Graphic Novel Review: My Beijing

My Beijing Cover squareMy Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder by Nie Jun. Translated by Edward Gauvin. Lerner / Graphic Universe, 2018. 9781541526426. 128pp including sketches in the back.

These amusing stories of Yu’er and her loving grandfather are filled with quiet magic. When she wants to train to swim in the Special Olympics, she’s not allowed in the pool, but her grandfather rigs up a harness and a rope and teaches her to swim in the trees. When neighborhood bullies injur a butterfly, Yu’Er makes a new friend who takes it to Bug Paradise, an empty lot full of flowers and plants where Yu’Er listens to an impromptu natural concert.

I don’t want to be more specific as the way the stories reveal themselves is beautiful. I think I can add that one reminded me of my favorite part of Peter Pan, and two involve a very gentle, dreamlike form of time travel. Nie Jun’s love for Beijing’s hutongs (the narrow lanes and alleys formed by courtyard houses) comes through in the stories and in his colorful, watercolor-style art. This is a beautiful, sweet graphic novel that will make grade school librarians and students very happy.

My Beijing 1 My Beijing 2

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Graphic Novel Review: Herakles Book 1

Herakles 1 CoverHerakles Book 1 by Édouard Cour.  Lion Forge / The Magnetic Collection, 2018. 9781942367499. 157pp with a Greece-centric map of the world and character guide, plus orange endpapers (a bold choice!)

The cover’s matte finish and gold foil give this graphic novel a lot of shelf appeal. Inside, the sketchy art looks like a combination of pencils and inks, and Cour is great at creating a sense of speed and power, particularly during the fight scenes. The book is alternately dark and moody, and full of deadpan laughs. Herakles is haunted by ghosts of those who’ve died at his hands or because of him — it’s not an exaggeration to say he’s a mass murderer. This sad, heroic version of the myths is epically readable with just enough full frontal male nudity to keep it out of all but the most daring high school libraries.

Herakles 1 1

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Guest Book Review: If You Could Be Mine

If You Could Be Mine coverIf You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan, Algonquin, 2013. 9781616202514, 247 pp.

In Sara Farizan’s raw and emotional debut novel, Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six years old. In fact, they love each other, which is great and wonderful, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong.

They’re both girls, and in Iran, homosexuality is seen as an abomination. It’s a crime that people are publicly executed for. Nasrin and Sahar know their government will never allow their same-sex relationship. But sexual reassignment surgery is funded by the government there because it is viewed as a means of correcting a “mistake” of nature.

Sahar cannot deny her feelings for Nasrin, and she has to act quickly to get surgery and become male because Nasrin’s parents have arranged their daughter’s marriage to an older doctor. At the urging of a gay cousin, and advice from Parveen, a successful woman who had reassignment surgery herself, Sahar feels she has no choice but have the surgery so that she can become a man and, maybe, be with the woman she loves.

Thanks to Murphy’s Mom for the guest book review!

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Nonfiction Book Review: What Shape Is Space?

What Shape Is Space? coverWhat Shape Is Space? by Giles Sparrow. Thames & Hudson, 2018. 9780500293669. 142pp including an index and list for further reading. http://amzn.to/2V10MP8

I read this in a hotel bar full of screaming and moaning football fans while waiting for my daughter, who was attending a Brockhampton concert, and it still managed to hold my interest! There is no greater praise I can offer a nonfiction book.

This serves as a great primer/review of the history of human views of space and the way we calculate the size of the universe. It also offers a math-free overview of string theory and the definition of a universe, discusses why scientists think dark matter and dark energy are out there, plus explains black holes and the possible ends of all things.

I love that the text is different sizes. (see the image that’s part of this review) I easily skimmed the big text for topics I was interested in, skipped the smaller text when I didn’t give a damn about the details (or already knew them) (or when my eyes hurt), and read the captions when I was curious (needed my reading glasses, aka magnifiers, for this). The book flowed like good graphic novels do (all the images helped) — I rarely fall into nonfiction this easily, even when I’m interested in the topic.

Based on this, I’m going to keep reading Thames & Hudson’s The Big Idea series. Next on my list: Is Capitalism Working? (I can’t tell you about the next concert on my daughter’s list, because it’s a surprise and I know she stalks me on Instagram occasionally.) (Hi BB!)

What Shape Is Space inside cover What Shape Is Space interior

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Graphic Novel Review: Vague Tales

Vague Tales coverVague Tales by Eric Haven. Fantagraphics, 2017. 9781683960324. http://amzn.to/2Ck2GDd

This nearly wordless graphic novel starts with a man in a red polo shirt. There’s also a crystalline man, a hooded soul-eating monster, a masked barbarian, a sorceress in a green mask, and a fair amount of violence. The inking of this work is extraordinary, and the plot owes as much to old pulp tales as it does to sheer randomness — Haven’s book feels like the offspring of Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pitt and Fletcher Hanks’ I Shall Destroy All Civilized Planets. It’s a good bit of fun, and, depending on what page they see when they look over your shoulder, it’s guaranteed to alarm your friends or legal guardians. Buy it for your nephew who thinks he’s never read anything fun.

 

Vague Taless Interior 1 Vague Taless Interior 2

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Graphic Novel Review: His Dream of the Skyland

His dream of the SkylandHis Dream of the Skyland by Anne Opotowsky and Aya Morton. Top Shelf, 2018. 9781603094290. 312 oversized pages including an illustrated glossary. http://amzn.to/2EgZUA2

Before Song Lu leaves for his new job sorting and delivering dead letters for Hong Kong’s post office, one of the prostitutes next door gives him a freebie while his mother is in the next room telling fortunes. On his way to work he helps some neighborhood men with a puzzle, then arrives at a building full of disorganized piles of undelivered envelopes.

Lots of soft blues and white give artist Morton the chance to use other colors to make seemingly random details pop, and lend nearly every page a sense of dreamlike wonder as Song heads to the Walled City of Kowloon (and elsewhere) to try deliver letters. There are gangsters and acrobats, plus Song’s friends and family in the mix along with a few mysteries besides the undelivered letters, and a tragedy or two. This is a beautiful graphic novel, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy.

his dream of the skyland interior

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Graphic Novel Review: Short & Skinny

Short & SkinnyShort & Skinny by Mark Tatulli. Little, Brown, 2018. 9780316440516. 250pp.

Cartoonist Mark Tatulli’s autobiographical graphic novel will appeal to lots of creative kids, and it’s also custom made for fanboys like me who were a certain age in 1977.

Mark is small for his age, and dreams of being a superhero, talking to the girl he likes, and being free of junior high bullies. His solution: send away for several of the muscle building kits advertised in the back of comic books, and then return to school after vacation a changed man. But over the summer something changes him more: seeing Star Wars! Mark wants to create his own parody of the movie (and does), which set him on a path to a decades-long career in TV before he starts making comics and illustrating books.

 

short & skinny interior

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Graphic Novel Review: The Wild Cat

The Wild Cat coverThe Wild Cat (Mr. Badger and Mrs Fox #6) by Brigitte Luciani (story) & Eve Tharlet (art). Translation by Nathan Sacks. Lerner / Graphic Universe, 2018. 9781541500877. 32pp.  http://amzn.to/2Pn41MH

The books in this kindhearted graphic novel series about badgers and foxes living together are as sweet as they are beautiful. After a show featuring the masked wild cat named Sylvester, Ginger, a young fox, wants to be just like him. When the young badgers tell her foxes don’t climb trees, she shows them otherwise, but then Sylvester and his companions (three genets) make fun of Ginger. She sets off to figure out whether or not she’s a real fox, and gets the assurance she needs from new friends and her Papa. (Plus her dad knows a secret about Sylvester, and calls the not so wild cat on his crap.)

 

The Wild Cat interior small

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Graphic Novel Review: Fake Blood

Fake Blood Fake Blood coverby Whitney Gardner.  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 9781481495561. 336pp. http://amzn.to/2EdN5XH

This new entry into the late grade school/tween graphic novel market stars AJ and his friends, who are just starting the 6th grade. AJ is the kind of kid librarians love: he boasts about the number of books he read over the summer and the summer reading prize he won (sunglasses). He likes Nia, the smartest girl at Spoons Middle School. She is obsessed with vampires. His sister BB offers AJ some classic advice (be yourself), but instead of taking it he “borrows” her copy of Moonlight (a thinly veiled stand-in for Twilight) and gives himself a vampire makeover complete with glitter and hair care products. After AJ convinces Nia he’s a vampire, the story picks up a bit of speed, and it’s clear that there’s a real (and not very threatening) vampire at school, too.

The illustrations are charming, and what I like about the book is that it’s big not just in terms of the page size —- the the panels don’t feel crowded, and there’s lots of pages for interactions between AJ and his friends. It has a pace all its own, and I think young readers are going to love it. (According to the jacket copy, Gardner is a coffee-loving former school librarian currently living in Victoria, BC. I’m not too far away in Seattle, so I’m hoping our paths cross sometime.)

Fake Blood Interior

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