Monday, February 13, 2012

Graphic Novel Round-Up Part Two

Anya’s Ghost – Any book that is blurbed by Neil Gaiman as being “a masterpiece!” (punctuation and everything) has got some big shoes to fill.  Such is the case for Vera Brosgol’s debut graphic novel, Anya’s Ghost, and let me just say, she’s done it.  This is a small masterpiece of a first book, a textured, dryly funny and seriously spooky tale of teenagedom and all the angst that comes with being an outsider.  It’s hard to speak of the plot without delving too far into spoiler territory, so I’ll be brief.  Anya is a Russian immigrant trying desperately to fit in to her private school life.  She has one good friend, one major crush on the star of the basketball team, and one tragic fall down an abandoned well that has her face to face with the ghost of Emily Reilly, whose bones have been lying at the bottom of the well for ninety years.  Hijinks ensue wherein Emily helps Anya with her schoolwork and with her social life, but soon Anya realizes Emily is a little too invested in Anya’s life, and things start down a dangerous road.  Brosgol’s art, in shades of black, white and gray, is wonderfully evocative.  What she achieves just with eyes (or lack thereof) is pretty remarkable.  The storytelling is really the star, however, as it takes hold of you early and doesn’t let go until you’ve put the book down and had a good long think.  If this is what Brosgol gives us on her first time out, I can’t wait to see what she’s got as a follow up.
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
2011, First Second
Personal copy

Bad IslandDoug TenNapel’s follow up to the wonderful Ghostopolis, Bad Island, lives up to its name.  That is one bad island.  Think the “Lost” island mixed with The Island of Dr. Moreau.  The island has an ancient mythology and a family cast away on its dangerous shores.  Teenage Reece can’t get out of a family trip on the boat, but when a storm shipwrecked the family on strange shores, he’s glad to be with family, even his annoying little sister Janie and her dead snake Pickles (Pickles didn’t survive the crash).  Things seem normal at first, but soon the island starts showing its ugly side with strange monsters and carnivorous trees.  Reece and his family must solve an ancient mystery to unlock the island’s secrets and get safely home.  Like with Ghostopolis, TenNapel’s art is key.  From action packed battle scenes to intimate talks around a fire, every panel is imbued with life and color.  Some markings seem to glow right off the page.  I didn’t like the story as much as Ghostopolis (but then again, I’m a sucker for a good ghost story), and things do get a little muddled when moving back and forth between times, but for the most part, it moves smoothly and at a great pace.  As with Ghostopolis, I’m sure Bad Island will simply fly off my shelves, and I’ll rarely see it checked in for too long a stretch, which is a great thing.
Bad Island by Doug TenNapel
Library copy

Sidekicks – Finally, I get to a “traditional” graphic novel, i.e., a superhero story.  It may be traditional, but there’s nothing conventional about Dan Santat’s Sidekicks, the story of a superhero and his super sidekicks, even the ones he doesn’t know about.  Sidekicks tells the tale of Captain Amazing, who’s getting a little long in the tooth.  He decides it’s time for a new sidekick, and his pets Roscoe (a dog), Fluffy (a hamster) and Shifty (a chameleon) are up for the challenge.  They practice in secret, with the begrudging help of Manny, aka Static Cat, who was Captain Amazing’s old partner and pet before he ran away.  Sidekicks has all the tellings of a great superhero legend.  It’s the classic origin story of how the gang got together and learned how to use their superpowers.  There’s lots of first rate action and witty dialogue and characters you can really get behind.  Who doesn’t want to root for little Fluffy in his red, white and blue bedecked costume when he hits the streets to fight crime?  I certainly hope this is only the first in a long line of Sidekicks stories.  There’s a whole wide world of superhero mythos to plumb, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for our heroes.
Sidekicks by Dan Santat
2011, Arthur A. Levine Books
Library copy

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