Welcome to another edition of The Reading Pile, where the Good Comics for Kids bloggers discuss the books they are reading for work or pleasure.
Kate Dacey: I was really excited to read Jason Thompson’s latest House of 1000 Manga column, as I recently began collecting Kazan. It’s an older series that was published by the now-defunct ComicsOne, which, in its day, licensed some pretty awesome stuff: Ginga Legend Weed, Tomie, Wounded Man, Bride of the Deimos. Kazan is a fantasy-adventure set in a desert world. The hero looks about eight but is, in fact, a young man whose appearance has been frozen in time since he witnessed the annihilation of his village; as Thompson points out, the set-up is vaguely reminiscent of Günther Grass’ acclaimed novel The Tin Drum, only with monsters and superpowers. It’s a pity that Kazan is out of print, because it’s a great book for tweens and young teens. The art is stylish; the story is gripping; and the violence is neither graphic nor gratuitous, but essential to advancing the plot.
The other book I’ve been reading is The Adventures of Digger and Friends (IDW Publishing), a collection of short stories starring characters from the FOX animated show. Since NASCAR isn’t big in my neck of the woods (I live in Boston), I had to do a little research to figure out who, exactly, Digger is, and why he spends all his time tunneling under a race track. Though a lot happens in each story—the characters build a robot pit-crew, Digger and his gal pal Annie enter a dance competition involving alligators—the overall feeling is frantic rather than fun and exciting; the stories don’t quite hang together, and the NASCAR plugs are about as graceful as an elephant on roller skates. The art is OK, if a little DayGlo. The gophers are cute and mischievous looking, while Lumpy Wheels, their badger nemesis, has the thuggish, goofy appearance of a classic Looney Tunes villain. I’m guessing that kids who regularly watch the FOX show and follow NASCAR would enjoy this comic, but anyone new to either will find it confusing, as the authors make no attempt to explain who the characters are, or what their relationship to one another is.
Esther Keller: I finally got my hands on Binky the Space Cat from Kids Can Press. In some ways, this title reminded me a lot of a picture book. Especially in the delicious dramatic irony. Sure Binky thinks he’s going to outer space, but in fact, he’s really a house cat, who has never been outside. He thinks he needs to protect his humans from evil aliens (bugs) and is busy making plans to fly to outer space to further fight all those evil aliens. This title can really be enjoyed on so many levels by so many age groups. It’s quite a fantastic read.
While this isn’t quite a comic book, I think it deserves a mention: Little Brown is putting out a pop-up books on DC Super Heroes. DC Super Heroes: The Ultimate Pop-Up Book by Matthew Reinhart. I received a sample excerpt, and I’m totally hooked. I found the pop-up design quite ingenious, as there are pop-ups within pop-ups. The pages give a brief history of the character and will be a perfect fit for fans.
Robin Brenner: I’m on vacation this week, so I may get more reading done as the week progresses, but right now I’ve been catching up. I finally tracked down the library’s copy of Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J. H. Williams. Batwoman is the kind of superheroine I can get behind. She’s smart, tough as nails, honorable, and has her very dark moments. She’s an appealing mirror to Batman, who’s always been my favorite superhero (it’s all about the smarts, not the powers). I’ll always have a soft spot for Batgirl, but putting a woman on par with Batman by having her be the lead of Detective Comics, DC’s flagship comic line, is refreshing.
J. H. Williams does indeed all of the accolades for his art—it’s gorgeous and perfectly suited to this tale. The colors are inky and rich, and the slides between altered reality and the real world are perfectly balanced as his style alters to suit the mood. I had very, very minor quibbles about the design—Batwoman really doesn’t wear a bra under that suit? Really? Even so, Williams avoids the usual parade of problems I do have with pin-up art—Batwoman is posed to kick butt, not allure the reader.
Batwoman: Elegy, like most of Greg Rucka’s tales, is suspensefully paced and full of gray areas. Rucka prefers dubious morality to anything being black and white, as do I. The content of this volume, including some flashbacks to Batwoman dating various women including Renee Montoya, aka the Question, should not keep teens from reading it. There’s nothing about it the presentation of the story makes it inappropriate for older teens. Elegy is the beginning of a longer story arc, and the sophistication as it unfolds leads me to guess that this will be another example of a story brilliantly told by two strong creators.
I’ve also gotten my hands on Twin Spica volume two, and it continues to enchant. The emotional story line and the struggle to succeed in astronaut training continue to be balanced well, pulling you in in one chapter via the geek appeal of learning what astronaut training involves and then turning around in then next chapter and tugging at your heart strings with a potent look at the difficulty of moving on after a life-altering loss. A wonderful title to offer my young teens.
Lori Henderson: I read two lackluster manga this week. One was a taste of the series and the other was a check-up. Mixed Vegetables is about the daughter of a pastry chef who wants to be a sushi chef who meets the son of a sushi chef who wants to be a pastry chef. The series has gotten
less-than-favorable reviews, but I decided to try it out anyway, with volume 7 which I received for review. I was not impressed with either the story or the characters. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t interesting. Some of the moments with Hanayu working in the sushi shop were cute, but here was nothing to hook me in and making want to read more.
The other manga I read was the last volume of Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross. I’d read another volume earlier in the series, and hadn’t liked it. I wanted to see if it had improved any over 6 volumes. It hadn’t really. This last volume may not be a fair judge of the title as it was mostly about tying up loose ends before reaching it’s grand finale, but that made it feel very rushed. It was hitting its points fast, one after the other, like a carpenter striking nails. You almost feel winded by the end. It was probably a satisfying ending for someone who had been following the series, but it didn’t do anything to make me want to go back and see how everyone got there.
Eva Volin: I picked up Neko Ramen this weekend and spent a fun little while remembering why kids enjoy Garfield so much. These four panel comics, interspersed with short stories, are all about Taisho, a talking cat who runs a shop selling rather bad tasting ramen, and the single customer who patronizes his shop. The story is silly, funny, and about as sophisticated as you’d expect from the premise. The plot moves in machine gun bursts, the tempo set by the jokes, but put together, the whole thing works. Neko Ramen will utterly charm young teens who are done with Garfield, but aren’t ready to leave cats and comic strips behind.