Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Hermes: Tales of the Trickster

This tenth entry in George O'Connor's Olympians series continues an impressive streak of excellent graphic novels. Like the other volumes in this series, it is uniquely crafted to the god's personality, this time with a framing device that runs throughout the book, telling the tale of Argus the many-eyed guardian. Of course, there is a twist at the end, demonstrating just how tricky Hermes is.

There are several other tales told within this book, including the birth of Hermes, his antics against his brother Apollo, the origins of his helmet and staff, the birth of his son Pan, and the final battle against Typhon, the last child of Gaea. That last story is gloriously and horribly depicted, and I get the feeling from this book especially that O'Connor had a blast writing and drawing the whole thing.

Also, There's a great bit about dogs, too. I learned a bunch from this book!
It is meticulously researched, energetically illustrated, and smartly plotted. And like the other volumes in this series, it features lots of notes, drawings, and other interesting back matter after the main narrative. I love these books, and I have mixed feelings about the next two, excited to see them but also sad to know that they will complete the series. Luckily, I have a couple of years to deal with these emotions.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been glowing. In a starred review from the School Library Journal Mahnaz Dar summed up, "Another stellar addition to graphic novel shelves." Kirkus Reviews also gave it a star and called it "Another crowd-pleasing, compulsively readable entry in this divine series."

Hermes: Tales of the Trickster was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and much more here.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Prince and the Dressmaker

The Prince and the Dressmaker is an intriguing twist on the typical fairy tale story. Here, the prince and heir to the throne Sebastian is being pushed by his parents to find a bride and begin settling down for his own time to reign, but he's harboring a secret. He likes to wear dresses, a fact that only a trusted servant knows. At the onset of this book, he discovers the work of a brilliant, edgy dressmaker named Frances, and he hires her to be his secret seamstress.

Frances makes him all kinds of fantastic and glamorous gowns, and he begins to wear them out disguised as the very showy and dramatic Lady Crystallia. He gathers much attention in this venture and becomes a notorious and trend-setting figure. Of course, all of these secrets have a shelf-life, and much of this book deals with the effects and fallout that comes with being secretive and what happens when that facade begins to crumble.
The high points of this book for me are the artwork and the characters. The art is characterized by flowing lines, vibrant colors, emotive expressions, and fun energy. Wang seems to take many cues from animation in her work, and it certainly pops off the page. Sebastian and Frances are vivid and complex, and getting to spend time with them in the pages of this book is wonderful. Their relationship is not simply a working relationship, nor is it a romance really but more like a friendship that develops interesting features. The ending of the book is also not a pat one, which I feel is appropriate.

I have read a few other books by this book's creator Jen Wang, including her debut Koko Be Good and In Real Life. I think her work is excellent, and I am eager to see whatever project she undertakes next. She talks about her work on The Prince and the Dressmaker in this interview.

The reviews I have read about this book have been largely glowing. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review that concluded, "It’s all but certain to deliver grins, gasps, and some happy tears." Elizabeth Bush wrote, "Readers new, or resistant, to graphic novels will also discover magic here in Wang’s visual storytelling." Princess Weekes gushed that it "is without a doubt one of my favorite things I’ve read so far this year and I’m so excited for everyone to enjoy it." The reviewer at Kirkus Reviews was more reserved, finding much to admire but also feeling that "Sebastian meets acceptance far too easily, particularly for such a public figure in such a conservative age."

The Prince and the Dressmaker was published by First Second, and they offer a review and more here.

A preview copy of the book was provided by the publisher.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Spy Seal, Volume 1: The Corten-Steel Phoenix

Collecting the first four issues of the series, Spy Seal: The Corten-Steel Phoenix is a an intriguing, fun spy series drawn and presented in a style reminiscent of Tintin. At first I was a bit leery of a spy story starring anthropomorphic animals, but it's by one of my favorite creators, Rich Tommaso, and the preview art was simply gorgeous, so I gave it a shot. And I was so glad I did!

The main narrative here follows a seal named Malcolm as he is transformed from unemployed dreamer to secret agent. It all starts when he attends an art gallery opening, meets a sexy female stranger, and ends up fighting off an assassin. Seeing that he can handle himself rather well, one of Britain's MI-6 divisions recruits him. After some training, he finds himself up to all kinds of dangerous spy business, including international jet-setting, elaborate disguises, hand-to-hand combat, and getting thrown out of multiple moving vehicles.
I loved the level of action and intrigue, and what is particularly impressive is that Tommaso has crafted a book that can appeal to young adult and older readers. Sure, there are some innuendo and definitely some violence, but none of it is gratuitous and I feel this book would be a hit across age demographics. It is smartly crafted, beautifully drawn, and flat-out fun to read. Plus, I loved the slightly larger page size that suits the artwork well. I am very much looking forward to any future adventures of Spy Seal.

This series creator Rich Tommaso has created all kinds of comics over the past two decades. He has drawn horror comics like She-Wolf and The Horror of Collier County. He's drawn noir books like Dark Corridor and the forthcoming Dry County. He's even drawn some comics for film buff like Pete and Miriam and also won an Eisner Award for his work on the historical graphic novel Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow. He speaks more about his work on Spy Seal in this interview as well as this one (if you'd rather listen to a podcast).

The reviews I have read about this book have been largely positive. Tegan O'Neil called it "fun in the best way." Insha Fitzpatrick wrote, "It’s gripping and utterly stunning in its art and brilliant in its narrative." Publishers Weekly was less taken with the plot and characters but still stated that the "visuals are as strong and crisp as ever."

Spy Seal: The Corten-Steel Phoenix was published by Image Comics, and they offer a preview and more info about the series here.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman

I was anxious and excited to read this new biography by Box Brown. Anxious because I have read, watched, and learned a lot about Andy Kaufman over the years, and I wondered if there was going to be anything novel or revelatory about this book. Excited because I have very much enjoyed pretty much every comic, mini-comic, and graphic novel I have read by Brown, including his biography of Andre the Giant and his history of Tetris. I am glad to report that this book is fantastic.
It details Kaufman's childhood and career, hitting all the high points like his work as a stand-up, on Saturday Night Live, Taxi, and his tenure as the Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World that led to his feud with "The King" Jerry Lawler. He was a unique figure, obviously very talented but also interested in seeing how far he could go to get crowds to both love and hate him. He died of cancer in 1984, but there are still those who wonder whether that was also some elaborate stunt he pulled. Probably what is most impressive about The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman is how well it ties a unifying thread through all of these proceedings. Also, it has lots of great stories that will interest people unfamiliar with Kaufman, but it still had some insights and tales I was unfamiliar with, so it should appeal to some more informed fans, too. Brown interviewed many folks to get some unique angles, and the ending especially was pitch-perfect to me.

The artwork is clean, with strong, simple lines that are surprisingly evocative. The storytelling is excellent, and overall I feel that this book is Brown's most heartfelt, mature, and best work yet. I am very much eager to see what his next project will be. For those who are interested, Brown speaks more on his work on this book in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been good. Publishers Weekly wrote, "It is a well-researched, enjoyable yarn written by the one author working in the comics medium who fans would want to tell Kaufman’s story." Pharoah Miles called it "an excellent book, which reminds me so much of how much of a virtuoso Kaufman truly was." And I agree with the reviewer at This Weblog is Unique who wrote,"The details that create funny, touching, discomfiting, and heartwarming moments make the book feel intimate and honest."

Is This Guy For Real? was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more available here.

A preview copy of the book was provided by the publisher.