Monday, January 25, 2016

YALSA top ten GNs 2012: My Friend Dahmer

My Friend Dahmer
Written and illustrated by Derf Backderf.
Published by Abrams Comic Arts (2012)

To be totally honest, I had absolutely no interest in reading this graphic novel about Backderf's experiences growing up with the murderer Jeffrey Dahmer. While I'm aware that there's a lot of interest in true crime and serial killers, it's really not an area in which I find myself particularly interested. Despite this lack of interest, and the unsettling content, I found myself enjoying My Friend Dahmer far more than I had expected. However, be forewarned, this is an incredibly depressing look at someone's real life spiral into a nightmare.

Backderf went to school with Dahmer throughout junior high and high school, and interacting with him on a peer level gave Backderf a different take on Dahmer than many of the adults in his life. However, while the title of the book implies that they were friends, the reality is far more complicated. Backderf (and his actual friends) may have found Dahmer to be at times entertaining, and encouraged him to act out in public, but while they used him as a sort of mascot they weren't people who really interacted much outside of school.

Throughout the book Backderf makes sure to repeatedly say that he does not not want to make Dahmer into a sympathetic character, and that while Dahmer's home life had many problems, it in no way excused his later actions. The Dahmer that Backderf knew was an incredibly troubled youth, who seemingly isolated himself in a way to deal with the terrifying thoughts that were constantly filling his mind. Dahmer spent much of high school drunk (in class!) and yet apparently not only did no teacher ever notice, but Dahmer managed to graduate (and briefly went to university). In some ways this book can be seen as a criticism of Dahmer's teachers and parents for not noticing that something was horribly wrong with him.

Backderf's art style is in no ways realistic, but he manages to capture the characters in a way that shows off who they are. The almost cartoony/caricatureish art gives characters the opportunity to express the emotions that they're feeling (and contrasts with Dahmer's frequently emotionless face), but is also effective at creating a sinister atmosphere during the more unsettling parts of the book.

In addition to his own personal recollections, Backderf interviewed dozens of his former classmates and teachers, and extensively used interviews, news articles, and other sources to create as accurate a timeline of events as possible. Despite his copious research a problem I had with this book (and, it seems, many of the nonfiction books I've read that have been on the YALSA lists) is a lack of context. While the text frequently alludes to what Dahmer ended up doing, it is only in the footnotes in the back, and the blurb on the inner front of the dust jacket (which I missed) that it actually says what he did (Dahmer killed 17 people). And sure, how many people are going to pick up this book and read it (and not read the blurb) without knowing anything about Dahmer? Probably not many other than me. Still, I think it would have been valuable to include in the introduction.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

YALSA 2016 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens

Every year since 2007 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.

That means that this is the tenth year that they've done this list! Awesome!

A couple of years ago I was invited to give a guest lecture on the history of comics and graphic novels for children and young adults. I looked at the YALSA lists and realized that I had read less than half of the book on the top ten lists (and hadn't even heard of many!). 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 then decided to review them as I read (or reread) them, and I've been (very slowly) doing so since December 2013. I've so far written reviews of 39 of the now 100 title long list. At my current rate I will finish in about four years.

This page will eventually contain links to all the books from 2016. Here's the full list of nominations from 20016, and the top ten list. They occasionally have weird formatting or credits.

Before this list had been released I had read 0.6 of the entries (vol. 1 of Lumberjanes and the first issue of Squirrel Girl).

Also, how is Giant Days not even on the long list?

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova.

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown.

Lumberjanes vol. 1-2 by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, and Brooke Allen.

Ms. Marvel vol. 2-3 by G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt, Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa, and Elmo Bondoc.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson.

Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia.

A Silent Voice vol. 1-3 by Yoshitoki Oima.

Trashed by Derf Backderf.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol. 1-2 by Ryan North and Erica Henderson.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

2015 Reading

In 2015 I read 500 graphic novels. Yes that is insane. I read some good stuff, and I also read a lot of crap.

What did I count as a graphic novel? Well, I was kind of haphazard to be honest.

Things that counted:

  • Gen13 Bootleg: Grunge: the Movie - It only collects three issues.
  • Tell Me Something by Jason - It's only like 48 pages long.
  • The Viz 2015 sampler
  • Image Firsts Compendium Vol. 1 - A bunch of #1s. I think these are literally just the $1 issues with the staples cut off and bound together.
  • Costume Quest: Invasion of the Candy Snatchers - The digital version I have is 59 pages, which includes a bunch of pages which aren't comics.
  • Things I had read in previous years and reread in 2015.
  • Station 16 - Only 54 pages long.
  • Books I read digitally (on Hoopla or otherwise).
  • Collections of comic strips. - Just Cul de Sac I think.

Things that didn't count:

  • Single issues that made up a storyline that have been collected. - Mostly lots of old X-Men comics.
  • Island - The anthology that Brandon Graham puts out. It's a magazine?
  • Other single issues that were pretty big. - Marvel Super-Hereos #2 Summer Special from 1991 claims to be 80 pages long on the cover. (It is terrible by the way.)
  • Prestige format things that were 40-60 pages or so long. - JLA/WildCATs, some Sabertooth thing, some other stuff.
  • Webcomics I read online.
  • Team Cul de Sac: Cartoonists Draw the Line at Parkinson's - A bunch of this is comic strips, but I decided not enough was.
  • The volume of the Authority I read because it had an annual and a story that weren't collected in The Authority by Warren Ellis/Mark Millar collections.

Things I read that collected other things but only counted as one thing:

  • Essential Marvel and DC Showcase Presents volumes. Collect various Masterworks/Archives, but only count as one each.
  • BPRD: Plague of Frogs Omnibus collect three smaller volumes, but I only counted once.
  • etc.

The 500 does include both manga and non-manga , and here's the breakdown.

As you can see I read far more non-manga (441) than manga (59). If you look at the monthly stats you'll see that while I started fairly strong in regards to manga (11 read in January), I soon dropped off (5 read October-December, none read in June!).
The overwhelmingly amount of manga that I read (37!) were published by Viz. Second place was Tokyopop, who haven't published anything new since 2011!

Manga I read were very heavily series based. Of the 37 published by Viz that I read, 24 of them were 20th Century Boys. All six of the Tokyopop titles were King of Thorn.

For non-manga I read far too many Marvel comics.

The publishers from whom I read ten or more titles were
Marvel: 175
Dark Horse: 45
Image: 38
Boom: 21
DC: 20
Wildstorm*: 15
Vertigo: 13
IDW: 12
Valiant: 10

"Other" consists of every publisher from whom I read only one book. 

17 of Boom's titles were Irredeemable/Incorruptible (and I read all of those in January/February. Boom and Marvel were almost on par for the first two months).

If you include Wildstorm and Vertigo with DC they would have 48 books and be the second largest publisher.

* Wildstorm is kind of a special case, since I counted things that had been published under other imprints for them. Two volumes of Gen:13 Bootleg were published by Wildstorm when they were at Image. The volumes of Stormwatch and The Authority I read (that reprinted work originally published by Wildstorm) I counted as Wildstorm, even though they were printed by DC. The New 52 Stormwatch was set in the mainstream DC universe, so they were included in DC's number.

Here's a chart (with some terrible colours, thanks Google...) showing how much of each publisher I read each month. This combines the manga and non-manga lists, so Dark Horse gains 3 books, while Fantagraphics, DC, and NBM (not on this list) gain 1 each. Viz moves into 4th place, and DC is now tied with Boom. Fantagraphics also joins the "10 books" club.

I read the most graphic novels in September (61), when my goal was two a day, and the fewest (13) in July when I read a bunch of non-comic books I guess.