Tag Archives: Graphic Novel Discussion Group

The Fun Family by Benjamin Frisch

So-o-o-o, um, yeah…

…let’s just say that The Fun Family by Benjamin Frisch is anything but fun. I’m warning you now. It is probably one of the most messed up comics this side of the works of Daniel Clowes or Kaz. Don’t blame me if you have nightmares, especially after viewing the final page.

This graphic novel is an investigation, albeit phantasmagorical, into the spiritual despair of our current age of ever-mounting anxiety and nostalgia. The tale begins with cartoonist Robert Fun, Frisch’s stand in for Bil Keane, and his family having lighthearted fun at Thanksgiving time. Their holiday meal is interrupted by an automated message from the hospital that Robert’s mother has died. It is this terrible news that cracks apart the family’s facade of harmony and seeming perfection.

Marsha Fun, Robert’s wife and mother of their four children, is clearly unhappy with Robert’s work and his detatchment from the family, which only gets worse after Grandma’s funeral. Eventually, Marsha decides that she can no longer sit on her simmering disappointments and asks for a divorce. The children – Robby, Molly, Mikey, and J.T. – are left to cope with the turmoil in their own ways.

Granted, the adults in this work are clearly self-absorbed which is a fault that many readers will not be able to get past. In a work that initially models a perfect family, it’s fracture is bound to lead to finger-pointing. That the parents should have stepped up will stick in the reader’s craw, no doubt. I would argue, though, that this is one of the many points that Frisch is making along the way, that family dysfunction often occurs at the expense of children.

Despite the trauma, The Fun Family is completely worth the ride. The story clearly works as a deconstruction of that old comic strip chestnut, The Family Circus, and other kitschy Americana. Warning number two, here there be creepy porcelain dolls, Big Eye art, and angel painting!

But more importantly, the work examines – breezily – different spiritual approaches found in modern times. The first is represented by Molly, who sees (or thinks she sees) Grandma in angel form, finding solace and direction through communication with the spirit. The second is Martha’s kooky path of ever-shifting psychological self-investigation of the Human Potential Movement variety, combined with New Age elements. The third is Robert’s own retreat into self-expression as a means of organizing his life, first as the creator of the comic strip and later of sacred paintings. The final path is that of Robbie, the oldest child, who lives, and works as a replacement artist on his dad’s strip, in order to recreate a childhood tableau in which he felt secure.

It is arguable – and is argued strongly by the story’s ending – that this final approach is deeply troubling and damaging as a project. Life continues to move on, people continue to change, and such moments in time were perhaps not as real as they may have seemed at the time. To dedicate one’s life to pursuits that strip mine the past, to succumb to unironic nostalgia, leaves one continuously chasing a dream that can never be realized. This way opens one to a constant sense of disappointment, even despair.

Formats Available:  Graphic Novel

Reviewed by Tony, Main Library


If you are interested in discussing this title or other works of sequential art, please join LFPL’s Graphic Novel Discussion Group.

Meetings are held at the Main Library on the second Monday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.

Upcoming meetings will take place on the following dates:

  • Monday, June 12, 2017 – Wonder Woman

**Note: The live-action movie Wonder Woman will be released on June 2, 2017**
  • Monday, July 10, 2017 – Marvel’s Spider-Heroes

*Note: The live-action movie Spider-Man: Homecoming will be released on July 5, 2017*
  • Monday, August 14, 2017 – Warren Publishing

 

My Top Ten Graphic Novels of 2015

Man, 2015 was a killer year for the graphic novel format and especially for the library’s ever-expanding collection of graphic titles (thanks to LFPL’s graphic novel selector and manager of the Newburg Branch, Kerry Hunter).

I’ve been sitting on this top ten for so-o-o long because I keep on changing my mind about what should make it and what shouldn’t.  Since it’s way beyond late for best-of lists, let me drop it on you as is…ten picks in alphabetical (rather than rank) order.

Many of the titles are ongoing series so I’ve just named each series as a whole rather than any specific volume. I have included artists when listing creators but some titles have multiple artists so then I’ve only listed the writer.

  • Batgirl by Cameron Stewart/Brendan Fletcher — Barbara Gordon is off to college, living in a new part of town, and Batgirl is changing along with her! The stories are well-paced and the art by Brendan Fletcher is a fresh change of pace from typical superhero fare.

batgirl

  • Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick/Valentine De Landro — Imagine The Handmaid’s Tale if it was a women-in-prison exploitation film…set in space!  The art by Valentine De Landro perfectly reflects the 1970’s grindhouse aesthetic that co-creator Kelly Sue DeConnick is evoking.  However, rather than titillating the male gaze, DeConnick serves up an entertaining kick to the groin of Patriarchy!

bitchplanet

  • Deadly Class by Rick Remender — Set in 1987, this tale of punk rock rebellion mixed with a twisted take on the classic boarding school setting is a non-stop thriller.  Rick Remender once again deftly develops his outsider character, here named Marcus Lopez.  Lopez clearly has a lot of heart, screwed up as it may be, as he trains to be an assassin and falls in love with the wrong girl.

deadly class

  • Finder by Carla Speed McNeil — Whoa! It is hard to describe this series as Carla Speed McNeil, both author and artist, has spent the better part of 20 years developing this sci-fi/fantasy tale about a futuristic society that may or may not be here on Earth.  The main character, Jaeger, is the titular Finder, his aboriginal society’s title for a certain kind of shaman.  Issues of race, class, the nature of work, the power of reading, magic, and sexuality are all explored as we follow Jaegar’s travels.

finderthird

  • Ms. Marvel by G.W. Wilson — Kamala Khan is a nerdy but cool first generation Pakistani-American teen just trying to get through school and keep up with her fan obsessions (one of whom is Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel) when she is exposed to the mysterious Terrigen Mist.  Once exposed, Kamala finds herself with new powers, ones that she she uses to keep her hometown safe – even though she has strict immigrant parents, a curfew, and the constant monitoring of the Inhumans to boot.

msmarvel

  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson — Nimona is one heck of a little hell-raiser and don’t you forget it!  She forces her way into the life of the villain Lord Blackheart so that she can become his apprentice.  As Lord Blackheart battles his arch-nemesis Sir Goldenloin, he finds Nimona just may be too wild to guide.  Noelle Stevenson’s art can be said to be simple and cute but is sophisticated enough to portray the darkness of the soul when needed.

nimona

  • Outcast by Robert Kirkman/Paul Azaceta — Demon possession is tackled by Robert Kirkman, the writer who brought us The Walking Dead.  Kyle Barnes’s life has been ruined by demons by the time he meets Reverend Anderson, who is trying – and failing – to successfully perform an exorcism. The art by Paul Azaceta is creepy, allowing the story to breathe as it unfolds at a psychologically compelling pace.

outcast

  • Polarity by Max Bemis/Jorge Coelho — Can a drifting young man with bi-polar depression be a superhero?  This question is explored in a visually stunning tale from Max Bemis and Jorge Coelho.

polarity

  • Phonogram by Kieron Gillen/Jamie McKelvie — I’m a sucker for comics about music and Phonogram is just that.  But it’s also about identity, magic, the nature of reality, and really great tunes!  Kieron Gillen is an old hipster for sure but he’s got none of the out of touch boringness that such a label suggests…yes, Gillen knows how to keep you coming back for more.  Jamie McKelvie renders the characters and the setting in crisp lines but the real magic is in his facial expressions…every character is clearly their own.  This is a boon as many comics with what I call the “indie autobiographical style” of art fail to strongly differentiate anyone but the main character.

phonogram

  • Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe — Quick synopsis: four party-hardy women in a medieval world roam the countryside and slay monsters.  Yeah, this could have been stereotypical sword and sorcery fluff but Kurtis Weibe slips in subtle, convincing character details for all four warriors along the way. He also is great with writing banter so I found myself laughing all the way, too.  Roc Upchurch was the artist on the first few issues and his character designs are gorgeous.

ratqueens

 

If you are interested in talking about these comics or others, LFPL’s Graphic Novel Discussion Group is the place for you!  The Group meets at the Main Branch on the second Monday of every month at 6:00 PM.

ThePrivateEye
Join us on June 13, 2016 as we explore the future-noir world of The Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughan (co-creator of the New York Times best-selling series Saga) and Marcos Martin.

Formats Available:  Graphic Novel

Reviewed by Tony, Main Library

In Defense of Comics, pt. 3

I had originally intended this segment to be a discussion of how comics can be differentiated from other visual arts but points in my original post have generated some very good questions from readers that should be addressed first.

The questions all refer back to the following statement:

“Comics are not just for kids and never really were except for those with some deep investment in an arbitrary highbrow/lowbrow distinction. This distinction is one based on historically constructed relations that give privilege to very debatable aesthetic principles.” (Buchanan, 2014)

You’ll notice that this paragraph is – primarily – composed of two assertions, one about the appropriateness of comics to any particular age group and another about the standards for judging a form of art.  The latter point also expressly questions such standards based on an – ancillary – investigation into how such standards are derived (or rather, constructed).  Implied in the standards are further questions regarding the nature of this “authority” (i.e., what fits a certain category of art, who can or should enforce standards for the categories, etc.).

Let’s look at the first assumption, often expressed by critics of comics as some variation of “comics are just for children,” and how it fails to hold up as something other there than a pat dismissal of the art form.

For the sake of discussion, let’s define comics quickly as publications that tell stories with pictures on paper using pencil and/or ink that may or may not incorporate words.  It’s not the only – or even best – definition but it conforms well to the general understanding of what makes a comic.  In the West, broadsides and their descendants, mass publication newspapers, have included such stories – either editorial or entertaining – in some form since the 18th Century.

These information outlets have hardly been within the purview of children in that time.  Other than following the comics page, children have used newspapers mostly for mandatory research into a current or historical event for class.  With the rise of the Internet, the modern media-savvy child is less likely to read the printed newspaper than ever before.  Further, children’s input into mass publication newspapers has rarely extended beyond the comics page.  Only a few features such as comics page war-horse Slylock Fox have solicited input from and encouraged participation by kids.

Mass publication newspapers are owned by, created by, and published for adults.  As cartoons (and comic strips) have been a staple of newspapers for over 200 years, it would indicate that they are deemed appropriate for adults.  The function of the comic strip was to leaven serious publications with some light-hearted fun, helping to increase circulation.  It is this aspect of joviality that gave the comic its name, separating it from the more serious (in intent) “cartoon.”

The evolution of the comic strip to the comic book was tied to the fortunes of the newspaper in the era between the First and Second World Wars.  The earliest comic books were simply republications of strips in a different format.  The first monthly comic book, Comics Monthly, was published in 1922. It lasted for 12 issues and reprinted various comic strips from 1921. During the Great Depression, publishers even created comic books for give-away just to keep their very expensive printing presses running.

Traditional comic books have been consumed by adults continuously since the 1920’s.  During World War II, about 44% of servicemen read comics regularly and another 13% read them occasionally. (Gordon, 1998, p. 139)  According to the U.S. War Department, comics accounted for approximately 25% of all printed materials sent overseas to soldiers in 1944. (Gordon, 1998, p. 140)  Figures for comic book readers over the years are notoriously hard to pin down but adults have become the dominant demographic as generations of comic fans have grown older and continue to read them.

So why were comics supposedly just for children?

Looking back to the period before World War II when this cultural attitude took root, the newspaper was often considered a lower form of information than literature or scholarly studies.  It was literally disposable.  Comic strips – one of the least important features – were especially ephemeral, viewed by many as nothing that an adult would think twice about.

Even the stand alone comic book was thought to be a cheap publication akin to pulp magazines rather than a proper book.  The lurid or gaudy figures that dominated comics in those days – private detectives, action adventurers, funny animals, and superheroes – were deemed inappropriate for “literature.”  The stories were seen as less coherent and less meaningful, as something that appealed to the under-developed tastes of children.

Further comics were under attack during the late 1940’s to early 1950’s.  The attacks were part of a general paranoia about the rising demographic of the “teen” and its potential delinquency.  It culminated in the Comics Code Authority, a self-regulating board for the comics industry, which enforced a series of rules which guaranteed that comics in the U.S. would be suitable for children.  Unfortunately, the industry was also stifled from developing for many years, so much so that mainstream comics ended up reinforcing the idea of the art form being “just for children.”

How this all changed is something for another article, though.

If you would like to talk about comics further, please join us for the Graphic Novel Discussion Group at the Main Library. The next meeting will take place tomorrow, May 11th, at 6:00 PM.

GraphicNovelGroup_Planetary_Main

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Works Cited:

Buchanan, A. (2014, September 25). In Defense of Comics. Retrieved May 10, 2015, from http://blogs.lfpl.org/readers/734/

Gordon, I. (1998). Comic Strips and Consumer Culture, 1890-1945. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

 Article by Tony, Main Library

In Defense of Comics

Some – as I will call him – Random Dude recently told me, “Why don’t you read a real book?  You’re an adult, aren’t you?”  This person overheard me discussing a graphic novel with a friend and felt compelled to be a jerk, it would seem.  Jerk?  Yes, I wrote that (and wished I had said it to him rather than pointedly staring until he walked away).

The guy is a jerk for two reasons:

  1. Comics are real books. They’re not “texts” in the manner understood by structuralism where narrative can exist outside of a formal literary manifestation (common examples in structuralist writings are cinema, music, or art).  Comics have clear “beginning, middle, and end” structure and are created with an eye for some form of codex.  Even web-comics typically mimic either the comic strip or the comic book or are repackaged as such for general consumption once obtaining enough popularity to be commercially viable.
  1. Comics are not just for kids and never really were except for those with some deep investment in an arbitrary highbrow/lowbrow distinction. This distinction is one based on historically constructed relations that give privilege to very debatable aesthetic principles.

Long gone are the days when it could reasonably be said that a culture is only developed and leaves its legacy in the rarefied fields of arts and literature.  Comics, film, video games, and other pop culture artifacts are not just effluvia that can be ignored.  They shape and reflect the contours of modern society, like it or not.

The French have considered comics to be a “ninth art” (following architecture, sculpture, painting, dance, music, poetry, cinema, and television) for the past fifty years.  The term arises from a series of articles starting in 1964 by Maurice De Bevere (known by his pseudonym Morris) in the French weekly Spirou.  While Morris questioned whether comics should be considered the ninth or the seventh art (as cinema and television developed after comics), the term became accepted widely in France.

One of the largest comic conventions in the world, the Angoulême International Comics Festival, has been held every year in Angoulême, France, since 1974.  The prestigious Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême prize is awarded at the Festival to creators for their body of work and/or contribution to the development of comics. This year’s recipient is Bill Watterson.  He is, of course, the reclusive creator of the beloved Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.

Another example closer to home is actually a very old one at this point.  In 2001, Michael Chabon won the Pulitzer Prize “for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life” for his work, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & ClayThe story is completely the product of comics, particularly the unique social circumstances of the late 1930’s that helped to produce the superhero genre and the American comic book industry that we know today.

Historically, the comics industry is a subset of the larger publishing world.  Like publishing in general, comics vary greatly in the type and quality of individual works but taken as a whole respond to the real and/or perceived demand of consumers. In the era of Chabon’s story, the demand for a superhero character had been building for some time due to the cultural stew of adventure tales, science fiction, and crime stories that were popular at the time.  A superhero combines all these genre elements in one brightly-colored package.

But comics and cartooning are so much more than superheroes.  So in the spirit of honest dialogue – the kind of dialogue that Random Dude was not interested in having – I will be posting a series of articles about comics in order to explain them to those who are unfamiliar.  I don’t know how often an article will appear or how long this series will run but I do hope that you’ll follow me on an exploration of this vibrant art form.

Before I go, I want to let you know that this week happens to be the annually sponsored American Library Association (ALA) event known as Banned Books Week (September 21st – September 27th).  This year, in partnership with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF), Banned Books Week will be spotlighting graphic novels and the history of comic book censorship.  As the CBLDF web site states:

Comics are one of the most commonly attacked types of books, with challenges and bans happening every year. In the last few years, attempts to ban critically acclaimed graphic novels Persepolis and Barefoot Gen made international headlines. Other comics attacked in recent years include all-ages classics like Bone by Jeff Smith, which made ALA’s list of the ten most challenged books in 2013, as well as acclaimed books for adult readers like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home

If you haven’t ever read a graphic novel or a comic book, I challenge you to try one out.  Come on in to your local library branch and we’ll help you find something that suits your tastes.  And if you do read graphic novels and wish to talk about them, I encourage you to come to LFPL’s Graphic Novel Discussion Group, which meets at 7:00 PM on the second Monday of every month at the Main Library.

GrNoDiGr

 Article by Tony, Main Library