As part of my service as a judge for the 2015 Cybils Awards in the Graphics category, I’ve been reading a lot of YA and middle-grade graphic novels. Here are some thoughts about a few of them. More to come!
As always, thanks for reading, and I welcome your comments and questions.
Mike’s Place by Jack Baxter
Mike’s Place is a strong nonfiction graphic novel centered around the 2003 terrorist bombing of a Tel Aviv nightclub. Documentarians were in the process of making a film about how the apolitical clientele of Mike’s Place was dedicated to fun and music when the suicide bomber attacked. That documentary approach carries through the art and storytelling as Mike’s Place recounts the events before and after the bombing through the eyes of the filmmakers, owners, customers and others associated with Mike’s Place.
Gotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl (Illustrations)
Gotham Academy is a new graphic novel series from DC Comics set in Bruce Wayne’s prep school alma mater. A group of student sleuths try to uncover the mysteries within the academy’s halls and walls, as well as their own backgrounds. The most interesting character, Maps, “small in stature but huge in personality,” is one of the two female leads in the group of students.
Much of “Welcome to Gotham Academy,” the first volume in the series, deals with establishing setting, characters, and back story, so it juggles a lot of elements and jumps around in time. Although it’s entertaining, Gotham Academy doesn’t quite all come together in this first volume. I hope future installments will have more clever banter between characters and even more Batman.
The sketches and script excerpt added to the back of “Welcome to Gotham Academy” are likely to be appreciated by comics fans and fans of this series.
Rutabaga the Adventure Chef: Book 1 by Eric Colossal
Rutabaga the Adventure Chef is an earnest young hero who enjoys cooking with exotic ingredients that he gathers while on adventures which usually involve fighting monsters of various ilk. Volume One includes four different episodes. Rutabaga gave me a few chuckles and some recipes. Thanks to author Eric Colossal and Amulet Books for considering peanut allergies in the recipes!
Macbeth (Graphic Classics) by Gareth Hinds
The Gareth Hinds graphic novel version of Macbeth is extraordinary. The graphic novel format allows Hinds to absorb Macbeth‘s compressed time, hallucinatory (or are they?) visions, gory scenes, and blood-soaked imagery and present them in dramatic, colorful scenes.
Thankfully, Hinds also respects Shakespeare’s language. Comic balloons do not always play well with iambic pentameter, and Hinds has abandoned Shakespeare’s line breaks for the most part. Although some scenes and monologues retain Shakespeare’s enjambment, the rhythmic power of the language is present throughout.
Gareth Hinds masterfully conveys subtlety and complexity in his characters. The facial expressions bring characters to life in startling ways, echoing the techniques actors use to engage audiences.
The valuable notes at the end of this edition are comparable to a director’s notes in a theatrical program as Hinds explains how he used history, scholarship, and dramaturgy to inform the choices and compromises involved in adapting Macbeth to a comic form.
Regardless of how well you know Macbeth, this graphic novel version is likely to show you something new.
Mr. Pants: Trick or Feet! by Scott McCormick
Mr. Pants: Trick or Feet! is a wacky Halloween-themed adventure featuring the cockeyed cat Mr. Pants and his sisters. Airport zombie tag, pointless competitiveness, and names of grains all figure prominently in this story. More funny than cute, Mr. Pants will be a favorite with elementary readers.
The Case of the Simple Soul by John Allison
The British gang of teen mystery-solvers is back in another full-color adventure. This time someone is setting abandoned barns afire, and a fox-loving troll is the most likely suspect. I enjoy Bad Machinery’s British slang and humor, but there might be too many characters. Some of them blur together, like if the Scooby-Doo gang had five more members. “The Case of the Simple Soul” is solid entertainment and has an exciting (and surprising) resolution.
The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Crazy Critter Race by Maxwell Eaton III
I like how these comical critters use their natural abilities to solve the problem created by a maniacal houseboat salesman. For example, the eponymous beaver brothers use their “prominent incisors” to chew through one of their obstacles. The youngest readers will enjoy the plentiful sound effects throughout this adventure. I’ll admit I laughed out loud in a couple of places, although I didn’t quite understand exactly what happened at the end.