April 1, 2014

Danica Novgorodoff. The Undertaking of Lily Chen.

Danica Novgorodoff visits our Library Monday April 7th at 7:30 PM in support of her new graphic novel The Undertaking of Lily Chen (First Second Press, 2014).  She’ll present recent work, maybe do some live drawing, talk about her process, hang out, have a good time.

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In The Undertaking of Lily Chen a young Chinese man is confronted with a daunting task.  After accidentally causing his brother’s death, Deshi’s parents demand that he find a corpse bride to join his brother in his journey to the afterlife.  Deshi is haunted like Hamlet, agonized with guilt and familial responsibility, driven to find a suitable bride for his brother,  but what bride could satisfy his parent’s memory of their beloved first born son?  The world is short of eligible and lovely young corpses, perhaps it would be best if he made one of his own…

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February 26, 2014

Comics Jam hits: The Monster on the Hill, by Rob Harrell

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I’m always looking for great comics for  our monthly ‘Comics Jam’.   This is a program once a month where we use a video camera to project comics up onto a big screen, and then animate the story by reading aloud in character voices.  Kids occasionally help out with the voice-acting on short excerpts, but if a story is really good I’ll take over and we’ll read until the time or runs out (or my voice does).   In these stories what we’re really looking for is a tale that grabs the audience’s attention well enough that they want to pick up where they left off and show up next month as well.

Snappy dialogue, good humor, fast paced plot,  interesting characters — these are all elements that draw a loyal audience.  More so even than stellar draftsmanship, though of course that doesn’t hurt at all.   In January and February’s Comics Jam  we blazed through a good one, with all of the elements above:   Rob Harrell’s charming The Monster on the Hill.

The year is 1867.  England is infested with monsters.   Tentaculor roars through the small burg of Billingswood, terrorizing the villagers and leaving destruction in his tracks.  And this is no isolated incident:   Monsters!  Beasts!  Horrors!  Every town has them, a fact that excites the imagination of the populace and enlivens their humdrum days with the chance of excitement.

Well every town has it’s own monster, but some lack the verve and glamor of others.   Stoker-on-Avon has a bit of a problem in that department.  Their monster isn’t– well– all that monstrous.  Bit of a disappointment really.  Hasn’t given a proper rampage in years.  It’s something of an embarrassment when you get down to it.  Something must be done.

“Something’ comes in the form of disgraced local inventor Dr Charles Wilkie, who has been barred by the town fathers from practicing his trade due to a spate of awkward incidents and failed experiments.    In the name of killing two birds with one stone, the town fathers decide he’s just the man to solve the problem of the hangdog dragon.  If he fails, perhaps he’ll be eaten, if he succeeds well fine then he will be allowed to re-open his laboratory.  Either way his problem will be solved.  Packing up a trunk he hauls himself to the hinterlands seeking the lair of the monster…

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January 27, 2014

A visit with George O’Connor and various Greek Gods.

Come hang out with George O’Connor and his Olympians, Wednesday evening at 7:30 in the kids room at the Takoma Park Maryland Library.   Talk process, research,  story, characters, etc. with the artist.  Plus he can sign for you, as our friends at Politics and Prose will be selling books on site.

All the gods, in one panoramic class picture.

All the gods, in one panoramic class picture.

 

George O’Connor broke into daylight with his graphic  non-fiction work Journey into Mohawk Country, (First Second Press, 2006).  Set in the 1600′s this meticulously researched book illustrated the journal entries of a 23 year old Dutchman who attempted to make contact with the Mohawk and Oneida  tribes northwest of Albany in order to establish better trading relations.

The wry humor of O’Connor’s pen animated the dry prose of this travel diary and brought to life what must have been a mind-expanding life-changing journey for the author.  In reading a fairly bland account O’Connor recognized the drama and absurdity of these three young men who sorta stumbled and blustered their way through the wilderness — despite being basically unprepared and armored chiefly with good-natured ignorance.

This love of history as a living thing serves O’Connor  well in his retellings of the tales of the Hellenic deities.  Projected to be a twelve issue series, these books depict the greater figures among the gods of ancient Greece.  Faithful to the mythology, O’Connor nevertheless finds new angles to tell these stories, often from the perspective of the gods themselves.

The art is bright, clear, pastel colors and whimsical line.  Dialogue is modern,  but only rarely with a jarring anachronistic phrase (and hey, they’re immortal gods, clearly they can transcend time and learn a phrase or two  from another era).  Kids who discover the Greek gods via Rick Riordan’s  ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ series, will get a good dose of the real thing in these slim light volumes.

O’Connor also gives a peep into his methodology in the back of each book, discussing various aspects of each myth, things he discovered in research, challenges of drawing certain characters,  illustrating some difficulties or victories in his process.  These paragraphs are as valuable as the rest of the book in teaching kids how the study of history can be approached as an opportunity for adventure and discovery.

Pretty good,  each of them, a useful add to any library collection.  Some volumes are in our All-ages collection, others promote themselves to our young adult shelves because, well you know, these Greeks did not always behave themselves all that well.

December 9, 2013

Webcomics on paper. UMD Follow-up.

We’re in an era of an explosion of creativity in comics.  Technology often seems to drive innovations in comics.   The information era has proven a great boon for comics artists finding a new voice for themselves.  The good and bad of this is that it now costs nothing to put your work in front of the public.  The trick lies in finding ways to get noticed and to get paid for it.  Still, artists are developing their work directly online and many find this as the easy on-ramp to success.

Whether finding a jumpstart through crowdsourcing websites, or philanthropic organizations like Kickstarter, or recognition via awards like the Eisner or Ignatz awards that now recognize webcomics, artists no longer need to please an editorial board to show that their work has value, their portfolio need not be vetted by a jaded pro at one of the big houses, nor do they need to staple a zine together and spend a few hundred dollars at Kinkos copying their pages them selling them to friends.  The wide open nature of the web means all they need to do is put in the work of developing a great property, then find some way of drawing attention to it.

Selling their strips as apps or funding their work via advertising space on their pages and publishing online alone are two ways artists make money without even printing books.  Fortunately for those of us folks who are still living in “the 1900′s” (as my students say) much of the best work does find its way into print. Many savvy publishers buy properties that have already garnered an audience via webcomics.  Some publishers even give a free taste of the books online before publishing in print knowing there is a crossover between the various media.

As a buyer the ability to see snippets of content before publication helps in the selection process.  There are few reliable sources of reviews of comics and so much of what makes a comic valuable is whether the art works to tell the story (more than to add supporting detail).  To be able to do more than glance through a few pages allows library and school buyers to confidently buy a book with the limited budget they may have for comics.

After the jump we’ll see a few titles that first found their audience online before jumping to the page.
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December 4, 2013

Mental Health in Comics, Recommended Books list, and follow up to our UMD College of Information Studies visit.

We had another great visit with Professor Ching’s evening class in Children’s Literature and Materials at the University of Maryland’s graduate College of Information Studies.   We tend to haul a few boxes of books up there to show examples of great books, but spend more time discussing the history and relevance of comics.  I always enjoy the back and forth with the students that follows since its fun to talk comics with bright and interested people.

Here I’m circling back to follow-up on a few questions raised or books we discussed, as well as to offer resources helping you find other great books we recommend, especially those in our collection.

As promised our Recommended Graphic Novel List is available as a Google doc that we periodically edit to add more titles that make it into our various collections.

You will also find more recent reviews on here of course, and on the Takoma Park Maryland Library’s Comics Page.

After the jump (and in following blog entries) I’ll suggest books that relate to some of the topics we discussed, starting with 3 books on mental illness.

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November 17, 2013

Smash: Trial by Fire, by Chris & Kyle Bolton

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Good-hearted but impulsive kid contracts super-powers, tries his best — but being a hero is never easy.

We featured this book at our most recent Comics Jam, projecting the book up on the screen to read with the kiddies of the after-school crowd.  A fun read-aloud, the dialogue is clever and funny, the story lopes along at an easy pace once it gets rolling.  The feel is something of a cross between Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Spider-man — though unlike Greg Heffler (protagonist of the Wimpy Kid series) fun-sized hero Andrew Ryan isn’t, you know, a jerk.  He’s a good kid who idolizes the local superhero named Defender, trying to live up to his example.  Even without powers Andrew attempts to make his world a better place, to confront bullies or  help kids in need (in one sequence attempting some dashing derring-do involving a tire swing to rescue Halloween candy from the greedy clutches of sidewalk goons — with the usual disastrous results). Continue reading

November 8, 2013

Memior, realistic fiction, fictionalized memoir. A selection from a talk at Emerson school.

I recently had a chance to visit Emerson high school in Washington DC to talk with students about their graphic novel memoir projects.  I brought with me a stack of great books to provide examples of what can be done with the format.  Here’s a selection of the best of them:

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November 4, 2013

Gareth Hinds at the Takoma Park Maryland Library, Thurs 11/7. 7:30 PM

Local comics artist Gareth Hinds sits to discuss various projects, his process, etc.  Signing his latest: Romeo & Juliet. Thurs 11/7,  7:30PM in the Childrens’ room.  101 Philadelphia Ave. Takoma Park MD 20912

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Librarians discovered Gareth Hinds in the guise of his shuffling slouching inky and murderous monster Grendel.  Hinds’ 2007 interpretation of the Beowulf saga won fans and strong reviews with his lush and muscular reworking of the hero’s tale.  His Grendel steals the show from the title character though, leaving his greasy imprint and bloody footsteps through out the first half of the story.

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Beautifully painted, rich in color and mood, Beowulf became a must-have for public libraries, with a story strong enough to capture the interest of reluctant readers, (with plenty of gore and conflict) yet adding the gravitas of classic literature to the collection.  It is the broccoli of the library shelves: it’s good for you!  And if mom makes you eat it, hey, it can be pretty good!  If you add some of this to your plate mom might let you also have some (modern era) superheroes as well.

Subsequently Mr Hinds has adapted The Odyssey, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, and now Shakespeare’s iconic tragic love story.  He’s now working on Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish Play’.  Come talk with him about process, materials, inspirations etc. — in our Children’s room at 7:30, Thursday 11/7.  Our friends at Politics and Prose will be selling books if you want a signed copy.

 

 

October 4, 2013

Paul Pope visits Thurs Oct 10 7:30. Also review of Battling Boy!

Comix maestro Paul Pope (Batman: Year 100) debuts the  long-awaited ‘Battling Boy’:   Teen gods and science heroes vs the monsters,  Thursday OCT 10 at 7:30 in the kids room.

Artists, critics, and comics aficionados will tell you there’s no one quite like Paul Pope working in American comics today.    With his hyperkinetic line contrasting with strong lush inkwork his panels alternately brood and slouch or animate themselves on the page, fizzing and hissing with energy.  He has produced well received independent and adult titles (see Heavy Liquid, 741.5973 POPE in our catalog) or worked new creative angles on big name projects (critically acclaimed Batman: Year 100 — 741.5973 BATMAN).

BATTLING BOY

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In Battling Boy Pope he gets to play with a lighter touch, creating a coming-of-age heroes tale starring teen gods, action-science soldiers, and a world overrun with huge monsters and nasty boogeymen.  He allows himself to play in a realm that harkens back to the pulp science fantasy stories of a more innocent era (Flash Gordon, or works by Jack Kirby) while keeping a contemporary feel.
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July 29, 2013

Historical Fiction and Non-Fiction. Crogan’s Loyalty; Big Bad Ironclad

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Brother is set against brother in the excellent Crogan’s Loyalty, historical fiction set in the Revolutionary War.

This year during school visits we discussed historical fiction and I figured I’d take this space to highlight a few standout titles in our Graphic Novel collection.

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales:  Big Bad Ironclad.

This book works hard to do a great deal all at once in a very small space.  Pages are always cramped in a digest sized book, and while this works fine for manga where often one entire page is filled with a single panel,  here Hale manages to cram action, information and dialogue into dozen or more panels per page.

Within those size constraints Hale does fairly well.  Young comics readers won’t have to guess to untangle the flow of action sequences. and his flash-forward narrators (soon-to-be-hanged spy Nathan Hale and the Greek chorus of participants at his hanging) only occasionally obtrude on the flow of the story.   Now and again the nincompoopery of the hangman character fails to hit the funny bone, but otherwise the story serves its purpose:  teaching younger grade-level readers about a significant period of history in a breezy easy way.

The book is not trying for resonance or humanity or perspective. It seeks to make history kid-friendly. For graphics non-fiction it works pretty well, even if here at the library it doesn’t create its own audience or compel readers in to eagerly yank it from the shelf. To me well-done period fiction or non-fiction works best when it ignites further interest in the topic or era.  I ask myself not whether I learned something but: do I care to know more?

Crogan’s Loyalty by Chris Schweizer

Contrast with Chris Schweizer’s excellent The Crogan Adventures series.  These well-researched historical fiction action graphic novels follow the adventures of various ancestors of the Crogan family.  Tales of morality and moral ambiguity are told father to son to illustrate ethical lessons and a bit of history.

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