Hot Summer Reads for August
The Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs got back to “normal” (whatever that is!), post Comic-Con, with regular meetings resuming. The clubs were treated to a meet-up in July with comics superstar and DC Comics publisher and chief creative officer Jim Lee during the big event at the San Diego Convention Center.
The Balboa Park Book Club’s Selection for August was Northlanders by Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli. The club chose to read volume 3: Blood in the Snow, a collection of short stories made up of Northlanders issues 9, 10, 17, 18, 19 and 20. Each of the short stories examined a different dimension of Viking life, with different aspects of each story resonating in different ways with members of the group. The discussion first focused on the different storytelling methods in use within the different short stories, before branching to address the illustrators who worked on each of the issues. The use of earth tone colors and a consistent palette was discussed at some length, particularly in relation to the unifying effect that it has across all of the Northlanders books, even when illustrators changed during the run.
From a content perspective, the club discussed reader’s expectations surrounding historical fiction at some length. The club explored how the personal context or subject matter experience a reader has can shape their enjoyment of a piece of historical fiction. This also led to an interesting discussion about how authors have to balance sometimes competing forces like historical accuracy and narrative expediency, as well as cultural exploration and action sequences, to communicate with different readers.
Balboa Park’s September book is Maneaters volume 1 by Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk.
Chula Vista shifted its reading schedule to read Red Hood and the Outlaws: Dark Trinity #1 (DC Rebirth) by Scott Lobdell, Dexter Soy, and Veronica Gandini, moderated by Stephannie.
Red Hood is Jason Todd, formerly known as the second Robin. Jason was (spoiler alert) killed by the Joker, resurrected in the Lazarus Pit, and became Red Hood. As with many characters brought back to life this way, Jason has changed. He is more bitter, cynical, and not opposed to killing people.
Overall, members enjoyed reading a story about a hero/villain who does not always abide by the law. Readers found the dialogue and flashbacks effective in telling the story, especially the use of color in some of the scenes. Many appreciated the comedic banter between characters. Members noted the book’s art reflected the evolving relationship between Batman and Red Hood. In the beginning the reader sees that Batman is portrayed as a towering figure, but at the end of the book Jason Todd and Bruce Wayne are portrayed more at equal size. While the club has positive feelings towards Red Hood and his story, some members were more intrigued with Artemis and look forward to learning more of her back story in future volumes.
Sticking with the DC Universe, September's book will be Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee.
The Downtown group tackled Fables by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham, as their first post-Comic-Con book. This is part one of a semi-deep dive into the Fables World, with Deluxe Edition 1, which includes the first 10 issues of the series. Moderated by Melissa, everyone agreed that the second arc in this book was the strongest and most interesting story, with the first issues serving as a good set-up and introduction to the characters. The level of violence suited the origin stories. The books feel like a natural extension of familiar characters who have been “turned on their heads,” such as Goldilocks (who got the rebellion “just right”); Prince Charming (revealed as an enchanted con artist); and Snow White (who had a realistic journey to recovery). The group felt that the writing made them believe in these characters, and that gave them immortality. The group also appreciated the great pacing of a detailed and layered story. The art, by Mark Buckingham and Lan Medina, was very well-suited to the story and included incredible attention to detail. Everyone agreed that Fables would make a great TV show on a cable or premium channel, especially with a company like The Jim Henson Company doing the animal characters.
In September, the Downtown group continues with Fables, Deluxe Edition 2
The Encinitas Book Club discussed The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins in August, and though the group initially selected the book as an “easy post-Comic-Con read,” it turned out to a surprisingly deep and thoughtful selection. With Jonathan leading the discussion, the Encinitas group traded ideas and shared theories on just what was happening beneath the surface of the world Collins created. With a tone and style that is akin to “dark Shel Silverstein,” The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil tells the story of Dave, a hairless man (save for one short wisp growing under his nose) living in the orderly, predictable world of “Here.” Spending his days at work reviewing and presenting data neatly captured in clean graphs and charts, and his evenings at home looking out the window and sketching passers-by while listening to The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” on repeat, Dave’s life is the same day-in and day-out. That is, until one day he begins to sprout a massive beard, which brings chaos and disorder to the world of “Here,” letting in the “There” that residents are so fearful of. However, as the Book Club determined, maybe when our lives get too orderly, it’s best to let some chaos in. Collins’ soft, detailed pencil artwork and lyrical text helps to affirm the fairy tale-like quality of the work, and the deeper meaning of the book is a “teacher’s dream” in that it allows for a great deal of interpretation and discussion. The Encinitas group pondered whether Collins was making a statement about xenophobia, commercialism, transitioning from childhood to adulthood, or if he was simply spinning a strange fable of a man who grows a massive beard. No matter Collins’ intentions, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil is an intriguing book that is ideal for a Book Club setting.
Next month the Encinitas club will be discussing Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads.
The original Escondido group read Chew Volume 1: Tasters Choice by John Layman (author) and Rob Guillory (illustrator). This title received a good review from the group with the all too rare “all thumbs up” from everyone. The conversation started with the art style Guillory chose. Points where made as to the analogous color schemes having meaning at different points of the story and different colors being used for the elements of the story, including intense action, character development, or backgrounds. It’s also worth noting that the cartoonish style the illustrator used made it easier to read the story in which there are many instances of cannibalism (the lead character, a detective, gets psychic impressions from what he eats). This discussion easily transitioned to the writing, and how we felt connected to the protagonist as he slowly overcomes his fear of eating dead things to get a lead. Layman does use a lot of tongue in cheek (no pun intended) dialogue, as well as hints to governmental conspiracy theory. In the end, the first volume of Chew left us all wanting more from a title a lot of us had not already read.
For the month of September we will read: Kill or be Killed Volume 1 by Ed Brubaker (author), Sean Phillips (artist), and Elizabeth Breitweiser (color artist).
In August, Escondido 2 read Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck. Group members enjoyed this tale once they realized it was more of a story about Kraven than it was about Spider-Man. One of Spidey’s long-time adversaries, Kraven thinks he's finally succeeded in beating the webslinger and burying him once and for all … but it’s hard to kill a spider. Originally published in the 1990s, the artwork format was unfamiliar to many of the group members that are used to reading current comic books. The penciling work previewed at the back of the book was stunning. Group members agreed that the story could have been read with just the penciling and it would have been fantastic. The psychological similarities, themes, and crossovers of Kraven, Spider-Man, and Vermin were intriguing: A combination of man, beast, and where the two meet.
In September, Escondido 2 will read Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J.H Williams III.
In August the La Jolla group read Coda Volume 1 by Simon Spurrier and Matias Bergara. The group loved the art and color; it was bright and surprising for a post- apocalyptic story. The story pulled the reader right in and was a tale of journey and what comes along the way for an antisocial former bard trying to save the soul of his wife. We enjoyed the play on magical creatures and learned to expect the unexpected. The group agreed to continue with this series and looks forward to what volume two has in store for us.
Our continuation book for the month was Deadly Class Volume 3 by Rick Remender and Wes Craig. We were all excited to jump back into our favorite group of student assassins and see what type of trouble they would be getting up to in this volume. The pace of the book was fast and the group enjoyed the speed and ease of following along with the group and on their journey. We had a lively discussion if Maria was truly dead and how we would miss her character and the art that accompanied her. The group is looking forward to volume 4 to see if Marcus continues his downward mental spiral and what might happen next.
For September, La Jolla will be reading Unnatural by Mirka Andolfo and Y the Last Man Volume 5 by Brian K Vaughan and Pia Guerra.
For the month of August, the Mission Valley group read Die, Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker by Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans and Clayton Cowles. Die is described as a “goth Jumanji” where a group of forty-something adults are pulled back into a fantasy world they created as teenagers, a horrific world they barely survived, causing them to return to the real world with one less member. The majority of the group enjoyed the book, despite some never having played a RPG (role playing game) before. Those folks got some great lessons and background from experienced RPG players, such as what a campaign entails, what a Dungeon Master is and the difficulty of getting a group consensus to propel the game forward. There was also an extensive discussion about the double meaning of the title and how each character’s particular die was incorporated into their elaborate costumes. The entire group loved the beautiful artwork by Stephanie Hans. One member commented that a single image could convey so much in an impactful way and really captured the mood. Another commented on the great layout and how easy it was to follow. Not only did the group decide to nominate future volumes, with many non-RPG players had their interest piqued enough to give them a try!
September’s selection is Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar and Dave Johnson.
This month the Museum Charter Member Club read Skin & Earth written and illustrated by Lights. Club member Tori led the discussion, the initial portion of which was framed around the unique nature of this specific graphic novel and how each individual member interacted with it. Skin & Earth was not only written and illustrated by Lights, but also has a special soundtrack that lines up with specific moments in the book. Many of the club members were excited about the soundtrack but did not end up connecting with it in concert with the story. Lots of discussion ended up being around being able to enjoy both separately but not always being able to connect the reading and the book simultaneously. While this did slow some of the member’s reading it did not harm the enjoyment of the story and art!
Another major point of discussion was how the humor in the book was utilized by En, the main character. There were points where club members pointed out that the voice that the author was utilizing at times felt like her own, which led to a discussion about how much of the book may have been Lights’ experiences either creating the graphic novel or her experiences in the music industry. Overall the club highly enjoyed the book and hope that further books in the series will one day follow.
Next month the book club is looking forward to reading Descender Volume 1, illustrated by Dustin Nguyen and written by Jeff Lemire.
North Park read the 12-issue Mister Miracle limited series by Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Clayton Cowles for the month of August. The series is an out-of-continuity story of Scott Free, a superhero who can escape anything except his responsibilities while straddling two worlds: a mundane celebrity escape artist career living with his wife Big Barda in Los Angeles and leader of the New Gods in their never-ending war against Darkseid and his army. Mister Miracle is a dense read that isn’t afraid to address issues of parenthood, PTSD, and even attempted suicide.
Because of these themes that are not normally found in a superhero comic story, our group spent our full allotted time discussing this story and how it affected us. Though it took some of us a couple of chapters to really connect with the story, everyone in the group loved the book by the end. Only a few of us had any knowledge of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, but the characters of Scott Free and Big Barda themselves and their marriage were so engaging and entertaining as a couple dealing with mundane real-life issues and PTSD from their time growing up on Apokolips that any prior knowledge wasn’t necessary. Overall, we appreciated the dichotomy between Scott’s mundane life and his fantastical battles as well as the mix of trauma and comedy. Everyone also enjoyed Mitch Gerad’s use of the 9-panel page, adding a structure to the story that is different from most current comics, and created a sort of trapped feeling reading the story that added to our experience overall. One other great aspect of the story is that it only lasts 12 issues, telling a complete story instead of being serialized.
September brings North Park back to a similar mix of the mundane and traumatic with the return of our deep read of Saga, Volumes 4-6, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.