Introducing: Zook Club!
April dawned with a leap into the future: The Dawn of ZookClub! With the pandemic stay at home restrictions still in place, our Graphic Novel Book Clubs took to the world wide web and held their very first meetings via video conferencing on Zoom!
The Balboa Park group’s April selection was Uzumaki Vol 1-3 by Junji Ito (writer and artist). Sarah led the discussion of this Japanese horror manga. Uzumaki tells the story of Kurouzu-cho, a small Japanese town that is home to teenagers Shuichi Saito and Kirie Goshima. After a series of strange and terrifying events, they come to believe that their town is haunted not by a spirit but a destructive and all-consuming sequence of spirals.
All but one of the members of the Book Club gave Uzumaki Vol 1-3 a 3-to just under 5-star rating during the Balboa Park Rating Roundtable, with the holdout giving the book a 1-star rating. The books were generally acclaimed to have “tremendous” art and a storyline that was “easy to follow” and “creepy”. Many club members appreciated the intricate black and white artwork and the sense of mystery of the narrative. Members who gave the book a lower rating thought that some of the individual stories did not go with the overall flow of the book and, in one case, that some of the spiral horror sequences were too intense for their tastes. The group liked reading the story manga-style in both paper and ebook format. Some members called out the romance elements as especially appealing.
Members had various reactions on the ending. Some appreciated how the story was resolved while others had hoped for a different ending.
In May, the Balboa Park Book Club will be discussing Heart in a Box, written by Kelly Thompson with art by Meredith McClaren. The group will also continue its discussion of Saga by Brian K Vaughn (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist) with volume 2.
The Chula Vista group had its first Zoom meeting and discussed Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, and Kilian Plunkett. Consisting of three issues, Superman: Red Son explores an alternative storyline where Superman’s ship does not land in the United States but in the Ukraine. What if the mantra of “truth, justice, and the American way” became "Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact?" How would this history be different than the Superman universe the reader is familiar with? There are familiar faces—Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Wonder Woman, Batman, Braniac—but who are the heroes and who are the villains?
Chris moderated the discussion. For a few in the group, this was their first foray into Superman comics. Most were familiar with the Superman canon and for the most part, everyone enjoyed the book. Stephannie brought up the subject of nature vs. nurture. How much of Superman’s character was based on his upbringing and how much was innate? Chris felt that while Superman was raised in the Soviet Union, “truth and justice” was still his mantra. Eric felt he was till the same guy. Dennis and Yasmine enjoyed a different perspective of the story; for some, this was more a Lex Luthor comic than anything else! Everyone appreciated the art, and Tiffany liked the propaganda-style in particular. Monique commented on how one small detail (just a few moments of time) changed Superman’s life and that of the universe.
In May the group will discuss Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 1, by Kieron Gillen, Adi Granov, and Salvador Larroca.
The Downtown group read Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Bad Weekend, a collection of a story arc from their Criminal series. Bad Weekend centers on the “reunion” of sorts of a famed cartoonist (Hal Crane) and his former assistant, Jacob, when the latter is asked to escort Crane to a large comics convention and make sure he shows up to accept his lifetime achievement award. But Crane has other things in mind, including getting some of his original art back and getting revenge on those who he feels have wronged him.
Bad Weekend takes place in July 1997 at a show that is clearly based on Comic-Con. Moderator Al asked the question as to why 1997, and everyone had their own theories as to why that particular year was picked. Everyone enjoyed this short read (it was only two issues from the ongoing Criminal series), particularly its emphasis on the comic industry and comics conventions. There was a lot of discussion as to who in the story was based on who in real life, opening up a larger discussion on comics history.
In May, the Downtown group will read Skyward, vol. 1: My Low-G Life by Joe Henderson and Lee Garbett.
The Encinitas group’s April selection was Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter, adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke. (This book has a bit of a convoluted publication back-story. In 1962, mystery writer Donald Westlake wrote a crime novel The Hunter, under the pseudonym Richard Stark. The anti-hero protagonist of the novel is named Parker. In 2009, Darwyn Cooke adapted the book as a graphic novel.) The story follows professional thief Parker after he escapes from prison and seeks revenge on those who betrayed him.
Luke led the discussion. The group discussed at length the art style which Darwyn Cooke used for the graphic novel. Set squarely in 1962, Cooke employed a stylized, retro art style similar in many respects to the style he used in DC: The New Frontier, which was set in the 1950s. Characters’ jaws and fingers are angular; lines are clean; the color palette is limited.
James noted that the efficient and professional art style was consistent with the treatment of the anti-hero protagonist, who is also efficient and professional in his chosen career of crime. Luke commented that the stylized art style helps the reader to keep an emotional distance from the sometimes graphic violence in the story. Richard commented that the carefully depicted 1962 setting helped the story to sometimes feel like “Mad Men: The Dark Side.”
The group also discussed the technical challenges involved in adapting a prose book to the graphic novel format. Mary Elizabeth reviewed several specific pages of the book, discussing the challenge of balancing text and images. Jon and Abe both noted that the limited color palette and other stylistic choices by Cooke were effective in setting the mood for a noir-ish crime story.
In May, the Encinitas Book Club will be discussing The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, by Isabel Greenberg.
The Escondido 1 group's April selection was The Way of the Househusband by Vol. 1 by Kousuke Oono. This comedic slice-of-life manga stars a former yakuza who has left his life of crime to master a new discipline with the utmost seriousness: being a stay-at-home husband for his career wife! Formally known as the “Immortal Dragon,” Tatsu now tackles everyday house chores, grocery shopping, and cooking meals for his spouse. But he still does it all with style and dedication! Hilarious encounters with former criminal acquaintances and the occasional misunderstanding ensue whenever Tatsu leaves the house.
Natalie led our discussion this month and took advantage of Zoom’s “Share Screen” feature to show the Japanese live-action commercial on YouTube that was released this year to promote sales of the Househusband manga. Everyone’s impression of the first volume was positive with the only criticism being that they wanted to know more about Tatsu and his wife. Our questions ranged from how the pair met, to what his wife is like and what she does for a living (she only appears on a few pages), to how Tatsu left the world of crime. This series is a definite page-turner because of its humor and lightheartedness. I believe we will all follow its future volume releases. We also had fun discussing our favorite pages and funny facial expressions, as Kousuke Oono’s art has the perfect balance of detail and readability.
Escondido 1 will convene with Zoom again in May to discuss volumes 1 and 2 of Golden Kamuy by Satoru Noda.
Escondido 2's April selection was The Fade Out vol. 1 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.
Amazon states that this is an "Eisner Award-winning tale of Hollywood in the early days of the Blacklist! The Fade Out tracks the murder of an up-and-coming starlet from studio backlots to the gutters of downtown Los Angeles, as shell-shocked front man Charlie Parish is caught between his own dying sense of morality and his best friend’s righteous sense of justice. A picture-perfect recreation of a lost era, The Fade Out is an instant classic ..."
Richard lead a lively conversation for our first Zook Club. The artwork fit the story and time period perfectly to convene a tale of murder and mystery. The use of black-and-white, fuzzy imagery to depict the in-story "fade out" was a group favorite. Charlie is caught trying to figure out how a woman he was in love with was murdered and protecting a secret of his own. The supporting cast of characters is directly out of 1940s Hollywood and showcase what life was like in that era. Hollywood isn't all that it’s cracked up to be and the lengths people will go to be successful are staggering. Overall the group enjoyed the book and look forward to reading future volumes.
Escondido 2's read for May will be Akira Vol. 1 by Katsuhiro Otomo.
For April the La Jolla group read The Boys Vol 3: Good for the Soul by Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson, and Tony Avina. Nicole and Jon led our first virtual discussion. The group enjoyed the book and were happy to see what our unusual band of superheroes were up to. We all agreed learning the backstory on the supes, Vought Corp, and how it all started, was interesting and gave us a better understanding of what brought them to the current time. Diving into Annie’s relationship and how much longer she can keep it separate from being Starlight seems to be closing in on her. We then jumped into a lively discussion of a comparison of the books we’ve read so far, the TV series, and how we are all enjoying both. We all look forward to continue reading the series to see what they will be getting up to.
Next month we will be reading Excellence Vol. 1 by Brandon Thomas, Khary Randolph, and Emilio Lopez and Locke and Key Vol. 4: Keys to the Kingdom by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.
April was a new experience for the Mission Valley Book Club as it was the premiere of Zook Club! Almost everyone was able to join for a communal, quarantine gathering to talk about April’s selection, Crowded Vol. 1 by Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein, and Ted Brandt. It was definitely a surreal choice to read under lockdown: Set in a not-so-distant future, month-long assassination attempts are crowd-sourced and totally legal. With a huge bounty on her head, Charlie has to survive the month with her hired protection, Vita. Hosting a Zoom meeting with a dozen people actually went surprisingly well, but maybe that’s because Mission Valley is used to speaking over one another in their enthusiasm for a book. Crowded is a fun, exciting read and one that kept people on the edge of their seats. Everyone had a different theory as to how it would end, or how the characters got themselves into their current situations. With another volume on the way, it’s a comic most will continue with, and for good reason: Right now everyone wants excitement, adventure and a happy ending! It’s available digitally, so if you’re stuck at home, it’s a good one to pick up.
Next month, Mission Valley will discuss Little Bird by Darcy Van Poelgeest and Ian Bertram.
For our first unconventional book club virtual meeting, North Park discussed the influential 1980s classic Watchmen by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins. Watchmen began as a limited series of 12 issues with DC Comics in 1986 before being printed as a collection and marketed as one of DC’s first “Graphic Novels,” that heralded a shift in the comics industry to get comics into mainstream bookstores.
The story takes place in a unique universe that treats superheroes in a more realistic manner than usual superhero comics, with characters dealing with murder, war crimes, and psychological issues stemming from trying to be superheroes in a mundane world. When a government-sponsored superhero is murdered, another begins to investigate, bringing in a retired partner to help. And what starts as a simple murder investigation expands into a world-wide conspiracy, with millions of lives at risk, and the history of all of this world’s superheroes are explored.
Everyone in the group enjoyed reading what many people consider a classic of superhero comics. Members understood why it’s considered a classic, with the creators’ heavy use of thematic repetition and supplemental pages at the end of each chapter, like excerpts from one character’s autobiography and military dossiers. One member felt that thought it may have been more progressive when it was published, some of the issues it addresses (like the attempted rape of one character) don’t hold up as well to modern scrutiny. Members did like one particular theme, predestination, and how the character of Dr. Manhattan struggled as he experienced every moment of his life unbound from sequential time.
Next month, North Park will be finishing up our Paper Girls mega-read (Volumes 4-6), by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson, and Jared K. Fletcher