Book Review — Boxers and Saints

0

Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 29-08-2013

Boxers & Saints
Gene Luen Yang
FirstSecond
September 2013

Even though Boxers & Saints has been published as two separate books, they really do need to be read together to get the complete story.  Which is why I’m reviewing both books together.

The year is 1898.  The place is China.  Once closed off to the rest of the world, foreign missionaries and soldiers have taken to roaming the countryside to bully, rob, and convert the Chinese people.  There are those that wish to stand up to them, but how?  The foreigners have guns and power on their side.  And then…Little Bao stands up.  He has learned to harness the power of the ancient Chinese gods, and he recruits an army of Boxers – common people trained in Kung Fu, who use the power of the ancient gods to free China from those “foreign devils.”  And lo and behold it works! They begin winning violent battles against the foreign soldiers.  But there is a cost to their victory.  Death.  Death of those “foreign devils” and death of Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.

On the other side of the coin of the Boxers…are the Saints.  Chinese Christians who want to make a better life for themselves, but are torn between their nation and their faith.  One such Saint is an unwanted fourth daughter, Four-Girl, who is never even given a real name by her family.  Instead she finds both a name, Vibiana, and a family with a local Christian missionary.  She begins having visions of Joan of Arc, who attempts to guide her down the path of righteousness.  But the Boxer Rebellion is coming…and Vibiana will soon have to decide whether she will be Chinese or Christian.

Much like in American Born Chinese, Gene Yang weaves two different powerful stories together to create one amazing story.  In this collection, each story represents a different side of the coin.  On one side you have Little Bao and the past traditions of China and it’s culture.  On the other side you have Vibiana and the Chinese Christians, representing a possible future for the country, one that scares many.  When the story begins this coin is doing a delicate balancing act, with neither side overwhelming the other.  But soon…things begin to tip and sway one way and the other.  First the Christian missionaries begin to rob and bully the Chinese around them.  And then the coin swivels and the Boxers appear, ready to take back their own land.  By the end of the book…well you’ll have to read it to see what happens.

What I like about this collection is that the books work well together to form a history of a time period that many in the Western part of the world are probably not familiar with and it’s written for all ages to understand.  Even more so, Gene writes the story so that we understand the horrors committed by both sides of the conflict.  Gene takes care to show that while both sides had valid arguments, their methods and ways of getting what they wanted were becoming increasingly violent and splintered as strong people in each group began adding their own meanings to what they saw.  While this is likely to make some folks uncomfortable, it is necessary to understand the whole of the conflict.  Gene does an excellent job of ensuring that we, as readers, are able to question both sides of the conflict.

Gene brings his typical, wonderful, art style to this collection.  His bright, rich colors, strong lines, and shading create characters that leap off the page, especially in the Boxers book.  This is in particular noticeable when we see the ancient Chinese gods wearing theatrical costumes as they do battle.  It helps make this time period in history come to life a little bit more. What is even more remarkable though about the artwork for these two books is when you contrast Boxers with Saints. Boxers is all about the bright colors. Saints…is more muted. Brown and dust inhabit the pages, except when we see the specters of Joan of Arc who is brightly colored. It presents a very different view of the characters of these two volumes…one that you’ll have to read to see.

My one regret about these two books, is that I would have loved to have an afterward, one that gave a bit more information about the influences of creation of the books.  But that is neither here nor there.  Overall this is an excellent two volume set and I would highly recommend it for all libraries and all ages.  I give both books 5 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

Book Review—Fairy Tale Comics

0

Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 22-08-2013

Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists
Ed. Chris Duffy
First Second
September 2013

I’m sure that you’re thinking with so many different fairy tale books out there, why the heck do we need yet another one? Surely there can’t be space for this one? But you’d be wrong. FirstSecond has hit the mark with this book that’s sure to be an instant classic, much like their 2011 book of Nursery Rhyme comics.

FirstSecond has gathered together 17 of the best artists in the world to put their own unique twists on these classic tales. And these aren’t all tales that you’ve heard of. Sure there’s Snow White and Rapunzel, but have you read “The Boy Who Drew Cats” from Japan before? Or “The Prince and The Tortoise” from 1001 nights? I’m betting that there’s at least one new tale in this book for everyone. One thing to note is that the artists have toned down some of the original horror and frightening elements that some readers might be familiar with from the original Brother Grimm tales. So if you’re familiar with the originals you might find this disappointing, but you might want to keep in mind that this is an all ages book. I however, still found the stories to be quite enjoyable.

The talent in this book include Jamie Hernandez, David Mazzucchelli, Craig Thompson, Raina Telgemeir, and more. Each artists takes the text of a classic fairy tale and adds their own unique spin to it. My favorite has to be Raina’s take on “Rapunzel.” In Raina’s version the story begins with Rapunzel’s mother being pregnant and getting cravings for…the Rapunzel planet. Even though her husband has brought her cornichons, stinky cheese, and marshmallow fluff. It’s just such a great little twist to the tale. And the art styles in this book are fantastic! Such a wide range of mediums ranging from computer drawn to charcoal to pastels, each works well with the story chosen.

Each story has something for everyone with the artists bringing their own unique talents and styles to these tales. All of them are absolutely fantastic. This is the perfect book for any age and is sure to put a smile on everyone’s face. I highly recommend this book as a great addition to any shelf. 4 out 5 stars

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

Book Review–Delilah Dirk and Turkish Lieutenant

0

Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 16-08-2013

Delilah Dirk and Turkish Lieutenant
Tony Cliff
First Second
August 2013 publication

Delilah Dirk has traveled all across the world-Japan, Indonesia, France, even the New World! Delilah is always seeking a new adventure, and her latest has taken her to Constantinople to…relieve the Sultan of certain choice artifacts. While making her escape she picks up a new partner, a Turkish Lieutenant named Selim, who somehow fell onto the wrong side of the Sultan and it isn’t Delilah’s fault at all!  Nope, nothing of the sort…mostly. Together they’ll head off on Delilah’s flying boat onto new adventures and see what waits for them.

One of the great things for me about reading a new graphic novel is finding one that has a strong female character, and that’s what we have here. Delilah is a well rounded character that acts like a real person! Imagine that! A female character that doesn’t have to have a man save her. Shocking I know. Seriously though, Delilah is kinda of a female Indiana Jones. She goes around the world, has adventures, and while she may like company she doesn’t need it. Selim on the other hand is the exact opposite, at least when we first meet him. He’d rather enjoy the simple things in life, like a good cup of tea, and just do his job. But together these two characters have great adventures and both are the better for it. And get this…they don’t have a romance! Tony Cliff goes against all “normal” stereotypes to create a fantastic story, with memorable characters.  This is just such a fun enjoyable read, I can’t believe that I missed it when Tony first started publishing it as a webcomic, but man am I glad to have it now.  It’s one that I’ll enjoy reading again and again.

Tony’s artwork is flat out gorgeous. I’m not sure what Tony uses to create his artwork, but it’s lush, detailed, and beautiful. I mean each and every page feels like something that could be hung up on the wall as art and you wouldn’t get tired of looking at it. The colors are beautiful and the expressive faces just bring the characters to life.  The action sequences are some of my favorites, especially when they’re on the old stone bridge trying not to get blown up.  The way the rubble falls, the smoke, the characters expressions…fantastic. I can’t wait to see more of Tony’s art.

This is a great book and I’d recommend it for teen readers and up. I can’t wait to see if we get more of Delilah and Selim (one can hope.) I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

Book Review–March Book One

0

Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, graphic novel | Posted on 14-08-2013

March Book One
John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
TopShelf Productions

Every so often a book will come along that will challenge you, that will make you think, and that will hopefully leave you a bit better after you’ve read it. And this is just one such book.  Yes that seems weird to say about a graphic novel, but trust me…this one deserves such praise.  This is a book that everyone should read, and then reread again.  And then pass on to others to read.  This is a part of history that we should not let die, remember, and honor those that created it.

Congressman John Lewis is an iconic figure within the Civil Rights movement, and the last surviving member of the “big six leadership.” He rose from being the son of sharecropper, to marching with Martin Luther King, and to the halls of Congress.  This first book in a planned trilogy covers John Lewis’s youth in rural Alabama, his first meeting with Martin Luther King, the birth of the Nashville Student movement, and the battle for desegregation on the steps of City Hall.  And it comes to an end all to quickly.  I finished the book saying “but, but…I want more! I need the rest of the story now!”  And that’s such a great way to leave readers, clamoring for the next part of the story.  It’s a powerful and moving story to see a firsthand account of the triumphs and sorrows of being involved in this time period in history.

Now I’m sure the first question many are asking is…why a graphic novel?  Couldn’t this be done in written form and come out just as well.  And the answer would be…no.  It’s one thing to read about the horrors or having water tossed on you, or being beaten, all because of the color of your skin.  It’s a completely different matter to see it illustrated.  The illustrations are masterful and you can imagine the smoke being blown in your face, someone standing over you and spitting upon you, and others throwing water or hot coffee in your face.  It’s a powerful image that you won’t be able to shake.  And one that you won’t be able too, or want to forget.

One of the problems that I normally see with autobiographical stories, is that they often try to give the reader to much information or even sometimes not enough information.  They forget that we aren’t all familiar with the history of an individual.  But this book doesn’t suffer any such problem.  We move expertly between past and present, as John Lewis gives a tour to children from his district and explains his past.  It’s a great way to set up the story.  And more importantly you don’t ever feel like you’re missing out on something.

Nate Powell’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous. It’s done in his typical grace/style of capturing the human form oh so perfectly and it seems like this time he’s gone even further in his use of shading to give us the beauty of all different types of skin tones, each character’s is unique. His artwork is perfectly suited for this story capturing the range and intensity of emotions–the sorrow, the joy, and the fear that sends chills down your spine. That intensity, that feeling of life that he captures in their faces really makes them come alive.

You can’t help but feel moved by this story and you can’t walk away unchanged. The combination of story and art works perfectly in capturing this event and this time period. I’m predicting this book will be one of the best graphic novels of the year, perhaps even one of the best books of the year.  I started recommending it to my faculty as soon as I heard about it.  And one that I can’t wait for them to teach from.  I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.