Category Archives: Graphic Novels

Saga Volume 9

Epic fantasy and science fiction graphic novel series

I’ve been following this series pretty much as soon as it first came out. Even though I am certainly hooked, I have had some concerns for a while that the series has been getting a little stale. I chatted on my podcast some time ago that the author recently announced that the series would be going on hiatus for a year, and so I decided I’d stuck with it this long, I might as well read this last volume. Now, if you’re not up to date, I’d stop right here because this will be full of spoilers.

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“Saga Volume 9” by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples begins some time after the end of Volume 8. Hazel, her parents Marko and Alana, Sir Robot IV, his son Squire, the two journalists Upsher and Doff, Petrichor and Ghüs have left Ghüs’ tiny world with Ianthe with the The Will (now known as Billy) forcibly in tow hot on their heels. When Upsher and Doff offer Marko and Alana a chance at a completely new life, the offer is very tempting to others in the group. However, before long Ianthe and Billy have caught up with them and nothing is certain anymore.

“Saga” has been, well, a saga and there is no shortage of drama in this volume. Staples’ art is as mesmerising as ever, and the story continues to shock at every turn. However, I have to say that Hazel’s extremely melodramatic narration has really started to grind on me. There were some parts where I felt it matched the story and art really well, but generally I find it a bit ham-fisted. Vaughan is certainly fearless when it comes to nixing his characters, but in a similar way to the George R. R. Martin, there does get a point where too many of your favourite characters are gone and you just aren’t that invested in the ones left.

I really do think that a hiatus is a good idea. This book ends on a big twist and I’m just not sure where they are going to go from there. A break will hopefully let Vaughan recharge and come back with some fresh ideas to wrap up the series.

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Saga Volume 9

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Cottons: The Secret of the Wind

It’s no secret that I love rabbits. I was browsing the graphic novel section in a book store the other day and I saw this book and was immediately captivated by the artwork. I love graphic novels, and one of my all time favourite books is Watership Down, so a book featuring bunnies living in their own society had me hook, line and sinker.

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“Cottons: The Secret of the Wind” is a graphic novel written by Jim Pascoe and illustrated by Heidi Arnhold. The first in the series, the story follows a young brown rabbit called Bridgebelle who works in a carrot factory and who cares for her ailing aunty. Bridgebelle’s job is to help convert carrots into cha, the energy that powers the Vale of Industry. Although she dreams of being an artist, using cha to make beautiful objects called thokcha, she is tied to the factory in order to support her aunty. However when her friend Croquet goes missing and the foxes who covet the cha grow more bold and more dangerous, Bridgebelle’s abilities and her tragic past can no longer go ignored.

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This review is going to be full of rabbit photos.

This is a beautifully illustrated book with great character design and worldbuilding. Bridgebelle is an enigmatic, lonely young rabbit who is struggling to find her way in an increasingly dangerous world. I particularly liked the character Glee who seems particularly complex, and I enjoyed the worldbuilding and the steampunk vibe of the Vale of Industry. I also really liked Samiji, a brave and fiery young rabbit who joins the sect of rabbits who dedicate their life to windism. For a more detailed insight into the world of Lavender, there is a bit of a fictional overview of the history, society and culture at the back of the book.

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I think some of the things that felt a little underdone were the foxes as antagonists and the concept of cha. Cha seems to at once be a power source, a material for making art, a narcotic and a potential weapon. I’m not always into high fantasy with super complex magic systems, but I did feel a little like cha needed a bit more explanation or at least something to pique the interest of the reader and make them curious to read more. There was some of that detail in the section at the back, but I think I would have liked it woven into the story a little more. I also didn’t quite get how the foxes could be so malignant and powerful, yet not be able to simply walk in and take over the factory.

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Ori’s review was not as glowing as mine

A beautifully rendered story that perhaps leaves the reader with more questions than answers, I will be keeping an eye out for the second volume.

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Cicada

Another brilliant and poignant short graphic novel by leading Australian illustrator

I think that it’s fair to say that this author and illustrator was a huge driver behind my love of graphic novels. I absolutely adored “Tales from Outer Suburbia”, and he has had a few new books out this year. When I saw this one in store, I absolutely had to have it.

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“Cicada” by Shaun Tan is a very short, very touching graphic novel about a cicada who works in a big corporate office. I really can’t tell you much more than that, I’m afraid. Tan’s work really just needs to be experienced first hand.

This is really an excellent example of Tan’s excellent illustration skills and succinct and subtle storytelling. Tan is constantly shining new light on the migrant experience in Australia and is master of the allegory.

If you’re a bit new to graphic novels as a medium, or if you haven’t had the opportunity to read Tan before, this is an excellent place to start and you won’t be disappointed.

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Persepolis

This is a book that I have been meaning to buy for a long, long time. I’m a pretty big fan of graphic novels in most genres, but I really enjoy the perspective that you get from non-fiction graphic novel and this one is meant to be one of the best. I finally picked up a copy with a gift card I got for my birthday this year.

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“Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi is a graphic autobiography about Marji’s experiences growing up in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution. Marji’s parents, politically active and reasonably well-to-do, protest tirelessly against the regime of the last Iranian monarch, the Shah. However, when fundamentalists seize power, Marji’s family publicly acquiesce to the new and frequently changing laws while they watch friends and family around them suffer under the brutal new regime. Living an educated and liberal life at home, but forced to wear a veil and be submissive in public, Marji starts to chafe against the double life she lives. Her parents decide to send her overseas to live and continue her education in Austria. However, when she arrives, Marji’s expectations and the reality of a new country and culture seem worlds apart.

This is a fascinating take on a part of recent history that before reading this, I knew nothing about. The black and white artwork is very understated which allows the dialogue and the narration to take the forefront of the story. However, Satrapi’s creativity really shines through when young Marji is imagining the things that she doesn’t always see herself but hears about from her family, the news and her friends. I thought another particular strength was the way that Satrapi depicted Marji’s deteriorating mental and physical health during here time in Austria, and the overwhelming challenges of navigating another country as a teenager with no support.

I think probably the only thing that was a bit challenging as a reader of this book is that unlike most graphic novels, this one takes much longer to read. Part of that is the complex and heavy subject matter, but part of it is that the subtly of the artwork is quite demanding and the images are a bit hard to distinguish between sometimes. This means that it takes a lot of concentration to interpret what is going on in each page.

This is a challenging but incredibly important graphic novel, and if you would like to learn more about the diverse history of Iran, this is a really great place to begin.

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Black

I supported this graphic novel on Kickstarter. The original campaign ran in early 2016, but like a lot of Kickstarter fundraisers, it took about two years for my copy of the book to actually arrive. I can’t remember where exactly I came across the The authors had been sending me digital versions of chapters via email as they were completed over the time, but I decided to wait until I had the entire paper volume in my hot little hands before I read the story.

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“Black” by Kwanza Osajyefo and Tim Smith 3 is a graphic novel about a world where superpowers exist: it’s just that the only people who have them are black. Kareem is walking home with friends after playing some basketball when they are shot dead by police who recklessly mistake them for somebody else. When Kareem comes back to life in the ambulance, he breaks out to run for his life. Little does he know that the police are not the only ones after him and healing factor is just the beginning of his powers.

This is a very fast-paced story with a complex plot. Aside from the cover and the chapter title pages, the entire graphic novel is in black and white. The art is both striking and consistent with the superhero genre, and effectively captures the diversity of the cast of characters. Kareem is a particularly interesting character who is determined to find his own morals in a new world that tries to convince him everything is black and white. I think there are some great messages in this story and that brings really important social issues into a popular but perhaps underutilised genre.

I think that there were only two things that I found a bit challenging about this book. While I completely appreciate the significance of the use of a monochrome palette, the lack of colour did make the different superpowers a bit unclear – especially in the action scenes. This story also does feel like it is quite rushed. Not rushed in the sense of quality, but rushed in the sense of the reader is not really given a lot of time to process information and meet new characters. I actually think that the contents of this story could have been stretched out over a few volumes rather than squeezed into the one volume, and it would have given a bit more space to explore some of the great characters and themes that were introduced.

Nevertheless, this is a fun and hard-hitting graphic novel that I was so glad to finally get in my mailbox. I’m looking forward to seeing what the authors come up with next.

 

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Saga Volume 8

I’ve been reading the “Saga” series for some time now, and have been reviewing them as they come out on this blog. If you’re not up to date, you might want to go back a step or two so you aren’t dealing with spoilers.

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“Saga Volume 8” by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples picks up where the previous volume of the graphic novel series left off. Hazel’s mother Alana, who is pregnant with a second forbidden mixed-race baby that has died in utero, visits a town on a remote planet called Abortion Town with Prince Robot IV pretending that the child is theirs. When they are refused entry, Alana and Marko have to put their faith in the “doctor” in the Badlands who may be able to help.

I’ve said in previous reviews that I’ve been enjoying these comics a bit less, and I think part of the problem is that each one has a lot of hard-hitting social issues that are tackled but there isn’t a lot of overarching narrative. I felt like this one tackled the tricky issues of abortion and transgender identity in an interesting way. As always, the animal side-kicks are on point. However, it’s really hard to see where this is going. Are we just going to be following Hazel’s entire childhood, or are we going to actually get to Hazel as an adult? Is this a comment on the broader socio-political issues of Alana and Marko’s respective planets?

Am I enjoying this as much as I did at the beginning? No, honestly, I’m not. Will I keep reading them? Definitely yes.

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Blankets

I think I picked this book up at Canty’s bookshop a while ago. They’ve been getting some really great graphic novels in recently, and I was really in the mood for an excellent one. I remember selecting this one in particular because it’s so highly acclaimed and I’d heard of it before.

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“Blankets” by Craig Thompson is a mostly-autobiographical graphic novel about Thompson’s experiences growing up as an Evangelical Christian in Wisconsin. Although Craig’s parents are very strict, he has a close relationship with his brother and they share vivid imaginary adventures together. However, as Craig grows older, they grow apart and a teenaged Craig begins to feel increasingly isolated, bullied and harassed in his small town. Then, one winter at Bible camp, Craig meets a young woman called Raina – finally, someone he connects with.

This is a stunning graphic novel, no question. Even though all the illustrations are black and white, Thompson’s illustrations are incredibly rich and expressive. The winters feel cold and Craig’s loneliness is palpable. The relationship between Craig and his brother Phil is one of the highlights of the book. The way Thompson maps their closeness when they share a bed, their increasing distance as teens and then their refound closeness was beautifully done. The imagery of blankets was done brilliantly as was Thomspon’s blend of reality and fantasy. Thompson’s exploration of religious themes and identity were also incredibly insightful and I think would resonate strongly with people who have grown up in a conservative Christian household. There is a lot packed in, and it’s quite long for a graphic novel, with all the themes very carefully constructed.

However, perhaps because the focus of the story is mostly on Craig’s faith, or perhaps because it’s a semi-autobiography, I felt like the story arch itself was overall a bit fuzzy and kind of trailed out towards the end. This book is definitely more journey than destination, but I did feel like there wasn’t much resolution at the end. I think the reason for this really goes to the heart of the story which was Craig’s friendship (and later relationship) with Raina.

Raina was really the classic manic pixie dream girl archetype who seemed to exist solely to be Craig’s “muse”. Although he was young, I really felt like Raina got the rough end of the stick. Juggling a lot of primary care for two disabled siblings, trying to graduate high school and balancing a long-distance relationship, I felt like Craig’s ultimate betrayal of Raina and the personal boundaries she asked for was never properly addressed. Instead of being a real person with real feelings, Raina ends up being  treated as an “experience” for Craig. A person about whom he is angry and then later nostalgic, but not quite enough of a real person to justify an apology. Thompson has explained that the character of Raina is actually an amalgamation of a high school love and his current partner. I think that Craig’s inability to appreciate that Raina has a life and priorities outside of him is visible as the reader, but I’m not sure it’s visible to Craig the character. In the end I felt like he was still thinking of what Raina could do for him, and not what he could have done for her.

Regardless, this is an excellent graphic novel and one that I think might resonate with a lot of people. If you haven’t read many graphic novels, I think this would be a great place to start.

 

 

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