Wrapping Up Graphic Novels February, Hello to March Food & Gardening!

Thanks to Debi, I spent February reading a lot of comics. You see, Debi is picking a theme for each month of reading and I liked the plan so much that I’m joining her. I know that Chris and Heather are reading, too. February was such a success, that I’m going to be participating in March’s theme, too, but more on that later.

Here are the comics I read in February:

  1. Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks
  2. Blue by Pat Grant
  3. Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
  4. Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
  5. Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot
  6. The Secret of the Stone Frog by David Nytra
  7. The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long, Jim Deomakos, & Nate Powell
  8. Locke & Key Vol 1 by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
  9. The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire
  10. A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle and Hope Larson
  11. Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canals and Juanjo Guarnido (finished in March)

I also read these other books:

  1. January First by Michael Schofield
  2. The Raven Boys  by Maggie Stiefvater
  3. One & The Same by Abigail Pogrebin
  4. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

So of all the comics I read, which ones do I wholeheartedly recommend? Well, certainly Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire, and Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido, which I just finished today and adored.

It was one of the best reading months I’ve had in a long time! As you can see, I did still read quite a few non-graphic novels during the month and I’d really like to start balancing out my reading a bit more. This has been a great year for me and non-fiction, and now comics, and I’d like to keep it that way.

Speaking of non-fiction, March is all about reading about nature and gardening. Michael and I are doing our first balcony garden this year and we’ve already started planting our seeds in starters in the apartment. We’re going to try and grow broccoli, hot peppers, tomatoes, and a lot of herbs. I also got a strawberry kit that goes in your windowsill. I have high hopes for all of them!

All of that is to say that I’m very interested in this month’s theme, too, so I’m going to keep on reading with Debi, Chris, and Heather! Here’s my list for this month:

march reading

 

  1. The Blueberry Years by Jim Minick
  2. Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
  3. Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education by Michael Pollan
  4. The Quarter-Acre Farm by Spring Warren

I have been meaning to read Animal Vegetable Miracle for a long time and I found the rest of these books by browsing the “books like” Animal Vegetable Miracle category on a few different sites. All but the Pollan will be available for me on Monday, so I’m excited to dig in (pun intended).

Thank you again, Debi, for coming up with such awesome themes and getting me to read things that normally would have taken a back burner! 2013 is already turning into one of my best reading years.

GNF 8 – Locke & Key Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft

Locke & Key Vol. 1 cover

Locke & Key Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW, 2008)

Isn’t it funny how one post can really derail you? I’ve been working on a review of another comic that I read this month for forever and I just can’t seem to find the right words to describe how it made me feel. I’ve decided to just let the post sit and if I can finally make a decision about my opinion, then maybe I’ll eventually get around to posting about it. For now, though, let’s just move on to the other comics I’ve read this month.

I’m familiar with both Joe Hill and his collaborator on the Locke & Key series, Gabriel Rodriguez, but honestly I’ve never fallen in love with anything either of them have worked on. I started reading Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, but never finished it. Not because I didn’t like it, but because the first section just wore me down. After I read Locke & Key, I did pick up Heart-Shaped Box and I finally finished it. I’ll try to post a review for that one once Graphic Novel February is over.

As for Gabriel Rodriguez: Apparently I lied! I’ve never read a comic that Gabriel Rodriguez illustrated. I went through my archives and I couldn’t find anything. I looked at his website and I haven’t read anything he’s worked on. I have no idea who I thought he was. At least it all makes sense. I didn’t really recognize his art. I apologize, Gabriel Rodriguez, for thinking I had read one of your comics in the past and didn’t enjoy it.

I think you saw this coming, but I really liked Locke & Key. It’s so scary! I am not the biggest fan of real horror movies, but I do like horror novels and I also like lighter horror. I’m a not-so-secret fan of Supernatural, which basically started out as a way to make hour-long horror movies every week. It’s not structured that way anymore, but the spirit of it is still there. I was obsessed with ghost stories as a kid.

I am much more of a fan of the ghost brand of horror than the slasher brand, and Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft has both. The patriarch of the Locke family, a school counselor, is murdered by one of his students, who is looking for the key. The family then moves to the old Locke family house on the island Lovecraft. That’s when things start to get even weirder. Bodie, the youngest Locke boy, finds a door that when you walk through it, it turns you into a ghost. All you have to do to get back in your body is think about it. There’s also a mysterious voice in a well on the property.

Welcome to Lovecraft gave me nightmares. I knew that I couldn’t read it before bed, because there were just some things that were too creepy. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. Sure, I don’t really want nightmares, but the story affected me enough that I was dreaming about it.

This is the first in a series, so it’s important that the author and illustrator really try to get you familiar with the characters in as few panels as possible to keep the story moving along. Rodriguez and Hill do that well. I felt like I understood the character’s motivations from the beginning. More than that, though, I was rooting for them. There’s still a lot I don’t know or understand about Lovecraft, which makes me desperately want to keep reading. My library hold can’t come in fast enough!

If you’re squeamish about violence, there are definitely going to be pages and panels that you’ll have a hard time with, but if you’re at all familiar with Joe Hill, or even his father Stephen King, you know that their stories are violent. But the stories are good and I can’t wait to see where Locke & Key will go.

GNF 5 – Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary and Bryan Talbot

Something that has helped me find new comics to read this month has been really paying attention to the publishers and imprints. After reading and loving Friends With Boys, I immediately requested a bunch of new titles from First Second, the Macmillan imprint that publishes the book. If you’re at a loss for what to read next with comics, look at who published your favorite graphic novel or one you’re particularly interested in and look at their backlist. You’re bound to find books either by the same artists or with similar art and storytelling styles. I think the publishing industry has a long way to go before there’s imprint recognition in the general public. I know that I for one never paid much attention to imprints or publishing houses before I started working in publishing. But I think publisher recognition is more prevalent in comics. Think DC vs. Marvel. Starting with this post, I’m going to start including all the imprints/publishers on here, in case you want to keep track, too.

dotter cover

Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary M. Talbot and Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse, 2012)

I had no idea what Dotter of her Father’s Eyes was about before I started reading, but for some reason it definitely wasn’t what I expected. Author Mary Talbot tells the story of her childhood with a distracted, angry father, who also happened to be a Joycean scholar. She parallels the story of her life with the life of Lucia Joyce, James Joyce’s daughter who lived a tragic life.

Mary, within the comic, points out that there aren’t many similarities between her life and Lucia’s. Instead, the parallels are more general. Their stories are about what it is like to grow up as a woman. Lucia fought for independence and freedom as a dancer in 1920s Paris. She suffered a hateful mother who didn’t see the worth in anything she was doing, a father who adored her, but wouldn’t stand up for her and her career, and the lost love of Samuel Beckett. Her parents forced her to leave Paris with them right as her career was beginning to take off and she never regained momentum. Eventually the stress from losing her career and the anger she harbored made her lose control. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and committed. She lived in a mental institution until she died at age 75.

Mary’s father was distant, distracted, and very short-tempered. Mary seemed to always make him mad, even when she wasn’t exactly sure what she had done to deserve it. When Mary becomes unexpectedly pregnant as a young woman, she marries the child’s father, because she doesn’t see any other way.

Mary and Lucia are both constrained by their societies and their families. Their lives are in deep contrast to the lives of their successful fathers, but also in contrast to each other. Lucia has a life that she wants to lead and she has some success at it, but her family never supports her. Mary never feels like she’s given as much freedom as her brothers and she is always painfully scrutinized by her father.

The difference is the end of their stories: Lucia’s story is tragic. Though I imagine the comic simplifies her downfall somewhat, she never recovers from the few months she was forced to leave Paris. Her dance career is ruined, Beckett calls off their relationship, and Lucia feels like she has nothing left. We know, however, that Mary changes her life. She is no longer married to the man she marries at the end of the comic. She has made a name for herself as a writer. Her father eventually respects her and her decisions, though she never sees him as warm or charming, the way some of his colleagues do.

I liked the art and the simple color distinctions between Mary’s story and Lucia’s story. I also loved the little interjections from Mary about her husband’s art. Whenever he got something wrong, she would point it out, but he didn’t redraw the pictures. It showed their collaboration process, but I thought it was also an interesting commentary on the way we tell stories and how other people perceive them. The inconsistencies are small. Mary really only corrects her husband’s art twice, but I think it was effective to leave them in there with only Mary’s commentary.

I liked this comic a lot. It taught me something about Lucia and I think the parallels between Mary and Lucia’s story are there. It makes sense to tell them together, a fact I think surprised the character-Mary in some ways.

GNF 2 – Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

Friends With Boys Cover

I’ve always wanted brothers. Not just brothers, but older brothers, which was, obviously, impossible from the minute I was born. I have this romantic idea of what it would be like to have an older brother: someone who’s protective and loyal and loving and funny and sometimes obnoxious. In that way Friends With Boys was a little bit of wish fulfillment for me. I loved seeing Maggie’s relationship with her brothers, even if it was a little bit more complex than what I imagine.

The title of Friends With Boys is a little bit misleading, because it’s more about Maggie and her first year in high school, trying to understand the relationships between her brothers and the other boys at school. Maggie, like her brothers before her, was homeschooled until it was time for her to start high school. Unlike her brothers, though, Maggie is facing high school on her own, because her mother has left. Maggie’s father, the local police chief, has been trying to keep things normal around the house, but it can’t stay that way for long, especially since Maggie has also been seeing a ghost. When she makes new friends at school, Lucy and Alistair, her brother Daniel is surprisingly upset about it. Maggie is just trying to understand the world she lives in, which feels too overwhelming and confusing at times. Why are her twin brothers Zander and Lloyd fighting? Why doesn’t Daniel like Alistair? Why does the captain of the volleyball team seem to hate Alistair, too? Why did Maggie’s mom leave? And why is there a ghost following her around?

I loved everything about Friends With Boys. I loved the drawing style. Each face is so expressive and each panel meaningful and so nicely drawn. I’m in love with the way Hicks draws faces and I couldn’t get enough of the characters. I felt like they were real people and I loved them. They are all different shapes and sizes and just feel human.

Friends With Boys is funny and sad and heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time. Plus there’s a ghost, so, you know. I feel like it is really easy to compare Friends With Boys and Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgot. They have similar plots, though I connected more with Friends With Boys. It’s a little bit more light-hearted, especially when it comes to the ghost, and, as I might have mentioned, I loved the characters.

Friends With Boys is just so charming, I think you’ll find yourself smiling along. There are no neat endings with this comic, though. Many of the questions above are never truly answered, but that was okay for me. I can see some readers being frustrated with it, but I was perfectly okay with a small glimpse of Maggie’s life. And, because the world is an awesome place, you can read the first 20 pages of Friends With Boys online, just to see if you’ll fall in love with the characters and artwork as much as I did. Check it out at the Friends With Boys website.

Comic-A-Week March 13-19: Essex County by Jeff Lemire

I’ve been hearing good things about Essex County for a long time, so finally reading it almost felt like coming home to something I’d been missing. I can think of so many adjectives to describe Essex County: haunting, epic, real, beautiful, authentic. There are so many, and all of them good. It’s a sweeping family drama that starts at the end and slowly winds itself to the beginning and back again.

I don’t know that I really want to go into the specifics of this comic, because watching the history of this family unfold is what is so beautiful about it. You don’t really know how things are connected until the very end and I loved that about it. You can guess, but all of the intricacies and twists of the family trees play out slowly throughout the course of the stories. This is a collection of shorter comics and each one focuses on a different person in Essex County. Geography initially seems to be the only thing connecting them, but it is much more.

I was recently listening to the Bookrageous podcast about taboo topics in literature and the topic of comics was brought up. Bookrageous contributor Josh was talking about graphic novels and comics when he said something that really expressed how I feel about the medium: the ability to express emptiness. He goes on to say that a blank page can be extremely powerful in a graphic novel and I couldn’t agree more. Essex County is filled with moments like this, of not necessarily blank pages, but nearly blank pages. The beginning chapter takes place on a farm, and every scene involving the corn and its progression were perfect in expressing a character’s loneliness, along with the passage of time. Or when another character returns to the farm, all lines denoting where the image ends and begins are abandoned and the landscape of the farm takes over completely, accompanied by a long, lonely shadow. Or more still, when the pane focuses solely on the ice. How do you draw ice in black and white? Lemire does it.

Another favorite part of Essex County? When one young character loves drawing comics and we get to see the comics he draws. They are amazing. As someone who has zero talent for drawing, I wonder what it was like to go back and draw in the style of a child. I love it when a comic pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a comic. It is such an open medium – why not include photographs? Why not include multiple styles?  Why not draw part of the comic as if you were 12? I also love a comic that has such a strong sense of place. See my review of Local. Essex County is so completely relates what it is like to live in rural Canada that I feel as though I have been there. Even though I have never stepped foot in a place more north than Rhode Island, I can feel the cold, I can feel the vast, openness of it.

I always find these comics after they have been collected into an omnibus. Where are the comics now that will be collected together in a few years? Can anyone point me in that direction? I want to be on top of this. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. In the mean time, get out there and read Essex County. You won’t be disappointed.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve read everything else

An Adventure in Reading (Vol 1 & 2), So Many Books, So Little Time (Vol 1, 2 & 3), Monniblog, Buried in Print, all have posts about Essex County. Do you? Link to it in the comments and I’ll add it here.

Comic-A-Week March 6-12 – Owly: The Way Home and The Bittersweet Summer

Listen, there is a time and place for me to be concerned with the state of comics and what makes a great one, a good one and an okay one. There is a time when I can hem and haw about how I felt about something, writing post after post about how my expectations just weren’t met, or about how my expectations were met and, possibly, exceeded. There are times when I can be as objective as possible and leave my emotions at the door.

This, my friends, is not one of them. Seriously, Owly is the kind of book you read when you are having a bad day and you need remember just how cute life can be. Look, I’m biased. I have a very fashionable affinity for owls. Even these creepy ones. Call it a throwback to Harry Potter. Blame it on this video. Blame it on this blog. Whatever the reason, Owly was probably written for me.

It’s about an owl. Who rescues a worm. Then they go on adventures together. If there ever was a definition squee, this would probably be it.

Andy Runton probably draws the cutest comics I could imagine. He doesn’t use many words, instead relies on his images and onomatopoeic words to tell Owly’s story. Some comics would suffer from this, but not Owly. Because you know what a lack of words does for this comic? Angry eyes! The cutest angry eyes I have ever seen. That’s the whole reason I chose the picture on the right. This isn’t even from The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer, but it was the best illustration of angry eyes I could find.

I will be reading this entire series, saving them for when life gets me down and I need a happy reminder that there are things in this world that are so adorable you audibly squeal with glee. (Wait, is that what squee is actually defined as? Because I just figured that out. Whoa! I just thought it was that sound everyone made when things were cute.)

In an interview with Connect Savannah (quoted at Largehearted Boy, the original article seems to be gone), Andy Runton said this:

Connect Savannah: Why do you think people relate to Owly?

Andy Runton: People relate to Owly because he’s this predator by nature, but he chooses to be kind and nice and make the world a better place. That’s rare these days. For me he’s sort of based on all the stuff I loved as a kid, wrapped it up into this little owl.

Another reason people like it is they can sense I enjoy it. There’s a certain amount of purity that comes with that. Other than that I really have no idea. He’s just a little owl and it’s just me.

Yup, that pretty much sums it up.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve read everything else

Book Dads and The Book Vault have posts about Owly. Do you? Link to it in the comments and I’ll add your post here.

2011, welcome to my life.

We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched.  Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives… not looking for flaws, but for potential.  – Ellen Goodman

A couple of days ago, that seems like forever ago (it was last year after all), I reflected back on 2010 and now it is time to think ahead to 2011.  We are only 3 days in to the new year and I feel almost refreshed and renewed, with a plan for kick starting the new year as soon as I return home on Wednesday.   There are just a few things I want to write down now so I can remember them in December.  Sure, I suppose you could call them resolutions, but they are more just a loose plan.  These ideas are just a way to guide my life in the coming year, to remind myself what I really believe is important.

So I’m going to take the idea from that quote above by journalist Ellen Goodman.  This is not about finding flaws, but finding potential.  What do I have the potential to do in 2011?

1. Enjoy food. Let’s face it, resolving to lose weight or exercise is too easy to say and too hard to maintain.  And let’s face one other fact – I love food. I love to eat, and I love to cook, and I love to go out to eat.  What I need is more of a balance.  I need to enjoy my food and I need to be okay with the food decisions I make.  I want to eat less meat (but not give it up) and really enjoy in-season vegetables.  I want to have an intimate relationship with my food.  I’m going to be driving a lot and commuting this semester and I need to be excited about the food I have to take with me in my lunch box (that will be my lunch, dinner and breakfast box – I might need to invest in a cooler).

2. Enjoy movement.  Before I left for Spain and while I was in Spain, I was actively trying to exercise.  Since I got back, a series of colds and laziness has derailed that.  I noticed a huge difference in both my mood and the way I felt physically.  I’ve gotten sick more and I’ve just felt unbalanced.  I need to get back into exercising regularly, especially now that I know it’s something I really miss in my life when I’m not doing it.

3. Enjoy the world. I loved traveling to Spain this year, but I don’t know that I’m going to be able to do a big trip like that again for a while. So what can I do to check my travel bug for a while?  Read more world literature.  I will be attempting to read a book from every country in the world.  This is a lifelong goal, not just for this year.  There are plenty of countries I’ve never visited through literature – and why wouldn’t I?

4. Enjoy the past.  I told myself I was going to read more classics last year and I did not.  I still want to do this, so I will be making more of an effort to do so in 2011.

5. Enjoy art. Memory recently mentioned on Twitter that she was going to be reading a graphic novel a week.  I decided to jump on this bandwagon,  along with Vasilly.  It’s unofficial and not a commitment so much as an opportunity.  Especially when I will be in the middle of school, mostly reading novels for class, this will be a welcome relief.

6. Enjoy the books I own.  I own too many books that I’m not reading.  My goal is to balance this equation.  For every library book I read, I want to read 2 books that I own.  For every review copy?  Three.  If I don’t desperately love the book, I want to pass books on to new readers when I finish, either through my half.com store, through IRL friends or through passing them on to blog readers.

7. Enjoy the simple pleasures in life. I believe there is beauty everywhere and joy can be found in the smallest daily things.  This Christmas season was stressful and I’m happy to have it behind me.  I want to leave as many stresses as I can behind me and get rid of some of my anxieties.  Life is too short to be anxious and stressed out all the time.  Everything will be okay.

8. Enjoy the things I already enjoy. What I mean by this is not to forget everything about my life that is already amazing.  Like all the people in my life that I love.  How lucky I am in so many ways.  Remembering, always, that the good outweighs the bad, as long as you let it.

9. Enjoy saving. I’m going to try and set aside at least $50 a week into a savings account, possibly more if I have it.  I can smile to myself when I realize that means I will have almost $3000 in savings to start 2012.

10. Enjoy creativity.  I want to do all the little creative things that made my 2010 that much better.  I want to continue to crochet, especially by finishing my granny squares blanket, and learn to knit more than just one stitch.  I want to write more and hopefully that will become a reality.

11. Enjoy diversity. I have never been a one-kind-of-book reader. I like YA, I like literary fiction, I like comics, I like MG fiction, I like poetry, I like short stories.  If it is made of words, you can guarantee that I like some manifestation of it, somewhere.  The key is finding a balance here, as well.   I did a good job of this last year and want to continue.  People of all colors, gender identities, sexual orientations, ages, nationalities, political persuasions and beliefs should be featured in what I read and I hope in2011 they will be.

12. Enjoy change.  Isn’t this always the hardest one?  Like last year, 2011 will be filled with changes.  It’s just that time in my life, right?  Even though there’s a lot of uncertainty about where 2011 will take me, I just need to embrace those changes and look forward to the exciting things they will bring to my life.

So happy 2011 everyone, I’m thrilled that 2010 is behind me and I am looking forward to everything 2011 will bring me!

Runaways 1-4 by Brian K. Vaughn

It’s that time of the semester again, when school and work and commuting are leaving me totally burned out.  I can’t read anything but fun things.  I don’t want any books that make me think, I want books that make me laugh.  I don’t want books that are heavy on the issues or the tissues, I want books that are exciting and adventurous.  Combine that with this months GLBT Graphic Novel challenge and a recommendation from Nymeth for the Runaways series, and I was sold.

I’ve been a huge fan of graphic novels since I was a freshman in college when I read my first one, Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth.  But I’ve never read true comic books.  Runaways is a recently published (early 2000s) story set in the Marvel world (so X-Men, Spiderman, the Avengers etc all show up at some point or another), but it has a very unique premise.   Every year, Alex, Gertrude, Nico, Chase, Molly and Karolina’s philanthropist parents get together to decide which organization they are going to donate to.  Except what they’re really doing is getting together to do a ritual sacrifice.

The teens parents are actually supervillains called the Pride and they control LA.  Their children decide that they aren’t going to continue living in the homes of evil villains, so they run away from home.  Slowly they discover that some of them have powers, Gertrude has a velociraptor that is controlled by her thoughts, and some of them have inherited their parents skills, but their parents are not even close to being the worst villains they fight in the first four books of this series.

I really loved these comics.  I originally only checked out number 1 from the library, but as soon as I finished it I put as

Best frame from the whole series.

many as my library had on hold.  It seems they are missing number 5, but do have 6 and 7, so I’m going to have to see what’s up with that.   The tagline for this series is, “At some point, everyone thinks their parents are evil.  What if they really are?” and how awesome is that?  The series is fun and humorous, but it has a very serious side that never feels out of place or inappropriate.  There are betrayals and love stories and all kinds of good things to be had.

One of my favorite things about the series was the romance.  It’s so perfectly handled and unexpectedly, too.  There are six main characters and you think you have them pegged from the very beginning, but no one is who you think they are.  The romance  between two of the girls is only hinted at in these first few books, but it’s subtlety and unexpectedness is wonderful.  There’s also another romance that makes me smile every time it is mentioned, but I don’t want to spoil any of it for you!

My only complaint about the series is some of the inconsistencies with the drawings and it really only seems to happen with one character, Gertrude.  I feel like every time they draw her she looks different.  But I do love her pet velociraptor, so I can’t complain too much.   I do admit that I am not a traditional comics reader, so I can’t really judge how this series stands against other comics, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  One good thing about all those superhero movies over the past decade or so is that I had some idea of what was going on most of the time!  If you’re looking for a quick, fun but emotional read, then I can’t recommend Runaways enough.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Other reviews: Sarah Cross, author of Dull Boy, on yareads.com