Well, this week has been a bit of a doozy so although I’ve read a bit, I’m behind on my column.
First up: I promised last week that I’d tell you about two amazing books I’d read but didn’t have time to write up. The first is Here by Richard McGuire. It’s a graphic novel, of sorts, but not in any traditional sense of the word. The entire book takes place in one location, with the “camera angle” never changing. It points into the corner of a living room: a window on one wall, a fireplace on another. But as you move through the book, you get glimpses of this spot at different times: 2014, 1957, 1942, 2007 … and then you get overlapping windows showing little snippets of things happening in different years.
Sometimes you turn the page and get several moments of a scene; sometimes the same moment is revisited dozens of pages later. We see a clearing long before the house was built; we see the house fall into disrepair far into the future.
Sometimes there are congruences across many different years: three children dance across the living room in 1932, 1993, and 2014, accompanied by a young woman on the piano in 1964. Other scenes crop up over the course of the book; sometimes you’ll find the resolution of one scene much later, or sometimes not at all.
Here is based on a piece McGuire originally published in RAW in 1989, but greatly expanded–from a 6-page comic to over 300 pages. It’s a fascinating work, and even though it doesn’t have a normal story arc, it does tell a tale about a place and the people who lived there. Great reading for anyone who loves comics that push the boundaries of what’s possible with the medium. (Note to parents: there is a little bit of strong language and a slight bit of sexual content.)
The other amazing book I mentioned is Before After by Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Aregui. This one I actually spotted in the picture book section of the bookstore, and it stood out not just because of the color but because of its format. Unlike the large, flat books that I generally see in that section, Before After is sized closer to a hardcover novel (slightly larger), and runs about 175 pages. I opened it up, and discovered an entirely wordless book showing various scenes of things before and after: a flower bud, then a flower. An acorn, then an oak tree. A caterpillar, then a butterfly.
But despite the fact that there are no words and everything is done in a crisp, vector-art style, there’s a lot of humor in the book. Plot twists, even. One spread shows a growing jungle; the next shows a growing city–and then a third spread shows a small ape in the jungle followed by King Kong in the city. The chicken becomes the egg becomes the chicken. Sometimes, as in Here, you revisit scenes that you thought you’d left behind.
Before After is a picture book, yes, but one that I thought paired very nicely with Here and that even my older kids will enjoy. After flipping through the first few pages, I was sold and bought a copy.
After reading Secret Identities the previous week, I found the followup, Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology, at the library and checked it out. It’s another collection of comics featuring Asian superheroes, edited by Jeff Yang, Parry Shen, Keith Chow, and Jerry Ma. There are stories that pick up where things left off in Secret Identities, and this time many of the stories were more directly linked to each other. The various writers and artists explored several stereotypes often tied to Asians: the Brute, the Brain, the Temptress, the Alien, and the Manipulator.
As with many anthologies, there are some hits and misses. I have to admit that I wasn’t always that impressed with the artwork in the book, which is all in black and white. In some instances, there are characters that are drawn by multiple artists in different stories, and I had a hard time actually identifying them as the same people at first. Still, I did enjoy reading most of the book. I think I liked the one-off stories better; the final conclusion, where lots of characters from different stories all show up for one big showdown, seemed kind of a muddle to me.
[UPDATE: In my late-night writing, I forgot to mention this relevant bit: Keith Chow, one of the editors of Shattered and founder of Nerds of Color, was interviewed recently for MSNBC about Marvel’s first Asian-American superhero. You can watch that here.]
At the bookstore, I saw a copy of The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John, illustrated by Kevin Cornell, and was reminded that I’d been sent an advance proof a while back but had never gotten around to reading it. Shame on me. Barnett has written some of my favorite kids’ books (including the Brixton Brothers series), John is famous for All My Friends Are Dead, and Cornell has illustrated many picture books, including a couple with Barnett (like Count the Monkeys).
The Terrible Two is a very funny kids’ book about Miles Murphy, a prankster who moves from his beloved city to Yawnee Valley, a podunk place known mostly for its abundance of cows. Miles has worked hard to become the best prankster at school, and is bummed about building up his reputation from scratch. But then he shows up for school and finds that somebody else has pulled an amazing prank on the principal–which he gets blamed for. And then his own pranks are thwarted time and again. Meanwhile, as the new kid, he gets stuck with Niles Sparks, School Helper, the worst person for a prankster to befriend.
It’s a silly, over-the-top book with the sort of humor I expect from Barnett and John, and Cornell’s illustrations throughout the book are a great fit. My older daughter has read it a few times already–so far she hasn’t attempted any major pranks on me yet …
Okay, one more book, just for laughs. Dogs Are People, Too is a collection of dog-based cartoons by Dave Coverly, creator of the single-panel comic Speed Bump. Many of the cartoons are from Speed Bump, but there are some others, too, all categorized into sections like “Working Like a Dog” or “Dogs Behaving Badly.”
There are also a few short stories about Coverly’s childhood dogs (with photos and some cartoons), though I have to admit that as somebody who’s not really a dog person I just skimmed these and went for the cartoons.The cartoons are great, even if you’re not crazy about dogs, but I think it would make a great gift for a dog lover.
Most of last week was spent reading a big project I’m helping to edit that I can’t say much about yet, but one of these days I’ll get to share it with you. Hopefully I’ll be back on my regular schedule for next week’s column!
Disclosure: I received review copies of Here, The Terrible Two, and Dogs Are People, Too.