Category Archives: graphic novel

Groot by Jeff Loveness and Brian Kesinger

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Since the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie came out in 2014, comic fans everywhere fell in love with this previously little-known superhero team. Out of the whole group of loveable misfits, my favourite is probably Groot, the sentient alien tree. I think I’m not alone in this because Marvel Comics decided to give Groot his own solo adventure, written by Jeff Loveness and drawn by Brian Kesinger.

 

Even though he’s been to Earth many, many times, in Groot’s opinion he’s never really experienced Earth. So he talks his friend, Rocket Raccoon, into going on a road trip to Earth. The pair take the slow route, starting their adventure by hitchhiking through space (after their vehicle explodes). Along the way they encounter a bounty hunter named Eris who wants the enormous bounty on Groot. When Eris accidentally captures Rocket instead, she decides to use him as bait. But no one accounted for Groot taking his time. He comes to Ricket’s rescue in his typical slow way, having many adventures and meeting many new people on his journey to save his friend.

 

While Groot is a crazy and fun adventure (as befits a superhero story), it’s also a very touching tale about friendship. Groot always finds the best in everyone, no matter who they are and what they can do. He’s also filled with a rather childlike sense of wonder at seeing the beauty of space and the marvels of our own planet; his outlook will have you looking at the world around you with fresh eyes. Groot made me love this big-hearted tree more than I thought possible, and I’m sure you’ll feel the same if you give this graphic novel a chance

Wenjack by Joseph Boyden

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 This is the tragic story of an Ojibwe boy who runs away from a North Ontario Indian School, not realising just how far away from home he is. Along the way he’s followed by Manitous, spirits of the forest who comment on his plight, cajoling, taunting and ultimately offering him a type of comfort on his difficult journey back to the place he was so brutally removed from.  It is based on the short life of Chanie Wenjack (misnamed Charlie by his teachers) who was born in 1954 at Ogoki Post . He was forcibly removed from his home in 1964, when he was nine years old, and taken to the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School over 400 kilometres away in Kenora. He died on 22 October 1966 while trying to walk home along the railroad tracks. Many young victims of the Residential Schools were buried without grave markers. Sometimes their families were not even informed of their death.

Ian Adams wrote ‘The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack’ for Maclean’s magazine not long after Chanie’s death in 1966. One outcome of his death – and countless others – was the first public inquiry into residential schools in Canada. Another longer-term outcome was a multimedia re-telling of Chanie’s story by a group of contemporary authors and musicians.  Joseph Boyden voices two tracks about Chanie on the latest album by A Tribe Called Red, The Halliuci Nation.  Gord Downie from the Tragically Hip teamed up with Jeff Lemire to produce Secret Path, which combines a graphic novel with ten songs, and was also filmed as an animation shown on CBC on the 50th anniversary of Chanie’s death.  Wenjack is a powerful and poignant look into the world of a residential school runaway trying to find his way home.

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John Pateman is CEO of Thunder Bay Public Library.

 

Shakespeare as Graphic Novels

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Classics Illustrated MacbethShakespeare continues to appear in new and usual ways and one of the newest  formats is the appearance of traditional and manga style graphic novels, though the plays have appeared in illustrated editions for hundreds of years. Copies of the plays were illustrated in both adult and children’s editions and proved particularly popular with the Victorian middle class. There was another surge of popularity during the depression and following the Second World War. Classics illustrated which operated between 1941 to 1971 in it’s incarnation did brisk business selling over 200 million copies.

manga shakespeareAs illustrated novels again rise in popularity, its not surprising that Shakespeare has found a whole new audience. graphic shakespeareShakespeare Manga publishes the plays in a manga format and from it’s own advertising claims the works will appeal to  “manga fans and kids that find Shakespeare intimidating”.  A number of companies offer graphic novels in English, including No Fear Shakespeare Graphic Novels and Shakespeare Graphics but there is also a large market for Shakespeare graphic novels in none English speaking editions, especially in Japan.

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Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

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Most of us are familiar with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the story of two young people from opposing families who fall in love. But what happens when you make the star-crossed lovers soldiers on opposing sides of a galactic war; soldiers who are determined to survive despite impossible odds? You get Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

 

Saga is about Alana, a soldier from the planet Landfall, and Marko, a soldier from Landfall’s moon Wreath, who have fallen in love and started a family together. Landfall and Wreath have been warring for countless generations; neither side wants to see their soldiers fraternizing with the enemy (never mind starting families together). Alana and Marko are discovered on the planet Cleave right after Alana has given birth to their child. They’re forced to flee into the wilds of the mostly unexplored world, following a map that they hope will lead them to safety.

 

Saga is a science fiction/fantasy blend full of compelling and relatable characters. Alana is a very capable soldier even while recovering from her pregnancy. Her husband, Marko, is determined to be a pacifist after seeing his first battle. Chasing after them, among others, is Prince Robot IV, who suffers from post-traumatic stress; he’s also told that he cannot see his pregnant wife until after he kills Alana and Marko.

 

The series has won multiple awards, including six Harvey awards in 2013 (Best Writer, Best Artist, Best Color, Best New Series, Best Continuing or Limited Series, and Best Single Issue or Story), the 2013 Hugo for Best Graphic Novel, and three Eisner awards annually in 2013, 2014, and 2015. So if you’re looking for an excellent, genre-defying read, Saga is for you.
Shauna Kosoris is a member of the Thunder Bay Public Library staff.

Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier (August, September 1914) by Barroux, translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone

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lineoffire2This book’s origins are quite remarkable. It began when a French artist named Barroux noticed some garbage being thrown out on a Paris street and stopped because he saw some old magazines and had been looking for some to cut up for a project. Among the debris he also found a medal and an old diary. It turned out to be over 100 years old and had belonged to a French man who had been conscripted into World War 1. The name was too faded to read anymore, but the words were quite amazing and they inspired the artist to create the images which would illustrate the unknown soldier’s words.

The result was a graphic novel unlike most novels or true-life accounts of war. Because the diarist was writing for himself the story is told in a very matter-of-fact and unedited manner. The reader views the story just as it unfolds for the teller, and it is not a grand drama, but rather, the personal view of an infantry soldier recounting what he sees, hears and feels as he moves through the early days of the war.

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It begins when France declares war and continues until early September in 1914. Then, it abruptly stops. By that time, the reader is captivated and wants to know what happens next, but it must remain a mystery because that is all there is to the diary. Instead, he includes the lyrics of some of the songs of the day and we are left to speculate what became of the person we have gotten to know.

In his diary, he writes about the initial enthusiasm of his fellow servicemen, of long treks and journeys, his aching feet, some of the people he befriends, life in the trenches and also in the hospital where he is taken at one point. He writes of the countryside, his inner thoughts and seeing courage in battle.

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Barroux illustrates every page of the diary using acrylic paint and a thick black grease pencil that he obtained from his butcher. He had to spray the pages to keep the grease lines from smudging and the result is a yellowish patina which suits the 100 year old story well. The drawings are semi-realistic with a slight cartoonish element which preserves a bit of the mystery of the diary-writer’s identity. He is “any-man” fighting for his country and wondering what will happen next.   Michael Morpurgo, author of War Horse and many other fine books, wrote the introduction for Line of Fire and stated: “We need the voice of a witness to tell the unadulterated truth. We have it in this remarkable book.” I couldn’t agree more and recommend this unique book to anyone aged 12 and older.

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Angela Meady is Head of Children’s & Youth Services for the Thunder Bay Public Library.

Interview with Matt Forbeck

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Matt-on-Madeline-IslandMatt Forbeck is an award-winning and New York Times-bestselling author and game designer. He has twenty-seven novels and countless games published to date. His latest work includes the novel Halo: New Blood, the Magic: The Gathering comics, the 2014 edition of The Marvel Encyclopedia, the Monster Academy YA fantasy novels, and the upcoming Shotguns & Sorcery roleplaying game based on his novels.  You can find him online at forbeck.com.

Shauna Kosoris: What came first for you?  Working in game design or working on fiction?

Matt Forbeck: I wanted to be a writer since I was in grade school, but I discovered games in 7th grade, and they hooked me good. I started working on games professionally while I was in college and made a career out of it. It wasn’t until years later that I sold my first novel.

That said, tabletop roleplaying games often contain a lot of fiction. Even while I wrote those games, I was always working at honing my fiction skills, and I think that paid off well in the end.

SK: So how did you get involved with comics?

MF: I started reading comics before I even entered kindergarten, and I’ve kept up with them ever since. When I was with Pinnacle Entertainment, developing the Deadlands RPG, I wrote the first ever Deadlands comic for Image Comics.

Before even that, though, I co-designed the WildStorms collectible card game for Jim Lee’s division of Image. I even sold an inventory issue of WildC.A.T.s to WildStorm way back in 1995 or so, but that was just before Alan Moore took over the title, so it never saw print.

SK: Have you had other projects that haven’t seen print?  Do you have hope that they someday will?

MF: Most of my work has found its way out. At the moment, I have two novels I wrote for the Dust miniatures game that haven’t been released, but I believe that’s still just a matter of time before they come out.

As I said, I also wrote an inventory issue of WildC.A.T.s for WildStorm, Jim Lee’s division of Image Comics, which he then sold to DC. The artist didn’t get very far on it before Alan Moore stepped in to take over the series, way back in the mid-’90s. I don’t think there’s any hope of that ever seeing the light of day, but I had a great time writing it—and I was paid for it too!

SK: That’s the main thing!  You’ve written fiction and comics for some large game companies such as Wizards of the Coast, White Wolf, and Games Workshop.  Has your background as a game designer helped with these assignments?

MF: Very much so. It means that I’m comfortable with the source material and the fans who enjoy it. Also, because I understand exactly how the games work, if I need something in one of my books that doesn’t yet exist, I can design it myself and put it into the story with some level of confidence it’ll fit well.

It also didn’t hurt that I knew people in the fiction departments there from having worked on those companies’ games. Knowing that someone will answer your email does wonders for a writer.

SK: Most definitely!  What was it like to work with 343 Industries on the new Halo novel, Halo: New Blood?

MF: Fantastic. Honestly, I’ve written lots of novels for different companies, and 343 was an absolute pleasure to work with. Their love for the Halo universe shone through in every interaction with them, and their feedback was always helpful and constructive.

SK: That’s wonderful to hear.  Are there any particular challenges when writing a novel set in someone else’s fictional universe as opposed to your own?

MF: When you write a novel for an existing universe, much of the work of building the setting out has already been done for you, and if you’re lucky the universe is already popular and has a huge fan base hungry for your story. That’s all a fantastic help. However, it also means that you can’t just make things up as you go along, as that same fan base is sure to know the universe at least as well as you, if not better. Also, you can’t change things in that universe without permission.

When you write your own original books, you have total control over everything, but you also have to do every bit of the work. It’s daunting, but it can be more rewarding in the long run.

SK: In 2012 you ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in which you were going to write 12 novels in 12 months.  Why did you decide to tackle this amount of writing?

MF: I’m a pretty fast writer. When I’m cooking, I can usually crack out 5,000 words a day and maintain that pace. Writing a dozen short novels in a year came up to 600,000 words, which I figured I could hit.

Of course, I also had to run the Kickstarters, produce the books, market the books, design the covers, and handle dozens of other little details. It was an exhausting but rewarding year.

SK: Would you do anything differently if you were to run another Kickstarter campaign?

MF: I’d not tackle a project that size. It devoured my life, and I’m still playing catch-up with it. However, I will get back to Kickstarter again. My next drive will probably be for a short-story collection, which will include lots of my tie-in work, which my publishers graciously gave me permission to reprint. The great benefit of that project is that it’s already 90% done.

SK: You’ve been involved with a couple of Kickstarter campaigns as a game designer recently (specifically The Titan Series and the Shotguns & Sorcery RPG, which were both successfully funded).  I know you’ve designed board games, card games, miniature games, and roleplaying games throughout your career.  Do you have a favourite type of game to work with?

MF: I always seem to come back to roleplaying games, which are fantastic fun. Collectible games are probably my favorites though, mostly because I like to watch them develop over time and design new wrinkles to breathe fresh life into the game with each release.

SK: Was there a game designer who inspired you to make games?

MF: I followed in the footsteps of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson (who co-created Dungeons & Dragons) of course. The guys who showed me I could make a living at it, though, were Troy Denning and Will Niebling, who both worked at TSR (which published D&D back in the day). They just had so much love for the industry and had so much fun working in it that it became contagious.

SK: Finally, I have a few questions about what you read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

MF: My three biggest influences were J. R. R. Tolkien, Ernest Hemingway, and Raymond Chandler. I loved Tolkien for his worldbuilding, Hemingway for his brutal honesty, and Chandler for his incredible style.

SK: And what are you currently reading?

MF: I just finished up Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls, an excellent time-travel serial-killer thriller set in Chicago. Great, twisty fiction. At the moment, I’m starting Ramez Naam’s Crux, the sequel to his incredible Nexus, which was one of my favorite science fiction novels of the past decade. Great, realistic near-future SF that explores some of the hardest questions about how technology affects us all.

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Magic: the Gathering Volume 1

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magic the gatheringWhen I was younger I played a lot of Magic: the Gathering.  But as time has passed, I’ve kind of lost interest in the actual card game.  But that doesn’t mean I’ve lost interest in the world of Magic.  The multiverse and the various planes they’ve created have been fascinating and a lot of fun.  And some of their planeswalkers (people who can move between the worlds of the multiverse) are incredibly interesting, too.

Take Dack Fayden, the hero of IDW’s Magic: the Gathering comic series which is written by Matt Forbeck (the first issues are collected in Magic: the Gathering Volume 1).  Fayden is a thief.  But not just any thief: he can move between worlds.  So when he steals something, no one can catch him unless they, too, can move between worlds.  How cool is that?

But when Fayden steals a nasty-looking dagger from Ravnica’s Cult of Rakdos, it sends him on a journey to the plane of Innistrad.  There he hopes to pick up the long dead trail of the woman who murdered his entire village.

Magic: the Gathering Volume 1 was a very fast-paced and fun read.  It shows off three planes in the Magic: the Gathering multiverse and hints at a fourth (which we’ll get to see in Volume 2).  The story was unfortunately a bit short, but I’m definitely looking forward to reading more!