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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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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Say Hello to Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth

hilo-coverMeet Daniel Jackson Lim, or D.J. as everyone calls him.  As a middle child of middling capabilities in a family of extremely smart, athletic, and successful brothers, sisters, and parents, D.J. thinks there’s only one thing he’s good at:  being friends with Gina, his next-door-neighbor.  Since Gina moved away, though, D.J. has been alone and has lost the one part of life in which he felt successful.  Now, life is just average.  One day, though, a little boy hurtles from the sky and craters into a field behind D.J.’s house, and Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick begins.

D.J. soon discovers that the newcomer in the backyard is just as unusual as his method of arrival.  Ecstatic, curious, and talkative, the boy introduces himself as “Hilo,” and D.J. quickly learns that a name, shiny underpants, and a bad case of amnesia are Hilo’s only apparent worldly possessions.  After smuggling Hilo into his house, D.J. feeds, clothes, and befriends him.  Before long, though, Hilo’s past begins catching up with him, and D.J. finds himself caught up in life-threatening adventures with his new friend.  D.J. realizes that, in addition to being a good friend, he’s good at something else:  running for his life from alien robots.

hilo-comic-pageJudd Winick and artist Guy Major have designed a colorful, quirky book which has illustrations that match the exuberance of its characters.  Hilo is both fun and easy to read due to well-planned panels.  Even though the panels are irregular in size, varying from full page spreads to five sections on a page, the transitions between pictures are simple and smooth.

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick is a hilarious story peopled by funny characters with personalities that remain believable, even in a fictional story.  This book will entertain and delight audiences of many ages with its characters, setting, and new twist on science fiction and alien stories.

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Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

legends-of-zita-the-spacegirlZita is still far from home, but after saving Scriptorius from an asteroid in the first book Zita the Spacegirl, she is now a galactic hero.  Being famous, though, is not all she might have expected.  For instance, there are the crowds of jostling alien and robot fans which Zita would rather avoid.  Matters only grow worse when an “imprint-o-tron” robot shows up, becomes fixated on Zita, and imitates her identity.  Zita meets the look-alike robot and switches places with it so she can enjoy a day of fun with Mouse while her look-alike handles the mob of fans.  One hitch in this plan is that the robot wants to become Zita, not just copy her.  Consequently, a seemingly innocent deception and excursion leave Zita and Mouse stranded on Scriptorius, and the imposter robot heads off on Zita’s ship with Piper, One, and Strong-Strong to save another planet.  In Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, Zita is off through space on another dangerous adventure.

Though Zita continues to show good character qualities such as courage and devotion to her friends, her weaknesses outweigh her strengths more in Legends than they did in the first book.  Zita’s most common failing is acting on impulse.  Her intergalactic adventures began after she thoughtlessly pushed a red button, and her adventures continue after she impetuously decides to swap with a look-alike and then steal a spaceship to chase down her friends.  In this way, seemingly innocuous rashness leads Zita into deception and theft.  Now, thanks to her thoughtless actions, the public is questioning whether Zita is a hero or a villain, and she is on the run with only Mouse to help her.

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl continues Zita’s story well, with fun characters, exotic settings, and dangers that call for quick thinking and fast acting.  The story lacks some of the momentum that the first book had, and Hatke spends less time developing his characters’ personalities, but all in all Legends of Zita the Spacegirl is a good sequel and suggests that the final book will be worth reading as well.

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Faithful Through the Final Voyage

Illustration from The Last Convert of John HarperFew ships or voyages have garnered as much attention as the RMS Titanic and its disastrous maiden voyage.  At the time of its launch, the passenger liner was one of the largest, most opulent ships in the world, and it featured a new safety system which caused some people to declare the Titanic “unsinkable” (Tikkanen).  Since its sinking, the Titanic has attracted even more fame thanks to books, movies, and an exhibit of artifacts recovered from the wreck.  The Last Convert of John Harper by Art Ayris presents a brief picture of the life and ministry of Reverend John Harper and tells of the sinking of the Titanic, on which Harper was a passenger.

Neither the art nor the storytelling of The Last Convert of John Harper is exceptional.  As I have noticed in other graphic novels about historical events, the style of this genre often harms the clarity of the story, and this is the case for parts of The Last Convert of John Harper.  Nevertheless, the execution of the book is more than adequate, and the research the authors put into the book is evident.  Above all, the story makes the book worth reading.

The Last Convert of John HarperBorn in Scotland, John Harper begins evangelizing at a young age.  Art Ayris shows Harper’s journey from being a street evangelist to becoming a respected minister.  In Glasgow, Scotland, Reverend Harper helps establish the Paisley Street Baptist Mission.  Requested to be a guest minister at Moody Church in Chicago, John Harper travels to America and preaches there in the autumn of 1911.  Following his return to Scotland, Moody Church asks Harper to return in the spring of 1912.  John Harper accepts the offer and boards the Titanic with his daughter Nana and his sister Jessie.  As Ayris reveals how Harper’s path leads him and his family to the Titanic, the author also highlights Harper’s multiple near-death experiences which precede his final voyage.  Partway through the graphic novel, the focus shifts from John Harper to the construction of the Titanic and the convergence of lives on that fateful ship.  The Last Convert of John Harper reveals the flaws in the Titanic’s construction and narrates the events and mistakes during her voyage which lead to her sinking and cost the lives of more than half her passengers and crew.

In the midst of the disaster, however, John Harper remains true to his calling.  He continues to preach, sacrifices opportunities to escape the ship to safety, and impacts other people’s lives in ways that will change them forever.

Works Cited

Tikkanen, Amy.  “Titanic.”  Encyclopædia Britannica.  Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.  2016.  18 July 2016. <www.britannica.com/topic/Titanic>.

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Interplanetary Adventures

If you find a device with a red button in a meteoroid crater, don’t push the button…    unless you want to be whisked off your feet into another world.

Far from HomeAfter Zita pushes the aforementioned button to annoy her timid friend Joseph, Joseph is kidnapped and taken to another planet by an evil bounty hunter.  Remorseful Zita instantly pushes the button again to follow and rescue her friend.  Where she lands turns out to be a planet of robots and aliens, but there’s no time for sightseeing, for Zita must locate and save Joseph before an asteroid hits in three days.  Soon, through her kind behavior, Zita has rounded up a ragtag band of trusty, but not necessarily reliable, friends.  The newfound help includes a crafty human named Piper, a giant Mouse who communicates with a printing device on his collar, a blustering and belligerent battle orb named One, the rusty robot Randy, and a soft-hearted alien named Strong-Strong.

Author and illustrator Ben Hatke vivifies the world and characters of Zita the Spacegirl with colorful, cartoonlike pictures that make the story fun.  In addition, he smoothly transitions from panel to panel, making this children’s graphic novel easy to follow and enjoy.

Though the book is primarily an entertaining adventure story, the bravery and kindness which Zita exhibits fill the story with wholesomeness.  Much like in fairy tales where a compassionate and sweet-natured girl, such as Cinderella, wins friendship from animals and humans by her kindness, charity, and courage, so Zita wins unexpected friends through her own caring acts.

Zita the Spacegirl: Far from Home is a story that will delight young audiences and refresh older ones.  At times the story and characters are predictable, but Ben Hatke has a few surprises up his sleeve as the plot unfolds, and he introduces enough twists to make the protagonists creative and likeable.  Zita the Spacegirl: Far from Home is the first installment in the Zita the Spacegirl trilogy, and I’m curious to see where Hatke goes with the sequels.

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Two Tales of a City and a Storm

Every natural disaster leaves behind stories of misery, of courage, of cowardice, and of perseverance, and Hurricane Katrina is no exception.  Eleven years ago, the huge hurricane swept the Gulf Coast, leaving 2,000 people dead and thousands homeless, particularly in flooded New Orleans.  It was a time of great trial, but the adversity led to many great and many small acts of heroism.

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans

Drowned CityDrowned City by Don Brown is a graphic novel which details the emergence of a small storm near Africa that soon whirls into a tropical storm, then a Category 5 hurricane.  When Katrina hits low-lying New Orleans, the city is only partly evacuated and is unprepared for the water that breaks the levees and floods the city.  During the flooding, people are stranded on rooftops and crowded in the Superdome.  As the water recedes, aid to the city is slow and disorganized, and the crowded conditions in the New Orleans Convention Center and the Superdome become squalid.

In Drowned City, author and illustrator Don Brown stitches together facts and personal accounts of what New Orleans was like after Katrina hit.  Brown researched his book well, and his book provides a concise narrative about Hurricane Katrina’s effects on New Orleans.  However, the subject matter of the story is inherently dismal, and Drowned City focuses more on the suffering citizens and incompetent relief organizations than it does on the heroes who helped those in need or the lessons people learned.  Don Brown did an excellent job of writing and illustrating Drowned City, but the content and focus make it far from uplifting.  Perhaps the situation was as dismal as Brown depicts it, but I wonder if, in the search for historical accuracy and realism, Don Brown missed many of the stories of hope, of kindness, and of lessons learned.

Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival

Two Bobbies

An example of a story that illustrates hope and kindness is the picture book Two Bobbies.  It is an account of two animals Katrina left stranded, animals who were lost like so many pets during the evacuation of New Orleans.  Two Bobbies by Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery and illustrated by Jean Cassels narrates the true story of how the dog and cat friends Bobbi and Bob Cat survived Katrina by sticking together and how they found a new home.  Well-written and -illustrated, Two Bobbies sweetly captures the pair’s story and friendship.

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The Forgotten Man

The Forgotten Man coverSince comic books and graphic novels took off as a genre, fiction has dominated their pages in the shapes of superheroes and fantastical settings, stories, and characters.  In recent years, however, this trend has started to change.  As publishers and authors have begun to recognize the potential of the comic book, the genre has expanded to include history.  The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes, adapted by Chuck Dixon and illustrated by Paul Rivoche, is a recent example of this trend.  Amity Shlaes first released her book The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression in 2008.  Then in 2014, a graphic edition of The Forgotten Man appeared.

The graphic edition of The Forgotten Man is narrated by Wendell Lewis Willkie.  During the Great Depression, the real-life Willkie was head of the power company Commonwealth and Southern.  Later in his career, Willkie unsuccessfully ran for the presidency against Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940.  In The Forgotten Man, Willkie is telling his wife “Billie” about the Great Depression.  The book is a mixture of Willkie’s personal experiences, snapshots of other people’s stories, and the effects of the New Deal; this mixture combines to form an overarching tale of the Great Depression.

Because of the chronology of The Forgotten Man, characters enter, exit, and reenter the story, and threads are picked up, dropped, then continued.  This organization can make the story confusing and choppy at times, but a helpful “Cast of Characters” is located in the back of the book with the portraits, names, and brief biographies of each main character.  Also, when the story shifts from the past to Willkie’s present, Rivoche helps clarify the transition by using black-and-white illustrations for the past and sepia for the present.

TFM

Wendell Lewis Willkie

Although The Forgotten Man has lost some of its clarity and historicity by being turned into a graphic novel, I think the new form has several advantages.  As I have discovered since reading the book, its graphic edition is curiously appropriate, for it was in the 1930s that the funny pages of the late 19th and early 20th centuries developed into the comic book (“Graphic Novel”).  In addition, the illustrations combine with the story very well.  The bleak pictures and brief shots of people, places, and events tell the story effectively.  As readers meet the characters of the 1930s in the pages of this book, they learn the characters’ faces along with their names.  Unlike in regular history books, which might introduce a new individual with one or two photographs, in The Forgotten Man characters’ presence in the story obliges their appearance.  This will familiarize readers with the faces of famous men like Franklin Roosevelt, infamous men like Leon Trotsky, and forgotten men like Andrew Mellon.

Amity Shlaes

Amity Shlaes

When I heard about the graphic edition of The Forgotten Man, it caught my interest.  My sister had read and enjoyed the original book, and I wondered how well a history book about economics and the Great Depression would adapt to a graphic form.  Despite a few drawbacks, I think that the graphic edition of The Forgotten Man is a success.  The new version allows Amity Shlaes and her coauthors to pull back the curtain of history and show their audience a glimpse of what life was like for Americans during the Great Depression – for the powerful politicians, for the suffering poor, for the persecuted rich, for the forgotten man.

Works Cited

“Graphic Novel.”  Encyclopædia Britannica.  Encyclopædia Britannica Online.  Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015.  Web.  14 Sep. 2015 <www.britannica.com/art/graphic-novel>.

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Calamity Jack

Calamity Jack Cover“I think of myself as a criminal mastermind…with an unfortunate amount of bad luck,” admits Jack (4).  And with these words, Shannon and Dean Hale launch their latest graphic novel, Calamity Jack, in which Jack from Rapunzel’s Revenge returns – this time starring in his own tale.

Calamity Jack is set in Shyport, a metropolis miles away from the western wilds of Gothel’s Reach where Jack and Rapunzel first met.  Shyport is populated by townspeople and thugs, as well as fantastical creatures like brownies, giants, Jabberwocks, and Bandersnatches (a creative nod to Lewis Carroll).  And then there’s Jack, who realizes at the early age of two that his calling is thievery.  Jack also discovers this depressing equation about himself:  Jack + Great Plan = Unforeseen (Usually Calamitous) Results.  Not disheartened, Jack doesn’t let bad outcomes squelch his ambitions.  As a result, he accidentally demolishes his mother’s bakery, angers a giant, and has to leave Shyport in a hurry.  Out west, as told in Rapunzel’s Revenge, Jack meets and befriends Rapunzel and helps her overthrow the witch Gothel.  Jack then returns home with Rapunzel to rebuild his mother’s bakery.  All’s not well at home, though.  Shyport is under attack from sizeable and ferocious Ant People, and Jack’s enemy Blunderboar is now in control of the city as head of a police force of giants.  It’s up to Jack, Rapunzel, a pixie named Prudence, and the newspaperman Frederick Sparksmith the Third to uncover the truth about what is happening in Shyport and save the city.

CollageAs the plot unfolds, Jack struggles with the consequences of his larcenous past.  Jack had planned for the act of thievery which landed him in his present trouble to be his final heist and to enable him to restore his mother’s bakery.  Instead, Jack’s “ends-justifies-means” methodology results in the obliteration of the bakery and disaster for himself, his family, and his city.  Perhaps the authors intend this for reasons beyond the storyline.  Perhaps they want Calamity Jack to show the problems of pragmatism and the unforeseen consequences that stealing can have – even after the thief has reformed.  In fact, though not as elegantly executed as “A Retrieved Reformation” by O. Henry, Calamity Jack contains similar valuable insights.

In addition to these direct ramifications of his thieving, Jack also struggles with how his past will affect his future, even though he has reformed.  If Rapunzel discovers he used to be just like the bad guys she’s always defeating, will it destroy their friendship?

Once again, Shannon and Dean Hale have woven a story worth reading, and Nathan Hale has brought it to life with his art.  Characters, setting, story, and themes all combine to make Calamity Jack a fun adventure and an excellent sequel to Rapunzel’s Revenge.

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Rapunzel’s Revenge

Cover of Rapunzel's RevengeTwelve-year-old Rapunzel lives with her mother Gothel in a walled villa.  Life should be perfect for Rapunzel, for Gothel is a rich and powerful witch, rules the surrounding land, and provides Rapunzel with a carefree existence.  Yet Rapunzel has dreams that puzzle her, and she feels that if she could only look over the wall of the villa, everything would make sense.  The only drawback is that Gothel keeps Rapunzel from ever leaving the villa and guards it with vigilant sentries and high walls.  Despite being forbidden to leave, however, one day Rapunzel secretly scales the walls and enters the outside world – only to find the people starving and in rags under Gothel’s oppressive rule.  On top of this, Rapunzel discovers Gothel is not her mother when she encounters her real mother and finds the answer to her strange dreams of another life.  Events deteriorate from here for the young heroine, though, for the guards catch her outside the villa, and when Rapunzel confronts Gothel with the truth, Gothel banishes her to a distant forest.  After Gothel imprisons her in a tree-tower, Rapunzel is dead set on rescuing her true mother and wreaking revenge on Gothel.  And notwithstanding being stuck in a tall tree, Rapunzel lays her plans, preparing for her escape and revenge.

Though its premise may sound much like its namesake fairytale, in Rapunzel’s Revenge husband and wife Dean and Shannon Hale creatively twist a well-known fairytale into a lasso-twirling, Wild West, magical story.  Not to mention a graphic novel.

With the help of artist Nathan Hale (not a relation of the authors), the Hales craft a colorful and entertaining novel.  The characters are quirky and memorable, and the authors change (and Westernize) them enough to keep them from becoming cliché.

What really brings the characters and story to life, however, is the artwork.  The panels are generally well laid out and easy to follow.  The colors are vibrant, and the action so animated it almost pops off the page.  Best of all are the expressive faces of the characters which verify the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.”RR Illustration

Although the nominal theme of the book is revenge, the authors spend very little time on the theme, and they primarily treat Rapunzel’s plan of vengeance light-heartedly.  In fact, other themes – like friendship and helping those in need – stand out more and receive a greater focus than revenge.

Rapunzel’s Revenge by Dean, Shannon, and Nathan Hale is a comical graphic novel, and the authors’ execution of both its art and story is excellent.  Best of all, it’s filled to the brim with fun and good humor.

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