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My Sunday at C2E2!

My husband and I have been attending C2E2 – Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo – for every year it’s been a thing, and we’ve watched this weekend of fun blossom into a true mecca for all sorts of fandoms and nerds.  This past weekend, I headed down to (the inconveniently located) McCormick Place for the show for a Sunday afternoon of panels and browsing – and had a great time.

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The first thing I did was attend a panel on “Raising a Reader”, or how to use graphic novels/comics/graphic texts to bring kids into reading.  In this increasingly visual world we live in, we need to be able to process information as quickly as possible, and the lessons learned from reading these kinds of texts will help young people make valuable connections, as well as help them fall in love with reading prose. It was a super-informative panel, and I left with a list of texts and links to help with the future homeschooling of my toddler.image

 

Wandering around, I stopped by several publisher’s booths – The Penguin booth was handing out free books as fast as they could, and I scored quite a few interesting titles. Yay, free books!image

One of the best things about shows like C2E2 is the cosplay – and this year didn’t disappoint.

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If you know me, you know my Nightmare on Elm Street thing, so you’ll no doubt be surprised that this dude’s costume made my day.

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Everything is better with a Cyberman.

One of the best showings of the day, as far as books were concerned, was the gang from Quirk Books.  They came out in full force with a booth stocked with their clever titles – which include the “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies” trilogy, as well as their featured title – Ian Doescher’s “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars”.

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Quirk Books booth!

I attended the Ian Doescher panel, and it was a blast.  He read scenes and monologues from his book – with guest readers from the audience (some of whom were surprisingly good on-the-spot Shakespearean actors) and it was a lovely way to spend an hour.

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Assisted by Elsa, author Ian Doescher reads from “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars”

C2E2 was a lovely time, and we’ll absolutely return next year! In the meantime, I now have a stack of free books to read!

 

 

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“Return of the Dapper Men” by Jim McCann & Janet Lee

“Return of the Dapper Men,”by Jim McCann and Janet Lee, is something special.No wonder it was nominated for several Eisner awards upon it’s release.

A graphic novel that’s more Neil Gaiman-y fable than superhero story, it tells the story of a world where time had stopped existing. Machines live above, and children live below, rarely meeting except for a young boy named Ayden and a robot girl named Zoe, who have forged a friendship.

Then, one day, 314 Dapper Men fall from the sky and all this order, artificial as it may seem, comes apart.  With that, I will cease explaining lest I spoil something, which would be a tragedy as this story is incredibly engrossing right to the very end.

Another smash from the people at Archaia, “Return of the Dapper Men” also boasts an introduction from Tim Gunn, the ultimate dapper man.

This book is gorgeously done. Each page should be framed and hung on a wall, as Janet Lee’s art is amazing.  For a preview of the loveliness, check out Archaia’s great site.

One last thing.  The below image is from the forward to the book.  Isn’t it lovely?

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“Re-Gifters” by Mike Carey, Sonny Liew, and Marc Hempel

“Re-Gifters” is the graphic novel equivalent of watching a teen movie.   I mean that in a good way, really I do.  I like “Ten Things I hate about you” as much as many classic/more intellectual movies.

In this tale, a headstrong Korean-American girl navigates burgeoning romantic feelings, parental expectations, her own talents, and the trickiness that IS being a teenager in the first place.  We’ve all been there.  Our heroine, Jen Dik Seong (aka, “Dixie”) is a Hapkido champion ready to take part in a huge tournament, when her young life starts spinning thanks to her crush on one of her classmates, as well as the introduction of a street kid who’s unexpectedly nice to her.  It’s a clever little story, and more than one of the characters turns out to be far more than you think they’re going to be.  (Kudos to the writers for kicking a couple stereotypes out the door.)

The art is simply drawn, but the characters are likable and expressive.  Dixie is one of those leading ladies with flaws that we all like to see win in the end.  She’s not the prettiest girl in class, or the coolest, and her family is far from rich, but she’s got a big heart and works her butt off and as a reader you root for her.  Her best friend Avril is also really likable, especially when she comes through as a quasi-fairy godmother in the more Cinderella part of the story.

This is a sweet little story, told in a very cinematic format, and I read it in record time.  It’s entertaining, compelling and kept my interest right to the end.  What more can I say?

 

“Rice Boy” by Evan Dahm

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Evan Dahm’s “Rice Boy” is strangely beautiful.

It’s a graphic novel of such an epic nature that I’m not kidding when I say that it brought “The Lord of the Rings” to mind while I was reading it.  There are tiny underdogs and giant consequences and battles and death and magic and creatures that aren’t entirely human and the whole thing is astonishing.

And really hard to explain. 🙂

Simply, a small being – Rice Boy – is informed that he is the one selected to fulfill a world-saving duty.  Off he sets on his quest, and encounters all sorts of wonderfully weird beings along the way.  It’s a little Narnia, a little Alice/Wonderland, and a whole lot of great.  There are frogs who talk and electronic half-men and undefined, globular creatures.  Heck, we’re never even told what exactly Rice Boy himself is, but that’s fine.  “Rice Boy” doesn’t feel the need to explain everything, which is what makes it a really great read.  Dahm’s artwork is simple in the best possible way, and it’s a fascinating read you can’t set down.

Do yourself a favor and find a copy of this book.  You probably won’t regret it.

**It appears that the copy of “Rice Boy,” I read was part of an initial printing of just 1,000 books.  Recently, Dahm launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to do a whole new printing.  He nearly tripled his $6,000 goal, so I’m sure “Rice Boy” will be in larger supply very soon.**

Lonely Boy – “The Ticking” by Renee French

Within the beautifully simple illustrations of Renee French’s acclaimed graphic novel, “The Ticking,” is a dark and heartbreaking story of beauty.  Not traditional aspects of beauty, but instead the importance people place on it and the amazing places it can be found.

When Edison Steelhead is born, his mother dies in childbirth and he inherits his father’s deformed face.  Fearing the world won’t be able to deal with his sons ugliness, his father whisks him away to a home on a small island, where Edison grows up drawing in a sketchbook.  The young boy draws whatever he sees – from a scar on the side of his fathers face to a fly.  For his father’s part, he tries to be a good parent, but makes his son wear a mask when visitors come, and buys a pet monkey that he eventually grows to treat with more affection than his poor strange-looking son.  The Father even considers a radical operation to make his son “normal.”  As soon as he’s old enough, Edison sneaks away out into the real world – and finds its not that bad.  He gets an apartment and a job as a ticket vendor at a movie theater.  In a heartbreaking final moment, Edison finds out that though he was estranged from his father all these years, his father was never far away. Unfortunately, his father was unable to deal with the world.

Sad stuff, right?

“The Ticking” isn’t a heartwarming book.  It’s rather depressing – though as a reader you’re thrilled Edison is making his way into the world – and the ending is a serious downer.  Renee French’s artwork drives the action, with simple pencil drawings reflecting the simplicity of what Edison wants – to be seen for who he is.

It’s a brave story, told by a masterful artist, and it’s over far too soon.

There’s beauty in darkness, and French understands this completely.  Not everyone’s story is about love, magic, sunshine, and lollipops.    Edison’s story is about being different, and wanting to accept your differences – which sometimes you can’t do unless you strike out alone.

Madonna gets a comic book…

It’s been announced that Madonna’s life will be turned into a comic book.

Per Showbiz Spy —

“The highs and lows of the 52-year-old singer’s phenomenal career — which has spanned almost 30 years — will be encapsulated in a 32-page graphic novel produced by publishers Bluewater Productions Inc. as part of their Female Force series, which has previously featured the likes of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Sarah Palin and Barbara Walters.

“Our goal is to show the little-known events and influences that resulted in Madonna becoming the phenomenon she remains to this day, more than a quarter-century after she burst upon the scene,” said Jason Schultz, executive vice president of Bluewater.

“A visual medium provides perspective that is not only accessible but more relatable to the average person without losing any of the information involved.”

Penned by C.W. Cooke and drawn by Michael Johnson, the comic book is due for release in August.”

Thoughts? Personally, I think it could be interesting – Madge has always seemed a little more than human anyway…

A family saga that appears cute – “Artichoke Tales” by Megan Kelso

Look at that cover.

Isn’t it adorable?

You wouldn’t think that “Artichoke Tales” would be a family saga about a civil war. Right?

Well, you’d be wrong. Much like I was.

Author/Artist Megan Kelso beautifully tells a dark story through beautiful and whimsical drawings.

For starters, her characters have artichoke heads. The reason why is never explained.  However, I was reminded of something I once heard – that you can get away with things more often when things are cute or funny.  It’s why shows like “South Park” can get away with saying the things they say.  I mean, it’s animation.  Whats the harm?

Artichoke heads or not, “Artichoke Tales” is a great read.  The story focuses on three generations of women of the Quicksand family – Grandmother Charlotte, Mother Ramona and granddaughter Brigitte’s are all in the same business of running an apothecary where they turn plants and other natural elements into medicines.  The women’s stories come in and out as their world lives through a civil war not unlike the U.S. Civil War (though presided over by a Queen) and they grow up and fall in love and learn about themselves.  War leaves scars, and these last for generations sometimes.

If I had a squabble with the book, it’s that since the characters are only line drawings, sometimes they’re hard to tell apart – especially when we’re in flashbacks to when all three women are young, and the resemblance is very close.  Fortunately, there’s a family tree with pictures in the front cover of the book which serves as a helpful reference.

More like an epic saga than what a graphic novel is commonly assumed to be, this book is well worth a read and worth all the acclaim it’s received.

Moody Hauntings – “Festering Romance” by Renee Lott

Everyone’s haunted by something.  Whether it’s a regret from your past, or a person you let slip away, everyone has their ghosts.

In Renee Lott’s graphic novel, “Festering Romance,” this theory is turned on it’s head.  Moody college student Janet literally lives with a ghost.  Paul, the ghost, is a friend from her childhood who drowned one day while the two were swimming in a storm.  Now, Janet lives in an apartment that she shares with Colombo-loving Paul, the best undead friend a girl could have.

Enter Derek.  A pushy friend of Janet and Derek’s sets them up on a blind date, and though they clash, there’s an attraction.  Things go semi-well until Janet visits Derek’s apartment and discovers he has a ghost of his own – named Carol.  Surprised, Janet leaves without mentioning her own ghost.  So, of course when Derek discovers Paul, he flips out. Janet and Derek stop speaking, go on about their lives unhappily, and each have to come to terms with letting go of their ghosts in order to move on with their lives.

Renee Lotts has a really cool visual style, which perfectly captures the moodiness of leading lady Janet in it’s boldness and simplicity.  I liked looking at this novel more than I did reading it, as the emo hero and heroine not being able to get themselves together and grow up story quickly grew to grate on my nerves.  (At some point, someone needs to give.)  Janet and Derek are stubborn, immature people, and it isn’t until the last couple pages that you begin to think they might actually have a chance.  Juxtaposed against them, ghost-dude Paul is the only likable character in the story (Derek’s ghost, Carol, is a pill too) – and you begin to think the story could have been more interesting if the Paul was the alive one.  A sweet kid with moody ghosts hanging around? There’s comedy in that, I’m sure.

That said, this is the debut graphic novel from Renee Lotts, and there’s definitely potential there.

If this talented artist had a better story to wrap her artistic sensibilities around, she might be unstoppable.

Life, Death, and the Truth – “An Elegy for Amelia Johnson” by Andrew Rostan, Dave Valeza, and Kate Kasenow

Amelia Johnson is dying.

She’s making the best of it, though, by sending two of her best friends – who have never met – across the country to deliver six recorded video messages to six people who’ve meant something to her.  The friends, Oscar-winner Henry and frustrated novelist Jillian, butt heads before they realize they’re rather perfect together.  Amelia wants Henry – being a filmmaker – to record people’s reactions to her messages, so she can see them before she dies.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

Actually, “An Elegy for Amelia Johnson” takes a close and honest look at death and how we humans tend to only think and say good, happy things about dying people, when in reality sometimes the dying people aren’t all sunshine and lollipops.  Though she was a good friend and a good writer, Amelia was selfish and had her share of bad behavior.  The book shows both sides – some of Amelia’s friends paint her as an angel, but others have more realistic stories to tell.

Of course, Henry hasn’t told Jillian he’s planning to use all the footage he’s shooting for his next movie.  That’s a whole different story, though.  As Henry, Jillian, and the two crew members Henry totes along cross the country meeting everyone from Amelia’s brother to her college boyfriend, truths are discussed, people are examined, and it’s all rather eye-opening.

There’s no miracle resolution to any of this.  Amelia dies, and the final scene takes place at her funeral.

This is the type of graphic novel that would adapt easily to the big screen, and I daresay it’d be a fantastic movie.  The artwork is so vivid, and the characters so clearly drawn, that it reads like watching a movie anyway.  It’s a beautiful, real, story, told very well and drawn even better.

Incredibly sad, but based on truth – “Pride of Baghdad” by Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon

In 2003, American troops bombed Baghdad.  Amongst the chaos of the explosions, a group of lions and other zoo animals were set free from the Baghdad Zoo and wandered the rubble of the city completely free.  In the cleanup efforts, American troops gathered many of these animals and took them back into captivity.  A few lions, however, wouldn’t come so easily and were shot by the troops.

This incredibly heart-breaking (and true) incident was the inspiration for Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichson’s award-winning graphic novel, “Pride of Baghdad.” It’s not a happy story.  If I had any previous knowledge of this real-life incident, I likely would not have read this book at all – but I did, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Vaughan (who is credited with writing the story) makes a smart choice to personalize the four lions we are to journey along with.  Zill is the alpha-male, Safa is an older lioness who is nearly blind, Noor is a younger lioness who (pre-bombing) hatches plans to get free, and is also the mother to the youngest of the pride, Ali.  These animals talk to each other and their personalities and backstories shine.  As they wander the nearly-abandoned city, they encounter other loose animals; horses, monkeys, and another lion.

Henrichon (the illustrator) has an obviously deep understanding of the power that visuals lend to a graphic novel.  Though it’s often said of horror movies that the things you don’t actually see are the most atrocious, I challenge anyone to tell me the last few pages of “Pride of Baghdad” aren’t  horrifying and soul-crushing.  This isn’t one of those last-second happy twist endings.

I have a feeling that, years from now, when I’m asked about truly sad books I’ve read along the way, this is one that’ll come to mind.  That said, it’s a powerful (if fictionalized) reminder of the savage nature of both animals and human.  Animals may eat each other, but humans (and their wars) aren’t much better.