PRINCESS DECOMPOSIA AND COUNT SPATULA

PRINCESS DECOMPOSIA AND COUNT SPATULA

Written and Drawn by Andi Watson

Published by First Second

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Thing I said to a fellow comics fan just a few months ago:

“Where the hell did Andi Watson go?”

Watson, a top-notch creative talent, takes up quite a significant amount of space on my shelves. GLISTER. BREAKFAST AFTER NOON. LOVE FIGHTS. GEISHA. SLOW NEWS DAY. SKELETON KEY. Plus a bunch of stuff he only wrote. Dude’s had a prolific career. But it had been a bit since I recalled seeing anything new from him on the shelves. Now that wait is over.

PrincessCount-Cover

PRINCESS DECOMPOSIA AND COUNT SPATULA is another charming entry in Watson’s lengthy bibliography. The Princess is a likeable young woman, a bit harried and overworked because she takes care of the kingdom for her ailing father. Her father, King Wulfrun, mostly stays in bed and complains about the food the palace kitchen serves, eventually settling for the blandest, dullest foods possible. Enter: Count Spatula, a chef with flair and the ability to make magical foods. He also has the ability to talk to the Princess as though she is a person, not just a dignitary, and to listen to her.

This sits well with precisely no one except the Princess, setting in motion a chain of events that will turn the entire underworld upside down.

There is nothing here that isn’t adorably charming. The characters are wonderful, and Watson breathes life into them that makes them believable even in such a fantastical setting. The art is simple and clean, and the storytelling is efficient and carries the reader along at a brisk pace. The story is whimsical and gets you easily invested in the outcome.

What else do you want from a book?

In short, Andi Watson is just as terrific as ever. Highly recommended.

THE SCULPTOR

THE SCULPTOR

Written and Drawn by Scott McCloud

Published by First Second

Reviewed by Marc Mason

I have long held Scott McCloud’s work in the highest esteem. From the early days of ZOT! to the groundbreaking nature of UNDERSTANDING COMICS to the gloriousness that is DESTROY, he has shown himself to be a creator of singular talents, someone who knows how to use the medium of comics in significant and intriguing ways. Hell, at this very moment, I am teaching a Masters-level course in writing comics and graphic novels, and I’m using UNDERSTANDING COMICS as the primary text – a book that is over twenty-years old, yet has lost none of its power and importance.

Scott McCloud is just that good.

SculptorCover

So when I tell you that THE SCULPTOR is the finest artistic achievement of his storied career, I hope you understand what that means. It is a work of vision, emotion, power, philosophy, and love. And it is going to win a metric ton of awards, as well as become a perennial seller. It is modern and it is timeless. It is a staggering piece of work.

The story introduces us to a young artist named David Smith, a sculptor who has reached rock bottom in his career rather quickly, which is doubly humiliating because he shares a name with another, quite successful artist. But one day, as he attempts to drink away his sorrows, Death himself arrives in the form of one of his relatives and offers him a deal: he will gain the (super) power to use his hands to create whatever he can imagine, producing art like the world has never seen… but after 200 days, he will die.

It isn’t really a spoiler to tell you that he takes the deal.

But as with all deals of this nature, and with life vicissitudes, David’s life changes in other, significant ways, including meeting Meg, a troubled young actress with whom he immediately falls in love. Yet McCloud works hard to avoid that scenario feeling too much like a cliché. Indeed, Meg is far more complex than your traditional manic pixie dream girl, and she is hiding some secrets of her own. Plus, David is hardly redeemed from his more dick-ish qualities despite his ability to create, and his gift for treating people terribly doesn’t fade away. Both of these people have a lot of work to do, and not just on their art.

That was what impressed me most about the book, I think – McCloud never has the characters take an easy way out. Even with David’s looming (pardon the pun) deadline, he struggles with simply trying to learn to be a better person as much as he struggles with creating his art. The one thing he cannot use his hands to mold is his personality.

Artistically, McCloud uses the whole bag of tricks and then some to tell the tale. He focuses on negative space to enhance a character’s vision. He uses dynamic sequences of silent panels to inform and move the story along. There are moments of stark impressionism. Really, the look to the book is wildly inventive, and a feast for the eyes. While some parts might tempt you to read quickly, you shouldn’t; watch how he tackles storytelling, movement, and emotion on the page. He’s putting the lessons of UNDERSTANDING COMICS to good use here.

I could go on, but you get the idea. THE SCULPTOR is an absolute triumph. I give it my highest recommendation.

IN REAL LIFE – AURORA WEST

IN REAL LIFE/AURORA WEST

Story by Cory Doctorow and Adapted and Drawn by Jen Wang

Written by Paul Pope and J.T. Petty and Drawn by David Rubin

Published by First Second

Reviewed by Marc Mason

To absolutely no surprise, First Second continues to turn out one brilliant graphic novel after another. Sorta repetitive, really…

in real life

The fine writer/artist Jen Wang has adapted Cory Doctorow’s short story “Anda’s Game” in IN REAL LIFE, an unbelievably timely graphic novel about a young girl gamer coming of age in an MMO environment. Anda, a charming young woman, finds herself flourishing inside a game where she learns teamwork, friendship, and responsibility while going on raids with her guild. But when she starts making real-life cash by taking out “gold farmers” (players who do dirty work in the game and then sell the spoils of said work for big money) she winds up meeting on who changes her perspective not just on her own behavior but on a culture far across the world. This also sees her interfere in a well-meaning, but kinda damaging way, and she must deal with the fallout from her actions.

Gaming and issues of sexism has been so prevalent as of late that it has made the pages of major newspapers and magazines, which gives IRL even more of a cachet than likely originally intended. Anda herself is a fantastic character; smart, moral, hungry to learn about herself and the world, and she is an excellent representation for so many out there who are just like her… in real life. The stakes in the story turn out to be surprisingly high, yet they are also incredibly personal and human. Wang gets everything right as both storyteller and artist, and the essay Doctorow provides to introduce the book is interesting and informative. I seriously loved this book – and I think you will as well.

aurora west cover

On the heels of last year’s BATTLING BOY, Paul Pope has allowed for the expansion of that “universe” with this first of two prequel volumes focusing on that book’s other protagonist. THE RISE OF AURORA WEST takes us back to a time before the young heroine’s father died and passed on the mantle of city protector to her. Here we see her as she is undergoing the early moments of her training, and as she investigates one monster-related crime, she discovers a clue at the scene that makes her question how she lost her mother many years prior. Perhaps what caused her mother’s death was a little more… personal… that anyone ever realized.

Pope works with writer J.T. Petty here to deliver a fast-paced, entertaining story, and artist David Rubin delivers work that stylistically matches well with Pope’s own. In other words, if you’re worried about Pope not executing all of it himself – don’t. You won’t even notice. The characters are fun, the action is lovely, and Aurora is a terrific character. She’s brave, inquisitive, and doesn’t take the idea of responsibility lightly. This is volume one of two, but it ends on a solidly resolute note so you don’t feel short-changed. Recommended.


SHADOW – BANANA

THE SHADOW HERO/SLEEP TIGHT, ANNA BANANA!

Written by Gene Luen Yang and Drawn by Sonny Liew

Written by Dominique Roques and Drawn by Alexis Dormal

Published by First Second

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Over the last few years, no one has published more outstanding graphic novels than First Second. News flash: they aren’t slowing down this year, either.

shadowhero

Let’s start with THE SHADOW HERO by writer Gene Luen Yang and artist Sonny Liew. This all-star pairing takes the very first Asian-American superhero, the Green Turtle, and brings him back for a modern audience. (The Green Turtle was published briefly in the 1940s and fell into public domain.) Here he is re-imagined as Hank, the young son of a Chinese immigrant couple. Hank works at his family’s grocery store and is generally pretty happy with his life. But when his mother is rescued from a criminal by a superhero, she launches a campaign to make her son into one as well, whether he likes it or not. Eventually, events are set in motion that do put him on the path to heroics, but that’s only a small part of what makes this book such an enormous pleasure to read.

What are those pleasures? First, the entire cast of characters is richly fleshed out and made fully human on the page. Everyone here has an inner life lurking below the surface, making them complex people you can get involved with quite easily. Then we have the staggeringly lovely art by Liew, whose work has texture, depth, and a level of detail that is absolutely amazing. Then there are the relationships we are presented with – each major one presenting emotional stakes that make the book feel vital and fresh. Each of these things works together to make the reader get sucked in. Yes, the plot is important, but it is never so important that it overwhelms all of the wonderful building blocks Yang and Liew have created and put into motion. This is an outstanding piece of work, one that I suspect will be up for a large number of awards next year. Rightfully so.

anna banana

Then we have the company’s foray into picture books, SLEEP TIGHT, ANNA BANANA!, a lovingly illustrated and hilariously written book for the much younger set. The plot is silly and simple: our young heroine does not want to go to sleep, but her stuffed animals (given extraordinary, wickedly funny life here) very much do. Thus, she keeps them awake top their great aggravation. Then, once she finally decides to go to bed, the stuffed animals decide to give her a taste of her own medicine. It’s almost ridiculously cute.

The words are charming, the characters are a hoot, and the art is absolutely top-notch. When it was done, I read it again, just to enjoy it some more. According to the p.r. materials, there will be a second Anna Banana book coming in spring – I look forward to seeing what she does next!


GRAPHIC NOVEL ROUNDUP

GRAPHIC NOVEL ROUNDUP
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Taking a look at four new books from the last couple of months…

There’s a lot to like about THE JOYNERS IN 3D (Archaia/Boom) by writer R.J. Ryan and artist David Marquez. Set about fifty years in the future, George Joyner is the world’s finest creator of new technology, and he has a new breakthrough ready to happen that will change the world again. He also had a family that is falling apart and a gift for philandering. That second part is, as you might guess, going to bite him in the ass. Ryan creates an interesting group of characters here, the leads well-rounded and multi-layered. Neither George, nor his wife, is entirely good or bad and each one bears part of the blame for the disintegration of their union. Marquez’ art is equally adept with the character stuff as it is in designing the future milieu, and his storytelling is crisp. What doesn’t quite work here is the gimmick: the 3D. Sure, it’s well done, but there’s no real need for it. This is a quiet story, really, and not a single sequence in the book feels truly enhanced by the 3D experience. I liked the book overall, but I would have liked it a little more not having to wear the glasses.

Writer/artist Danica Novgorodoff, who impressed so much with SLOW STORM, returns with THE UNDERTAKING OF LILY CHEN (First Second), which is the best double-meaning title I’ve seen in recent memory. The story involves “ghost marriages” – an old Chinese tradition that involves marrying the dead so that they may be happy in the afterlife. While this sounds like something that would have only happened a long time ago, there has been a resurgence in the last decade or so. Here, the book follows a young man named Deshi who is sent by his parents to find a female corpse who can be married to his newly deceased brother. Along the journey, he meets Lily Chen, a young woman who wants to leave her rural, sheltered existence behind and live a life of her own, as she attaches herself to him. To Deshi’s hired “matchmaker” (grave robber) the solution is simple: kill Lily and marry her off to the brother. But things are rarely that simple, and they certainly aren’t in this story. Novgorodoff creates a story that fires on all cylinders; her characters are interesting and gain depth as the tale moves forward, she offers up an even-handed look at a culture that could easily be misunderstood or mocked, and the sense of design in her artwork is stunning. The journey does drag in the middle, but it recaptures its energy later in the book and delivers a strong, solid ending. Fascinating stuff.

It’s nice to see writer/artist Jesse Lonergan back on shelves, as it’s been a while since JOE & AZAT came out. ALL STAR (NBM) tells a deceptively simple story of a small town high school baseball star named Carl Carter. He’s the kid the whole community rallies behind, the one with a chance to play college ball on scholarship. His best friend, Edsen, is different, though. Edsen’s from a broken home, has a track record for screwing up, and is going nowhere. This fazes neither of them, though, until in a moment of pure stupid, they pull a “prank” while drunk that sees them get arrested by the cops. That’s when Carl begins to truly see the world and its double-standards for the first time, as he and Edsen are given wildly differing punishments. Lonergan does get things right at every turn. His town feels right, the people who live there feel right, the reaction to what happens feels right, and the angst Carl feels over it feels right. There’s a universal recognition of the human condition here that works. Having grown up in a town like this, I saw the truth in it. The art has a crisp, cartoon-y look about it, and the ending, while feeling a little manufactured, resonates in the final panels. Solid stuff.

The GRAPHIC CLASSICS series continues to be an evergreen for Eureka Productions, as the 3rd volume (of 24!) heads back into print, now with 80 new pages of work. GRAPHIC CLASSICS: H.G. WELLS offers up “The Time Machine”, “The Island of Dr. Moreau”, “The Invisible Man”, and “The Inexperienced Ghost” in one volume, and the material here is quite strong across the board. Not only are the stories done well, but they are ones that any fan of Wells’ work would want to read. Creative types like Simon Gane and Rich Tommaso can be found doing some of the art, so the book looks fantastic. This series of books is not likely to ever make an enormous splash in the comic shop market, but it is just about perfect for bookstores and libraries. It’s a smart move by GC majordomo Tom Pomplun to target those markets and fill a severe need. Recommended, as always.




NEW FIRST SECOND

NEW FIRST SECOND
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by First Second


Reviewed by Marc Mason

‘Tis the season for high-profile and award quality books, so of course the gang at First Second is in the mix…

If back in January you were going to list the most anticipated books of the year, no question, BATTLING BOY would have been near the top of that list. BATTLING BOY marks the return of superstar writer/artist Paul Pope to shelves. It’s been a number of years since Pope delivered a book-length piece of work, and as you might guess, he does not disappoint. BATTLING BOY tells the story of a young demigod sent to earth to earn his stripes after the planet’s main protector, a man named Haggard West, is killed. His powers are rather unique; he arrives with a stack of t-shirts from which he draws skills and strength. For instance, when he puts on the Tyrannosaurus shirt, he gains that creature’s power and drive. This will all come in handy as he attempts to put an end to a wave of monsters that are trashing the city and stealing away with the local children. To tell you more would spoil the goodies that exist within. What I can tell you is that BATTLING BOY is vintage Pope; the art is visually stunning, each page bursting with energy and imagination. The plot and pacing are clever and move at a blistering pace, Pope engaging the reader at every possible moment and carrying them along with his fun. And that’s ultimately what BATTLING BOY is: an artist at his creative peak having all kinds of fun doing what he does best. What else could you want?

Speaking of huge talents delivering work after a lengthy period of time, writer/artist Gene Luen Yang has been working on the 2-graphic novel set BOXERS & SAINTS since 2006 (since he delivered the astonishing AMERICAN BORN CHINESE), and it is every bit as ambitious as you might guess. It is also a remarkable piece of storytelling. BOXERS tells the tale of Little Bao, a young man who sees China in peril; foreign mercenaries and missionaries are roaming the countryside, harming locals in their way. As they do, they attempt to convert the locals to Christianity, inciting what history calls the Boxer Rebellion, which Little Bao finds himself at the forefront of. Bao grows into the role, and as he does, he learns what most do: what he is doing is far more involved than he could have ever realized. War becomes especially tricky when those you are trying to fight for are instead gaining a new religion and lining up on the other side. At the same time, in SAINTS, a young girl who was never even given a proper name by her family finally acquires one when she makes friends with the foreigners and adopts their religion, becoming Vibiana. She, too, is drawn into the conflict, leaving her confused and torn between her country and those who have proven to actually care about her. The two volumes combine to create a truly epic tale, one where seeing both sides of the story adds a level of depth and complexity that few books have the courage to attempt. Yang’s work is powerful in every possible way, and he manages to both entertain and enlighten. This will likely walk away with a ton of awards next year, and deservedly so.

Yet as great as these books are, I think the most fun I’ve had reading a graphic novel lately came as I powered through THE CUTE GIRL NETWORK. Written by Greg Means and M.K. Reed and drawn by Joe Flood, the book has a charmingly simple premise: Jane, new to town, meets a slightly goofy guy named jack and starts to fall for him. However, the local friends she has made are appalled and fire up “The Network,” a sisterhood that covers each other’s backs by telling each other about bad dates and bad boyfriends… and Jack’s history with some of the girls in the network isn’t pretty. Torn between her growing attraction to Jack and the pressure coming at her from the girls, Jane must decide what she wants and who she trusts. Humor and angst follow. So much about this book just works; Jane and Jack feel like people you know, the dialogue is rich, the art is lively and detailed, and there are a number of quiet themes and lessons that the story lays out for the reader that make the experience feel richer. Indeed, if any one idea is prevalent here, it is that there are always two sides to a story (as Gene Yang reminds as above, as well) and it is important to consider them before making decisions that can harm people. It sneaks up on you, but this book is really, really good.

There you go: three (four, really) terrific graphic novels, each one an excellent candidate for a holiday gift, especially if you are considering introducing a non-comics reader to something within the medium.






GNS FOR TEENS

GOOD GRAPHIC NOVELS FOR TEENS
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Looking for a good graphic novel or two to give to an older teen reader? A few recent efforts to cross my desk fit the bill pretty well. Let’s take a look.

Writer Derek Kirk Kim and artist Les McClaine return with TUNE VOL.2: STILL LIFE (First Second), an excellent followup to the first volume – though you can easily catch up with the story if you haven’t read the initial book. When last we left slacker hero Andy Go, he had signed a contract that had him living in an alien zoo – as an exhibit! Unfortunately, this came right as he realized that he girl of his dreams liked him too. Now the deal’s about to go really bad, as Andy discovers the perils of not reading the fine print of a contract and the problems with the existence of multiple alternate universes. TUNE remains tons of fun from start to finish; it’s funny, it has pathos, it has twisty plotting, and you never know what’s going to happen next. Kim’s scripting is terrific, and McClaine has no weaknesses in his pages. Everything here is just firing on all cylinders. I liked the first one a lot; this second volume proves that the series has serious legs.

There’s a sense of whimsy to writer/artist Jess Fink’s WE CAN FIX IT! (Top Shelf), but in an entirely different sense. Fink stars as her main character, the conceit being that she has a time machine and uses it to go back to visit herself at various critical junctures in life in order to prevent what she feels are her worst mistakes. But as she does, often in amusing ways, the story also brings to light the true nature of what life’s mistakes mean to our development. It’s clever, for certain, but there’s also a twinge of sadness as well. Indeed, Fink does an outstanding job of taking her “character” on a rich emotional journey that surprises the reader quite often. Her art is clean and simple, and she has a nice gift for body language and personal expression that enhance the story along the way. Laughter and learning in one book are always a solid combo; this one’s a winner.

On the more serious side of the aisle, you’ll find LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD by writer/artist Elaine M. Will (Cuckoo’s Nest Press). LOOK takes the reader on a darker journey, telling the story of a 17-year old boy named Jeremy. While on the surface he seems to have a normal existence, that vanishes quickly as he drowns beneath a wave of crushing manic depression that comes complete with hallucinations. In rapid fashion, his family, school and personal life disintegrate and the question becomes one of actual survival as his hallucinations put his life in danger. No question about it, this is an impressive piece of work, a stunningly deep work that hits the reader in their emotional core. Will has a strong grip on the material, never letting it feel maudlin or sensationalized, and her art is strong in depicting the human moments alongside the ones based in the imagination. Don’t go into it expecting to be uplifted, but do go into it understanding that Jeremy’s struggle will resonate, particularly with kids his age. Nicely done.




FIVE FIRSTS

FIVE FIRSTS
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by First Second


Reviewed by Marc Mason

On at least one occasion, if not more, I have chosen First Second Books as my “Publisher of the Year” when doing a year-end wrap-up. They do consistently high quality work in a variety of genres and by an amazing array of talents. I recently received a bunch of new books from them to check out, and guess what? Yep, they’re right there at the top again, because each one is a total winner.

Do you know a young girl with a budding interest in science? Then make sure to buy her a copy of PRIMATES by writer Jim Ottaviani and artist Maris Wicks. Ottaviani has long established himself as the master of science and comics combined, and this book falls right into his wheelhouse: it tells the stories of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas, three women who immersed themselves in the study of primate behavior. Recruited over a period of years by legendary anthropologist Louis Leakey, each of them would go on to become their own legend with their work in the field. Using research and extrapolation, the book takes you through the trials and travails these women faced in getting taken seriously, living in remote areas of Africa, and gaining the trust of the creatures they were studying. Wonderfully illustrated, PRIMATES grabs your interest quickly and never lets go, and the women all fascinate though they are each quite different from one another. I mentioned young girl readers at the top, but really, this book is for anyone who likes the subject matter or just good comics. An excellent piece of work.

Sticking with books that are good for all readers, ODD DUCK fits that description nicely. Two talents who have done excellent work on their own, writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Sara Varon, team up for this story, a deceptively simple one. Theodora, a duck who lives a well-ordered and controlled existence, gets a new neighbor in Chad. Chad is an iconoclast duck, doing things his own way and on his own terms. He is an agent of chaos in Theodora’s life, but as they get to know each other, the two find ways to break down the walls between them and grow a friendship. ODD DUCK could have come off as preachy, but instead it plays out as subtle, keeping a subtle distance from Theodora as she shifts her perceptions of Chad and of what “normal” really means. In doing so, several different metaphors shine through, allowing the reader to take from the story whatever they wish. These two creators work very well together; I hope they do so again.

The first volume of ASTRONAUT ACADEMY made my year-end top ten list, because writer/artist Dave Roman knows his craft like few others. He’s smart, inventive, and funny, and his books are absolutely perfect for kids (as well as adults). So it comes as no surprise that volume two, ASTRONAUT ACADEMY: RE-ENTRY, is more of the same. The same clever concepts. The same snappy dialogue. The same zippy plotting. The same nifty pages full of cute Easter eggs in the panels. The same grasp on how kids really think. The same vivid imagination. I went through three copies of volume one, as they kept disappearing into the hands of kids around me. After reading this one, I better start stocking up again.

Shifting to the teen reader, I was drawn to NOTHING CAN POSSIBLY GO WRONG by the presence of the talented Faith Erin Hicks. Her FRIENDS WITH BOYS and THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERHERO GIRL have been recent favorites of mine, so I was intrigued to see what would come from her adapting this story by writer Prudence Shen. The result: a terrific bit of fun. When the Robotics Club and the Cheerleading Squad vie for the same school funding, it leads to a brutal contest for student body president, a rash of vicious pranks, and the captain of the basketball team – a young man with ties to both groups – stuck in the middle. Throw in some quiet family drama, and you get a charming outcome. The characters are funny, the dialogue is terrific, the emotions are real, and the art is beautiful. The story takes you to some surprising places and is never too obvious, which is a real bonus, and it has a nice pace to it as well. Hicks is rapidly becoming a must-read creator.

Finally, if you’re looking at something just for the grown-ups, then Matt Kindt’s work is always a solid option. RED HANDED: THE FINE ART OF STRANGE CRIMES is what Kindt does best: complex plotting, complex characters, and complex storytelling. RED HANDED is: a crime story; a nod to classic Dick Tracy work; a multimedia project; a tale that bends your perception of time; a book you should read at least twice because it rewards that second glance. At heart, it tells you that it is a simple story: Detective Gould is the best law enforcement officer in the city, and he has never left a case unsolved. But as he solves a number of unusual cases throughout the book, it begins to reveal a wider tapestry, a fine web of details that show you a different beating heart in the pages. Kindt also uses newspapers, comic strips, and panels of pure darkness to relate the narrative as it progresses, each bit granting you a different piece of the grand design. No one else in comics does work like Matt Kindt, and I don’t think anyone else could. This is just excellent, excellent stuff.






TUNE-SUMO

TUNE/SUMO
Written and Drawn by Derek Kirk Kim
Written and Drawn by Thien Pham
Published by First Second


Reviewed by Marc Mason

I’ve been intrigued by Derek Kirk Kim’s output since I read SAME DIFFERENCE when it came out, so I was intrigued to see TUNE vol.1: VANISHING POINT when it hit my mailbox. Kim has shown no predilection for repeating himself, and that remains true with this book, which melds early 20s angst with cute romance and a highly unusual sci-fi concept. If you’re anything like me, that alone would make you want to pick up the book.

Young artist Andy Go thinks he’s headed for the big time, so he drops out of school with one year left in order to pursue his massive freelance dreams. It isn’t much of a spoiler to note that it doesn’t quite go as he would like, and that it drives a wedge between him, his friends, and his family. Forced to job hunt by his parents, he winds up getting a job offer that he perhaps doesn’t quite understand, because it happens to be located in another dimension. Hilarity follows.

There’s really nothing here that doesn’t work. Andy is a funny, rounded, complex character, and so are his friends. His parents are played for laughs, yet they also come across as genuinely caring about Andy and his future. The dialogue is sharp, the plotting is brisk, and Kim handles the absurdity of it all in such a way that it never violates the parameters that Kim has set up for his story. I was completely charmed by TUNE, and I’m looking forward to future volumes.

I had a more mixed reaction to Thien Pham’s SUMO, a book that I admired more for its poetic spirit and experimental storytelling than the actual story itself. Scott is a football player whose career didn’t pan out the way he had hoped, and without an NFL career, he has found himself adrift. However, he gets a new, unexpected opportunity: would he like to move to Japan and undergo training to become a sumo wrestler? With a busted relationship and no job prospects, he accepts, sending him on a long journey in more ways than one.

Pham’s story covers three different plot tracks, and he does so through color. His work in Japan at training to be a sumo is done in orange, the story of his final days in the States is done in blue, and his efforts at teaching his Japanese cruch how to fish are done in green. It’s an interesting artistic conceit, and I liked the way it help structure the book. It also prevents Pham from having to use narrative captions or other shortcuts, which is smart. I also think that the two stories he chose to tell beyond the sumo training were the best ones to focus on; they definitely help flesh out Scott as an interesting character trying to take control of his fate.

Yet at the same time, I never quite emotionally connected to him. I still felt like there were things about him we should know and were not seeing. And while I like Pham’s art, his work in the sumo sequences is extremely difficult to follow. Nothing horrific, mind you, but I just wasn’t connecting to it.

As I said above, I admired the work, and the poetic spirit that Pham imbues the material with, and I admired the artist’s storytelling choices. I just didn’t love the book as a whole. Your mileage, of course, will vary.


SIEGEL-LARSON

NEW HIGH-PROFILE GNs
SAILOR TWAIN written and drawn by Mark Siegel
A WRINKLE IN TIME written by Madeline L’Engle, adapted and drawn by Hope Larson


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Two massive new hardcovers, both high-profile fall events arriving on shelves in early October, have crossed my desk recently. Let’s take a look at them.

SAILOR TWAIN (First Second) takes us back to late 19th century New York, as we explore the life of a steamer captain on the Hudson River. Twain is a good man, if a bit pent up, and he runs a solid ship despite the presence of the ship’s carousing owner, a Frenchman with a taste for the ladies and the works of a controversial author. One day, Twain’s life is turned upside down when he finds an honest-to-God mermaid floating along the water’s surface, and he sneaks her into his cabin and begins nursing her back to health. As their relationship grows, though, life onboard the ship begins to subtly change, and a sense of growing unease builds, leading to a fascinating and unique series of events that will alter the destiny of every single person (and mermaid) in the book.

Mark Siegel’s work here is astonishing. The book is drawn entirely in charcoal, giving the pages a depth and texture that engages the reader’s senses. The characters have a unique look, and there’s a subtle touch to the storytelling that gently carries you through the story. Each person you meet in the story feels fully formed; you can sense their back story, and it builds up your investment in this impressive 400pg beast. This book is a complete winner from start to finish.

But wait, there’s more! A WRINKLE IN TIME (Farrar, Straus Giroux), the classic novel by Madeline L’Engle, gets its first ever illustrated adaptation fifty years after it was originally published. Writer/artist Hope Larson does the duty, and she delivers a grand slam. Using L’Engle’s text faithfully, she creates recognizable characters and keeps to the plot, all the while stimulating the imagination and exciting the reader. The story itself remains the same: young Meg Murry, her brother Charles Wallace, and her friend Calvin O’Keefe all find themselves transported across space and time to a terrible planet named Camazotz in an attempt to rescue Meg’s father who is being held prisoner there. Pain, anguish, and maturing follow.

Pretty much everything here just works: the pacing is terrific; the story is presented in a way that fans or people who have never read the novel will both accept; Larson doesn’t try and overpower the material with her own style. The graphics and the text exist to service the story, period. A slipshod version of this material could have been done, but Larson takes her time and allows the work to breathe. This hardcover runs 400pgs, and Larson has filled every corner of it with fitting tribute to this classic novel. Something tells me this will be a coveted stocking stuffer this holiday season.