Category Archives: Graphic Novels

The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship by Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham

Today, the 18th May 2017 marks the 156th anniversary of the ship that became known as the Mary Celeste, the ship that achieved notoriety when it was discovered adrift and deserted in the Atlantic Ocean, off the Azores Islands, on December 5, 1872.


Another mystery ship is the Mary Alice – the ghostly ship whose crew travels the seven seas unbound by time first set sale in the first issue of the sadly scuppered weekly comic The DFC, then, as now it was penned by the inimitable Philip Pullman. The original artist was the phenomenal John Aggs; when it took to the high seas in the pages of The Phoenix it was redrawn by the equally talented (but new to me) Fred Fordham. The Pullman/Fordham collaboration is now available as a graphic novel, produced by David Fickling Books and the Phoenix Comic.

I grew up of tales of ghostly ships and spectral schooners, living as I did on the coast with a father who was an ex-navy man and The Mystery of The Ghost Ship reawakened that part of me that thrilled to nautical tales of hair-raising mystery and derring-do. With a no-nonsense heroine teamed up with a mysterious boy and a whole crew of time-displaced sailors all trying to get back to their timelines and survive an all-powerful foe determined to destroy them for reasons of his own.

This book is a thing of beauty, a hardback with a beautiful full-colour dust jacket that hides a gorgeous navy blue cover emblazoned with a mysterious, glowing Macguffin. Speaking as a somewhat obsessive book collector – the outward appearance of items that I choose to keep on my shelves is incredibly important – almost as important as the art and story contained on the pages within and believe me when I say the reread potential in this tome is incredibly high – the story works just as well huddled up in bed under the duvet at midnight with a torch (my favourite reading location) as it does on a bright summer day at the seaside!

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia Butler, John Jennings and Damian Duffy

I’m black, I’m solitary, I’ve always been an outsider!
~ Octavia E. Butler

Octavia Butler has been described as the greatest science fiction writer of her generation, not the greatest female science fiction writer or the greatest African-American science fiction writer, she is simply put, one of the greatest! Her words cut across class, race and gender and have found a home in the collections of millions of readers the world over!

She was awarded two Hugo Awards, two Nebula Awards and the PEN Lifetime Achievement Award. She was also the first science fiction writer to win a MacArthur “Genius” fellowship.

Kindred is one of her best-known novels; the tale of Dana, a modern young woman swept back in time to an earlier period in history, in this case the antebellum South, a time of cotillions, southern gallantry and all very romantic unless, like Dana, you happen to be black…

Kindred is a story of contrasts, of kindness, humanity and cruelty, of a modern world (in this case 1970’s California) where people are free to live their life and marry whomever they please and a time where people are treated as chattel, bought, sold an abused as they are considered less than human.

This graphic novel version of Kindred, adapted by Damian Duffy and John Jennings with the agreement of the estate of Octavia E. Butler is a beautiful hardcover, with an eye-catching dust jacket that looks as perfect on a shelf with novels as it does with other works of graphic art.

Damian Duffy has pared back Octavia’s text, preserving the essential story but making it flow perfectly for this graphic adaptation; John Jennings brings the text to life with his amazing artwork, imbuing the characters with movement on the page without glossing over the bloody and brutal mistreatment of humans by their fellow man. He has captured the cold cruelty of the slave owners in contrast with the pain and damaged humanity of the slaves. This is not a pretty story, no matter the beautiful artwork that adorns the pages; indeed it is shocking to modern liberal sensibilities and makes uncomfortable reading to be confronted by callous indifference to human suffering, but is necessary to remind ourselves how easy it is for us to dehumanise others and although we have come far, there is still a distance to go before we treat each other equally.

Kindred is rightly considered a classic of the science fiction & literary genres. Duffy & Jennings’ version is a perfect gateway for readers to encounter Octavia’s work.

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia Butler, illustrated by John Jennings and adapted by Damian Duffy. Published by Abrams ComicArts (£15.99)

HiLo The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick

I have had a copy of Hilo written and drawn by Judd Winick since December – it is a comic book that I loved and have been meaning to write a review of since I read it. However I have been dragging my feet with this and I have no idea why.

Last night I had a dream, and in that dream I wrote a Hilo review and compared it to The Iron Man by Ted Hughes – this is better known internationally as The Iron Giant thanks to the fantastic Warner Bros. animated movie. When I woke up I was confused as on the surface they two beings appeared to be completely different; on deeper reflection I realised that the stories had a number of similarities, my brain also threw about Osamu Tezuka’s Astroboy and Frank Miller and Geof Darrow’s The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot into the mix as well as the parallels to Judd’s early work The Adventures of Barry Ween Boy Genius (the book that made me a Winick fan-boy)

Judd – if you do read this can you *please* let me know if Barry Ween will ever come back – thank you!

ANYWAY! Hilo The Boy Who Crashed to Earth is funny, sweet and contains some surprisingly hidden depths to the surface story of a mysterious boy who falls to Earth and the children that become his best friends.

There is a lot of screaming and running away from alien monsters and pathos in the form of familial relationships and the feeling of not fitting in with both Hilo and D.J. filling the role of outsider Hilo on earth and D.J. within his family.

JW has always been championed diversity in his works and HiLo is no exception, a Caucasian from another dimension with a Hispanic and African American as best friends who get equal development within the story.

HiLo is a fast-paced, enjoyable romp for all ages and there are two other books in the series that are also available so there will be no long waiting for more once you have finished it!
If I could sum up HiLo The boy Who Crashed to Earth in one word then it is:
OUTSTANDING!

HiLo The Boy Who Crashed to Earth is published in the UK by Puffin

A Thing of Beauty: Arthur and the Golden Rope

arthur rope
Imagine a vault so cavernous that it could contain the world’s greatest treasures, from mummified remains of ancient monarchs to glistening swords brandished by legendary warriors. How did Professor Brownstone come into possession of such a collection?

Hear the tale of the very first Brownstone and his quest for the golden rope as we travel back to the land of the Vikings. A place filled with magical objects, powerful gods and legendary beasts to be conquered!

I am a bit of a fan-boy when it comes to Flying Eye Books and Nobrow and not just for the amazing stories they are publishing but for the frankly amazing care and attention to detail they put into creating books that are beautiful to look at as well as read.

Arthur and the Golden Rope continues in that vein, the cover is one that I spent several minutes admiring before opening it, the golden highlights of the title and on the strands of the rope glinted in the sun distracting me from the beast fading into the shadows of the background, it’s slavering jaws lit up by a burning brand held by the small figure, looking back at the reader as if unsure of what they were doing there.

Opening the book revealed still more treasures – maps on the endpapers, the first of Iceland showing Arthur’s town and the second showing Yggdrasil – the World Tree connecting Valhalla with Midgard and Helheim. The Æsir: Thor, Baldr, Freyja and Odin appear in the map corners of the front and the giant monsters Nidhoggr, Fenrir, Jotnar and Jormungandr appearing on the back.

The true treasure is the story itself, tied in with the wonderfully intricate illustrations with each page rewarding the reader that closely examines each wonderful work of art.

As you may have guessed this story is steeped in Norse lore and focuses on Arthur Brownstone the first adventurer of the famed and legendary Brownstone family and his quest to save his village.

Arthur is not your typical adventurer, looking like he would be more at home with his nose stuck in the pages of a book he is nevertheless an ardent explorer and brave beyond his years and size, living in a world replete with gods and monsters.

Professor Brownstone’s Mythical Collection would give Hogwarts a run for its money, brimming as it is with gods, monsters and all manner of marvellous artifacts.

Written and illustrated by the sickeningly talented Joe Todd-Stanton, Arthur and the Golden Rope straddles the line between picture book and graphic novel comfortably and will appeal to readers of all ages.

Arthur and the Golden Rope, the first book in Brownstone’s Mythical Collection is available from good book shops everywhere from September.

SP4RX by Wren McDonald

Are you on the hunt for a grimy, tech-noir thriller?

If the answer is yes then SP4RX is definitely the graphic novel for you!

It has been years since I last delved into the Cyberpunk realm and SP4RX was a brilliant reintroduction to the genre that did not disappoint!

Written and drawn by Wren McDonald, SP4RX reads as the love-child between William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

Epic in scope yet incredibly personal in nature, the story focuses of Sp4rx, a hacker hired to steal a macguffin from a corporation and ends up as a rather less than willing recruit in a battle to save humanity from their evil corporate overlords.
sp4rxslide-768x432
With echoes of (the original) Robocop using periodic news updates to provide necessary background information without resorting to infodumps and underscoring the humanity of artificial intelligence reminiscent of CHAPPiE, SP4RX is a brilliant graphic novel aimed at older readers.

Nobrow has been consistently publishing excellent graphic novels and with SP4RX this run continues!

SP4RX-cover

Geis: a Matter of Life & Death

The chief matriarch is dying. Drawing her last breath, she declares a contest: let fate decide the one worthy to rule. Fifty souls are summoned in the night; fifty souls bound to the same fate. But this is no ordinary trial… And so begins the first task.

The first thing I learned was how to pronounce Geis – it is ‘Gesh’ in case you couldn’t wait to pick up the book!

It is a Gaelic word for taboo or curse (that I knew). When a geis is placed upon you, it is like a spell that cannot be broken and certain rules must be obeyed. you might be prohibited form calling upon the aid of wolves, for example, or breaking into someone’s kitchen. If you ignore or break a geis, the consequences are dire.

But a geis is always broken.

As soon as it is spoken or written, your fate is set.

The first thing I realised when I opened the book was that I already know Alexis Deacon’s work, he was nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal for his illustration of Jim’s Lion and he wrote the award-winning picture book I am Henry Finch.

I was not sure what to expect when I picked it up, possibly an enjoyable fantasy romp through a fantasy world based on Celtic myth.

I was right about the fantasy world – but my God, this story is dark – beautifully illustrated, but utterly merciless! The protagonist is the Kite Lord’s daughter, a young girl who finds herself out of place amongst the high lords and ladies of the chieftain’s court, who are summoned and scattered to find a suitable soul to replace the chief. The desires and humanity of the characters are laid bare as they face the temptation of ultimate power, and as was once said – no good deed goes unpunished!

It is the first part of an epic trilogy – get this book now, trust me I am a librarian!

Geis_cover_rgb

How to Survive in the North

A brilliant graphic novel written and illustrated by Luke Healy:

Weaving together the true life historical expeditions of Ada Blackjack and Robert Bartlett with a contemporary fictional story. How to Survive in the North is a unique and visual narrative journey that shows the strength it takes to survive in even the harshest conditions – whether that be struggling for survival in the Arctic in the 1900s or surviving a mid-life crisis in the present day.

I finished this book with the impression that Vilhjalmur Stefansson was at best criminally inept and worst culpable for the death of the men he abandoned on two expeditions in the Arctic Circle.

Simply and beautifully illustrated it contains a wealth of history that made me research the histories of the characters once I had finished it. I love Luke Healey’s artwork and the changing colours to denote the different expeditions and the contemporary story is an excellent idea! The isolation of each of the characters throughout the book is the thread that binds the narratives together and the choices they make to survive and stay sane in the face of fraying relationships and loneliness makes the stories as gripping as they are tragic!

As with other Nobrow titles, How to Survive in the North is beautifully crafted and makes a bookshelf look better just by being on it!

HowToSurviveInTheNorth_cover

1400 a Graphic Novel by Jag Lall

1400
1400 is a hard hitting original story that delves into the inner psyche of the emotional battle of 15 year old Sharanjeet, who through her nightmares we see struggle to lift the lid on the trauma of rape and emotional abuse that she suffers at the hands of the monsters.

While stylistically very similar to the Frank Miller’s artwork in his Sin City series the content of 1400 by Jag Lall could not be more different.

Any story dealing with rape and its aftermath should be handled incredibly sensitively as it is an emotive, triggering subject and Jag Lall has done this wonderfully.

Sharanjeet’s mental battle to come to terms with her rape and assault at the hands of her boyfriend and his friends is portrayed as a single-handed struggle with monsters in her dreams. Her struggle in the waking world to open up to her parents and friends, all the while blaming herself for what happened and fear of rejection if she does so will resonate with survivors of many kinds of abuse.

1400 is an upsetting story, powerfully told with an important message to all survivors of sexual assault and everyone in showing that we can all play a role in aiding survivors of abuse.

Visit Jag Lall’s website to find out more about his work and how 1400 can be used in schools:

http://www.jaglallart.com/1400/4588940773

Study Hall of Justice

SecretHeroSocietyBook1-cover
My name is Bruce Wayne, and I’m the new kid (UGH) at Ducard Academy.

I can’t say for certain, but I think something fishy’s going on. There’s a gang of clowns roaming the halls, a kid named Bane wants to beat me up, and the guidance counselor, Hugo Strange, seems really, well, strange.
 
At least I have two new friends – Clark and Diana are kinda cool, I guess. We’re going to solve this case no matter what, even if I have to convince Alfred to let me stay up past eleven.

 

x0x

 
There has been a lot of talk recently about the Justice league of late, mostly due to the forthcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a grim and gritty movie about the formation of the Justice League.

If your desire for super-hero team-ups is getting too much for you then I highly recommend Study Hall of Justice, the first book of the Secret Hero Society by DC Comics and Scholastic.

This book is awesome! Derek Fridolfs & Dustin Nguyen take the core concepts and mythologies of Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman and render them down into middle school students, losing none of what makes the three characters so brilliant and adding new elements that make them even more enjoyable!

Study hall of Justice is a children’s book but one that will be enjoyed by all ages, the kids for the sense of mystery, menace and ninja that permeate the pages and for older readers who will also enjoy the story as well as spotting their favourite villains amongst the student body and faculty staff..

This book is perfect for fans of JL8 and Gotham Academy

Inside the Box: a Selection of Comics and Graphic Novels for All Ages


The Federation of Children’s Book Groups is a national voluntary organisation, whose aim is to promote enjoyment and interest in children’s books and reading.

They also produce a range of brilliant book lists, their latest is called Inside the Box. Compiled by Mélanie McGilloway and Zoë Toft (with support from Neil Cameron) it is a comprehensive list ranging from picture books and comics for all ages to comics for teenagers and young adults. The list also suggests several books about comics and comic creation as well as weekly comic magazines.

This list is essential for those that feel that they do not have the breadth of knowledge needed to make informed decisions on selecting graphic novels for a school or public library and even for librarians that know their comics there are introductions to new titles.

Find out more about the FCBG here and see what book-lists they have available

You can order copies of Inside the Box and other book-lists by e-mailing the Federation at: info@fcbg.org.uk