Monday, April 29, 2013

Tetsuuuo! Kanedaaa!

Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo:  It should have been like any other night in Neo -Tokyo for Kaneda and his gang but exploring the ruins of old Tokyo leads to an unexpected accident.  His friend Tetsuo gets hurt and disappears but when he comes back, he's different.

Trying to figure out what happened, Kaneda gets mixed up with a girl and a resistance group working to bring down the military.

But one word keeps coming up.  What is Akira and why is everyone so afraid of it?

I watched the film adaptation of Akira when I was 12 and my memories of it along with various reminders from my coworkers and classmates were what drove me to finally pick up the graphic novels.  

My verdict? I love it so far.  I'm only two volumes into the 6 book series but I am hooked. There are so many incredible themes I never picked up on as a kid like the resistance vs. the military, governmental incompetence, and war. Ideas that are not old and still reflect our reality today.  It surprises me just how much a graphic novel from the 80s is still so timely and I think this is what gives Akira staying power in the minds of a lot of readers.

The theme I do remember seeing in the film is the crumbling friendship between Shotaro Kaneda and Tetsuo Shima.  The film made it seem more like a grudging friendship filled with a lot of taunting and you do not really get that in the manga.  In the graphic novel, Kaneda cares for his friend and shows it.  If Kaneda had to choose a favorite in his motorcycle gang, it would be Tetsuo.  It is sad to see how one event can poison their relationship and at the same time change their lives and the world around them.

Something else I did not remember from the film was how much of a punk Kaneda was. So far, I am wondering how this ridiculous and selfish guy is going to save Neo-Tokyo.  It will be interesting to see him grow into a more serious and determined hero, one this story sorely needs.
I would recommend this series for an older teen audience (18 years of age or older) because it does contain graphic violence, mentions of sex and the use of drugs.   I mention these things not to scare readers off but to inform them so that they can make the proper decision for themselves.  We all have subjects and ideas that make us uncomfortable and I do not want anyone picking up this series based on my review and not knowing what lies ahead of them.

That being said I think Akira is a truly unique and interesting manga with panels of artwork that carry a cinematic quality that gives the reader the feeling that they are peering at a pictorial  storyboard. The story is interesting and still relevant 31 years after it was first published and definitely worth a read.

Title source:
Otomo, K. (2001). Akira. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics.

Monday, April 22, 2013

“A man might befriend a wolf, even break a wolf, but no man could truly tame a wolf.”

Today's post is about video games and stories.  I know what you're thinking.  This is not news.  This is nothing new.  Most, if not all, video games have a story.  Some of them are poorly constructed and some are interesting works of wonder.  

But something I have noticed recently is that video games are taking existing stories from graphic novels and adding to them with new chapters.  One of them this year was the episodic game for Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore's The Walking Dead.  

This game featured new characters but existed within the same universe that readers had been exposed to with Rick Grimes' survival story.  This is pretty awesome for many reasons, but the main one is that it now allows for readers to engage with another facet of The Walking Dead through another visual medium.  

It does not end here though, the same company (i.e. Telltale Games) that made the game above is working on a new project involving another well known graphic novel series.  Bill Willingham's Fables series will also be getting the video game treatment with The Wolf Among Us.

The Wolf Among Us will act as a prequel to Fables and will feature some familiar faces like Bigby Wolf, Snow White and Beauty and her Beast.  A lot of people might be a little wary of this news because of their relationship with the source material.  I have also seen concern that this game could turn out like all the games based off of movies, which are usually pretty terrible in terms of story and gameplay.

My advice? Let's be excited rather than concerned. The Walking Dead was both successful and really well reviewed in the gaming community. I feel Telltale Games know what they are doing and will do a great job on this Fables prequel.

This whole thing does spark a question that I have never asked myself.  Could digital games be the next step of adaptation for books?

Think about a Hunger Games prequel game that takes place during the time of the rebellion.  Where you get to create your own character and name them.  Where your character could fight and fall in love.  All of this leading up to the first ever Hunger Games.

Wouldn't that be totally awesome?

(title quote from George R.R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"Drink up me hearties, yo ho! Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!"

One Piece by Eiichiro Oda:  Monkey D. Luffy is finally grown up and ready to fulfill his life long dream of becoming a pirate.  He'll have to build a crew, find a ship and deal with evil pirates on his way to finding the ultimate treasure, the legendary One Piece.

I really loved the beginning to this manga. I bought the omnibus edition like in the photo above so I read three volumes in one sitting. It's funny, action packed and it sucks you in the more you read it.  I have bought two other omnibus editions for myself and I continue to read it because I am heavily invested in finding out what happens to Luffy and his crew.  I kind of really like Luffy and his optimism.  His determination to become a pirate but not to be a bad person is also pretty interesting.

My only nitpick was that sometimes when I turned the page, it felt like something had been left out.  It moved onto a new scene and I was left wondering if I had missed something.  I do not know if this was part of the translation work or if maybe they left something out to make it more suitable for teen audiences in North America. It was pretty jarring and it interrupted my reading experience a little.

Another thing I just recently realized when I started reading this series is that it is still ongoing.  This means there is no planned ending as of yet and I rue the day I got into this manga.  I absolutely hate things that do not have a planned ending.  This literally means that it could probably go until Eiichiro Oda dies (i.e. my biggest nightmare right there).  It is currently on its 69th volume and I just hope it does not go on for much longer.  Everything has its end.  Please let the end for One Piece be sometime within my lifetime. 

This manga series isn't for everyone though.  I would suggest it for a teen audience and beware that there is violence and blood in One Piece.  There hasn't been any strong language in the manga so far in my experience and there probably won't be.  The characters and scenes are really dramatic (i.e. the constant yelling) and some readers might not like that either, which is understandable. 

It is definitely worth a try though and you never know, you might like it.

(title quote from the Pirates of the Carribean film)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF)

Now I know I have been talking about TCAF over on my twitter for months now and I have probably talked it to death but I felt that I had to blog about it anyway.  Sticking it to the man!  I am so hardcore.

Anyway, if you are new and have never even heard about it, then this post is for you.  TCAF is the Toronto Comic Arts Festival that takes place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

It is a two day event that brings together some of the most talented cartoonists, illustrators and artists in the world of comics and graphic novels to one place. If it sounds like a huge deal that is because it is.

Some of the big name guests this year are Bryan Lee O'Malley (the Scott Pilgrim series), Art Spiegelman (author of Maus) and Taiyo Matsumoto (author of Tekkon Kinkreet), just to name a few.   

But the total awesomeness of this event does not end with the list of featured guests.  There will be approximately 400 exhibitors at TCAF including a few publishers.  One of the exhibitors I am most looking forward to seeing is Hope Larson because I enjoyed her graphic novel adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time and loved her book Salamander Dream.  She will probably be showing off her latest book Who is AC? and I am excited about it.

So if you are in the city or you think you might be taking a trip to the city, then check out TCAF at the Toronto Reference Library.  It is free to attend and goes from May 11th to May 12th.  I hope some of you choose to go because it looks like it is going to be an amazing festival.

Here is the link to the official TCAF website.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

“If dreams are like movies, then memories are films about ghosts.”

The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier:  Walker Bean grew up on his grandfather's stories of monsters and the high seas, but he never imagined that he would go on any adventures of his own.  When his grandfather comes home deathly ill from his latest voyage, he asks Walker to return something to the sea that he stole.

Walker will have to brave pirates, the royal navy and creatures he never knew existed in order to complete his mission and save his grandfather.

Aaron Renier both wrote and illustrated this graphic novel and it is truly a beauty.  The art is amazing and when his pictures break free of the panels to explode into full pages of art, it is jaw dropping.  

I really liked this graphic novel and I would read it again, however, it felt incomplete.  So many of the things introduced and implied at the beginning are never actually resolved or explored further.  It left the entire novel feeling unfinished for me.  This made the novel a bit bittersweet because I really started out loving it with the curse, the pirates, the adventure and the witches.  Seriously, it was yanking all of my Goonie chains in the most awesome of ways.  It just disappointed me a bit at the end.

There will be a Book 2 sometime in the near future. Eventually.  Maybe someday over the rainbow.  At least this is what the author implies in his acknowledgements page.  I really hope there will be because I am not ready to say goodbye to Shiv, Walker or Genoa.  I want to see more of their adventures and I want to know if everything Renier opened us up to in the first graphic novel will be completed there.  Here's hoping!

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol:  Anya is just having another typical awful day when she falls down an abandoned well.  After waking up at the bottom, she begins to realize that she's not alone.  There's a ghost down there with her.

When the ghost follows her home, Anya isn't worried.  They become fast friends and so many of the things that were going wrong before finally start going right.  But Anya soon sees that something isn't quite right about her new friend, something dark and scary.

What first drew me to this graphic novel was the art.  I loved it.  The soft and curvy lines had me in love with Brosgol's style within seconds.  However, what made me stay was the story.  The story is definitely more about Anya's growth as a person rather than the whole supernatural element.  The ghost in a lot of ways is a catalyst for Anya.   She learns to be herself and to accept herself as she is because of it.  By the end of the novel, she really stands up and abandons all of the things that contributed to making her feel so unhappy.  She becomes a really strong character and it was great to see it play out in the panels of the novel.

I also really enjoyed the fact that Anya was Russian and still struggling with her heritage in the American landscape.  I don't think that is often represented in a lot of stories so it is amazing to see it here.  I went out and bought this graphic novel right after I returned the copy I borrowed from the library.  Definitely a keeper for my personal library.  Now if only I could figure out where to put shelves seem to be overflowing at the moment.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang: This is the story of Jin Wang's move to a new school and a new community, where everything is different and he feels completely alone.  This is the story of the Monkey King's fall from grace and also the road he travels to redemption.  This also is the story of Danee and his embarrassing cousin Chin-Kee.

This novel had me so confused at first because I was not understanding how all three stories in the book would come together.  I literally thought I was the only one in the world who was going to finish this novel and not make the necessary connections.  But all three stories do eventually come together in the panels of the book and it such a great surprise.   

This is another novel that presents a character  with a different background in the American landscape.  For me, this story was hard to read because it hurt a little to see it unfold and realize that this could be anyone's story.  The hurtful stereotypes and the inability of others to understand shown in this novel is poignant and will speak to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider because of their heritage.   A surprising novel that has a lot to say and does it in an unexpected but refreshing way.

I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more of Gene Luen Yang's work.

(Title quote from: Duritz, A. (n.d.). Retrieved from: )