GNF 4 – Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

saga cover

My love for Brain K. Vaughan and his particular brand of storytelling began with Runaways. I just think the concept behind Runaways is so good and the characters are funny and easy to relate to. I’ve been reading graphic novel-style comics for a while now, but Runaways was my first foray into the more traditional realm of serial comics and it was great.

I’ve been hearing buzz about Saga all year, but Vasilly is really the person that made me want to pick it up and read it as soon as possible. It wasn’t soon enough.

I love Saga. There’s really no ifs ands or buts about it. Fiona Staples’s art is a revelation. It’s detailed, beautiful, and Vaughan and Staples’s imaginations put together is a sight to behold. I went into Saga more or less blind about the story and I think that that’s the way to do it. If you haven’t read Saga yet, just trust me on this one, okay? It’s good and it’s worth your time. Now close out of this blog post and don’t read anymore!

If you have read Saga, then you know there are a lot of things to love. There are dozens of different kinds of creatures and that’s what we’ve seen so far. There are government conspiracies, an all-consuming war, star-crossed lovers, a whole universe to explore, and characters that you grow to love in just a few short panels. My favorite characters ended up being secondary ones in this series. Izabel is instantly lovable and comedic relief, plus I actually cared about her character. I hope she’s not actually gone! I was also always excited when The Will showed up with his truth-telling cat.

That’s not to say that I didn’t like the main characters, because I did. I think they will only get more interesting as we learn more about them, and I was particularly excited to see Marko’s parents show up, but I think the introduction to their story made them a little bit less interesting. Once we find out more about their pasts and how they came to give up fighting in the war, I think they will become slightly more interesting and less one dimensional. They are the heroes, but there’s not a whole lot interesting about them yet. In this part of the comic, it felt like all the action was happening around them and they weren’t doing much of anything.

I suppose that’s a little unfair, because they were fighting for their life. But to me, the more interesting characters are ones we don’t necessarily know what to expect from. Is Izabel really helping them? Or is she only looking out for herself? What about The Will and his ability to compartmentalize right and wrong so it suits his own morals? I think Alana and Marko will become a little bit more interesting and a little bit more unexpected as they learn more about each other.

There’s also the fact that the story is narrated by their daughter. I think this is such a good way to frame the story and I love the way it’s represented in the lettering. It made the final little cliffhanger so good. Those last few panels with the shocked look on Marko’s dad’s face? And the stern look on his mother’s? So realistic. I can’t wait to read more about their dynamic.

I can’t believe I have to wait until this summer to read the next collection. I wish I’d started reading this one when it came out in the issues, though it might have been even more torturous to wait each month for a shorter chapter. I wasn’t surprised that I loved Saga, but I was a little surprised how much. I think, for me, it was really the complement of the art by Fiona Staples and the storytelling from Vaughan. They really are a creative match made in heaven.

GNF 3 – Blue by Pat Grant

blue by pat grant

Blue by Pat Grant is a story about us vs them. The story takes place in a seaside Australian town and is narrated by an older man who is recalling the “good old days” when there were no blue people in town. The blue people look different from you and me: they have many legs, their skin is blue, they eat weird food. I think you can see where this is going.

Blue as a metaphor isn’t a very complicated one. Pat Grant set out to tell a fairly common story. It’s so common, it’s the plot of a movie I’m sure you’ve all heard about: Stand By Me, based on the Stephen King story “The Body.” Grant actually had something very similar happen to him as a kid and he decided to include it as an important part of this comic as well. Even as I was reading it, it felt more like an homage than a ripoff, especially since the overarching themes are so different in Stand By Me and Blue.

Something else that makes Blue stand apart for me is the fact that the narrator is not sympathetic at all. When he tells his story about being a kid in this town right around the time it started going bad, you can see that he absolutely didn’t learn anything from what he witnessed on the day Blue takes place. He is completely blind to everything around him. We can forgive him for this when he is a child, but when the art reverts back to the present and we see his adult self, no more mature than he was as a teenager, you know that he hasn’t really grown up at all.

The art in Blue might be off-putting for some people, but I was so reminded of the cartoons I grew up watching as a kid, like Rocco’s Modern Life. The shapes of the characters and the buildings, plus the emphasis on the crude and the gross, reminded was reminiscent that style of 90s cartoons that were at once disgusting and interesting to look at. The crudeness suits the characters and it’s in such contrast to the absolutely stunning, surreal backgrounds that Grant includes. The comic is colored entirely in blue and tan, which is visually interesting and also lovely.

There is an essay at the end of the book that is at once interesting and unnecessary. It didn’t complete this comic for me in any way, but I enjoyed reading it and it did shed some light on why Grant wrote Blue. I didn’t need the why, but I appreciated it. There is a moment towards the end of the comic that felt particularly relevant to Blue, though:

Part of life when you live at the arse end of the world is that your story never seems to intersect with the grand narratives. Bigger histories from more populous places quickly morph into mythologies, but the smaller stories on the fringes are often nudged out of the collective consciousness and lost forever.

Blue feels at once wholly specific to a place and universal. There are bigger histories about outsiders and insiders, about immigration, about new communities versus old, but the fictional town in Blue is simply a microcosm of all of that and it becomes a part of the bigger history and the grand narrative.

I didn’t think I had a lot to say about Blue. It’s an unassuming comic that seems simple on the surface, but it’s rich, layered, and interesting. The story is simple and classic, but the characters, the setting, and the art make it into a much deeper exploration of identity, as a person, a town, and a culture, even at the expense of others.

GNF 2 – Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

Friends With Boys Cover

I’ve always wanted brothers. Not just brothers, but older brothers, which was, obviously, impossible from the minute I was born. I have this romantic idea of what it would be like to have an older brother: someone who’s protective and loyal and loving and funny and sometimes obnoxious. In that way Friends With Boys was a little bit of wish fulfillment for me. I loved seeing Maggie’s relationship with her brothers, even if it was a little bit more complex than what I imagine.

The title of Friends With Boys is a little bit misleading, because it’s more about Maggie and her first year in high school, trying to understand the relationships between her brothers and the other boys at school. Maggie, like her brothers before her, was homeschooled until it was time for her to start high school. Unlike her brothers, though, Maggie is facing high school on her own, because her mother has left. Maggie’s father, the local police chief, has been trying to keep things normal around the house, but it can’t stay that way for long, especially since Maggie has also been seeing a ghost. When she makes new friends at school, Lucy and Alistair, her brother Daniel is surprisingly upset about it. Maggie is just trying to understand the world she lives in, which feels too overwhelming and confusing at times. Why are her twin brothers Zander and Lloyd fighting? Why doesn’t Daniel like Alistair? Why does the captain of the volleyball team seem to hate Alistair, too? Why did Maggie’s mom leave? And why is there a ghost following her around?

I loved everything about Friends With Boys. I loved the drawing style. Each face is so expressive and each panel meaningful and so nicely drawn. I’m in love with the way Hicks draws faces and I couldn’t get enough of the characters. I felt like they were real people and I loved them. They are all different shapes and sizes and just feel human.

Friends With Boys is funny and sad and heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time. Plus there’s a ghost, so, you know. I feel like it is really easy to compare Friends With Boys and Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgot. They have similar plots, though I connected more with Friends With Boys. It’s a little bit more light-hearted, especially when it comes to the ghost, and, as I might have mentioned, I loved the characters.

Friends With Boys is just so charming, I think you’ll find yourself smiling along. There are no neat endings with this comic, though. Many of the questions above are never truly answered, but that was okay for me. I can see some readers being frustrated with it, but I was perfectly okay with a small glimpse of Maggie’s life. And, because the world is an awesome place, you can read the first 20 pages of Friends With Boys online, just to see if you’ll fall in love with the characters and artwork as much as I did. Check it out at the Friends With Boys website.

This week in…

reading.

You know what I needed after finally finishing Game of Thrones? Graphic Novels/Comics February! There is nothing like reading comics to boost your numbers self-esteem. It’s also just nice to give into the medium. I’ve two very long, involved fantasy novels the last two months and comics are the perfect change of pace. It’s also hard not to devour them. I try to savor each panel and make sure that I’m really paying attention. So far, my favorite comic has been Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks and Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

Fair warning: don’t read Saga on a crowded subway train. People always read over your shoulder when you read comics, and occasionally remark on said comics, and that would have been an interesting conversation. I am going to do a full review of Saga, but I really loved it. I can’t wait until July for the next full installment. Anyone know where I can buy the monthly installments?

television


Starting sometime in the middle of 2012, I decided to start watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I didn’t really get into it, but would watch an episode here and there. Then something happened about halfway through season one (just like you said it would) and suddenly I was head-over-heels in love. Now I am halfway through season four and still so happy with the show. I just watched one of the best episodes, and possibly one of my favorite hours of television, “Hush” (S4, E10). The episode is almost completely silent, except for some excellent, atmospheric music, because the monster of the week has taken everyone’s voices. It’s perfect and funny and genuinely creepy. It’s an episode that I can see myself rewatching.

food.

It’s the superbowl! But not I’m not even sure I could tell you who is playing. (The Ravens? Right? But I couldn’t tell you who the other team is. I looked it up on Wikipedia and promptly forgot.) Superbowl Sunday is, for me, an eating holiday. I don’t watch the game and right now don’t host or attend any parties, but Michael and I cook yummy finger foods to snack on all day. On the menu for tomorrow? Homemade chex mix, which made our apartment smell like Christmas all day, How Sweet Eats blue cheese potato skins, and spinach artichoke dip.

family.

My sister is in town for the Fun. concert. I’m pretty jealous! We are getting lunch today before she heads home and I’m pretty excited about that! We’re trying a new restaurant near my office, which will hopefully be a possible new lunch place.

misc.

I feel like this week was really busy, but I can’t remember what I did. I worked for 6 days straight, but other than that, I can’t really remember what I did in the evenings. I guess it wasn’t very memorable! I have had a bad flair up of migraines lately, so I think I did a lot of going to bed early and relaxing, waiting for them to pass. I get aura migraines, which make it hard to see much of anything. They’re very inconvenient.

I’m excited to get home this afternoon and relax with a comic, a beer, and some delicious Superbowl food. It’s going to be a perfect afternoon, I can feel it. Enjoy your Sunday!

GNF 1 – Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

9781770460607I started off Graphic Novels February, also known as Comics February, by reading Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton in January. I had checked out all these great comics in preparation for February and I just couldn’t wait.

I’ve been reading Beaton’s webcomic on and off for a few years now, but not necessarily consistently. It’s always good when I need a laugh combined with a literary or historical reference. I loved that Hark! A Vagrant included explanations for the comics, because they can be a little specific and if you’re not familiar with what the comic is referencing, the joke will be lost on you. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, because that just means that I have new things to explore. I did appreciate it, though, when Beaton gave a little bit of context.

I’ll admit, my favorite comic by Kate Beaton isn’t even one in this book or on her full site. She took a picture of it and uploaded it here, to her Tumblr. It’s one of those things where just thinking about it will send me into a fit of hysterics. I was hoping to find another comic like that in Hark! A Vagrant, and while there were quite a few that made me laugh out loud, there were none that I loved quite as much as Tolstoy’s poop shelf.

Fortunately for me, Beaton’s sense of humor and mine line up pretty well. I find immature and silly jokes to be very funny. I love the low brow combined with the high brow. Beaton delivers in spades and I can’t wait to keep reading her comics.

Comics February is Here!

So, when Debi posted that she was going to be reading comics and graphic novels all February, I Just thought that that sounded like a fabulous idea. Every year I mean to read more and more comics and I read a few, but I don’t make it a consistent thing. This year, I really want to read more and dedicating an entire month to the medium sounds perfect. It is February 1 (well, I suppose technically 2nd at this point, because it is after midnight) and I have already read three! I’m doing so well!

I’ve also decided to try and post every day again in February. The thing is, I didn’t post every day in January, but I sure did post a lot more last month than I have on this blog in a long time and it felt good. This month I’m definitely going to be focusing on the comics that I’m reading, but there might be a few other posts thrown in, depending on how much I’ve been reading.

My first review, up tomorrow, will be of Hark, A Vagrant! Another goal for February is to keep up my Sunday “This week in…” posts. I like them, they’re chatty, and they’re a good way to bring in a little bit of a personal touch to the blog.

So that’s the plan for February! I think January went really well, though I started to run out of things to do towards the end of the month and, consequently, didn’t post as much. It’s funny because the post I had planned all month, the whole reason I started the project even, never happened. Maybe another day?

Comic-A-Week: Apr 24-30 – Refresh, Refresh

Refresh, Refresh is the comic that completely derailed the Comic-A-Week project. It’s not the only reason I had to take a break. It was April, after all. Life is always so busy in April, between holidays, exams, and working out summer plans, but you would think that would mean I would be reading more comics, not less. The last comic I read though was Refresh, Refresh and I’m so conflicted about it, I have been letting it stew for a few weeks before writing about it or reading any other comics.

Refresh, Refresh is about a group of boys who all have fathers in the military. The stories take place in the years after September 11th when the US was at war with Afghanistan and Iraq. The town the boys live in is small and there aren’t a lot of opportunities, so many of the young men are off at war. Some don’t come back, others return injured.

The comic begins when the boys are seniors in high school and they start a fight club. But the fight club is really only the beginning of the violence in this comic. There is nothing hopeful, beautiful or good about this story. What I’m truly grappling with is if there should have been.

I saw on Goodreads someone claiming that they didn’t like this comic because it glorifies the military. I think it does the exact opposite. The military is the driving force actively destroying the lives of these boys and their families. I should rephrase that: it’s not the military, it’s war. It’s the violence that’s such an intrinsic and natural part of their life that is destroying everything beautiful in their world.

If you can’t tell, I had a strong, visceral reaction to this comic. It made me sick to my stomach, quite literally. But… I was reading a review at books i done read of The Things They Carried, one of my favorite books of all time, and I was reminded of this:

A true war story is never moral.  It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done.  If a story seems moral, do not believe it.  If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie.

You will probably have a strong, visceral and negative reaction, like I did, to Refresh, Refresh. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a true war story. Thanks Raych and Mr. O’Brien for that reminder. I also didn’t realize that this was originally a text-only short story. That makes a lot of sense, but I think this works well as a comic, too.

Reading Rants also has a post about the comic Refresh, Refresh. Do you? Include your link in the comments and I’ll add it here.