Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Graphic Novel round-up

I've always been a little intimidated by graphic novels. Mostly because when I think of graphic novels, I always think along the lines of Batman and Superman comics and the sort of hard core fans that come with them and I don't think I'll ever feel comfortable in those conditions. But graphic novels aren't limited to superheroes. Graphic novels are just as diverse as regular novels and there are some really great ones out there and I'm only just discovering some of them.

Maus by Art Spiegleman - I believe this was the first graphic novel I read. And I read it back in January. It's amazing. I remember people raving about the book when I worked in Books Etc all those years ago and now I'm kicking myself that I waited so long to pick up Maus.

I really loved the illustrations - the Nazi cats and the Jewish rats, I thought that was really clever. At the same time as telling this heartbreaking story of his father's survival during WWII, there's also this complicated relationship between father and his new wife, and father and son and the effects that the war has had on all their lives. I've only read the first part of the story and I'm anxious to read the second part. I'd really like to get back to these characters, especially the sarcastic Vladek.

The Comical Tragedy or Tragical comedy of Mr Punch by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean - I've always, always had a bit of a literary crush on Neil Gaiman but I've tried reading the Sandman graphic novels without any success so far. When I saw this book, I thought 'wahey, a stand-alone Neil Gaiman GN!' and did a little dance. My dance was short-lived. Because Mr Punch is one of the darkest, creepiest things I've ever read. Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, my god, there is such darkness in your heads for creating this gruesome little story and accompanying it with those frightening illustrations! Gave! Me! Nightmares! I finished this and I swear to you, I had to watch scenes from musicals like The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music on youtube to tip the balance of the disturbing occuping my head. I will never again think of Mr Punch in the same way. *shudder*

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang - This book was unexpected. I didn't know much about it beforehand, just that several people mentioned it as a starting place for first-time graphic novel readers. So I requested it on my book-swapping website and when it arrived, I thought, 'ooh.' And I read the little synopsis which read that the book is split into three parts, the first a folktale of sorts about a monkey who would like to be revered as a god; a Chinese boy who falls in love with an American girl; and a high school student who is embarassed by his Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee. And if you think you know how these three stories go together, you'd be wrong. I promise. Like I said, American Born Chinese turned out to be something entirely different than I expected. It's very weird. And uncomfortable to read in parts, especially in regards to the depiction of Chin-Kee. It brings up issues of racism and stereotypes and is meant to make people feel uncomfortable.

I did like the overall message of being comfortable with who are and highlighting the racism that exists, but the strangeness of some of the storylines probably overshadowed that message for me.

And finally, we have Embroideries by Marjane Sartapi - Earlier in the year, I read Persepolis by the same author and loved it. So I made it my goal to hunt down some of Sartapi's other works to give them a try as well. And first into my house is Embroideries. And what a fun, little graphic novel this was. It relates the stories of Sartapi's (female) family and friends and neighbours. And specifically the stories that concern their love and sex lives. And the sex lives of a bunch of Iranian women is not something I thought I would ever read about, but it's refreshing to see such topics being openly discussed and it brings to light a lot of different issues, such as the importance of virginity and the ways in which women have been treated over different generations. The stories include happy and unhappy marriages, love, and keeping up appearances. It's mostly light and entertaining. I'm glad that I read it, but I wish it were longer and that some of the stories were told more in-depth.

So, there we have it. Four very different graphic novels. Now that I've read these, I'm desperate for more. Have you read any wonderful graphic novels lately? Leave your recommendations in the comments!


  1. I didn't like Maus or American Born Chinese, but Embroideries was absolutely lovely!

  2. Wow You read Maus!!!! I'm so happy you liked it :-)

  3. Wait, The Wizard of Oz comforted you after Mr. Punch? I agree Mr. Punch is scary as hell (I love Dave McKean so much), but The Wizard of Oz is scary too! With the monkeys! And the large floating green head!

    Have you seen Mirrormask, also? Neil Gaiman wrote it, and Dave McKean directed, and it's got the same slightly-creepy feel to it that Mr. Punch has, but it's much more lighthearted,

  4. I just recently started reading graphic novels, too, and I agree they aren't as intimidating as they initially seem!

  5. I just read Maus (I and II) and loved it. It was so well done. I'm relatively new to graphic novels and had a similar experience with Gaiman's Sandman. I love him as an author, but found too much of the Sandman a bit disturbing. I loved Watchmen (so, so, so much better than the movie) and have V for Vendetta sitting on my shelf to read next.

  6. I think you might like the Fables series which I am reviewing a book from tomorrow. I absolutely loved it.

    Fun Home by Alison Bechdel was good too.

  7. Jenny - I meant I watched the happy music clips. Like If I Only Had a Brain, and We're Off to See the Wizard. Those songs put a huge smile on my face!

    And yes, those monkeys are terrifying.

    I've not seen Mirrormask. I've heard of it though? If it's done by Neil Gaiman than I will more than likely watch it someday, hopefully it won't give me nightmares :)

  8. Shadowfalcon - I DID read Maus! And I loved it! Now, to find the second part of the story somewhere.. :)

  9. I was really surprised with the diversity of graphic novels too, when my husband first started getting me interested in them. My favorites are the memoirs, but I also like some of the crime fiction graphic novels out there.

    Maus was one I read long before I met my husband, and I really liked it. He was so surprised when he found out I read it! LOL

    I am not too familiar with American Born Chinese but from your description of it, it sounds interesting. I might have to give that a try.

    Embroideries is definitely one I want to read. I loved Persepolis.

    I really hope to get to Blankets soon. I had started it a couple of months ago, but had to set it aside for other reading commitments. I've heard such great things about it.

  10. Cool! I'm soo out of the bloggy loop having just climbed out of my maternity leave exhile. I wish I'd gotten over here to read this post much much sooner.

    I've read all of these except Mr. Punch, and what a great sampling. I enjoyed all of them for different reasons.

    And my library has Mr. Punch, so I'm gonna try it! Whee!

  11. Andi - it is nice to see your face again :) I hope you enjoy Mr Punch. It's pretty dark but I did enjoy it in a very disturbing way!

  12. I have read American Born Chinese (review here: http://mentalfoodie.blogspot.com/2010/05/book-review-american-born-chinese-by.html)

    As I mentioned in my review, I think it's a book aimed for Asian Americans (or Asian Australians or Asian Europeans etc) because most of us probably have heard of the magic monkey story as we grew up (it's one of those famous chinese story for kids... like Cinderella or Snow White etc), so it makes more sense for us in the context of this book, and how the 3 stories intertwined.

  13. You should try
    1. *****Runaways vol.1-7 by Vaughan & Alphona*****
    2. The Arrival by Shaun Tan
    3. The Ticking by Renee French
    4. The Night bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger


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