Posts Tagged With: comics

Yotsuba&! vol. 10

by Kiyohiko Azuma

In this volume, Yotsuba plays with her dad, learns how to make pancakes, and gets a visit from an old friend. I managed to ration the stories in this volume over three whole sittings! Although the genre is “slice of life,” the first story feels more aimless than usual and made me worry that the series was losing its charm. However, the second story–“Yotsuba & Pancakes!”–is the funniest instalment of Yotsuba&! yet, surpassing even “Yotsuba & No Bother!” (and you may remember how dearly I love that chapter). The rest of the chapters in this volume are decent, some eliciting more laughs than others, as per usual. As much as I loved the pancakes story, some of the other chapters are only just okay, and the funnier ones depend on the reader having already been acquainted with the characters.

Recommended for those who have already read some of the series, although the pancakes episode may win over some new fans.

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever

by Jeff Kinney

This installment of Wimpy Kid features a great many things, including but not limited to Christmas stress, school property vandalism, e-pets, a creepy lost doll, and, as always, a few cockamamie schemes of Greg’s to make money with minimal effort.

Of all the Wimpy Kid books, this one is the least cohesive. Yes, the other books go on a number of humourous tangents, but this one is pretty much all tangent, to the point where the plot as described on the back of the book doesn’t actually happen until the last twenty pages. There are some really funny parts and it is an enjoyable read, but it gets off to a rough start mostly because Greg seems so much younger than a middle school student. He believes in Santa, and it’s not even framed as a funny thing he hasn’t outgrown. Plus, his school–supposedly a middle school–has playground equipment. Both of these details distracted me and had me wondering if middle school starts in grade three in some states. It felt like these parts were targeted at the 7-year-olds reading the books, which can only detract from how cool these books are to their original audience of early middle schoolers. This audience shift, along with the general lack of plot makes me worry that the series is fading.

Still recommended to fans of the series, and it’s probably the most accessible of all of the books for a much younger audience. I wouldn’t recommend it as the one you give to another adult when you’re trying to convince them how funny the series is.

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The Good Neighbors: Kith

by Holly Black & Ted Naifeh

Book two in the Good Neighbors series starts somewhat awkwardly, with a scene of Dale and Justin’s band playing a show, and a faery offering Lucy a love potion. Rue is single-tearing as she narrates a mini-summary of the last book’s events. A couple we don’t know has a dramatic outburst and the girl runs into the haunted forest, setting in motion one of the threads of this book’s plot. We see Dale’s homelife and how he is coping with learning about Rue’s heritage. After this, the story really starts. Aubrey wants Rue to join him, believing and fearing Tam’s prediction that only she can stop him. Rue’s mother sends a shadow to lure Rue to the faery hideout, where she talks more with her mother and with Tam. She learns more about her grandfather’s plan for the city, but is unsure about how she can stop it, or if she even wants to.

This book definitely suffers from middle book syndrome. It starts disconnected from the first volume, and just fits a bunch of insignificant plot threads into the space of time before book one and book three. Panels were devoted to developing Lucy and Justin’s romance, just to pointlessly tie them up in the overly wrought theme of romantic betrayal in this volume. While I felt like Dale’s behavior was realistic, I didn’t really care about what it meant for his relationship with Rue. I wasn’t sure why the nymph ladies even wanted to Riley-Finn him anyway. It all seemed really pointless. Rue seemed so emotionally disconnected from everyone around her, and not in a character development sort of way. I no longer felt what she felt, so it was hard to care about any of the characters. The illustrations are consistent with the first book, but a lot of wideshot frames have less detail in them–particularly in the faces–making it hard to read characters’ emotions when some big events happen.

Still a recommended book for those who have read the first one and wish to continue, but I may change my mind about recommending the series if the third one is as unfocused and emotionally indifferent as this one.

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The Good Neighbors: Kin

by Holly Black & Ted Naifeh

Rue doesn’t worry about anything. That is, she never used to. But now that her mom has disappeared and her dad has been charged with murdering one of his students, she’s starting to look critically at the world around her. Why does she see things no one else can? What’s with all the vines that seem to be encasing all the buildings in her city? Was her mom a crazy person or was she something else entirely? And, most importantly, what does all of this have to do with Rue? A murder mystery, complete with faeries.

As with all graphic novels, the illustrations are the most important part of the book. If the drawings don’t match the story, I usually put the book down after the first page. Naifeh’s art was excellent for this book. They make it easy to tell who is who, what is happening, and what everyone is feeling. The backgrounds are detailed enough to provide a clear setting, but not so detailed that they became distracting. Naifeh’s style fits the story really well, enhancing its dark atmosphere and making the world and characters more full and vivid than they would have been if this was just a novel. Also, there are quite a few characters of colour, which is something I wish I didn’t have to applaud, but very few graphic novels include such a realistically diverse cast of characters. So, bravo to Naifeh for doing it right.

The story is compelling enough, if not entirely original. I don’t really care about Rue very much but I am curious about where the story is going. The side characters are developed to the same level as Rue and have problems of their own, which opens up a lot of options for side stories that may become more central in the next two books. The writing is opaque enough to stir curiosity, but not so unclear as to confuse readers or (in my case) cause irritability. Overall, I like the dark urban supernatural mystery Black & Naifeh create together, and I’d read on.

Recommended for fans of Holly Black, faery stories, urban fantasy, and stories with angsty teens finding out they have magical lineage. A pretty dark read with none of the love-at-first-sight supernatural romance fluff found in so many other faery stories. If romance blossoms in later books, it will be of the gritty variety.

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Maus

by Art Spiegelman

Art Spiegelman tells his story and his father’s story about the Holocaust and its reverberating effect in this Pulitzer Prize winning comic. Spiegelman wants to tell his father’s account of living through the Holocaust accurately, but acknowledges that his experience as a child of Holocaust survivors has a role in the telling of the story. The book mostly focuses on his father’s survival during the Holocaust but also includes the damaging emotional after-effects of the Holocaust on Spiegelman’s family. Although a work of non-fiction, the comic depicts people with faces of animals representing their nationality: Jewish people are mice, Germans are cats, Polish people are pigs, and so on.

I grew up in an area of Canada that was home to many Holocaust deniers. One of the Social Studies teachers at my high school assigned Maus every spring, and every spring his car was vandalized. So he kept assigning Maus. I wasn’t in his class, but I sought Maus out as an adult because a book that contentious ought to be read. I’d read about the Holocaust and I’d read Holocaust fiction before–even fiction about the children of survivors–but I’d never read anything like Maus. Definitely one of the best comics I’ve read and one of the best non-fiction books too. The drawings are clear and the story is well told. Spiegelman’s choice of depicting people as animals makes the book simultaneously less horrific–when you see dead bodies of mice instead of Jewish people–and more horrific–when you take a moment to realize that each mouse is a stand-in for a real human being. I could say a lot more about the representation choices and the drawing style and the design layout of the book, but that gets into essay territory and I want to actually motivate people to read this! Without getting into the meaning of it all, I think it’s a respectful way of showing the horrors of the Holocaust without overly desensitizing or traumatizing the reader. What I really appreciate about this book above all the great things I could say about it is that it doesn’t treat the Holocaust as a singular event in history, but as an individual-by-individual trauma that has echoed into the present. I’m glad that the teacher in my school continued to assign Maus throughout his career, because I think it is an accessible way for teens (and adults) to understand the legacy of the Holocaust and empathize with its victims.

Recommended as a teaching aide in history units, but generally a great read for anyone who likes historical comics, comic memoirs, memoirs in general, Holocaust stories, or contemporary Jewish stories. I consider it required reading for comics aficionados.

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Wicked Lovely: Desert Tales: Sanctuary

by Melissa Marr; ill. Irene Diaz & Laura Moreno

Desert Tales is a story arc with characters from Wicked Lovely outside of the Faerie Courts of the novels. Ex-faery Rika lives in the Mojave desert, pining over a mortal boy named Jayce who can’t see her. When some mischevious desert faeries cause Jayce to fall off a cliff, Rika saves him by breaking his fall, causing her to be visible to him and his friends. The faeries continue to razz Rika by trying to harm Jayce, causing her to reveal more of her powers to Jayce in order to keep him safe. But would a boy like Jayce want to be with a girl who wasn’t quite human?

I thought this book was going to be a manga adaptation of Wicked Lovely, but it is a story that takes place outside of the world of the Wicked Lovely novels, and it is probably better for it. As with most manga, the story in the first volume just sets everything up and isn’t wrapped up in the end. The plot is a bit boring because of that, but you get Rika’s backstory and a lot of characterization. The drawings are done in a really pretty manga style and I didn’t have too hard a time telling characters apart in most frames (why must everyone have those stringy bangs?). I love that the lead boy is a person of colour–something you don’t see in a lot of teen fantasy or most manga or even on the cover of this book), but I dislike Rika’s wimpy female routine. She is a very insecure character, super emotional and timidly shy, and she has to tone down her strength so Jayce won’t know she is supernatural. I’m hoping that as the story goes on, her strength will become more of an asset and we’ll get to see her kicking butt. While not a fantastic read on its own, this volume set up a decent amount of conflict in what could be an interesting world, and I would read the second one.

Recommended for fans of Wicked Lovely or teens who like fantasy romance manga. You don’t have to read the series to understand this story, but it probably helps.

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The Amulet of Samarkand: A Bartimaeus Graphic Novel

adapted by Jonathan Stroud & Andrew Donkin, ill. Lee Sullivan & Nicolas Chapuis

A young magician’s apprentice summons more than he bargained for when he invokes an ancient demon named Bartimaeus to do his bidding. All Nicholas wants is a bit of revenge after the upstart magician Simon Lovelace humiliates him in front of a crowd of accomplished magicians. He orders Bartimaeus to steal the Amulet of Samarkand from Lovelace, despite the demon’s warnings that Nicholas is dealing with magic beyond his capabilities. His plot to humiliate Lovelace spins out of control as he uncovers too much about the magician and becomes a target of his wrath.

The illustrations are fantastic. They are consistent, with enough detail to recognize all the characters and interpret their expressions, but not so much detail that the frames become cluttered. On the illustration front, this graphic novel gets top marks. On the story front, it gets props for concept but this adaptation seems to leave out too much for it to be a satisfying fantasy/mystery. There is a group of anti-magicians whose story I would like to see more of, and I would like to have had more of an explanation of the motives and backgrounds of Lovelace and his accomplices. This comic is a good advertisement for the book, but on its own it lacks the necessary substance to be a great story.

Recommended for anyone who thinks they might want to read the Bartimaeus trilogy but doesn’t want to put the time in to try reading the novel. It may be enjoyable for those who read the novel before and would like to revisit the story without having to re-read the book. Vocabulary and some dark concepts more suitable for older kids and teens.

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The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang

by Amy Ignatow

Done in the diary style of Wimpy Kid, The Popularity Papers reports the story of two fifth graders, Lydia and Julie, trying to figure out how to become popular. They start by observing the popular kids, then they try to dye their hair, dress like a grown-up, and do popular activities. They both find ways to infiltrate the popular group, but what will it mean for their friendship? The story is told by both Lydia and Julie, alternating between neat printing with great drawings and cursive writing with stick drawings.

I enjoyed this book well enough, but it seemed odd to me that they were supposed to be in 5th grade. 7th would have made a lot more sense. Even though it follows a pretty familiar story arc and includes an afterschool special-esque “diverse” cast of characters, it doesn’t get didactic. I personally don’t understand characters whose goal is to become popular because it isn’t a goal I have ever heard a kid or teen express, and it certainly was never the goal of anyone I knew growing up. I’m not exactly sure any kids actually outwardly express a desire to be popular in real life, but it is a trope we are all used to seeing in stuff made for this age group, so this book is relatable via popular culture tropes, if not via anyone’s own experiences. Lydia and Julie are both likeable and funny, the subject matter is enjoyably light, and the story is palatable enough. Surprisingly good for something I thought would just be another Wimpy Kid knock-off.

I’d recommend it to fans of Wimpy Kid, but I’m not sure if it would appeal as much to boys. Maybe if they’re desperate for a funny book with lots of illustrations for a book report, but it’s pretty intentionally girly. The characters are supposed to be 10, but I’d give it to kids aged 8-12.

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Yotsuba&! vol. 2

by Kiyohiko Azuma

Usually I would start with the first volume of a series when reviewing it, but volume 2 is my favourite and the premise is always the same with Yotsuba&!, so if it sounds good you should start from the beginning and read all of them. This is slice-of-life manga at its best, focusing on a 5-year-old girl named Yotsuba as she encounters new people, places, and concepts in her small Japanese town. In volume 2, we follow Yotsuba as she encounters a terrifying bulls-eye, learns that she isn’t as good an artist as she thinks, and–my personal favourite–practices the many uses of the phrase “no bother”. (In the Yen Press translations, it is changed to “no sweat”, which I think makes it lose some of its charm, so try the ADV Manga edition if you can find a copy.)

If it all sounds too precious for you, get over it and just read it. No book or show has made me laugh out loud this much, ever. I wish they took longer to read, because the agony of waiting for the next volume is only relieved for the hour or two that it takes to gobble up the newest stories before starting up again.

Although these comics are usually put in the kids’ section of the library, they are intended for a middle-aged male audience in Japan. They are suitable for anyone to read. I’ve met 4-year-olds who love them as read-alongs, 8-year-olds who read them alone, 20-somethings who are devoted to them, and 50-somethings who read them with a twinkle in their eye. I was recommended this series by a 30-year-old man and I recommend it to anyone of any age and gender. It is particularly good as a happy distraction when life gets sad.

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Prime Baby

by Gene Luen Yang

Thaddeus hates his new baby sister. He comes up with a conspiracy theory that she is an alien because she says “ga” in prime numbers (she’ll say it once, twice, three times, five times, etc). He starts monitoring her closely, interpreting everything she does as evidence that she is an alien. His sister loves the time they spend together and babbles to him even more. Then one day, she starts puking up these rather large capsules, which are actually space ships for an alien race hellbent on bringing peace and happiness to Earth! Thaddeus is vindicated. He was right! He tells his parents, he tells the FBI, he tells everyone! Then his sister is taken away to be studied….

I loved this comic. It’s pretty short and seems more like a picture book and could be used as a nice bridge from picture books to comics. It’s a very cool take on sibling rivalry. Very different from the author’s other work and I liked it the best, maybe because it’s more for kids.

Older elementary could tackle this one on their own, but I think it’s a good read-along for parents to read with younger kids.

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