Coraline by Neil Gaiman

“Coraline discovered the door a little after they moved into the house.”  Thus begins the creepy adventures of a little girl who discovers an alternate world in her own house.  The world beyond the door is similar to her own world.  There is even an identical set of parents…but wait!  Are those big black buttons in place of eyes?  Soon Coraline realizes that her “other mother” wants to keep her permanently in her world.  She even has a lovely set of black buttons for Coraline. 

This is the graphical adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s hugely popular children’s book, Coraline.  Not having read the original book, I can’t really compare them, but it seems the ideal story to receive the graphical treatment.  The illustrations by P. Craig Russell are detailed and realistic, evoking the kindness of Coraline’s real mother and the evilness of her sinister “other mother” equally well. 

This book will be released as a major motion picture in stereoscopic 3D in February of 2009.  See the trailer here

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Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi

Forced by her parents to flee Iran in the face of the Iran-Iraq war, Marjane Satrapi picks up her story from Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood  (read my review here) in Vienna where her parents have sent her. Unfortunately, the safety her parents wanted for her in Vienna eludes Satrapi as she is shunted from one host to another while she tries to complete her education and fit into a secular society. Painfully honest about her relationships and her life on the streets in Vienna, Satrapi effectively conveys the difficulties of living in a foreign land combined with the angst of adolescence. A strong, independent woman even in her youth, Satrapi is unafraid to take risks and speak her mind in either Austria or Iran. Homesick in the extreme, she returns to Iran where she speaks about her depression and her struggle to return to such a tyrannical society. She shares with us the small acts of defiance that Iranian women perpetrate to speak out against their oppression, such as subtly wearing make-up or showing a lock of hair from the front of their headscarves.

I had thought the lack of women’s rights in Iran was appalling until Satrapi conveys her experience with a Kuwaiti immigrant who mistook her for a prostitute simply because she had walked outside drinking a coke. While I was reading this second installment to Satrapi’s life, I wondered what it would be like to live in a society where the sight of a lock of my hair would land me in trouble with the authorities. Satrapi talks about being forced to spend an entire day before the Committee for the crime of wearing red socks, then she eloquently explains in a brief panel how dictators utilize fear to prevent the people from thinking about their rights. By the end of Persepolis 2, I really felt bludgeoned by Satrapi’s experiences, but I was elated that Satrapi decided to leave Iran. I cheered for her, held my breath for her, and in the end I appreciated the courage she had in showing us herself so completely and so sincerely. And so shall you.

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The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, The Complete Maus is a must have in the collection of any serious lover of graphic novels. The story of Art Spiegelman recording his father’s memories of being persecuted by the Nazi Regime during World War II is told in stunning detail in this magnificent graphic novel. The black and white drawings have the fine detail of etchings as Vladek and Anja’s story is lovingly immortalized with the Jews represented as mice and the Germans represented as cats. I especially liked the way the novel journeyed from past to present with smooth, believable transitions, including the on-again, off-again relationship between Vladek and his second wife, Mala, as they are drawn toward one another more because of their past suffering than because of their present love.

Vladek carries many emotional scars from his past that bleed over into his day to day life, and Art honestly conveys the trauma of his mother’s suicide on himself and his father. History is recreated in the most personal way possible, through the lives of real people, and I highly recommend The Complete Maus to anyone.

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Castle Waiting by Linda Medley


Castle Waiting opens with a re-telling of the tale of Sleeping Beauty, but after Beauty rides off with her prince, the inhabitants of her former home are left with no one to rule them. Many move away, but a few stay with the castle that is now a sanctuary for travelers and awaiting a new king to claim her. From the opening pages until the end, Castle Waiting never loses its fairy tale quality, the black and white drawings are simple yet pleasant and the nouveaux fairy tales are an enjoyable read.

I understand that part of Medley’s allure is the unresolved “ever after,” but I felt a little cheated when I finished this graphic novel, because I would have liked to know more about Medley’s fairytale world and her characters. I would have liked to know Lady Jain’s past and why her child looks like he does; what is the significance of Jain’s arrival at Castle Waiting; and why Rackham and Chess (and other assorted characters) are depicted as sentient animals. I enjoyed the last few chapters depicting the story of Sister Peace and the Solicitines better than any in the entire book.  These final chapters felt like the most complete story in the book with a beginning, middle, and an end.

However, throughout the entire novel, the characters are engaging and these enchanting stories are a lovely way to spend a quiet afternoon.

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All-Star Superman – Volume 1 by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, with Jamie Grant

Is Superman dying? Well don’t look at the Dragon! I’ll not give it away, but I have nothing but praise for this fabulous graphic novel with artwork that has the 1940’s feel of the original comic, but with enough modernity to appeal to younger fans. Here the artwork is bright with teal, magenta, and lapis giving the overall feel as one of youth and vigor.

Beginning with the words “. . . the measure of a man lies not in what he says but what he does” All-Star Superman takes the reader on a much more emotional journey than the Superman comics I remember. Superman must face foes much stronger and more devious than Lex Luther (although our friend Lex does make his appearance) when he faces the possibility of his own mortality, his desire to win Lois’ love, his own evil heart, and his love of his parents. All the while, Morrison, Quitely, and Grant serve up adventure Superman style with panache, verve, and humor never letting the reader forget that graphic novels can be fun and convey a moral.

Once upon a time, it was felt that Superman was too dated, that his moral standards were obsolete for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but I’m glad he’s back. I hope he stays . . .

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Okko: the Cycle of Water by Hub

Another in the “James Library Gets Graphic” series is Okko: the Cycle of Water a delightfully drawn tale well told. When the Inn at Kappa is raided by pirates and the geisha, Little Carp is abducted, her young brother Tikku enlists the aid of the Ronin (masterless Samurai) Master Okko and his companions, Noburo, and the inebriated monk, Noshin. Set in the mythical Empire of Pajan during a period that closely mirrors medieval Japan, Okko resurrects good, old fashioned story telling as Hub chronicles the adventures of the quartet on their ten day journey to solve the mystery of Little Carp’s abduction.

The artwork is not soft, fuzzy manga, but is drawn with strong lines that competently convey this is an adult graphic novel. The subtle shifts of color used within the pages of Okko carry the reader from one scene to another flawlessly encapsulating the mood of each scene. Hub’s combination of excellent story, great dialogue, beautiful art, and memorable characters make Okko: the Cycle of Water a graphic novel you’ll want read and re-read. I’m already thirsty for the next installment, Okko: the Cycle of Earth.

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Tales from the Farm – Essex County Vol. 1 by Jeff Lemire

A sweet tale, sweetly told is Tales from the Farm.  Lemire tells Lester’s story almost entirely through the nuanced illustrations of this black and white graphic novel, the dialogue is spare, but every word has meaning.  Lester wears a cape and mask to hide himself from the world when his mother dies and he goes to live with his Uncle Ken, but the only thing Lester and his uncle Ken have in common is a love of hockey.  Lester dreams of drawing comics and fighting evil space aliens bent on destroying earth, so when Jimmy LeBeuf gives Lester a comic at the gas station one day, Lester’s life starts to change.  Tales from the Farm follows the intertwined relationship of Uncle Ken, Lester, and Jimmy over the course of year, beginning in the summer and ending in the spring. An absolute master of the subtleties of black and white shading, Lemire’s drawings convey moods and emotions by the minute changes to the character’s eyes or the simple mannerisms exhibited in a frame.

If you would like a preview, visit topshelfcomix.com and be sure to have your sound on for the music.

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