Wires and Nerve

THE PREMISE

Wires and Nerve coverWhen I heard that Marissa Meyer was creating a graphic novel sequel to her sci-fi fairytale series the Lunar Chronicles, I was intrigued.  Unlike the previous books in the series, Wires and Nerve spotlights Iko, the android with a faulty personality chip that makes her more human than robot.

As an android and the ninth wheel on a team with four romantic couples, Iko is definitely the odd one out.  Iko’s human friends have all found their place in the world and are now heroes, but Earthens have yet to recognize the part Iko played in saving the world.  Worst of all, Iko is feeling useless, and as Iko explains, “No android likes feeling useless.  It’s in our programming to make ourselves as useful to humans…as possible” (66).  Iko’s plan for how she can be useful to her best friend Cinder is a surprising and daring one.  Cinder needs someone to covertly capture the rogue Lunar wolf soldiers who are terrorizing Earth and return them to Luna for trial.  Dress-loving romantic Iko decides that she is the secret agent for the mission.  After all, the worst damage a wolf soldier could inflict would merely mean a trip to an android parts store, right?

STORY AND STYLE

Iko

Marissa Meyer crafts a story that remains true to the style she created in the Lunar Chronicles.  Her writing is clever and fun.  In spite of the change in genre, the tone of Wires and Nerve is surprisingly similar to the previous books, and the characters remain largely the same.  Iko and Thorne’s characters transition the best, while Cinder, Winter, and Cress seem a little bit stunted compared to their old selves.

I think when authors take a story and then turn it into a graphic novel—rather than starting the book as a graphic novel from the ground up—they often sacrifice clarity, tone, or character development to make the new visual style work.  I’ve noticed this trend in books like Matt Phelan’s Snow White, Art Ayris’ The Last Convert of John Harper, and Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man.  However, what these books and Wires and Nerve lose is gained back in different ways, especially in the artwork.

ARTWORK

I really like Doug Holgate’s art in Wires and Nerve.  The action is easy to follow, the characters are dynamic, and the scenery is detailed and interesting.  As a standalone graphic novel, the artwork is good; however, as a sequel to the Lunar Chronicles, I do have a few problems with the graphics.  Except for Iko, the characters from the original series don’t look like I expected them to.  In particular, the wolf soldiers look wrong.  They are kind of silly—a little bit like trolls or ogres, not like men who have been genetically modified to have wolf characteristics.  These failings are pretty significant to me, but the other aspects of the story, style, and art help balance out problems with characters’ appearances.

Iko

CONCLUSION

While Wires and Nerves is not quite on par with the rest of the Lunar Chronicles, it is still a fun sequel.  The new graphic novel layout limits the storytelling at times but also adds some freshness and originality.  Author Marissa Meyer successfully integrates the graphic novel format with the style, setting, and characters from her previous sci-fi fairytale novels.

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Hilo: Saving the Whole Wide World

Who would have thought Hilo could crash back to Earth with even less than when he arrived the first time (a name, shiny underpants, and a bad case of amnesia)?  Yet somehow, Hilo manages to do just that when he returns to Earth (or at least his toe does) in Hilo: Saving the Whole Wide World by Judd Winick.

Hilo pageHilo has returned, but as his friend D.J. explains, “It was a little weird” (1).  After disappearing through a portal at the end of The Boy Who Crashed to Earth, Hilo returns to Earth in pieces.  For normal little boys, returning in bits might be a problem, but not for alien robot Hilo, who quickly reassembles and warns his friends D.J. and Gina that his nemesis Razorwark is coming to Earth.  To keep Razorwark away from Earth, Hilo ends up stranding himself in the human world and must begin adjusting to everyday human life.  However, bullies at school, Hilo’s slowly returning memories, and aliens invading Earth through portals keep life far from peaceful or ordinary for Hilo and his friends.

As with the Zita the Spacegirl trilogy by Ben Hatke, the second installment of the Hilo series lacks some of the novelty of the pilot book.  That said, though, Saving the Whole Wide World is still an entertaining read and a fitting sequel to The Boy Who Crashed to Earth.  New characters like a magical warrior cat named Pollandra add a touch of freshness to the story, and the focus on friendship and courage provides the story with heartwarming and constructive themes.

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Korean War Comics

BeachheadThis past spring, I took an American history class in which my professor focused on war and popular culture in America.  Instead of using traditional history textbooks, my professor had our class study the different wars in which America has been involved through popular media, and so my class read short stories and novels, played a video game, watched movies, and even read comics about war.  The comics we read were interesting and enjoyable, so I thought I would share a link to them.  The comics are about the Korean War and are available for free on the website History on the Net through this link.  As you read, I invite you to think about some of the questions my history professor told us to keep in mind.  When were the comics written, and what is their historical context?  Who was the original audience?  How do the comics reflect Americans’ views on war?  How might the comics have shaped Americans’ attitudes toward war?  Do the comics present the war and American soldiers in a positive or negative way?  Why?

Happy reading!

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The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

Return of Zita the SpacegirlZita and her friends are back, this time to conduct a jailbreak, rescue prisoners from the corrupt Doom Squad that runs a penitentiary planet, and save earth from the evil Screed and their leader the Dungeon Lord.

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl brings back characters from the first two Zita books and introduces a few more.  While in prison, Zita meets a talking rag pile name Raggy and a skeleton named Femur who are two creative additions to the cast.  Ben Hatke’s artwork, characters, and story maintain the quality of the earlier books, and Return of Zita finishes the series strong.  Best of all, Hatke introduces new themes, pointing out Zita’s character flaw of impulsiveness that leads to problems in all three books.  When Zita tries to defend herself during her trial at the beginning of Return of Zita the Spacegirl, she admits that she didn’t think about the possible outcomes of her actions when she destroyed the asteroid, killed the Star Hearts, and stole a spaceship in the previous books.  The story doesn’t delve much deeper into this subject, but Return of Zita the Spacegirl shows that wrong means to a good end can often result in unintended and disastrous consequences.

When Zita finally returns home, she will not be the same girl who left, for her adventures have changed her.  Now, Zita is ready for whatever lies ahead, whether on Earth or in space.  Her adventures have taught her about courage, friendship, and most of all about herself, for as Hatke quotes at the beginning of the third book, “I went coast to coast, and from star to star / That’s how you learn, just who you are” (1).

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Cathy: The Comic for Women

cathy-collageMost comics are targeted toward boys.  Some are written for children.  Others are intended for teenagers and adults.  The only comic I have ever found for women, though, is
Cathy
by Cathy Guisewite.

Cathy is a single, working woman plagued by fashion crises, food cravings, trendy diets, and shopping addiction.  These are not the only plagues of Cathy’s life, though.  At times her circle of family and friends are even more bothersome.  Her parents are kind and sympathetic, but Cathy’s mother has a tendency to worry and stick her nose into Cathy’s love life—and life in general.  cathyCathy’s perpetual boyfriend Irving is an inert character who unwittingly spurs Cathy on in her quest for beauty and a slender figure, for Cathy is always trying to win Irving’s attention away from sports on television.  In the early comics, Cathy has a best friend named Andrea.  Andrea is an outspoken supporter of women’s rights and is fond of criticizing the other sex and encouraging Cathy to stand up for herself and attend feminist conventions.  In later comics, Cathy becomes friend with a coworker named Charlene.  They share many experiences together, from shopping trips to love life experiences, such as video dating.cathy-and-video-datingThe last and littlest character is Cathy’s spoiled dog Electra, to whom Cathy often talks, and who sometimes talks back.  Electra often has attitude problems as a result of her pampering, especially after Cathy’s parents take care of her and spoil her even more than Cathy does.

I have read two collections of Cathy comics.  The first was The Cathy Chronicles, a collection of the early Cathy comics that Cathy Guisewite published in the 1970s.  More recently, I read a 1992 collection called Only Love Can Break a Heart, But a Shoe Sale Can Come Close.  The art in both books is idiosyncratic.  Guisewite’s style has an amateur air to it which continues even as she standardizes her way of caricaturing the world and characters of Cathy.  I doubt the comic could have survived on its artwork alone, but the clever dialogue and the quirky pictures create a winning combination.

Author Cathy Guisewite ingeniously uses everyday life to provide her audience with relatable humor that connects well to shared experiences.  The portrayal of women is particularly perceptive.  While I doubt any woman would match all the characteristics Guisewite presents (and I certainly hope no one does), I can spot many similarities to myself and people I know when I read the Cathy comics.  More than the characters, artwork, and storylines, I think this aspect is what makes Cathy amusing and fun to read.

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Note: I have not read any recent Cathy comic strips, so I don’t know whether the comic has continued to be as good as it was in the ’70s and ’90s.  However, if you’re interested in reading more recent installments, here’s a link to a website that has individual Cathy comic strips.

Making Comics: A Resource

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Do you want to make comics, or maybe just have a better understanding to be able to critically read and evaluate? These two desires drove me in high school not only to read and draw my own, but also to try and find resources on how to effectively tell stories in the comic book medium. A great tool that I found was the book Making Comics.

What NOT to expect

If you are looking for a step by step guide of any kind, or if you are looking for an anatomy introduction or beginners course in perspective look elsewhere (Figure Drawing for Dummies). Scott McCloud, the author, is interested in principles, not formulas. While this does not mean that the above are not present in abbreviated form, this book’s primary focus is on broader principles. McCloud is interested in presenting options and information, not teaching a color by numbers approach.

What to expect

Scott McCloud’s book is unique in that it is actually a comic book itself. This means that while he is teaching principles, the book itself is demonstrating the very things he is talking about. He discusses in depth the use of page layout and its interaction with pacing and intensity. He talks about art, and using it on its own and in conjunction with words to most effectively communicate ideas, emotions, and story. All the while, the pages of his book visually reinforce everything he is discussing.

Conclusion

Scott McCloud’s book Making Comics is by far the most valuable resource I have found for learning the principles surrounding effective comic making. It is easy to read, but eminently approachable and useful since it is in comic book form itself. Scott has studied this art form his whole life, and he is able to concisely communicate core ideas in a natural way. Whether you want to make comics, or simply be better equipped to read and evaluate the comic books in your personal collection, this is an excellent resource.

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Two Fun Family Comics

I recently discovered something about two of my favorite newspaper comics:  they are both written by Jerry Scott.  Although I have been reading Zits and Baby Blues for many years, I never paid much attention to the author’s name and somehow missed the connection.  My discovery that the comics shared their author piqued my curiosity, so I decided to round out my knowledge of both comics a little more and review a collection of each.

Random Zits

Exaggeration plays a big role in Zits, a newspaper comic strip about a teenager named Jeremy Duncan, his crazy friends Pierce and Hector, girlfriend Sara, and frustrated parents Connie and Walt.  From Jeremy’s trademark oversized shoes to some of the craziest contortions comics have ever seen, artist Jim Borgman uses visual exaggeration liberally.  zits-cavemanThese over-the-top illustrations fit well with the only slightly less far-fetched storylines in which Jeremy struggles with his old van, hangs out with his friends, torments his parents, eats inordinate amounts of food, and sleeps all the time.  As one common saying goes, “There’s a grain of truth in every joke,” and this seems quite true in Jerry Scott’s comic strip Zits.

Unlike some comics, Zits is almost entirely episodic, and its few linear stories last for only a few installments.  Perhaps this is why I like reading Zits.  It provides instant laughs, with little or no need to check what happened the day before—although I usually do go back to previous comics because I want more laughs.

Random Zits is a humorous collection of Zits comics that makes for some light entertainment.  This book is especially good when one doesn’t have long stretches of time to read.

No Yelling!

As much as I enjoy the comic strip Zits, I prefer Baby Blues because it is less sarcastic, has a more family-centered story, and is more relatable.  The characters are both funny and endearing, and like Peanuts, Baby Blues occasionally has sweet episodes where characters display kindness instead of constantly pulling pranks, speaking unkindly, or complaining.

baby-blues-hugDarryl, Wanda, Zoe, Hammie, and Wren MacPherson may appear to be the stereotypical family at first glance.  After all, Darryl is the working father who doesn’t always understand his wife or children.  Wanda is the overworked mother who struggles to keep her children out of trouble.  Zoe is the fashion-conscious little girl who tattletales on her brother.  Hammie is the younger brother who constantly picks on his sister and gives her reasons to tattletale.  Wren is the baby who fascinates her family and follows Zoe’s (and sometimes Hammie’s) lead, whether she should or not.  These characters may sound predictable.  Look again, though, and one will discover that beneath the expected character traits are unique personalities and moments when the characters almost seem real.

No Yelling! is a collection of Baby Blues comics.  An interesting aspect of this collection is that it contains commentary by the writer Jerry Scott and artist Rick Kirkman.  Other aspects of this collection that I enjoyed were the colorful, creative title panels that the newspapers I read omit.

no-yellingAs I learned from the authors’ comments in No Yelling!, Scott and Kirkman draw a lot of their ideas from their own families and everyday life.  For example, Kirkman bases the appearances of random characters in the comics on strangers he has met in real life.  The discovery that Baby Blues draws on real anecdotes and encounters makes a lot of sense and explains why the comic is so good.  Personal experience is one of the best foundations for stories, and the strength personal experience gives to comics in particular is that the audience is more likely to understand the humor of a comic strip when they can relate to what is happening.

In Conclusion

Jerry Scott has created two distinctive comic strips that ring true to his audiences and leave them laughing.  Zits and Baby Blues may share the same author and the same focus on family relationships; nevertheless, they are independently excellent comics that each contain their own unique characters, wit, and artistic and narrative style.  For those seeking a fun comic strip, the yelling, randomness, relationships, ironic humor, and endearing characters of the MacPherson and Duncan families will not disappoint.

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