Tag Archive for gurihiru

Review: Drama

Theater is a strange life. Like many forms of art, it tends to attract people who don’t quite fit in elsewhere. For everyone I know involved in theater, this started early. It’s something they fell into and never fell back out of. It’s their passion. It’s their life. Even if they end up doing something else, they never quite leave it behind.

As much as Raina Telgemeier‘s Drama (Graphix/Scholastic, 2012) is about crushes and young love, it’s also about the theater and the community of friends it creates.

Our cute, purple-haired protagonist, Callie, has found her passion early. She loves theater — but refreshingly, her heart is backstage. It’s great to see a young girl character in a story about theater that isn’t interested in being on stage. She’s too busy making big plans for her set design and puzzling out special effects. She’s not toiling away in obscurity waiting to be discovered; instead, she knows exactly what she wants to be doing and does it well. She has her moments of self-doubt and confusion (usually involving her relationships with boys!) but her confidence in herself is delightful.

I loved the realism of Callie’s relationships with the boys in her life — her initial boldness with Greg and her tentative affection toward Jesse as well as her playful and sweet friendship with Justin. Equally great is how she relates to the girls in the book — while there is a bit of conflict with her best friend Liz, they’re clearly best friends. Even Bonnie, who’d be a “mean girl” in another book isn’t presented to be that much of a threat but just someone who runs in a different social circle.

I don’t think Telgemeier’s art has ever been stronger.  She seems to have pulled in a few more manga-inspired touches — big, expressive eyes and exaggerated facial expressions. As sharp and perceptive as her writing always is, much of the joy of this book is in the silent panels. Her ability to communicate complex emotions, from Callie’s joy, concentration and worry, and quiet moments with deceptively simple lines is unrivaled. Telgemeier makes comics look so effortless.

While my advance reader copy was mostly in black and white, the few pages of color by Gurihiru that I did get went far to set the mood of this book. I can’t wait to see the whole thing in color.

Perhaps the greatest joy of Drama is how perceptive an eye and ear Telgemeier has for kids of this age. She never talks down to them. One of my major complaints about a lot of middle grade and young adult novels is that the characters seem to act like an adult’s conception of what kids and teens should be like rather than how they actually are.  In some ways, Callie and her friends may seem a bit older than their 12 and 13 years, but in other ways, they’re exactly how I remember being at that age, just with more computers and text messages. You don’t realize how young you are: you end up being a strange mix of innocent and perceptive, smart and awkward. These are kids figuring out who they want to be and that’s something that’s easy to relate to at any age.

And to me, that’s the greatest takeaway of Drama: how much of myself, even now, I saw in it. I’d love to tell Callie and the kids her age reading about her that these things get easier — that boys stop being confusing and that everything goes the way you want. But I can’t. What I can say, though, is that if you believe in and admire Callie, you’ll have a pretty good head start on the rest of us.

Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise Part 2

Avatar: The Last Airbender:
The Promise Part 2

Buy at Powell’s

Let’s talk about The Legend of Korra for a minute. It’s one of the greatest things you’ve ever seen, right? The animation is monumentally gorgeous and Korra is an impressively complicated heroine. She’s forceful and powerful (but doesn’t get punished for it) but also flawed and vulnerable. And yeah, there’s probably some complaints to be made about the pace of the show, but I love that things keep happening constantly. I love this show. I’ve wanted this show my whole life. I’m going to have a tremendous gap in my week once this season ends.

OK, onto the review.

In true middle-book fashion (there’s only going to be three of these? Noooo!), Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise Part 2 (2012, Dark Horse) shows everyone in turmoil and conflict. Toph struggles with her metal-bending students (she’s aided/tormented by Sokka). Aang gets a little too friendly with some fan club members, much to Katara’s dismay. Zuko tries to decide what is right as he battles with is conscious and his father’s “advice.”

In terms of plot, it’s hard to say how much actually happens in this book — the conflict as to what to do with the Fire Nation-occupied colony in the Earth Kingdom, Yu Dao — it does feature a lot character development. After all the events in the animated series, everyone is at a crossroads — they now have to figure out who they are and their places in the world. Aang likes his fame but that makes Katara feel minimized and insecure. Toph realizes teaching is harder than she thought it would be and that maybe Sokka is smarter than she realizes (Sokka is always smarter than anyone realizes, honestly). Zuko sadly isolates himself from those who’d be willing to help him, taking on too much responsibility for himself.

This is definitely a lot to deal with in a fairly slim volume, but writer Gene Luen Yang is still up to the task. His dialogue and storytelling is snappy and fun. It’s a fun, easy read and doesn’t let you realize how much information and depth is packed in until it’s over. Gurihiru‘s art remains snappy and animated. This artistic team has an incredible sense of layout and color to set a mood — from the sparsely dark panels when Zuko visits his father in jail to bright sequences featuring Toph and Sokka. I can’t imagine this book in anyone else’s hands.

I am still sad there’s only going to be one more of these books. I really feel like I could read Avatar: The Last Airbender comics forever, especially since Korra only has a few weeks left until the next season. It’s such a rich, beautiful world that I want as much of it as I can get.

Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise Part 1

Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Promise Part 1

Buy at Powell’s

Gene Luen Yang made a comic clearly explaining why he had no interest in the Avatar: The Last Airbender live-action movie. A lot of people like to bring up that the cartoon was created by a couple of white men, but the Asian influence is clearly respectful and thoughtful. Yang understood those things about the series and that’s why he loved it (and that’s why most of us loved it, actually).

So it was delightful news when it was announced that Yang would be writing the Avatar: The Last Airbender comic book series that will bridge the gap from the end of the animated series and the upcoming The Legend of Korra (not upcoming fast enough, but that’s another issue). It seemed like he’d do right by Avatar.

And it should be to no one’s surprise that he did.

Yang, along with artist duo Gurihiru, Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise Part 1 (2012, Dark Horse), has created a pitch-perfect comic that is a wonderful extension of the animated series.

No, if you haven’t watched the series (and why haven’t you?), you’re going to be pretty lost, despite a quick catch up in the first few pages. Despite the defeat of Fire Lord Ozai by Aang and Zuko taking his place, there are still many issues to sort through in the four kingdoms. Among them are the Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom. After the “Harmony Restoration Movement” is announced, the action picks up a year later. And obviously, not everything is going as well as planned. Zuko and Aang have to face their old conflicts as well as growing up.

Most of the action here focuses on Zuko, which is fair (Avatar: The Last Airbender was as much about his journey as it was Aang’s, after all) but the other characters aren’t neglected. Sokka tosses out a few good lines as he expresses his horror over the fact his sister, Katara, and Aang are now a couple. Toph has started a school for metalbenders, which I’m guessing we’ll see more of in the next book.

Gurihiru does a masterful job of capturing the look of the series while still giving it their own style. I love how subtly the characters have aged — they still look like themselves, but everyone’s taller and Aang’s a bit more muscular, Katara a little curvier and Zuko’s face is slightly more angular. Likewise, Yang writes these characters as older and more mature without sacrificing the personalities we’ve come to know. It’s a wise transition as these character approach adulthood and will continue to face more adult decisions.

The action scenes are beautifully-paced and definitely capture the feel of animation on the static page. There’s still humor throughout, even as the story begins to take a darker turn. (It’s still appropriate for the ages that Avatar: The Last Airbender was appropriate for, however, so no worries there.)

Unlike many other comic continuations or adaptations of TV shows, Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise Part 1 is completely satisfying. Gene Luen Yang’s and Gurihiru’s love for the original shows through. I’m already eagerly awaiting part 2.

Advance review copy provided through NetGalley.

Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Lost Adventures

Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Lost Adventures
Buy at Powells.com

I have written about Avatar: The Last Airbender before. As an animated series, it was epic in scope with a well-developed mythology and beautiful animation that appealed as equally to adults as it did to children. I think it’s something that will last the test of time (but let’s just continue to ignore that movie version — in my world, it doesn’t exist).

Some of Avatar: The Last Airbender has appeared in comic form before — from last year’s Zuko’s Story prequel by Dave Roman and Alison Wilgus with art by Nina Matsumoto to the adaptation of the movie, as well as a few titles from the late Tokyopop. The crossover makes sense — it’s a series that captured the imagination of plenty of creators (and with planned meetups at Comic-Con, it obviously continues to do so).

That’s a lot of introduction to get to Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Lost Adventures (Dark Horse Comics, 2011), but I think it’s necessary background. Originally scattered in the pages of Nickelodeon magazine, it’s a wonderful thing to have all these comics in one place.

All the comics take place within the timeline of the series and do assume knowledge of characters and events. These comics aren’t meant to be an introduction to the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender but a compliment to it.

Still, the comics don’t get too bogged down in continuity. Understanding who these characters are and what’s come before is necessary, but for the most part, the individual stories are playful and comedic. It may be going a bit far to say they’re all gag-based, but most of them do have a punchline. Still, there’s the series trademark thoughtfulness and poignancy in many of these comics — Avatar: The Last Airbender presented a world of complications and so even when things were fun, there was always something at stake.

The book features a diverse group of artists and writers, from those who I was familiar with (Roman, Wilgus, Brian Ralph, Gurihiru) to those who were unknown to me (Rawles Lumumba, Johane Matte) as well as many people who worked on the series itself, from the creators to storyboard artists and episode writers. Everyone here was obviously passionate about Avatar: The Last Airbender and the consistency of the art and writing is amazing.

I realize I haven’t talked that much about the individual stories here, but this doesn’t feel like a traditional anthology where the stories feel separate from each other. The cohesiveness of this book is part of what makes it great. However, I did love Wilgus’s and Gurihiru’s “Boys’ Day Out” where Katara and Toph dress up as boys to be allowed into a restaurant, manage to get into some fights, and ultimately decide being a boy isn’t much fun. Ralph’s “Fruitstand Freestyle,” a wordless tale that follows Momo, is probably the most unusual for the volume (it’s more Ralph than it is Avatar: The Last Airbender) but I love that it’s here. All of this, though, it a tremendous amount of fun. I have no complaints.

So really: Do you like Avatar: The Last Airbender? (If you don’t, why not?) Do you like comics? (If not, why are you here?) If the answer is “yes” to both of those, why don’t you have this already?

(Digital review copy provided by NetGalley.)

Review: Wolverine: Worst Day Ever

Worst Day Ever

Buy at Amazon

I am not a 10-year-old boy.

Yes, you knew this and I knew this. I mean, I do find delight in a lot of things aimed at children and pre-adolescents, but regardless, I am not a 10-year-old boy.

So maybe that’s why Barry Lyga’s Wolverine: Worst Day Ever missed its mark for me.

I liked Lyga’s The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, even if I had a few reservations about it. I could relate to the main character’s broken-hearted desperation to prove how awesome he was to the world and that his hero (in this case, Brian Michael Bendis) would recognize his greatness. Lyga captured the invisible kids living in the suburbs in this very heartfelt way.

Worst Day Ever, however, comes off feeling a little preachy. Told in a “blog” format (I think most modern epistolary novels don’t really work for me), our narrator is Eric, a young mutant attending Xavier’s School for Gifted Students. Eric’s mutant power is that no one realizes he’s around when he is — he’s not invisible, it’s just no one sees him. However, due to his heightened senses, Wolverine knows when he’s around.

Mostly, Eric is pretty whiny with a lot of “poor me” sorts of stuff. He’s not a character I particularly care about. The idea of being socially invisible could be resonant, but I don’t think I’d particularly want to hang out with Eric. While Eric eventually (and perhaps, predictably) realizes how to deal with his “power” and his own strength, he still basically annoyed me most of the time.

Lyga handles Wolverine pretty well — he understands this is a character who does have a tendency to become something of a father figure to younger mutants — and the action is fun. Sadly, there’s not enough of that, and while I know that this is a book for kids, Eric has a tendency to write around some of the more graphic parts of the story by saying it’s too “gross” to share gets annoying. It doesn’t feel like something an actual 13-year-old would do.

I like the design of the book — there are panels pulled from comics to illustrate the story, but I don’t buy that these are Eric’s “drawings.” (You mean, there’s a 13-year-old who can draw like John Cassady? Seriously?) I could believe these were Eric’s photos, but not drawings.

Included are three issues (out of four) of Wolverine & Power Pack by Marc Sumerak and Gurihiru, which I liked better than the rest of the book. They’re an odd bonus — other than Wolverine, there’s no connection to the story in terms of tone or content (they’re aimed at younger readers than the rest of the book) — but I was happy to have them there.

I still have hope for Lyga and I’d like to see him write more comic-related stories. But Wolverine: Worst Day Ever was a disappointment. Maybe if you’re a 10-year-old boy, you’d get something out of this, but even that I question.