First Second (September 14, 2010)
Koko Be Good is a classic coming of age tale for two different character, our titular character Koko and a young man named Jon. When the tale begins we meet Jon who is listening to a tape from his girlfriend discussing their plans, fears, and apprehensions of heading off together to Peru. Jon is giving up on dreams and hopes of his own to be with his girlfriend in a place that he doesn’t know, a language he doesn’t speak, and unsure of what he’ll do once he’s there. While out one night Jon meets Koko, a young woman still trying to figure out her place in the world who holds various questionable jobs and lives in an attic above a friend’s place. Their lives intersect, accidentally as is so often the case, and lead each other down new paths. They reconnect with old dreams and discover new ones that lead them towards an unknown future.
The artwork in this novel is fantastic. Jen Wang is a talented artist that brings a simple style and limited color palette to the table and creates an evocative mood throughout the storyline. Many of the characters are simply drawn, yet they have a richness and fullness to the lives they live on the pages. Jen captures the spontaneity of life and the free movement of the human body that we often see in the real world in just a few lines. The simple color palette still manages to capture a richness and depth to the world the characters inhabit.
Where the work falters for me is the flow of the storyline. Its rough in some transitions and a couple of the characters are introduced but never really have their places defined. Faron for example, is an interesting character trying to define who he is and dealing with a chaotic home life. However, it often feels as if his storyline is tacked on, just barely intersecting Koko’s and never really Jon’s. It feels like his story deserves its own book so that we can get to know who he is better and how his world is changing instead of having the far too brief glimpses of his world that we see. Also confusing to me is the end. Jon is on a plane…it appears that he’s given up on going after his girlfriend, but is he going to play with the band as indicated in the previous chapter?
Overall though this is a strong work first work for a new published author (her first solo piece.) I look forward to seeing what she creates next and enjoying her art for many years to come.
I recently read “Batman: Arkham Asylum” by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean and just wanted to share a couple of quick thoughts I had about it.
While I could discuss the artwork (which is pretty fantastic) or the story line (which was…interesting), I’m going to mention the font choice. That’s right the font. I know in graphic novels/comic books/comic strips/other graphical art writers/artists like to use different font styles and colors to really get across how the character speaks. The right font can say volumes about the character and who they are.
But there are difficulties with this. After reading “Batman Arkham Asylum” I came away with a headache at trying to decipher the font choice used for the Joker. Don’t get me wrong, I think it definitely shows the Joker as a crazy unstable character. But the red font on top of just the art itself was extraordinarily difficult to read. I had to squint to make out the words and for me it disrupted the flow of the storyline. What could have been an excellent read for me was only so-so.
*I should note this was the 15th anniversary edition so perhaps there isn’t this trouble in other editions*
Originally posted on Moonshine Arts magazine.
Good as Lily by Derek Kirk Kim
Minx (August 1, 2007)
Good as Lily, by Derek Kirk Kim and illustrated by Jesse Hamm, is a graphic novel geared towards those in high school and older. It is the story of young woman, Grace, finding her way through life, love, the future, and high school. Grace is a Korean-American high school student who on her 18th birthday finds herself with some rather unusual companions, multiple versions of herself. Grace spends the next few days with herself at 29, herself at 70, and herself at 6 years old. Together they explore the meaning of life and surviving high school.
Grace is a typical young woman with all the strengths and flaws that would be found in real life. She has friends, has arguments, finds love, and even sets fire to the high school gym, all in a short period of time. Kim deftly tells a tale of Grace, her friends, and the other Grace’s, overcoming their fears and dreams to achieve reality. At times they fail and give into the flaws that make them all too human and at other times they rise above their flaws and succeed. Kim successfully weaves in multiple versions of Grace and shows that no matter the age, no matter the wisdom, life still has challenges to face and everything isn’t always perfect.
Hamm’s illustrations are inspired by the world of manga and while not overly complex, add a sense of realism to the story being told. The images ground the story in real life, capturing the daily bits and grind of life that are often overlooked in the world around us, but let us know where we are.
Although Good as Lily is a relatively short tale, it delivers a great story. We see the range of emotions as the characters learn that growing up isn’t always easy and how they can adapt to the life and world around them. A great story for all ages.
Originally posted on Moonshine Arts magazine.
Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa
First Second (April 1, 2008)
Cyril Pedaroa is a former artist for Disney, who worked on such films as “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Hercules,” but has since transferred his creative and artistic talents to the world of graphic novels. Three Shadows is a story of life, a family’s love, grief, and death rolled into an all too short novel. Pedaroa captures the tale of this family with ease and their relationships with one another and the world around them.
Three Shadows is the story of a small farming family, father, mother, and their young son named Joaquim. They live an ideal life with all that they could ever need in their lives. Until the day Joaquim approaches his parents and tells them of the three shadows outside watching him. After initially not believing him, his parents watch as the three shadows come closer and closer to the home. Like any parent they want to protect their child from shadows and each goes about providing protection in a different way. The mother visits a local shaman to find out information about what the shadows are and how to stop them. When she finds she cannot, the father takes Joaquim and journeys across the river, in hopes of escaping the shadows. Joaquim’s father is willing to do anything to protect his son, including giving up his own life. The father is a larger than life figure in the book, both figuratively and literally. His presence is seen and felt from the beginning and it is clear he has compassion and love, but is a force to be reckoned with, not only for his physical strength, but the mind and heart behind it. The father is a protector and almost seems lost when he cannot protect those around him, but he doesn’t give in. While they seem to escape the shadows by crossing the river, the shadow figures come back with a vengeance before Joaquim and his father finish crossing the river. No matter what Joaquim and his father try they just can’t seem to escape the three shadows. Joaquim is eventually willing to accept and meet his fate, but has one last task to complete before he can move on.
In the end, all of the characters introduced in the novel, find that no matter how hard you try, you can’t escape death. The story itself would appear to be a simple one, but the twists and turns of the lives portrayed make it a compelling story. Although the story is more father and son, the mother’s love is evident by her sacrifice to allow father and son to undertake their journey. Both parents handle the situation as best as they know how and exemplify a family’s love for one another. The story’s overall message is that even in death, you can find hope, and that even though death may come, life will still go on.
What really sells the story and draws the reader in, are the illustrations. The illustrations in the novel are simple black and white line drawings, but through Pedrosa’s use of lines they convey emotion and energy. Even without words, the drawings are able to convey joy, fear, grief, and love through the characters expressions and movements. The reader becomes not a mere witness to the story, but a participant, feeling a sense of the place, the time, and the people. The characters cease to be mere drawings on the page, but become real to the reader, as if we could meet them in real life.
This novel is a must read for any age, but particularly for those struggling with grief of a loved one. The story touches on life, love, and grief in a way that is easy for any reader to relate too. The simplicity of the illustrations, the depth of the characters, and the compelling story line make this a great read for any age. Pedrosa’s novel has captured the essence of a family that transcends country, culture, or time.
Originally posted on Moonshine Arts magazine.
Little Things: A Memoir in Slices by Jeffrey Brown
Touchstone; 1st Touchstone Trade Pbk. Ed edition (April 1, 2008)
352 pages; 1416549463
Little Things, a graphic novel by Jeffrey Brown (author of Be a Man, Clumsy), is geared towards the mature audience as the story deals with mature material such as sex, death and life of a young adult. Little Things is Jeffery’s life story told in thin “slices” from various points of time in his life. Jeffery’s “slices” are bits and pieces of his life that can be a few hours to a week to longer. Jeffery captures himself and those that he interacts with in a lose line drawing style, mostly picturing himself as a scruffy young man.
Jeffrey is the one “character” consistent throughout the novel as it is the story of his life. People move in and out of the “slices” never seeming to stay for very long or come back, but seem to make a lasting impact within his life. For example, one “slice” deals with a camping trip into the woods with friends. The “slices” allow for the reader to see just how such a small event can have a greater impact on life than wee might expect. He shares with us the good times, being with friends, to the bad times, death of loved ones. Jeffrey shares his story in “slices,” snippets of his life story that range from a few minutes to a week or longer. Time never stands still and is constantly moving on to the next story or the next person.
Where the story suffers is that the move through timelines if often disjointed in places, transitioning from present to past back to present in what is often confusing. The last “slice” of Jeffrey’s life deals with the birth/pending birth of his child. We are never really told the status of Jeffrey and the baby’s mother, as whether they are married or engaged and while this piece of information can be missing, it stalls the flow of the story. When the “slice” begins we see Jeffrey and young woman (possibly Jennifer), waking up in the middle of the night to take care of the young baby. A few pages later the couple is driving to Kansas, but it appears that the baby has not yet been born. A few more pages and it appears to be the beginning of the pregnancy and the young couple is discussing pets. Where the story seems to fail is that there are no clear transitions in this passage of time. The reader is lost as to the passage of time and place with no clear indication of what might be happening. Perhaps if readers read his other stories, more would be revealed about his life and those in it, but if this is to be seen as a standalone work (as it appears to be), the casual reader will become lost. That being said, Jeffrey shows the simplicity and beauty in life and how different interactions with those around you shape it. Things that most people wouldn’t think of as being life altering are shown and a story takes shape.
The graphic novel uses simple black and white lines to create the universe and life that Jeffrey resides. Jeffrey captures the world around him from rescuing ants in a stream to his young son next to him with simple and often elegant line drawings that show a deeper meaning to life. He is able to show the voice of the character through the expressions on their faces and the simple beauty of the world that surrounds him. Brown captures the simplicity of the stars in the night sky in the forest and the rushing river going past. The chaos of life is captured in the drawings that Jeffery shares to tell his stories.
Although the time line can be confusing, the story is an interesting experiment in telling a story. Although the author does not quite succeed with keeping the story time line easy to follow, it is a worthwhile experiment to see a life story told in a different manner and worth a read at the local bookstore or the library.
Originally posted on Moonshine Arts magazine.
Amulet (Book 1) The Stone Keeper
GRAPHIX (January 1, 2008)
Amulet, a graphic novel by Kazu Kibuishi (Flight, Daisy Kutter), is geared towards the 9-12 age group. However, the novel will captivate anyone that begins to read it as they are swept along a moving story with beautiful illustrations. This is book one of a scheduled five part series
Our young heroine Emily witnesses the death of her father in the opening pages of this novel. Time passes and Emily, her mother, and her brother Nevin move into the home of their missing great grandfather. It’s an older home, unlived in since his disappearance many years ago and full of dust bunnies and shadows. While exploring the house Emily discovers her great grandfather’s study, with an amulet hidden in secret panel. But, there are more secrets lurking within the house, one that soon ensnares Emily’s mom. She’s dragged from the basement by a tentacle through an open door and Emily and Nevin must go on a rescue mission. They are taken to another world, with nothing to guide them, but the voice of the amulet. Along the way they encounter demons, robots, and talking animals. The amulet leads them to a house, where they find their great grandfather and some of his creations. With the help of Misket, a rabbit robot, Emily and Nevin set out to find their mother, and learn more about their family’s history, their great-grandfather, and the amulet that Emily found in his study. The amulet’s motives are unclear. Does it have the best interest of Emily and her family in mind? And where will the next adventure take them?
This story captivates the reader from the beginning. The reader is compelled to feel for the characters of the story, from Emily witnessing the death of her father to watching her mom being dragged away by some unknown creature. Although this is only the first part of the series the reader gets a true sense of the characters, their feelings, and their emotions and is left hanging at the end of this book and wanting more.
What really sells the story are the illustrations as they capture and convey the moods of the characters and their surroundings. The drawings have a light airy quality to them, with a simple, but moody, color palette to show off the extensive use of shadows to convey emotions of the character in graphic detail. The reader is never left wanting or wondering what the characters are thinking, the colors clearly display what they feel—the age of the great-grandfather is written into the lines on his face, the fear and courage of Emily as she seeks to save her what’s left of her family. As the story progresses a darker palette is used and we are left wanting the lighter colors to return. Something unique about the drawings is that when the story first begins the characters almost look undefined. While we can read their emotions they are merely shapes on a page. However, as the story progresses they gain more depth and emotion.
This novel is a must read. A strong young heroine, with monsters and robots as well, enough to keep any crowd entertained. The moving illustrations and compelling story make this a great read and the book is highly recommended for all ages.
Originally posted Dec 10, 2010 as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers.Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence by Geoffrey Canada
This book is a graphic novel adaptation of a book by the same title that was originally published in 1995. Jamar Nicholas, the artist, does a fantastic job of illustrating the words that Geoffrey Canada wrote. He captures the fear of young boys as they are forced to fight and the violence they witness growing up, and he captures the triumph they feel at overcoming an opponent or standing up for a friend. It is a compelling story and a good introduction to the varieties of lifestyles and neighborhoods seen while growing up.
I’ve not read the original book so I can’t compare where the differences in story are between the two works, but there was one area that bothered me a bit. Translating a written memoir, such as the original book, into a graphic novel means that changes have to be made to ensure the story is told in a manner that makes sense. In a few places the text became overwhelming and causes the reader to shift mental gears in how they read the book (from graphic adaptation to straight story) and it makes it a bit difficult to transition back and forth.
Overall though the book is well worth the read and the illustrations really do make the story come alive.