Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michaelangelo, & Me by Ellen Forney

In the past few years, I think it’s safe to say I’m hooked on graphic novels! I don’t make it out of the library on most days without bringing at least 1 new title home to read (though I usually bring a bag-full!). Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michaelangelo, & Me initially jumped out at me, like so many graphic novels do, because of the colorful artwork on the cover; but Ellen Forney’s  frank, funny, and painful reckoning with the depression & mania that accompany Bipolar disorder is honest, brave, and thought-provoking.  For the skeptics who doubt that graphic novels can be emotionally complex & deeply moving, try reading Hole in the Heart: Bringing up Beth, a 2016 work of graphic medicine about raising a daughter with Down’s Syndrome.You won’t find a summary of Forney’s autobiographical memoir here: just read it for yourself.

I don’t know anyone who isn’t touched by mental illness in some capacity, either through personal experience or knowing or loving someone who struggles–often silently-with bipolar or another mental illness. Yet it’s still an elephant in the room or–if not an elephant–some other misunderstood creature who looks a lot like your neighbor, sister, boyfriend, or cousin. Forney’s autobiographical sketch even compares identifying people who suffer from bipolar with “outing” someone –the often intentionally cruel practice of shining a light in a calculated way in order to  “expose” someone as unusual or different.  But Marbles is a victory in the fight to de-bunk the myth that people with mental illness are certifiably “crazy”, “scary”, and “dangerous”. A graphic novel like Marbles  is another step in the right direction of normalizing and de-stigmatizing mental illness. These is a genuine, candid representation of mania and depression.

One of the defining themes in this work is the interplay between madness & creativity.  Would treatment of her newly-diagnosed illness hamper her creative energy? Would treatment change or dull her creative identity? It is certainly a terrifying thought to consider that medications may not only not work, but they may change an essential part of who you are–an essential part that you may not want to change.  Forney discovers, like so many others, that should she “join the ranks” of those artists who came before her who also suffered with bipolar disorder (historically referred to as manic depression), she would find herself in good company. Great company, even. Truth be told, there is such comfort to be found in placing yourself along a continuum–of knowing of the others who came before you.  Through the act of reading, Forney also found comfort, reprieve, and solidarity. An Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamison, for example, is a particular book that was mentioned within the pages of Marbles. Forney does not sugarcoat the profound sense of loneliness she felt as she cycled in and out of mania and depression.

This book will invite you to contemplate the controversial issues surrounding mental illness, including diagnosis (misdiagnosis is notoriously  a major cause of harm and medical error in the united states), medication, other modes of treatment (alternative & complementary therapies such as yoga).  A particularly intriguing insight related to Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), a treatment modality that enables people to improve their symptoms by recognizing and challenging or calling-out the negative self-talk cycles that are a cornerstone of mental illness. Although Forney didn’t delve particularly deeply into this aspect of the memoir, it is clearly an essential part of her road to finding balance and stability in her life (and ultimately even coming to terms with wanting to find balance in the first place).  Keep in mind, this graphic memoir never claims to offer medical advice but rather is the testament of the author.

Ultimately, this book highlights Forney’s experience living with bipolar illness in a way that is especially human: raw, passionate, sanguine, and vulnerable. I was heartened by the author’s resolve throughout and by the last page and I think you will be too.

 

 

 

 

 

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Volume 1: The Coulson Protocols

If you have watched any of the Avengers movies(or any recent superhero movie), then you’re probably familiar with S.H.I.E.L.D, aka  Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division. In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Volume 1: The Coulson Protocols, Agent Coulson leads Melinda May, Agents Fitz and Simmons, Mockingbird, Quake, and Deathlok, as they battle someone in an Iron Man suit(who is not Iron Man!), multiple people who want to take over the world, and, of course, the evil Hydra organization. Coulson’s old love interest, Lola – not to be confused with his car who just happens to have the same name, has come to the team’s attention after her name is found to be affiliated with the tech that the person in the Iron Man suit blew up the Pentagon to steal. As a result, Coulson goes to meet her to find out what she knows. It turns out that Lola manipulated their previous relationship in order to steal precious superhero information from Coulson. She’s a psychic and can read his mind!

Coulson, being the giant superhero geek that he is, created scenarios in his head about how to take down any of the Avengers and also any of the other superheroes/agents that he knows. Lola then read his mind and stole that information. Those scenarios are now called the Coulson Protocols and fake Iron Man stole them from the Pentagon. That information is now up for auction to the highest bidder and the team must do everything and anything in their power to get that highly sensitive intel back. They battle a massive Iron Man army, throw down with some Hydra bad guys, rub shoulders with Spider-Man, Captain America, Wolverine, and Tony Stark, and find themselves in a massive standoff with the New Avengers, all while trying to find the Coulson Protocols. Allegiances are tested and backstories are revealed as Coulson and his team work to save the world from a possible leak of this sensitive information.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Volume 1: The Coulson Protocols does a fairly good job introducing readers to who the agents are and how S.H.I.E.L.D. works. (I didn’t come into this graphic novel as a complete newbie, having watched the first season of the S.H.I.E.L.D. tv show many, many months ago, BUT I remember almost none of it, so don’t be afraid of reading this if you’re totally unfamiliar with any of the characters. You’ll be just fine.). Guggenheim also adds the characters’ names next to each throughout most of the comic, so you won’t have to flip back to the beginning to remember who’s who (That’s fantastic, btw, and way more graphic novel writers should take note). I thoroughly enjoyed this new graphic novel and can’t wait for the next volume to be released. In the mean time, I’ll have to settle for watching the two seasons of Marvel’s Agents of Shield that the library owns. Read this comic/watch the shows and let me know what you think!


Check out the television show, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (season 1 and season 2), to learn more about the characters and see more Agent Coulson. Click on the pictures below to

Trees Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard

2014-05-28-treesTen years ago, they arrived. Silently they landed – enormous, tall cylinders settling all over the Earth. No communication, no signs of life. Just standing there, like trees, unaware of humanity, it seemed. Or, perhaps they simply didn’t care.

Their appearance causes global chaos. The Trees landed in oceans, on top of glaciers and the middle of crowded urban centers.  Governments collapsed and then slowly recovered. With no communication or interaction after ten years, the Trees have become almost normal, and humanity has adapted to their existence.

In China, a special cultural zone has been established around a Tree, called Shu, where none of the usual cultural and economic restrictions are enforced. Tian Chenglei, a young artist from the country to study art. He joins an artists commune and shyly makes friends with a transgender woman, eventually falling in love with her. But the freedoms the Tree’s arrival brought cannot last forever.

In the northern-most reaches of Norway’s Spitsbergen island, a scientific team assigned to study the Tree there struggles to maintain order and their sanity. One determined scientist discovers black poppies growing in the shadows around the Tree, areas where nothing should grow. He eventually discovers that the flowers are composed of metal filaments arranged in a mirror image of the Tree’s external symbols, and that they transmit faint RF signals. He reasons that the flowers are a method of communication and once there is enough of them, the Tree will “speak.”

In Somalia, a technocratic dictator deals with the economic and political impact of one of the smallest Trees landing in the autonomous state of Puntland within Somalia. The Tree’s arrivals resulted in a vast influx of wealth and economic growth into Puntland, while the rest of the country only grew poorer. Convinced that the Tree does not care about the land and people around it, Rahim is determined to take control of the Tree and Puntland, by any means necessary.

The Trees changed the world when they arrived. The uncertainly of their intent and the implication of another intelligent species irreparably changed civilization – it was, in fact, the end of the world as we knew it. The story is less about the Trees (although the forthcoming volumes promise more) than how humanity reacts to them.  Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Planetary) has a lot of ground to cover initially, but by end of the first volume, the action and dread intensifies to a cliffhanger of an ending. Trees is a great choice for sci-fi fans and for those who wonder what might happen when we learn we’re not alone in the universe.

Lone by Stuart Moore, Russ Manning, Jerome Opeña and Alberto Panticelli

1182212Years after a massive nuclear & biological war laid waste to the Western U.S., radioactive zombies, mutants and murders roam the Western Wasteland. Luke, a gifted sharpshooter and her brother Mark barely escape with their lives after zombies overtake their town of Desolation. Once their family reaches safety, Luke sets out on her own to track the zombies – while they are somewhat intelligent, they are nowhere near smart enough to take over a town. Luke follows the zombies to the caves where she discovers … something leading the zombies. Luke has never seen anything like their leader, she only knows that it bleeds yellow.

Once Luke returns and reports what she saw (and barely escaped from) her mother sends her and her brother on a journey thought the Western Wasteland to find a man named Lone. Only he, their mother says, can save them.

Travelling across the dangerous wastes, Luke and Mark find an old farmer, who, once he learns of the “zombie boss” that bleeds yellow, agrees to help them find Lone. But while finding Lone is one thing, it is quite another to convince him to help.

Lone had been in the war and he had been changed, experimented on, and became something more powerful than a man. His fellow soldiers in this private army were the same, and elite force to protect mysterious masters. Gunfathers, they were called, and they were not like anything Lone had seen before. And they bled yellow.

Lone had long thought the Gunfathers had all been killed in the apocalypse that followed. Lone agrees to help Luke and Mark stop these Gunfathers and the monsters that follow them. And ultimately, finally discover who the Gunfathers are and why they destroyed the world. Or, at least, kill them all.

Moore’s (Wolverine Noir, Firestorm) Lone reads like a classic Western, with a science fiction twist. Fans of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead series will enjoy this tale.

 

Banned Books Week – Habibi, Persepolis, and Fun Home

This year’s Banned Book Week is focusing on the diversity of authors and ideas that have prompted a disproportionate share of challenges. ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom estimates that more than half of all banned books are by authors of color or ones that represent groups of viewpoints outside the mainstream. As a result, this week we will be sharing some reviews of our favorite banned books that fit this category.

The ALA’s website has a list of Frequently Challenged Books with Diverse Content and another list of Most Frequently Challenged Books Written by Authors of Color 1990-1999. Check out these lists for suggestions of books to read that fit into this year’s theme.


This first day we will be looking at a couple graphic novels that frequently make this list: Habibi by Craig Thompson, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. There are many other graphic novels that have been banned and frequently challenged, but we’re just focusing on these three today. (Stay tuned and you may see more later this week!)


habibiHabibi by Craig Thompson frequently finds itself on the top ten list of most frequently challenged books. In fact, this graphic novel is number 8 on the top ten list of 2015. Habibi is frequently banned for reasons of nudity, sexually explicitness, and unsuited for age group. The challenging and banning of this graphic novel deprives readers of this intense story of love and relationships, more specifically the commonalities found between Christianity and Islam, as well as an examination of the cultural divide present between first and third worlds.

Habibi tells the story of Dolola, a young girl sold into marriage to a scribe who teaches her to read and write. She is captured by slave traders, but escapes, taking with her an abandoned toddler. They take refuge in an abandoned boat in the desert for the next nine years where Dolola teaches Zam how the world works by telling him stories from the Qur’an and the Bible.  They are separated and fight for the next six years to get back to each other.


persepolisPersepolis by Marjane Satrapi did not make the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2015 list, but it still made the longer list. It was #2 on the 2014 list. Persepolis is frequently banned for the following reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint, graphic depictions, and for being politically racially, and socially offensive.

Persepolis is a cultural eye-opener, a story that shows that the grass is not always greener on the other side, no matter your life circumstances. This graphic novel centers around the Islamic revolution and tells the story of Marjane’s childhood in Tehran. Growing up in a country in the midst of political upheaval means that her public life and her private life constantly contradicted each other. Her free-thinking family gives Marjane the strength to find herself even though her youth was formed during such a tumultuous time.


fun-homeFun Home by Alison Bechdel, just like the previous two graphic novels, is a frequent flyer on the challenged list. This graphic novel is frequently challenged for violence and other graphic images. The reason Fun Home finds itself as one of our diverse banned book selections is because of the subject matter.

Fun Home is Bechdel’s childhood autobiography. She tells the story of her closeted gay father, a man who was an English teacher and the owner/operator of the local funeral home. His secrets overshadow the lives of everyone else in the family, throwing Bechdel’s emerging womanhood and her homosexuality as a side player in the drama of his life. In her early teens, he goes to court over his relationship with a young boy while his death, most likely a suicide, trumps her coming out. This book is full of death, suicide, homosexuality, family strife, tragedy, desperation, violence, and other graphic images that make Fun Home a key player on the banned/challenged book list each year.


Check back tomorrow for more banned books!

Black Science Vol. 1: How to Fall Forever by Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera & Dean White

BlackScience_vol1-1Across an alien landscape, two people in space suits race for safety. At each turn, they are thwarted. The woman is killed, but the man runs on, clutching a container, cursing himself for his mistakes, his obsessions, that have brought him – and his family – here. A race against time, it seems, to reach the Pillar before it is too late.

This breathless scene opens Rick Remender’s Black Science. Grant McKay, our narrator, does make it back to the Pillar, moments before it jumps. Along with Grant are is two children, teenaged Pia and younger Nathan, his five (now four)-person team of scientists and the man who bankrolled the project. We learn that Grant and his team have done the impossible – punched through the barriers between the multiverses’ dimensions, allowing humans to travel to new dimensions not only to explore, but also to exploit, possibly finding the keys to preserving our species. The method is called black science, and the Pillar is the tool. But the tool has been sabotaged, and now it and its passengers have no control over when or to where they will jump.

Grant laments his hubris and his recklessness for taking his children and his team with him on the first manned jump throughout the story. Each new dimension is as strange as the next, dumping the team into war and circumstance that are truly alien. There appears to be no way of repairing the Pillar, and now that the multiverse has been breached, nothing is certain, especially survival.

Remander’s (Uncanny Avengers, Fear Agent) novel moves at a frenetic pace, the art is both stark and riotously vivid. It harkens back to the era of pulp science fiction with non-stop action and lurid details. With three more volumes already published, this is a great choice for anyone looking for a true science fiction adventure. Fans of “The Venture Bros.,” will enjoy this considerable darker series (and the close similarity Grant McKay bears to a certain winged super-villain).

 

Graphic Novels – Wrap Up

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers! How was your May? Did you read something new and wonderful? Or did you pass on this month’s challenge?

I have to admit, this was not my favorite theme. Nor did it turn me into an avid Graphic Novel fan. However, it did encourage me try something that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, and I did enjoy the books I read. And while I’m unlikely to pick up another Graphic Novel unless someone recommends it highly (I still find the pictures to be distracting), I did learn a bit about the whole genre and gain a greater appreciation for them. Win win!

nimonaI read two books this month. The first was Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. Sharp and witty with surprising depth and heart, Nimona is about a young girl (we think) who appoints herself as Ballister Blackheart’s sidekick. Blackheart is the designated villain of their country (after his former friend Ambrosius Goldenloin accidentally cut off Blackheart’s hand during a duel when they were in school training to be heroes) and spends his time terrorizing the peasants, with Goldenloin in hot pursuit. Nimona comes up with many nefarious, clever plans to reign down terror, but Blackheart (who really isn’t terribly evil) insists on conservative actions that actually harm no one. Nimona gets frustrated with Blackheart, but remains loyal and always has his back. When true evil arrives, it is the teamwork – and unlikely friendship – of Blackheart and Nimona that stand against it.

As expected, I found the illustrations distracting, but less so as I kept reading. It helps that the illustrations are clever and drawn in an interesting style. It’s the story that I really liked, drawing me into the lives (and snark) of the characters. A great read with a satisfying, although somewhat bittersweet, ending.

relishThe second Graphic Novel that I read was Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. This is Lucy’s story of growing up, shown through her experiences with food.

Somewhat unusually, Lucy grew up with two parents who were enthusiastic foodies. She was never a picky eater and learned to try to appreciate most foods. A new culture (such as her visit to Japan) was an opportunity to learn more about the country via the meals and food related customs she experienced. Her life is influenced and improved by her relationship with food and the opportunities it brings – jobs, friends, culture, unique experiences. This book is often very funny and always interesting, and bonus!, includes several (illustrated) recipes.

Once again, I found the illustrations to be distracting at first – they add a lot to the book, both humor and detail, but I didn’t always know where to start, or I’d accidentally miss a section. However, I did enjoy the style of the drawings and found myself looking for quirky, humorous asides tucked into them.

Yes, I would recommend both of these books, whether that person was a Graphic Novel fan or a newbie. And I might even try another Graphic Novel someday!

What about you – what did you read this month? Did you find something you really liked, or was this month a loss? What about any Graphic Novel fans out there – what did you read? And what would you recommend for someone that still new (and a bit hesitant) with Graphic Novels – what should they read next?

Thanks all for reading along! See you next month with Summer Reads!

Graphic Novels – Touching Base

online colorHello! How is your May Online Reading Challenge going? I have to admit, I’m dragging my feet a bit on this one. However, I’m nearly finished with my first title (I plan to read two this month) and I’m finding it……interesting. I found that, after my initial resistance, I kind of got on a roll. It won’t be difficult to finish!

If you’re still looking for some recommendations, here are a few more from Allison, one of our Graphic Novel Experts!

In Real Life” by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang – A teenage gamer discovers the other side of MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) after making contact with Chinese gold miner (people paid to earn “gold” within the game) in the game. Questions of ethics in gaming, being a girl gamer and fantasy self vs. real self. Doctorow is a popular YA author.

Wandering Son by Shimura Takako – “Unflipped” manga, meaning it’s to be read back to front, and from top right to bottom left. The story of two pre-teens, a girl who wants to be a boy, and a boy who wants to be a girl, both within the strict cultural norms of Japanese society. I haven’t read the whole run, but once you get used to the reading style, it’s excellent.

ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times by Andrew MacLean – It’s sooooooo goooooood!!! At the end of the world, Aria searches for an ancient lost relic. The twist is so great. Soooooo great!

Seconds by Ryan Lee O’Malley – Young chef Katie opens her second restaurant, only to have her restaurant and life turned upside down. But, she then finds a magical “do over” but it too, has its price. O’Malley is also the author of the “Scott Pilgrim” series, which is one that the hipsters love.

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud – A failing artists makes a deal with death, giving him the ability to sculpt anything he can imagine. But he only has 200 days to live and whoops! He falls in love. I wrote a review here: http://blogs.davenportlibrary.com/reference/the-sculptor-by-scott-mccloud/

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Kinsley – The daughter of a chef and gourmet tells her life story by way of the meals she’s made and eaten. V funny, esp if you are not a good cook!

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. You’ve read this, right?! DO IT NOW! You will literally laugh you pants off! The stories about her dogs are the best – start with those!

There are also a few that I haven’t read, but my friends who know about comics have enjoyed.

Blankets by Craig Thompson

The Nao of Brown” by Glyn Dillon

Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

OK, I’m done now, I promise! 😉

Who has read something that they’d like to recommend? Or warn the rest of us off from? Are you struggling a bit with the illustrations – I am! Or have you found new authors or series that intrigue and engage you? Let us know in the comments!

Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang

PaperGirls_Vol01-1In the early hours of the day after Halloween, four teenage girls set out on their paper routes. “Hell Day,” they call it, as erstwhile teenage trick-or-treaters (emphasis on “trick”) still roam the streets and most do not welcome girl paper carriers, especially the very first paper girls. But what they encounter that morning is something much worse, much more deadly, than teenage bullies.

Set in 1988, Paper Girls follows Erin as she is saved from bullies by the very first “paper girl” Mac – a tough-talking cigarette-smoking 12 year old – and her paper carrying friends KJ and Tiffany.  They pair off for safety, but soon Tiffany and KJ are confronted by three boys in strange costumes who steal Tiffany’s walkie-talkie. The four resolve to find the boys responsible, ultimately following them to the basement of an unoccupied house. But instead of Tiff’s walkie-talkie, they find an incredibly strange, almost alien, capsule. It suddenly activates, the girls run outside, and see the three men who robbed Tiff. Confronting them, the girls discover that they are not in fact teenage boys, at least not as 1988 America would call them.

As the girls try to make sense of what has happened, the find that they world has abruptly and radically changed. The sky is pink, lightning flashes and what appear to be pterodactyls fly across the sky. Most people have disappeared, and communication technology no long works. Confronted by the radically unknown, the girls do what they do best – stick together, protect each other and never, ever back down.

Brian K. Vaughn (Saga, Y: The Last Man) creates yet another fantastic mystery in Paper Girls, capturing the defiance, fearlessness and loyal friendships of young teens as they face what may very be the end of the world.

The Midas Flesh: Volume One by Ryan North

midas flesh The Midas Flesh: Volume One is an entertaining journey into the future, where a space crew finds themselves within the orbit of a gold gilded Earth. Flashback to how this whole shindig got started. Do you know the story of King Midas? The Midas Touch? That’s basically the gist of this book with some high-tech space flight and dinosaurs in space suits involved.

In The Midas Flesh: Volume One, one night King Midas got drunk and decided that if he had only one wish, it would be to have everything that he touched turn to gold. Low and behold a thunderbolt slashes out of the heavens and his wish is granted. Flash forward quite a bit and the entire planet Midas was inhabiting has turned to gold, BUT the kicker is that it does not show up on ANY of the space maps nor is it in any of the galaxy records. The Federation has covered up the entire existence of this planet and to prevent others from stealing anything from said planet, they have effectively covered its entire close orbit with satellites, ships, weaponry, etc. to alert them if someone stumbles and finds this place.

Somehow  Joey and her space crew, Fatima and Cooper, have managed to find this planet and are desperately trying to figure out why everything on it is made of gold. They are struggling to do so before the Federation realzies they have found the planet and before a bounty can be placed on their heads for being able to take something off the surface of the planet. Joey’s ultimate goal is to be able to harvest the weapon on this gold planet and somehow reconfigure it to be used against the evil Federation, the group who is tracking them down and the same group who was taking over planets and destroying whole civilizations. This first volume gives readers a good introduction into the Midas legend and also to the forces the crewmembers find themselves up against. If you’re not a fan of graphic novels, and even if you are, I recommend this book as there are few flash backs, the artwork is not overwhelming, and the overall story reads like a linear piece of fiction, but the graphic novel as a whole is still widely appealing. Check it out.