Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Paper Girls, Volumes 2-3

Today, I look at the next two installments in the Paper Girls series (my review of Volume 1 is here). These two trade paperbacks cover issues 6-10 and 11-15, and the fact that I read both may spoil the fact that I found much here to keep me entertained and involved with this title.Still, won't you stick around and see what I thought about each in detail?
Volume 2 takes the girls 28 years into the future to 2016. There, at least one of them runs into her future ("old") self, and they all search for the lost member of their quartet. Along the way, a few more clues about who are chasing them get dropped, though much is still left unanswered. Mostly, the girls find out that they can't always trust everyone (even other versions of themselves) and learn about "foldings," times and places that line up just right to allow time travel to happen. Each chapter in this volume ends with a revelation, and the ending cliffhanger was a good one.

My favorite part of this volume, apart from the excellent artwork, continues to be the clever dialogue and relationships between the girls. They might not be the closest of friends, but they do get along in their own ways. And they are biting and swift in their judgments. Also, there are a bunch of jokes in their observations of future life that I thought were funny. Overall, it was a pretty brisk, fun book that left me wanting more.
Luckily, Volume 3 just came out so I did not have to wait to see what progressed. In this book, the girls end up in about 10,000 BC, a prehistoric period when people are pretty primitive and rough. The quartet meet a young woman, her baby, and three men who want to steal that baby away. Also, they also meet up with another time traveler who fills in some more information about what may be happening. This installment is more action-packed, with lots of disappearances, chases, large animals, and combat with stone weapons. And I quite enjoy seeing how each of the different volumes is set in a different historical epoch and has its unique flavor.

In the end, I enjoyed reading these books. They tell a story that is simultaneously slow to develop and efficiently plotted. I say slow because I am three volumes into this series, and I still do not definitively know what is going on. However, much transpires in these stories in a short time, and I feel that each chapter unfolds in seemingly effortless fashion. Also, although the plot may tread on some material common to other scifi tales, those elements remain fresh and exciting. I genuinely want to know what happens next, and I feel like I read each of these books as if I am devouring them. The worst thing I can say about them is that I felt they read too quickly. And I want more. Now.

These books are a collaboration between by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang. They both are comics industry veterans who have won multiple awards over the course of their careers.Vaughan's many writing credits include the series Saga, Y The Last Man, Ex Machina, and Runaways, which all feature strong character work, high concept stories, and suspenseful pacing. He has accomplished much over his career, both in comics and in other media, such as when he was writer and producer of Lost. His track record of creating smart, fun, and exciting series is intact with Paper Girls. Chiang is known for his exceptional work on a number of DC Comics titles, most notably Wonder Woman and The Human Target. Both creators speak about their work on Paper Girls (and there are spoilers - beware) in this interview.

Paper Girls won the 2016 Eisner Awards for Best New Series and Best Penciller/Inker, and all of the reviews I read of it have been positive. Thea James wrote that the second volume "continues to impress and delight." Heather Duff opined, "This series continues to be awesome, it looks good, the girls are brilliant sassy characters." Shelby Luebers called the plots "funny and curious" and also complimented that "the girls are real."

Paper Girls is published by Image Comics, and they have previews and more about the whole series here. It will resume publication in November. These books do contain a fair amount of profanity, so it is recommended for readers mature enough to handle that.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is a provocative title for a book that is not as titillating as it is confessional. This rare, autobiographical manga was originally published online on Pixiv, where it gained a wider readership and popularity. Although there are a couple of sexual interludes in the latter pages of the story, what it mostly entails are the ruminations and observations of a 28-year-old woman on her life and circumstances. Kabi struggles with finding herself, both in terms of her family and friends. She seeks the acceptance of her parents, though feels she falls way short of their expectations. She bounces from job to job, seeking friendship and social capital, though not really finding either.
All of these situations have a crippling, debilitating effect on her, all of which she expounds on in great detail. I found this to be a very personal and revelatory book, and I feel that I learned much about her situation, more about what it feels like to come of age in Japan, and also about the business side of becoming a manga artist. Many of the events of the book are also unsettling and discomforting, but I found the whole enterprise to be fascinating and quite moving.
Eventually, Kabi makes arrangements to visit a "love hotel" for a session with a female prostitute. It is a sexual scene for sure, but it is also a very emotional time that exposes many other pains, hangups, and thoughts she has. Far from being fulfilled, she is left with more questions than when she began. In all, I was shocked to see how far-ranging and introspective this book was, and it was a powerful read.

This book's creator Nagata Kabi is fairly new to the comics world, and she apparently has another manga she is working on called Solo Exchange Diary. She talks about her works and career in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been full of praise. Shea and Derek from The Comics Alternative called it the apparent "manga of the year" and added, "This is a manga all about self-discovery, a diary-like account of the author’s attempts to understand herself within the context of her culture and her yearning for what she calls 'next level communication.'" Kat Overland called it "a wild ride from start to finish." Aria wrote, "I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by this – but I was."

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness was published by Seven Seas Entertainment, LLC, and they have more information about it here. As should be clear by now, this book is intended for mature readers.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Comics Squad: Detention!

I recently read this third installment of the Comics Squad series (see my reviews for Lunch! and Recess!), and I loved the range of stories focused on that time of day reserved for atoning for misdeeds, detention. Some of these stories seem autobiographical, some are more fictional, one recasts classic Greek mythology, and another follows some microscopic organisms. And the creators involved are some of the tops in comics, including a number of prominent award winners and best-sellers.

I don't think there is one bad story in the bunch here, but I did have my favorites. Victoria Jamieson told an fun and unexpectedly touching story about a new girl in school whose unconventional detention is to help out in a kindergarten classroom. There she has a few encounters with a rambunctious and unruly student who gives her a couple of runs for her money but also teaches her something interesting. I also very much enjoyed George O'Connor's Greek mythology-infused tale of Sisyphus. It was chock full of mythological references and pad puns (two of my favorite things).
The rest of the stories are mostly in the humorous vein, and some also had some inventive touches. I really liked Ben Hatke's short exploration of imagination in his tale about a boy getting in trouble for having a cell phone in school and then having to invent ways to pass the time without it. I have also liked his art style, but here it is looser, which was a nice change of pace. I also thought Jarrett Krosoczka's Lunch Lady comic featuring the Breakfast Bunch was thrilling and fun, though I was bummed to find out it ended on a cliffhanger. Hopefully, that story gets picked up in the next volume of this series.
With all of the great things going on in this book I should also write about two things that may put people off: 1. There is an agenda to sell more graphic novels to younger readers. They are clearly cross-promoting other series they publish (Lunch Lady, Babymouse, and Squish). Personally, I feel this volume would make an excellent "gateway book" to further reading, and I like much of what I have read from those particular series. So the commercial push does not bother me much, and I feel introducing readers to other tales they might like is actually one of the book's strengths. 2. A lot of the stories share the theme of going to detention for drawing in class. I know I had my own run-ins with teachers about when and when not to draw and can relate, but I feel like the joke gets a little stale by the end of the book.

Still, I very much liked the range of tales here as well as the variety of topics and art styles. This collection is a fantastic anthology for young readers, and I think it would be an excellent classroom library book.

I had a difficult time finding reviews for this book, but the one I did find, written by Heidi Grange, who stated that "all the stories are quite absurd, but thoroughly engaging and entertaining and bound to be enjoyed by many young readers."

Comics Squad: Detention was published by Random House, and they have a preview and more available here.