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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Snow White in Gray

snow-white-coverThe sky is gray, and the day is drab.  Only brief spots of colorful red vary the gloomy grayness and the washed out blue sky that occasionally peeks through the fog and clouds.  While this description could easily be of the late autumn days I experienced this week, it actually depicts the scenes of Matt Phelan’s most recent book Snow White: A Graphic Novel.

Although the book begins in 1918, it is set primarily during the 1920s and ‘30s in New York City.  Phelan uses loose watercolor illustrations, primarily grayscale hues, to tell his modernized version of the fairy tale Snow White.  As with Phelan’s other stories, the art is beautiful, and I enjoy his style and portrayal of characters and facial expression.  This graphic novel’s creative combination of Phelan’s art, early 20th century America, the big city, and the timeworn fairy tale of Snow White produce an interesting result.

Snow White is a familiar tale to most people, and Phelan seems to rely on this familiarity, for his story contains few words and no narration besides chapter titles.  To someone unfamiliar with the classic tale of an evil stepmother trying to kill her beautiful stepdaughter and the seven dwarves who help the daughter, Phelan’s story may be quite confusing.  Even though I have read and watched several versions of Snow White, parts of Phelan’s book were unclear, such as Phelan’s version of the magic mirror that the stepmother consults.  The parts that I did not understand were minor, however, and the story still made sense as a whole.

snow-white-illustrationIn his retelling of a fairy tale in which color plays a significant role, particularly in the protagonist’s name, Matt Phelan cleverly integrates his color into the illustrations so that it complements the story.  Phelan’s illustrations are predominately shades of white, gray, and sepia.  However, occasional accents of red emphasize important parts or characters in the story, such as Snow White, the apple, and the evil stepmother.  Then, during the denouement, Phelan introduces subtle, colorful pastels to mark how the mood of the story changes.

Snow White: A Graphic Novel is a creative concept, and Matt Phelan’s illustrations are excellent.  Yet, in spite of how artistically impressive the book is, it has little else to offer.  Besides the unique setting, the story does not introduce enough new twists to the original story to be exceptional or exciting.  For those seeking a clever fairy tale retelling that displays something novel, Phelan’s book is not the answer.  Nevertheless, for a jaunt through a familiar story in a new guise along pages full of Phelan’s beautiful and quirky artwork, Snow White will most likely prove enjoyable.

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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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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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