Two new graphic novels

We have a small tribe of graphic novel readers, mainly manga fans, but some of them just like to read anything with pictures and a story, I think. I am always on the lookout for new and different titles and here are two that I found lately (not sure where…maybe a listserv?).

The first, Tyranny by Lesley Fairfield, is an emotional tale of a young girl/woman’s battle with herself over her body image. It deals with anorexia and bulimia and is a an interesting take on the issue.

How I Made it to Eighteen, by Tracy White, deals with some of the same issues as Tyranny but also covers family, drugs, suicide and relationships.

Both are engrossing reads and highly suitable for young people to read. Neither backs away from the issues and are graphic in places, no pun intended. The artwork in both is mainly simple line drawings with some stylised characters. How I Made It has a more dramatic style (in my opinion) with its use of text and visuals to show thoughts and speech, whereas Tyranny is more of a one-sided description of what happened to the author.

That is also one of the important points : both books are written and drawn by the person who experienced the issues, so there is an air of authenticity about the material. This is not some textbook or counsellor speaking “about” the issue. It really happened to these women, they made it through to the other side, and have recorded their versions of what it was like. Highly recommended.

Scott Pilgrim – a graphic novel

How fates intertwine…A colleague posted about the Twilight graphic novel and her thoughts on the genre and I have just read this afternoon a new graphic novel which renewed my faith in the genre.

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life (Vol 1) gives us a view into Scott’s life, obviously. Scott is 23 and lives a fairly complex life of doing not much, it appears. Hanging out, rehearsing with his mates, chatting to girls, dealing with relationships and fighting evil in some weird scenes right at the end of the book.

It is all quite bizarre. Here is the website which does not really do it justice. Scott lives a slacker life, and the conversations read like film scripts from American indie films, full of people in coffeeshops, dream sequences, lyrics to the songs the band performs and so on. The art is reminiscent of manga in places, but twisted in other ways. Sometimes the heads appear flat, with little in the way of facial features; other times, they are more fully realised.

Scott falls for Ramona but it turns out she has baggage, namely seven ex-boyfriends who have strange fighting abilities. This came out of left-field for me but adds to the humour.

It is a funny creation and apparently is being made into a film.

While I agree with Ruth in her post, where she says that they are all over in a flash sometimes, maybe leaving the reader with little to actually ponder, (I may have taken her out of context here but check the original post, linked to above) there is still something to be had out of a good graphic novel. I think of Dark Knight Returns (Miller) and Skim (Tamaki) and there will be others whose combination of story and art have created something new. Maybe something which would not have been able to be created with words alone.

Victory, by Greg Broadmore

Want a funny book to read? (Well, funny in a twisted Boys’ Own way?) Look no further, comrades! This is the business, but like all things funny, you need to pick up the references otherwise the jokes may not work as well. What am I on about?

This is a graphic novel which is a mixture of classic SF from the ’50s, steampunk, Biggles, Hornblower and Ripping Yarns. How does it work? Brilliantly. It is billed as “Scientific Adventure Violence For Young Men & Literate Women”. Vol. 127, if you please. The world is populated not just by humans but also by Venusians, Martians, moon creatures, bug-eyed monsters and more. Lord Cockswain travels around the various planets and such, easily blasting the disgusting aliens with his rayguns and other weaponry. Screen shot 2010-01-14 at 1.49.30 PM Every few pages, there is a brief comic strip-style story, interspersed with dialogue along the lines of “You bounder” and “I taught the first moon man that I encountered a little Earth culture in the form of some Marquess de Queensberry” (which accompanies a lovely frame of Cockswain punching the alien in the face!). These are classic tales from times when boys wanted to be men, join the armed forces and serve their country, fighting nasty beasties with wither sharp blades or devices which make loud noises and explode.

Other bonuses include posters urging men to join up and “Stride to Victory, good man”, a bestiary with illustrations of the wildlife of Venus (one of which as an anatomy as if “someone got blind drunk and sewed a big bag of genitals together while getting punched in the face”!), adverts for ray guns, articles on tanks (“grinding ever forward like a massive grindy thing that likes going forward”!) and robots, and more. All illustrated by Broadmore with a rich palette of browns, reds, greens and yellows. The copy I bought has very thick card-like pages in its hardback cover; I just hope it lasts the distance as I will certainly be putting into more than a few peoples’ hands.

Author website has a lot of other info on his works, role in New Zealand’s Weta Workshop and more.

I shall leave you with the text from the last frame of one of the stories…Pure genius…

Another tremondous success! My guide had disappeared into the wild like an enigmatic blue badger and I never did see him again. Suitably mysterious. However, I was home in time for buttered scones, so that was nice.”

How could you not love it!

T-Minus (Graphic Novel)

As I finish yet another graphic novel, I think about the possibilities this genre has for teaching. In this instance, we get the potted history of “The Race to the Moon” and it is told from both the American and Russian perspectives.

The story moves between the two camps of scientists and includes various tidbits of knowledge beneath the frames and in side-panels. The Russians get a very cool font whenever they speak, while the Americans get a more conventional typeface. The style is heavily inked with little in the way of cross-hatching or shading. It does add a touch of drama to the events! There are some slightly humorous touches, such as when the cosmonauts land off-course amidst a pack of wolves. That is one of the beauties of the genre. Little details can be told in a couple of frames and this instance we see the faces of the men as they scamper ba ck into the trees and the safety of their capsule.

I thought I might read it quickly but I ended up being engrossed in the human side of the challenges the men (and women) faced. We see them playing cards and talking about their homelives, just before pulling another all-nighter as they redesign the landing module. Overall, a very enjoyable read.

Graphic Novels, Aug 09

It has been a weekend of graphic novels. For some reason, there just happened to be three all lined up in my bag on Friday afternoon so I was compelled to finish them.

Skim is the most problematic. It describes a young girl’s journey through a high school year and is full of questions about self-identity, love and friendship. She experiments with wicca, smoking, affection for a teacher, her parents/separation issues, suicide…The list goes on. It is done in a black/white/grey style with a first-person style of narration intertwined with diary entries. Some of the language is certainly “adult”; it is certainly not a comic. I enjoyed it immensely.

Drawn in a similar black-and-white style but with less nuance is Pendragon, the first adaptation of D.J. Machale’s novel. The novel was very enjoyable and I would love to find the time to read the rest of them. The graphic novel is very close to the original text and will appeal to the same audience, mainly young boys, I feel. I did not like the illustrations as much as those in Skim but they are in keeping with the fast-paced nature of the storyline. There is not time to spend sitting around marvelling at the drawings. We must keep reading and following the adventures of Bobby and his uncle.

Finally, 100 Girls is the first installment in what I presume is a series of science-fiction adventure graphic novels. This is full-colour and each frame leaps off the page with action. The layout is what I would call “modern”, with frames of different sizes sometimes staggered around the pages. Some frames are full-page, some have slabs of white space, some are diagonal. Sylvia is maybe thirteen but has the physical capabilities of a superhero. She wonders why strangers want to abduct her but only until she is rescued by someone who looks almost exactly like her! What is going on here, you might wonder? Anyone familiar with Dark Angel, Maximum Ride, Heroes, X-Men and the like will immediately realise that evil government agencies are at work, plotting with scientists and corporations to clone young people for some vaguely military purpose. The girls rebel, naturally, and this creates the tension. It is very enjoyable and I wish that the other books were here so I could read them! Some of the action is graphic (no pun intended) and shows once again that these are not simple comics to give to young children. They are complex texts and worth looking at in more detail.