Matthew Nielsen


Mrs Weber’s Omnibus

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Mrs Weber’s Omnibus is a collection of comics written by Posy Simmonds for the British newspaper The Guardian. The comics themselves were usually simply known as “Posy” in the paper, and have also been previously released as multiple other, smaller collections, but here they are all in one big omnibus. However, the collection does not include other work by Simmonds, such as Tamara Drewe and Gemma Bovery, which are separate graphic novels. The comics focus on a range of characters, interconnected either with family ties, romantic relationships, and friendships. These characters (the “Heeps,” “Webers,” and “Wrights,” along with others) interconnect and meet up with each other often. Throughout the first three quarters of the omnibus, we slowly see these characters change and grow, but only somewhat and some of the time.

The main aspect of these comics that work so well is seeing the various discussions and conversations of the time period. Being written and set in the late 1970s through to the late 1980s, the families discuss and adjust to the changes of those time periods, and how they compare to the ideals they grew up with. During the last quarter of the book, we see a lot less of the families that featuring primarily throughout the rest of the collection, and instead see more of other characters, such as a grumpy writer J. D. Crouch. Thus, as a stand-alone book, it seems to have a lack of closure, but in the context of a long-running series, it doesn’t seem so strange.

Due to this nostalgia, it might seem that these stories would mostly appeal to British people, or more specifically, British people who were in their 30s-50s during the 1980s. However, even if you don’t fit these categories, it is interesting to take a glimpse into the everyday life and concerns for this group of people. You may be surprised to find how much you can connect with them, as well as all the things you were unfamiliar with, such as various dated idioms or long lost widespread concerns.

Most of the artwork is either in black and white, or black and white plus an additional colour like red, but there are a handful of colour pages here and there. It is a very thick and sizeable book. The page size is just right for the content, but the book thickness is a tad distressing and can lead to lots of potential damage when reading, so take caution. It’s the kind of book that seems to be best read on the table at home as opposed to on the go.

Share

Book of Hope

Review by Matthew Nielsen

The Book of Hope by Tommi Musturi follows the life, thoughts, memories, and daydreams of a middle-aged Finnish couple living in the countryside. It focuses initially on the husband but later features the wife as well.

The story feels slow but, at the same time, also like it’s happening over a long period of time. In a way, this does fit the mood of some people in the latter half or third of their lives spending time together in a peaceful, but also uneventful, countryside. The artwork in the book provides excellent examples of sequential comics illustration. Musturi has done a great job with the comics medium, and many pages could be extracted on their own as fine pieces of visual sequential art. The style itself is bold and consistent, reminiscent of various contemporary North American cartoons.

Though in the end I didn’t find the story that interesting, I greatly enjoyed the use of sequential art. The Book of Hope is a very good utility for art students, especially those in the fields of illustration and comics. As for storytelling, the graphic novel is good in some ways but could be better in others.

Share

War Is Boring

Review by Matthew Nielsen

War Is Boring: Bored Stiff, Scared to Death in the World’s Worst War Zones is a graphic novel memoir by David Axe and Matt Bors that follows elements of the war journalism career and life of David Axe. Though it is based on the webcomic of the same name, I have not read that, and so will just be discussing the graphic novel itself. The story takes place in many locations including Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor, and even Somalia.

At first I expected an insightful telling of what it is to be a war journalist, as well as some history, background, and information related to the wars and other events in the locations that the story takes us to. However, we mostly focus on the thoughts and feelings of the main character, David, and less on the places that he’s reporting in or the situations he’s learning about. This results in a potentially more captivating form of storytelling that other comics journalism, such as the work of Joe Sacco. In most of Sacco’s journalistic comics, we are first given lots of information, either from interviews or historical documents, about the events he is researching. Then we are given a glimpse of the author’s emotions as well as the challenges that he experiences throughout his research. In War is Boring, however, we get very little information about anyone but the main character, which means we get a stronger connection to the main character himself.

Reviewing an autobiographical account can be tricky, because when we are judging the actions of the main character, at the same time we are judging the author. Autobiographies can be written in many ways, such as open and honest accounts that expose both positives and negatives, heavily biased accounts that warp and shape the story being told, and even limited accounts that only expose certain aspects of the author. War Is Boring is of the open and honest type. On one hand, I felt the focus on David’s negative traits made it hard for me to empathize much with him. On the other hand, I do respect Axe for being willing to depict the negative aspects of his account and opinions.

The artwork isn’t bad. The level of detail is consistent throughout. However, I feel something about the way the characters are drawn could have been better; they feel a tiny bit “off” to me. However, all in all, the art gets the job done fine.

In the end, I feel the book could have done with telling us a lot more about the locations and elements being researched. Also, throwing in more positive aspects about the main character, or at least discussing the actions in more detail, would have helped give the reader more empathy for the protagaonist. If people like Joe Sacco and Sarah Glidden can provide informative and captivating accounts of their journey, then surely others can too.

Share

With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child

Review by Matthew Nielsen

With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child by Keiko Tobe is a manga series about a mother, Sachiko, raising her autistic son, Hikaru, while also exploring the lives and challenges faced by the other family members and their friends. The story is what some would call “edutainment,” a mix of entertainment and education; not enough of one to be purely informative but not enough of the other to be purely for show, a mix of practicality and performance. An example of this is, while the story does have comedic and dramatic moments, there is also frequent dialogue that emphasizes awareness and facts regarding autism, even to the point where some elements feel like tiny PSAs. This is not necessarily bad, but it can feel a little jarring from a purely storytelling perspective. However, it also makes the story highly informative for the most part. The story has taught me many things. Not just about autism, but also about Japanese culture in general thanks to the culture/translation notes sections at the end of each book.

The volumes are quite down-to-earth and focus on relatable real life problems. From English volumes 1-8 we see Hikaru grow from a newborn baby into a junior high student. The growth is quite gradual and many obstacles must be overcome. As the series progresses and Hikaru matures, we begin to focus less on him as his problems either have already been addressed with counter-measures put in place, or we’ve already seen it all before. Instead, the narrative begins to look more on subplots of other characters, with their own potentially relatable issues.

Tobe has written an honest, informative and dedicated work. Many of the ideas on, not just autism, but parenthood in general, that are put forward in this journey, seem most agreeable and healthy. I’ve seen many parents, and children, who could have really done with a book like this in their life, if only they had the interest to read it and the knowledge of its existence. An interesting feature in With the Light is how Tobe deals with antagonists. Instead of them being designated simply as “villains,” the reader is often given the chance to see the antagonist’s point of view and motivations, and thus is able to empathize with their problems. The main characters work towards cooperation and many of the antagonists become either neutral parties or even allies in the journey.

As someone with Asperger’s syndrome, and someone who loves learning via comics, this book was ideal for me. It is perfect for anyone else out there who enjoys both manga and has a keen interest in learning about autism.  I truly learnt a lot about myself, as well as what my parents had to go through raising me, and also about my autistic peers. That is why it immensely saddened me when I found out, half way through English Volume 8, that Keiko Tobe passed away during the course of writing the series. I only realized it when I landed on the last completed chapter. It was followed by two very rough layout chapters, and the rest was bonus material. I am sure that if Tobe had been able to complete the manga, we would have seen Hikaru grow up to have become a productive working adult, but now that day shall never come. However, despite the series being unfinished, I still recommend With the Light to anyone interested in both comics and parenthood and in autism in general. I just wish Tobe could have stayed with us longer and had the opportunity to tell us even more wonderful stories. Thank you very much, Keiko Tobe, for the journeys you gave the world.

Share

Embroidered Cancer Comic

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Embroidered Cancer Comic by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin is a short comic  (graphic novella?) that’s an autobiographical retelling of Elizabeth’s husband Bob being diagnosed with prostate cancer. The comic’s panels are entirely made up of embroidered line art illustrations, and whilst this artwork can appear somewhat unrefined, it still holds a charm and doesn’t get in the way of the reader connecting with the short, heavy story. The scene where the doctor breaks the news still moves me upon reflection.

If you’re interested in reading this comic for yourself, you can find it online at Embroidered Cancer Comic .

Share

The Lengths

Review by Matthew Nielsen

The Lengths by Howard Hardiman is graphic novel about Eddie, a young man from London who becomes a male escort under the alias “Ford.” Along with a separate name, he gets a second mobile phone to help keep his two lives apart. Not only does the story focus on his times as an escort, but also his personal life, such as with his friends and his boyfriend.

The art style is peculiar for two reasons. Firstly, there are rarely speech bubbles. Most of the dialogue is instead featured within the story’s on-going captions. However, the placement of the text usually works so that you know who is saying what. Secondly, all characters are portrayed as anthropomorphic dogs. It’s just a particular aesthetic, perhaps for the sake of keeping anonymity? Hardiman does a fantastic job of using a different dog breed for each character, and the whole dog-man thing is never brought up by the characters (nothing so blatant as “Oh, mate, I could proper murder a pack of Scooby Snacks, right now” or “My fur’s all messed up.”).

Overall I found the book quite peculiar, a tad jarring, but I kind of liked it. I wouldn’t call it “great” but I wouldn’t call it “bad” either. Have a think about it, and see if you’re up for giving this book a try.

Share

Project X Challengers: Seven Eleven

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Project X Challengers — Seven Eleven: The Miraculous Success of Japan’s 7-Eleven Stores is a non-fiction manga written by Tadashi Ikuta and illustrated by Naomi Kimura that chronicles the the ambitious founding of the Japanese 7-Eleven store. One may assume that this story is merely about an American 7-Eleven trying to plant its roots in Japan, but it’s more about people who discovered the 7-Eleven business format and decided to manage their own 7-Eleven company with the same template and business model, in exchange for a giving the original American company a portion of the Japanese company’s turnover. So what we’re dealing with is more of a new business startup than the mere expansion of an existing company. It’s almost like a different company with the same face.

In the manga we see the early days of the startup, when the main characters attempt to find a business model that can work well in Japan’s economy. Once the 7-Eleven format is discovered, negotiations with the company begin, but assistance (such as information and support) is very limited, much less than expected, and the Japanese company has to do a great deal of the work on their own.

This manga documents the struggles, challenges, and initial successes of the company in a fantastic display of overcoming the odds. On top of that, we explore a decent amount of the characters and their motivations, helping to move the narrative along. It makes a change from the interview-based documentaries we tend to see as videos. The art style gets the job done, rarely being sub-par, if at all. The graphic design for the products and posters used in the comic is sharp and detailed. The manga also provides a timeline at the end, not just of Japan’s 7-Eleven stores but also other relevant events in order to give context.

All in all, this book was informative and a lot more interesting than I assumed it was going to be. Give it a try. In the meantime, I’ll try and see if there are any more of these Project X Challengers books out there for me to read.

Share

Sarah’s Scribbles

Review by Matthew Nielsen

There are numerous creative, witty, relatable and funny webcomics (collectively titled Sarah’s Scribbles) made by the illustrator Sarah Andersen. You may have come across them online many times or maybe you’ve never heard of them, bu if you like at least some of the first couple of her comics you read, you’re going to enjoy many more.

Andersen’s short comics usually take up just one page and contrast how things may seem in the mind versus how they seem in reality. The comics often deal with social anxiety, coping with adulthood and responsibilities, various societal pressures, and reacting to how various other people talk, interact, or behave overall. I have had a great deal of enjoyment out of reading these comics. As many of my friends can relate much more to them than I, by reading these comics, I have been able to better understand the mindsets of some of my comrades. It seems that sometimes the best way to explain a problem is not through words but by sharing a link to one of Andersen’s insightful comics.

There are multiple books that collect these short stories in printed form, including Adulthood is a Myth, Big Mushy Lump, and Herding Cats. Opening a random page on any of these will most likely make for a quick morale boost any day.

You can find Sarah’s Scribbles online at http://sarahcandersen.com/

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share