This weekend I went on a bit of a graphic novel binge. I went to Politics & Prose mainly to buy Brian Lee O’Malley’s new book Seconds and I walked out with a giant pile of books I needed to own. I read each of these in about 2 sittings, and I recommend them all.
The most unexpected was Matt Smith’s Barbarian Lord, which caught my attention for its beautiful cover and unusual trim size, then kept me reading in the store until I had to know where it was going. I’d say it’s 2 parts Conan (the premise, character and general story archetype), 1 part Beowulf (the poetic conventions of Old English / Icelandic verse plus several direct allusions), and 1 part Bone (the visual style). Parts of the story are narrated by animals whom the humans can’t understand, which I think is genius, and the dialog reads like it was penned in the days of Hrothgar. (Image from this preview.)
It should come as no surprise that Seconds is awesome. O’Malley has a unique genius for manipulating the comics medium to produce something that is oh-so-cool and yet heartfelt and emotionally real. In Seconds we lose the video game storytelling devices that were SO funny in Scott Pilgrim, but we still get a snarky narrator, who happens to be — well that might be a minor spoiler, so let’s just say the choice of narrative voice is genius. Am I overusing that word? I can’t help it, O’Malley, Yang and Guibert are some of the giants of the current comics scene; they are geniuses. Anyway, so here’s Seconds in a nutshell: Katie is a chef who wants to open a new restaurant because the current one is boring and she doesn’t own it. Of course opening a restaurant is no easy task, and Katie feels like everything is going wrong. Then this happens: Then a great deal of strangeness and character development occurs. It’s Groundhog Day meets Chef with a side of 11/22/63 and just a sprinkle of Anathem and Paranorman. (Images linked from this review.)
Likewise, there was really no question that I would love The Shadow Hero. While I will go on record as saying that the lack of author notes in Boxers & Saints annoyed the heck out of me, nevertheless everything Yang writes is brilliant. To continue the cooking imagery, Yang mixes together immigration, Chinese gangs, superheroes, kung fu, and some wonderfully broken family dynamics into a yummy and satisfying… uh… turtle soup. Sonny Liew illustrates it in a style that effectively conveys character, humor and action, with a slightly vintage look. Protagonist Hank Chu just wants to work in his dad’s shop, but his mom decides he needs to become a superhero. But how can he get super-powers? Mom will find a way… (Images linked from this review.)
How the World Was by Emmanuel Guibert is a sort of prequel to Alan’s War, illustrating Alan Cope’s memories of his childhood in California. Guibert’s work makes incredible use of two techniques. First, his art is stunning in it’s simplified realism. With a few deft lines of a water dropper he precisely depicts the faces, clothes, body language, and every detail in the settings of this very real time and place. Second, having put you there, he tells the story with the minimum amount of drama, letting the ordinariness of life hit you with more impact than the biggest superhero battle. Heck, he even breaks narrative tension at certain points when it starts to develop! It’s a bit like the way Wes Anderson deliberately breaks all the rules of cinematography, except in the service of realism instead of whatever you call the off-kilter-ness Wes Anderson loves. Guibert’s rich visuals and realistic storytelling also remind me of Mariko & Jillian Tamaki’s This One Summer (another book I highly recommend!). The following quote by Guibert from an interview about The Photographer has stuck with me — in fact it makes me a little misty every time I read it: “No speeches, no violins, no spilt blood. Drama is often something which hasn’t the appearance of a drama: just a child lying on a bed, silent and still, but who won’t get up anymore.” That’s the kind of drama of which Guibert is the master. (Images borrowed from this review).
Also last week I read Box Brown’s Andre the Giant GN biography. This is a must-read if you have any affection for Andre or the history / shenanigans of ’80s pro wrestling. Like Guibert, Brown goes for a very quiet tone, but the art is more cartoony — the book is about the idea of Andre the Giant, what he means as an icon as well as what his personal life was like. As you read it you kind of feel like you’re hanging out at a bar with a bunch of Andre’s friends, reminiscing. By the way check out these photos of Andre! Here’s a page showing how Brown explains the theatrics of pro wrestling: