Friday, September 17, 2010

Summer Reading Extravaganza: Graphic Novels

I know, summer is long over.  What can I say?  Between work and bath time (for Garrett, not me) I don't have much energy (or motivation) for blogging. 

Ah, but tonight, I have a small surge of energy and feel I can tackle yet another book review.  Perhaps it has something to do with my little brother being a published writer.  Regardless, I've got three books to tell you about. 

The first is Temperance by Cathy Malkasian.  All I can really say about this one is weird.  I didn't really get it.  The back cover suggests the story tackles lofty themes like how war and enemies interact with culture.  It even wonders if conflict helps hold culture together.  If these themes are in this story then they were unrecognizable to me.  Yes, there was a bad guy.  Yes, there was a secondary plot about lying to keep control but in the end neither plot added up to anything. 

The story started out with strong narrative promise.  A grumpy, violent man, known as Pa, is nearly done building a fortified castle.  He believes it is his job to protect his people from the enemies abroad.  Two of his people, two young girls, watch him from a distance.  It quickly becomes apparent that Peggy, one of these girls, has an ethereal quality.  When Pa tries to force himself on Peggy she floats away.  Then a few pages later Pa just walks off.  That's the last we hear from those characters for a long time. 

Instead, the plot focuses on Minerva, the other girl, and how she tries to save her people by taking Pa's place.  There was a lot of really good story to have mined here, but Malkasian meandered down stranger and stranger twists to the point that I didn't have a clue what anything really meant.  It became hard to differentiate between the real world set up for us and a dream world.  Which isn't always a bad thing when done well, but it was hard to get a clear picture of who the main character really were, what they were, and what motivated them.  And then the ending had transcendentalist qualities to it, images of nature being so much more than nature and the reality transforming into something so much more.  Blah, blah, blah, I'm even boring myself as I write about it.  Weird mumbo-jumbo. 

The art was impressive.  Clear, clean, detailed.  It has nice pencil-sketched tones of gray and brown.  But no matter how well illustrated a story is it still has to have a story.  I'll give this one a 2/5 stars and that feels a little generous. 

Up next is the detective noir You Have Killed Me.  On my visit to Powell's I was drawn to this book because a) I had read a positive review about it and b) it was an autographed copy! 
I enjoyed this book.  It is a bit cliche with its crusty, hard-edged private eye taking a job from a lovely young woman who saunters about his tiny, crusty, hard-edged office. 

But even with the tried and true story line, it is an fun, familiar ride.  The plots twists are simple (unlike many modern thrillers that twist and twist and twist until you can't see straight).  The bad guys are bad.  The good guys are tough.  The women are sultry, needy, and mysterious.  The band plays jazz and the backroom has gambling.  I'm not saying its original, though the story is interesting enough to keep you reading. 

But here is why you should read this: the art is perfect.  Done in immaculate black and white, the lines are as sharp as a razor, the shadows have depth, the people look real; this has a classic, reality based graphic form.  And it works.  The language is tough but clean and avoids any inappropriate use of the visual form in regards to the ladies.  If anything, this would garner a PG-13 rating for the mild violence.  It gets a 4, maybe a 4.5/5 stars from me. 

Then, rounding out my graphic novel reading for the summer is Bottomless Belly Button.  This one does all right in my opinion for all the opposite reasons of the previous book.  The art in this book is much less refined.  The author, Dash Shaw, has more artistic skill than I do, but that's not saying much.  I mean, his studies with lines and dots at the beginning and end are cool, but he doesn't pull off people very well.  Overall, the art is awkward but gets the point across.  Instead, this one has an interesting, surprisingly original plot.  Many graphic novels follow a memoir/narrative style, but this one shifts the focus from one family member to another as the grown children react to the news that their elderly parents are getting a divorce.  The emotions seem real, the reactions sincere, which is a commendation to the strong story telling abilities of the author.  This one read like a novel with interesting character motivations and conflicts.

Be warned, this is not a comic book and is not for children.  I give this a 3.5/5 stars.

Next time, I've got some advanced copies I want to tell you about.

No comments: