Archive for ‘Library issues’

February 3, 2015

A return visit from George O’Connor and the Olympians!

Come hang out with George O’Connor and his Olympians, Thursday Feb 5th at 7:30 in the kids room at the Takoma Park Maryland Library.  He’s introducing Ares: Bringer of War, the newest in his Olympians series.

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.

October 27, 2014

New York Comic Con. Red Moon. Rust 3. Spera 4..

The New York Comic Con has hulked out and grown into an absolute monster.  What was once a two and a half day convention for comics industry fans and professionals has swollen to a 4 day carnival of brightly colored fantasy-made-flesh  overflowing the 1,800.000 square feet of the Javits Center and meandering out into the streets of New York.

And I love it for all of its excess, perhaps because of the excess,  for those moments of sublimely surreal humor interspersed with the chance to discover brilliant new works or talk with comics publishers and professional.  I suspect it is the only place where you can have a conversation with publisher Mark Siegel of First Second press (purveyor of high quality literary comics like Gene Yang’s masterpiece Boxers and Saints) only to glance over your shoulder as a nine foot tall zombie staggers by supporting himself on the shoulders of two zombie nurses.   A totally normal occurrence at the Comic Con.

In years past the Con had a day set aside for professionals and on those days it was easy to sweep the entire show floor to make a quick first pass and then cycle back to the exhibits you needed to stop by to get business done.  With the swelling popularity of the Convention, that day is now gone.  As of last year the Thursday professional day began selling one day tickets and now every day is a Tokyo-rush-hour crush of costumed lunacy, with every aisle packed with a bazaar of the fantastic and bizarre.

So okay it makes it tougher to get serious business done, shuffling along at the pace of a medicated madhouse patient, pausing every few seconds to gawp or to make room for people to take pictures of each other in costume, but once you get into the rhythm and allow things to take their time, you will still make great discoveries and get into interesting conversations with the people who make imagination their life.  The trick then is to simply take your time, and let the con come to you.  Or go every day all day for a few days in a row as I do.  It took a determined effort but I did in fact manage to hit the whole show and to twice pass through Artists Alley (in another warehouse section separated from the show floor) and to chat with the folks who crank out the ideas and images that find expression (in costumes and movies and books and video games) throughout the rest of the building.

Which is the best part:  meeting artists whose works I admire, or better yet find new works that are begging for a wider audience.  Best of all, every year I come back loaded down with GREAT NEW BOOKS to share with you all.  Both on our shelves at the Library and in reviews in these pages.   (See after the jump), and watch this space for a preview of more new books added to the shelves of our collection.

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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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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

garethromeocover
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.

garethhinds1
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.

 

 

July 29, 2013

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

crogans loyalty sniper

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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February 24, 2012

Panel Check! Racist images in comics.

Before shelving a book in our collection, no matter the review nor recommendation, here at the Takoma Park MD Library we always run a ‘panel check’ on every graphic novel we add.

This means I read a great many comics of course, the point here is to confirm where a book belongs in our collection, and in our children’s section to avoid any upsetting surprises for patrons hunting for an appropriate book for their kid.  Adult language, realistic violence, sexually charged situations, mature topics– these are all reasons why a book may step up the ladder to the next higher age category.  (See promotion criteria at the bottom of this article).

Occasionally we get ambushed by a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing and buy a book intended for a young audience, but discover a single panel of art that bumps it to a higher category.   Kid-to-grown-up ‘booby-trapped’ books are especially upsetting when an otherwise great story, appropriate for all ages, is derailed by unfortunate racial stereotypes or caricatures.

Here is a smattering of otherwise excellent books that are tainted by their own prejudices.

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November 18, 2011

Why not Comics? (Some history).

Underground, you can feel the weight of the cliff face overhead.  There is a solemn quiet in the tribe, even the bundled infants keep respectful silence.  All would be dark, but you have brought fire with you,  bundles of rivergrass twisted together burning brightly.  White Streak pours water on a pile of powders, dips his hand into the mud and strokes the wall, leaving a swatch of color.  He scratches with a burned stick, here and here.  Behold:  an animal,  then a herd, running, powerful.   Here a hunter carries a spear, here a spear has pierced the skin of a great longhorned bison that staggers and soon will die to feed the tribe.

Stories told in pictures have been with us for as long as we have recorded story in any durable form.  We are hardwired to understand images, and make stories in our heads to make sense of these images.  It is an important part of our mental heritage, and in fact one of the building blocks of ‘culture’ itself: the ability to pass on information via visual representations.

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October 28, 2011

Criteria for judging quality in comics (from a talk at the University of Maryland).

I always enjoy our yearly session talking comics with the ‘gradual’ students at the College of Information Sciences at UMD, in large part because interesting questions get raised that I had not yet considered.  Here the question was:  ‘If you were developing an award for comics, what criteria would you use to decide if a comic is noteworthy?’  In other words, how do I tell if a comic is good?

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September 28, 2011

Top 15 list for Reluctant Readers, and how to ‘Comics Jam’!

Here is another letter from a school media person:

Hello,
I’m planning on introducing a reluctant reader group to graphic novels and I am thusly wondering what would be your first 15-20 buys?  

I am planning on introducing the titles and then letting the boys select one title then maybe next session having them report on their book.

Do you have any experience with reading groups, and if so does this seem like a format that would work, or should I run it differently?

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