Weekend find

I found this book in the graphic novels section and suspected it to be an illustrated novel (meaning it’s still mostly text but it has some pages with illustrations on them). It turns out I was right, but I’m happy the misclassification drew my attention to it. I’m always on the lookout for good fantasy stories and this one shows a lot of promise – I really can’t wait to read it.

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The Trilogy of Two – the first novel from Lebanese-born author Juman Malouf.

“Identical twins Charlotte and Sonja are musical prodigies with extraordinary powers. Born on All Hallows’ Eve, the girls could play music before they could walk. They were found one night by Tatty, the Tattooed Lady of the circus, in a pail on her doorstep with only a note and a heart-shaped locket. They’ve been with Tatty ever since, roaming the Outskirts in the circus caravans, moving from place to place.

But lately, curious things have started to happen when they play their instruments. During one of their performances, the girls accidentally levitate their entire audience, drawing too much unwanted attention. Soon, ominous Enforcers come after them, and Charlotte and Sonja must embark on a perilous journey through enchanted lands in hopes of unlocking the secrets of their mysterious past.”

Those stories you won’t tell mommy

If you frequent comic book shops and bookstores then you’ve probably spotted this shamelessly pink graphic novel on the shelves. You’ve probably taken a closer look (or pretended to “accidentally” glance at it) and found that the gold font on the cover says BIG HARD SEX CRIMINALS. And maybe you got curious about it but you just can’t bring yourself to actually pick it up and bring it to the counter. I know. I’ve been there too.

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The thing with sex stories is that they have to be good. Otherwise, it’s just porn on print. What Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky did with Sex Criminals is pretty smart. Yes, the book has lots of nudity. Yes, the book is packed with silly sex jokes. Yes, there are pages that made me a little embarrassed to be reading it in public. But beyond all that, the characters are surprisingly relatable and the story does make enough sense for you to take it seriously.

What I liked the most is the way the characters break the fourth wall – that is, they literally speak to the reader in some panels – and it feels like they’re sharing their lives with you.

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You become their confidant and you find yourself deeply engaged in their lives. You know their problems and frustrations, their fantasies and fears, their childhood stories of curiosity and discovery, and then you realize how honest the book is. That, although it is a wild, dirty, sex sci-fi story, there is something very human to it.

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So you do the thing that humans do: you sympathize. And that’s when you realize you’re willing to tag along no matter where their sexed-up adventures take them. Sex Criminals is what you get when two very talented guys decide to get a little crazy – I really doubt you’ll read anything like it. So go ahead and pick up that pink book you’ve been eyeing. You might just find yourself quite satisfied once you finish it.

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A magickal Halloween

A few weeks ago I wrote about some new releases from Image Comics; this one made it just in time for Halloween. Black Magick is a dark fantasy series about Rowan Black, a detective for Portsmouth PD who’s also secretly a witch. In this first issue, Detective Black finds herself in the middle of a hostage taking orchestrated by a perpetrator who seems to know all about her dual identity.

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Black Magick #1 by writer Greg Rucka and artist Nicola Scott. Cover A by Scott, magazine cover by Rick Burchett, cover B by Jill Thompson.

I really like it when Image releases magazine-sized issues. It’s always a treat to read comics in large formats – even more so with Scott’s art.

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The illustrations are mostly done in grayscale, which sets the tone very effectively. The use of color in some panels makes the scenes more intense and just really eye-catching.

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Story-wise, the first issue sets up the mythos well, revealing just enough about the protagonist without giving too much away. You get a good sense of the type of world in which the narrative exists, and the writer teased just enough to make you feel that something big is coming. And, again, the art is simply magnificent. Anybody who’s a fan of magic should definitely follow this series. This might be the best we’ve seen from Rucka and Scott, and I can’t wait for issue #2.

The protagonist dies (and that’s not a spoiler)

I just finished reading Daytripper, the 2011 Eisner Award winner for best limited series, written and illustrated by Brazilian twins Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. I must say, I didn’t expect to be THAT entertained by it. Partly because it’s about everyday life, partly because I haven’t read anything from the duo before so I didn’t really know what to expect.

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Daytripper deluxe edition from Vertigo Comics. Collects all 10 issues of the award-winning series.

First of all, let me praise Vertigo Comics for producing such a beautiful hardcover volume. I’ve always liked their deluxe editions but this is definitely one of my favorites as far as physical appearance goes. The art on the dust jacket is very inviting – colorful in a most soothing way, dynamic but gentle on the eyes.

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The design for the hardcover is the exact opposite, being black and white, but it is equally delightful. I like the clean white surface with the Bá’s illustration of Brás de Oliva Domingos, the book’s main character.

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I also like the black spine, accentuated by silver lettering, which gives the book its simple elegance.

Now, on to the story. Or, more accurately, stories. The book revolves around Brás who works as an obituary writer for a local newspaper. He dreams of someday publishing a book and following the footsteps of his father, who happens to be a world-renowned Brazilian writer. Sounds normal enough, right? Except each issue tells a different story from a different point in Brás’ life, and what makes it more interesting is that he dies at the end of each chapter. (Yes, you read that right.)

In one issue, Brás struggles with his job and his relationship with his father, and then he dies.

In another issue, Brás is a kid without a care in the world, and then he dies.

In another issue, Brás is a successful writer, recognized by everyone, and then he dies.

And each of his deaths happen at the most inconvenient, unexpected moment. You might find it weird, unappealing or even nonsensical, but taken as a whole, the book expounds on the fleeting nature of our existence, invites us to question the things we value, and ultimately dives head-first into the discussion on what living life really means. It is one of those rare works that can be considered a must-read for everyone – truly an emotionally-charged masterpiece.

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My favorite quote from the book: “There is no one way to live or to die. Will the choices you make to do the former affect how you’ll do the latter?”

Check out more from the creators on their blog: http://fabioandgabriel.blogspot.com/

Saturday night reading list

This weekend I’ll be checking out three new releases from Image Comics. Over the past couple of years, Image has been silently taking over my comic book reading list with their catchy, unique and oftentimes over-the-top serials. If you’re interested in trying out graphic novels but feel like the superhero genre isn’t quite your thing, I suggest you check out their titles. Here’s what I picked up.

Saints

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Saints #1 by writer Sean Lewis and artist Benjamin Mackey.

“Blaise, Lucy, and Sebastian discover a Holy War is erupting and they, unwittingly, are the next generation of Saints poised to fight for a heaven that God has abandoned.”

From Under Mountains

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From Under Mountains #1 by writers Claire Gibson and Marian Churchland. Art by Sloane Leong.

“In the first issue of this new fantasy series, old feuds and new monsters rise up to haunt the isolated northern fortress of Karsgate.”

Paper Girls

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Paper Girls #1 by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artists Cliff Chang and Matt Wilson.

“In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Stand By Me meets War of the Worlds in this mysterious young adult adventure.”

Check out more from Image Comics here: https://imagecomics.com/comics/series

Meet the Marches

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A leather-bound copy of Little Women, which includes the follow-up volume, Good Wives. Cover art by Jessica Hische, cover design by Jo Obarowski and book design by Patrice Kaplan.

I’m taking a break from all the horror and dystopian fiction I’ve been reading with this classic from Louisa May Alcott. I’ve only read the first 10 chapters but what a pleasant read it has been so far. There is something so delightful about tales that remind us of simpler times – back when you and your siblings were all staying under one roof with nothing to do other than think of silly ways to keep yourselves from getting bored. Back then, your imagination gave life to the most mundane objects. Your biggest problem was to fit in with the other kids and being scolded in front of the class felt like the end of the world. We’ve all been there, and that’s what makes the book so charming.

It’s easy to see why Little Women is a classic: it appeals to everyone, and everywhen. Any child who reads it could definitely relate with the March sisters; their squabbles, their unbreakable bond and their deference to their “Marmee.” Adults, meanwhile, can appreciate the book’s myriad of lessons even more, having lived long enough to know their truths. Reading the novel feels almost like you’re getting a lecture from your parents all over again, and you can’t help but get a bit nostalgic as you go through each chapter. At the center of it all is family, and Alcott definitely went straight for the heart with her masterpiece.

The Mignola novels

If you’ve never picked up any of Mike Mignola’s works, you’re definitely missing out. Who is he, you ask? Well, you might have heard of his insanely successful comic book series Hellboy, which already has two big-screen adaptations and countless comic book spinoffs which continue to do extremely well in today’s market. Considering the fact that very few comic book titles even reach issue 100 these days, what he has done with Hellboy, and the world he has built around it, is beyond impressive.

Last weekend I finished reading one of his lesser-known works; an illustrated novel called Baltimore, or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, which he co-wrote with Christopher Golden.

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The story revolves around three strangers who were summoned at a rundown tavern by our protagonist, Lord Henry Baltimore – a soldier who had a run-in with a vampire during an ill-fated campaign which forever changed him. As they await his arrival, the three acquaintances swap tales of their own encounters with evil and how each one came to know Baltimore.

Every chapter is in itself a short story and this makes the book very engaging. Mignola is a genius when it comes to horror/fantasy, borrowing from classical literature as well as folktales and mixing them with his own ideas, creating stories that are both familiar and new. In this novel, Mignola pays homage to classics including Hans Christian Andersen’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

And did I mention the book has pictures? Mignola’s art fits the genre so well. His simplistic illustrations and effective use of light and shadows complete the dark atmosphere of the book. Whether he’s drawing monsters, people, buildings or landscapes, his art never fails to enchant his work with his trademark eeriness.

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Baltimore is the first of three illustrated novels by Mignola which was released in 2007 and was later on continued as a comic book series. In 2012, he and Golden released two more illustrated novels: Joe Golem and the Drowning City and Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism. I read Joe Golem a few years back and it was one of the first few novels I read when I was starting to seriously get into books. While Baltimore drew inspiration from the classics, Joe Golem closely resembles Mignola’s Hellboy series, pitting a humanized golem against occult forces and a god-summoning cult leader.

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I have yet to get my hands on the third Mignola novel so for now I’ll be satisfied with the idea that there’s at least one good book that’s still out there waiting for me to snatch it up. Hopefully I’ll find it on one of those random days in a random bookstore at a time when I don’t expect to find anything good. (I love it when that happens.)

You may check out more of Mike Mignola’s art on his amazing website.