Welcome to another discussion of what we have been reading lately. This feature went on hiatus for a couple of weeks because of the ALA Midwinter meeting and the Martin Luther King Day holiday, but now we’re back, with plenty to say.
Kate Dacey: On a recent trip to the library, I picked up a copy of Trina Robbins’ From Girls to Grrrlz: A History of Girls’ Comics from Teens to Zines. As far as I know, it’s the only book of its kind: it’s a history of girls’ comics here in the United States, from the explosive growth of teen-oriented material in the 1940s and 1950s to the rise of feminist zines in the 1990s. Though Robbins unearths some rare and fascinating material—especially from the post-war period—the book offers little in the way of historical context, resulting in a hodge-lodge of comic-book summaries, author bios, and pat but not terribly meaningful statements. (In one chapter, for example, she attributes declining interest in superheroes to post-war fatigue with violence, but then acknowledges that horror and true crime comics were the most popular genres during the period in question.) Robbins is more successful at documenting trends in girls’ publishing, whether it was Archie knock-offs in the 1940s or Barbie comics in the 1980s. Some categories—especially superheroes—don’t get the space they deserve, but Robbins makes a sincere attempt to represent the full spectrum of genres, artists, and publishers. The book is fun in spite of its flaws, however, especially for folks who want to see what earlier generations of female comics fans were reading.
Also on my reading list is the fourth issue of Inbound, an anthology produced by The Boston Comics Roundtable. This particular issue celebrates the city’s history from The Boston Massacre to the Great Boston Molasses Flood. No corner of Boston goes unexamined: “The Granary,” for example, is billed as “a guided tour through Boston’s most famous burial ground,” while “In da’ Chowda'” explores “the little-known history of surfing in Massachusetts.” With over thirty stories spanning four hundred years, even the most discerning historian will find something to engage her interest, whether she’s curious about Mark Twain’s disastrous 1877 visit to Beantown or the evolution of Boston’s punk scene. Teenage history buffs will find this a fun way to learn what happened *after* Paul Revere’s famous ride.
Esther Keller: This week, I managed (and isn’t it always managing these days?) to read Joey Fly Private Eye in Big Hairy Drama, by Aaron Reynolds, with illustrations by Neil Numberman. This is the second book in the Joey Fly series, and while the jury is still out on whether or not these titles have much kid appeal, I do think it is much improved over the first title. (Which surprised me a lot, because usually the sequel is way worse than the 2nd book!) This time, Joey and his trusted assistant Sammy are investigating the disappearance of the Painted Lady, a butterfly who is supposed to perform at the week’s end and has disappeared. There are many plays on words and much tongue in cheek humor. It was a fun, light read, and I’m glad I gave a this title a chance.
Eva Volin: I read some comics this week! (Normally this would not be unusual, but I was on an awards committee last year, so didn’t get to read all of the books I might have chosen for myself.) First up was The Odyssey, adapted by Gareth Hinds. Homer’s epic poem is, well, epic, and therefore daunting for many readers. If I had to complain it would be that with so many long-haired, headband wearing characters it is, at times, difficult to remember which character is which, but the text and dialog help clear things up relatively quickly. Hinds’s adaptation and accompanying watercolors bring the story to life for those of us who have never managed to find the time to read the poem and the result is an overview that will please readers from Percy Jackson-obsessed middle schoolers (The Sea of Monsters explained!), to classics-challenged college students.
The second book I read is one that has been raved about here before, but I wanted to take a moment to rave about it again. Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword is the spunky girl adventure story I’ve been waiting for. Mirka does it all: stands up to bullies, battles livestock, makes deals with witches, and knits to the death. And the adventure she has! The memorable characters, a setting that teases the reader by being both foreign and familiar, and an ending so satisfying that it’s had me grinning for days makes this one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I’m only sorry it took me so long to get to it.
Mike Pawuk: I read Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting: Volume II collection, published by Fantagraphics. Like the previous volume collected by the publisher, it’s an amazing collection of the last fifteen issues of her long-running fantasy series which tells of the mundane, daily lives of a group of fairytale characters who are now living in Sleeping Beauty’s long abandoned castle. I love the series’ gentle storytelling. You’re not just following the adventures of the characters like Fables, but instead it’s a subtle story of a group of misfit inhabitants making a castle into a home. Nothing really happens, but that’s what’s so refreshing about the series. You care more about the characters and just want to see what else is in store for them. It’s a shame, then, that the creator is taking some time off from Castle Waiting to work on adaptations of The Wizard of Oz. Also one curious thing is missing from the collection: Linda Medley’s credits on the book. There’s no mention of her name whatsoever anywhere on a book other than a single sticker near the ISBN barcode and would appear that there’s been some bad blood between Medley and Fantagraphics. It’s a wonderful book regardless, and even if it takes another decade, I can’t wait to read more Castle Waiting.
Brigid Alverson: This week I have been reading Boom Studios’ Walt Disney comics I started with the graphic novel Uncle Scrooge: Around the World in 80 Bucks. This is a modern story (or as modern as these stories ever get) in which Uncle Scrooge bets another billionaire that he can travel around the world for $80. He drags Donald Duck along to help, and of course the other billionaire has a confederate who keeps trying to trip them up. It’s good fun, although the situations are pretty outlandish.
The Uncle Scrooge book is modern, but Boom! is celebrating the 70th anniversary of Walt Disney comics by featuring older, classic comics in their line of monthly comics featuring Mickey, Donald, and Uncle Scrooge. Mickey Mouse and Friends #304 includes “Laundry Blues,” a short, one-joke story from 1932, and “The Pirate Ghost Ship” from 1944. The art in these stories isn’t as stylized as, say, old Looney Tunes cartoons; the characters don’t look much different than they do today. I thought “The Pirate Ghost Ship” was very compressed, though, with a lot of different actions happening, in sequence, on a single page. Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #715, which comes out next week, is the 70th anniversary issue and it features a story about Donald and his crew holding a 70th birthday party for the newspaper they publish. It’s a nice piece that manages to bring in an amazing array of classic Disney characters, from Brer Rabbit to Dumbo. (Take a look at our preview if you want to see more.)
Lori Henderson: I’ve got two books I read, one with potential and one very meh. AiON is by Yuna Kagesaki, the creator of Chibi Vampire. It’s about Tatsuya, who just lost both his parents. He tries to help Seine, a strange girl at his school who is being bullied by her classmates. But Seine isn’t what she appears to be. She is immortal, and currently hunting mind controlling parasites from the sea that take over humans. With the help of a dragon like creature called Aion, she removes the parasites. There isn’t a lot of original material in this book, but the characters are interesting and it’s got some potential.
Mistress Fortune is a one shot volume by Arina Tanemura, the creator of Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross. It’s about a girl, Kisaki, who has psychic powers and works for a secret government agency that fights aliens. Her problem; she’s in love with her partner, Giniro, but the agency doesn’t allow operatives to have relationships. Everything about this story was average at best and the only interesting character was Nancy Thistlethwaite, who is based on and named after Tanemura’s editor at Viz Media.
That’s it for us. What are you reading this week?