeing Outlander on the big screen since I first read Diana Gabaldon’s book circa the turn of the century. Like many fans, I approached news of Starz optioning it with the mixture of hope and trepidation that always attends beloved adaptations. Would they cast it right? Would it evoke the same feelings of the book? What if I hate Claire and Jamie onscreen? Knowing Ron Moore, of Battlestar Galactica fame was at the helm made me hopeful, though, because he has such a great track record with sprawling, epic stories, of which Outlander is certainly one.

But, like many fans . . . I don’t actually have TV, much less Starz. Rather than watching episode one, “Sassanach” when Starz put it up for free viewing last Saturday, then, I waited until I came to visit my parents (who do have Starz—and a large TV) to watch. But now I have, so, though I’m late for the game I’ll be goddamned if I don’t talk about it. In list form. Because . . . mostly it’s just stuff I liked.

Most importantly, for me, I really liked Claire (Catriona Balfe). She was capable and brave and spunky without seeming like she had a chip on her shoulder. She seemed wise and mature, which she’s supposed to be, but still with a sense of humor.

I didn’t love Tobias Menzies as Frank, Claire’s husband. Since he and Black Jack Randall are played by the same actor, I really wanted someone who, as Frank, looked really appealing and cultured, and to me he looks like a villain as Frank, too, making his transformation into Black Jack less striking. He did a good job, though, and, most importantly, Ron Moore was smart to spend the meat of the first episode developing their relationship so that it will be understandable why Claire wants to get back to her own time.

OutlanderJamie. We didn’t see much of him, but he’s clearly Jamie-ish. Sam Heughan definitely looked the part and seemed to have Jamie’s tender youth and bravado pretty much sewn up. Also, you know, extremely handsome. Still, Jamie makes me slightly concerned about the cheese-factor . . .

My problem with the episode is actually a problem with genre. Diana Gabaldon’s book is not really a romance novel. It’s sweeping historical fiction at the center of which is a couple. But it’s often shelved in the romance section (I learned the embarrassing way in high school) and spoken about in terms of the romance genre. The character of Jamie isn’t actually the problem. The problem is that when viewed in romance terms, Jamie’s character has become a huge romance cliché: the strapping, red-headed 18th-century Scottish agitator who speaks with a brogue, threatens to throw women over his shoulder (in a nice way . . . ) and has, for the times, relatively progressive gender politics. It’s practically a staple now, nearly twenty-five years after Gabaldon wrote the book. So, I worry that simply by virtue of presenting Jamie faithfully, Outlander will verge into cheeseball territory.

OutlanderOf course, I would still happily watch a cheesy, romantic version of Outlander, but I don’t think that really does justice to the complex drama of the books, and it makes me a tidge worried that Starz won’t get the extra-literary viewership that it will want to justify renewing the show.

Okay, but aside from the tragic problem of Sam Heughan’s attractiveness and chest muscles, I thought the episode was great. Maybe this was a testament to my parents’ TV, but the long, sweeping shots of Scotland . . . that shit looked amazing. I loved the way the 1945 scenes were shot with a muted palette and dim or washed-out light; it makes the gorgeous natural colors once Claire goes through the stones really pop.

OutlanderThe music was gorgeous (not that I’d expect anything less from Bear McCreary, who also did the music for Battlestar), as was the cinematography. And I can already tell that I like the pace Ron Moore has chosen. It’s lingering, like Gabaldon’s books are, but not plodding. It meant that we got the great scenes of Reverend Wakefield’s housekeeper reading Claire’s palm, and the quiet moments of walking and driving around Inverness. The episode did a great job of establishing Inverness as a respite after the war—a safe place for Claire and Frank to reconnect after a long absence—which made it all the more shocking when Claire was ripped from it. Good show!

Scotland Decides 2014I am a little freaked out to see that Starz is splitting the first season, though, with episodes 1-8 running through the end of September and then going on hiatus until after New Year’s. I guess it’s good in that it will stop me from sitting in front of my computer staring and wishing I was in Scotland. Sigh. Also, I love that a show about independent Scottish clans will be airing simultaneous with the Scottish independence referendum (September 18).

Anyhoo, I was pleasantly surprised and cannot wait to snuggle back into the familiar world of Outlander! Did you see it? What did you think?

“Two brothers. One psychopath. A beautiful girl. The road trip from hell.”

A Review of In the Path of Falling Objects, by Andrew Smith

Feiwel & Friends, 2009

In the Path of Falling Objects Andrew Smith

by REBECCA, August 11, 2014

hook

Brothers Jonah and Simon have left their home in New Mexico to try and find their father, who’s in prison in Arizona, and their older brother, who’s off fighting in Vietnam. One day, tired, hungry, and scared, younger brother Simon hitches them a ride with a beautiful girl and a man who terrifies Jonah. What happens next is why your parents told you never to hitchhike.

review

The reason I love Andrew Smith’s books so much is that, no matter what story he’s telling, his characters are always a particularly potent combination of vulnerable and reckless that makes me want to read about them doing anything. In In the Path of Falling Objects, it’s Jonah and Simon. They’ve never spent more than a few hours apart and their relationship is intimate and codependent even when it’s fractious. Because they’re close in age and have always been in each other’s pockets, this road trip—their first journey away from home—catalyzes them to reject some of the things that make them similar and try on new possibilities. Especially younger brother, Simon, who sees something in Mitch, the man who picks them up, that appeals to him.

In the Path of Falling Objects is told primarily from thoughtful Jonah’s perspective. Jonah, who has always felt responsible for Simon and feels so doubly now that their brother is off at war, can tell that something is off about Mitch from the minute he stops for them, but there’s something about Lilly, the beautiful girl riding shotgun, that calls to him. So, when Mitch reveals the true depths of his psychosis, it’s not just Simon Jonah wants to protect.

Set in the southwest against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, In the Path of Falling Objects is also great historical fiction. Interspersed with the chapters of Jonah and Simon’s journey are the letters that their brother, Matthew, writes to Jonah from Vietnam. As the brothers travel farther and farther from home, Matthew’s letters reveal increasing terror and depression in response to wartime conditions. These letters, and glimpses into other characters’ perspectives, give background on what Jonah and Simon’s life was like before their mother left them alone, with no food and no money, in New Mexico.

In the Path of Falling Objects Andrew SmithAs always, Andrew Smith’s writing is beautiful and his pacing is dynamic where it should be and lingers in all the right places. I felt Jonah’s helplessness to protect Simon—from Mitch and the world he ushered in, but also from the person he fears Simon may want to become. I felt his love for Lilly, even when he knows that it’s perhaps misplaced. I felt his desire to be a good person always at war with his desperate loyalty to his brother.

I didn’t need the short sections told from Mitch’s perspective as he spiraled further and further into madness, but they didn’t go amiss either. In the Path of Falling Objects is a beautiful book about the things we do for siblings—for better or for worse—and the things we do because of them. By the end of the book, though their road trip has ended, you really get the sense that they are only poised on the edge of real change. It’s a bold ending, emotionally, but feels like the only one I’d want for Jonah and Simon.

That Was Then, This Is Now S.E. HintonThere’s a scene in S.E. Hinton’s Tex (1979) in which Tex and Mason pick up a hitchhiker who pulls a gun on them and holds them hostage. The hitchhiker is Mark, one of the main characters from That Was Then, This Is Now (1971). Though this is never explicitly stated, Tex’s English teacher (who dated Mark’s brother in That Was Then, This Is Now), mentions that she knew the hitchhiker. Because of this scene, I was thinking of Tex all throughout In the Path of Falling Objects. For the obvious reason that Mark and Mitch share some characteristics. But also because the ending of In the Path of Falling Objects made me imagine that Jonah and Simon might be the parents of characters in Smith’s later books, even if unidentified as such . . .

readalikes

Stick Andrew Smith

Stick, Andrew Smith (2011). Stick feels to me like a companion novel to In the Path of Falling Objects. Fourteen-year-old Stick has always had his brother, Bosten, to look out for him, but when their abusive father learns that Bosten is gay, Bosten has to leave home. Once Bosten leaves, Stick takes his dad’s car and sets out to find him, thinking he headed to Aunt Dahlia’s house in California. Without much money or any connections, Stick finds himself in, erm, sticky situations (sorry!), which he handles because he has no other choice. My complete review is HERE.

Tex S.E. Hinton

Tex, S.E. Hinton (1979). I love all of S.E. Hinton’s books, but sincere, volatile Tex reminds me a bit of Simon in In the Path of Falling Objects.

procured from: bought

Re-Read: The Child Queen & The High Queen

A Review of The Child Queen and The High Queen, by Nancy McKenzie

Del Ray, 1994

By REBECCA, July 27, 2012

The Child Queen Nancy McKenzie  The High Queen Nancy McKenzie

hook

Guinevere lives with her aunt, uncle, and cousin Elaine in Wales; she’s adventurous and really only wants to ride her horses. Her cousin, Elaine, however, wants nothing more than to be chosen as the bride of the newly-widowed high king—Arthur of Camelot. When a chance encounter places Guinevere in Arthur’s sights, neither girl gets what she wants: Elaine is bitter and bereft, and Guinevere terrified of losing first her freedom and, later, her love for another horse-lover. You guessed it: Lancelot.

why am i re-reading these?

Queen of Camelot Nancy McKenzie I first read these around the time the came out, so I was around 12, and I read them about a million times for the next few years, when I was going through a bit of an Arthur-Guinevere phase. I loved the intricacy of the history/mythology of Arthurian stories and how differently each author would characterize the familiar figures, all of which stemmed from reading these books by Nancy McKenzie, collectively called The Tale Of Guinevere and King Arthur (apparently she doesn’t get an honorific) and re-released in one volume called Queen of Camelot (in which she does). In high school, I was a really big historical fiction fan, among other things, and I think that McKenzie’s books were something of a gateway drug for me: it was the richness of this other world that captivated me, much in the same way that world-building in fantasy or science fiction can transport me. As a result of reading these, I went on to be totally obsessed with all of Sharon Kay Penman‘s books, which I highly recommend for any historical fiction fans out there.

I wanted to re-read this duology because I’m not so much into historical fiction anymore, and in nearly all realms I absolutely couldn’t care less about royalty. So, I wanted to see if this world still worked its magic on me, or whether I was distracted by the . . . romanticization of the mythos of it all.

do the books hold up?

They do, actually. The things that I most appreciated about the books remain untouched by a broader view of the world and literature! Those are:

Gustave Doré Idylls of the King

Gustave Doré’s gorgeous illustration of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King

1. Arthur is an amazing character. Now, I am not swoony about princes/kings in the slightest—in fact, I can think of few things less appealing than being partnered with someone who is not only used to being deferred to all the time but also is licensed to go to war at any moment should others fail to defer. And, granted, Arthur is used to being deferred to, and he does go to war. But, he is a wonderfully complex character driven by a simple trait: pragmatism. I know that may sound kind of boring, but I think the majority of pragmatic characters are portrayed as being in some way lacking in compassion, complexity, desire, or subtlety—as if the only way to maintain a pragmatic worldview is to be devoid of emotion, which I think is totally inaccurate.

Rather, Arthur is the finest version of the character: he had greatness thrust upon him young, and with it came an immense sense of responsibility, the sense (rightly so) that he has the opportunity to change the world. He is even-keeled, passionate, and honest, about both his desires and his expectations. And in this way, McKenzie cuts through the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triad that has always seemed like something of a Gordian knot to me in other renditions: simply put, both Guinevere and Lancelot love and revere Arthur more than they do each other. And, in this telling, that reverence is rightly placed.

2. Extremely deftly-constructed characters with psychologically-complex motivations. My favorite thing about The Child Queen and The High Queen is that McKenzie’s characters are motivated by their own psychologies and, thus, they read into the motivations and actions of other characters in ways that are accurate for their own characters. So, Elaine is childish and selfish, which means that she assumes childishness and selfishness of others; Guinevere knows Elaine is childish and selfish, but she, herself, is mature and stoic, so despite her knowledge of what Elaine is, Guinevere misjudges her in a critical moment. Further, a lot of the discussions between Arthur and his knights and Guinevere involve Guinevere explaining the behavior of Arthur’s perceived foes in ways that he and his knights don’t see, etc. (Of course, there are moments of this that read as your typical “men are warmongers; women show them another way” trope, but it’s realistically done, given the time period and military traditions).

Gandalf

I like to imagine that Merlin and Gandalf are best friends who discourse on the peskiness of humans while playing magical chess across the ages.

3. Freaking Merlin, y’all. Do I believe in fate? No. Do I love the shit out of some wizards, prophesies, curses, and destinies? Hell yes, I do. I’ve always found the relationships between wizards and their chosen mortals really compelling. And kind of hot. They’re such a power struggle, you know? Merlin can see the future, so he thinks he knows what he’s talking about; Arthur knows people and has might, so he thinks he knows what he’s doing. Merlin has ultimate knowledge, but he chooses (?) to use it to keep this really hot, honorable guy safe and make his name live throughout the ages? Arthur is a super strong, charismatic king who can do anything he wants, and he goes practically catatonic with despair when Merlin is harmed or he thinks he dies? It’s hot. Anyhoo, Merlin. Creepy, for sure. And awesome.

4. Mordred! I hope I’m not spoiling the story for anyone, but it turns out that Arthur was tricked into getting a bastard son on his half-sister (it happens, okay?). In many renderings of the story, Mordred is framed as a traitor who ruins Camelot and Arthur’s dream of a united kingdom. In The High Queen, though, Mordred is a super interesting character who is actually kind of a bastion of proto-radicalism in terms of envisioning an actually united kingdom—as in, a kingdom that includes the tribes that other kings have previously thought of as “barbaric.” Mordred wants trade and mutual learning with these tribes rather than war or assimilation, and Guinevere shares his vision. It is this political difference—or perhaps more accurately put, a difference in what Mordred and Arthur believe people are capable of—that finally drives a wedge between father and son. And it’s so well-handled. McKenzie spends a really long time building up their relationship and showing why they have this difference of opinion.

Accolade by Edmund Blair Leighton

Accolade, by E.B. Leighton

The most significant difference in my re-reading of The Child Queen and The High Queen was my memory of Guinevere. When I first read the books, like I said, I was 12 and in the books Guinevere is 15 when she marries Arthur, so I felt like we were pretty akin. At the time, I really liked her—I mean, sure, she speaks in an oddly formal way, but, I mean, it’s the 5th century; and, sure, she’s said to be the most beautiful person who ever lived, but she’s not vain or anything. So, when I re-read the books, I imagined to still identify with the compassionate, generous, smart Guinevere I remembered. It was kind of strange, then, to find, at least in The Child Queen, where she’s between 8 and 20, that Guinevere reminded me less of a really together, precocious girl, and more like Ender Wiggin from Ender’s Game: kind of preternaturally strategic and able to bury her feelings. I don’t mean this as a bad thing; she simply felt different to me as a 30 year old than she did as a teenager. And, of course, now that I’m an adult, I wanted to sit Guinevere, Arthur, and Lancelot down and say, “hey, friends, you don’t all have to be miserable, guilt-ridden, and horny all the time; you can just all three be in a relationship together and everybody wins!”

All in all, this was a delight to reread and I’d definitely recommend The Child Queen and The High Queen for anyone who is interested in historical fiction, epic fantasy, or anything to do with Arthuriana.

what are my other favorite re-tellings of the Arthurian legend? i’m so glad you asked

The Mists of Avalon Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1984). Such a totally different vision of the mytho and the characters than McKenzie’s, The Mists of Avalon is told from the perspective of the women who are rarely mentioned in stories that foreground Arthur and the knights of the round table.Okay, I know, I know, it’s obvious, but it really bears reflecting on: this book is so good and magical that a dear friend of mine has read it like 20 times but has still never read the last chapter so that she can believe that it doesn’t end. Done.

The Winter King Bernard Cornwell

The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell (1997). Book 1 in the Warlord Chronicles series, The Winter King is all about the military and political aspects of King Arthur’s campaigns. I really like military history and am interested in this era’s military-political history in particular. This is definitely more about Arthur, Lancelot, Mordred, and the other dudes, but what it lacks in characterization it definitely makes up for in plot and action—super exciting.

Excalibur John Boorman

Excalibur, directed by John Boorman (1981). This star-studded cast is only barely outshined by the intense weirdness of this adaptation, which literalizes the magical elements of the myth, such as humans disguising themselves as animals. Pretty freaking delightful.

procured from: my home library

And you, gentle reader? Were you a closet Arthur geek? An out and proud Arthuriana lover? Never quite saw the appeal? What are your favorite versions of the story? Tell us in the comments!

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