Monstress: Awakening

by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Lots of f-bombs and graphic violence and some nudity. It’s in the graphic novels section of the bookstore.

I really had no idea what to expect when going into this one; I just knew that Liu had won the Eisner for writing and I figured I should give the story a try.

It’s… a lot.

It’s set in this world where humans have been at work with Arcanics, who are a human/animal mix. It’s a racial war: the humans feel the Arcanics are sub-human and are trying to wipe them out. Throw into the mix the Cumaea — witch women who aren’t on anyone’s side, but use the Arcanics for their own purpose (and who I kept calling chimera) and you’ve got a hot mess of violence. Maika Halfwolf is our main character, possibly an Arcanic, but also possibly something else, who breaks into the Cumaea stronghold and (after killing pretty much everyone) absconds with a mask that awakens a demon she barely can control, in hopes to sway the tide of this war.

I think.

As I said, it’s a lot. I’m not entirely sure if I got all the plot or even the people straight. I don’t know if I liked it, but I’m not sure this one is meant to be liked. It’s super feminist — a ton of female characters of all shapes and sizes and stripes and in positions of power and not, and there are very few male characters at all. And it’s super pretty to look at; the art is gorgeous and elaborate and incredible. There is a lot to think about: it’s dealing with slavery and power and racism and seclusion and what circumstances can do to individuals.

But…

I don’t know. I’ve thought about it quite a bit over the time since I finished it, so that’s definitely something. It’s definitely one of the more unique and challenging graphic novels I’ve read recently.

Advertisements

Faith: Hollywood and Vine

by Jody Houser, Francis Portela, and Marguerite Sauvage
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content:  There is your usual superhero blow-em-up fare, plus some awkward moments. This would be in the graphic novel section of the bookstore if we had it.

So, in my graphic novel class this summer, we (well, me and a couple other students) ended up talking a lot about representation by women (and diversity, though not as much) in the comics/graphic novels world. One of the other students said that Valiant did an okay job with representation, but mentioned Faith as a good example of a plus-size superhero where weight didn’t really come into play. I was curious, so I picked it up.

After a traumatic experience and a bad breakup, Faith Herbert aka Zephyr (she’s a psiot who can fly and has some telekinetic ability)  has moved from New York to LA to try and do things on her own. Donning an alias, Summer Smith, she gets a job as a content writer for a culture blog/website. Even though she hasn’t made many friends and her ex has a reality TV show, Faith is doing pretty well. That is, until she discovers that psiots are disappearing and that there’s a tie-in to the new, hot sci-fi show on TV. So, of course it’s up to Faith (with some help from a few friends) to save the day.

On the one hand, yeah: it was refreshing to see an atypical superhero doing cool and amazing things and being comfortable in her own body (or at least not having her body be the center of the story line). But, and maybe this is me, I think much of what was “revolutionary” by that is diminished by the fact that everyone else in the book is skinny and/or super built. What’s the point of making the main character look more realistic if everyone else (from her crushes to the love interest to the bad guys to her co-workers) is “normal” and she’s the odd woman out? I kept noticing that she was always the fat one, and felt — even though it’s written/drawn by women — that somehow they were trying to draw attention to her size. So, even though the plot wasn’t about her weight, the book, ultimately, ended up being about her weight. Which made me sad. (To be fair, maybe it’s just me?)

That said, I liked the story. I liked Faith, and her fangirlness. I liked her daydreams and her awkwardness and her moral code. And I liked the resolution in the end.

It wasn’t a bad graphic novel and I am glad I read it.

Cancer Vixen

by Marisa Acocella Marchetto
First sentence: “What happens when a shoe-crazy, lipstick-obsessed, wine-swilling, pasta-slurping, fashion-fanatic, single-forever, about-to-get-married big-city girl cartoonist (me, Marisa Acocella) with a  fabulous life finds… a lump in her breast?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content:  There is swearing (no f-bombs), some tasteful nudity, and lots of naked breasts (it is about breast cancer, after all).  It would be in the adult graphic novel section of the bookstore, if we had it.

The first sentence of this one kind of says it all: Marchetto, a cartoonist who works for Glamour and the New Yorker, had a fabulous life with a new Italian boyfriend she was planning on eloping with, when she — out of the blue, because what other way does cancer happen? — is suddenly diagnosed with cancer.

Much of the book is a detailed blow-by-blow of Marchetto’s cancer treatment, and how that affected her life and  relationships. I found it interesting — I’ve never known anyone who’s gone through this before — but I wasn’t enamored with the story. It was very much “it girl” New York: all the right clothes, all the right friends, all the right things. (Though, she had a LOT of friends, which is a great thing!) I was more interested in her body image issues, especially regarding the models who kept throwing themselves shamelessly at Marchetto’s fiance, Silvano. But Marchetto didn’t really dwell on that; she brushed past it as part of her “negativity”. There was also an undercurrent of evidence why universal health care is needed: she was uninsured when she was diagnosed, and was in a panic about having to pay out of pocket for the treatment. Which turned out to be nearly $200,000. But, she didn’t dwell on that, either. It was very self-centric, and, honestly, I didn’t really care for her. (I feel bad saying that, though.) The art was a bit meh, as well, though I understand why she chose to draw it slightly cartoony; if it were more realistic, it’d be a lot more disturbing. This way, Marchetto was able to keep it from getting too dark while remaining honest about the ups and downs of cancer treatment (and her life).

Not bad, but not my favorite, either.

Fullmetal Alchemist

by Hiromu Arakawa
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s violence and some mild swearing as well as some graphic injury images. It’s in the manga section at the bookstore.

So I read this one kind of weirdly… I could only get my hands on volume 2 at the bookstore,  so K suggested I watch the anime to catch me up on the story, and then I read volume 2 (and put a hold on volume 3, but volume 4 isn’t available at the library, so maybe I’ll just finish the story watching the anime, because — believe it or not — I’m invested in this one…) Maybe that’s the way to go — watching the anime before reading — because I found myself more invested in this manga than I have in the past ones I’ve read.

This one’s the story of the Elric brothers, young, talented alchemists who had a devastating accident while attempting to use alchemy to bring their mother back from the dead. Edward (he’s the actual boy) lost a leg but his brother, Alphonse (he’s the armor), lost his entire body. Edward was able to save Alphonse by putting his soul in the armor, but it cost him his arm. And so, now, they’re searching the world for something — possibly the Philosopher’s Stone — to make them both (but mostly Alphonse) whole again. On their adventures, they meet dangerous people (not the least of which are the seven deadly sins personified, though I’ve only met Lust, Greed, and Envy so far) and fight to keep together.

Oh, I really liked this manga (K finally recommended one I really, really liked!). I liked the relationship between the brothers, and I liked the side characters. This is a huge, complex story that just got huger and more complex, and even though I’ve only read one, I’m dying to know what happens and how it all plays out. If it just means watching the anime, I definitely will finish this one.

 

The Prince and the Dressmaker

by Jen Wang
First sentence: “The prince is holding a ball!”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some more mature themes, and it’s in the teen graphic novel/graphic novel section of the bookstore, but I think if there was a 4/5th grader who was interested in the subject, they could certainly read it.

Frances is a dressmaker in Paris in around the turn of the 20th century. She works for a tailor, but has dreams of creating her own fashion line, if only she can meet the right people. When she designs a dress for a client for the prince’s ball celebrating his 16th birthday, it captures the attention of a mysterious patron. Frances jumps at the offer: it’s her chance to get noticed.

The mysterious patron turns out to be the prince himself, who has a secret he keeps from everyone except Frances: he likes to wear dresses and wants Frances to make it possible for him to go out in public. He becomes his alter-ego, Lady Crystallia, who, dressed in Frances’s creations, becomes the talk of the town. This, however creates a conflict: Frances wants credit for her designs, but Prince Sebastian is afraid of what his family and his people are going to think if they discover that he is Lady Crystallia.

I’m actually not sure if this fits under the LGBT umbrella, since Sebastian is actually attracted to Frances (I thought for a long time that he was gay, since he wasn’t interested in any of the girls that his parents were proposing he marry), but the ending is ambiguous (aside from a couple of kisses), so maybe it does? It does fall under the “let people be themselves” umbrella. Setting it in the late 19th century, Wang heightens society’s disapproval of someone breaking gender norms, which is really the point. Sebastian wants to wear dresses. Why should it matter who he is attracted to? Sebastian wants to wear dresses. Why should that affect how he relates to those around him or even, eventually, govern? Sebastian wants to wear dresses. Why should that make him less of a person? The ending is a bit too quick for me: initially everyone rejects Sebastian, but they come around pretty quickly (or maybe lots of time passed and I just missed it because it was a graphic novel)…

Wang’s art is charming, as always, and I found the book, overall, to be a delight to read.

Watchmen

by Alan Moore
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is graphic violence, swearing (no f-bombs though) and nudity (and sort-of on-screen text). It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I wrote about this one ten years ago when I first read it, but I thought I’d write my thoughts that I turned in as well.

Intellectually, I know the Watchmen is a classic work of not only comic storytelling, but also a classic work of literature. However, while I can respect what Moore and Gibbons are doing, I didn’t like the experience. Partially it was the art; Gibbons’ art was completely subservient to the text, lacking very little originality. I did find the panel in issue 4, , the moment when the test chamber went off (9) and the particles dissolved Dr. Manhattan and the following few panels to be incredibly striking. But otherwise, I found the moment-to-moment and scene-to-scene art slowed down the narrative, especially through volume nine. I understand that, thematically, Moore is reflecting the world he saw when this was written in 1987 — a very sexist, homophobic (issue 11, p. 9, among others), and bleak world — and critiquing the way we use superheroes in our cultural life: None of the characters are honorable or admirable (like Superman or Captain America) or even serving the cause of justice, even if it’s in a vigilante manner (Batman). The backstories we learn (I’ll admit; I didn’t read the “excerpts” in the end; and felt like they were filer that added no substance to the actual plot line) don’t take away from the feeling that the characters are mostly individuals without any integrity in what they do. I wish he had allowed the women (all two of them) to be more than just sex objects — Sally, whose most significant characteristics were that she is aging and that the Comedian raped her (issue 2, p. 5-7), and her daughter, Laurie, whose sole purpose is to be a companion to her lovers, both Dr. Manhattan (issue 5, p. 11) and Dan Dreiberg (most of issue 7, but specifically p. 28). This is a reflection of both the mid-1980s society and popular culture, but doesn’t excuse the lack of development of these characters. Admittedly, Moore isn’t putting up hyper-masculinity as an ideal: Neither of the hyper-masculine characters of the Comedian and Ozymandias are admirable characters, while Rorschach, who would not be considered “masculine” at all — being called “queer” (issue 5, p. 27) and “runt” (issue 6, p. 8) among others — also happens to be the moral center of the series. He is the one who realizes that someone is creating a plot against “costumed adventurers” (issue 1, p. 12) to get them out of the way and in the end refuses to compromise his ideals forcing Dr. Manhattan to kill him (volume 12, p. 14). I did like the ending; while Ozymandias “gets off”, Dr. Manhattan’s prophecy that “Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing EVER ends” (issue 12, p. 27) is fulfilled in the very final panel, where readers see Rorschach’s journal detailing everything delivered to the newspaper, and the final image (issue 12, p. 32) is the same as the cover of issue one and the first image the readers see (p.1). True, there is a lot to think about and discuss — is it right to kill off millions of people just to save the world? — but it was not an enjoyable reading experience. If this had been my first foray into graphic novels, it might have turned me off on the format completely. Thankfully, it wasn’t.

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths

by Graham Annable
First sentence: “Rabbit.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a lot of pictures, and simple words on each page. It’s in the Beginning Chapter Book section (grades 1-2) of the bookstore.

I have to admit that I picked this one up primarily because the title makes me smile. Making two sloths the subject of a graphic novel? How delightful! How absurd! And that perfectly describes the book.

Peter & Ernesto are two sloths, friends living in a tree together. They have their games and traditions, and it’s all good. That is, until the day that Ernesto decides he wants to see more of the sky than the small patch above their tree. So, he leaves. He has some interesting adventures, and makes a lot of new friends, as he explores all the sky. Peter, on the other hand, is worried when Ernesto doesn’t come back. So he follows him, at least until he can’t. Then he waits until Ernesto comes back. And when he does, he shares all the things he learned by being away.

it’s super simple, and the illustrations and text reflect that. I adore Annable’s sloths; while they’re more cartoonish than actual renditions, it captures the, well, slothiness of the animal. And I like the dichotomy between Ernesto — who is more adventuresome — and Peter, who is just a bundle of anxiety. It’s delightful. My favorite interaction is when Ernesto meets a fox and a raccoon when he’s exploring a mountain sky. They say,  “I thought sloths were lazy.” And Ernesto replies, “We’re content. There’s no need to move much when you’re content. But I’m not content. So I’ve been traveling.” I love that sentiment.

It really was a charming little beginning graphic novel.