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Our May Book Club Reads!

May brought some San Diego sunshine and some amazing comic reads!


Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs: Chula Vista
Chula Vista

Chula Vista's pick for May was Death of Superman by Dan Jurgens. Known as the biggest story ever, the Justice League and Superman unite to battle a hulking monster named Doomsday. The Man of Steel finally meets his match and battles to protect the city that he loves from Doomsday as he terrorizes downtown Metropolis. By the battle’s end Doomsday is dead; however, Superman is fatally wounded and “dies” in the arms of Lois Lane.

Chris moderated the discussion, and the reviews of the book varied between readers who thoroughly enjoyed it to those who wanted more details. Overall, the discussion was positive, with the story leaving a little to be desired—specifically, a new villain without an established backstory, and readers know the fate of the story based on the title. However, a recurring theme of the layout/artwork resonated with the 1990s look and feel to comics from that era. Also, readers appreciated the evolution of Doomsday from prisoner to big bad by the end of the story. The developers captured the expression of his power and ferocity while battling the Man of Steel.

Going into the book, it would be beneficial to have a basic understanding of the DC comic universe. Also, reading Superman/Doomsday first may help tie the story together and give the reader the backstory needed to set up this book. The ending of Death of Superman gives the reader one of the most iconic visualizations in comic book history (even though the title gives it away): the Man of Steel, dead and broken, in the arms of his love, with Superman knowing he gave all to save his beloved city prior to passing.  

Side Note: Originally, the 1992 storyline was meant to be the wedding of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. However, production of the TV Series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman had started, and Warner Bros. had requested that the comic do the wedding whenever the series did their wedding episode. Frustrated creators were forced back to the drawing board to come up with a whole new storyline, with one creator mentioning "just killing" him and they decided to go with that.

For June, the group will read The Walking Dead, Vol 1: Days Gone Bye, by Robert Kirkman.


Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs: Downtown

Downtown’s May book was Chu, Vol. 1: First Course, written by John Layman and illustrated by Dan Boultwood. Chu is a sequel of sorts to Layman’s Eisner Award-winning series Chew, which featured Tony Chu, a detective who gets psychic impressions from what he eats. Unfortunately, this includes murdered people he’s investigating. His sister, Saffron Chu, is also a psychic, gleaning information from people she eats with. This brings brother and sister on a collision course in a series that features cops, crooks, clairvoyants, and maybe a little cannibalism.

The Downtown members, moderated by Judith, were split on this one, although most really liked Boultwood’s art and the coloring on the book. Most members felt Saffron was not a good person, and they felt the book could have used a bit more explanation as to the food-related powers of the protagonists. Some members who had not read the original Chew series were a bit confused. And while the story has a colorful, dynamic style, there is an underlying darkness to it, kind of like Scott Pilgrim crossed with Scorsese’s Casino.

In June, the Downtown group will read Banned Book Club, written by Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada, and drawn by Ko Hyung-Ju.


Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs: Encinitas

The Encinitas group’s May selection was The Daughters of Ys, by M.T. Anderson and Jo Rioux. Anderson is known for young adult fiction, including Feed and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing. Rioux is known as an author and illustrator of children's books. This 2020 book is based on multiple Breton legends about the mythical coastal city of Ys, which was lost to the waves.

Robin led the discussion (with an impressively researched Powerpoint presentation). Travis appreciated that the author provided information on the background legends used as sources, allowing the reader to note how the story deviated from the legends. Karim thought the changes deepened the moral complexities of the story.

Mary Elizabeth enjoyed the family dynamics depicted in the story, concerning the pathetic King of Ys, and the relationship between the two princesses. James noted that the personality contrasts between the sisters was an innovation of the book not present in the underlying legends and that added dimension to the story. Luke was impressed that the relatively brief book did a good job of taking the two sisters on their own separate journeys.

Regarding the artwork, Robin's research revealed that Rioux used the 11th century Bayeaux Tapestry as a jumping-off point for the look and feel of the book. Luke thought that Rioux's avoidance of heavy lines and ink gave the artwork a distinctive, softer character. Jon thought the color palette was evocative of the medieval period invoked by the story.

In June, the Encinitas book club will discuss Killing and Dying, by Adrian Tomine.


Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs: Escondido 1
Escondido 1

Escondido Group 1 discussed the murky and twisted world of Stephen King’s Creepshow: A George A. Romero Film with art by Bernie Wrightson and Michele Wrightson. A comic adaption of the titular 1982 film, this graphic novel illustrates five short stories from the movie with slightly different visual interpretations. The tales delve into the lives of various unhappy, foolish, and even dastardly characters who fall into outlandish misfortune when confronted with frightening paranormal circumstances. But these tales are always presented rather ironically by a ghoulish narrator that mocks their plights with dark humor.

Group 1’s readers embraced this graphic novel with its accompanying nostalgia of the film and retro art style. Sophia said the limited color palette and character designs reminded her of certain Sunday newspaper comics she saw as a child. Natalie chose this title to moderate because it was one of the first graphic novels she ever read. Many commented that it represented the original film well, and even included fun Stephen King Easter eggs. Kara pointed out the Castle Rock sign in “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” story. April and Nicole loved this adaption but were sad it didn’t have any spoof ads. Chris recounted reading creepy EC Comics as a child like Tales from the Crypt that inspired this property later on. Randall’s favorite story was “Something to Tide You Over,” which had panels other group members loved. Group members chuckled at the artists’ odd depictions of the movie’s actors’ likenesses, and both Alexander and April commented on panels featuring “Ted Danson.” Another popular story was “The Crate” and the gruesome design of the creature it highlighted.

Escondido Group 1 will discuss Joshua Dysart’s Goodnight Paradise in June.


Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs: Escondido 2
Escondido 2 

Escondido 2’s May selection was My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi,

 an autobiographical manga of Kabi's life from about the age of 18 to 28. Volume1 explores the mental health journey of what Nagata experienced and her journey to find fulfilment. The manga is brutally honest and heartfelt in its exploration of the subject manner. It does an amazing job of simply explaining how it feels to have loneliness, a need to feel like one belongs, the meaning of life, eating disorders, and so much more. Book club members enjoyed reading the story. Members felt the story was a good start toward the author exploring her mental health and accepting and loving herself.

There are subsequent volumes of Nagata's story to read, and Escondido 2 members will be doing so. This story led to some heavy (but good) topics of discussion, Overall, the group enjoyed this read and highly recommends it.

In June, Escondido 2 will be reading Isola Vol.1 by Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl.


Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs: Mission Valley
Mission Valley

After a brief hiatus, Mission Valley returned with a bang by reading Lady Killer, Vol. 1 by Joȅlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich. It was great timing, as the casting for the Lady Killer movie was announced the same day and everyone was excited at the prospect of seeing this book come to life.

Lady Killer is the story of a housewife in the 1950s who moonlights as an assassin on the side, unbeknownst to her seemingly picture perfect family. The art and storyline flow well and each panel is alive with details and pleasing aesthetics. Many club members said they would seek out more of Jones’s work, and a discussion followed about her work on Catwoman and the covers she drew for that particular comic. Everyone also agreed that they would pick up another volume of Lady Killer and were excited about the film.

Next up for Mission Valley is Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savannah Ganucheau.


Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs: Museum

May’s reading selection was Hungry Ghosts by Anthony Bourdain with Joel Rose, with multiple artists over nine tales. A roundtable discussion of the book explored Bourdain’s historical and even militant bias against “unnatural” veganism/vegetarianism, also reflected in the book’s meaty recipes, to the dismay of the group’s cooks. Rating 1-5 voting revealed no 5’s, a 4,

plenty of 2s and 3s, and more than a couple of 1s. Reasons varied between being repelled by the visuals, the weakness of the writing, and the subject matter. Comparisons (not all favorable) were made to Elvira’s House of Mysteries, Takes from the DarkSide, Tales from the Crypt, all three Twilight Zone series, Creepshow, and even the movie Heavy Metal.

Generally, people agreed that the stories were too short/abrupt and the framing device was squandered so it was impossible to get invested beyond prurient interest. The stories were creepy and gross but not scary per se.

A lengthy discussion of pre- and post-rehab Anthony Bourdain, shifting public opinion of the man, and the group’s opinion of his writing never landed on a specific conclusion; it seems he was a better writer before recovery. Were these Japanese folk tales told by him as an exploration of the inner demons that drove him to suicide? Some were distracted by knowing this was the last thing he worked on.

The group discussed cultural biases about foods and mores, such as how people view animals as food, companions, or beasts of burden, and how those views as much as the unfamiliar mythologies and narrative conventions in these stories made the idea of the book better than the execution. Members were most interested in the framing device, which was inconsistent with its elements and didn’t resolve well. Yes, yes, they’re all monsters, ooh.

In June, the group will be reading Invisible Kingdom, Vol. 1, by G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward.


Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs: North Park
North Park

North Park returned to their long read of Kieran Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson, and Clayton Cowles’ Pop Stars/Living Gods epic The Wicked + The Divine, reading volumes 3 and 4 for the month of May. Volume three delves into the backstories of several of the pop star gods and how they obtained their godhood, drawn by a rotation of artists (such as Tula Lotay, Stephanie Hans, and Leila Del Duca) to give Jamie McKelvie some breathing room on the rest of the series. Volume 4 brings readers back to the main story, picking up from the cliffhanger that ended volume 2. Some gods have been murdered while others have rebelled against their immortal handler Ananke, setting up a battle of the gods/bands.

While many members enjoyed rereading these two volumes, some who had not previously read them just didn’t feel that the story was engaging. One member, Juan, mentioned that the series has all the elements (art, story, etc.) he likes, but it just didn’t grab him like he expected. However, while these volumes weren’t perfect, there were still plenty of parts that members enjoyed. Everyone enjoyed the fact that the god of wisdom, Minerva, was reincarnated into a 13-year-old, and Amy loved that the underworld god Baphomet was actually reincarnated as the god Nurgel until he freaked out and changed his own god name. Everyone preferred the amazing combination of McKelvie and Wilson’s art and coloring; however, they did enjoy some of the guest artists. While enthusiasm for the series has died down a little, everyone still wants to find out answers to the mysteries that Gillen has introduced and see where the story goes.

Members will see how Gillen fares without his longest collaborator in June, when North Park reads the first two volumes of his and Stepanie Hans’s table-top RPG gone horribly wrong fantasy series Die.


Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs: Oceanside

The Oceanside Club selected 2018’s A Study in Emerald for its May book discussion. Written by Neil Gaiman with art by Rafael Albuquerque, the book was originally published as a short story in 2003 as part of a collection called Shadows of Baker Street.  A Study in Emerald won the 2004 Hugo Award for Best Short Story, and 15 years later Dark Horse adapted it into an 80 plus page graphic novel. In choosing this title, the Oceanside Club wanted to explore the theme of “copycat” graphic novels, which they defined as stories that imitate or adopt ideas, art, or story of another previous work.

The plot is a riff on the A. Conan Doyle story A Study in Scarlet, which recounts the first time Sherlock and Watson meet, land their flat on Baker Street, and solve a case together. In A Study in Emerald, readers are introduced to the detective and a veteran from Afghanistan. The two share a flat at the infamous Baker Street and are visited one day by Detective Lestrade of Scotland Yard. He invites the detective to assist on a murder, and the detective in turn invites his new flat mate to join him. At the scene, we are introduced to the Lovecraft, Cthulhu portion of the plot. It seems the creatures of the Great Old Ones won a war against humanity centuries ago and are now the ruling class of Europe. 

Most members of the group were not familiar with the Lovecraft lore, and one member provided background on the story and the various storylines that have been developed over the years.  The victim is one of these royal creatures, and the Queen herself requests that the detective solve this mystery for the crown. From there, there are similarities and stark differences from the original text and an end that most in the group did not pick up on until the climax. Given how short the graphic novel was, many members went back and reread it to find the clues that lead to the surprise ending while others said that they would give it another go.  

The majority of the member enjoyed A Study in Emerald. Some thought it reminded them of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, while others felt it definitely had some steampunk themes thrown in. Members also enjoyed the snake-oil-salesmen-like ads placed between the chapters and alluded to various fictional characters of that time period. For those who enjoy reading this title, the group recommends that you seek out the novel Hound of the D’urbervilles by Kim Newman, which is a variation on the classic Hound of the Baskerville.  

In June, the group will be reading War Bears by Margaret Atwood, where they plan to discuss topics related to the comic book industry.