Welcome to the second edition of The Reading Pile, in which we give our first impressions of whatever we happen to be reading at the moment. As always, we invite you to tell us what you are reading in the comments section, and we’re offering free books as an enticement; last week’s winner is Analine Johnson, who will soon receive her very own copy of Zig and Wikki, by Trade Loeffler and Nadja Spiegelman. This week’s prize, which again will go to a commenter chosen at random, is the YA graphic novel Foiled, by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro, which was the subject of last month’s roundtable.
So here’s what we are reading this week:
Brigid Alverson: NBM’s much-anticipated Smurf graphic novels arrived in the mail this week. I was already too old for the Smurfs when they reached this country, so I never paid much attention to them, but I have to say I’m enjoying the comics more than I thought I would. Yes, the substitution of the word “smurf” for random nouns and verbs is kind of annoying, but Peyo is a lively storyteller and his art keeps the story moving right along. The first volume contains three stories, and while the format is a bit smaller than the Belgian original, it doesn’t feel too small at all. Even 50 years after their creation, these comics are a lot of fun.
Brain Camp is the story of a trio of underachiever kids who get stuck in the worst camp in the world—it’s filthy, the food is terrible, and people keep disappearing. I’m far enough into the book to know that something dreadful is happening to them but the secret hasn’t been revealed yet. The main characters are fairly generic—tough kid from the city, artsy Asian girl from the suburbs, and bespectacled guy with asthma and allergies—but they all break out of the stereotypes a bit, and they make an interesting and likeable team. The story is written by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan, who also wrote City of Spies, and this is another story of plucky kids teaming up against a mysterious enemy, but the art, by Faith Erin Hicks, gives it a totally different feel.
Kate Dacey: I just plowed through four volumes of Ryu Ryang’s Sarasah. The first volume reads like the pilot for a TV show that was picked up after substantial revisions, thanks to the abrupt change in setting and tone that takes place right after the opening chapters. (Volume one begins at a typical Korean high school, then jumps back in time to feudal Korea.) It’s not until the heroine becomes embroiled in the politics of the period that things start to get interesting; she goes undercover as a boy, joins a martial arts school, spies on a nobleman who may be plotting to kill the queen, and finally stops obsessing over the boy she liked in the present day. But man… it’s a long slog to get to that point. If I hadn’t purchased all four volumes at once, I’m not sure I would have stuck with it as long as I did; Ji-Hae’s crazy behavior and endless whining tested my patience. A lot. Still, the story seems to be improving steadily, so I’ll give it one more volume before I render my final verdict.
The other thing I recently finished were volumes one and two of Kodansha’s bilingual edition of Princess Knight. Osamu Tezuka’s story is a trippy pop culture pastiche, with plot lines borrowed from sources as varied as Snow White, Hamlet, and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Though the gender politics are a little retrograde (at least by 2010 standards), it’s easy to see why several generations of Japanese girls loved it; Princess Sapphire scales walls, rides horses, helps prisoners escape from dungeons, and proves herself a competent swordswoman, but also knows how to wear a ball gown and talk to mice. The translation is, at times, unintentionally hilarious—it’s clear from some of the colorful word choices that this edition was intended for adults—but conveys the story’s once-upon-a-time tone reasonably well.
Eva Volin: In preparation for Moto Hagio’s appearance at San Diego Comic Con, I’ve been reading the ARC of A Drunken Dream & Other Stories that I picked up from the Fantagraphics booth when I was at BEA. The book showcases some of the groundbreaking short stories written by Hagio between 1971 and 2008, and after reading them I can understand why people are so excited about this book. The stories range from edgy and imaginative to thought provoking and controversial, from tragic romance to science fiction. Originally written for girls between the ages of 10 and 18, I could easily be convinced that the appropriate term for what Moto Hagio writes is “alternative shojo.” I suspect this book is being packaged and marketed to adults, especially considering the inclusion of manga scholar Matt Thorn’s essay and interview with the author at the back of the book. So, librarians, after you buy this book for your adult collections (and I strongly urge you to do so), don’t forget to booktalk this book to those teen girls for whom these stories were written.
Robin Brenner: I sat down with the extremely charming City of Spies this week. As I believe Brigid said in describing this title to me, artist Pascal Dizin is channeling the best of Herge’s style. As a period piece, the details of this title stand out from hair styles to pop culture references and succeed in never feeling ham-handed. This title reminded me of some of the best recent historical novels for kids and teens, like Judy Blundell’s What I Saw and How I Lied, Karen Cushman’s The Loud Silence of Francine Green, or Sherri L. Smith’s wonderful Flygirl. I’m a fan of historical fiction that embeds history seamlessly into an exciting plot, and all of these titles drop you right into the past while keeping the emotional resonance universal. World War II is both distant and recent enough for most kids to hold allure without expecting them to know all the details, so titles like these are a great way to introduce to them the atmosphere of another time when the US was at war and how that affected the homefront.
Lori Henderson: A trip to the comic shop netted me Tails of the Pet Avengers: Dog
Days of Summer. It had four short stories, three of which featured Franklin Richards meeting the Pet Avengers and playing with Lockjaw and his grandson from the future, Puppy. The fourth story has Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America trying to stop Fing Fang Foom, but ends with them needing some help from the Pet Avengers, and is a preview for an upcoming PA series. It’s a quick read, but also very entertaining, especially the story with Iron Man, Thor and Captain America. The Calvin and Hobbes-esque Franklin Richards stories are funny and appropriate for kids 8-80.
I also read the first volume of Bakuman from Viz Media. This manga is the new series by the creators of Death Note and is about two boys who decide to be manga creators. I have mixed feelings about this first volume. It does give an interesting look behind the scenes of what it takes to become a manga creator. It doesn’t glorify it, and does show how much work it is and how difficult it can be to succeed, calling it more of a gamble. What bothered me was when the boys talk about what makes a girl “smart.” She shouldn’t flaunt her intelligence, appear graceful, and not worry about her future because she’ll be married. These scenes give me second thoughts about recommending it to either boys or girls.
Mike Pawuk: I’ve been reading the latest of NBM Publishing’s always great Rick Geary collections of real-life murders. His latest is the The Terrible Axe Man of New Orleans, part of his A Treasury of XXth Century Murder ongoing series. Geary has the special knack for well-researched true-life crime tales and this one is no different. He writes about a series of axe murders in New Orleans which strikes grocers in the area from 1918 to 1920, and he never disappoints. Teens and adults looking for some non-fiction crime stories will always find some great graphic novel true crime from Rick Geary.
This week I’ve also read several of Boom! Studios new kids series of books. I’ve been a longtime Muppet fan, so I’m diving into the new series of Disney tie-in titles including the Eisner-nominated (for Best Humor) The Muppet Show: Meet the Muppets collection. The writing and art are both handled by Roger Langridge and he absolutely hits this one out of the ballpark. Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, and all your other favorite Muppets are all there, and the humor is a top-notch effort. Another Muppet title, Muppet King Arthur, is very much in the vein of some of the feature film spoofs done by the Muppet crew such as Muppet Treasure Island and Muppet Christmas Carol. Here their take on the quest for the Holy Grail is filled with many bad puns and a nice mix of humor with a twist on a classic story. Looking forward to reading some of the other Muppet collections as well from Boom! Studios.
Ether Keller: This week I’ve been reading Dogby Walks Alone by Wes Abbot, which is a 2006 release from Tokyopop. At my last visit to the library I was surprised to find a first volume of any series, let alone the first 2, and picked it up for no other reason. The plot is a bit bizarre, in a twisted funhouse mirror kind of way. Basically, all hell has broke loose as a rival theme park has conspired with the mascots at HappyLand to steal a week’s worth of revenue. There’s a murder – the princess – whom it seems everyone was in love with and had some sort of affair. The ever silent Dogby is in the thick of things with the Snack Girl in his side. There are plenty of twists and turns, and villainous caricatures throughout the volume. The mystery is wrapped up and makes me wonder what is in store for volume 2.