Tag Archives: Graphic Novels

The Elaborate Life of Stan Lee

stanleeA memoir in graphic novel form?  Say it isn’t so!

Stan Lee, creator of a vast universe of superheroes (The Avengers, Fantastic Four, The Punisher, and Spider-Man to name just a few), recently released a memoir of his journey to becoming an icon in the world of comic books, entitled Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir.  Early in his adolescent years, Lee could always be found with a book close within reach, reading anything he could wrap his hands around.  Lee was greatly influenced by classic characters found in pulp literature (such as Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ Tarzan), as well as Shakespeare’s works of drama and poetry.  These literary influences were combined with images of what a human could become to produce his intriguing, well-rounded characters for Marvel Comics.

While much of the book is devoted to his character development of the superheroes and villains, there is also a more serious side that details Lee’s time in the military.  One of his first duties was as a graphic artist for a campaign on sexual abstinence.  He also developed materials focusing on how American troops should act in other countries.

Readers also learn about how Lee came to do hysterical cameos in recent Marvel movies.  One such example from the recent Avengers: The Age of Ultron shows him sitting around a table with the characters discussing stories over a few beverages.  Lee is as proud of his appearances as all the work he has done over the years.

Lee presents his memoir to readers as if one were to meet him at a Fandom Fest or Comic Con.  Read Amazing Fantastic Incredible and meet the man behind the worlds of some of your comic and film characters.  Hard work, dedication to his craft, and a roller coaster ride of events in his life have formed Stan the Man, a man who has brought joy to millions around the world.

Lee also dedicates portions of his memoir to staff editors, writers, and artists who have contributed to his career.

For the reader who may traditionally prefer reading graphic novels, this selection will possibly open other opportunities to read similar autobiographical texts.  A brief list of works available through the library can be found below.

Formats Available: Book, Audiobook, eBook

Reviewed by MicahShawnee Branch

Something for Everyone in Five Comics Books

Whether you have always loved comics or you never picked one up in your life, if you want to read about cape-and-tights heroes or curl up with something trendy and artsy, then this list has something for you.

The Arrival – Shaun Tan

The Arrival is proof that a good story doesn’t even need words. A stunning narrative of an immigrant’s experience in a new and alien land, it’s like having someone play solos about hope and isolation on your heartstrings.

Barbarian Lord – Matt Smith

This is the comic book that Vikings would have written if Vikings wrote comic books. Sure, there are other comic books that try to capture the age, or even just borrow the aesthetic, but Barbarian Lord reads like a deadly-serious re-telling of one of the Icelandic Sagas.

Marvel Illustrated: The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde; Roy Thomas; Sebastian Fiumara.

It’s a hard task to adapt a longer book to graphic format, but Marvel does a fantastic job with The Picture of Dorian Gray. Taking a dark, psychological, Gothic novel and adapting it successfully to graphic format – that’s nothing short of a miracle.


Astro City: Confession– Kurt Busiek; Alex Ross; Brent Anderson.

If you never read comics because you felt superheroes were flat characters and the world they are set in simplistic, Confession will change your mind. Smart, sensitive, and nuanced.  The storytelling will keep you glued to the page.

Hellboy: The Chained Coffin and Others – Mike Mignola

Although the third in the Hellboy series, this volume of short stories speaks to the soul of the series: respect for the source material. If you like gritty, pitch-perfect renditions of folklore and mythology, and a bit of dry humor on the side, this is the book for you.

Formats Available:  Graphic Novel

Reviewed by Katherine, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Originally posted on LFPL’s Teen Blog at http://blogs.lfpl.org/teen/2015/01/07/something-for-everyone-in-5-comic-books/

Best Graphic Story Nominees for 2015 Hugo Awards

 

Hugo

The nominees for the 2015 Hugo Awards (named in honor of Hugo Gernsback, founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories ) were recently announced.

amazingstories

The Hugo Awards are given to the creators of the year’s best science fiction and fantasy works. Winners will be announced at this year’s Hugo Awards Ceremonies during the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention (also known as Worldcon), which will be held at Sasquan, August 19-23 in Spokane, WA.

Today we’ll be focusing on those for Best Graphic Story.  The following nominees can be found in the LFPL catalog:

Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

msmarvel

Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch

ratqueens

Saga, Vol. 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

saga3

 

To see the complete list of this year’s categories and nominees, visit www.thehugoawards.org.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

pyongyangCover

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea is Canadian animator Guy Delisle‘s cartoon diary of his stay in North Korea while working in an animation studio. While other books focus on North Korea’s history, leadership, or place in international politics, this one examines with dry humor and sharp wit the day to day experience of living as a foreign guest worker in Pyongyang, and the tension between what is there, what visitors are allowed to see, and what everyone is allowed to say. The huge fake smiles plastered on the faces of the accordion girls – the illustration chosen for the cover – mirrors the ongoing theme of this bizarre masquerade.

Delisle’s style is classic cartoon, with clean line art and caricature, and he uses it to best effect, telling his story – presented as a series of vignettes – directly, effectively, and with great clarity and force. While other presentations of the same material could come off as heavy-handed or unrelievedly grim, Delisle manages the mood with a keen eye for the absurd, and pitch-black humor.

This often-surreal travelogue benefits from the distance of the author’s outside perspective, a remove that allows for humor and wit. Despite this, Pyongyang remains good-natured and compassionate, as well as insightful and entertaining. If you’re looking for a short but incisive and genuinely funny perspective on life in North Korea (at least the parts foreigners are allowed to see) this is the book for you.

Formats Available:  Graphic Novel

Reviewed by Katherine, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch

In Defense of Comics, pt. 2: Take the Challenge!

In a previous article, In Defense of Comics, I closed with a challenge to those who do not normally read comics to try one out.  Of course, picking a title to get started on can be difficult for the novice.  But as I was working up a best of list for this year’s graphic novels, it struck me that this could be a perfect opportunity to assist the those who would like to take me up on that challenge.

The list below comprises some of my favorite comics which I read in the past year (whether or not they were published in 2014).  There are twelve titles in alphabetical (rather than rank) order.  Many of the titles are ongoing series so I have just named each series as a whole rather than any specific volume.  I have separately given both the author and main artist for each title (except for those titles where the author and the artist are the same person). 

To make it easier still, all of these works can be checked out from LFPL.  You can click the title and it will take you to the item’s record in our catalog.  If it is not available at the branch you wish to go to, you may have the item shipped there by placing a request (using the button on the right hand side of the entry). 

I suggest that one volume (or series) be read each month in 2015 so that you can become comfortable with the medium.  Notice I said medium not genre.  The works below span several genres – and only two can be said to be of the superhero genre – but they are all clearly using the comic medium.

So, here goes:

Bandette by Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover

bandette

Bandette is a teenaged thief but she’s the most stylish and fun thief you’ll ever meet.  Watch as she defies both the police and the criminal underworld with her wits and panache in this giddy adventure appropriate for children but charming enough to capture adult hearts.  Line art by Colleen Coover is in the Franco-Belgian style and colors are applied in a painterly manner harking back to America’s (then-contemporary) view of Paris in the late 1950’s or 60’s.

Battling Boy by Paul Pope

battlingboy

Son of a fierce warrior god, Battling Boy comes to Earth for his initiation rites.  He lands in Acropolis as it is menaced by a series of monsters and quickly becomes its latest hero (now that the city’s former defender, vigilante Haggard West, has recently died).   Paul Pope, both author and artist, brings his edgy punk rock style to this tale that will appeal to superhero, fantasy, and manga fans alike.

Fatale by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

fatalebrubaker

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips continue their award-winning approach to this tale of crime noir (of course) mixed with horror in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft.  The book’s title gets its name from the main character, femme fatale Jo, who is stalked across the 20th Century by an ancient evil power.  The art is perfectly pulpy and creepy as befits a tale filled with crooked cops, Nazi spies, Satanic cults, snuff films, and other dark matter.

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel

ghostopolis

Ghostopolis is a boy’s adventure tale.  The protagonist, Garth Hale, is accidentally zapped to the spirit world by failing ghost hunter, Frank Gallows.  In the spirit world, Garth meets his grandfather’s ghost, Cecil, and the two go on a quest to find a way back home for Garth.  Along the way, the evil ruler of Ghostopolis tries to take control of our hero as Garth has manifested powers that the spirits do not have.  TenNapel‘s art is energetic and the page layouts are well-designed to keep the reader engaged in the story and ready to flip to the next page.

The Grand Duke by Yann & Romain Hugault

grandduke

The Grand Duke, gorgeously rendered by Romain Hugault, is a non-fiction tale set in the waning days of World War II.  It centers around a unit of the Luftwaffe and the Night Witches, a real life women’s air corps that flew for the Soviet Union, as they battle it out in the skies over Eastern Europe.  Despite knowing how history turns out, the author keeps the reader engrossed as both sides raggedly pursue war’s end against great material odds and low morale.

Hopeless Savages by Jen Van Meter & Christine Norrie

hopelessavages

The perils of punk rock parenting in suburbia with romance, intrigue, and reality TV are explored in this quirky, hip collection of tales.  Due  to the number of artists that have worked on the series over the years, there is no one style that dominates other than it’s all in black and white.  

Lazarus by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark

lazaruckas
Lazarus is a dystopian tale set in the near enough future that it sometimes feels scary, as if all that it would take for the events in the story to happen is a few bad years where government breaks down and corporations step into the void.  Lazarus’ main character, Forever Carlyle, is her family’s main protector and enforcer of the harsh set of formal and informal rules that keep them in power.  While in many ways a stereotypical strong female protagonist, Forever comes across as very real.  Rucka deftly shows us how her contradictions and weaknesses form Forever’s motivations.  Michael Lark‘s art combines science fiction and crime elements in a perfect blend with colorist Santiago Arcas‘ subtle use of shade and tone.

Peter Panzerfaust by Kurtis Wiebe & Tyler Jenkins

peterpanzerfaust
Peter Panzerfaust is a retelling of the J.M. Barrie classic story.  The setting is World War II and the charismatic Peter helps a band of orphans survive the German invasion of France.  Soon the group is pursued by an SS officer that Peter wounded in their escape but they are also given assistance by members of the French Resistance, including the alluring Tiger Lily.  Tyler Jenkins manages to blend fantasy art and combat action art into a style akin to noir but which is much more lively and fantastic in tone.  His composition moves the story along effortlessly, shifting from standard panels to open space with ease.

Scalped by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guéra

scalped

Scalped is a dark crime noir story that takes place mostly on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home to the deeply impoverished Oglala Nation (also known as the Lakota).  This is a sordid environment where the very worst in people is explored during an undercover assignment taken on by the reservation’s own prodigal son, F.B.I. Special Agent Dashiell Bad Horse.  Readers are witness to harrowing drug and alcohol addiction, ultraviolence, and spiritual desolation as Bad Horse attempts to bring to justice the reservation’s Chief Lincoln Red Crow, a former Native American radical now turned mob boss.  Grim and dirty – even ugly at times – art by R.M.  Guéra helps convey the sense that the world the characters live in is terribly damaged.

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber

superiorfoes

Spider-Man is one of the quintessential characters that people think of when they think of superheroes. However, this is not your quintessential superhero book. In fact, neither Spider-Man nor any other superhero appear in the tale much at all. No, this is character-driven book that looks at the other side of the equation, what it would be like to be a supervillain.  Much like another recent Marvel title, Hawkeye, this comic rests on a sturdy foundation of humor and rough art to convey the working class nature of its characters (i.e., the Sinister Six) as they clumsily attempt to carry off a variety of criminal jobs.

Thief of Thieves by Robert Kirkman & various artists

thiefothieves

This is a straight up heist tale about a veteran thief working a last big score with his crew, the comic equivalent of Ocean’s Eleven. One twist is that this veteran, Redmond, is not just working for himself but to save the life of his wannabe yet ne’er-do-well son, Augustus, from a major crime boss to whom Augustus is heavily indebted. The art varies (as different artists were utilized over the run of the series so far) but as a whole, it is a mix of noir and mainstream comic styles that are appropriately gritty.

Watson and Holmes by Brandon Perlow & Paul Mendoza

watsonandholmes

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson together again!  Sort of.  This time, they are a pair of African-Americans who investigate crimes in New York City.  The art is not easy to pigeonhole into one genre though the use of color and setting do clearly give it the feel of a mystery.  Everyone from Doyle‘s classic tales, from Inspector Lestrade to Sherlock’s Irregulars, makes an appearance at some point as the duo are embroiled in a case that involves drugs, gangs, and guns.

Reviews by Tony, Main Library


If you are interested in discussing these titles or other works of sequential art, please join us at one of the following LFPL book discussion groups:

Graphic Novel Discussion Group @ Main

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

Graphic Novel and Comic Book Discussion @ Fairdale

Meetings are held at the Fairdale Branch on the first Tuesday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.

Girly Girl: My Late-in-Life Love of the Super Girly

Ask anyone I went to school with, and they will tell you that Lynette Ruby was not a girly girl – that is to say if I am even remembered by my name, and not “that angry short girl with the pixie haircut.”  I thought giving in and having fun with something girly like a movie, book, or pop song would ultimately undo whatever tough personae I’d worked to cultivate.   There were certain things I would not allow myself to enjoy…well, not publicly at least.  There were pop bands I’d deny enjoying, movies I’d claim I didn’t want to see, books I wouldn’t read, and more feminine looks I would refuse to wear.

In school, I ran with other kids on the fringes of society; the wanna-be hackers, skateboarders, goths, punks – the tougher you looked, and more piercings you had, the cooler I thought you were.  I thought we were the non-conformists.  I tried so hard to not conform that in the end…I was conforming.  I would deny liking certain things to keep up the image…well, whatever image it was I had.

Cut to college – wait…cut to after college – and you’ll find me to be a bit…a bit more…girly.  Becoming the awesome Lynette you may know and love today was no easy journey – and it certainly wasn’t without loads of awkwardness.  You know that MTV show, Awkward.?  Yeah, it had nothing on me.  They don’t know what real awkward is.  Let me give you a quick sampling of my awkward “becoming a butterfly” stage in life:

  • Accidentally getting a Mr. Spock haircut while trying to grow out from a pixie cut – ladies it takes more patience than you will even know to grow out a pixie.
  • Having to consult YouTube videos on how to do a proper pony tail – yeah, it was that bad.

There’s loads more stories – loads –  but I have to keep a shred of your respect.  I was almost like an alien trying to figure out how to be an Earthling girl.  There were sad and funny moments in this transformation.  I just wanted to finally do what I wanted to do – whether or not my peers agreed.  If I wanted to do something outrageously girly, I was finally giving myself permission.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not that girly, but compared to what I was?  Uh…yeah!

People from high school come in to my library all the time, and hardly anyone recognizes me. So, what is my point of this post?  Be as weird and as awkward as you want – really!  But, please, make sure it’s what you want to do.  If you want to be a punk who loves Gossip Girl – you go right ahead.  You want to read Batman comics, skateboard, have pink hair, and dress like Audrey HepburnDo it!

Don’t feel like a beautiful butterfly yet?  Start with figuring out what you actually like, not just what you’re friends and everyone expects you to like.  You’ll be more beautiful the moment you act like your true self.  Your metamorphosis won’t happen overnight, and is doubtful to be without its awkwardness – but just remember I decided to get girly at 25 years old. It’s never too soon to be the person you really want to be.

Here are a few titles that might spark your interest: Creagh, Kelly.  Nevermore.  2010

Lyga, Barry.  The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl.  2007

Reger, Rob.  Emily the strange. 2012.

Satrapi, Marjane.  Persepolis.  2007.

Article by Lynette, Newburg Branch

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

Rex Mundi by Arvid Nelson

rexmundivol1

Rex Mundi (which is Latin for “King of the World”) is set in the 1930’s in an interesting, highly detailed world similar in many ways but very different from ours.  For instance, magic exists, the Protestant Reformation never happened, the Confederate States were never defeated, and an Islamic state still exists on the Iberian Peninsula.  One thing which is the same is a creeping darkness of the times with war clearly just over the horizon.

The protagonist, Dr. Julian Sauniere, stumbles into a conspiracy that reaches back to the earliest days of the Catholic Church.  Early issues of this series were published before The Da Vinci Code and share with it similar themes about the politics of the Catholic Church and the question of Jesus’ bloodline.  Along the way, Julian finds himself in conflict with the Duke of Lorraine, the most powerful man in France – perhaps even the whole of Europe.

The Duke is plotting to grab power by riling up the French population in ways similar to a certain German dictator of our world though his scapegoats are the Muslims of Europe.  Julian gets captured by the Inquisition along the way but manages to escape with the help of Genevieve Tournon, the Duke’s personal physician and Julian’s ex-lover.  The two flee in search of the Holy Grail, which may or may not be an ultimate weapon, with the Duke and his forces hot on their trail.

Do they succeed?  Or does the Duke overtake them?  And what really is the nature of the Holy Grail?

You’ll just have to read the series to find out.

rexmundivol2

Along the way stop to savor the art.  Over the series, there were three different artists but each had a similar enough style that there are no abrupt disruptions of the narrative due to the changes.  The art is what I call “comic book realism.”  There is a good deal of detail with sharp lines and clear, somewhat muted colors.  The figures and scenery look real but not so real that you would call them photographic or painterly (such as in the works of Alex Ross).  It still looks like a comic book but without the exaggeration found in some of the genres (such as superhero or fantasy).

At first the emphasis is more on deep blacks in the figures and in the design elements.  There are large blocks of ebony both within and around the panels.  This leads to the gutters (the space between panels) being negative ones, pushing the scene up from the all black background.  When they are not negative, gutters are often shades of gray, reinforcing a sense of gloom and mystery.  Later in the series there is a wider palette of colors used so that the panels take on a distinct shape against – rather than just bleeding into – the stark black that continues to be the background of most pages.  The colors pop more as the emotions of the characters intensify.  Towards the series’ end, the heavy lines used by the inker to delineate forms becomes softer so the wider range of colors stands out all the more.

To reserve a copy today, click here.

Formats Available: Graphic Novel

Reviewed by Tony, Main Library

Laika by Nick Abadzis: The World’s Saddest Graphic Novel

Laika

 

Have you already read The Fault in Our Stars and need another tear jerker?  Look no further – this is it.  I started Laika in a coffee shop but I had to leave when the water works started.  I finished the book in private where no one would judge me crying over a graphic novel about a dog.  It was…an awkward moment.

You’ve been warned.

Before humans went into space, before chimps, there was Laika – the first living creature to go into orbit around the Earth.  Laika went up in Sputnik II; a rushed second satellite launched by the Soviets in 1957.

Laika was a loveable and loyal terrier mix who ended up going from home to home, even being a homeless stray, before getting caught by the dog catcher and given to the Soviet space program for experimentation.   Through all of it she was an upbeat dog, even loving the scientists who put her through such experiences like  being in the centrifuge at 4 G’s or strapping her into special dog space harnesses.   Those who worked with her came to love her so dearly, and author Abadzis really conveys the pain of the scientists who knew what they were doing – sending the dog on a one way trip into space.

Abadzis not only shows us what the stressed out and overworked Soviet scientists went through, but also lets us see the world through Laika’s eyes.  We see her confusion, her love, and in the end her pain.  This is story is not sugar coated – and it will break your heart.  Even if the story of Laika is familiar to you, this is a recommended read.

Formats Available:  Book

Reviewed by Lynette, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch

Vagabond by Inoue Takehiko

Author’s Note:  For consistency, all Japanese names in this review will be in traditional order – surname first, and given second.

 

13Vagabond

 

Inoue Takehiko has created a masterpiece in Vagabond – not just for the breathtaking artwork, but for the story as well. A loose retelling of Yoshikawa Eiji’s 1935 novel Musashi, in turn loosely based on history, this manga series follows Miyamoto Musashi as he follows the way of the sword, testing his skill in mortal combat, ultimately transforming him through introspection into a more whole and compassionate human being. Yet, despite the action-heavy premise, characters drive the plot and interest.

 

Slam Dunk

 

The author’s previous experience with the high school basketball saga Slam Dunk informs the fight scenes with the crackle of tension and physical struggle, yet the characters and their development through slow growth and sudden insight hold just as much interest, if not more, as duels to the death. Tightly plotted encounters and fleshed-out characters illustrate facets of the journey to enlightenment in the way of the sword. What to do with pain and rage or even kindness in an unfair and often violent world – this question, and the success different characters have in answering it, lies at the heart of the story. Is it possible to run away forever, from pain and responsibility, as Matahachi tries to do? What if rage grows unchecked, as it does for Gion Toji? Grief, love, and death stand as open and complex questions underpinning the plot. Despite characters’ places in the story as questions or foils, they each grow, or fail to, thrive, or die, in a vivid and electrically realistic way.

Inoue has taken liberties with the original novel, but even those update and refresh aspects that would not be as relatable to a modern audience. The character Otsu, for example, while a blank, rather flat archetype of a love interest in the original novel – is a much more developed, complex person in Vagabond, struggling to transcend her own abandonment and rejection, first by her birth parents, then by her fiancée, and even her own adopted mother.

21Vagabond

It takes a lot of guts for an author to adapt a classic and acclaimed work of literature from the past for the present. In addition to the pitfalls inherent in re-telling a well-known story (how to keep it fresh?), every decision the author makes comes under microscopic scrutiny (what to change, what to keep?). Even more challenging, then, is an adaptation across media, such as turning a Shakespeare play into a film. Adapting a beloved work of the modern literary canon for a comic book, however, is audacious, bordering on career suicide. Yet, Inoue Takehiko has done just this, and triumphed. Whether you love manga already, or if you have never tried the medium, Vagabond is a thrill to read – intelligent, sophisticated, and driven by the sensitive depiction of its characters.

 

Editor’s Note:  If you are new to the Japanese format of manga (or its sister format anime), check out the author’s FAQ (which is also available on the Reader’s Corner’s Comics and Manga page).

Formats Available:  Manga

Reviewed by Katherine, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch