Saturday, July 25, 2015

YALSA top ten GNs 2010: I Kill Giants

I Kill Giants
Written by Joe Kelly. Illustrated by J.M. Ken Niimura.
Published by Image Comics (2009).

I've heard people talking about I Kill Giants since it came out, and I've looked at it, but I'd never read it until now. And even then, I'm only reading it because I've run out of renewals from the library and its overdue. What is it about this comic that has made me totally uninterested in reading it for years? The art.

This isn't to say that Niimura is a bad artist. His page and panel layouts work, his panel to panel storytelling is (generally) easy to follow and effective, his use of grey tones is impressive. It's just that I absolutely hate his style of art. In the afterward notes Joe Kelly says that even though Niimura's style is "loose", it shouldn't be judged as such because everything on the page is where its intended to be and a lot of work was put into the pages. That may well be (Niimura mentions creating thousands of thumbnails and sketches trying to get the pages and characters to look right), but it doesn't mean that I have to like it.

It's not as though I'm even opposed to "loose" styles of art in comics, as I can think of a few artists who work in such styles that I enjoy, but there's just something in this book that does not work for me. I wonder if part of it is the grey tones that are used. There's a small version of a page in the back before the grey tones are added, and I think I like it better (but it's so hard to tell). I think the book would have worked better with, if not full colour than at least partial colours (though the partial colours on the covers don't do much for me either...), but again, that's just a personal preference.

Okay, so what is this comic actually about? What's the story? Barbara is a girl in fifth grade who spends a lot, and I mean a lot, of time living in a fantasy world. She tells people she kills giants, she talks about casting magic spells, she claims to be carrying around a giant hammer as a weapon, and she sees fairies and other magical creatures around. At first its not totally clear how much of this is real, how much she's imagining, and how much she thinks is real, but isn't.

Barbara also plays D&D, doesn't have many friends, is being bullied at school (but keeps fighting back), and keeps ending up talking to the school psychologist. Already this is well on its way to being a perfect YALSA book! There's also something weird going on with her home life. She lives with her brother and older sister (who seems to spend a lot of time looking after them), but where are the parents? The reveal doesn't come until the later part of the book, so I'm not going to spoil it, but it really makes the rest of the book a lot more effective as a story.

It's kind of weird to think about things like that. Sometimes the end of a story can ruin (or redeem!) the entire thing, which I think is really interesting. Does a bad ending automatically make the rest of a story worse? People seem to think so, but there are authors who are fairly well known for being terrible at endings (an example message board posting is called "Does Neal Stephenson know how to write endings yet?"), and yet people still manage to read and enjoy their work. At what point on the "badness" scale does an ending ruin a thing? Can a "good" ending redeem an otherwise dull or uninteresting story? I have no idea.

For I Kill Giants the story (or the art) didn't really appeal to me that much at the beginning, and if I'd been reading this in single issues I really doubt I would have picked up the later ones. However, knowing that people think that it's good (and it being on this YALSA list) means that I persevered and read the whole thing, and it works quite well. Kelly has crafted a story that touches on the difficulties of being a kid and having limited control over your own life. There are so many things that you cannot change (or even explain!), but you have to learn to deal with them somehow.

Its kind of too bad that this book is published by Image, because it doesn't seem to fit in that well with the other types of things that they publish and I feel that people who would enjoy this story might not check it out because of who the publisher is. But for those who do persevere, and are looking for a story about the difficulties of growing up instead of superheros punching each other, than I Kill Giants could be a rewarding experience.

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