Carnet De Voyage by Craig Thompson

I will state that I am not a graphic novel enthusiast.  I am a dyed in the wool, old fashioned reader of books that only reads a few comic strips in the daily newspaper.   Life is too short and there are far too many great books to waste my time on drivel.  Now that I have alienated most of the youngish crowd that are the main readers of blogs such as this, let me share a graphic novels that I have recently appreciated, thereby attempting to redeem myself.
Carnet De Voyage by Craig Thompson, one of the top American graphic novelists, is an autobiographical travel diary he wrote while traveling three months through Africa and Europe.  He documents his views of traveling sometimes as a tourist and sometimes as a famous cartoonist on tour.  Thompson spends time in Paris being wined and dined with his French publisher during book signings.  Then he goes to Morocco and is unhappy there as a lonesome tourist in a very alien society.  He is insightful and introspective regarding traveling which makes this book something most every one can identify with.  Craig shares funny stories, such as the time he gets everyone kicked off a train because he leaves his luggage in a rack outside their train compartment and the authorities fear a terrorism attack.
We meet all kinds of fellow travelers and natives that befriend him or annoy him.  The drawings do a great job of telling his story, just as effectively as beautiful dialogue.
Carnet de Voyage is a very personal experience where we gain insight into Craig Thompson’s thoughts, desires and despair through traveling.

Marzi: A Memoir by Marzena Sowa

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This simply but beautifully illustrated graphic novel tells the story of Marzi, a young girl coming of age behind the Iron Curtain. Marzena Sowa was born in 1979 in Stalowa Wola, Poland. The majority of this graphic novel, written as a series of vignettes, takes place in the years leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Ms. Sowa manages to demonstrate both the uncertainty of the time and the joys and wonder any child can find in the world. She and her friends often act out the visit the Pope made to Poland. She talks about her anxiety when her father is away from home for days at a time when he and his fellow factory workers go on strike. She also describes carefree summer days visiting her grandmother and playing with her cousins in the country. Presenting this story as a series of vignettes is very powerful. These snippets of a childhood spent in a country with stores filled with empty shelves and celebrations where people only show up and cheer because that’s what’s expected provide a unique perspective of a country that was shrouded in secrecy for decades.  

Some other wonderful memoirs told in graphic novel form are Persepolis and Vietnamerica.

Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba

>Moon and Ba have done something wonderful in creating Daytripper, a stunning and emotionally resonant graphic novel following the life of Bras de Oliva Domingos. This graphic novel is the collection of a miniseries of ten issues, each issue about an important day to Bras and showing what would have happened if it was the day he died. This is not a story about death, however, it’s a story about life. It’s about the important things that happen to people during their life and how each of us interact with friends, family, lovers and acquaintances. The events in Bras’ life do not unfold chronologically, but something new is revealed about him and his life and the people important to him with each story, though many years can lapse between the events portrayed in each episode of Daytripper.

Return of the Dapper Men by Jim McCann, illus. Janet Lee

>Anorev is a place where people and machines have forgotten how to remember. One day there was a “tick” but no “tock” and day but no night and without yesterday there can be no tomorrow. Books are just convenient flat objects a child can stand on in order to reach things.

Ayden is a young boy living in Anorev who doesn’t fit in, and Zoe is a machine and his friend. This unlikely pair can feel that things are wrong but are unsure what is wrong and don’t know how to fix it. Everything changes one day when the Dapper Men descend from the sky and the “tock” returns.

Return of the Dapper Men would actually be at home in the children’s, young adult or adult graphic novel collections. Part of its beauty and charm is its layers of meaning. In many ways, it reminds me of Alice in Wonderland. The language is sometimes deliberately obtuse to give it layers of meaning, which allows children and parents enjoying this story together to enjoy it at different levels. It is gorgeously illustrated with a blend of simplicity and intricacy and some wonderful, complex paneling.

And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman

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This book is so different from anything I’ve ever read that I’m not sure I have the vocabulary to discuss it, but it is so wonderful that I find I must try. First published in her blog for the New York Times, And the Pursuit of Happiness is an illustrated journal of Kalman’s democratic travel. I know that is an odd turn of phrase, but it is accurate. She visits different places throughout the U.S., including historical sites, the presidential innaguration, a New England town meeting, and military bases and then reflects on how our democratic freedoms are represented. It sounds so dry, but she has a delightful sense of humor and an ability to be reverent without lowering her writing into sentimentality. The reflections are surrounded by her quirky drawings, photographs, and scans of leaves that she picks up along the way. Kalman combines a travelogue, history lesson, and discussion of democratic values into an uplifting portrayal of America.

Batwoman : Elegy

> This multi-layered offering from author Rucka and illustrator Williams is a wonderful addition to the world of Gotham as the new Batwoman (now lesbian and Jewish) battles the new High Madame of the Religion of Crime. Kate Kane takes up the mantle of Batwoman in a personal quest to serve and must face the new High Madame, a Lewis Carroll-quoting goth Alice. This nuanced story is full of action in the present day setting in the first half of the volume and full of psychological drama and social commentary in the second half of the volume as Batwoman’s personal connection to the High Madame is revealed. The illustrations of this volume are eye-catching and lend depth to the wonderful storytelling of Rucka. The illustrations from the different periods in Kate’s life are drawn in distinct styles to help differentiate the parts of her story and the evolution of her character.
Batwoman : Elegy has been on several Best Graphic Novels of 2010 lists, including the lists from Publisher’s Weekly and Entertainment Weekly.

Graphic novels and movies

>A number of films have been released in recent years that are adaptations of graphic novels. These, of course, include all the Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Catwoman, etc. movies, but they are definitely not the extent of this trend. They also include such graphic novels/movies as 300, Watchmen, and Sin City. In the past few months, movies based on the graphic novels Kick A** and the Scott Pilgrim series have been in theaters.

Coraline is another film with a graphic novel tie. The story was originally a novella by Neil Gaiman, adapted into the graphic novel format in 2008 and released as a film in 2009. The story is of a young girl who moves wtih her parents into a large old house transformed into four apartments. On a rainy day, Coraline explores inside rather than out and discovers a bricked up doorway in the sitting room. In the night, the doorway is no longer bricked up and Coraline passes through it into a world containing button-eyed copies of her parents and the other tenants of her building. At first this world seems better than hers, but her real parents disappear from the normal world and the other world starts to unravel. Coraline must figure out how to save her real parents and get away from her “Other Mother,” or be trapped forever and have buttons sewn over her eyes.

Persepolis is a nonfiction graphic novel adapted into a movie. It is the story of one young woman’s experience in Iran during and in the years following the Islamic revolution. The film was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards. The graphic novels and the film chronicle Marjane Satrapi’s life from her childhood in Iran during the war between Iran and Iraq to her teenage years going to school in Vienna, Austria and then her young adulthood back in Iran where she attended college, married, divorced and then moved to France. The cinematic style is simple, with the present day depicted in color and Satrapi’s flashbacks to childhood animated in black and white.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a film released in 2003, was based on a comic book series of the same title published beginning in 1999. The film is a action/adventure/superhero movie very loosely based on the graphic novels. It is set in the late 19th century and populated by Victorian Era superheroes. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is brought together to combat the threat of the “Fantom” who is masterminding attacks throughout the world designed to create upheavel on an international scale. They stop the destruction of Venice only to discover their mysterious benefactor had ulterior motives for bringing the group together.

The Discworld Graphic Novels

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Whenever a work is translated into a new medium, some things are gained and others are lost. This is definitely the case for The Discworld Graphic Novels: The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, graphic novel adaptions of the first two books in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. I really enjoyed this graphic novel because I felt the illustrations added quite a bit to the story. Pratchett’s humor was conveyed quite well through this new medium and I enjoyed the stories just as much as when I read the novels.

The Colour of Magic tells the story of Twoflower, the first tourist to visit Ankh-Morpork, and his guide Rincewind, a failed wizard given the task of watching over Twoflower. The stories follow their travels around the Discworld (a world that rides on the back of the giant turtle Great A’Tuin) as they travel to see all the sights Twoflower has read about in his guidebook (everything from pub fights to dragons).

In The Light Fantastic, only Rincewind has the knowledge to save the world (the spell in his head that scares off all the other ones he tried to learn). The problem is, the last time Rincewind was seen, he was falling off the edge of the Disc.

Not only does the library own The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic in their full length novel forms, it also owns The Color of Magic movie adaptation with Sean Astin (Samwise Gamgees in The Lord of the Rings) playing Twoflower.

X-Men Magneto Testament by Greg Pak

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I picked up this graphic novel because of the flashback scene in one of the X-Men movies about Magneto’s experience as a Jew during the Holocaust when he was a child. This graphic novel was absolutely amazing. It portrayed the Holocaust and the atrocities committed by the Nazis in a sensitive and powerful way with beautiful illustrations. It was also an interesting addition to the X-Men story and provided insight into the character of Magneto and his vehement and sometimes violent defense of mutant rights in the X-Men comics and movies. I don’t normally read the X-Men comics and graphic novels, and this graphic novel worked well as a stand-alone story. I wasn’t confused and didn’t feel like I needed background that I didn’t have. This book definitely read more like a story about a young Jewish boy growing up in Nazi Germany simply trying to survive Hitler’s Final Solution than like a superhero comic.

Fables

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You know all about Snow White, right? Her stepmother was an evil queen, her roommates were dwarves, and she had the misfortune to take a bite out of a poisoned apple – and the good fortune to be revived by the kiss of a handsome prince. How about the Big Bad Wolf? He had a taste for pigs and huffed and puffed to blow their houses down around them. And Beauty and the Beast? Beauty’s love undid an evil curse and freed the dashing nobleman inside the monster. And of course they all lived happily ever after…

Or did they? Imagine now that Snow White is the over-worked administrator of a secret government whose ineffectual king – named Cole, by the way – is more of a figurehead than a leader. The Big Bad Wolf, under a spell that renders him human, is a grizzled, chain-smoking detective prone to violently interrogating suspects. And Beauty and the Beast are having marital problems. This is the world of Bill Willingham’s Fables, a series of graphic novels chronicling the (mis)adventures of classic fairy tale characters thrust into modern New York City. Driven from their homelands by an evil sorcerer, Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, and other familiar names establish a secret community called Fabletown and try to conceal their magical natures from mortal eyes. Yet being immortal doesn’t keep these characters from getting tangled up in some very human – and very adult – troubles. Murder, infidelity, gambling, and blackmail are just some of the problems Snow and the Wolf find themselves obliged to sort out on behalf of Fabletown’s wayward citizens. Clever, witty, and a lot of fun, Fables is a graphic novel series perfect for adult fairy tale fans.

Graphic Novel Grab Bag #4–Metal Vs. Blues

>Today’s Graphic Novel Grab Bag covers two music-based novels, but that is where the similarities end.

The “metal” part of today’s grab bag is Black Metal volume 1 by Rick Spears and Chuck BB. The story follows two young boys with a love for the darkest of heavy metal music: Black Metal. Life would be one rock adventure after another if not for an over-protective mother and a snot-nosed little brother, and there is that thing about having to go to junior high school everyday.

It makes you wonder how they ever find the time to battle the dark forces of evil. This is volume 1 in what I hope is the first of many. Wonderful action shots and a pretty amusing story make Black Metal a fun read.


The “blues” portion of today’s grab bag is the Bluesman by Rob Vollmar and Pablo G. Callejo.

This three-volume series follows the journey of a blues musician in the deep south and his struggle to make a living. Wandering from juke joint to juke joint, the main character finally catches a lucky break. The only problem is when he and his partner find themselves in a situation in which the Bluesman is the only survivor. Who killed who and whose fault it is , are questions left for the local sheriff, who has to figure the whole mess out before his town erupts in a race war.

On the run and still dreaming of pressing that first single, we follow the Bluesman on his road to vindication. The surprise at the end is bittersweet and tear inducing.

There you go. Perfect reading for those with not only a love for music and of graphic novels, but of a good story as well.

Graphic Novel Grab Bag #2

>This weeks Graphic Novel Grab Bag covers three different stories and three different art styles.

The first graphic novel is entitled James Sturm’s America: God, Gold, and Golems. This is actually a collection of three previously published stories by James Sturm. As stated by the title all three stories focus on events that appear uniquely American: the gospel tent revival, a gold rush, and a traveling baseball team from the turn of the century. As bright and sunny as the cover might appear, all three are cautionary tales about prejudices, hatred, and racism. Ultimately, each story has a somewhat bright ending, much like the Sun poking out behind the cloud on the cover.

The second novel in today’s grab bag is Plastic Man: On the Lam by Kyle Baker. Plastic Man is a very humorous take on the action-hero comic. All the cliches are here: dimwitted sidekick, beautiful partner, working for a clandestine organization, and saving the world from destruction. The artwork in this novel is very vibrant, and in contrast to some of the darker comics I have read lately, this one is all about the slapstick. Probably my favorite part of this novel was all the different ways Plastic Man transforms himself, Scooby Doo one moment and Sherlock Holmes the next.

The third and final novel in today’s grab bag is WE3 by Grant Morrison. I am relatively new to the graphic novel format, but Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely are two names that I keep seeing over and over. Having had the pleasure to read a few of Grant Morrison novels, I would say that you really can’t go wrong with any title.
This story is somewhat tragic. A secret government program to turn everyday animals into lethal killing machines, the hope being that modern warfare will take place in remote locations without the loss of human life. As you can see from the cover, these animals are a far cry from the family pet sitting at your feet.
Everything seems to be okay, until these animals escape from the lab. That is when all hell breaks loose. The artwork in WE3 is what helps set this novel apart from its peers. With an ending that brought a tear even to this grizzled face, WE3 has gained a spot as one of my all-time favorite graphic novels.

Graphic Novel Grab Bag

>I have been reading a lot of graphic novels this week. Mainly because my friend Mickey convinced me that there is nothing wrong with a grown man reading graphic novels.
This week I had the pleasure of reading three really good graphic novels that cover the spectrum of what the medium has to offer.


Deogratias by Jean-Philippe Stassen is the story of a young boy on the verge of manhood in Rwanda days before the genocide of 800,000 Rwandans. Told in flashbacks, the story provides glimpses into the life of Deogratias in the moments leading up to this global tragedy. Touching, sad, and ultimately heartbreaking, this story displays the depth of emotion the author is able to invoke with not only his words, but with his artistic vision as well. This story has adult themes and is meant for an adult audience.

After Deogratias, I needed a book like Graphic Classics: Ambrose Bierce to put a smile back on my face. The graphic novel format is a perfect fit for Bierce. All the classic Bierce stuff is in this book: An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Bierce’s Fables, and of course The Devil’s Dictionary. I remember the first time I picked up The Devil’s Dictionary, I was about twelve years old and was expecting a book of spells. I was of course surprised, but upon further reading, Ambrose Bierce became one of my favorite humorists. The beauty of this book is the variety of artists and artistic styles utilized to inform the modern reader of the amazing wit and cynicism of Mr. Bierce. My grandpa would call this one a “side-splitter”.

Every now and then, a book comes along that has a cover that requires you to read the book. Man with the Screaming Brain is just such a novel. Granted this probably happens a lot more with graphic novels since the cover gives you a general idea of the artwork. The story is written by Bruce Campbell best known for his roles in the Evil Dead comic-horror movies. The camp of those movies shines through brilliantly in this story as we follow a business couple on a trip to Russia. Gypsies, mad scientists, criminals, all come together in this send-up of 1950′s sci-fi horror movies. This novel is a quick one and only takes about twenty minutes to get through, but it is well worth the surprise ending.

Our graphic novels are on the second floor. We also have graphic novels in our Young Adult area, and in our children’s library. Ask a librarian for assistance if you need help finding them.
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