Great Graphic Novels Noms 2015: Memoir and Contemporary Stories

by Tessa

Read about this series of posts here.

FUN FACT: All of the selections today are by writer-artists (one person writes and draws the book). They are the singer-songwriters of the comics world.

eldeafocover

El Deafo

Cece Bell, writer and artist

Amulet Books

Anticipation/Expectation Level: I’d heard lotsa good things about this one.

My Reality: All the praise is deserved. It’s a mildly fictionalized memoir about Cece Bell growing up with deafness, outside of the Deaf community – it’s about feeling awkward because she’s afraid she looks so different and because of the challenges of navigating a world that doesn’t always make the allowances it should for a lip-reading child, and it’s also about basic growing up stuff: friendships, family, school. Bell has a good ear for social detail and her chronicles of trying to find a true friend and feeling lonely will win her many readers (I hope). And she’s also funny.

Will teens like it?: Yes. Fans of Raina Telgemeier and The Wimpy Kid/Big Nate will be into this for sure.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

ElDeafo_TXT_page1

allstarcover

All Star

Jesse Lonergan, writer and artist

NBM ComicsLit

Anticipation/Expectation Level: None. I knew nothing about this going in.

My Reality: Great realistic fiction which I think sometimes is thin on the ground in the comics world, especially for the high school level. All Star is squarely high school oriented. It’s not the baseball story that the cover may lead you to believe it is. It’s about the golden boy becoming aware of his golden boy privileges and trying to do the right thing. I’m always fascinated to read about fictional or nonficitonal characters trying to do the right thing. (All Star may seem autobiographical but it’s not). Lonergan writes clean, beautiful action pages that made baseball not so boring even for me. His characters are exaggerated – a little boxy like Jeff Lemire’s but more like walking skeletons.

Will Teens Like it?: Teens might not get all the cultural references going on, but hopefully that won’t turn them away from the story.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yeah.

Art Taste:

154-All-Star

tomboycover

Tomboy: a graphic memoir

Liz Prince, writer and artist

Zest Books

Anticipation/expectation level: I got a personal recommendation for this from several people whose taste I trust.

My Reality: Loved it! Prince doesn’t try to tamp down on the ambiguity of her feelings about how she wants to be in the world. Because these go against culturally built up norms for gender expression she struggles with how she feels about girly things, how she has been taught to think about being a girl, and how she feels comfortable and if that has to fit into a gendered behavior. But it’s told as a story that is open, using a black and white, thin-lined style that I think of as “refined sketchbook cartoon” – really accessible and enjoyable for a huge age range.

Will Teens Like It?: I put this on display on Tuesday and a teen immediately picked it up.

Is it “great” for teens?: YES.

Art Taste:

tomboyjedi

T0724

I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You

Yumi Sakugawa, writer and artist

Adams Media

Anticipation/Expectation Level: I had read this on Tumblr or something before it was published. I thought it was cute to a point.

My Reality: I like how the format: small and square, with one text panel and one picture to each spread, makes the reading go more slowly. More like a picture book for adults. Sakugawa has a very appealing drawing style. The narrator of this book is a of a monstery design, sort of a cyclops Cousin It. She draws with a thin, textured pencil line, with a good eye for design. While I have experienced friend crushes and support the idea of more talk about the importance of friend-love and friendship as sustaining relationships, I feel like this book is more about friend-crush desperation. A reviewer at Rookie reads it as an exchange between the crusher and crushee, but I see it as a long declaration from the protagonist to an oblivious friend crush. A declaration that would make most people uncomfortable because it lacks confidence. And it is steeped in the social media world of today, and those references will become dated and take away from the chance of this being a classic book with a universal message. So I can’t fully get behind this as a great book but I do think it is cute and harmless – even maybe confidence building?

Will Teens Like it?: Yeah, this is built for sharing on Tumblr.

Is it “great” for Teens: I don’t know. I see it more as a novelty picture book?

Art Taste:

friendlove2

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!

Panther Baby, slip some radical literature under the tree, for me.

pantherbaby

Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion & Reinvention

Jamal Joseph

Algonquin Books, 2012

review by Tessa

Characters

Jamal Joseph –
Cuban-American orphan growing up in late 60s NYC with revolution in his family tree (though he doesn’t know it)

Noonie Baltimore –

The strong-willed woman who ends up raising Jamal and showing him love, discipline, and self-respect

The Panther 21 –

Black Panther members from NYC who are arrested in 1969 on trumped-up charges of conspiracy and kept in jail without bail.

Hook

Worldview

Jamal Joseph was born out of wedlock to a Cuban woman who decided to move to New York City and get an education. To do this, she gave Jamal (then called Eddie) up for foster care.  His foster parents got sick, and Jamal was then raised by Noonie and Pa Baltimore. Noonie was the housekeeper for Jamal’s foster parents. They made sure he went to school, respected his elders, and in Pa Baltimore’s case, learned a bunch of fun swear words from cursing out the TV news.

Jamal is very aware of the political situation in the US as far as the fight for civil rights is concerned. So when Martin Luther King Jr is assassinated, he goes out to the streets to protest. Shop windows are broken and the police show up, indiscriminately chasing anyone around, shooting at them, and claiming they’re “looters”. Jamal is running from the police for this reason when he runs into a phalanx of 20 or so men in fatigues and berets, calmly walking the streets. They surround him and tell the policemen that they’re exercising their constitutional right to free assembly. The police leave them alone. Then they tell Jamal to run home so he doesn’t get killed. These are the Black Panthers. Jamal, duly impressed, goes to a meeting as soon as he can. He’s 15 years old.

By the time he’s 16 he’s risen in the ranks of the Panthers, spoken out at school against the way that history is being taught, and clashed with Noonie about his new, radical afterschool activities. Then he becomes part of the Panther 21 – accused of planning to bomb buildings.  Sure, he was taught to clean and put together an M-16, but the conspiracy charges are simply not true.  It doesn’t matter. He’s in jail.

And that’s just the beginning of Jamal Joseph’s journey.

Jamal Joseph speaking about the Black Panther 21 case on the green at the University of Vermont - Burlington, Vermont - 1971 photograph by Roz Payne http://www.newsreel.us/panthers/index.htm

Jamal Joseph speaking about the Black Panther 21 case on the green at the University of Vermont – Burlington, Vermont – 1971 photograph by Roz Payne http://www.newsreel.us/panthers/index.htm

What is the book’s intention and is it achieved?

Panther Baby is Jamal Joseph’s story, told from his point of view and with his biases, and that’s how I like it. It leaves the door wide open for further reading about the Black Panthers and the even more militant Black Liberation Army that Joseph was a part of later, in the 70s/80s.

Joseph doesn’t try to hide the parts of being a radical that weren’t so great, but he doesn’t apologize for his politics either, and that’s admirable. He shows the good he did, the prejudice he was up against, and the benefit of having pride and taking power back from a society that tried its hardest not to allow certain people to have any.

Much of Joseph’s story is about navigating codes and roles. He talks about being a man and what that means, which is different from being a black man, which is different from the variations on being a black man representing toughness on the streets. And then he goes into the codes of behavior in prison, and how he successfully and unsuccessfully tries to navigate that world without using violence and without being taken advantage of.

Apart from being a thrilling life story, there’s a lot here to think about and discuss. His personality shines through, and I can guess that even now Joseph hasn’t given up the thought-provoking life.  He’s a questioner and he’s an activist.

Unlike many memoirs, Panther Baby doesn’t waste time dithering around. Joseph cuts to the chase and his story packs a punch. To mix metaphors. I could even see a reader wanting more.

Readalikes

rockandriver

The Rock and the River / Kekla Magoon

The Time: 1968 The Place: Chicago  For thirteen-year-old Sam it’s not easy being the son of known civil rights activist Roland Childs. Especially when his older (and best friend), Stick, begins to drift away from him for no apparent reason. And then it happens: Sam finds something that changes everything forever.  Sam has always had faith in his father, but when he finds literature about the Black Panthers under Stick’s bed, he’s not sure who to believe: his father or his best friend. Suddenly, nothing feels certain anymore.” – from the publisher site.

OCS

One Crazy Summer / Rita Williams-Garcia

I know from Jumped that Williams-Garcia is a master of voice, so I expect that all the praise heaped on this title is well-founded.  From the NY Times review by Monica Edinger: “Mothers. Can’t live with them. Can’t live without them. Yet 11-year-old Delphine and her younger sisters Vonetta and Fern have done just fine without theirs. Cecile, a poet, walked out on them just after Fern was born. Now, in the summer of 1968, their father, with the reluctant agreement of their grandmother, has decided that the three girls need to leave their Brooklyn home to spend a few weeks with their mother in Oakland, Calif., to get to know her. …Cecile brusquely takes them to her sparsely furnished stucco house; sends them to pick up a Chinese take-out dinner, which they eat on the floor; and then pretty much ignores them. The next day, wanting them out of her way, she directs them to the Black Panther People’s Center.”

colvin

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice / Phillip Hoose

Colvin was a teenager who was part of an earlier fight for civil rights – she refused to give up her seat on a bus just like Rosa Parks, but was deemed too unstable to base a landmark case on.

mapofireland

Map of Ireland / Stephanie Grant“In 1974, when Ann Ahern begins her junior year of high school, South Boston is in crisis — Catholic mothers are blockading buses to keep Black children from the public schools, and teenagers are raising havoc in the streets. Ann, an outsider in her own Irish-American community, is infatuated with her beautiful French teacher, Mademoiselle Eugenie, who hails from Paris but is of African descent. Spurred by her adoration for Eugenie, Ann embarks on a journey that leads her beyond South Boston, through the fringes of the Black Power movement, toward love, and ultimately to the truth about herself.” – from Goodreads description

If anyone has any good non-fiction recommendations about the Black Panthers, lemme know!

 

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