Really real friend friends

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham. First Second, 2017. 9781626724167. 224pp.

I feel like I’m seeing Pham’s name and artwork everywhere. I loved The Bear Who Wasn’t There (am I imagining the scene with a giraffe on a toilet?) and I’ve got Isabella for Real near the top of my to-read pile. And she also drew a full length graphic novel with Shannon Hale (Princess in Black, Rapunzel’s Revenge (I know she’s written a lot of other cool books, but those are my favs))?!? When does she sleep?

First, the art: fantastic. Pham captures the red-headed Shannon’s everyday antics and really brings her imagined games to life, too. She’s right up there with Raina Telgemeier. Wow.

The story: This is Shannon Hale’s story, based on her memories of elementary school friendships. (There are awkwardly beautiful pictures of Hale at the back for comparison with the character’s look, along with an author’s note about the story.) Shannon loves her friend Adrienne so much! But in second grade, others want her attention, too, and then Adrienne moves away. Shannon makes another friend, Tammy, who clearly wants Shannon’s friendship while all Shannon wants is for Adrienne to come back. And then she comes back. It’s painful to to read, and it only gets worse as girls form grade school cliques and Shannon moves in and out of them — lots of social anxiety, lots of stomach cramps. It’s saved from a didactic after school special vibe and comes alive because Shannon doesn’t always do the nicest thing, and like in real life it’s often not clear what she should do. (I’m leaving this where my high school aged daughter can find it.)

On The Wings Of Lots Of Dead Birds

Audubon: On the Wings of the World by Fabien Grolleau & Jérémie Royer. Nobrow, 2016. 9781910620151.

I’m not someone who longs for walks in primeval wilderness, I don’t read history books, and most biographies leave me cold, but this beautifully drawn and colored graphic novel was amazing. Audubon was obsessed with painting the birds of America. He left his family behind to undertake dangerous trips into the unsettled wilderness to paint the birds he found there. Two moments that stand out to me: Audubon climbing into a hollow sycamore tree to investigate the thousands of swallows nesting inside, and shooting at a flock of pigeons in which birds may have numbered over a billion. (The most shocking thing about the book was the cavalier way he killed so many birds so that he could pose them in lifelike ways to paint. He’d sometimes be so captivated by them that he let them live, but those exceptions were few and far between. It was more like: “Look at that beautiful bird!” Pow!) The scientific community in the U.S. wasn’t supportive of Audubon’s work — they saw him as an artist, not a naturalist — so he eventually had to travel to England to find support for his famous book.

I often say that the key to pursuing one’s artistic goals is a supportive spouse or partner, and Audubon’s wife goes above and beyond in terms the number of years she spends without him, raising all their children. (I’d love to read a graphic novel about her life next.)

Pair this with Nick Bertozzi’s epic Lewis & Clark to try to give the comic readers in your life a love of nature and history. It’s too late for me, but I’m sure that could work for someone with fewer plant allergies.

Totally Killer

The Killer Volume 1 by Matz and Luc Jacamon. Archaia, 2009. 9781932386448. 128pp.

The Killer Volume 2 by Matz and Luc Jacamon. Archaia, 2009. 9781932386561.  176pp.

Gene: The Killer Volumes 1 and 2, my pic for our book club!
Sarah: Do you want my first reaction?
G: Yes!
S: I went to an exhibit on Martin Scorcesse and there was a little thing in there about a film he directed for Roger Corman. (Many great directors directed a film for Corman because he would hire you before you were well known.) And apparently Corman said “You can rewrite the script however you want as long as there’s nudity every 15 minutes.” So I felt like this was one of those movies.
G: Ow!
S: There was murder, there was darkness, and there was nudity every 15 minutes.
G: Well it’s about a killer for hire, he’s French.
S: The whole book is so French! They translated the words in the word balloons but not the sound effects.
G: The book was originally published in French. It’s very hard to translate sound effects because they’re part of the image — changing them would require the art to be redrawn. It’s easier to change the letters in the balloons because they’re isolated. That’s why in manga you usually see sound effects in Japanese.
S: Good to know!
G: I love the coloring of these graphic novels so much. It’s subtle and amazing. It’s from the mid 1990s so I’m not sure whether it was done digitally, but probably not.
The story starts with the killer waiting to shoot a doctor from an apartment where he’s holed up. The guy doesn’t show up, doesn’t show up, doesn’t show up, so the killer reminisces about other jobs he’s done. He thinks about a job he had three months earlier, another rich guy who he killed next to his swimming pool. There’s a picture of the guy sitting next to the pool with his hand on a drink and you don’t realize until you flip the page that the guy is dead already. Loved that.
Continue reading “Totally Killer”

One More Year Of Drug-Addled Sadness And Hilarity

One More Year by Simon Hanselmann. Fantagraphics, 2017. 9781606999974. 200pp.

I last wrote about my love for Hanselmann’s comics years ago, and I can assure you that his tales of Megg (a young, green witch), Mogg (her boyfriend, a cat), Owl (yeah, an owl) and the other folks they know are only getting better. (In this case that means sad and gross.)  Megg can only deal with her emotional problems by getting high, which she does often, leading to a lot of puking. Mogg isn’t really there for her, though he’s usually right next to her on the couch. They’re both freeloading off of Owl, who seems determined to work hard and escape the black hole of bad decisions that his “friends” pull him into. Owl’s attraction to Megg and his lack of a non-stoner social circle keeps him circling the drain that their lives are destined to be sucked into. At the end of the last book, Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam, there were hints that Megg was on the verge of trying to change her life. And that hint is still somewhere in this book, too, if it’s not just me hoping for that on her behalf.

Wow, that sounds a bit depressing. This book and the others are also riotously funny, especially if you can laugh at the grossest of lowbrow humor and giggle at sadness. My favorite bits in this one were Owl trying to treat his friends to a fancy French dinner for his own birthday (horrible choice), when Owl briefly works with Megg and Mogg’s boss at Hot Outdoors (they turn it into a nightclub), and the high school flashback episode (Owl made me soooo sad). And of course Werewolf Jones, the world’s worst father, is disgusting. He’s super pathetic when he turns back into a human.

When I saw Hanselman at the Fantagraphics booth at last year’s Short Run Comix Fest I didn’t know what to say. “I love your work!” seemed too generic. “I love it when Werewolf Jones and his kids poop on Owl’s bed!” seemed overly specific (and I didn’t really want anyone to overhear me saying that). I chose silence. I think it’s just too weird for a non-stoner in his mid-40s to talk about his love for these books, except in a short review like this.

CatStronauts Are Go!

CatStronauts Book 1: Mission Moon by Drew Brockington. Little Brown, 2017. 9780316307475. 160pp.

CatStronauts Book 2: Race to Mars by Drew Brockington. Little Brown, 2017. 9780316307482. 184pp.

These two graphic novels for young kids were just released simultaneously. I have amazing advanced copies that are a black and white, but from what I see online it looks like the actual books are being printed in color.

In Book 1, the world is facing an energy crisis. To save the day, four cat astronauts (Blanket, Pom Pom, Waffles, and Major Meowser) must set up a solar power plant on the lunar surface. Blanket wants to bring his experimental cat-stro-bot along (and does so against orders). Waffles brings way too many snacks. The Major has to keep them on track and training (none of them likes getting wet during a water landing) while the cats at mission control focus on constructing a new rocket.

In Book 2, the Cosmocats, the first cats in space resent the accolades being heaped upon the CatStronauts and want to reclaim their place in history. From SOCKS (Society of Cosmic Kitten Services) they begin planning a mission to Mars. Two other space programs, MEOW and COOKIE have also joined the race to be the first to set paws on the red planet, along with the CatStronauts. There’s a potential disaster en route, though, and only cooperation can save the day.

These aren’t full of science lessons or anything, but they’re fun stories and move right along. I know that if I’d read them as a kid they would have sent me out to find more info on both the Moon and Mars, at the very least.

*a small helping of Thor

Arthur and the Golden Rope (Brownstone’s Mythical Collection) by Joe Todd Stanton. Flying Eye Books, 2016. 9781911171034.

Nobrow / Flying Eye books make me happy. They have amazing color and seem to delight in the craft of sharing stories and information. Plus they always have an extra touch or two, like the gold foil on the cover of Arthur and the Golden Rope, which caught my attention immediately.

It opens with an old man welcoming us to the Brownstone family vault, a room full of valuable and powerful artifacts (masks, helmets, weapons, taxidermied animals) where the most treasured items are the books that tell the stories of the man’s ancestors’ adventures. This is the story of the first such adventure, that of the unlikely hero Arthur, a boy from a small Icelandic town who loved to explore the forest and befriended the strange creatures he met there. One day a huge wolf puts out the town’s great fire. To relight it, someone needs to travel across the sea to where the Vikings live, and convince the god with the magic hammer to relight the fire. Despite the townsfolk’s doubts, Arthur sets off to find the god of storms.

The colors are all amazing, from the forests to the Viking god described in a tale to the injured townsfolk’s clothes and the books in the library in the gods’ hall. Every panel and bit of text drew me on to the next, but many of the drawings made me linger, and I’ve found myself going back and rereading bits and pieces just to enjoy them again.

This book belongs in all grade school and middle school libraries.

Wow, Forest Folk

Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero by Michael DeForge. Drawn & Quarterly, 2017. 9781770462700.

Gene: This is a little more realistic that some of DeForge’s other books. It’s the story of Sticks Angelica, 49-year-old former Olympian, poet, scholar, sculptor, minister, activist, governor general, entrepreneur, line cook, headmistress, mounty, columnist, libertarian, cellist. She has left Ontario and is now residing in Monterey National Park. Now, I looked that up online and the only Monterey National Park is in California. So she is there, she’s becoming one with the animals. Living a crazy life. There are geese, there’s craziness, she always wears this red sweater. It’s very random, It’s got a DeForgean stream of consciousness flow to the narrative, and it reminds me more of Ant Colony than anything else he’s written. (That’s my favorite book by DeForge.)
Sarah: Oh, yeah. Continue reading “Wow, Forest Folk”