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.