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!

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

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

Starting From Here Lisa Jenn Bigelow

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

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

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

lisa jenn bigelow and carly

Photo by David Sutton

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

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

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

very lefreak rachel cohen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

kalamazoo michigan

Kalamazoo by Dave Sizer on flickr (creative commons)

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

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

this dog will lighten the mood. by RollanB on Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BONUS QUESTION:

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

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

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

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

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

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: I put the “idiot” in “videotape”

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Jesse Andrews
Amulet, 2012

review by Tessa

Characters:
Greg Gaines (me)(“me”): self-loathing protag, haver of anxious mental belches, appreciator of slug-like cats
Earl Jackson (Earl): short and often mad (because of being short? and the whole broken home thing?) but also smart and funny and a cowriter/director of homemade films with Greg Gaines
Rachel Kushner (Dying Girl): nice sick girl
Madison Hartnett: nice hot girl

My personal hook / disclosure / digression:
This book is set in Pittsburgh and written by a Pittsburgher and moreover it has been universally (among the librarians I know and, I’m sure, other people) acclaimed as very funny and so great and I should read it have I read it yet? It’s so funny! And, and… Pittsburgh! (The guy from Tram’s is even in here.)

(But you don’t have to know Pittsburgh to like this book.)

And as luck and event planning would have it, Jesse Andrews spoke at a work event where I got to hear his (funny, self-deprecating) speech and got a free copy of this book, which had by then been built up so much I decided to save it for the right time.

When I woke up last night with anxiety-induced night sweats, I knew that it must be the right time for a funny cancer book. Set in Pittsburgh.

Were you right?
Yes. This book was like eating magical candy that somehow never makes you feel sick to your stomach. It made me immediately less anxious through pure reading delight.

Aside: Perhaps inevitably it’s been getting compared to the other big YA cancer book this year by John Green, which if you haven’t heard of it I’ve helpfully reviewed it on this very blog. That book is called The Fault in Our Stars and is a romantic love story, and is by an author with a big following, writing his first book with a female protagonist, with people waiting to see if he could do it. This one is called Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, it’s about friendship love and self-love (and jokes about self-love, you know, that other kind) by a first time author.

One could set this up as a competition, but let’s not. They’re both great books and they actually work well together.  There’s room enough for at least two good realistic books that happen to feature cancer-stricken characters in their teens.

PITTSBURGH!

But will I cry?
You probably won’t sob (unless you’re a mom). You probably will laugh a lot, and cringe, and feel twinges in your heartstrings at certain points.  Your tear glands may moisten.  Or not, you emotionless freak.

But what’s the story already Tessa and why should I read it?

Greg Gaines is a senior who thinks he’s mastered the art of being invisible by trying to please everyone a little bit but not so much that they become friends. He’s painfully self-aware of himself as a person who should not be seen, but is not so self-aware that he can accept himself and be comfortable.  He has one real friend, Earl Jackson, and despite coming from separate racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, they were brought together by the greatest force of ecstatic truth on earth, Werner Herzog.

Since realizing that they are the only two eleven-year-olds who get Aguirre, the Wrath of God, they have gone on to watch many more arthouse films.  Their interest in film also extends to making movies influenced by their favorite directors — films that no one else is allowed to see because they’re not good enough yet. But the descriptions give the reader enough of a glimpse into the madcap, sock-puppet workings that it is possible to imagine how seriously silly and wonderfully non sequitur filled they must be.

Greg once had an awkward friendship with a girl named Rachel in Hebrew School during sixth grade, a friendship based on him trying to make another girl jealous. The end of the friendship, consisting as it did of a series of increasingly unaccepted invitations to come over and hang out with her, was never really resolved, but now Rachel has leukemia and Greg’s mother and Rachel’s mother think that having Greg be friends with Rachel again would be the best possible thing to cheer Rachel up, as parents are immune to knowing when their ideas are terrible and wrong and embarrassing.

PITTSBURGH

Because Greg is writing this story, it never swerves into Maudlintown. In fact, it circles Maudlintown on the map and tells you all the ways it will never ever go there.  Andrews makes good use of bullet points, stage direction, script dialogue, and many many raunchy, profanity-filled asides to ensure that the reader is bouncing around the brain of a distractible teenage boy with imagination to spare and nowhere yet to put it in the world.

I wish I could quote you so much from the book, but everything I want to quote leads to something else that is insanely quotable, so you should just read the book yourself. (But the subtitle of this post is one of my favorite chapter titles in the book, so you know). Andrews makes his chapters vignette-like but strung together with the momentum of the buried thought of death, so that you can be three quarters of the way finished before you look up from the page.

If I had a criticism it would be that we don’t get to see Rachel as a person that much, but I also think that it’s because Greg himself can’t fully see Rachel.  She’s too good of a listener and he’s too eager to perform for her, and too scared to get into a real conversation (and maybe she is, too? There’s no way to tell.) That’s all true to his narration and to the story arc. It even adds to the exploration of friendship that the book ends up being (and I really love that this is a book about friendship, if I haven’t explicitly said that yet).

Of course Greg and Earl’s films get entangled with the downhill slide of Rachel’s disease, and as much as Greg hates it, as much as it is humiliating and painful and requires him to stop lying on his floor pretending to be dead, he has to learn and grow a little bit and actually voice his feelings out loud.  And the way it happens for him is very much like life is: too fast and too full of hindsight.

I look forward to reading more from him, and there’s this tease of a vlog theme song on his tumblr:

Readalikes

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
This is a college coming of age story published for the adult market and is definitely more mature in its subject matter (but maybe not its themes?).  But there are some echoes of it in the undercurrents of Andrews’ book, I swear.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson John Green David Levithan

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
For the humor and the trying to be invisible and failing.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
Ha ha! Just kidding. But it does have filmmaking AND leukemia.

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