Keep Cool With Our June Book Club Reads!
June was a good month to read some cool graphic novels and comics.
The Balboa Park group’s June selection was Scarlet Witch: Witches’ Road by James Robinson and various artists. Jewyl led the in-depth discussion. Witches’ Road is a loosely related series of tales about the solo adventures of the Scarlet Witch as she seeks to find out why magic in the Marvel Universe is getting weaker.
Club members gave Scarlet Witch: Witches’ Road an average 3.5-star rating (out of 5) during the Rating Roundtable. Members liked how magic was handled in this series, especially how magic had an actual price to use. They also liked the involvement of Wanda’s mother and how the mantle of the Scarlet Witch had been passed down from mother to daughter over the years. Another element they enjoyed was the archetype of female magic and power used throughout the series, both in the Scarlet Witch and with other characters, like Hekate and Agatha.
Many members liked the artwork in issues 3 and 5, especially, for the out-of-the-box layouts and styles. Several members expressed wanting to read more of the Scarlet Witch’s adventures. Some readers new to the character were confused by being dropped into the middle of a larger narrative without explanation. They had a lot of questions that went unanswered. Others found Wanda’s powers confusing and inconsistent and not in line with how Marvel handles magic in their other books. Some found the storyline a bit fractured and the main villain weak compared to the Scarlet Witch.
The group also discussed the history of the Scarlet Witch as a Marvel character and how inconsistently her character has been handled over time. The lack of consistent powers, the absence of an archenemy, and having her character being defined mainly through her romantic and maternal relationships were some of the points the group debated.
Members also discussed Descender, vol. 6 by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen as the finale of the ongoing Descender read-through. The series overall was rated a 4.5/5. Members praised Nguyen’s amazing watercolor art and the gripping character arcs as the highlights of the series. There was a lot of excitement for the follow-up series, Ascender, as a future read-through.
In July the Balboa Park Book Club will be discussing The Legends of Red Sonja by Gail Simone and an assortment of guest writers (writer) and various artists. The group will also be discussing Sandman, vol.1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman and Sam Keith as the beginning of the Sandman read-through.
This month the Chula Vista group dove into Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, vol. 1: Days Gone By, with art by Tony Moore. The volume starts off in the middle of an action sequence between Sheriff Rick Grimes and a Grant County fugitive, which ends with Rick getting shot. Later on, we find Rick emerging from a coma to find the world as he knew it now beset by the undead.
The entire group enjoyed the book, and some members have followed the AMC television show adaptation of the series. There was a general appreciation for the black-and-white artwork and its homage to the classic horror genre. Matt felt that the absence of color throughout the book allowed the storyline to transcend its violent nature and appear less gory, while Eric discovered a profound lesson on transformation between the pages: Ordinary citizens are now heroes and what was at the top of the food chain is now at the bottom. Many in the group found the characters’ quest for normalcy amongst the ruins of civilization very riveting. Along with exploring the delicate balance between Rick’s naive and prepared persona, many members were quick to highlight deltas between the book and the first season of the television show. Overall, the group thoroughly enjoyed the book and its quirky, fast pace.
Up next for July, the Chula Vista Group will be reading Batman: White Knight by Sean Murphy.
The Downtown group read Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook (with Ryan Estrada). This memoir takes place during South Korea's Fifth Republic, a military regime that entrenched its power through censorship, torture, and the murder of protestors. In this charged political climate, Hyun Sook sought refuge in the comfort of books. When she joined a reading group, she expected to pop into the cafeteria to talk about Moby Dick, Hamlet, and The Scarlet Letter. Instead she found herself hiding in a basement as the youngest member of an underground banned book club. And in a totalitarian regime, the delights of discovering great works of illicit literature are quickly overshadowed by fear and violence as the walls close in.
Moderator Karen led the discussion, and members found this book’s storytelling engaging, effective, and thoughtful. The group was completely unaware of this recent history—or much history at all—for South Korea and were overall impressed that the book told an engaging story while blending in facts and information and that, while it is a serious and dark topic, the overall feel was optimistic. Many felt the softness of the art style (drawn in the Korean comics style known as Manhwa by Hyung-Ju Ko) allowed a difficult story with violent scenes to be accessible to a wider range of readers--as Adriana said, it softened the impact without discounting the real events. Readers felt that the book related to some of their own experiences: James related to being in college in the UK during the late 70s/early 80s Margaret Thatcher era—the student involvement and some of the conflicts with government and social norms. Barb related to the social and civil rights movements of the 60s and 70s in the U.S., and Karen appreciated that the main character went to college with expectations of what she would experience and learn—and then found herself connecting to people and ideas far beyond the expected curriculum or experience.
In July, the Downtown group will read Once and Future, vol. 1 by Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora.
The Encinitas group’s June selection was Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine. Tomine is a Japanese American cartoonist whose best known early work was his series Optic Nerve. His 2015 book Killing and Dying is a collection of six short stories; the book was a New York Times bestseller and an Eisner award winner.
Travis led the discussion, noting that the book is not an escapist read, as it covers serious topics like losing a parent and PTSD. One story featured a character who struggled with identity issues because she physically resembled a public figure. Robin noted an underlying sense of dread conveyed by the story. Brittany related some fascinating anecdotes of identity issues faced by some real-life identical twins she knows. Another story featured a couple with substance abuse issues. Marina thought the story depicted addiction issues in a way that mirrored reality. Mary Elizabeth noted the story's portrait of one character's manipulative personality. Jon also appreciated the story's portrayal of codependency and toxic personality traits. The group also discussed Tomine's observational art style, with spare but precise backgrounds. Karim was particularly impressed with the experimental tone of one of the stories, in which the artwork for the entire story consisted only of still life tableaux of objects, with the characters described but never shown.
In July, the Encinitas Club will discuss Dracula, Motherf**ker, by Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson.
Escondido Group 1 discussed the graphic novel Goodnight Paradise, written by Joshua Dysart with art by Alberto Ponticelli and Giulia Brusco. It follows Eddie, a homeless man surviving day by day in Venice Beach with the help of his fellow downtrodden friends. Suffering from alcoholism and mental illness, Eddie’s meager lifestyle in this supposed paradise is upended by the sudden discovery of a young woman’s body in a dumpster one night. Clearly a homicide, Eddie reports the find to the police, but he can’t stop thinking about this tragic death in his homeless community. He keeps pushing for answers and for others to care, finding himself dangerously close to threats from gangsters and their rich friends from the gentrified side of town. Haunted by his own failures and quite possibly the ghost of this murdered young woman, Eddie deliriously grasps for a resolution that may prove his worth and humanity.
Group 1 was overwhelmingly positive about this book. April loved the premise of setting an essentially noir story in the homeless community and fleshing these characters out in a realistic, respectful way. A fan of the publisher’s other graphic title, Unknown Soldier, Vince was satisfied with TKO Studios' treatment of this story. He also thought it was a pretty accurate portrayal of Venice Beach. Kara was pleasantly surprised by this story and appreciated the humanization of the unreliable protagonist. Miela said she’s a big fan of representation in the media, and Goodnight Paradise did it properly. Alvar liked the nuanced and intense portrayals of Eddie’s community that garnered actual empathy. Randall had mixed feelings about the issues presented by the graphic novel but really enjoyed it. Elizabeth said it wasn’t a comfortable read, but she appreciated its realism. Her own recent trip to Venice Beach echoed the city’s duality of crime and struggle next door to affluent modernism.
In July Group 1 will explore Heaven’s Design Team, vol. 1, written by Hebi-Zou and Tsuta Suzuki and illustrated by Tarako.
Escondido 2’s June selection was Isola, vols. 1 and 2 by Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl.
In Isola, "An evil spell has been cast on the Queen of Maar and her Captain of the Guard will do anything to reverse it. Their only hope lies on an island half a world away--a place known in myth as Isola, land of the dead." This kicks off one of the most interesting fantasy stories the book club has ever read. Rook and the Queen are amazing characters. Readers are dropped into the story in media res. It's a delight to figure out what is going on the deeper one goes into the story. The artwork alone deserves high praise. The characters, the backdrops, landscapes, monsters, beings—everything is so fully realized. Reading Isola is like watching a movie unfold. We don't want to give anything away with the story with this write up. Escondido 2 members highly recommend that you read Isola. Members are looking forward to volume 3 when it releases.
In July, Escondido 2 will be reading My Brother's Husband, vols. 1 and 2 by Gengoroh Tagame
For June, the La Jolla Book Club took two separate looks at postapocalyptic worlds. The group continued with their read of Y the Last Man, covering volume 8: Kimono Dragons by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. Compared to previous installments, the volume was a little sluggish, but many enjoyed the character development. In particular, Agent 355’s change in attitude with regards to killing was very interesting. They also felt the two one-off stories included in the book shed some light on the motivations of characters, Dr. Mann and Alter, while still tying into the main narrative. Overall, members are still invested in the series and want to continue on to the final two volumes.
The other book discussed was Wonder Woman: Dead Earth, written and illustrated by Daniel Warren Johnson with colors from Mike Spicer. The club had mixed thoughts over the art and story but were intrigued by the different take on familiar DC Comic characters, especially the version of the Cheetah. Johnson’s style meshed well with the overall tone and setting, and members all agreed that his monster design was a standout. In addition, the group liked the ideas in Johnson’s storytelling and some of the surprising twists.
For August, La Jolla will read Jupiter’s Legacy, vol. 1 from Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, and Once & Future, vol. 2 by Kieron Gillen and by Dan Mora.
For June, the Mission Valley Group read Bloom, written by Kevin Panetta and illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau. Bloom tells the story of Ari, a recent high school graduate struggling between pressure from his father to work in the family bakery and his own desire to move to the big city with his bandmate friends in pursuit of their musical dreams. His feelings are complicated when he hires Hector, a culinary student, to work in the bakery and eventually replace him. The two become close as they work together in the kitchen, and Ari learns to appreciate baking more as his feelings for Hector grow.
Everyone in the group enjoyed Bloom, finding it relatable as both a coming-of-age story and a story of young romance. Members found it easy to identify with some of the situations and characters in the book because the story was simple, straightforward, and grounded. The group all loved the art, although one member expressed that he would have liked to see it in full color instead of the blue monochrome it was rendered in. The depiction of baking, bread, and pastries was especially realistic and well-done, prompting one member to state how much he was craving baked goods while reading the book. Included at the end of the graphic novel was the family’s sourdough roll recipe, leading to comments about how the group should have read the book last year when everyone was baking bread.
For July, Mission Valley will be reading Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru.
The Museum Club’s June selection was Invisible Kingdom, vol. 1, by G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward.
Chris led a spirited discussion of the book. Members began by sharing a single word to describe it: Colorful, thought-provoking, interesting, relevant, mixed-media, slow. Unusually, the group generally found consensus on most assessments, with few outliers. They were generally interested in the story and generally enamored of the art, but everyone agreed that action panels (space battles, complex blocking, sense of passage of time, sense of travel) were confusing to parse and slowed the story down. Even so, the story hook was agreed upon to be engaging, with the standout arc people connected with being that of Vess, the renegade nun who meets the poorly developed but still full of potential characters of the couriers for Lux. The low-key gender commentary was appreciated, as well as the lush palettes. Members also commented on the poetic beauty of the religious sect presented with the Renunciation and the discernment between faith and religion that Vess brings to her character. The plot’s central conspiracy seemed defanged by late-volume revelations, but it still posed enough interesting questions that most said they would probably keep reading. We have high hopes that the odd plot gaps will be resolved in future volumess.
In July the Museum group is reading The Planetary Omnibus by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday.
It seems that North Park can’t get enough of Kieron Gillen’s prose, adventuring through the first two volumes of Die with art by Stephanie Hans and lettering by Clayton Cowles. Die is the story of Dominic Ash and his friends who, on Ash’s 16th birthday, attempt to play a unique role-playing game that ends up trapping them in the game’s world for two years. All but one of them escape the world and try to live normal lives for decades before they all get sucked back in and must contend with the damaged world they left behind.
Most members of the group haven’t played any RPGs, but some had. The most popular aspect of the two volumes was Gillen's world building. The world of Die is literally in the shape of a 20-sided die most often used in RPGs, with different types of common fantasy worlds comprising most of the 20 facets of the icosahedron. The remaining sides were creations of earlier fantasy authors like Tolkien’s Middle Earth mixed with WWI trenches. Those members familiar with RPGs also enjoyed Gillen’s variations on the usual Fighter, Mage, Thief, and Bard character classes that incorporated the characters’ personalities into their role-playing style.
Members appreciated Hans’s color palette and how the muted colors promoted a sense of dread throughout the story, as each character had to come to terms with the people they had become and what had happened to the fantasy world while they were back in the real world. One member even felt that the story was more about midlife crises than RPGs.
Next month, North Park will continue their long-read of Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen’s The Wicked + The Divine, tackling volumes 5 and 6.
The Oceanside Club discussed War Bears (2019) by Margaret Atwood, of The Handmaid’s Tale fame. They hoped to get an inside look into the comic book industry through this title and it did give a unique perspective. The group appreciated the historical fiction narrative from the viewpoint of Canadians during World War II and how the war affected comic creators and publishing companies. In 1941, nonessential imports, including comics, were stopped from the USA into Canada, which allowed for temporary opportunities for Canadian comics. The book, however, doesn’t necessarily give a rosy picture of the comic book industry during that time due to limited opportunities for budding artists and writers, poor working conditions, and unstable careers. Despite adversity, the protagonist does manage to get his passion project, Oursonette, out to the masses, a story about a were-bear who fights Nazis. While discussing the difficulty in getting your own work published, the group wondered how this story would have differed in today’s world of crowdfunded comics. Publishing may be easier now, but content overload creates additional problems in getting work to stand out.
In July, the Oceanside Club will be discussing Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia E. Butler and the theme of time travel. Both Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler are well known for their novels, so it’s interesting to see them make their mark on the comics industry as well.