So, at some point I realized I hadn’t done this for a couple years. So I just kept adding to this for a really long time, whoops.
Habibi – This is by Craig Thompson, the guy who did Blankets, which I loved. It’s a very very different story. It’s fictional, about a pair of orphaned kids in a fake islamic country. There are two parts of the book. Visually, everyone on the planet agrees it is stunning. The detail and precision and skill is astounding. The art is beautiful, but the use of patterns and writing is shocking. He’ll have an entire page that looks like an intricate rug, all drawn by hand, every pattern slightly different. He makes a very big deal of written arabic, uses it throughout and attaches a lot of meaning to the visual letters. He spends a lot of time on symbology and myth, and it’s all extraordinarily beautiful. At over 600 pages, it is an amazing work of art. The other side of the book is the story, which many people seem to have a problem with. It is nominally about these two kids, an older arab girl and a young black boy. She is sold into marriage at a single digit age, escapes, and has various abuses put upon her for the remainder of the book. He is a slave, treated poorly for no reason other than that. Many more things happen, but to say them would be to tell you the book. Point is, it does not represent islamic culture very positively. A lot of people are made very uncomfortable by that. I was not, because I don’t think he’s lying. Of course, not every islamic person is like this, so it lends itself to criticism to show nearly every islamic person in the book as pretty nasty. Nonetheless, when I read Infidel, I didn’t get upset because all the men in that book were evil. It was a true story, they were evil. This is a story about evil men. I can walk and chew gum, and just because I see a bad islamic person, doesn’t make me think they are all bad. Nonetheless, if the story was about guys that were like me, but were all evil, I’d probably not be thrilled either. Reaction appears pretty mixed, a lot of people don’t like it due to the cultural stuff, but I thought it was a pretty fantastic book in a lot of respects.
Asterios Polyp – I’ve got to get this one down now too, because it was an amazing book. It’s kind of a lame seeming story, a well to do architect has some bad times and goes on a bit of a journey. It of course has to do with love as well. The book is beautiful, there’s all manner of deeper meaning, much of which I’m sure I missed. However, the one thing I have to point out is this amazing visualization of how we look at each other. He’s talking in the book about how reality is an extension of yourself. And so our self colors the way we see everything, including each other. That’s a maybe common enough concept, but the real genius is as he’s saying this, he does a very simple thing in that he draws every character on the page in a completely different style. There’s a person made of dots, a stick figure, a japanese character shaped like a person, scribbles, a sketch, a normal picture, a wire frame, etc. He posits that maybe we get along with some people naturally (and draws them in the same style) and others not so much (and draws them very differently). Then throughout the book when Asterios is having a particularly hard time understanding someone (usually his wife), he draws them in radically different styles. It’s an amazing representation of how sometimes a person, a conversation, a situation, or the whole world seems like it’s in a different language, like it just has no sense to it. It’s really kind of awesome.
Building Stories – This one is kind of crazy. It’s a comic, kind of, but it comes in a big box. The box has 19 different …. things in it. One is a normal graphic novel, one is a kind of little comic strip from a newspaper, one is a big fold out 4 “page” cardboard thing, almost like you unfold a board game board. All are centered around this one woman who lives in a building in some city. There are stories about her past, her time in the building, her time later in life, the neighbors in the building, a bee in the building. The genius of this, besides telling a good (if extremely depressing) story, and besides playing with the format, is that you can read it in any order. There are no instructions. I happened to read the big board one first, which gave me a very brief, wordless, summary of a day in the building. Then I read a story about the woman’s past. Then I read a story about the bee that was squished by the neighbor in the big board one. Then about the lady in the future. Then about the neighbor. Maybe there’s a perfect order that would be chronological, but it super duper doesn’t matter. Instead you jump in out and out their lives at almost random times, but it all works. It’s really a pretty awesome experience.
Shooting War – This is kind of a political book. It’s about a random unknown blogger who just happens to be filming during a terrrorist attack. This gets him a lot of attention, which eventually leads to him being the blogosphere’s war correspondent. The story is okay, pretty overt, not particularly believable. The art is good, but occasionally they use photographs (or photorealistic painting, I’m not positive), which I found really distracting. It’s not cartoony normally, but it’s definitely not realistic, so to have a photograph of a exploding car thrown in wasn’t good for me. In the end I didn’t find myself liking this very much, though I’m not positive why.
Ten Grand – This book is pretty cool. On the face of it, it’s not that different – a mob enforcer, but with a heaven/hell context. But it’s pretty well done. It’s basically a noir, it has art that reminds me of 30 days of night, which really fits the story. Oh look, I just googled 30 days and it’s the same artist. Go me. Anyway, it looks great. At the end of the first issue (I’m not sure if it came out in issues), it says, hey, go to this website and listen to an audio version of this. At first I’m annoyed that it didn’t tell me that at the START of the chapter. But I listened, and it was fantastic. Really well done, and a way I’ve never ever consumed a comic book. So cool. Story ends on a to be continued, aaaaarg. I guess I’m getting the next one when it comes out.
Pride of Baghdad – This is pretty weird. It’s about 4 lions that get loose from a zoo when Baghdad is attacked in 2003 (very very loosely based on a true fact). I guess it’s supposed to be a parable. The 4 lions are meant to represent 4 attitudes regarding the war and/or occupation and/or Saddam’s reign (i’m not sure which or if it’s all 3). There’s an idealist, a pragmatist, an optimist, and an apathetic…ist. It’s a little on the nose, but it’s pretty good. It didn’t blow me away, but it’s a solid story and a very interesting way to approach the subject. Kind of an Animal Farm for the Iraq war, in comic book form.
Joe the Barbarian – This is a really interesting book. I feel like I should absolutely love it, and instead I only like it, I’m not sure why. It’s about a kid with diabetes who is having an episode. He needs to get downstairs to have a snack, and the power went out. That goal turns into an epic fantasy journey, where he has to save a land populated by his toys and pet rat from a dark force. It’s kind of a genius idea. The real life events, which presumably don’t take long, are echoed in a dramatic fashion in his fantasy, it’s really kind of cool. For some reason I don’t love it, though. I found it slightly confusing, not that I didn’t follow, just that it didn’t gel somehow.
Skullkickers – This is a series that is pretty unabashedly about cartoony violence and silliness. It’s about two guys, a tall bald guy and a short dwarf, who are mercenaries. It’s pretty silly, but it’s pretty fun. They get drawn into various schemes larger than their pay scale and shenanigans ensue. It’s got a healthy dose of nerdy D&D influence with silly +1s and “adjective noun of action” items laying about the place. It’s goofy, but it’s fun.
Tale of Sand – This is a little adventure story, it’s been a while since I read it so I’ve forgotten. It’s beautifully drawn, just gorgeous. It’s got kind of a nathan drake-ish hero running through a surreal world. I can’t remember much about the story, but I think it was pretty fun.
Templar – I quite like this one. It’s set at the time when the Templars get disbanded and many killed (I didn’t know anything about this, apparently they were the bee’s knees, then the french king decided they were big for their britches, so labeled them all evil, everyone kind of went along, eventually pressuring the pope to renounce them, no more templars). The conceit is that a couple guys get away and go on one last adventure for their order. It seems like a silly idea, but it’s pretty well done. It’s got a good mix of action and humor. It mostly plays out like you’d imagine, but it’s fun all along.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic – This one is pretty sad. It’s a biographical work of a woman who had a kind of messed up family. It’s not terrible, she wasn’t tortured, she wasn’t starving. But it’s interesting to see how small choices affected her personality (or at least she believes they did). There were some genuinely bad things about her parents, her father mostly. They didn’t necessarily directly affect her, but the whole thing is about how the whole is built of up many parts. It’s pretty good.