Nimona

nimonaTitle: Nimona

Author: Noelle Stevenson

Summary: Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: In contrast to the last book i read, i had no expectations of this one. I heard about it somewhere, thought it looked fun, bought it. By the time i finally picked it up to read, well… i was in love by the end of page two.

Where do i start? It’s hard when i really did love everything about this book. Its premise is wonderfully subversive. Our two main characters are the villains, working to expose and overthrown the heroes and their institution. It’s been said that to the villain of a story, they see themselves as the protagonist–in this book, they are the protagonists. And this book is funny. Perfectly, wonderfully, brilliantly funny. Just the perfect about of silly, heartfelt and witty.

Nimona is an absolute joy. She’s straight-talking, smart, silly and brave. She can be any shape she wants to, and as standard she chooses a plus-size, shaven-head, short-skirt-wearing kick-arse woman. She is my favourite. Blackheart is a bloody sweetheart! Sad and angry about his past, he’s a villain who lacks the passion for evil, while constantly showing compassion. I could happily read about this crime-committing duo for many, many more comics.

Ambrosius… has a fantastic name. He was purposely vapid at first, i think–a play on the attractive but ultimately dull hero. As his past with Blackheart is revealed, however, he becomes more complex, interesting, and likable. His and Blackheart’s relationship was wonderfully played out, so subtle but with such depth. Blitzmeyer is another delight. Incredibly smart and incredibly peculiar, she won me over swiftly. I only wish there had been more of her.

The art in this comic was enchanting. Bright, bold, and clear, with cute little details like Nimona’s piercings, Blackheart’s scars, and subtle use of shades. I often wanted to whizz quickly over panels to follow the story i was so engrossed in, but i kept making myself pause to fully appreciate the action- and emotion-focused panels. They are gorgeous. The sketches at the end of the book are lovely, too. To see the development and evolution of Nimona, and how that is reflected in her various hair dos, poses and facial expressions was nice to have.

Honestly, i don’t have a bad word to say about this book. Which is why it’s got five stars. The only (very mildly) annoying thing about the entire experience is that i’ve spent the last few days with Guster’s Ramona in my head… “Nimona, where have you been?”

Through the Woods

ttwTitle: Through the Woods

Author: Emily Carroll

Summary: It came from the woods. Most strange things do.

Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss. Come, take a walk in the woods, and see what awaits YOU there.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I’ve had this book on my shelf for quite a while, but saved it as I thought it would be the perfect halloween-time read. It was.

First, and most obviously, this book is gorgeous. The simple-but-striking cover, with creepy branches, limited colours and embossed feel is what drew me to the book in the first place. The art inside is just as striking. The panels are clean and uncluttered, bold in what they show. The use of negative space was incredible and added so much to the atmosphere of the stories (we’re not afraid of the darkness, we’re afraid of what the darkness is hiding). The artwork seems so effortless; it all flows and works so well. It’s not busy, but holds such detail. It’s just amazingly beautiful, and to say that of a graphic horror novel makes me so happy.

The stories themselves are similar, i think, in their simplicity and depth. Nothing is given away easily. The reader is let in on a glimpse of the tale, and it is in the art–the faces, the colours, the settings, the space–as well as the words, that the stories are told. The stories are generally heavy on the build up, on the back story, on the scene setting. A couple of times i found myself awaiting a twist, a big reveal, a spike in the action… but that wasn’t what these stories were about. There weren’t solid conclusions or explanations to these tales–that’s not the point. These stories are about a creeping horror, that crawls inside and makes itself at home. There was no release offered by an explanation or solid conclusion–that would be too easy.

I loved all the stories, but i think my favourite was My Friend Janna.

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The next time i want to feel a chill down my spine and wonder what’s hiding in the darkness, I will definitely re-read this by candle light while the wind howls outside.

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Show Me the Map to Your Heart & Other Stories

comix-coverTitle: Show Me the Map to Your Heart & Other Stories

Author: John Cei Douglas

Summary: A collection of stories ranging from nostalgic coming of age tales to long distance relationships, being stranded on desert islands, coping with mental health problems and the childlike wonder of exploring fantasy worlds.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I picked this little book up at my local comic shop on a whim, and I’m utterly delighted with it. The whole book has this quiet, slowness about it. Reading it, i felt safe and warm and understood.

Several of the stories don’t have any words–no narration or dialogue–just the images of each frame to progress the story. I loved that, because it made me focus on the images more, to tease out what was happening through visuals alone. It also leaves the details of the story much more open to interpretation. Footnotes, for example, shows a couple in a long distance relationship gradually drifting apart, but without insight into their thoughts or conversations it’s left to the reader to decide how and why they ended up drifting apart.

One of my favourite stories was Living Underwater, which uses the idea of living underwater as a metaphor for depression and mental health problems. How you can slip into the water without realising it’s happening, how it can become an isolating ocean, and how you might be able to find the direction to dry land.

The title story, Show Me the Map to Your Heart, is wonderful. It puts a fantasy adventure twist on a new relationship, to explore the ideas surrounding discovering each other and yourself. The middle pages of the book are a large fold-out image mapping the trail the lovers take, it’s quite beautiful. And this story included my favourite line of the entire book:

Her heart was hole but lost

She was so caring she had left pieces of it behind, not thinking that one day she might need them herself.

This book was as comforting as a soft blanket and a cup of tea. I felt like I had those from reading alone, and for a book to evoke that kind of calm feeling was lovely to experience.

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Wytches

wythchesTitle: Wytches

Author: Scott Synder, Jock (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colours)

Summary: When the Rooks family moves to the remote town of Litchfield, New Hampshire, to escape a haunting trauma, they’re hopeful about starting over. But something evil is waiting for them in the woods just beyond town. Watching from the trees. Ancient… and hungry.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: Graphic novel horror story with excellent-looking art, i wanted this book. The graphic aspect is amazing, shame about the story part.

I both liked and disliked the narrative style. The present day and flashbacks, side by side and interspersed. I liked it because it kept me guessing, kept me wondering, but unfortunately it made the story as a whole not work as well. I couldn’t sympathise or root for the characters in the present day, because i didn’t know their history; i didn’t understand them. To be quite honest, i didn’t like any of the characters. I came to like Charlie, but only right at the very end and after his full back story is revealed. I also called the “twist” very early on. For all i didn’t like any of the characters, it was pretty clear who they’d made most vague and suspicious. The plot was weak, with, again, the full extent of it only revealed at the very end… stories shouldn’t work like that. You don’t explain everything at the end, you leave pieces all the way through which then all come together at the end. It was just poor storytelling.

The art, however, is absolutely amazing. It has depth and design and mood… it has so much atmosphere and detail. It was the art that makes this book any kind of good. It carried the entire thing. It held the emotions of the story, it had the horror, the loneliness, the despair, the joy, the love. It’s all in the art, not in the words or the plot.

I would look at this book again, but i wouldn’t read it.

Radiator Days

rdTitle: Radiator Days

Author: Lucy Knisley

Summary: I used to live in a small apartment in Chicago, where the radiator hummed noisily while I drew comics. The comics in this book were made over a two-year period that seems to consist of constant winter. They were drawn to the tune of the radiator’s hum.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I enjoy comics and i enjoy short stories. This book is a collection of short story comics, so going in there was a high chance of me loving it. This was a random purchase from my local comic book shop, and it did not disappoint. It’s a fun lighthearted read, with a decent splattering of meaningful honesty and thoughtfulness.

Part journal, part fiction the stories have a nice mix. On the whole i think i preferred the journal-type comics, because they gave me more of a sense of the author, why she drew these comics and what she herself was getting out of it. I particularly liked the comics covering one day, with two panels per hour, as well as the ‘Summer Journals’ which covered a couple of months, a one-page comic a day. The fictitious comics ranged from sweet and serious to bizarre and funny. The ones that stick with me being the tomboy bridesmaid stuck in a lift and the skeleton/bear fight.

Knisley’s drawing style is simple, but never lacking. On the whole she uses plain line drawings, but manages to put a lot of life into them. It’s accessible; it seems to invite the reader into the story, to be a part of it and share in its delights, rather than solely to be admired. It’s the kind of art that inspires me because it’s wonderful, but also looks like something even i could manage if i practised enough.

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I have another Knisley book, bought on the same day as this random purchase, and i’m very much looking forward to reading it. Knisley draws smart, funny and perceptive comics, but also random, poignant and relateable stories. Plus, the references to Jeffrey Lewis make me happy.

This knocks three squares off my Bookish Bingo: Self-published, based on true stories and written by someone under 30.

DayBlack

DayBlackTitle: DayBlack

Author: Keef Cross

Summary: Beneath the polluted clouds of DayBlack, Georgia, exists a murderer. After hundreds of years of killing to survive, he no longer wants to simply exist… he wants to live. DayBlack is the story of Merce, a former slave who was bitten by a vampire in the cotton fields. Four hundred years later, he works as a tattoo artist in the small town of DayBlack. The town has a sky so dense with pollution that the sun is nowhere to be seen, allowing Merce to move about freely, night or day. Even darker than the clouds are the dreams he’s been having that are causing him to fall asleep at the most awkward times (even while he’s tattooing someone). As he struggles to decipher his dreams, someone from his past returns with plans for him–plans that will threaten his new way of life and turn him back into the cold-hearted killer he once was.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This was a pretty fun, smart and interesting read. I was intrigued by the premise–a vampire who works as a tattoo artist in a town of perpetual darkness. Add to that narcolepsy, falling asleep while tattooing and strange dreams and i needed to read this graphic novel.

Set up for the story starts right away, with a brief introduction to two young boys and their mother. This gives some expectations of Merce, his life, and hints of what’s to come. Ambiguity and suggestion like that are a surefire way to keep me reading. The details of Merce’s “life” are slowly revealed; his bizarre dreams, his dissatisfaction with death, his place in the town, why he’s a tattoo artist, his friends, acquaintances and customers. It’s all leading somewhere, and setting the scene at the same time. It gave me a feel for Merce and his “life”–how he gets along and spends his time, what he cares about but also how he keeps everything at a distance. He has a clear air of apathy and indifference about him, and i loved that. For me it emphasised his undead state; it isn’t that he doesn’t care, it’s more like he can’t.

The other characters, though often brief in appearance, are so succinctly summed up and given life–sometimes in just one frame. Others remain a purposeful mystery, to Merce himself as well as the reader, and i hope we can find out more about them in future editions. A lot of Merce’s history also remains a mystery to be explored in the more comics. It’s clear he worked in cotton fields and was turned into a vampire there, but we don’t know by who or why. There are hints of things surrounding his mother and a possible significant other; but i want to know more–it’s clear there is more to find out.

My favourite aspect were the details around vampire lore. It reminded me of I Am Legend; it played on the stereotypes while doing something new and interesting with them. It also brought the vampire myths firmly into the modern day by addressing how vampires could be affected by technology and disease. I found those kinds of thoughtful details really fascinating.

And of course, the artwork. It really struck me, because i don’t think i’ve come across this kind of style before. In a lot of ways it is quite simplistic; black and white line drawings with splashes of red and a few colourful collages. But within that simplicity is a lot of detail; crosshatching and lines for shadow and emphasis, negative space and excellent framing. The two kinds of frames that were the most striking to me were the less complex ones with one focus, and the scenes that shows Merce’s dreams, which were abstract and full with so much to take in.

Granted, i’m still new to the world of graphic novels, but i’ve not yet read one quite like DayBlack. It felt fun, but interesting enough to be going somewhere. I definitely want to read more about Merce, his tattoo parlour, his vampire hunter ‘son’ and his dreams.

Serenity: Those Left Behind

those left behindTitle: Serenity: Those Left Behind

Author: Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews, Will Conrad (Illustrator)

Summary: Here’s how it is—in a universe filled with hearts and minds as cold and dark as the reaches of space, one small Firefly-class starship named Serenity takes its ragtag crew of mercenaries, outlaws, and fugitives in search of a job, any job, that’ll earn them enough cash to afford that most elusive commodity—peace.

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, unveils a previously unknown chapter in the lives of his favourite band of space brigands in the prequel to the Serenity feature film—the blockbuster follow-up to Whedon’s cult-hit TV show Firefly.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I’m a huge Joss Whedon fan, and i adore and still mourn Firefly. However, the comics, and comics generally, weren’t really something i was into. I was glad they existed, but it wasn’t how i wanted to consume and enjoy this world and these characters. Then i somehow ended up enjoying and seeking out graphic novels. I don’t even know how or why anymore, but i did. That, in turn, changed my mind completely on the Firefly comics: i wanted them–needed them.

And so i took half an hour of a recent train journey to finally read this comic book. And i sort of loved it. The dialogue is perfect, captures perfectly both the general style of the dialogue from the TV series and also the individual characters; i can almost hear them speaking their lines. I think that was my favourite thing. The Chinese doesn’t work quite as well, because while spoken or written we don’t know what is actually being said, without the emphasis or tone the meaning is completely lost and it is slightly redundant (expect to those who can read Chinese, obviously).

The plot was fun, though too short to fully satisfy me. It was great to see old characters make a return, and i especially loved Book’s character development–or, his attempt at curtailing that development. It was nice to see how and why he and Inara left, and to know that wasn’t the end of it for them–that we get to see them again in the film. I just wanted more. More action, more banter, more exploration. But of course, trying to fit a full 45 minute TV episode plot into a comic book would undoubtedly make it a comic novel… or two.

The art was… okay. Not bad at all, and some of it was really amazing. But… i think sometime the artist was trying too hard to make the characters look as much like their actor counterparts as possible, which didn’t quite work for me. I thought Dobson was the most consistently represented, and that’s because at no point did he look too much like the actor who played him, although i could see the actor in him. I’m not sure that makes sense, but i know what i mean. The artist needed to capture the essence of these characters, not their exact physical proportions.

Overall, though, as a hardcore Firefly fan, i loved this. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one.

Amphigorey

amphigoreyTitle: Amphigorey

Author: Edward Gorey

Summary: The title of this deliciously creepy collection of Gorey’s work stems from the word amphigory, meaning a nonsense verse or composition. Gorey’s painstakingly cross-hatched pen and ink drawings are perfectly suited to his oddball verse and prose. Many of Gorey’s tales involve untimely deaths and dreadful mishaps, but much like tragic Irish ballads with their perky rhythms and melodies, they come off as strangely lighthearted.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4.5/5

Review: I found out about this books through a goodreads giveaway. I didn’t win it, but i liked the sound of it enough to add it to my to-read shelf. A couple of weeks ago i went to a nearby comic and graphic novel shop with the express intention of buying something, but i didn’t know what. I found a few books on my to-read list, but it was Amphigorey i settled on, i think because of the awesome cover.

What i hadn’t realised was that Edward Gorey had written and drawn these short stories and verses way back in the 50s and 60s. I don’t know why, but i had seen graphic novels as a much more modern thing. It was really nice to think the words and images i was reading had been read and enjoyed for so many years. And the work–in terms of the language and the art–has not dated at all; this fits right in with any other graphic novel you can pull of the shelf.

I also hadn’t expected poetry, verse, limerick and rhyme, but bloody hell, did i love it. There are a few limericks in French, which i tried to translate online. I got the gist of them, but the rhythm and rhymes were lost.

The art is impressive. The majority of it is fine lines of black ink, and the detail and texture created is amazing. One of my favourite panels is in fact simply of a room with its door open, showing the hallway and another open door beyond. I also can’t fault the amount of moustaches scattered throughout the pages. There is a slow, careful, gothic unease in most of the artwork, which itself is a complexly drawn simplicity.

Best of all, though, is that Gorey’s work mixes perfectly two things i adore: imaginative rhyming and morbid horror. He deals with such dark and sinister subjects, such as child deaths, domestic violence and suicide, but he juxtapositions that with light and jaunty language, upbeat and jolly rhymes. Sometimes it was only the dark foreboding in the his images that reminded me that some lines weren’t as cheerful as they appeared…

limericks

There were a couple of stories which, on the face of it, seem much more innocent and suited to children’s stories. There are in colour, with one being about a family of happy ants, while the other is about a group of children and a creature called the Wuggly Ump. However, Gorey doesn’t let his narratives off so easily, and both end with death.

Overall, there wasn’t actually anything i disliked about this book, and the instant i finished it i added the further three Amphigorey volumes to my to-read list. The reason this books isn’t getting five stars is simply because i didn’t get that feeling. You know, that feeling. (I don’t know.) I loved everything about it, it just didn’t give me that five-star punch. I also think i might love it more on a re-read, when i know what i’m getting myself into much more clearly, and i can have that anticipation. For that, i also have high hopes for the next three books!

This knocks three squares off my Bookish Bingo: A graphic book, one-word title and found out about on goodreads.

Hallowe’en Party: Graphic Novel

hallowe'enTitle: Hallowe’en Party: Graphic Novel

Author: Agatha Christie, Chandre (Illustrator)

Summary: A 13 year-old girl holds the clue to a death at a party on 31st October – was it a fatal mistake or a murder?

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: Yesterday i found myself in a library with some time to kill. I happened to pass by the graphic novel section and spot some Agatha Christies. I hadn’t even known there were graphic novels versions of her books, so i was a little excited. With it being the end of October, of the five or six books that were there, of course i picked up ‘Hallowe’en Party’. I found a nice comfy spot and read all 46 pages.

It was odd, reading a Poirot graphic novel. There were distinct elements missing. Most noticeably Poirot’s air of egotism. It is, i am happy to admit, my favourite thing about Poirot. He’s a clever sod, and he knows it. Though there is reference to the “little grey cells”, the closest the books gets to Poirot’s conceitedness is a smug face when someone else describes how smart he is. It was nice, but it wasn’t the same.

I also found it harder, somehow, to keep track of the characters. Even though there were faces to go with the names, there were a few people i kept mixing up. “The blonde one” was not enough to remember a character by, apparently. Graphic novels are, of course, less in-depth than textual novels, and not having Poirot’s descriptions and observations of characters made them much more forgettable.

With everyone Poirot talked to toting the same line about the victim, at first i was convinced this was another Orient. When the truth was revealed, it seemed much more out of no where than usual. Again, i think this was due to the lack of clues in the details about characters and their actions that graphic novels are prone to.

As much as this was a enjoyable enough book, overall i don’t think Christie’s books, or murder mysteries in general, are the best material for adapting into graphic novels. There is something essential in the detail of clues that this genre needs, but graphic novels just can’t provide.

The Vesuvius Club: Graphic Edition

vcgeTitle: The Vesuvius Club: Graphic Edition

Author: Mark Gatiss, Ian Bass (Illustrator)

Summary: The first adventure of Lucifer Box rendered in every detail.

Lucifer Box, the greatest portraitist of the Edwardian age and England’s most dashing secret agent, investigates a series of bizarre disappearances and plunges headlong into low life and high society.

Who is killing Britain’s most prominent vulcanologists?
What secrets lie beyond the grave?
And which tie goes best with a white carnation?

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I read and loved The Vesuvius Club many years ago. When i found out there was a graphic novel edition, i wanted it. It was on my wish list for a few years, but i never received it. So, a little while ago, i bought it myself. It was worth the wait.

While the story itself is not as in depth as the original book (obviously), the art does such a good job of bringing the character and the action and the settings to life. There is no colour, it is only black and white. This is a shame in some respects, because i would have loved some colour in a few particular panels (mostly the violent ones, i will confess–what’s a blood splatter without a little red?). On the other hand, the black and white provides such a noir, mystery and classy feel to the images.

Lucifer, whom i fell in love with in the book, is very much as i pictured him; a handsome devil who knows it. There were a few images where he seemed overly comic (bug-eyed, squared-chinned and fat-lipped) and others where he just looked old, but on the whole he personified the character described in the book.

Mr Victor is my second favourite character, though to reveal more about him would spoil far too much. Suffice to say there is a wonderful full-page image that sums it up efficiently.

The plot and action move swiftly and the story never gets dull. It was great to see the fight scenes play out, rather than having to image them as they play out slowly among detailed descriptions, as they so often do in prose. And in a few cases, particularly plots twists, it was much nicer to have visual cues as to the nature of what was playing out, and that slight anticipation evoked with an image before the narrative progresses.

I would definitely recommend this as a supplement the original book. Although the art is wonderful and the story flows well enough, there is obviously a lot omitted. As much as the graphic edition can stand on its own, it was only enhanced by my knowledge of the book, and the nuances and details of characters and plot that simply can not be converted into this edition.