May Musings on Our Book Club Books!
The seven Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs welcomed spring into the merry month of May with another selection of diverse and exciting readings and discussions!
The Balboa Park Book Club represents an interesting cross section of readers, made up not only of long-time comics readers and graphic novel enthusiasts, but also relative newbies. It was certainly a surprise to some of the more experienced readers when the group picked one of Grant Morrison’s more unusual titles, Nameless.
While Nameless was certainly a challenging read, this month’s moderator David was able to lead a wonderful discussion for the book club. Examining the role of an untrustworthy narrator, and nonlinear storytelling—while also unpacking the intense symbolism within the book—made for an engaging conversation between all the club members. These concepts, when taken together, caused the club to focus on the distinction between what was real, and what was not, and how to distinguish between the two.
Something that we found interesting is that several editions of the trade featured an author commentary, where Grant Morrison himself explained the underlying symbolism, as well as the core takeaway messages of the book itself. Throughout the book Chris Burnham’s art is engaging, and evoked a visceral response within our members, which was strong enough to carry readers through the book to the end.
Perhaps the most succinct and telling aspect of the value of the book club experience was that many of those who had not enjoyed the book left the meeting wanting to read Nameless again, delving into some of the aspects which may have eluded them during their previous read-throughs.
Next month, the Balboa Park group will read The Nightly News by Jonathan Hickman.
The Downtown group read Wytches by Scott Snyder and Jock. Led by moderator Ashley, most of the club found the story to be well-paced and enjoyed the depictions of the actual “wytches,” who were used sparingly and to good effect in the book, leaving the reader to form their own image of the characters. The trade paperback included some examples of Jock’s black-and-white artwork, which some of the group preferred to the final color art. One member pointed out how “twisted” the panel layouts became as the story became wilder. And everyone agreed they’d be interested to see this on TV or as a movie, with most members preferring a TV series over a big screen adaptation.
In June, the Downtown group will be reading Spill Zone, vol. 1, by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland.
For May, the Encinitas Group read Deadly Class Vol. 1, written by Rick Remender and illustrated by Wes Craig. Some members found the story of a disaffected youth joining a high school as an outsider familiar, but welcome. The group enjoyed that the story did not evolve into “Harry Potter for assassins,” and that the protagonist was not overtly special. Most agreed that the story took an unexpected turn a la Hunter S. Thompson about half way through, and in doing so became radically more interesting as it diverged from expectations. While some felt that the ‘80s theme was not essential to the story’s development, it was a welcome blast of nostalgia that also highlighted social currents that are still relevant.
The group thoroughly enjoyed the art of the book—by Wes Craig—finding that unique and clever panel layouts drove the story as much as the dialogue. The art was rich with detail, as members noted numerous “costume changes” of the main characters, several retro “Easter Eggs” hiding throughout the work, and great “Bird’s Eye” images similar to a Where’s Waldo book. Finally, the group found that Lee Loughridge’s coloring set the tone and background for the developing story. Ultimately, the Encinitas group found Deadly Class a rewarding read that held value in its strange humor and freedom from being clean cut. For June, the Encinitas group will be reading Black Hole, the seminal graphic novel by Charles Burns.
The Escondido book club discussed both Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, and Locke & Key, Vol. 3: Crown of Shadows, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, with Michael moderating. Overall, the group found Runaways a bit juvenile, though several members mentioned that the Hulu series based off this source material is more mature. Michael pointed out that the main characters “begin as teen archetypes, similar to The Breakfast Club.” Some members may read additional volumes. Everyone agreed that Locke and Key really picked up in volume 3, now that we can really see where the plot might be headed.
In June, the group will read Locke & Key vol. 4 by Hill and Rodriguez, and Sex Criminals, vol. 1, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky.
This month the La Jolla group decided to risk the possibility of further commitment by reading two books that were originally published as monthly issues and are parts of volumes-long collected series.
First, we discussed Black Hammer Vol 1: Secret Origins, written by Jeff Lemire, with art by Dean Ormston. Much of the group felt Lemire did a good job showcasing individual characters through flashback stories, while also slowly weaving echoes of those flashbacks into a present-day story filled with mystery and character development payoffs. Though not much was uncovered about the title character, the other characters in the book were obviously (and admittedly) homages to familiar DC and Marvel superheroes. As a result, Black Hammer is a fun read for those who recognize the nods to past superhero comics. Fortunately, these nods are subtle and the story remains accessible to readers who are unfamiliar with the characters and stories to which Black Hammer pays homage. Much of the group felt Ormston’s art, though not typical for a superhero comic, is a good fit for the quirkiness and feeling that “something just ain’t quite right” in the Black Hammer universe. It’s obvious why this book has already won an Eisner Award and is nominated again this year!
Next we discussed Locke and Key Vol. 2: Head Games, written by Joe Hill, with art by Gabriel Rodriguez. The group was split between those who liked Vol 1 or Vol 2 better. It was mentioned that in vol. 2, Joe Hill seemed to be more focused on character development. The group also liked seeing more keys introduced in the story, and we all seemed to be especially creeped-out by the “head key!” Gabriel Rodriguez continues to deliver art that complements Hill’s story. The resident artist in our group pointed out that Rodriguez’s art is clearly that of a talented, trained professional artist. And when one of our members pointed-out that many Locke & Key characters have a similar “look,” it was noted that this was most likely done intentionally to link characters from the same family.
Next month, the La Jolla group will read The Walking Dead, vol. 1: Days Gone By, by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore, and Saga vol. 4, by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples.
For the month of May, the Mission Valley group immersed themselves in the world of Birthright Vol. 1: Homecoming by Joshua Williamson, Andrei Bressan, and Adriano Lucas.
The book collides the real world with a parallel dimension ruled by magic and sorcery. A family is thrown into turmoil when a child, the Chosen One, is transported to a far off realm only to return as a full grown adult and a hero of the kingdom, nonetheless. To say more might spoil a few plot twists that brought about a lively discussion within the group.
An action-packed story provided by Williamson, accompanied by the stunning visuals created by Bressan and Lucas, was largely enjoyed by all, except for one individual who was clearly wrong and another who read the wrong book because they don't like fun things. Most agreed that they would continue with future volumes to see where the story takes them.
Next up for Mission Valley in June is Rai Volume 1: Welcome to New Japan by Matt Kindt and Clayton Crain!
North Park’s May selection was the first two volumes of East of West, a sci-fi apocalyptic western by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, Frank Martin Jr., and Rus Wooton. The story follows the personification of Death as he tracks down a group of cult leaders who betrayed him and killed his family while they try to bring about the end of the world set in an America that has been split into five different countries.
Everyone’s first reaction to the story was that it had a dense or complex story. The history of this world isn’t laid out at the very beginning, with the creators doling out backstory in between the scenes of political intrigue and violent revenge. As a result, a lot of members had trouble getting invested until the second volume, but after finishing it, some members kept reading all of the available volumes while others wanted to wait until the comics were completed so they could hopefully get their plot questions answered.
Everyone loved the art and coloring for the story, especially Dragotta’s interesting incorporation of sound effects. On one page a gunshot’s “boom” was used as a panel in and of itself, while in another panel a knife’s “swipe” actually cut through the sound effect itself. The colors were lush and in great contrast to the violent story taking place.
For June, North Park is moving from the biblical weird west to music covens in modern London with Phonogram Volume 2: The Singles Club, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie.