Comic Reviews


Ivy

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Ivy by Sarah Oleksyk is a story about a young woman in the last year of high school, college is coming and various challenges face her friendships old and new. I connected with the story in many ways, and empathized with many of the events described. Even the events I could not as easily relate to, I found quite interesting and wanted to see how it would all end.

It’s a believable story of conflicts between a parent and a child, as well as with old allies and and various unfair school staff. We can see many elements of frustration and where Ivy’s various emotions, including anger and infatuation, come from. Ivy has energetic moments, sad moments, and even intimate moments, and shows a journey of growth with elements of personal adventure and discovery.

However, there may be things some readers won’t be too keen on about the story. Upon discussion with others I’ve found that some people have have issues with  the artwork style of some of the character’s faces or moments where the reader loses faith in Ivy due to some of her judgments. Thus, I’m not quite sure on how to comment on this graphic novel from a general, critical point of view. I suppose it is a bit rough around the edges. Maybe the artwork could have done with more work or maybe the main character could have been more relatable to the reader. But from a personal point of view, I quite enjoyed it.

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For the Love of God, Marie!

Review by Matthew Nielsen

For the Love of God, Marie! by Jade Sarson is the story of the life of Marie, a person full of love and unafraid to express it in her own way. However, the problems arise when her way of loving goes against the cultural standards of the time, thus leading to various struggles and conflicts.

The graphic novel starts in England in the 1960s. We are introduced to Marie and her rather Christian family. Marie attends a Catholic school where she meets various people who, compared to the school’s desired way of behaving and culture, are misfits. Marie connects with them, wanting to heal their pain the best way she knows how, through emotional and physical love. Throughout the story Sarson draws multiple detailed intimate scenes, unafraid to show what takes place in the characters’ private lives. Marie’s behaviour causes a great deal of discontent with her family as they gradually learn more and more about her lusty activities. The story takes place over the course of numerous decades, including the 70s and 80s, and onwards. We see many moments in Marie’s life, as well as the long relationship with her friend William (described on the back of the book as a ‘gay crossdresser’). There are many moments of joy, sadness, passion and anger throughout the comic.

With this graphic novel it is Sarson’s artwork which deserves the most praise. Her ability to capture animated, lively characters with strong individual expression and faces, as well as her keen use of colour and shading, is marvelous. The various chapters have different colour schemes with limited palettes, giving each its own feel and mood. There is also a good use of costume and theme, which  fit each era of both Marie’s life and the decade she is in.

However, what could have been done better in the story are some elements of the writing. A lot of the book focuses on various issues and challenges within the LGBTQ community through the ages, and the theme of intolerance against free love is prominent throughout. But I feel two things are not done quite accurately. Firstly, the level of intolerance featured in the book, especially for periods like the 1960s/70s UK, does not seem high enough. In fact a lot of people in the book seem surprisingly lenient and understanding for the period. Secondly, I feel there are many events that could have been expanded on. Certain moments in one’s life really require a great pause in the mainstream. A big event that rustles you, that changes you, should not be explained in the same number of panels as an everyday mundane event. The sheer emotional impact of key moments must be emphasized in order to promote empathy through correct pacing. If the character must spend a long time on one experience, so must the reader, and that was something that For the Love of God was sometimes lacking.

One last thing to note. The back of the book describes For the Love of God as “manga-inspired,” but that comparison sounds like it’s coming from someone who knows very little about manga and comics in general. This graphic novel is not manga-ish much at all but very much a different style.

In the end, For the Love of God, Marie! was a good read, and I thoroughly enjoyed the artwork. The story and characters were interesting, though I feel the book could have benefited from being 50%-100% longer in length. If the adventures of free love take your fancy, then you might want to check out this graphic novel.

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Cook Korean

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Cook Korean is a graphic novel cook book by Robin Ha, an artist who mixes Korean and American cultural influences. Speaking as someone who hasn’t read a cook book before (I suppose I’m not too keen on how most mainstream cook books look inside), I can say that I found Cook Korean to be both visually appealing and easy to follow. Robin Ha not only provides recipes, but also autobiographical short stories and facts about Korean people, food, and culture.

The recipes themselves are drawn and written out in a step-by-step way that are essentially comics without boxes. The artwork makes the ingredients look extra tasty, and all along the way we are guided by Robin Ha’s alter ego Dengki. I personally learn a lot better from comics than from standalone text or even from videos, so for me this was the perfect method for learning. However, even if you’re not all that interested in the recipes, the autobiographical stories and Korean culture segments are fascinating in their own right, and you might consider checking out this book for those elements alone.

I hope I can find more graphic novel cook books, and I look forward to exploring more of Robin Ha’s work. On top of that, I now have a collection of new meals to try out!

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Clumsy: A Novel

Review  by Matthew Nielsen

Clumsy: A Novel by Jeffery Brown is an autobiography about a long-distance romantic relationship between two young adults. It is told through simple and unrefined artwork – appearing more like doodles than what most would consider finished artwork. The same applies to the lettering, which can be hard to read sometimes. However, this approach also gives the art a charm, a sort of honesty and innocence.

Many of the events that take places in the story are ones that most couples can relate to and understand. Other events may not have been experienced by the reader but are still easily empathized with. The story all feels very real, and readers could easily form strong connections with the narrator and other characters .

If you do not mind the style, and if you are up for reading about the time a couple have had together, including the beginnings, middles, and ends of said relationship, then this book is likely to be to your liking. Overall, despite the unfinished art style, I still enjoyed reading it.

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California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas

Review by Matthew Nielsen

California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas by Pénélope Bagieu is a compelling biography of singer/actress Cass Elliot drawn in energetic, honest and expressive pencils. This graphic novel details various key moments from the life of the famed performer who was once known as “Mama Cass.” Bagieu does a great job capturing singing through her artwork and lettering, though to maximize the reading experience, it would help to be familiar with at least the song the book is named after. Bagieu also has done an excellent job of not only presenting a concise and efficient storyline but also painting a very favourable portrait of Cass Elliot, to the point where a reader could very well strongly appreciate and admire the singer through the power of the graphic novel alone. Along with that, the proud and bold curved lines that form the illustration of Elliot do not hold back. The artwork, especially when depicting Elliot, is very impressive.

This is a good story, and an even better one if you have a passion for music, especially Cass Elliot and the Mamas & the Papas.

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Asterix & Obelix

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Asterix & Obelix, originally written by René Goscinny and drawn by Albert Uderzo is an iconic series of French comics about an indomitable Gaulish village at the edge of the Roman Empire in the year 50 BC. Despite Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, one village remains free of Roman influence, and this village is able to keep all invasions at bay due to their druid’s magic potion, which grants them superstrength. The main characters are the intelligent and nimble Gaulish warrior Asterix, and the powerful yet slow-witted Obelix, who permanently has the effects of the magic potion due to having fallen into the cauldron as a child. Though the series started off as a collaboration between writer Goscinny and artist Uderzo, when Goscinny eventually passed away, Uderzo took up the project solo. Uderzo retired in 2011, and now the project has been handed over to the author Jean-Yves Ferri and the illustrator Didier Conrad.

This series features all kinds of adventures, with roughly half the books being set in the Gaulish village as the Romans devise a new scheme to take it, and the other half being set abroad as the Gauls visit some other country. It is by no means historically accurate, with some adventures involving anachronisms such as the Vikings (the actual Viking age was several centuries later), but it is a good lot of fun all around with plenty of head-bashing and legionnaire-smashing along the way.

Aside from the delightful illustrations and designs provided by Uderzo, there’s also the abundance of verbal humor provided by Goscinny. The use of wordplay and cultural jokes is a big part of the series.This is usually well-translated into English, although sometimes the translations are tad too cheesy or obscure to quite hit the mark. Still, there are the classics. For example, all Gaulish men have names ending in “-ix,” such as the druid Getafix, the fishmonger Unhygenix, the old man of the village Geriatrix. Likewise, other cultures have their own sets of pun-styled names (such as the Viking names ending in “-af” or the Goths in “-ic”). There are also plenty of other little jokes, including how the Germanic Goths speak in a gothic typeface and Egyptians speak in hieroglyphics. By today’s standards, a few of the jokes may come off as rude, mean or even offensive, for example, the visual portrayal of African people. But for the most part, many of the jokes are harmless. Other jokes may be quite dated, such as the various references to the film “Cleopatra: from 1963.

For the best books, one should probably aim for the initial Goscinny/Uderzo collaborations. These include many notable adventures, such as Asterix the Legionary and Asterix in Britain. The Uderzo solo books are a bit more hit-and-miss. Some are very good, just as good as the original collaborations, but some are lacking, and some are downright jarring, such Asterix and the Falling Sky, which features aliens, including Superman lookalikes. There are also various compilation albums like Asterix and the Class Act and Asterix and Obelix: The Golden Book, which are a bit out of the norm. I do appreciate the later experimentation of Uderzo, but some of the experiments were disappointing. The Ferri/Conrad collaborations are quite new and therefore there are only three of them so far. Though I have not read the most recent album, the other two (Asterix and the Picts and Asterix and the Missing Scroll ) have been quite enjoyable to read. Not as good as the best Goscinny/Uderzo books but certainly better than the worst Uderzo-solo books.

On top of the comics, there are also several animated films (plus a couple of live-action ones). The first of the animated films, Asterix the Gaul, feels a bit like watching the Flintstones, but the films improve for the most part, with my favourite being The Twelve Tasks of Asterix. Oddly, the film Asterix and the Big Fight has two English dubs, one British and one American, and for some reason the American dub changes the characters, names such as the fishmonger being called “Fishstix” instead of “Unhygenix” (also Asterix is voiced by the guy who played Fonzie from Happy Days). Strange.

If you’re up for some ancient adventures in Gaul and abroad, with plenty of bashing and smashing and hilarious jokes and numerous puns, then Asterix & Obelix is a series I strongly recommend.

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750 Years in Paris

Review by Matthew Nielsen

750 Years in Paris by Vincent Mahé is a unusual graphic novel:  a series of illustrations that depict a single point within the city of Paris that is shown again and again throughout different points in history. Starting from the 13th century, we are taken through medieval, imperial and eventually modern times. Among the scenes depicted are crusaders marching through the town, plague running rampant, conflict and war in the streets, and even events as recent as the “Je Suis Charlie” marches.

This unique graphic novel is without words, except for a caption showing the particular year each drawing is set in, as well as a collection of notes and dates at the end that briefly explains some of the events depicted in the illustrations. 750 Years in Paris may be a quick read, but the artwork and consist lives is great and Mahé provides a fine example of the ever-changing lives that cities lead.

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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind by Hayaeo Miyazaki present a world in which several centuries ago, great god-warriors roamed the world and engulfed everything in flames. When the flames faded, a vast poisonous forest appeared, guarded by enormous insects. Humanity’s numbers have dwindled severely, and most live beyond the poisonous forests – in the deserts and on the mountains. The Valley of the Wind is one such place. And it is here that the Valley’s princess, Nausicaä, begins her journey through nature, conflict, and hope.

Nausicaä is immense. Most pages consist of 10-11 panels; thus the book is bigger than the usual tankōbon (the pocket-sized manga books usually 5” by 7”) with pages of 7” by 10”, allowing for full appreciation of Miyazaki’s intense details. With Nausicaä, not a single page is wasted. At no point did I feel there was any time-consuming filler: everything had a purpose. The action scenes were intense, the dialogue scenes were informative, and pacing was juuuust right. Furthermore, each of the seven volumes had their own build-ups and climatic moments, and each major event was more impressive than the preceding one. It is clear that what Miyazaki delivers in his films is also, well and truly, delivered here in this manga series.

Compared to a feature film, Nausicaä’s story lasts much, much longer. On top of that, the amount of characters we discover, the detail to which they are developed, the world that is shown to us, and the deep journeys into mind, soul, ethics and conflict are all phenomenal! You may be familiar with the animated film adaptation of this story, of the same name. It too was created by Miyazaki, along with the forerunners of Studio Ghibli (and is often considered to be Studio Ghibli’s first feature film). However, despite having the same creator, the animated film has significant differences, primarily due to the story length limitation. It would probably have taken three to five films or even an entire animated series to fully tell the original story as it appears in the manga series.

Essentially, what Miyazaki did with the movie version was rearrange various characters, with motivations altered, which created a sort of “alternate reality.” The most similarities are in the first two of the seven volumes of the manga, with similar events happening. But after that, whilst the film goes one way, the manga series goes another. Despite being different from the original source material, the animated film is still incredible in its own right, an absolutely amazing piece of art.

I strongly recommend you watch and read this story if you haven’t already. If you enjoyed Miyazaki’s animated film masterpieces like Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, you will not be disappointed with Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind . It is truly a memorable experience.

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Persepolis

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Available as both two volumes or a complete edition, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran before, during, and after the Iranian Islamic Revolution of the late 1970s.

The book covers many years of Satrapi’s life, from her as a young child through to her early twenties. Throughout we also learn about Iran and how the nation, its people, and everyday life changed during the shift from the Shah’s rule to the Islamic Republic. Satrapi tells of her journey, beliefs, political views, and behaviour, about being raised by supportive avant-garde parents, and about how her family had to hide their efforts and ideas from the powers that be. A large portion of the book also focuses on Satrapi’s time in Austria as an expatriate, and the trials she faced there.

The story is told very well, and we quickly get to know much about Satrapi’s personality, experiences and family. The art is quite stylized with a kind of “naive art” feel to it.

If the style appeals to you and if you’re curious to learn more about some of Iran’s history told through the eyes of Satrapi, then this book will be for you. I very much enjoyed reading it.

On top of that, there is the animated film Persepolis, written and directed by Satrapi along with Vincent Paronnaud. It is loyal enough to the book that you’ll get the same story from watching it, but different enough that you’ll get an alternative, but possibly equally enjoyable, experience.

 

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Ghost World

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Ghost World! Daniel Clowes’ classic graphic novel is the story of two young women in their teens: Enid and Becky. Clowes is very good at capturing how people (at least certain people) talk about others and the world around them. The main characters feel that a lot of these people lead sad and creepy lives. But surely that’s how many of us see the world? We see others as rotten, crappy, lame, or weird as all hell. You might not want to admit it, but plenty of people out there freely say it casually among each other, and this story certain shows you that side: the personal conversations we have with our closest friends about those we like to feel superior to.

The art is done in black, white, and a funky aqua or something. I love it! Clowes does a great job capturing all the sorts of facial details and expression, making them often gross, weird, or surreal. But that’s life — there is a lot of grossness and weirdness in the world. Some artists might polish away some of these things, making their characters all look more charming, but Clowes keeps the strangeness all there. Though sometimes the faces look a bit derpy, but that’s realistic enough too. All this reminds me a lot of Daria. So yeah, if you liked Daria, there is a good chance you’ll like this, but Ghost World is a bit meaner in comparison.

If you’ve seen the Ghost World movie, you’ll find that the book is in many ways quite different, and the arc goes off in a different direction. Just keep that in mind if you already saw the movie.  Not sure how much you’ll relate to the main characters of Ghost World, but maybe it’s worth finding out. Give it a look!

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