The Last Musketeer
by Jason (story & art)
[Amazon | Worldcat | GoodReads | Comixology]
Length: 48 pages
Release date: January 17, 2008
Rating: 5/5 stars
I was intrigued enough by Jason’s Athos in America, his collection of shorts, to start reading his back catalog. I am not even remotely disappointed: Martians, duels, strong women, romance, space travel, and much much more. The Last Musketeer may be terse in page size, but it packs a wallop of a story. This is storytelling done right, to the point, entertaining, good character development, and not in the least superfluous in the art. I love how stark and monochromatic the art feels, which does not detect from the story but actually enhances it.
This is highly recommended.
by Sara Ryan (story) and Carla Speed McNeil (art)
[Amazon | Worldcat | GoodReads | Comixology]
Length: 156 pages
Release date: October 29, 2013
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
tl;dr: An engrossing tale of two people who fall in love, but it’s also a story of healing the past and moving towards the future. So while the book is great, it’s not amazing and that is perhaps its failing. It could have been amazing but it simply did not live up to its potential.
Review: Bad Houses is marketed by Dark House as juvenile fiction but I don’t think that’s accurate. The story contains adult situations that are reads far too sophisticated for juvenilia.
The story is on point and the side stories are fill in the edges. The flashbacks hint at things that are not fleshed out, but that’s okay — the end doesn’t need a pretty bow to necessarily feel complete. You know, feel, and love the characters as if they are a part of your own existing circle of friends. Character development is exquisite and the art is gorgeous. Ryan’s ability to capture the essence of a person in succinct form is a brilliant trait coupled with McNeil’s art makes this a joyous book to hold.
But the more I sit with this story, the more I feel as if something is missing from the tale. I don’t’ feel satiated when I closed the cover. Sure, I want more of Anne/Lewis, but there is an element in their story that is missing. If Ryan had explored that more with her writing, let McNeil fill in the art bits, the story would have been perfect. But as such, it isn’t and rates only 3.5/5 stars.
In Real Life
by Cory Doctorow (story) and Jen Wang (illustration)
[Amazon | Worldcat | GoodReads | Comixology]
Length: 196 pages
Release date: October 14, 2014
Rating: 2/5 stars
A digital ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
tl;dr: Teenage Anda is a girl gamer who gets caught up in Coarsegold, her favorite MMO, where she feels invincible, powerful, and wanted — until she meets Raymond, a poor Chinese teen who also loves Corasegold, and discovers things are not all that they seem. Raymond, it turns out, works illegally within the game to make money on the outside to survive. Lines between right and wrong get blurred pretty quick while Anda balances what she thinks can be done and what the reality actually is. The graphic novel is supposed to address class, ethnicity, and gender struggles within a 196 page format and do it well.
It fails. Horribly, horribly fails.
(By the by, as a book with massive subtext about the wrongs of Chinese factory workers, isn’t it just HILARIOUS the graphic novel itself is being printed in China?)
Review: Our story begins on the morning of Anda’s birthday, where our attention is drawn to that Anda’s family have recently moved to a new city and Anda is the new kid in school. She’s looking for a place to fit in, hence why later she gets so into online gaming. One would think as this is addressed in the beginning, the theme of “belonging” would be central to the story, but surprise! It’s not.
(Interestingly, since this was the setup, imagine the surprise to find Anda hanging out with the geek kids playing D&D during lunch times and after school. Either she’s a loner or she’s not. You need to make up your mind.)
Later that same day in one of Anda’s classes, a random speaker shows up whose sole purpose is to recruit people for MMOs. Now I have questions: Why is Liza the Organiza invited to speak to a high school class? What’s her purpose here? Since when do MMO organizers go to classrooms to recruit players? Especially ones under age who do no thave access to credit card accounts to pay for such things. The only connections why this wouldn’t be weird is a few panels back shows Anda programming in Python — so I guess this is one of her computer classes having a random speaker show up for class? I guess?
The Liza the Organiza starts her organizing — she wants to know how many of the girls in the class game and then how many of them game as girls? Which of course, none of the aforementioned girls who raised their hands in admittance of gaming, raise their hands to admit they game as girls. We already know the long, long history of what happens to girls who game as themselves in the gaming world. So Liza the Organiza puts to them a special deal: Come to this MMO she is a part of, game as a girl avatar, and after a three month trial, you can be part of her EREET SPECIAL GIRL FORCES. FUCK YEAH, BOOBS!
Just so we’re clear: You’re going to entice teenage girls who do not feel safe in general in this online space, but they should put themselves in danger ANYWAY so they can join your guild, without addressing any kind of safe space for them? Are you joking?
And this ends the entirety of the discussion of women in gaming and gender disparity in the gaming world in In Real Life.
(And I’m only up to page 26. Between the front matter, Mr. Doctorow’s 6 pageish ramble on the economics of gaming (which he also was thoughtful to discuss what MMO and other acronyms meant), the graphic novel didn’t start until page 16.)
Anda gets into the game, gets bedazzled by the popularity she receives within the MMO world and then meets Raymond. The storyline limps along, dragging the reader to point out white people should stop being saviors to all the other non-white folk because you know, we keep fucking their world up.
The ending, with all the faux tension being built, was kind of anticlimactic. Like, yay? And oh yeah, Liza reappears again for some strange reason to grant her approval on how things turned out. Liza, you were a pointless character. You should have been axed.
In addition to the massive problems with the storyline, apparently First Second couldn’t hire a continuity editor? After Anda has been grounded from using “recreational Internet,” there is a panel with her watching TV with her laptop on her lap when she gets a IM from one of her MMO buddies for a video chat. Next panel shows Anda in the laundry room video chatting and then she’s like, I TOTES HAVE TO GET BACK ON COARSEGOLD.
Does our heroine just log into the game in the privacy of the laundry room? OF COURSE NOT. SHE GOES TO AN INTERNET CAFE. I mean, honestly? How the fuck do you think video chats work? Through ESP? Seriously! This is a big graff — how could this have been missed through the editing process?
I also have additional problems with the book – like for example, Sarge, Anda’s mentor, walks her through the type of players she’s supposed to kill — who are all Asian. “If they don’t speak English, kill them!” Sarge orders. And the avatars of the Asians they are sent out to kill are all drawn like stereotypes of Asian farm workers. It’s — a bit bizarre considering one of the purported arcs of this book is about whites colonizing anyone not assumed white within the game, so I suppose you could argue this is why all Asians were drawn to be near identical to the other to prove some kind of racist point? (In fact, to kind of build on this, Anda often gets “confused” on who her buddy Raymond is as she searches for him in the game because — the avatars all look alike, If that is not some white people racist bullshit, I don’t know what is.).
And if the borderline racist attitude isn’t enough, the language did not give the impression of a teenagers figuring shit out and the language didn’t sound like something teenagers say. How can a book that is supposed to capture essence of teens yet sound like it written by a 40 year old man who is far on the wrong side of teenage years? Because it was, that’s why!
The only reason why I gave this dreck two stars was Jen Wang’s art is glorious. If anything, at least the book is pretty to look at.
Lastly, let’s take a real look at the economics of this book — based on the glowing reviews on GoodReads AND based on Doctorow’s reputation as a RIGHTING THE WRONGS HELLRAISER, even with all of obvious problems with this book, it’s going to be a big seller. In the end, is anyone really getting the message Doctorow is badly articulating and selling or do we just care we’re supporting someone who makes the noises to CHANGE THE WORLD while writing things that don’t really support that ideology?
Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: In Pursuit of Flight by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Dexter Soy, Emma Ríos
[Amazon | Worldcat | GoodReads | Comixology]
Rating: 3/5 stars
tl;dr summary: 2012 reboot of Captain Marvel, I really wanted Captain Marvel to be my superhero. Sadly, the convoluted and confusing story lines, dropped plot points, and inconsistent art (within a single artist) turned this hero into a has been.
Review: Captain Marvel is not my superhero.
But I wanted her to be.
After working at a book store for a number of years and then becoming a librarian, superhero graphic novels are the one comic that has always eluded me. The reasons are fairly simple: Derivative storylines, change of artists/writers, inconsistent plots and arcs, layered and cross over stories, and ALL OF THOSE GODDAMN VARIANTS drove me insane when purchasing graphic novels for the bookstore. A few years later when I took up the graphic novel collection at GRCC, I made the concrete decision to not stock superhero for the very same reasons.
Perhaps it is easier buying the trades as opposed to the weeklies, but when there doesn’t seem to be a thread holding some of the storylines together, it still seemed more aggravating than not.
Marvel jumped on the bandwagon when DC announced it was rebooting its entire universe back in 2012. This was the perfect opportunity for those like me frustrated with the previous systems to start getting our feet wet with superhero books. I picked up on Captain Marvel because she’s supposedly a bad ass female, which is totally up my alley. At the beginning of In Pursuit of Flight, She’s tussling after a big baddie with Captain America who tells her,
You have led the Avengers. You have saved the world. Quit being an adjunct.
After the tussling, we find out Captain Marvel is having an identity crisis. The whole send up of In Pursuit of Flight is Captain Marvel finding herself and forging ahead her future. This sound well and good but then time travel is thrown in, possible evil plot, and some tear jerking moment with one her mentors. The storyline felt uneven and confused. Too much was being thrown against the wall with the hope it would stick while under the guise of sorting out Carol Danver’s new backstory.
Dexter Soy drew the first four chapters while Emma Rios drew the last two. Soy’s version of Captain Marvel (and really any of the other characters) as hyper sexualized. In my notes I mark the roundness and plumpness of Captain Marvel’s ass and then a bit of marginalia that Soy treated Captain America in the same way. The coloring was just oozing with dark, rich royal colors. It made the scenes atmospheric, as if it needed to make up for what was being lost by the words.
Once you get to Emma Rios’ books, the characters that were so overly lush in books 1-4 now look emaciated and overly angular, you almost don’t want to meet any of the characters on the street for fear of being killed by a sharp elbow. But the mood of Rios’ work seems more inline with the story and fits it much better.
At the end of the book there is a four page, tightly written and set back story of Carol Danvers from her origin until this book. And that seemed wholly unnecessary (and often contradictory) to what had happened earlier in this sequence or in the book itself.
There is one more volume in this reboot, THEN THEY REBOOTED IT AGAIN.
That should give you some idea of how much of a hot mess the first reboot was.
Athos in America by Jason
[Amazon | Worldcat | GoodReads | Comixology]
Rating: 4/5 stars
tl;dr summary: Six thinly connected short stories by the master of minimalism. A must read.
Review: This is my first Jason book and it won’t be my last. You would be hard pressed to find another engrossing, and quickly read, collection wrapped up in 200 pages but here we are.
Beautifully drawn, complexly connected, and raw, Jason’s stories illustrate the underbelly of human condition dressed up in anthropomorphic animals. This does not (surprisingly) detract from the stories but make them more strongly felt. The last story, Athos in America (which also names the book), is the prequel of sorts to Jason’s The Last Musketeer, which is also heavily recommended and reviewed.
This day in Lisa-Universe: 1999
Agent Gates and the Secret Adventures of Devonton Abbey: A Parody of Downton Abbey | 2/5 stars
[Amazon | Worldcat | GoodReads | Comixology]
tl;dr summary: A satiric romp through the underbelly of Dovonton Abbey, where the next heir is a dog, the under butler is working with a secret organization, and the Dowager Countess is the head of a secret intelligence agency, all while love, the philosopher’s stone, and intrigue abound.
Review: Just. No.
Yes, I get it. It’s a parody of a blockbuster TV show that everyone and their tithed second cousins have either watched or at least heard of. Even TheHusband, who has tends to yawn when other similar shows are on, watches DA for the drama and the occasional backstabbing.
AGENT GATES’s purpose, I suppose, is taking the best elements of Downton Abbey, a drawing room mystery, throws in a bit of James Bond action, and pulls the downstairs staff in as secret agents working for a royal secret intelligence unit.
But it fails. It fails on a lot of levels. The ability to capture the characters quirks from the TV show is in fits and starts. The art seems like it was rushed, some characters seem to to have more details attributed to them, others are given a few strokes of the pen to give their likeness. The dialogue is beyond over the top and doesn’t even attempt to catch the character’s personalities and attributes.
It felt like someone watched a few episodes of the first season, saw an opportunity to make a few bucks and had some spare time, and came up with this dribble.
There is a subtle art to parody and satire, and this graphic novel is miserable with attempt. Library loan? Sure. But to buy? Only if it is in the clearance bin.
Bagged & Boarded: Developing and Promoting Graphic Novel Collections | 3.5/5
Quick summary: As the title states, it is a collection development book aimed at librarians who work with k-12 on purchasing, promoting, justifying, and defending their graphic novel collection.
tl;dr summary: Despite the fact this is geared for public librarians, there is a lot of rich material and resources that are relevant to academics or special librarians. Miller ditches chatter and presents the content in a clean, organized style. While I read this on consecutive order, you could easily jump from section to section. Each section is summed up with main points presented, which I found refreshing and easy to track. While the most content is still relevant nearly a decade after publication, it is not without its flaws. Which brings us to tbe problem of the book: It was published in 2005 and many of the recommended titles are out of print or recommended web resources are dead. This title should should not be a one off, but should be revised every few years to keep it fresh.
When looking for titles for support in graphic novels, titles are usually geared for public libraries, school libraries, hard core research, or the youths; basically everyone and thing other than what I’m looking for. I’m an academic librarian at a community college whose demographic is older then teens but whose collections are not geared for serious research. We’re kind of in a no mans land when it comes to available materials to support some of our topics, graphic novels being one of them. There has to be something that can answer my questions about collection development and be easily accessible.
So when I was shelf walking one day, I saw this title sitting with other collection development titles. I was intrigued but skeptical because we’re neither a public library nor is our core audience teens, so it seemed out of place. I picked it up regardless of my first impression.
Boy was I wrong.
At only 130 pages, Developing and Promoting Graphic Novel Collections, doesn’t seem like it would offer a lot of guidance on collection development or offer practical advice. You would be wrong. Organized in an easy to follow manner, DaPGNC cuts to the quick starting with history of GNs to genres, and then moves briskly along to collection development guidelines (Use the 5 Cs: credibility, circulation, commitment, collection, and cost), maintenance, suggestions for circulation, marketing, and programming,
Each section is broken down to a paragraph or two of what it is, then examples (if needed), then a summary which includes bullet points of what you’ve just read. I thought this set up was brilliant because it makes it easier to find information later if you’re scanning bullet points. I also liked how he wrote with a very minimalist style and dropped the theory behind all the information he was presenting. Just the facts please.
Additionally, what makes DaPGNC intriguing is that the use of “teen,” “YA,” “juvenile” or anything to signify the youths is kept at a very bare minimum. For example, in promotions, Miller refers to using both Teen Advisory Board and general public when soliciting ideas. In fact, Miller’s lack of mentioning the youths was so infrequent, I kept checking the title of the book to make sure I was reading the right book because after all, this is part of a Teens @ The Library series. This is not to say there isn’t sections about working with teens and the collection, but it’s so subtle you almost miss it. Someone looking for a how-to book geared to working with teens might find this bit annoying. Personally, I loved it.
This for me is a good thing – I am thrilled to not only have a great resource but I needed it to be a resource I could practically use that was not heavily slated to one demographic over another, which was my big worry. This title definitely fits that bill.
All through the book, Miller makes recommendations for print titles as well as websites to support the collection. While many of the suggestions are still easily available and the websites are still active, due to the age of the book (8 years), many were not. This was pretty frustrating when Miller makes a great recommendation only to find not only is the link dead, but it was never picked up somewhere else.
In addition to succinct information, Miller also presents lots and lots of ideas on marketing, programming, and collection development. While some of them are not feasible at my current library, but his suggestions and recommendations will become handy one day. Additionally, he includes cross reference of recommended titles in the back, along with an index and list of additional resources (many of which are now dead ).
I give this book 3.5/5 because of the currency issue and some of the content issue, but overall this book is stellar for anyone needing a reference title for graphic novel collection development, regardless of library.
The Best American Comics 2011 (anthology) | 3/5
Quick Summary: Collection of sequential art works by upcoming and established artists, edited by Alison Bechdel
tl;dr Summary: The book merits a “meh” and is recommended to buy used or to get from the library but not something you want to necessarily keep in your collection, even for reference.
The Best American series and I have an interesting relationship. Something compels me to think I have to read the damn things, thus year after year I buy copy after copy of titles in the series, used/new/eBook, on the premise that I’m going to read them and each year, the books get stacked higher and higher on my to be read shelves, taunting me and of course, never read. (But don’t I look smart with them on my shelves?) When Amazon recently had a one day sale of the Kindle versions of the entire 2011 Best American series for $.99 per title, I snapped up what was available save for Comics (not on Kindle format) and Sports (zzzz). Much like my groaning bookshelves taunting me with unread words, my Kindle app winks at me with updates at its growing collection of books that gather digital dust.1
Now that we have started this review with an oddly charming, yet not terribly related back story of my passive aggressive affair with Best American, let me go into the review of the book.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Best American series, the purpose is to anthologize and introduce a wide range of work in a variety of genres that may go unnoticed (or unappreciated) by the public at large. Each year presents a celebrated guest editor, coupled with the regular series editors, that are big draws in that particular field. In a way Best American is a cheat sheet to being culturally educated. Don’t have time to read all the things? A Best American series has you covered!2
Edited this year by Alison Bechdel, known for Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic and Dykes to Watch Out For, this years entries ranged all the gamut from the existential to the profane to the heartwarming. As someone who is fairly new world of sequential art, new at least in the sense that I dipped my toes into the water and now safely wading in water up to my ankles, I’m naively expecting anthologies such as Best American to help me down that primrose path. When I sat in a panel at C2E2 a few weeks back, one of the presenters mentioned there was something like over a thousand new release titles for graphic novels per year, with most stores maybe getting in a hundred or two. This is, of course, not including single issue books of comics and other works such as manga, which for someone who is geting interested in this world, it is really overwhelming. It’s also exciting because of all the content that you could be missing
Best American Comics 2011 isn’t a bad book, I was enthralled and engaged on various levels, but it’s not an awesome book either. In some of the works, we’re given snippets of story rather then the entire story line, which can be jarring when the editing between artists is not made clear. So if you’re reading a page about rainbows and sunshine and the next page is about dragons and pillaging, and the work between the artists is similar enough, you get really confused on what story is ending and what story is beginning. Additionally, some of the work apparently required explanation, which is provided the back of the book in the introduction to the artists and writers section. Being lead by the artist/writer on what I should be thinking indicates they themselves don’t know what the hell they were doing3 and that irritates me to no end.
And other problem with the work, is that since some of the pieces are taken as snippets, and thus out of the original context, some of the meaning is lost. If this art form, for it is art, is to be understood with the images AND words, moving it from its orignal location, in some instances, loses the intent of the meaning. This wasn’t prevalent in all of the snippets, but in others it was definitely was noticeable.
Maybe, ultimately, I’m disappointed because I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters, writers, or artists in this anthology. I felt like, even ironically, there should be some kind of guarantee with Best American that I will love at least one thing, but I didn’t. My interest was piqued by some of the work showcased but I felt like overall it was too hit or miss. I felt like some of the editing choices were phoned in and as a reader, I picked up on that. I did, however, appreciate that the series editors added a list of notable works for the year, that were not included in the anthology, in the index. The sheer number of titles alone here, many highly regarded, does give me other options to explore.
1. This smells like a new project. And yes, I concede that I’m hoarding Kindle books but in my defense, they were (mostly all of them) free! And they are (mostly all of them) classics! Except for that bad free porn I downloaded, which scared my eyes and brain, but that is neither here nor there.
2. Which explains why I am totally into this series. A lot.
3. I have a vague crankypants attitude towards Salman Rushdie for this very reason, In a fairy recently interview, someone asked Rushdie his thoughts were on critics or people who were not fond of his work and he stated that he hoped one day their tastes would be sophisticated enough to enjoy him.
[If you’ve been following me on Twitter lately, you know that I’ve really gotten into comics in the last six or so months for personal reading as well as I’ve also been collecting graphic novels for work. Starting today, and every Wednesday, I’ll be reviewing comics and graphic novels that I’ve recently read. Some will be new stuff, some will be old, others will be about the theory and practice of sequential art, with the goal to not only learn more myself but to help other comic virgins navigate this world.]
House of Night (5 book miniseries) | 3.5/5
Quick Summary: Miniseries that takes place behind and between the scenes of Betrayed, the second novel in the HoN series by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast.
I picked up House of Night for two reasons: Issue #1 was staring at me in my face AND I liked the cover art. Since House of Night was released in November, I was able to find all five issues fairly quickly and read the series in quick succession. The story was pretty simple: main protagonist, Zoey Redbird, has become the unwilling leader of the Dark Daughters, an elite society at her vampire boarding school. Each issue covers Zoey’s journey to leadership while she masters the five elements bestowed on her while figuring out the lesson behind each element. As each element has its own goddess attached to it, much of the comic is spent on that back history of the goddess and the lesson Zoey is to learn. Think of this as Hex mashed with Twilight.
Continue reading “Bagged & Boarded: House of Night”