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.