Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451

The title of this classic Cold War and censorship novel comes from the temperature at which paper supposedly combusts. In the near future, firemen set fires, not fight them. Houses are fireproof and books are illegal because of the ideas they could give people. Firemen enforce the law, burning books and making sure their owners are arrested. Guy Montag is a fireman who is disturbed when he witnesses a woman setting herself on fire rather than give up her books. He catches a glance of some words and risks stashing a few books to see what is they contain.

Ray Bradbury wrote this forward-looking work as a commentary on the problems of contemporary American society. He also forecasted a number of things, including the growing dependence on media (in the form of wall-size screens) and the use of earphone radios (think Bluetooth). A National Medal for Arts recipient and Science Fiction Poetry Association Grandmaster, Bradbury has written numerous works, most notably the The Martian Chronicles stories and the novels Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Illustrated Man, and Dandelion Wine. His works have been adapted into all types of media, including movies, television programs, and comics. This interview with Bradbury explores the process of making this adaptation. Both Hamilton and Bradbury contributed to this interview about the book.

Tim Hamilton adapted this novel into graphic novel form. He has worked as an illustrator for a couple decades now, drawing for publications ranging from MAD to The New York Times. He drew the long-running comic book series The Trouble with Girls and also adapted Treasure Island into a graphic novel. This interview touches on Hamilton's work, career, and art on this book.

This well-done adaptation appeals to many people. Chris Singer called it a "terrific adaptation."A student at Teen Ink wrote that it would be better to read the novel before the adaptation, but NatalieSap offered that "it can be a gateway to reading Bradbury's original, or even stand alone." The School Library Journal concluded that it was "an excellent companion to an excellent novel."

A teacher's guide, videos, and other information are available here from the book's publisher Hill and Wang. A preview is available at

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Anya's Ghost

Anya Borzakovskaya is just trying to fit in. Her family comes from Russia, and she has fought hard to lose her accent and try to make friends. She goes to the third worst private school in the state, and makes okay to bad grades. She has one friend, Siobhan, who likes to sneak away and smoke with her. She avoids Dima, the other Russian kid in class, because she does not want to be seen as nerdy or weak. Also, she has a crush on Pete, who is on the basketball team and dates the beautiful, popular Elizabeth.

One day Anya is taking a short cut through a field and falls into a well. Hurt, she finds herself trapped in this hole for two days. Also, there is a skeleton there, and a ghost rises from it. It turns out she is lonely after spending ninety years trapped in a well. She tries to befriend the ornery Anya, and much to Anya's surprise ends up accompanying her when she is rescued. Having a ghost as a friend ends up having some surprising up-side, Anya finds. But the ghost also seems to have some motives of her own...

This wonderful graphic novel is the creation of Vera Brosgol, a Russian-born animator and storyboard artist who works for Laika Inc. She has published the webcomic Return to Sender, but it has remained unfinished. This is her debut graphic novel, and it comes with some pretty strong endorsements with cover blurbs from Neil Gaiman, Scott McCloud, and Hope Larson. Brosgol's characters are sharply defined in terms of writing and art, and the black, white, and gray tones create a great atmosphere for all the interactions. She is especially adept at capturing emotions and conveying emotion and tone.

This strong debut has been well reviewed. John Hogan called it a "pleasant surprise" and wrote that it is "richly layered work that moves deftly from wispy romance to creepy chills with nary a misstep." John DeNardo was impressed with this "excellent" "ghost story that starts innocently enough, but gets creepier as the story progresses." Cory Doctorow added that "Anya's Ghost manages to be really sweet, really funny and really scary."

An excerpt, trailer and more are available here from the book's publisher First Second.

A big thank you to Gina for the review copy!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity

This is one terrifically fun graphic novel. Each chapter introduces or follows a character, so it is full of mini-narratives that add up to one big story. At Astronaut Academy you can take classes such as Advanced Heart Studies, Anti-Gravity Gymnastics, Wearing Cute Hats, Fire Throwing, Run-On Sentences, and Locker. And the classes are taught by an Elf, a bunny, and a Panda (who may be a double agent). This may just be the best school ever.

The students (full cast here) are a varied and motley bunch, and they are all effected when a cute, brooding new student enrolls. Hakata Soy is a former space hero who is being stalked by some old enemies. Aside from that, two rivals, Miyumi San and Maribelle Melonbelly, also are striving against each other for his attention.

Dave Roman created this great romp, which was originally published online as Astronaut Elementary. He has created a number of other webcomics, including the Harvey Award nominated Quicken Forbidden and Agnes Quill. He won the 2005 Web Cartoonists' Choice Award for Best New Character Design for his work on AE. Roman talks about working on this trade release in this interview with The Stumptown Press. This interview with the School Library Journal is also quite informative.

This book is silly in the best sense of the word, with multiple jokes on every page. Former teen librarian Snow Wildsmith wrote that "Astronaut Academy won’t appeal to everyone, but for the right reader it will speak volumes about the struggles with identity and place which middle school and early high school aged kids feel so keenly." Publishers Weekly called the book "zany and cute." Xaviar Xerexes found this a "wonderfully produced book" that mixes slapstick and sarcasm.

An excerpt, video preview, discussion guide, and more are available here from the book's publisher First Second. Much of this book is also available here as a webcomic.

A sequel, Astronaut Academy: Re-Entry is slated to appear, as detailed in this interview with John Hogan.

A big Thank You to Gina for the review copy!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


A love note to comics as a form, commentary on the business-side of the industry, and mystery story, Hicksville is the story of Leonard Batts, a biographer, trying to unearth the origins of Dick Burger, the most successful comics creator in America. He knows next to nothing about Burger's formative years and has a very difficult time finding Hicksville, a small town in New Zealand that is not on any maps. What he finds there amazes him: People from all ages and walks of life read and talk about comics. The library has complete runs of classics such as Action Comics but also obscurities like mini-comics from Mongolia. And everybody refuses to say anything about Dick Burger.

This story originally appeared serially from 1993 to 1997 in Pickle and originally was published as a collection with 50 new pages in 1998. This edition has some introductory material added where we see a frank discussion of the author's career as well as some shifts in the comics industry since. It also has copious back matter to help explain the many comics references within the narrative, for unfamiliar readers.

Hicksville is the creation of Dylan Horrocks, a New Zealand born comics artist who has mostly worked on his own creator-owned works but has also written for DC on books like Batgirl and Hunter: The Age of Magic. Horrocks publishes most of his new work on his own site, Hicksville Comics.

Hicksville has been a largely celebrated book. Richard from the Forbidden Planet International blog wrote that it "is staggeringly good, a perfect exploration of all that is right, and much that is wrong, with this beautiful, unique medium." W. Scott Poole sees the book as beautiful, vibrant, and still, sadly, very relevant concerning a comics industry that has changed little in 20 years. Peter Gutiérrez offered that it is "the rare work that manages to be both brainy and silly with equal credibility."

A pdf preview, a series of review blurbs, and other resources can be found here from Drawn & Quarterly.

Friday, June 10, 2011

James Sturm's America: God, Gold, and Golems

James Sturm is a comics artist and director of The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. He has created a number of other graphic novels, many with a historical bent, such as Satchel Page: Striking Out Jim Crow. and Market Day. In a more contemporary vein, he produced a series of columns and cartoons for Slate about his attempts to quit the internet. He is respected for his work, having won a Xeric and Eisner Award. This interview with Tom Spurgeon informs about his recent work and activities.

This volume is a compendium of the following works:

The Revival - Set in 1810, this tale is about a giant tent revival in Kentucky that is emblematic of the Second Great Awakening. It centers on a couple attending the revival and their attempts to reconcile their faith with the death of an infant.

Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight - Set in the isolated mining town of Solomon's Gulch, Idaho in 1886, this tale concerns the greed, paranoia, and desperation of a dwindling number of miners striving to strike it rich.

The Golem's Mighty Swing - The lengthiest and last story chronicles a Jewish barnstorming baseball team in the 1920s. It follows the Stars of David and their rickety bus on a tour of the Midwest. They feature a sole black player, a member of the "lost tribe" who gets dressed up as a golem to increase theatrics. Civil rights and the players' treatment features strongly.

Sturm's craftsmanship and solid story-telling are highlighted in reviews. Andrew Wheeler credited Sturm for creating sharp dialogue and well-defined characters. JohnSeven wrote that the book displays a "great talent for emotionally honest stories told through straightforward means." Kirkus Reviews agrees, "It doesn’t take many words or strokes for Sturm’s graphic artistry to leave a lasting impression."

A pdf preview is available here from the book's publisher Drawn & Quarterly.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Photographer

The Photographer is the harrowing, true life story of Didier Lefèvre, a French photographer who accompanied a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) mission into Afghanistan in 1986 during the Soviet Invasion. Along the difficult trek done mostly on foot, Lefèvre documented visits with local soldiers and civilians, beautiful scenery, dangerous obstacles, domestic scenes, makeshift medical stations, and treatments both severe and mundane. He saw children and adults whose lives were rocked by violence, enjoyed the limited amount of local hospitality, and witnessed the machinations needed to travel and acquire supplies in a war-torn country. This story is full of bleak conditions, resilient folk, and some grim humor.

This graphic novel is a combination of pictures and photographs, drawn from Lefèvre's work and journals during the trip. His photos appeared in a number of French magazines, and he died of a heart attack in 2007 just as his work began to reach a wider audience. Emmanuel Guibert and Frédéric Lemercier provided the drawings and coloring respectively. Guibert is a prolific French comics artist who has a number of books published in English, including Sardine in Outer Space and The Professor's Daughter.

This graphic novel has been well reviewed. Chris Hedges wrote in his New York Times review that the book is lengthy but "build[s] in power and momentum as it recounts the arduous trip into mountain villages, the confrontation with the devastation of war, the struggle to save lives and Lefèvre’s foolish and nearly fatal attempt to return to Pakistan ahead of the team." Douglas Wolk wrote that the book's images pack an "emotional wallop." Shaun Manning praised the book, saying that it belonged "among the comics medium's best-known and highest regarded stories."

An excerpt, reviews, and other information are available here from the book's publisher First Second.