Four Graphic Novels

As eventful goes, this week isn’t winning any prizes. I’ve been enjoying myself, sure, with books and movies and no extraordinary amount of homework. Well, no more than the usual, anyway. This week I had a craving for some graphic novels this week- something short and sweet, with great artwork… I had one in mind, which I had seen in my school library, and when I went there to check it out I snatched another couple, then one came in at the local library for me, and that was yesterday, and now I’ve read them all and am ready to share. Graphic novels are quite quick, you see.

When I showed these books to people (with quite a bit of enthusiasm) I got a pretty universal, “Really? I didn’t know you were into graphic novels.” I don’t read them often, but as I said, this time I was hit with a craving. It was the artwork that I wanted, mostly, and that’s another thing about graphic novels; when I pick one, I do so by opening it and flipping the pages. Reading the summary comes afterward, and sometimes I’ll wake away with a few and then realize that I don’t actually know what they’re about. Such was the case with all three of the books I got from school (patience, I’m getting there). With graphic novels, the illustrations are intended to tell the story in at least equal parts as the words. It was probably Hugo Cabret that put me in the mood for visual novels. Which is actually what this first one prefers to be called.

The Three Incestuous Sisters is a visual novel by Audrey Niffeneger, who wrote The Night Bookmobile, which I reviewed a few weeks ago and greatly enjoyed. This one is sort of like a storybook, and I literally read the entire thing in the car on the way home from the library. It’s about three sisters who live together in a lighthouse until the old lighthouse keeper dies, and then his son comes to take over his job. The son falls in love with one of the sisters and gets her pregnant, while the other sisters are dealing with…. jealousy and magic, respectively. It was a very odd story.

The way I described this book to the librarian when I returned it was, “very, very, very Edward Gorey.” Reading this book was basically an identical experience to reading Gorey. It was in parts repulsing, fascinating, stunning, shocking, frightening… I actually couldn’t believe what was happening at certain points. I sat their going, “Whose…. whose brainchild is this fantastic work of whatisit?” It was completely mystifying.

At the end of the book, she included an “Afterward” that explained her creative process. Audrey Niffeneger is most well-known, probably, for her Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry, but she was an artist first. She spent fourteen years writing, drawing, and creating this book, and did The Night Bookmobile during that time, and I wish I had it on me so I could describe how she actually created the artwork, but it was pretty esoteric. And again, really interesting.

Has anyone here ever actually read an Edward Gorey cartoon? You know how the picture tells the story, with only two or three words, or maybe a sentence to carry the plot? “Her life continued to be quite tedious.” That’s from The Gilded Bat, which I think is my favorite Gorey cartoon from the two books of Gorey cartoons we own. I recommend giving it a shot if you never have- it will definitely broaden your horizons.

This one (I didn’t realize when I picked it up) is actually a true story about a group of Hurricane Katrina survivors who each reacted very differently to the storm. One woman refused to leave her apartment, and ended up going to the hospital later as a refugee. Two storeowners wouldn’t leave their supermarket, to discourage looters. A doctor lived in a house that was over two hundred years old, and he was so confident in it’s ability to weather the storm that he hosted a party there. A married couple leave the city early and go to stay with friends in Houston. A college senior and his family go to stay with his brother in Tallahassee.

This one was shocking and… saddening. I felt somehow naive after reading it; granted, I was only…. eleven? when the hurricane hit New Orleans, and we spent maybe a month in school studying current events and they kept us up on the news, but then it kind of… went away. That’s how things work when you live on the east coast and nothing ever happens to you. Tragedy just sort of…. goes away. It’s not effecting us. It’s terrible, but I was only eleven, and I admit that I’m guilty of not exactly keeping up with the current events now…. Anyway, in this book you see what the hurricane was like, up-close and personal. The characters aren’t just based on real people, they are real people. Denise, Kwame, Doctor Brobson, Leo and Michelle were all real people who told the Josh Neufeld their stories.

You know, I do live on the east coast. It’s not unthinkable (particularly after Katrina) that we might experience some devastating hurricane that puts the entire city out of commission- or more like the entire central part of the state, since my city is only 6,000 people, as opposed to the 200,000 of New Orleans at the time… And now I know, from the personal stories, exactly what it’s like being a refugee in a time like that, and it’s completely horrifying. I can’t imagine it. It’s…. it happens to someone else, you know? That’s how Americans view tragedy. We feel immortal. Even I do.

Garage Band is an Italian graphic novel by the artist Gipi. (Fun fact: if you google “garage band” it will put a squiggly red line under it and suggest “garageband,” the software. I was shocked.) This is one that I’ve had my eyes on for a while because of the really very lovely artwork- watercolor with thin, black linework. I’d actually checked it out once before, but I gave it to my art teacher when I became interested in watercolor, just to show her. This is the first time I’ve actually read the story. It’s about five friends who, well, start a band in their garage. Each of the boys has a thing that makes them more intriguing and defines their character. Then something bad happens and they need to make up for it, and they get themselves in some pretty deep trouble. Meanwhile, one of the boys’ fathers has found a client who owns a music production company (or something) and is willing to listen to them play. They might have a manager. It’s very exciting.

This book was simple. I really liked it for the artwork more than anything. The watercolor is washy and edgy and dark, but it’s bright where there are colors. The character designs are kind of gritty- each design fits the character in an uncanny way that I really liked. There were parts where you could tell that Gipi had put a black line over wet paint, and the line became fuzzy… I enjoy little details like that.

I really, really loved this book.

I Kill Giants is about a young girl named Barbra Thorson who, she says, kills giants. Barbra believes that someday soon an angry, violent giant will show up and will need to be killed, and she is the only one who can do it- with the aid of her magic hammer, Coveleski. Naturally, Barbra’s peers don’t react very kindly to her strangeness, and she particularly attracts the attention of the older Taylor, a rather vicious brand of bully. You start to realize that things aren’t entirely sitting right with Barbra- that something is up with their strange little family unit.

In the nature of all really fantastic books, I can’t explain why I loved this one so much. I clicked with Barbra, though- she was thorny and bold, cute and strange. Her emotions hit me strongly- I was offended when she was, hurt when she was, apologetic and horrified. She was very real, and soon it became apparent that she was just a fascinating kid who had no clue how to deal with a very unusual situation. She wasn’t getting any help, either- people tried, but with Barbra, it’s like you have no idea where to start. People would invariably say the wrong thing. It was very difficult.

At the same time, you see how she interacts with her friends- a gentle girl named Sophia, and also the school psychologist, Mrs. Molle- and realize that she could be a normal child, probably even a sweet one, but things haven’t worked out that way for her.

After I finished this one, I gave it to my sister to read. I expect her to review it soon as well. I just talked to her on the phone about it, and she said she liked it a lot. I look forward to seeing what she has to say. I’ll also be adding this book to my rec list. Yeah, it actually was that good. Go read it. I know some of you could finish a book like this in ten minutes.

So, that’s it for the week of Graphic Novels, I guess. I’ve got something from my school library which the teacher more-or-less shoved in my hands as I was leaving. I have a lot of homework I could be worrying about, but I’ve also got a camcorder waiting for me in a box seventeen miles from here, and I need to get someone to drive me over there to pick it up. Don’t worry, I’m sure it won’t be long before you hear from me again!