Boo!

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier, Scholastic, 2016. 9780545540612.

Guest review by Robert in San Diego.

The Allende-Delmer family is moving away from sunny southern California (and their favorite regional fast food chain) to Bahia de la Luna, a fog-shrouded coastal northern California town. Older sister Cat knows she’s leaving her friends (including boyfriend Ari) not just because her Dad’s got a new job there, but because the moist salt air will help her younger sister Maya, who has cystic fibrosis.

No single world adequately describes Bahia de la Luna. Nearby neighbor boy Carlos is self employed as a ghost tour guide. The whole town takes their ghosts seriously, especially when the dead come back in their proper shapes (not their usual drifting formless shades) for the annual Dia de los Muertos party!

Cat’s nonplussed when her first new friend at her new school confesses the really cute boy she dances with has been dead for about a century. Cat doesn’t want to meet the disembodied locals. Maya, on the other hand, wants to meet ghosts. No matter how positive her outlook is (and she is very positive), she has a pressing need to know what happens when people die. The ghosts try to take some breath from Maya, not knowing she needs all she’s got. This leads to a hospital trip. The ghosts regret their error, but that mistake reinforces Cat’s defensive tendency towards her sister.

That’s not the only regret. Cat and Maya’s Mom regrets the estrangement between herself as a teen and her own mother. “I never even learned to speak fluent Spanish.” Even one of the ghosts, who Cat briefly thinks might be her grandmother, sadly confesses “No hay familia.” (“I don’t have a family.”)
Estrangement and its resolutions are the theme of Ghosts. The devoted sisters have a falling out when the almost entirely housebound Maya learns Cat hasn’t even mentioned her to Cat’s new friends. Cat and Carlos, on the outs after Maya’s hospital trip, make up thanks to traditional Mexican pastries. And Maya does finally get to question a ghost.

Ring My Bell

Injection Volume One by Warren Ellis, drawn by Declan Shalvey. Image, 2015. 9781632154798. Contains Injection #1 – #5. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

Sarah: The pitch for Injection. (Although you sorta don’t find out ’till halfway through the book what the premise is…)
Gene: I know! But you have to have the pitch.
S: I would make someone promise: you have to read the book if I tell them why, but then they have to forget before they read the book. So: wait six months after reading this…
G: Or, like me, put it on hold at the library and then fail to remember why.
S: So a small group of people from different backgrounds in government and computing and folklore and magic get together and ask, what is the path of the future? What’s going to happen next? And what they see is a flatline. After all of this huge technological and cultural change, we’re going to go into this big lull. They try to find out how to change the world so that that doesn’t happen. And they come up with this awesome horrible idea, to combine artificial intelligence with magic with computer learning…
G: They animate an AI but they use magic, and then they release it into the internet.
S: And all of a sudden, things are happening!
G: And it turns out it can warp reality.
S: Oops. They call it the Injection. And not many people outside these folks know what’s going on.
G: Whatever it does looks like magic. Continue reading “Ring My Bell”

“You’d find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair…”

Anne of Green Gables: a graphic novel adapted by Mariah Marsden and illustrated by Brenna Thummler. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2017. 9781449479602. 230pp.

I’ve tried to read the original novel by L.M. Montgomery a few times — it’s a favorite of my friend Liz and her family — but it’s never hooked me. But this relentlessly colorful graphic novel finally did the trick.

Anne Shirley is a red headed orphan girl sent to siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert’s farm. (It’s in Avonlea, on Prince Edward Island, but I don’t think that’s mentioned.) The Cuthberts wanted a boy to help out, and seem about to return Anne to the orphanage when her chattiness and sunny disposition gets the better of them, and they keep her. She falls in love with her new home, charms Matthew Cuthbert in particular, and makes a friend, all while having hilarious misadventures. The summers are green, the falls have spectacular colors, and her competition and interactions with fellow student Gilbert Blythe speak of their relationship to come.

Who’s Your Daddy?

Star Wars Darth Vader Volume 1 by Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, Edgar Delgado. Marvel, 2016. 9781302901950. Originally published as Darth Vader #1 – #12. Publisher’s Rating: T

Gillen is an amazing storyteller, Larocca a great artist, and Delgado’s colors make every page sing. I have to confess that I’m not a huge Darth Vader fan, but the story caught my attention with its conflicts and quality, and with the fact that it’s expanding the space between stories from the movies that I already know without endlessly repeating the tropes established by the films.

The story opens after the destruction of the first Death Star (and after events in the first new Star Wars graphic novel put out by Marvel, which is also great), with Vader on Tatooine visiting Jabba the Hutt’s palace. Vader has failed his Emperor, the Empire is besieged, and a deal must be struck with the Hutt and other crime lords. Vader chafes under the command of Grand General Tagge, who assigns men to watch over him, which is a problem because Vader has his own agenda: finding the X-wing pilot who destroyed the Death Star, and finding out about a man who is engaged in secret work for the Emperor. Gillen makes a few noteworthy additions to the Star Wars universe: Doctor Aphra, a young rogue archaeologist who reactivates decommissioned weapons for profit, homicidal versions of C3PO and R2D2, and a cadre of lightsaber-wielding warriors vying for Vader’s spot at the Emperor’s side. When will Vader do away with Aphra? Will the Emperor or his agents discover Vader’s personal agenda, or can he manage to hide it from Imperial investigators?

In its best moments, this graphic novel feels like a great heist movie. I’m hoping Tarantino will one day direct a film about the killer droids.

Go East, Young Man

Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast. Bloomsbury, 2017. 978162040321.

This isn’t a guidebook or a history, warns cartoonist Roz Chast — it began as a booklet she made for her daughter when she left home to attend college in Manhattan. (Chast and her husband left Brooklyn, where she’d grown up and her parents lived (see Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?), in 1990.)

“I feel about Manhattan the way I feel about a book, a TV series, a movie, a play, an artist, a song, a food, a whatever that I love. I want to tell you about it so that maybe you will love it too…”

I just returned to Seattle from a trip to NYC with my wife, Silver, to meet my friend, Teo, and his wife, Krista, who were visiting from Finland. This book would have been great to read before the trip, but it’s perfect to read afterward, too, because it reminds me so much about the city. (In fact I just sent a copy to Teo and Krista.) Chast’s info on the layout of Manhatan will clarify my explanation of streets, avenues, and the east side vs west side. We walked everywhere (over 10 miles per day) and found lots of places like the shop that sells ribbon (Chast’s drawing is beautiful). I barely noticed the standpipes — Chast has photos of several, including one named Trixxxi — but I’m sure I will on my next trip. There are bits about the subway, stuff to do (including comics made from some of the paintings in the Met), parks, food, and more. Chast’s love for the city is both obvious and infectious. And even better, it makes me remember moments from our trip — Silver jumping at seeing a rat in Washington Square Park (I tried to convince her it was a leaf), our long wait at Russ & Daughters, and trekking to the Apple Store from Harlem.

Zeus Rules!

Jupiter’s Legacy Book One by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, Peter Doherty. Image, 2015. 9781632153104. Contains Jupiter’s Legacy #1 – #5. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

Jupiter’s Legacy Book Two by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, Peter Doherty, Suny Gho. Image, 2017 9781632158895. Contains Jupiter’s Legacy 2 #1 – #5. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

I read a lot more superhero comics than I’m comfortable admitting to most people. Most of them just aren’t worth talking about. Even if you like Marvel movies or made it all the way through Nolan’s Batman movie trilogy, you probably shouldn’t try most of them. They’re for fans who know about each publisher’s annual universal crossover events and can talk about the histories of characters and teams and whatnot. They are, I will admit, more than a little ridiculous. But some of them, like Jupiter’s Legacy, are so good they deserve a wider audience.

After the Depression, a group of young Americans were gifted with superpowers, and they used them to usher in a Golden Age. Sure, the most powerful among them, the Utopian, was a bit of a controlling do-gooder, but things were great. And then the heroes had kids, and those kids weren’t so great. The most powerful of the second generation were narcissistic drunks and drug addicts more worried about their PR and endorsement contracts than anything else. And the Utopian’s brother was tired of being told he couldn’t change the world. So one day he and most of the rest of the heroes, with the help of the Utopian’s damaged son, took out the Utopian and his super powerful wife (in a few very brutal scenes) and started to change the world. The Utopian’s daughter went into hiding with her drug dealing, son-of-a-super-villain boyfriend to have their child in secret. The world turned into a police state. Anyone with powers was hunted.

Raising a super-powered son in secret is tough, especially when he’s a genius. And it’s harder when he secretly starts helping people. He wants to take down his uncle, but he can’t quite talk his parents into it. Hhen his heroing attracts the attention of the authorities, and his parents have no choice but to try to save the world with him.

There’s so much to love here, from the pacing of the story to the dialogue to the art and the colors. It’s all flawless and moves at just the right pace. If you’ve read a lot of superhero books, you’ll recognize the tropes the story plays with. If you haven’t, you’ll be introduced to them in the best way and you’ll love it. There’s a prequel series and more to come in this story, but these two books are complete in and of themselves. They’re worth reading, if only to round out what you can call on when you’re doing reader’s advisory. (Millar recently sold his company to Netflix, so I’m hoping there’s a great adaptation of these books in the works. Millar wrote the graphic novels the movies Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Wanted, and Kick Ass are based on, so you’ll be ahead of the curve on any new movies.)

Bonus: Frank Quitely is one of the best artists working in comics today. You can see him create a single page from Book One in this episode of the BBC’s What Do Artists Do All Day.

“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity”

Poe: Stories and Poems: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Gareth Hinds. Candlewick, 2017. 9780763681128.

I’m a huge fan of Hinds’ graphic novel adaptations of classics (his version of The Odyssey is my favorite), but not of Poe’s fiction, yet  Hinds’ amazing skill pulled me through. First there’s a legend at the beginning of the book, a list of recurring motifs in Poe’s work. Hinds then puts the appropriate symbols at the beginning of each story and poem to let readers know know which will contain thing like, for example, murder and rats, so that readers they can decide for themselves to keep reading a particular story or skip it.

My favorite adaptation, “The Mask of the Red Death” (contains Death, Disease, Scary Sounds), about a bunch of upper class folks who try to seal themselves away from a plague, features the creepiest masquerade costume I’ve ever seen — a disease personified. Don’t skip to the end of the story, it’s freaky. There’s a lot to love here: “The Cask of Amontillado,” “Annabel Lee,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Bells,” and of course “The Raven.” There’s also a lot to freak you out. The rats in “The Pit…” would send my wife screaming. And don’t miss the creepy details drawn into the feathers of Hinds’ raven, which include skulls and skeletal hands.