Welcome to another edition of The Reading PIle, in which we share our thoughts on whatever we happened to be reading this week! Kate starts us off with an appropriate selection for this week, which the ALA has declared Banned Book Week.
Kate Dacey: Topping my list this week is David Hadju’s The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. Hadju explores the history of the American comic book, tracing the medium back to William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pullitzer’s newspapers, then documenting the explosive growth of the comics industry through the 1940s. I’m not very far into the book (it’s about 450 pages), but I’m finding it fascinating; I didn’t realize the degree to which Hearst and Pullitzer relied on comics to appeal to immigrant audiences, though the advent of newspaper strips makes sense when you think about how many New Yorkers didn’t read or speak English in the late nineteenth century. Hadju does an excellent job of documenting the reactionary response from turn-of-the-century educators, taste-makers, and critics, digging up some rich sources. If you’ve ever wondered why comics don’t occupy a more respected place in American culture, The Ten-Cent Plague provides some fascinating insights.
I’ve also been working my way through a big pile of Tokyopop review copies. I wasn’t wild about everything—I thought Hetalia: Axis Powers was a pretty dumb gloss on a complicated period in modern European history—but I did enjoy volume two of Neko Ramen and the first two volumes of Demon Sacred. The first is a 4-koma manga about a cat who runs a ramen joint that’s so bad he only has one regular customer. Though the premise seems rather limited, Kenji Sonishi finds odd and hilarious ways to spin the material; trust me when I say it isn’t all jokes about litter boxes and cat hair garnishes. The crude, sketchy art won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I think it’s the right vehicle for such an off-the-wall story; if the artwork were cute or polished, the jokes might seem
The second is Demon Sacred, a shojo title that combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and romance in a unique way; I can’t think of too many other books that feature unicorns, fire-breathing oni, pop idols, hot young scientists, rifts in the space-time continuum, passages from the Book of Revelation, and a heroine who is aging backwards. Someone at Tokyopop really believes in this series, as Tokyopop plans to release both volumes on the same day. Tokyopop is also taking an interesting gamble on the price: the first two installments are priced at $5.99 each, almost 50% lower than the price of most Tokyopop manga. After reading both volumes, I think that’s a smart marketing decision, as Natsumi Itsuki’s story is complicated enough to require six or seven chapters before all the basic narrative pieces are in place. Demon Sacred is a lot of fun, if a little silly (OK, a lot silly); I read both volumes in one sitting just so I could see the series’ first major cliffhanger resolved. I can’t believe I have to wait until November 30th for volume three!
Esther Keller: I was very busy reading Mockingjay this weekend, and didn’t have much time for comics, but I did start to leaf through the graphic novel of The Little Prince, adapted by Joann Sfar. My initial reaction was: Go read the original first. (I know! I know! How could I have never read this one?!) My second reaction, that Joann Sfar is a very good fit for this comic.
Robin Brenner: This past week I finally got my copy of the enchanting Hereville, from Barry Deutsch, following the troll-slaying, one-day-dragon-defeating adventures of Mirka, an eleven year old Orthodox Jewish girl. As with the recent Tower of Treasure, I’m a sucker for any story involving a kick-butt girl seeking adventure and defeating enemies with her smarts, and Hereville definitely falls into that category, but it is also gives a charming portrait of Mirka, her family, and her world. This is just the kind of book that allows for a look into Orthodox culture without feeling either instructional or full of infodumps: Mirka is determined to be a hero, but her being an Orthodox Jew informs how she goes about that. The art is inviting and stretches reality just enough to encompass Mirka’s magical adventures without losing its realism.
I also caught up in the hilarious British webcomic Bad Machinery, related to the creator’s equally charming Scary Go Round. Bad Machinery follows a diverse group of characters as they start their first year of grammar school—this appears to be the equivalent of our middle schools as you first attend when you’re eleven. I love John Allison’s style (which I see progressed significantly from the early days of Scary Go Round): his faces remind me a bit of Kate Beaton’s wonderfully expressive characters. It doesn’t hurt that Bad Machinery also has a dry, snarky sense of humor that made me giggle out loud many times. Sadly, I fear we won’t get any print editions of this UK charmer any time soon, but…perhaps it’s time to start introducing keen publishers to this work!
Mike Pawuk: I’ve really enjoyed the first volume of Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites by writer Evan Dorkin and illustrations by Jill Thompson. It’s the adventures of one of the most unique paranormal investigators team: they’re all dogs (and one cat). Pugs, Ace, Jack, Whitey, Red and the Orphan are part of the Wise Dog Society, a brand of canines out to protect their town from evil. The team is based in the supposedly idyllic town of Burden Hill, but of course nothing is quite what they seem as the team comes across demonic frogs, a werewolf, tortured spirits, evil rats, and other fowl monstrosities. The first book reprints the short stories originally published way back starting in 2003 from the Dark Horse Book of Hauntings and the other Dark Horse Book of… collections as well as the 4-issue mini-series published in 2009. The recent mini-series also received an Eisner Award for the category of “Best Publication for Teens.” While I don’t see there being a long line of anxious teens ready to read this as
opposed to the latest collection of Walking Dead, this collection is fantastic and fun and full of creativity and will be an easy sell to teens and adults curious about finding a spooky but fun gem to read.