The Private Eye: Cloudburst Edition by Brian K. Baughan, Marcos Martin, Munsta Vicente

private-eye-cloudburstINFORMATION

Goodreads: The Private Eye
Series:  Private Eye #1-10
Source: Library
Published: 2015

SUMMARY

Years ago the cloud burst, releasing everyone’s Internet searches to the world.  Now they take on various identities, using codenames, masks, and disguises, to hide their secrets.  But when an illegal P.I. gets caught up in a murder case, he may find that privacy is even more of an illusion than he thought.

Review

Okay, yes.  The premise of this series can seem a little cheesy.  Does anyone even care about their privacy on the Internet anymore?  Most people share every detail of their lives willingly!  A story about how this is dangerous can sometimes feel like it’s trying just a little too hard to be relevant and to speak to modern times.  Let’s talk about what the kids know, right?  Still, if you can get past the premise, The Private Eye is an engaging read, one full of suspense and mystery.

I love a rogue investigator as much as the next person, that mysterious figure who can find the truth when the official channels fail.  There’s something about the loneliness of the job that makes you want to cheer for them.  In that respect, The Private Eye captured me from the start.  Who is the mysterious P.I.?  Does he really only care about money?  Will he take his hardest case yet, for the thrill of the challenge?

The mystery surrounding the hero is the story’s most enticing point.  The world, full of men and women who don disguises to hide, say, their intellectual interests from their parents or their penchant for a fun night out from their boss, is interesting enough.  It’s all very sci-fi in the best way.  And the secondary characters are truly engaging and sympathetic, especially P.I.’s grandfather, who remembers the days of the Internet and finds P.I.’s horror of it quite amusing.  However, P.I. lies at the center of the story and he  needs to be compelling for it to work–because eventually the plot falls apart.

The ending feels rushed, the stakes don’t feel that high, and it’s certainly unclear whether we ought to be fearing the villain as much as P.I. does.  Certainly the villain is bad–he’s a murderer.  But is his plot so diabolical?  Are we going to side with P.I., are we going to feel the danger and the suspense that he is, when we don’t buy into P.I.’s worldview?  Perhaps only if we buy into P.I. as a character.

Ultimately, The Private Eye is an entertaining read, one sure to appeal to graphic novel fans and sci-fi fans.  The premise is, if nothing else, thought-provoking–assuming you allow your thoughts to be provoked, since the book itself seldom delves into the questions it raises.  And the characters are the best part.

4 starsKrysta 64

If You Like Graphic Novels, Then Read…

If You Like Graphic Novels

If You Like, Then Read is a feature where we offer reading suggestions based on books you already like, scheduled once a month. If you have more suggestions, feel free to tell us in the comments! You can check out the rest of these lists here.

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

Congressman John Lewis shares his life story, beginning in book one with his youth in Alabama and his activity with the Nashville Student Movement as they protested segregation through lunch counter sit-ins.

Persepolis Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi chronicles her life in Iran during the Iranian Revolution, from the age of six to the age of fourteen.  The daughter of Marxists, she speaks out loudly against oppression and finds small ways to show her rebellion.  Translated by Mattias Ripa.

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Cece worries how the kids at her new school will react to her hearing aid.  Will she be able to make any friends at all?  But then she discovers that, with the Phonic Ear, she can hear her teacher anywhere in the school–even the bathroom!  Does this mean she has superpowers?

Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge

When Paige’s family moves from Virginia to New York City, she has trouble feeling like she belongs.  Can her secret sketchbook help her find a way to be comfortable expressing herself?

Nat Turner by Kyle Baker

Baker’s wordless graphic novel is supplemented with excerpts from Nat Turner’s confessions to tell the story of the 1831 slave uprising in Southampton County, Virgina.

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Spiegelman tells the story of his parents’ experiences in Europe during WWII, from their attempts to evade deportation to their time in the concentration camps. Interspersed is the story of his own experience trying to come to terms with his parents’ stories.

Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, et al.

Sixteen-year-old Kamala Khan loves superheroes, but she never expected to become one herself.  Now that she has the ability to change appearance, however, will she find herself trapped in others’ expectations or will she find the strength to be herself?

William Shakespeare’s King Lear: A Graphic Novel by Gareth Hinds

king-lear-hindINFORMATION

Goodreads: King Lear
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2007

SUMMARY

Approaching old age, King Lear determines to divide his kingdom among his daughters.  But is a king still a king when he has given up all the trappings of royalty?  Gareth Hinds adapts one of Shakespeare’s most well-known tragedies.

Review

Gareth Hinds presents what seems to be a scholarly adaptation of what some consider Shakespeare’s best tragedy.  Complete with a preface about variations between the Quarto and Folio versions, a dramatis personae, and endnotes about the changes and excisions made, the work seems poised to save students everywhere from failing their Shakespeare exams.  But the seriousness of the text raises it above a study guide.  It’s clear that Hinds respects his source material and wants to present it in a way that’s both accessible and beautiful.  And he succeeds.

This adaptation does not have the rich colors of Hinds’s Romeo and Juliet, but it’s still in full color and Hinds makes some interesting stylistic choices sure to raise questions in the attentive reader.  The play begins in pastels but will encompass a variety of illustrations, including pages that are mostly white space and scenes shown as negatives.  Black-and-white drawings end the tale.  Each choice contributes a certain mood to the story, even if sometimes it seems like the message is too blatant.  “Bad stuff is happening here!” cry the negative drawings.

Some of the action becomes so cluttered that Hinds unfortunately has to provide lines to show the progression of the story. This, assuredly, is not the best layout option for a graphic novel; you want the scenes to flow without such obvious markers.  I’m not sure if we could argue that even these lines provide some sort of meaning to the story.  We’re all lost and confused like Lear?  We’re directionless without the king?  The world has gone crazy and what used to have meaning no longer does?  I guess we could stretch our interpretive powers, but it seems as if we shouldn’t have to.

Altogether, however, the book does a nice job illustrating the story and suggesting to readers the power the play can have.  Readers new to drama often need time to learn  how to stage the plays in their heads, how to hear the emotions, how to read the stage directions implicit in the dialogue.  The graphic novel brings this life.

3 starsKrysta 64

Romeo and Juliet by Gareth Hinds (A Graphic Novel Adaptation)

Shakespeare 2

romeo-and-juliet-hindsINFORMATION

Goodreads: Romeo and Juliet
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2013

SUMMARY

The feud between the Capulets and the Montagues is a plague upon the city of Verona, where swordfights between the factions constantly break out in the streets.  How unfortunate then that Juliet Capulet should fall in love with Romeo Montague!  Gareth Hinds adapts Shakespeare’s famous play into a graphic novel.

Review

Plenty of graphic novel versions of Shakespeare exists for the teen trying to get through high school or just ace the standardized test.  Many are geared specifically for these types of educational purposes, meaning that the artwork is often secondary to the desire for the creators to offer a legible text, whether that means putting Shakespeare’s words into modern English or otherwise adapting it for simplicity.  Gareth Hinds’ work, while dedicated to teachers, goes beyond mere utilitarian purposes; it is a work of art, not a study cheat sheet.

The artwork alone stands out.  Here you get glorious color, not cheap black-and-white, as well as a nice amount of detail.  The illustrations are layed out thoughtfully to create meaning in the text.  And the depictions of the characters show real emotion, real action.  You can tell there’s thought behind each scene, a real desire to convey the story and to elicit a response in the reader.  The art is not secondary here; it’s a part of the work.

The thoughtfulness of the illustrations actually makes it easier to follow the text even though Hinds doesn’t modernize it like a “No Fear” adaptation (though he does abridge the work).  It mirrors the action one might see on stage, so one can understand that a person is lying or a person is upset or a person is about to draw his sword. If you can’t follow the words, you can follow the art.

The words themselves are layed out thoughtfully.  Often graphic novels like these seem to put all the major speeches in one large block of text on a page.  This does not really work well in the graphic novel medium.  Hinds finds a way to break up the text and still make it clear that it’s all of a part.  He doesn’t lose the power of a speech by trying too hard to highlight that power.

All of this is interestingly part of a work that seems to want to present itself as somewhat scholarly.  It comes with a dramatis personae, with footnotes, with a note about the texts consulted.  It also explains the decision to present a multiracial story–not, Hinds says, to comment on race divisions but instead to highlight the “universality” of the play.  The implication is that this is a work to be taken seriously, even if graphic novels generally are not.

Altogether, reading this adaptation was a treat.  The artwork really makes the story come alive, suggesting the emotions and staging one might see in a theatre performance.  Those who find reading Shakespeare dull because they have difficult imagining the staging themselves might see the Bard anew through the eyes of Hinds.

4 starsKrysta 64

Maus I: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman

maus-iINFORMATION

Goodreads: Maus
Series:  Maus I
Source: Purchased
Published: 1986

SUMMARY

The son of a Holocaust survivor attempts to come to terms with his father’s history by writing a graphic novel.

Review

Though you may know Maus as that famous comic about the Holocaust, the story told focuses both on Art Spiegelman’s father’s experiences in Europe during WWII and on Art’s own experience of inheriting that legacy.  The work slides through time as it depicts Art interviewing his father Vladek about his past as well as Art navigating his difficult relationship with his father in the present.  His graphic novel is not really meant to memorialize the victims–and indeed Spiegelman seems to have a horror of sentimentalizing the Holocaust–so much as it is meant to allow Spiegelman to work through what it means to be living in the shadows of his father’s memories.

Art’s preoccupations reveal themselves quite clearly in the scene where Vladek’s second wife Mala makes Art a cup of coffee and begins to describe her own Holocaust experience.  Just as she finishes telling Art how her parents died, he jumps up, remembering that his mother’s old diaries might be in his father’s office.  Disconcerted, Mala asks where he is going.  She is trying to work through her trauma by telling her story, but Art is interested only in working through his own trauma, inherited from his parents.

The result is a complex interweaving of past and present as Spiegelman tells his father’s story from his courtship to the war to his parents’ eventually capture and deportation.  It does not sentimentalize the Holocaust nor does it try to speak for all the survivors or make meaning out of tragedy.  It’s the retelling of man’s experiences, what he knew at the time, and of his son’s attempt to make meaning out of those experiences decades later.  And it ever so subtly it reveals how the effects of the Holocaust reach out to cast shadows even now.

4 starsKrysta 64

American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar by Harvey Pekar, et al.

american-splendorINFORMATION

Goodreads: American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar
Series:  American Splendor
Source: Purchased
Published: 1986

SUMMARY

It’s the 1970s in Seattle and Harvey Pekar is working a menial job while selling jazz records on the side and trying to sell the comic books he’s writing.

Review

Presenting everyday moments to illustrate that anyone can be the star of a comic, that you don’t need to Superman to have a story, is an intriguing intellectual project.  Even if we accept that Harvey Pekar can never really represent everyone, that he represents a certain segment of the population, perhaps the working man or the stifled intellectual, it’s still new to write a comic about your experiences waiting in line at the grocery store.  But “new” and “intellectually interesting” do not always translate into an engaging read.

Some of the stories in this collection captured me more than others, but largely I did not care for the depiction of Pekar–angry, abrupt, cheap, and dishonest–and I hardly cared to hear about the random, mundane moments of his life.  They are so mundane that they could, in fact, happen to anyone and that’s what makes them boring.  Maybe I’d be interested in a friend recounting this tale, but I hardly care about the details of character-Pekar’s life.  He waited a long time in line at the store.  Fascinating.

Additionally, the comics often feel text-heavy, as if we don’t really need the illustrations. Sometimes Pekar is pictured just standing at the frame, talking.  For the whole comic.  Yes, we can decode his body language, but the images seem so secondary that I find it tempting to gloss over them and just read the story.  I generally prefer comics where the images and words really work together and comment on and subvert each other.  Of course the images and text have to be working together here, but nothing about the presentation really inspires me to read closely and discover how.

In the end, I understand what Pekar is doing.  I understand this was a new concept when it was first published, that the team of artists he employs each create character-Pekar in different ways, that Pekar really wants to highlight the heroism of the “ordinary” person.  But, as a reader, I just was not hooked.

3 starsKrysta 64

Classic Remarks: Graphic Novels

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

Tell us about your favorite classic graphic novel.

Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir  Persepolis recounts her life growing up before and after the Islamic Revolution in Iran.  In the introduction she notes that she “believes an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists” and so she tells the stories of the individuals who fought against oppression.  Her account is particularly powerful because told the through the eyes of a child, who does not yet understand.

The story opens memorably with the introduction of the veil.  At ten years old, Marjane has never had to wear the veil before, but the Islamic Revolution now makes it mandatory.  It also segregates her previously co-ed school and rewrites the textbooks.  Marjane struggles to understand why the veil is necessary since before it was a choice.  And she does not  hesitate to question the changing teachings of the textbooks, to the horror of her classmates and teacher.  As a child, she is dangerously outspoken and irrepressible.  She is saying what many adults are thinking, but cannot speak aloud.

The disconnect between youth and history continues throughout the story.  We see Marjane delight in the knowledge that her relatives have been imprisoned and tortured for political causes.  She romanticizes the struggles and imagines such information will make her cool among her peers.  Her understanding of what is happening is simultaneously clever and knowledgeable, and all too innocent.  This is truly history through the eyes of a child.

But throughout Satrapi celebrates the resilience of the people of Iran, highlighting their bravery and and their dedication to freedom.  She truly has given us a different perspective, a side of the story that often goes untold.  It’s a story worth listening to.

Bonus: I’m not sure it’s yet considered a classic, but Sean Tam’s wordless graphic novel The Arrival illustrates the strangeness and loneliness of arriving in a new land.

Krysta 64