The Zabime Sisters
Written and illustrated by Aristophane
Published by First Second (2010)
If I were to pick three things that help make a book more likely to be selected as one of the YALSA top ten graphic novels for teens they would be:
- Is about teenagers
- Features females in prominent roles
- Features minority characters in prominent roles
(A fourth might be "isn't a superhero comic".)
This might make me seem a little jaded about reading these comics, but one of the reasons I started reviewing all of these books was to find out why they ended up on these lists. I think the importance of the YALSA lists are not that they are a "best comics" list, but that the are a "for teens" list. They usually include characters in that age group, and frequently feature characters from groups generally under represented in fiction. This helps provides teenagers both with characters they can more strongly identify with and helps expose them to lifestyles and viewpoints they might not be familiar with.
From the cover of The Zabime Sisters you can see that it fulfills all the "rules" I mentioned above (including the fourth one!), and seems like an obvious candidate for inclusion on a YALSA list. However, I found it incredibly boring.
This is not to say it's bad, just that the subject matter didn't appeal to me at all. The story takes place over a couple of hours in the morning on the first day of summer vacation (which is another recurring theme in these stories...) on the island of Guadalupe (a small island in the Caribbean that is part of France). Now, just to clarify, the reason this didn't appeal to me is not because it was set in the morning, a place I rarely tread by choice, but rather because I thought it was really dull. So dull that it took me a couple of days to read this (quite short) book, and so boring I avoided even writing this review until it was either do this or do homework.
So yeah, a bunch of kids walk around and talk about stuff. Some of them have a picnic thing (and then get drunk off panel), some of them steal mangoes, and a couple of them get into a fight. To me "nothing" happens, and I think that's bad. But other people clearly feel that a book that manages to create a sense of place can be a success, and I assume that is one of the reasons that people enjoyed this story.
Artwise I think the style that Aristophane uses is different from what many people may expect from comics as it's all strong, thick, black lines, with no shading or colouring. Reading some other reviews online indicates that some people didn't like it. I had no problems with the art, and looking at some of it again I feel that Aristophane seems to be capturing the feel of both the characters and the setting welll. The lettering, on the other hand, really, really bugged me.
It's rare that lettering is really discussed in comics. It's kind of the invisible art, only noticeable when someone think's it's bad. And dang, I think it looked really terrible in this comic. Somehow, despite it being hand lettered, it appears to capture every element of terrible computer lettering that I dislike: weird placing of text within speech balloons and caption boxes, text that changes sizes just so that it can fit inside those boxes, the letter i is dotted even though every letter is a capital. It just seemed like a perfect storm of ugly. I assume some of this happened because this book was originally published in French, and so the letterer is stuck with the original spaces and has to make the text fit inside them, but dang, I think they did a really awful job of it.
Next up: Superhero comics. I'm sure I'll like those more.