Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer

Yes, I know what you may be thinking.  Vampires have officially taken over the literary landscape.  That or zombies.  Bill Willingham’s Fables features a Pinocchio that was turned into a real boy by the Blue Fairy only to become furious to remain stuck in the body of a child for the next few hundred years.  He’s a pretty tough little guy, but so is Van Jensen’s take on Carlo Collodi’s classic character, who never makes the transition to being a “real boy,” and thus winds up becoming the ideal vampire slayer (i.e. – a wooden stake ever at the ready if he tells a lie at just the right time).  It’s also published by SLG, one of my favorite indie publishers, so it has a bit more edge and humor than a lot of mainstream comics.  The first volume (there are currently two volumes available) also contains one of the best final pages I’ve seen in years.  this is a terrific series, a black and white gem drawn by Dusty Higgins, and a nice little diversion from the everyday!

Some new Gaiman

Okay, maybe not new to the world, but these graphic novels are certainly new to HPL.  The great Neil Gaiman is nothing if not prolific, and we recently added two more of his adapted works: Neverwhere, Coraline.

Neverwhere is actually written by Mike Carey, but it’s an adaptation of Gaiman’s novel of the same name.  Neil was even a consultant on this project, so it certainly received his seal of approval.  It’s a classic Gaiman-esque tale where an ordinary man meets and extraordinary person and is drawn into another world far beyond his reckoning.  It’s a perfect match for an illustrated version, as is Coraline, another story written by Neil that was collaboratively adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell.  Some people know Coraline only from the beautifully animated film that was released a few years ago, but the novel came first, then this graphic novel version, and then the film.

Basically, these are just as good as Gaiman originals, and a treat for any lover of comics, regardless of your connection to Gaiman.  So take a moment and enjoy.

The little guilty pleasure that is… Death Jr.

Every now and again, great stories come from odd origins.  In this case, Gary Whitta and Ted Naifeh‘s brilliant storytelling and art spin out of a PlayStation video game.  Death Jr. is of the coolest books I’ve ever read and even though there are only 6-issues published as two collected editions, it’s an all-time personal favorite.

The main character is a young boy named DJ, whose father happens to be the Grim Reaper.  DJ’s friends are a girl named Pandora, Siamese twins named Smith & Weston, and one of the oddest child characters in the history of comics, Seep.  I’ll let you find out about him on your own.  The story is essentially about a boy who wants to be just like the father he loves, and the misadventures he gets into with his friends as he tries to be the best “Death Jr.” he can be.  But it’s the little things that make this story so enjoyable, like the fact that the Grim Reaper and family live right in the heart of suburbia, and the incredibly odd kids you see pictured on the cover go to an ordinary school, riding an ordinary school bus.  The juxtaposition of these tales gives them a nice Tim Burton-esque feel, and the only downside to these stories is that only two arcs were ever published.    But they’re tons of fun, beautifully drawn, and a nice bit of absurdity among the often mundane criminals and capes we normally find in comics.

American Born Chinese

I read hundreds of graphic novels a year.  The superhero books and I go way back, so Batman, Swamp Thing, Iron Man and company are like old friends I settle in with to spend a few hours of entertaining escapism.  The books that really hold onto me, however, are the more personal stories – the memoirs, the coming of age tales, or even full-on fiction, but a story filled with real people and real life-lessons and experiences.  Nary a cape in sight.

I recently read Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, and a big part of me feels like this is the best graphic novel I’m ever going to read.  It didn’t make me cry (though I’m an easy mark), and it didn’t make me laugh out loud (see above), but Yang did one simple thing very, very well: he told an exceptionally honest and endearing story in a beautiful and memorable way.  This is almost a fairy tale about the most ancient lesson of self-awareness – you can strive all your life to be something you’re not, but you will never be truly happy until you resolve to simply be the truest version of who you have always been.

Yang’s artwork is exceptional, with clean, crisp, and colorful art centered on a bright white page, allowing the eye to really focus on the story rather than a clutter of distracting or rough-shod imagery.  And his story is simply perfect.  A well-told and surprising tale, that I know I will read again.  And again.

Powers

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know I have a certain admiration for Brian Michael Bendis.  Well, there was one part of his canon I had not yet touched, and that was his creator-owned project Powers.  Alongside artist Michael Avon Oeming, Bendis has written a terrific police-procedural where super-heroes are a part of everyday life, but they are much more fallible and – dare we say it – mortal than the likes of the capes in DC and Marvel.

Detectives Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim lead us through the series, and they’re a classic team-up: he’s been around awhile, most certainly made a name for himself, and he has a few very important secrets; she’s the up-and-comer, wanting the big assignment, battling the sexist attitudes of some of the other cops in her precinct.  Put it this way – I brought home the first 4 volumes expecting to spend a little time with them, but tore through them all in one long jag as I just couldn’t put the stories and the characters away.  It’s a fun twist on superheroes, and certainly high up on my must read list.

For those of you who like references, if you took the television show Homicide: Life on the Streets, put it on HBO, added a liberal dose of profanity, the occasionally gory crime scene and, of course, super heroes, you’d have Powers.  That is NOT to say this series is simply the sum of those parts, because it’s not.  It’s a dark and shadowy, noir-type world that you’ll love to explore.  It’s also an ongoing series, so we hopefully have lots more to read in the future!

Crime-noir for the late night crowd

Okay, let’s start at the top: Ed Brubaker, one of my all-time favorite comic writers of crime stories, has a quote on the back of this new title The Chill by Jason Starr.  He says, “The Chill is the darkest, sexiest, most twisted noir comic I think I’ve ever read.”

As they say, he had me at hello.

Basically, we’ve got a serial killer loose in NYC, and the cops and the FBI are on the hunt.  That’s pretty much it, except for the fact that this is to comics what The Killer Inside Me was to everyday noir mysteries.  It’s HBO after dark in a comic book.  There’s sex, blood, profanity, and everything else shows like CSI want to do but can’t.  It’s not flat-out gratuitous like Sin City – which is still an amazing series, don’t get me wrong – but I’m just letting you know.  It’s a great story of murder and misdirection, with a justifiably adult twist.  And chances are, the way Starr has produced several great crime novels over the last few years, this may be the start of whole new thing for him, and something else for readers of crime noir to look forward to.

The Walking Dead… better late than never!

For those of you who frequent our Graphic Novel section, you may have noticed a major omission.  For some reason for which I have no good explanation, we have not held Robert Kirkman’s bestselling series, The Walking Dead.  Well, fear no more zombie lovers, the 13 volumes that have been published to date will soon be on our shelves, but you can place holds on them now, if you wish.

Since debuting in 2004, Kirkman’s story of a small band of people trying to survive a world overrun by zombies proved so successful that it spawned a hit series on the AMC channel this past year.  One of the notable aspects of the books is their use of black & white art – certainly not unheard of, but somewhat atypical in contemporary “comics” outside of manga (lots of non-fiction or memoir graphic novels are often black & white, as the style actually tends to seem more realistic).  The main appeal, however, is the detail Kirkman has given to his small band of survivors.  Yes, seeing the zombies in full attack mode is undeniably fun, but the heart of the story is the simple yet seemingly impossible task of trying to get through another day alive.

Zombie lover or not, give this terrific series a try.

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