Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Reader's Diary #1956- Isabel Quintero (writer) and Zeke Peña (illustrator): Photographic

A blurb written by Lilliam Rivera, on the back of Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña's Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide, states that "it is a rare feat when a writer and illustrator are able to capture the creative magnitude of an iconic photographer."

It was a rather odd declaration. I would say it's just as rare that writers and illustrators even try. And it isn't to suggest one art form is superior over another, it's just that they are usually content to be their own beasts. So, I think kudos are in order for Quintero and Zeke Peña for even attempting a graphic novel approach to a photographer's biography.

Unfortunately, I'm not convinced that it worked.

I wasn't familiar with Graciela Iturbide or her photography before now, photography not being an art form I've paid a lot of attention to. I did enjoy the few photos of hers that made it into the book, as well as quotes from her about her craft and perspective (why, for instance, she chose black and white). But I'd rather have had more photos and more words. Peña's line work, capable as it was, didn't really add much in my opinion, and Quintero's sparse poetic take, seemed clunky and lacking.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Reader's Diary #1955- Benjamin Paige: A Soldier's Short Story of Battle

Sometimes we have no way of knowing how accurate an author got it. There's some trust involved but the author must also make it feel authentic.

Such was the case with Benjamin Paige's "A Soldier's Short Story of Battle." Not having been at war myself, I could only compare Paige's story of a soldier surveying a battle scene and quickly recounting the events that led him here before charging to places I've been (Vimy Ridge) and countless war movies, tv shows, and books I've seen. But even then it's the way Paige describes the soldier's thinking process that sold the story for me, that made it ring true.

Making this feat even more incredible was that Benjamin Paige was only 11 years old when he wrote this 7 years ago in Alberta.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Reader's Diary #1954- Joris Chamblain (writer), Aurelie Neyret (artist): Cici's Journal Vol. 1

Joris Chamblain's Cici's Journal Vol. 1 is a promising start to a new series featuring a young girl who's also a writer-in-training. Getting the advice of a local author she admires, Cici aims to study people and their motivations. Like most kids she has an active imagination and an interest in spying on grown-ups. However, in the two adventures that make up this first volume, her nosiness pays off.

The first story is also the stronger of the two. It deals with a mysterious old painter that Cici discovers has been keeping an old shut-down zoo "alive" by painting the animals that used to live there. It's a unique and quite beautiful story with valuable lessons about art and community.

The second is perhaps the more ambitious of the two, but some of the messages and lessons got lost in my opinion. In this one, there's an old lady who Cici discovers has been checking out the same book from the local library week after week, year after year. She's advised however that perhaps she's meddling a bit too much in this instance. Unfortunately, the warning I think would have been lost given the outcome of the story (which I won't spoil here). Likewise, there's a sub-plot involving a feud with a friend, but it's underdeveloped, never really clear on why it's happened, nor how it got resolved.

Aurelie Neyret's art was also strong, but with some caveats. It was beautiful, with exquisite line work and great characterizations, but the colouring I felt a bit too sepia toned, giving the book a nostalgic or historical feel. I was surprised when a cellphone was mentioned as I thought at first that it was set in the past. I also felt that Cici's personality was such that it deserved brighter colours. Another issue, and I fear that I'm drifting into nit-picking with this one, was the speech balloons. They didn't have frames and the tails that typically points to the speaker, were so thin and twirly that sometimes I had to get back to see who said what.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Reader's Diary #1953- Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss: Noodleheads Find Something Fishy

Reading through Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss's Noodleheads Find Something Fishy, I found myself thinking at first that it wasn't the most original of books.

The Noodleheads, a pair of twin macaroni both called Mac, are sweet and inquisitive characters but profoundly stupid. They take things entirely too literally, come up with moronic solutions to simple problems, and inadvertently speak in puns. They reminded me of Amelia Bedelia and a slew of other such characters. When they marked an X on the side of their boat so they'd know where they saw a fish, however, I knew for sure I'd heard of that gag before. I supposed that a good many really young readers wouldn't have and might still find it funny, but it ate away at my respect for the writers.

Then, at the end, there are a couple of page of authors' notes that made me forgive everything. They credit these plots and situations to specific folk tales from around the world and even discuss the importance of stock "fool" characters. Would kids be interested in all of this? Maybe, maybe not, but it certainly helped elevate the project for me.

Art-wise, if you're familiar with Arnold's work on his Fly Guy series, it's pretty similar except in comic book form. Lines are thick and curvy, details are simple, but nonetheless it all does the trick.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Reader's Diary #1952- Joe Flood: Sharks

I was super into animals as a kid. In fact, I wanted to be a veterinarian for the longest time. Despite that, sharks never held any real fascination for me, no more than any other animal in any case. I was not one of the many kids who, according to biologist David Shiffman who wrote the intro to Joe Flood's Sharks: Nature's Perfect Hunter, "[went] through an 'I love sharks' phase." That said, this nonfiction comic might just be the start of one.

Flood does an excellent job highlighting just why these beasts are so unique and worthy of our awe all while making science fun and accessible. He talks about how they are different than bony fish (stating that a cat and a hummingbird are more similar to one another); gets into taxonomy, evolution, anatomy and physiology, and other concepts; and uses a variety of different shark species to illustrate his points. Readers will learn about science through sharks and sharks through science.

Flood's art reminded me of Erica Henderson's work on Squirrel Girl and gave the book an upbeat, fun tone.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Reader's Diary #1951- Teresa Radice (writer), Stefano Turconi (artist): Violette Around the World 1

I'm curious to know what Teresa Radice's plans are for Violette Around the World as it is clearly meant to develop into a series; this one is labeled volume 1 and it's only set in France, despite the title alluding to the entire planet.

With that in mind, it's hard for me to fully comment on the book. It's a comic with classic bande dessinee formating, and much of it seems to be setting up the premise and characters. It's set in the mid to late 1800s and revolves around a traveling family circus.

I didn't feel however that I really connected with the titular Violette yet as she meets up with artist Toulouse Lautrec and he steals the spotlight. I wonder if Violette will continue meeting famous historical figures. It's certainly a fun way to handle an educational goal but will Violette get lost in the shuffle?

I also found myself thinking about diversity as I read it. On the one hand,there's a lot of representation here from people of different cultures but I don't think that they're handled well. Violette's granddad, as a perfect example, is from the Himalayas and really stereotyped. He sits cross-legged on a rug, in traditional garb, eyes shut and smoking a pipe while speaking in wise proverbs. It's pretty cringe-worthy.

The art though was really good. It had the flowy-angular lines that captured movement well (not unlike a Toulouse Lautrec piece), while the characters had a vintage Looney Toons vibe, complementing the comedic approach.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Reader's Diary #1950- Sam Sykes (writer), Selina Espiritu (artist): Brave Chef Brianna

It's fascinating sometimes how unrelated books seem to talk to one another, how you can pick up random books for random reasons and still find similarities. Sam Syke's Brave Chef Brianna is a young adult oriented graphic novel about a new chef, which reminded me of Yakitate!! Japan, which I read back in August-- I would consider this an unusual topic for younger readers. While chef Brianna is a human, the story is set in a city of monsters, reminding me me of Grace Ellis's Moonstruck, which I read back in September. And whenever Brianna has self-doubt, these are manifested by small inky demonic blobs around her, unseen by her peers; exactly the same concept as in Mel Tregonning's Little Things, which I read just last week.

It's human nature to compare things anyway, but it's even harder to resist when you find such unusual and coincidental commonalities.

I didn't, for instance, like the art in Brave Chef Brianna as much as in Little Things. Espiritu's art was serviceable, and fit the mostly fun tone of the story, but no where near the same level of craftsmanship.

I did enjoy the story a lot more than Moonstruck. It was definitely more focused. Brianna is competing with her brothers to win their father's cooking empire legacy until finally Brianna realizes that this contest created by her dying father is a pretty shitty thing. And, unlike in Moonstruck, there's a strong supporting cast that remains just that.

I'd probably put it on par with Yakitate!! Japan, as it's not the greatest thing ever, but it's a surprisingly fun take on a rather uncommon career. It also has strong themes about ambition, friendship, and confidence.

One unique theme that could be read into Brave Chef Brianna is cultural sensitivity; the ideas of cultural appropriation, colonialism, and racism. There's a story bubbling under the surface of whether or not this human has the right to intrude upon the world of monsters, especially given how humans have exploited and mistreated monsters in the past.