This Week's Read: Divinity

I realize I'm late starting this one, but that's OK. There are so many books in the world that reading them all as soon as they're released would be nigh impossible.

Divinity is written by Matt Kindt, and therefore, I'd like to read more issues to see where it goes. Mind MGMT held my attention, and I can be picky about art styles. Kindt puts out imaginative stories in interesting worlds. Divinity begins in the Soviet Union, with a young man named Abram Adams scheduled for a secret mission. He'll be sent into space for 30 years in order to reach the edge of the galaxy. The scientists working on the mission have instructed him to rethink time and space as he knows it, because time's flexibility is the key to the mission.

It could be just like Interstellar, but thankfully, it's quite different. Kindt writes a strange and intriguing tale of a man who just wants to experience something new, and encounters consequences stranger and stronger than anything which he could dream.

I'm going to pick up the subsequent issues of Divinity, just to see where Kindt takes this.

Writer: Matt Kindt
Artist: Trevor Hairsine
Inker: Ryan Winn
Colorist: David Baron
Publisher: Valiant

Go read.

This Week's Read: Chicken With Plums

Marjane Satrapi's Chicken With Plums is much shorter than her more well-known Persepolis. Even so, her narrative style is obvious.

CWP follows Nasser Ali Khan, a man who wishes to lay in bed until he dies. The process takes 8 days. During those 8 days, Nasser recalls the life experiences that led him to his decision.

It sounds horribly morbid -- and I suppose it is -- but it's an interesting look into what different people feel are insurmountable issues. If nothing else, it's always good to read more Marjane Satrapi.

Go read.

This Week's Read: Essex County

For a multitude of unimportant reasons (laziness), I'd put off reading Jeff Lemire's collection of tales dedicated to his hometown. I'm all about his other works, like Underwater Welder and Descender, but when I saw EC at my local library, I figured it was time to round out my Jeff Lemire knowledge.

Essex County is quite lovely. The art style is simple - black ink on white pages - but perfectly fits the stories told. The tales are snippets of life among the young and the old living in a small town. One man, a former hockey star, now works at a gas station due to a head injury that ruined his career. One boy dreams of being a superhero, while his father dreams that one day his son will want to spend time with him. A nurse does her best to care for the elderly in a home, as they are the closest relationships she has.

I'm a big fan of nostalgia. I repeat that a lot, but I do love it. Even though I didn't grow up on a farm, the book's setting feels familiar.

It's a big collection, but a quick read. I knocked it out in several hours, in between snacks. You'll want to stop and look at the artwork, and details put in and left out. I definitely recommend taking a day to fully enjoy Lemire's signature work.

Go read.

This Week's Read: Welcome Back

I picked up the first of this 4-issue series for the cover art, and the story was pleasantly surprising. It follows Mali, a 20-something woman drifting through Kansas City, Missouri after college with no real plans for her career. Meanwhile, reincarnated assassins hunt down their nemeses in every life cycle. Yep. I dig it. I also dug the main assassin's style. I am definitely putting her on my "to-cosplay" list.

It's a fun story with great artwork, and I'm curious to see how the plot plays out in the remaining 3 issues.

Writer: Christopher Sebela
Illustrator: Jonathan Brandon Sawyer
Colors: Carlos Zamudio
Letters: Shawn Aldridge

Publisher: Boom! Studios

Go read.

This Week's Read: RASL

You might remember Jeff Smith from his award-winning masterpiece, Bone. RASL is another great story, but it's geared toward an adult audience.

The tale revolves around Dr. Rob Johnson, or "RASL." A scientist in our universe and an art thief in all others, he lives on the run after stopping a government-funded energy experiment based on notes found in Nikola Tesla's stolen journals. Jumping from universe to universe, he evades capture while working to stop his old lab partner from rebuilding a machine that would destroy entire states at a time. It's pretty wild. If you're into historical science fiction, cool guys with tattoos, damsels in distress, and inter-dimensional noir shootouts, this is probably your speed.

Go read.

This Week's Read: Chew

Last Week's Read was put on hold, as I was running around New York like a crazy person. More on that later.

This Week's Read is a good'n: Chew!

Image (c) John Layman and Rob Guillory

Detective Tony Chu of Philadelphia is a cibopath: he can psychically "see" an object's past through taste. This leads to some darkly humorous situations in which he must take nibbles out of corpses, lick unknown fruits, and generally disgust himself and those around him in order to solve cases. His main diet consists of canned beets, because naturally, beets have no interesting past.

John Layman (writer) and Rob Guillory (artist) make a great pair. The series has been ongoing since 2009, with nonsensical adventure after nonsensical adventure. They continually find new ways to gross me out and make me laugh at the same time. Chew is probably best suited for ages 13 and up. There are some violent situations...I mean, the story is about taking bites out of things, after all.

Go read.

This Week's Read: A Drifting Life

Yoshihiro Tatsumi coined the term "Gekiga" - "Dramatic pictures." As a young man, he wanted to distinguish the types of drawn stories he and his friends created from regular manga, which at the time (1950s-60s) was mostly marketed for children. In A Drifting Life, Yoshihiro weaves his life story through several decades, several cities in Japan, and the several manga groups he worked through in order to find his artistic style.

It's a long read - 834 pages, not including the appendix -- but not tiring. The book starts and ends with his love of Osamu Tesuka's work. He got into manga through Tezuka and other greats of the era, and continually strove to be on that level. Yoshihiro also gives regular updates on the state of Japan, with news stories intermingled with the main content. He talks about films that came out, actors and actresses he loved, the aftermath of WWII, the introduction of the television, local tragedies and nationwide fads. All of these affected his work development.

The story left me feeling that I need to work harder on everything. This guy and his friends would knock out 2 or 3 30-page stories in a month for several different publishing companies. The stories weren't all the best the of the best, and it eventually left the artists physically and mentally exhausted, but they pushed themselves. Not only that, but they started figure drawing as an afterthought. Their first mission was to put the work out; technical skills were developed along the way. I think what stops me from doing certain projects is not believing I can pull them off with my skill level. But skills are developed through practice. Procrastination is a killer.

I picked this up at my local library, but if yours doesn't have it, you should be able to find it on Amazon or your local comic shop. It's a great kick in the pants if you've been putting off work.

Go read.

This Week's Read: Strange Fruit #1

All artwork presented in this post is property of J.G. Jones and Mark Waid

We live in a nation where police officers can kill unarmed Black men and women and not be prosecuted for it. News media can defame a Black child after his murder, claiming that his use of marijuana at one point in his past somehow rectifies his death, while White serial killers are called "mentally unstable." In the past few years, it has become more and more difficult for many people to take a middle class White male point of view seriously, as it is so distant from their reality. Videos like that of Eric Garner made me sick to my stomach for weeks. I found myself thanking the universe my father wasn't alive to see them, lest I'd have to be as worried about his safety as I am about my brother, uncles, cousins, friends and neighbors. In this world, we arrive at the ongoing issue of diversity in comics. The comic world operates much like the real one, with characters of color often written as stereotypes, and their voices altered to reflect a mentality more comfortable for White readers to digest. Only recently has the comic world begun to open up to writers and real characters of color. For a long time, our stories were written by people who look nothing like us, nor experience the things we do. Gene Luen Yang, one of my favorite graphic novel creators, said,

“I would never tell a white writer not to write an Asian American character, but when you are venturing outside your own experience, you ought to do it with humility and hesitancy. You need to gather the right resources. So for a comic book writer, that might mean adding someone to your team who knows more about the experience you’re writing about. It might mean co-writing with somebody, or hiring a freelance editor who has the experiences you need. It means research, and talking to people who are insiders of the culture you’re talking about.”

Steps are being taken, and progress is being made. In comes Strange Fruit, a story by J. G. Jones and Mark Waid, two White men. While much of the knee-jerk reaction online has been outrage that two White men created a narrative about racial division in the Southern states of the US in 1927, I thought it was best to take a step back, read the issue myself, and respond to the concerns brought up by reviewers. I believe in the power of knowledge, and my goal when reading Strange Fruit was to fully digest it, then go back and take it apart piece by piece in order to completely understand what Jones and Waid have presented. Keep in mind that this is based only off of the first issue, as the others haven't come out yet. I recommend picking up a copy of the comic to follow along. Or do what you want; it's your life. This post will be more clear if you've read the story first. This is gonna be a long article, so settle in.

Concern #1: Strange Fruit employs use of the N-word.

I would be far more offended if the creators chose to white-wash this part of history. This story is set in Mississippi in 1927. Everyone in America knows that term was thrown around like Christmas carols in November during that time period -- heck, it's thrown around now. I've been called it on several occasions (and not lovingly). My father's been called that word, my mother, my brother, the Black men and women in my life; and, I've been called it several times outside of the United States. Yes, the word is vitriolic when spit out by some ignoramus out to catch a reaction. Yes, it's hurtful when absentmindedly dropped by a White colleague who thinks because one Black person told them they could use it, all Black people should be OK with it. The word has a long history of pain behind it. But people, we're talking about Mississippi in 1927. The creators should not have omitted the use of that word, simply on the basis that they're White. After all, one of the other major complaints about this story was:

Concern #2: Not all White characters that appear are as obviously racist as the Ku Klux Klan

Yep, that's right. Not all the White people are shown to be spiteful and violent in their racism, and some readers had a problem with it. J.A. Micheline says in one of her two scathing reviews of Strange Fruit,

"I was hardly surprised to find that for every white person who says something racist, there is always either (a) a white person to tell the other white person that they’re wrong or (b) a black person to say nothing and show no resistance. (b) happens only once, while (a) happens pretty much throughout the work. It’s a perspective common to stories of racism written by whites — in order to make white audiences comfortable, white creators (of any medium) frequently show that “not all whites” were pro-slavery or racist. It is simply inconceivable to write a story in which every white person is racist, because, in their minds, how could that possibly be true? You set the Klan up, the obvious racists, just to knock them down with white saviors, to remind readers/audiences that whites are still good people and knew better and wanted to help."

-from "The White Privilege, White Audacity, and White Priorities of STRANGE FRUIT #1

It's an understandable sentiment, but is it true? In this case, the worry that the portrayal of the majority of Whites as heroes ready to step in and fight for equal rights whenever a wayward White person says something even remotely racist, a narrative I agree is often employed in stories about Blacks in order to comfort White readers, is unneeded.

"...while (a) happens pretty much throughout the work."

I've counted the instances of racism by White characters in this first issue, minus the Confederate flag imagery, which I'll talk about later. For clarity, I've documented these instances in order below, and will note when another White character steps in to stop them and why:

Page 1) White Person (WP) #1 says, "It will if we keep ever'body properly motivated," as he and his group pull up in a truck to the "Colored Cafe." We soon find out that he means threatening Black men to get to work fixing the river levees.

Page 2) WP#1 (same man) tells his son, "This ain't no place I ever wanna see you in," again, referring to the Colored Cafe. He and his group enter the cafe.

Page 3)

 a) Black Engineer catches himself when speaking to a White man, and adds "sir" to the end. This is a historically accurate portrayal of certain interactions between Blacks and Whites of the 1920s South. Is it demeaning? Heck yes. By today's standards, it would be over the top, but considering the time and place where the story is set, it makes sense.

b) WP #2 calls the engineer, "Boy."

Page 4)

a) WP #2 calls the engineer, "Boy," again.

b) WP#2 says, "Our problem is that we got too many niggers 'round here wearin' suits..."

Page 5) Group of White men tries to force all the Black people in the cafe to stop having fun and get to work.

Page 6) 

a) Another use of the word, "boy."

b) Pickens, a White man, tries to attack Sonny, a Black man.

Another White man stops him. This is the first instance of this happening.

Using context clues, the reader can deduce that this man isn't stopping Pickens out of care or love for Black men. He was clearly also racist (see his actions as part of the group in pages 1-3), but his motivation was to get the Black men to fill the rising levees with sandbags, not to start a brawl. His main goal is to save his White community, which can't happen if the group of Black men he wants to work for him are fighting in a cafe with a handful of his White friends. This is a far cry from being the hero; I'd wager that in any other situation, he'd let Pickens pick a fight (P.S. to Jones, nice name choice), but as a flood was coming, he had better things to do.

c) Pickens tells Sonny that "good White folks" shouldn't work when there are "bucks," around to do the work for them. He then pulls a gun.

Page 7)

Pickens threatens to lynch anyone who doesn't do what he says. T

he same White man who stopped him before steps in and tells him to put the gun down.

It is imperative to note the reasons he gives behind his own actions, because he does explain them himself: "Put that thing away and get your priorities straight! We got more important matters t'worry about right now'n one buck!" Again, he's not at all worried about Black lives. He's worried about the White lives that will be saved by stopping the incoming flood.

Page 12) The KKK appears. Everything the Klan does is terrible, so this needs no explanation. HOWEVER! I will provide a short history of the Klan after this segment, just to further clarify the story.

Pages 13+14) The KKK has an altercation with the Senator and his guest Widow Landry, a woman wielding a rifle. Both are White.

The Senator and Landry refuse to let the Klan into their home, calling them "The Chickenshit Brigade."

While Landry seems to care about keeping her Black workers unharmed -- "My boys do a fair day's work for a fair day's pay." -- she still calls them "boys," as she sees them as lesser beings. Meanwhile, the Senator's problem isn't with the Klan's racism, it's with their interference with the system in place: "You keep drivin' the coloreds away, we ain't got no labor force, we ain't got nothin' t'sell and no pot t'piss in!" His life as Senator depends on the status quo. In his mind, the Klan is a bad element not because of their racism against Blacks, but because of the financial inconvenience they cause Whites.

Page 15) A Klan member says his hood "scares the piss out of" Blacks.

Page 17) The Klan attempts to lynch Sonny and the man who arrived in the spaceship.

Splash pages 18-19): Klan attempts to shoot Sonny and the other man.

Page 21) Klan member calls the second Black man a "thing." At this point in the story, no one is aware the strange Black man has arrived in a space ship, so the Klan believes him to be a just that -- a Black man, not an alien.

Page 22) Use of the N-word.

So, in 18 instances of racism by White characters in this first issue, only 4 times does a secondary White person say anything (positive or negative) in response. 3 of those times, the White person stepping in was doing it out of concern for Whites, not Blacks. A White person plays the "hero" only once, and only to make sure she doesn't lose any of her house workers.

"...while (a) happens pretty much throughout the work,"

is just plain incorrect.

Now, if the concern boils down to historical accuracy (which it seems it does as other readers have questioned when the Confederate flag came into popular use), then let's review what events occurred surrounding 1927. Better yet, let's talk about the history of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Klan was founded in 1866 by a group of six White Confederate War veterans in Pulaski, Tennessee. It quickly gained momentum from other Southerners who were upset over Reconstruction and the loss of White supremacy. It is important to note that the KKK was not one large group at the time, but a handful of small factions that sprung up in different states. Many Whites kept their mouths shut about the violence and intimidation perpetuated by the Klan, but some spoke out about it - not because they felt love and admiration for all the freed slaves, but because of the disorder. The burning crosses, lynchings, massacres, and general violent nature of the KKK did nothing to restore the financial stability of the South. It still hasn't, as is obvious today by the many poverty-stricken towns still around. The Klan used their hoods to act as vigilantes; the worst of society now had a mask to hide behind while committing these acts. Angry, fed up and stripped of racial power, they sought to restore the life they had before the Union took away their voting rights for fighting against them (but honestly, it makes sense to strip a defeated group of voting power for a while. I still don't understand why they were allowed to keep the Confederate flag up for so long). They killed both Blacks and White Republicans, but they went after Blacks far more often and with far more cruelty than Whites. They were unmerciful and unflinching in their quest for the absolute destruction of the Black community. They believed Black people were the reason their lives had gone downhill. When attacking Black leaders, they went after those with political pull at first, and then devolved further into a violent free-for-all. By 1870, the KKK was listed by the federal government as a terrorist organization (which did nothing to stop racist brutality, but it happened). In 1915, we got the film "The Birth of A Nation" by D.W. Griffith, which glorified the Klan's efforts. If you've seen this unfortunate film, you know it's a topic for another day. If you haven't, then while it's a cinematographic masterpiece, it's possibly the most racially offensive material ever made. It also stirred a new order of the Ku Klux Klan, as if the original wasn't bad enough. This new entity, with a far-reaching spread over the Southern and Northern states, Republicans and Democrats, sought not only to destroy Blacks, but Jews, Catholics, immigrants (*coughcough the first klan members were second generation immigrants *cough) homosexuals, or anyone else who wasn't a White Protestant. I find it interesting that they felt they were the morality police, and yet lynched and massacred so many. How high does one's level of cognitive dissonance have to be to ignore a glaring inconsistency like that? But I digress. Klan members were poor, middle class and rich. They were Supreme Court Justices (Hugo Black, anyone?), judges, and just plain terrible human beings. By 1927, the Klan had accomplished two things:

1) Scare a lot of Black men, women and children from doing pretty much anything out of reasonable fear of getting brutally murdered, and

2) Annoy a lot of White people who wanted racial supremacy and financial stability but weren't seeing the results the Klan promised. Klan membership dropped as public mask-wearing became illegal in several states, and citizens began to resent the Klan for not accomplishing anything besides murder and mayhem. The phrase, "White Silence Is Violence" comes to mind; we could have resolved the problem of the Ku Klux Klan much earlier if White citizens had spoken up more about it. But that's not what happened, and now we're here. We can discuss the long-term effects of racial subordination and the portrayal of Blacks in the public eye another time, as that topic is worth several articles and a few books of information. The topic at hand is whether Strange Fruit's backdrop is as historically accurate as it could be, and it is (minus the alien sub-plot).

So this is the context behind this first chapter of Strange Fruit. It explains why the Senator was upset with Klan members (loss of money), and why the earlier supposed White "hero" wasn't really a hero at all. He was incredibly racist, but tempered himself in order to achieve his own goal.

It's important to look at context when reviewing anything. Knee-jerk reactions help no one. I can feel the backlash coming. Shoot me a text before it happens, so I can eat a good breakfast first.

Concern #3: The strange man/alien at the end is a stereotype of the strong Black man.

"Of course, there’s the argument that, in this case, the character in question is genuinely superhuman. The alien isn’t a stereotype because it’s actually true, right? But here’s the problem: He does not speak. He does not show any capability of speaking. He has not shown any level of intelligence beyond sentience, any goals, any desires, any anything. For all intents and purposes, he could have been an animal. Sure, maybe he’s going to speak in the next issue, but I have no reason to think that he will given the way the character has been presented in this first issue. So, instead of presenting a subversion of a stereotype, the creators have managed to create the ultrastereotype by making the physicality of incredibly strong (and nameless) black man who cannot or does not speak the push of this splash page, and ultimately, his current identity."

- Micheline

The character Micheline describes in the above quote appears toward the end of the issue. No, he doesn't speak. He wields an aura of mystery. You know what that's called? Good writing. In a visual medium like comics, it's bad form to tell, not show. Every other character has a clear goal. This new guy, though? What's his deal? Who is he? Why did he arrive in a spaceship? I don't know, but I want to know. Now, it's fair to think that the character can't be proven to be an alien, because he doesn't speak. What's not fair is assuming that because he doesn't speak, he's nothing more than a stereotype of a Black man. He's clearly strong and muscly, and entirely unafraid of the lynch mob who sees him in the field. Two characters in SF use the term "buck" to describe Black men. Buck is a racial slur, encompassing several stereotypes: violence, lechery, uncontrollable desire for White women, stupidity, and defiance of White supremacy. If Micheline is trying to say that this man fits the "buck" profile, I'd say she's gone from being offended to being horribly offensive. We have to be careful when equating any portrayal of a strong Black man as racist sentiment. He is neither a subtle nor an overt misappropriation of a Black male character. Here's what this man

doesn't do:

This man has no circular pink lips, no sambo personality; he doesn't taunt anyone - he barely acknowledges the lynch mob's existence. He doesn't leer at women, and as far as readers can tell through the limited information given, he's not stupid. He's not a respectful, knee-bending Black male, hoping to appease Massa. He doesn't yell. He doesn't do a typical, "Look at this fine Black man beating back the White supremacists!" war cry typical of Blacksplotation, with broken English and a flag of black, red and green tied around his arm.

He does:

uproot a tree and throw it at Klan members, but that's self-defense, not outright violence. Not to mention, badass. He sends the Klan members off limping and whining, and he does it without striking a pose or beating his chest. He sees oppressors, deals with them, and moves on.

Even if he did go after the Klansmen when they left his presence, I wouldn't begrudge him that. Dudes just tried to lynch the brother. Beating them all to a pulp wouldn't make him a stereotype, either, so I'm not sure what Micheline wants, besides for the exact same comic to have been written by two Black men rather than two White men. I've been quoting her in this post, as I feel she's put out the most opinionated views about Strange Fruit. She also put out the most knee-jerk arguments as to why she doesn't like it. There are many things in this world that should cause outrage, least of which is the treatment of the Black male in American society. But this isn't a part of that.

Concern #4: The Confederate Flag didn't come into popular use until the later in the 1900s, and shouldn't be here.

Ok, now we're just grasping at straws, but I'll tackle this one. The first Confederate flag was created in 1861. The design was of three stripes (two red, one white), next to a blue square with thirteen white stars in it. The Confederate flag most people recognize, the "stars and bars," was created in 1863. It was made official as a symbol of the South, with its own salute separate from the American salute, in 1933. As I said above, context is important. In 1927, the "stars and bars" flag hadn't been in popular use. However, most people associate that particular Confederate flag with racism in the South, and Jones and Waid needed a symbol to represent that. And besides, let's remember that it's a comic about a space alien fighting the KKK...historical accuracy isn't really the biggest concern, here (although, as I've noted, they did a pretty good job with it).

Concern #5: Everyone who worked on Strange Fruit is a White male/ the White men whose names are on the cover called this story, "A deeply personal passion project."

Do you see the Black man featured on page 3? How about the character, "Sonny," introduced on page 5? Those aren't just random images of Black men pulled out of Jones' head. Those men are...wait for it...people he actually knows. People he's spoken to and has befriended in real life. Better still, they're people I know. I don't know the alien (but let's be real - if I did, I wouldn't be nerding out about comics on my computer right now, I'd be buying the man a steak dinner), but I can guarantee Jones used reference for him, as well. It's what good artists do. The title, Strange Fruit, is taken from Billie Holiday's song of the same name, which addresses lynching. The "strange fruit" are the Black bodies hanging from trees. It's visceral imagery, and fitting of a story that pulls no punches about the nature of Mississippi in the 1920s. I'm going to give Yang's same quote from above:

“I would never tell a white writer not to write an Asian American character, but when you are venturing outside your own experience, you ought to do it with humility and hesitancy. You need to gather the right resources. So for a comic book writer, that might mean adding someone to your team who knows more about the experience you’re writing about. It might mean co-writing with somebody, or hiring a freelance editor who has the experiences you need. It means research, and talking to people who are insiders of the culture you’re talking about.”

Jones and Waid didn't just wake up one morning and decide to write something they hadn't experienced without attempting to understand it first. They did research and they spoke to people who were affected by these issues. They even put some of them into their book! They could have missed the mark by a long shot, but they didn't. It's not the best comic I've ever read, and I get super nit-picky about hyperrealistic artwork in fictional worlds, but I'm intrigued. I'm certainly not offended.

This project was personal. White people are told they shouldn't ever speak about racism towards Blacks because they simply can't understand it, and in the same breath, that they should speak up when they see it happening. We don't need White heroes to swoop in and save the Black community, but we do need to sit down, hash all this out, and come to an understanding. If we truly want to have conversations about being a minority in America, then it needs to be a conversation. Not, "This didn't happen to me, so it must not happen at all," from the White community, and not, "This didn't happen to you, so you're never allowed to speak on it," from the Black community. Should we be heard? Absolutely. But railing against anything and everything White creators do isn't helping. If Black men had made this exact same book, I sincerely doubt it would have as many White readers as it does. I'll be happier when Black writers and artists get the same amount of press as their White counterparts (Jeremy Love's "Bayou" and Andre Batt's "Dreadlocks" are two out of hundreds that should be more popular), but the fact the White men who wrote this tried their best to do a decent job of talking about racism without coddling their readers should be praised, not protested.


Basing my opinions on this book off of knee-jerk emotions, without actually looking at the book itself, would probably get me a ton of views and lots of comments from people who didn't read the book but are happy to jump on the "everything made by White people is racist" train. But then I wouldn't be a thinking Black woman. I'd let people like J.D. Micheline speak for me,  and get behind their rage without looking into the issues myself, and I'm not about to do that. I understand the hostility she and other Black comic readers feel towards the comic community. We've been fighting to tell our own stories so long that it's more than off-putting when suddenly a story involving mostly Black characters gets famous when it's written as a "personal" piece by two White guys. That shouldn't keep them from telling the story, though. Jones and Waid didn't fail with this one - yet. After all, this is just the first issue. Strange Fruit doesn't deserve the unbridled hate it gets based on this alone. If I were to dislike it, it would be because, again, I'm iffy about visual styles (said the super-amateur artist). Maybe readers were looking for something more subtle, something that doesn't outright say, "these particular characters are racist." Maybe they want to be able to point to a sequence and say, "Hey, I caught that! You didn't think I'd catch that racist thing that just happened, but I did!" I don't know. I do know that with all the Black people currently dying at the hands of police, the terrible portrayal of our race in the media, and the insane hate President Barack Obama gets because of his Kenyan heritage, that there is enough racism to talk about and rage over for decades. Is this comic the underhanded, good-intentions-gone-awry, bastion of racism some people think it is? Whole-heartedly: no.

This Week's Read: Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Art of The Animated Series

This week's read isn't a comic or a graphic novel (gasp!), but I think it's necessary.

If for some insane reason you haven't watched the show Avatar: The Last Airbender, GO WATCH IT. The massive cult following exists for good reason. For the rest of you, this book is a fantastic companion. The book takes the reader through Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko's entire process (as much as they can fit into 183 pages, anyway). With early to late stage character designs, background sketches, storyboards, fight sequence layouts from the martial arts masters who choreographed them, and a plethora of other goodies, this book kept my nose stuck in the pages for a full day and a half.

It's beautiful! Beautiful, and inspiring.

Go read.

This Week's Read: Punk Rock Jesus

In the future, the world goes on an American Idol-type quest to find the perfect young woman to represent a modern version of Jesus Christ's mother, Mary. She will then be impregnated with a clone of Jesus, whose DNA was lifted off the Shroud of Turin. All of this will be turned into a reality show.

If all that sounds insane, you haven't read Punk Rock Jesus. Sean Murphy (Joe The Barbarian, Hellblazer) somehow makes this story seem plausible. From the search for "Mary," to altering Jesus' DNA slightly so he has blonde hair and blue eyes (because a traditionally Jewish-looking Jesus would kill ratings, apparently), to the moment when "Chris" - Jesus 2 - discovers punk rock music as a teenager and rebels against his brainwashed upbringing, Punk Rock Jesus never fully steps into the bounds of the outrageous.

It does get pretty sacrilegious at a certain point, so if you're extremely offended by that sort of thing, I'd pass on this one. Murphy is very clearly an atheist, and it shines through. He doesn't denounce faith with this GN as much as he denounces organized religion, but he doesn't seem to have a very open view on faith, either. Even "Chris" himself denounces his followers. Christian groups in the book form new denominations; some hail Chris as the second coming of Christ, and others call him a charlatan. Meanwhile, all Chris wants to do is be the angsty teenager that he is and rock out.

PRJ is fun, interesting, and a little nuts. It's "suggested for mature readers," so use your own discretion.

Go read.

This Week's Read: Habibi

Craig Thompson is mainly known for his long-form graphic novel, Blankets. While Blankets is a beautiful account of Thompson's first love, and deserves every award it has received, I felt this week could be spent reading the GN he created afterward: Habibi.

There are a lot of people who have issues with this book. The depictions of life in a harem are stereotypical Orientalist fare, and the main character, Dodola, is subject to non-consensual sex almost clear through all 672 pages. I felt like that was the point, though. Thompson made the Dodola's life so brutal and tragic that when she finally finds the person who loves her most in the world, the feeling is that much better.

I could just be talking out of my butt, of course.

There's a push these days for making everyone comfortable. I'm all for equal-opportunity nudity (see my Game of Thrones post), but Habibi revolves around a girl who, from age 9, was consistently taken advantage of by the worst of men. Unfortunately, we do live in a world where some people have the worst luck, and I don't think it's wrong to tell stories about characters who never catch a break. I wouldn't read those stories all the time, but I think there's room for them. Many of the scenes in this book are graphic, and blatant sexism runs rampant. I wonder, though, if anyone would react the same way had the sex scenes been replaced by guns, gore, and blood? It's still violence.

As for the Orientalism, I'm on the fence. I have a feeling the people who don't like the stereotypical depictions of the ancient Middle East in this GN are the same people who love watching Disney's Aladdin over and over again. Yes, it's over the top. No, I wouldn't tout this GN as a realistic description of Middle Eastern culture. That's kind of like saying that Disney's Tarzan is an exact account of life in Africa (don't even get me started on people who think Africa is one country with no variation and no civilization).

Is this a graphic novel worth reading? Yes, at least for the gorgeous artwork. Is it a "good" GN?
I honestly don't know.
That's up to you, I guess.

Go read.

This Week's Read: This One Summer

I hadn't read anything by the Tamakis since Skim in 2009. I enjoyed that one, and This One Summer has had killer reviews (and a Caldecott medal, and a Printz award, and an Eisner nomination, and a bunch of other stuff), so after putting it off for a few weeks - and an excited recommendation from a complete stranger in the bookstore - I picked it up.

The Tamakis really know how to tug at those nostalgia strings. TOS is a glimpse into the summer vacation of a young girl and her family. There are no zany mishaps and no unnecessary drama, just regular old family and preteen issues. And yet, it's fascinating. The story, told from the girl's point of view as if in a journal, is relatable. We've all been 11 years old before, and we've all wanted to understand the world around us. The story isn't anything new, but the result of the way it's told is. It's a lovely read for a rainy day.

TOS is written for young adults, so there's nothing too mature for anyone 13 and up. As with The Wrenchies, I'd recommend being older than the main character to read it, just to get that whole nostalgia factor. Or, as I do with many books, read it once, put it down, and read it again in a few years to understand it better. Books are made for cracking open several times. Not Kindles, though. Do not crack your Kindle.

Go read.

This Week's Read: Bayou

TWR is late this week, I know. Don't hurt me.

Bayou, by Jeremy Love (colors by Patrick Morgan), is the tale of a little Black girl named Lee who lives in the south in 1933. Due to a misunderstanding over a locket, her father ends up in jail. Lee goes into the swamp to find the real culprit, who happens to be a big, zombie-like creature who calls himself Bayou.

This story is the best kind of weird. Jeremy Love takes the accents, history and racial tension of the South and weaves them into a magical fantasy land, where Jim Crows fly through the air and Emmet (Till)'s soul wanders the forest with a pair of butterfly wings on his back. It's a sobering story. I dig it.

Go read.

This Week's Read: Monster

Naoki Urasawa is one of Japan's masters of suspense. His manga series, Monster, is one of my favorite stories, and my favorite among his works. Guillermo del Toro was planning an HBO miniseries based on the story, but that sadly seems to have fallen through.

Monster details the story of Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese surgeon living and working in Dusseldorf before the fall of the Berlin Wall. He is the top surgeon in his hospital, and the beau of the hospital director's daughter. When he fails to treat a government official in favor of saving a young boy's life, he is fired. He feels good about his decision among the backlash from his so-called friends and his fiancée -- until 10 years later, when Johan, the boy whose life he saved, grows up to be a serial killer. Dr. Tenma feels it is his duty to track down and stop the murderer Johan before anyone else dies. What follows is a thrilling chase full of intense twists and turns.

Monster isn't a gore-fest. It's a classic psychological thriller that asks the reader to think about who the real villain is. While Tenma shoulders much of the blame for saving a would-be murderer, there are plenty of other characters to question. Monster keeps the interest going throughout the 18 volume series.

The books have recently been re-released in volume collections with fancy new covers, and if you're interested, an anime series of the same name exists. The anime pretty much follows the manga shot for shot. Peraonally, I think the story works better in book form, but I'm sure if del Toro got his hands on it for real, the end result would be incredible.

Go read.

This Week's Read: The Killing Joke

Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke is a classic. It's not the type of classic that hails itself as groundbreaking but bores new readers to tears, or requires so much translation into modern language that one needs to read it several times to understand - although I recommend reading it as many times as possible, anyway. It's a classic because it's short, it's simple, and it's just that good.

TKJ is about the history of The Joker: how he became who he is, why he acts the way he does, and the beginning of his relationship with Batman. It also involves one of his more brutal attempts to get Batman to snap, by going after Jim and Barbara Gordon with everything he has. And yes, he tells a great joke at the end.

Go read.

This Week's Read: Last Man

I was very excited about this series, and so far, I'm not disappointed. Last Man, a collaboration between Balak (French animator), Michaël Sanlaville (French comic and video game artist), and Bastien Vivés (French comic artist), is a French graphic novel series that premiered in the US in April of this year. The publishing company is First Second.

The art style is distinctly French, but it's pretty clear the writers were highly influenced by classic manga. I felt like a tiny Osamu Tezuka sat on their shoulders, giving them a thumbs up. The story was peppy, cool, and fun: a young boy trains for a fighting tournament, but his partner drops out at the last minute. Devastated, he thinks he'll have to wait another year to fight. Suddenly, a strange man appears and offers to fight with him. The strange man is an incredible fighter, and the two become fast friends. But where did the man come from? Who is he? If he's such an incredible martial artist, why doesn't he understand basic tournament regulations?

The world that Balak, Sanlaville and Vivéshave set up is familiar, with a few fun additions. Most of the characters wear medieval-esque garb, but dinosaurs roam the countryside and no one bats an eye. Many of the fighters in the tournament use forms of magic to control the elements around them, but the rules set up for magic's use are similar to martial arts tournament guidelines. It's a cool world with lots of possibilities.

The story (so far) is pretty PG. I'd recommend it for anyone ages 12 and up. The first volume is titled, "The Stranger." If it's not available at your local comic shop, it's available online.

Go read.

This Week's Read: Daytripper

If I'm being honest, Daytripper is every week's read. I've said many times how much I adore the Brazilian "Wonder Twins," Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. I'm eagerly awaiting their new GN, set to arrive on US shelves in October. In the meantime, Daytripper will be due for re-reading every month or so.
Daytripper is a meditative exercise. Although each chapter ends in death, this book is about life. It asks questions about how we should view life: Does life end at the death of a relationship? Should we cherish shorter lives more than longer ones? How will you live your life, once you accept that you will one day die? The main character, an obituary writer named Brás, starts, stops, and re-starts his life at different points in time, creating different outcomes. Each choice he makes sets off a new course of events, some directly leading to his demise, and others more indirectly. Each chapter wraps up with an obituary fitting the circumstance.

I bought this GN years ago, and have barely put it down since. I even bought a second copy, as a loaner to friends and family. Of course, not everyone was as affected by the story as I was; this is typical of comics. For instance, I don't feel the same about Frank Miller's comics as certain people I know, but that doesn't discount his talent, nor his resonance with his audience. But Daytripper stopped me in my tracks. It made me evaluate my views on how I should live my life, and then re-evaluate that evaluation. A good book will do that. Daytripper is highly recommended for mature readers, but do what you want. I've found that I understand it a little better now than I did 3 years ago, and I'm sure I'll have another take on it 3 years from now.

Go read.

This Week's Read: We3

I planned to talk about Black Science this week, but then I saw We3 and remembered how good it was.

Grant Morrison is a comic writing powerhouse. We all know this. Likewise, Frank Quitely has enough books under his pencil-and-ink belt to keep taking notice of his work. Though it's not their only collaboration, We3 showcases how incredibly well these two work together.

Vertigo published We3 about 10 years ago. I'm sure it felt more like science fiction back then (think Homeward Bound but with more cyborgs and graphic violence), but seems possible these days - at least to me. In the story, a cyborg dog, cat, and rabbit (Weapons 1, 2 and 3, respectively), escape from a government facility with the help of the scientist who created them. Not understanding how destructive they are, they try to find their way back to somewhere they can call "home." Meanwhile, the US military doggedly (see what I did there?) hunts them down.

This story is very clearly not for children. From the first sequence, we are shoved into muted color schemes, fast-paced panel design, and a rather graphic shootout scene, which is detailed in sketches from the back of the book. Morrison writes each animal with depressing reality; there are no corny jokes or one-liners. The humor present is so dark that I almost felt bad for laughing, and Quitely makea sure of this with artwork that matches the tone flawlessly. My favorite books are heart-wrenching, so I have no complaints on that end. Those of you looking for a light romp, however, will be both disappointed and sad. If you're a huge animal lover as well, then...prepare to have your soul stomped upon. Fair warning.

The volume containing the entire miniseries also contains a hearty group of production sketches, notes on sequence setup, parts of the script, and even original logo designs.

All in all, it's a good comic if you ever find yourself feeling too happy, or if you can appreciate a sad tale without letting it affect your entire year. Or let it. I don't control your life; do what you want.

Go read.

This Week's Read: Tooth And Claw issue 1

I'm a little skeptical of comics with anthropomorphic characters. Mouseguard made use of actual animals, and I adored it. I've heard Blacksad is amazing, but have yet to read the volume I own, because the sight of animal heads with human bodies hits too close to furry-dom for my tastes. Luckily, I trusted my local comic dealer enough to look past the breast-laden cats and owls in Tooth And Claw.

In screenwriting classes (or at least, the ones I've been to), teachers tell students that white balance, color, and all those other signs of a well-funded film can be somewhat overlooked as long as the story holds up. Story is what people will remember most. TAC has a fantastic story setup.

The main character is a dog-boy named Dunstan, who lives in a floating city with a myriad of sorcerers (all anthropomorphic). One such sorceress, a boar-woman named Gharta, believes she can bring back the dwindling magic of their world using both a combination of spells and magic users. The plot is simple, and spirals outward. You know the rule: "K.I.S.S." Keep It Simple, Stupid.

The story is brought to life by the other elements: artwork, color, and even the style of the speech bubbles add to an already wonderful read. Somehow, it stays away from being overly cheesy or overdone. This isnt a comic where I need to pick and choose what I enjoy; there is no, "The backgrounds are great, but..." I enjoyed every aspect of it. I suppose I could do without the panel border style sometimes, but that's a personal quirk. I have many thoughts on panel borders, most of which are unnecessary and unfounded, so I'll let that go. I'm pretty excited to see where this comic ends up.

This right here is some badass work.

Busiek (writer); Dewey (artist); Bellaire (colors); Comicraft- specifically, Roshell and Betancourt (lettering)

Go read.

This Week's Read: Bitch Planet Issue 4

Warning: explicit language.

This post is brought to you by non-compliant women everywhere.

After a particularly exhausting weekend involving several long work days and traveling to and from the gorgeous wedding of a friend I adore, I was left in a bit of a daze. Thank the gods I stock-piled issues of several comics to read in such an occasion. Out of that pile, Bitch Planet #4 called my attention the most, and I am so grateful it did.


This series keeps getting better. In only four issues so far, it's managed to tackle gender inequality, body shaming, hygiene, and general tomfuckery in modern society with enough brutality to both disgust and insult people who still think slut shaming should be a thing.

While the previous issue focused mainly on the character Penny Rolle and her body image journey, BP#4 continues the main arc. The ladies of the Planet are teaming up to fight in the Megaton tournament (Megaton, or Duemila, is a fictional sport, similar to soccer but with more body slamming).

One of my favorite aspects of this story is the artist's ability to tackle nude scenes without focusing on the male gaze. While many comics (and books and movies) equate female nudity to sexuality, De Landro doesn't seem to feel the need to insert sex into a scene simply because a woman happens to be naked. There is a sexual scene in BP#4, however it is clear that it has a purpose other than to say, "Hey, look! Boobs!"

Bitch Planet is recommended for mature readers. I also recommend reading the readers responses in the back of each issue, as well as the back covers, which contain a mix of fake advertisements for feminine hygiene products and real messages. I shouldn't toss around the word "genius" all willy-nilly, but it's pretty damned genius. My favorite ad so far, from issue 4, is for a fictional pill to keep women from being disagreeable: "Because without thoughts, feeling or inconvenient opinions, you're more fun to be around."

Bitch Planet team: DeConnick (writer), De Landro (artist), Peter (colors), Cowles (letters)

Go read.