Well, Comics February is almost to an end–we have a bonus day this year with leap day and I might try to squeeze in one more read. I always love this month and this month was an especially good one with some great comics. I tried to keep my thoughts on each as brief as possible, but since that was impossible I’m splitting up this post into two. Y’all keep me on track to actually post about This One Summer, Habibi, and Nimona as well!
The books featured in this post are all so different–Saga is a fantasy/science fiction read that was a wild and crazy ride. The Shadow Hero is a superhero origin story that will have you rooting for the good guys and occasionally uttering some chuckles. I Remember Beirut is great for younger readers or anyone wanting a look at what the Lebanon Civil War appeared through the eyes of a young girl. All three are worth your time!
I’ve kept the images of the panels large so that you can click to enlarge if you’d like a closer look.
Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Published: 2012-14 | Pages: 504
Quick Take: Everything you’ve heard about Saga is true. You haven’t heard of Saga yet? Volume 1 introduces us to Alana and Marco, star-crossed lovers from battling planets. Although they met as soldiers, they have both given up the fight and are fleeing fugitives along with their newborn daughter. It’s tough to talk about Volume 2 and 3 without giving away spoilers, so I’ll just note that Alana and Marco’s search for a peaceful place to raise their daughter continues. The cast of characters broadens and we get to see glimpses of Alana and Marco’s pasts. Volume 2 and 3 were every single bit as good as Volume 1.
Bottom Line: Saga is sharply funny, racy and sexy, and intriguing in every way. And…it’s way out of my comfort zone. I’m not a science fiction reader, I’m not a fan of Star Wars, but I zipped through the pages. I love the strong female characters, I love the narrative provided by Alana and Marco’s daughter Hazel sometime in the future, I love the way that Fiona Staples captures the emotions on her characters’ faces. Saga is truly a visual feast. I do have to note that this is not the comic that you want to share with your younger kids. There is quite a bit of graphic content, including explicit sexual scenes. Reader be warned!
The Shadow Hero – Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
Published: 2014 | Pages: 158
Quick Take: The Shadow Hero is the origin story for The Green Turtle superhero. The story starts with four spirits in China after the fall of the Ch’ing Dynasty. While the country is in chaos, the turtle spirit leaves the country and travels to America. He attaches himself to a man and latter attaches himself to his son, Hank. In the time of superheroes, Hank’s mother desperately wants him to be a superhero. Without any true powers, he does the best that he can to take down the crime rings in Chinatown.
Bottom Line: I really enjoyed The Shadow Hero and this might be my favorite of Yang’s books that I’ve read so far. What really made the story for me, though, was the history Yang provided in the back of the book about the Green Turtle superhero that appeared in the Golden Age of comics in the 1940s. The author of the comics was one of the first Asian American comics writers of the time and it is believed that The Green Turtle was the first Asian American superhero–even if the cartoonist Chu Hing never showed his hero’s face.
Knowing this background made me appreciate The Shadow Hero even more, but there was a lot to enjoy about the book on its own. Hank doesn’t have any superpowers and is trying to find his place within the Asian community. His mother plays a role of comedic relief and had me laughing out loud. I enjoyed the relationship between Hank and the mysterious Red lady who plays a strong female roll. I don’t know if we’ll be seeing more of The Shadow Hero but I would love if we did!
The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
Published: 2015 | Pages: 488
Quick Take: When failing artist David Smith is asked what he would give to have incredible sculpting abilities, he says that he would give his life. He has 200 days to create whatever he would like–all with his bare hands, but during this time he meets Meg who makes him realize that 200 days of life simply isn’t enough. Although the story felt predictable and familiar, the artwork makes this book a breathtaking read. I laughed and cried and marveled and I was sad when the book ended.
Bottom Line: Scott McCloud is best known for his nonfiction works such as Understanding Comics–and it is evident in The Sculptor that he does indeed understand comics. His panels are filled with emotion and power and movement. I love how he shows noise in a crowded room and other distractions around his main characters that make the scenes feel real. While some parts of the book’s overall message left me a little cold, the story and illustrations still grabbed me and didn’t let go until I had closed the last page.
I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached
Published: 2008 | Pages: 95
Quick Take: Zeina Abirached grew up in Beirut in the middle of the Lebanon Civil War. In this memoir, she remembers various things from her childhood in the 80s and 90s. Some are as simple as remembering cassette tapes and the sounds that they make and others are tied to the war–her little brother collecting shrapnel for his collection, the sounds of the bombs and sirens, having to spend the night at the school after the roads were blocked off. I loved Abirached’s A Game for Swallows when I read it two years ago, and while this is a simpler look at her childhood, it also struck me as I was born the same year as Abirached and remember many of the same things she does, but without the heartache and fear of war.
Bottom Line: Aimed at younger readers, I Remember Beirut is an excellent introduction to the Lebanon Civil War and can provide many different discussion points. It is reminder that war affects so many more than just those in the midst of the fighting. Abirached’s drawings are all in black and white and are reminiscent of Satrapi’s illustrations (Persepolis, etc). She uses whimsical details–the curlicues for her hair or small details in one panel which zoom out to a larger frame in subsequent panels. The drawings lack the emotion that other comic might have but they’re very eye-catching.
Have you read any great comics/graphics lately??