Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Book of Genesis Illustrated

Underground comix legend Robert Crumb might not seem a likely choice to adapt the first book of the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah, but he does an admirable job doing so with an eye toward historical and linguistic accuracy. Using a number of scholarly translations and input from Hebrew and religious scholars, Crumb depicts well known stories in a human and earthy manner. His adaptation is very faithful and includes everything from the stories of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden, to the Great Flood that Noah and his family survived, to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the lives of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph. Because these stories frequently involve adult situations, violence, and nudity, Crumb has placed a warning for adult supervision for reading this book.

Adapter Robert Crumb is a huge figure in comics. He is an influential creator who tackles controversial and taboo topics involving sexuality, race, religion, and social problems in his work. His anthologies Zap! and Weirdo helped launch the careers of many creators like Spain Rodriguez, Peter Bagge, and Aline Kominsky-Crumb. He has created indelible images like the "Keep on Truckin'" man and Mr. Natural.

Because of the artist, this adaptation has drawn criticism for its base subject matter, even though the depictions within are not particularly gratuitous or far-afield of what is in the actual text. Most reviews are tempered between the artistic and textual aspects of the book. The New York Times reviewer David Hajdu wrote that it has a sense of "narrative potency and raw beauty" but lacks "a sense of the sacred." The New Republic's Robert Alter opined that it is "a bold undertaking, and most readers will be grateful for the many delights afforded by its visual inventiveness." The Guardian's Michael Faber wrote that it is "enlivened by flashes of inspiration" but was disappointed by how much Crumb was hemmed in by his subject matter.

This impressive undertaking was published by W. W. Norton and Company. A preview from the UK Guardian is available here.

Happy 69th Birthday, Robert Crumb!

Robert Crumb is a controversial, influential, shockingly honest, troubled, internationally known, and technically expert figure in comics. Born in Philadelphia and raised Catholic, Crumb created a number of characters with his brother Charles, including Fritz the Cat, who would feature in his later work. After learning to draw in a cute style while working for American Greetings making cards and experimenting with drugs, Crumb moved out to San Francisco and became one of the driving forces behind the underground comix scene in the 1960s.

Crumb's work often combines confession, social commentary, autobiography, and sexuality, making a huge impression on those who read it. Love or hate it, his work creates a strong response. Among his most famous creations are Mr. Natural, the "Keep on Trucking" man, the cover art for Cheap Thrills by Big Brother & The Holding Company, and Zap Comix. Fritz the Cat gained special notoriety for being featured in an X-rated film adaptation by Ralph Bakshi, but Crumb hated the movie so much that he immediately killed off the character in his comix.

became the venue where many other prominent artists, such as Spain Rodriguez and Robert Williams gained notice. Later, Crumb also created and edited another anthology named Weirdo, which became a launchpad for many alternative comix figures including Peter Bagge. Crumb also played a huge role in the beginnings of Harvey Pekar's American Splendor comics.

Crumb's works have had a massive influence on comics and graphic novels in the US, in terms of tackling difficult, adult, and taboo subject matter. He was inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame in 1991. Currently, Crumb lives in the south of France with his wife and frequent collaborator Aline Kominsky-Crumb. He also sometimes publishes with his daughter, Sophie, a strong comics creator herself.

His work still creates strong responses, as seen in this recent brouhaha about attending the 2011 Graphic Festival in Sydney, Australia.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jack Kirby would have been 94 today

If there ever is a comics Mount Rushmore, Jack Kirby would certainly would be on it. "The King" was either creator or co-creator of so many indelible characters, including Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Iron Man, Darkseid, the New Gods, the Demon, Kamandi, the Manhunter, the Boy Commandos, the Challengers of the Unknown, the Silver Surfer, and the original X-Men. He invented the genre of romance comics. And his bombastic, energetic style has influenced countless creators. A gallery of his fantastic images posted by Tom Spurgeon can be seen here.

In addition to his landmark stylistic and creative contributions, Kirby is a central figure in terms of creators' rights and copyright issues in comics. In this long, detailed interview with The Comic Journal's Gary Groth, Kirby talks about his life and career, and he claims to have created many Marvel characters, including Spider-Man, by himself. A copyright battle over the Marvel characters has been ongoing and is still a matter of contention today with Kirby's heirs. Looking to fund his legal activities, Kirby provided a spark to the early days of the comic book direct market with his creator-owned book Captain Victory that was published by Pacific Comics.

Kirby also spent years trying to reclaim his original art from Marvel, and the matter is still complicated and contentious. Jim Shooter, who was editor-in-chief at Marvel for much of the dispute, provides his take on the issues here. Gary Groth offers a pointed rebuttal here.

Later in his life, after some disillusionment with his treatment in the world of comic books, Kirby went on to work doing design work on cartoons like Thundarr the Barbarian. Assistant Mark Evanier provides information about Kirby's life here.

A titan of comic book and graphic novel history, Jack Kirby touched the lives of many people through his work and creations. His works are seen as the precursors, if not the direct inspiration, for movies such as Star Wars, Terminator, and Alien. There is a magazine, The Kirby Collector, dedicated to chronicling his career and many contributions to comics. In 1987 he was in the inaugural class inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Defiance (Resistance: Book 2)

This second book of Resistance depicts an area of France occupied by the Axis forces and collaborating with Germany during World War II. Life in Vichy France was not peaceful, as factions supporting France and ones supporting the Nazis were at odds with each other. Following the events of book 1, we see the Tessier children all becoming active in the resistance in various ways while trying to stay under the radar. 14-year-old Paul draws anti-Nazi posters and ends up running away to join the maquis in the countryside. The slightly older Sylvie gathers information from dating German soldiers, and the younger Marie tries her best to eavesdrop and keep up the family farm. Life becomes further complicated with the arrival of their aunt, who leans more towards the beliefs of the Nazi occupation force.

This sequel is the product of Carla Jablonski, an accomplished YA author, and Leland Purvis, an illustrator who makes webcomics and other graphic novels, such as Pubo and Vox. This interview with Purvis sheds more light on his life and career. This interview with Jablonski touches on this book and also where the series is heading.

Reviews on this second volume have been largely positive. Michael May wrote that "there are plenty of thrills and suspense in Defiance, but it’s the family drama that sticks with me longest after closing the book." Paste Magazine's reviewers applauded the book's refusal to turn historical subject matter into simple black and white issues. The reviewer at Publishers Weekly offered a contrary opinion that the story was slow and overly didactic. I found the book very compelling, and I was hard pressed to see what would happen to the Tessier children.

A preview and more is available here from the book's publisher First Second.

Thank you to Gina for the review copy!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Stitches: A Memoir

Stitches is a powerful and personal graphic memoir. It follows David from his birth, through his childhood, and into his early adulthood when he becomes a respected artist. He is a sickly child who turns to drawing as an outlet. His family members all seem to be leading lives of quiet desperation. His father, a radiologist, uses a punching bag to vent his frustrations, and he also uses his x-ray equipment on his young son. David's mother, who is more passive aggressive, strict, and terse, bangs a lot of cabinet doors. His older brother beats on drums. When a lump on his neck grows and has to be attended to medically, David's life is never the same.

Artist/writer David Small is a long time children book's illustrator whose work is well regarded. He won the prestigious Caldecott Award in 2001 for So You Want to Be President? written by Judith St. George. He frequently collaborates with his wife Sarah Stewart, and they won a Caldecott Honor in 1998 for The Gardener. He speaks more about his life and work on this graphic novel in this interview with Memoirville's Rebecca Touger.

Stitches was an extremely well received book. It was a 2009 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature. It was nominated for two 2010 Eisner Awards. Publishers Weekly named it one of the Best Books of 2009. It was profiled by Eric Kinigsberg in The New York Times. The Washington Post's Michael Sims added this "horrific but ultimately redemptive" tale to "the list of powerful works of art in this versatile medium" of graphic novels. The Guardian's Rachel Cooke wrote that is was "a triumphant testament of survival."

This graphic memoir was published by W. W. Norton. A video trailer is available here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory

With this third volume in a series about the ancient Greek gods George O'Connor accomplishes two herculean tasks: 1) He portrays Hera not as a mere shrew but as a strong and intelligent woman, and 2) he puts a fresh spin on the oft-told labors of Heracles (aka Hercules to most). Here he tells the story of her birth and how she came to marry Zeus, the most powerful but also most unfaithful, king of the gods. He also tells how her name came to be associated with the Greek demigod, a product of her husband's infidelity. Ultimately, "Hera's Glory" is spread through Heracles's amazing accomplishments.

O'Connor is an accomplished writer and artist who has published numerous graphic novels, including Journey into Mohawk Country, Zeus, Athena, and Ball Peen Hammer. He also has created a number of picture books, including the New York Times best-selling Kapow! He talks more about his work on the Olympians book series in this interview. He speaks about this book in particular in this interview with Kirkus Reviews' Julie Danielson.

Reviews of the Hera have been very positive. April at CSI: Librarian called the book one of her favorites of 2011, drawing attention to the meticulous detail O'Connor puts into all aspects of the graphic novel. In this detailed review, Michael May wrote about he was also impressed by O'Connor's attention to craft, even though he does have a slanted view of Hera and chose to leave out some of the more negative tales involving her. The reviewer at Good Comics for Kids raved about the artwork and stated that this volume only adds to "a truly perfect series."

An excerpt, teaching guides, and other resources are available here from the book's publisher First Second.

A big thank you to Gina for the review copy!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Prime Baby

This short book was originally published serially online by The New York Times. The story follows Thaddeus, a lonely, smart, and jealous boy who resents his new baby sister. In fact, he thinks she is an alien. When he learns about prime numbers in school and discovers that she only communicates using primes, he begins to think he just might be right.

Prime Baby is the work of Gene Yang, a well celebrated and award-winning graphic novelist and educator. Yang says that it was "inspired by the ruckus at my own house after my second kid was born." He talks more about his life and work in this interview with Tom Surgeon.

This short story has not been as well received as some of his other work. Educator James Bucky Carter called it "fun, relatable, worth reading, but not life-changing or particularly exceptional." Reviewer Johanna Draper Carlson found the book "cute" but had mixed feelings about it.

More reviews, information, a preview, a teacher guide, and author information can be found here from the book's publisher First Second.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Happy 38th Birthday, Gene Yang!

One of the most highly regarded contemporary graphic novel creators, Gene Yang has been making comics since 1996. He received a Xeric Grant in 1997 for Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks. But his big breakout came with American Born Chinese, a 2006 National Book Award finalist, and winner of both the Printz Award and an Eisner Award. Consequently, ABC has become one of the most prominent works used for introducing graphic novels into curricula.

Since then, Yang has taught computer science at Bishop O'Dowd High School in California and will be teaching in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adult program at Hamline University. He also has produced more graphic novels, including the short story collection The Eternal Smile with Derek Kirk Kim, Prime Baby, and his newest work Level Up.

Yang has quite a diverse set of interests and has websites about comics in education, teaching factoring, and the Monkey King legend. A creative and productive creator, he remains a person of great interest in the graphic novel publishing.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Amulet, Book 1: The Stonekeeper

This gorgeous graphic novel follows the exploits of Emily and her little brother Navin. Years after the terrible death of their father, their mom moves them all to the home of their assumed deceased great-grandfather. Alone in a huge house in the woods, they find some strange things, such as a huge book and an amulet. Also, there are mysterious apparitions and tentacled creatures lurking in dark places. When their mother is kidnapped by a monster, the children are forced to chase after her, ending up in a parallel world filled with mystery and adventure. Although the story may seem cliche, it is extremely well executed, and the plot is as compelling as the art is beautiful to behold.

Writer/artist Kazu Kibuishi is an accomplished web artist and editor, known for creating and editing the well regarded Flight Anthology. He is also known for his steampunk western graphic novel Daisy Kutter (selected by the American Librarian Association as one of the Best Books for Young Adults in 2006) and his webcomic Copper, which is available as a print collection. He shares information about his life and work on his official website.

The reviews I have found have been largely positive. Benjamin Royce Jaekle praised the work as "promising" and called it "a quick, easy, and amazing read." The Graphic Novel Reporter John Hogan wrote that it was an "engrossing saga" and was intrigued by Emily's internal struggles. The reviewer at Through the Looking Glass added that this book was "a fascinating story about magic, destiny, fabulous technologies, and alternate worlds." There is also an interesting appreciation of the series from NPR's Darin Strauss.

Amulet: The Stonekeeper is the first book in a series of five. The fourth will be published in the near future, and the series has been well received in general. The first two books have been optioned for a film starring Will Smith's children Willow and Jaden.

This book is published by Scholastic (check out the publisher's link - it is surprisingly interactive!). The book's prologue is available here. And a video trailer can be seen here.