Thursday, September 27, 2012

GRG Recap - Graphic Novels

For the second time, I had the pleasure of guest moderating the Genre Book Group. Let me tell you, Holley isn't lying when she says that GBG is the funnest book club in the world! Since graphic novels are a more of a format than a traditional genre, we enjoyed a discussion about a particularly eclectic group of titles, with topics ranging from United States history to surrealist neo-noir. October's topic is America's First Ladies and the meeting will take place Tuesday, October 30th at 6:30pm.

William Blake: the complete illuminated books by William Blake
From Publishers Weekly
Editions of Blake's poetry which as an artist and printer he frequently engraved and published himself most often fail to reproduce his integral illustrations, or do so in poor enough quality as to negate the effort. This Complete edition from the Blake Trust, published last year in a Thames and Hudson hardback edition that is now out of print, should replace the b&w-only Dover edition (but not David V. Erdman's commentary therein, or his reading text The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake) for any reader. The 366 crisp color and 30 b&w reproductions here, culled from the scholarly Princeton University Press six-volume annotated set, are little short of a revelation, giving us Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience, America, Milton, Jerusalem and the rest of the Blake canon in a form acceptably close, as Binder's introduction makes clear, to the way Blake wanted us to see them. Many of these works are currently hanging in a special Blake exhibition the largest ever at the Met in New York, for which the Abrams book serves as an informative and revealing catalogue. Hamlyn, a senior curator at London's Tate (where the exhibition originated), and the University of York's Phillips present prints, drawings, paintings, selections from Blake's own illuminated books and other relevant materials, such as snapshots from Blake's marvelous editions of Edward Young's Night Thoughts and Thomas Gray's Poems. Introductory essays from novelist and biographer Peter Ackroyd (Blake; T.S. Eliot) and Marilyn Butler, rector of Oxford's Exeter College, synopsize Blake's life and times, while extensive "label copy" situates each work as presented. While the visual overview is useful and some of the detail shots of larger works are compelling, poetry readers who have to choose will take the Complete.

Are You My Mother? Written and illustrated by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home was a pop culture and literary phenomenon. Now, a second thrilling tale of filial sleuthery, this time about her mother: voracious reader, music lover, passionate amateur actor. Also a woman, unhappily married to a closeted gay man, whose artistic aspirations simmered under the surface of Bechdel's childhood . . . and who stopped touching or kissing her daughter good night, forever, when she was seven. Poignantly, hilariously, Bechdel embarks on a quest for answers concerning the mother-daughter gulf. It's a richly layered search that leads readers from the fascinating life and work of the iconic twentieth-century psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, to one explosively illuminating Dr. Seuss illustration, to Bechdel’s own (serially monogamous) adult love life. And, finally, back to Mother—to a truce, fragile and real-time, that will move and astonish all adult children of gifted mothers. 

Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron Written and illustrated by Daniel Clowes
From Publishers Weekly
Clowes's ( The Official Lloyd Llewellyn Collection ) new book-length epic is eerily funny and just a bit disgusting. The title refers to a strikingly demented movie viewed by Clay, the story's hangdog, Clowes-like protagonist. No ordinary "art" film, its utter incomprehensibility sends our hero on a search to find out more about it. Every prosaic situation Clay encounters on his journey soon turns wildly fantastic. He meets a swami-like character dispensing wisdom from a men's room stall, is arrested by couple of sadistic but conscientious cops, and later still he meets Tina, a grotesque waitress with a heart of gold, whose mother tries to seduce him. Clowes's stream-of-warped-consciousness has produced a faux-existentialist, slapstick, sci-fi sitcom in comic book form. His drawings, a combination of skilled rendering and a campy 1950's graphic style, capture a risible procession of weirdos, aliens and conspiracy nuts and mark him as one of the most talented among the comics artists who emerged in the 1980s. 

Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft  Written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
From Publishers Weekly
Novelist Hill, author of Heart-Shaped Box, crafts a gripping account of the shattered Locke family's attempt to rebuild after the father/husband is murdered by a deranged high school student and the family subsequently moving in with the deceased father's brother at the family homestead in Maine. But as anyone who has read horror fiction in the past 70-odd years will tell you, it's a bad idea to try to leave behind the gruesome goings-on in your life by moving to an island named Lovecraft. What begins as a study in coping with grief soon veers into creepy territory as the youngest Locke discovers a doorway with decidedly spectral qualities, along with a well that houses someone or something that desperately wants out and will use any means available to gain freedom, including summoning the teenage murderer who set events in motion in the first place. To say more would give away many of the surprises the creative team provides, but this first of hopefully several volumes delivers on all counts, boasting a solid story bolstered by exceptional work from Chilean artist Rodriguez (Clive Barker's The Great and Secret Show) that resembles a fusion of Rick Geary and Cully Hamner with just a dash of Frank Quitely.

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld
From Publishers Weekly
American Splendor artist Neufeld beautifully depicts the lives of seven New Orleans residents who survived Hurricane Katrina. In the dialogue-free opening chapter, The Storm, Neufeld powerfully intersperses images of the hurricane gathering speed with the cities it crippled when it hit Louisiana on August 29, 2005, specifically New Orleans and Biloxi, Miss. Readers are then introduced to seven New Orleans residents, from all walks of life and parts of the city. Denise and her family—mother Louise, niece Cydney and Cydney's daughter, R'nae—join thousands of hungry and thirsty New Orleanians waiting to be evacuated after their apartment is destroyed. Leo, the publisher of a local music zine, and Michelle, a waitress, reluctantly leave the city for Houston and are devastated when their apartment (and Leo's impressive comics collection) is flooded. Other characters flee, or try unsuccessfully to ride out the storm. Neufeld's low-key art brings a deeply humanizing element to the story. Though the devastation caused by the hurricane and the government's lackluster response are staggering, Neufeld expertly underscores the resilience of the people who returned to rebuild their lives and their city.

The United States Constitution: a graphic adaption Written by Jonathan Hennessey, illustrated by Aaron McConnell
From Publisher's Weekly
Writer Hennessey and artist McConnell undertake the imposing task of going through the entire U. S. Constitution, article by article, amendment by amendment, explaining their meaning and implications—in comics format. Avoiding the didactic, the book succeeds in being both consistently entertaining and illuminating. The illustrations are sometimes predictable: as the text describes King George III wrestling with the rebellion, the art shows him arm wrestling a colonist. More often, in the editorial cartoon tradition, McConnell's art ranges inventively through different styles and devices, from realistic depictions of historic personages to symbolic figures (the president as a man with the White House as his head) and even talking birds and parodic superheroes. Hennessey is particularly good at exploring the historical context in which various elements of the Constitution originated, such as the excesses of European monarchies. He also chronicles the dark side of constitutional history, notably how long it allowed slavery to remain legal. While the book depicts the framers of the Constitution as practical men, readers will also be impressed by the framers' vision in devising a system that has endured for two centuries, and it's a fine introduction to U.S. legal history.

Graphic Classics: O'Henry Stories by O'Henry, edited by Tom Pomplun, various illustrators.
O. Henry is the pen name of William Sidney Porter, who was born on September 11, 1862 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Porter was a licensed pharmacist and worked on a sheep ranch in Texas. He was a draftsman for the General Land Office and a teller for the First National Bank of Texas. He was convicted of embezzlement and eventually served five years in prison. While in prison, he began writing short stories under his pseudonym and eventually wrote over 300. As O. Henry, Porter is one of America's best known writers, and his stories, such as "The Gift of the Magi" and "The Ransom of Red Chief", are still taught in schools. In 1918, the O. Henry Awards, an annual anthology of short stories, was established in his honor. Porter died on June 5, 1910. Graphic Classics: O. Henry is a great collection of stories from the master of the surprise ending. This eleventh volume in the Graphic Classics series features "The Ransom of Red Chief," the precursor to "Home Alone." Plus "The Cabollero's Way," the original tale of The Cisco Kid, and O. Henry's Christmas classic "The Gift of the Magi," along with seven more stories, including a new O. Henry "sequel" by Mort Castle.

The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb 
From Publishers Weekly
Far removed from the satirical reimagining some might expect from the father of underground comix, Crumb's long-awaited take on the first book of the Bible presents the artist's own sensitive, visually intense reflections. Where most visual adaptations edit down their prose sources, Crumb has, strikingly, included every word of the Book of Genesis within his first major book-length work. His humanistic visual response to this religious text imbues even briefly mentioned biblical characters with unique faces and attitudes, and his renderings of the book's more storied personalities draw out momentous emotions inspired by the book's inherent drama. Throughout, Genesis is a virtual portfolio of Crumb's career-long effort to instill fluid cartoon drawing with carefully rendered lifelike detail. Some might miss Crumb's full stylistic and tonal range, but the source's narrative sweep includes moments of sex and scandal that recall the artist's more notorious comics. Indeed, this monumental visual adaptation's basic strategy may subvert simply by demanding a reconsideration of its source, one that continues to motivate the complex cultural struggles that have, for decades, preoccupied this master cartoonist's landmark work.

R. Crumb: The Complete Record Cover Collection by none other than R. Crumb
Robert Crumb first began drawing record covers in 1968 when Janis Joplin, a fellow Haight Ashbury denizen, asked him to provide a cover for her album Cheap Thrills. It was an invitation the budding artist couldn't resist, especially since he had been fascinated with record covers-particularly for the legendary jazz, country, and old-time blues music of the 1920s and 1930s-since he was a teen. This early collaboration proved so successful that Crumb went on to draw hundreds of record covers for both new artists and largely forgotten masters. So remarkable were Crumb's artistic interpretations of these old 78 rpm singles that the art itself proved influential in their rediscovery in the 1960s and 1970s. Including such classics as Truckin' My Blues Away, Harmonica Blues, and Please Warm My Weiner, Crumb's opus also features more recent covers done for CDs. R. Crumb: The Complete Record Cover Collection is a must-have for any lover of graphics and old-time music. 450 four-color illustrations

The Life and Times of R.Crumb Edited by Monte Beauchamp
From Booklist
Underground comics artist Robert Crumb, recently subject of the lavish R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book , receives further confirmation of his arrival as full-fledged cultural icon: a collection of memoirs and tributes attesting his importance and influence. The 47 contributors Beauchamp, editor of the occasional alternative comics anthology Blab (see Blab #9 ), rounds up include fellow cartoonists (Matt Groening, Will Eisner), filmmakers (Terry Gilliam, Jim Jarmusch), cultural observers (Paul Krassner, Roger Ebert), and even Crumb's ex-wife. The most heartfelt contributions are testimonials from the current generation of alternative comics artists, who speak of the profound influence Crumb's art--and his iconoclastic, irreverent attitude--had on their work. More fascinating, though, are the comments of Crumb's contemporaries, who provide behind-the-scenes glimpses of the early days of hippiedom and the birth of the underground comics movement. Crumb's fans constitute the obvious audience for the volume, but viewers of the acclaimed 1994 documentary Crumb should also appreciate these additional glimpses of its outlandishly eccentric subject.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Written and illustrated by Alison Bechdel
From Publishers Weekly
This autobiography by the author of the long-running strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, deals with her childhood with a closeted gay father, who was an English teacher and proprietor of the local funeral parlor (the former allowed him access to teen boys). Fun Home refers both to the funeral parlor, where he put makeup on the corpses and arranged the flowers, and the family's meticulously restored gothic revival house, filled with gilt and lace, where he liked to imagine himself a 19th-century aristocrat. The art has greater depth and sophistication that Dykes; Bechdel's talent for intimacy and banter gains gravitas when used to describe a family in which a man's secrets make his wife a tired husk and overshadow his daughter's burgeoning womanhood and homosexuality. His court trial over his dealings with a young boy pushes aside the importance of her early teen years. Her coming out is pushed aside by his death, probably a suicide. The recursively told story, which revisits the sites of tragic desperation again and again, hits notes that resemble Jeanette Winterson at her best. Bechdel presents her childhood as a "still life with children" that her father created, and meditates on how prolonged untruth can become its own reality. She's made a story that's quiet, dignified and not easy to put down.

Maus I  Written and illustrated by Art Spiegelman
Some historical events simply beggar any attempt at description--the Holocaust is one of these. Therefore, as it recedes and the people able to bear witness die, it becomes more and more essential that novel, vigorous methods are used to describe the indescribable. Examined in these terms, Art Spiegelman's Maus is a tremendous achievement, from a historical perspective as well as an artistic one.
Spiegelman, a stalwart of the underground comics scene of the 1960s and '70s, interviewed his father, Vladek, a Holocaust survivor living outside New York City, about his experiences. The artist then deftly translated that story into a graphic novel. By portraying a true story of the Holocaust in comic form--the Jews are mice, the Germans cats, the Poles pigs, the French frogs, and the Americans dogs--Spiegelman compels the reader to imagine the action, to fill in the blanks that are so often shied away from. Reading Maus, you are forced to examine the Holocaust anew.
This is neither easy nor pleasant. However, Vladek Spiegelman and his wife Anna are resourceful heroes, and enough acts of kindness and decency appear in the tale to spur the reader onward (we also know that the protagonists survive, else reading would be too painful). This first volume introduces Vladek as a happy young man on the make in pre-war Poland. With outside events growing ever more ominous, we watch his marriage to Anna, his enlistment in the Polish army after the outbreak of hostilities, his and Anna's life in the ghetto, and then their flight into hiding as the Final Solution is put into effect. The ending is stark and terrible, but the worst is yet to come--in the second volume of this Pulitzer Prize-winning set.

Maus II Written and illustrated by Art Spiegelman
From Library Journal
Spiegelman's Maus, A Survivor's Tale (Pantheon, 1987) was a breakthrough, a comic book that gained widespread mainstream attention. The primary story of that book and of this sequel is the experience of Spiegelman's father, Vladek, a Polish Jew who survived the concentration camps of Nazi Germany during World War II. This story is framed by Spiegelman's getting the story from Vladek, which is in turn framed by Spiegelman's working on the book after his father's death and suffering the attendant anxiety and guilt, the ambivalence over the success of the first volume, and the difficulties of his "funny-animal" metaphor. (In both books, he draws the char acters as anthropomorphic animals-- Jews are mice, Poles pigs, Germans cats, Americans dogs, and French frogs.) The interconnections and complex characterizations are engrossing, as are the vivid personal accounts of living in the camps. Maus and Maus . . . II are two of the most important works of comic art ever published.

Habibi Written and illustrated by Craig Thompson
Habibi is impressive to hold. It looks like a lost tome, recovered from a different time and place--a fitting package for a comic book that feels like an exotic, bizarre fairy tale. Craig Thompson's inkwork is bold yet intricate. Each page reveals a meticulous symmetry, both in art and narrative, that unravels a sweeping tale that takes readers from the dessert to an industrial wasteland to the inner walls of a harem. Thematically, there's no shortage of ambition here, as Thompson tackles familial and romantic love, one's relationship to their environment, the shared roots of Christianity and Islam, and the effects of industrial modernization. Not all of these conflicts are resolved--in fact, there's more ambiguity than there is clarity--but it's Dodola and Zam, the book's two orphaned lovers, that imbue Habibi with empathy and humanity. Thompson, who is best known for Blankets, one of the most critically lauded comics of the past decade, has crafted another affecting story of passion, humor, and imagination.

PS Magazine: The Best of The Preventive Maintenance Monthly Written and illustrated by Will Eisner
From Publishers Weekly
For the first time, Will Eisner’s superlative work for the U.S. Army has been assembled into a single collection. The result shows the artist’s keen understanding of the educative power of graphic storytelling. From 1951 to 1971, between The Spirit and A Contract with God, Eisner produced PS Magazine for the army in order to teach the common soldier how best to use, maintain, repair, and requisition their equipment. From explaining how to load a truck correctly to why it won’t start, Eisner used a combination of humor, sound technical writing, and graphic storytelling to educate the soldiers. His magazines could be found at the front lines, in the officer’s mess, and in the quarters of senior military officials. It featured a cast of recurring characters like the loveable Joe Dope and the voluptuous Connie Rodd, who headlined featured segments like “Joe’s Dope Sheet” and the provocatively named “Connie Rodd’s Briefs.” With Eisner’s wonderful artwork and clarity of style making sometimes difficult concepts easy to understand, it’s no wonder PS Magazine was so popular with military personnel. A fascinating document for both fans of Eisner and military history buffs.

Edgar Allen Poe's Tales of Mystery and Madness Stories by Edgar Allen Poe, illustrations by Gris Grimly
From Booklist
Archetypal horror writer Poe has received a variety of graphically enhanced treatments in recent years, including a volume in Eureka Productions' Rosebud Graphic Classics series (2001) and Jonathan Scott Fuqua'sIn the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe (DC Comics, 2002). This exceptionally well-produced collection of four tales will, perhaps, reach a wider audience. The gently abridged retellings are in Poe's original language, and Grimly's wonderfully ghastly, full-color spot and full-page art splendidly depicts the mayhem that leads to murder in "The Black Cat," the partying in the "The Masque of the Red Death," the vicious genius of "Hop-Frog," and the dual connotations of "The Fall of the House of Usher." In addition to varied sizes and presentation of images, Grimly uses different typefaces to set off aspects of the narratives, which flow across the pages in the traditional manner rather than appearing in comics-style panels. With high-production values and gothic sensibilities thoroughly reflected in both text and art, this is an essential purchase for libraries. Adults can use it to lead young people to some great literature; readers will pluck it off the shelves themselves for creepy, entertaining fun.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: One book group member recounted her admiration for the work of  promising young cartoonist and fellow student named David Horsey while attending the University of Washington. Horsey went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning and is currently employed at the Los Angeles Times. His work is also syndicated nationwide.

The JCLC system has the following materials by David Horsey available:

From Hanging Chad to Baghdad: editorial cartoons by David Horsey

and Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic  with illustrations by David Horsey

Happy reading!

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