Tag Archives: Graphic novels

Life is hard. Men are crap. Books are bae.

I have opened my  bookshelf after a long time. I’ve been reading on the fly the way I eat on the fly because books are as much my sustenance as food is. I’m really looking at my books and they’re scattered (though neatly because me) in so many places. I tuck away comfort and wisdom in lots of different corners of my life, just ready for me when I need them the most. So now for the questions.

What graphic novels do you suggest I drop some hard-earned money on? It’s been over ten years since I was formally introduced to this aisle. And I’ve learnt, as with so many other things, I straddle two worlds that shouldn’t have boundaries but do. Comic afficionados don’t seem to read other things, as such. And avid book enthusiasts don’t seem to actually consider comics real books. Huh, why? Graphic novels are books that are also beautiful. I am in a great place. I have tasted and know some of what I like but I’m still open to so many more delightful things in this medium. I don’t enjoy classic superhero stuff. I’ve read and enjoyed Sandman, Fables, Transmetropolitan, Lucifer. And I’ve grown away from boy-coming-of-age stories like Blankets and Y:The Last Man. Where should I take my eyes next?

Which one of you told me about Sharp Objects and swore it wasn’t as disappointing as Dark Places but maybe even better than Gone Girl? I intend to buy it and if it doesn’t live up, I will hunt you down and do a Gillian Flynn on you. I will not be a Cool Girl.

Have any of you read Kamila Shamsie or Alexander McCall-Smith’s books other than Mma.Ramotswe? Anybody? Anybody? Huh, huh? Damn. But they’re respectively joy and comfort in paperback form.

Have any of you read Crazy, Rich Asians (the book)? Is it a bit like The Joy Luck Club, in that it’s enjoying a moment because it’s about Asian people and representation matters? I hated The Joy Luck Club TBH. I mean, I get the value of a book talking about Asians, yes. But it was so depressing and angsty and worst of all – monotonous. Memoirs of a Geisha was better but then again, I read it as a teenager and now that I know about white saviour complexes and co-opting narratives, I may think differently. Reading as a woke adult means thinking about these things too. And if it’s just about representation, American Born Chinese (a graphic novel) does a decent job putting Asian faces into literature. Lovely illustrations, too.

Who still remembers and loves Milan Kundera? I feel like he and Murakami were neck to neck in the hipster reader stakes a decade ago. I went the Moody Euro way while popular taste went with Weird Japanese. Am I standing alone with Identity, Ignorance, Slowness, Laughable Loves and The Unbearable Lightness of Being?

And now I’m just going to randomly name books and authors that I fell in love with at first page and have never wavered since.  The Fault in Our Stars. Richard Bach. The Time Traveller’s Wife. Louis Sachar. S.E.C.R.E.T. Dream Angus. Erma Bombeck. The Kite Runner. Spider Jerusalem.

Does anybody know why PG Wodehouse books dropped their old cover art style of orange spines, white frames and outlined colour drawings for these pastel-ey full page watercolour thingys and can I get a little commiseration please? I miss the good old days. 

#BaBaLubabaBooksBooksBooks

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The Nobody – Jeff Lemire: Now You See It, Now You Don’t

The NobodyThe Nobody by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A stranger swathed in bandages comes to the nondescript town of Large Mouth (Population: 754). His efforts at staying invisible however, are thwarted as the town inhabitants are curious, then suspicious and then downright scared. A local teenage girl befriends him and much to his reluctance, discovers the secret hidden under the bandages.

This is the story of the Invisible Man, not as a crazed monster but a hapless victim of his own passionate quest. It’s interesting to note how even an Invisible Man is unable to stay truly invisible.

That apart, the story dragged a bit for me and ended rather anti-climatically.

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Bad Houses: Sara Ryan – Failin Times

Bad HousesBad Houses by Sara Ryan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A mournful story about several defeated folks in a town that’s aptly named ‘Failin’. Cat & Lewis run Matchless Estate Sales, a service that cleans out houses (for people who don’t want to do it themselves) by selling every item in the houses. There is already an undertone of melancholia to a job that essentially cremates old homes, taking care of the messy details that no one else wants to touch. Then there are the estate sales fanatics who will bid on the lottery draw of an unopened storage space and hide objects of value so they can come back on the half-price day to claim them. Anna Cole inhabits these sales, seeking scraps of leftover warmth, for reprieve from her own dysfunctional family. How these two families meet, bruise each others’ lives and finally resolve is the story of Bad Houses. I liked the artwork but the character’s faces got a little confusing, especially since there was a mini storyline from the past, embedded right in the middle. A decent story overall, if only nothing new.

I got this book from NetGalley.

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Horrendo’s Curse #1 – Anna Fienberg: Pirates & Good Hearts

Horrendo's CurseHorrendo’s Curse by Anna Fienberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a delightful little story! A young boy cursed (!) with the inability to curse or wish harm, grows up in a village that spends every year preparing for the annual pirate attack. Schools instruct children in practical matters such as Petrifying Pets and Rude Words, instead of Maths & English. How does Horrendo survive this environment and later, the pirate attack?

The ending felt somewhat moralising but perhaps that’s a feature of children’s fiction. I saw a review that criticised the violent language and depictions as being unsuitable for children. That’s probably true, though I didn’t think about it when I read the book.

If this is a children’s book for adults, a slightly less preachy ending might have worked better. If this is a children’s book only, then I’m not sure how to tell a pirate story without some swordplay, plank-walking, rum-swigging and cussing. Personally, I enjoyed it. I read this book on NetGalley.

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Todd the Ugliest Kid on Earth#1 – Ken Kristensen: Ugly People & Brown Paper Bags

Todd The Ugliest Kid on Earth #1Todd The Ugliest Kid on Earth #1 by Ken Kristensen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A funny/depressing story of people’s little cruelties to each other and the problems that these stem from. Todd is a little boy whose parents make him wear a brown paper bag over his head. He also routinely gets picked on, bullied and unfairly punished for other people’s mistakes. Miraculously, it never pushes him into despair and he takes a magical view of the world, interpreting every action as if it came from good. His misadventures take you into the lives of several other dysfunctional people, including his depressed mother, an escapist father, a delusional cop, a minor celebrity with a secret, and a convict.

I couldn’t tell for sure with this one issue but there may be an element of magical realism (those Ben & Candie dolls incidents are bizarre, otherwise). This issue ends with Todd having gotten into and out of jail and returning to school to find a new student being introduced to the class – with a bag on her head.

The story is very promising and the Character Summary is even more intriguing. I’d love to read the rest of the story. I got this issue from Netgalley.

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Bad Machinery: The Case of the Team Spirit – On Things Kids Are Not Supposed To See

Bad Machinery Volume 1: The Case of the Team SpiritBad Machinery Volume 1: The Case of the Team Spirit by John Allison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A girl gang of three that wants to do good, be bad and just survive (in that order). A boy club that loves football, secretly hates it and would like to investigate the misfortunes of a local team. Add some bullies, a bunch of ‘things that kids are not supposed to see or hear’, an old lady with a bad eye and nerves of steel and the kids have a mystery on their hands.

Initially I thought it was a collection of comic strips with individual gags about a set of characters. It was till about quarter way in that I realized a larger plot was developing. The humour is very young but also very smart. I loved the guide to British terms at the end. The characters are great, the jokes are funny and the story swings easily between surreal and classroom nostalgia. Very definitely worth a read.

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The Sandman 7: Brief Lives – The Nuances of Metafiction

Brief Lives (The Sandman, #7)Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

<spoiler alert>

This is a fairly straightforward story in an otherwise complex, meandering narrative, probably because this is the turning point for the larger Sandman story leading into its big climax.

It starts by reminding the reader of a sacred, severed head on a desolate Greek island, that has a connection to the Endless family. Leaving the reader with that thought, the story moves on to the thus far neglected character of Delirium, the youngest, most tragic of the Endless. Delirium is in disrepair,  floating bewildered in chaotic surroundings and once mistaking a stranger for her sister Death. Luckily she is rescued (or is that the bystanders who’re rescued?) from her meltdown, by Desire frequenting the same BDSM-themed private party. That Desire’s arena slightly overlaps with Delirium in a place such as this, is the first of many meta-fiction flourishes in this book.

Delirium breaks down (literally into colourful butterflies) before confessing that she misses her brother Destruction. But as neither Desire nor its twin Despair support her quest, Delirium reluctantly goes in search of Dream. Dream is in the throes of heartbreak when Delirium reaches him (another meta-fiction touch). This chapter where the two siblings talk is one of the sweetest, most heart-wrenching pieces in the entire Sandman arc. Even Dream’s forbidding, aloof aura is melted by Delirium’s touching vulnerability and he agrees to aid her on her quest.

The story follows their adventures as they hunt down Destruction’s old friends to seek him out. Every lead runs dry or dies mysteriously. The most wonderful of these stories is their meeting with Ishthar, a strip-club dancer with a history that even a colleague with a degree in Women’s Studies, doesn’t recognize. I loved this story for two ideas that it brought to fore – the origin (and death) of gods and that Love and Destruction are soulmates.

Dream returns from his quest empty-handed and much changed by its experiences. A sibling relationship has been rekindled, a missing sibling found and lost again, a love laid to rest and finally, a prophesy sought and paid for, with dire consequences. As Despair puts it, “You cannot seek Destruction and return unscathed.”

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The Sandman 6: Fables & Reflections – Neil Gaiman

Fables and Reflections (The Sandman, #6)Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

<spoiler alert>

This is by far, my favorite of all the Sandman books. After the letdown of Book 5: A Game of You, this one fully rewarded me for staying loyal to the Dream arc.

A collection of 8 short stories, Fables & Reflections delights with every single tale. First, in ‘Fear of Falling’ we come up against the all-too-familiar fear of failure and discover where it stems from.

‘Three Septembers and a January’ once again shows us the redeeming qualities of Dream as he snatches a defeated man at his lowest low right from the clutches of Despair with a dream that carries him well past his death.

‘Thermidor’ hints at darker plots but it covers the not-lacking-in-intrigue tale of Johanna Constantine (briefly encountered in ‘Men of Good Fortune’ in Book 2: The Doll’s House).

‘The Hunt’ is another sweet, haunting story recounted as a tale told by an old man to his grand-daughter. This one has the flavour of old folk tales, with magic, fairytale drama with a life lesson at the end.

‘August’ delves deep into an untold secret of Emperor Augustus and the living nightmare that defined his life. This one also uses the narrative style of the above, switching between past and present, but in the style of a memoir rather than folktale.

‘Soft Places’ explores an aspect of the dreaming, the realm of the Sandman through the incredible experience of a young man, later revealed to be the explorer Marco Polo. We also briefly encounter the charming Fiddler’s Green (from Book 2: The Doll’s House).

‘Orpheus’ reveals some part of the mystery of the decapacitated, singing head from ‘Thermidor’. This story is not new to anyone familiar to Greek mythology but what’s novel is it’s anchoring within the universe of the Endless, positioning the doomed lover-poet as Dream’s son by Calliope (from Book 3: Dream Country).

In ‘The Parliament of Rooks’ we meet several characters who briefly appeared in earlier stories. Daniel, the boy born in dreams to Lyta and now-dead Hector Hall (Book 2: The Doll’s House), Cain and Abel (Book 1: Preludes & Nocturnes) join Eve and Matthew the raven for a story-telling session. This tale-within-tale format gives us the truth behind the origin story and what the rooks are really doing together.

And finally ‘Ramadan’ is a beautifully illustrated story of the city of Haroun Al Raschid, so tender that it wrenches your heart. This one is my favorite of all the stories in this book.

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The Sandman 5: A Game of You – Neil Gaiman

The Sandman 5: A Game Of You (Sandman Collected Library)The Sandman 5: A Game Of You by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

<spoiler alert>

This is the first long-form Sandman story that doesn’t break in between for a short, breather tale. It’s a different style from Book 2: The Doll’s House which was probably the last one that was so dark and intense.

A Game of You is a connecting story from the first half to the second half of the Sandman arc. At another, more in-your-face level, it’s a fantasy tale, set in the mind of Barbie (whom we first met in Book 2: The Doll’s House). A mythical land, magical creatures and a mysterious villian called the cuckoo populate this tale. The bizarre side of this tale comes from dreams seeping into the real world with the neighboring geek-girl turning out to be a crusading witch, the loser next door as a spooky agent of the enemy and everyone else just a blind follower in the melee.

It’s hard to explain why this book falls on the low for me while the other Sandman books vie for top billings. I’m not a huge fantasy fan and in the visual/textual format, it feels too much like a kid cartoon. The story though, is gristly enough to make me feel slightly sick. To top it all, the hard gritty narrative is not even tempered with a shorter, lighter tale as with the other stories.

I didn’t like this book much and on my most of my re-reads of Sandman, I prefer to skip over this tale. Still, it is a part of the Sandman arc and contributes in its own way to it. Characterisation, a strong feature of the Sandman saga, continues here in the form of Thessaly(who got her own standalone story in ‘Thessaly: Witch for Hire‘) and the lesbian couple, Hazel & Foxglove/Donna (who also featured in another breakout story, the very sweet ‘Death: The Time of your life‘).

Read this one, if only because it provides continuity to the next Sandman episode and since it leads the reader into two other great books.

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