Category Archives: Graphic Novels

The Adventuress – Audrey Niffenegger

I have been reading quite a lot of books involving time travel of late and so I thought I would read something that would be different and also a bit of a palate cleanser, if you know what I mean. I have only just (literally right now) seen the irony of the fact that I chose Audrey Niffenegger as an author to cleanse after some time travelling books – sometimes I really am a simple Simon. Anyway, I thought that Audrey’s ‘The Adventuress’ might be just the thing as it seemed rather like an adult picture book, and I don’t mean that in a snarky way.

Jonathan Cape, hardback, 2006, graphic novel, 144 pages, borrowed from the library

Put very simply ‘The Adventuress’ is the story of a beautiful young alchemists daughter who is abducted by a much older evil count before she manages to escape after setting fire to his home, and most likely him too, before she meets the love of her life. Yet of course like all the best stories there come some twists and turns only I don’t think anyone would guess the plot developments that unfurl, after all this is one of Audrey Niffenegger books and as someone who has read a fair few I have learnt that anything is possible in her hands/head.

For example, who would expect that ‘The Adventuress’ would be imprisoned and turn herself into a moth and escape from jail to find sanctuary in a library (I love Niffenegger for her vehement love of books) where she would meet the love of her life? Who would then turn that most romantic of moments into something much darker as we learn that her lover, Napoleon Bonaparte, would then pretend to go to conquer Russia when actually he has gone to have it off with lots of other women nearby? Who would have thought she might get pregnant and give birth to a cat? I know I have given a lot of the plot away there but the images are what makes this book so worth picking up as they are stunning.

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The reason I call it an adult picture book is because of it has the same deft simplicity that a children’s picture book does. You have a few minimal words, sometimes repetitive and the pictures and yet within those words and pictures are almost another story in every page. This probably sounds a little bit of a mix of impossible and me being a pretentious ass but it is true. Kids love picture books because they tell a story in more than one way, that is what I liked about ‘The Adventuress’ so much, the pictures tell you more and ask questions at the same time. Why does she never have a top on? Why does she suddenly become a moth? Who does Napoleon cheat on her with? Etc. There is also this underlying sense of the magical which all picture books have when you are a child and that nostalgic feeling hit me reading this book – and as I would have as a child I read it three times on the trot.

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What also makes an interesting addition to the book is just when you have finished it and have most probably thought something along the lines of ‘oh blimey, where did all that come from?’, Niffenegger goes and tells us. I liked this added insight into the book even if I did worry initially that she was about to do herself a disservice and dumb it down initially by saying it was some doodles of a random woman with no top on who gives birth to a cat. Yet then she found herself asking the question of who this woman was and hey presto there was a story and then there was a book, one she made herself by hand initially before she reached all the fame she has. That is like a story in itself really isn’t it?

I really enjoyed ‘The Adventuress’. It did exactly what I hoped it would in taking me away for twenty minutes (or an hour with the re-reading) into a magical world and quite a nostalgic frame of mind. I am now mad keen to read ‘The Raven Girl’ and ‘The Three Incestuous Sisters’ since having finished this and liking it as much as ‘The Night Book Mobile’. Oh and as we mentioned felines again before, here is a picture of Millie also enjoying it though not for the same reasons I did.

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Have you read ‘The Adventuress’ or any of Audrey Niffenegger’s other graphic novels and if so what did you make of them? And do you know what I mean by a picture book for adults (in a good way) or have I lost the plot?

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Filed under Audrey Niffenegger, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review

Ghost World – Daniel Clowes

I still haven’t posted my list of ‘forty books to read by the time I am forty’ yet, however if I had (well until now as I have read it) you would have seen ‘Ghost World’ by Daniel Clowes firmly placed on this list. Graphic novels are really something I have only started to truly appreciate in the last few years but Daniel Clowes ‘Ghost World’ is one of the cult graphic novels that everyone recommends I read, along with ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman. So when I spotted ‘Ghost World’ at the library I decided I should give it a whirl.

Jonathan Cape Publishing, paperback, 1997, graphic novel, 80 pages, borrowed from the library

‘Ghost World’ is a graphic novel centring on two best friends, Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer, who are going through their teenage years together in a small town where nothing really happens, well unless you are Enid of Becky. With their teenage cynical, nonchalant attitude they seem to somehow sense a mystery about everyone despite acting like they don’t care. Regulars at their diner become, through the girls imaginations, perverts, incestuous siblings, Satanist cult leaders and serial killers. It’s a series of chronicles of points in their friendship, originally a series in Clowes comic book series ‘Eightball’, which makes the whole of this graphic novel.

I have to admit that I am rather torn on ‘Ghost World’. Part of me thought that the book was brilliant. I really enjoyed the dark humour of the girls and how they creates such dark and wicked pasts for everyone they knew, whether they liked them or hated them, as it appealed to my sense of humour. I also really liked the dynamic between the girls which Clowes creates and the way in which he looks at how their friendship alters as their hormones do. Clowes creates a very believable relationship between them as boys, other friendships and college threaten to tear them apart. Is it patronising to say I thought this was particularly well done as Clowes is not and, as far as I know, has never been a teenage girl.

So where did it go wrong? Well overall it didn’t. I enjoyed reading ‘Ghost World’ in a single hour long sitting. The problem was as soon as I put it down after finishing it my feeling was ‘well that was ok then’ yet really, especially after all the hype from people who know graphic novels and comic books. I was expecting the book to come to life more as other graphic novels I have read in the past have like ‘Fun Home’ or ‘Blankets’. This did feel like a comic, rather than a fully formed graphic novel. That isn’t meant to be a slight as I love reading Batman comics etc, I just didn’t think ‘Ghost World’ had the depth I was expecting and hoped for, the more I thought about it the more it seemed a tale of two rather angry girls who cynically saw the worst in everyone and liked to swear a lot, gossip and talk about sex.

I have to admit that I wanted more from ‘Ghost World’ but (before I get hate mail from its cult audience) that isn’t to say it was a letdown or a disappointing read for me overall. I enjoyed the time I spent with Enid and Becky, I liked the friendship they had and the world and relationships that Clowes created around it. It was a nice escapist read but it did feel more comic like to me than a fully formed graphic novel overall.

I know ‘Ghost World’ has a huge cult fan base, if any of you read this blog can you explain what I might have been missing? Also if you know of some corking graphic novels I have most probably missed out on then do give me your recommendations. I need to get my hands on ‘Maus’ next I think.

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Filed under Daniel Clowes, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review

Fun Home – Alison Bechdel

Jonathan Cape, paperback, 2006, graphic novel/memoir, 240 pages, kindly given to me by Sarah on The Book Barge

I do think that sometimes fate determines when you see a book. I had never heard of ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel until Rebecca Makkai recommended it when she did her Savidge Reads Grills. A mere week or so after that I was on the book barge and what did I see? Yes, ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel, and Sarah very kindly said I could have it (along with ‘Trilby’ by George Du Maurier – lovely stuff) in exchange for the M&S picnic I had brought. I offered to pay for these, the look I got told me it was completely out of the question. So like I said, sometimes fate seems to thrust a book in your direction. Sometimes it then takes you several months to read it but never mind.

‘Fun  Home’ is Alison Bechdel’s memoirs told through a graphic novel, which was a concept that I found really intriguing.  It was also one I wasn’t sure would work, would I feel an emotional connection with the images in front of me, or could this read like a cartoon? I can now say that ‘Fun Home’ is in the latter category and as I followed the fictional/illustrated/memory drawn Alison from her childhood, when after inheriting it her family all moved into the family business… a funeral home, to her dealings with the death of her father and their relationship and indeed her own sexuality, the latter she discovered interestingly through books.

It’s hard to say any more on the novel than that. Though it does feel like a novel and I pondered, with all its references to Camus, Fitzgerald and other authors (who Alison’s dad loved and seemed to add the personalities of to his own) if the influence and subsequent love of books gave it that extra edge? It could of course simply be that this is a blooming brilliant novel regardless of its form and that I instead shop stop the subconscious part of my brain which says ‘this is a graphic novel, thats not quite the same as a normal novel’ and get over it. I think I have because I was read this like a novel, I didn’t just sit and read it in one go, I would read a chapter here and there as usual and was thinking of it when I put it down, not as a graphic novel but just as a book I was enjoying.

It is hard to say anymore about the book really without spoilers. It has that mixture or coming of age memoir, gothic reminiscence and family tragedy and comedy that I love when I find just the right combination of. I laughed out loud but it wasn’t saccharine, it was honest without being malicious or brutal, it was emotional without being woe-is-me and I liked the tone of the book. I liked Alison Bechdel and I wanted more of her story.

I used to think that graphic novels were just really big comics for grown up kids, its examples like ‘Fun Home’ that continue to prove my wrong and show that graphic novels can offer you the full formed personality of characters and evoke their situations and the atmospheres that they are surrounded by. People are probably rolling their eyes at that but that has been the case on the whole for me until now, though other graphic novels have been good they have never felt like the give everything that a normal ‘book’ does like ‘Fun Home’ has, and here I must mention ‘Blankets’ by Craig Thompson, where the images become fully formed and not just the illustrated escapism in front of your eyes.

I am hoping people might now give me lots of suggestions of other graphic novels in this vein that will keep proving the former graphically challenged me wrong. My co-conspirator on ‘The Readers’, Gav, has recently been saying how brilliant ‘The House That Groaned’ by Karrie Fransman is. Has anyone else read that one and can concur? Any other graphic novels I should be looking for?

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Filed under Alison Bechdel, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review

Americus – MK Reed & Jonathan Hill

I like books about books and books about reading. It was this that drew me to a copy of the graphic novel ‘Americus’ written by MK Reed and illustrated by Jonathan Hill. It was a book I hadn’t heard of and it was only by chance that I spotted it in the library and swiftly borrowed it and took it home. I seem to be having a little graphic novel phase at the moment, if you don’t tend to like graphic novels then still bear this one in mind as it does have a very bookish twist.

First Second Books, paperback, 2011, graphic novel, 2151 pages, from the library

‘Americus’ is a small town in America, where we find Neil and his friend  Danny getting very excited about the latest in the series of “The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde” which has caused a storm in the reading world, and not just with the adults as the local librarian is also desperate for the kids to read the book so she can talk to them all about it.

Neil and Danny are bookworms and as we follow their daily routine at school we realise this is a deeply ‘uncool’ thing to be known for, especially as they are also about to embark on going to High School. Only after Danny’s mother catches him reading the latest ‘Apathea’ book, which she believes is promoting witchcraft and Satanism in children she wants is banned leading to a show down, an announcement from Danny which shatters her life further and his being sent to a Military School and his bitter mother on a crusade to ban all ‘Apathea’ books in the library.

 

If you think I have given too much away I haven’t, I promise. This book has so much more than the initial stories that greet us. It reminded me of some of the controversy that has followed the publications of Harry Potter and Twilight which have both had parents trying to ban them for just the reason’s Danny’s mother does. It also looks at the struggles we all have had, and that some of our children might have, as you go through those teenage years and the transition to the big scary school. It is also a tale of friendship but most importantly it is a tale about books and why they are so important.

I should have fallen in love with it just for that, and I did like it a lot, yet there were a couple of small quibbles I had with it. The first was the ending, it just seemed to fizzle out and after the story had been building so much there was a lot of drama and then suddenly ‘oh, it’s the end’. My second quibble was the interception of an illustrated version of “The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde”, which while I thought showed how it fired these two young readers imaginations I didn’t really need quite so much of it in the book, especially as we never got the full story or idea of what the concept of “The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde” was. 

 

I did enjoy ‘Americus’ though and I’m glad I pulled it off the library shelves on a whim. In fact borrowing this book from the library seems most apt given the story. It reminded me of a graphic novel version of ‘The Borrower’ by Rebecca Makkai (though the latter has etched itself on my brain and resonated with me a lot more) and is worth a read if you fancy a book about books or should you fancy dipping your toes into graphic novels.

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Filed under Books About Books, First Second Books, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Hill, MK Reed, Review

The Night Bookmobile – Audrey Niffenegger

If anyone is ever going through a reading funk, which I had been of late if I am honest, then the first book that I would recommend for them as a prescription and possible cure would have to be ‘The Night Bookmobile’ a graphic novel by Audrey Niffenegger. I am not sure that I would recommend it to someone who was thoroughly depressed though if I am honest, more on that later though.

Jonathan Cape, hardback, 2010, graphic novel, 40 pages, from the library

Normally I don’t include the blurb of a book, however Neil Gaiman has written this one so without further ado here is his: “The Night Bookmobile is a love letter, both elegiac and heartbreaking, to the things we have read, and to the readers that we are. It says that what we read makes us who we are. It’s a graphic short story, beautifully drawn and perfectly told, a cautionary fantasia for anyone who has ever loved books, and I hope the story of the library, of Alexandra, finds its place on the night bookmobiles of all of who’d care. It’s a treasure.” Now doesn’t that just sound the perfect book for any book lover?

‘The Night Bookmobile’, which started life as an illustrated column in The Guardian,  is in many ways a complete celebration of the books we have loved and remembers, not finished but meant to and those we read and forgot about.  One night after a row with her boyfriend Alexandra is walking the streets of her neighbourhood when she comes across the Night Bookmobile and is drawn inside. Here she discovers a Tardis-like space of shelves with endless books, as she browses she soon realises that this is her very own library with all the books she has read, or started and left unfinished, throughout her lifetime. This reawakens her love of reading and soon sees her changing her life with a much more bookish bent. I simply loved this premise and it started making me think about all the books and authors I have loved the most, onces who I have said I would keep on reading and haven’t, etc, etc. I soon had a list of lots of reading I was desperate to turn to again.

I do however have a few little qualms about ‘The Night Bookmobile’. The first would have to be its length as it is just 64 pages long, which is fine bevause it is a stuningly beautiful read yet means there is a slight lack of depth. We never quite know what is going on with Alexandra when she remeets the Night Bookmobile at random points in her life and I would have liked to know more. I do also think on a slight tangent but still based on its length – and this is nothing to do with the author – that maybe the price should reflect its length too, though I picked mine up at the library I think it is worth a mention.

The second one is difficult to discuss without spoilers, but I will try, and that is the ending. It is rather tragic, seems to come from nowhere and rather disturbed me with the message it was passing on. I wondered if I had missed something somewhere, so happily read the book again, and I hadn’t. This ending came out of nowhere, didn’t really make sense and left me feeling uneasy and wishing the last few pages hadn’t been included, it was up until then almost perfect.

That said for its celebration of books, and I loved the fact its designed like a child’s picture book too, I did really like this book for the passion about books it has behind it. It is the sort of book that makes you think ‘this author knows why I read’ and I was thrilled to learn that this is in fact part of something called ‘The Library’ which Niffenegger is working on and off all the time. Could she hurry up please and a longer more in depth book by her about loving books would simply be perfect.

Has anyone else read ‘The Night Bookmobile’ and if so what did you think, without spoilers if possible, was the point of the ending or the message? I thought it was tragic yet trying to be hopeful in a tone of some desperation. Does that make sense?

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Filed under Audrey Niffenegger, Books About Books, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

I have to say with poetry and now a graphic novel adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith (adapted by Tony Lee and illustrated by Cliff Richards) in a single week you might be wondering if Savidge Reads has been taken over by zombies. I can promise you whilst illness has be a forte for me this year it is not ‘the plague’ that has got me. I seem to just want to be trying more varied things and whilst I didn’t want to read the novel that this is based on, and I still haven’t actually read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (I know, I know), yet when my uncle got this out from the library and I saw it lying around I thought ‘well, why not?’

Titan Books; graphic novel; paperback; 2010; 176 pages; from the library

There is almost no point bringing up the whole storyline of ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ because I think everyone on earth (I almost seriously think that) knows the story of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ don’t they? Well take that story and imagine the Hertfordshire town of Meryton is in the midst of a zombie flooded England and the Bennett sisters are being trained by their father to become warrior women who can perform the ‘pentagram of death’ at any zombie intruded ball.

Whilst Jane and Elizabeth, who is a ‘student of Shaolin, master of the seven-starred first’, enjoy their roles some of the sisters like flighty Lydia are slightly more worried about getting their dresses dirty with brains and not interesting the soldiers. Mrs Bennett is more bothered about them finding husbands and when Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy arrive in town this sets everyone in quite a stir.

You of course know what’s going to come after these two men ride into town, or do you? What Seth Grahame-Smith, and I am sure to some extent Tony Lee in his adaptation, has done is explain some of the characters actions in different ways. Why does Charlotte Lucas really accept Mr Collins hand? Why is the legendary female warrior Lady Catherine such a great slayer of zombies and such a character? Will there be a happy ever after, and what might happen to everyone else if the best slaying sister Elizabeth leaves for another shire?

I don’t always like a spin off. I almost think there is something a little unoriginal about them, why do authors not want to create something new rather than almost pilfer someone else’s story or idea’s (ironic from the man who wants to write a fictional tale of ‘Mrs Danvers’ life)? However there are times when it can work and be original. I’m thinking of ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys or ‘Wicked’ by Gregory Maguire etc. I think this is one that works because it’s not what you would expect, it’s often quite funny, and at no point do you feel this has been done as some gimmicky piss-take/cashing in at Jane Austen’s expense. I do wish they hadn’t made Elizabeth blonde and Jane a brunette though, it really through me, I kept getting them mixed up.

As I said earlier, almost everyone knows the story of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and I wonder if that is why I really rather enjoyed ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ all the more. It gave a story that I feel I know too well (in a nice way, I love the BBC adaptation to bits) and did something different with it, rather like the wonderful TV series ‘Lost In Austen’ only in this instance the storyline doesn’t have an avid reader disturbing it but a host of zombies instead. I’m not sure if the die hard Austen fans will like this or not but its something a bit different. I can’t say it’s made me want to rush and read ‘Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters’ but interestingly it has made me want to read some of Austen’s other work.

What are your thoughts on this Austen based twist, is it just a gimmicky cash in or a new and interesting take on her work? Who has read the book? Who is going to see the film, apparently Natalie Portman is producing it?

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Filed under Graphic Novels, Jane Austen, Review, Seth Grahame-Smith, Titan Books

Tamara Drewe – Posy Simmonds

I so, so, so wanted to go and see the ‘Tamara Drewe’ film when it came out earlier this year, however sadly for lots of reasons I never got around to it. Mind you I now think that this was fate because I do really like to read the book before I go and see the film version, hence why I have still not gotten around to seeing ‘Revolutionary Road’ which I must read next year. ‘Tamara Drewe’ was a book that I definitely wanted to read because being a graphic novel, a genre I am getting to know slowly but surely, it seemed like it could be something quite different. I saw it in the library earlier this week, snapped it up and then read it in one go!

I had seen snippets of ‘Tamara Drewe’ by Posy Simmonds when it was serialised in The Guardian whenever I was at my Mum’s or my Gran’s on a random Saturday visit. I can’t say that it was something I particularly looked out for because I would catch it rarely and I do like to read things in order. However it came out as a graphic novel back in 2007, yet it wasn’t until seeing the film adverts on the telly that I really gained awareness of it, but I am so glad that I have finally picked it up and read it.

Stonefield is a writers retreat in the fictional town of Ewedown deep in the English countryside. The owners Beth and her writer husband Nicholas Hardiman who are currently in their latest brawl over one of his affairs and the writers, including Glen Larson, and the gardener Andy are having a garden break when a girl in a mere vest and hot pants appears. This siren is Tamara Drewe, a woman who lived in Ewedown but left to follow a career in journalism and also to get a nose job, a column on which has made her career so far. She is back and wittingly or unwittingly (as the reader can decide as they go) she causes chaos and changes the lives of some of the villagers for good, especially as it appears she has some history with several of the people at Stonefield.

Posy Simmonds is not only a wonderful, and I mean really wonderful, artist she is a brilliant storyteller who can be both incredibly funny and also rather emotional. As Tamara causes chaos in almost all her relationships with others you could be taken on a farcical tale of middle class England and its bed hopping and gossip. What you get is a little bit of that laced with both a morality and slight melodrama that makes you believe in all the characters and their situations and puts you in the heads of them all and their motives whether they are good bad or indifferent. I wasn’t expecting too much out of this book actually, I thought it was going to be rather a throwaway romp through the fields, haystacks and bedrooms of some rather comic and cad like characters. I was proved wrong and was most pleasantly surprised. 8.5/10

Its been a good year for me with graphic novels, I would say I have loved every single one but both this and the incredible ‘Blankets’ have shown me I need to read much more of this genre, any suggestions for 2011 please?

P.S I am sorry this post is so late, wordpress seems to be playing about with my scheduled posts… grrr! I’m also not sure what is going on with my fonts!

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Filed under Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Posy Simmonds, Random House Publishing, Review