Comics February: Who Runs the World? Girls.

awesome ladies

My comics reading has slowed down a bit the past week or so, just because I couldn’t get to the library with the bad weather and I read almost everything I had! But I got a nice new bag of comics to read for this, the (sadly!) last week of Comics February, but I’m pretty much planning on making this Comics 2014, so don’t worry, you’ll be seeing a lot more.

The theme for the past week has definitely been comics about amazing women, some by amazing women.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki – It was pretty much guaranteed that I would love this, but I haven’t seen the movie Nausicaa, so the mythology was completely new to me and, as usual, I was blown away. I have loved Miyazaki’s movies for practically my whole life. My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service were on high rotation throughout my childhood and I loved Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle as an adult. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind takes place well into the future, after the industrialized world has collapsed after a brutal war. Earth, destroyed by humanity’s negligence, fights back by producing plants that emit dangerous spores, creating entire swaths of the planet that are an uninhabitable waste known as the Sea of Corruption. Nausicaa is a princess from the Valley of the Wind and she holds the secret to the Sea of Corruption and is also the only leader her small nation has, so she must lead them into battle. I never wanted the first volume of Nausicaa to end and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series right away.

Wonder Woman Vol. 2: Guts (The New 52) by Brian Azzarello with art by Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins, and Dan Green – So. Wonder Woman. I read the first volume last year and I liked it, but it didn’t blow my mind. I liked this volume a little bit more, but then I got to reading reviews. Folks say that the changes mythology of Wonder Woman in this series is something they’re not happy about, but I don’t really know anything about Wonder Woman or her mythology, so I can’t say one way or the other. It’s so interesting to read blog posts on the changes in The New 52 and every comment is either that they love the changes to the new Wonder Woman or they hate them. After reading this and all the demands for a Wonder Woman movie, I’ll definitely be reading some older Wonder Woman comics to learn more.

Hilda & The Midnight Giant by Luke Pearson – Hilda lives in a world that on first glance looks a lot like our own, but after a few pages you realize that it definitely is not. There are invisible creatures who want Hilda and her mother to leave the cabin they live in immediately and there is a giant, mountain-sized giant, who seems to be waiting for something. One day, Hilda’s eyes are opened and she sees that the invisible creatures are actually the citizens of a tiny city. Hilda’s cabin just happens to sit right on top of it and Hilda herself is the giant terrorizing the invisible town. I loved Hilda, I loved the art in this comic, and I adored the world building. It’s just the kind of comic that makes you smile.

Marbles by Ellen Forney – I talked in length about Marbles and Calling Dr. Laura over at BookRiot, so I won’t rehash everything I said there, but I did really love these two graphic memoirs. Marbles truly changed the way I look at mania and depression and what it means to be bipolar. Forney does an amazing job explaining what it is like to live as a bipolar artist. I think this is an important memoir, one that I’m so glad I read.

Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole J. Georges  – I wasn’t sure I was going to love this memoir. There were times when I felt like the story dragged on a little too long or I wasn’t really sure what the point was, but towards the end the enormity of what Georges was trying to understand about herself and her past really hit me. Plus, the art is downright beautiful and I’m obsessed with her lettering.

What comics did you read for Comics February this week?

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Wrapping Up Graphic Novels February, Hello to March Food & Gardening!

Thanks to Debi, I spent February reading a lot of comics. You see, Debi is picking a theme for each month of reading and I liked the plan so much that I’m joining her. I know that Chris and Heather are reading, too. February was such a success, that I’m going to be participating in March’s theme, too, but more on that later.

Here are the comics I read in February:

  1. Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks
  2. Blue by Pat Grant
  3. Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
  4. Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
  5. Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot
  6. The Secret of the Stone Frog by David Nytra
  7. The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long, Jim Deomakos, & Nate Powell
  8. Locke & Key Vol 1 by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
  9. The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire
  10. A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle and Hope Larson
  11. Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canals and Juanjo Guarnido (finished in March)

I also read these other books:

  1. January First by Michael Schofield
  2. The Raven Boys  by Maggie Stiefvater
  3. One & The Same by Abigail Pogrebin
  4. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

So of all the comics I read, which ones do I wholeheartedly recommend? Well, certainly Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire, and Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido, which I just finished today and adored.

It was one of the best reading months I’ve had in a long time! As you can see, I did still read quite a few non-graphic novels during the month and I’d really like to start balancing out my reading a bit more. This has been a great year for me and non-fiction, and now comics, and I’d like to keep it that way.

Speaking of non-fiction, March is all about reading about nature and gardening. Michael and I are doing our first balcony garden this year and we’ve already started planting our seeds in starters in the apartment. We’re going to try and grow broccoli, hot peppers, tomatoes, and a lot of herbs. I also got a strawberry kit that goes in your windowsill. I have high hopes for all of them!

All of that is to say that I’m very interested in this month’s theme, too, so I’m going to keep on reading with Debi, Chris, and Heather! Here’s my list for this month:

march reading

 

  1. The Blueberry Years by Jim Minick
  2. Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
  3. Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education by Michael Pollan
  4. The Quarter-Acre Farm by Spring Warren

I have been meaning to read Animal Vegetable Miracle for a long time and I found the rest of these books by browsing the “books like” Animal Vegetable Miracle category on a few different sites. All but the Pollan will be available for me on Monday, so I’m excited to dig in (pun intended).

Thank you again, Debi, for coming up with such awesome themes and getting me to read things that normally would have taken a back burner! 2013 is already turning into one of my best reading years.

GNF 9 – The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

Underwater Welder cover

The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf, 2012)

Essex County by Jeff Lemire is still one of my very favorite comics. It’s beautiful and moving and just absolutely lovely. I was thrilled when I found out that he had a new comic out last summer and when I finally held it in my hands, opened it up and read the introduction? I knew that this graphic novel was going to be for me. The introduction is written by Lost writer Damon Lindelof and he describes The Underwater Welder as an episode of The Twilight Zone.

I don’t know if you know this about me, but I had a good few years when I was obsessed with The Twilight Zone. I would get out the newspaper or watch that scrolling TV Guide channel to see when it was on cable. I just loved the way the stories were told and I loved how weird and sometimes sad, sometimes scary they were. The Underwater Welder really did feel like an episode of The Twilight Zone, like one of the best episodes.

Jack is an underwater welder on an oil rig off the coast of Nova Scotia. His wife is about to give birth to their first child, but all Jack can think about is working. It’s partially to have enough money to raise his child, but also because the pressure of starting a family is getting to him. His own father died when he was very young in an unexplained accident and Jack has never really gotten over it. When he goes out on the rig just a few weeks before his child is born, he experiences a strange event underwater that sends him in a spiral.

In Essex County, Jeff Lemire’s snow and ice-covered landscapes were amazing. He does the same thing in The Underwater Welder with the coastline. The art is beautiful, but also evokes the loneliness that Jack is feeling. The book is very much about the parallels between Jacks life and his father’s life. Where they are similar and where they are very different. As he gets closer to the birth of his child, he finds himself feeling more and more like his father. As that happens, suddenly his features begin to look more like his father’s. It’s subtle, but there.

I had a chance to meet Jeff Lemire at Comic Con in 2011, but I didn’t stay around. I regret it! I would have loved to meet him and have him sign the hardcover of Essex County that I bought at the con. The moral of that story is… don’t be lazy! Stick around at an exhausting convention to meet one of your favorite comic artists. I’ve been kicking myself ever since.

GNF 8 – Locke & Key Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft

Locke & Key Vol. 1 cover

Locke & Key Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW, 2008)

Isn’t it funny how one post can really derail you? I’ve been working on a review of another comic that I read this month for forever and I just can’t seem to find the right words to describe how it made me feel. I’ve decided to just let the post sit and if I can finally make a decision about my opinion, then maybe I’ll eventually get around to posting about it. For now, though, let’s just move on to the other comics I’ve read this month.

I’m familiar with both Joe Hill and his collaborator on the Locke & Key series, Gabriel Rodriguez, but honestly I’ve never fallen in love with anything either of them have worked on. I started reading Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, but never finished it. Not because I didn’t like it, but because the first section just wore me down. After I read Locke & Key, I did pick up Heart-Shaped Box and I finally finished it. I’ll try to post a review for that one once Graphic Novel February is over.

As for Gabriel Rodriguez: Apparently I lied! I’ve never read a comic that Gabriel Rodriguez illustrated. I went through my archives and I couldn’t find anything. I looked at his website and I haven’t read anything he’s worked on. I have no idea who I thought he was. At least it all makes sense. I didn’t really recognize his art. I apologize, Gabriel Rodriguez, for thinking I had read one of your comics in the past and didn’t enjoy it.

I think you saw this coming, but I really liked Locke & Key. It’s so scary! I am not the biggest fan of real horror movies, but I do like horror novels and I also like lighter horror. I’m a not-so-secret fan of Supernatural, which basically started out as a way to make hour-long horror movies every week. It’s not structured that way anymore, but the spirit of it is still there. I was obsessed with ghost stories as a kid.

I am much more of a fan of the ghost brand of horror than the slasher brand, and Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft has both. The patriarch of the Locke family, a school counselor, is murdered by one of his students, who is looking for the key. The family then moves to the old Locke family house on the island Lovecraft. That’s when things start to get even weirder. Bodie, the youngest Locke boy, finds a door that when you walk through it, it turns you into a ghost. All you have to do to get back in your body is think about it. There’s also a mysterious voice in a well on the property.

Welcome to Lovecraft gave me nightmares. I knew that I couldn’t read it before bed, because there were just some things that were too creepy. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. Sure, I don’t really want nightmares, but the story affected me enough that I was dreaming about it.

This is the first in a series, so it’s important that the author and illustrator really try to get you familiar with the characters in as few panels as possible to keep the story moving along. Rodriguez and Hill do that well. I felt like I understood the character’s motivations from the beginning. More than that, though, I was rooting for them. There’s still a lot I don’t know or understand about Lovecraft, which makes me desperately want to keep reading. My library hold can’t come in fast enough!

If you’re squeamish about violence, there are definitely going to be pages and panels that you’ll have a hard time with, but if you’re at all familiar with Joe Hill, or even his father Stephen King, you know that their stories are violent. But the stories are good and I can’t wait to see where Locke & Key will go.

GNF 7 – Sailor Twain by Mark Siegal

Sailor Twain cover

Sailor Twain or The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel (First Second, 2012)

Sailor Twain was on a lot of “Best Of” lists the year it was published. It has an average star rating on GoodReads of 3.81. All the people I know who have read it have loved it. So why didn’t I?

I wanted to give up reading Sailor Twain, but I didn’t because I felt like I was missing something and that eventually it would click. This is definitely one of those cases where there are a lot of things to love about Sailor Twain, and you just might like them, but for me, it just didn’t come together.

First, I was a little bit put off by the art style. This is a purely subjective assessment. The art isn’t bad, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I do other styles. Siegel uses charcoal and some of his panels look much more finished than others. There’s also less opportunity for detail. A lack of connection with the art made it even harder to connect with the story, which I felt was too long and a little convoluted. I kept wondering if I was missing something. Is there a legend that I am not familiar with that was making this more confusing for me? Did I just not give the graphic novel the attention it deserved?

I’m pretty convinced that this is just a matter of taste. Sailor Twain isn’t bad, but it wasn’t for me, unfortunately. I’m not unhappy I finished it. There were some beautiful panels and moments when I truly appreciated the art style, even if it didn’t impress me as a whole. I feel the same way about the story. While it ultimately fell flat, there were great moments that made this, at least, a worthwhile read.

GNF 6 – The Secret of the Stone Frog by David Nytra

Secret of the Stone Frog coverThe Secret of the Stone Frog by David Nytra (Toon Books/Candlewick Press, 2012)

Toon Books is a new-ish comics/graphic novels imprint that is meant for children ages 4 and up and The Secret of the Stone Frog by David Nytra is their first full-length book meant for children ages 5 and up. Toon Books has some big players in charge, including Art Spiegelman, the artist and author of the classic graphic novel Maus. I didn’t know all of that before I started reading The Secret of the Stone Frog, but it’s easy to see that it’s true now. The art in The Stone Frog is, quite frankly, unlike anything I’ve seen in contemporary comics. Because it’s a complete throwback to older comics and stories. If Nytra does have a contemporary idol, I think it’s Miyazaki, the legendary Japanese animator behind Studio Ghibli and My Neighbor Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Spirited Away. 

So, it’s pretty obvious that I loved the art right? These images are sumptuous and detailed and just so pretty. I loved the way he drew the children. They almost felt animated, their clothing had such movement. The story itself is, well, meant for a five-year-old. It’s enjoyable for an adult reader, though it is a little simple. The children must find their way home and so must follow the paths behind the stone frogs. Along the way they encounter a woman with human-sized bees as pets, commuting fish, a nasty pick-pocket, a police station that’s alive, and more terrifying, but amazing nightmares.

That’s the thing. This isn’t a storybook that sugarcoats dreamland. It’s a scary place! It’s also a beautiful place. Since we’re grownups reading this story, we are looking for meaning and when we find out that Leah’s parents think she should move into her own room, that she’s too old to share a room with her little brother Alan, we know that this moment is important. It’s an important milestone in her life that is bittersweet. She doesn’t want to leave her brother and be thrown into the world of grownups. Because that’s a terrifying place, not unlike dream world. But as long as you can travel it with your brother, it can also be beautiful and fascinating.

If you are a fan of Miyazaki, Little Nemo, or Alice in Wonderland, I think you’ll find a lot to like in Nytra’s comic. You can read sample pages of this beautiful comic on the Toon Books website. 

GNF 5 – Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary and Bryan Talbot

Something that has helped me find new comics to read this month has been really paying attention to the publishers and imprints. After reading and loving Friends With Boys, I immediately requested a bunch of new titles from First Second, the Macmillan imprint that publishes the book. If you’re at a loss for what to read next with comics, look at who published your favorite graphic novel or one you’re particularly interested in and look at their backlist. You’re bound to find books either by the same artists or with similar art and storytelling styles. I think the publishing industry has a long way to go before there’s imprint recognition in the general public. I know that I for one never paid much attention to imprints or publishing houses before I started working in publishing. But I think publisher recognition is more prevalent in comics. Think DC vs. Marvel. Starting with this post, I’m going to start including all the imprints/publishers on here, in case you want to keep track, too.

dotter cover

Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary M. Talbot and Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse, 2012)

I had no idea what Dotter of her Father’s Eyes was about before I started reading, but for some reason it definitely wasn’t what I expected. Author Mary Talbot tells the story of her childhood with a distracted, angry father, who also happened to be a Joycean scholar. She parallels the story of her life with the life of Lucia Joyce, James Joyce’s daughter who lived a tragic life.

Mary, within the comic, points out that there aren’t many similarities between her life and Lucia’s. Instead, the parallels are more general. Their stories are about what it is like to grow up as a woman. Lucia fought for independence and freedom as a dancer in 1920s Paris. She suffered a hateful mother who didn’t see the worth in anything she was doing, a father who adored her, but wouldn’t stand up for her and her career, and the lost love of Samuel Beckett. Her parents forced her to leave Paris with them right as her career was beginning to take off and she never regained momentum. Eventually the stress from losing her career and the anger she harbored made her lose control. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and committed. She lived in a mental institution until she died at age 75.

Mary’s father was distant, distracted, and very short-tempered. Mary seemed to always make him mad, even when she wasn’t exactly sure what she had done to deserve it. When Mary becomes unexpectedly pregnant as a young woman, she marries the child’s father, because she doesn’t see any other way.

Mary and Lucia are both constrained by their societies and their families. Their lives are in deep contrast to the lives of their successful fathers, but also in contrast to each other. Lucia has a life that she wants to lead and she has some success at it, but her family never supports her. Mary never feels like she’s given as much freedom as her brothers and she is always painfully scrutinized by her father.

The difference is the end of their stories: Lucia’s story is tragic. Though I imagine the comic simplifies her downfall somewhat, she never recovers from the few months she was forced to leave Paris. Her dance career is ruined, Beckett calls off their relationship, and Lucia feels like she has nothing left. We know, however, that Mary changes her life. She is no longer married to the man she marries at the end of the comic. She has made a name for herself as a writer. Her father eventually respects her and her decisions, though she never sees him as warm or charming, the way some of his colleagues do.

I liked the art and the simple color distinctions between Mary’s story and Lucia’s story. I also loved the little interjections from Mary about her husband’s art. Whenever he got something wrong, she would point it out, but he didn’t redraw the pictures. It showed their collaboration process, but I thought it was also an interesting commentary on the way we tell stories and how other people perceive them. The inconsistencies are small. Mary really only corrects her husband’s art twice, but I think it was effective to leave them in there with only Mary’s commentary.

I liked this comic a lot. It taught me something about Lucia and I think the parallels between Mary and Lucia’s story are there. It makes sense to tell them together, a fact I think surprised the character-Mary in some ways.