This was probably the wrong Jason work to start with. What I thought was a graphic novel turned out to be a collection of short comic strips, although...moreThis was probably the wrong Jason work to start with. What I thought was a graphic novel turned out to be a collection of short comic strips, although there was no indication (that I saw) that it was a collection of short strips rather than a graphic novel, so like a dummy I found myself trying to connect seemingly (and truly) unconnectable pages and panels.
Even so, having discovered the true nature of the book, the cleverness seems spread thinly. The situational irony of Dracula lounging at the beach can only be so funny and taken so far.(less)
When I read really old comics, I'm usually unenthused. Before reading Hergé's Tintin, I heard all about its groundbreaking and influential place in th...moreWhen I read really old comics, I'm usually unenthused. Before reading Hergé's Tintin, I heard all about its groundbreaking and influential place in the history of graphic books. But reading Tintin is an altogether disappointing experience. The art is dull and simplistic, the stories are poorly written, and the whole experience is uninspiring. I'm sure that someone smarter than me can explain its merits, but they are not self-evident.
A Contract with God, however, is the exact opposite. It does not feel like the first graphic novel ever produced. It feels fresh and utterly creative. The art is wonderful, the story is intriguing, the writing and pacing is masterful. It's so well done that I'm hard-pressed to find any way in which the genre has progressed since this volume.
There once was a giant comic book called Bone that I read and thought "holy crap snacks, that is one awesome book, but I'm a little ashamed to admit i...moreThere once was a giant comic book called Bone that I read and thought "holy crap snacks, that is one awesome book, but I'm a little ashamed to admit it because the main character is a little white bone creature and that's pretty childish and/or dorky." It really is awesome. It's like the Lord of the Rings of comics. And you probably thing I'm a childish dork for thinking it's so awesome. But it's awesome.
Now there's a pretty big comic book called RASL. And it's a lot of fun. It's got the same impeccably detailed art. But it feels like the author of Bone, one Mr. Jeff Smith, thought: "holy crap snacks that was one popular book I wrote about a weird little bone creature, but it seemed kinda childish and dorky so what I'm gonna do now is write about a person, a real person with skin and arms and stuff, who drinks and has sex and cusses and that way people won't think I'm childish and dorky." But in my book, there's nothing more childish and dorky than trying really hard to be otherwise. Just because you draw boobs and guns and cigarettes does not make you a grown up.
But is it really fair for me to criticize one author's book by comparing it to his previous work? Sorta yes and sorta no.
The book is enjoyable. It tells the story of what I wish my life could be: I've always wanted to be involved in some sort of heist - not like a bank robbery, but stealing a diamond or a famous painting or something like that. This guy Rasl is art thief. He breaks into some guy's apartment and steals Picasso's The Old Guitarist (what it's doing in an apartment instead of the Art Institute of Chicago, I don't know) and then he has a really cool getaway move: he uses these big metal gun things to transport himself into another dimension. Art theft and dimension-hopping, that's how I'd live my life if I could.
But of course we all know how tricky traveling to other dimensions can be.
Another nice thing about this book is its focus on Nikola Tesla. Yeah, that guy that you've heard about a lot and you kinda know that he was a genius, but he was also a kinda tragic figure. David Bowie from The Prestige. And if I can say one thing about Rasl, it's that it got me looking into Tesla's life. He's a freaking madman genius awesome dude!(less)
Check out that photo above that I stole from Amazon. Isn't it pretty? It's a whole bunch of reading devices that fit into a colorful box. There's a ha...more
Check out that photo above that I stole from Amazon. Isn't it pretty? It's a whole bunch of reading devices that fit into a colorful box. There's a hardbound book, there's a Little Golden Books-style book, a couple newspaper-sized comics, and several doodads and even two or three various whatchamajigs. It weighs in at six pounds.
This is the incredibly creative Building Stories by Chris Ware. In it, the reader discovers the lives of (mainly) four characters who share the same building. They're all very normal. They feel lonely a lot of the time, even if they are with friends, spouses, or family members. They have trouble communicating their true feelings. They spend much of their time laying on the couch in their underwear and investigating the lives of their exes on Facebook. They go jogging after inspecting their emerging paunches in the mirror. One of them is missing a leg.
This is everything that comics should be; it's the antithesis of the Sunday funnies and superhero comics. Chris (yeah, we're best friends, we're on a first name basis) weaves labyrinths out of paper. Instead of reading left to right through panels, Ware moves your eye around the page in a pattern that's easy to follow but completely unlike any reading experience you're familiar with.
I want to say, but I hesitate to say it, that this is a comic book for non-comics readers. Thankfully, there are no capes in this book. If it were somehow translated into prose it would fit snugly in the literary fiction department. But it's still pretty nerdy. I spent a lot of time geeking out at the beautiful art and saying to my wife "check out these lineweights and the way he moved from this thought bubble to this panel and isn't that awesome how the building is thinking out loud" (to which my wife responded by continuing to watch Say Yes to the Dress).
But this is undoubtedly near the pinnacle of graphic books. It's up there with Craig Thompson's Habibi and Art Spiegelman's Maus. I'm pretty sure nothing drawn and written has reached the summit of what books with pictures can do yet, but this is getting dangerously close.(less)
I rarely abandon books, and I don't rate books I don't finish, but I really, really want to click that single star so the world may know what I though...moreI rarely abandon books, and I don't rate books I don't finish, but I really, really want to click that single star so the world may know what I thought of the first half of this incredibly self-indulgent, relentlessly navel-gazing, tedious, sluggish mess of a book.
I read Fun Home and thought it was really good. Four stars. I called it a "hyper-literate memoir", which is praise. "Hyper-literate" is a fitting description for this book as well, but this time I mean that not as praise, but as a synonym for "insufferable". When I asked my brain computer, "When you remove the literary references and symbols and dream analysis and parodically intellectual psychoanalysis, what are you left with?", it responded with a blinking cursor. Thinking... thinking... Then the cursor stopped blinking. Then my brain computer crashed - the result of discovering that a graphic memoir, the follow-up to a great graphic memoir no less, written by an obviously talented cartoonist, can be so devoid of surprise or delight or meaningful reflection.
When you strip away the intellectual facade, you are left with an unbearably self-obsessed woman and her book about nothing.
But then again, I only read the first half. The latter half is probably amazing.(less)
I should let a little time pass before writing down my thoughts on this gem of a comic. Instead, I will rave about how much I loved it, how hard it hi...more
I should let a little time pass before writing down my thoughts on this gem of a comic. Instead, I will rave about how much I loved it, how hard it hit me, how it's such a huge shame that this is the only book translated into English by this French author/illustrator, how incredible its drawings are, very similar to Craig Thompson if you like him, how Pedrosa is one of the few black and white artists I've encountered who can really utilize the contrast of deep blacks and stark whites to perfection, how happy I am that I stumbled into this book in the library without any prior knowledge of it or its author's existence, how he weaves a simple story of two parents' love for their child and the lengths they will go to to ensure his safety, the kind that really punches you in the gut with the reminder that you and the people you love are mortal.(less)
Need I really explain to you why I gave Calvin & Hobbes a five-star rating? If you grew up during the eighties and nineties or were sentient durin...moreNeed I really explain to you why I gave Calvin & Hobbes a five-star rating? If you grew up during the eighties and nineties or were sentient during that time period, or if you are sentient now and have access to the Internet or if you have ever had a friend who knows what good stuff is, then you know that Calvin & Hobbes is a wonderful, beautiful, hilarious, perfect thing.
I grew up on this. In the early nineties, I woke up every morning and stomped to the front door to retrieve the newspaper and spend some quality time with the comics section while eating my Lucky Charms or Count Chocula (the closest thing to Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs I could lay my hands upon). I delighted in the exploits of Calvin and his pet tiger, Hobbes, who was obviously a real and ferocious but lovable beast, but appeared as a stuffed animal to Calvin's parents, peers and superiors.
When I opened my front door after walking home from the bus stop, I always wished I would be greeted with a tiger attack.
When I got a snow day off from school, I strove for the creative and technical brilliance of Calvin's snow sculptures.
Like Calvin and Hobbes, all of my games and sports eventually morphed transmogrified into Calvinball.
Spaceman Spiff was my favorite astronaut hero.
What's interested me in my rereading of the complete collection of Calvin & Hobbes is that it's not written for kids. I mean, it is. It's completely appropriate for children. But there is so much depth and subtlety to the comic that I missed as a kid. Spaceman Spiff was my favorite as a young reader, but what I find appreciating even more as an adult is the culture criticism and commentary. There's a lot of focus on the media and the environment. It speaks for itself:
But my absolute favorite part of reading through the canon of Calvin & Hobbes is trying to figure this precocious kid out. The most obvious characterization for him would be that he is a sweet but mischievous kid with an imaginary best friend. But there's a darker element to Calvin and his tiger. At times, the strip makes you wonder: is there something wrong with Calvin? Should he be receiving some intense therapy?
There is one particular story arc that felt very unsettling to me. Calvin begins receiving letters from an unknown writer; they come marked with a skull and crossbones and they must be decoded.
And what happens, of course, is that the letters are actually coming from Calvin's own house! Which means that Hobbes wrote and sent them! Which, if you recall, is impossible, because Hobbes is an imaginary tiger! And Calvin honestly does not remember writing and sending these messages to himself, which means that he probably has a serious case of Dissociative Identity Disorder (a.k.a. multiple personalities).
So the question becomes: what sort of tragedy has Calvin suffered that has fractured his personality thusly? It's a troubling question, for me, at least.
One final word of praise for Mr. Watterson. He knew when to quit. After ten years of writing about a funny kid and his imaginary tiger, he was able to realize that he was running out of steam. As much as I hate to admit it, the last year of Calvin & Hobbes displayed a downward spiral in creativity and cleverness. Like so many others find themselves unable to do, Watterson retired his strip before it soured. And another congrats to him for not licensing his images to be plastered all over lunchboxes and t-shirts and bastardized in endless movie adaptations. (Yes, this means that if you have a sticker on your Chevy of Calvin pissing on a Ford logo, you are in breach of copyright; also, don't be stupid.)
Calvin will always be my favorite megalomaniacal and possibly schizophrenia-plagued child.(less)
I loved Bone, so I had high hopes for this. It's the story of a dude named Rasl who can travel between parallel universes and uses that power to do st...moreI loved Bone, so I had high hopes for this. It's the story of a dude named Rasl who can travel between parallel universes and uses that power to do stuff like steal paintings. And it's meh. It's pretty entertaining, but it's a really thin book. I'll probably read it all once a compendium edition comes out.(less)
This book is pretty much what LOST's Damon Lindelof says on the back of the book: "The most spectacular episode of The Twilight Zone that was never pr...moreThis book is pretty much what LOST's Damon Lindelof says on the back of the book: "The most spectacular episode of The Twilight Zone that was never produced."
Jeff Lemire draws the same way that he writes story - in a sketchy, fever dream, disorienting way. What is real? What closet skeletons are hiding in our past, unbeknownst to us? Where does a normal guy reach his mental breaking point?
As in every compilation book with multiple contributors, it's hard to rate the book as a whole. There are some stories in here I'd give five stars, so...moreAs in every compilation book with multiple contributors, it's hard to rate the book as a whole. There are some stories in here I'd give five stars, some I'd give one star. But the real question when discussing this book is, "Does this need to exist?" And the answer: "Kinda sorta." Most of the really great adaptations in here are excerpts from larger works, such as Gareth Hinds' adaptation of The Odyssey or Kevin Dixon's of The Epic of Gilgamesh, so in that sense The Graphic Canon is redundant. But there are a few original adaptations here that are pretty genius. I'll review my favorites below.
The other question that needs to be asked is, "Does this book teach?" And the answer: "Most definitely not." In all but perhaps one or two instances, if one does not know the works adapted in this volume already, she will not be any better off after having read the adaptations. So when reading this, it must be viewed as supplemental rather than substitutive.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, adapted by Kevin Dixon - 5 stars!
As I've recently reviewed, I really liked Gilgamesh. It's zany, it's bloody, it's funny, which all come together to make a great graphic novel. The excerpt relates the episode in which Gilgamesh and Enkidu slay the Bull of Heaven, which is a really messy affair, as you'll observe above. Dixon is in the midst of adapting the entire epic in graphic form, so I can't wait for when it's all finished and can be bought in paper form.
Lysistrata by Aristophanes, adapted by Valerie Schrag - 3 stars
This is a very straightforward interpretation of Lysistrata, the bawdy tale of a group of women who decide to stop the Peloponnesian War by withholding sex from their husbands. The thing I've never understood about this play, though... their husbands are hundreds of miles away, so they can't have sex anyway... how is withholding sex from an absent husband an effective means of persuasion?
The Book of Revelation, adapted by Rick Geary - 5 stars!
Revelation is such a visual, trippy book, I'm surprised I haven't seen a comic version of it before. The art beautifully and intricately displays the symbolism involved in the biblical apocalypse, and while it may not give an unfamiliar reader a good idea of the text itself, it is a truly enriching experience for someone familiar and interested in it. This is probably my favorite adaptation in The Graphic Canon.
Mahabharata by Vyasa, adapted by Matt Wiegle
I wasn't familiar with this classic work of ancient India, but it's the world's longest poem... so that's pretty cool. This short episode from it is barely a snippet, a vignette of a conspiracy to burn a temple, and it's a lot of fun. The Chris Ware-ish, OCD-type art is great.
The Inferno by Dante, adapted by Hunt Emerson - 5 stars!
This is such a hilarious take on the Inferno, and really I think it's the only good way to talk about hell - with levity. This is dark humor at its best. Emerson is at work on a full adaptation of the Inferno, and I'll definitely read it when it's published.
The moral of this review: The Graphic Canon is worth it if you don't mind sifting through the junk. There are some gems here. And may I say that I'm excited about the next two volumes, the third of which ends with Infinite Jest, a novel which could be great or awful in graphic form.(less)
It's fitting that each chapter heading of Fun Home is a sketched rendering of a photograph from the author's childhood, because the book itself is a d...more
It's fitting that each chapter heading of Fun Home is a sketched rendering of a photograph from the author's childhood, because the book itself is a dual portrait of the author and her father, written with photographic quality. It's a hyper-literate memoir of a young girl in the midst of self-discovery who has grown up feeling completely at odds with her father, only to reach maturity along with the realization that she is more like her father than she could ever have realized.
Fun Home is a prime example of the legitimacy of comics as literature. Bechdel uses both pictures and words to great effect, employing metaphors and literary references (including greek myths, Proust, Oscar Wilde) and allusions as if she were a Franzen or an Updike, rather than a humble comics artist. And in it's this literary virtue that distinguishes herself among even the best comics writers. Marjane Satrapi, author of Persepolis for example, writes a wonderful story, but it's essentially a story without much embellishment; Bechdel has the intuition to dig deeper, the way that Dave Eggers writes "creative nonfiction", connecting her and her father's story to the larger story of the world.
Oh, and the art is really great, too.
Good things can only last so long, and unfortunately Fun Home falters when it's nearing its close. Bechdel used up all of her revelations in the middle of the book and by the end was left retreading old material without much to add. Still, it's well worth a read; and read it slowly, like you're reading a novel, not just a comic book.(less)
This is Chunky Rice. He is a turtle, which means he carries his home on his back. He is meant to travel the world.
This is Dandel, the deer mouse who loves and is loved by Chunky Rice. But Chunky will be leaving soon, which causes both of them pain.
The relationship between Chunky and Dandel is not the only precious one in this book. There is also Solomon, the lonesome, elementary-tongued bachelor who nurses a bird named Merle back to health after his wing feathers are mysteriously chewed off. And Livonia and Ruth, a pair of conjoined twins who could not be separated without dying.
The greatest parts of this book are the parts that are missing. We do not know why Chunky and Dandel love each other so much; it is enough for us to know that they do. Merle the bird suffers from some unknown ailment that compels him to tear out his own feathers and his constant, unintelligible "doot doot" says nothing explicitly, but speaks volumes implicitly.
This graphic novella is a vignette study in heartbreak, fate, loneliness, and relationships. Chunky Rice is undoubtedly meant to leave Dandel, yet he was also by all appearances made to be with Dandel. Still, he must leave. In this world, relationships are what happens when two people's roads merge together. They depart, and maybe they will one day meet again.
Holocaust stories are full of cliches. The train cars full of dead bodies, the gas chambers, the ovens, de-lousing, etc. Which is a shame, because tho...moreHolocaust stories are full of cliches. The train cars full of dead bodies, the gas chambers, the ovens, de-lousing, etc. Which is a shame, because those cliches are real things that happened. Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things. And I hate to belittle such mass tragedy, but you know what to expect in literature about the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel's Night is important for high schoolers to read as an introduction to Nazi horrors, but it doesn't hold up against the good stuff. Reporting terrible things that have happened may be affecting, but it does not make a great work of art. Which is what makes really great Holocaust literature stand out from the rest. I'd put Sophie's Choice and Maus in the category of "really great Holocaust literature".
What sets these two books apart from their inferior relatives is that they embed the tragedy of the Holocaust, which is beyond human comprehension, within a much smaller story. In Sophie's Choice, Styron reveals bits and pieces of Sophie's experience in Auschwitz within the framework of a passionately lived summer in New York. Likewise, Spiegelman has the audacity to take what could be a run of the mill Holocaust memoir and make it a story of his relationship with his father. In Maus, the telling of his father's story is just as important as the story itself.
What does not completely work about this book is the art. Having finished the book, I feel more like I've read a novel, whereas when I finish a great graphic novel, I feel like I've experienced a long-form piece of visual art. The pictures are largely unmemorable and add little to the text. Spiegelman's choice of representing Jews as mice, Germans as cats, etc. is ineffective and a little too obvious. I think that he was using it as an ironic device to show the ridiculousness of division between races, but he took no pains to explain that to the reader.(less)
My natural and immediate tendency is to gripe about this collection. I want to say "I get it - you enjoy knocking teeth out of, punching holes through...moreMy natural and immediate tendency is to gripe about this collection. I want to say "I get it - you enjoy knocking teeth out of, punching holes through, ripping arms off of, and doing anything short of decapitating your main characters and then giving them a little bed rest to recover before saving the world again." Kirkman is by all appearances a creative genius, so why does he so often go back to the well of ultraviolence for ultraviolence's sake? Much of the first half of this book resembled what I hate so much about the "bestselling graphic novel of all time", THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN - that there are two evenly matched super-people who punch each other really, really hard back and forth for fifty pages before both of them collapse.
In some respects, all that punching was necessary, and ultimately Kirkman pulls it off brilliantly. That's a theme with Kirkman - just when you think he's done all he can do, he creates a plot twist that blows your mind. While the Viltrumite War arc was a bit disappointing in itself, it sets up the future for something great. When Invincible gets back to Earth and into the normal swing of things is when things really get interesting, because it's the quirkiness of Kirkman's comics that is so intriguing. The dozens of superheroes and supervillains, the relationships (Robot-Monster Girl, Invincible-fat Atom Eve, Deborah-Omni-Man, etc.), how everyone hates the way Invincible carries them while flying.
And of course, Invincible goes through another bout of existential confusion and angst. What is the best use for a superhero? So far he has been a reactionary character - when a bad guy comes around, he beats them up. Should he be more like Atom Eve, who flew away to Africa to help starving people? And, without spoiling too much, this is where the hardcover ends, with Invincible's decision to be more proactive with his power and, of course, a moderately-effective cliffhanger to leave the reader thinking "WTF?"
INVINCIBLE seems to be the anti-WALKING DEAD in that it thrives on abundance. Abundance of characters, of story arcs, of philosophical meanderings. WALKING DEAD is a very simple story about the survival of one man and his son in a broken world, and Kirkman is constantly closing doors to focus on that. Whenever there are too many characters in the storyline, he's sure to kill them off, no matter your emotional attachment to them. INVINCIBLE, on the other hand, loves opening new doors. Kirkman introduces new story arcs even if he can't find any space to fit in further development for another ten issues. New characters are introduced almost on a per-issue basis, and even if there's no obvious significance now, you can tell they'll be important later. And characters are almost never killed, barring two or three exceptions, because what the heck - the more the merrier! Maybe that's why the first half of this volume disappointed me, because it was too focused on the Viltrumite War to explore anything else. Focus is not what I want from INVINCIBLE. I want a vast party of characters pulling a bunch of ridiculous shenanigans so that I can barely keep up.(less)