Friday, December 30, 2011

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation

Published 10 years after the terrorist attacks that forever altered the US, The 9/11 Report graphic novel boils down the 800 page official report into a book 85% shorter. This graphic novel treats the events of 9/11 and their aftermath in a measured manner, not sensationalizing the violence nor boiling down the issues simplistically. It represents the key figures involved, both domestic and abroad, traces the history of various US agencies as well as the rise of Al Qaeda, and also depicts the steps and recommendations made to ensure such an attack never happens again.

This graphic novel is the product of Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon, two veteran comics creators. Their first collaborations occurred during the 1960s at Harvey Comics where Jacobson was an editor and Colon was an aspiring comics artist. They worked on such characters as Casper the Friendly the Ghost and Richie Rich (whom Jacobson played some role in creating). Jacobson has also worked at Marvel Comics, and Colon has produced notable works at both DC and Marvel. Today the duo work on more serious, realistic graphic novels, such as graphic biographies of Vlad the Impaler and Che Guevara. They speak about their work on this graphic adaptation in this NPR interview.

Reviews for this graphic adaptation range widely. David Abrams called the book "gripping, informative and heartbreaking." On the back cover, no less an authority on comics than Stan Lee gushed, "I cannot recommend it too highly." Hilary Goldstein found the book had flaws but still concluded that either in its original or graphic novel form, this report was "essential reading for all Americans." Offering a negative view, Katherine Dacey found the interplay of images and words ineffective and the end product a "dense, confusing gloss on the Commission’s work that I found harder to read than the actual prose report."

The 9/11 Report graphic novel was published by Hill and Wang. They have various video and audio resources as well as a Teacher's Guide available here. The first chapter is excerpted by Slate Magazine here.

For those interested in the topic, Jacobson and Colon have also produced a sequel to this book, After 9/11.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy 89th Birthday, Stan Lee!

Face Front, True Believer!

Stan Lee is one of the most recognizable comics creators ever. His name is synonymous with Marvel Comics and he has been an iconic figure for 50 years, promoting comic books and himself in many venues.

The man who was born Stanley Lieber did not begin his comics career auspiciously. He was hired as an assistant at Timely Comics as a favor to his uncle. There, he did odd jobs and provided text pieces for comic books. Saving his real name for the novel he one day was going to write, he chose the pseudonym Stan Lee. He kept moving up in the field, writing back-up stories, main stories, editing and even becoming the art director. He wrote all kinds of stories for Atlas Comics (the company that followed Timely), romances, westerns, monsters, science fiction, depending on what the latest comic fad was. Finally, he felt like he was burned out and at the end of his rope, just churning out trite stories. When his wife told him to write some stories the way he wanted to, because he was going to soon quit any way, he followed her advice and started a sensation.

The first series he wrote in his manner was The Fantastic Four, co-created with Jack Kirby. A melange of superhero and monster comics, the FF featured characters that argued, had flaws, and behaved more humanly than the typical superhero of the day. The success of the series drove Lee to move in the same direction with other titles and soon enough some of the most recognized superheroes ever, such as Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor, the X-Men, Doctor Strange, Daredevil, and the Avengers, proliferated. The Marvel Age of comics had begun.

Marvel courted all types of fans, created fan clubs (F.O.O.M. and M.M.M.S.), and forged an identity (somewhat overblown) as a jocular and tightly knit group of creators. The company became a major player in the comics business, competing with and eventually overtaking long-time dominant force DC Comics. Lee was head writer, then editor-in-chief, then publisher, and then he decided to move out to the west coast to oversee and promote Marvel Comics properties being translated into different media. Lee's public persona was to be the ringleader/cheerleader of the company. All the while Marvel Comics still came out bearing the intro phrase "Stan Lee Proudly Presents."

This byline was controversial in part because of an ongoing dispute over how big a role Lee had in creating the Marvel characters. Lee has not been shy about claiming sole creatorship and has even been erroneously credited with creating Captain America, who was the product of Joe Simon and Kirby, though he quickly corrects those who make the error. Jack Kirby, and now his heirs, have long contended that he had as much or more of a role in creating some characters. For many years relations between the two former collaborators were frosty at best, with Kirby famously parodying Lee's bombastic personality as the villainous con-man Funky Flashman.

Today, Lee is an established ambassador of comic books. He still is associated with Marvel but also has side projects such as POW! (Purveyors of Wonder) and the now defunct Stan Lee Media. Additionally, he hosts the reality show Who Wants to Be a Superhero? and makes cameos in just about every Marvel Comics movie adaptation.

'Nuff Said!


Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Green River Killer: A True Detective Story

A real life crime story, The Green River Killer is an intimate account of a decades long effort to find and bring to justice a serial murderer in the Seattle, Washington area. The author Jeff Jensen's father was one of the lead detectives on the case so he has access to the inner workings of what went on. This graphic novel gives two accounts, one of Detective Tom Jensen, who at one point was the only person assigned to the case, and the other of Gary Leon Ridgway, a very troubled man who later admitted to killing at least fifty women between 1982 and 2003. This book is compelling and powerful though not lurid or overly graphic, despite its subject matter. It delves in to the interplay between the killer and detectives as they all search for answers for these brutal, senseless killings.

This graphic novel is a collaboration between Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case. Jensen is a senior writer for Entertainment Weekly. Jensen wrote about his reasons and intentions for writing the book in this blog entry at Dark Horse. He speaks more about his working on the book with his father in this interview. Jonathan Case is an illustrator and member of the Periscope Studio based in Portland, Oregon. 2011 has been a big year for him, with the publication of this book as well as his well-received graphic novel debut Dear Creature. Case speaks about his process in creating this book here in this blog entry.

The Green River Killer has already received a good number of accolades, appearing on Amazon's, The New York Times', and USA Today's Best of 2011 lists. As could be expected, most reviews have been largely positive. Val Victory wrote that it was a "great read, and I highly recommend it for those who love detective stories and thrillers alike." Jeff Baker called the book "contemporary and timeless." Athira commented that it was "very thought-provoking and well-done," and continued, "It had the right amount of mystery, intrigue, and humanity added to the illustration."

A preview is available here from the book's publisher Dark Horse.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Superman: Red Son

Originally published as a 3 issue series under DC Comics' Elseworlds imprint, Red Son reimagines Superman, the defender of truth, justice, and the American way, as a hero of the Soviet Union. Instead of landing in the American Midwest, Superman's rocket lands in a communal farm in 1938 and he grows up to become a hero who fights for "Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact." Superman's presence and support for the eastern bloc countries radically changes history and the outcome of the Cold War. The US sees the great disparity in power and seeks balance by funding its greatest scientist Lex Luthor to combat the superhuman communist. In the course of this conflict, Lex creates versions of some of Superman's greatest foes, including Bizarro, Metallo, and the Parasite.

Red Son also casts different roles and personas for DC's classic characters, including Wonder Woman, who is an ally from Paradise Island who seeks to promote Superman's mission of a world-wide socialist state, and a Batman who emerges to overthrow the social order. Brainiac appears and attacks the Soviet Union only to be repurposed in an interesting way. Lois Lane still works for the Daily Planet and meets Superman, but only long after she has been married to Luthor. A few other characters are conspicuously missing but play a role in the eventual climax of the story.

This story was conceived and written by Mark Millar, a Scottish comic book writer who has left a big mark on modern comic books and movies. His The Ultimates series has shaped the tenor and tone of almost all the Marvel Comics movie adaptations of Avengers characters, and his work on The Authority and Civil War combined contemporary events and superhero stories. Additionally, he has done creator owned works such as Wanted and Kick Ass, which have been successful as movie adaptations. The art was rendered by Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett.

Reviews of this graphic novel have been mostly positive. The Guardian's David Thomson called the book "a charming and potent work." The Daily Raider's reviewer Nixon wrote that "Red Son falls in the rare category of comics good enough that anyone should be able to pick up and enjoy." Nicholas Demers found some faults with Millar's storytelling but finally admitted that the book "was fun, occasionally clever, and had lots of nice visuals and cool fight scenes."

This collection is published by DC Comics. A preview is available at

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Kill Shakespeare, Volume 1: A Sea of Troubles

This graphic novel is a creative mash-up of Shakespeare's plays that forms a fantastical and compelling narrative. The action begins at the point in The Tragedy of Hamlet when Prince Hamlet is exiled to England. A pirate attack and nautical accident leaves him washed up on the shores of England where he is taken in by Richard III. The English king is forming an alliance with MacBeth and Iago in order to find the sorcerer William Shakespeare and take his magical quill that defines reality, and Hamlet is prophesied to be the only one capable of tracking down the wizard. As the famously indecisive prince ponders whether or not to trust this monarch the situation is complicated by the appearance of another faction, made up of Juliet, Othello, and Falstaff.

References, quotations, puns, and characters from the bard's many works appear throughout this book, and it is clearly a labor of love from a trio of Shakespeare aficionados. Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery created the concept and write the series. Andy Belanger provides the art, which is energetic and expressive. More information about these creators can be found at the book's official site. This interview with the book's writers also sheds more light on the story's creation and direction.

All of the reviews I have read about the book have been full of praise. Fangoria's Jorge Solis concluded that this book is a "freshly original graphic novel" and "a highly enjoyable adventure." iFanboy's Ryan Haupt commented positively on the books deft combination of characterization, plot, and action. Mind Over Media called it a "fantastic little book" that "would make Shakespeare himself proud."

Kill Shakespeare began as a 12-issue limited series in 2010 and just reached completion. This collection contains the first half of the story. More information about the series, including previews and a trailer, is available here from the book's publisher IDW.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation

This graphic novel does three things extremely well: It explains the various parts of the US Constitution, places it in historical context, and also discusses ongoing contemporary controversies and issues. A wonderful tour through the British colonial period of the Thirteen Colonies foregrounds the path the US would take in founding its government until the present day, and the book's creators obviously have a love for depicting and explaining diverse periods of American history. They highlight key figures such as Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, and James Madison as well as shed light on pivotal incidents such as Shay's Rebellion, the Missouri Compromise, and the Civil War. Additionally, they explicate each amendment and provide concrete examples and scenarios as well. Most impressively, they cover a wide swath of government and history while providing several sides to contentious topics.

Writer Jonathan Hennessey and artist Aaron McConnell collaborated to make a lively narrative that is chock full of facts and never boring. Hennessey is a veteran in film and television production, and McConnell is a member of Periscope Studio. He has worked on other nonfiction graphic novels including Forward 54th!.

The reviews I have seen for this book have been mostly positive. John Seven gushed that "the adaptation is a perfect way for kids to view the Constitution as a living document by showing it alive — and it’s not bad for reminding us older folks of the exact same thing." Charles Moss wrote, "The writing and illustrations are simple yet effective in bringing understanding to some of the most misunderstood U.S. laws." Educator Pete Hammer finds much good in the book advises readers to check out "this graphic presentation that explains the Constitution in modern English."

A trailer, preview, study guide and more resources are available here from the book's publisher Hill and Wang.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chicken with Plums

Chicken and Plums (Poulet aux Prunes, in French) chronicles the last eight days of Nasser Ali Khan, a masterful musician who loses the will to live when his choice tar, a musical instrument, is broken. Unable to find a suitable replacement, all music becomes sour to him. He falls into a depression and will not leave his room or eat. His family tries to intercede on his behalf, but he responds very differently to them than they'd like. Even though the main character is extremely egotistical, this tale is quite magical and evocative at times, almost like a fairy tale. Over the course of this book Satrapi interweaves dream-like sequences, flashbacks, and other stories quite expertly. I was very much affected by the narrative.

This is the fourth graphic novel published in the US from Marjane Satrapi. She is a graphic novelist and movie maker who is famous for her autobiographical works and also ones that focus on her family. This work focuses on her great-uncle, whom she learned about from old photographs. She talks about the making this book and its recently released movie version in this interview.

As with Satrapi's other works, the reviews of this graphic novel have been very positive. Danica Davidson wrote, "In a mere 84 pages, Satrapi gives something heartfelt and unique that can keep a reader thinking about it long after turning its last page." Carol Siegfried called the book "very powerful" and noted that "the stark black and white images are very evocative, despite their simplicity." Leroy Douresseaux gushed that "Satrapi’s ability to both engage us with the familiar and enthrall us with something different is the mark of an exceptional, special comic book storyteller."

Chicken with Plums is published in the US by Pantheon. A sizable preview is available from The Virginia Quarterly Review.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return

This second volume of Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical tale focuses on her adolescence and young adulthood. After being sent to Vienna to study, she tries to find her place in the world. She feels like an outsider among the Europeans, but she meets a variety of people, including artists and students who engage her thinking. She also drinks and smokes and falls in love. Finally, Marjane misses Iran too much and returns to her homeland to see what has changed, to try to fit in, and also, it turns out, to get married. But can she truly go home after being out in the world?

Obviously, Persepolis 2 has a more adult bent than the first volume. Satrapi talks about her work and the differences between working on the Persepolis books in this interview. This long interview with Bart Beaty also explores both books in great depth.

This sequel has been adapted into an Academy Award nominated animated motion picture that spans both books. It has also won multiple prizes from the Angoulême International Comics Festival. As for reviews, it has been well received, though perhaps not as enthusiastically as the first book. Boris Kachka acknowledged that it is more difficult to positively portray childhood than adolescence and wrote that "the simplicity of Satrapi’s work may be what makes it universal." Luc Sante called the book "wildly charming." In a different light, Johanna Draper Carlson found this volume "disjointed, tawdry, and unfocused" compared to the first.

Persepolis 2 was published by Pantheon. A preview is available from

Friday, November 25, 2011

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

Marjane Satrapi was in elementary school when the Shah was ousted from power in Iran and a conservative Islamic regime took control. Because her family had communist and socialist leanings as well as a distant familial relationship to the deposed Shah, they had to navigate a perilous political landscape. During this time, Marjane struggles to find meaning in the vast changes, the many injustices, and the specter of martyrdom and war that hung over her country. She wrestles with religion, school, and the authorities who place restrictions on clothing, make-up, and popular culture. Being questioning and rebellious, Marjane has to deal with seemingly mundane situations that suddenly deteriorate into danger.

This volume contains the first two chapters of the books originally published in France. It is followed by a sequel where we follow what happens to Marjane as she becomes a young adult. This volume is very episodic and provides many scenes from a country in conflict where one family is struggling to get by. Incidentally, the title of the book comes from the Greek name for Parsa, an ancient capital of the Persian Empire.

Satrapi has become internationally famous and lauded for her graphic novel work. This article by Paul Gravett speaks to her life and work on this first volume of the series as well as its movie adaptation. This interview with Sean Axmaker also gets at her thoughts and intentions about making this graphic novel.

Persepolis has been almost universally accepted as a classic. Johanna Draper Carlson wrote that this "memoir is a must-read for a unique perspective on current events." Sarah Tan wrote that "Persepolis is a novel of the importance of being aware of ourselves and understanding the consequences of change." Offering a slightly contrary opinion, Christopher Skokna noted that Satrapi's storytelling chops could use some attention and he concluded that "for Satrapi to reach the front of the autobiographical comics library — and to deserve the attention this book is receiving — she must improve her skills and lengthen her perspective."

Some preview pages are available here from the book's publisher Pantheon.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy 42nd Birthday, Marjane Satrapi!

Marjane Satrapi is an Irani-born graphic novelist and director who now resides and works in France. She was born and grew up in Tehran, and her family was very politically active in the causes of communism and socialism. After the Shah was overthrown and exiled, the conservative political regime made life difficult for her and her family, and they sent her abroad to Vienna where she lived and studied at the Lycée Français de Vienne.

After meeting David B., a French artist who became a friend and mentor, Satrapi began adapting her experiences into graphic novels. Her works include the widely known Persepolis and Persepolis II, which chronicle her childhood, life under fundamentalist Islamic rule, and subsequent experiences after moving to Vienna and becoming acquainted with European culture. Her other graphic novels, Embroideries and Chicken with Plums, follow the exploits of her family.

Satrapi's books have been extremely well recieved. They appear in many languages and have won big awards such as the Angoulême Coup de Coeur Award for Persepolis, the Angoulême Prize for Scenario for Persepolis II, and the Angoulême Best Comic Book Award for Chicken and Plums.

The Persepolis books have also been adapted into an Oscar Award nominated animated feature film. A second adaptation of her graphic novel work, Chicken with Plums, a live-action film, has just been released.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta is a dystopian future tale, set in the a time after nuclear war has decimated the world and Norsefire, a fascist regime, rules the UK. The story follows a young woman named Evey who is saved from police brutality and rape by V. V is a masked vigilante who wears a Guy Fawkes mask and whose real face is never seen. An ambivalent figure, he is an expert bomb maker, hacker, and gadfly who is well versed in the arts, literature, and music. Many of those artistic endeavors are illegal in the current government, and he does everything he can to kill the Norsefire leaders and foment revolution. At first, Evey is taken by his cause, but she wavers in her allegiance and questions his methods.

This story was originally published serially in Warrior, a UK magazine. It was written by Alan Moore and drawn by David Lloyd. Moore is a prolific comics writer with multiple titles and accolades to his credit. Lloyd has been creating comics for decades now, working on numerous projects including licensed characters such as Dr. Who and James Bond as well as original characters like Espers and Hellblazer. He also works on original graphic novels, including the crime thriller Kickback.

V for Vendetta was adapted into a very popular movie in 2006 that starred Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman. As with other adaptations of his works, Moore distanced himself from the movie, criticized its producers, and refused royalties. Lloyd was more receptive to the adaptation. The movie has been an inspiration for the internet group Anonymous, who engage in civil disobedience via the internet and in person, attacking Scientology and the Bank of America among others, while wearing Guy Fawkes masks in the style of V. David Lloyd speaks about Anonymous' appropriation of his work here.

V has also been linked to the more contemporary Occupy movement in the US.

This graphic novel is now considered a classic in the medium and has received much praise. Andy at Grovel wrote, "This book has an eloquence and beauty to it, stemming from both the writing and the artwork, both of which are at the peak of their craft." William Jones added, "It is another fantastic entry into the world of subversive comics by the industry’s best." Timothy Callahan called it a "major work" and summed up that it is "an unconventional comic book, with the core of a superhero story, the remnants of an Orwellian nightmare, and the soul of a cabaret show."

A preview is available from DC Comics, the book's US publisher.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy 58th Birthday, Alan Moore!

Alan Moore is an English writer well known for a long and distinguished career making comics and graphic novels. He began his career writing stories for British publications such as 2000 AD and Warrior, while also contributing to Marvel UK. In the early 1980s he was recruited as a writer for DC Comics. While there, he wrote back-up stories for Green Lantern and was assigned to write the Saga of the Swamp Thing. His run on the title revolutionized the comics marketplace. He revived the character and took him in new directions of horror and drama prior unseen in mainstream comics. Stories aimed at more mature readers became more common. His strong work led to an influx of other British writers, creating a phenomenon known as the British Invasion. Additionally, he created memorable and successful characters like John Constantine and set a foundation for DC's highly successful Vertigo imprint.

Moore has always had a penchant for creating imaginative and sturdy fictional concepts. Some developed during his Captain Britain run at Marvel UK greatly influenced Marvel Comics in the US, providing concepts and characters, such as Betsy Braddock who became Psylocke, that appeared in many X-Men books. He also brought the fictional conceit of parallel universes to Marvel and established its main universe as Earth-616. At DC, stories that appear in minor back-up stories still exert an influence on major crossovers and storylines more than 20 years later.

Many of his most influential works were created in the 1980s including Watchmen, regarded by many to be the best graphic novel, Miracleman, considered by many to be the ultimate superhero narrative, and V for Vendetta, a dystopian future story of rebellion in the vein of Orwell's 1984. But his remarkable oeuvre also includes works such as The Killing Joke, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the America's Best Comics (ABC) titles Tom Strong and Promethea. More recently, he has been working on pastiches of classic works, such as the erotic fantasy story Lost Girls (in collaboration with his wife, artist Melinda Gebbie) and the Lovecraftian Neonomicon.

Alan Moore has been perceived as difficult or arcane to some, and has had publicized feuds over the years with many comics companies over the rights and uses of his works, including Watchmen and the ABC line of comics. He also gained notoriety for his abhoration of the big budget movie adaptations of his works and refuses to include his name in any of the credits. Nor does he collect the royalties from these motion pictures.

Alan Moore has won almost every award that can be awarded in the field of comics, as well as some that are not typically offered to the medium. Among the latter of these is the Hugo Award he won for Watchmen as well as its inclusion on the Time Magazine All-Time 100 Novels list.

His work has become so widespread that he also has had the distinction of appearing on The Simpsons. Apparently whenever he gets upset at the corporate misappropriation of his works...

...he can only be soothed by Little Lulu comics.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Happy 48th Birthday, Jim Ottaviani!

Jim Ottaviani is a one man wrecking crew in the world of graphic novels. His GT Labs has created a number of high quality graphic novels about a wide array of scientific disciplines and figures. Among other topics, he has written about notable thinkers such as Richard Feynman, Harry Harlow, and Neils Bohr. He also explores historical events including the Manhattan Project, the early days of paleontology, the space race, and even the physics and psychology of magical illusions. His works combine facts and knowledge with emotion and humor in very effective manners.

A former nuclear engineer and current librarian at the University of Michigan Library where he coordinates the Deep Blue project, Ottaviani shares his far-ranging knowledge about things scientific with his readers. He speaks about the graphic novel craft and self publishing in this interview with The Comic Reporter's Tom Spurgeon.

He has been nominated for Ignatz and Eisner Awards, and won a Xeric Foundation grant for his original comics work Two Fisted Science.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Journey into Mohawk Country

Journey into Mohawk Country is a collaboration across centuries. The text is taken directly from Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert's journals. Van den Bogaert was a 23 year old Dutch surgeon who was tasked with making new trading relationships for the Dutch in what would become New York state during the 17th century. In the winter of 1634, he and two companions ventured into Iroquois country from Fort Orange (now Albany), encountering many interesting people and scenes. Luckily for posterity, he kept a journal, one of the few primary sources that gives a detailed look into the times and people of that era.

The present-day artist who here illustrated van den Bogaert's words was George O'Connor, an author, illustrator, and cartoonist who has since gone on to publish a popular series of graphic novels based on the Olympian gods. He speaks extensively about his work on this book in an interview on the Leonard Lopate Show. This New York Times feature article offers some great visual insights into the creation of the book.

Reviews of the book have been largely positive. First Panel reviewer Joe found the book "interesting, informative, and charming." The Daily Cross Hatch's Sean Carroll wrote that this book "was clearly a labor of love" and "an original and unusual comic" but called attention to an uneasy dynamic between realism and cartoon art. Beth Hewitt offered her opinion, "As someone with a passionate fondness for reading about colonial American economic history, I knew I would love [the book]," but she wondered if others would as well. Rocco Staino of New York State United Teachers highlighted this book in particular for use with middle grades students.

An excerpt and more reviews are available from the book's publisher First Second.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Beowulf is an intriguing work, an epic poem about a warrior who takes on the monster Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a dragon. Full of battle, blood, and guts, this tale would seem to be enticing to many readers, save for the fact that it was written in Old English and is nigh-impossible for many to understand. This adaptation mitigates language issues with a graphic depiction of the people and actions of the poem combined with translations from the poem itself.

Painted in a style that combines elements of woodcuts, illuminated manuscripts, and comic books, this book portrays a cold, bleak world, which is fitting because the tale is set in medieval Denmark. Combined with the poem, the art captures well the ambiguity of a story that has both pagan and Christian elements, with characters evoking the Lord but also behaving very much like vikings. The action sequences are largely presented without words, and they convey a strong sense of energy and motion. Great attention to detail mixed with the use of larger spreads to communicate impact make for some excellent story-telling.

This book is the creation of Gareth Hinds, an accomplished artist who has worked in media ranging from the fine arts to video game design. He now works exclusively on graphic novels and has created a number of other graphic adaptations of literary works, including The Merchant of Venice, King Lear, and most recently, The Odyssey. He details his life and work in his blog, and he speaks about his work on Beowulf in this interview.

All the reviews I have seen for this book have been very positive. Robert M. Tilendis gave the book "two thumbs up" and wrote that "the illustrations are magical." Marty Dodge called it "the most impressive graphic novel I have ever seen." Speaking to educators, Chris Wilson summed up that "Hinds’ work is expressive and poetic and worthy for the classroom."

This edition was published by Candlewick Press. Hinds provides links to reviews as well as excerpts from the book here.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Dear Creature

This debut graphic novel is a fresh take on many ideas. It begins with Grue, a Creature from the Black Lagoon-type gill-man who feasts on the flesh of beach going lovers and late night swimmers. Accompanied by a trio of scavenger crabs who constantly kibitz over his shoulder, he leads a pretty simple life of eating and avoiding notice and capture. This routine all changes when he happens to find soda bottles in the ocean that contain the plays of Shakespeare. Reading the plays changes his life. He develops a wide vocabulary. He speaks in iambic pentameter. And he is ignited with emotions that make him want to explore the surface world and find the (he assumes) beautiful person who sent these bottles on their way. What he finds on the surface world is not quite expected, and of course, his appearance and past create complications.

This quirky and lyrical tale is marked with humor, from the cheerful depiction of Grue to the side comments from the crabs. It is also full of strong, evocative art that communicates actions, expressions, and the story in very clear, crisp fashion. Its characters are vivid and relatable, and its plot is a roller coaster ride of emotions. Dear Creature is an impressive work, let alone a fantastic debut.

Writer/artist Jonathan Case is a member of the Periscope Studio, based in Portland, Oregon. His work appears in the Comic Book Tattoo anthology, and he also illustrated the true detective story written by Jeff Jensen, Green River Killer. Case speaks more about his work on Dear Creature in this audio interview.

Reviews for this graphic novel have been very positive. Comics Alliance gushed that it was "pretty much perfect. A witty and sweet mashup of old monster comics and ill-fated love stories." The review at Publishers Weekly commented on the mix of humor and pathos, calling this book "startlingly assured for a debut effort." Chris called the book "excellent" and wrote that Case created a rare work "that is at once literary and meta-textual, while remaining touching and hilarious."

A sizable preview and video trailer are available from the book's publisher Tor.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Osamu Tezuka would have been 83 today

Imagine Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Walt Disney rolled up into one person and that about estimates how important Osamu Tezuka is and was to Japanese comics. The man invented and popularized many of the conventions of manga and went on to produce a prodigious number of anime as well at the Mushi Production and Tezuka Productions studios.

"The God of Comics" was a a trained medical doctor who forwent practicing in order to follow his passion and make comics. In post-World War II Japan much of the industry had to be rebuilt and Tezuka's tireless efforts were a beacon in the manga and anime worlds. He worked on 700 manga series in his lifetime and produced about 150,000 volumes of work, most of which are only available in Japanese. Among his most famous series are Astro Boy, Phoenix, Blackjack, Buddha, and Kimba the White Lion, which some people claim is the direct inspiration of Disney's The Lion King. To be fair, Disney was a major influence on his work as well. Additionally, many of his works were also turned into anime series and he worked on at least 60 films. Much of his work is covered in more detail on the Tezuka in English fansite.

Tezuka's life and work are commemorated by two awards, the Osamu Tezuka Awards and the Osamu Tezuka Culture Award, both given for achievements in manga. If you are ever in Japan, you can also visit the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum, located in Takarazuka, the city where he was raised.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Happy 84th, Steve Ditko!

Steve Ditko may not have created as vast a number of comic book characters as Jack Kirby, but his impact on comics is a profound one. He drew many types of stories, ranging from science fiction to horror to monsters to superheroes. Ditko is an adherent of Objectivism, and he has strong views about many topics that can be seen in opposition to mainstream values. His views often crept into his work. Among the memorable characters he invented are Hawk and Dove, The Creeper, Mr. A, The Question, Captain Atom, and Squirrel Girl. His most known creations are the ones he shared with Stan Lee at Marvel Comics, the mystical Dr. Strange and the amazing Spider-Man.

Ditko played a large part in the direction of the Spider-Man series, and he may been the main storyteller because he and Lee were not on speaking terms at times because of their differing views. The Marvel Method of storytelling makes it difficult to determine just who is responsible for what in the creation of a comic book.

He and Lee held many contrary opinions, and the reasons for his leaving Spider-Man are not known. One of the most talked-about possible reasons was a dispute about the direction of Spider-Man: Lee wanted to introduce love interests and have more soap operatic qualities while Ditko was writing more of a story about the struggles of an unique, strong individual against a hostile world. In the end, the dispute over the identity of the Green Goblin drove him from the book. Lee wanted Peter Parker's best friend's father Norman Osborn to be revealed as the villain while Ditko wanted him to be an unknown stranger.

In the years since, Ditko has continued to make comics for the big publishers and on his own. He has become somewhat of a recluse, refusing to give interviews or be photographed. He prefers to let his work speak for itself. He was the subject of a documentary by Jonathan Ross that aired on BBC4. His work was also the subject of Blake Bell's book Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko.

Steve Ditko was inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 1994.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Zahra's Paradise

The actual Zahra's Paradise is the largest cemetery in Iran. This graphic novel portrays events following 2009's controversial presidential election in Iran. Medhi is a young protester who vanished the night following the election, when protests and violence erupted throughout Tehran. Although he is missing, his tenacious mother and brother refuse to accept the situation. His brother blogs about what has happened, and his mother pushes the local authorities to locate her son. Weaving together historical and fictional events, the authors put a very human face on a political situation too easily dismissed or ignored by many.

Zahra's Paradise was first published online serially and is still available in a number of different languages. As the creators say on their website, "the authors have chosen anonymity for obvious political reasons." What is known is that Amir is an Iranian-American journalist, activist, and film-maker whose works have been seen internationally. Khalil is a fine artist, and this graphic novel is his first. This interview with the writer and publisher sheds more light on this narrative.

This political webcomic turned graphic novel has received much positive attention. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and called it "a powerful look at a people’s struggle that goes beyond politicized tropes." The reviewer at Mechanistic Moth wrote about the book,"if you want to experience something that emotionally rips at your heart strings while allowing you to learn about other cultures and events to empathize with this story, then check it out." NPR's Glen Weldon offered this terse review, "Read about it. Then read it. It's good."

For more information, updates, and reviews, check out the book's Twitter feed.

This print edition was published by First Second, who provide a excerpt and discussion guide here.

Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Neal is an awkward 8th grader who loves to read. His favorite book series is The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde, the Huntress Witch, a fantasy/adventure. He and his best friend Danny bond over the books, but Danny's mother complicates matters when she decides that the books are promoting the occult and negative behaviors. She heads up an effort to ban the book series from the local library in the name of protecting the children and promoting Christian virtues. She also sends Danny off to private school, so Neal must face high school and mounting social pressures on his own.

This book treads a fine line between being topical and stereotypical in portraying the debate over community standards about books. It reflects a number of contemporary events concerning the Harry Potter book series. Americus clearly has an anti-censorship bent and was originally serially published online and hard copy during Banned Books Week. Reed's ability to instill her characters with complex personalities makes this graphic novel more readable and intriguing, coloring the censorship debate. Lots more information about the book is available here at its blog, Save Apathea!

Americus is the creation of writer MK Reed and illustrator Jonathan David Hill. Reed is a NY based cartoonist who contributes to a number of magazines and has self-published the graphic novels Catfight (scroll down) and Cross Country as well as a webcomic called About a Bull. This interview at Inkstuds explores her work on this graphic novel. Americus is Hill's first graphic novel.

Reviewers have been very positive about the book. Publishers Weekly praised the story and art, calling it "a lovely valentine to readers and, especially, to librarians." Gavin Lees wrote that "not only does Reed have a knack for the teenage vernacular and an easygoing sense of humour, but more importantly, she gives an empowering message about freedom of speech." The Comics Journal's Rob Clough offered some critiques over characterization but also added that "Reed has a special talent for Young Adult fiction."

A preview is available here from publisher First Second.

Thank you to Gina for the review copy!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Marineman: A Matter of Life and Depth

Steve Ocean is Marineman, one part Jacques Cousteau, one part Steve Erwin, and it turns out, two parts Aquaman. Only the world knows nothing about his unique ability to breathe underwater or that he possesses massive strength. Everyone knows him as the star of Ocean Encounters, a TV show exploring the oceans and shedding light on aquatic creatures. When one of his friends is involved in an undersea accident and he acts to save his life, Steve's secret comes out. A media frenzy ensues. Many of his close friends feel somewhat betrayed. And suddenly he learns that what he knew about his childhood may not be true because someone claiming to be his father is hunting for him.

Marineman is the creation of Ian Churchill, a graphic designer turned comic book artist. He is British, an avid diver, and is known for his work on a number of comic book series, including Cable and Hulk for Marvel Comics, and DC Comics' Supergirl. He keeps a blog about his work on the Marineman series and related projects.

Churchill's artwork in this volume is an energetic combination of Jack Kirby, Image Comics, and cartoons, and it packs a punch in terms of action and emotion. He also has a knack for capturing characters' voices. He does a great job of introducing a wide cast of characters who could easily be stereotypes and giving them unique personalities and interesting dynamics.

The back matter of this volume is cram-packed with extras, including profiles of actual marine biologists and what they do, Churchill's original childhood Marineman drawings (from 1977!), a good number of character and concept sketches, and an interview with the author. From all the craft and extras, it appears that this book is a particular labor of love for Churchill.

Nominated for an Eisner Award for Best New Series, Marineman has garnered much praise. Doug Zawisza called it "easily one of the best debut issues of 2010." Chris Kiser found it "refreshing to have an independent comic come along that delves into the art of superheroics without needlessly darkening them or mocking them ironically." Martin Maenza wrote that the series had plenty of action and was a "good comic book story."

Marineman was originally published as a six-issue series, collected here, by Image Comics. This interview talks about the future of the series and also contains a preview from this first volume.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Prince

The Prince (or Il Principe, if you prefer the original Italian) is a political treatise that was published in 1532 and has been creating controversy ever since. A translation of the text can be read for free online here.

Self-described as a realistic take on leadership, The Prince contains advice and suggestions for how to best govern people, acquire and maintain territory, and deal with enemies. It is known for an emphasis on guile, expediency, and deception. According to Machiavelli, the sole intent of any political action is to keep the power structure in place through any means necessary. The Prince was infamous and also well distributed, so many people have read it throughout history. It was declaimed for its godlessness, disregard for common decency, and its blind devotion to despotism. Its content and reputation lead to the author Machiavelli's name becoming an adjective meaning deceptive and dishonest.

More recently, some have posited that Machiavelli's treatise is so over-the-top that it was actually meant as a satire, but this is a minority opinion. A number of scholars, including Don MacDonald, have spoken out to debunk such modern revisionism.

This adaptation of the book was created by Shane Clester who is also Art Director for Round Table Comics. He captures the aphoristic tone of the book in his illustrations, providing some dark humor and levity to the political situations depicted. His love of drawing pantaloons and a wily little tow-headed prince also shine through.

Certainly the political situations contained within would be worthwhile points to bring up regarding politics and government in any era. Clester highlights areas that could generate good discussion within the text, and it would be interesting to compare his interpretations with those in the original. Going beyond uses in social studies, educator Katie Monnin gave the book an A+ and also provided some teaching tips for using it in ELA classes.

The Prince was published by Round Table Comics. A preview and a number of reviews are available here at

Thank you, Kristin, for the review copy!

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Bronx Kill

Despite its gruesome name, the Bronx Kill is actually a narrow strait that separates the Bronx from Randall's Island in New York City. This locale figures largely in the story, being the place where Martin Keane's grandfather was murdered. Martin comes from a long line of police officers, and he bucks his father's wishes when he becomes a writer instead. While he is writing his second novel, his relationship with his wife gets strained and events from his family's past begin to affect his life. When his wife disappears, the many mysteries deepen and the Keane family history is laid bare.

This noir thriller was created by Peter Milligan and James Romberger. Milligan is a prolific comics writer who has worked on many titles from DC Comics' Vertigo imprint, including Shade the Changing Man, Hellblazer, and Greek Street and also Marvel Comics' X-Statix. Along with the sequential art narrative in the book, he also provides us working excerpts from Martin's manuscript. Romberger is a fine artist and cartoonist known for his depictions of life on NYC's Lower East Side. Among his comics work are entries in Papercutz's new horror series Tales from the Crypt.

This family-centered crime drama has been well reviewed. The Graphic Novel Reporter John Hogan wrote that this book is "another fine example of how well Vertigo’s new noir initiative is working." Newsarama's Michael Lorah gushed that "readers looking for a thrilling mystery, supported by strong characters, that builds to a roiling boil would do well to check it out." A.J. Kirby echoed that sentiment, adding that "this historical nightmare has epic proportions." Brian Pruitt and Joey Esposito also heap more praise on the book.

The Bronx Kill was published by Vertigo. A brief preview is available here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Dare Detectives!

The Dare Detectives are an unlikely trio. Maria Dare is a wily, tough ex-con who has gathered together a team of (unlicensed) private investigators. She is joined by Toby, who is big, strong, and not too bright, and Jojo, a bunny with an attitude. Together they solve cases no one else can. In these volumes, they have to deal with the schemes of Madame Bleu, whose band of panda henchmen has kidnapped local restaurateur Uncle Chan. Also, they have stolen all the snow peas in town. There are other crazy characters along the way, including the flaming monkey villain Furious George and some brutish Abominable Snowmen.

Writer/artist Ben Caldwell is best known for his work in toy and animation development, but he also has drawn a number of prominent comic book tie-ins, including Justice League Unlimited and Star Wars: Clone Wars. His animation roots show through in this book, with its vibrant colors and energetic illustrations. His work has won some praise, and he was nominated for the Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award. This interview casts light on his career and this series.

The reviewers have largely been positive particularly about the art. Martin Gray raved that this book was "a tour de force from an artist who really knows his craft." Mark Allen remarked that Caldwell's "timing, sense of drama and humor are to be admired." Parka wrote that the book was reminiscent of a TV cartoon episode.

These books were published by Dark Horse. A preview is available at Caldwell's website.

A new collected version of these two books is forthcoming from Archaia.