I’m not much for New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve tried in the past (like saying I’d start writing in my books) but I have nothing as planned out as fellow GeekDad Jim Kelly. I suppose for me I feel like calendar dates are somewhat arbitrary and I’m not tied to the idea of changing habits based on them. But for me, 2013 will be bringing some big changes — most significantly, a new baby girl due to arrive in the spring — so I suppose it’s appropriate to consider a few things that will need to happen before then.
Aside from rearranging our house (the baby gets my office, the kids go into the attic room, our den moves into the kids’ room, my office goes to the dining room/library), my biggest goal is to work through my backlog of books and board games to review (before my return to the world of diapers and bottles). Hey, it’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it. Part of that will be deciding which books, in the end, aren’t worth reviewing at all. Others I’ve enjoyed reading but don’t have an entire post’s worth to say about it.
So, to follow up my picture book round-up last month, I give you another edition of Stack Overflow. This time, I focus on comics — some for kids, some for adults, but all good reads.
Scott Pilgrim Color Editions – Bryan Lee O’Malley
Many of you probably own (or have at least read) the Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, watched the movie, bought the T-shirt, etc. It’s a crazy comic book series full of videogame references, absurd fight scenes, and melodramatic back stories. But until recently (note: “recently” means several months ago) there was something missing: color. Oni Press is re-releasing the series in full color hardback editions, each with two cover variants: a regular cover and an “Evil Ex” cover. The books are slightly larger than the original paperback format — the size difference, hard cover, and color are a great upgrade. If you own them already, it’s almost worth considering ditching the originals to get these. So far just the first two volumes are available: Volume 1 was released in August, Volume 2 in November, and Volume 3 is due out in May. (At this rate, my kids will be old enough to read them by the time all six are done…)
Note to parents: despite their colorful covers, these aren’t appropriate for younger readers. You may want to preview them before setting your kids loose on them.
Amulet Book 5: Prince of the Elves – Kazu Kibuishi
In the continuing saga of the Stonekeepers, Emily is beginning to learn more about Max, another Stonekeeper who is working against her. But what is his true purpose? We begin to learn more about the back story — the history of the Guardian Council as well as that of the Elf King. Also, Emily continues to discover more about the voice of her amulet, and it becomes more obvious that the amulet has its own designs that may not be entirely altruistic. As with the previous volumes, it always ends too soon, leaving me and my daughter itching for more.
Three Shadows – Cyril Pedrosa
I first came across Pedrosa’s artwork in First Second’s Nursery Rhyme Comics collection: his contribution was a funny and slightly macabre take on “This Little Piggy Went to Market.” Three Shadows is a much darker and painful story, about a father trying to protect his son from the three shadowy figures they see in the distance — they represent death, and the father does everything in his power to keep them from his child. Pedrosa’s story came from the experience of watching a close friend’s child die very young, and it is deeply moving. The story itself has fantastical elements to it but is grounded in the reality of a parent’s love for a child, and the way that death can be both agony and release.
The artwork is beautiful and fluid, moving from fine detail to rougher sketches, pages filled with shadow to vast expanses of white space. Pedrosa takes a difficult subject and captures the raw emotions in a way that makes them feel even more real than a strictly realistic portrayal would. It doesn’t make it any easier, but it is well worth reading.
Barry Sonnenfeld’s Dinosaurs vs. Aliens – written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Mukesh Singh
I know what you’re thinking: “Dinosaurs vs. Aliens? Barry Sonnenfeld? This has to be a parody of some sort, right?” But it actually isn’t. This slim hardcover from Liquid Comics introduces a story about a technologically advanced alien race in search for a new planet to make their home. They discover one that is pristine, uninhabited by any intelligent life, just some large lumbering reptilians that they proceed to wipe out.
On this world, though, the dinosaurs are intelligent. They don’t communicate in any language the aliens (or we, the readers) can understand, but they have clans and a societal structure. They’re illustrated realistically, but with ornamentation — war paint and elaborate headdresses and primitive weapons strapped to their heads. It’s all inspired by the story of manifest destiny and the decimation of Native Americans during the westward expansion, but instead of cowboys and Indians we get aliens and dinosaurs.
It’s still too early to say how well the story will play out, but the artwork is great (particularly the dinosaurs) and I’m enjoying the story, cliched though it may be. I suppose time will tell if we’ll get another retelling like Avatar, with one lone alien standing up for the cause of the dinosaurs. It’s not a long book — I wish there were more — but it’s a rip-roaring start.
MangaMan – written by Barry Lyga, illustrated by Colleen Doran
I’m a fan of Lyga’s middle-grade Archvillain series, a sly take on the supervillain genre with a lot of humor, so I was excited learn that he had written a graphic novel as well. MangaMan is about a boy who is pulled into our world from another dimension. Ryoko looks exactly like something out of manga, although he’s not familiar with that term. When he’s excited, he’ll switch to chibi mode, and his sometimes-embarrassing thoughts are visible to everyone when they float over his head. Speed lines appear around him, and then fall to the ground where they need to be cleaned up. Marissa Montaigne, the most popular girl in the school, falls for Ryoko despite his bizarre appearance, and through him starts to learn more about her own world, which may not be as real as she thought it was.
MangaMan is a quirky look at the differences between manga and “realistic” comics, and plays around with comics conventions brilliantly. Doran’s illustrations are great at making the distinction between the real world and Ryoko’s manga style, and a glossary in the back explains some of the manga conventions for the uninitiated. I wouldn’t recommend this for younger kids, as there is an almost-sex scene in the middle of the book, but it probably be fine for kids already familiar with high school social mores.
Cardboard – Doug TenNapel
It’s no secret that I like Doug TenNapel’s books, even if they’re sometimes heavy-handed with the morals (often about being a better father). I don’t usually disagree with the point he’s trying to make, but it can feel something like an after-school special in its delivery. But what’s great is TenNapel’s imagination, filled with bizarre creatures and gizmos and characters. In Cardboard, a struggling single dad gives his son a cardboard box for his birthday, having struck out on finding anything else. It is, of course, one of the 5 Best Toys of All Time, and Cam seems to appreciate that even if Marcus, the neighborhood jerk, doesn’t think so.
Cam and his dad build a boxer, and to their surprise he comes to life. They make more living cardboard creations, until Marcus steals the cardboard for his own twisted purposes. As expected, things get out of hand, the world is doomed, the world gets saved, everyone learns some valuable lessons. But even though you might know the destination, the journey is still fun to take. What can I say, I have a soft spot in my heart for cardboard.
Earthling! – Mark Fearing and Tim Rummel
All this time we’ve been worried about alien invasions, but what if the real truth is that everyone in the galaxy is afraid of us? Bud gets onto the wrong bus to school and ends up at Cosmos Academy, where he learns that everyone is terrified of Earthlings. He pretends to be a Tenarian exchange student and manages to befriend a alien named Gort, but he still has to figure out how to get back home. Oh, and in the meantime he’s supposed to win at anti-gravity ZeroBall, because everyone knows that Tenarians are great at it. Earthling! is a cute book that takes some sci-fi tropes and turns them upside down, and my kids had a blast reading it with me.
Sailor Twain or The Mermaid in the Hudson – Mark Siegel
Siegel is the editorial director at First Second Books, but he’s also an author and illustrator. (Among other things, he wrote and illustrated Moving House, which was mentioned in my picture books Stack Overflow.) In January of 2010 he started serializing online his story Sailor Twain, about a ship captain sailing the Hudson in the late 1800s. Twain rescues an injured mermaid and nurses her back to health, and gradually becomes more and more obsessed with her. Lafayette, the ship’s owner, leads a bizarre life, seemingly intimate with all the women on board the Lorelei — but he also has a strange fascination with mermaids.
In 2011 Siegel successfully raised enough through Kickstarter to support the serialization, and then the completed book was published this past fall. It’s a beautiful book, and darker than what I would have expected from a book about mermaids. Siegel does a great job of setting the story in New York at the turn of the century, and the 400 page book is an ambitious piece of work. It’s also very much an adult tale — Lafayette’s indiscretions aren’t intended for younger readers, and the true nature of the mermaids may be best left to adults. It isn’t your typical comic book style nor subject matter, but that seems to be what First Second excels at. You can read the first five chapters for free online at SailorTwain.com — and if you like it, note that it’s only a quarter of the printed book.
Well, that’s it for this edition of Stack Overflow. Happy New Year, and stay tuned for more collections of books soon!
Disclosure: GeekDad received copies of the books reviewed here.