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Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley is an autobiographical journey of the author’s relationship with food. Knisley has enthusiastic high quality food lovers for parents and has spent a great deal of time and family connections working in or around the kitchen, and the author provides a wise and experienced account of her interactions.

Knisley is able to deliver a powerful range of memories, including sight, taste, and smell — very richly portraying food and locations. Her life stories are interlaced with the occasional random facts and recipes, the latter of which add a high level of practicality to the book. Knisley enthusiastically tells her tales, not just with selected positive highlights, but also with an admirable degree of honesty. The art style is simple, stylized, and consistent, aside from extra detail where necessary. For example, there was one scene showing a very nicely drawn croissant to emphasize the taste, texture and smell. I quite like it!

If you’re up for a journey into and beyond the kitchen with friends and family along the way, told by a positive and energetic artist, then you might want to check this graphic novel out.

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Artemis Fowl: the Graphic Novel

Review by Matthew Nielsen

An adaptation of the first book of the young adult fantasy series by Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl: the Graphic Novel is written by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano, and colored by Paolo Lamanna. Artemis Fowl  focuses on young genius (aged 12 in the first book) and his mission to restore his family’s wealth. His method of acquiring this wealth is via the discovery and attempted extortion of the LEP and their world. The LEP (or Lower Elements Police) is the guardian force of the Fairy Folk, as well as keepers of peace and order in a secret underground world of magical beings. They are technologically advanced and magical, and because they are able to erase memories and easily manipulate human technology, the Fairy Folk remain hidden and unknown to human civilization. That is until Artemis Fowl shows up. With the help of his immensely strong and tactile bodyguard/manservant simply known as “Butler,” Artemis sets up a plan that, if successful, will bring in a fortune.

The series is mainly aimed towards young adults and has various lighthearted moments, here and there, but it is not without death or violence (but you probably won’t see any of the characters dropping any F-bombs if you get what I mean).

Now,  I find that I very much prefer the original book. The artwork used in this graphic novel, especially the way the characters have been stylized, is not to my liking. The artwork is indeed quite detailed and very well-coloured, but the adaptation is pretty short, and so various things have been quite abridged. I would have preferred a longer book with more story, pauses, dialogue, and pacing. If that would have meant less detail and even no colour, I reckon it would have been more than worth it. Keep in mind I do love detail, but if it’s at the cost of story, then I do not enjoy it as much.

The characters in the graphic novel have been given some strange designs. For example, Butler has an extraordinary neck and the fairy character Holly is drawn noticeably taller than she was in the book. Also, the artist over-emphasized a character’s cleavage for some reason. Still, the way some of the characters have been stylized is not too bad. For example, the character Root was done pretty well, I reckon. Anyhow, it might be nitpicking in the end. We often find disappointments with other people’s interpretations of fictional characters we’ve imagined in our own way.

I read the first two Artemis Fowl graphic novels but didn’t continue after that. As for the original series, I stopped on the penultimate novel, as I was no longer happy with how the series had changed. I recommend most of the series to young adults, especially ages 9-13 or so. Books 1, 3 and 5 are my favourite, whilst Books 6 and 7 I found quite disappointing.

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Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes 2

Red Handed: the Fine Art of Strange Crimes by Matt Kindt is a series of short stories, which all unite at the end, about various unusual crimes (such as serial chair theft, signage theft, etc) and the individuals behind them. Often the stories seem light, even comedic, though there is a degree of seriousness to them as well.

What I liked about Red Handed are the crimes themselves, though some of the motivations of the crimianls I found less satisfactory. The artwork, relying on what appears to be watercolour and ink, seems a tad inconsistent and lacks the sort of clarity or charm that I personally prefer. However, this style might be exactly to your liking. Between the stories there are pages with black panels and mysterious dialogue between two unknown people (we find out who they are at the end). I did not find these scenes all that interesting, and they slowed things down for me. Sadly, I also did not enjoy the climax of the book that much.

All in all, Red Handed is a curious little book, and whilst I found it somewhat lacking, perhaps you might enjoy it. Have a look at it sometime, try one of the stories perhaps, and see what you think.

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Moby Dick

Review by Matthew Nielsen

The original Moby Dick by Herman Melville is, in many ways, a very large book about a very long voyage. It is well known as a tale of grudges and the price of vengeance; the story of the Peequaad whaling ship, their intense captain Ahab, and the mysterious white whale Moby Dick, all seen through the eyes of our main character Ishmael. The cartoonist Chabouté has created a very loyal adaptation of this journey, abridging it where necessary but keeping the majority of the key moments intact. Instead of the full body, we are left with the skeleton and main organs of the story, which still provide a satisfying retelling. As with any adaptation, it is very different from reading the original book. It certainly would be very difficult to match the feeling of that long and contemplative tome that examines many things personal, spiritual, biological, and universal.

What stands out the most in Chabouté’s adaptation is the artwork: harsh black and white portrayals of ropes and sail, man and boat, birds and beasts. On top of that, the character design — especially the faces — are what I find most appealing. The artist is not afraid to focus on a scene by using numerous panels. Where many other artists might only give a panel or two, Chabouté can spend several pages on the exact same event. This allows for a great pacing, and even though the graphic novel cannot live up to the original novel’s great length in it’s entirety, these extended sequences of pure silence and scenery allow for a patient reader to experience at least part of that original timing.

All in all, I strongly recommend Chabouté’s adaptation of Moby Dick to both those who have read the original book and those who have yet to read it. I feel it would satisfy both parties.

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Memories of Outer Space

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Memories of Outer Space by French creator Enki Bilal is a series of short sci-fi themed stories. Each has its own sick little twist and turn which, coupled with Bilal’s detailed and brutal artwork, creates an often skin-twistingly strange feeling when read. Bilal’s approach at drawing people and characters is bold, prominent, and often proudly ugly. In other words, he is unafraid to show people’s wrinkles, blemishes and all bodily faults — in contrast to the very smooth and clean look of, say, most anime or North American cartoony styles. Alongside such intense characters are multiple examples of beautiful backgrounds, interiors, and landscapes. It’s a great combination.

This review is short because the book itself is short too. The more I say about it, the more I risk spoiling its contents. But if you’re up for some mysterious journeys across the stars with trickery and brutality guaranteed, then this book is for you. I quite enjoyed it myself.

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Lucille & Renee

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Lucille and Renée by Ludovic Debeurme are two books are thick with pages and heavy with story. Debeurme’s artwork evolves from initially highly stylized and somewhat crude drawings to more uniformed and detailed illustrations as the story progresses. It’s a good reminder to always give a book a couple of pages before giving up on it, as more often than not the artwork either changes and improves or you’ll find other things that make the book appealing. In addition to the artwork, I also like the story.

The first book, Lucille, focuses on a young woman struggling with various issues including anorexia. Meanwhile, a troubled young man with challenges at home tries to get by in life. The two meet and their stories become one, and events begin to unfold. Renée is the second book, and initially focuses on a new character, the self-harming Renée, but also continues with Lucille’s characters where  the first book left off.

This pair of graphic novels is a somewhat painful tale of various people who experience pain and hurt in their lives, and the various outcomes that come of them trying to shape their own destinies. If you’re interested in seeing how it turns out, and if the artwork appeals to you, then give Lucille and Renée a try.

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Journalism

 

Review by Matthew Nielsen 

Journalism by Joe Sacco is another intense and shocking book by journalist-cartoonist Joe Sacco. It is a collection of true stories from around the world, including former Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Iraq, Malta, India and more.

One or two stories are in colour but the rest is in Sacco’s stunning black and white. His illustrations rarely have gradients and are instead cross-hatched and shaded through line art. The flow of the speech bubbles telling detailed stories, with artwork equally as detailed and full of all shades of life, makes for an amazing reading experience. The people we meet in Journalism and the self-analytical nature of Sacco’s writing bring many things to the reader’s attention about the world and, perhaps, about their own place in the world as well.

It is difficult for me to choose a definite favourite story as they are all fascinating. However one I’d like to briefly describe is one in which Sacco interviews various people in Malta regarding their views on the influx of numerous refugees and immigrants. As he is a Maltese-American as well as a determined journalist, Sacco is able to cover many points of view whilst asking various vital questions in order to present a wider picture of the situation. Not only does Sacco interview local Maltese but he also interviews refugees and immigrants, and we hear of the problems and concerns of all sides.

Some of these stories get very heavy, but so much of reality is heavy that truth should not be ignored purely because of its intensity. Perhaps this book sounds like your cup of tea? If not for the stories, then you should definitely check it out for the artwork. Some elements are stylized, some elements are more realistic, but either way, it’s quite incredible.

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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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