Saga, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughn

unnamedNo spoilers, I promise! Man, I was so stoked to find this on my doorstep last week. I ALMOST thought about taking an extended lunch break and just reading the whole thing then and there. But I managed to wait until later that night and had an absolute blast.

Compared with the previous two volumes, I’d say this one has amped up the action quite a bit. There were some shocking moments and plenty of the laughs we’ve come to expect. The social commentary still packs a punch, and I am just tickled pink everytime I pick up this story. It puts and leaves a smile on my face which is the kind of thing everyone needs more of in life, am I right?

All gushing aside, I will say that this is perhaps a weaker installment than the first two. I mostly think this is because the story/plot is progressing at a relatively fast pace here so we have less super awesome, silly character bits. But I still gave it 5 stars. Because it’s still more entertaining than almost anything else on this planet or the next.

Volume 4 should have been here, like, yesterday. Boo.

Saga, Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughn

17131869If my post a few days ago didn’t convince you to read Saga, then allow me a brief moment to explain how the second volume is even better.

I laughed a couple of times during volume one, but was mostly just highly amused. The second volume had me giggling, taking pictures of panels and bits of dialogue to text to friends, and my stomach hurt afterward. Alana is like the comic version of myself. I love her so much.

Volume two directly follows where we left off. All of the various bounty hunters are still out looking for Alana, Marko, and baby Hazel. But there’s just MORE of all the best things. I didn’t even think that was possible.

I’m not going to write much more than this because it’s the second book, and I don’t want to spoil things. Volume three is coming out in April. I’ve preordered the damn thing and can hardly stand to wait. I could just go to my local comic book store and buy the individual chapters, but then I wouldn’t have a reason to own the lovely bound editions. I’ll wait, but it’s a struggle.

Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughn

unnamedGraphic novels and comics are really picking up literary steam and popularity these days. One of the most talked about comic series of the past year has to be Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga. So when I was perusing the shelves of my local Barnes and Noble, I picked up the first volume without thinking twice, went home, and inhaled the entire thing like candy.

On the Bookrageous podcast, I think they like to pitch this series as Romeo + Juliet in outer space. I’ve also heard descriptions such as Firefly meets Quentin Tarantino. All are accurate. The first volume tells the story of Hazel’s birth. Her parents are star-crossed lovers from warring worlds who have gone and done the craziest thing possible – falling in love. Now the whole galaxy is out to kill them and take their newborn. In addition to this main plotline, there are ghosts, trees headlining as rocketships, and whole planets that act as brothels.Wackiness ensues.

What does Saga do so well against this backdrop of absurdity? Humanity. I felt something for the characters immediately. And that emotional connection creates a levity to the story that perfectly balances the fantastical elements that could have easily taken center stage. Caring about this outlaw family also keeps you on the edge of your seat and turning the pages quicker than you have in recent memory. They must save Hazel!!

You can’t talk about a graphic novel without talking about the pretty pictures. And let me just tell you, the artwork in Saga might be my favorite of all literary time. LOVED. Sometimes in illustrated characters, I find a sameness that keeps me from connecting to any one person individually. Not the case here. Each drawn being lives and breathes all on their own. Kudos, creators!

When I was speaking with the Barnes and Noble employee as he rang up my order, he told me how much he loved the series and how the fandom was waiting rather impatiently for the third volume to be released (April 2014!). Gladly, I still have the second volume to look forward to and will hold off for a few weeks to lessen the inevitable torture of joining those eagerly anticipating the newest release.

So go read Saga. Right now.

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

unnamedGene Luen Yang is probably my favorite graphic novelist. I’m not sure anyone else even comes close. I read American Born Chinese last year and fell in deep, deep love. Recently, he released his follow-up, a companion novel set called Boxers & Saints. I bought the box set for myself for Christmas and read them in one sitting.

Yang’s two book collection tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion in China during the late 19th Century through the characters of Little Bao (Boxers) and Four-Girl (Saints). Little Bao fights on the side of the Chinese rebels while Four-Girl grows up and converts to Christianity, fighting on the side of the foreigners. Their stories interweave to create a surprisingly complete and complex look at this particularly volatile time in Chinese history.

LOVED IT. I didn’t think it could live up to American Born Chinese, but it did – in spades. I seriously think this one beat the pants off of ABC. So, so good. I don’t even have words. Words are failing me. Yang’s ability to break my heart and make me laugh simultaneously is unparalleled in any recent book I’ve read.

Beyond Yang’s amazing storytelling, Boxers & Saints are both beautifully illustrated and colored. The palette is gorgeous and muted – changing over time with the stories. The hues of these two books really reminded me of the coloration in the movie Her that was just released and which I also loved. There are panels in both books that I could stare at happily for hours. Panels I love to print out and put on my wall to look at every day. And that’s what a good graphic novel should do. Its words and its pictures should be able to evoke a strong emotional response. Kudos, Mr. Yang.

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I beseech you to go and pick these two gems up immediately. Go ahead and grab Yang’s entire backlist while you’re at it. You won’t be sorry.

The Walking Dead Compendium One by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore, Cliff Rathburn

unnamedY’all know by now I’m obsessed with all things Walking Dead. I started reading the comic almost two years ago, but never got around to finishing the first compendium because I didn’t want to jump ahead of the television series. I had watched seasons one and two which ended just before the prison arc. Now that I’m midway through season four, I finally felt ready to finish the huge tome that had been sitting at my bedside collecting dust for far too long.

The Walking Dead follows Rick Grimes. He’s a small town Southern sheriff who is shot in the line of duty just before the zombie apocalypse begins. When he awakens from a coma a few weeks later, he’s alone in a hospital in a world overrun with the undead. His mission becomes finding his wife and son and staying alive.

It’s a simple premise, but the social commentary is anything but. The many, many characters are so well done and so compelling that I’m shocked every time I think of how many words there aren’t in this graphic novel. The walking dead actually refers more to the humans still living because humanity feels almost like a thing of the past in this new, brutal world. Many people have become monsters. Others are struggling daily to avoid just that. No one is left the way they began.

And people die. Hell, almost everyone dies.

What I love most about the reading/watching experience is how well both mediums compliment each other. The show brings to life the essence of the comic perfectly – and I don’t often say that. The series fills out the holes, the details, the development of the comic. But they aren’t the same beast. Each tells stories in different ways. You might get from the same point A to the same point Z, but B-Y will be entirely unique which never leaves the audience bored.  I’ll even go ahead and admit that the television show might actually be better than the source material. Robert Kirkman even agrees with that observation to a certain extent.

I can’t wait to get my hands on the second compendium. I’m no longer afraid to read ahead for spoilers. And you shouldn’t be either! Even if you only pick only one medium – the written or the visual – you just can’t go wrong with The Walking Dead.

 

 

Fables: Book One by Bill Willingham

6307040Graphic Novels! Comics! I love them! I’ve seriously adopted this narrative format into my regular reading and hope to never stop. GNs and comics definitely take some getting used to, but it’s so worth the effort. I can’t imagine a life where I would purposefully avoid Fables. That would just be a damn shame.

Welcome to a world where fairy tale and other fictional characters are real. They’ve fled their homelands (think the Emerald City, Narnia, the various and assorted kingdoms of Prince Charming) due to a deadly enemy known simply as the Adversary. The characters who can pass as human live in modern day NYC and the animals/fairies/other blatant non-humans hide away on a farm in upstate New York. Snow White is deputy major of Fabletown and B. Wolf is the sheriff. Wackiness ensues, obviously.

Book One follows two major story arcs. First, Ruby Red (Snow’s sister) has apparently been violently murdered. B. Wolf is on the case. Then the farm up North has a rising rebellion on their hands. The residents there want their old lands back and hate feeling like prisoners even among their own kind. In order to fight against the Adversary, they must first break all the Fable laws and rise up against their own. Goldie and her bears lead the way.

The illustrations were hit and miss for me. They have a superhero comic book feel which isn’t my favorite, but are at least gorgeously colored. What shines is the story telling and all the literary references. I loved how Willingham is able to take the fantastic and bring it very realistically into normal human society. I’m very much looking forward to the next installments. Fables is geekery at its finest and highly recommended to fans of things such as Once Upon a Time!

I read this during the read-a-thon and you should do so next ‘thon as well! So easy to fly through even when your eyelids are drooping.

RATING: starstarstarstar

Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel

13538702Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel is an adult graphic novel. That’s all I really needed to know in order to pick up a copy from the library. Because I’m a total graphic novel lush these days. Throw in the words ‘fairy tale’ and ‘mermaid’ and there is no telling what I’ll do.

Sailor Twain tells the story of Captain Twain, a 19th Century riverboat captain working a ship on the Hudson River. The boat’s owner is a rather fancy Frenchman who is obsessed with taking seven lovers which baffles Twain. Then Twain finds a wounded mermaid and nurses her back to health. All of these things eventually connect and lead to some very strange happenings at the bottom of the sea.

What struck me first with Siegel’s novel is the artwork. The charcoal drawings are so atmospheric and gloomy. Considering it rains throughout the entire story, these drawings set the absolute perfect mood. At times, the human figures can look cartoon-ish, but this didn’t bother me since the book is part fairy tale. Do be warned, however, that the drawings can be quite graphic as there is full frontal nudity. Not a book for the kiddies.

As for the plot, it was mostly a quick, dark, fun little read. At times though, things just felt a bit confusing – like there was too much happening for anything to be super well done. I’m not sure how much that was a personal comprehension failure. I would find myself having to really study a page or so of panels to try and figure out what was going on. Those moments took the magic out of reading.

The characters were also sort of uninteresting. I would liked to have cared more for them. Captain Twain did earn my sympathy at parts, but the way he treated his wife ruined it all. I did enjoy the not-so-delight mermaid. She was an odd-duck until shit hit the fan and then I liked her crazy ass. The ending was extremely ambiguous and left up to your own personal interpretation. That wouldn’t have bothered me too much if the rest of the story had been more decipherable, but alas…

So not my favorite thing ever, but still worthy of giving a shot if it sounds like something you’d enjoy. Go find it in the library and breeze through it in an hour or two. I’d love to see what others think about Sailor Twain – especially the end.

So, tell me – what was your least favorite graphic novel and why?

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

118944American Born Chinese appealed to me on several levels. One: Pictures. Two: I am married to a Taiwanese immigrant. Three: Pictures. Four: The seriously amazing rave reviews. 5: Boba Tea.

Gene Luen Yang’s story follows Jin, Danny, and the Monkey King. Jin is a Chinese American boy who just wants to fit in with his white, all-American classmates. Danny is the apple pie to Jin’s dim sum whose life gets disturbed once a year when his Chinese cousin Chin Kee comes to visit. And the Monkey King simply wants nothing to do with being a monkey. Yang’s three story lines start out going their separate ways until they brilliantly collide and teach everyone a thing or two about identity, acceptance, and the human condition.

And yes, brilliant is the only word that suits American Born Chinese. Brilliantly clever. Brilliantly heartwarming. Brilliantly honest. Each character is at once charming, lovable, and a total rascal. As a graphic novel, I was super impressed at how each character develops so richly throughout the narrative’s short, yet expressive, pages. Yang deserved all the awards, not just the Printz, in my opinion. A great novel to share with anyone in your life.

The illustrations are gorgeous and do such an excellent job at showing motion. I haven’t read another graphic novel that I can recall where the action really seems to move. Each drawing adds something to the story and often has emotional impact. I really can’t gush enough. American Born Chinese is my new favorite graphic novel. It’s a story worth telling and a story Yang tells expertly.

Your turn! What’s your favorite graphic novel? Any other Printz Award winners you’d recommend?

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

9395668I’ve been gathering a large number of graphic novels recently in the hopes of growing more well versed in that particular literary genre. The Litwits are even having a graphic novel/comic themed month in September. In order to prep for that, I’m going to do my best to actually read some of my recent purchases.

Anya’s Ghost is the story of a teenage girl going through all the angst and self-esteem issues that plague today’s youth. Anya’s self-consciousness is also compounded by the fact that she’s Russian and trying so hard to be a traditional ‘American’. She’s spent years trying to lose her baby fat and her accent. Despite all her determinism, Anya has still only managed to make one on-again, off-again friend by the time she reaches high school.

As one faithful day would have it, Anya falls down a well. Yes, a well. Very ‘Alice and the rabbit hole-esque’. In the well she encounters a skeleton with a ghost attached. The ghost’s name is Emily and desperately wants to be Anya’s friend. Anya begrudgingly gives in and soon begins to benefit from Emily’s sneaky ways.

Somewhere along the line, however, Emily turns out not to be what she seems. And through this very unearthly lesson, Anya begins to see her life a little more clearly.

Loved it! Such a fun narrative made all the better by the gray-scale drawings. The illustrations have a very decidedly cartoon-esque appeal and Brosgoll expertly captures emotion and plot movement even in her drawings without exposition or dialogue. Her story is also incredibly unique. Emily could have been a very simple and underused plot device, but her ghostly nature and devilish past rose above all my expectations.

Anya’s Ghost also succeeds in remaining firmly grounded in reality despite the supernatural aspects. Anya’s struggles with her peers, boys, and family rang so true. She’s going through the terribly turbulent years where rebellion seems her only friend and who hasn’t felt that once or twice as a teenager?

This novel is one I’d suggest gifting to a teenager in your life – especially a female teenager. It captures several great morals without seeming at all preachy and manages to remain a super cool romp rather than an overwrought lecture. I loved Anya and the twisty ending so much. The drawings were spectacular and now I’m craving graphic novels like nobody’s business.

Preludes and Nocturnes: The Sandman Volume One by Neil Gaiman

In yesterday’s post, I lamented over my rather cumbersome and disjointed reading of Neil Gaiman’s Preludes and Nocturnes, Volume I in The Sandman.  For the entire first half of the story, I figured graphic novels were just beyond my comprehension and wondered what was wrong with me.  I so fiercely wanted to enjoy this collection because I wanted to adore Gaiman as he’s a super hyped author I’ve never read, but always figured I’d love without question.

Preludes and Nocturnes tells the story of the King of Dreams, younger brother to Death.  In the beginning of the tale, he’s trapped and held captive by an occultist and later, the occultist’s son.  Once he escapes, he begins a journey through dreams and nightmares – across countries and continents – among many pop culture and literary allusions in search of the three lost tools he needs to regain his power.

What you’ll now embark on is not a review, but my rather awkward attempt to struggle through my reading experience – consider yourself warned.

My initial problems were not the illustrations themselves (they are dark, sharply featured drawings capable of subtle twisting and transforming from the ordinary to the grotesque), but rather the flow from one drawing to the next.  I got lost so many times and I’m still sure I misread on several occasions.  Most of my struggles are my own – not Gaiman’s – as this medium is just not something I’m used to.  I’ve learned that graphic novels are not silly drawings that require very little thought or attention.  Instead, the structure of graphic novels actually insists upon a certain level of focus I often don’t find in the normal structure of literature which threw me for a loop and held me captive at the same time.  Once I got the hang of it, the second half flew by and was immensely enjoyable.

All that bitching and moaning aside, I was rather humbled, book snob that I admittedly am.  So for anyone who has ever seen me scoff in the general direction of graphic literature, today I eat crow and offer my sincerest apologies.

As for the story, I loved the three witches in Imperfect Hosts (Macbeth – and perhaps a bit of Hocus Pocus as well), gasped at a particularly shocking moment in Passengers, and was enthralled by the madness of my favorite issue, 24 hours.   But it wasn’t until Death shows up at the end to guide her little brother out of his moroseness that I actually finally felt emotionally involved – like perhaps there was a point to the whole collection and not just moments of brilliance.  Upon some research, I discovered that many readers don’t like this first installment, generally agreeing that the cohesion was lacking – Gaiman himself admits to cringing upon rereading Preludes and Nocturnes.  So I’ll keep going.  Not sure when or how long it will take (there are 10 more volumes!), but I’ll persevere just as Dream did.

I’m not sure I’d recommend this as a place to start for those who aren’t accustomed to the graphic genre.  I believe there are probably many smoother and impactful introductions, Maus – most precisely.  But if you like Gaiman, enjoy a little creepiness, are intrigued by the ambiguousness of dreams and nightmares, perhaps you should give it a look.  I look forward to exploring many graphic novels in my future so if you have a favorite to recommend, please let me know in the comments! And thanks to everyone who left me their recommendations yesterday!