Ho-Ho-Ho: Graphic Novels for the Holidays!
Happy holidays from all of the Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs! Here are the write-ups for the groups that met in the month of December. We hope your holiday break has been filled with lots of great comics and graphic novel. (The Escondido 1 club took a break this month.)
The Balboa Park group’s December selection was Klaus: How Santa Claus Began, by Grant Morrison (writer) and Dan Mora (illustrator). Pebbles led the in-depth discussion. The book tells the origin story of Santa Claus in a tale of one man and his wolf against a totalitarian state and the ancient evil that sustains it.
Most of the members of the Book Club gave Klaus an average of a 4-star rating (out of 5) during the Balboa Park Rating Roundtable. The book received a lot of praise for its “beautiful” art and coloring and “fun and enjoyable” story that didn’t take itself too seriously. Some members felt that the book’s plot didn’t always make sense, with plot points coming into the story from out of the blue. Also receiving some criticism was the story’s “obvious” villain.
The group discussed how artist Dan Mora’s work helped bring the characters to life with his ability to depict detailed facial expressions and show movement. We also discussed his evocative use of color, light, and shadow in the book’s frequent night scenes.
Another topic of conversation was the interesting way Morrison and Mora wove holiday motifs and tropes like snowmen, chimneys, toys, forest spirits, Krampus, and Christmas trees into a traditional fantasy story. We discussed their use of runes to communicate extra meaning to readers who looked them up.
Some members also stayed late to discuss Saga, Vol. 9 by Brian Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist) to conclude the ongoing Saga read-through. The group voted to read Descender by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen for the next long term read.
In January, the Balboa Park Book Club will be discussing Sara, by Garth Ennis (writer) and Steve Epting (artist).The book follows a Russian sniper and her comrades fighting against the Nazis in 1942.
To celebrate the holiday season, the Chula Vista group also read Klaus: How Santa Began written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Dan Mora. This was a unique take of Santa’s origin story, as Santa is not portrayed as the “jolly old elf” you typically see this time of year. Instead, he is portrayed as a solitary being who most definitely did not skip leg (or arm) day. The story of Klaus is straightforward; Klaus returns to his childhood home and sees that it has changed from a joy-filled town to one where possessing happiness and toys are punished. The men are sent to the mines to dig for something that is hungry. Will Klaus be able to save the town? Filled with Nordic folklore, a sleigh that substitutes wolves for reindeer, and a lot of action, Klaus: How Santa Began tells the story of how Santa Claus became a superhero.
Matt moderated the discussion, and everyone enjoyed the book. Jenna thought it was “a fun read”. Yasmine liked how some of the Santa traditions (like going down the chimney) are explained in the story. Tiffany appreciated that Grant Morrison “knew his myths.” This led to a discussion of whether this was a story of revenge or justice. Dennis observed the savior theme in many of the panels. All admired Mora’s use of darkness and colors as well as his depiction of Klaus, which led to Monique noting that even though it was winter in the Nordics, in many of the scenes Klaus did not cover his arms. But—as Eric pointed out—if you had arms like that, would you cover them up? Given the group’s enjoyment of this work, it’s very likely that the sequel will be the group's pick for December 2021!
For January, the group will discuss Isola: Vol. 1, by Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl.
The Downtown club picked Spider-Man: Life Story written by Chip Zdarsky and drawn by classic Spider-Man artist Mark Bagley as their December read. The graphic novel retells the story of Peter Parker decade-by-decade, starting from the beginning in the 1960s and allows the characters to age. Along the way, it hits \the major Spidey storylines (the Clone Saga, Kraven’s Last Hunt), Marvel milestones (Civil War), and real world history (Viet Nam, 9-11).
Moderated by Attiba, the Downtown group loved the aging aspect and how the Marvel Universe (and the Spidey-Verse) changed over the years. Peter Parker’s relatability as a character was discussed, something that separated him from all the superheroes when he was created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. From the very beginning, Spidey was someone who had problems everyone could relate to: sick family members, school tests, and relationship problems, to name a few. One criticism of the tale was some of the readers wanted more of the real-life politics of each decade, or as it was put “the patriotism of the ‘80s, the cynicism of the ‘90s.” The group also discussed which other heroes (and villains) would be good choices to cover in the same decade-by-decade format; Captain America and the X-Men were two popular mentions.
In January, the Downtown group will move onto another Marvel superhero, this time She-Hulk, with Law and Disorder Vol. 1 by Charles Soule and Javier Pulido.
The Encinitas group had a wide-ranging "show-and-tell" session this month, sharing items or experiences that had made us happy recently. Among the items discussed: Jon waxed nostalgic about finding a cache of old Comic-Con freebies from the convention in the 1990s! Robin shared an astounding candy box built to resemble a vintage Nintendo controller. Karim showed a Godzilla coin bank from Japan, with impressive special effects. Marina paid tribute to the HBO series His Dark Materials. Mary Elizabeth appreciated the wide variety of panels that were made available this year for Comic-Con's virtual convention, Comic-Con@Home. The group also did a "year-in-review" celebratory look at the books we read during 2020, and scheduled our book selections for the first several months of 2021.
In January, the Encinitas Book Club will discuss Tetris: The Games People Play, by Brian "Box" Brown.
Escondido 2’s December selection was Second Coming Vol. 1 by Mark Russell and Richard Pace.
The book is described on Amazon as “The book everyone’s talking about, by award-winning writer Mark Russell (Snagglepuss, The Flintstones) and artist Richard Pace (Pitt, New Warriors)! God commands Earth’s mightiest superhero, Sunstar, to accept Jesus as his roommate and teach him how to use power more forcefully. Jesus, shocked at the way humans have twisted his message over two millennia, vows to straighten them out.”
At first members of Escondido 2 weren’t sure about the premise of the story, but ended up being very pleasantly surprised. This was a book full of humor, philosophy, and quite a bit of heart. Sunstar is the stand-in for Superman as a hero that always wants to do the right thing; his solution to that is punching troubles away. Jesus’s is the approach of love and forgiveness. When these two become roommates the inevitable Odd Couple theme song will play in your head. We don’t want to spoil the story beats as this is a very worthwhile read, but highlights include the other superheroes’ therapy sessions, the food court in Heaven, and the devil. The artwork fits the narrative beautifully with current events crisp and vibrant while events in the past take on a more hazy colorful tone. Overall Escondido 2 enjoyed the story, the philosophical conversations we had, the message of being kind to everyone, and looks forward to reading future volumes.
Next up for Escondido 2 in January will be Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio by Derf Backderf.
For our December selection, the La Jolla group read The Sandman: The Doll’s House, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli, and Steve Parkhouse, and Something Is Killing the Children, written by James Tynion IV and illustrated by Werther Dell’Eldera.
We began our discussion with the second volume of The Sandman, an arc that largely centers on a girl with a power she does not yet understand—a power that threatens the realm over which Morpheus, the Sandman himself, rules, or at least the realm he holds together. The issues that work as standalones (particularly, in this volume, “Men of Good Fortune”) were of notable interest to the group as glimpses into further explorations of Morpheus as a character, and as pieces that flesh out the wider universe Gaiman crafted.
We discussed in particular the role that Morpheus plays in the series: Sometimes a protagonist, but often simply a witness, a thread that binds all the stories, almost as much a viewer as readers. We also explored the ways this connects to Neil Gaiman’s interest in the power of storytelling, generally, and how that is woven into the DNA of The Sandman, beginning with this volume’s very first issue, which is a tale of Morpheus told from a perspective not his own; that issue acknowledges that there is no one “right” story or ending, and that the content of a story varies with its storyteller. So, too, are the complications of stories explored: We discussed how the group of serial killers known as “the collectors” have found themselves empowered by a novel clearly not intended to glorify their heinous acts of violence. But stories, once read, no longer belong to the author alone. All in all, the group was interested in learning more about how Gaiman will bring all the disparate threads of his world together.
Recent Eisner Award-winning Something is Killing the Children—the story of a small town, besieged by a sometimes-invisible monster that is (you guessed it) killing the children, and the woman who arrives to protect them from it—was received by the group with much enthusiasm. Overall, everyone was especially taken with the snappy dialogue and depth of the characters, who form the emotional heart of a thoroughly action-packed story. We decided that it was indeed the focus on characters amidst some of the moments of rather gruesome horror that grounded this comic, and tied readers to its heart immediately: The dynamics between them are compelling, there is humor laced throughout, and everyone is rendered with a remarkable degree of compassion. It is writer Tynion’s willingness to deal with the real-world impact of the horror, and the trauma of its aftermath, that moves this story well beyond some of the horror tropes that it utilizes and into a narrative deeply felt.
The group’s consensus was that the art suited the story perfectly, with such stark colors—the sharp red splashed against dark black pages during the moments of horror—that we thought it really cemented the tone of the writing. It seemed to us a comic that could easily be fitted to television—each issue begins with a kind of “cold open,” and the title page looks quite like a title card. We thought this pacing and style made it an accessible read, and everyone is very interested in following the story further.
In January, the La Jolla group will be reading The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1 by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, and Descender, Vol. 2 by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen.
The Mission Valley Book Club decided to try something new for December and read Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe, which is available for free on Web Toon. The updated tale of Persephone and Hades, it is rendered in beautiful bright colors and soft lines. Reading on an app was a new experience for some members, but most were so engrossed that they devoured all one hundred and thirty-six chapters. Most people already know the story of Persephone being whisked away to the Underworld and eating the pomegranate seeds. Smythe turns the tale on its head and weaves in mature themes with an elegant grace. Lore Olympus is a great read and set up in such a way that readers can take their time, or plow through the entire series (which is highly recommended).
For January, Mission Valley will be reading Dark Agents, Book One, by Janina Scarlet and their very own Vince Alvendia!
The Museum Charter Member group had two graphic novel discussions. The first graphic novel that was discussed was Girl with No Name by Legion M, Co-Op Entertainment, and illustrated by Tula Lotay and Dani Strips. The discussion was led by Lanett. Girl with No Name is set on the frontier where actions lead up to the birth of a naturally talented gunslinger, The Girl. Many of the members liked this graphic novel, however there were some reviews that were mixed. There were some feelings that since this will be made into a feature film, the graphic novel was more or less used to help support that effort. What was most admired by the group, however, was the artwork. From the lettering to the illustrations, the art was very well done. It was somewhat reminiscent of Frank Miller. There was definitely a consensus that there needed to be more of the story in the graphic novel as it has great potential.
The second graphic novel that was discussed was Something is Killing the Children Vol. 2, by James Tynion IV, and illustrated by Werther Dell-Edera & Miguel Muerto. The discussion was led by Sam. The story follows Erica Slaughter who has a mission to eliminate evil and the horrors that have terrorized the small Wisconsin town of Archer’s Peak. The Museum group previously read Something is Killing the Children Vol. 1 and it was very well received. However, Vol. 2 in this series came with a bit more mixed reviews than the first. Even though the majority enjoyed it, there were some that felt it could have covered more ground. Others in the group mentioned that it felt like a good segue from the first volume. As agreed with Vol. 1, everyone liked the art in Vol. 2, especially the cover gallery.
After a quick roundtable discussing about how everyone spent their Thanksgiving holiday, North Park began their December discussion of the first volume of Gerard Way, Gabriel Bá, Dave Stewart, and Nate Piekos’ Umbrella Academy series: Apocalypse Suite. Originally published in 2007 and adapted into a television series in 2019, Umbrella Academy is the story of a group of dysfunctional former child superheroes who return home after the death of their adoptive father. This reunion not only dredges up family drama but also sets in motion the possible end of the world.
Almost everyone at this month’s meeting described Umbrella Academy similarly: Enjoyable, fun, funny, wacky, and entertaining. The story started quickly (though too quickly for some members) and didn’t let up with the pace as the story progressed. Several members had already watched the TV series and commented that the show took more time to flesh out the characters than the comic. On the other hand, the comic was able to show several large action sequences (such as a fight with a robotic Eiffel Tower operated by the zombie-robot Gustave Eiffel) missing from the show, owing to an unlimited budget the comics medium can afford a story. The members who had watched the show enjoyed the gaps filled in by the comic, and the members who hadn’t seen the show wanted to watch it immediately after our discussion. Everyone enjoyed Bá’s art style and especially his character designs for each of the children, which can’t really be reproduced on the show.
North Park rings in the new year by embracing our lack of free will and reading Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut, Ryan North, and Albert Monteys.