Pascalle Lepas. Wilde Life. Kickstarter. 2016. ISBN 9780997524802 150 pp. $25
Wilde Life (Volume #1) is a paranormal graphic novel set in the Midwest that may appeal to fans of Stranger Things. It follows the supernatural adventures of Oscar, a man on a mission to get out of town, who lands in a place where weird things happen. Never trust a cheap rental found on Craigslist: his house is haunted by an attractive ghost, a talking bear is less than impressed with his presence, and he befriends a local teenage punk who happens to be a werewolf.
The art is just gorgeous. Perspectives vary, the play of light on the page is often beautiful, and faces are expressive, with figures well proportioned. The writing is solid, the characters are interesting, the story is compelling, and the pacing phenomenal. An Easter Egg: in the online version, a mouseover reveals a clever tagline for each page, lending humor, insight or foreshadowing.
Told via a release of 3 pages a week (Wilde Life updates on a Mon-Wed-Fri schedule), there is a cohesive arc that makes it clear storyteller/artist has a sense of where things are going as the reader is left in suspense as to what will happen next.
Only one volume has been bound thus far; Wilde Life is a great webcomic that transcends well to the page.
Don Borchert. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead. Tor, 2010. ISBN 978-0765327291 304 pp. $
Another volume in the vein of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Undead is prefaced with a note to this new edition, setting the story within an invented historical context that leaves room for the Zums (zombies).
Borchert rewrites the American classic Tom Sawyer, setting the tale in 19th century overrun with the zombies. Literally a chapter by chapter revision with the same characters and scenes, the author can be commended on maintaining the voice, style and structure of the original novel with some rather clever twists, such as Tom sharpening the picket fence stakes, instead of whitewashing them. The zombies in the cave that Tom and Becky get lost in, however, are no surprise. The conclusion hints at a sequel, and I predict a Huck Finn versus river monsters of some kind tale is in the making.
Overall, this book is no more–or no less, I suppose–thrilling than other similar novels jumping on the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies bandwagon. It will appeal to those fans who want more of the same. Tom’s pranks are timelessly engaging, but at it’s heart, Tom Sawyer is a book for children while Huckleberry Finn is one for teens, and the youthful protagonist, squeaky clean story and dated language are unappeal factors, zombies notwithstanding.
Golden, Christopher. The New Dead: A Zombie Anthology. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010. ISBN 978-0312559717 400 pp. $
This strong collection centered on the reanimated begins with a take on the story of Lazurus, casting him as a zombie, and concludes with a tale using Twitter as a plot device–a girl on a forced family vacation posts frequent disdainful updates about the road trip and how much she hates her mom. The family detours to see a circus act, and thinks the special effects are so realistic! until they realize it’s a zombie circus! This was a fabulous story, but the 140 character posts (complete with proper punctuation) don’t utilize any chat speak, so come off an inauthentic, though, the voice is a good attempt. With a true Twitter feed, the story would be posted most to least recent. It’s possible the ending would have been given away by doing this (an editors note to flip to the final page and read BACK could have taken care of this), but it made the story not ring as true. A feed at http://twitter.com/tyme2waste is a pretty clever
Several stories in between are concerned with the return of soldiers. One is experimental and repetitive and hard to get through. Two have wonderfully inventive premises, one casting zombies as servants, another as science experiments. Two stories in particular really stood out to me: one, titled Family Business, is about two brothers; Tommy, the elder is a zombie hunter, and his younger brother Benny, who has just turned 15, is reluctant to join him, and explores a variety of jobs generated through necessity after a zombie invasion, and finally goes on a ride along with his brother, and finds it enlightening. This was a wonderful story on so many levels–easy to relate to characters, highly readable, teen protagonist, creativity and humor, well written.
Golden has assembled an impressive array of writers to deliver sexy, profane, gory, and thought provokingly macabre stories, cleverly arranged, and well edited. Move over, vampires and werewolves–ZOMG ZOMBIES! are the new hawtness.
Martinez, A. Lee. Monster. Orbit, 2009. ISBN 978-0316041263 304 pp. $
This funny tale of a cryptobiologist (think dog catcher, but for kobolds and yetis) reminded me a bit of Christopher Moore’s work, with angels and humor figuring into the plot.
Out of the blue, magical creatures seem to popping up around a grocery store clerk. The aptly named Monster (whole daily skin color change results in new magical abilities thing) and his smart and well read sidekick Chester, a paper gnome who can fold himself into a variety of origami shapes, are unique and engaging characters as they corral a variety of beasts.
The first chapter was brilliant and had an excellent hook, but Martinez didn’t sustain the crispness, and the novel became very episodic, like a television series–I started reading it aloud to my (ex)husband (I think we read ch 1 & ch 12 together, he tends to fall asleep and then I continue, on my own) and he pegged it as “Buffy, but not as good.”Encounters and characterizations get repetitive though, in spite of the fast pace and cinematic quality of the writing.
I didn’t like the ending, and felt the last chapter was sort of an “screw you” to the reader–“I’m not going where you think I am with this, hee hee.” And then one of the main characters COMMENTS on this phenomenon. I can appreciate unpredictability, but I want a satisfying ending, whether I see it coming or not.
The clever cover art looks like a poster advertising Monster’s services: vivid yellow, with a devil horned skull silhouette and a blood red lettering; little handselling will be required, and it’s a great readalike for fans of horrific magical realism with a dash of funny, like the film Zombieland.
Browne, S.G. Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament. Crown, 2009. ISBN 978-0767930611. pp. $
In this self-proclaimed “zom-rom-com” the undead are the sympathetic characters. Victims of trauma are unexpectedly and unexplainably becoming “reanimated.” The zombies, all at different stages of acceptance, ability and decomposition, are outcasts of society. Their second class citizen treatment ranges from harassment (assault and limb-stealing) to SPCA imprisonment for curfew violations, with termination imminent if a human family member, or Breather, doesn’t bail them out.
Some cope by meeting in AA-styled group sessions. In Undead Anonymous, Andy develops a crush on the lovely Rita (a suicide victim) and meets several unique and interesting individuals, including the charismatic Ray, a self-sufficient zombie who refuses to be disenfranchised and rallies the others for equal rights for the reanimated.
This very funny satire manages to not take itself too seriously without getting campy. Browne deftly balances humor with pathos, and gore with romance. The vivid writing flows, delivering a satisfying pace and many amusing scenes. Characterizations are strong, and the voice steady throughout. My one criticism is that there is a hair of predictability to the story, but the ending still didn’t play out exactly as I thought.
The opening draws the reader in immediately: Andy comes to in his parents kitchen, suspecting he has just killed them. From there, Browne delivers a backstory that relates what life is like as a zombie that one could analogize to being a minority, gay, or even, a teen–others tend to make snap judgments about members of these communities and may be intolerant to varying degrees.
Moody, David. Hater. Infected Books, 2006. ISBN 978-0955005169 244 pp. $
A number of nonsensical murders are taking place in the UK as people snap for seemingly no apparent reason. The narrator wonders if he, or his family members, are next.
It takes WAY to long for the author to get to the motivation. The violence actually became DULL, because of the repetition. Poor storytelling, and an unsympathetic narrator.
Cary, Kate. Bloodline. Razorbill/Penguin Putnam, 2005. 323 pp. ISBN 1595140123 $16.99.
This horror novel reads like a sequel to Dracula. Set during WWI, a bloodthirsty captain falls for the sweet and innocent sister of his wounded lieutenant. Quincey Harker’s supernatural strength in battle and Lt. John Shaw’s hazy memories of military raid hint that there is something sinister about his superior–will he be able to figure it out before his sister is in love with a monster?
All the traditional trappings are here: wolves at the beck and call of the vampire, great winged bats, wooden stakes, garlic, the crucifix. The biting scenes are blatantly seductive.
Like it’s sire, Bloodline is told through journal entries and letters, giving voice to several characters and points of view. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and Cary can be commended for her details, voice and sentence structures evoke the ghost of Bram Stoker. Dark and gothic, Bloodline will be most appreciated by those who have read Stoker’s classic.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein: The Graphic Novel. Perfection Learning, 2005. ISBN 978-0756958091 176 pp. $
This comic book adaptation of Shelley’s gothic novel stays faithful to the nested story structure, but eliminates the epistolary style altogether in favor of a simpler and more streamlined narrative about a man tormented by his actions. Captain Walton rescues Victor Frankenstein and the dying man reveals a fantastic tale of his life, and his misbegotten attempts to understand the nature of life and death by playing God. The themes of the power of knowledge, nature vs. technology, and what it means to be monstrous are explored through the narrative, but this adaptation doesn’t come close to addressing the feminist issues at the heart of the novel.
The complete exclusion of ANY direct quotes or excerpts from Shelley’s masterpiece is surprising, but those familiar with the original text will marvel at Irving’s interpretations. For example, Reed’s telling doesn’t reveal that Frankenstein’s mother’s dying wish was that he and Elizabeth marry; but the concept is conveyed with the mother gripping them by the hands, one on each side of her deathbed. Victor’s zeal for chemistry and his laboratory are minutely detailed in his increasingly thin and wan face. The monster is horrific without being terrifying and his violent acts, whether bumbling or deliberate, are not glorified.
The artwork is made up of far too many dark and murky panels–for example, in an ocean scene on page 102-103 the page is more gray than anything else. Scenes viewed through a haze of rain, wind or snow are beautifully rendered, such as the opening and closing sequences of the Archangel in the Arctic, and the storm sequence on pp. 38-40. Characters sometimes slip into grotesque caricatures, while one or two silhouetted scenes evoke the era strongly. Panels vary greatly in composition and style, making the work as a whole dynamic.
Author and illustrator notes at the end explain the creation process but don’t add much to our understanding of the text. Biographies of Reed, Irving and Shelley follow. Less sensational than the Classics Illustrated version, this version may well hook students who might not be otherwise exposed to the story, and (hopefully!) whet their appetites for the real thing at a later date
Bruchac, Joseph illus. by Sally Wren Comport. The Dark Pond. Harper Collins, 2004. ISBN 978-0060529956 160 pp. $
In the mood for a frightening read? Well, just go for it. Joseph Bruchac’s new scary story, The Dark Pond is a creepy, freaky tale of a huge sea serpent type monster that lurks in the dark waters of a pond near Armie’s boarding school. Armie is half Shawnee Indian and half Armenian and he is sent to boarding school because his parents are both busy lawyers in Washington, D.C. this school is so much better than all the others he has attended because it emphasizes a connection to the outdoors and nature. This suits Armie, he has always felt connected to the living earth. Birds are attracted to him and he carries treats for them. Other animals just naturally want to be near him.
Despite his tough guy appearance, he actually makes some friends at the new school, which is a new thing for him. So, things are going smoothly at his new school until he spots the Dark Pond and feels drawn to that dark place. It calls to him and he knows there is something lurking there, something evil and dangerous. He reads and thinks on all the Shawnee tales he’s learned over the years, something he does when he has a problem or feels scared. No matter how he tries to fight it, he can’t keep away from the Dark Pond.
The suspense in this novel is awesome, as is the character development. Bruchac is a master storyteller, weaving the traditional Native American Tale into the life of a modern day boy hero. Don’t forget to read Bruchac’s Skeleton Man as well. Another great book for this time of year!
Benton, Jim. Lunch Walks Among Us (Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist #1). Simon & Schuster, 2004. ISBN 978-0689862953 112 pp. $
You aren’t like other girls? All that sugar and spice and froo-froo crap just grosses you out? Well, you have found a friend in Franny K. Stein: Mad Scientist by Jim Benton. She like bats. She likes ooze. She likes Venus Flytraps. She transforms your average doll into a creature with huge pointy teeth called “Chompula.” She IS a mad scientist. As you can imagine, it is tough for Franny being the new girl in school. Until one afternoon when a Giant Monstrous Fiend appears in Franny’s school. She knows just what to do!
Give this to early elementary school students–especially reluctant readers. It’s awesome!