November Reads from Our Ten Clubs!
The Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs met for their last “official” meetings of 2019 in November. In December, the Clubs will host their annual holiday party, where all 10 clubs will discuss They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker.
The Balboa Park group’s November selection was Lady Killer Vols. 1 and 2 by Joelle Jones (writer and artist). Meg led the in-depth discussion. Lady Killer tells the story of Josie Schuller, a mid-century modern housewife devoted to her husband and kids. But Josie works out of the home as an assassin for hire. As her job creates complications for her home life, she has to choose which is more important. And her choices may mean life or death for those she loves.
All but one of the members of the Book Club gave Lady Killer Vols. 1 and 2 a 4- or 5-star rating during the club’s Rating Roundtable, with the holdout giving the book a 3-star rating. The books were generally acclaimed to have “amazing” art and “interesting” writing. The group discussed gender roles in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s with Josh observing that “Josie didn’t get credibility even in her world of an assassin due to her gender” and Lily observing about her handler in the assassin trader that “she always had a man telling her what to do in each part of her life.” Jones’ artwork was discussed, with Jewel noting that Jones’ and the colorist used color changes and black splatters to denote the extreme violence of Josie’s kills and Josh and Janet discussing the visual references to 1960’s advertising art. Overall the group had a lively discussion and felt that the book succeeded on the levels of both telling a good story and examining the double standards and stifling lives women faced in mid-century America.
The Chula Vista group’s selection was Farmhand, Vol. 1, Reap What Was Sown by Rob Guillory and Taylor Wells, as suggested by Monique. Set in an alternative version of Freetown, Louisiana, Farmhand is the story of the Jenkins family and their farm. This is not your typical farm—duties include shaving scalp bushes and plants that grow ears. Missing an arm? Stop by the farm and get a new one reattached! Need parts of your spine replaced? The Jenkins Family Farm can provide it! While this is an amazing and obviously life-changing invention, there seems to be a sinister aspect to this service. Jedidiah Jenkins, the patriarch of the Jenkins family developed a new stem cell that had the ability (and intelligence) to recreate human tissue. He said it was a vision from God, but others say it came from a darker force. Russian spies have attempted to infiltrate the farm. Animals in contact with the farm have had horrific biological reactions. Individuals who have received the “fruits” of Jedidiah’s labor are seeing peculiar side effects. But the book is also a story of family and destiny: is one’s life predetermined by the family tree? Are the Jordon family members just “branches on a tree of woe?”
Led by Jenna, the discussion was an enthusiastic one and reflected the conflicting feelings the group experienced while reading the book. “It’s gross but entertaining;” “it’s dark but funny;” and “it’s so disturbing, yet I can’t stop reading,” were some of the comments from the group. Everyone felt a visceral reaction to some of the artwork, especially the opening nightmare scene. The group had some discussion of the themes of the book (science vs. religion) and Matt noted that there were some autobiographical elements to the story. The book had both a compelling storyline and humorous elements. Stephannie and others looked carefully at each panel to find the amusing details Guillory included. Others enjoyed the punny nature of the book: Ms. Thorne is the Jenkins family nemesis; Jedidiah has (literally) a green thumb. The complete name of the farm is the Jenkins Family Farmaceutical. Would the group read Volume 2? As the book ended with more questions than answers, the answer was a resounding yes!
This November the Downtown Club selected a horror-mystery story to cap off the Halloween season. The five-issue run of Abbott, by Saladin Ahmed and Sami Kivelä, took the group to 1970s Detroit, where hardboiled journalist Elena Abbott navigates her job and relationships while on the hunt to solve a gruesome murder … a murder tied to dark forces that might finally give her answers about what happened to her husband.
The genre blending story lead to elements of the occult at play in the city, but the group found that the strongest aspect of the story is how rooted it is in the social and economic dichotomies of the time. Many wished the short series had a longer run so we could have the opportunity to read more about Abbott’s life as a journalist. The group really enjoyed the use of the character’s published articles as a way to enhance storytelling. Many commented that all of the scariest parts of the story had more to do with society than the workings of dark magic, while others enjoyed what was described as “dark Scooby-Doo moments.” All of this was well supported by exceptional artwork from Sami Kivelä and color from Jason Wordie. One reader applauded the autumn color palette as being very effective, and the artwork detailed both the 1970s and the city perfectly. In the end, the club largely agreed that this is a beautiful book that really captured the place and time of the story.
As moderator of the discussion, Elissa asked the group where they would set a horror story and the answers did not disappoint. The club had a great time imagining the perfect location for something truly scary, with selections including the supermarket, out in the tundra, deep in a jungle of the Philippines, London’s buried city, Washington DC, and the DMV. But the place many of our readers chose was the woods. The particular woods ranged from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire, but it is clear that these San Diegans are steering clear of any dark clusters of trees.
The Encinitas group met to discuss Assassin Nation Vol. 1 by Kyle Starks and Erica Henderson, which Karim perfectly described as being “refreshing” after focusing on heavier reads the two previous months (Mister Miracle in September and Batman: Hush in October). The book focuses on Rankin, the world’s greatest assassin for more than a decade, who is now heading up the city’s second largest crime family, and things only seem to be looking up. However, when an attempt is made upon his life, he takes measures to ensure his safety by hiring the world’s top 20 assassins as his personal bodyguards while he attempts to figure out who is out to get him. Moderator Brittany embraced the assassin motif of the storyline by creating question cards in the shape of various items pertaining to the book, such as guns and bombs. Whitney noted it serves as ideal “brain candy,” which was appreciated given that the rush of the holiday season has begun. Though the book introduces many characters, it quickly whittles down its focus to a handful of individuals, and the group particularly liked The Sweet Boys, two assassins that quickly fall into sync with one another thanks to, as Jonathan describes, “the power of friendship.” The Encinitas group is already in the Erica Henderson fan club after enjoying The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 1 earlier this year, and her artwork did not disappoint in Assassin Nation. Henderson’s bright, vibrant artwork stood out, with a playful style that somehow makes it feel less violent and more comical. That said, James made a great observation: “It’s interesting we are describing someone’s brains getting blown across the room and saying, ‘Hmm… this is artfully done!’” Additionally, Mary Elizabeth noted that Henderson’s fashion sense is strong, and part of the enjoyment came from simply seeing how she dressed each of the characters. A number of Book Club members noted they are looking forward to seeing what the future holds for their favorite assassins in future volumes.
The Escondido 1 group's November selection was Monstress Vol. 1 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. As with most fantasy adventure titles, Monstress immerses you immediately into its world … an alternate matriarchal world caught in a war divided by species, a world where experiments are allowed to transpire on the young and innocent so long as the ruling class deems them necessary. In this story we follow a young Maika who is trying to find answers about her past as well as her new role where she struggles with the demon within. Her powers not only make her a target, but a liability for those traveling with her on this journey. With Sana Takeda’s art employing steampunk styling with hints of art deco, each page is beautifully illustrated with great attention to detail. Every page is filled with color and action, making it hard to put down once you start. A large topic of conversation was about the 2018 Eisner Award for Best Writer to Marjorie Liu, the first woman to win this particular Eisner Award. This book received a great review from our club and left us all wanting to continue reading the series.
The Escondido 2 group's November selection was Paper Girls Vol.1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang. The back of Paper Girls describes it as "In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood." Kimmy lead an interesting discussion that went down some really amazing rabbit holes. Overall, the book received high ratings from the group. To date, this book is tied as being the most favorable read. The group had heard Paper Girls described as Stranger Things before Stranger Things was a thing. The story follows four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls and the crazy adventures and circumstances that follow them. Highlights include dinosaurs, time travel, explosions, and more!
The characters of Erin, MacKenzie, KJ, and Tiffany are enjoyable and distinct characters. Escondido 2 thought the first five issues where an excellent setup and are ready to read more. A big highlight was that Kimmy translated the alien language in the book and was able to read it on the fly! Very impressive!
In January, the Escondido 2 Book Club will be discussing Darth Vader Vol. 1 by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larocca.
In November Gary and Nicole led the discussion about our two books Rogue and Gambit: Ring of Fire by Kelly Thompson and Pere Perez, and Black Hammer Vol. 3 by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, and Dave Stewart. We started off our discussion with Rogue and Gambit and the group really enjoyed that we could just dive right into character development. We got an understanding that led us to be invested in the characters and the outcome, which also gave way to a great discussion about the history of the X-Men and how were we able to read this as a standalone book with no previous knowledge of the characters needed. The group enjoyed the classic style of the art and how it contributed to the storytelling.
Next up was Black Hammer Vol. 3, and the group all agreed we loved this volume. We all enjoyed that we got a lot of answers to questions we have been discussing in the past and brought new questions out. What was Dragonflies reasoning was a great debate and we are all already looking forward to reading the next volume. In January the group will be reading Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
For the month of November, the Mission Valley group read The Vision, Vol. 1: Little Worse Than a Man by Tom King (writer), Gabriel Hernandez Walta (artist), and Jordie Bellaire (colorist), with covers by Mike del Mundo. What does it mean to be human, to be "normal"? In this tale, the Avengers hero Vision creates a family of his own in an effort to be an ordinary man—loving wife Virginia and teenage twins, Viv and Vin. They're the family next door, just with synthetic human blood and organs. They sit together at the dinner table to discuss their day, despite not needing to eat. The twins attend the local high school, despite having computers for brains. All is well in suburbia ... until a brutal attack by supervillain Grim Reaper and what Virginia does to protect her family, turns the fairy tale into a horror story.
Moderator Christy led the discussion. One member mentioned they had no idea what the book would be about and just based on the cover, thought it might be some kind of humorous family sitcom. As the story progressed, we learned it definitely takes a dark turn. The Vision family is clearly experiencing PTSD from Grim Reaper's attack and its aftermath, which Virginia lies to her husband about what really happened. Consequences of this lie haunt Virginia and snowballs into more tragedy, including for Viv and Vin, culminating in the Vision making an irrevocable decision for the sake of his family. Members appreciated the use of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice as it echoes the prejudice the Visions experience from their neighbors and peers throughout the book. The majority of the group enjoyed the story and artwork. Half of the attendees had also read The Vision, Vol. 2: Little Better Than a Beast and so the group decided that everyone would finish the entire series to discuss as part of the January meeting.
This month the Comic-Con Museum Charter Member club was thrilled to dig into the first volume of Brian K. Vaughan (BKV) and Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man. Having begun this club with Pride of Baghdad—another BKV work that would be released a few years after the launch of Y—the club was interested in seeing where the author started. The beginning of the conversation was fairly wide-ranging, from looking at the book through today's feminist lens to trying to decide how much research BKV had done on mass scale events or catastrophes and their effects on the world as a whole.
Pia Guerra's art was mentioned several times, both in the way that certain characters were represented and how well the backgrounds helped communicate the story she and BKV were telling.
While many of the club members were split on whether or not they would continue reading further in the story. They all agreed that a glimpse into the early writing of BKV was fascinating and couldn't wait to read some of his more recent work to compare it to Pride of Baghdad and Y: The Last Man.
The North Park group concluded their all-encompassing Saga discussion for this month’s meeting by reading volumes 7-9 of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staple’s current magnum opus. This set of volumes follows an adolescent Hazel, her parents Alana and Marko, and their myriad companions (Prince Robot, Izabel, Ghüs, and Petrichor to name a few) as they bounce from planet to planet trying to make a peaceful home for themselves while Hazel tries to grow up in a war-torn galaxy. Like previous volumes, these books mix a coming-of-age story with complex social issues like genocide and abortion.
As with the past two mega-reads, the group almost ran out of time during the discussion to cover everyone’s thoughts and feelings about the series so far. While some of the previous volumes allowed for some breathing room between crises, many members felt the pacing of these volumes was relentless. And without giving away any spoilers, the pain the characters had to go through didn’t make for a fun read, but these volumes were perhaps the most engaging. Everyone loved them even if they weren’t happy at the end of them. The characters continued to be the spotlight of the series, with each one getting a satisfying arc and development. Staples’s art continued to wow everyone with her linework and coloring, with one member stating they were impressed with her judicious use of line to express wide ranges of emotion in her art. The entire club can’t wait for Vaughan and Staples to end their hiatus and start the final half of the series.