Graphic Novel Review: Pumpkinheads / by Faith Erin Hicks and Rainbow Rowell

I’m back from a long hiatus. I was hoping to be consistently writing reviews on my blog, but… life. Let’s get back into this…shall we!?

pumpkin headsPumpkinheads

story by Rainbow Rowell

art by Faith Erin Hicks

published by First Second

224 pages

978-1626721623

superhero girl.jpg

I recently picked up “Pumpkinheads” from my public library. I was super excited to give this a read as I’m a long-term fan of Faith Erin Hick’s comics. I love her stories, and her art style. So, was thrilled to pick up her newest title. Even after reading this, my favourite is still her title, “The Adventures of Superhero Girl”. It’s just so relate-able, but also just silly fun. I love it a lot.

And, I was doubly intrigued to pick this up as the primary author of this work wasn’t Faith Erin Hicks, but popular YA author Rainbow Rowell.

fangirl

I will admit I have less experience reading Rowell’s books. I’ve only read her title “Fan Girl” which wasn’t a favourite. I liked the writing alright, but I just didn’t get along with her characters and the Harry Potter inspired fan fiction that the main character, Cath, spends most of the book writing. I’m one of those rare people who doesn’t like Harry Potter! Ack! I’m almost afraid to admit it because the series is so universally loved. But with elements or an obvious inspiration from a series that I am uninterested in, it pretty much tainted my reading experience. I’m still open to trying others of her works, I just haven’t made the time to do so yet.

I was so curious to see how these two authors would get along in a work. Personally, it’s one of the better prose-author-turned-comic book-author titles I’ve read…ever. Hicks and Rowell are a match made in heaven! Their storytelling style seems very much in-tune with each other, and I was so relieved to see this. I’ve been disappointed so many times when prose authors want to jump into comic book territory when it’s obvious they’ve never read a comic book before. I’m so happy that I didn’t get that impression here — either Rowell has been studying up on her comic books, or Hicks was given enough freedom to draw the story the way it needed to be told.

What it’s about:

(from amazon)

Deja and Josiah are seasonal best friends.

Every autumn, all through high school, they’ve worked together at the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world. (Not many people know that the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world is in Omaha, Nebraska, but it definitely is.) They say good-bye every Halloween, and they’re reunited every September 1.

But this Halloween is different―Josiah and Deja are finally seniors, and this is their last season at the pumpkin patch. Their last shift together. Their last good-bye.

Josiah’s ready to spend the whole night feeling melancholy about it. Deja isn’t ready to let him. She’s got a plan: What if―instead of moping and the usual slinging lima beans down at the Succotash Hut―they went out with a bang? They could see all the sights! Taste all the snacks! And Josiah could finally talk to that cute girl he’s been mooning over for three years . . .

What if their last shift was an adventure?

This was an adventure. A very bitter-sweet story (more sweet than bitter) about completely love-able teenagers trying to make the most of the time they have left together. While I’ve never been to a pumpkin patch, I can completely understand the sentiment of having a seasonal friend. When I was a child through my teen years I would go to summer camp, where I would spend a week every summer with the same group of friends. These were seasonal best friends that I didn’t talk to outside of summer camp. I still look back fondly on those days and wonder what some of those people are doing.

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Deja in particular was such a great character. She has a head on her shoulders, and seems to know exactly who she is — she exudes confidence. While she is certainly written more complex than this, but in her simplest form she is one of my favourite character types.

Overall, I loved this title.

However, when I’m reading comics that are aimed at children, I always evaluate them in terms of which of my small relatives I could recommend them to. I have several nieces and nephews of varying ages (between 7-15) and I just couldn’t decide who this best fit. I think this had to do with how young the writing feels while also featuring older students who are in their final year of high school. This is really my only complaint about the title.

Hicks’ art is geared toward younger readers, and Rowell’s writing is simple and clear which in prose creates an emotional depth to her stories. In comics though, where the pacing is much faster, it doesn’t have time to develop the emotional depth with this sort of minimalist plot. In turn it creates a too-simple story leading me to believe this is best suited to an 8 or 9 year old. But then, I can’t seem to see myself recommending this to my youngest niece either. I’d rather give this to her cousin, who is just starting high school… but her reading level is too high for this book… So, I’m left puzzled about the audience.

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So, in general I can’t tell you who I’d recommend this for, except that it’s completely adorable, and if you’d like to read an adorable Autumnal themed comic… you should pick this up.

I smiled the entire time.

I can’t wait to see what this duo will do next. But, could I recommend a younger protagonist in the next one? Will makes my Christmas shopping a lot easier!

 


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Quick Thoughts On: A Girl Called Echo, volume 2 by Katherena Vermette

Red River Resistance

Red River Resistance by Katherena Vermette

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This title is an absolute must for any school library or public library in Canada. With the 150th anniversary of the Red River resistance occurring in 2019, and the major focus of the Canadian government on reconciliation, this comic couldn’t have come at a better time. I am so pleased to be finding so many new comics and graphic novels by indigenous creators, and the fact that is title focuses on Métis history is fantastic!

This title is the second in a series about a young Métis girl, Echo, who finds herself in some sort of foster care. While there she is attending high school and “experiencing” the history of the past, most notably the events surrounding the controversial and tumultuous Red River resistance.

I did read the first volume of this series, and I was very excited about this next installment. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I think my main problem is that this seems to be focusing on telling the story of the Red River resistance very quickly, but in doing so, it has forgotten to develop the characters. It also takes for granted that you have some background in this history.

Sadly, this means that the characters are little more than shells. Even the main character, Echo has less than a personality. I feel like she was beginning to be explored in the first volume, but her personality just fell flat in this one. There is so much more that could be done with this story without exaggerating or undermining the important history that is being explored. I wanted so much more!

Because of this, I feel like it’ll lose some of its audience. This comes off more as an educational work, and less as something to pick up for pleasure. However, as an educational work it is invaluable, and would do very well to be included as supplemental material in Canadian elementary and high school classrooms.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a digital copy for review.



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Graphic Novel Review: Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

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31145178A wonderful graphic autobiography for middle-grade readers by one of my favourite contemporary authors. Shannon Hale focuses on her early experiences making friends… from the ease of friendship as a pre-schooler, to the complicated social pecking order of grade school.

Shannon’s mother is convinced that everything will be all right if she just has 1 special friend. This friend is Adrienne. But as they grow older, Adrienne becomes friends with the popular “the group” and as they move from grade-to-grade Shannon must now traverse the treacherous landmines of what being associated with “the group” means.

This story deals with mental health (particularly anxiety), bullying, friendship, and even religion. But mostly, it is a common tale of growing up and making friends. I basically found myself nodding my head to just about every scenario… especially the sibling relationships.

The situations feel real to someone who had a relatively boring/happy childhood; they are so reminiscent to my own childhood it’s not even funny. It doesn’t feel preachy or didactic in any way. At least it didn’t feel that way to me. And, I loved the slightly ambiguous ending, a proper depiction of how someone “would” act in a situation, rather than how they “should” act.

LeUyen Pham’s art is bright, and youthful – and serves the story well. The storytelling is grounded in reality, but also fluid enough that you could easily forget this is a biography (if you wanted to).

I highly recommend this story to any child — and better yet, reading this with your child!

Graphic Novel Review: A Castle in England / by Jamie Rhodes

A Castle in EnglandA Castle in England by Jamie Rhodes
Illustrated by: Isaac Lenkiewicz, Briony May Smith, Will Exley, and Isabel Greenberg.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There is so much potential in this title, from the concept showcasing the history of the residences of a single castle (I love histories); the artist contributions (showcasing 5 different creators/whose styles matched beautifully the historical context they each represented); to the unusual peach and tan colour palette (which I actually thought was quite splendid). I was pretty excited about it — but it fell so very flat. Where could this have faltered?

The biggest detriment to this comic was the commission status of it: paid for by the National Trust and Arts Council England. A commissioned work where money issued furthers the idea of arts and history. This isn’t a bad thing, but in the context of comic books and graphic novels greatly affects the creation process and henceforth, the reading experience. It was not written for the public, but FOR its commissioners.

As a Canadian I often pick up comic books commissioned by the Canadian Arts Council. And this same sentiment holds true. But at least in these instances, they are telling the story of my country, and they are expressing it with a Canadian sensibility. These works are more innately understood when it is your own country paying for it. But this isn’t. It’s foreign to me. And any potential subtle “cultural-isms” are lost on me.

The reading experience of this is like a friend returning from vacation and I’m now stuck watching a slide show of the experience. Looking at a photo of people standing around. Having to listen to an explanation of what is happening not in the picture, but behind the camera. This is not a good time.

Each of the five stories that make up this book require extensive explanation to be understood. The illustration isn’t doing it’s job. One of the first questions I ask myself when I’m evaluating sequential art works is “If I take away the text, can I understand this?” The answer is a fervent “no”. And this work has FIVE sets of text: The family tree to start, a quote at the beginning of each story to set the mood, the text represented in the comic to give the characters speech, the brief history of the events to give context to the story, and the brief history of the family history currently residing at the castle to explain the action.

All but the family tree and quote at the beginning are essential to understanding this work. Remove any of the others, and this work crumbles into nonsensical gibberish.

If you think about it in the reverse… “If I take away the art, can I understand this?” The answer is definitely “yes”. But who would want to read the scant historical summary that remains?

There are so many good things about this comic, but the fact that the art requires instruction at this intense of a level is a problem.

And then… to rub salt in that wound…

The formatting of this text! Each story has the text handwritten in the style of the art/artist (wonderful). The histories unfortunately do not follow in the same style. Instead they are presented using a small textbook-like font on blank white pages (from a graphic novel stand point is incredibly boring to look at), each paragraph numbered (for no apparent reason but to perplex me greatly) with one small illustration from the preceding comic (for no apparent reason but to remind me that the summary has some relationship to the previous story). It just didn’t make sense, and didn’t match in the slightest the graphic portion of the work.

If you want to read a work that gets it right, I’d recommend going for 750 Years in Paris by Vincent Mahé instead.

Comic Book Review: A.D.: After Death / by Scott Snyder

A.D.: After DeathA.D.: After Death by Scott Snyder

Illustrated by Jeff Lemire

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This started strong, with a unique graphic structure and poetic prose. I was immediately intrigued. For the most part, I thought this mixed format and art style worked. But, there were big gaps in the story which should have been resolved; the ending was weak (and obvious); and the art failed to interact with the text about 25% of the time. Often times the prose structure moved into the territory of “picture book” rather than “graphic novel” — when I have to remind myself to look up from the text to see the pictures there’s a problem. I liked the concept and the ambitious undertaking, but overall it felt under-done. This book could use about two more volumes to resolve the issues I have with it.

[And an aside, there were at least half a dozen obvious spelling and grammatical errors in this work. Would definitely have benefited from additional editing. Almost all of these were in the prose sections — I wonder if this wasn’t due to an editor not used to working outside of comics…]

Webcomic Review: Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero by Michael DeForge

Sticks Angelica, Folk HeroSticks Angelica, Folk Hero

by Michael DeForge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Though it was drawn in strips it felt like a complete story. Overall the writing was incredibly Canadian; and not just because it was set in Canada. It had that same quality of bizarre, whimsical and dark humour that I expect. I enjoyed this, looking forward to checking out DeForge’s less conventional works in the future.

Comic Book Review: Valerian by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières

Valerian: The Complete Collection, Volume 1Valerian: The Complete Collection, Volume 1

by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières 

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I would definitely have gotten on better with this if I were still a child. As much as I appreciated the adventure, I found I was a bit bored. The story is a little too straight forward, and the text is too dense. Plus, I rarely get excited for sci-fi. The story/ideals feel somewhat modern (which was a nice surprise), and then art reminds you of when it was written. I did hear that the art improves over time. Overall, not a bad title, and it is certainly in the running for Christmas presents to my younger relatives.

Graphic Novel Review: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Through the WoodsThrough the Woods

by Emily Carroll

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is storytelling with the flavour of folk tales. There’s something under the surface that feels somewhat poetic, but also leaves the stories feeling somewhat incomplete. The incompleteness is magnified by the fact that the art is left to tell the ending in almost all of the stories. And as much as the art was beautiful it felt lacking as a finale.
The first story in this compilation was my favourite, and I became less enchanted with each subsequent tale. I think I was hoping of more of the first, with more of it’s quiet and unexplained creepiness rather than what turns into louder sillier stories by the end.
I’m currently on the fence as to whether I liked this or not. But, I’m certainly interested in picking up more titles by this author.

Graphic Novel Review: Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown

Tetris: The Games People PlayTetris: The Games People Play

by Box Brown

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was okay. My opinion of it might be suffering for the fact that I just read a corporate history graphic novel that I enjoyed exponentially more about a month ago. It was too easy to compare the two.

I enjoyed the story well enough. But there wasn’t very much story to be had. If you had taken the first 50 pages, the last 10 and thrown in a few in the middle for good measure, you would have had your story.

But, then there were all of the other pages. Filled with rights negotiations… It’s not that this wasn’t important or interesting. But, it was just written in a way that made more sense in a report. This wasn’t supposed to just be facts with pictures. This was supposed to say something. Make me feel something. Like a good story should.

It was like facts were acquired. They were calculated to amount to a certain value. And then spewed out in sequence without vetting or embellishment. There was story to be had. I don’t even think that the content that existed was bad. It’s just that it was the skeletal information that a good story could have been built upon.

Obviously. I felt like the story was missing.

The art satisfied the report-style writing. It was okay. Cute enough. There were a few times when I got confused which character I was reading about and had to flip back to the pages they were introduced to figure it out.

I really liked the yellow/black pallette. Usually a harsh combination, but I found rather fun.

Overall, this was a quick read. I finished it in about an hour. I thought this was interesting and informative, if lacking in finesse and feeling. If you’re interested in the history of Tetris, or maybe the history of business partnerships between foreign-countries and Russia you might enjoy picking this up.

Comic Book Review: ODY-C by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward

ODY-C, Vol. 1: Off to Far IthicaaODY-C, Vol. 1: Off to Far Ithicaa

by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There’s something to be applauded for the risks taken to create this comic, had they been successful would have been an amazing experience.

As someone who has read the Odyssey many many times, I was just barely able to grasp the underlying plot. The story is told with a weird combination in what could be assumed an interpretation of epic poetry and psychedelic art.

The poetry is stilted, and does nothing to express the art or the story…and would be absolute gibberish without it. I can only assume that this heralds from the authors own misunderstanding of the source text.

The art is trippy and confusing. At times amazing and mind-blowing and at others poorly realized and messy. There were several times when I caught myself wondering how the colorist felt having to cover up desperately poor proportions and expressed movement.

For the concept and the colour, I give this comic 2 stars… But overall, I don’t recommend it.