Things Heat Up with Our July Book Club Reads!
Magic, myths, and manga are just a few of the topics under discussion this July by members of the Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs.
The Downtown group headed off to merry olde England and the legend of King Arthur with Once and Future, vol. 1 by writer Kieron Gillen, artist Dan Mora, and color artist Tamra Bonvillain. The book’s description: “When a group of Nationalists use an ancient artifact to bring a villain from Arthurian myth back from the dead, retired monster hunter Bridgette McGuire pulls her unsuspecting grandson Duncan, a museum curator, into a world of magic and mysticism to defeat a legendary threat. Now the two must navigate the complicated history of the McGuire family, all while combating the deadly secrets of England’s past that threaten its very future.”
Every member loved Dan Mora’s art and Bonvillain’s coloring, but not everyone was totally onboard with Gillen’s writing. Moderated by the group’s resident Brit, James, the discussion centered on how much fun the book was. One member categorized the book as “National Treasure for the British.”
The more you know about the Arthurian myths and legends and believe in them, the more you’ll be invested in this story. There is a level of depth here, if you choose to pursue it, including Gillen linking to Brexit and the rise of nationalism in current-day Britain. And everybody loved Gran (Bridgette McGuire), with one member mentioning Hellen Mirren for the movie or TV series version.
In August, the Downtown group will read Department of Truth, vol. 1: The End of the World, by James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds.
The Encinitas group’s July selection was Dracula, Motherf**ker!, by Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson. Alex de Campi has written a number of comics miniseries (including the unusual 2015 miniseries Archie vs Predator, which must be seen to be believed). Artist Erica Henderson is probably best known for her run on Marvel's The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.
Luke led the discussion. The book is relatively short (72 pages) and is set in 1970s Los Angeles. Dracula's three "wives," featured in Bram Stoker's novel, have relocated there. Sunny enjoyed the gritty ’0s setting for the story, taking place entirely at night. Luke liked the neo-noir atmosphere, which has not been used often for horror stories.
The book includes an afterword by artist Henderson, in which she discusses her approach and the experimental changes she used in her page design. Mary Elizabeth especially appreciated the afterword, finding it helpful in noticing such features as asymmetric panel design. Robin was interested in the ways that color and black elements were used for mood setting. Jon noted, though, that the art elements appeared to be more effective in the print version of the book, compared to the digital version. Karim thought the art style effectively supported the horror atmosphere for the story.
In August, the Encinitas club will discuss volumes 1 and 2 of Blue Monday by Chynna Clugston Flores.
Escondido Group 1 explored the hilarious and educational world of Heaven’s Design Team, vol. 1 written by Hebi-Zou and Tsuta Suzuki and illustrated by Tarako. We meet a group of ambitious designers and engineers who create new animal mock-ups for their client, God. Facilitated by the curiosity of new angelic recruit Shimoda, we learn how these heavenly artists take a vague request like “adorably uncute” and volley for an animal that matches their own personal tastes. While seasoned Mr. Saturn prefers everything to be a horse, gentle giant Neptune aims for all creations to be loveable. Gothic-lolita-dressed Pluto loves to create weird and unique animals that scare others, while easygoing Jupiter merely wants creations to be delicious. Nonbinary Venus has an eye for style and strives for elegant animals, while Mars puts every creation through trial runs to see if they can survive and prosper.
This manga work does not come with much of a narrative but is still quite entertaining in its lightheartedness. Any artist or engineer can relate to the struggles of satisfying a demanding client with bad communication skills. Elizabeth liked the guessing element of each chapter, wondering what actual animal the designers would end up with. April appreciated this book’s easy and accessible approach to zoology and nods at mythology. Alexander noted how clean and appealing the art and backgrounds were and that this graphic novel was more captivating than the comparative manga Cells at Work. Alvar and Sophia loved the inclusiveness of a nonbinary character. Alvar liked the clever reasoning the manga presented for why certain animal traits did and did not work.
Group 1 will jump into the manga Blame! vol. 1 by Tsutomu Nihei in August.
Escondido 2's July selection was My Brother's Husband Omnibus, vols. 1 and 2, by Gengoroh Tagame.
In this manga series, "Yaichi is a work-at-home suburban dad in contemporary Tokyo; formerly married to Natsuki and father to their young daughter, Kana. Their lives suddenly change with the arrival at their doorstep of a hulking, affable Canadian named Mike Flanagan, who declares himself the widower of Yaichi’s estranged gay twin, Ryoji. Mike is on a quest to explore Ryoji’s past, and the family reluctantly but dutifully takes him in. What follows is an unprecedented and heartbreaking look at the state of a largely still-closeted Japanese gay culture: how it’s been affected by the West, and how the next generation can change the preconceptions about it and prejudices against it."
Members of Escondido 2 enjoyed the change of pace with the story being a slice-of-life drama and examination of personal relationships. Yaichi, Kana, and Mike Flanagan are instantly likeable from when readers meet them and continue to be so throughout the story. Kana's youthful excitement and honest questions to Mike are a delight and provide the opportunity for honest and opens discussions between Mike and Yaichi. Tagame does an excellent job of telling a story filled with laughs, tears, and true emotion. The artwork really adds to the overall experience of reading this manga. There are quite a number of scenes that will stick with club members for a long time. Overall, the group enjoyed reading this manga and look forward to the author's other works.
Next up, in August Escondido 2 will read Basketful of Heads, vol. 1 by Joe Hill, Leomacs, and Reiko Murakam.
Jupiter's Legacy, created by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely and published by Image Comics, was an interesting read for the group and it received mixed reviews. There was some confusion based on the current ordering of the graphic novels, the story was somewhat prototypical, the villains were not necessarily unique, but the art was well received.
With that said, apparently when Netflix picked up the series to make a TV show, they rereleased the novels but in a different order. Based on this, some people ended up reading what was originally called Jupiter's Circle while others read the Jupiter's Legacy story. This confusion may have contributed to the mixed reviews but other aspects of the novel were also commented on.
The main redeeming factor of the book was Quitely's art. It was appreciated by the whole group and everyone particularly liked how different mental worlds were presented. On the whole, the group decided that there were too many flaws with the book to continue the series.
Once & Future, vol. 2 by Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora ( BOOM! Studios) was well received all around. The writing was liked by all, and the introduction of the Beowulf mythology had many members of the club running to Google to refresh their memories about that tale. Merlin was a welcome addition to the Arthurian legend, and everyone was excited to continue reading the series. The favorite character by far though, was Gran. She really kicked some booty in this novel and drove the humor and emotional components that made this a fun read.
The art was detailed and along with the wonderful colors by Tamra Bonvillain, this was a comic that really stood out among many that the members have read over the years.
With this series performing well in art, story, colors, character development, and more, they were all agreed that this would be a series we continue reading.
The reading this month was The Planetary Omnibus by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday.
This gigantic omnibus generated some spirited discussion, as the point spread of loved to not-loved was wide for this very dense work. Sam admitted that the story requires a level of comic literacy to appreciate and/or follow all the many references, allusions, and plot turns that either delighted or confounded the group. It was generally agreed upon even by those who loved the book that the anthology nature of the story made various characters and plots difficult to keep track of. Individual episodes drew in even the most dubious readers but then dropped the storyline, and some members found it difficult to invest when they didn’t have a strong thread to follow.
The art was praised for its creativity and emotional heft as well as the color palettes and cover styles for the individual issues that reinforced the episodic feel of the whole book. Members were all thankful that the book was visually clear, which helped guide the reader through the tangled narrative. Planetary tells the stories between the big stories, the ones not told in comics, so readers get little closure. The first half sets up why the second half matters.
Generally, the group found the lead character Elijah Snow was the least likable, and the brief side characters were the most appreciated. Ben pointed out that Snow is like Sherlock Holmes in that he isn’t who you root for but he’s who sucks you into the story. There was a clear gender divide between those who did not feel connected to any of the characters and those who did, and an interesting discussion followed regarding the problematic Ellis and also his afterword contributor, Joss Whedon. It is always great having Sam as a resource to explain the book’s history (this was written over 11 years!) and the bigger-picture Warren Ellis context for references and odd turns.
Next month the group will be reading Here by Richard McGuire.
The Oceanside Club discussed Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia E. Butler, and the theme was time travel this month. This graphic novel was published in 2017 and proves that the story of Kindred still draws in new readers more than 35 years after its original release as a novel. This is a story about Dana, a young black woman who is transported through time from her home in 1970s California to the pre-Civil War South. Back in time, she becomes entangled in the life of Rufus, a member of a white slave-owning family and one of Dana’s own ancestors. Anytime one reads about the horrors of slavery, it’s a tough read, and this was no exception. However, all members of the group agreed it was well worth it and the story was very well written.
We all learn about slavery and the Civil War throughout our years in school, but reading a history textbook and actually understanding day-to-day struggles are two different things, and this book gets readers one step closer to understanding. Members discussed the power struggles seen throughout the story, between Rufus and Dana, as well as others in the past timeline. Although our world now is very much different than pre-Civil War South, there are some similarities to be had with prejudices, societal norms, and class struggles today. Using time travel as a catalyst for social commentary is not a new concept, but it did work very well in this instance. Some members did wish more explanation was given as to why and how Dana was time traveling, but that really wasn’t necessary for the storyline, so readers just have to accept it was happening and move on. The artwork provided a somewhat abstract representation of people and their surroundings with a dark, earthy color scheme throughout, which added to the dark mood of the story.
In August, the Oceanside club will be reading Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection (2010) by Matt Dembicki. The group wants to highlight indigenous authors and characters and looks forward to discussing this graphic anthology of more than 20 Native American tales.