Editor: Kazu Kibuishi
My rating: 4 of 5
The great thing about doors–and perhaps the scary thing, too–is that you never quite know what might be behind them. Just look what Lucy found when she opened the wardrobe doors to play hide-and-seek! In this collection of graphic shorts, we find (and open) doors in closets and in tombs–even in the mind itself!
I have loved Kibuishi’s Amulet books, so I was very curious to see what sort of collection he would pull together. And I must say, I very much enjoyed this collection. There’s a lot of variety, but the “hidden door” theme ties the stories together nicely. There are funny stories, and thought-provoking stories, and wonder-filled stories–and maybe they’re all a little bit of all of those. In any case, they share a beauty, charm, and warmth that is quite delightful, one that can be appreciated by everyone from grade-school kids to adults. Definitely recommended–especially for those who would like to try out the writing styles of different graphic novelists.
Contributors: Kazu Kibuishi, Jen Breach, Jason Caffoe, Steve Hamaker, Faith Erin Hicks, Douglas Holgate, Johane Matte, Jen Wang, Mary Cagle, Denver Jackson, & Noreen Rana
Author/Illustrator: Tohby Riddle
My rating: 4.5 of 5
This is the story of winged, magical beings who quietly come to our world, mostly unnoticed and unappreciated. It is the story of one who became lost, alone and uncared for. And it is the story of a small group of individuals who were different, who noticed, and who determined that this amazing being would not be forgotten.
Unforgotten is really an remarkable book. I hesitate to call it a graphic novel, although that is what it is marketed as. It’s really more of an illustrated poem almost. There’s no particular meter or rhyme, so it’s not traditional poetry. But the sparse, carefully chosen words and the way it’s written in three sections with the first and third parts echoing each other makes it seem poetic . . . although I didn’t actually realize this until I saw the page in the back where the entire text of the book is printed out together. When you’re reading it, it’s dispersed in tiny pieces amidst the artwork so you hardly notice you’re reading at all. And the artwork is really something amazing in itself. It’s this incredibly complex and surprising collage of photographs and drawings, all jumbled together in a way that should be discordant, but that actually works quite effectively. Especially since the “angels” are placed as this simple, white drawing in the middle of all the crazy photographs, making this center of calm and quiet in the midst of it all. Also, I think it’s great that this is such an ageless book–it’s written such that children and adults alike can enjoy it, and I couldn’t really even say which audience it was written for. I would definitely recommend Unforgotten for readers of all sorts and all ages.
On a side note, it was weird for me to read Unforgotten at the time that I did. It’s been too recently that I watched “Blink” and “The Time of Angels”/”Flesh and Stone” . . . so the whole angels coming to earth without, initially, a clear explanation of what they’re doing there, was actually a bit eerie for me. I read the whole first section with a sense of foreboding! It was only the second time around, when I’d established that these angels are benevolent beings, that I was able to enjoy Unforgotten as it was meant to be read.
Author/Illustrator: Shaun Tan
Eric came as an exchange student. He was . . . different, hard to understand sometimes. Probably because the place he came from was really different, but it was hard to tell. No one really knew whether he even enjoyed his time as an exchange student–not until they saw what he left behind in his room!
I admire and enjoy Shaun Tan’s writing so much! It’s endlessly original, insightful, whimsical, and fun–all words that describe Eric perfectly. This is a delightful illustrated short story. (I was truly surprised but also thrilled by how tiny it is when I got my copy in the mail–only about 5-6 inches tall) The exchange student in question is enigmatic in the best sort of way: odd, curious, paying attention to things we would never give heed to. He even chooses to sleep in the cupboard rather than a normal bedroom! The words of the story are simple but rich in a way that would make this a great read-aloud book for kids (but also a fun tale for older readers–it’s really not “childish” at all). It’s the illustrations that make the story complete though . . . it’s like, the words themselves have a meaning, but add in the pictures, and the words take on entirely new and vivid meanings. Truly brilliant. I especially love the use of contrasting grey-tones versus color to make the ending stand out. Because of the skill with which it’s created and charm it evokes, I would highly recommend Eric to readers young and old.
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Eddie Campbell
Long ago in Scotland, a man of child-like stature hires Calum MacInnes to lead him to a secret cave on the Misty Isle. It is said that this cave is filled with more gold than you can carry, but that gold’s protected by an ancient curse. Calum MacInnes should know, for he went to that cave himself once when he was much younger–went and came back with enough gold to buy himself a good life . . . and with an emptiness inside that could never be filled. As the two journey to the island together, their thoughts are both filled with secrets, darkness, regrets, and schemes they can never reveal to the other–at least not as long as the other is alive.
If you’ve read this blog for long at all, you know I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing. Having said that, while I was reading The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, I was honestly wondering if this particular book was just a miss–I really wan’t feeling it at all. But by the time I’d pushed through the first third of the story, things began changing quite a bit as the underlying motivations and interlacing background stories were laid bare. Because these aren’t simply two men who are randomly using each other; they have a dark, tragic connection in their past, one that is closely tied to the revenge one seeks on the other without his ken. This is a dark, psychologically involved, emotionally taxing story–but one that is rewarding in a brutal sort of way to those who push through to the end. Particularly notable about this book is Eddie Campbell’s art–it’s truly a hodgepodge of paintings, photographs, and even comics. It’s unusual, unsettling, but highly effective in this context. I certainly don’t think The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is for everyone–maybe not even for all Neil Gaiman fans–but if you enjoy unusual, dark short novels and have some patience for a slower start, you might want to check this novelette out.
Authors: Shaun Tan & John Marsden
Illustrator: Shaun Tan
Somewhere, a girl struggles through her own dark reality, a world depressed and distorted until it’s nearly unrecognizable–will she recognize the gleam of hope that follows her through the day? Somewhere else, a boy finds a . . . well, a thing . . . on the beach. He and the thing have fun playing together until he realizes that it’s hopelessly lost–and he has to figure out what to do with it! Elsewhere again, a group of docile natives find themselves overrun by dominating rabbits, first a few, then an overwhelming flood that is an irrevocable tide.
I admire Shaun Tan’s work greatly–he has the combination of boldness, discernment, and art to be able to pull off things that would look and sound absurd if other people wrote/drew them. Lost & Found is a collection of three of his earlier short stories–“The Red Tree,” “The Lost Thing,” and “The Rabbits” (which was written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan)–all of which were originally published individually. I really like them in this collection though; with the way they’re illustrated, they seem to just flow into each other quite naturally. Thematically, they provide an interesting look into his earlier work in all of its odd, groundbreaking strangeness. I love that he uses such earthshatteringly unfamiliar material to bring into sharp focus things that are in many ways quite mundane. Do brace yourself when reading these stories–I think there’s a fairly strong initial negative reaction to “The Red Tree,” and “The Rabbits” is certainly thought-provoking and maybe a bit disturbing. But I truly think there’s a deeper positive buried under the negative which is honestly worth the time to reach. I would recommend Lost & Found to readers of all ages who are willing to look deeper and change their perspective.
Author: Garth Nix
Sabriel has spent most of her childhood safe on the south side of the Wall at boarding school in Ancelstierre. Meanwhile her father, Abhorsen, faced the dangers of the Old Kingdom, the world to the north of the Wall that operates according to an older, darker set of rules. Occasionally, he would come to visit her and train her in the ways of their family–doing the opposite of necromancers and sending the Dead back into Death where they belong. Sabriel’s life changes in an instant, when a messenger from her father brings his sword and magical bells to her, letting her know he is trapped in Death and it is up to her to take up his work–and save him if possible.
Sabriel is an affirmed classic of the fantasy genre and for good reason. In it, Garth Nix crafts an intricate and exciting high fantasy full of secrets, surprises, hidden identities, daring fights, unexpected heroes, and a rich, unusual variety of magic. All of this is set in a world that effortlessly combines necromancy and automobiles, telephones and walking Dead, talking cats and aircraft–an alternate-reality version of England that captures the imagination. Yet for all the glamour of the fights and the excitement of the adventure, Sabriel is also a dark tale, imbued with the chill of death–both the pain of losing the living and the wrongness of the Dead returned. Bringing a rich humanity to the story is an array of complex, intriguing characters, most notably Sabriel herself with her blend of solemnity and uncertainty as she goes through the change from an Ancelstierran schoolgirl to one of the most powerful mages of her time. I would highly recommend Sabriel to anyone who enjoys a good fantasy.