Ever wanted to read a comic but didn't know where to start? Interested in superheroes, manga, romance, webcomics and more? Look no further! We have all the recommendations you'll ever need.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Footpath Flowers

Text: Jon Arno Lawson
Illustrations: Sydney Smith
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd

This is a gorgeous little comic that you will find in the picture book section of your library or bookshop. It’s about 30 pages, all art no words, and about a little girl out for a walk with her Dad.  She picks wildflowers that are growing in the pavement and gives them to people she thinks needs them. That’s the whole story, there’s no twist. It’s simple and it’s lovely. The little girl clearly has a very generous spirit and an innocence about her and she’s kind. I got this out of my library and I will be purchasing a copy for my son for when he’s a little bit older.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Stuck Rubber Baby

Writer and Artist: Howard Cruse
Publisher: Vertigo Comics

Stuck Rubber Baby is a fiction that reads like an autobiography. Toland is a young closeted man growing up in the 1960s American South. He makes friends with a group of liberal folk and finds himself socialising in the black and LGBT clubs of his town. He is drawn into the local civil rights movement and is forced to confront the truth of his sexuality, whilst racist and homophobic attacks are regular occurrences.

It’s quite an intense read, partly for the subject matter but also for the story style. The art is detailed with a lot happening on each page and the method of shading to provide depth to the page (I’m not sure if it’s inking here or just pencils) is the same for both for the people depicted and the backgrounds (furniture, gardens, vehicles etc).

The art feels very direct, very full on. Cruse puts a lot of information into each page and so it takes a long time to read the story through the art.  Despite the sadness and anger forming the backdrop of Toland’s youth (and Toland’s own mindset), it seems that most of the pages in this book show smiling people. The characters enjoy life, they experience the highs and the lows but they generally get on with the everyday stuff and they have plenty of things they are happy about. So it’s not a miserable book, although it is serious.

His style of cartooning is heavy on the inks, focusing on people’s faces and caricaturing each one. To my layman’s eye he seems to have depicted the fashions of the times pretty well too.

I found this a very enlightening read, it feels important and the snapshot it provides of the 1960s South should be more widely understood. However, it is not something I would turn to for entertainment purposes. It’s necessary, and serious, but not jolly (although there are jolly, humorous aspects to it).

Warning: includes violent (but not gory) attacks on black and queer people and a subplot about an unwed mother giving a child up for adoption.

ISBN: 1401227139
Price: £22.99 (hardback)

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Arrival

Artist and writer: Shaun Tan
Publisher: Lothian Books

A comic without words, The Arrival's art is further towards the fine art end of the spectrum than the cartooning end and it makes a beguiling story.

A man packs his suitcase, says goodbye to his family, and sails away to a new country. The alphabet is strange, the wildlife is creepy, and the everyday systems are near incomprehensible. Our man has to find lodgings, a job and friends.

The strength of this book lies in how Tan brings us into the immigrant's world, and we become as baffled as he is. As our man forges a new life we become more comfortable with the country and less scared of it. In the aftermath of the UK's Brexit decision I think more people should read this book.

The art deserves to be read slowly. Take your time over it. I tend to speed read things, but in doing that I miss the pacing of this story - I miss the breaths in between the moments, and I miss the sense of a life lived. Some pages cover just a few seconds or minutes of our man's life, others cover whole seasons. Each is important to feel part of the story and the book becomes richer if you read it properly.

Each character's appearance is drawn as a portrait would be; by that I mean that Tan has taken care to show each character's personality and history in their face. It is lovely to see this level of care.

From the praise on the sleeve:
"The Arrival is beautiful. I loved how it slowly dawned on me that this bizarre world was how any immigrant might see the new place they go... everything is different and scary and magical. The drawings are just so lovely, endlessly detailed and wonderfully strange. And the design of the book, with its wrinkled pages and stains and broken leather is marvellous, Bravo." Brian Selznick.

"The reader's experience, as he or she tries to make sense of the unfamiliar scenes and strange images, parallels that of the emigrant, striving to understand without the aid of language. This extraordinarily accomplished piece of storytelling can be read and understood on many different levels." The Guardian.

ISBN: 978-0-7344-1586-8
Price: £10.99

Monday, 11 July 2016

Not a misery memoir

Today I shall be talking about two books that were the subject of a talk I went to about a month ago. These books are Nicola Streeten's Billy, Me and You; and Una's Becoming/UnBecoming. Both have left a profound impression on me and I want more people to know about them.

Streeten's Billy, Me and You is about her grief that came after her son died at the age of two. I was
initially afraid that the book would be about her son's death but, other than a brief contextual description at the start, it is resolutely not about Billy. It is about her grief, and that's something I have previously found difficult to separate. The book covers the immediate emotions; her relationships and attitudes to other people; her career; her relationship to her next baby; changes to the placement of Billy's things in the house; support groups - most other stuff in her life really (because grief of that intensity affects everything you do).

She wrote it about 13 years after Billy's death, which (I think) has given her the emotional space to write a more complete book. Grief in the first few years is very different to grief eight or ten years down the line, and probably makes for a better narrative as you are not in the immediate grip of sadness and terror.

The drawings are scratchy and wobbly, definitely unpolished. I think Streeten referred to them as rough and ready (although maybe I'm misremembering). For me, they work expertly well at depicting her grief, because that feeling is rough and ready. The art is raw and it leaves you feeling all over the place. Some days you are fine, other days it's like everything is falling apart and the messiness of the art conveys that.

Streeten uses a lot of visual metaphor, which connects the reader to the story far more readily than prose. For readers, it is cathartic. It certainly helped me process my feelings.

Una's book is a very different thing. It is precise and measured. It is careful and thoughtful. It takes a more intellectual approach to the topic of trauma. Becoming/Unbecoming is also autobiographical. It is about growing up female in Yorkshire in the 1970s when the Yorkshire Ripper was active. Una was raped several times in this period (not by the Ripper); and had to endure the slut shaming and institutional misogyny that was pervasive in British culture at the time (and still is, although the internet has given women a platform and a way to be heard en masse, which is covered by the book).
Becoming/Unbecoming discusses her peers' attitudes to women and girls, the silence surrounding sexual assault, the mistakes made in the Ripper case, and the mess that is society's approach to sexual violence and women.

It is not a book about her attacks, and no sexual attacks are drawn. It is likely to be upsetting though, so please be careful when reading.

Una has a fine art background. Her drawings range from simple yet precise depictions of people, to the most elegant drawings of trees and emotions. Una's artwork made me want to start drawing. I'm amazed at how she conveys so much information about a person with just a few pencil lines and some colour. Like Streeten's book, Becoming/Unbecoming is rich with metaphor. It's there in the visual narrative waiting for you to think about and decipher it. Some pages use the standard comics presentation of panels, and other others use one or more (separate) pictures accompanied by prose. This method forces the reader to think more - you cannot just glide along, reading the surface of the story, you need to become engaged in it.

There is an interview with Una here, on the the F Word website. Una's own website is here.

The title of this post is 'Not a misery memoir' because these books are not. If you describe the subject matter - grief and sexual violence - you would expect to be reading about the gritty details, but neither book gives that. They provide a dignified voice to these subjects, and examine, from a certain distance, how these events impact on both the main subjects' lives, but also on those around them and on wider society.

Billy, Me and You:
ISBN: 978-0-956559-94-4
Price: £12.99

ISBN: 1908434694
Price: £14.99
Publisher: Myriad Editions

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Mouseguard: Fall 1152

Writer and artist: David Peterson
Publisher: Villard Books

What's it about?
Mouseguard is a series about a mouse civilisation. They have towns, artists, blacksmiths, and guardsmice who patrol outlying areas, act as guides, and protect citizen mice from predators,thieves and insurrectionists.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Temporary hiatus

It pains me to say this, but this blog will be temporarily paused for a little while.  This is because I have the most delightful three month old baby to look after!  He's been a long time coming and it turns out that babies really do require 24 hour care (who's have thought it!).

This means I have barely any time to myself, let alone to write comic reviews. I will be returning to this blog in the future,but I may change the way I write the posts so that I can feel enthused about doing them.

Thank you all for reading over the last few years, and please do keep popping back in, because there will be more posts in the future! Just not for the next few months 

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Meanwhile: Pick Any Path. 3,865 Story Possibilities

Just a short post for you today.  I recently came across a Choose Your Own Adventure comic book, named Meanwhile: Pick Any Path:

Art and writing: Jason Shiga
Publisher: Amulet Books
ISBN: 0810984237
Price: £9.99

The book uses a series of lines and tabs to guide you through the adventure, starting with a choice of vanilla or chocolate ice cream that will lead you through to a variety of different scenarios, some surreal, some not.  Amazon lists it as part of the top 10 graphic novels for teens, but this I disagree with. It's more suitable for an 8 year old.

It's beautifully presented with lovely glossy paper, is available in hardback, and feels like a nice present.  Shiga has a website where you can read his webcomics (mature readers only).

I have real difficulty with these sorts of books, I prefer a structured narrative and being led through the story, hence the lack of a real review.  Instead I skimmed through it and can see that it is imaginative and ideal for kids who do like these things.  It has received praise from people I respect, so I am happy to recommend it.