Saga: Volumes One – Four (CBR10 #29-33)

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Other than clocking everyone’s rave reviews I have been staying away from the world of Saga on purpose. I have an inclination to wait for series to be near its conclusion before I pick it up. But I’m not made of stone. My friend Gina hand delivered the first eight volumes to me while we were on vacation last month. It seemed Saga’s time had arrived.

These books are *fantastic*.  I always knew they would be: the swath of Cannonballers who love these and have such varying taste means that they absolutely have to be the best of the best.  These books are viscerally good. Cancel plans, move around to read lists, question all life choices that have kept you from reading them before now GOOD.  They also transcend any entry issues I usually have with comics and graphic novels.  I’m putting it down to two things, the quality of Vaughan’s narrative and the absolute stunning design of Fiona Staples.

Brian K. Vaughan was introduced to Fiona Staples by a mutual friend. Vaughan reportedly chose to work with Staples because her artwork is incredible, that it doesn’t look like anyone else. I can absolutely believe it, have you seen her work? GLORIOUS. I’m so glad to know that Staples is co-owner of Saga, her work in designing the cast, the ships, and all the various races in the story is just as integral to my enjoyment of these books as the story Vaughan has plotted.  Her painted covers, and hand-lettering Hazel’s narration with her own handwriting, make the difference in the quality of the books.

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Volume One introduces us to our family on the run and all of those who are chasing them. When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring new life into a dangerous universe. Alana and Marco are dynamic characters in very few panels; we immediately know them and their struggles even if we don’t know details yet.  Their love for each other and their newborn daughter is captured on their faces in Staples’ art.  There isn’t a lot of lumbering info dumps, the universe that is a scary, crazy, fucked up, violent place is easily understood and the peril facing the young family is illuminated: the antagonist characters are quickly made complex, but also frightening.  Even the protagonists’ allies are visually scary, but terribly charming. I really like The Will, I don’t know what that says about me.

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Volume Two is my favorite thus far. It may be a perfect space opera: adventure, romance, and humor. This volume is the story of the coming together of family across planetary divides. Marko has not told his parents that he ran off with a member of the enemy, as one would expect, so he has a lot of explaining to do when they show up at their ships door. Hazel’s narration told from the future is hilarious. Marko and his mother go to find the accidentally exiled babysitter Izabel, and Alana and Marko’s father get to know each other better. Prince Robot IV is searching for the star-crossed family, The Will reluctantly joining forces with someone on the hunt for Marko broadening his character out and we get more delicious sass from The Lying Cat. I should probably tell you more about this one, but I can’t seem to find the words to break it into smaller bites, just know its good, and inextricably linked to the volumes before and after.

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Volume Three has my favorite of the four covers so far. It was so burned in my mind that when Gwendoline shows up in Volume Two I immediately recognized her and then became VERY confused about how we got from where we were to where we were going. Our motley crew travel to a cosmic lighthouse on the planet Quietus searching for their literary hero, the author of the romance novel that their initial courtship hinged on. This book pulls together the themes of the two previous ones and adds some of its own, as you would expect. It explores how to make a life while on the run, what finding love after a loss might look like, and how to feel about it.  There’s also a bit about getting over a breakup and that violence only begets more violence. Plot-wise The Will, Lying Cat, Gwendoline, and Sophie are stuck on an idyllic alien planet while waiting for their spaceship to be repaired and Gwen is impatient to get to Alana and Marko, but the Will seems quite content to stay on the new planet. He doesn’t seem to realize that he’s seeing impossible things and they are all in danger. Meanwhile, a pair of tabloid journalists is trying to figure out exactly what is the story with Marko and Alana: could two enemy combatants actually have deserted, got married and had a child? (Yes) The real threat to Marko and Alana’s family time on Quietus is not that they betrayed their respective people, it’s that their life together might give others ideas about just who the enemies are, and that there are other options than killing them. And we learn that the opposite of war is not peace, because this is that kind of book.

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Volume Four is my sole four star rated volume, the other three are all five stars. I’m sure that the plot it covers was necessary for the narrative that Vaughan is after, but it was both hard to read on an emotional level, and frankly a bit uneven. In order to watch people come back together they have to be separated first, and that is not enjoyable for the characters or the readers. We’ve got toddler Hazel, Alanna and Marko struggling with the reality of life in hiding and the stresses of family, but we also have a secondary plot dealing with the Robot monarchy and rebellion that felt… off. But, even that leads to a great final panel so I can’t hate it too much. But most of all I don’t want Alana and Marko to be fighting anymore. My emotions are fragile and I love them as a team figuring it out together, not sparring with one another, no matter how true it rings.

Overall, I’m in love with this series. It’s rare to have humor, sorrow, wit, action, adventure, and beautiful drawings married in one text, but this is that text. I’m making myself take a break from reading the next four volumes until at least tomorrow. I think I have the strength to hold out.

These books were read as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

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An Age of License: a Travelogue (CBR10 #2)

After not completing last year’s Book Riot Read Harder Challenge I am back at it again for 2018 with a new set of challenges. My first stop was seeing if any of the books I did not manage in 2017 would suit a 2018 challenge, and low and behold the book I had picked out for last year’s task 8: Read a Travel Memoir would suit this year’s task 4: Read a Comic Written and Drawn by the Same Person.

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A couple of years ago I read and enjoyed Relish and was looking forward to another visit with Lucy Knisley. An Age of License chronicles approximately a month of Knisley’s life in the fall of 2011 when she cobbled together a few segments of travel to allow herself time to roam around Europe (specifically Norway, Sweden, Germany, and France). It is also a look at a woman in her mid-twenties flailing about a bit, if you’ll forgive the less than complementary descriptor.

Knisley through her own eyes is finding her footing professionally, mourning the end of a relationship, settling herself into a new city, and taking off to see a bit of the world and a boy she met. We join her as she files away a variety of new peple, new experiences, and ruminates on how to settle into her adulthood. My experience with Knisley’s art is rather limited, but one of the issues I had with Relish was that the panels were so tightly drawn, with so much happening in each panel. In An Age of License Knisley spreads out a bit, using the white space to help foster the feeling of floating in the ether that she is experiencing in her month of travel. I prefer this visual style, but the narrative is thinner than I would have hoped.

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A good, quick read, but not too much more.

March: Book One (CBR9 #60)

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I have long loved Representative Lewis since studying about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and their role in the sit-ins, freedom rides, and the 1963 March on Washington. While the March on Washington is most remembered today as the location of Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream speech, earlier that day in his role as National Chairman of SNCC John Lewis spoke, giving an inflammatory speech that nearly had other speakers pulling out of the March.

When I heard last year that Representative Lewis had collaborated on a series of graphic novels recounting his time with SNCC through to Selma I put them on my to read list. The world angers me more often than not these days, so I thought now would be social justice through nonviolence.

What I wasn’t expecting was to fall in love with both the artistry of Nate Powell and the young John Lewis. Representative Lewis started his life wanting to be a preacher, ministering to his flock of chickens. Mr. Lewis had a love of school and learning, and eventually those pursuits put him in the orbit of the SCLC and Dr. King.

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This first book chronicles those early stories, placed against the backdrop of President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, through the initial sit ins Lewis participated in and helped organize. Then as now Representative Lewis was a man on a mission, and I am looking forward to reading the next two volumes to follow his story in his own words in this highly accessible telling.

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This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

This One Summer (CBR9 #53)

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Each year, I try to read a frequently challenged or banned book during Banned Books Week (September 24-30). I have very particular feelings about the concept of banning or suppressing works of fiction because they do not fit into a particular worldview (I’m staunchly against it). Do I think every book should have an audience and be read? Probably not. However, I do believe in our ability to choose for ourselves what we should read, and that banning or challenging books which only serve to widen our understanding of the world and people around us is shameful.

For the life of me, I’m not sure why this was the most challenged book last year. Yes, it has some sexual content (a character becomes pregnant and 16, and another character is not handling it well), and there is some foul language (usually in reference to said pregnancy) but otherwise this incredibly detailed and beautiful book is exactly in line with the wide variety of YA that lines bookstore and library shelves.

To the book itself: This graphic novel, a Printz and Caldecott winner, is at its heart a short story about two early teen girls whose families both visit Awago Beach, Ontario each summer. The girls are roughly 18 months apart, but share the kind of friendship born of many hours spent together in a vacuum.  Rose is an only child whose parents seem rather ordinary. Windy is an adopted only child who goes to the beach with her mother and grandmother who are definitely on the “hippie” end of the spectrum. It is a “coming of age” story where these preteens/early teens are figuring out how to be more mature and what it means to leave the trappings of childhood behind.

I found the dynamic of these two different only children and the varieties of their familial interactions to be the most interesting part of the narrative. I also am in love with the art in this book. Jillian Tamaki is a flat out genius and her duo chromatic work (purples and blacks) leaves you with the uneasy feeling of a healing bruise, while also perfectly capturing the aesthetic of a large lake.

I really enjoyed this quick read, and hope you will as well.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (CBR8 #75)

I, like so many other dedicated Cannonball Book Clubbers, am working my way through The Count of Monte Cristo. I have gone abridged, and it is still a long book. In that time, I have also been interspersing my reading with quicker, lighter, fare. Enter, Kingsman.

This is lighter fare if you are a particular kind of reader, or find certain kinds of jokes funny. The first few pages of issue one, where (SPOILER) Mark Hamill gets killed, by accident? Perfection as far as I’m concerned.

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I am vaguely familiar with the work of author Mark Millar. He is perhaps best known for Kick-Ass and Wanted? I’m just not sure, I know that he’s a name in the industry and I’ll hope that you’ll forgive me since comics are a new area for me. I was turned onto this series by the movie that was based on it, which I enjoyed (right up until the very end). The movie and the comics share a lot of the same DNA, with a few changes in the movie which I think were for the better.

The comic builds around the idea of the world’s greatest secret agent – named Jack London – has a punk nephew who he decides should follow in his footsteps in the service. Small problem, he’s on a case trying to discover the link between a series of kidnapped stars. Under Uncle Jack’s supervision, Gary’s spy skills only increase, but solving the celebrity kidnappings isn’t without a price.

While the pacing was a bit hit or miss, the visuals by Dave Gibbons were fantastic. There are parts of the movie version I’ll always enjoy more (Mark Strong and Michael Caine’s parts being two distinct characters instead of one in the comic, more time spent in training, and with *gasp* girls also in the training), but all in all a good read.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (CBR8 #72)

I’ve been pretty open about the idea that comics are still a reading stumbling block for me. My friend Alison loves comics so whenever she comes across something she thinks might do the trick for me, she makes sure to get it into my hands. I sometimes decline her suggestions due to time limitations, but I always try to see what she’s offering. A couple weeks ago she handed me Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey in comic form, and there was no way I wasn’t going to give this one a go – Jane Austen is my jam.

I struggled a bit with Northanger Abbey when I read it for the first time a few years ago, and its one of very few books I have read in my CBR years that I did not review. I struggled to sink into the book on that round, but I think its because I read the academic introduction which preceded it. This time I let myself just float along with the loving adaption of Jane Austen’s most humorous work.

Matching Austen’s satire of Gothic Literature, we follow Catherine Morland’s quest to be the leading lady of her own great romance. Catherine is determined to find the correlations between real life and  the Gothic novels she finds so enchanting. Austen upturns Catherine’s expectations at each turn, and Nancy Butler and illustrator Janet Lee capture the original while making it their own as well. While not my favorite reading experience, I can suggest this to anyone looking for a quick revisit of Austen.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Filmish: A Graphic Journey through Film (CBR8 #70)

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I’m a relatively omnivorous reader. I read a little bit of almost everything (high fantasy, horror,  and poetry seem to be my blind spots). A quick survey of my non-fiction shows that I have an interest in movies, film history, and Classic Hollywood. My podcast listening backs that up as well, being as I follow You Must Remember This and Fighting in the War Room. Through one of my  favorite podcast listens, A Storm of Spoilers, I was introduced to Filmish and immediately put it on my to read, even though I have a spotty history with graphic nonfiction, graphic novels, and comics.

I am pleased to report that this book was awesome. Neil was right.

In Filmish, Ross’s cartoon alter ego serves as tour guide for us through cinematic history (a little like The Great Movie ride at Disney), and he introduces us to some of the stranger and more intriguing concepts at work in the movies. In short, we get the history of film through seven topics: The Eye; The Body; Sets & Architecture; Time; Voice & Language; Power & Ideology; and Technology & Technophobia. Each chapter attacks its concept chronologically, using different movies to fully explore an introduction to film theory. Ross uses many movies which are familiar to the non-connoisseur, and peppers in plenty of lesser known, but influential works to add to your to watch list. This is definitely Film Theory 101, but with the great artwork, the full, but not overstuffed pages, and the detailed end notes which suggest further reading and watching, this is truly a great resource for those looking to be entertained, and a learn a little something along the way.

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This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.