The Reading Pile: Back to school edition
Summer’s over, but that doesn’t mean we have to be too serious just yet. Here’s what your Good Comics for Kids bloggers were reading over the long Labor Day weekend. As always, we invite you to let us know what you are reading in the comments section.
Brigid Alverson: OK, I’ll start off this week: I’m greatly enjoying Fractured Fables, an anthology of sendups and tributes to classic children’s stories, published by Silverline Books, Image’s children’s imprint. The weakness and the strength of the anthology format is that you have a mix of styles and stories. Here, they range from witty sendups of Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella to simple illustrated versions of Row, Row, Row Your Boat and On Top of Spaghetti. Most are funny and quite kid-friendly (there is a very small amount of potty humor and one accidental intoxication) because they really are written for kids. Larry Marder’s take on The Three Billy Goats Gruff and Ted McKeever’s version of Hey Diddle, Diddle are the only ones that might leave children scratching their heads; on the other hand, Peter David’s The Little Mermaid (yes, you read that right) and Derek McCulloch’s Raponsel are good for plenty of guffaws. It’s a bit pricey at $29.99, but with its high production values and stellar list of contributors (including Neil Kleid, Terry Moore, Bryan Talbot, and Jill Thompson), it’s an excellent,enjoyable introduction to graphic novels for kids and tweens.
I really enjoyed Barry Deutsch’s Hereville when it was a webcomic, and I like it even better now that it’s a full-length graphic novel, which will be released by Abrams in November. Set in an Orthodox Jewish community, Hereville has a strong sense of the traditional about it, and parts of the story (as when the heroine battles a pig that has been tormenting her) are strongly reminiscent of folk tales. Deutsch breathes life into his story, though, by having characters who talk and react like real tweens and teens. She may dress differently from her peers in public school, but when 11-year-old Mirka tries to solve a math problem, or is torn between her family’s expectations and her own desires, she is channeling every kid. Deutsch’s art has lightened up quite a bit in this book, and he has honed his extraordinary talent for using panel arrangements and other visual effects to tell his story in the most effective way possible. I would go into more detail, but my 10-year-old nephew swiped the book at dinner last night and I don’t know when I’m going to get it back. Highly recommended!
Robin Brenner: Instead of reading too much on paper this week, I was reading online.
The title that really caught my attention was Zahra’s Paradise, an online webcomic mentioned at ALA that I’ve been meaning to catch up on for a while. The creative work of Amir and Kahlil, who remain anonymous for political reasons, explores the story of one family’s struggle to find their lost son just after the 2009 Iran elections. Three people provide the focus for this tale: Mehdi, a young protestor who has vanished after a rally, Medhi’s mother Zahra who refuses to declare her son lost, and Medhi’s brother, a blogger and activist who is documenting their search. The story is fiction, but the author has interwoven much that is fact-based, from people to incidents. A young man vanishing without any trace is a particular horror. The lack of knowledge or confirmation is haunting—no one knows whether Mehdi is dead or alive, or if they do know, no one is talking. Although as a webcomic, updated three times weekly, the story is not yet finished and it occasionally has the haphazard quality of a story being written as it goes, Zahra’s Paradise is a powerful look at modern Iran and the conflicts we often see on the news but don’t necessarily take the time to investigate much further. Kahlil’s art is beautiful: Though the black and white lines may remind many of Satrapi’s Persepolis, the style is markedly different, and the detail and careful pacing suit this study of absence. So far the webcomic is a vivid portrait of a city and family in troubled times, with glimpses of the current state of their city, and represents the kind of comics work that can inform as much as it can illuminate. I think many teens would find this work resonant as a seldom seen point of view on our current world and can bring into focus a far away conflict that has repercussions across the world.
Kate Dacey: I just finished Amy Ignatow’s The Popularity Papers. Like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Papers falls somewhere between a straightforward chapter book and a graphic novel, taking the form of an illustrated notebook. That notebook belongs to two sweet, dorky girls, Amy and Julie, who are collecting data on their classmates to uncover the secret of being more popular. It’s a cute, funny premise that reminded me of the kind of books I liked to read when I was eight years old. Grade schoolers will be able to identify with many of Amy and Julie’s travails—the humiliation of owning a kiddie cellphone instead of a real one, the awkwardness of breaking into a new social circle—while recognizing the downside of trying too hard to befriend the cool kids. Ignatow is surprisingly generous to the alpha girls in the story as well; it’s one of the few examples of the genre where the popular kids aren’t just a pack of vapid, mean kids under the spell of a charismatic leader. The only thing I didn’t like was the format. Though Ignatow is a very talented artist, the handwritten text was a chore to read, and many of the illustrations didn’t really make sense in the context of Amy and Julie’s project: Why would they include drawings of themselves interacting with their parents, for example? I would have rather seen Ignatow do a straightforward comic or YA novel, as she obviously has the chops to do either.
Esther Keller: I took home volume 1 of Children of the Sea sometime in March when it came into my library and I hesitated putting it into the collection, because it was rated OT—and I’m in a middle school. So I’m *finally* reading it. I’m barely halfway into it, but I am taken with the story and wondering about Umi and his brother and their origins. As far as I got, it’s about Ruka, who feels very out of sorts and out of place when she’s kicked off her handball team. She meets Umi at the aquarium and finds out Umi was raised in the sea. It reminded me, a bit, of Music of the Dolphins, by Karen
Hesse. And so far, I don’t get the OT age rating….
I also finished Ghostopolis. I loved it. I loved the bizarre view of the after life. I didn’t find it creepy at all, but definitely full of humor. I do wonder how kids will react to this title, because I found it very much from an adult POV.
Lori Henderson: This week I did a follow up to two manga titles I didn’t care for
originally, Inubaka and SA, and was pleasantly surprised to enjoy both. In SA, I had problems with the protagonist Hikaru, but all of those problems were either eliminated or mitigated to the point where they no longer bothered me in volume 11. I could actually enjoy the story and characters without groaning about what she was doing next. It was a good mix of main story plot and some side stories with other characters relationships. I think I could actually start to like reading this series. It only took 10 volumes to get there.
Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs wasn’t a bad title, it just didn’t appeal to me as much. I didn’t care for protagonist Suguri or all dog stories. Not the title’s fault. I’m just not a dog person. But volume 16 had some really good stories that pet owners of any animal could appreciate and enjoy. While the volume does advance the plot more, the remainder deals with the issues of neutering a pet and the reasons for getting one in the first place. Both of these stories take a very realistic look at the problems and how the owners end up dealing with them, and it’s not always in a good or right way. I’m looking forward to seeing how the pet ownership story is resolved.
Mike Pawuk: This week I’ve been catching up on the popular Marvel Comics tie-in crossover called World War Hulk, which is a follow-up to the highly-regarded Planet Hulk storyline published in comic book form from 2006-2007 in the pages of The Incredible Hulk monthly comic book. The sequel, features a seriously ticked off Hulk and his alien companions called the Warbound getting revenge on Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Black Bolt for banishing him to an alien planet and ultimately being responsible for destroying the planet and the Hulk’s bride. Yes, if I was the Hulk too I would not be happy at all. The World War Hulk storyline crossed-over into several tie-in storylines including Damage Control, WWH: X-Men, Warbound, Incredible Hercules, and Gamma Corps. For the most part, the story is nowhere near as compelling as the original Planet Hulk storyline, which is destined to be a fan-favorite storyline for years to come. The main book, World War Hulk, is adequate, but somehow the Hulk series seemed much better when he was banished on the planet Sakaar in the Planet Hulk storyline. I’m curious to read the Jeph Loeb stories featuring the Red Hulk next.
Eva Volin: After hearing several people I respect recommend Cat Paradise (including our own Kate Dacey), I put in a request card for it at the library. My turn to read the book finally came and I understand why there is so much enthusiasm for this quirky title. The premise reminds me a bit of Kekkaishi in that a group of students must protect a school from evil spirits, but this time the students are helped by their pet cats. Yes, the plot is far-fetched and the heroine is as dumb as a box of rocks, yet the whole thing works. Even better, the art is fantastic. The series israted for older teens and at the moment I’m guessing that the rating is for violence. But since this is only volume one, we’ll have to wait and see if that holds true.
I had forgotten that Yuji Iwahara is also the author of Chikyu Misaki, one of my all-time favorite manga series. Now that I know, I’m less surprised at how much I enjoyed this quirky book. I’m really looking forward to volume two.
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About Brigid Alverson
Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.
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