July 30, 2009

The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa

The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa

Translated from the Korean by Lauren Na

First Second, New York & London 2009

What a wonderful graphic novel! Again, First Second has published art in book form. The first of three in a series, I may just have to break my no-new-books vow and get the whole set.

The Color of Earth tells of the daily lives and about the world of two generations of Korean women. Sometime in the past, in a quiet rural village of Namwon, Ehwa lives with her mother, a widowed tavern keeper. They are best friends and tell each other many secrets. The story is filled with flowers and rain. In beautiful black and white drawings and poetic language we watch Ehwa growing up. As each spring passes she learns about herchanging body and begins to learn about life. As Ehwa grows, her mother, left alone at young age, rediscovers love.

The artist, Kim Dong Hwa is famous in Korean for creating sunjung, comics for young girls, known as shojo in Japan. The Color of Earth is something completely new, a sunjung style manhwa (manga in Japan), enjoying great success with an adult audience, both men and women. It is a beautiful book that tells a wonderful story. I can not wait to read the next part, The Color of Water.

July 29, 2009

Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness

This third volume in the Scott Pilgrim series starts up where volume 2 left off: the night that his ex-girlfriend, Envy, and her band, Clash at Demonhead, are performing. There are lots of informative flashbacks, particularly those detailing Scott's relationship with Envy (a.k.a. Natalie) back when they were freshmen in college.

In the present, the next evil ex-boyfriend of Ramona's that Scott must fight turns out to be Todd, the bassist for Clash at Demonhead. He is a formidable opponent because, Envy informs Scott (after he's been thrown through a brick wall), Todd is a vegan - "graduated top of his class from Vegan Academy and everything." Scott and his friends are understandably skeptical about the fact that being vegan could give one superpowers, but Todd explains that most people only use 10% of their brains because the other 90% is "full of curds and whey." Vegans, on the other hand, can access 100% of the power of their brains.

All the wonderful characters from the first two books are here, including Scott's gay roommate Wallace, Scott's teenage ex-girlfriend, Knives Chau (who is now dating "Young" Neil), Stephen Stills, and Kim (Scott's high school girlfriend). Bizarre and highly entertaining events follow, including an encounter between Knives and Envy's drummer (who has a bionic arm and knocks the highlights out of Knives' hair), combat at a frightening discount store called Honest Ed's, a costumed band member extravaganza, gigantic mallets and cat fights, an incriminating gelato, and craters being created on the moon (to impress girls, of course).

This series is surprising and intelligent, with quirky, interesting characters that spring to life through their inimitable dialog and O'Malleys' arresting illustrations. I lose myself in these stories, happily suspending my disbelief because the plot and characters are immensely creative and never, ever predictable. Hanging out with Scott Pilgrim and his friends is the reading equivalent of a trip to an amusement park.

Books in the Scott Pilgrim series:
1. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life
2. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
3. Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness
4. Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together
5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe

Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness (#3 in the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series) by Bryan Lee O'Malley (Oni Press, 2006)

Also reviewed at:
Racing Entropy: "Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness not only raises the bar on the previous two books, it pretty much blows them out of the water - which is saying something."

Death: The High Cost of Living

This graphic novel features characters from Neil Gaiman's popular Sandman series, but because it is a standalone story, it can be read on its own and is a great introduction to the series. The protagonist is teenage Sexton (he's heard all the bad jokes about his name, so don't bother), who sits at his computer composing a suicide note. He wants to check out, not because his life is unbearable or horrific, but because it is empty and meaningless. He is jaded, bitter, and bored.

His mother decides to spring clean the apartment, despite the fact that it's actually summertime, and Sexton gets kicked out of the house for the day while she gets to work. He may seem a bit spoiled and melodramatic, but he gains the reader's sympathy with his matter-of-fact kindness and respect for the severely handicapped boy he passes in the hallway on his way out. He heads to the city dump, a place that reflects his dark mood.

When the pile of garbage he's standing on collapses without warning, Sexton plunges into the pile of trash and is trapped beneath a refrigerator. A lovely dark-haired girl answers his cries for help, introducing herself as Didi. She takes him back to her apartment so he can disinfect and bandage his wounds.

She tells him that she is Death, brought into the world to live as a human once every hundred years so she can fully experience humanity, the better to understand the value of the lives she takes. He thinks she has some serious psychological issues, but when strange things start to happen, Sexton finds himself along for the ride. Suddenly life doesn't look quite so meaningless - and when he finds himself locked into a dark underground room by a crazy, scary man, and is stuck there with a dead body and Didi, life starts looking pretty precious indeed.

The characters drive this compelling tale, and Death is the star. She is charming, upbeat and funny, exactly the sort of person you'd like to have waiting for you on the other side (or to help you cross over). Although as I write this, it occurs to me that I also have a great fondness for Discworld's Death. I would love to be a fly on the wall if the two of them are ever in the same room together.
This is an excellent introduction to the world of the Sandman and his family of immortals. Oh, and a word of caution - these books are dark and violent, definitely for mature readers. The illustrations are lush and colorful, and as an added bonus there is an informative and amusing public service story about STDs, narrated by Death, with practical advice on safe sex. For those who choose not to follow her advice, Death smiles and says, "I'll be seeing you!" I've been meaning to reread the first few books in the series and continue on through to the end, and my visit with Death in this book has made me impatient to get started.

Death: The High Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham an David McKean; with an introduction by Tori Amos (DC Comics, 1994)

Also reviewed at:
Fyrefly's Book Blog: "At base, there’s not a whole lot to this story other than watching Death bubble her way around New York City trailing Sexton in her wake… but she’s so charming that it’s just about enough."
Things Mean a Lot: "this one does hold a special place in my heart. It’s a Sandman spinoff, but you don’t need to have read the series to understand and enjoy the story."
Valentina's Room: "Reading Death felt like reading a Charles de Lint short story, for some reason. Just this is enough to qualify as a great read. The fact that it was in graphic novel form gave it an extra appeal."

Courtney Crumrin's Monstrous Holiday

Courtney and her Great-Uncle Aloysius take a European vacation together in this fourth volume of the Courtney Crumrin series. This one is a departure from earlier books in the series, which focus on Courtney coming to terms with her developing magical powers against the backdrop of her small town, school, and less-than-stellar parents.

In this volume Uncle Aloysius is constantly at a loss as to how to best take care of his independent and often angry little niece. At every turn it seems that Courtney encounters adults in situations, usually of their own making, that are spiraling out of control for what appears to Courtney to be ridiculous reasons. While Aloysius tries to keep her safe and discourages her involvement, Courtney just can't help herself. She has a fierce sense of justice and does all in her power to make things right, even when the consequences are ultimately disappointing - and occasionally devastating.

This book is divided into two separate parts, one set in Romania (that involves werewolves) and another in Germany (that involves her ancestral home and some nasty vampires). I love the artwork, first of all - it is evocative and perfectly conveys the dark atmosphere of Courtney's world. Who would have thought that a noseless face could be so wonderfully expressive? And I adore Courtney. She is a tough and insecure, angry and loving, impatient and impulsive, intelligent and often lonesome. She is wise but inexperienced, and she makes mistakes because of her inexperience, but she always makes them for the right reasons. The books are dark but also have moments of humor, which is one of the reasons I love them so much - and this one no exception.

It was interesting to see Courtney far from her usual setting, and to see her spending some "quality time" with her uncle. I am eagerly awaiting her further adventures.

Neifeh, Ted - Courtney Crumrin series:
2. Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics
4. Courtney Crumin's Monstrous Holiday

And also:
Courtney Crumrin Tales: Portrait of the Warlock as a Young Man
Courtney Crumrin and the Fire Thief's Tale
Courtney Crumrin and the Prince of Nowhere
Courtney Crumrin's Monstrous Holiday (#4 in the Courtney Crumin series) by Ted Naifeh (Oni Press, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Beyond Books: "It was different from the other volumes, and although I still enjoyed Courtney and the writing, I found the flow of the story to be… odd. I like reading about Courtney’s life in her Uncle’s house and with the kids at school."

July 27, 2009

JLA: Earth 2

By Morrison and Quitely

This is my sixth posted review so I've now made my Minor!

This is one of my favorite alternate realities where the JLA equivalent metahumans are actually the biggest baddies in their world.

The book starts very, very nicely: three shapes who are not quite Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman are talking about the prisoner who got away. Then a weird ship of some kind crashes to the US countryside and Luthor steps out in his armor. There’s something about that opening the visually appeals to me very much.

The JLA is trying to rescue a plane coming down. They succeed but in the end the passengers are all dead. After a closer look, the JLA finds out that the passengers’ hearts are all on the right side in their bodies.

Next, Luthor starts his day in the office by donating the day’s armament budget to Greenpeace and giving his employees a 300% raise. However, he can’t do much else because the JLA pays him a visit. Luthor proceeds to convince them that he is, in fact, Alexander Luthor from the antimatter universe. He has come to this universe to beg for help from the heroes because in his world the metahumans are all bad guys. Of course, everyone is rather skeptical at first but in the end the JLA agrees to help him. Luthor has a plan which should guarantee that the JLA can take out their counterparts and save the other world in just 48 hours. Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash, and the Green Lantern leave with Luthor while Aquaman and J’onn stay.

Meanwhile, the antimatter-JLA, called the Crime Syndicate, isn’t idle, either. They continue to make people’s lives miserable in their own big and small ways. The Owlman tortures Commissioner Wayne in Gotham City while Ultraman deals out counterfeit money to destabilize the economy. They have also tried to track down Luthor and are aware of the existence of the matter-Earth. They would like to conquer it and Owlman has even a plan for it.

I really liked the twisted JLA versions. We get to know most about Owlman who isn’t Bruce Wayne. Superwoman, Power Ring, and Johnny Quick stay quite two-dimensional characters which might be understandable given the small amount of space that Morrison has to work with. Superwoman seems to be rather stereotypical seductive femme fatale which I personally don’t really care for. After all, why should she limit herself to just sexual appeal when she has powers to do a lot of different things? Anyway, I rather enjoyed Owlman and the twisted little scenario he had going in Gotham. Ultraman is an astronaut and not Clark Kent.

Antimatter-Luthor is his world’s only heroic figure and he loses every time to the Syndicate. He has no choice but to seek help. He seems just as altruistic as the super heroes in the matter-world. He’s also just as much a genius as “our” Luthor. I guess he has to be in order to survive.

The antimatter-Earth is a world where evil triumphs every time. Everyone in authority is corrupt. Everyone is looking for his or her own gain. (Frankly, I’m amazed that they’ve managed to get to our level of technology but that’s beside the point.)

Excellent story. I’d like to know more about the Syndicate members, though.

My blog.

Fables v5: The Mean Seasons - Bill WIllingham

Back in Fabletown life is moving on after the war of March of the Wooden Soldiers. The town is being rebuilt and the race to become Major is one between current Major King Cole and Prince Charming. Whilst this is going on Snow has gone into labour and gives birth to babies plural. Not only does she have more than one baby, it seems that they have other abilities as well that involve them being tied down...

We spend some time finding out a little more about Cinderella as well as Bibgy's past helping out the American army against the Nazis. The interrogation of Baba Yaga and the wodden heads continues as the Fables try to find out more about the Adversary and who they actually are. Boy Blue disappears having found a way back to the Homelands to seek out the readl Red Riding Hood and there are some mysterious deaths where people seem to suffocate for no apparent reason.

This was an excellent addition to the series and I loved meeting Bigby's father (all I want to know now is who his mother is!). I am really looking forward to the next in the series and finding out what has happened to the Homelands. The side stories are weaving together very nicely.

July 26, 2009

Kampung Boy, by Lat

This will be short, because I don't have much to say about this graphic novel, except that it's adorable and I loved it. Kampung Boy is the simple story of a Muslim boy's early years in a small village, or kampung, in Malaysia in the 1950s. Lat has been a popular comic artist in southeast Asia for years (there's even a TV show of Kampung Boy), and his work is just recently making its way to the U.S. His unique illustrations captured an unfamiliar-to-me time and place while making me laugh. I'll be handing it over to both of my kids. Town Boy is the next in the series and I can't wait to read it.

Crossposted on Worducopia

July 24, 2009

White Rapid by Pascal Blanchet


White Rapids by Pascal Blanchet

translated by Helge Dascher

Drawn & Quarterly,

Montreal, Quebec, Canada


White Rapids is graphic novel that tells the story of the tiny, company-built town of Rapide Blanc located deep in the forests of northern Quebec. Conceived and designed in 1928 by the Shawinigan Water & Power Company, who were building a hydro-power dam across the St. Maurice River, the town attracted engineers and workers needed to run the power station. Accessible only by railroad, it was a self-contained community, with churches, a school, a co-op and all kinds of modern amenities. Blanchet's retro-inspired art work, inked in browns and oranges, captures the feeling of the time, the belief that anything was possible with science and technology.

Blanchet tells the story clearly, with few words. It is a testament to the time and the the people who built and lived in Rapide Blanc. It is lovingly dedicated to his father. I really enjoyed this book and think would be a perfect introduction to the graphic novel genre.

The Lindbergh Child by Rick Geary

The Lindbergh Child by Rick Geary
A Treasury of XXth Century Murder, Book 1

Pages: un-numbered
Ages: 14+
First Published: Aug, 2008
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Saturday, May 21, 1927 Charles A. Lindbergh becomes the hero of the age with his courageous solo flight across the Atlantic.

Comments: Rick Geary moves on to the 20th century with this book taking a look at one of the most famous crimes of the century. Whether that still holds true because of the celebrity of the victim's father or now the obvious failure of the justice system and obvious lack of evidence I don't know. What can I say? This book gives exactly what one expects from Geary in his true crime books. Astounding art work. To be honest I'd read the phone book if he illustrated it! But fortunately the text is just as superior. A lot of research has gone into this volume. I'm quite familiar with the case and Geary covers a lot of information from all points of view even to the point of examining the plausibilities of various "whodunit" scenarios. While Geary's last few books were good as usual, The Saga of the Bloody Benders in particular was lacking in details simply as they don't exist; it's good to see the wealth of detail come back as in earlier books such as The Borden Tragedy and The Beast of Chicago. One fervent hope I have now that Geary has moved onto the 20th century, he even has a new book coming out already, is that he won't forget his Victorian series as I for one would like to see more continue from that era as well. Mr. Geary, your readers can certainly handle keeping up with both series. {hint, hint}. Not much to say in this review, Geary at his best. Fans will be pleased to see Geary in top form and if you haven't read Geary yet, why not?


July 19, 2009

Emo Boy v1 - Steve Emond

Emo Boy is a superhero with Emo superpowers. These mostly include emo lyrics, super-human sensitivity and making girls heads explode. As the back says, he is the world's saddest saviour. He loses his first love in a horrible and icky accident, he dances akwardly at an emo concert and has a lyric off with the lead singer causing him to get thrown out of their fan club. He also fails to committ suicide which has drastic consequences for the other students. He also losses at dodge ball when the other students use him as target practise.

Very silly, it pokes fun at emo culture (a type of music that came of the USA from punk and hardcore music with emotional lyrics) and style without being too mean. It's more a lighthearted homage to the genre.

July 18, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: No Future for you

By Vaughan, Jeanty, Owens. Issue 10 by Whedon and Richards.

The second part of the eight season in comic book form. This trade gathers issues 6 to 10.

This arch brings back Faith and Giles. Giles has found out that one of the girls who got Slayer powers isn’t a good guy but intends to bring about the Apocalypse. Unfortunately, the girl is a rich English heiress so killing her isn’t going to be easy. So, Giles drafts Faith. He promises that after Faith kills Lady Genevieve, she can go to an early retirement away from Slaying and her criminal record. Faith agrees reluctantly and Giles starts to train her to be an English lady so that she can infiltrate into Genevieve’s social circle and strike unexpectedly.

Lady Genevieve Savidge, or Gigi, is a spoiled young aristocrat who wants to rule the world. Her trainer and bodyguard is Roden who is quite a powerful warlock. He can summon gargoyles out the air to defend Gigi. In order to prepare herself for the coming battle Gigi fights and kills other Slayers. She also seems to have an interesting ability to sense when another Slayer is near. Gigi and Roden are quite a formidable pair.

We also get some glimpses of the Scottish castle where Buffy and the gang have their base. Willow is trying to cure Dawn’s gigantism and Buffy is seeing terrifying dreams.

Both Faith and Giles are the same as in the show. In fact, I heard their dialogue in my head with the actors' voices. I love the dialogue and the art is okay. I didn't expect Giles to resort to assassination which seem a bit too dark for the Buffy gang to do.

In issue 10, "Anywhere but here", Buffy and Willow are trying to find out more about the mysterious Twilight-group. Willow flies them to the lair of Sephrillian who minds an unstable reality field. There Willow and Buffy hope to be able to find some answers. But first, they see glimpses of past and future and eventually have to face some ugly truths in the finest Buffy fashion.

I liked both stories and I'm really interested to see how the story continues.

My blog.

July 14, 2009

The Tale of One Bad Rat - Bryan Talbot

Helen Potter and her pet rat who she rescued from the school lab are runaways. She has an interest in Beatrix Potter who was also named Helen and takes comfort in copying her drawings. She falls in with a friendly lad from Newcastle who lets her live in his squat with his friends. After her rat is killed by a cat she leaves and moves to the Lake District where Beatrix Potter is from.

She can't bear physical touch and during the course of the novel the reason is explained. She is a victim of abuse from a close family member. The book deals with how she deals with what has happened to her as well as the many Beatrix Potter parallels. The drawings are perfect to accompany the story and bring it to life in a way words alone could not.

It is at times a difficult novel to read, but it is definitely an important one that I highly recommend. The issue of abuse is not something to brush under the carpet no matter how painful it is and it needs discussing. I really loved this graphic novel and I really appreciated that the ending was not happy ever after and sugar coated, it was far more realistic and true to life.