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).

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-

Gary Larson Greatness!

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A few weeks ago I wrote an article (here) about Dave Coverly’s comic strip Speed Bump, in which I mentioned another comic strip called The Far Side. While The Far Side is no longer being actively produced by its creator Gary Larson, the strip’s magnificence has been well documented in multiple book collections for those of us (like me) who are too young to have ever read it in the newspapers.

006  005Larson uses role reversals between animals and humans, science, as well as a keen knowledge of the English language to create humorous situations. I have always gotten a kick out of reading the collections of The Far Side comics, and would highly recommend them. You won’t be able to find any of The Far Side comics available on the internet, but check at your local library or buy a volume or two for your own collection.

Note to Parents: The Far Side contains an evolutionary worldview in many of the strips. However, while possibly being a negative, it could also generate good discussions about science. Also, some of the jokes can be crude and are not suitable for younger readers.

                                                                                          Flint_icon -FLINT-

Bone: An Epic in Storytelling

Bone, by Jeff Smith, is epic not only in length but also storytelling. Running 1,332 pages, and telling a story of friendship, loyalty, duty, and sacrifice, Bone is a story that can be read and enjoyed by a wide range of readers.

Bone follows the adventures of three cousins: Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone. After being run out of their hometown and crossing a vast desert, they discover a valley wherein the greatest adventure of their lives will take place. Jeff Smith tells his story with wit and plenty of humor as he follows the cousins’ many adventures. Though character change does not really take place in any of the three main characters in the story, their actions and attitudes are portrayed in such a way as to cause the reader to desire the traits of some over others. For example, Phoney Bone is constantly trying to defraud people and get himself rich. However, over and over throughout the story his schemes for money only end in pain and financial failure. So, although Phoney never changes, Jeff Smith is able to communicate that love of money above all other things is bad and will only end in ruin.  In contrast, characters like Fone Bone who display loyalty and a sense of responsibility are shown in a positive light. In his story, Jeff Smith not only communicates many admirable traits through characters, but he also uses the situations his characters find themselves in to communicate his ideas. For example, he shows how lies, even when made with good intentions to protect, end in distrust and hurt relationships.

In Bone, Jeff Smith does portray a relativistic worldview, which basically says that what is “truth” for one person may not be “truth” for somebody else, but the worldview should not be a problem for readers who perceive it for what it is. Despite the relativistic leanings in the story, Bone still has many good themes and tells a truly heartwarming story. Since Bone is fantasy there are lots of monsters, some magic (called dreaming), and a good bit of violence in the later chapters of the story.

From a technical standpoint, Bone is well done. My copy has black and white illustrations, but there are colored versions available. Jeff Smith uses a very simple layout for his panels which makes it easy for the reader to follow and understand the narrative. Following in the footsteps of the panel layouts, Jeff Smith’s artwork is simpler visually speaking, without a huge number of lines involved in each panel, but always very effective. Other than a few instances where an arm or leg on a character seems out of proportion, the artwork is very consistent.  Jeff Smith’s ability to time events with pacing between the comic panels, and draw very expressive representations of characters’ feelings, means that the comedic moments are very funny and that the story can sometimes be told simply by the characters’ features without the aid of words.

In conclusion, Bone is a great story that has many good themes and ideas. The story is fun to read, and it is probably my favorite graphic novel. That said, readers should be cognizant of the relativistic worldview present in the story so that they can pick the good from the bad, and right from wrong. Despite the incorrect worldview, Bone holds many good messages and is an entertaining read.

Happy Reading!

-flint-

Asterix and Obelix

In the vein of older European comics, which was introduced with Tintin, I now present AsterixAsterix is an entertaining comic series written by R. Goscinny and A. Uderzo. Both men were born in France and published the Asterix stories in French publications. The comics follow (big surprise!) Asterix and his friend Obelix, two Gauls who live in a small village surrounded by Roman legions. They spend their days eating boar, hurling menhirs, smashing Romans, and having many adventures.

Even though the stories were originally published in French, the dialogue is still very clear and witty in translation. The stories make plentiful use of wordplays in the dialogue, and all the names carry some humorous reference to the character of their owners.  Asterix is largely character driven, and the interplay of personalities in the different situations is always humorous to read. The stories provide a good mix of wit, both historical and mythological settings, and an ancient Roman cast of characters to continually keep the adventures  interesting.

Not only are the dialogue and stories well done, but the comics are also splendidly made from a visual standpoint.  The panels are laid out in a grid pattern and are easy to follow. The artwork is very clear and well rendered, and Uderzo does an excellent job of exaggeration in his art, adding a humor outside of the dialogue.  These factors make the comic very easy to read.  Finally, regarding color, either the comics were originally printed at a very high quality, or the illustrations have been masterfully re-colored. Needless to say, these comic books do not look like they were printed nearly fifty years ago, but are sharp and vibrant.

If you want some humorous, light reading, give Asterix a look. With witty dialogue and stories –accompanied by a superb cartoon style –you can’t go wrong.

Happy Reading!

-flint-

MOTH Under the Microsope

Moth (môth) n. – 1. Any of numerous insects of the order Lepidoptera. 2. The alias of a superhero named Jack Mahoney.

 I will be using (you guessed it!) the second definition for the purpose of this review. The Moth, created by artists Steve Rude and Gary Martin, is an engaging superhero comic series. The story is fun to read, and the pages sport solid layouts containing good artwork.

The Moth is entertaining and manages to address some serious subjects without becoming depressing or gritty. Jack Mahoney is the main protagonist who fights crime under the alias “Moth,” and has a brother, Tad, who is a midget with medical problems. The story depicts the “Moth” through many adventures–some in the interest of making money and others that come about by accident. The series as a whole shows Jack as he tries to balance his normal life with his friends, the responsibilities he has towards his brother, and his vigilante work. One thing that makes The Moth unique is that Jack works for a circus, and most of his friends come from there and often have special abilities. Though the comic book does contain several references to drug usage in the first issue and has a few crude references scattered throughout later on, the book is pretty clean over all. There isn’t really any profanity in the dialogue because most cursing is done in an unintelligible form using symbols (similar to newspaper comics). Throughout the story, The Moth shows the value of friendship and the support friends can offer in times of hardship. It also demonstrates family loyalty (somewhat) because Jack’s hero work is directly linked to his brother’s needs.

Just as the story of The Moth is excellent, the layout and artwork of Steve Rude and Gary Martin are also impeccable. The pages are laid out in clear-cut rectangular panels that are easy to follow and flow naturally over the pages. The art is very lucid and easy to understand, and the inks and color are a joy to look at. Overall, I have to say The Moth is nearly perfect in the technical aspect of layout and artwork.

Steve Rude and Gary Martin have created a true gem that not only has an engaging story that draws the reader in, but is also very well rendered and laid out. Though only about 7 issues have been printed, and the release of future issues is unknown, The Moth is definitely worth looking at. I recommend this comic book.

Happy Reading!

-Flint-

Top 10 Colorful Adventures of Tintin

As I said in my last post, if you like colorful plots, good characters, elaborate settings, and are O.K. with slightly exaggerated escapes and a few stereotypes, then you should give Tintin a read.  Following is a list of (in my opinion) the top 10 best Tintin books.  You don’t have to read them in this order, but if you do, the characters will be introduced chronologically:

  1. King Ottokar’s Scepter – Tintin attempts to stop a plot to dethrone the king of Syldavia (a fictional European country).

  2. Cigars of the Pharaoh – A crazy professor and a mysterious smuggling organization make this comic interesting.
  3. The Blue Lotus – Continues Tintin’s adventures from Cigars of the Pharaoh.
  4. The Black Island – Tintin uncovers a gang of counterfeiters in Scotland.
  5. The Broken Ear – A precious gem, a stolen statue, and two cutthroats combine to make this story highly dramatic.
  6. The Crab with the Golden Claws – The belligerent Captain Haddock is introduced in this book.
  7. The Secret of the Unicorn – Captain Haddock and Tintin begin a treasure hunt for the lost gold of Haddock’s ancestors, but they are not the only ones searching for the gold.
  8. Red Rackham’s Treasure – The treasure hunt culminates in a sea voyage to find the location of the lost fortune.
  9. The Calculus Affair – Maybe a bit far-fetched in terms of technology, this story succeeds because of the hair-breadth escapes, humor, and complex plot.
  10. Land of Black Gold – A nefarious villain from The Black Island returns, this time plotting war in the Middle East.

These colorful collections are each 62 pages in length, and can be purchased from www.amazon.com, among other online retailers

Edit: just to be clear, we are in no way affiliated with Amazon.com.  We are not being paid to advertise products for Amazon.com (Ouch.  That’s a pretty harsh way to end a review…)

Anyway, happy reading!

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A Golden Oldie Comic (which you probably haven’t read)

The old comic books that decorate my bookshelf seem to fall into two categories—the ones that are forgotten and the ones that seem to improve the more I read them.  One of these old comics is Tintin by the Belgian artist Hergé (pronounced hair-jay).  Maybe you’ve wondered what was so great about Hergé’s work.  Maybe you’ve heard that there was an animated series or heard rumors that Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson (of Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings fame, respectively) were teaming up to make this series into a movie trilogy.  And so you might be wondering whether Tintin is worth reading, whether it is one of those stories that improves with age or not.

Though Tintin is not perfect (more on that at the end), Tintin is a pillar of European comics because of its “cliffhanger” plots, its interesting characters, and its elaborate settings.  If you’re looking for a comic series with a great balance of humor, suspense, dialogue, and visual interest, then Tintin is for you.

Plots

The plots of Tintin keep the story interesting and moving.  Hergé uses the “cliffhanger” extensively, drawing the reader on to the next page:

So that’s where the page ends. And then:

…The problem is resolved.  Hergé makes liberal use of this simple device to keep the plot interesting.  Though I’m sure the “cliffhanger” could become pretty gimmicky, in the hands of Hergé, the creator of the series, the plot shines (and, in the cliffhanger’s defense, popular movies like Indiana Jones have been crafted around a series of “cliffhangers”).  Hergé’s stories strike a balance, much like a Hitchcock film, of generating suspense and raising questions that may only be answered at the end of the film.  In some ways, Hergé even uses Hitchcock’s signature plot device—the MacGuffin.  A MacGuffin is anything in a story that seems initially to be important but turns out not to be (pop culture example: in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? the “treasure” George Clooney and his two cronies are looking for is a MacGuffin because there isn’t any hidden money stash; George Clooney is actually looking for his wife).

Characters

In addition to the plot, the characters of Tintin are also interesting.  From the proud and vengeful villain Rastapopulous to the young Chinese castoff Chang, Hergé crafts interesting characters from all sorts of fabric.  Hergé’s stories are also interesting because of recurring characters.  Tintin, in his many adventures with his dog Snowy, comes across the bumbling detectives—the Thompson brothers, the ever-vocal Captain Haddock, the faithful butler of Marlinspike, Nestor, the deaf Professor Calculus, and the singer Bianca Castafiore.

Settings

The settings of Tintin are one of Hergé’s trademarks, as well (I understand) as the trademark of European comics in general.  Every place that Tintin, boy reporter, visits—from the forests of a South American country to the craters of the moon—is elaborately detailed to the point that every locale feels like a living, breathing place.  Personally, my favorite location is Scotland, where Tintin uncovers a gang of counterfeiters in The Black Island.

Unfortunately, Tintin, like every other comic book, is not perfect.  Some people might get tired of a few far-fetched escapes from danger and clichés (the ape in The Black Island is deathly afraid of Snowy’s bark; there are other “yeah…sure” moments as well).  Also, in Flight 714, Hergé does a sort of “deus ex machina” sort of ending.  Deus ex machina, “god out of a machine,” is where the author  invents a solution to a problem out of thin air.  I’ve heard this term comes from Greek plays where Greek “gods” would descend onto the stage using some mechanical crane.   This “god” would then liberate the main character in the play from some sort of “cliffhanger” situation.  Well anyway, Hergé does this in Flight 714.  In a word—aliens.  Yes, the sort of aliens that fly in super-secret spaceships.  The sort that save Tintin and his friends from danger.

But If you like colorful plots, characters, settings, and are O.K. with slightly exaggerated escapes and a few stereotypes, then you should give Tintin a read.  Be on the lookout for part 2 of this series of Tintin reviews where I will give a top ten Tintin comic books list!

Until then,

Bone