October Book Club Readings!
The Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs jumped headfirst into fall with another great round of discussions about graphic novels, some of them especially suited for the Halloween season!
The Balboa Park group’s October selection was Infidel by Pornsak Pichetshote (writer) and Aaron Campbell (artist). Janet led the in-depth discussion. Infidel, a horror comic, is about a young Muslim woman, Aisha, and her friend, Medina, formerly a Muslim but now a non-believer, who both live in an apartment building in New York City that was the site of a terrorism bombing. Aisha, who lives with her fiancé Tom and his daughter, Kris, starts seeing strange apparitions as incidents of racism and harassment in the building increase. Soon, events escalate out of control.
Most of the members of the Book Club gave Infidel a 3 to 4.5-star rating (out of 5) during the Balboa Park Rating Roundtable. The book was said to have a “promising” premise, “excellent” and “strong” art and coloring, and at times was “really scary.” Some members felt that the book didn’t execute the premise as well as the first issue had promised, had a confusing plot, and that the ending was a bit of a letdown.
The group discussed the concept of making horror work in comic book form, including how to get the “jump” effect so common in horror movies, and how to incorporate the same effect movies use so well with sound without actually having sound (a comparison to Wytches, a book previously read by the group which used sound effects well, was discussed.) Also talked about was the use of two different protagonists, Aisha and Medina, and how that choice affected the storytelling.
Another topic of conversation was the popularity of issue-oriented horror, and how Infidel compared to recent movies and TV shows such as Get Out and Lovecraft Country.
Some members also stayed late to discuss Saga, Vol. 7 by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist) as part of the ongoing Saga read-through.
In November, the Balboa Park Book Club will be discussing Ghosted in LA, about a young woman who moves to Los Angeles and finds that the only apartment she can afford is abandoned and haunted, by Sina Grace (writer) and Siobhan Keenan (artist).
For October, the Chula Vista group read Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Damien Duffy (adapter) and illustrated by John Jennings. Based on the novel of the same name by Octavia Butler, Kindred tells the story of Dana, an African American woman living in 1970s California as she inexplicably journeys to Maryland years before the Civil War. She rescues a young boy named Rufus from drowning and just as quickly, she is shifted back to her own time. Throughout the story she is transported back to Rufus’ life several times and discovers more about him and his link to her: He’s an ancestor, he’s a slave owner, and her great-great-great grandmother was his slave. In turn, Rufus learns more about Dana and her thoughts about the world he lives in. Will her interactions with Rufus change his way of thinking as a slaveowner?
Susan led the discussion. Members described the story as “emotionally-draining,” “intense,” and “visceral.” Matt thought that this was a "good story, a harsh story that’s painful.” However, the readers were glad to have experienced this work. Dennis noted it details a part of American history that we “need to remember and not gloss over.” Monique enjoyed the sci-fi component and it reminded her of the television show Lovecraft County. Both Jenna and Yasmine found themselves reading the story quickly, hoping to see that Dana got her happy ending. Some members appreciated the art. Eric observed that the use of colors when Dana went back in time were much more vibrant as she experienced her family’s history firsthand. Emotions were clearly conveyed in the characters’ faces, including trauma, as Tiffany reflected. While Kindred is one of the more serious books that the Chula Vista group has read, it has led some members to read other works by Octavia Butler.
For November, the group will read Digger, Vol. 1, by Ursula Vernon.
Downtown stretched a bit out of its normal comfort zone in to the manga zone with The Way of the House Husband, Vol. 1, by Kousuke Oono. The story of a reformed Yakuza member who marries and settles down and becomes … well, a house husband, taking care of his new home while his wife works. This episodic, slice-of-life tale featured sketches of everyday life, which basically have no point to them, but the format is very popular in Japan. Things such as the House Husband turning over the cleaning of the house to a Roomba-like vaccuum (and being very critical of it or adapting the Yakuza punishment of cutting off a finger when he buys the wrong DVD set as a present for his wife. The improbability of the situation is where the comedy comes from.
Readers were expecting something a bit more serious and were pleasantly surprised by the tone and levity of the book. The book also plays on reversing traditional gender roles in Japan. Most of the members enjoyed this different slice of manga (having read Jungi Ito’s Uzimaki before, which is horror-oriented and very different).
In November, the Downtown group will read The Banks by Roxane Gay and Ming Doyle.
The Encinitas group’s October selection was Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O'Connell. This 2019 book received much critical acclaim, winning a Harvey Award and three Eisner Awards. The book is narrated by 17-year-old Frederica, nicknamed Freddy, and follows her relationships with friends and her emotionally fraught romance with popular girl Laura Dean.
Robin led the discussion. Mary Elizabeth thought the book convincingly depicted the self-obsession of teenagers, and the extent to which a shyer person like Freddy would crave the attention of a popular girlfriend. Luke agreed, observing that the book subtly conveys how teenagers have an exaggerated sense of how much other people think about them.
The group also discussed how social status affected the progress of the toxic romantic relationship. James thought that the narrator Freddy enjoyed the enhanced social status from dating a popular girl. Robin concurred, and thought that this also exerted social pressure on Freddy to stay in an unsuccessful relationship. Jon suggested that Freddy wanted to maintain appearances, and Karim felt that the unhealthy romantic relationship was similar to an addiction.
Robin appreciated that the artwork included a variety of different body shapes and types. She also liked the background detail in the art, using items like bedroom furniture, toys, books, and plants to illuminate the characters. James agreed that the artist used characters' belongings to help describe their identities.
Overall, Mary Elizabeth liked the book's presentation of strength being necessary to break off a bad relationship. Jon saw this as an opportunity for growth in Freddy's emotional maturity. Luke thought the book can help teenagers put relationships in a healthier perspective.
In November, the Encinitas Book Club will discuss Second Coming, by Mark Russell and Richard Pace.
The Escondido Group 1 read John Constantine: Hellblazer, Vol. 1, Original Sins written by Jaime Delano and illustrated by John Ridgeway. Melanie moderated this Halloween-themed discussion of the cult classic title from the late 1980s. John Constantine is a worldly British-born magus who is as hard to love as he is to hate. He performs his clandestine dark arts across the globe, challenging both demon and human in an effort to save lives. But the ghosts of friends and loved ones that haunt him are many, and he’s guaranteed no peace from players in both heaven and hell. Each chapter of this first volume delves into a different battle pitting Constantine or someone close to him against the many evils rampant in his world.
The group was on the fence about this title, so members intend to read more chapters in the future. We were left with a lot of questions as to what was real and what was imagined by Constantine, and the causes of deaths in his past. Nicole and Sophia liked Constantine’s magic use much more than the antihero himself. Melanie chose the title based on her love of the motion picture adaption, but the graphic novel has an entirely different feel. The late ‘80s setting and limited color capabilities for print contrast a lot with the dark nature of demons and hideous death. Chris liked these retro aesthetics and the hokeyness of some of the outdated technological imagery. The chapter attempting to depict the interconnectivity of electronics and the internet was definitely the groups’s favorite. Its surreal page spreads were beautiful despite some of the outdated motifs. Natalie liked the detailed nature of flashbacks and backstory for the Vietnam War chapter and doomed minor character. Nicole liked the clever idea of British economics, real estate, and wealth being heavily dictated by brokers and players in Hell as a sort of religion.
Next month we’ll be discussing Rose, Vol. 1, The Last Light by Meredith Finch and Ig Guara.
Escondido 2's October selection was Locke and Key Vol. 1 and 2 by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.
Part of the back cover of Vol. 1 reads ”… Locke & Key tells a sprawling tale of magic and family, legacy and grief, good and evil.” This quote barely does Vol. 1 and 2 justice. The first issue of Vol. 1 starts with a bang and continues to grow more intense with each passing chapter. The group decided to read Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 together, as both volumes represent the first of three story arcs of Locke & Key. The artwork both successfully hints at the tragedy and terror and outright showcases it. Escondido 2 members particularly enjoyed the landscapes and architecture of Key House. The design is jampacked with details that take a few minutes to fully enjoy. The storytelling keeps readers guessing as to where the story is going. There are a few “jump scare” moments in the pages. Bode Is by far the favorite character of the series and the Lady in the Well is a terrific villain. The setup to the reveal of what is transpiring is fantastic. Overall Escondido 2 enjoyed reading Locke & Key and felt it was a perfect read for the Halloween season.
Next up for Escondido 2 in November will be The Witcher: House of Glass by Paul Tobin and Joe Querio.
This month La Jolla read Locke and Key Vol. 5: Clockworks by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez and Swamp Thing Book One by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, and John Totleben, in a discussion led by Nicole. We started off with talking about Locke and Key. This volume continues on the journey with the Locke family and goes back in time to finally let us know how and when the keys were created. The group was excited to finally know how things started and where the keys came from. We had a great discussion about who our favorite character is and if we did, in fact, have a favorite. The group is excited to move to the next volume and season two of the TV show which we all watch.
Next we moved our discussion to Swamp Thing. We started with how it reminded of us of Moore’s other work, Watchmen. Right from page one we discussed how the wording, art, and pace all reminded us of the other book. Alan’s rendition of Swamp Thing was enjoyed, the book flowed through his journey of self-discovery and the group agreed we enjoyed watching him learn and progress with his journey. The depiction of Swamp Thing reminded us a bit of the Incredible Hulk, a book we read a few months ago. The group agreed the art was well done, especially of Swamp Thing himself and his background scenes. We all agreed to add Book Two to our “continue in the future” list.
Next month La Jolla will be reading BTTM FDRS by Ezra Clayton Daniels and Ben Passmore and Saga Vol 5 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.
October saw Mission Valley reading another Eisner Award winner, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero O’Connell. A beautiful and introspective book, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is a tale of first love, one that everyone could relate to. Learning to choose yourself, to understand that love doesn’t conquer all is a hard truth, but one that led to a great discussion amongst the group. Everyone decided that this book is a must-read, not only for the poignant message, but for the extraordinary artwork.
Next up for Mission Valley is The Backstagers Vol. 1 by James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh.
For October, the Museum group read Descender Vol. 2: Machine Moon, written by Jeff Lemire and illustrated by Dustin Nguyen. In 2019, the group read and enjoyed the first volume of Descender and wanted to continue the series with the second volume. As they did with the first, everyone seemed to like the continuation of the series and the expansion of world-building seen in Machine Moon. Davey led the discussion and explored several sci-fi themes seen in this graphic novel as well as the vivid and unique artwork.
One topic in particular took a good length of discussion with the Museum group, which was the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The group explored the impact it has on different characters in Descender, but also how it reflects on our lives and relationship to this subject matter. A common discussion theme of this group is to take our graphic novel selection and compare and contrast it to other popular culture films and television shows, which didn’t change this time around. The group also had many positive remarks about the artwork in Descender.
In November, the Museum group will be reading The Magic Fish, written and illustrated by Trung Le Nguyen.
Without meaning to, North Park’s long-read of Monstress’s ongoing war between humans and a species of beings with supernatural powers over the last several months was a perfect preparation to delve into October’s selection: House of X/Powers of X. Originally published as two separate comic titles on a weekly release schedule, HoX/PoX is a soft franchise reboot of Marvel’s X-Men franchise masterminded and written by Jonathan Hickman. Pepe Larraz drew House of X and R.B. Silva drew Powers of X, with Marte Garcia and Clayton Cowles coloring and lettering, respectively. As with many Jonathan Hickman comics, HoX/PoX’s plot isn’t easily broken down. House of X reintroduces the X-Men and mutants as people who have decided that instead of trying to co-exist with humanity on humanity’s terms, they are going to exist on their own terms as a sovereign state located on the living Mutant island of Krakoa. Interspersed within HoX’s storyline of geopolitical rebirth are four different timelines told in Powers of X: The beginning of Charles Xavier’s efforts to bring the X-Men into existence (Year One), the continuing story of the State of Krakoa’s founding (Year Ten), 100 years into a future where mutants are facing extinction at the hands of Humans and Artificial Intelligences (Year 100), and Year 1000 which sees both humanity and mutants almost entirely gone as their descendants attempt to sublimate their existence into a galaxy-sized intelligence. And that’s just the surface plot.
To say this reboot is ambitious is an understatement, but even with the density of this story everyone who enjoys superhero comics loved HoxX/PoX. Much of our discussion was spent working through all of the twists and turns of the story, but even while some members mentioned being confused in some parts, we loved the story that Hickman was telling. While it had a lot of previous X-Men history it was building from, the story felt self-contained and members who only knew the X-Men from the movies or cartoons still really enjoyed the story. We all thought the art was gorgeous across both titles, with Larraz and Silva’s styles meshing well as we read each alternating chapter. One member, Ernesto, wished that he had read the comics as they were being released in comic books stores back in 2019 so he could be part of the excitement people had for the titles online. Others were glad to read the comics as a collected edition so they could keep the complex plot in mind and refer back to previous pages when they got confused. Regardless of how they preferred reading the book, several members were either already reading the current comics spawned by HoX/PoX or wanted to read them after this meeting. If Marvel’s plan was to get people excited for the X-Men again, Hickman’s reboot certainly did the job.
Next month, in the spirit of Halloween, North Park will be reading Volume One of existential horror anthology Ice Cream Man, by W. Maxwell Price, Martín Morazzo, Chris O’Halloran, and Good Old Neon.