Lady Mechanika: La Dama de la Muerte by Joe Benitez

 Also by M. M. Chen, Peter Stiegerwald, Beth Sotelo, & Mike Garcia
4 Stars

To begin with, and honestly the most impactful aspect of this collection for me personally, is the fact that the art is exquisite. The style and colouring are incredible and it took at least a minute per page of just taking in the embedded narrative of the art, before shifting to the text. The panels flow very nicely and the characters are well-crafted, both artistically and in terms of the narrative development.

I really enjoyed the combination of cultural and fantastical elements. This was a great story crafted from a combination of engaging textual narrative and incredible artwork. I highly recommend this collection.

Published September 26th 2017 by Benitez Productions

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Lake of Fire by Nathan Fairnburn & Matt Smith

4 Stars

1220 AD, two young men seek to join a crusade, fight the infidels for the good of all Christendom…

Only they find themselves in a corrupt and dysfunctional world, in an attempt to keep them out of the way, they are sent on a side mission with a fervent extremist member of the inquisition, bent on burning a heretic. Instead, and this is where the fantastical meets the historical in such a fascinating way, they encounter demonic, insect-like, alien creatures who murder and collect humans to inter in their hive. To suck them dry.

The historicity in this novel is excellent, and the diversion into the fantastical is made more compelling because of it. The art is amazing, particularly the action sequences. I think this is a great graphic novel. I admit to surprise at the speculative turn, I hadn’t expected it, and might not have chosen it if I had known, but I think it is a story worth reading. Can’t wait for the next one!

Published February 28th 2017 by Image Comics

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Louis Undercover by Fanny Britt & Isabelle Arsenault

3.5 Stars

Heartwarming and dealing with difficult issues, this graphic novel fell a bit short for me. The narrative was a familiar one, a pre-teen boy confronting the spectre of his parents’ divorce and his father’s drinking, but I found myself less engaged than I might have liked to be in the pain and dysfunction of this family, this boy. The art was lovely, but the colour scheme of blues and whites, and the single sentence text at the bottom of full page art, created a narrative arc that made it feel more like a children’s picture book than a graphic novel and, felt like it disrupted the character development.

I think this choice also lent itself to detachment and distancing for the reader, which in turn led to some detachment from the trials and pain of the characters. I would highly recommend this to young and teenaged children dealing with familial dysfunction or disruption as a result of divorce or alcoholism, but maybe not the average adult reader.

Published October 1st, 2017 by Groundwood Books

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Snotgirl Vol. 1: Green Hair Don’t Care by Bryan Lee O’Malley & Leslie Hung

4 Stars

I really liked this collection. As vapid and insipid as Lottie Person and her fellow ‘influencers’ are, you cannot help but feel for them. We begin with a combination of generic stereotypes, desperately lacking the capacity to be people. Lottie and her friends each representative of a recognizable online personality. Even the name “Lottie Person” feels more like a type, and her friends are the same. This is a lack that is not only present in the functioning, ability to care for yourself, adult capacity but in every capacity. Interpersonal socialization, romantic entanglements, work ethic, all incredibly dysfunctional. The generic-bent of the characters has drawn parallels between recognizable ‘types’ on social media and the humour and irony this affords within the storytelling is wonderfully poignant, as often tragic as it is hilarious, That said, this is not entirely about mocking those who spend their lives dependent on these empty “like” factories for both self-worth and financial independence, though there are moments that do mock particular behaviours. Instead, it is confronting some hard truths about the limitations of perspective and adult capacity that immersing oneself in this sort of life and livelihood entails. It looks at the ways in which a crafted self, designed for superficial “Likes”, and engagement, and, let’s face it, external validation, even with all those hundreds of thousands of people engaging, can, in fact be a barrier to real, deep, human connection. This is a young woman that never had a chance to become a person outside of vast external influence and she is drowning at the first minor hardship. She lets fear and selfishness dictate her actions in very difficult circumstances, and she discovers, and we along with her, just how valued she is as an individual to those she considers friends.

Funny, thought-provoking, and relatable, this is a good story. For young people today, coming up in a world that is exclusively online, crafted by an online version of themselves sometimes before they can speak (parents make Facebook accounts for their babies for example), these characters are a wonderful illustration of the downfalls and benefits of that kind of existence. I think this is a great read for anyone, but particularly teens and early adults. Technological self-production is the future, it is already the now for many, and understanding the importance of what that means, and the importance of learning how to differentiate self from self-publication, is precisely what this story does.

 

Published February 28th 2017 by Image Comics

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The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (Annhilation, Authority, Acceptance)

4.5 Stars

In Annihilation we meet the biologist, clumsy with language, often reactive. Lacking nomination as part of a greater social experiment. Through her somewhat awkwardly dispassionate gaze we are introduced to a world that is secretly being cleansed by an unknown force. A force which, in spite of its clear ability to fix that which humans have broken, is being resisted by the Southern Reach.

In Authority we meet Control. Another dispassionate voice lacking nomination whose slow battle with self-control, and exerting control, is overwhelmed, literally and figuratively, by the secrets of Area X and the terror (terroir) of the Southern Reach. Control, who is given back his name (takes back?) as he navigates being dropped into a social construct dependent on secrets, lies, and machinations, none of which he is part of.

In Acceptance we are finally introduced to Area X, and to an island, and (in a way that at times felt a little too pat) we are given the answers. In a drastic shift from the first two books, we are presented with four narrative voices, voices embodying their nomination, inalienable from notions of self, which shed light into all the dark corners and uncertain spaces, onto the leaps of internal logic that might otherwise have problematized the world-building in this trilogy. And of course we are shown the truth of Area X, its inception, growth, and purpose.

I did not read the omnibus edition of this series, and in fact, discovered the series via a Netgalley request for Annhilation, a request which has the expectation of a review of the book as it is. That said, I have found myself unable to consider them as separate books. Having read the whole series (which I don’t always do before a review) I feel more certain than ever that to review them individually is to do a disservice to their inherent symbiosis, and to the fact that that symbiosis is part and parcel of the overall power of the series and is tied exquisitely to the thematic arc of the trilogy. Even those things which I struggled with as a critical reader (disruptions in grammar or phrasing) have a commonality across all three books and are clearly designed, differently in each instance, to emphasize the character of the narrator. The shift and slide from magical realism into the space of normalcy is seamless and compelling throughout these novels, no matter the voice, and is, in my opinion, the most interesting aspect. VanderMeer maintains differing narrative voices while creating the same narrative shifts throughout the series and it is a fascinating and ingenious display of craft.

An amazing and engaging read on many levels, if this series is not on your to-read list, it should be.

Published 2015 by FSG Originals

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The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan

4.5 Stars

This is one if the loveliest books I have seen in a very long time, a true artifact.

It is rather on the large side and somewhat heavy, not a book for carrying around at any rate. If anything I would liken this to a coffee table book, though smaller in scale. Its nature requires a long sitting, a true sustained perusal. This is a book to be savoured. Each tale and sculpture must be given their due, and understood in context with each other and within the greater context of the book as a whole. The format of the book lends itself to this kind of understanding.

Each sculpture is prefaced with the Grimm tale that spawned it, making the book a true testament to a relationship between the arts, the one that inherently exists, and the ones that are sought after and deserve to be fostered. It is also a testament to the ekphrastic nature of creativity. One thing this project strives for, and attains (alongside many other attempts in contemporary media, some more successful than others), that I particularly enjoy, is a kind of reclaiming of the Grimm tales from where so many other retellings have taken them in contemporary culture. This book leaves me with a firm impression of a very unique and insightful voice, and one I hope to see tackle more ekphrastic projects.

Published September 1st 2016 by Walker Books Ltd.

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