by Grant Moorison, art by Dave McKean
To some readers, namely my 12-year-old students, this book is a total disappointment. It has the brand name Batman on the title. It IS a sort of origin story — of the Arkham Asylum which houses many infamous villains, including the Joker, of the franchise; and it does have segments with Batman in them. But, they feel somehow cheated because there is almost no treatment of the fight scenes during the Hide and Seek game on the Asylum Ground. A couple of pages, with McKean’s signature dream-like artwork hastily showing Batman dispensing of all the Asylum inmates, are all they got out of these fight scenes. And as super hero comics readers, they were not satisfied.
I felt differently. As a McKean art adorer, I enjoyed all the panels, both the really detailed close-ups and the dream-line distanced treatments. And I am totally ok with not “watching” longer sequences of the fights. I enjoyed the psychoanalytically inspired (albeit superficially so) back story of Doctor Arkham more than my students. However, I won’t say that this is one to highly recommend to either Graphic Novel enthusiasts or novices.
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by Grant Morrison
I’ve never been a big fan of Batman — not his back story, and not his perpetual sorrow and the lasting vengeance. This tale didn’t change my mind. Certain aspects of it are intensely interesting — the fact that he self-hypnotized by putting another trigger phrase within his new identity is super clever. But, it all plays out too well and he is just too clever to make the second half of the story satisfying… you almost want him to fail. Definitely not my favorite story to date!
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V for Vendetta
by Alan Moore
art by David Lloyd
I really appreciated the intricate storytelling and some of the truly dark moments in this complete collection of the V stories. It’s great to finally know what this classic graphic novel is about and to have read something by the famed Alan Moore. At the same time, I’m not sure that I bought all the philosophical and political views underpinning the characters and the plot line: it seems to run too straight and too narrow down one singular line and everything worked out all according to V’s plans. That said, it is a rewarding read that demands quite a bit of focus and now I have to ponder hard about the ending: is it a brilliant treatment or does it too abrupt and unresolved? I’d love to hear others’ opinions on the series’ ending…
The story has quite a bit of potential – it could have been really creepy, or really moving, but it turned out to be a mild horror with a not-so-hidden agenda of appreciating and being oneself.
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by Brian Selznick
I adored The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian’s Caldecott winning, form-innovating, ground-breaking novel told in text and pictures. I have been waiting for Wonderstruck with both happy anticipation and a slight dosage of anxiety: what IF it is not as good? What if it feels like the author has set a trap for himself and cannot top his last achievement? Would I be as taken by this story as the mysterious tale of Hugo? Would I feel that it is merely a repeat of what he already did once and since it is such a singular and unique format, it might not bear the weight of a second attempt…
I am so pleased that the book is not at all these What Ifs… Instead, it tells a fascinating and moving story succinctly and attractively with text and pictures. And instead of a novelty, it might start a different kind of storytelling form for others who are similarly minded and have suitable tales to present in this way.
I did so want to SEE Ben’s story, though. I was craving pictures for his part of the tale! That, to me, is a strength of the book: I can see how young people can be compelled to “illustrate” parts of the text. Others might be inspired to curate a personal “Cabinet of Wonder” (a personal museum.) And all of us will learn to appreciate all the connections that we make throughout our lives with others.
The release date of the book is September 13th, a day after the start of the year at my school, and I can’t wait to have it on display to herald a year of reading with a wonderful new book for all my students! Let’s shout HURRAY together for another tour de force by Brian Selznick!
by Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon
I really enjoyed the lyrical atmosphere and some of the intense scenes in both the text and the art and am glad that the final chapters tie the whole narrative structure together. Of course, because if this tidy conclusion, the narrative ceases entirely to be original or fresh with the previous segments being but the potentials of a person’s life as experienced in the “land of fate and possibilities.” The magical realism quality becomes but possible, but not true, device. That is mere quibble of an otherwise string of very strong and moving narratives. Highly recommended!
by Robert Kirkman
The first installment in the long series focuses mostly on the relationships of the living with the backdrop of extreme hardship of the zombie plague. I imagine that that will be the flavor for the rest of the series. The author does a great job capturing the characters’ traits and presenting the interplays between characters with conflicting interests. The tension is high, the dialog realistic, and the artwork is well executed. Now I have to read the rest of the series!
by Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan, and Faith Erin Hicks
It’s really quite an oddly enjoyable weird tale. Some of the images can be disturbing, but effectively and purposefully so. I think plenty of young readers will find this a very interesting read.
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by Barry Deutsch
There is so much to like about this book: the humorous and very realistic treatment of the family dynamics between stepmother and children, between siblings, and between neighbors; the expressiveness of the faces and the bodies; the magical realistic setting and all the references of Orthodox Jewish traditions; and the pure energy and joy of knowing a new and plucky girl character. And yet, since I liked it so much from page 1, and built up such high expectations of wanting a truly enlightening ending, the last portion of the book became a bit of a let down because of a somewhat rushed and unsatisfying wrap up.
by G. Neri
The topic and the actual event are so much more powerful than the book itself. I find the narrative voice (supposedly a fairy young child’s) unconvincing and slips into mere reporting for the majority of the tale. It does not really move me.
As to the graphic/art part of the book: I thought to myself, “Oh, the graphics quality will be improved, touched up, and finessed, and the face of the same character will be more consistently drawn so the readers won’t be confused… in the final book… ” … but then realized that I WAS reading the published book, not an ARC. Slightly puzzled by my own less than lukewarm reception since it has received a starred review and high praises from several reviewers. Someone, convince me!
by Robert Venditti
I had high hopes and maybe it was my fault hoping for a really gripping read accompanied by high-level artwork. It turned out to be something of a dud. There is definitely the seed of a great story but it never quite blossomed and the hastily presented resolution is dissatisfying to say the least. The crude artwork is without raw energy often associated with such style and the Surries, perfect and sleek and are such an improvement of “vanilla” humans, do not to be so. I believe the stale look of the panels is largely due to a fairly-uniformed Photoshopping process. Too bad.
by Shaun Tan
This book reminds of a third grade project that my daughter did: to write a short story that accompanies one picture from Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. In fact, on Van Allsburg’s site, there is an entire section dedicated to stories from “readers” of the book inspired by the images in the book.
Outer Suburbia has that same absurdity, the same eeriness and outlandish qualities that constantly surprise and delight the reader, even when we feel slightly uncomfortable with what we read and see. It is at times unsettling and other times deeply moving.
I am not sure that this is a book just for children or teens. It seems to me that it is very much a book made to just express the artist’s imagination and to satisfy his own storytelling needs — which, ultimately, benefits the readers who would appreciate this kind of short vignettes. My favorite stories/images are: Eric, No Other Country, Alert But Not Alarmed, Make Your Own Pet, and strangely my top choice: The Nameless Holiday.
The entire book design is so amazing as well. I remember the sense of thrill and awe when I first discovered the Griffin and Sabine trilogy by Nick Bantock. This one comes close.
Author: Lewis Trondheim; illus. by Fabrice Parme
Reading Level: 3rd to 5th grade
Publisher: Frist Second
Most excellent and fun short skit-like tales. This volume contains six stories. King Ethelbert is extremely spoiled and self-centered and yet one simply can’t help but adoring him (probably because more often than not, he gets his just-desserts: a spanking, or being blown out of the palace window!) A French import.
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Author: Alan Moore, illus. by Dave Gibbons
Reading Level: YA, Adult
Publisher: DC Comic
Edition: Paperback, 1987
It took me a long time to finish this seemingly slim volume. I took in every word, every image, and every reference as slowly as I could manage. Not that the story is too complex, but its form does demand some attention and appreciation: the interwoven stories of the masked vigilantes and the embedded graphic novel of the Black Freighter (or the Pirate story as my students refer to it) and the various texts of the story-within-the story by one of the side characters and all the other para-“documents.”
I enjoyed all the double-descriptors: words and phrases that convey the meaning for one scene but also aptly describe the situations of another scene. Moore employed this technique through out the novel — it did not get tired for me, just amusing.
The final two “chapters,” however, seem to rely too much on Adrian’s explanation of his whole back story and his reasons behind all the plans and schemes, slowing down the momentum and diminishing the thrilling mystery part of the whole tale. I wish Moore had figured out a more active and exciting way for the exposing of Adrian and his plot.
I also must say that I think the filmmakers did a fantastic job translating the novel into the movie. The only real gripe I have is in the odd casting of Adrian’s role — instead of an athletic superhero, the actor seems fragile and without the kind of commanding presence that this role demands. The movie ends differently from the book — having gotten rid of the entire side story of the vanishing artists, novelists, and scientists with their creation of the “alien being” that devastates half of New York City — but by putting the blame on Dr. Manhattan, the film has added another layer of emotional burden onto a major character and I have to applaud that particular line of changes. And, may I say that I absolutely ADORE Rorschach in the movie — his scenes are most memorable and the actor’s skillful portrayal of this tragic hero is impeccable!
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Written by Shannon and Dean Hale
Illustrated by Nathan Hale
Published by Bloomsbury USA, 2008
Middle Grades (3-6)
Lily just got back from summer camp and picked up this book in the living room. I read it last week and fell in love with the story, the characters, the illustrations, and the graphic novel design of the entire package. I was pleased to find that Lily couldn’t put the book down. After she finished it, we had a little chat. The one thing that surprised me was that in Lily’s mind, the setting isn’t all that unconventional for a Rapunzel tale while to me, the setting is one of the most intriguing features since I always placed Rapunzel as a European story set in the deep woods.
Here’s our chat:
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Author: Shannon and Dean Hale; illus. by Nathan Hale
Reading Level: 4th – 7th
Edition: Paperback/Graphic Novel, 2008
It did not disappoint! Yeah! I had so much fun reading and looking at this book and its illustrations. Shannon Hale’s telling, even with reduced amount of text due to the graphic novel nature of the book, is crisp and humorous, and with certain subtlety that amuses me, the adult reader, and yet not difficult to appreciate for young readers. (I had a 10-year-old girl today reading it and she absolutely loved the book — then she found out that this is by the same author who gave her the pleasure of GOOSE GIRL and PRINCESS ACADEMY. She was thrilled!) The wild wild west setting is cleverly executed. I wonder how others react to the the references to the Native American cultures and characters — personally I thought it’s done very sensitively and much of it is conveyed visually — so I also wonder how all that was communicated between the authors and the artist. What a fun tall tale we’ve got us here. I am so pleased!
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Author/Illustrator: Anne Sibley O’Brien
Reading Level: 2nd – 5th grade
Edition: Hardcover, 2006
This picture book in comic book style is near perfect in every way. The narrative is fluid, the story is exciting, the cultural details are accurately portrayed both in text and illustraion, and the pictures are expertly rendered. I am impressed at how O’Brien effectively conveys varied moods by simple changes of each facial feature.
Author: Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano
Reading Level: 7th and up
Edition: Paperback, 2000 (1999)
Beautifually haunting, both in text and illustration. Typically Gaiman. And I am a sucker for his style. The tenderness of a tragic love is revealed with poetic, dream-like prose. Gaiman is masterful in conjuring up not only paradoxical phrases, but paradoxical imagery and emotions: we find beauty in the macabre, humor in the tragic, hope in the despairing…
Author: Joann Sfar
Reading Level: 8th and up
Edition: Hardcover, 2005
This amusing and thoughtful graphic novel seems to not know whether it exists to answer some really big questions (about life, love, religion, humanity, prejudice, etc.) or to further confuse the readers on all fronts! I love the Cat, and adore the Rabbi. Both are very well-drawn (in text and in pictures) characters. However, I do not take to the way how most of the panels are presented: the illustrations serve as accompaniment to the descriptive paragraphs: very few of them include dialogs between the characters.
It gets to be tedious after a while and the author/illustrator’s voice/hand become too apparent for my taste. Once again, the last part of the “story” seems disjointed from the rest of the book and the sense of lacking a resolution makes me unhappy…
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Reading Level: 7th and up
Publisher: First Second, Roaring Brooks
Edition: Paperback original, 2006
I cannot pin down my own reaction to this graphic novel. It is beautifully produced: glossy paper, clean layout, the comic illustrations are quite skillfully done, and the storytelling is at moments quite intelligent. But, that what I felt most reading the book was how all parts of it are “adequate” and how I was aware of all these components at the same time finding myself not terribly moved in any way. I was not offended, either — even by the buck-teethed, slant-eyed, Engrish-speaking caricature of a Chinese cousin (I knew that he served some form of purpose other than ridiculing the Chinese as a whole.) I felt little revelation — even when the three story lines finally get twisted together, the surprise factor only lasted a short moment and then the bigger lingering question remains: “Are these three stories organically entwined due to an unyielding internal creative force or are they forced together because it seems like a cool idea to connect a current day ABC’s destiny to an old Chinese Legend?” For me, the resolution definitely lacks the power to convince me that this tale cannot be told better.
The best part of the book actually is the very short, very straightforward, very truthful retelling of the Monkey King story — I wanted more of that!