Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Shrewsbury Library

At Christmas time I visited my parents in the UK. While there I decided to check out their local library.

It was in a pretty cool old building, and had this rad statue of Charles Darwin outside. Unfortunately, it was closed on the day I went to visit.

They did have this neat sundial on the side of the building though.

Friday, June 19, 2015

YALSA top ten GNs 2012: Thor: The Mighty Avenger

Thor: The Mighty Avenger (Volumes 1-2) 
Written by Roger Langridge. Illustrated by Chris Samnee
Published by Marvel (Volume 1, 2010; Volume 2, 2011)

So first, a confession. I didn't actually reading the two volumes that were placed on the YALSA list from this year. Instead I read Thor: The Mighty Avenger: The Complete Collection published in 2013. It has all 8 issues of Thor: The Mighty Avenger (plus the Free Comic Book Day story), but doesn't include the old Journey into Mystery issues (#83-86) that are included in the original collections. I'm pretty sure their inclusion didn't affect these books making it onto this list, but feel free to say otherwise.

Despite all the positive things I'd heard about this book, I went in with low expectations (though why I felt that way I couldn't really tell you). Maybe I'd just read too many YALSA top ten books that I didn't really care for (it looks like I've disliked, the last five I reviewed for this site). However, I was pleasantly surprised. This book is really cute and fun! It is, to my surprise, much more romantic than I would have thought a Thor comic would be. Jane Foster (that's her on the cover up above) works in a museum, and ends up helping Thor when she thinks he's a hobo (with a heart of gold). Soon he's sleeping on her couch and there's an amount of crushes and flirting and stuff that is sweet without it making me completely uninterested.

That's not to say it's not a superhero comic. While it's not set in any version of the Marvel Universe that exists anywhere else (that I know of) characters like Iron Man, Namor, and Captain Britain show up, and Thor fights robots and super villains and giant sea monsters. So it's pretty typical in that regard, but I also found it more enjoyable than a lot of the superhero comics I read.

Chris Samnee is an artist a lot of people really like (he won an Eisner award for his work on this series), but the limited stuff by him that I've read hasn't really clicked for me. In this book I can definitely see why people enjoy his work, as a lot of the art is great! But then the next panel will just be unappealing to me for some reason I can't put my finger on (the inking style? The width of the lines?). I wonder if it might be something to do with the way the line work interacts with the colours. The colours (by Matthew Wilson) are generally really good, though as with pretty much all modern books the colours are far more than just flat colours, but are used to give depth, hightlight physical features, and more. I wish I could see some of the original black and white line work and compare the two to see where my problem comes from. Regardless of my feelings, you do at least get to see Thor wearing an apron after cooking a meal.

The most frustrating thing about this series is the fact that it doesn't actually end. Apparently it was intended to be a 12 issues series, but it was cancelled after issue eight, leaving readers to wonder who the mysterious Mr. K was, why Thor got banished to Earth, and other questions. The only thing we do know (based on the sketches in the back) is that Hulk was going to show up. The series was successful enough in collected form that it got reprinted, so it's too bad Marvel didn't put out a four issue miniseries to wrap things up.

Monday, June 1, 2015

YALSA top ten GNs 2011: The Zabime Sisters

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:
  1. Is about teenagers
  2. Features females in prominent roles
  3. 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.