Monday, December 26, 2011

Scott Pilgrim series Discussion Questions

Scott Pilgrim is a graphic novel series that was recommended to me by a fellow friend. At first I was creeped out by the similarities between my life and his (bass player, video game nerd, same age!?!?!) but then quickly realized along with a few million others just how charming the series is. Each of the six volumes of Scott Pilgrim are peppered with clever music and video game references and surprisingly deep characterization. Here are some not-very-spoilery questions for the series.

1. Do you think the Scott Pilgrim series has crossover appeal between manga fans and graphic novel fans?

Most definitely. It is practically a gateway into the manga form. It is easy to pick up, Americanized, and short.

2. For those who have seen Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (the film), compare the relationship between Scott and Ramona in the film versus the graphic novel.

My criticism with the film was that the romance between Scott and Ramona felt sudden and forced. The graphic novels allow more time and space to develop that relationship.

3. Books and graphic novel series' such as Ernest Cline's Ready Player One and Scott Pilgrim have constructed simple stories around a bevy of pop culture references with great success. Are they simply catering to nerds for profit or do these references add depth?

I loved Ready Player One even as a guy who is only nominally familiar with half of the pop culture references made. I think Scott Pilgrim is universally enjoyable and if you get the references that's just icing on the cake. I don't think the references are overbearing or catering too much to nerds, I think it is just a symptom of nerdy thirty something authors.

4. How does Scott's demeanor change throughout the series? What did he learn?

Scott's character is clueless in all senses of the word. He is self-centered and seems unaware that he has hurt Kim and later, Knives. Throughout the series, he must be selfless and help Ramona with her problems to save the world and ultimately get the girl. These events help Scott focus on something other than himself and learn that other people matter. Hence his desire to go through the door with Ramona at the end of the series and tackle whatever lies ahead with her.

5. What is the appeal of Ramona Flowers? Is she just a Manic Pixie Dream Girl? (MPDG defined: "that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures." Example: Natalie Portman in Garden State, Zooey Deschanel in nearly everything, Ramona Flowers?)

I'm not sure what Ramona's appeal is. She seems distant and unpleasant. I guess she is kind of hot. Ramona is most definitely the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype, but O'Malley allows her character to grow a bit. I can see why there were Team Kim vs. Team Ramona campaigners while the books were being released, though.

6. What does Kim Pine's role become in the series? What does she do for Scott?

Kim Pine is the catalyst to Scott's character development. She is the one who was hurt by him in the past and when Scott goes to save/visit her, that serves as the push his character needed to break away from his self-centeredness.

7. Brian Lee O'Malley includes a playlist of music that inspired him for each volume. Does knowing the author's inspiration add any personal feeling or depth to the series?

I think knowing O'Malley's muses helps the series along most definitely, especially since music plays an important role in the story. Similar to the previous question about pop culture references, this music knowledge gives the reader a deeper understanding of the author's influences.

8. Subspace goes largely unexplained through the series. Did you simply accept what it did or did this bother you? Why can Ramona access these doors?

I've been reading a lot of books lately that eschew explanations of supernatural occurrences. In this case as well, I don't think a science fiction-y explanation of subspace would have done anything for the story. Scott Pilgrim is above all else, a story focused on characters. The ambiguity in Ramona's origins and powers serves as the most intriguing unsolved mystery of the series (adding to the what happens after the end mystery)

9. What was the driving narrative force of the series? What kept you reading?

Characters, Scott's character arc most definitely. Surprisingly, the fights simply drove the story along but weren't the most compelling part.

10. What is the importance (or non-importance) of changing hairstyles?

It shows the superficiality of Scott's previous girlfriend Natalie/Envy. If she cares that much about Scott's hairstyle, she's probably not a good person to be with. Not sure on Ramona's changing hairstyles, perhaps that she's never solidified in once place and that she isn't happy with being nailed down to one style/thing.

11. How did the Scott Pilgrim film adaptation differ from other comic to film adaptations?

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World felt more like a nod to the graphic novel series rather than a panel by panel adaptation a la Sin City. The humor and feel of the graphic novels were captured quite well.

12. Do you think Scott and Ramona were meant to be together? Did they stay together?

My book club simply replied, "It doesn't matter," which bugged me. I don't think Scott and Ramona's relationship would last much past the end of the book, but the important lesson is that they both learned to make another person in their lives the center if only for a bit.

Non-cohesive thoughts:

-You know what was cool? The actual hours and names of various locations. Also, that awesome Shepherd's Pie recipe.

-Brian O'Malley's significant other is Hope Larson, author of the graphic novel Mercury

-Edgar Wright, the director of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World also directed with Shaun of the Dead and Spaced.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Graphic Novel Selections May through August 2012

Hey all, it's that time again to read up and vote upon future selections for the book club. Here are some that came up on various best of lists and some personal favorites:

Habibi by Craig Thompson

Craig Thompson, the author of Blankets, released this 600+ page epic that chronicles a relationship between two unlikely individuals against a backdrop of a cruel and oppressive society. As always, Thompson manages to tell a vastly personal story while drawing similarities to religious subtexts from the Qur'an and the Bible.

Any Empire by Nate Powell

"Nate Powell's follow-up to the Eisner award-winning Swallow Me Whole examines war and violence, and their trickle-down effects on middle America. As a gang of small-town kids find themselves reunited in adulthood, their dark histories collide in a struggle for the future. Any Empire follows three kids in a Southern town as a rash of mysterious turtle mutilations forces each to confront their relationship to their privileged suburban fantasies of violence. Then, after years apart, the three are thrown together again as adults, amid questions of choice and force, belonging and betrayal."

Essex County by Jeff Lemire

"Where does a young boy turn when his whole world suddenly disappears? What turns two brothers from an unstoppable team into a pair of bitterly estranged loners? How does the simple-hearted care of one middle-aged nurse reveal the scars of an entire community, and can anything heal the wounds caused by a century of deception? In Essex County, Lemire crafts an intimate study of one community through the years, and a tender meditation on family, memory, grief, secrets, and reconciliation. With the lush, expressive inking of a young artist at the height of his powers, Lemire draws us in and sets us free."

The Complete Concrete by Paul Chadwick

"Part man, part...rock? Over seven feet tall and weighing over a thousand pounds, he is known as Concrete but is in reality the mind of one Ronald Lithgow, trapped inside a shell of stone, a body that allows him to walk unaided on the ocean's floor or survive the crush of a thousand tons of rubble in a collapsed mineshaft...but prevents him from feeling the touch of a human hand. These stories of Concrete are as rich and satisfying as any in comics: funny, heartbreaking, and singularly human."

Akira series by Katsuhiro Otomo

KANAEEEDAAAAAA! TETSUOOOOOOO! Find out why these characters are always yelling each others names! Japan's most epic and famous manga follows two motorcycling teenagers and their journey to uncover a plot involving nuclear weapons and psychic children/adults. Best known for its vastly confusing anime film that tried to condense 3000 pages of manga into a two hour film. Read the series and ignore the film.

Gotham Central series by Ed Brubaker

Ever wonder what the Gotham Police are up to? Solving crimes, that's what! Batman may be the world's greatest detective, but that doesn't mean the Gotham City Police don't have their hands full with villains like Mr. Freeze and Penguin. This unique series adds an unseen layer of depth to Batman's world.

DMZ series by Brian Wood

"In the near future, America's worst nightmare has come true. With military adventurism overseas bogging down the Army and National Guard, the U.S. government mistakenly neglects the very real threat of anti-establishment militias scattered across the 50 states. Like a sleeping giant, Middle America rises up and violently pushes its way to the shining seas, coming to a standstill at the line in the sand – Manhattan. Or as the world now knows it, the DMZ."

Revolver by Matt Kindt

Revolver deals with duality that comes off as a little bit Seven and a little bit Memento. Unique art and color scheme play into the themes and cerebral plot.

Swamp Thing series by Alan Moore

Alan Moore's famous 1980s run on Swamp Thing turned the series into a creepy and psychological story rather than a plant going around moping or killing other non-plants. Everything from romance to his origins are covered in Moore's newly collected Swamp Thing trades.

Love and Rockets vol. 1 by Los Bros Hernandez

[Love and Rockets vol. 1 is] "the first of three volumes collecting the adventures of the spunky Maggie, her annoying best friend and sometime lover Hopey, and their circle of friends, including their bombshell friend Penny Century, Maggie's weirdo mentor Izzyas well as the wrestler Rena Titanon and Maggie's handsome love interest, Rand Race. Maggie the Mechanic collects the earliest, punkiest, most heavily sci-fi stories of Maggie and her circle of friends, and you can see the artist (who drew like an angel from the very first panel) refine his approach: Despite these strong shifts in tone, the stunning art and razor sharp characterizations keep this collection consistent, and enthralling throughout."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine

Shortcomings is a black and white graphic novel that follows the ever-frustrating Ben Tanaka and his dealings with race identity and relationships. Through the lens of a brittle and crumbling relationship with his girlfriend Miko and a literally crumbling movie theater, Tomine attempts to explore these themes in a succinct and creative manner.

1. Tomine's work and other "hip comics" such as the work of Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes focus on what could be considered "first world problems," or conflicts that only effect privileged individuals. What are your thoughts on this statement?

Indie comics most definitely seem to follow young privileged folks with much worse problems to worry about. Is this meant to be satirical? Are authors of these stories similar people? I'd imagine this might be the aspect that turns people away from such a subgenre.

2. How does Tomine construct likeable and unlikable characters? Is anyone likeable?

Ben Tanaka is in my opinion a well-constructed jerk. The reader has to cringe at some of his cruel and unnecessary retorts that have just the slightest bit of truth to them. I liked Alice but I believe that was her purpose, to be the likeable foil.

3. What is the significance of the flowers/stars on the cover?

The same symbols were in the background of the picture of Miko that Ben discovered. I'm having a tough time symbolizing them without digging too deep, perhaps they represent a pattern that Ben and Miko have fallen into and have become unhappy with.

4. The self-centered cinephile, the level-headed gay friend, the aloof Asian girlfriend. Some criticize Tomine for utilizing stereotypical characters and character arcs. What do you think?

I would say that these are likely tropes of the indie comic genre, but I haven't read enough of them to identify or grow tired of them. I thought they were well-constructed relatively believable characters.

5. What does Ben's Asian heritage mean to him? How does this affect his everyday actions? Same question for Miko.

Ben criticizes the Asian stereotypes and ignores his heritage. This is evident in his comment to Miko's lover and the arguments that stem from his pornography preferences.

6. What commentary is Tomine offering on Ben's sexual preferences and the idealized (white, blonde) woman?

As mentioned above, this provides commentary on Ben's relationship with his heritage and also gives the reader insight to the relationship problems he and Miko are having.

7. What did you think about the quality of the dialogue?

Tomine is often praised for his realistic dialogue in graphic novels, I would agree that the dialogue in Shortcomings flows well and believable. The only suspension of belief might be asking yourself if this many twenty somethings are so cynical and quick with witty retorts.

8. Why did Autumn refuse Ben's advances?

It was becoming evident that Ben was not over his relationship with Miko despite her distance and that he had less than commendable reasons for being interested in her.

9. Why does Ben carry himself in such an antagonistic manner? What are the snide comments and chilly exterior hiding?

The snide comments are hiding an insecure thirty year old with a go-nowhere job. Ben is perhaps bitter because his life has plateaued, he seems to need new motivation and new goals.

10. Alice is Ben's only friend. Why does she tolerate him? What do they have in common?

I'm not sure why Alice tolerates Ben, I asked myself this throughout the entire book. They seem to have fun having relatively misogynistic conversations about relationships.

11. What about Tomine's sparse art style lends itself to discussion on race relations?

It is sometimes difficult to ascertain the race of characters in Tomine's art, perhaps by design. I wasn't sure of Miko's lover's race, I'm still not completely sure. Tomine could be saying that the world is becoming a homogenized place or we could be reading into the art too far.

12. What is the significance of the first page and it being a scene from a film?

The first page portrays a cheesy film full of Asian stereotypes. Miko is emotionally moved by it while Ben criticizes it. This easily gives the reader an idea of each character's view on their racial identity.

13. Tomine, like his character Ben Tanaka, is more or less "pessimistic about the possibility of escaping the limitations of socially inscribed identities." Your thoughts?

I think this is universal across many second or third generation Americans with mixed ethnic identities. Despite being a multiracial individual, these folks are still seen as exclusively black, white, Asian, whatever. Tomine likely wrote Shortcomings as a commentary on this societal tendency.

14. Shortcomings ends ambiguously. What have we learned? What will Ben Tanaka do? What should he do?

We have seen the evidence, now it is our part to decide where Ben Tanaka goes next. The hope is that he has seen his own flaws through his relationships and trip out to see Miko, but his character is indeed stubborn.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chew series by John Layman

Chew is a unique graphic novel series that follows psychic detective Tony Chu. Chu is a cibopath, meaning he can get psychic impressions from whatever he eats whether it is appetizing or not. Chew's world is charmingly food-themed and blends dark humor and clever detective stories. Here are the discussion questions for the upcoming book club:

1. Chew has been criticized for its lack of central driving plot element. Your thoughts?

After reading four trades, it seems to be coming together, but the first few do seem disconnected. The only driving element being of course the food-themed world and that Tony is a Cibopath.

2. How do Layman and Guillory play with the element of sequencing in each issue?

Layman and Guillory like to foreshadow and play with the element of time quite a bit. In one of the trades, they pretended to have a "panel mix up" in which a few of the pages are swapped to allow the reader to see future events.

3. Guillory said he wanted to make Chu the "least stereotypical Asian American ever." What is the importance of this?

I barely noticed that Chu was Asian, so congrats to Guillory. I think this plays into his character even more than race, Chu needed to be a blank slate since he has such a complex power. If his character were to be complex as well, the story would be in danger of becoming muddled.

4. Did you see the Mason Savoy twist coming?

No, actually, despite the fact that he is drawn kind of like Robotnik from Sonic games.

5. Chew has been dismissed as "just another zombie book." Obviously there are no zombies, how would someone draw that conclusion? What is the difference here?

It has the same gore and gross-out elements as a zombie book would and it became successful around the time that The Walking Dead really started growing. The difference is the lack of a post-apocalyptic world and the fact that most characters keep their limbs intact.

6. The psychic detective has been done many, many times especially in television. What separates Chew?

Obviously, the Cibopathic twist. It is quite the television trope, but it is a less common plot element in graphic novels and worth exploring I'd say.

7. Chew is a proposed 60 issue run. How do you think this affects Layman's storytelling and forthcoming issues?

This makes me happy. Series like Fables that continue well past their best story arc irritate me. The fact that there is a planned sixty issues says to me that Layman and Guillory have a planned story arc that they intend to finish.

8. The same people that adapted The Walking Dead are adapting Chew into a half hour comedy series. What makes Chew adaptable for television?

As previously mentioned, Chew follows the common television trope of a psychic detective. The case format works quite well for television, so that would make it easy to form episodic content.

9. What does Guillory's art style lend to Chew? Why does it work?

Guillory's art style is controversial, but I like the dirty lines and cartoonish looks of the characters. It is set in a quirky food-themed world and Guillory's art caters to that perfectly.

10. Chew seems to follow the formula of humor then more serious character development. What is so appealing about this balance to comics writers?

Without making readers care about the characters through mutual humor and development, creating drama is difficult. Hence the tendency to start light and get heavier as the plot thickens.

11. Chew favors an omniscient narrative form. Why this instead of the inner monologue of the psychic detective?

The inner monologue would have been extremely stereotypical and noir-feeling for what is supposed to be a light detective series.

12. Why beets?

Rob Layman has laymanted (ha!) that this question gets asked of him too often. Nobody knows why beets are the only thing that Chu does not get a psychic impression from. Perhaps it will be answered in later issues?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Incognito by Ed Brubaker

Incognito is another entry in Ed Brubaker's continuing series of superhero/noir mashups. In this case, Zach Overkill is a supervillain(hero?) who has been put into witness protection and drugged to subdue his powers after some sensitive testimony against supervillain The Black Death. What follows is a superhero deconstruction in the same vein as Powers and Watchmen. The book club for Incognito will meet on Thursday October 20th at Koelbel Library at 7:00 p.m.

1. What is the importance of Zach's white shirt/black tie get up?

2. What message about the superhero genre is Brubaker trying to send with Incognito?

3. If superheroes did exist in the real world, would they be treated as they are in Incognito? Essentially drugged to inhibit their powers?

4. As evidenced by the office Santa story, Zach enjoys being in costume. Is there any significance to this story or this revelation?

5. Amanda from the office is sexually aroused by superheroes as a result of being saved by one. Is this a realistic result? What does this imply about superheroes in general?

6. Watchmen and Incognito both feature superheroes with relatively "boring" superpowers, i.e. a mask and the ability to fist fight. Both also deconstruct the superhero genre and ask interesting moral questions. Are these arguably more interesting plot lines attributed to featuring a simpler superhero? Do overly complex origins (cough Green Lantern) blur the possibility of strong storylines?

7. In the afterword, Brubaker talks of his plans of continuing the series. For those who have read the sequel, is this a wise decision? Would Incognito have served better as a one shot?

8. Much like Planetary, Brubaker features Lazarus (Shadow-like) and Professor Zeppelin (Doc Savage-like). These alternate superhero universes often feature doppelgangers like this. Does this add to the fictional world or detract?

9. Would you consider Zach Overkill a villain? Why or why not?

10. The idea of living "off the grid" or retiring from superherodom has been explored in many graphic novels. Is it possible or is the allure of fighting crime impossible to resist?

11. Why is each twin slightly different or more evil?

12. Incognito features a bit of recreational drug use. Why is drug use rare in superhero stories?

13. Incognito has been criticized for its "endless plot reveals and revelations toward the end." Do you agree that this was a detraction from an otherwise good story?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mr. Punch Discussion Questions

Mr. Punch is the third Neil Gaiman graphic novel to make an appearance in our book club (Eternals, Sandman series). This one takes his common themes of childhood abandonment, creepy atmospheres, and memory. McKean lends unsettling multimedia art with visual hints to help the reader decipher the complex story. The book club for Mr. Punch meets on Thursday September 15th at 7:00 p.m. at Koelbel. If these questions seem more clever than usual, we can thank Ms. Elena for her contributions.

1. Why are the actions of adults in this graphic novel ambiguous?

2. What is the effect of the Punch and Judy show on our protagonist the Child?

3. What constitutes children's entertainment? Should it be censored, or scary? How has that idea evolved culturally and over time and what are the implications of that evolution?

4. What would have happened if the Child had donned the Mr. Punch puppet?

5. What is the implication both in the original play and the graphic novel when Mr. Punch not only kills and outwits a policeman and crocodile, but the devil himself? More broadly, what does Mister Punch represent?

6. Consider the puppet show and the narrative. What does one have to do with the other? How does the Punch and Judy show function as a motif? Examine the significance of the title.

7. What is the underlying symbolism of the Mermaid?

8. Consider the idea advanced by the narrator of memories as snapshots. How do you understand this idea within the context of the story?

9. What is the significance of the dream sequence and what impact does it have on the rest of the narrative?

10. Toward the end of the book, the narrator thinks he sees Professor Swatchell. He says “Later it occurred to me that the man i saw could not have been Swatchell. Nobody lives for ever, after all; not even the Devil. Everybody dies but Mister Punch, and the only life he has he steals from others.” What does he mean by that?

11. Why does Mister Punch say, once the Devil is dead, that everybody is free to do whatever they wish? Is that true? Why or why not, and what are the implications?

12. Explain the last line of the book, “I left the churchyard then, shivering in spite of the May sunshine, and went about my life”

13. Gaiman says in his acknowledgements “[t]hank you to my parents and Aunts and Uncles, whose memories, both of Punch and Judy and of my family history, I have so recklessly and shamelessly plundered and twisted to my own purposes.” How does that color your view of the story, if at all?

14. What tone and mood do McKean’s art lend to the story? How would the story feel different if it were illustrated by a more conventional comic artist?

15. Unless the pronoun begins a sentence, the narrator refers to himself with a lower-case “i” Why is that?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tricked by Alex Robinson - Discussion Questions

Alex Robinson is quickly becoming one of my favorite new graphic novel authors. In this and his previous effort Box Office Poison, he manages to uniquely portray a huge cast of characters using everything from personality quirks to calligraphy. Tricked features a cast of six including a washed up rock star, a waitress, and a counterfeiter among a few others whose lives become temporarily intertwined in a dramatic event.

The book club for Tricked will meet on Thursday August 25th at Koelbel Library at 7:00 p.m. Below are spoiler-less discussion questions.

13. What is the importance of the chapters counting down from fifty to one?

12. Tricked balances a diverse cast of characters. Who was your favorite/least favorite character? Who had the best/worst storyline?

11. Why is the vandalized photograph of Ray Beam so upsetting to Steve?

10. Compare Steve and Nick's psyches. Are they really so different?

9. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Alex Robinson's drawing style?

8. Why did Ray start writing songs again? Is it as simple as Lily's presence? Do you think artists need muses?

7. Nick's likability and morality varies throughout Tricked and comes to a head at the end of the book. How did you end up feeling about his character? What do his actions say about the possibility of redemption in individuals?

6. Caprice was one of the more dynamic characters in Tricked. Explain her behavior throughout the book and the outcome of her situation.

5. Did you find Robinson's characters believable?

4. In his previous effort Box Office Poison, Robinson was praised for being able to portray the lives of many different characters in such a convincing way it seemed voyeuristic.

3. Was Steve aware of his actions at the end of Tricked? Would he have a legitimate "crazy defense" in court?

2. What is Ray's epiphany at the end of the book?

1. Why is the cassette tape cover important? What is the significance of the title?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Future graphic novel selections January - April

That's right, graphic novel book clubbers, it's time again for a vote on new graphic novels. Comment below with your thoughts and suggestions and we'll hold a vote at our next meeting which is for Alex Robinson's Tricked on August 25th.

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang: "Dennis Ouyang lives in the shadow of his parents’ high expectations. They want him to go to med school and become a doctor. Dennis just wants to play video games—and he might actually be good enough to do it professionally. But four adorable, bossy, and occasionally terrifying angels arrive just in time to lead Dennis back onto the straight and narrow: the path to gastroenterology. It’s all part of the plan, they tell him. But is it? This powerful piece of magical realism brings into sharp relief the conflict many teens face between pursuing their dreams and living their parents’."

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol: "Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn’t kidding about the “Forever” part. Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who’s been dead for a century. Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya’s normal life might actually be worse. She’s embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she’s pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a ghost—is just what she needs. Or so she thinks."

Scott Pilgrim series by Brian O'Malley: Scott Pilgrim is a twenty something bass player who is dating a HIGH SCHOOLER! Ewww. Video game references, surprisingly deep characterization, and humor fill the pages of O'Malley's six volume work.

Essex County by Jeff Lemire: "Where does a young boy turn when his whole world suddenly disappears? What turns two brothers from an unstoppable team into a pair of bitterly estranged loners? How does the simple-hearted care of one middle-aged nurse reveal the scars of an entire community, and can anything heal the wounds caused by a century of deception? Award-winning cartoonist Jeff Lemire pays tribute to his roots with Essex County, an award-winning trilogy of graphic novels set in an imaginary version of his hometown, the eccentric farming community of Essex County, Ontario, Canada. In Essex County, Lemire crafts an intimate study of one community through the years, and a tender meditation on family, memory, grief, secrets, and reconciliation."

Daytripper by Gabriel Ba: A meditation on one man's life, brothers Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon explore all of the different possibilities of Bras de Olivia Domingos. Bras dies at the end of each issue in a different way only to wake up the next issue in a slightly different world. It is unclear whether or not Bras is learning from these past events or is unaware of them.

Life with Mr. Dangerous by Paul Hornschemeier: Amy is unhappy and single. She works at a department store and has self-image issues. The only joy she seems to get out of life is from watching reruns of Mr. Dangerous, a television show. Will she be able to find happiness in the real world or will her penchant for equating life and television keep her from ever escaping her dreary existence?

All quoted descriptions courtesy of

Retread possibilities: We've already done these titles in past book clubs, but I'm open to rereading them if anyone's interested! Let me know or select any other past selections.

Y the Last Man series by Brian K. Vaughan: One of my favorite graphic novel series, it follows Yorick and his pet monkey Ampersand. The two are seemingly the only two males left on Earth after a mysterious occurrence causes all other men to die. Yorick must discover the truth and get to Australia to find his girlfriend Beth.

Berlin by Jason Lutes: A historical account of the tumultuous inter-war years in Berlin through the eyes of various young people including art students and musicians. An unfinished two volume series.

Locke and Key by Joe Hill: A horror comic to end all horror comics. Each volume adds more depth and mystery to the series, so revisiting this one now that four volumes are out could be a treat. Though the first starts out as a King-esque horror comic, the ensuing trades delve deeper into the key mythology and almost comes off as more Neil Gaiman-y.

Planetary series by Warren Ellis

My apologies, my life has been hectic lately and I hadn't gotten the chance to post Planetary discussion questions. Planetary is almost as difficult to figure out as some of the worldwide conspiracies that Elijah Snow, The Drummer, and Jakita Wagner try to unravel, but is entertaining nonetheless. Unlike The X-Files conspiracies are teased AND answered. Thanks to our resident Planetary expert Jason for about half of these awesome questions.

1. Much of the Planetary series seems to focus on Elijah Snow. Why is he important as the protagonist? What are the roles of Jakita and The Drummer?

2. Planetary very oddly incorporates the DC Universe into its storylines. Did you enjoy its incorporation? Would Planetary have been affected adversely had it been a completely separate universe?

3. Do you feel Planetary is more original than derivative or more derivative than original?

4. Were there any major fictional genres or superhero tropes that you wished the series would have explored in more depth?

5. What is the significance of Century Babies in the series?

6. How do the three (or four) members of Planetary differ from say, The Fantastic Four? Why is this comparison significant?

7. Planetary consists of 27 issues over the course of ten years. How did this affect its fan base? Is this time span apparent when reading them in trade format?

8. What questions does Planetary reveal about the world's "secret history?" Does the government feed us a combination of truth and misinformation?

9. Elijah Snow doesn't follow the typical "superhero code of conduct." (For example, he doesn't flinch to kick people in the "unmentionables" or kill/torture/maroon his enemies.) Is Elijah Snow a superhero in the traditional sense? Does this "morally questionable" behavior make him a stronger/weaker character? Do you wish more traditional superheroes behaved in the same way?

10. Warren Ellis claimed that Planetary was a book about the evolution of the superhero genre rather than a book about superheroes, yet ultimately the final issues focused more on the plot of the characters rather than exploring genre. Did this hurt the story in any way, or did this focus on the book's main characters make the series stronger?

11. Some issues (particularly the later ones) deal with extraordinarily complex and esoteric concepts such as the structural nature of the universe, principles of time travel, the afterlife, theoretical physics, the purpose of the "century babies," etc. Did Ellis lose you as a reader in these moments, or were they adequately explained to keep you entertained and able to follow the story?

12. What are your thoughts on Jakita Wagner as a comic book female protagonist? Does she exemplify what women in comic books could and should be, or do you feel that she is yet another example of a poorly written female character in the superhero world?

13. Warren Ellis tends to write superheroes with very "human" emotions and reactions, filled with characters who tease each other and often struggle with emotional/sexual/anger issues. Do you wish more superhero books were like this, or do you prefer the "do no wrong" stoic style of superhero?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Blankets by Craig Thompson

Man, I have been trying to get the Graphic Novel Book Club to read Craig Thompson's Blankets since its inception. I read it back in high school, was devastated, and also thoroughly enjoyed it. Its an autobiographical tale of first love that is honestly and sometimes comically told. Blankets is full of motifs and symbolism; many of the questions below reflect this.

The book club for Blankets will meet on at Koelbel Library on Thursday June 9th at 7:00 p.m.

1. What is the significance of blankets?

2. What is the importance of Craig's brother in the story?

3. Describe Thompson's art style. What does he do differently than other graphic artists?

4. Blankets seems to be a love it or hate it type of graphic novel. Why is this? Is there something in the story that some readers connect to more than others?

5. Imagine Blankets had been written without the Christian influence. Could it have been the same story? What would have happened differently?

6. Why was the separation of Craig and Raina so sudden?

7. Compare how teenagers are portrayed in Blankets versus other graphic novels we've read such as Black Hole and Locke and Key?

8. What do you think of the concept of "first" love? Is it truly love or just getting used to being truly close to someone for the first time?

9. What is the importance of Raina's parents' divorce?

10. What is the importance of weather and snow?

11. Why did Craig draw a tree in Raina's bedroom?

12. Once Craig and Raina finally acknowledge their sexual desire for each other, what does the following swirly floating art sequence represent?

13. Blankets has been challenged and censored in libraries. Why?

14. What is the significance of the last line of the graphic novel, "How satisfying it is to leave a mark on a blank surface. To make a map of my movement--no matter how temporary."

15. Going along with the above question, things being in a temporary state seems to be a theme in Blankets. What other examples can you think of? Why is this important?

Friday, May 13, 2011

American Vampire by Stephen King and Eric Snyder

American Vampire is King's and Snyder's attempt to bring vampires back from the sparkly and brooding individuals that they have become. This graphic novel is the first in a series and follows Skinner Sweet, a Jack of Fables-esque vampire with a love for candy and Pearl Skinner, a young up and coming actress.

1. Snyder and King split up each issue with a story each. How did this affect the story?

I had trouble with the format, I thought that the two authors writing half a story per issue never came together cohesively. Sure, there's an interesting duality with Sweet being evil in one story and semi-evil in another, but I would have preferred a more straightforward story with an already great premise.

2. In the foreword and in interviews, King talks about the current state of vampires. Did American Vampire help de-Twilight vampires in pop culture? How so?

I think it took some steps towards making vampires important in popular culture again. The twist on any vampire story is how they act, the powers they have, and the types of people they are. Compare the psychic vampires from Dan Simmons' Carrion Comfort to Anne Rice's sultry and more traditional vampires.

3. What's the difference between the European and American vampires? What's the significance of each?

The European vampires were almost a way to satirize the state of traditional vampires, making them goofy and pompous. This served a stark contrast to all American badasses like Skinner Sweet.

4. King wrote Skinner Sweet's backstory. Your thoughts on it?

King made a big deal of talking about Sweet's backstory in the foreword, but I didn't think there was anything out of the ordinary that interested me. Maybe some of the elements will come to a head in future volumes?

5. Snyder will take over sole writing credit starting with issue six. What are your thoughts on this and King's appearance on only the first trade?

It feels like a gimmick that Vertigo employed to help get the series off of the ground if King is leaving right after the first trade. This also will likely represent unevenness in storytelling, with Snyder having to refer to material that King wrote.

7. By breaking the "rules" of vampirism like walking in sunlight, did Snyder and King really write a vampire story? Is changing up the traditional rules necessary for a good vampire story?

Yes. As previously mentioned, one of the hallmarks of vampire storytelling is to break some of the rules and make your vampires unique and a continuing threat.

8. Is Pearl's resistance to devouring her lover believable?

I guess so? Pearl was supposed to be the non-evil vampire throughout the story and the authors never make the vampires seem too bloodlust-y in the story, so it's possible that she could resist the temptation of "eating" him.

9. Did American Vampire read like a Stephen King story? How did it compare to 'Salem's Lot?

Didn't get a great answer from the book club. Thoughts?

10. In the foreword, King mentions reading his son's Locke and Key series for a refresher/inspiration. Is there evidence of this in the story?

Not a whole lot. Locke and Key benefits from a small setting with a small cast of characters while American Vampire is more sprawling, so its tough to get a bead on similarities.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Future graphic novel selections September - December

Here's a list of potential future selections for our graphic novel book club. Please comment or e-mail me your top choices and/or bottom choices. Scandalously, I have not read any of these, so below are the descriptions.

The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch by Neil Gaiman: "In his grandfather's seaside arcade, a young boy encounters a mysterious Punch & Judy man with a dark past and a woman who makes her living playing a mermaid. As their stories unfold, the boy must confront family secrets, strange puppets and a nightmarish world of violence and betrayal."

Chew series by John Layman: "Tony Chu is a detective with a secret. A weird secret. Tony Chu is Cibopathic, which means he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. It also means he's a hell of a detective, as long as he doesn't mind nibbling on the corpse of a murder victim to figure out whodunit, and why. He's been brought on by the Special Crimes Division of the FDA, the most powerful law enforcement agency on the planet, to investigate their strangest, sickest, and most bizarre cases."

American Splendor by Harvey Pekar: "American Splendor is the world’s first literary comic book. Cleveland native Harvey Pekar is a true American original. A V.A. hospital file clerk and comic book writer, Harvey chronicles the ordinary and mundane in stories both funny and touching. His dead-on eye for the frustrations and minutiae of the workaday world mix in a delicate balance with his insight into personal relationships. Pekar has been compared to Dreiser, Dostoevsky, and Lenny Bruce. But he is truly more than all of them—he is himself."

Incognito by Ed Brubaker: "From the creators of Criminal and Sleeper comes the most insane and evil super-villain comic you've ever read! What if you were an ex-super villain hiding out in Witness Protection... but all you could think about were the days when the rules didn't apply to you? Could you stand the toil of an average life after years of leaving destruction in your wake? And what if you couldn't stand it? What would you do then? Incognito - a twisted mash-up of noir and super-heroics."

Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine: "Tomine's lacerating falling-out-of-love story is an irresistible gem of a graphic novel. Shortcomingsis set primarily in an almost otherworldly San Francisco Bay Area; its antihero, Ben Tanaka, is not your average comic book protagonist: he's crabby, negative, self-absorbed, ├╝ber-critical, slack-a-riffic and for someone who is strenuously race-blind, has a pernicious hankering for whitegirls. His girlfriend Miko (alas and tragically) is an Asian-American community activist of the moderate variety."

Thief of Always by Clive Barker: "When archetypal 10-year-old Harvey Swick desperately wishes to be delivered from a boring February afternoon, he is miraculously rescued by Rictus, a smiling (if somewhat sinister) creature. Rictus takes Harvey to the Holiday House, where every morning is spring, every afternoon is summer and every evening offers Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas in quick succession. Barker masterfully embroiders this fantasy world with a mounting number of grim, even gruesome details. Harvey must heroically battle what is gradually revealed to be the malevolent force behind the Holiday House in order to save not only himself but all its previous young guests."

Seven Soldiers of Victory by Grant Morrison: "What if there was a team of superheroes who never met each other? Included are stories of four of the eventual seven members—the magician Zatanna is a highlight—all of whose adventures stand alone but also subtly interweave. The art is uniformly impressive, the standout being Frazer Irving’s Klarion the Witch Boy, pulsing with ominous supernatural life."

Scalped series by Jason Aaron: "Fifteen years ago, Dashiell "Dash" Bad Horse ran away from a life of abject poverty and utter hopelessness on the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation in hopes of finding something better. Now he's come back home armed with nothing but a set of nunchucks, a hell-bent-for-leather attitude and one dark secret, to find nothing much has changed on "The Rez" -- short of a glimmering new casino, and a once-proud people overcome by drugs and organized crime. Is he here to set things right or just get a piece of the action?"

Monday, March 28, 2011

Creature Tech by Doug Ten Napel - April 14th

Creature Tech is a black and white graphic novel inked and written by Doug Ten Napel, the creator of the Earthworm Jim video game series. Similar to the quirky platforming video game, Creature Tech is a humorous take on graphic novels. It is essentially a science and religion debate with some monster cats and space eels thrown in for good measure.

The book club for Creature Tech will meet on Thursday April 14th at 6:30 p.m. at Koelbel Library. Here are the discussion questions:

1. What about Dr. Ong changes throughout the graphic novel? What were the catalysts? Map out his transformation.

2. Creature Tech was written over the course of many, many years. Is there any evidence of this when reading it?

3. What is the significance of the strange scene in which the parasite is "crucified?"

4. Why is Blue the mantis important to the story? What does he teach us?

5. What is the importance of Blue's near death experience?

6. The introduction calls Creature Tech a better animated "film" than any of Pixar's offerings. Do you agree?

7. Do you think Ten Napel is spiritual? Do you think his views could be classified as agnostic, Christian, or atheist?

8. The parasite turns Dr. Ong into an Iron Man-like tragic superhero. How is Dr. Ong different from other superheroes and their depictions?

9. Why does Dr. Ong have a crucifix around his neck in the last third of the book? Where did it come from?

10. Dr. Ong's father is upset by the existence of the "real" Shroud of Turin. Why?

11. Why did Dr. Ong throw the water balloon at Katie? Was her reaction correct? She can now be considered "beautiful," but what kind of lesson is that?

12. What is the significance of Dr. Ong keeping the parasite quite possibly for life? What happens in Dr. Ong's life after the last page?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Superman: Red Son Discussion Questions

Superman: Red Son is an Elseworlds what if tale about Superman. The what if is: what if Superman had been born in Russia instead of Smallville, Kansas? This alternate universe has Lois Lane as Lois Luthor and Jimmy Olsen as Lex Luthor's advisor. The book club for it will take place on March 10th at Koelbel Library starting at 6:30 p.m. Here are the discussion questions:

1. What parallels does Superman: Red Son draw to other graphic novels based in historical events? Titles that come to mind: Maus, Berlin, Persepolis, Sacco's works.

2. What about Superman's moral code stays the same when he's Russian? What's different? How is he the same and different in general?

3. The ending of Superman: Red Son reminded me of the ending of Watchmen. Why?

4. Many, many superhero graphic novels ask the reader if the world is better off without them. Using this graphic novel's take, should the world even have superheroes?

5. What other alternate universe one-shots have you read and enjoyed?

6. Batman's silly hat. Your thoughts?

7. How did Superman negatively and positively effect the Russian Empire? Can this be said for regular superman and the United States?

8. Superman: Red Son brings up the age old nature versus nurture argument. Is it in Superman's nature to be good, or did the environment he grew up in change him?

9. Superman stories like Kingdom Come, All-Star Superman, and The Dark Knight Returns all seem to keep using similar ideas of Batman vs. Superman and Superman's strong moral code. Is the Man of Steel becoming stale? Can you think of any other commonly used plot threads in Superman stories?

10. Much of the criticism of Superman: Red Son is that its far too short for what it's trying to do. Your thoughts?

11. How did you feel about the very ending of the book, the last few pages?

12. How do Lex Luthor's actions mirror those of current world politicians? Luthor uses a means to an end-type approach.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Contract with God - Discussion Questions

Will Eisner is one of the most respected names in comics. Heck, the presigious Eisner Awards are named after him. After Josh bugged us just enough, then threatened to leave right when we set a date for it, we decided on Eisner's flagship work, A Contract with God. (Just kidding, Josh, we'll miss you). Here are the pretty much spoilerless questions:

We'll be answering these questions with VIGOR and ENTHUSIASM on February 10th at 6:30 p.m. at Koelbel Library.

1. A Contract with God is widely considered to be the first comic to be called a "graphic novel." What about Eisner's work differentiates it from other comics? Is it worthy of the "graphic novel" title?

2. Many different comics writers we've read write vignettes and short stories. Gaiman did it throughout the Sandman series, Willingham does the occasional short story in Fables. What about the graphic novel medium lends itself to short stories? Can many short stories form to make a cohesive whole like one thought out story arc can?

3. A Contract with God is often used as literature in Jewish literature classes. What about Eisner's work pays homage to his heritage?

4. How does Eisner's writing and art compliment each other? How do they clash?

5. Why did Frimme die at the end of "A Contract with God?"

6. What is the moral or lesson of "The Street Singer?"

7. What does A Contract with God tell you about tenement living in the 1930s?

8. Eisner is a huge inspiration for comics writers. Which writers would you venture to say he's inspired?

9. What do each of the characters in the stories have in common?

10. What is the significance of Eisner's narration and lettering style?

11. How does poverty effect the lives of Eisner's characters, especially in "Cookalein?"

12. Some argue that the title story "A Contract with God" takes an atheistic bend. What are your thoughts?

13. Has Eisner's work been dated or does it remain fresh and relevant today? Are comics' highest prestige, the Eisner Award, rightfully named?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Webcomic Whenever - WIGU!

Jeffrey Rowland is one of the best success stories in webcomics. He started in 1999, with a sort-of okay comic called When I Grow Up. It wasn't bad, but it never really stood out from the crowd. After a few years Rowland gave up on it, and that's where these stories usually end.

But Rowland is a cooler-than-average dude, so instead of going back to his dayjob and occasionally awkwardly mentioning to coworkers at social gatherings that he used to be a cartoonist, he started another comic, called Wigu. Wigu was almost immediately better than Rowland's previous attempt. The characters were sharper, the writing was funnier, and the serial adventures were more delightfully ridiculous.

Wigu is the story of a young boy named Wigu Tinkle. He has a goth older sister named Paisley, an uber-professional mom, and a well-intentioned but somewhat misguided father. They go on adventures together.

The other thing about Wigu is that his imagination is the key to the continued existence of an alternate universe known as Butter Dimension 3. His favorite cartoon characters (stars of a show known as "Magical Adventures In Space") are actually from here, such as the flying potato Topato (who is actually made of poison) and his sidekick Sheriff Pony.

If all of this seems totally bizarre and insular, that's because it is. The whole thing is just this wonderful web of weird self-references and long absurdist tales.

It's funny, it's loveable, and it's almost hypnotic.

So anyways, Jeffrey Rowland did Wigu for a long time. But then he stopped, and started working on another, more traditional, comic called Overcompensating. Which was great. And he started a company called Topatoco, which is such an awesome thing it deserves its own post.

Now he's gone back to doing Wigu. As of like, a few days ago.

And you should read it.