I'm going to go on a limb and guess the majority of Western readers aren't terribly familiar with the Boxer Rebellion, which took place at the turn of the 20th Century in China. Yet, this is where award-winning creator Gene Luen Yang sets his sights for his two-part original graphic novel set, Boxers and Saints, which tells two stories: The first book - Boxers - tells the story of a young boy who becomes the rebellion's leader while the second - Saints - focuses on a young girl struggling with both faith and self-acceptance. Although Yang's book takes on a true-to-life historical event, he demonstrates his ability to masterfully weave fiction into facts that results in what is arguably his most ambitious work in comics to date.
The first book, Boxers, constitutes the bulk of the two-part narrative as it explores China from the perspective of young Bao – the young Chinese adolescent who finds himself leading the resistance against the colonizing Western powers. It is a powerful story of a young dreamer finding himself the agent of the traditional gods of his people as they seek to wipe the ever-spreading influence of the European and American powers in their homeland through the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist. Or perhaps, one it is a case of the reader simply experiencing the hopes and desires of the people embodied in the imagined Chinese pantheon. Regardless of how one interprets it, Yang deftly blends historical fact with elements of traditional Chinese lore to elevate this rebellion to a near epic level. Not only does Boxers readily lend itself to postcolonial readings of the ways Western powers have historical victimized the people whom they have conquered, but it also opens itself to a larger discussion on the nature of national heroes and the ways their true identities can be romanticized. While Bao finds himself at the center of ballads being sung in his and the Society's honor, the book shows that there are steep costs to pay for being a hero in the eyes of one's people and only a select few are truly willing to pay this pirce. And this notion carries forward into the second part and the conclusion of the work as a whole.
In Saints, Yang shifts the perspective to a different narrator in order to provide an additional layer of depth to the grand narrative he is telling. In this second book, readers hear from Four-Girl – a young girl from the same village as Bao – who relates her experience of living in the Beijing providence during the time of the Boxer Rebellion. She is never given a name as being the fourth-born was an omen of death in traditional Chinese culture, and her grandfather did not expect the young girl to survive past her infant years. Although she does go on to survive, she is never given a name and the psychological impact of this failure to be named drives her character's actions until the book's end. Where she found only rejection from her family's Chinese culture, Four-Girl finds acceptance from the rapidly spreading Christian culture brought to China during the European-American colonization of China – the very catalyst that gave rise to the formation of the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist. Her story then becomes one that stands in contrast to that of Bao – instead of finding her identity from within her own culture like Bao, Four-Girl creates herself anew through adopting the foreign culture of the Christian missionaries. Yang makes a few really interesting decision, however, in the way he presents this conflict. First, Christianity itself is never presented from a singular perspective. Instead, readers get different depictions of what Christianity means to Four-Girl, to her family – and by extension, traditional Chinese culture – as well as other Chinese Christians, all of whom perform Christianity in ways somewhat different from one another. Some use it as a means of aligning themselves with the European powers in order to gain material and political benefits; on the other hand, there are some who appear to understand and believe in the religious precepts of the faith. Four-Girl, however, sees it as an available means of breaking away from the culture, which previously rejected her, and finds a new identity with a name of her own: Vibiana. Although she never truly seems to grasp the Christian faith as seen in her awkward, and at times, disinterested response to her teachers, it is in the legend of Joan of Arc that she finds her patron saint whom she models herself after amidst a similar period of cultural conflict.
Artistically, Boxers and Saints both share the same visual aesthetic that marks Gene Luen Yang's body of work: Clean, cartoon-inspired line work that is both enjoyable to take in while still proving capable of conveying the emotional weight of his story. With this work in particular, Yang manages to strike a balance in his depiction of violence to underscore the life-and-death nature of this conflict and the costs of standing up for what one believes in along with keeping the focus on the characters and the story – not on glorifying the fighting and resulting deaths of those involved. In Boxers, Yang's means of representing the fighting spirit of the Chinese people through the deific possession that takes place is something that works incredibly well in the comics medium that might have otherwise been lost in other mediums and serves as one example (of many) of his skill as a comic creator. I also found his judicious use of colors in Saints to be highly effective as he employs a muted palette for the entire book with the exception of those scenes in which Christian icons appear as seen when either Joan or Christ appears before her. Given that these are the moments that are arguably the most influential in forming her notions of self, the coloring provides an important means of cueing readers in to not only their otherworldliness but also their significance to Vibiana.
Yang's two narratives complement each other as they provide readers with dual views on many of the same events. While it might initially seem to make sense for these two parts to have been published together, I argue the emotional impact at the end of Saints is preserved through keeping both parts separate and distinct. From tackling issues related to Western colonization abroad to exploring the theme behind Polonius' oft-quoted "To thine own's self be true," Yang's grand narrative is epic in its scope and yet careful in the treatment of its characters as nuanced individuals and not two-dimensional pawns used to move the greater plot forward. Boxers and Saints is truly a creative and thoughtful re-imagining based on historical events that, while having taken place over 100 years ago, still contains lessons present day readers will find all-too-relevant given the inter-connectedness of today's global community. American Born Chinese is the original graphic novel that put Yang on the map and rightly earned him much critical praise and awards; however, I would argue that with Boxers and Saints, he delivers a story that is both deeply personal and global in its concerns setting an even higher mark for any of his past works. (less)
Jordan Mechner is probably best known as the person responsible for creating the acclaimed games and movie; yet, his new graphic novel, Templar, fully demonstrates his ability to masterfully weave a tale in still another medium. While many of the popular histories and works of historical fiction that deal with the Knights Templar focus on the most well-known individuals involved with the holy order’s fall from grace, Mechner eschews recycling their stories and turns to “those figures of no importance” – that is, the common Templar knights and soldiers whose personal experiences were lost amidst the publicly recorded trials and tribulation.
Set against the epic backdrop of a national inquisition, this is a story of a handful of these once-renowned, now turned outlaws - regular people who found themselves caught up in irregular circumstances. Coming in at 472 pages, Templar is an ambitious graphic novel that takes readers on an adventure of near-epic proportions through early 14th Century France. Although it is thick with the history surrounding the Templars and the tensions between the French monarchy and the Papacy during this period, Templar provides an accessible and highly satisfying reading experience for a wide-range of readers.
After the Knights’ unsuccessful attempt to hold Jerusalem and their subsequent loss to the Muslims, they faced growing pressures from the various European rulers who helped finance the unsuccessful campaigns, and Mechner’s story deals with the fallout from this conflict. He provides readers with more than enough background to help readers familiarize readers with these historical events without saturating the panels with exposition. Instead, he applies just the right amount of exposition to aid in setting the ominous tone and creating brooding atmosphere of the book. What makes this book especially enjoyable is how well-rounded it is in terms of the reading experience it delivers as it touches upon action, romance, drama, and suspense.
Although Mechner weaves the grand narrative of the Templars’ fall from grace into his book, the story itself focuses on Martin of Troyes, a low-ranking Templar Knight with a penchant for trouble and drink in spite of his vows to the order. We discover Martin joined the order over a decade before the events of the story when he found the love of his life, Isabelle, betrothed to a noble of a far higher rank and station now since deceased. Upon the knights’ return to their Parisian fortress, Martin sneaks out with two friends for an evening of revelry. Fortunately for them, this was the same night the king ordered the immediate arrest of every Templar and the seizure of their wealth and property leaving them unscathed. Through a series of events, the trio is joined by fellow Templar associates and Isabella herself as they undertake the impossible journey of unearthing the hidden and much sought after treasure of the Templar Knighthood.
In addition to weaving action, romance, mystery, and suspense into this historical fictionTemplar manages to strike a balance between eye-catching, thought-provoking aesthetics while keeping the pace of the narrative moving along at a consistent pace. Many of the pages employ a more standard grid pattern, and given the length of this novel, this is a smart move, as a more deconstructed approach to the visual elements of the story would no doubt bog down many readers. The actions sequences are plentiful, however, and they help pick up the pace in just the right moments.
Additionally, Pham and Puvillard’s unexaggerated, cartoonish style works is one that lends itself to being easily read and enjoyed, but it is not without detail or nuance. The inks applied to each panel often lend to a roughly hewn feeling, as though elements of the art were scratched or carved out of wood - fitting given the period and setting of Templar. Moreover, Sycamore and Campbell work well together in coloring Pham and Puvillard’s illustrations, helping to intensify many of the horrific and harrowing scenes while softening and bringing to life many of the more intimate and more personal moments.
Templar captures just enough of the horrors of war to avoid romanticizing them; yet, it is equally clear that neither Pham nor Puvillard – who provide the illustrations – mistakenly draw focus from the narrative to “cool battle scenes.” One of the opening scenes depicts the Muslims’ siege at Acre. A banner representing the sound of the drums echoes “Boom Boom Boom” across a double-pages spread and each subsequent page until the scene’s end. It is a powerful technique that helps to keep the pace of the narrative moving quickly and underscore the rising action taking place in each ensuing panel. Later in the book, this same scene is powerfully recalled during the trial of the Templar elders outside of Paris. The comparison creates a sensation that is both tragic and chilling.
There is a lot in Templar for readers of all backgrounds to enjoy, and I rather suspect fans of the popular Game of Thrones novels and television series will find much to appreciate in this original graphic novel. While this hardcover novel does have a higher price point than most comic books today (retail price is $39.99), it is still less expensive per page than most comic books on newsstands every Wednesday. More importantly, Templar tells a story of heroism that lends itself to multiple readings that booklovers of all backgrounds will find satisfying many years after their first meeting with Martin of Troyes.
I really should write more about this book. It deserves more. But this is all I have.
But first, I need to point something out: I detest zombies. I re...moreI really should write more about this book. It deserves more. But this is all I have.
But first, I need to point something out: I detest zombies. I really can't stand the genre. At 5 years old, my older brothers made me watch "Night of the Living Dead." To this day, that movie still sends shivers down my spine and keeps me up at night. I can't even begin to account for the number of wet beds resulted from that film. So yeah. Not a fan of the zombie genre.
There's something else I need to point out: This is not truly part of the zombie genre. Okay, so maybe it is. But really, it's not. Sure, there ARE zombies. Yes, there is gruesome, violent scenes to the point you nearly (but never completely) become numb to it at times, accepting of it at others. No, I'd place this book in the dystopian genre of literature. It's about spelunking into the depths of humanity when its stripped of all accoutrements contemporary society provides. On the verge of biological apocalypse, what really matters? How do we define the parameters of who we are as humankind? The individual or the greater good? Family--what's it look like? Religion? Kirkman, Moore, and Adlard go for it all.
Yeah, there are zombies in this book. And I'm not a fan of them. But it's the survivors who are truly the most horrific and yet intriguing. This series is truly an amazing example of how present day comics are pushing the boundaries and reader expectations for the medium. (less)
I'm having something of a "Henry James moment" here with Morrison. I know one of the criticisms against James was that, as a "founding father" of lite...moreI'm having something of a "Henry James moment" here with Morrison. I know one of the criticisms against James was that, as a "founding father" of literary criticism, he pretty much created rules that made his works seems like the exemplar for others to follow (or, he wrote books to fit his mold of the novel done correctly). Either way, his bias as a critic is undercut (to some extent) by the fact he was also a writing--failure to be disinterested. I feel like I'm encountering some of this with Morrison as well. I see him discussing all of these ideas of what comics are in the grand scheme of modern myth, and yet, some of the reason they do this is because it's the way he has been writing them! Convenient, isn't it?
I'm not sure his bias discounts his arguments though. James' influence on criticism is still felt today--one of the reasons comics (and SF and fantasy) were relegated to the stuff of children's lit because they didn't meet James' notions of adult lit. But the issue is still there especially since Morrison is really positioning himself with this book (and other publications and documentaries) to become a contemporary sort of "Joseph Campbell" for comics.
That's my criticism. Now that it's out of the way, if you're into comics in a general way or academically, then read this book. I'm not sure there's much escaping, and his work is definitely an informative, thought-provoking, and interesting read.(less)
For those of you interested in comics, particularly of the long underwear and cape variety, this book is a superb source for understanding the convent...moreFor those of you interested in comics, particularly of the long underwear and cape variety, this book is a superb source for understanding the conventions, tropes, and general history of the genre. (less)
This was probably one of the best coming of age stories I've read in a very, very long time. The dialogue and writing as a whole is pulled straight ou...moreThis was probably one of the best coming of age stories I've read in a very, very long time. The dialogue and writing as a whole is pulled straight out of Thompson's (and no doubt, many reader's) personal experience as he tells his story. The artwork is exceptional--fluxuating between the playfully simple to visceral and beautiful. Although this book approaches nearly 600 pages in length, it is a page turner. It's also a wonder that Thompson put such a large work together; however, he does not rush through the story, instead taking his time to allow moments to unfold slowly each frame and panel at a time.
I'd definitely recommend this book for upper-level high school readers on up. Wonderful, wonderful novel. (less)
I hate zombies-movies, books, you name it. And frankly, I'm not a huge fan of this book for that reason. I did, however, give it 3 stars because it is...moreI hate zombies-movies, books, you name it. And frankly, I'm not a huge fan of this book for that reason. I did, however, give it 3 stars because it is exceptionally well-written and attempts to tackle some larger-than-life, philosophical issues without beating the reader over the head with a rotting, detached arm. For that reason, it's one of those must-read graphic novels even if for no other reason than to be "in the know" to some extent. (less)
I definitely need to give this book another read as I continually felt like I just wasn't "getting it." I understood the plot points easily enough, bu...moreI definitely need to give this book another read as I continually felt like I just wasn't "getting it." I understood the plot points easily enough, but for all of the hype that went into the book, I just never really felt the "payoff" so to speak; however, I must also concede my expectations were built pretty high for this book, so that probably didn't help. Still, well-worth the read. (less)