24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: graphic novels

Abby Reads: Snow White by Matt Phelan

Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan
Candlewick Press, 2016, 216 pages
Graphic Novel Retelling

In 1920s New York City, Samantha “Snow” White is suddenly without a mother but living the financial high life with her father. When the Queen of the Ziegfeld Follies catches Snow’s father’s eye, Snow’s life changes pretty quickly. For a time, she is sent away. And when an inheritance becomes available, Image result for snow white phelanthe Queen will do whatever she can to get the lion’s share — including hire a murderer for Snow. Following the traditional plot of the classic “Snow White” fairy tale, Matt Phelan provides both the story and art for Snow White: A Graphic Novel with a twist in setting and circumstance.

Phelan’s take on “Snow White” is excellent. A writer must have a reason, generally speaking, to cast an old favorite in a new setting, and Phelan succeeds fantastically here with his Roaring Twenties look at “Snow White.” The new setting allows for great commentary on poverty and wealth while adding a huge potential for aesthetics, of which Phelan takes great advantage. As both writer and illustrator, Phelan mixes both arts well. His illustrations are truly lovely things to examine with a sketchy, noir, watercolor style tinged with just the right touch of magic and arresting splashes of color where it best serves him.

While the text is quite sparse, the images of the graphic novel carry the story well, even in more nuanced moments. Exact facial expressions and implications throughout the text help to develop characters in specific ways that can’t be translated through text. Although the Queen is an antagonistic character, even with the spare text, her personality and motivation are well-developed, allowing readers not necessarily to sympathize, but to certainly understand her position. With the backdrop of the Great Depression, the Queen’s desire for a large financial net — particularly as someone who works as a performer — is attractive, and it’s well illustrated through Phelan’s story even without spelling it out. Phelan’s one shortcoming with his art style is an occasional tendency to draw too much chaos into an image, making it unclear exactly what has happened from one pane to the next. Often, the surrounding work is enough to clarify, but on occasion, scenes of violence are difficult to follow.

Rather than the traditional dwarves, Phelan employs young street urchins to come to Snow’s aid in her time of need. Each with a street name, the apparent orphans are reliant upon themselves to live and get into some light mischief along the way. While Phelan mostly avoids magic and fantasy in his Snow White, the urchins are a perfect stand-in for the seven dwarves, if they don’t carry the wisdom the original dwarves are known for. The Dickensian twist works well within the context of 1920s New York City, too, and makes for a charming addition to the retelling.

Phelan does fall a little short in pacing with the narrative. With plenty of exposition leading up to the main event and conflict, the story feels a bit front-heavy. The role of the rescuing prince — here, a detective — seems to come from nearly nowhere, and his consequences are difficult to see form from any earlier appearances. His involvement earlier on might have solved this in some fashion, even as an appearance in Snow’s childhood to help bring the story full circle. It’s primarily this that makes me think Snow White: A Graphic Novel might have benefited from another round or two of edits.

The work stands solidly, however, as a whole. The artwork is truly remarkable and something I’d be willing to hang in my home, if not keep the graphic novel as a piece on a coffee table. Phelan very successfully brings “Snow White” to a new setting and to great effect, certainly enhancing the original story with his choices. His art and text mix beautifully and, while a few elements needed tweaking, the graphic novel is a win. Interestingly, the book is evidently targeted at elementary-school- and middle-school-aged children, though the quality and layers could easily serve an older, adult audience.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: When I’m Old and Other Stories by Gabrielle Bell

When I’m Old and Other Stories by Gabrielle Bell
Alternative Comics, 2003, 128 pages
Graphic Collection

In a collection of short graphic stories called When I’m Old and Other Stories, Gabrielle Bell describes her life and the lives of others with a grungy art style paired with some pretty bizarre text and narratives. Bell explores the idea of imagining herself, as the title suggests, when she is old, as well as a relationship with a grandparent, the effects of alcohol, and more.111263

Throughout When I’m Old and Other Stories, you’ll likely be reminded of a feel of the ‘90’s, though the collection was published in 2003. It features a grungy, sort-of grotesque atmosphere and style that I have always ascribed to what it was like to be a teenager and young adult in the ‘90s (though I only ever got as old as nine in that decade). Though I haven’t seen Daria, I was reminded of the show, albeit in a darker way than I understand Daria to be from what little exposure I’ve had, with each turn of the page. There’s something delightfully disgusting about When I’m Old and Other Stories, and it is perhaps Bell’s absolute rejection of traditional femininity in the work that makes it so.

But this rejection of femininity often felt like a sort of internalized misogyny. The macho sort of attitude her characters carry, particularly combined with these elements of the obscene, the grotesque, the disgusting, makes When I’m Old and Other Stories feel like an outright accusation against feminine women, though there really is no outright statement I saw that actually gets at that point. This, again combined with a vague feeling that Bell is trying to prove herself or make some sort of point — again, something I couldn’t point out specifically in the work, just a general feeling — made the collection a challenge for me.

There is, perhaps, a deeper meaning here that I’m not getting. There may be layers that better define a point that I simply wasn’t willing to work for. But when Bell’s art style is so unremarkable and the text chaotic and, frankly, often seemingly drug-influenced, I didn’t find that I particularly cared. If Bell was not going to put forth an amount of effort I felt appropriate, I was not going to make up the difference. Of course, When I’m Old and Other Stories was published by a micropress — and one named Alternative Comics. It has a zine feel to it, and I suspect that’s by design in some sense. So, perhaps it’s still my failing that I expected more.

One final struggle I encountered: it was never entirely clear to me what in When I’m Old is autobiographical, what is fiction, what is a mix of the two, and so on. The title would suggest all autobiography, but some elements were too fantastical to be real and some stories conflicted in one way or another. Though Bell’s glimpse into the future in “When I’m Old” is likely some sort of autobiography (an interesting question — can we write autobiographies of our futures?), other stories are far less clear, like “Amy Was a Babysitter.” (The Amazon description seems to clear up this confusion, but the autobiographical influence and degree to which it’s present is still unclear.)

The book is a quick read if you, like I, don’t care to dive too much into it and assume Bell is speaking only on the surface here. It somehow feels significant, but it’s not especially entertaining — rather, it’s depressing in places, which is fine but not for me. I’ll reference more work I haven’t personally engaged with but felt tickling the back of my brain as I read this: Broad City and Girls and, perhaps even Portlandia (which I have seen a bit of). I wondered if When I’m Old and Other Stories represented a sort of prototype for these shows, which I imagine to be depictions of women as human. The difference is When I’m Old is far less commercialized, and perhaps, then, more true to its content.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #21, “Read a book published by a micropress,” and I leave it behind with two hearts.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
Abrams ComicArts, 2012, 240 pages
Graphic Memoir

If you have any interest in true crime — and even if you don’t — you’ve heard of the infamous cannibalistic serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer. Though Dahmer was quite young when he was killed in prison (thirty-four years old), his murder spree mostly occurred in the later years in his life. This leaves the mystery 12959045of what Dahmer was like prior to giving into his fatal temptations. Who was child Dahmer? Who was high school student Dahmer? Former classmate John Backderf, writing under the name Derf Backderf, reveals what he witnessed in Dahmer prior to the serial killer’s crimes. With a gloomy graphic format, in My Friend Dahmer Backderf provides an interesting look into the history and mind of Dahmer with painstaking research and deep dedication.

Backderf supplies both the text and art for this graphic memoir that borders on a graphic biography of sorts. Although Dahmer, even in his teen years, was mostly closed off from his peers (largely, it would seem, as a self-imposed mechanism), Backderf and a small group of others got to know Dahmer casually as a sort of class clown with a drinking problem and an unsatisfactory home life in midwest America. The dinginess of the 1970s reflected in his artwork, Backderf works with a muddy palette that serves to heighten the sense of suffocation Dahmer was apparently feeling in his teen years. While the color scheme works well to influence the mood of the story, the drawing style often felt bulky and somehow unserious, which was much less fitting to the narrative.

Still, Backderf writes with a voice that is a bit melancholy and thoughtful. Both the language and sentence structure contributes to a sense of impending doom. He frequently asks himself the what-ifs while acknowledging that despite any events in high school, the grim future had Dahmer stuck on a path to destruction. Even as readers know how Dahmer will turn out, they reach for his salvation, prior to his first murder. Backderf is careful to differentiate Dahmer pre-murder and post-murder, noting that while pre-murder Dahmer deserves sympathy for his wretched home and school life (and general mental health), post-murder Dahmer has made a conscious choice and can no longer receive sympathy.

Because of the distance between Dahmer and his small group of “friends,” Backderf must rely on loads of research to get the story as accurate as possible. This means plenty of gaps, too, but with a detailed explanation of his methods following the narrative, Backderf is surprising with the amount of care he put into depicting Dahmer’s earlier life. Using newspaper articles, books, court documents, yearbooks, and memories from other acquaintances (which he nearly always insisted there must be two of each event to qualify for inclusion), the amount of work Backderf sunk into this project is admirable. It pays off with an intimate look at teenage Dahmer unavailable elsewhere and totally unique. However, the missing details only Dahmer can share, particularly about specific mental states and the why of it all does make for a work that feels incomplete. In fact, Backderf leaves nearly everything following Dahmer’s first murder off of the narrative. While he briefly discusses reactions to Dahmer’s arrest and certainly references the murders to come, these events are never truly explored. If you’re looking for something that is truly true crime, My Friend Dahmer is not the book to go with.

My Friend Dahmer is an interesting, if sometimes frustrating for the necessary separation between narrator and subject, work that is unlike any other. Backderf is incredibly thoughtful, both on his own feelings and Dahmer’s life. Introspective and marveling, the story reaches into many places many of us want to visit but are often unable to access. Though some of those places remain inaccessible in this graphic memoir, My Friend Dahmer is a worthwhile read for anyone into all things murder and psychology.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Ms. Marvel Vol 1 – No Normal by G. Willow Wilson

Ms. Marvel Vol 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
Marvel, 2014, 120 pages
Graphic Novel

Dealing with a lack of self-esteem fueled by external and internal Islamaphobia and the usual challenges of being a teenager, Kamala in Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson only wishes she could be like her heroes. When she stumbles into the appearance and powers of Ms. Marvel, she finds being a hero is a bigger challenge than she could have imagined, especially as her family begins asking questions.Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal (Ms. Marvel Series) by [Wilson, G.]

Most origin stories for superheroes involve origin stories that pull fans in with drama and excitement. Kamala’s introduction to her powers is, by contrast, anticlimactic. This is, perhaps, somewhat intentional — another highlight of how truly ordinary Kamala imagines herself to be and maybe even is. With no fascinating spider bite to explain her powers or any overly dramatic emotional baggage, Kamala encounters her new abilities as part of the every day.

Marvel superfans may find this origin story more interesting as it ties into other parts of the greater Marvel universe, but for the casual comic book or graphic novel reader with limited exposure to Marvel, the opening of Kamala’s life as a superhero is unremarkable, save for her predictable shock at her new state. This story line, however, is truly the central plot line despite its stark simplicity. Few other plots are formed or deep enough to create a robust narrative.

Meanwhile, Kamala’s family represents a set of interesting dynamics. Kamala’s mother holds strong opinions and is often hard on her daughter while the father of the family is more forgiving. With an older brother, Kamala often finds herself in competition with her sibling but also has a supporter in her brother.

Islamaphobia is one of the elements of Kamala’s life which contributes to her low self-esteem. Interestingly, the bulk of Islamaphobia featured in the graphic novel is the insidious kind. Zoe, the primary perpetrator, doesn’t seem to be consciously anti-Muslim. Instead, the Islamaphobic language she uses and suggestions she makes seems to be more of a convenient vehicle for her more general dislike of Kamala. Zoe is, to some extent, the “I’m-not-racist” racist. This is useful because readers who might not otherwise see their language and actions as racist might view their own behavior in new light thanks to Zoe’s antagonism.

Another interesting character lives in Kamala’s friend, Bruno. Despite his bad-boy skater look, Bruno is the lawful good of No Normal. Bruno expresses romantic interest in Kamala and backs those feelings up with respect and care. Though he appears in few panels, Bruno’s influence is clear in Kamala’s actions. Moments of strength sometimes seem to come from memories of Bruno’s kindness and integrity.

No Normal isn’t my style, but works as an introduction to the world of superheroes, particularly for girls who may feel intimidated by the genre. With a sketchy illustration style, Kamala’s story is just beginning and future volumes are sure to grow in excitement.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #18, Read a superhero comic with a female lead,” and I leave it behind with two-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
HarperTeen, 2015, 272 pages
Fantasy Graphic Novel

With the ability to shapeshift and a great admiration for Lord Ballister Blackheart, Nimona has decided it’s time to be a sidekick. Though her origins are hazy, Nimona will not be denied by Blackheart and she eventually wears him down by taking what she wants and showing up to work against the Institute of Law Enforcement alongside Blackheart. With each battle, Nimona wreaks havoc on Blackheart’s plans but there’s something in Nimona that tugs at Blackheart and perhaps something nefarious going on at the Institute of Law Enforcement. With a mash-up of medieval times and science fiction, Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is a highly original adventure that is far more than it first appears to be.

One of the impressive things about Nimona is that the story is far more complex than I can get into in a review. There are backstories, lies, hidden identities, layers of loyalty, and all sorts of plot subtleties that round out the story as a whole and complete narrative. With an ending that isn’t entirely conclusive, Stevenson leaves readers with the ability to insert their own ending, but not at the cost of the readers feeling lost or unfulfilled.

Another of Nimona’s strengths is its dedication to humor. The stark visual contrast between Nimona, who is short, pudgy, and pink-haired, to the tall, thin, dark-haired Blackheart is enough to make readers giggle to start, but the real gems come in the form of dialog. Nimona, a chronic over-reactor, regularly spurts lines of hilarity that are not, from her perspective, intended to be funny, but are amusing nonetheless. Stevenson’s skill in employing humor in a story that is so complex might remind some readers of Vonnegut, despite the radically different format. Readers won’t just smile from humor, however; Nimona is ultimately a story of heart and courage. The brand of courage in the graphic novel is more of a surety of oneself rather than, say, Men in Black courage of defeating aliens (although, if you liked Men in Black, you will also very much enjoy Nimona, I think). The book is immensely heartwarming at every turn, though particularly in scenes that feature Nimona and Blackheart alone.

Each character is carefully crafted with their own motivations, desires, backstories, and visual design that both serve to mirror and contradict their personalities. Stevenson succeeds a great deal in playing characters off one another, creating a sense of chemistry that is hard to find in other narratives. With the depth of each character, no relationship can afford to be truly superficial, even in instances of acquaintances.

Nimona is highly relevant for today — the attempt at diversity (which seems to be an excellent and still-emerging theme in media more and more) is evident (the story features a female lead who is decidedly not traditionally feminine outside of her pink hair, a woman in the ultimate seat of power, gay secondary characters, and a secondary character with a prosthetic limb — and not only this, but the primary relationship featured in the story is not of the romantic, or even friend (arguably), variety). Characters of color are few and far between and socioeconomic status appears to be a non-issue in many ways, so there are gaps, but Nimona remains one of the most overtly diverse pieces of fiction I’ve encountered in a while.

The relevance does not end at diversity, however. The politics of Nimona’s world are strikingly similar to what we see in many modern governments — a lack of trust between the government (or, more specifically, the Institute of Law Enforcement — the acronym of which you might notice could be anagrammed to the word “lie” — yeah, maybe I’m pushing it here, but still) and the people of its domain features heavily, though ultimately, the government is not acting on the best interests of the people.

Great for teens and adults alike, Nimona is a fresh take on old tropes that is both fun and thought-provoking (and hilarious). Stevenson’s work on the project was clearly done with loads of love and planning, and, from someone, you’ll remember, who isn’t huge on graphic novels, it comes recommended with four hearts.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

Paper Girls (Volume I) by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
Image Comics, 2016, 144 pages
Graphic Novel

Paper Girls, written by Brian K. Vaughan with art by Cliff Chiang, got incredibly lucky — not only was the execution fantastic, but it emerged in a year in which Netflix’s Stranger Things took off, providing fans of the show with more fantastic science fiction Eighties nostalgia revolving around kids who display maturity that adults often forget they had as kids. When Erin joins a group in the early morning hours of November 1 to deliver newspapers, she finds empowerment in being part of the first group of girls to serve as paperboys. Although twelve years old, Erin already has a solid grip on the world around her — until everything is turned upside down with two different sets of invaders in her neighborhood who seem to be at war with each other. Are they aliens? Are they from the future? Are they here to harm the people of Erin’s town? Already, the adults have lost their minds and the paper girls are on their own.

Erin’s love of scientists, evidenced by a woman scientist (I’ll keep it a surprise as to who) appearing in her dream, draws the reader in right away. While the girls in Paper Girls are girls, you won’t find any stereotypes here. Each character lives in their own flaws, toughness, capability, and sensitivity, a luxury rarely afforded to female characters particularly in this specific genre (by which I mean a sort of action-adventure about kids in the Eighties, in which you generally either have one token girl amongst a group of boys who, still, is either “girly” or a tomboy with no spectrum between the two, and neither is ever truly viewed favorably).

Instead, though each are different in nuanced ways that make them individuals you might recognize from your own childhood, Mac, Erin, Tiffany, and KJ are not terribly influenced by their gender beyond the pride of being the first of the paper girls in a town of only paperboys. Vaughan’s ability to write real girls sets Paper Girls apart from so many other stories about girls and women. This is especially impressive given that, in reality, the graphic novel is in many ways about what it is to be a girl. Vaughan creates a fascinating and apparent paradox, writing girls who are seemingly genderless by society’s and fiction’s standards while maintaining characters that are more true to girlhood than characters of other narratives that specifically highlight facets of girlhood.

Meanwhile, Vaughan refuses to ignore other important conversations on privilege. Mac, for example, is the embodiment of privileged America. Her dialogue and beliefs can be highly offensive, even within the “historical” context of the Eighties, yet without being too obvious about it, Vaughan nods to the moral issues there. Though Mac’s first utterance of a gay slur was shocking, something beneath the surface of the narrative suggests Mac is in fact being set up for major character development, which is massively exciting — it has been so rare, in my experience, to see true and meaningful character development for adolescent girls in fiction that goes beyond the role of women in relation to men. How refreshing it is to see it unfolding in Paper Girls.

The concept in plot is equally riveting. It’s difficult to say much without giving it away, but I was impressed by the complexity that develops throughout the graphic novel and felt it brought up some great questions and dilemmas, causing the reader to look both inward and outward at themselves, society now, and society in the future. The premise is loaded with relevant allegories, but is supposed heavily by a great story that promises to get even better.

Finally, a word on the art — I often, as I’ve mentioned before, struggle with art in graphic novels. Though I recognize it’s an inherent and important part of graphic novels, I typically find it distracting and overwhelming. Chiang’s illustrations for Paper Girls, however, are mind-blowing. The simplicity of colors and outlines with a jaw-dropping and buzzing palette made me want to get large prints of several of the panes to decorate my walls with. I loved this art, from the style to the execution to the concept, and I can’t overstate how engaging it made the material as a whole.

Paper Girls does have moments of confusion. As a first volume, I expect some of that is intentional as we learn more about what is actually going on and about the world in which the story takes place. I’ll be watching my libraries for Volume II, to find out what happens next and get another eyeful of that spectacular art. If you’re a fan of Eighties nostalgia revival, complex girl characters, and science fiction (or even if you’re not a fan of any of those things but trust me just a little bit), I hope you’ll join me.

❤❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Pantheon Graphic Novels, 2004, 160 pages
Graphic Novel Memoir

I’ve never been one to really enjoy graphic novels. I see their value, I appreciate that others enjoy them, but it’s never been my thing. Once in a while, I find one that grabs me, but generally, I find I have a bias toward wanting more text. I read quickly and graphic novels flash by me. I probably, admittedly, do not pick up subtleties in the images that go along with the text. That’s my disclaimer for my review of Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi.

Persepolis is, arguably, not a graphic novel. In fact, it’s a graphic autobiography. Marjane Satrapi tells the highs and lows of her time as child in Iran during the Islamic revolution. As she explores the various relationships she held, particularly of that with an uncle, Marjane Satrapi gives the circumstances surrounding these events and the events themselves something of a face – albeit one with parts obscured and with parts illuminated by hindsight. A brave and rebellious child with equally tenacious parents, Marjane Satrapi as a character provides a spunky girl in less-than-ideal circumstances.

Another disclaimer – I grew up going to school in the American public school system. It would seem, compared to many other countries’ systems, mine was lacking in the global awareness arena. Any formal historical education I had focused solely on American history and, even then, it was limited to pretty much the Revolutionary War except for maybe on semester where we covered the Civil War through part of World War II. All this to say, I had zero context for Persepolis. At twenty-four, I guess there’s an argument to be made that this is my fault, but frankly, there’s a whole lot of history to learn and no so much time to do it. So, while I’ve gotten to the edges of starting to learn some of what I missed, I’m factually and conceptually blind when it comes to the Islamic revolution and Iran.

I don’t want to put the burden of that education on the author. That would cover so many –isms, it would make your head spin. At the very least, it would potentially imply that my time is more valuable than Satrapi’s, which it certainly isn’t. So, this burden is on me. My lack of knowledge in this area, however, presented a fairly large disconnect with the content of Persepolis. I had no context for the events in Satrapi’s life. And, while for many readers this might mean a springboard to doing research on their own, I just felt lost. It was a case of not knowing what I didn’t know (also on me, I don’t deny that) and doing the bare minimum of checking Wikipedia when I really felt it necessary. So, I’m certain I’m missing out on a lot of Persepolis that I needn’t. I probably would have enjoyed it with more context, whether Satrapi had supplied it or not. And, to be fair, Satrapi did include quite a bit of explanation and background. In any case, for this particular topic I leave you with this: be aware that, if you’re not already well-versed in this piece of history, you’ll be lost. Don’t blame it on the author.

Next: Satrapi as a character. Perhaps this is a symptom of autobiography or autobiography in graphic format or who knows what, but I felt Satrapi as a character was always distant and two-dimensional. Perhaps, again, this was intentional – the story, after all, is more about events, circumstances, and people surrounding Satrapi than Satrapi herself. But I consistently felt as if Satrapi was revealing only very specific parts of herself in an attempt to string together a cohesive narrative (and don’t we all? But I found it ill-suiting here.)

Which brings me to the narrative structure. Again (and again), I’ll point out this was an autobiography. Is it fair that I ask it have a plot? I don’t know – I do believe a plot of some kind makes an autobiography more compelling. And while the Islamic revolution rages throughout the narrative, Satrapi’s coming-of-age did not feel particularly directional or with any arc. Each vignette included in the narrative adds up to her emerging as a young adult, but one does not follow the next naturally.

And, as a piece of personal preference (as if this entire review isn’t) – I was not a fan of the artistic style employed the in graphic portion of the graphic autobiography. The wood-block-like prints reinforced the two-dimensional feel I got from Satrapi-the-character.

I hate that I didn’t enjoy Persepolis; I feel down-right guilty about it. But there it is. Despite disliking it, I still think I’d recommend it to many. It’s a valuable piece of work and probably has more than I’m able to appreciate with my limited scope. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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