graphic novels

All posts in the graphic novels category

Stuff I’m doing

Published August 22, 2017 by admin

A short one this week, since the other link of what I’m up to isn’t live yet. There will be a new flash piece from me for the Ladies in Horror project soon – I’ll likely have that to post next week. I’m also back working with I Smell Sheep to do regular manga reviews geared to non-manga readers. Ie, I read it and spell it out for you so you know if you like it or not. So be on the lookout for that, soon.

In the meantime, I’m back at Books by Violet to bring you my weekly YA graphic novel reviews. This week is a series near and dear to my heart – The Adventures of Superhero Girl. This is one of those that I read when I’m down, and I’ve been getting a lot of mileage from it lately. To the point where I may have tweeted Faith Erin Hicks asking if Superhero Girl would let me move to Canada and be her roommate. I was fast reminded of SG’s tendency to not pay rent, but I’d just like to point out that that wasn’t a complete no…

Fangirling aside, this is a super-cute (ha, see what I did there) series, and one that’s great for all ages. Check out my full review here!

SJ Reads: The Unwritten

Published August 21, 2017 by admin

Today’s SJ reads is another graphic novel/comic series, since that’s our theme this month. I’d heard the title The Unwritten kicked around for a while, but not really taken the chance to investigate it. Then, when I had worked my way through a two-month long manga binge and was craving something else, I checked out the first couple of volumes from the library.

Holy. Guac.

I mean, it’s Mike Carey, so it’s not going to be bad, but seriously, guys, this series is amazing. Picture Harry Potter mixed with Christopher Robin mixed with every genre ever (including children’s lit), mixed with conspiracy theory, mixed with Jung, and you might come close to describing The Unwritten. Maybe.

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So we open with Tom Taylor doing conventions, because his dad is a famous author noted for writing a series that would be similar to Harry Potter in our world, and the main character coincidentally is named Tommy Taylor and looked like him as a boy. Things really get going when an audience member questions if he’s really who he thinks he is during a panel (welcome to every panelist’s worst nightmare). What follows is a long, winding story where Tom struggles to figure out if he’s real or fictional, how his world crosses with the literary or how that’s even possible, all while fighting a strange cabal of people known as the Unwritten, who have lived throughout history making sure that only the write message gets written. He also has to deal with what his father did to him and turned him into. Helped by the questioning lady in the audience who may or may not be sane (or real), and a reporter, and a few other people who may or may not have his interests at heart, this is a fast-paced, intricate romp through not just fantasy, but also a lot of really interesting literary paths. We fall into Moby Dick and other titles, go back and forth in history, go to Hades, go to a kid’s world that is reminiscent of Beatrix Potter or the Hundred Acre Wood – there’s even a crossover with Fables (admittedly, since I’m the one person who absolutely isn’t a fan of Fables and since that volume really didn’t affect the plot one way or the other, that’s the one weak part of the series for me).

Also, this series has balls. I will warn you, there is language, there is violence, stuff gets dark. If you’re going into this expecting Not!Harry Potter fanfic or happy fantasy time, this is not that. At all. The stakes are high. If you ever wondered what would happen if your YA fantasy friends grew up and had to play their adventures straight, this is definitely the series for you. I can’t say much or I’ll give it away, but the ending is also one of the best series endings I’ve ever read. As I went along, admittedly I began thinking that there was only one real possible exit if things were being played out to their logical conclusion…but no way a series author would go there, right?

Oh, he did. He goes there. And it is magnificent.

So yeah, if you want something different, if you feel like you’ve aged out of Harry Potter or want some dark fantasy that also explores some high concepts, check this one out.

You can find vol 1 here

 

SJ Reads: Lucifer

Published August 14, 2017 by admin

At this point I figure most of the people who are reading this are going to at least be aware of Sandman. If you aren’t, let me know, and I’ll cover it in a later post. I’ve found, though, that at least within my own friend/writing circle, not as many people are familiar with Lucifer.

 

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Okay, calm down. Here’s the thing. If you’re familiar with the show, this is not that. If the whole religion in fantasy gets you hepped up, that’s perfectly cool. You don’t have to read it, like it, or agree with me. If that’s the case, you may want to skip this one.

For those who really are into dark fantasy and want a longer title that will take a while to get through, especially if you’ve already done Sandman and loved it, you’ll want to check this out. Picking up where Lucifer is running a piano bar with his Lilim companion Mazikeem, continuing the theme of being bored with the role he’s been cast in.

Things to know:

He is still manipulative and scheming and there is a lot of magical politics and entrapment, so he’s not altogether a hero in this series, even though he’s a protagonist. He definitely does things his own way and plays things hard and fast, and has to deal with the complications of that, even when he wins.

He’s less of the booga booga destroy humanity figure and more along the lines of trying to prove his views to his brother angels and God. At one point, they have to band together to save reality, which is an interesting experience.

Basically, through various machinations, Lucifer creates a side universe parallel to ours which has a lot of consequences and effects. The series also explores what machinations other angels have gotten up to, along with the desires of a living deck of tarot cards and the daughter of Michael, so there’s a lot going on. This is less good vs evil and more free will vs predestination and a whole lot of various characters trying to find their place in the universe(s). There’s a lot of separate adventure arcs, mythological figures, and a lot of interlocking pieces. People that show up in the beginning that you think are gone reappear, and the ending truly had me turning pages at a mad pace.

If you like how detailed and rich Sandman is, you’ll love this. If you like various mythologies being played with and combined, you’ll love this. If you like super entwining plots and really vivid art and dream-like storylines, this is for you.

This has been published in several forms – you’ll find volumes and books on amazon. I prefer by book because you have a lot of content that interconnects, and it’s easier to flip back if you think you’ve missed something.

Find book one here

Have you read this series? Like it better or less than the TV show? Who’s your favorite character or what’s your favorite part? Let me know!

 

 

SJ Reads: Finder

Published August 7, 2017 by admin

So yeah, it’s been a bit and a half. I’ll get to that eventually, but really, I think at the end of the day it’s good to ask if we want to start with explanations or start the way we mean to go. Since my rambling good intentions usually end up taking time and fizzling at certain points, I’m leaning toward the latter this time around. So there ya go.

I want to get back to SJ reads because I think it’s a good way to showcase not just what I like, but titles that people may have forgotten about or titles that aren’t in their comfort zone. So, as a refresher:

  1. I usually only review mass market titles on my blog so there’s no conflict of interest, but like everything I reserve the right to change my mind
  2. This is less of a review and more of my fluid thoughts on a title
  3. 99 percent of the time everything I talk about here I’ve obtained from the public library, and if mine has it, yours likely does too. Use libraries, they’re awesome.

I want to try going by theme a little bit, so this month I’m going to touch on some graphic novel/comic series that are just amazing to me. Seriously, people, if you aren’t exploring this section of your library or bookstores, you’re missing out on some of the most original stories out there today.

So today let’s talk about Finder.

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Finder started out as a self-published comic by Carla Speed McNeil and eventually got picked up by Darkhorse and is still going on- that’s the basic schematic. Unlike a lot of titles I’ve read, I don’t know that you honestly have to go in order because she does tend to bop around in time and area within her world. Probably the easiest way to read this is to look for the Dark Horse Finder Library volumes first. I think this collects everything through Talisman, although that’s available in a separate book, as well. Then there’s Voice, and I believe Third World is the latest that’s out. I’ve read here and there in Darkhorse Presents, but honestly, I like volumes because I hate to be kept waiting on the next bits.

It’s extremely hard to put a genre on Finder. It’s honestly all the genres. There are dark bits, there’s drama, there’s some genuinely funny aspects, there’s some coming of age, there’s sci-fi and fantasy…I’ve heard that the author describes it as aboriginal scifi if pressed, and that’s pretty accurate.

Basically, Finder is set in a futuristic place similar to our own world without it being exactly us. A lot of the action takes place in bigger cities, where society has been divided into different castes with different rules and attributes. Outside of the cast system are the Ascians, of which is main character Jaeger. We follow him through the series at different points in his life and through different adventures (though sometimes this deviates and we follow side characters, instead) as he deals with being both the lowest in Ascian society (a sin eater, so he takes on people’s sins before they die) and one of the highest (a Finder, meaning he can find anything, anywhere).

So why bother with something weird and complicated and nontraditional? The characters are amazing. I love Jaeger in a bad way and just love how he’s written. He’s not completely good and not completely bad, he’s very much a dude (and I love that he’s written by a female author, truth be told, especially through arcs that discuss all his various lady friends), and he’s an amazing personality to use to explore different situations. All of the characters do this, but as the main audience porthole into the world, he really makes you put aside your thoughts on race and sex and gender and even species.  The setting and society McNeil has built are just astounding. This isn’t just a futuristic city – you have all sorts of lands and cities and towns and places in between with their own rules, not to mention caste rules and religious rites. I like to grumble that it’s completely unfair that this isn’t a movie or TV series yet, but honestly, it would probably get ruined. I don’t think anyone would really have the balls to throw it up on the screen as is, and to change it would be to wreck it.

This is an insanely simple breakdown. Luckily, if you start with the Finder library volumes, they read more like a continuous story. And if you ever are wondering anything, the author has a huge chunk o’ foot notes in the back of each book. Seriously. The amount of knowledge and research and effort that has gone into this series is just mind-boggling and has brought me to my knees more than once. You have a girl going through a beauty show to find her place in society and falling into whole other rituals, you have a girl falling in love with a book, you’ve got archaeological explorations led by creatures, cities that are levels upon levels and tech that puts you into whole other universes to help you leave yourself behind. This series has something to say about everything. It’s insane and amazing and I love it. This is a one of those ideas that makes me moderately jealous, but mostly in awe, because it’s so well done. I wish I drew well enough to pull something like this off. I wish my world building was that good. As it is, I’m more than happy to wait for the next bit and run around in McNeil’s world every chance I get.

Find Finder vol 1 here

I can’t be the only Finder fan out there – who else has read this phenomenal series? Thoughts? Favorite arcs or characters? Let me know in the comments!

SJ Reads: YA Graphic Novel Edition

Published April 4, 2016 by admin

I thought I’d open up the week with some fun, so it’s time for another edition of SJ Reads! This time I wanted to touch back on what is probably one of my biggest comfort reading genre – graphic novels, though because I have a lot of friends with kids and I’m always curious about what the youngin’s are puttin’ in their noggins, this edition has a YA slant.

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel – Combining the stories of a rough paranormal investigator and a boy accidentally pulled to the other side, this is a fast-past story that kids will easily get into. It’s probably geared more to boys, but the characters are likable enough that I think girls would get into it, too. As an old person, there are several plot points that I would’ve liked developed a little more, but it’s probably good that the action and characters take precedent. A fun, loose art style that’s very eye-catching, and just a really nice, just-dark-enough title all the way around.

Cardboard by Doug TenNapel – I think I liked this a little bit more than Ghostopolis, because there was a somewhat bigger cast and more attention was paid to how they interacted with each other, even if it was just for a fleeting hint in a panel or two. Cam’s out-of-work father gives him a cardboard box for his birthday. Even though it’s all he can afford, it also gives them time to spend together…and, as it turns out, the cardboard has special abilities. I love all the different creatures and worlds that come from the cardboard, I love the interactions between characters, and because this is so grounded in real-world problems, it really made me pay attention.The only thing that made me go ‘eh’ is the ‘villain’ was the somewhat stereotyped misunderstood rich goth kid. However, a lot is done with the character and although I would’ve liked to be a little less predictable/get in his head a little more, he’s actually my favorite character in the whole book and there are some fun things done with his progression. So, while there is the usual kind of archetypes/tropes that you’re used to seeing in mid grade lit or entertainment (especially if you grew up in the 80s or 90s), there is some comfort to that and there are some interesting things done with it. Nice pace, great art, and it made me want to go make something.

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula by Andi Watson – an underworld princes is the pseudo-ruler of her kingdom because her hypochondriac father doesn’t want to deal with stress of politics. Add to that the pain of hiring an unusual new chef who becomes her only confidant and you get a very cute, very tame creepy romance. What I like is that the relationship is not the foremost thing – or it shares the spotlight with Decomposia’s feelings about her father, her stress at trying to put up a front running the kingdom and determining what kind of ruler she wants to be. Plus, Count Spatula is a really unique vampire. Just a kind dude who can cook and happens to have fangs. There’s a lot of moments here that gave me a chuckle, and I love that the major focus was Decomposia standing up for herself. The art is cute and while not as detailed as some titles, it really fits the tone of the book.

Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale – I love fairy tales. I love warped fairy tales. This may be one of the greatest things I have ever read. Rapunzel, set in sort of the villa/slavery system of the old west, where the witch rules the territory out of her villa and controls the water and harvest of the villages through her growth magic. You see how Rapunzel was put in the tower, but also her escape and her growth as she makes her way across the territory to face down the witch with outlaw Jack (from Jack and the beanstalk fame). A totally new slant is given to most of the characters, and it fits the fairy tale narrative in that there are a lot of little adventures along the way of the big journey. There’s no being saved by a prince (though there’s a hilarious hat-tip to that), and Rapunzel takes down foes with hair lassoing. She is second fiddle to none, and there’s a lot of time given to talking about her role, her place, her gender, her journey.  Also HUGE props to how many female characters are in this book, and characters of color. It’s fantastic. This was one I read and reread and re-re-read and then forced upon everyone around me because it is that much fun. The art is beautiful, vibrant, and earthy and the themes of growth magic are consistent while still really feeling like it all belongs in the old west. Love.

Curses! Foiled Again by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro – In the first Curses, Aliera stumbled upon a fencing foil that made her defender of the Seelie kingdom. In this volume, she deals with what that means. Not only is she trying to keep up with fencing to get to nationals, but her lab partner is a troll and declares himself her servant. The powers of darkness are out to get her foil, and it’s hard to know who to trust when her cousin Caroline is attacked. Again, I love this for the female lead – Aliera has unique strengths, but she’s also a normal girl and needs help along the way. Her cousin Caroline is an incredible gem of a character – wheelchair bound and supposedly “frail,” it’s Caroline who guides Aliera with advice and her RPG and fantasy knowhow. Both girls tell it like it is in their own way. It’s also intriguing that the whole school paranormal romance angle is turned on its head with some of the characters, so it’ll be interesting to see where that goes. Plus, Baba Yaga makes an appearance and there’s no way I could ever be mad about that. A fun romp with classic Jane Yolen awesomeness.

 

Comic Review Roundup

Published December 2, 2015 by admin

So along with people foolishly inviting my writer-type opinions on their sites, I’ve been invited to guest review for the awesome blog I Smell Sheep. And more than once, too!

Seriously, this is something that’s been a ton of fun so far. While it’s still my policy to not officially review small press or indie books (obviously I still give my general thoughts on library books in my SJ Reads posts), I’m all about reviewing comics and movies if someone’s going to enable me. While I do read a few superhero titles, I have a passion for the fact that graphic novels can really tell stories in a unique way – from realistic titles like Persepolis, The Property, Fun House, or something meant to mirror reality like Maus, to epic stories like Sandman or horror titles like Locke & Key. There are some truly unique titles out there that aren’t getting the love they deserve or people may not know unless they specifically follow a certain title or publisher, so I love the chance to discover new titles and share them with others.

Since these were done for the I Smell Sheep Blog, I’ll spare you full reviews and link you to the actual ones. I’ll have to divide this up because I’ve actually done more than I realized, but here’s the first batch.

Dark Horse Comics Presents # 15 – Admittedly one of the reasons I jumped on board was because I knew the blog had an in with Dark Horse and I had just discovered Finder and I love it with an unholy passion. So when this title came up and featured serialized Finder, I was ready to fight to the bitter end for it. Truly, though, every story in this issue was fantastic and has opened me up to some other titles I can’t wait to check out.

Dead Vengeance 1 -A carnival sideshow act comes to life and tries to figure out who he really is. A lot of flashbacking, but a really interesting set up that reminds me of the older Creepy and Eerie titles.

Dead Vengeance 2 – More information on John Dover’s tragic past, as well as a unique allusion to a possible time travel element, plus it takes us back to the carnival!

Plants Vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 1 – Love this. So ridiculous in the best possible ways. Dr. Zomboss tries to take over town with some help from the future…and a metal butt. Brings to mind a lot of the Saturday morning cartoons I used to love watching.

Love Hurts: The Complete Love Hurts (Horrifying Tales of Romance) – Translated from a Swiss comic, I believe, this is amazing. I love this thing. A collection of short stories that blend horror and romance elements, these are twisted, warped, insightful, emotional, and just so inventive I can’t stand it. Loved.

 

 

 

 

 

Reading with SJ: YA Graphic Novels pt 2

Published August 27, 2015 by admin

Had to break this up into another post because I’ve come across so many awesome illustrated YA books lately, so let’s carry on, shall we?

Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe – Sadie moves and has to go to a new school, which means navigating social groups, watching her old friends move on, and feeling ignored. She’s anxious about the move so she decides to make herself noticeable by coming out about her deadly allergy to peanuts…which she doesn’t actually have. While at times this might be a little unbelievable, I could see it happening (hi, does no one remember the lengths kids will go to to be popular?), and I honestly feel for Sadie. There’s a great build of tension throughout the book which was nice. Sometimes the situations and characters feel a little bit like what a cliche of middle school should be like (divorced, burnt-out mom? check. Mean girls? check. Attractive but slightly offbeat boyfriend? Check), but I generally liked it. I cringed through the inevitable moment when she was found out, and I like that some people didn’t immediately forgive her after everything came to light. I don’t necessarily like that the main focus seemed to be her keeping her relationship intact with her boyfriend, but of all the characters his reactions do seem believable. I will say sometimes it reads as being young high school and not middle school – but review concerns on amazon about “adult” references (cursing, some sex slang, etc) make me wonder if people have forgotten what kids are like in jr. high. I hate to tell you, but yes, yes they are talking like that behind your back All. The. Time. Beyond that, it’s easy to read, easy to look at, a fairly likable title that reminds me of a lot of the light tween/teen movies of the nineties.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier – I heavily connected with the author’s previous book Smile because of my own massive adventure into oral surgery. Having also been a theatre geek most of my life, I immediately grabbed this title when I saw it on the shelf. While I don’t like it quite as much as her autobiographical work, it’s a good story. Callie struggles to find her place socially while her school’s musical production moves forward. Different relationships are explored, sexual orientation discussed, friendships and personal comfort zones…it really covers a lot of ground in a light way. A standing ovation for the various gay characters who have either come out or are in process of it. I love that Callie isn’t an actress but wants to be a set designer – her love for design is palpable through the book. There’s the average teen drama – she’s lovesick over a few people and there’s a breakup mid-show, and of course a big moment happens at a dance. It seems a little unrealistic that this would all happen at a Jr. High to me – seriously, middle schools must be AMAZINKG since I went to have a full scale production crew for a show…But it honestly reads true. I mean I know I pined after everyone more than a tree at that age, and I was obsessed with what I was interested in. What I REALLY love is that the end game isn’t for Callie to end up with anyone – I feel like she went through a true personal journey and matured in a way at the end of the book that a lot of YA characters don’t, so a huge standing ovation there, too.

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier – Yes, I love this author. This book is back to autobiographical territory during a road trip to a reunion where Raina and her younger sister deal with how different they are. Bouncing between flashbacks and the trip, it hints at their parents’ impending split and does a great job of showing their shifting relationship, personal identities, and mixed feelings toward their younger brother. As an older sibling, a lot of this hit home with me, so it kept me engaged all the way through. From Mango the snake to Raina struggling to be close to a family member whose personality is much different than hers, it will keep you flipping the pages.It also does a good job of continuing the theme of Smile where Raina felt like a social misfit, while adding in a lot of humor via her younger sister to balance it out.

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol -Anya feels out of place as a Russian student in a private school, and like so many other kids is struggling with popularity, self consciousness, and boy issues. (I’d be irritable about this but I know full well I ate this stuff up as a teen – gave me hope and made me feel less crazy about my own social anxiety).When she falls down a well and comes across Emily’s ghost, they strike up a tentative friendship after she accidentally takes a bone from the girl’s skeleton home.  This hits a slightly older age bracket with themes about partying, but I thought it was really interesting, especially because Anya isn’t the most likable character and doesn’t really strive to be. When you find out the secret behind Emily things really get interesting, as Anya has to stand up for her family, friends, and life choices as a whole if she wants to make it through the night. This book is full of humor and there’s a definite creepiness as Emily becomes more helpful. It kept me reading – I didn’t want to put it down – and I can’t help but think it would have hooked me fast in my younger years. I also like that Anya wasn’t the typical teen heroine. You’re probably not going to like her right away, you may not agree with her choices, and that’s okay. There’s no guarantee that you’re going to like anyone in life, but that doesn’t decrease the value of their experience or their story, either. Plus, so often more average, snarky girls are used as comic relief in titles for this age group….it’s pretty refreshing to see one leading it.

Briony Hatch by Ginny and Penelope Skinner – Briony is obsessed with The Starling Black Adventures book series – to the point of ignoring everything else for it and mourning it when it ends. She’s in love with the heroine’s love interest, longs to be badass like Starling Black, and feels ill at ease  in her everyday life where her parents are divorced, her teachers don’t get her, and her best friend is horrible (notice a theme?). When the ghost of a relative makes herself known and won’t go away, Briony taps into the book series she loves so much (as well as her inner tenacity) to help her relatives (both alive and dead) out. As she gains confidence she gains new revelations about her friend, her place in the world, and love. I like that it really takes care not to over-glamorize anything. The love interest is seen as a goofball as much as he is someone for her to crush on, she’s not seen as magical or super special because she can talk to a ghost, and she’s not lauded for hating reality or made to look idiotic for being a fangirl. Briony is her own entity, as are those around her, which is really refreshing. I liked seeing her become her own person at the end of the book..I love the characters, have mixed feelings on the art, but overall I was definitely enamored by this title the more I read, which I didn’t think was gonna happen..I kinda wish it didn’t involve her copying the look of the book character she loved, but it’s a believable step that’s hopefully one of many. As the book even says, “This isn’t the end of the story…this is just where you have to stop reading.”

Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks – I’ve gotten obsessed with her work after reading the Superhero Girl book, and I absolutely love this story. Maggie is starting high school after being home schooled her whole life, and her mom has recently left her family. Her relationship with her brothers is believable, as is her developing friendship with Lucy and her brother. A lot of high school tropes are present without being cliche, and the addition of a ghostly mystery is also a nice touch – as is the resolution. It’s a fun read, decently paced, and the art is nice and accessible. There are a lot of lovely little moments between the characters, and I love the backstory behind Lucy’s brother’s sudden transformation. Love.

The War at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks – While I like this one, too, I don’t like it as much as Friends with Boys or Superhero Girl. It’s got a good plot, a lot of the same tropes turned on their heads as Friends with Boys, though it takes place at a girls school. Juniper is a new scholarship student and Ellsmere is run by those with money. She finds a friend and an enemy, and there’s plenty of plotting and intrigue, as well as a paranormal element. I didn’t feel that the paranormal aspect was as well developed as it could be, honestly, or that it provided the necessary pivotal moment…I almost wish the book had continued because it seemed like there was more to tell. Being left wanting is the mark of a good book, however, and this is a great intro to other titles like The Dreaming or things that are designed for slightly older readers.

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Wanna talk books with me and see some of my own work? I’ll be at the Oldham County Comic Con Saturday! Come see me at table 116!