Wednesday, December 3, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2014: War Brothers the Graphic Novel

War Brothers: the Graphic Novel
Written by Sharon McKay and Daniel Lafrance. Illustrated by Daniel Lafrance.
Published by Annick Press (2013)

So you'll see that I've credited Daniel Lafrance as one of the writers of the work, and it seems that not every website does this. Presumably this is because this book was originally a young adult novel written by Sharon McKay, and some people have assumed that she also wrote this. But from what I can tell she didn't actually have any connection to the production of this book (other than approval maybe?).

This does bring up the idea of how much of a comic's "writing" and story are down to the artist. We assume that the words in the speech balloons are the writing, but most of the time there is much more, with a writer creating a script, breaking the story down into pages and panels and describing what's happening. Of course, there are examples of artists creating comics from much less than full script, with Marvel style probably being the best known example. If an artist creates the layout of a page, or even a character's outfit, should that be considered "writing"?


War Brothers is depressing. It's about children kidnapped to be soldiers in the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda. (That's the group that Joseph Kony of Kony2012 runs.) So yes, this book about children being kidnapped at gun point, being forced to march through the jungle, starving, attacking and killing each other out of fear for their lives, having their ears cut off, and much more is based on real life. Hurray!

I haven't read the original novel, but Lafrance has done a good job in adapting prose into comic form. By this I mean that nothing seems to be missing from the original (it's entirely possible that there is, but nothing _seems_ to be missing), and that a complete story is told.

Throughout the comic the characters are well illustrated. Children tend to look like children (which is something some artists really struggle with), the use of colours is effective (especially in many of the night scenes), and Lafrance is effective in communicating emotions through facial expressions and body language.

For much of the story Lafrance doesn't use panel borders like many comics do. Instead the panels are bordered by gutters that are either fully white or fully black depending on the setting. While most panels use straight, rectangular borders, scenes of violence tend to feature much less regular panels with the black gutters at times seeping out onto the art itself.

There were a few times where I felt the computer lettering was not as strong as it could be. When you have panel borders changing depending on the scene it doesn't seem nearly as good when those scenes are lettered with fonts featuring identical looking computer fonts. Sometimes computer fonts are fine, but other times I really appreciate hand lettered sound effects and other text in comics.

Overall I think this comic is successful. It effectively tells a story where (I think) the real point is to educate people about something that is happening in another part of the world. And while it is depressing, it isn't as hopeless as some media about Africa can be. (This opinion piece from Fuse ODG about the portrayal of Africa in western media is kind of interesting.) If you're completely unaware of the situation regarding the LRA it might be more useful to read the Wikipedia article I linked to above, but this is worth reading too.

Monday, November 17, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2014: Dogs of War

Dogs of War
Written by Sheila Keenan. Illustrated by Nathan Fox.
Published by Graphix/Scholastic (2013)

When I saw that Nathan Fox had drawn this comic I was excited. Then I realized that I hadn't heard anything about this book from anywhere, and that I couldn't name anything he'd be working on recently so I clearly hadn't been following Fox's work that closely. Perhaps I don't actually like his work that much. I mean, I like Fluorescent Black don't I? Or maybe I've just read it... Or maybe I just own it because I literally remember nothing about it other than it's size (it's large!).

Flicking through the book now I look at individual panels and pages and think "Yeah, that looks pretty good", but at the same time I don't remember thinking about the art at all while I read it, so evidently it didn't leave that much of a mark. Was it just the subject matter not appealing to me? Or was it something else?

First I guess we need to look at what this comic is actually about. It's split into three separate stories set during different wars: World War I in France, World War II in Greenland, and the Vietnam War. Each story is all about puppies!

Okay, not so much, each story is actually about dogs. The first one features a sixteen year old kid who ran off and joined in the war as a medic. A medic dog saves his life several times, there's a soccer game, hurray!

The second is interesting at least in it's setting. I've never heard much (or anything) about Greenland during the second world war, so it was interesting to learn that both Americans and Germans were there setting up bases. Here's a Wikipedia article if you want more information. Apparently Greenland was determined not be occupied by Canada!

The final story is the only one that I felt actually dealt with how horrible war is. A soldier who's returned to America from the Vietnam war is living in a trailer park, having nightmares, and dealing with PTSD. He bonds with a kid and his pet dog by telling him about his experiences in Vietnam.

Despite the final story I found this book to be, if not actually pro war, overly supportive of people fighting. The first two stories are a bit too "rah rah rah" for my liking and while the third story was better on this account, I also felt it dehumanized the Vietnamese people. While there does appear to be an element of "the soldiers are not in the wrong, it's the people who are telling them to fight" in this book, I really can't feel positive in regards to anything that's supportive of war in pretty much any way. Other people feel differently.

Monday, November 10, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2014: Will & Whit

Will & Whit
Written and illustrated by Laura Lee Gulledge
Published by Amulet (2013)

I read a lot of comics, but what I tend to read are comics put out by traditional comic shop publishers (e.g. Dark Horse, etc.). Sure, there are exceptions, but for the most part I'm not super aware of what's being put out by book publishers, and I'm especially unaware of things put out by book publishers and aimed at teenage girls. (Which is kind of why these YALSA lists are great! Exposing me to new comics is always good.)

Will & Whit is about Wilhelmina, a 17-year-old girl who lives in a small town, has "an old-fashioned soul", and wants an "unplugged summer" vacation. Now, if I was reading this as the blurb on a novel I probably would have given up already, as I clearly have no time for stories where the main character isn't a robot or wants to be a robot.

Will's parents died a year ago and she's been living with her aunt and trying to deal with things since then. She helps out at the antique store her aunt owns, and makes lamps (this seems kind of weird). Will a massive storm and/or a group of teens who are starting a carnival style art show help Will deal with her emotions? More than likely as there wouldn't be a story if they didn't.

This comic is fine, but in a lot of ways it just seems really generic. Teens feel isolated, teens are all super creative, technology doesn't help us interact with each other, etc. However, I'm not a teenager, am (hopefully) more okay with being who I am than many of them, and have read more books about being isolated and alone than they have. My issues are not really with the quality of the book, just that I've read other stuff with the same feel before. ("Then why do you read superhero comics that are all pretty much the same?" you ask while I try to change the subject.)

However, I do have a major problem with the art in this book: the two main male characters look (and act) more or less identical. They're both straight white teenagers with who dress pretty similarly (you could swap their clothes and never know) and have unspoken crushes on girls. Okay, so their noses are drawn a little differently, and the book is in black and white so the lack of colour limits how you can tell characters apart, but  I'm pretty sure their hair is even parted on the same side. The story could have made them twins and I would have believed it. Gulledge is capable of drawing females who both look and dress differently, and there's another male character who is distinguishable from other people, but she totally fails on this count. Make one of these guys goth or black (or both!) or _anything_.

This brings to light another problem with this (and many other books). Yes there are supporting characters who aren't white (hurray), but they aren't really driving the story forward. In this case the main character (or their love interest) could easily be non-white, but they aren't. I don't usually complain about this sort of thing (white is frequently the default...), and this isn't really aimed at this book specifically, but representation of minorities in fiction (and not just in supporting roles) is something that should be discussed pretty much always.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Library Tourism: Seattle Public Library - Wallingford Branch

I do a lot of "library tourism" where I visit libraries when I'm in another city, or make it a goal to check out other libraries in my city. Last year I visited every branch of the Vancouver Public Library!

I was recently in Seattle for the ASIS&T conference and we were able to check out the Wallingford Branch of the Seattle Public Library. It's tiny!

Comics workshop and events!

These were in lots of the sections, which we thought was neat. The hold section at this library was huge. Judging from their website the Seattle Public Library doesn't limit the number of holds you can have a year, just the number you can have at one time.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2014: March

March (Volume 1)
Written by by  John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Illustrated by and Nate Powell.
Published by Top Shelf (2013)

While he's now best known for his comic work like Swallow Me Whole, I first learned of Nate Powell through Soophie Nun Squad, a rather bizarre band slotted into the punk movement at least partially because of the content of their lyrics and who they hung out rather than anything else (Powell was roommates with a member of Defiance, Ohio for a while). Their live shows frequently featured puppets and costumes and it's too bad they don't perform any more as I'd like to see them. The CD I have by them features a cover and other artwork by Powell (who is also credited for "voice, claps, hit a button, puppets"), and it's great to see him working on book such as this.

March is a book chronicling the civil rights movement in the United States through the eyes of John Lewis, a US congressman and an "American icon" that I've never heard of... Of course, I am a Canadian, and so I presumably know less about this than Americans do, but I felt that there could have been a little bit more context for what segregation and the civil rights movement where. I guess that while American kids are taught about all this stuff, I can imagine a kid in Canada (and remember this is a book aimed at kids and young adults) or elsewhere being confused by what's going on. (Though without access or experience with them it''s impossible for me to really know.)

The book starts telling Lewis' life starting in the 1940s rural America and continuing up to the lunch counter protests in 1960. Throughout we're given Lewis' thoughts on the movement, and the emphasis many people put on non-violent protests. Reading about the institutionalized racism portrayed in this comic is pretty upsetting. I mean, my birth is closer to those events than to the present day, but I can't even imagine restaurants here refusing to serve people because of the colour of their skin. It really makes me wonder what groups we're discriminating against today that, thirty years from now, will make us feel appalled by our own actions.

While the information given in this comic is solid, I found the book as a whole is a little frustrating. The story is effectively told, but as it's just "part one" the story isn't complete in any real way. Secondly, there's a kind of weird almost present day (2009) framing sequence of Lewis talking about his life to kids and other people. It  crops up at various points of the book, and based on the dates I guess the final book is going to end with the inauguration of Barack Obama. While I understand why that is important, and would be a fitting conclusion, I also felt that it just ate up pages that could have been better used to give more historical details. Finally, and this is fairly minor, there's a term used that I consider a racial slur about Irish people, which is a little off putting.

Powell's art is good, but I'm apparently worse at describing artwork than I am at actual stories, so it's probably best if you just look at a preview.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2009: Skim

Written by Mariko Tamaki. Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki.
Published by Groundwood Books (2008)

When I originally read Skim months ago I really didn't think it was very good. It definitely got better near the end, but overall I didn't really get why people liked it so much (or rather, even if I did, it didn't appeal to me personally). Reading it a second time, and feeling much more depressed overall (school...), I definitely found it more appealing, though I felt it did have a lot of the same problems I found my first time through.

But first, Skim is a book about some kind-of-outcast kids in an all-girls high school in Ontario in the early '90s. They read about Wicca, are kind of goth, and when a boy who was dating someone in the school kills themselves everyone gets worried about them (because of course the kind of depressed goths are going to kill themselves). We follow Skim, the main character, as she interacts with her teachers, family, and classmates, and grows further away from some people and towards others.

My biggest problem is the creepy relationship that happens between a student and a teacher. Yeah, it's fiction, yeah not everything has to be spelled out, but I still think this is a super creepy thing and other than one of the characters moping a bunch it's not really dealt with. People write about stuff that doesn't happen I know, and being overly preachy can be pretty terrible, but still, it made me kind of uncomfortable.

Anyway, once that's out of the way the story becomes a lot more appealing to me. A popular girl who fell off her roof and broke both her arms (while attempting suicide?) is constantly surrounded by other girls who try to make a thing out of it by having clubs and dances and stuff that are supposed to be about how great life is. The girl seems to become more and more distressed and Skim manages to create some sort of connection between them. This was the best part of the book, as the other character, who'd been dismissed previously, is shown to have a personality. I kind of wish that the entire book had been about them coming to terms with themselves and who their friends actually are, as despite these scenes we didn't really get a full picture of them. Oh well.

So yeah, a lot of people loved this, I thought it was okay. But really, it's about emotions and family and teenagers and there's not a single robot and nobody travels through time, so  I'm not even surprised it didn't do that much for me. (Also the art, which many people enjoyed a lot, evidently wasn't my thing as I don't really remember it, but that doesn't mean it was bad!)

Friday, September 26, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2014: The Adventures of Superhero Girl

The Adventures of Superhero Girl
Written and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
Published by Dark Horse (2013)

I used to live in Halifax, and while I was there The Coast (the free weekly newspaper) ran two comics by local creators: True Story by Mike Holmes (which my friend Jen appeared in) and Superhero Girl. I thought that I read The Coast every week, but there were times where I felt that Superhero Girl didn't make any sense and that I must have been missing pages. I checked online but I hadn't actually missed any, leading me to assume that reading this comic at one page a week was a pretty terrible format (at least sometimes). There were one off stories but, as there's only so much you can do in half a page, there were also multiple part stories that I clearly was incapable of following when serialized.

As for the story, Superhero Girl is a superhero in a not very large city where while there are still supervillains, they are kind of crummy and are more likely to be the type to thrown marshmallows than destroy the city. Superhero Girl  has to deal with trying to keep a secret identity (she is bad at this), figuring out how to pay rent (she is also bad at this), trying to have a social life (ditto), and fighting crime (she's actually pretty good at this). It's goofy and funny, and I really have to say that it reads _much_ better in collected form.

I've written before about Hicks' art (and how much I liked it), and it's still good here. Her character designs are good and she's great at expressions. Plus there are kitties and ninja and evil future duplicates and... The worst thing about it probably comes from the fact that it was told at the rate of one page a week. I'd rather have just read a complete story about Superhero Girl. Still, Hicks' has said she'd like to draw more at some point, so maybe some day...

Monday, September 22, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2014: MIND MGMT

MIND MGMT (Volume 1): The Manager
Written and illustrated by Matt Kindt
Publisehed by Dark Horse (2013)

Perhaps the strangest thing about MIND MGMT volume 1 is that it is a volume 1. The story kind of loops in on itself, and I'm left wondering what volume 2 will even be about. Is it going to follow the same main character of the first volume? Or pick up on supporting characters and develop their stories? Of course, I"m getting ahead of myself...

MIND MGMT is a spy/mystery comic that begins with an interesting premise: a plane takes off and when it lands nobody can remember who they are, and one passenger has disappeared. Enter Meru Marlow, a true crime writer who is attempting to figure who what happened on the flight. She soon gets involved in shady goings-on between various top-secret organizations and people with psychic abilities. She travels to a variety of exotic locales staying just one step ahead of the people after her (or does she?).

My main problem with this book is that I didn't really feel that enough happened. This was originally published as single issues, and each issue seems pretty much the same: Meru goes somewhere new, gets some tantalizing clues as to what's going on, almost gets killed, and then heads off somewhere else. Rinse. Repeat. I felt the story was artificially stretched out because of the format it was originally told in (every issue has to have an action scene!).

Now back to the problem I had above in that the first volume (this one) doesn't seem like a first volume. According to Wikipedia Kindt structured the first volume as a standalone in case it didn't sell well enough to continue. That's all well and good, but I really felt that it lacked a hook to draw me in to future volumes, so I think I'm done with the series for now.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2009: Atomic Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne

Atomic Robo (Volume 1): Atomic Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne
Written by Brian Clevinger. Illustrated by Scott Wegener.
Published by Red 5 Comics (2009)

Oh Atomic Robo! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
1. You are a robot
2. Your arch-nemesis is a time travelling velociraptor called Dr. Dinosaur
3. Your comic is awesome

But really if you're not interested in reading a comic about a robot who punches giant monsters in the face you should probably just give up on this review and find another comic. Atomic Robo is a great example of that genre (monster punching) and, while I love it, I know it's not for everyone.

The most basic description of Atomic Robo is "It's like Hellboy, but...", and it even mentions that in at least one of the introductions to this series (I read, or re-read, the first seven volumes recently and they call kind of blur together a little). So yes, the series is reminiscent of Hellboy in that a non-human guy travels the world and fights lots of monsters and Nazis (for decades, so the stories can happen pretty much whenever). But saying that is kind of a disservice to Atomic Robo, as it goes places that Hellboy doesn't.

Firstly, Atomic Robo is a scientist! He does science! (Frequently this leads to things exploding.) Second, there is time travel! Third, it uses its humour in a more obvious way.

This third one is probably the most obvious difference. Hellboy certainly has its funny parts, but Atomic Robo is much willing to do utterly bizarre things because it's humourous. This isn't to say that the stories can't have serious parts, but I think you're more likely to see Robo sneaking out from Nikolai Tesla's lab so he can go on a date or judging a science fair.

The art by Scott Wegener is not something that I would immediately think was great, and if you just showed me specific panels I might think it was a little bizarre looking.  But his designs work well for the characters, and his style works overall for the types of stories that are told.

Of course while I think Atomic Robo is great, you don't have to take my word for it. There are a bunch of free Atomic Robo comics on the website. I think the best is "Why Atomic Robo Hates Dr. Dinosaur", but they're all pretty good.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Two Fisted Librarians Launch Party! Friday, August 22nd, 6-8pm

What: A launch party for the second issue of Two Fisted Librarians, your favourite zine featuring weird fiction about libraries and librarians! (Facebook event page.) 

Where: Lucky's Comics, 3972 Main Street, Vancouver 

When: Friday, August 22nd, 6-8pm 

Genres featured include: Steampunk! Dystopian post-apocalyptic! Horror! Crime! Mystery! Superhero! And more! 

Come and pick up a copy of Issue #2 (and/or issue #1), meet the creators, hang out with cool librarians, see a preview of art from issue #3, find out how you can contribute to future issues, and more! 

Check out the Facebook event

Find out more about Two Fisted Librarians! 

See you there!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2010: Ōoku: The Inner Chambers

Ōoku: The Inner Chambers (Volume 1)
Written and illustrated by Fumi Yoshinaga
Published by Viz (2009)

I complained in my review of A Bride's Story that I found it incredibly boring when it would spend pages just showing characters doing everyday menial tasks. So when I started reading this and saw drawings of people dusting and doing other chores I really wasn't convinced that I'd find it interesting.

But the world that Yoshinaga has created is fascinating. A disease has ravaged feudal Japan, killing 75% of all males. Females take over basically every role that men used to take, and men are reduced to little more than sex objects in order that the population might continue to survive. The main character of the first book, Mizuno, is a man who refuses to be married off by his parents, but instead enters the service of the shogun, joining what is basically a male harem.

And like a harem, there's very little sex going on (in part because the current shogun is a seven year old girl), but lots of politics, intrigue, menial tasks, and dressing in fancy clothes (and, okay, there's some gay sex). Only men are allowed into the inner chambers, and so they have to take care of everything: cooking, cleaning, sewing, and so forth. When men are such a sought after commodity the hundreds of men the shogun has in her service doing basically nothing is an indication of her power.

A lot of the content of this comic is based around ideas of elaborate social structures, prestige, status, and old cultural traditions. I'm not sure how aware Japanese readers would have been of this, but my reaction is generally "this is stupid" when I hear that there are people who do not have enough status to be seen by the shogun. Bah! Aristocrats! Still, you don't have to be knowledgeable of Japanese culture to understand this section, it's all fairly well explained in the comic itself.

Thankfully, part way through the volume a new character is introduced who seems to share at least some of my opinions regarding that sort of thing. Then an incredibly interesting plot line comes to light when some characters from Europe are briefly featured. The reader immediately has to wonder if this plague that killed so many Japanese males was isolated to the island and the rest of the world has carried on as if nothing unusual has happened (since the story happens during the sakoku period, this seems at least possible).

I'm really not sure where this series is heading (or even what characters will be featured), and while I wasn't totally on board with the fist volume I am willing to check out the next couple in order to see what happens. I hope that the mysteries that the first volume eventually raised become the focal point, as that's where my interest really lies.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Two Fisted Librarians issue 2

Two Fisted Librarians issue 2 is out now! Copies were going like hot cakes at least week’s CLA conference, and it’ll be available around Vancouver (just email me), at the ALA conference in Las Vegas later this month, and more places soon!

Stories include:
Reports from the South Bay Post by Adena Brons
The Informinatrix vs. The Book Thief by Irina Jevlakova
Submersion By Ean Henninger
How to Steal a Book in 1930s Chicago by Matthew Murray

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2014: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
Written by Prudence Shen. Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks.
Published by First Second (2013)

Sometimes I think that cheerleaders must be the most maligned group in fiction. I mean, I'm no expert in cheerleaders in fiction, but they generally seem to be portrayed as stuck up, exclusionary people that only care about looks and money.

But I guess I should explain what this comic is actually about. It begins with the high school robot club and the cheerleaders both wanting school money (the robot club wants new uniforms and the cheerleaders want to go to a robot competition, no wait...). However, there is only enough money for one of the groups (lets ignore that the cheerleaders want $4000 and the robot club only wants $1500), so the school decides that student council will decide who gets the money.

One of the robot club members decides to run for president, while his...friend (?) who is on the basketball team and used to go out with the head cheerleader gets signed up to run against him. Various dastardly election tricks are played by each side until the school decides that nobody gets the money. This part of the book was okay, but reading about high school politics didn't interest me that much.

The robot club decides to enter a robot fighting championship in order to get the money and go to their competition. However in order to do this they have to make their normal robot into a fighting robot, so they have to borrow $1500 from the cheerleaders with the promise that they'll pay for the uniforms with some of the prize money. (And if the cheerleaders have access to that much money why can't they just buy their own uniforms?) I found I enjoyed the comic considerably more after this point as, well, robot fights, but also because the characters' back stories and personalities were better fleshed out through various scenes and dialogue.

Perhaps surprisingly my favourite part of the comic came not from the robot fights, which were all pretty great, but from when the cheerleaders actually showed some compassion towards the only girl in the robot club. While "oh, they were nice all along" is _also_ a stereotype, it did make the characters seem slightly more believable and less one dimensional.

Actually, no, my favourite part of the comic was the art. Faith Erin Hicks seems to be everywhere these days (I mean, she had two books on the YALSA list in 2014!), and it has become obvious what a good artist she has become. Her ability to draw motion is really good (and thankfully so in a comic about robot fights), but I think where she really shines is in the expressions and body language of the characters she draws. She's great at allowing the reader to know how a character feels without them having to say anything at all.

Overall this was pretty okay, though that's clearly damning this book with faint praise. There were definitely parts that I enjoyed, but I also feel that you could cut out about a third of the book and made something that was more interesting (at least to me). Still, I'll gladly read more comics that Hicks drew, and I might check out another graphic novel written by Shen if the subject matter appealed to me more.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2013: Trinity

Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb
Written and illustrated by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm
Published by Hill and Wang (2012)

It's not often that I think of a graphic novel as specifically for young adults. I am forever looking in the teen section in libraries to borrow graphic novels, and complaining that thing X is shelved there, but thing Y is shelved somewhere else, and that none of it makes any sense. I frequently think that by shelving something in the YA section of a library you are decreasing the number of people that will see it and borrow it (or at least the types of people). But that is all just conjecture and could be applied to any book shelved in any section. Maybe we should just put all the books in one big pile*.

Despite that Trinity is definitely what I would consider a YA graphic novel, though to some extent I would struggle why I think that way. I think ultimately it's because I didn't feel as though the book went into as much depth as it could have in regards to basically any element of the story. Everything is told well and clearly, but it also seemed to be a surface telling of what happened. Additionally, the use of explanatory text boxes throughout on many pages reminded me more of picture books or illustrated text than a comic, yet this is clearly not something for children. (I have limited experience dealing with kids, but I can't imagine trying to explain an atom to them.) However, everything did seem to be about the right level for a student in junior high or high school.

Artwise everything was fairly good. I mean, nothing really stood out to me, and I found it a bit weak in places where characters seemed particularly stiff, but it conveyed the information in an effective way and the illustrations describing elements of the science can definitely be beneficial to the reader. However, I was not impressed by the lettering, both in the choice of fonts and the design of the speech balloons.

If someone was interested in reading a graphic novel about this sort of things I'd probably recommend Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick instead. I don't remember exactly what it covered, but Richard Feynman did work for the Manhattan Project, and his biographies present a considerably more human and entertaining account of his experiences there (to be totally honest I'd probably just recommend the books themselves instead of the adaptations, as I thought they were great!). But as a general overview for someone (a younger someone?) who is not aware of the history surrounding this event, Trinity is probably works fine as an introduction to the science and history surrounding this project.

*No we shouldn't.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2012: A Bride’s Story

A Bride’s Story (Volumes 1-3)
Written and illustrated by Kaoru Mori
Published by Yen Press (volumes 1-2, 2011; volume 3, 2012)

Only the first volume of this series was on the YALSA list, but I happened to see the first three in the library, so I picked them all up. To be honest because I didn't look at what this book was about I mistook it for Ooku: The Inner Chambers, which was on the 2010 YALSA list, and I kind of can't believe that I read about six hundred pages of this stuff.

A Bride's Story is set somewhere in central Asia in the late 19th century. At the time when women were married off to other families for money or political connections or any number of other reasons. As the comic begins Amir has been married off to another family, and she is positively ancient by bride standards (she's twenty), while her husband is only 12. The comic basically just follows the day to day activities of Amir as she becomes used to living with a new family.

It is incredibly boring.

Now, I find this kind of shocking as (spoilers ahead) Amir's old family comes and attacks the village she's living in, and in a later volume someone gets thrown into jail. Yet despite this it is just the dullest comic I have read in quite some time. Pages will be devoted to a character, who is never named, carving wood. Or there can be page after page of characters doing embroidery. Or, even worse, page after page of characters just _looking_ at embroidery.

But none of that is my real problem with this comic, my major problem is with the character of Amir. I realized somewhere in here that Amir is not actually a human being. Amir is a robot. Now you might be thinking "What? You said this book was set in the late 19th century, how is she a robot?", but I don't mean that she is a robot made out of mechanical parts (because really, nobody that knows me would ever think that I'd find that a problem). No, Amir is a robot in that she does not have human emotions or react to events like a human would. Instead she is absurdly innocent, verges on being an idiot savant in regards to her capabilities (she's an amazing archer!), who is amazed by _everything_. OH MY GOSH YOU CAN BAKE BREAD! Or you can sew, or there's a horse, or any other incredibly mundane thing astounds her utterly as though she has never seen it before. Amir reacts to events as though she has no prior history of doing or experiencing anything. She also becomes overwhelmingly devoted to her husband for no apparent reason whatsoever, which reminds me of robots who are devoted to their creator because, well, why not? It's kind of creepy.

Now this title has a lot of positive reviews online, and Kaoru Mori also had a title (Emma) on the 2008 YALSA list, so clearly she has many people who enjoy her work a lot, but I pretty clearly don't see the appeal of this comic. I will say that A Bride's Story is considerably better than Emma for two reasons. First, while the main character in both series is incredibly docile and passive, Amir is at least capable of doing _something_ (shooting arrows at things), while I don't think the main character in Emma did anything other than be embarrassed and polite, and second the art is really nice. I just wish it was being used on a comic I actually cared about.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2008: King of Thorn

King of Thorn (Volumes 1-2)
Written and illustrated by Yuji Iwahara.
Published by Tokyopop (2007)

Sometimes a book can deliver everything you want, despite what the author's original intents were. But more on that later. I'm trying to get into the habit of reading books and comics without knowing anything about them. I don't read the blurb on the back (spoilers!), and it's often so long since I added the book to my "to read" list that I don't even remember why I wanted to read it in the first place. So I go in with no knowledge of what's going to happen at all except for whatever's on the cover. This means that early twists and surprises actually surprise me!

The cover of King of Thorn doesn't really reveal anything about the story at all (there are humans and monsters?), but I remember years ago thinking about reading this book because I really enjoyed the way the cover was designed. The use of blank white space within the "thorns" seeming to "eat" into the rest of the image, while the soft purple-y colour of the cover made it stand out to me for some reason. Maybe it's just that the colour purple being used on the cover is supposed to sell more comics.

Inside the story starts by revealing that a terrible disease, the Medusa virus, is turning people into stone and killing them and...hold on, isn't this the plot at the beginning of Eden: It's an Endless World? Kasumi is one of a pair of twins who have contracted the virus, but she alone has been chosen as one of 160 people to be placed into suspended animation in hopes that a cure will be uncovered. There's plenty of angst about leaving her sister behind as she's placed into the capsule and put to sleep.

And then...dinosaur attack! Okay, the dinosaur attack doesn't happen _yet_. First we jump forward some unknown amount of time into the future. The lab which holds the cryo-capsules has been completely overgrown with huge vines covered in thorns. Some of the capsules seem to be completely destroyed, but a number are still intact and people start to wake up and wonder what on Earth is going on. Then the dinosaur, or at least a giant lizard creature, attacks. In the ensuing fear, panic, and stampedes most of the survivors end up dead, leaving only seven people alive. The rest of the book follows their attempt to escape from the building, but floating over their heads is the dark realization that the virus which caused them to be placed into cryogenic sleep in the first place hasn't been cured, and the longest any of them has to live is six weeks. Gripping stuff!

So what was the thing I disliked about this book? The main character. The girl on the cover with huge glasses and who, as you can probably guess if you've ever read any manga, is a shy and awkward teenage schoolgirl who is also nice and kind and maybe brave. She has seemingly no characteristics beyond that, practically sleepwalks through the plot, getting rescued multiple times, and could, in my opinion, just not have been included at all. I feel like I've seen this character in numerous manga before (though, I could not actually tell you which ones), and they're not a character type that I really care for. A character can have self doubt over their actions, but Kasumi's self doubt (at least in this volume) is whether she should even bother continuing to live. It's survivor's guilt that starts before she even enters the capsule. I'm assuming that Iwahara wants us to identify with, or at least care about, Kasumi, but it wouldn't bother me if she died in volume two. Actually, that'd be pretty gutsy so I'd be impressed, but I'm doubting that'll happen.

The other characters aren't that much better: there's a kid, a woman (who of course ends up looking after the kid), an older rich business man guy, another guy (who apparently has less of a personality than Kasumi), a black guy (who is of course big and strong), and a super 1337 hacker criminal (the big muscley guy with the tattoos on the cover). The hacker is, at least so far, the real protagonist insofar as he has driven pretty much every element of the plot: leading the characters, suggesting plans, coming up with ideas, saving people, thinking about what's going on. He's a stereotype too, but one I'm more interested in reading about.

Still the entire plot and situation of the comic really grabbed me, even if the characters themselves didn't seem like anything particularly special. I'm totally ready to read more of this series (especially since, as it's only six volumes long, it will actually end), but unfortunately the VPL only has volume 1 and every volume is out of print since Tokyopop, its original publisher, has basically not existed as a company in several years. Thankfully it doesn't look like prices on the secondary market are that high, so hopefully I can pick them up somewhere. I'm also interested in checking out some of Iwahara's other series, two of which, I've just discovered, have been translated into English.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

VPL Inspiration Pass

The Vancouver Public Library offers a really rad service called the Inspiration Pass. It's a pass that allows free access to 25 different events and activities around Vancouver, from museums, to farms, to musical performances, to ice rinks. And it's a super popular program, which is both great and terrible.

I put a hold on an Inspiration Pass just over a year ago on February 23rd, 2013. I'm currently 224th in line (for one of five copies at that branch). There are currently 525 people on this hold list, which is (just) the shortest of any of the 21 hold lists (every branch has some passes). While it's cool that this program exists, I really have to question multiple year long wait lists. There are somewhere over 100 passes available throughout the library system (their site says 120, but I can only identify 115 on their website's catalogue). Each branch gets five, while the main branch has 15.

Unlike other hold systems where you place the hold and you can pick it up at any branch, in this case you have to pick it up at the branch specified. Since they're at every branch, this isn't really the problem.

The problem are (as I said) the massive wait lists! Here's a list of the various branches and the number of holds each has.

Carnegie - 525
Dunbar - 526
West Point Grey - 526
Strathcona - 526
Collingwood - 529
Kerrisdale - 530
Fraserview - 530
South Hill - 531
Champlain Heights - 532
Firehall - 536
Marpole - 536
Kensington - 549
Joe Fortes - 553
Britannia - 557
Kitsilano - 580
Renfrew - 589
Terry Salmon - 572
Hastings - 592
Mount Pleasant - 604
Oakridge - 625
Central Branch - 1729 (averages to ~576 per 5 passes)

Total: 12777!

Now, it is possible to place a hold on more than one of these, but once one shows up all your others get cancelled. You're also limited to borrowing only one pass a year, but that's clearly not going to be a problem any time soon. So why is it taking so long? The borrowing time for each pass is two weeks, and I have no idea how long they'll actually hold them for you. I think holds are 5 business days, but I'm not totally sure. We'll say a week total.

(one week hold) + (two weeks borrowing) x 110 (approximate number for how many holds per pass) = (how long you have to wait to pick up a pass)

That's, uh, a little over SIX YEARS. Okay, so it's not actually that bad. Some people pick up their holds on the first day, some people return their passes after a day, some people never pick up the holds in the first place. So the actual time each pass is out is in use by each patron is less than the maximum. I don't remember exactly, but I think I was in the mid 400s when I joined the hold list last year (so it looks like the hold lists have actually gotten longer), but that means they're getting through about 200 holds per branch per year, so it's really only a 2-3 year wait. Much better!

Other library systems offer similar programs, and from my anecdotal evidence they generally work on a first-come, first-serve basis and are valid for less time. Sure this means that if you can't get to the library at 10am you might not get one, but more people in total will end up using them. A friend even suggested that there should be a way to do this using technology. Upon reaching the front of the hold queue the patron gets emailed a limited use bar code that can be printed off or shown on a device. It expires in x days and the next person gets sent one immediately afterwards.

To me this sounds great, but another friend said that at this point the VPL can't change how they've been doing things as people would complain a lot. It doesn't matter that more people would get to use the service, but that whoever the complainer is _didn't_. I guess that VPL just didn't think that this program would be anywhere near this popular and didn't predict years long waiting lists. Unfortunately "owing to the agreements with our partners we are unable to expand the program at this time".

I have other problems with the waiting lists (“two adults and up to four children aged 18-years and younger” or “up to six young people aged 14 to 18 years old", bleh), but that'll have to wait until I actually get the pass. Hopefully some time next summer I'll be able to post about the awesome museums I got to visit!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

YALSA 2014 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens

Every year since 2007 the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) section of the American Library Association (ALA) has created both a long list and a top ten list of "great graphic novels for teens". You can see all the lists here. Previously they had included some graphic novels on their "best books for young adults" lists.

Last year I was invited to give a guest lecture on the history of comics and graphic novels for children and young adults, and upon looking at these lists realized that I had read less than half of the book on the top ten lists (and hadn't even heard of others!). As a so called "expert" on graphic novels in libraries I didn't really think that this was appropriate, and decided to read as many of the volumes that I hadn't read as possible.

I'll be reviewing them as I read (or reread) them, and this page will eventually contain links to all the books from 2014. Here's the full list of nominations from 2014, and the top ten list. This year I've read fewer of these books than ever (approximately 1.5)! I blame being in grad school.

Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge.

The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks.

Dogs of War by Sheila Keenan and Nathan Fox.

MIND MGMT (Volume 1) by Matt Kindt.

Rust (Volume 2) by Royden Lepp.

March (Volume 1) by  John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell.

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon McKay and Daniel Lafrance.

Strobe Edge (Volumes 1-6) by Io Sakisaka.

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks.

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tintin in the Land of Potential Censorship

I'm a pretty big Tintin and Hergé fan. I first read the comics as a child, and I even remember going to libraries to borrow the comics. The first one I owned was Prisoner's of the Sun, and I think that its use of in media res (as the second book in a two part story) has influenced my enjoyment of creating stories that start in the middle.

I've read all the Tintin comics (and several of Hergé's other comics), read the novel, own several of the pastiches that have been created, have read or watched comics, books, and documentaries about Tintin and Hergé, watched the various animated shows (and will watch those weird old live action movies at some point), went to Belgium just so that I could go to the Hergé Museum, have owned pieces of the merchandise (including rad standees when I was a kid, and a watch I wore until it broke), had Tintin's haircut for years, and in some ways feel that my life as a globe trotting, occasional journalist that wants to have adventures was influenced by Tintin.

So I say this as someone who really loves the character: Tintin in the Congo is a racist book that should not be in children's sections of libraries (or bookstores for that matter).

Now, I've seen this book in children's sections before (that's where I first read it a few years ago), but I'm writing this post because of this article about a library that refuses to move the book out of the children's section after parents complained.

First a bit of background. Tintin in the Congo was the second Tintin adventure after Tintin in the Land of the Soviets. It was originally published from 1930 to 1931, but this version doesn't really look much like what most people expect Tintin to look like. Hergé was still a fairly young and inexperienced artist at this point in his career so the art isn't as developed as it would later be, plus the books were published in black and white. Later he redrew and colourized his earliest books (excluding Tintin in the Land of the Soviets), and this revamped version was released in 1946. Later revisions (to remove a rhino being blown up) where made in the 1970s at the request of publishers in other countries.

Despite those changes the colour version of this book was not published in English until 2005. (A reproduction of the original black and white version was published in the early 1990s, but that was aimed a collectors.)

Now I could go into all the problems with the book, but there are other articles written by people who have read it more recently than I have (and I'm not that interested in rereading it). So try this one or this one.

I'm not saying Tintin in the Congo shouldn't be in libraries, but putting it in a children's section seems misguided and ignorant at best, and malicious at worst. Honestly, there aren't enough portrayals of people of colour in any comics, let alone in comics aimed at kids, and so having one that is super racist against Africans seems like a terrible, terrible idea.

The head librarian at the library in question apparently said that moving the books was the same as censoring them, which seems kind of strange to me. They quote the ALA definition of censorship as a "change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives", while saying that “If the Jones Library does nothing else, we protect everyone’s constitutional right to read anything he or she wants. Our mission does not include censorship.”

How does moving this book to the adult graphic novel or 741.5 section change the access status? Children can still find it (and in fact more people overall would see that the book exists). I have to wonder what this library would do if a book was miscatalogued. If Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie was in the kid's section at the library (it's a crossover between Peter Pan, the Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland!) would it just stay there forever?

When it comes down to it I think the only reason that Tintin in the Congo is shelved in the kids section anywhere is because most cataloguers don't know that much about comic books (I see miscatalogued comics all the time), and so they just put it where all the other Tintin comics go. It's kind of funny that I'm complaining about that this time, as usually I'm upset because a series has been split into multiple different sections, but I think this shows that for librarians knowledge of material and context is important.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

YALSA top ten 2008: After School Nightmare

After School Nightmare (Volumes 1-5)
Written and illustrated by Setona Mizushiro.
Published by Go! Comi (Volume 1, 2006; Volumes 2-5, 2007)

When I read a comic (or a book, or watch a TV show, etc.) and I really have problems with it I tend to go and read reviews to see if other people had similar problems or if they could justify their experience in a way that made sense to me. (I also do this with media I really enjoy, except then I read reviews of people who hated whatever I liked.) However, when the opinion I have is not only not reflected in any other review I can find, but not even mentioned, I guess I feel as though I'm not reading the comic "right". That's really the case with After School Nightmare: I have multiple problems with it, but nobody else even talks about what I think are sorta serious issues. Now, this is a ten volume series, and the first five were all listed (as one item) on the top ten list, but I only read the first book. (The copy I borrowed was also missing a page at the beginning, that was actually kind of important, but I read it online.)

First of all I admit, and this is going to come up multiple times as I read the comics on these YALSA lists, that I am not a teenage girl and, in fact, have never been one. Thus, shojo comics (Japanese comics aimed at teenage girls) are not something I enjoy very often. I haven't read that much, but other than like Sailor Moon and Magic Knight Rayearth (both of which I read back in the '90s), I'm not sure if I've actually enjoyed any shojo comics at all. So why is this? I mean, I've read and enjoyed the Baby-sitters Club graphic novel that Raina Telegemeier did, so I'm clearly not _that_ averse to comics aimed at young females (though there are lots of western ones that I also don't care for), but clearly something about these titles hasn't clicked with me. However, even saying something like that is unfair, as shojo isn't a genre, and the titles published under that title can be anything from sports to science fiction. But of the ones I've read, the overly dramatic characters and focus on absurd "romances" have left me cold.

After School Nightmare is set in a bizarre school where students have to attend a "class" where they are put to sleep and must reveal their true selves/darkest secrets to other students. In order to graduate they have to find a "key" which is hidden inside the body of another student. This is kind of weird, though I'd be more okay with it if there wasn't so much non-consent involved. The mysterious "nurse" who tells the main character that they have to do this doesn't tell them what it is they have to do or what's going to happen beforehand (or even afterwards!), instead they just drug them with some weird type of tea, and another student eventually explains what this "class" is about. After the main character has unwillingly entered a dream world where students get to repeatedly relive horrible experiences like sexual and physical assault.

But that's not even my real problem with this comic, and we'll get to that in a second after I give a brief plot overview. The main character Ichijo Mashiro's "upper half is male" and their "lower half is female", and a major element of the plot is them trying to come to terms with their own gender identity. This is fine, good even! Teenagers frequently struggle with elements of sexual orientation and gender identity (amongst other aspects of their personal identities), and providing media about that probably helps them understand that they're not alone in how they feel.

However, my problem with this comic is the way the nurse, who is basically the only adult/person in a position of power/supposed role model in the entire comic, acts. Upon meeting Ichijo this character says "I know everything about you. After all, I am your teacher". When Ichijo says "I'm a guy" the nurse says "No, you're merely wear a man's clothing and hope to be believed". Similarly, other characters repeatedly say that Ichijo's "true self" is female, because that's how they show up in the dreams (whereas other students appear as a suit of armour, a person with huge holes were their face and chests are, a disembodied arm, and so forth). It just seems super transphobic to me to have almost everyone refuse to accept this character as the gender they identify as, but nobody else discussing the comic seems to have ever mentioned this, so maybe I'm just reading it wrong.

Thankfully, it isn't all like that. One of the characters (a love interest) actually says "I prefer you being a boy". There's a reasonable story to be told in characters trying to figure out if they're gay or not when they don't identify with their physical gender, and it seems as though later volumes of the series discuss that more. But those aspects didn't really click with me until I read reviews of the series, and then reread this volume (and geeze guys, I just reread a comic I disliked in order to properly say why I disliked it.).

Ignoring any positive or negative thoughts regarding the plot of the book, I found the romance aspects of this incredibly boring. Like there are pages of dialogue that I cannot believe I read as they are just so banal. This is clearly my personal opinion and I'm not saying that _this_ part of the comic is bad, just that it's not something that I generally enjoy, and based solely on that (but also for other reasons) I won't be seeking out any more of this title.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

What do you get when you cross a shy librarian with a demon warrior?

Recently while looking through a 1994 issue of Previews (yes, I am that lame) I came across this ad and solicitation for the first issue of this (terrible looking) comic by Sean Shaw. 

Here's the solicitation text:
"What do you get when [you] cross a shy librarian with a demon warrior? Find out in these adventures of a mild-mannered woman caught in the wrong place at the wrong time." has a plot description of the first issue:
"When Rachel tries to help a woman in trouble, she accidentally interferes with a cult summoning a demon and the demon enters her body by mistake."

But more importantly they have cover scans of issues 1, 3, and 4, and has a scan of issue 2.

And believe it or not, but Shaw actually had a career for a fair few years, got to work on an Alan Moore comic (in however minor a capacity), was still drawing covers within the last five-six years, and even attended a con in 2010 with a bio that still promoted his connection to Wicked.

You can even get the first three issues on ebay, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted. If you want to get them for me I'd be happy to read (and review!) them for your enjoyment, cause I'm guessing I won't get much out of reading them : )

Friday, January 3, 2014

Readers' Advisory for Graphic Novels for Adults

Here's the Readers' Advisory presentation I did about graphic novels for adults at RA in a Half Day. I haven't watched this video. Terrified of seeing myself speak.

Here's the resources handout I created, and the Powerpoint presentation.