Graphic Novels Reviews | May 15, 2013

Comic-Cons @ Your Library! Mini-comic-cons have gone viral at public libraries across the country and at not a few universities, arts organizations, and even high schools. I estimate that 50 or more North American libraries have caught the comic-con bug, from one another, from librarian or patron comics fans, from larger comics conventions like the New York Comic Con, and from con-friendly comics pros.

It’s a trend internationally, too—note the third annual Hanoi Library Comics Festival, held in Vietnam in June 2012. The gorilla of library comic-cons, though, has got to be the three-day Toronto Comics Arts Festival, in its 11th year at the Toronto Public Library and attracting 20,000 people annually. (Most library cons run one day or less and attract 50 to several hundred people.) McHenry Public Library’s ComiCon, begun in Illinois four years before the first Toronto affair, runs only one hour, which suits the McHenry folks just fine. Libraries can customize the concept to fit their individual expectations, needs, and resources and call it a comic-con, anime con, comics arts festival, or something else.

Artists drawing cool stuff, vendors selling cool stuff, and cosplayers in cool costumes form the core of most of these events. Workshops, lectures, panels, contests, gaming, videos, performances, and displays can add to the menu. Karaoke, crafts, live-action Angry Birds, involvement by voice actors or kid creators, maid café, cosplay prom, scavenger hunt, or zombie walk—even deputizing convention staff as ninjas—can provide a unique experience. Mini-comic-cons proclaim the library as a mecca for all-ages literacy and entertainment and one that has an unexpectedly high cool quotient. Libraries collaborate with Friends groups, grantors, comics shops, arts centers, gaming stores, and community organizations to support speakers, prizes, and plenty of freebies and generally to keep the events free of charge.

The payoff? Demands for yearly replays, enormous community enthusiasm, and memorable participant reaction. Kids who never before wanted to go to the library get drawn in by the art, stories, and fun. “Awesome and totally epic,” proclaimed one attendee at the 2011 Cumberland County Public Library’s Librari-Con in North Carolina.

Presentations on library mini-cons have been held by the Texas Library Association and at Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2), while articles have appeared in VOYA and Diamond Bookshelf. Look for more buzz forthcoming, and go forth and comic-convert your community!—M.C.

Abouet, Marguerite (text) & Clément Oubrerie (illus.). Aya: Love in Yop City. Drawn & Quarterly. (Aya). 2013. 384p. tr. from French by Helge Dascher. ISBN 9781770460928. pap. $24.95. LITERARY FICTION

This meaty and satisfying conclusion to a beloved series incorporates some dozen subplots. With Jane Austenesque skill, Abouet spins out and then ties up the interlocking dramas of the now-college-aged Aya and her Ivory Coast village-mates. The most disturbing subplot introduces Aya’s biology professor who makes a habit of demanding undesired and all-too-biological interactions from his female students. Meanwhile, lovable gay hairdresser Innocent makes new friends in Paris, and Moussa, slacker son of beer magnate Sissoko, runs away from home to find adventures that confound his parents. Ignace’s mistress Jeanne, babe-magnet Mamadou, smooth-talking Grégoire, and shy Félicité all have starring roles, as do Aya’s BFFs Adjoua and Bintou. The mating dance takes center stage throughout, and Abouet’s gleeful tone accompanies serious subtexts about family, responsibility, and loyalty. VERDICT The full “Aya” saga should especially appeal to fans of shojo manga. While earlier volumes have been praised as YA literature, this final volume suits older teens through adults due to its themes of sexual intrigue and assault. As with previous installments, Oubrerie’s art triumphs for its color, style, and masterly character depictions.—M.C.

Alice, Alex (text & illus.). Siegfried. Vol. 1. Archaia. 144p. tr. from French by Edward Gauvin. illus. ISBN 9781936393459. $24.95. FANTASY

Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle has been adapted into comics before, especially ably by P. Craig Russell. Alice, a French artist, has simplified the Wagnerian treatment while both retaining its gravitas and hyping female power. A Valkyrie daughter of Odin, assigned to guard a golden treasure, abandons duty to love a mortal man. But Odin wreaks vengeance on the escaping lovers, leaving them to die. Meanwhile, underworld-dweller Fafnir, his love for the gold’s beautiful guardian rejected, steals the treasure and becomes a monstrous dragonlike creature that is lost in greed and madness. Fleeing Fafnir’s tyranny, fellow underworldling Mime happens upon the infant born to the dying Valkyrie and adopts him. The young Siegfried grows to manhood, confused about his heritage, his possibly malevolent adopted parent, and his purpose in life—apparently to kill this Fafnir. Meanwhile, another Valkyrie ponders intervening in Siegfried’s future. VERDICT The first volume in a gorgeously painted trilogy evokes the best of Disney, Brian Froud, and the Tolkien films, while adding an environmentalist vibe. Lavish back matter includes concept art and interviews; an animated film is in production. Splendid stuff for adult and teen lovers of high fantasy.—M.C.

Subhiyah, Camaren (text) & Kyle Hilton (illus.). Agent Gates and the Secret Adventures of Devonton Abbey: A Parody. Andrews McMeel. 2013. 128p. ISBN 9781449434342. pap. $14.99. HISTORICAL FICTION

Television’s popular period drama Downton Abbey follows the aristocratic Crawley family and its servants under King George V. This puckish spoof reenvisions the Dowager Countess plus some of the “Crawhill” servants as undercover agents serving the British Secret Intelligence Service. All have unusual powers connected with the Philosopher’s Stone, which is kept at SIS headquarters in London. Agent Gates (based on Downton Abbey valet John Bates) sports a distinctly steampunk leg of bio­fusable titanium. For her part, the Dowager Countess boasts powers of vision rivaling those of Medusa. Unfortunately, the team must constantly maneuver around the clueless and witless Earl, who is more prone to ordering his incoming correspondence to be ironed for neatness than sussing out the impending threat posed by a German visitor. The rest of the Crawhills are similarly out to lunch except the eldest daughter, whom the Dowager Countess takes into her confidence about the SIS. VERDICT This dryly straight-faced spin-off in spare, realistic black-and-white art makes entertaining reading as tongue-in-cheek espionage that can be enjoyed even by those unfamiliar with the TV show. Recommended for adult spy-saga fans and for teens.—M.C.

The following titles are reviewed in the February 1 print issue. Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.

Gerber, Steve & others (text & illus.). Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers. Vol. 1. Marvel. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780785166870. pap. $39.99. SUPERHERO

Johns, Geoff (text) & Jim Lee & Scott Williams (illus.). Justice League: The Villain’s Journey. Vol. 2. DC. (New 52). 2013. 160p. ISBN 9781401237646. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401244194. SUPERHERO

Robinson, James (text) & Cully Hamner & others (illus.). The Shade. DC. 2013. 280p. ISBN 9781401237820. pap. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401237820. SUPERHERO

Vanistendael, Judith (text & illus). When David Lost His Voice. SelfMadeHero. 2013. 280p. tr. from French by Nora Mahony. ISBN 9781906838546. $24.95. LITERARY FICTION

Wood, Brian (text & illus.) & Rob G. (illus.) & others. The Couriers: The Complete Series. Image. 2012. 360p.ISBN 9781607066415. $24.99. CRIME

Woolfson, Alex (text) & Winona Nelson (illus.). Artifice. AMW Comics. 2013. 112p. ISBN 9780985760403. pap. $19.99. SF