Monday, November 30, 2009

Graphically Reading

Time to catch up on a few graphic novel titles I've read recently:

:: Water Baby by Ross Campbell is a different kind of story, certainly. I didn't much enjoy it, but it's OK. A female surfer named Brody loses half of her leg to a shark attack while surfing, which leads to some kind of existential crisis involving her ex-boyfriend who shows up after an absence, her best friend who seems to have some homosexual tendencies. The three fall in together, alternating between getting along and not getting along, and then they embark on a road trip. The book ends when the road trip ends. I'd say more, but there's really not much more to say about the story than that. This is the kind of character study piece where the point is to spend some time with some characters, rather than paying a great deal of attention to what happens to them. (Aside from the shark attack, of course.) The book is aimed at teen readers. I found it mildly interesting, if rather short and slight. The book suggests some interesting things regarding Brody's psychology after she loses the ability to surf, but nothing much is made of it.

:: House, by Josh Simmons, tells the tale of a young man who is backpacking through the countryside when he comes across an enormous dilapidated mansion and two women sitting outside, who are also backpacking. They go inside, and haunted-house type stuff ensues. This book's art is very compelling – the atmosphere reminds me a bit of Edward Gorey's work, although it is at times hard to figure out exactly what's going on, and this is important because the book is all art and no dialogue. Not a single speech-bubble to be found here – the entire story is conveyed through pictures alone. That said, I read this in about twenty minutes.

:: Madame Xanadu tells the backstory of a character who has apparently been in the backgrounds of the DC Comics universe for years now. I'd never heard of Madame Xanadu before I saw this book on the shelf at the library, but you've always got to start somewhere. Madame Xanadu turns out to be a magician who has lived for many centuries, and whose adventures have taken her from the tutelage of Merlin to the palace of Kublai Khan to the court of Marie Antoinette and to other places. All throughout these journeys, she finds herself struggling against the forces of history, which are personified in a man she knows only as "The Stranger", who is everywhere she goes and whose presence she finds both maddening and intoxicating. The present graphic novel collects the first issues of a "Madame Xanadu" series, so I'm not even sure if the book is complete, even though it does end on a "full stop" of sorts. I did appreciate that the book doesn't assume any particular degree of knowledge of the DC Universe, and I really appreciated the art, by Amy Reeder Hadley. Matt Wagner's writing is also very good. I enjoyed this book a lot.

:: And then there's Cairo, which I loved. I outright loved it. Written by G. Willow Wilson and drawn by M.K. Perker, Cairo is a thriller in which five strangers – a drug runner, an alternative journalist, an American expatriate, a college student, and an Israeli soldier – find themselves involved in the search for a stolen hookah pipe that happens to house a genie. The search is joined by a gangster-magician, and the story set in present-day Cairo, with all its East-meets-West tensions, turns into a highly entertaining, and moving, potboiler. If anything, I felt that this book ended too quickly.

:: Finally, I read the autobiographical The Quitter by Harvey Pekar. Pekar is the writer of the highly-regarded American Splendor, but he has not been a career writer. Rather, after knocking around from one job to another in his youth, he got an office job with a government agency and stayed there until retirement. Nevertheless, he was apparently a fine jazz critic, and he really does turn out to be a very gifted writer after all, when one considers how fascinating The Quitter is despite the fact that there is, at first glance, almost nothing about Pekar's life that people would consider fascinating at all. But then, that's the whole point, isn't it – that the normal and the boring in everyday life can actually turn out to be the most fascinating. I'm reminded of Gene Siskel's old test for how he was liking a movie: "Would I rather watch a movie of these people just having lunch?"

A pretty good run of titles, I think...Water Baby was the least of them, and even that one wasn't a complete waste of time.

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