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.


Comic-A-Week March 27-April 2 – Hereville by Barry Deutsch

Hereville: How Mirka Got her Sword was, in one word, charming. It’s a sweet comic described as “Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl” and if that doesn’t make you smile, well, I don’t know what will.

Mirka, obsessed with fighting dragons, one day finds a mysterious home in her small, orthodox community that she has never seen before. This fact alone makes it unusual, but most unusual of all is the fact that there is a pig in the front yard. Mirka and her siblings don’t even know what a pig is, since, of course, they practice orthodox Judaism. I don’t want to give away anything, but eventually something to do with this pig means that Mirka gets a wish. What does she wish for? To fight a troll. But you and I have read fairy tales and we know it’s never quite that simple.

There are a lot of things to love about Mirka and her story. I loved the integration of orthodox customs and the Yiddish words that were sprinkled throughout the text. I LOVED the unexpected role of Mirka’s step-mother in the plot. Most of all, I loved Mirka herself. She is 11. She can be selfish, she can be stubborn, she can be kind, she can be wild.

As for the art, I think I really do like black and white work better, but the subdued tones of Mirka’s world were subtle and lovely. The panels are fun and meaningful and Deutsch included at the end a series of panels that show the way he drew all the different designs for the troll. I love extras like this in comics!

So go read this!:  now| tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

things mean a lot, 1330V, The Boston Bibliophile, Beth Fish Reads, Welcome to my Tweendom, Bart’s Bookshelves, Madigan Reads and Great Kid Books all have posts on Hereville. Do you? Link to it in the comments and I’ll add your post here.


Comic-A-Week March 20-26 – Mercury by Hope Larson

I picked this one up on a whim from my library and I’m glad I did. Mercury is a charming story, filled with the real sadness, embarrassments and joys of adolescence, but with tragic undertones that hint at the “real world” that is right around the corner for most teens. It has a strong sense of place, specifically Nova Scotia, with common slang and locations explained, which honestly made the experience of reading Mercury that much more enjoyable.

While comics have been around for a long time, this is still a medium that is young. I love to see comics artists make innovative and interesting decisions. For example, this comic follows two storylines, Tara in current time and Josey in 1859; Tara’s storyline is on a white background while Josey’s is on black. In a comic meant for younger readers, this is a perfect way to mark the change. It’s simple and subtle, but one that most readers will pick up on.

Not only does Larson carefully combine the present and the past, but she also combines fantasy and reality. This was not quite as seamless as the the changing timeline. I could definitely get behind some of the more “traditional” magic, such as premonitions, but there was one part at the end that seemed particularly far-fetched. It’s not even necessarily that the fantasy itself was far-fetched (it’s a comic after all – anything can happen!), but that we were supposedly dealing with normal high school students. What happened did not freak them out and, unfortunately, that seemed odd and out-of-character to me.

Overall though, Mercury is a successful mix of humor, tragedy and everything in between. My problems with it are minimal and wouldn’t deter me from recommending it to a comic-lover of any age.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve read everything else

Reading Rants!, Mama Librarian, The Boston Bibliophile, Stuff As Dreams Are Made On, Buried in Print, Sophisticated Dorkiness and The Zen Leaf all have posts about Mercury by Hope Larson. Do you? Link to your post in the comments and I’ll add it here.

Comic-A-Week: Feb 6-12 Moving Pictures by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen

For the first time during this project, I have come across a comic that confuses me – I do not understand why the authors chose to tell this story with this medium. The story itself is interesting enough – Ila, a foreign curator at a French museum who decides to stay after German occupation begins, has a complex and tense relationship with the German officer who has been ordered to inventory the collection. While the story is unique, a feat for a market inundated with WWII fiction, the art does not add much to the story and misses out on an opportunity to incorporate more of the art in the museum.

I did not respond well to the minimalist style of this comic. The story is complex and rich, but the art does not reflect that. While the art in a comic does not always have to perfectly match the tone of the story, it should do the best job possible to tell the story.  I’m not convinced that minimalist, negative-space reliant art truly tells this story well. There was a lot that was skipped over and too much was left to the imagination. A little ambiguity is good, but honestly it just frustrated me here. There was, however,  a lot of good tension in this story, that unfortunately didn’t play out “on screen”, for lack of a better term. There were times when the art style benefited the story. It set the mood and the use of shadowing was brilliant. One of my favorite panels is when we finally see Rolf’s face. Before that he had been almost entirely in shadow. The opening sequence, without any words, was beautiful and used the simple style of the art in a way that benefited the story.

The more comics I read, the more I realize what makes a good one. Though there are wordless comics, for me what defines a comic is neither the art nor the words, but how they work together. For me, that means that the art and the words  have to add something different and complimentary. If they aren’t holding their own, it’s not worth it to me. The Immonen’s had an opportunity here to do a lot with the artwork in the museum and using that to illustrate their story, but aside from a few panels, they didn’t take advantage of that. Maybe I wanted too much out of this little comic. When I found out it started as a serialized comic, the structure made a little bit more sense. There were gaps in the story, which might have been less jarring if I was waiting a few weeks or months to read each strip.

Here’s something interested – while I was doing my research for I saw some of the illustrations on screen and I was much more impressed by them. This is a comic that was meant to be seen one panel or strip at a time on the internet – it makes more sense for the story, it makes more sense for the art and I think I would have appreciated this a lot more if I had read it as was originally intended.

Am I in a bad mood, or what? Everything I have disliked lately has been something almost universally loved. But I have been reading things that are just amazing, so when something doesn’t live up to that, I’m more critical. If I had read this graphic novel after reading, say, Mother, Come Home, I probably would have liked it more. Maybe I will revisit this one in a few months and see how I feel about it.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Olduvai Reads also has a post about Moving Pictures. Do you? Leave a link in the comments and I’ll include your post here.

Comic-A-Week Jan 23-29 – Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush by Luis Alberto Urrea

One thing I have learned so far during this Comic-A-Week project is that reviewing comics and graphic novels is hard. What is the most important element of the story? Is it the illustration? Is it the story? Of course, it’s both. It’s the way the dialog and story interact with each other, it’s the way the art adds to the words and vice versa.

After being a Spanish major for so long, it takes a lot to impress me with magical realism. I’ve read the best, so if you’re going to add to the genre, you better do a damn fine job. Fortunately Urrea and Cardinale’s Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush did impress me and, thankfully, it is an excellent example of the way in which art can perfectly compliment a story.

Urrea and Cardinale are pulling on a lot of traditions here, but they manage to create a story that is not only charming, but original. Like any myth, Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush takes a physical object and a real person, plus the fantastic elements, to represent something bigger, though I don’t want to give away what that is. The magical realism in Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush is playful and, well, magical.

The art is absolutely gorgeous. Christopher Cardinale also paints murals, so it’s difficult not to think immediately of Diego Rivera, husband of Frida Kahlo. Even though his art clearly evoked elements of Rivera’s style, Cardinale is very much his own artist. I loved his use of expressive, large faces and the color work is gorgeous. I often prefer black and white comics, but I probably wouldn’t if every comic were as beautifully colored as Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush.

I’ve almost been avoiding Urrea’s work because I have never been sure how I would like it. Now that I have read Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush, I fully expect to pick the rest of his work in the future.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Devourer of Books and You’ve Gotta Read This! also have posts on Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush. Do you? Leave your link in the comments and I will add your link here.

Comic-a-Week – Jan 2-8 – The Night Bookmobile

You’ve seen a lot of reviews of this one the past week and I’m not exactly sure why all of us decided to read this one at the same time.  I picked mine up from the library on a whim, after hearing a couple of bloggers express how much they loved it.

I love Audrey Niffenegger.  Like many people, Time Traveler’s Wife is one of my favorite books.  Beyond the fact that it is a lovely book, it is also one of the first books that my boyfriend recommended to me.  It marks the beginning of our relationship and will forever hold a special place in my heart.  While Her Fearful Symmetry left me somewhat disappointed and conflicted, I enjoyed reading it and I absolutely loved parts of it.  I’ve also read The Three Incestuous Sisters, Niffenegger’s other comic, and I enjoyed that one as well, though I didn’t really have a strong reaction to it either way.  The Night Bookmobile produced a reaction in me similar to Her Fearful Symmetry – there were parts that I loved, but others that left me feeling somewhat cold toward the book.

For one, the concept behind this comic is perfect.  The idea that each person has their own library with each book they have read and started to read  stored in a vehicle of sorts.  Alexandra, after fighting with her boyfriend and walking alone at night to clear her head, encounters her library and quickly becomes obsessed with it.  Secondly, the art is lovely and adds to the mystery and fantasy of the story.  It was short and sweet, with a memorable conclusion.

But a significant part of that conclusion really upset me, not because of what happened, but because of how abrupt it was.  Of course, I do not want to spoil anything, so I’m being purposefully vague.  It is a shocking turn of events that I honestly found difficult to understand.  I really wanted to love this book unreservedly, because the idea is so bookish and wonderful, but I just couldn’t.

I don’t necessarily want to deter anyone from reading this comic.  It really is wonderful for most of the time.  Apparently it is a part of a series that Niffenegger will be continuing in the future and I sincerely hope that as a whole the series is as lovely as the majority of The Night Bookmobile was.

So go read  this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

1330V, Bart’s Bookshelves, The Written World, nomadreader, Reader’s Corner, Words and Peace and Stuff As Dreams Are Made On all feature posts about The Night Bookmobile.  Did you?  Leave a link in the comments and I’ll include it in this list.