At the library that I work at, I am a facilitator for our Adult Graphic Novel Book Club. (Basically, this means I get to come in an hour later the day after our meet-up, lol. Also I do the posters/signage, which is F U N.) We read a graphic novel, or sometimes several volumes of a series, each month and then meet up at local pubs to discuss. I really enjoy it, especially because there is so much you can do within the medium. Graphic novels can be visually satisfying (instant gratification) and endlessly detailed (combing panels for Easter eggs during rereads). I highly recommend giving them a try because A R T and also there are just some truly gorgeous stories out there.
I missed out on the first couple of months when the group was just getting its sea legs // they read Persepolis and Fun Home, both of which I read in college, both of which I highly rec. Lovely, diverse reads with beautiful art styles. Persepolis was made into a movie I still need to see and Fun Home, a musical, which is P E R F and just as heartbreaking as the novel, if not more so (l y r i c s and music really tug at the heartstrings, ya know?)
Alright, so below are mini-reviews of our last several ventures. Some were the best freaking thing, others BLAH, but all fun to hug to our collective bosoms* or viciously tear apart, with several well-thought out points of defense, lol.
*I might hug my faves to my chest… not sure if anyone else in the group literally does lol but the sentiment is there in their miiiiinds
Cook Korean! // Robin Ha
This was a little bit of an odd one for me to jump in with (the choice was made by an outside group that partnered with us during summer reading // the theme being “Healthy Eating”) but it made for a really fun meet-up! We all picked a recipe from the book to share with the group. I made kimchi fried pancakes and GOOD GOLLY they were delish (if I do say so myself). We also had fried tofu, yaksik (sweet, rice-based bars with dried fruits, nuts, and a LOT of honey bless), red bean porridge, and bibim guksu (spicy cold noodles). Our discussion focused a lot on the usability of the book as a cookbook (someone didn’t like that it was hard to keep open/didn’t want to splash it with cooking; someone else found the instructions less detailed than desired). But I was thoroughly enamored by the whole thing. From the art style to the anecdotes/history between each section, to the sheer love and share-ability that Ha put into her recipes. It’s a sweet, yummy book, and while I agree the instructions for some of the recipes wouldn’t be good for those that don’t like winging it in the kitchen, I’d definitely recommend giving this book a chance. Especially if you can check it out from your local library. Rating: 4/5
Maus // Art Spiegelman
To think of the Holocaust is to be overwhelmed by the depths of humanity’s evil. Tens of millions of marginalized people were systematically murdered. This happened only 70 years ago. There will never be enough stories recounted from this devastating time. I still remember how baffled I was (and still am baffled) when I learned the fact that Anne Frank and Martin Luther King Jr. were born in the same year (1929). Time and memory are devastatingly short and mutable and fragile, and we need these stories told to… build connections and strive for some semblance of understanding and a fraction of healing.
Spiegelman’s memoirs in graphic novel form, his relationship with his father, Vladek, a survivor of the Holocaust, are heartbreaking. It might seem simplistic to strip nationalities down to one animal representing all… and that’s the f///ing point. For someone not really “into” graphic novels, I can see it being strange to pick this book up, and I can also concede that there are some confusing panels/spreads due to the art style/narrative choices. Vladek’s words, his accent and cadences, truly become the focus of his son’s work, and every now and then, you have to pause and reflect and stare down at the stark black and white bold lines // depicting mouse and cat, the roads transformed into Swastikas, nowhere is untouched, and the image of a survivor’s son, an artist, cradling his head in his arms, // “lately I’ve been feeling depressed” // as the image of many dead mice lie beneath his drawing board. We, the reader and Spiegelman, are fortunate to have not lived through such a terrifying genocide. We owe it, to ourselves and to the victims, to relive their stories.
All of the above is to say: that I’m grateful for when this graphic novel has crossed my path over the years, and it haunts me every time. Rating: 4/5
Ghostopolis // Doug TenNaple
Hoo boy. Gee whiz. Yikes. At its best, this is a boring waste of a semi-decent plot // young boy accidentally gets punted into the afterlife, befriends a skeleton horse, has adventures. Really boring adventures. At its worst, in the back of your mind you’re like, hmmm Breitbart contributor wrote this… and it’s just lame. Missed opportunities galore. What is symbolism. And the art style… nuuuu. Um, what else… somehow this was chosen for our club (it was sorted as Teen at our library… Teen it is not thankfully)? I think we were desperate that month. Hard pass… into a dumpster fire.
Huh, the cover’s decent… Basically it felt like someone watched Danny Phantom and then sucked all the fun and greatness out of it. Moby Dick!! Rating 1/5
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo // Denise Mina
Once you’ve read or watched this story, that’s it, you really don’t need to see any of it again. It’s a long, atmospheric, violent, flawed piece with a badass female lead. (Very much personal preference, I like the Craig/Mara/Fincher one best.) So, this just felt like another tacked-on adaptation. The art style veers between jagged and lazy, I skimmed a lot (not just because I knew the story), and I didn’t feel the same connections I did previously to the main characters. There’s a lot that you miss out on with this adaptation, but of course, the disgusting portrayal of rape and violence towards women gets a great many splash pages. Thanks, but I wouldn’t recommend this version to anyone, and the originals I’d recommend with plenty of caveats. Rating: 2/5
My Friend Dahmer // Derf Backderf
The basic premise of this graphic novel: Jeffrey Dahmer was a serial killer and John “Derf” Backderf knew him in high school. The self-reflection aspect of this graphic novel, its transparency (Backderf and his true friends were assholes, who viewed Dahmer as a joke, “the loneliest kid,” but someone they could keep around as a morbid amusement), and its pointed focus on who Dahmer was before his first murder – all together, these points made a solid graphic novel for me. Backderf’s art style is gross, straight-up, block-headed angular people with lumpy clothing, and I think this lends itself to the subject matter. He presents a somewhat tragic story: who knows what would have happened if there had been more effort and actual acknowledgement that a teenager was coming to school drunk out of his mind, but hey, ~it was the 70s~. Apparently no adults gave notice and kids didn’t realize the severity of Dahmer’s problems – and yeah, that sounds pretty familiar to me in this era of gun violence (the clueless and/or willfully ignorant adults far more so than the upcoming generation of kids, who are freaking powerful and amazing and smart and going to save us all). But anywho, I appreciated the point blank “don’t have sympathy for this kid” from Backderf after Dahmer begins his terrible crimes. It’s a hard, strange dichotomy, of “lost” kid versus irredeemable killer, but I think Backderf pulls it off. The notes at the end of the graphic novel also add to the story, and contain several beats on the main point of this book: that we can’t really know where any of us will be in ten years, we can’t really know how to help someone unless we sit the f/// up and take notice and reach out. (The strongest and most haunting beat I’m thinking of is when Backderf had a mini-reunion with HS friends in the 80s. Backderf and co joked, unwittingly, that Dahmer probably ended up as a serial killer, ohoho. Whereas one of the last scenes in the movie makes a huge misguided swerve away from this point; it depicts that Backderf got spooked being alone with Dahmer one evening, and actually survived an almost attempt on his life… which, way to ruin a decent adaptation with a really poor backflip away from what Backderf’s* take on Dahmer’s youth was really about.) Rating: 4/5
*ha backflipping Backderfs (highlight to read white spoiler-ish text)
Daytripper // Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá
Now this is a graphic novel I would unequivocally hug to my chest squeeing like Charlotte with her kitkat in The Princess and the Frog.
It’s just so bloody gorgeous. Your eyes scan the page and it’s like falling into a lush, color-drenched painting. If this graphic novel had no words, I’d be just as in love, but thankfully there’s a narrative here that is heartbreaking and beautiful and true. Our narrator, Brás de Oliva Domingos, is an obituary writer, and each chapter ends with his death at various points in his life, and a seemingly self-written obit graces the page. How do you measure the worth of a life? I think part of it is in the simple act of telling. Brás, through the nature of his occupation, through the many near-death misses in his life (or were they misses?), is on intimate terms with death. And it’s that closeness, that awesome reflection, and the powerful canvas strewn forth by the lovely brothers, Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá, that allows the reader a chance to wallow and rise with Brás in the overwhelming ocean that is everything, that is all of who and what we are. Rating: 5/5
Locke & Key Vol. 1-3 // Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez
Wickedly creative, wonderfully detailed, endlessly creeptastic. I L O V E this series. Joe Hill is *coughcough* better than his dad** at drawing you in to his skewed world. After their father is murdered, the Locke children, Ty, Kinsey, and Bode, move with their mother to the family’s ancestral home, nicknamed Key House. Supernatural shenanigans ensue. There are magical keys, each with a different purpose, and it’s bonkers fun to see each key revealed and utilized. I’ll be putting this mini-review on the 2nd volume, my fave so far, because it has my fave freaking key: the Head Key. With this key, you can literally see inside someone’s head and shift around the contents of their mind.
Even with reading the devastating, obvious consequences of plucking out your fears and tears (Kinsey removes her fear and depression, making her a brazen, brutally honest and unflinching daredevil, immune to her friend’s cries for caution), it’s such a tempting concept. Hill’s characters are absolutely believable and flawed; finally, a six-year-old that speaks and reacts to things like a six-year-old would. And although some of the writing/plotlines irked me (Kinsey falling for the villain in disguise (um, soul patch no thx, what year is this) and a heated exchange between Ty and his mother, who was assaulted (just fingers crossed this is developed better in the second half of the series, just PLEASE)), I was so engrossed in this world, my dudes. This is my brand of horror. It’s a fab blend of realistic family drama, spooky hidden paranormal madness, and the magic of discovering that the world is darker, stranger, and more interesting than anything we remember once adulthood sinks its apathetic teeth in us.
**this is completely my opinion!! for reasons!! also I’ve just never gotten thru a King novel!!! not a one! but I love adaptations of his work, yerp Rating: average 4.5/5
Red Son // Mark Millar
Another entry that has a great premise – what if Superman landed in Russia?? – but falls flat in the execution. Every choice made feels rather boring/cliche; every normally badass female character exists solely to pine over Superman; alt!Batman has a cool hat?; it just feels like Millar didn’t do anything fun or unexpected with this idea. I’m a casual comics fan, and I grew up with several cartoon series, and of course I’ve seen some DC films, but I kept asking serious fans at my book club meet-up: would it make a difference, my enjoyment of all the references to comics’ lore, if I actually registered them all? My other question tied to that was, because of the breakneck pace (differences in this uni and familiar characters are thrown at Superman over and over, and summarily dispatched to rush on to the next reference), were all of these shout-outs given their proper due? We also hotly debated the ending. Without spoilers, I thought it saved things a smidge for me. This novel still ended up with only two stars from me, lol, because I just didn’t care!! Rating: 2/5
Here // Richard McGuire
This graphic novel is a meditation. It’s pretty lovely, pretty intriguing, and pretty meandering. “Here” is one little patch/corner of Earth for hundreds of thousands of years. And while some noice parallels are sprinkled throughout, it never quite reaches the life-affirming greatness of say, Daytripper. It’s definitely inspiring; I would love to see other versions of this prompt from more diverse authors! From everyone! Just think of all that incredible mundane universal specific heart-pounding lazy days history in any corner of your room that’s currently collecting stacks of books and dust bunnies. Rating: 3/5
Manhattan Projects Vol. 1-2 // Jonathan Hickman
Ugh. UGH I SAY. What a massive failure. Here, have a list, cause the less I have to bother forming full sentences about this trash the better:
- Bechdel HARD fail: in two volumes, there’s one female character, face pointed away from our view, she knows seven words (complimenting guy she just slept with) and she’s interrupted by said guy who just has to finish his morning bathroom affirmations SIGH
- there are females in an orgy scene (thankfully a wideshot panel) that is just a trite checklist of “here’s absolutely every ridic thing you can put in an orgy yeah we saw that season of True Blood“
- the book club meet-up for this one was woefully short people (I WONDER WHY and I was also like MY DUDES I hated this trash but I showed up to RAIL on it) and the three men, cool men, chill men, ASLEEP men, completely missed the lack of female characters. were absolutely shocked when I brought it up
- this lack of female representation is made more egregious because THERE WAS A 23 YEAR OLD PREGNANT SCIENTIST who helped build the bombs, among other female scientists who also assisted in labs around the country; there’s no need to talk about morality with this graphic novel EVERYONE is CORRUPT and POWERHUNGER and RAWR and you could have EASILY had a historical lady along for the ride
- instead we got not-real Oppenheimer twin who kills Robert and takes his place after eating his heart “so he’ll stay with him forever”
- and in the same volume THEY PULL ANOTHER DOPPLEGANGER TWIST with two Einsteins SNOOZE
- all of these men are interchangeable? and BORING?? like the two beefy guys I JUST who cares you’re horrid and you’re biggest crime is YA BORING
- I’m a cis woman who likes violent stuff (Fight Club, horror films, Inglorious Basterds, John Wick, Bob Ross, The Last of Us) but this was the definition of overkill, it became laughable
- the art sucks
- confusing swampy “plot”
- poor color scheme utilization
- it’s just so one note my dudes it’s like listening to Joss Whedon and Stephen Moffat with bullhorns circle jerking each other about their great writing
- maybe there was a story worth telling with Fauxppenheimer (the ending of the 2nd volume within his hellish mindscape was at least visually interesting especially compared to literally everything else from this dumpster fire) but that’s not the story we got SO
- save yourself and go read The Umbrella Academy* by yes that Gerard Way because it has brill characters, LOVELY art, and FUN timeywimey sh*t that’s executed SO WELL
- Rating: 1/5 BLARGH
*I’ll keep plugging this fab graphic novel everywhere until the leader of my book club breaks down and we read it :D:D:D:D