graysonI’ve been reading tons of graphic novels lately. The main reason? I can usually get through a whole graphic novel in one sitting, usually even multiple ones in a day! It’s fabulous. Throw in a flashy cover and a high-paced story and I’m hooked. Grayson: Volume 1, Agents of Spyral fits all of my necessary graphic novel markers and BONUS: It’s about Robin/Nightwing, a thoroughly over-looked DC character if you ask me.

You need to understand some basic Robin/Nightwing backstory in order to not get confused, though Seeley and King do a very good job explaining his past life. Grayson: Volume 1, Agents of Spyral covers the story of Dick Grayson, a former circus acrobat, who after his parents were tragically killed in a trapeze accident(YES, I know this sounds ridiculous, but come on, as a superhero/spy, being an acrobat comes in SUPER handy), eventually comes to live with Bruce Wayne, aka Batman. Once Grayson figures out that Wayne is actually Batman, Grayson becomes his partner, Robin. They exist in peace, fighting crime in Gotham City, but once Grayson gets older, he decides to become Nightwing and continues to fight crime. Nightwing eventually is captured and killed by the Criminal Syndicate. Or is he?

Not a spoiler: He isn’t killed or this graphic novel would be over before it even began. Instead he goes on his merry way dispensing out justice across the globe and is eventually recruited into Spyral, a top-secret spy ring that is hunting for pieces of the Paragon, a God who was killed and who had his body parts distributed all over the world. Oh yeah, those body parts all just happen to be individual weapons of mass destruction. No biggie. So to recap, Grayson is now a spy for Spyral and is hunting down weapons disguised as body parts. Oh also, he’s actually a secret agent spying on Spyral and reporting to Batman because Spyral is actually looking to discover the secret identity of every superhero on the globe. (Turns out each superhero bestowed something special on each body part, hence how they became weapons of mass destruction). This plotline is fantastic! So many twists and turns that left me eagerly flipping the pages to find out what happened next. I also really enjoyed the bright pops of color and the way the artist decided to give such a lifelike feel to each character. Be on the lookout for the next Grayson volume!

thor god butcherI have always found Thor to be very intriguing. An immortal God growing up in his father Odin’s shadow, listening to tales of war and the defeating of enemies and subsequently struggling to lift Mjolnir, his magic hammer, when he was younger because he wasn’t worthy yet. In the Marvel movies, viewers get some flashbacks of Thor’s life, but not as much as I was looking for. Instead of digging into Norse mythology, I decided to look at the graphic novels available at the library to see what background they could provide me. That was where I found Jason Aaron’s run of Thor.

Thor: God Of Thunder, Volume 1: The God Butcher is the first volume in Aaron’s run that gives readers an insight into Marvel NOW!’s interpretation of Thor. I found this graphic novel to be confusing, yet ultimately rewarding because it filled in many of the wholes that I had about Thor’s upbringing and his motivations for behaving the way that he does.

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty: The reason I found this graphic novel to be confusing is because of the story line. In this first volume, Thor is on the hunt for the God Butcher after discovering floating body parts of a God in a river after a fight. The horror in the eyes of the deceased God catapults Thor on a hunt that defines his actions for the entirety of his life. This graphic novel is a prime example of why you MUST pay attention to the artwork in order to follow the storyline. This volume is essentially three Thor stories being told at once: past Thor, present Thor, and future Thor, all on a quest to hunt down and kill the God Butcher who has made it HIS mission to kill all of the Gods across all of the worlds. Differentiating between past Thor and present Thor is a little difficult, but there are wardrobe and art style clues that will help key you in to what Thor you are actually looking at. This first volume of Thor is perfect to set up the rest of the series’ run because it introduces a villain that even Thor has trouble defeating, the idea that gods are vanishing and no one is aware or really even cares, and that this is a problem that has taken thousands of years to solve, yet still hasn’t been fixed. (Bonus: There is a Lord Librarian who has WINGS and who Thor goes to for help!) The back stories of both Thor and the God Butcher are exquisitely thought through and Ribic’s artistic descriptions of Thor’s struggles really show the darkness of this seemingly eternal fight. Check this out and let me know what you think!

bw finely woven threadWhen I watch any of the Avengers movies or really any movie about a superhero, I get really excited because it gives me more of a chance to understand each of their backstories. Sadly, one of the Avengers doesn’t have her own movie and it’s the one that I have the most questions about: the Black Widow. I’ve had to exhaust other sources to learn more about this infamous former KGB assassin and why she is on a mission to atone for her past sins.

My newest Black Widow source of information is Black Widow: The Finely Woven Thread by Nathan Edmonson. (This is currently part of a series, so stay tuned for my review of the second volume whenever I can get my hands on a copy!) In this first volume, readers are introduced to the mysterious Natasha, who is known to her friends and enemies alike as the Black Widow. When she’s not helping the Avengers or on missions as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Natasha is working to make up for her past as a KGB assassin. She still utilizes the tools and tricks she learned as an assassin, but is now able to pick and choose the missions that she goes on. In this volume, she finds herself thrust up against the “Hand of God” on an undercover mission in Russia. With the mention of Chaos, she quickly finds herself entangled in a deadly plot that has wrapped its web across the globe. No one is safe from Chaos’ grasp, not her close friends or even her employers.

This first volume mainly introduces readers to the sorts of missions that Natasha goes on and the people that are closest to her. She’s still cold-hearted, but as you follow Natasha through her missions and through her interactions with the stray cat by her apartment, you realize that she is working to better herself the only way she knows how. It gives a little more depth to the character of the Black Widow that Scarlett Johansson plays in the Avengers movies. This volume gives you enough information about present day Natasha to understand how she operates and gives you very little information about her past, just enough to leave you curious and hopeful that the subsequent volumes will explore more about her past.

In Black Widow: The Finely Woven Thread, Edmondson has written an introduction into the Black Widow that allows for the truly artistic work of artist Phil Noto to shine. Throughout this graphic novel, Noto varies the colors used and the way he draws to highlight different scenes and the many different places where Natasha travels. The mysterious nature of Natasha as the Black Widow is elevated by the dark colors and stylized way of drawing the Noto employs. Edmondson’s words serve to add another layer of depth to Natasha’s character, since she’s primarily alone and spends a lot of time thinking out her next actions in her head.

 

13677_900x1350Welcome back to Part 2 of my retrospective review of two graphic novels that have recently ended! Earlier, we looked back at  “Fables” by Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham. Now, as promised, we’re on to  “The Unwritten” by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. Much like “Fables,” I was introduced to “The Unwritten” by a fellow librarian. As he remembered it:

This week a co-worker came up to me with a crazed look in her eye and said “Yesterday I was shelving some comics and started flipping through the first volume of The Unwritten. Before I knew it I’d read all five volumes the library owns. When will there be more?” It’s always great to watch someone enjoy something I liked a lot. It’s even more fun when their excitement borders on the maniacal. – Andrew, “No Flying No Tights”

Like Fables, Unwritten originates in the story-telling world. Instead of the fairy tales of old, Unwritten beings in a modern age fable of Tommy Taylor. The Tommy of the title is the main character in a highly popular series of books written by the reclusive author Wilson Taylor. The Tommy Taylor series is modeled on the Harry Potter books (with Tommy as Harry) complete with wizards, wands and made-up Latin spells.

There is another Tommy in the story, however, the “real” one (perhaps). Tom Taylor, son of Wilson and on whom the character was modeled (or maybe not). Tom has grown up in the spotlight and shadow of his father’s fame. With his father’s mysterious disappearance after the release of his last book, Tom travels the convention circuit reluctantly, having failed as a musician, actor and author. It is at one of these “TommyCons” that a young woman calling herself  Lizzie Hexam publicly casts doubt on Tom’s identity and whether or not he is Wilson Taylor’s son.

the-unwritten-13The notion that Tom is a fraud creates an explosive amount of controversy, with a level of emotion only devoted fans can muster. Tom becomes a pariah, and on his way into hiding, is kidnapped by a crazed attacker pretending (or is he?) to be Count Ambrosio, the Lord Voldemort to our Tommy. With all of the internet watching, Tom survives and is suddenly elevated to  messianic status, something that turns out to be nearly as bad as being universally reviled.

But Tom’s fortunes are about to change, again. Tom – now doubting his own past – begin looking for answers of his own. The search takes him to his childhood home of Villa Diodati in Switzerland (not coincidentally, this is also where Mary Shelley wrote  Frankenstein, or, The modern Prometheus – the novels are filled with these bits of literary trivia and seeming coincidences.) Tom, joined by Lizzie, finds more questions than answers, though, along with a map, a crystal doorknob and more than a few dead bodies. It seems that Tom’s activities have caught the attention of some very dangerous people who don’t seem to be fans of Tommy Taylor.

Accused of the murders and thrown into a French prison, Tom find himself sharing a cell with a reporter named Savoy, who bribed his way into the prison to report on Tom’s activities. Lizzie shows up to break them out and thwart a hit on Tommy, ordered by the prison warden Chadron whose children are fans of the Tommy Taylor series and, tragically, are killed in the escape. Maddened by grief, Chadron becomes Count Ambrosio.

The trio of Tom, Lizzie and Savoy – now mirroring the fictional threesome of Tommy, Sue and Peter – embark on a journey that crosses time and space crossing the thinning barriers between the fictional and real worlds. They uncover something has gone very wrong in the fictional worlds and confront Tommy’s reclusive father, who might be both the cause the solution.

Throughout the series, we travel a vast literacy landscape. The epic poem Song of Roland, the Nazi propaganda film Jud Süß, Moby-Dick (of course), The Canterbury Tales, the Golden Age of Comic Books, the French operetta Orpheus in the Underworlda world that seems to be a mix of Winnie the Pooh and Peter Rabbit (with a very, very bad Peter)  the world of Fables and many, many more, not to mention what is happening in our own world. With so many stories running parallel to each other with multiple intersections, the series finds itself, at times, bogged down in its own mythology. In the later volumes, some of the most enjoyable aspects of the series – the seek-and-find of clues drawn into the panels – is dropped entirely. Lizzie Hexam’s story devolves from a real-life heroic and confident Hermonie character, to a damsel in distress, living, loving and dying at the whim of Tom’s father. Even 4572712-11the art is plainer, with simpler lines and little dimension.

In the final two volumes, War Stories (#10) and Apocalypse (#11), some of the threads are drawn together, building up to the final, final conclusion. Carey and Gross have created a very deep world, and it’s probably inevitable that some story lines are dropped. The morals of the stories can be heavy-handed, with the big bads a little too bad. While Unwritten tries at telling a universal creation story, ultimately, this is a story of a father and a son and the age-old question of who creates whom.

stormStorm, aka Ororo Munroe, goes by many different names, but this X-Man has the ability to control the winds and the weather. In this first volume, Storm: Make it Rain, people not familiar with Storm are introduced in part to her origin story and how she got to where she is today. She’s the windrider, the Princess of N’Dare, the former Queen of Wakanda, and the headmistress of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, the place where she met Wolverine and the other X-Men, and the place where she is struggling to control, help instill, and foster a sense of belonging amongst the young mutants attending.

With the help of Henry McCoy, also known as the Beast, Storm is able to work to better the world around her and to keep both the mutants and humans around her safe from harm. Ororo finds herself helping a small village before a giant tsunami hits, chasing down missing young adults, and dealing with tyrants who are trying to control the world. This graphic novel doesn’t disappoint as we’re introduced to Storm’s connection to Wolverine, her former lovers as well as her nemesis, and to her origin story in general.

Storm is shown and drawn as a strong, independent hero who has matured from when she was a small child to a mutant who knows the limits that her body possesses and, most importantly, how to use those powers to help others. This graphic novel is a combination of Storm (2014) #1-5 with each issue bringing to light an extra layer of Storm and the reasons why she does what she does.

This summer, I had to say goodbye to two of my favorite graphic novel series (aside from Marvel’s Secret Wars, which I’m still trying to process) “Fables” by Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham and “The Unwritten” by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. I discovered both series in the middle of their publication. Happily, I had a several volumes already published to get me started until I began the grueling wait for new installments.

(Since this post is talking about an entire series, there may be spoilers. Look out for Hawkeye* – he’ll let you know.)

Part 1: Fables

2347555-fable_new_edition_coverThe first TP (trade paperback) of Vertigo’s Fables, “Legends in Exile” was published in 2002, and began with the murder of Rose Red, Snow White’s sister. We learn that the characters in classic fairy and folk tales are alive and (mostly) well and living in exile from their magical homelands, having been driven out by the malevolent “Adversary.” Now, they live in our world (the “mundy” as in “mundane”) using magic to protect their fantastical origins. Now, Old King Cole is the mayor of Fabletown, Snow White is the capable Operations Director and The Big Bad Wolf (or Bigby, as he is called in his human form) is the head of security. Those who do not have human form live on The Farm, mostly free to do what they please. We meet many, many other fairy tale characters through the series, with most carrying some semblance of their personalities we know from the story books. But, as we learn, they are far more complex than we mundies know them.

The first plot arc follows the resistance of and eventual all-out battle against The Adversary to regain the Homelands. Smaller plots are intertwined, introducing us to the motivations, conflicts and loves of the Fables. New and deadlier threats rise, war ensues and families are made (and broken). With such a rich source of characters, Willingham takes many liberties developing their personalities. Heroes are cads, cowards prove themselves to be kings and unlikely romance blossoms.

Issues #1-75 (volumes cover the first story arc of the war against The Adversary. There are also spin-offs and diversionary stories that focus on characters like Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk, who ends up getting his own comic “Jack of Fables”), Cinderella and the Frog Prince among many others.  Some of these stories serve as good character development, other are complete stories. On the whole, most are entertaining, but as the series went on, I found myself skipping entire sections and skimming the rest.

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Last year, the American Library Association, along with the Banned Books Week planning committee, announced that Banned Books Week 2014 would have a thematic focus on comics and graphic novels. Even though we are now in Banned Books Week 2015, it is still important to focus on graphic novels and the censorship that happens to them because they are often clouded in an aura of mystery by those who don’t understand and those that don’t read them.

Some of you may be wondering what the difference is between a comic book and a graphic novel. I encourage you to think of a graphic novel as a format and not a genre, meaning that graphic novels encompass the same thing that the format of a book does, but just in a different format. A very simplified definition of a graphic novel can be found at the Get Graphic website where they say that graphic novels can be of any genre for any audience, but with all to most of the comic being done with pictures. Graphic novels can be fantasy, romance, horror, westerns, superheroes, fiction, non-fiction, and anything else you could possibly think of as a genre. Some people may like to interchange the phrase “comic book” for graphic novels, but that can conjure up the image of superheroes. Let’s just stay simple. Graphic novel = format.


Now that the description has been given, let’s delve into the fun part: figuring out what graphic novels have been banned and for what reasons. Every year, the American Library Association, also known as the ALA, releases a list of the top ten most frequently challenged books for that year. Further down on that page, there are more lists of banned books and the reasons why they are banned. (Check out this list put out by the CBLDF for Banned Books Week 2015 that lists 12 Challenged & Banned YA Graphic Novels.) In these descriptions, you will find references to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the CBLDF, a non-profit organization that posts cases on their website of comic books that have been challenged, censored, banned, etc.


the complete maus

In Maus, Art Spiegelman writes about the struggles of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s regime, and his son, a cartoonist who is struggling to work with the story of his aging father. Going on around the backdrop of guilt and survival are also the things that happen in normal day-to-day life: the stories of unhappiness, routine, and squabbles that we all live through. In one part, the son is interviewing his dad about his experiences. In another part, Spiegelman is interpreting his father’s life as a graphic novel, which each different race being depicted as a different animal. This Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel has been challenged for being “anti-ethnic” and “unsuitable for younger readers”. It has also been removed from shelves in foreign countries for having a Nazi swastika on the cover.


captain underpantsThe Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey is a frequently banned/challenged series(the cover shown being the first in the series), so much so that it is number 13 on the top 100 list of banned/challenged books for 2000-2009. It has even been number 1 on the top 10 lists for many years. It is often challenged and/or banned for offensive language, anti-family content, sexually explicit, violence, or being unsuited for age group. In this book, Harold and George often get into hijinks that include turning their principal, Mr. Krupp, into Captain Underpants, so that he can defeat some kind of nefarious evil-doer that has descended upon the school. In case you are wondering why this book is featured on the graphic novel list, this book is filled with pictures and the boys are also working on their own comic strip, which sometimes takes up chunks of the book.


boneJeff Smith created Bone, a series of graphic novels, which, in the first of the series shown to the left, chronicles the lifes of three Bone cousins, Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone after they are run out of Boneville, their home, and are forced to find their way in a desert and then a subsequent valley. Smith spins humor, mystery, and adventure together into this story that people who have left home for the first time, people reminiscing, and especially kids will relate to as the Bones realize that everything now around them is totally different, overwhelming, and, of course, strange. The Bone series found itself on the top 10 list of frequently challenged books in 2013 for the following reasons: “political viewpoint, racism, and violence”.


dramaRaina Telgemeier has written many graphic novels that center around this age, but the one that causes the most issues in terms of banning and challenging is Drama. In this graphic novel, Callie, the main character, loves theater, but to her chagrin, she can’t sing. She is made set designer for this year’s production and has decided that this set for her middle school’s production of Moon over Mississippi is going to look amazing! As she is dealing with everything to do with the play, Callie also finds herself having to deal with the offstage and onstage drama generated by the actors that are chosen for the play. All around her relationships begin and end, while some fail to even start. This award-winning graphic novel was recently on the top ten list for 2014 for being “sexually explicit” and has also been challenged because of the inclusion of two gay characters.


stuck in the middleWhile the following book has yet to crack the top ten frequently challenged book lists, it has been pulled and challenged in libraries across the country. Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age is a collection put together from a wide variety of cartoonists detailing their own times in middle school. The point of this book is to show that while middle school and being thirteen is incredibly awkward and unpleasant, you will survive! The authors in this graphic novel are not afraid to deal with the nitty, gritty, uncomfortable topics that happen throughout middle school. This book has been pulled from two South Dakota middle schools and has been challenged in other towns as well for the following reasons: objectionable sexual, language, drug, and alcohol references. A few libraries allowed the book to be retained, but placed it in the professional collection, which requires students to obtain parental permission before they are allowed to check it out.


this one summerJillian and Mariko Tamiko created this New York times bestseller, Printz award Honor Book for excellence in young adult literature, and Caldecott Honor Book in 2014. This One Summer is about the story of Rose, whose family has vacationed at Awago Beach for as long as she can remember. There she is able to escape all of her troubles and truly slip into her refuge and summer getaway spot. Windy, her friend, is there as well, filling in as the little sister that Rose never had. Everything is perfect until this summer when Rose’s parents keep fighting, Rose notices that Windy is childish, and rose and Windy get things entangled in the drama of the older kids on the island. This graphic novel has been challenged for “age-inappropriate content”, an ultimate misinterpretation of the age requirements for the Caldecott Award, which is for books aimed at kids 14 and under, while This One Summer is aimed at kids 12+.


blanketsCraig Thompson wrote Blankets, a semi-autobiographical journey into his relationship with his brother, Phil, who he had to share a blanket with when he was younger, and his first girlfriend, Raina, who he also shared a blanket with. This graphic novel works to tell two entwined stories by flashing back to early experiences in Craig’s life while also pairing them with things that he is experiencing right now. This book dives into Craig’s upbringing in a religious family, how he handles his first love who he meets at a church camp, and also how he comes to terms with his religious beliefs as his life makes a whole bunch of changes. Raina’s family brings the added complication of Down Syndrome to their relationship while her parents are also dealing with a divorce. This book has been challenged because of allegedly obsence illustrations, depictions of sex and human body parts, inappropriate subject matter, and that the comic artwork would attract children who would then see the “pornographic” images.


the complete persepolisMarjane Satrapi wrote the award-winning graphic memoir, Persepolis, about her struggles growing up in Tehran. Marji spent most of her childhood growing up in a family not short on live during the Islamist Revolution. She quickly had to learn how to manage her private vs. her public life in Tehran. As her family encouraged her to speak her mind, she often landed in trouble, forcing her parents to ship her off to school in Austria. In Vienna, Marji dealt with her adolescence away from her family, only to return home to face both the good and the bad. In the end, she self-imposed an exile upon herself when she became a young adult. This graphic memoir was number 2 on the top ten list of 2014 and has been banned and challenged for many reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint, graphic depictions, and also politically, racially, and socially offensive.

Here are some news articles that talk about Persepolis being banned. Many more are out there as well.


fun home

Now we’ve arrived at the graphic novel that has been ripping up the headlines recently in terms of people trying to ban it. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel is an autobiographical memoir that deals with Bechdel’s everyday life in an unnerving and darkly funny story about her family. Alison’s father, a man of many different talents and jobs, is a distant parent and a closeted homosexual. Alison yearns for her father, but as the stories or her brother and her running rampant through the “fun home,” also known as the funeral home, can attest, their relationship works through their sharing books. This book has been banned/challenged for LGBTQ themes and morality themes.


saga

 

 

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples is a sort of modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Alana, a winged soldier from planet Windfall, and Marko, a horned former prisoner of war from Landfall’s moon, are both on the run from their respective militaries. They escaped to give birth to their daughter, but now everyone wants them dead. Sheer luck seems to be the only way the family has survived and managed to escape into the galaxy. The Saga series is number 6 on the list of top ten most frequently challenged books of 2014 and was banned for the following reasons in 2014: anti-family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.


 

killing jokeYou may be wondering why there aren’t any superhero graphic novels on this list. Let me introduce to you Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke with Brian Bolland as the illustrator. This graphic novel was released as a a stand-alone by DC Comics in 1988. In this graphic novel, Bolland depicts the Joker’s brutal torture of Jim Gordon and his daughter Barbara. The psychological and physical damage done upon Gordon and Barbara are illustrated perfectly in this graphic novel and prove to forever alter the continuity of DC’s Batman universe as the shooting of Barbara Gordon leaves her paralyzed and ultimately leads her to becoming the Oracle. Alan Moore has had many graphic novels challenged/banned and Batman: The Killing Joke followed for the following reasons: it “advocates rape and violence”.

978-0-375-40650-8Here by Richard McGuire is a deceptively simple book. It follows one particular room of one particular home and show us what happens there, from the distant past and into the far future. The occupants (if there were occupants) or whatever is there at that particular moment are captured in a single frame, each frame layered on top of another in seemingly random order. The space we watch was not always a house, nor will it be always be. The house itself has a limited lifespan, as do whatever and whoever was and will be there.

The pages themselves are not immediately recognizable as a narrative story. But, after a while, a story does emerge. Flipping back and forth, following the years in or out of order, there is a sense of both impermanence and of the enduring. It’s not a heavy-handed lesson, nor is this book one to page through quickly.

McGuire first used this concept in 1989 in a 36-panel comic also titled “Here.” Some of the panels are available to the public temporarily via The Way Back Machine, and the full comic was published in the 2006 “An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories,” edited by Ivan Brunetti.

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Sculptor-HC-coverIf you had one chance – just one – to make a mark in this world, to show the world the depths and heights of your talent, would you take it, even if it meant your stay on this Earth would be severely and irrevocably shortened? Scott McCloud’s graphic novel The Sculptor poses this question to the young, disgraced art ingénue David Scott. Once at the height of the New York City art scene, David is now broke, nearly homeless, and with only one friend in the world after a public falling out with his patron. Still convinced of his talent, David despairs, drinking the pain away. Until, one drunken night in a café, his Uncle Harry appears.

Except, Harry’s been dead for quite a while.

This part of the story is fairly predictable – Death, dressed up as Uncle Harry (who bears a strong resemblance to Stan Lee) offers David a deal. He will give him the power master his craft – to sculpt any material with his bare hands – but he will only live another 200 days. Of course, David takes the deal, despite a very weird encounter with what appeared to be an angel on the streets on Manhattan.

As the story unfolds, David sculpts everything he can imagine. However, the art world (or at least his only remaining connection to the art world) is less than enthusiastic about what he produces. There’s a betrayal, a death, the sudden loss of all his work, a run-in with the Russian mob and, of course, a personal revelation. But, most importantly to the story, is the angel, who, as it turns out is just an actress with whom David has fallen instantly in love with. Uncle Harry pops in from time to time with nostalgic stories and fatherly advice. All the while, the clock is literally ticking.

While the story itself is fairly predictable (David even plays chess with Death a.k.a. Uncle Harry) and the love interest is a little too manic pixie dream girl, but the journey to the end is told well. David’s raw passion and desperation is palatable and the ending twist is surprising enough to leave a mark. The best part of the book, for me, was the author’s story on the very last pages about how he came to name David’s love. Cast in that light, the story becomes more meaningful and the message more salient: live for now, lest Uncle Harry catch you wanting.

Long ago and far away, I was unaware of the rise of the webcomic. That was until, a coworker (two, actually) began sending me links to blogs and Tumblrs they thought might fit my odd reading preference. And boy, did they create a monster!

For the uninitiated, a webcomic is exactly what you think it is – a comic on the web. Some are ongoing, newspaper-like strips, others tell a story that may or may not have a ending, some are even interactive! What is great about webcomics is that by their online nature, they are not limited to the printed page, nor must they conform to traditional storytelling standards.

Some webcomics, having been successful online, have published their webcomics as books. Some, like Noelle Stevenson’s “Nimona” or Kate Beaton’s “Hark! A Vagrant!” were picked up by major publishers. Others are printed using funds raised from Kickstarter, like “Derelict” by Ben Fleuter or “Ava’s Demon” by Michelle Czajkowski. Either way, it’s a fantastic trend and exposes webcomics to an even larger audience.

Here are some of my favorite web-to-print collections:

aumokd6pfdtuhq4dvfax_0Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – Set in a futuristic medieval world, Nimona, a young and impulsive shape-shifter joins up (well, forces her way in) with the supervillian Lord Ballister Blackheart. Blackheart, who was once a knight and lost his arm in a joust with Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, the kingdom’s champion. As Nimona and Blackheart pit themselves against the Director of the evil Institution, it becomes clear that no one and nothing is at it seems, especially Nimona.

You can check out the full comic from DPL (which I highly recommend) and see Stevenson’s other work on her blog and Tumblr. It’s especially worth it for the occasional non-canon “Nimona” mini stories she draws, and her obsession with “Hulkeye.”

 

 

Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks –  Canadian cartoonist Hicks’ “The shgcoverAdventures of Superhero Girl” follows our young superhero as she leaps tall buildings and clashes with the ninjas that seem to infest her otherwise boring city. She also faces the very ordinary challenges of being young and broke, social awkwardness and unfortunate cape-shrinkage.  The blending of superhero and the mundane creates a very funny and relatable story, winning Hicks an Eisner Award for Best Publication for Kids. You can check out the print book from DPL here, or read the whole comic online here (in black and white). Hicks creates several other webcomics, which you can check out on her blog here and on her Tumblr.

 

51tccYo6VVL__SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Hark! A Vagrant! by Kate Beaton – History nerds unite! Hark! A Vagrant is a collection of strips previously published on Beaton’s website, plus author commentary and a handful of previously unseen strips. Mixing both the historical and the contemporary, Beaton’s deceptively simple illustrations cast an erudite and witty eye on history, literature and pop culture. I will admit to needing to look up more than a few of the historical characters and events that appear in this collection ( especially those that had to do with Canadian history), but one needn’t be a history expert to enjoy the sheer silliness of the characters’ expressions and one-liners. Beaton also lampoons Nancy Drew, Aquaman, 1980s business women and her younger self, to name a few more modern targets, and the collection includes some singularly hilarious non sequitur strips to boot.

Beaton as two new collections coming out soon, “Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection” and “The Princess and the Pony.” Check out her website here, and her Tumblr, too.

Here are some more webcomics  that I enjoy, some in print and some only online:

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosch – Brosch has a deceptively simple illustration style and a talent for hilarious story telling. Her stories are taken, more or less, from real life and some, especially those about her Simple Dog, will give you stomach cramps from laughter. Brosh has also illustrated her own battle with depression with her signature style. Very much worth reading.

Ava’s Demon by Michelle Czajkowski – A young girl is possessed by a vengeful demon. To free herself, Ava must make a pact with her demon and carry out her plan for revenge and restoration. The art is absolutely stunning, especially when displayed digitally.

Derelict by Ben Fleuter – In a far future, the Earth is flooded and overcome with an alien fog which hides the “Miasmic Races.” Scavenger Dang Thu Mai is simply trying to get by, but her past, and the Miasma, continue to haunt her.

Apothecia by Taz Muir and Shelby Cragg – Eleven-year-old Jessie finds something horrific in the woods. What she does next will change her, and the world.

Red’s Planet by Eddie Pittman – From the animator of “Phineas and Ferb,” the comic begins with ten-year-old “Red” (because she has red hair, you see) as she runs away from yet another foster family. This time, though, it isn’t the police so find her, but aliens! Abducted and taken across the galaxy, she soon finds herself stranded with other abductees – a veritable menageries of strange (and grumpy) aliens.

One Way by Christopher Baldwin – What if the crew of a starship was, instead of being like “Star Trek,” a little bit more like “The Real World”? Sent on a first contact mission from which there may not be a return trip, Captain Francisco tries to keep his crew from killing one another (when you book a one-way trip, you don’t waste your A-team on it). The comic is mostly an on-going gag, but you can’t help but like this crew of total jerks.