Editor: Kazu Kibuishi
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Perhaps it’s a place where festivities turn to horror. Or maybe it’s a place where stories are broadcast from all over, where magic is made. It may not be an actual place at all, but rather something symbolizing our sense of self. Whatever the case, the idea of a lost island, isolated and strange, is tantalizing and full of equal parts fear and wonder. Come and see what’s there to find.
I’ve read one volume of Kibuishi’s Explorer series previously, The Hidden Doors, which I quite enjoyed. The Lost Islands brings a similar experience–a collection of graphic shorts by a variety of authors/illustrators, all somehow connected by the titular idea. It’s great to see the immense variety that is presented in this collection. You’ve got light, fluffy pieces and scary, adventurous stories and even one that’s contemplative and psychological. All in all, it’s a good selection; I don’t think there was a single story I didn’t enjoy. The art is all excellent, again with a good bit of variety between styles. The stories are generally middle-grade appropriate, but recommended for basically all ages, in my opinion. I especially appreciate that the stories aren’t just existential occurrences; they focus on ideas such as hard work, self-awareness, being true to oneself, and the importance of being a good friend. I would definitely recommend Explorer: The Lost Islands, and I look forward to reading more by the authors/illustrators represented here.
Contributors: Jake Parker, Chrystin Garland, Jason Caffoe, Dave Roman, Raina Telgemeier, Braden Lamb, Michel Gagné, Katie Shanahan, Steven Shanahan, Eric Kim, Selena Dizazzo, & Kazu Kibuishi
Hey guys, if anyone is interested, Humble Bundle has some pretty good deals going on right now. There’s a nice assortment of comics from Image (including a physical comic) that’s available for the next week or so. Mostly, it’s first volumes, but it’s a good way to try several different graphic novels and see which ones are interesting. Also, they have a pretty amazing collection of Pathfinder stuff, everything from the basic player’s guide to GM manuals, maps, and modules. Plus, some comics set in the Pathfinder worlds. That’s all good for less than a week now. (If you’re not familiar, Pathfinder is a tabletop RPG, pretty similar to D&D.) Just thought I’d let you know, since these are some pretty decent bargains.
Author/Illustrator: Faith Erin Hicks
My rating: 4 of 5
In a tale as old as boarding school accepting scholarship students, Jun enters the prestigious (read “stuffy”) Ellsmere Academy on the merits of her academic achievement alone. Not surprisingly, she runs into just the sort of problems you’d expect–snotty rich kids, uncomfortable uniforms, bullying. At least she excels at the school part and she’s not so concerned about making lots of friends. Unexpectedly though, Jun and her roommate Cassie swiftly become fast friends in spite of their distinctly different personalities. And together, the two friends determine to make it through the year at Ellsmere regardless of the problems that get thrown their way.
I’ve never really read much Faith Erin Hicks, but I was pleasantly surprised with what I found in The War at Ellsmere. As mentioned above, the plot isn’t anything particularly outstanding: poor kid, rich school, bullies, rivalry, the one friend who sticks around no matter what. Pretty standard stuff. But what Hicks does with these typical plot elements is pretty spectacular, actually. The art is bold and expressive, which definitely helps. But where she excels the most, I think, is in crafting believable, interesting characters that the reader enjoys and empathizes with. Jun and Cassie are definitely two such characters, and their interactions totally carry the story. On a side note, the touch of magical realism thrown in at the end was . . . interesting. It worked with the story, but as with Larson’s Mercury, it was surprising and difficult to mesh with the rest of the graphic novel. Still, for those who enjoy a high-school graphic novel with great characters, The War at Ellsmere is definitely on my list of recommendations.
Author: Marguerite Abouet
Illustrator: Clément Oubrerie
Aya, vol. 2
My rating: 3.5 of 5
The town of Yopougon is booming with life. While Adouja struggles to care for her new baby, her father roams the streets taking pictures of everyone he can in an attempt to identify his grandson’s father. Adouja’s friends try to help her with the baby while attending to their own lives as well (like Bintou’s new boyfriend). A beauty pageant is in the works for the whole of Yopougon. The local beer factory struggles to stay in business, making uncomfortable cuts in employment to do so. All over town, couples pair off and make love. And in the midst of it all, young Aya lives circumspectly, kind and beautiful, devoted to her studies and her friends.
Aya of Yop City was a graphic novel I randomly picked up off the shelf after seeing it mentioned several times in various places. I’m glad I did, even though it isn’t my favorite graphic novel by any means. For one thing, it provides a really insightful look at daily life in Ivory Coast in the 1970’s–and how often do you find a book that takes you there? I think this is the first book I’ve found that is set in Ivory Coast at all, regardless of the time period. And I think the style and plot of this book allow it to present a good picture of the culture, which is really neat. Furthermore, the story is funny (especially Hyacinte going around taking snapshots of everyone) and warm. I found the author’s explanations in the back of the book about child-rearing in this sort of community was also really interesting, as well as the way this is played out in the plot. The art is really attractive and bright; it fits the story well and gives a great feel for the community. On the other hand, I found the extent to which the book was scattered around numerous people and plots to be somewhat distracting. And the number of affairs going on in the story was a bit much. . . . I guess what I’m trying to say is that I would have enjoyed this graphic novel even more if it had been more focused on Aya herself, who is a fascinating character. Maybe it’s my own fault for jumping in on the second volume (although I have to say that this volume is generally quite easy to get into without feeling like you missed a lot from the first volume). In any case, for those who enjoy graphic novels full of drama and culture, I think Aya of Yop City would be an interesting choice to try.
Authors: Tom & Nimue Brown
Illustrator: Tom Brown
Hopeless, Maine, vol. 1
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Hopeless . . . both a place and a state of being on this cursed island off the coast of Maine. It is a place where the sun never shines, a place that invites demons–both metaphorical and actual. Salamandra is found alone (apart from the creepies) in a huge gothic house. Not a place to leave a child, so she is brought to an orphanage where she fits in not one bit. In her friendless state, she is approached by a smiling girl . . . whom no one else can see.
Personal Demons is not your typical graphic novel, that’s for sure. It’s more atmospheric rather than action oriented. And the atmosphere is done brilliantly. The whole setting is this eerie, dark gothic island inhabited not just by people but by all sorts of oddities that appear inspired by Hieronymus Bosch himself. The art is beautiful but atypical. (I believe this started as a webcomic, and there’s the freedom and individuality of style to this graphic novel that you would expect in a high-quality webcomic.) It’s done almost entirely in a dark monochromatic palette, barring a few flashes of brilliant color to emphasize the presence of magic (and yes, there’s definitely magic in this story). For the art, the concept, and the actualization of the concept I would have to give this book a 5 out of 5 rating. Where it fell flat for me, personally, was in the story itself. I didn’t fall in love with the characters, and the plot was not particularly original . . . thus the 3.5 instead of 5 stars. Still, Personal Demons is definitely an interesting graphic novel if only for the originality of the concept and the art–well worth giving it a try.
Author/Illustrator: Raina Telgemeier
Colors: Braden Lamb
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Cat’s family is moving from the warmth and sun of southern California to the fog and chill of the northern coast, specifically a small old town named Bahía de la Luna. The doctors say it will be better for Cat’s little sister Maya there, that the coolness and moisture will make her cystic fibrosis easier to handle. Maybe so, but Cat’s still not happy about the move . . . or about all the ghost legends that seem to be emphasized throughout the town.
I love Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels; they’re so full of life and fun, yet they deal with real, tough stuff as well. Ghosts is no exception, that’s for sure. It’s a real ghost story, but not so much a scary one. Rather, this book pulls heavily on traditions such as Día de los Muertos in which the spirits of the dead are friendly and welcome instead of haunting and scary. Not that Cat doesn’t have her share of scares along the way to realizing this. Cat’s part of the story is great in that it deals with very real-life fears–change, family illness, and death for a start. Because let’s face it, real life can be every bit as scary as ghosts, maybe even more so. Maya is the perfect balance for Cat’s uncertainty; however ill she may be, she’s full of life and spunk and energy. She’s just a great all-around character who’s lots of fun to read. I also really appreciated that the author chose to discuss cystic fibrosis and all the crazy stuff people who have it must handle on a daily basis. And of course, the art is classic Raina Telgemeier, so lots of fun there–I really loved all the Día de los Muertos influences and scenes in the art. Very cool. So yeah, basically Ghosts is a really great middle-grade graphic novel that I would highly recommend for readers 10 and up (including adults).
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