Archive for December, 2011

Top 10 graphic novels of 2011

December 18, 2011 | Graphic novels

Habibi By Craig Thompson Pantheon, 672 pages It was a long wait from 2004’s breakthrough hit Blankets until Habibi arrived this fall and cartoonist Craig Thompson’s sweeping love story was well worth the wait. Filled with lavish art and set against the backdrop of poverty and slavery in a fictional Arabian land, Habibi is quite simply a masterpiece. The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists By Seth Drawn & Quarterly, 136 pages One of Canada’s most renowned cartoonists paints a lovingly detailed portrait of a world where he and his brethren are revered as the highest of artists. At times sweet and heartfelt, other times melancholy and moody, but always engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable. Paying For It: A Comic-strip Memoir About Being a John By Chester Brown Drawn and Quarterly, 272 pages The idea of trading cash for sex is still a shocking subject in any medium and leave it to Toronto cartooning icon Chester Brown to take the notion to the next level in graphic form. Brown’s astonishingly frank account of using the services of prostitutes in Toronto is a thoroughly engrossing look at a world most people would otherwise never know existed. Morning Glories Deluxe Collection Vol. 1 By Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma Image Comics, 352 pages High school life if rough on most kids, but at Morning Glory Academy it can be murder. This red-hot new monthly comic series (the first year of which is now collected in one handy volume) is filled with intrigue and action as six new students at an exclusive prep school try to figure out why they’ve been brought together, what makes them so special and why so many students at their school don’t live to see graduation day. DC Comics: The New 52 By Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, many more DC Comics, 1,216 pages The publisher of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and countless other famous superhero comics, relaunches its entire universe with 52 new first issues in the hands-down comic book event of the year. This mammoth volume leaves no doubt that this is the start of something special. reMIND Vol. 1 By Jason Brubaker Coffee Table Comics, 150 pages This off-beat and wonderfully original tale sees a young woman named Sonja reunited with her cat, Victuals, weeks after he went missing. Funny thing is, not only is he back, but now he can talk. And what an unbelievable story he has to tell. Anya’s Ghost Vera Brosgol First Second, 224 pages The debut effort by this American graduate of Oakville’s Sheridan College is an extremely impressive one that sees a young girl make a very unusual friend, a ghost named Emily, who leads her down a delightfully dark path. While this spirit seems friendly, she has a secret that’ll send chills up your spine. Joe The Barbarian: The Deluxe Edition By Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy Vertigo, 224 pages Mind-bending writer Grant Morrison is at his very best in this reality-twisting epic. Joe Manson is a regular 13-year-old kid with a vivid imagination who has trouble with school bullies and has diabetes. Joe is also a brave warrior who may be saviour to a mysterious kingdom and their only hope to defeat the monstrous King Death. Is Joe losing his mind? Is he in insulin shock? Could he really be both people? Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey By GB Tran Villard, 288 pages GB Tran travels to Vietnam for the funeral of two grandparents and explores the lives of his family through the tumultuous 20th century for their country through the unique prism of being the only member of his clan to be born in America. Scarlet: Book 1 Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev Marvel Comics, 184 pages One young woman takes an uncompromising stand against corruption and injustice, and fires the first shot (or shots) in a new American revolution in perhaps the most poignant book of 2011: the year of the protest. (This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

Tintin’s toughest adventure yet

December 15, 2011 | News

He’s the star of a book series that has sold more than 230 million copies and his globe-hopping adventures, translated into 80 languages, have made him one of the most recognizable comic characters in the world. Yet somehow Tintin has always managed to elude a widespread audience in English-speaking North America. Until now. Thanks to some Hollywood heavyweights, Tintin, who first appeared back in 1929 and has gone on to be featured in 24 wildly popular books by Belgian cartoonist Hergé, may finally be on the verge of a breakthrough on this side of the Atlantic. The Adventures of Tintin, which opens wide in Canada and the U.S. on Dec. 21, is directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson and stars (at least in a motion-capture way) Daniel Craig, with Jamie Bell playing the title adventurer. The film has already grossed more than $233 million in international release and some Tintin fans believe it will lure even more readers to this bestselling book series. In Canada alone, “We have brought in 100,000-plus copies just to meet current demands,” says Jennifer Lynch of Tintin distributor Publishers Group Canada in an email, adding that “the spike in sales since the beginning of 2011 has been huge.” She credits the film buzz for the boost in sales. “It’s a very exciting film and I think it will bring Tintin to even more people,” says Michael Farr, widely acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost “Tintinologists” and author of four books on the character and its creator, whose given name is Georges Remi. The fantastical life of the intrepid young reporter with the upturned hair, the knickerbockers and his little white dog named Snowy hooked Farr at a young age. “It was the first book I read, as a 4-year-old,” he admits. “I remember sitting down and reading it after dinner with my mother and loving it from the first page onwards.” The lure of the character, Farr says, comes in no small part from how broad his adventures are. “Hergé, himself, would have liked to have been a reporter, but since he couldn’t be, he created a character, Tintin, who was going to be a great foreign correspondent that he was going to send out into the world to discover what was happening,” Farr says. “Over 50 years we had 23 adventures completed (and one unfinished) and they are, in effect, a mirror of what was happening in the world in the 20th century — with Tintin always in the thick of things.” There are plenty of reasons why so many people enjoy these books, not the least of which is the art, inspiring the look of the digitally rendered film. “It's a beautiful set of stories in the context of their day, and many are timeless,” says Leslie McGrath, head of the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books at the Toronto Public Library. “Those are clear, bright drawings that instrantly engage you in each story and tell it clearly.” The elegant look of the books also lured in 41-year-old Edouard Biot, an Ottawa resident who emigrated from Belgium 20 years ago. “Tintin is definitely a classic,” he says. “As a book and game publisher, I keep saying to my illustrators and graphic designers to keep ‘la ligne claire’; in English ‘clear lines.’ I’m still trying to keep our designs as simple and clear as the ones Hergé did a long time ago.” Biot says he loves the idea that the film will create a new audience for the books in North America. “I wish this movie brings Americans and English Canadians to reading those comic books,” he says. “That would be a great moment in the history of comic books.” Having already seen the film, which he describes as “riveting and packed with adventure,” Farr says it is sure to capture plenty of new fans. “It’s a very exciting film and I think it will bring Tintin to even more people, so those who are not familiar with Tintin will now discover him, go out and buy the books and that’s where they’ll find the enduring pleasure which certainly I’ve had,” he says. The feature film adaptation of Tintin is a long time coming, with plenty of parties over the years vying for the chance to bring his adventures to life. “We tried desperately at the time to get the feature rights, but of course Spielberg bought them back (in the ’80s),” says Patrick Loubert, co-founder of Nelvana Limited, the iconic Canadian animation company that produced the highly successful cartoon versions of Tintin’s adventures. “We spent a lot of time trying to make it look exactly like the comic book,” Loubert says. “We were really happy with it. We really liked the books. To get an opportunity to do it was a real treat.” The animation mogul agrees that The Adventures of Tintin has all the ingredients to be a blockbuster. “The stories are very interesting, the characters are unusual, it’s action-adventure with comedy and it should work even if you didn’t know the property at all — even if you didn’t know it was a famous French (language) classic.” The French connection is a strong one, Loubert says, noting the animated version sold like hotcakes “en Francais.” “Every country that had French as a second language, or even a third language, seemed to know the property,” he says. Those language ties extend to Canada, Farr notes. “Because of the French-Canadian connection, Canadians were always more familiar with Tintin than those south of the parallel,” he says. “Now, with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s film, I think this gap will finally be closed.” Farr says one of the best reasons for hope of a landmark Tintin picture comes from the series’ creator. “When I was writing Hergé’s biography, I discovered a note among his papers which was dated January 1983,” Farr explains. “In it, he said, ‘If there’s one person who can bring Tintin successfully to the screen, it’s this young American director.’ “Now he didn’t name Spielberg, but we know it’s Spielberg because in his diary he (wrote he) was due to meet him at the end of March. Spielberg ...

You Are a Cat!

December 8, 2011 | Graphic novels

The "Choose Your Own Adventure" books of the 1980s get a funny and decidedly more adult-oriented spin in You Are a Cat! (Conundrum Press, 200 pages, $17). Read and decide how to spend your day as Holden Catfield, an ordinary neighbourhood cat with a lot of options. Will you head over to your girlfriend's house for a snuggle? Take on that nasty tomcat that's been marking up your territory? Head off in search of fish to munch? Part homage and part satire by Montreal writer/illustrator/poet Sherwin Tija, You Are a Cat! serves up quite the fancy feast of activities for a kitty to chew on: want to become a peeping tom,stop a suicide or, oh, what the heck, kill a man? It's all in this bizarre, yet highly addictive and enjoyable effort. (This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

Marzi, A Memoir

December 8, 2011 | Graphic novels

Marzi Sowa is a complicated little girl living in even more complicated times. Growing up in the 80s in the People's Republic of Poland, she doesn't have very many toys to play with or many different clothes to wear. She spends far too much of her life in long food lines with her parents, ration card in hand, hoping she may get sugar for her tea this month. Or maybe, if they're lucky, toilet paper. Even as a young child, Marzi is bright enough to know big things are happening in her homeland. People are growing more and more frustrated with the communist government and, for the first time, growing more and more vocal with their displeasure. Her father, Josef, is participating in strikes, something previously unheard of in their country at the time. Poland is changing and growing into something new; as is Marzi. Marzi, A Memoir (Vertigo, 248 pages, $19.99) by Marzena Sowa and her partner Sylvain Savoia is made up of a series of elegant vignettes that beautifully blend many familiar childhood moments with scenes of a maturing nation. Sowa perfectly captures the emotion of this pivotal time in world history through the eyes of a child in story that is deeply affecting. (This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Vol. 1

December 8, 2011 | Trades

Trying to fill the shoes of comic book legends like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would be a daunting task for any writer/artist team. But for just one man to take on the Fantastic Four? The legendary duo's first Marvel Comics book? The series they spent the longest on? And to do arguably as good (or dare it be said better) job? You might say that's impossible. Until you read Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Vol. 1 (Marvel Comics, 1,096 pages, $140). Byrne, a former Calgary resident and a member of the Canadian Comic Book Creator Hall of Fame, spend a year as the artist on Marvel's flagship book beginning in 1979 and drew good reviews from fans. However, it was when he took on both the writing and illustrating duties, beginning with the July 1981 issue, that he really began something special. What followed was a six-year run filled with epic adventures, intense and moving stories with dynamic art that pushed the series' heroes — Mr. Fantastic, the Human Torch, the Thing and the newly renamed Invisible Woman (nee Girl, a defining moment in Marvel and feminist comics history) — to new heights. Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Vol. 1 is a whopper of a book that collects about half of Byrne's work on the series, along with some nice bonus art pages all on crisp, clean high-quality paper in favour of the original newsprint (creating an experience not unlike listening to a CD after years of hearing the same tune on scratchy, old vinyl). (This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists

December 8, 2011 | Graphic novels

You can picture all of our nation’s greats saddled up to the bar: Jimmie Frise, Doug Wright, Arch Dale. What a wonderful place Seth has imagined in The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (Drawn & Quarterly, 136 pages, $24.95). Painting a poignant picture of a country that worships cartoonists as the highest of artists, the GNBCC is clearly, though unfortunately, a work of fantasy. It is, however, the kind of place any fan of the medium will embrace and easily, and happily, get lost in. Seamlessly interweaving tales of real-life Canadian cartooning icons likes Frise (Birdseye Center), Wright (Nipper) and others with his own fully realized and compelling artists and creations, Seth delivers a touching love letter to his beloved medium and those who have blazed the trail for modern-day cartoonists. (This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)