The Sheer Joy of Colors

This Beautiful Day by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Suzy Lee. Caitlyn Dloughy / Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481441391.

Lee’s black and white and oh-so-blue Wave was so beautiful that, after finding it in a bookstore, I read it three times before I made it to the counter. This one also has a lot of that wonderfully blue water as three kids enjoy a rainy day. And then even more color explodes on the pages as more happy kids with umbrellas join them, the sky clears, and the gray goes away.

 

 

Little Red Riding Sheep by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Cale Atkinson. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481457484.

I can’t think of a folk tale where color is more important. Retellings don’t usually do much for me, but this one features a Heidschnucke sheep named Arnold who refuses to be in a traditional version tale and talks back to the writer/narrator, bringing more light into the forest, casting his friends in key roles, and finally just changes the story to altogether. My favorite picture is of his friend Einer, a muskrat, making his scary face.

Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney artist extraordinaire. Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, illustrated by Brigette Barrager. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481461313.

After two colorful picture books, round things out with a bit of nonfiction about artist Mary Blair, who collected colors wherever she went. She was one of the first women to be hired by Walt Disney Studios, but the men there rejected her colors as too vivid and wild. After she left and became a successful illustrator on her own, Walt Disney himself invited her back to use her colors to design the It’s A Small World ride.

Choose Wisely

Romeo And/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North. Riverhead Books, 2016. 9781101983300.

I would have read an adaptation of Shakespeare’s work by Ryan North anyway (I’m a big fan of Dinosaur Comics, his Squirrel Girl reboot, and his page-by-page analysis of the novelization of Back to The Future). But getting to read a version of this story where I could help Juliet not make bizarre life choices was the best. There were symbols on the choices so I could follow Shakespeare’s (even if they were crazy) and some entertaining editorializing in the wording. If you end up picking the same path as Shakespeare, you can unlock a secret character! And there were some great running jokes about what they were doing when they were not in the play. If you like this one, be sure to pick up North’s choosable-path version of Hamlet, To Be or Not To Be, which is also available as a video game.

The Lost Boy

The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne and Veronica Fish. Emet Comics / Super Genius, 2017. 9781629917696. 96pp.

Chris at Comics Dungeon introduced me to Emet Comics a while back, and it’s great to see the company’s first graphic novel. All the comics I’ve ever seen from this small press, which focuses on comics from diverse creators that empower women, are absolutely beautiful. I recommend you visit their website and sign up for their newsletter.

Wendy is driving her little brothers John and Michael across a bridge when their car crashes through the guardrail. John and Wendy are fine, but Michael’s body can’t be found. Wendy insists that she saw him fly away into the sky and also that a bright (fairy-like) light caused the crash. Needless to say no one believes Wendy, so she’s sent to a therapist. And…

Well, you should read this short graphic novel. It’s an inventive, well-written take on grief and blaming oneself, and Fish’s art is spectacular: everything is black and white except the traces of magic, including the magic in Wendy’s notebook (which refuses to get lost), Michael’s teddy bear, and a boy named Peter.

(Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of Peter Pan, and my favorite adaptation/version is by French comics creators Regis Loisel.)

Thrice Upon Three Board Books

  

Rapunzel by Chloe Perkins, Illustrated by Archana Screenivasan. Little Simon, 2017. 9781481490726. 24pp.

Snow White by Chloe Perkins, Illustrated by Misa Saburi. Little Simon, 2016. 9781481471855. 24pp.

Cinderella by Chloe Perkins, Illustrated by Sandra Equihua. Little Simon, 2016. 9781481479158. 24pp.

The board books are all part of the Once Upon A World series, short retellings of classic fairy tales for very little kids set in different places around the globe: India (Rapunzel), Japan (Snow White), and Mexico (Cinderella). The tales themselves are short and simple — details aren’t changed at all to make the text refer to the cultures where the stories takes place. (The one exception I recall is that in Snow White the text mentions that the seven dwarves have teacups in their cabin.) It’s the art that sets the stories in other lands. The books make the unstated point — that these stories are universal — and they totally work.

Who Let the Spectral Dogs Out?

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. Grosset & Dunlap, 1902.

A country doctor comes to Baker Street with a problem. His friend, Charles Baskerville, has died suddenly, apparently due to an ancient family curse: he was frightened to death by an unearthly demon dog. His heir, Henry Baskerville, may be in danger. The story starts off with the familiar scientific deductions of Sherlock Holmes, but then the detective sends Dr. Watson on his own to the family estate to keep an eye on the heir until Holmes can join them. Dr. Watson’s descriptions of the general spookiness of Baskerville Hall and the surrounding countryside turn the book into a haunting gothic romance, complete with neolithic dwellings, scary animal noises, and the Grimpen Mire: a deadly bog that can swallow a pony.

I really enjoy how different Watson is from Holmes. His point of view as the narrator turns these stories into exciting adventures, spooky ghost stories, and romances, much to the disgust of the no-nonsense Holmes. At the start of The Sign of Four, Holmes complains (about A Study in Scarlet): “Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science, and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid.” I think this is only a burn if you’re Holmes. Pretty sure I would snag a copy of this notional mathematical love story.

Why is the whale called “Moby Dick”?

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick by Chabouté. Translated by Laure Dupont. Dark Horse Books, 2017. 9781506701493.

I’ve danced around reading Moby Dick since buying a Fone Bone action figure with a little plastic copy, but I’m still too intimidated — I’ve never gotten past adaptations by Eisner and Kish and now this graphic novel.

This book is gorgeously large and  heavy, and illustrated in glorious black and white. It opens with a young, would-be whaler unexpectedly sharing a room with the intimidating Queequeg, a much tattooed harpooner recently arrived from the South Seas with a souvenir: a bunch of mummified heads. (Don’t worry, things work out. Q not only agrees to teach his new friend whaling, he also tells the man they’re married. Who knew Melville was that progressive?) After a freaky sermon they sign on with the Pequod. It’s clear from the start that Q is a badass harpooner, that Starbuck is trying to keep everyone safe, and that Ahab is mad and will do anything to kill the whale. But then, like me, you probably knew that already.

It’s the art and the pacing that kept me moving through the book. The story is told in short chapters, which is good because things are grim. From the short quotes (from the original I assume) that start each section and the heavy handed way everyone talks to each other, if this were just text or didn’t shift in time frequently I’d never have made it to the end. Ahab’s heavy, long coat is as black as the sea, and his eyes as crazy as Marty Feldman’s, though he’s clearly got focus. This gives the same sense of life on a boat as Nick Bertozzi’s Shackleton but it feels much more oppressive and frightening. The whales are huge. The boats that go after them aren’t. And even when the crew succeeds in killing one, it turns the boat into something worse than a butcher shop as they cut up and then boil down the blubber for the oil. (If they had eaten any of it this book might have turned me vegan.)

Shaken Not Stirred

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Martini Edition by Darwyn Cooke. IDW, 2011. 9781600109805. 360pp.

Contains the previously published adaptations of The Hunter and The Outfit, as well as the short “The Man with the Getaway Face,” and a new short, O. Henry-esque adaptation for this volume, “The Seventh”, and lots of extras.

I was having a crappy day yesterday, and somewhere in the back of my mind I must have remembered that this book was about a crook having a few bad days of his own.

The Hunter opens in 1962 as Parker is walking back into New York City. His wife shot him at the end of a recent heist, and then she took off with his partner on the job, Mal Resnick. They assumed Parker was dead. He tracks her down. Then he interrogates the man bringing her an envelope of cash to find out where that’s coming from. Then he tracks that guy down and keeps working his way up the chain of command. Resnick used the money from their heist to buy his way back into the mob. But the mob, instead of protecting Resnick, wants to see him deal with the problem he’s created: Parker.

I won’t tell you how it resolves, but I will say it’s the first in a long line of Parker novels, and at the end of The Hunter Parker needs a new face to hide from the mob (they prefer to be called The Outfit). That’s all covered in “The Man with the Getaway Face.” Then in The Outfit, after Parker survives getting fingered by an informant, he heads out to make peace with the mob by making things tough for them when he and his friends start hitting their operations. It’s beautiful. And all three of those books form one long story.

This is a deluxe, oversized collection of these previously published books. The duotone art looks fabulous on the thick, cream paper, and the larger pages really let the art sing. (Plus I didn’t need glasses to read the print.) There’s a conversation at the front of the book between Tom Spurgeon, crime writer Ed Brubaker, and Cooke, and a ton of extra art by Cooke that includes portraits of Parker, Westlake, and a portfolio of images inspired by the Parker films and others. There’s a drawing of Michael Caine in Get Carter (based on the excellent novel by Ted Lewis) that I just may have to cut out and frame.

These graphic novel adaptations have lead me to track down some of the original novels by Stark (a pen name of Donald Westlake). The original prose is spare, no nonsense, and tough, without the over-description and sentimentality that ruins too many modern mysteries for me. Parker isn’t ever nice or easy, and he doesn’t flinch from difficult and dangerous work, but he’s not stupid. No one could draw a 60s tough guy like Cooke, and the cinematic quality of his art makes this a better adaptation than any of the films — it enhances and clarifies the novels without changing them. (If, like me, you read this and want to see Parker on film, try Point Blank starring Lee Marvin or The Split starring Jim Brown (with Donald Sutherland, Gene Hackman, and Ernest Borgnine). Both Marvin and Brown feel like Parker. But don’t even bother with the latest film adaptation starring Jason Statham — it’s unforgivable even for a Statham fan like me.)