Saturday, April 30, 2011

Paul Auster's City of Glass

The first book in Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, City of Glass is an exploration of identity and theology clad as a detective story. The tale begins when a crime novelist named Quinn begins receiving a series of calls at night, mistakenly trying to hire him as a private investigator. Eventually the author decides to just pretend to be a P.I. and take the case. His client is a strange, awkward man, the son of a theology professor who thought if he raised his boy without any human language that he would end up speaking the original language of God as spoken by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When the professor is released from prison, the man and his femme fatale wife suspect he will try to seek vengeance, so Quinn is supposed to keep tabs on the old man. This being a detective story, of course not everything is as it seems.

This graphic adaptation manages to take a complex, intricate story and add even more dimensions with graphic representations and fantastic interpretations of the narrative. It was done by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli, both Eisner Award winning creators who have been making avant garde comics for decades. Karasik is known for cartooning for a diverse range of publications, from The New Yorker to Nickelodeon Magazine, a memoir comic about living with autism done in collaboration with his sister Judy, The Ride Together, and his collections of the works of Fletcher Hanks. Karasik blogs about his life and work here. Mazzucchelli is best known for his landmark works with Frank Miller on Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again as well as his original graphic novel, Asterios Polyp.

Reviewers have acknowledged that this graphic novel is something to be contended with. Carl Doherty praised this adaptation as being as good as its source material while cautioning, "If you’re the kind of reader who needs to know the answer to a riddle, then this might not be the book for you." Tom Bernard wrote that the book "is something like a waking dream; even though the artists keep showing possible avenues of escape, the reader ends up feeling trapped in the story." Dealing with many complex questions, Darren was left feeling "perplexed" but "with the feeling a second read-through would definitely be rewarding."

Published by Picador, a preview for this edition is available at

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Greg Burgas on Monster

Greg Burgas at Comics Should Be Good has a detailed and thoughtful review of Naoki Urasawa's Monster series here (contains spoilers, though not about the ending). I thought the series dragged some during the later volumes, but overall I agree with a lot of his comments.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ex Machina, Volume 1: The First Hundred Days

This first volume (of ten) sets up philosophical questions about superhero comics, including, What good can one man do? and How much does vigilante justice help? The title character here, Mitchell Hundred, was a civil engineer who was working on a bridge when he found a strange device that exploded, leaving him both scarred and able to communicate with and control any machine. Using his powers as the world's first and only superhero, The Great Machine, he fights crime and confronts the terrorist attacks during 9/11.

Parallel to that narrative is one set in the near future when Hundred has decided to hang up his costume and run and serve as mayor of New York City. He finds that he can do more good within the political system and promises to serve only one term. In many ways, political maneuvering proves more difficult and time consuming, and Hundred's diverse political views spark some debates. Hundred's decision does not sit well with some of his past associates, and much of the series is a dynamic interplay of present situations interspersed with past events that inform and color what happens.

This series is the creation of writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Tony Harris. Vaughan is a well regarded, award winning author who is known for his work on the comics series Y: The Last Man, the graphic novel Pride of Baghdad, and the television series Lost. Harris is a 20 year comics veteran who has been nominated for multiple Eisner Awards and is known for his extended runs on Starman and Iron Man. This interview with the book's art team provides insights into their work.

Ex Machina is a celebrated series and the winner of the 2005 Eisner Award for Best New Series. Reviewers have been largely positive as well. Shawn commented that there is not much in the way of typical superhero fight scenes but that he was left wanting to follow more of this story. Hilary Goldstein wrote that it "should not be missed."

A preview is available here from DC Comics, the parent company of the book's publisher Wildstorm.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


This charming tale recounts the time in Raina's life in San Francisco from sixth until 10th grade. In this space of time lots happens, but the thread that goes through much of it is surprisingly dentistry and orthodontics. After Raina knocks out her two front teeth, she has to go through a number of procedures, including extractions and root canals, and ends up wearing braces and a headgear at night. She takes these events pretty hard and they affect her social life when she thinks she is weird or nerdy because of her dental issues.

As time goes by she participates in the Girl Scouts, gets her ears pierced, has crushes on boys, and learns to navigate life in high school. Also, she and her friends share some growing pains and their relationships get strained by teasing, pranks, and pettiness. Art becomes an outlet for her, and she begins taking more interest in being an animator after being blown away by The Little Mermaid.

The book's creator Raina Telgemeier has been nominated for Eisner and Ignatz Awards. She has drawn four adaptations of The Babysitter's Club books, which have garnered accolades from the Young Adult Library Services Association and the American Library Association. This interview with the Daily Crosshatch provides insight into her work and life.

A Boston Globe-Hornbook Award Honor title and New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice, Smile is a well regarded work. Kirkus Reviews named it one of their Best for Teens 2010 books, calling it "irresistible, funny and touching." Elizabeth Bird praised Telgemeier, noting that she "has a knack for synthesizing the preadolescent experience in a visual medium." Chris Bolton writes that what sets the book apart from others is the humanity brought to the work.

An excerpt, preview video, and an interactive comics maker are all available here from the book's publisher Scholastic.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Chance in Hell

The proverbial snowball whose chance in hell is referred to in the title is named Empress. She is a young girl when the story begins, living in a dump where chaos and might rule, where children rape and are raped, and where little hope remains. She is rescued from this situation by a kind benefactor who came from there himself. This man, a poetry editor, raises and cares for Empress. As she grows older, she rebels, makes friends with a pimp, eventually marries, and begins her own life in the city, with a man who knows nothing about the dump. However, she constantly remembers...

Chance in Hell is the work of Gilbert Hernandez, who is renowned for his decades-long work on Love and Rockets and his own graphic novels such as Sloth. He is a recognized master in the graphic novel field, drawing beautiful pictures while also crafting very human, surreal, and evocative narratives. This graphic novel is, in part, an extension of his Love and Rockets work, as it portrays a fictional movie that one of his characters, Fritzi, who appears in the background as a prostitute, starred in during her career.

Hernandez's career has been marked with great praise, and this volume has received its fair share. Reviewer Joe McCulloch called it a "fine comic" that is challenging, interesting, and something to wrestle with. Matt Brady wrote that it is based on mood and feeling, full of "haunting imagery" that lingers. Offering a slightly contrary opinion, Andrew Wheeler found the book to be a beautiful but "interesting failure" that lacks sufficient characterization.

More information about the book, including a couple previews, is available here from its publisher Fantagraphic Books.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Happy 62nd Birthday, Dave Gibbons!

British-born Dave Gibbons is best known in the US for Watchmen, the renowned graphic novel that appears on the Time Magazine All Time 100 Novels list and is also the only graphic novel to win a Hugo Award. Although today Alan Moore gets the lion's share of credit for being the imaginative author of the book, Gibbons had much more input than is typically credited, as discussed in this interview. He was also an active consultant on the movie version of the book, and more about that work can be found in this interview from Den of Geek as well as this one from Time.

Well before he became famous for Watchmen, Gibbons was making comics in the UK for the very first issue of 2000 AD, the home of Judge Dredd, where he created a number of strips including Rogue Trooper. He also drew a long run of Dr. Who comics before being recruited to work in the US for DC Comics on books such as Superman and Green Lantern. In more recent years, Gibbons has kept quite busy creating comics such as Give Me Liberty (with Frank Miller) and The Originals while also working on video games and CD covers.

Nominated for a number of industry awards through the years, he was honored with two Jack Kirby Awards in 1987 for creating the series Watchmen and his artistic collaboration with Moore.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Thor: The Mighty Avenger, Volume 1

Thor the Norse god of thunder was largely portrayed as a great warrior, giant-killer, and carouser. He was also shown to be dim sometimes, prone to the tricks of his half-brother Loki, and as having red hair and a red beard. This blond, clean-shaven version of Thor is the creation of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, the original architects of Marvel Comics. As a back-up feature, this book contains the first two appearances of this Thor by Kirby and Lee.

There have been different versions of Thor over time, given that the character has been published since 1962, and this version does a good job combining the original feel of the comics series with a contemporary sensibility while making it a perfect introduction for new readers. This Thor is on Earth for reasons he can't remember. He is drawn to a museum display for some reason, but is throw out by the guards when he tries to break into a glass case. Later, Jane Foster, who works in the museum, happens upon him in the street as he is violently thrown out of a bar while defending a woman's honor. His attacker is shown to be a gigantic man calling himself Mr. Hyde. Jane takes Thor in, and eventually they have adventures and try to figure out why he is on Earth at all.

This charmer of a book was created by writer Roger Langridge and artist Chris Samnee, with colors by Matthew Wilson. Langridge first came to prominence for his work on his series Fred the Clown and then made an even bigger splash with The Muppet Show , which won the 2010 Harvey Award for best Original Series for Younger Readers. Samnee, who has drawn comics for all the major comics companies as well as the graphic novel Capote in Kansas, was nominated for the Eisner Award for best up-and-coming artist in 2006 and is currently one of the more sought after artists in the industry.

This book, part of Marvel's push to publicize Thor, the subject of an upcoming movie, has been largely well received. David O'Leary commented that this "gem" of a book comes about because of Langridge's and Samnee's strong story-telling skills. Comic Book Resources' Chad Nevett wrote that the series is full of "fun, great art, and dynamic character work." Scott Cederlund appreciates how this series takes an old concept and refreshes it with a shift in characterization.

Previews of a number of the chapters in this book are available starting here from Marvel Comics.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Gil Kane would have been 85 today

Born Eli Katz in Riga, Latvia, Gil Kane was one of the most prolific comics artists over his almost 50 years in the industry. He co-created the Silver Age versions of Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and the Atom (Ray Palmer), and drew every major character from both Marvel and DC. He is also notable for drawing a couple of classic storylines for The Amazing Spider-man, including the non-Comics Code Approved drug story as well the deaths of Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin. Later in his life, he also branched off into animation and newspaper comics.

Kane is an important figure in graphic novel history, publishing creator-owned stories in the magazine format His Name is... Savage! (published in 1968) and the paperback format Blackmark (published in 1971), which was sold in bookstores and is now considered by many the first American graphic novel. Much more about his career and life can be found in this interview from FA the Comiczine. This interview with Gary Groth from The Comics Journal provides a lot of information about his life and early career.

Kane was inducted into the Eisner Award Hall of Fame and the Harvey Award Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1997.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Refresh Refresh

Refresh Refresh is a heart-wrenching, disturbing, and idiosyncratic look into the lives of three boys in a rural Oregon town. Many of the men here are Marine Reservists who have been called to serve in the Iraq War, leaving their families to fend for themselves. Josh, Cody, and Gordon turn to each other for support and to toughen each other up. They build a boxing ring and fight each other so they will be strong. They try to make their fathers proud while on their own, but they also find themselves longing for any contact, constantly refreshing their email accounts looking for replies from abroad. While their families struggle financially, they all fear a knock at the door from a uniformed duo charged with delivering grim news.

This graphic novel is an adaptation of a short story by Benjamin Percy, an award winning author who also teaches in the prestigious writing program at Iowa State University. This story was made into a screenplay by James Ponsoldt, a writer/director whose first movie is called Off the Black, before Danica Novgorodoff chose it for her subject. Novgorodoff is an artist, photographer, and designer who works for First Second Books. She has written another graphic novel, the well regarded Slow Storm, about moral dilemmas and immigration issues. She explains her work on Refresh Refresh extensively in this interview.

Novgorodoff has won an Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics and was nominated for an Eisner Award for Best Single Issue Comic, so it should come as no shock that her work has been well reviewed. Brian Beglin wrote that he is a fan of her work and is "thankful Novgorodoff is asking the messy questions, even if the answers make us hurt." The Graphic Novel Reporter's John Hogan called it a "beautifully done" story.

A preview, more reviews, and author information is available here from publisher First Second.