Look at this cover. Big, angry, green-eyed cat, smoking a cigarette and a blurb from Stan Lee himself “as good as it gets!” Blacksad by Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido is a comic re-envisioning of the hardboiled detective novels of the past. Re-envisioned with animals as people. Blacksad is a good-looking cat detective with a man’s body and a way with ladies and bad guys and the top-tier scumlords who fuel crime in this animal-alternative version of American history. Blacksad is broken up into four albums, each a self-contained mystery story, though each has enough suspense and intrigue and sad but foxy ladies to fill a Tarantino film.
And the art. This book is worth it just for the art. Cats, dogs, deer, roosters, each character is drawn with a personality and a humanity that is absent in graphic novels with humans as characters. The art is sexy and gritty and involves its reader in the plot and the world like all good comic art should do.
If you like detective stories, or animals as people, or comics, please read this one. I hope this pair of authors continues to create such high-caliber comics. I’d be truly disappointed if they did not. A similar disappointment to the one I would fill if Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez stopped building their Locke and Key series. Another one you should unquestionably read.
Previously in the project, I noted that Fun Home by Alison Bechdel was not a downer. Well, here’s one that is, Special Exits by Joyce Farmer. Special Exits is a graphic memoir about Farmer’s care of her elderly father and step-mother. The couple begins as functioning but with certain quirks like a violent cat named Ching and an over-stuffed garage that the father must push their car into. The two realize their deterioration, however, and note that they “either have to make some big changes or make the best of it.” They decide to make the best of it. Over the course of the memoir, their health and lifestyles jump off a cliff, yet they refuse the help of home health care nurses and rely completely on their daughter to lend the hand they need. But nothing improves, and the memoir’s narrative arc is actually a steady downhill. This is truly a sad but (at times) touching story.
The art here is unique, but the pages feel cramped with too many frames per page and with word bubbles that take up far more space than they need to. I wish these two flaws could be fixed to improve the flow and readability, but overall, the art does well to communicate the story, especially as the couple begins to lose their mental faculties and what they say is not necessarily what is happening.
Truthfully, I found it difficult to pick this book back up after I’d set it down for a day. The downward plunging spiral of the couple and the inability of the daughter to curb the situation and the inevitable ending inferred from the title didn’t push me to return to its pages. This project did, but without it, I might have let this one drift back to the library unfinished. Of course, as with Fun Home, I’m glad to have finished it.
Almost done with 30 graphic novels in 30 days. Tomorrow, Blacksad.
Weathercraft by Jim Woodring, published by Fantagraphics Books, is the first wordless graphic novel I’ve run across this year. Last year, The Arrival was my only wordless adventure, and it was stunning. It takes a lot of skill to pull off an entire book without words. The Arrival was an imaginative book about immigration, though told through fantasy. Weathercraft is even more imaginative and fantastical, but less about a cohesive take-away. Reading it is an experience. Like a nightmare.
Though Weathercraft is a comic with Woodring’s re-occuring character, Frank, the story is really about another character, a pig-man, who is tormented over the course of the book by different creatures, ranging from a crescent-faced man to a tiny-frog-like creature that jumps down his throat. The pig-man wavers between being terrified and being giddy and self-assured. His journey through torment and self-assurance and back again reads like an odyssey, though the wordless-ness makes for a quick read.
The art and creativity of the world of Weathercraft are absolutely outstanding. The creatures are elaborately drawn and well-imagined and make me uncomfortable, like Alice in Wonderland always has. In fact, I think AinW fans would enjoy Weathercraft.
Weathercraft took me maybe fifteen minutes to read, so if you find yourself in a book store, look it up, it’s worth the time.
Graphic novels for children seem to make the best weekend reads. Quick, light, fun, imaginative. Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch is all of these things. Mirka, a little girl who wants to grow up to slay dragons, discovers the house of a witch just outside her predominately Jewish hometown of Hereville. Through a series of adventures, the witch tells her how she might get a sword from a troll. In order to get the sword, the witch tells her, Mirka must pay attention to what her stepmother teaches her. Unfortunately, all along, Mirka has resisted every house-wifey task her stepmother has charged her with. The troll challenges her to a knitting battle. Will she get the sword from the troll?
I know. It’s a little silly, but sometimes you need a little silly in your life.
Deutsch’s art is outstanding. He uses space wisely, playing with word bubbles that span the entire page, and action frames with many images of the same character in different stages of the action. Nothing ground breaking, but he uses these tactics well. He is a great counter-example to the wasted space in Jellaby. He’s also written a sequel, Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite.
30 Graphic Novels in 30 Days is nearly complete. I’m hoping to rustle up some superb titles before the end, but I think I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel for what the library here owns. Fingers crossed.
I picked out Refresh, Refresh, because I saw the name Benjamin Percy on the cover. He’s kind of a literary big deal. Unfortunately, Refresh, Refresh, the graphic novel by Danica Novgorodoff, is adapted from the screenplay by James Ponsoldt which is based on Percy’s short story. Talk about diluted. I can’t lie. I’m pretty disappointed that Percy himself didn’t write the graphic novel and that more literary figures aren’t sidestepping into the world of comics, but I read Refresh, Refresh and heck if I’m not going to count it toward my 30 Graphic Novels in 30 Days. I also took the time to read the original short story. It’s pretty great. You should read it. (Find the complete story by clicking HERE.)
Frankly, the short story does a much better job of storytelling than the graphic novel. The story is simple: boys whose fathers have been deployed to Iraq. But the graphic novel doesn’t accomplish as much as it could with its storytelling, failing to stretch and explore. At times, the story felt muddied and confusing, perhaps because this version adds a third boy, where the short story only had two. The third boy looks like the protagonist and doesn’t have an indispensable role. Dead weight. The two-boy dynamic in the short story just works better. In the short story, the protagonist has only one other person to rely on (the second boy), whereas the graphic novel populates the story, each of the three boys getting a family. The graphic novel also jumps POV. Just because it is easier to jump POV in a graphic novel, doesn’t mean that it’s always the right move. The jumps pull the reader away from the main boy and deflate the impact of the ending.
The art is interesting though, interesting enough to make me want to read more titles from Novgorodoff, but not interesting enough to save the graphic novel entirely. It’s an okay adaptation of a good short story.