Archives for posts with tag: graphic novels

Maybe it’s the boost of energy that comes along with Spring, but I’ve really been on a reading kick lately. That probably sounds silly coming from a librarian, but most of us wax and wane in our hobbies. I’ve also found myself reading a few things I wouldn’t normally pick up. And since all of these books have been so entertaining, I decided to share several short reviews covering a range of recent additions to the Library’s collection.

futureFuture Home of the Living God by Louise Erdich — Set in the not too distant future, or maybe just an alternative present, Erdich explores what might happen in a world where humans seem to be devolving. Cedar Hawk Songmaker is a Native American who has been adopted by a white family. And she has a secret: she’s pregnant. In an increasingly dystopian world, can she ensure the safety of herself, her child, and her families? I spent a lot of time frightened for Cedar and she journeys between worlds, both literal and spiritual. Erdich’s story is firmly within the realm of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

The One by John Marrs — What if, with a simple DNA sample, you could find your genetic soulmate? The one for whom you are literally perfect? In THE ONE, Marrs explores what might happen if this were possible. Six stories unfold as people learn the identities of their perfect genetic matches. Ranging from your everyday businessman to a serial killer, these characters discover that love is complex and can lead to results no one could expect. Though, I did find a couple of the plot points predictable, it was certainly a fun read. Fans of “Black Mirror” will likely enjoy this sordid set of tales.

fridgeThe Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne Valente — In the world of comic books, there is a term for a select group of characters: Women in Refrigerators. This refers to the disproportionate amount of female characters that are killed in the name of furthering storylines. Valente tells the stories of a series of women characters — no one directly from comics, but recognizable if you’re familiar with many of the big name series — who have been written out of the comics world and spend their time in the afterworld. The characters cover the gamut of emotions associated with such deaths, but also speak to the strength of female friendships. A quick read for anyone who wants a different perspective on the world of comics.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas — In Zumas’ story, only married, heterosexual couples can adopt children. Abortion is flat out illegal. And in this world, women are dealing with what these regulations mean for their everyday lives. Each woman copes in her own way, with longing, fear, or even rebellion. These characters are very real, and likely will remind you of someone you know. And some women, like a fictional explorer named Eivør Minervudottir, are out of place in their own time. This is another work that is spiritually and topically akin to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

mojo.jpgTotal Cat Mojo by Jackson Galaxy — Let’s be honest: I’m a crazy cat lady. I grew up a dog person, but years ago, my husband introduced me to cats and it’s been all downhill from there. Like any responsible pet owner, I want to make sure my cats are living their best lives. And that means Jackson Galaxy. He’s pretty much the go-to guy for cat people. And TOTAL CAT MOJO is a wonderful resource for all stages of a cat’s life. Plus, he gives great advice for troubleshooting common cat problems like litter box struggles, dealing with stressed kitties, and introducing new family members – from feline to human.

Though there are some common themes in these books, I think they’ll speak to a variety of readers. We add hundreds of items every month; be sure to explore the new books and to find something that appeals to you!

March Book OneMarch Book TwoMarch Book Three

Of all the treasures in the Smithsonian, the exhibit that sticks with me the most is a pair of petite, scuffed, rundown, women’s loafers worn during the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.  I found the shoes in a distant corner on the upper floor of the National Museum of American History, tucked safely in a display case with photographs and posters from the trek.  The case had been relocated due to renovations elsewhere in the museum, and I was lucky to run across it.  Those shoes mesmerized me.  They had been worn for all 54 miles of the march and showed it.  I can only imagine what it had been like to wear them.

I am equally mesmerized by March: Books 1-3, the graphic novel trio by John Lewis with Andrew Aydin and art by Nate Powell.  John Lewis, currently a U.S. Representative from Georgia, has spent his life in the civil rights movement.  As a young man, he chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a key group in the movement.  He organized sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters, participated in the Freedom Rides, helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, and helped lead the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery.

March is Lewis’ memoir of his civil rights work in the 1950s-60s.  It’s an insider’s look at the movement from a less well-known perspective.  Lewis lays out the motivation for his actions and decisions as well as those of the movement’s student wing.  He provides insight into the internal politics of the various organizations behind the movement.  His descriptions and Nate Powell’s drawings reflect the brutality of the struggle for equality–humiliation, beatings, incarceration, bombings, torture, death.  March accurately reflects the times it depicts; as a result, it’s not always easy to look at or to read.

Lewis bookends the movement’s history with scenes from the first presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.  Book One opens with Lewis preparing for the event; as he stops by his Capitol Hill office, he meets a woman wanting her young sons to understand the significance of the day.  Lewis pauses to relate the history of the civil rights movement to her sons, and the story begins.  Although somewhat awkward as a narrative device–additional scenes with Lewis speaking to the woman appear to serve as transitions at different points in the books–the intensity and immediacy of the art and text make up for it.  Lewis anchors his experiences around the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, hence the title.  All 3 volumes echo the call of “We’ll march!”, building up to the Alabama trek’s successful conclusion at the end of Book Three.

Nate Powell’s drawings may only be in grayscale, but they make as much impact as full color.  He uses a mix of bold strokes and detailed shadings to convey a wide range of emotions.  He incorporates large swaths of black background (sometimes a majority of a two-page spread) to highlight text or fine drawings or grave subject matter.  Powell cleverly incorporates the sizable amount of text in his drawings without sacrificing space or emotional power.  He has a tremendous capacity to capture facial expression and body language, portraying with equal skill reflective thoughtfulness and intense hate demonstrated by both black and white figures.  The books have won multiple Eisner Awards (the graphic novel world’s equivalent of the Oscars) for a reason.

March: Books 1-3 is an intense, fascinating exploration of our nation’s recent history.  It’s a natural choice for graphic novel or memoir fans and history buffs.  It has plenty to offer a wider audience, however.  Give the first volume or all 3 to high school students and adults; the books are equally interesting as part of a broader discussion or enjoyed alone.  Be prepared to provide context for or an introduction to the civil rights movement for middle students who read March as it accurately portrays the events and language of the time.  Like that unassuming pair of shoes in the Smithsonian, Lewis’ memoir holds a powerful message.

 

The Joplin Public Library has a fairly extensive collection of graphic novels, many of which I’ve reviewed previously in these pages. Still, there exists a bias against graphic novels. Many people view them as childish, lacking in literary merit. If that’s your perspective, I ask you to consider the work of cartoonist Art Spiegelman.

In his ground-breaking works “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History” and “Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began,” Spiegelman explores the Holocaust through the experiences of his father, Vladek, a Polish Jew. Part biography, part memoir, both works tell a compelling story.

“Maus,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 — the first graphic novel to do so – covers the mid-1930s through winter 1944. Vladek’s story begins in Czestochowa, a small Polish town not far from the German border. As a young man, he buys and sells textiles and describes a life of pretty girls who openly pursue him. Eventually, he meets and marries Anja, a clever but high-strung girl from a wealthy family. Anja suffers a breakdown after giving birth to their first son, Richieu, and the couple go to a sanitarium in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia so that Anja can seek rest and treatment.

After they return, political tensions rise, and there are anti-Semitic riots. Eventually, Vladek is drafted into the Polish army; he is captured by the Germans and becomes a prisoner of war. After his release, he reunites with his family.  But their happiness is short-lived, as the Nazi noose tightens around Europe. The Jews in Vladek and Anja’s town are moved from ghetto to ghetto amid worsening conditions. Families are split up. More and more people are sent to Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. The couple arrange to escape to Hungary, but the smugglers betray them to the Gestapo, who arrest them and send them to Auschwitz.

“Maus II” picks up where its predecessor leaves off. Separated in Auschwitz, Vladek and Anja lead lives of starvation and abuse. But Vladek finds ways to avoid the “selections,” the process by which prisoners were chose for more labor or even execution, and hustles his way into working as a tinsmith and cobbler. He and Anja manage to exchange occasional messages, which keeps them both going. As the war progresses, Vladek and other prisoners are marched from Auschwitz in occupied Poland to Dachau in Germany. When the war finally ends, the camp survivors are freed. After a time, Vladek and Anja are reunited.

Woven throughout Vladek’s story is the tale of father and son, who share a troubled, tense relationship. “Maus” and “Maus II” are as much about being a Holocaust survivor as they are about being the child of Holocaust survivors. Art is eager to hear his father’s experiences so that he can write about them, but he has little patience for the older man’s anxious, miserly ways. Much of “Maus II” is devoted to their relationship as Vladek’s second marriage falls apart and his health deteriorates badly.

Spiegelman employs an animal motif to tell his story. In keeping with Nazi propaganda, Jews are represented as vermin, as mice. Likewise, Germans are characterized as cats, Poles as pigs, French as frogs, and Americans as dogs. This technique adds a surreal quality to horrific historical events, particularly when characters masquerade as others, such as when Vladek and others wear pig masks over their mouse faces to hide their Jewish identities.

 

 

If you have any qualms about “reading” an illustrated work, be assured that the story is text-driven. The artwork is black and white, and there is a fair amount of detail in the frames.

If you don’t mind the heavy subject matter during this holiday season, I highly recommend that you pick up “Maus” and “Maus II.” They offer a unique, accessible interpretation of a horrific time in history. You can find them in the Teen Department of the Joplin Public Library.

 

 

Work and other matters have been keeping me busier than usual, so I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t done much reading lately, other than the occasional Entertainment Weekly. A few things managed to hold my attention, however, so I thought I’d share them with you.

The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook, by America’s Test Kitchen

Area farmers markets are going strong and my herb garden has been planted, which means the growing season is upon us. From a vegetarian’s perspective, this time of year is a dream.

Vegetarian or not, you should find inspiration in this cookbook. If you’re unfamiliar with American’s Test Kitchen, you should check them out. There is a magazine (Cook’s Illustrated), a PBS show, a call-in program on public radio and an entire line of wonderfully instructional cookbooks, covering everything from cooking equipment and techniques to the best recipe for a particular dish.

Whether you’re just starting to explore your cooking abilities or you can handle a knife like a professional chef, there is something in this book for you. It is divided as many cookbooks are, with separate chapters covering grains, salads, sides and main dishes, sandwiches and so on. As with every America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, there is a great deal of helpful information preceding the recipes. Sections I found particularly useful were “Flavor-building ingredients for the vegetarian cook” and “Vegetables from A-Z.”

One quibble: The authors could have addressed the challenges inherent in maintaining a strict vegetarian diet – among them, getting the right amount of protein, B vitamins, iron and calcium. However, many of the dishes use dairy and eggs — which does make them vegan unfriendly — and there is an entire chapter devoted to beans and soy.

Many of the recipes are familiar to me – Eggplant Parmesan, Gazpacho, Greek Salad, Huevos Rancheros – but there are new ones I am eager to try, such as the Stir-fried Eggplant with Garlic-Basil Sauce (although I would add tofu, which the recipe omits), Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup, Korean Barbecue Tempeh Wraps and Kale Caesar Salad.

In recent years, I have all but stopped buying cookbooks because my collection has gotten out of control, but this America’s Test Kitchen volume is one that I’m seriously considering purchasing.

C.O.W.L., volume 1, Principles of Power, by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel

I try to read most graphic novels that the library purchases. Some blow me away with their writing or artwork, while others leave me unimpressed. Occasionally, I’m ambivalent, as is the case with “C.O.W.L.”

Set in 1962 Chicago, this adult graphic novel features the Chicago Organized Workers League, a group of superheroes who team up with “unpowered” individuals to fight organized crime and super villains. In Volume 1, the league is in contract negotiations with city leaders and attempting to prove its value to a disenchanted public. Despite some internal struggles, the heroes – some of whom qualify as anti-heroes – begin a crackdown on mobsters and search for a potential mole in their midst.

I loved the artwork. It’s dark, atmospheric, very noir; much of the action takes place at night, in alleys, nightclubs and warehouses. The heroes are a motley assortment, with enough problems — family troubles, alcoholism, sexism — to distract them from their mission. They’re intriguing, sharp and witty; some of the one-liners had me laughing out loud.

My major complaint? I had difficulty following the story. Too many plot points and characters were crammed into this introductory volume. I repeatedly found myself referencing the list of characters on the first page to keep myself on track. Overall, however, I’m interested in finding out what happens next, so I hope the library purchases Volume 2 when it becomes available in August.

Dear White People: A Guide to Inter-Racial Harmony in “Post-Racial” America, by Justin Simien

Inspired by the movie of the same name, this short read is meant to inspire laughter while it provokes thought. With the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, many felt our country had moved past its long history of racism. This is, unfortunately, not the case. People continue to judge others by their skin color, often in subtle ways, and they still say hateful things or violently lash out.

Film maker Justin Simien chooses to address this sensitive issue with humor. Chapters entitled “Please Stop Touching my Hair,” “Please Stop Insisting that You’re Practically ‘Black’” and “We Don’t Know Why Kanye West Did That” will have you giggling – sometimes uncomfortably. There are also charts and written exercises, such as “The N-word: a Decision Tree” and “Are You a Post-Racist?”

Make no mistake, “Dear White People” is not all jokes and quizzes. There is a serious message beneath the fun, and it sneaks up on you unexpectedly at times. Trust me; just go with it.

Are there seriously still people out there that think graphic novels aren’t for grown-ups? If so, they need to drop in on a book club I’ve recently joined.

Hurley’s Heroes, a comic and gaming shop located at 824 S. Main St. in Joplin, has established a public book club that is meant to appeal strictly to adults 21 and older: Comics and Cocktails, which meets the third Wednesday of every month at Infuxon, 530 S. Main St. The idea is that participants read the same book (hopefully after buying it from Hurley’s, because it’s important to support your local small businesses, folks) and gather at Infuxon to discuss it and consume tasty edibles and well-crafted cocktails, including a special one inspired by the book.

“Seconds” by Bryan Lee O’Malley – known to many as the author and illustrator of the “Scott Pilgrim” series of graphic novels – was Comic and Cocktails’ inaugural selection. It’s the story of Katie, a talented and successful young chef. Her life seems utterly charmed, until quite suddenly things start to turn sour – among other complications, her ex-boyfriend reappears and construction on her new restaurant faces obstacles. Katie is soon provided a solution, in the form of a strange girl who offers her a mushroom and these instructions: 1. Write your mistake. 2. Ingest one mushroom. 3. Go to sleep. 4. Wake anew.

Kate follows the directions and the next morning finds that what was done has been undone. However, she is quickly caught in a cycle of doing and undoing that begins to have unsettling, even supernatural, consequences. I’m stopping there; you’ll have to read “Seconds” if you want to find out what happens.

There was a lot I appreciated about this graphic novel. It’s a coming-of-age story, even though Katie is technically already an adult. O’Malley has chosen a beautiful color palette; the rich reds of Katie’s hair, her car and the dresser that the mushroom-toting Lis perches on really pop against the more widely used earth tones. Additionally, while he illustrates the characters with clean, bold lines, there is some very fine detail work in the background.

One caveat: I must admit that I found Katie kind of annoying after a while. She seems to have the emotional maturity and impulse control of a young teenager, yet she’s allegedly a well-respected professional in the culinary world who manages to run her own restaurant and is building another. I don’t know that I completely buy her personal growth as the story progresses to its conclusion, either. However, the secondary characters were much more intriguing, particularly the mysterious Lis and the shy waitress, Hazel.

But read “Seconds” for yourself; don’t let my opinion of Katie sway you. You can find it in the adult non-fiction collection of the Joplin Public Library. Also, if you’re interested, the next Comics and Cocktails event is Wednesday, April 15. For more information, check out Hurley’s Heroes Comics and Games on Facebook, call 417-782-6642 or just stop by the store.

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg

It’s not a graphic novel, but I can’t help but tack on a brief mention of a new non-fiction book we recently added. If you need a laugh, check out “Text from Jane Eyre.” The entire book – which I think I read in 20 minutes – is chapter after chapter of imagined texts sent to and by well-known writers, as well as characters ranging from Hamlet to the twins in the “Sweet Valley High” series.

There’s Mrs. Bennett from “Pride and Prejudice” texting her daughter Elizabeth: “remember when there was someone who wanted to marry you” “yes” “hahahaha there isn’t anyone like that now”

And how about T. S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock?: “let’s have a tedious argument in the streets” “have you been drinking?” “the sky is so beautiful tonight like a patient etherized upon a table” “I’m coming over I’m worried about you” “there’s yellow smoke on the window-panes” “What kind of smoke? Did you leave the stove on?”

Then there are texts with John Keats: “oh my god oh my god do you know what I LOVE like what I am just crazy about” “is it this urn” “THIS URN” “I figured you seemed really excited”

Trust me. You need to read this book, especially if you’ve ever taken a literature class. I wish I’d had it within reach during my undergraduate and graduate school days when I needed a giggle.

Lisa E. Brown is the Administrative Assistant at the Joplin Public Library.

We see them all too often in our community: stray dogs wandering the neighborhood, running in and out of traffic, scavenging for food and water. It’s not uncommon for people to look the other way and assume that the dog will be okay. Reading “Good Dog” might make you think twice before turning away next time.

Ivan is a good dog. He just wants to figure out where he belongs. Is it on his own? Too lonely, and too hard to find adequate food and water. With a human? He’s not sure he’s cut out for the domesticated life. With other dogs? In his quest to find his place, Ivan joins with a pack of dogs and, while he enjoys the companionship and benefits, finds the personalities and politics difficult to accept.

Don’t worry – I’ll tell you right now that Ivan’s ending is not a sad one, so no need to break out the Kleenex. And the story is not a complicated one with extremely detailed, colorful drawings and dialogue bubbles popping up everywhere. In fact, I found that the black and white illustrations and low-key, to-the-point language were a refreshing change that added to the retro feel of “Good Dog.”

I’ve run out of space here, but don’t let that keep you from the Joplin Public Library’s graphic novel collection. If none of selections above appeal to you, you might try “Lost Cat” by Jason, “Number Cruncher” by Si Spurrier and P.J. Holden, or “A Contract with God” by Will Eisner, all relatively new additions to our collection. And there is always the Teen Department, whose shelves are well-stocked with graphic novels.

I became a fan of this series as soon as I picked up volume 1. “Saga” is the story of Marko and Alana, two soldiers whose cultures are at war with another. They fall in love and go on the run, and Alana later gives birth to the couple’s daughter. Their fledgling family is threatened by bounty hunters, assassins and soldiers.
In volumes 2 and 3, their journey continues as they encounter Marko’s family and search for a reclusive author who might have some answers for them. New characters are introduced, such as Marko’s former fiancée, and old ones’ roles are expanded – namely The Will, a mysterious bounty hunter and my favorite character thus far.
This science fiction/fantasy series has something for everyone. On the surface, there’s romance, monsters, violence, adventure. Beneath, there are meditations on family, child abuse, war and peace, and bigotry. The artwork is colorful and gorgeous, the writing sharp and witty. I look forward to more volumes in the “Saga” series.