The fresh face of youth, complete with a cute smirk, is such a fleeting thing. Meet Corinna Park. She thought she’d take the big city by storm, have wildly witty friends, and knock out her first novel by sundown. In the graphic novel, “Shoplifter,” Michael Cho guides us through the life of a new generation’s Holly Golightly.
Tag Archives: Graphic Novel Reviews
VINCENT is an inviting look at Vincent Van Gogh, the epitome of the tortured artist. In this new graphic novel by Dutch illustrator Barbara Stok, we have a new look at this icon. Published by SelfMadeHero, as part of their exciting new Art Masters series, we find in these 144 pages another way to appreciate Van Gogh’s life and art and even get some clarity regarding the myth surrounding Van Gogh. The most infamous moment during his life is, of course, the cutting off of part of his ear. Popular belief has it as his strange way of proving his love for a local woman. However, we find here that is not the case.
How do we connect? We do it, or try to do it, in a variety a ways. It’s not always easy but it’s far better than its opposite, to disconnect. I aspire to connect with you. I make this preface because I am genuinely inspired by my latest subject for review, Joel Craig’s graphic memoir, WELCOME TO NURSING HELLo.
Like a lightning strike, Gene Luen Yang’s new graphic novel, “Boxers & Saints,” is charged with energy. It is pure comics in the sense that it is immersive, dynamic, and holds you with a powerfully consistent pace. Much in the way that Jeff Smith’s comics command the page, you enter a very animated and colorful world when you read the work of Gene Luen Yang. And speaking of colors, Lark Pien provides a palette with an artist’s sensitivity. This is a most remarkable hero’s journey that, at once, is familiar and quite different and specific.
This is a story about China being thrown into the modern age with all its bloody consequences. It is told in two volumes. The first volume is the main story focusing on the Boxer Rebellion as seen from the vantage point of a rebel leader, Little Bao. The second volume is a look at those Chinese citizens who accepted the Christian faith as seen from the vantage point of an average young woman with grand aspirations, Vibiana. You can place both books facing up and you have half a portrait of Bao and half a portrait of Vibiana that together provide a full picture to a complex story. These two characters never get to know each other. Their lives only briefly touch. The reader gets to see how they connect in a profound way.
“Boxers & Saints” takes graphic novels to a new level. It’s that good. While we hear endless theorizing on the potential of the comics medium and what has yet to be surveyed in this new art frontier, here we have a work that is grounded in the best comics tradition of precision and consistency and, as a bonus, seems to effortlessly break new ground. You have two stories, of different scope yet equal in their impact. They can be read separately but, together, prove to be a powerful whole. This is something of a first: two volumes, one ostensibly the main story at 325 pages; and the second volume that fills in some essential gaps as a parallel story. And, at 170 pages, it carries a similar impact as the first volume. I have not seen anything quite like this before. Maybe you have. But at such an exceptional level? No, I don’t think so.
The Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901) is the focus here. And while this is also a story of self-discovery, it is very much a valuable, and highly accessible, history lesson. Take a look at the Boxer Rebellion and you get a deeper sense of the heart and soul of China and where it’s coming from today. If not for this event, the superpowers of that time, on a path to take over China, would have had no motivation to pause and control their urge to plunder. Considering such a volatile topic, Yang manages to immerse himself in the subject and pluck out gems of wisdom.
The way Yang sees it, there’s something to be said for the Boxer rebels mirroring today’s geek culture. The Boxer youth learned about the Chinese gods through opera, which was the pop culture of the day. That is precisely what we see our main character, Little Bao, wrapped up in. He loves opera! He can’t read or write and is essentially ignorant, like all his peers in the village he lives in. However, he has a window into culture and the rest of the world. It is through regular viewing of these popular street performances that he learns about Chinese gods, much in the same way that comic books provide a window into the world of myth. And it is this passion that leads Little Bao to want to be like his heroes, similar to the passion demonstrated by today’s cosplay.
It’s that deep love of Chinese gods that gives Little Bao his sense of identity and the inner strength to fight for his country as a Boxer rebel leader against the “foreign devils” with their various interests and agendas. Christian indoctrination is the key point of conflict.
But things are never that simple. Once you’ve seen one imperialist, you’ve seen them all, but Yang asks the reader to consider another point of view. While any Chinese citizen who embraces the Westerner’s Christianity is looked upon by the Boxers as nothing but disloyal to the people’s cause, we read the story of one Chinese girl’s Christian faith in volume two. With as much sincerity as Little Bao, the girl only known as Four Girl finds her place in life. It’s not with her abusive family. It’s among the Christians. She joins the faith and becomes Vibiana.
There’s a fleeting moment early in volume one when Little Bao sees this girl and instantly senses some connection. He spots her while she is making a devilish grimace of her face. He has no idea what it all means and concludes that he is destined to see her again. It is one of many perfectly timed moments in this book. What Yang does to briefly connect these two precious lives coming from opposite ends is magical and powerful. Together, Little Bao and Vibiana provide us with a whole story, a face to China, and a window for the reader.
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What Isabel Greenberg does with her debut graphic novel, “The Encyclopedia of Early Earth,” is tap into the joy and spirit of storytelling. She does this with a good-hearted determination and a well-reasoned integrity. You don’t get the sense that she’s out to conquer the world of comics as much as you feel that this is someone who has a bunch of stories she’d like to share. It’s no small feat to inspire this good feeling for the reader. And she does it leaving you wanting more.
Stories. Stories. And more stories. That is what you will find here. The unifying theme, or perhaps just a jumping off point, is the search to better understand a most enigmatic couple of young lovers. We know next to nothing about them, not even their names. All we really know is that they’re from opposite ends of the poles, he north, she south, and that a strange force keeps them from actually touching. Greenberg couldn’t give a fig about their individual backgrounds and there’s no need for that. Will you know these two any better if you were to have proper names, family trees, and extensive profiles? No, all of that can get in the way. As counterintuitve as it may seem to nix such details, it’s all for the sake of…the story. In fact, if you need a name for our main character, you can just call him The Storyteller.
These two have concluded they are soulmates. But what about the fact they can’t actually touch due to this electromagnetic force field between them? Well, that’s where some stories can help make sense of it all. Our storyteller recounts to his true love the journey he’s been on. And so our young man begins with a fantastical origin story for himself. As a baby, he was found by three sisters who all wanted to be his mother. Therefore, a medicine man cast a spell and split the infant into three separate selves. But the process was slightly uneven and a little tiny piece of the infant’s soul flew away. Later, when the boy comes of age, all three selves become one again, except for that missing piece of soul still at large. Ah, those are the sort of details that Greenberg is into and all the better for it.
Greenberg’s artwork is very inviting. She makes very good use of her influences, particularly David B, and produces her own exuberant, youthful, and distinctive style. Her stories and art revel in irreverence, whimsy, and a touch of subversion. While this book is pretty suitable for all ages, there is a good dose of existential rumination that will appeal to teen and adult readers.
This book is not about those star-crossed lovers we began with, really. It’s about them but it’s far more, as the title implies, an exploration of Early Earth. And, more to point, this is a good old-fashioned book about the meaning of life, as expressed through myth. Greenberg touches upon as much myth and legend as she possibly can. She has created a dazzling collection of stories that will recall various cultures, beliefs, and forms of entertainment. And it’s all coming to you with a contemporary vibe that may call up for you everything from “Adventure Time” to “Game of Thrones.”
Frank Santoro is an artist with a vision that can run counter to what some people expect in their comics. Casual, and more refined, readers alike tend to want their comics ink-rendered, bold, and grounded in a certain manner. Santoro’s work is often pencilled and it is experimental and has an ethereal quality. But a reader only needs to take a careful read to see that Santoro’s work has its own unique substance. In “Pompeii,” his most recent graphic novel, published by PictureBox, Santoro maintains the spontaneity of sketchbook drawings in a well orchestrated narrative. This is a story about learning how to see the world as it really is and perhaps gaining solace from how it may have been.
“The Lengths” is a graphic novel about addiction, published by Soaring Penguin Press. The title refers to the lenghts to which a young man, Eddie, will go to feed his desire. Howard Hardiman has written and drawn a graphic novel about a youth out of control and in conflict. It is a very rough story about a rough subject that Hardiman navigates quite well. His character, Eddie, is a 24-year-old art school drop out who is gay and unsure about what he wants. He may want a relationship but he is also attracted to what he gets from his role as Ford, an escort. It’s a pretty lurid and gritty premise. Something like this could easily fall apart, as can happen with any story that deals with sex. But sex is only part of what Hardiman has to talk about. And to create some distance to better address and understand the content, he represents all his characters as dogs. It may seem odd at first, but it turns out to be a wonderful narrative device.
Currently on the shelves is a book with a bright orange cover and a powerful story about coping and understanding death and loss. Our lives can become so routine: work, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat. Ironically, the closer we come to death, the more we appreciate life. Just like they say, our lives flash before our eyes at a time of crisis. It can unnerve us. Americans, for example, have been thought to not deal too well with death. However, given the popularity of zombies, that overall outlook seems to be improving. And there are some cultures who appear to be more in touch with death. “When David Lost His Voice,” the new graphic novel by Judith Vanistendael, published by SelfMadeHero, gives us a story that shows how life and death can come to terms. It’s a story not without a healthy dose of good cheer.
I recently viewed Julie Delpy’s “2 Days in New York,” a comedy about what happens when relatives from France descend upon a couple’s New York apartment for the weekend. In the movie, you see just how crude, or earthy, depending on your taste, these French folks can be. The humor itself felt French too, embracing the absurdity in life more than your typical American comedy. It seems to be a matter of dropping any inhibitions and yet done with a certain style. In that regard, I find a similar sensibility running throughout this graphic novel. It is the story of David, who discovers he has developed a cancer in his throat. He is an older gent who has a full-grown daughter, Miriam, as well as a 9-year-old daughter, Tamar, from a recent marriage to Paula. And Miriam has recently given birth herself to Louise. It is quite a premise: all these women are a vital part of David’s life and the prospects for his future don’t look so good.
David is a special man who is well loved. He’s a man of few words. He prefers to let his actions speak for him. He owns a bookshop so he deals in words every day but, for seeking deeper meaning, he can make good use of silence. It is these qualities that are on display as he does his part to console Tamar, about the possibility he may not be around for much longer. He’s there for her. He’s attentive to her child’s viewpoint.
David and his wife, Paula, tirelessly work together to keep their daughter calm, even if it requires adhering to an elaborate scheme to make it look like it’s possible to send mail back and forth attached to balloons. It’s almost easier for David to attend to little Tamar’s needs than it is to attend to the needs of anyone else. Miriam keeps seeing him as a ghost. Paula, an artist, reconstructs him from x-rays.
Interestingly enough, it’s Paula who becomes very vocal and loses control a bit over all the quiet surrounding David. It’s bad enough that David won’t talk about it. But no one else is capable of articulating what’s happening either. Or does it just seem that way? Balance is gained when a child’s perspective, that sense of lightness, can be brought into play. Maybe mermaids, magic, and notes sent on balloons can help make things better.
As long as everyone believes in hope and compassion, then the end need not be harsh and bitter. In a story that floats with such delicate ease, Judith Vanistendael does a beautiful job of evoking what is involved when all parties manage to transcend a crisis and create something new.
“When David Lost His Voice” is a remarkable graphic novel by Judith Vanistendael. She is a Belgian author of graphic novels and an illustrator. She is known for “Dance by the Light of the Moon,” two volume work also published by SelfMadeHero. You can find out more about purchasing your own copy of this book here.
“Strange Attractors,” a new graphic novel published by Archaia Entertainment, is the perfect thing for all us out there who love New York City and what it means to love New York City. You may not be crushing on NYC the way I am, but you may be into sci-fi or a good mystery or a gritty adventure so that may be reason for you to pick up this book. Yes, it does help to appreciate the Big Apple too. But, here’s the thing about the Big Apple that may turn around anyone on the fence. The thing about it is that it defies easy categorization. It transcends any label. In a world where it seems like everything is within easy reach within a gadget, you still have a metropolis that is so multi-layered that you can never fully understand it. If you’re not the curious sort, then NYC can’t help you. But, if you have an inquisitive mind, you will quickly pick up on the fact that a whole universe awaits your exploration.
It is this kind of enthusiasm for New York City that creator Charles Soule brings to this work. Soule marveled over the fact that, within a year after the tragic events of 9/11, New York City was back on its feet and functioning while, years after Katrina, New Orleans continued to struggle. What was so special about NYC? It has known some colossal setbacks. In 1975, for example, the city was on the brink of bankruptcy. There’s that famous headline from The Daily News after Pres. Ford denied NYC a federal bailout: “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.” And after several disasters, NYC has always managed to bounce back. This led to “Strange Attractors,” that proposes that there are forces at work that keep such a complex organism as NYC functioning properly. Our story features Dr. Spencer Brownfield, a seemingly mad scientist, who sure looks like he knows more about what keeps NYC alive and thriving than is humanly possible to know.
But Brownfield must be on the right track. He’s a genius, after all. That’s what Heller Wilson keeps telling himself. He’s a brilliant grad student, studying Complexity Theory, at Columbia who has managed to track down the legendary Brownfield, who was ousted from Columbia some thirty years ago. If Brownfield is starting to sound like Doc Brown and Heller is starting to sound like Marty McFly, that’s a good thing. There is definitely that sort of fun chemistry while working within a moody and intellectual atmosphere. If you enjoy offbeat comics, yeah, this is for you.
Artist Greg Scott and writer Charles Soule make a great team. The chemistry between them reminds me of stuff like writer Brett Lewis and artist John Paul Leon’s “The Winter Men,” published by DC Comics under their Wildstorm imprint. It is a similar case of a story with an intricate plot that keeps all the little details running smoothly for the reader through engaging dialogue and a quirky gritty realism. You find that you’ve entered a world that you want to be a part of.
Heller Wilson has one close friend, Tim, a host of a local radio station and self-appointed kingmaker to local bands. Heller and Tim could spend the rest of their lives together discussing the finer points of pop music. Enter Grace, a soccer coach at Columbia and Heller’s chance at a happy life now and maybe in the future. And then Heller has to go and cross paths with Doc Brown and his life feels less and less his own.
There are few warm and fuzzy moments here although the mission at hand, to help save the city from itself, is pretty fanciful. But that’s how this story rolls. At every step of the way, Heller gets dragged deeper and deeper into Doc Brownfield’s mathematically calculated random acts of kindness. The acts themselves sure look random and not particularly kind but, based on the complexity theory, the cause and effect of each of these acts is essential. And the stakes keep getting higher and the crazy acts keep getting crazier. Only in New York, right? That’s a big part of this book. There are certain leaps of faith that must be taken, especially for the sake of such a city.
Visit our friends at Archaia Entertainment. “Strange Attractors” is a 152-page graphic novel, priced at $19.95. Check out “Strange Attractors” here.