Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Last weekend I was supposed to speak at the Kidlit Blogger conference in New York, but I had to bow out shortly beforehand because of scheduling problems. However, in preparing for the panel, I pulled together some notes on reviewing graphic novels that I thought might be of interest to writers, and maybe to readers as well. And because a good writer wastes nothing, here you go!
Types of reviews: Most of my reviews are written for the mildly interested reader, a group that could include casual readers, fans of any genre and librarians, and the aim of the review is to help that reader determine whether he or she would like that book. That’s different from me liking the book. There’s always a large measure of taste involved in any review, and if a book is solid but somehow done in a style or genre I don’t care for, that doesn’t mean someone else won’t like it. Having had the experience of totally trashing a book that other people love, and loving a book most people hated, I don’t even try to believe that my taste is universal.
So, in this type of review I give an indication of what the story is about, who the characters are, what the art is like, and how the story is told, then discuss what worked particularly well or don’t work at all. If I have a physical copy of the book, I might note the presentation, particularly if the production values are especially good (or especially bad). I seldom do an entirely positive or entirely negative review of a book, because most books have flaws and high points. I generally avoid spoilers in those types of reviews.
Occasionally a book is so bad I just pull out the sledgehammer and trash it. The book has to be spectacularly, offensively bad for me to do that—if it’s merely boring, the muse won’t come. So that doesn’t happen too often. Actually, my favorite kind of review is the one where I think a book is going go to be awful and I am pleasantly surprised when it turns out to be good.
Writers and artists often talk of spilling blood into their work, but they are usually being metaphorical. Not writer Kelly Roman and illustrator Michael Weese, though. On a sunny spring day in New York City’s Chinatown last week, the pair rolled up their sleeves and spilled their blood, literally, onto sample chapters of their upcoming graphic-novel adaptation of Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War. Well, actually, they had a doctor draw the blood and then used it to stamp Chinese characters on the chapters, but it was still a pretty dramatic gesture. The press release invokes tradition:
“There’s a monstrous tradition of using cremated remains and blood to make comic books” states author Kelly Roman, “Marvel editor Mark Gruenwald had his ashes mixed with ink and made into commemorative issues of Squadron Supreme. KISS had their blood used to print their first comic. We are adding a live performance element.”
Dramatics aside, the creators are doing their best to draw attention to their book, which takes Sun-Tzu’s classic manual of strategy and adds the element that has been missing for centuries: a plot. Details are sketchy at the moment, but it takes place in the future, when China is the world’s dominant economy and Wall Street is “militarized,” whatever that means, and the main character is directly modeled on—and named after—Roman. Showing their mastery of social media as well as bloodshed, Roman and Weese have set up a Facebook and Twitter feed for the eponymous main character, as well as a YouTube channel where people discuss their opinions of China. The book is due out next spring from It Books, the pop-culture imprint of HarperCollins (they also publish Cowboys and Aliens), and there’s a 50-page sample up on the website.
Bloomsday is just around the corner, and that reminds us that work is continuing on Rob Berry’s Ulysses Seen, a graphic adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses, luminously illustrated by Berry and Josh Levitas. The adaptation is going in chronological order of Leopold Bloom’s doings on June 16, 1904, rather than in the order of the book, so the fourth chapter of the book, “Calypso,” is the second chapter of the comic. Berry and Levitas follow Bloom around his kitchen and the streets of Dublin as he fixes breakfast, daydreams, picks up a kidney, brings his wife Molly tea and toast … it’s very atmospheric, and captures the visuals of the prose book in a nice way.
An extra bonus is Mike Barsanti and Janine Utell’s Reader’s Guide, which explains the more arcane references and points out the inspirations for the art. Rob tells me that there is new material about to debut on the webcomic site, and the Calypso chapter will be up on the iPad in time for Bloomsday. (You may remember there was a bit of controversy about the first chapter, Telemachus; Apple has since rethought its policy, and Ulysses Seen will make it to the iPad intact.)