Recent Reads: Graphic Novels

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I have been reading lots of graphic novels lately; here are a few short reviews:

The life cycle of a salmon serves as a metaphor for the human condition in Salmon Doubts (Alternative Press, 2004) by Adam Sacks. Fish struggle to survive hatching, make connections, be unique, explore the world around them, hit puberty, try to fit in, find a mate and return home to die. Focusing on basic questions such as “Why am I here?” this philosophical tale with its themes of identity and purpose in life will have special appeal to teens.

Conveyed entirely through images and dialogue, Ninety Candles (Rant Comics, 2004) is an experiment, begun when author Neil Kleid challenged himself to create a panel a day, unscripted, for three months. This sequential tale follows the life of a child who loves to draw, discovers comics, and takes the leap from aficionado to artist. Unconventional circular panels act as peepholes into pivotal moments of protagonist Kevin Hall’s life, illustrated with soft edges. Ninety Candles is a perfect introduction to the graphic novel genre because it is easy to follow and explains a lot about the business of making comics. This is a fantastic and inexpensive add that will add depth to manga and superhero collections and appeal to a broad readership.

In Jeff  Orff’s Waterwise (Alternative Comics, 2004), two childhood companions reconnect in the woods on the lake where one has a family cabin. Ambitious Emily is just coming off a divorce and newly-single Jim is sketching his ex-girlfriend. Just as Emily comments on the surreal-ness of reconnecting another, the comics becomes surreal as we slip without warning into a variety of flashbacks, pivotal moments from their shared history. The thick-lined artwork is dominated by of solid black backgrounds of sky and water, making the subjects stand out.  Some scenes have a woodcut or batik look them. Short on plot but beautifully told, Waterwise is a worthy addition for most public library collections.

Graham Annable’s Further Grickle (Alternative Comics, 2003 is a stand-alone companion to Grickle (Alternative, 2001), consisting of a series of tragi-comics featuring the difficulties of various types of relationships: neighbors, co-workers, friends and lovers. Ultimately, readers will recognize themselves and see the futility and humor in struggling to hold a job, have a life, and make connections with others. The stick figure style art manages to be energetic and expressive in spite of the economy of line. Suitable for most public library collections with strong appeal for twenty-somethings. 

James Kochalka’s Peanut Butter and Jeremy’s Best Book Ever (Alternative Comics, 2003) is a whimsical collection of the adventures of a naive workaholic cat (who thinks he is an office employee) named Peanut Butter and a sarcastic trickster crow named Jeremy. Peanut Butter, who takes himself much too seriously, needs a nemesis-pal like Jeremy around to bring him back down to earth. Character development here is excellent – the two epitomize their species and display charmingly human affectations as well. The art is smooth, featuring simple lines and velvety black backgrounds. Appropriate for children in that the themes, dialogue and artwork are easily comprehended, some of the plots and jokes may go over their heads. Saavy teens and collegiate intern-types will probably get the most out of Peanut Butter’s career track and Jeremy’s meanness. Some parents of young children may object to the name-calling and threats of violence throughout, but they are true to Jeremy’s character and should be taken lightly.

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