June Zook Club Discussions
The Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs forged ahead into summer with their June selections. We’re still meeting via Zoom, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Isolation is fun providing you have comics to read and people to virtually talk to about them (and snacks … lots of snacks).
The Balboa Park group’s June selection was Crowded Vol. 1, a near-future mystery/action story by Christopher Sebela (writer), Ted Brandt and Ro Stein (artists). Janet led the in-depth discussion. Crowded tells the story of Charlie, a gig economy worker who somehow causes everyone she knows to put out a contract on her on the crowdfunded assassination app Reapr and her 1.4 star-rated bodyguard Vita, who she hired on the Defendr app. Charlie’s inability to cope with assassins on her tail makes Vita’s job of protecting her difficult as they run and fight through a near-future LA.
Most of the members of the Book Club gave Crowded vol 1 a 4- or 5-star rating during the Balboa Park Rating Roundtable, with one person giving the book a 3.5 -star rating. The book was generally acclaimed to have “great” writing, a harmonious “pulpy” art style, and an “unique” concept. The group discussed the book’s extrapolation of “cancel culture” and the parallels that go on today. They discussed the idea that people were willing to pay what is essentially a “go fund me” to have someone murdered for what it turns out are minor slights. One member compared the book to the movie The Nerve, which deals with social media and pressure to do things you wouldn’t normally do. Another member compared it to Westworld. Many enjoyed the way Sebela, Brandt and Stein used clever art and writing including EasterEggs and excellent worldbuilding to create a world transformed by the gig economy and apps.
Other topics of discussion included the government’s use of the app culture for their own ends, the dysfunctional but engaging relationship between Charlie and Vita, the well-drawn action, which included the opening scene, the car chases etc. Many of the members loved the use of Apps for various purchases and the many jobs that Charlie had. Several members liked the different style of dialogue boxes depending on who was talking.
Some members also stayed late to discuss Saga vol. 3 by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist) as part of the ongoing Saga read-through.
In July, the Balboa Park Book Club will be discussing Delicious in Dungeon vol. 1, by Ryoko Kui (writer/artist) and continue our discussion of Saga with vol. 4.
For June the Chula Vista group read A Study in Emerald, by Neil Gaiman, Rafael Albuquerque, Rafael Scavone, and Dave Stewart. Based on Gaiman’s short story of the same name and set in Victorian England, the reader follows the detective and his partner as they solve a grisly murder. The stakes are high: the victim is Franz Drago of Bohemia, a prince AND a guest of Queen Victoria. As with many Sherlock Holmes stories, the book is filled with conclusions based on logic and deduction. However, this is not just a retelling of a Sherlock Holmes story; Gaiman adds Cthulhu mythology, and some famous and familiar historical figures no longer look like their real-life counterparts.
Jenna led the discussion. Everyone commented that while it was a quick read, the book was full of references to Cthulhu mythology as well as the world in Victorian England. Tiffany felt “uncultured” while she was reading, because she felt she missed a lot of those references. Others–after reading the book–went online to see what they missed. Everyone appreciated the artwork in the book, particularly the scenes in the theater and the “advertisements.” Eric liked the characters’ facial expressions, especially the scenes that contrasted the stoic detective and his more expressive companion. Yasmine noted that reading this book was a “rollercoaster of emotions,” particularly at the end of the story. Monique and Chris were a little disappointed in the not-quite-resolved ending (especially after a strong build-up). A Study in Emerald has become a gateway book for some members who have not read the original Sherlock Holmes stories and are now adding the Arthur Conan Doyle books to their reading lists.
Next month, we return to the DC Universe with Flashpoint, written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Andy Kubert.
Downtown tackled Murder Falcon by Daniel Warren Johnson. This book is a one-and-done graphic novel about a young man who is enlisted by a falcon shaped avatar to fight giant monsters appearing all over world. His weapon: heavy metal music! Pretty much the entire group liked Murder Falcon, and those members who are into heavy metal liked it even more (the book has a special Spotify playlist). Johnson’s intricate and (at times) absolutely wild art, along with his understated writing (as a writer/artist, he knew when to keep quiet and let the art do all the talking) perfectly complimented each other. Although the story tends to stop and restart with added characters a few too many times, the group liked a lot of the artistic touches (an aircraft carrier loaded down with speakers!) and also Johnson’s sensitive and surprising handling of part of the backstory of the protagonist (sorry … no spoiler alerts). And since all the heroes in the story have their own precise instrument to use against the giant monsters, the group was asked for their own musical preferences, which included piano, clarinet, Japanese flute, recorder, accordion, and bagpipes (we’re pretty sure the latter will kill any large monster). Readers also wondered if this was an idea formed by the teenage Johnson, and held onto for his adult life as a comics creator. Either way, his passion for heavy metal music really came across in this comic.
Next month, Downtown journeys to the Batman Universe by Brian Michael Bendis and Nick Derrington.
The Encinitas group’s June selection was Death: The Deluxe Edition. The book is a collection of various stories featuring the character Death from the Sandman series. All stores were written by Neil Gaiman; artists included Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham, Colleen Doran, and P. Craig Russell.
Karim led the discussion. James noted that the stories in the collection were very different from each other in tone and art styles. (For some readers this may be a bug; for others, a feature.)
In the story "Death: The High Cost of Living," Jon was impressed with the empathy which the character Death expresses for every person. Brittany enjoyed the effective use of humor in the story.
In the story "Death: The Time of Your Life," Mary Elizabeth appreciated Gaiman's fine eye for observational details of life. Luke discussed interesting page and panel compositions by artists Bachalo and Buckingham. Karim reviewed the influence of surrealist art in some of the page backgrounds.
Regarding the collection as a whole, Robin was impressed with the importance of kindness, which was expressed in many of the stories.
In July, the Encinitas Book Club will be discussing Vision: The Complete Collection, by Tom King and Gabriel Walta.
The Escondido Group 1 had a free-wheeling discussion about recent solo reads for our June meeting. Sophia went first and talked about the newly released manga Spy x Family, vol. 1 by Tatsuya Endo, an action comedy about a master spy who hastily assembles a makeshift family as a cover to get close to a political target. Little does he know that the small daughter he adopts is a mind reader and the wife he recruits is an assassin! Nicole introduced us to Nailbiter, vol. 1 The Murder Edition, by writer Joshua Williamson and artist Mike Henderson. She shared some of the crisp page layouts on Zoom of this larger volume of Nailbiter that delves into the mysterious town of Buckaroo, Oregon as a birthplace for numerous serial killers. Renate talked about online comic The Croaking by Megan Stevenson, a Webtoon exclusive about a world of bird people with racial tensions and stereotypes mirroring our own. Natalie featured the graphic novel Sara by writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Epting, a beautiful and violent story about female Russian snipers facing off against Nazis during World War II. Natalie also showed us a few page layouts, noting that Sara didn’t feature as much dialogue as detailed Russian scenery.
Nicole asked the group for comic recommendations featuring super heroes, and Vince mentioned a Marvel crossover favorite: Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph & Torment by author Roger Stern and artist Mike Mignola. This graphic novel, collecting issues from the 1970s and 1980s, not only features an unusual team-up, but also a deeper portrayal of both Doom and Strange that we have not yet seen in movies.
Escondido Group 1 will meet again in July to have another discussion focused on members’ recent reads.
Escondido 2's June selection was Uzumaki by Junji Ito. Kimmy lead the group discussion down a spiral of horror! The back cover of Uzumaki reads "Kurôzu-cho, a small fogbound town on the coast of Japan, is cursed. According to Shuichi Saito, the withdrawn boyfriend of teenager Kirie Goshima, their town is haunted not by a person or being but by a pattern: uzumaki, the spiral, the hypnotic secret shape of the world. It manifests itself in everything from seashells and whirlpools in water to the spiral marks on people's bodies, the insane obsessions of Shuichi's father and the voice from the cochlea in our inner ear. As the madness spreads, the inhabitants of Kurôzu-cho are pulled ever deeper into a whirlpool from which there is no return!"
After reading the complete collection of Uzumaki, the group will never look at spirals the same way again. The artwork of Junji Ito is spectacularly breathtaking. The amount of attention to detail lends itself to creating true moments of horror, terror, and a general unease as one doesn't know what they'll see on the next page. Here's a hint: something terrifying! Shuichi and Kirie are likable characters struggling against the slow madness and obsession taking over the town. Each of the chapters reads like a short story connected to an over-arching story. Members had favored different chapters based on how creeped out they were. Things we'll never look at the same way again: Jack in the Box, snails, clouds, the inner ear, and so much more. This is a highly recommended read. Escondido 2 is looking forward to reading more of Junji Ito's work, especially his short stories. The mark of true horror is how long it sticks with you, and the story of Uzumaki will be sticking with Escondido 2 members for years.
Next up for Escondido 2 in July will be Harleen by Stjepan Sejic.
This month, the La Jolla book club welcomed writer Jeff Lemire as an honorary member of our isolation inner-circle, by reading two collections from the prolific creator.
Descender, Vol. 1: Tin Stars, by Lemire and artist Dustin Nguyen, is a sci-fi story about the transport of child-companion android, Tim-21, across a rogues-filled universe, to unlock the secrets within his (its) digital codex- which may be the key to saving all known sentient life … or heralding its destruction.
Tin Stars, the first volume in a six-volume series, was unanimously loved by all of the La Jolla book club members- with high-praise for Lemire’s grounded world-building and Nguyen’s beautiful use of watercolors (for which he won the 2016 Eisner Award for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist).
With numerous mysteries and subplots sprinkled throughout the first volume, and thoughtful touches, such as an atlas to help keep track of the worlds within the Descender Universe, Lemire and Nguyen have guaranteed the La Jolla book club’s plan to continue reading the next volume(s) of this fast-paced, beautifully drawn, obviously thoroughly thought-out, space mystery/adventure.
Our second helping of Lemire came with Black Hammer Vol. 4: Age of Doom Part Two. It was the Black Hammer series that introduced the La Jolla book club to Lemire’s work. This time around, Lemire and artist Deam Ormston are joined by artist Rich Tommaso. Tommaso’s simplistic style is cleverly used to illustrate the offputtingly strange character, Colonel Weird, during his adventures in the equally as strange Para-Zone. The art perfectly relays that “something isn’t quite right” feeling readers are supposed to experience whenever Weird is on the page. With a story that hints at, and almost breaks the fourth wall, the first couple issuse in this volume are very reminiscent of the major story arc of writer Grant Morrison’s complete Animal Man run (of which Animal Man, Vol 1 was read as the La Jolla club’s February pick). Lemire and Ormston do a great job continuing to tell a quirky, superhero homage story. Though there are several more books in the Black Hammer universe, the La Jolla book club felt with Age of Doom Part Two, the story started in the first issue of the series came full circle and reached a satisfying conclusion.
In July, the La Jolla club will read Excellence Vol. 1 by Brandon Thomas, Khary Randolph, and Emilio Lopez.
The Mission Valley Book Club picked up Ghosted in L.A. Vol. 1 by Sina Grace, Siobhan Keenan and Kathy Le for their June read. After following her high school sweetheart to college in L.A., Daphne finds herself alone, with a building full of ghosts as her only friends. Beautifully drawn and stunningly colored, Ghosted in L.A. is a perfect read right now, with its airy scenery, alluringly crafted dialogue, and compelling characters. It is the kind of comic that makes you want to keep reading, keep picking up the next issue, and everyone agreed that it is a series worth continuing with. The group also discussed how they are excited to read other works by the creators. Ghosted in L.A. has the right kind of drama and is the perfect balance of real and fantastical. It’s just a great book in all the best ways.
Next month, Mission Valley tackles their first Manga with the newly Eisner Award-nominated Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama.
The Comic-Con Museum group’s June selection was Husbands, written by Jane Espenson and Brad Bell, and illustrated by Ron Chan, M.S. Corley, Ben Dewey and Tania del Rio. Husbands, the graphic novel, is a canonical continuation of the widely popular American web series. The premise of the graphic novel follows suit of the web series where the audience is introduced to two main characters, Cheeks and Brady after they awaken, legally wed after a weekend in Las Vegas. A mystical wedding gift sets into a motion a series of short vignettes where the newlyweds go on a variety of adventures set in different worlds and genres. Tori led this month’s discussion and provided many insightful questions to help provide critical analysis of the narrative, character development, and the artwork.
Much of what the Comic-Con Museum group discussed was the dynamic artwork and how it helped guide the reader through the sudden shifts of scenery and style throughout the graphic novel. Overall, the dynamic nature of the fractured narrative felt pleasant to much of the group. The artwork matched the story and the dialogue had humor and levity that helped immerse the reader into the story. Interestingly, there were a few members of the group that felt re-ordering the vignettes would help the overall flow of the graphic novel. Overall, it was an enjoyable read and provided a refreshing take on the newlywed sitcom.
In July, the Comic-Con Museum Book Club will be discussing MIND MGMT vol. 1: The Manager by Matt Kindt.
For their latest online book club meeting the North Park Group read Spider-Man: Life Story by Chip Zdarsky, Mark Bagley, John Dell, Frank D’Armata, and Travis Lanham. Life Story is a self-contained six-issue miniseries re-telling the story of Peter Parker throughout the past six decades, aging naturally throughout the story. Issue one begins in the 1960s with Peter in college and just starting out as Spider-Man, incorporating and condensing the original ‘60s comic storylines into a cohesive story. Each subsequent issue moves him about ten years into the future and includes nods to all the milestone events in Peter’s life: The death of Gwen Stacy, Kraven’s Last Hunt, the Clone Saga, Civil War, and the introduction of Miles Morales taking up the mantle.
The discussion was led by Eva, who had several fun and interesting questions for the group this month. Everyone felt that this was a great outline of Spider-Man’s in-canon history, along similar lines to Ed Piskor’s X-Men history X-Men: Grand Design, which they read and discussed exactly one year ago. Both people who already knew the history of Spider-Man as well as people only aware of him through the Marvel movies enjoyed the book and each issue’s story. Zdarsky included several key events in Peter’s life while adapting them to fit within a cohesive life story. Newcomers didn’t feel lost, while veterans enjoyed the nods and Easter eggs he included. The only aspect that Zdarsky seemingly couldn’t fit in enough was the typical Peter Parker quips and humor that acts as a balance to the continued drama Peter encounters in his life. As a result, the story almost tipped into melodrama.
The group enjoyed the art overall, appreciating the way the character designs of Life Story mirrored those of each decade of the artists from the original comics of that time. Some thought that Mark Bagley’s facial expressions were sometimes overly exaggerated, while others likened his style to Gabriel Rodriguez from Locke & Key. The group also enjoyed seeing Peter and other characters aging 60 years to see how they would look.
After a group vote for the rest of the year, North Park will be revisiting Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda, and Rus Wooten’s Monstress by reading the first two volumes in July.