LJ Best Books 2016

A jury of our peers discussed, debated, disagreed, and finally declared LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles. VISIT THE WEBSITE

Fraction/Zdarsky, Knisley, Kon, Miller/Varley & Others | Graphic Novels Reviews, March 15, 2015

Year in Review Awards, awards! In 2014 Alison Bechdel (Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic) won a coveted MacArthur genius grant, while Peter Bagge (Woman Rebel) received a Rockefeller USA Fellow of Literature grant. Rep. John Lewis’s March: Book One took a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award—Special Recognition, Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? was a finalist for a National Book Award and—with Cece Bell’s El Deafo—the Kirkus Prize, plus Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adults. Comics maven Stan Lee was also honored as a featured speaker at the American Library Association’s annual conference in Las Vegas.

It’s the story of the year: a welcome diversity among comics creators, fans, and characters. At the New York Comic Con, four panels addressed African American comics, 12 highlighted gender issues, and four focused on concerns of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. ­Superhero-comics-wise, we now have a black/Latino Spider-Man, a black Captain America, and a black president Superman. Thor and Captain Marvel are women. Madcap ­villainess Harley Quinn has her own series, as do Catwoman, Batgirl, and superpowered Muslim American teen Ms. Marvel. There’s age variety, as well: comics for younger readers from Raina ­Telgemeier (Smile; Drama; Sisters) camped out all year on the New York Times best seller lists.

Comic cons are increasingly popping up in libraries, and the Kids Read Comics team is working with Reading with Pictures to create a librarians’ DIY comic-con guide. Also emerging are “applied comics” that are used as tools in journalism, communication, and education, including those about health/medicine ­(graphicmedicine.org), science, and social justice.

Meanwhile, sales grow in all formats: comic books, graphic novels, digital. iVerse’s Comics Plus: Library Edition has signed up over 70 library systems for digital comics, and is negotiating to add additional major publishers to its offerings.—M.C.

Fraction, Matt (text) & Chip Zdarsky (illus.). Sex Criminals: Two Worlds, One Cop. Image. Mar. 2015. 128p. ISBN 9781632151933. pap. $14.99. graphic novels

sexcriminals31615During puberty, future librarian Suzie discovers she can stop time temporarily when she orgasms. Later, she meets bank employee Jon, who can do it, too. Then the bank forecloses on the library’s mortgage, so the couple uses their unique talent to steal money for paying off the mortgage and save the library. Unfortunately, the also-­superpowered Sex Police tries to stop them, and in Volume 2 Jon and Suzie plot revenge. Yes, this action/comedy is about sex, with unabashed visuals; funny, frank dialog; and an uninhibited letters-from-readers section. It’s also a skillful skewering of sex education, American sex culture, and courtship rituals. The book questions whether ends justify means. ­Fraction (Hawkeye) and Zdarsky (Prison Funnies; Monster Cops) don’t glamorize Suzie and Jon. They’re average-looking people, not Victoria’s Secret models. Jon has a large nose, while Suzie is pleasantly cute yet not eye candy. The periods of suspended time are rendered evocatively through misty color and ribbons of light. VERDICT Older teens and adults will chuckle as well as learn from this Eisner and Harvey Award–winning rarity, which speaks honestly and sometimes educationally about sex.—M.C.

Goetzinger, Annie (text & illus.). Girl in Dior. NBM. Mar. 2015. 128p. tr. from French by Joe Johnson. bibliog. ISBN 9781561639144. $27.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS

Christian Dior’s “New Look” of 1947, his debut collection, went by a more evocative French name: Corolle, petals of a flower. After the fabric-sparing styles of World War II, these elitist, extravagant hourglass dresses were designed to make every woman “feel as beautiful as a duchess,” as the designer put it. Goetzinger (Agence Hardy) creates a fictional narrator, young journalist Clara, who takes us inside the House of Dior as a model. It’s taxing, complicated teamwork creating 200 designs to be culled into nearly a hundred new dresses twice a year, and we meet ­Dior’s staff, the steel-eyed fashion journalists, rich clients, and hovering celebrities. The lovely watercolor art portrays the clothes with affectionate romanticism; many drawings are splashed over one or two pages, as when assistants lower fabulous evening gowns down from the balcony into the models’ dressing room. VERDICT More homage than biography or nuanced analysis, this beautifully rendered work skimps on depth and social issues. However, the comprehensive back matter fills in plenty about the designer and his fashion world. Haute couture fans will appreciate this; it is also recommended for collections on the garment industry and the postwar period.—M.C.

Knisley, Lucy (text & illus.). Displacement: A Travelogue. Fantagraphics. 2015. 168p. ISBN 9781606998106. pap. $19.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS

displacement31615“Displacement,” often meaning the water pushed aside by a boat’s hull, here alludes to lives pushed aside by aging and senescence, as well as a traveler’s dislocation. When her beloved ninetysomething grandparents sign up for a cruise, twentysomething Knisley (Relish; An Age of License) signs on as caretaker. The sobering and eye-opening experience includes washing the “accidents” out of grandfather’s pants, keeping her dementia-stricken grandmother on track, coordinating multiple medications, and shepherding the pair through complicated routines such as airport security. Although feeling overwhelmed and hiding her terror and heartbreak, Knisley admires the couple’s spunk and determines to give them a good time despite their limitations and the simple­minded shipboard entertainments. Her limpid watercolors convey the tropical light, undulating ocean, and superficial gaiety of cruise ambiance, serving as ironic counterpoint to the gravity of her responsibilities and emotions. In one panel, a nasty toothed gremlin representing the horror of infirmity and death sits on her shoulder. VERDICT This poignant, sensitive account stresses the importance of connections throughout life’s entire journey. Knisley’s contemporaries who have enjoyed her other memoirs will learn much from this one.—M.C.

Kon, Satoshi (text & illus.). Satoshi Kon’s Opus. Dark Horse. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9781616556068. pap. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781630081584. GRAPHIC NOVELS

Kon (Tropic of the Sea) is known for his anime that alter the borders between reality and imagination, 2007’s Paprika being an award-winning example. Here he personalizes that approach: manga artist Chikara Nagai tumbles into the world of his characters and learns that being “God” isn’t what he imagined. Heroine Satoko, sidekick Lin, and the evil Masque from Nagai’s Resonance manga all refuse Nagai’s authorial decisions, run away with the story, and jeopardize the precarious time-space continuum. “He’s not God!” cries Lin. “He’s just this asshole who f***s with us.” Kon’s near-­realistic art demonstrates influences of former boss ­Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), making the metafictional elements seem more uncanny in backgrounds continually ripping, shifting, or exploding as portals are breached. Although originally unfinished, the book concludes with a chapter that was sketched out by Kon later. The subtext touches on taking responsibility for one’s creations as well as puckishly suggesting that the (real) God could be imagined as a cartoonist himself. ­VERDICT Kon’s accomplished drawings together with his work’s layered complexities and profundity will appeal to mid-teens through adults who like their manga with some intellectual meat.—M.C.

Kuwata, Jiro (text & illus.). Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga. Vol. 1. DC. 2014. 360p. ISBN 9781401252779. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401255800. GRAPHIC NOVELS

The lavish art book Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan (LJ 1/09), edited by Chip Kidd, first alerted American fans to a surprising and long-hidden piece of Batman lore: the officially licensed Batman manga, created in Japan in 1966–67 during the heyday of the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman TV show. That book included only excerpts of the manga; now, after an initial online serialization, DC is publishing an English-language translation of the complete series in three volumes, printed in the traditional right-to-left orientation. Kuwata, who created the popular manga hero 8-Man in 1963, loosely based some of these tales on original early 1960s American Batman stories, but there’s none of the silliness of that era of Batman here; these are serious-minded crime-fighting tales, with science-based villains, a fallible Batman, and a tough, resourceful Robin. The action scenes exemplify manga pacing and dynamism. It’s more than a little like a less cartoony Astro Boy—unsurprisingly, given that similar to many manga artists, Kuwata was strongly influenced by Astro Boy’s creator, Osamu Tezuka. VERDICT Recommended for its cross-cultural interest but also to fans wanting some straightforward Batman adventure.—S.R.

Miller, Frank (text) & Lynn Varley (illus.). Ronin: The Deluxe Edition. DC. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781401248956. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401255909. GRAPHIC NOVELS

ronin31615This darkly kaleidoscopic 1983–84 tale, a forerunner and inspiration for DC’s Vertigo line, was groundbreaking in many ways, not least in its manga influences and its creator ownership. After showing his interest in samurai culture in acclaimed work on Daredevil and Wolverine, Miller here made a dystopian near-future New York City the venue for a reenactment of the battle between a feudal Japanese swordsman and the demon that killed his master. The demon inhabits the body of Taggart, president of technology research firm Aquarius; the samurai possesses limbless psychic Danny, a test subject in Aquarius’s compound who gains cybernetic limbs thanks to the company’s AI, Virgo. Caught between the two are Aquarius’s tough, self-assured (and black) security chief Casey McKenna and her (white) husband, Peter, inventor of the company’s biocircuitry. Billy-as-Ronin’s encounters with New York’s street denizens show Miller’s emergent satirical side—but much of the work, which features nudity and visceral, violent action, was strongly influenced by Kazuo Koike and Goseki ­Kojima’s then-untranslated manga classic Lone Wolf and Cub. VERDICT Mature, ingenious, brutal, and dazzling, this is early evidence of Miller’s mastery.—S.R.

Padua, Sydney (text & illus.). The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer. Knopf. Apr. 2015. 320p. notes. ISBN 9780307908278. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307908285. GRAPHIC NOVELS
thrillingadventures
Originally a webcomic, this collection of jests interweaves history, literature, and fantasy into short stories starring Charles ­Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Babbage’s machines, and a number of 19th-century luminaries. Fact: Lord Byron’s mathematically minded daughter Ada and inventor-­wannabe Charles were lifelong BFFs and collaborated on writings about the proto-computers that Charles wanted to build. Fiction: that either the “Difference Engine” or the “Analytical Engine” was actually built or helped the Victorian pair do battle with the banking system. Fortunately, London-based animator Padua doesn’t let facts get in the way of steampunk, and she has a great deal of fun riffing verbally and visually on techno-math geekery. Notes, references, original documents, and amusing speculations intercut the drawings—you can read just the comic, follow the comic and supporting texts, or dip into the texts later. The black-and-white art delivers all the humorous vivacity of solid editorial cartooning when showing, for example, Ada climbing through machine innards with crowbar in hand and pipe in mouth. ­VERDICT Padua’s extravaganza is very much for the whimsical intelligentsia and will speak to those interested in computers or math who will delight in the abundant background materials.—M.C.

Pratt, Hugo (text & illus.). Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn. EuroComics: IDW. 2014. 140p. tr. from Italian by Simone Castaldi & Dean Mullaney. ISBN 9781631400650. pap. $22.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS

cortomaltese31615Ship captain Corto Maltese is a rogue adventurer with a hard exterior and a soft heart, wandering the globe’s far corners in the first third of the 20th century. Shrewd and no-nonsense, laid back but prickly, he keeps his own counsel. Italian cartoonist Pratt, influenced by Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates and a world traveler himself, chronicled Corto’s exploits from 1967–89; the series became a European best seller and award winner. Two previous attempts at English publication proved abortive, most recently the colorized and reformatted Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea ­(LJ 3/15/12). Now, IDW’s EuroComics imprint plans a 12-volume complete reprint of the series in its original black and white, with a new translation. The six episodes in this oversized first volume (actually the second by publication date and third in story order) find Corto in South America, where he transports a young Englishman continuing his dead father’s research on the lost continent of Mu, and becomes involved with Brazilian sorceresses, native rebels, German pirates, treasure hunters, and a drunken professor. VERDICT Classic adventure comics for adults, enjoyable but with depth; strongly recommended.—S.R.

Rehr, Henrik (text & illus.). Terrorist: Gavrilo Princip, the Assassin Who Ignited World War I. Graphic Universe. Apr. 2015. 232p. maps. ISBN 9781467772792. $33.32; pap. ISBN 9781467772846. $11.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS

Like Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Gavrilo Princip was just short of 20 when he shot Archduke Franz ­Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, in 1914. As this lightly fictionalized biography indicates, Princip and his collaborators had hoped to trigger a rebellion against Austro-­Hungarian domination over Serbia and its Balkan neighbors but instead helped ignite a worldwide war taking 16 million lives. Rehr (Tribeca Sunset) did considerable research and successfully builds empathy for both Princip and the archduke, showing how upbringing, lifestyle, and social connections came to bear on their fateful choices. The somber art relies on a heavy, realistic inked line supplemented by dense cross-hatching, texturing, scratchboardlike techniques, and murky grays. Many drawings are clearly based on period photos, but unfortunately, there is no “further reading” section or list of major sources, and the two maps could have been more detailed and better labeled. VERDICT Princip’s sad story finds solid realization here, and both teens and adults looking for historical materials will learn plenty about how chance and intent interact unpredictably in the lives of dedicated individuals working with what they believe are justifiable motives.—M.C.

Whedon, Zack (text) & Georges Jeanty & others (illus.). Serenity. Vol. 4: Leaves on the Wind. Dark Horse. 2014. 152p. ISBN 9781616554897. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781621159377. GRAPHIC NOVELS

serenity31615Browncoats, the extraordinarily loyal fans of Joss Whedon’s brilliant sf TV series Firefly and its feature film follow-up Serenity, celebrated the announcement of this sequel to the film. Since their broadcast of secret information about an Alliance experiment that caused the deaths of millions and created the ultraviolent space marauders known as Reavers, Capt. Mal Reynolds and the crew of the spaceship Serenity have been lying low for months, while the Alliance denies everything and searches for them. But when widowed first mate Zoe’s baby is born, complications force them to leave her at an Alliance-controlled hospital. Meanwhile, tough young rebel Bea, a leader in the New Resistance movement inspired by Serenity’s broadcast, hires mercenary Jayne Cobb (who has left Serenity) to track down Mal, whom she hopes will become their leader. Jeanty’s likenesses are not spot-on, but Zack (brother of Joss) captures the crew’s personalities and speech patterns well—and the story is a crowd-pleaser, featuring major developments in the lives of beloved characters and the return of two of the most charismatic antagonists in the series. ­VERDICT Recommended wherever Browncoats live, which is probably everywhere.—S.R.

Cartoonists Talk about Charlie Hebdo

School Library Journal’s Mahnaz Dar attended a recent talk about the impact of the January 7 attack on the Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo. Read more at ow.ly/JEhQs.

According to cartoonist and journalist Molly Crabapple, “Art hits people in a visceral way. It gets under their skin.” She and other cartoonists and graphic artists were on hand February 19 at the “After Charlie: What’s Next for Art, Satire, and Censorship?” event at the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF), a panel that was moderated by WNYC radio host Leonard Lopate and organized by FIAF, PEN American Center, and the National Coalition Against Censorship to discuss the obstacles to free speech that cartoonists often face, the challenges of producing potentially offensive material, and whether Charlie Hebdo went too far.

Françoise Mouly, art director of The New Yorker and Toon Books publisher, also attested to the power that cartoons wield—one that the written word lacks. Referring to The New Yorker cover that featured Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie watching the Supreme Court on television (to represent the court’s historic ruling on gay marriage), Mouly said, “Few people can really get a response, even when they are writing in The New Yorker.” Cartoons, however, are a different story. “This image got seen not only on the cover of the magazine,” said Mouly, “but with the Internet, it got seen millions of times around the world.”

While the dangers of censorship were stressed, Mouly and her husband, cartoonist and author Art Spiegelman, best known for his Pulitzer Prize–winning Maus (Pantheon, 1991), both raised the point that attempts to suppress incendiary material can often have an unintended effect: increasing publicity for a magazine or artist. Mouly discussed visiting Charlie Hebdo offices in 2006, when the magazine published its first Mohammed image, eliciting much controversy. After the outcry, Mouly said, the magazine’s editors were “thrilled,” as other journalists “rallied to their cause and denounced censorship,” bringing their circulation from 10,000 to 100,000 readers.

 

Martha Cornog is a longtime reviewer for LJ and, with Timothy Perper, edited Graphic Novels Beyond the Basics: Insights and Issues for Libraries (Libraries Unlimited, 2009). Steve Raiteri is Audio-visual Librarian at the Greene County Public Library in Xenia, OH, where he started the graphic novel collection in 1996

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