Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Savage by David Almond

Illustrator: Dave McKean
Publisher: Candlewick (2008)
Hardcover: 80 pages
Genre: graphic novel
Rating:  4 out of 5

What happens when a young boy suddenly loses his father? How does a boy cope with bullying when he has lost his hero? Blue Baker is a young boy in pain. He's not alone, but he's not understood by the adults that try to help him. Mrs. Molloy, the school counselor takes him out of class to write his thoughts and feelings down, but Blue thinks its stupid and that just makes him feel worse. Instead, he starts to write the story of "the Savage" who lives in Burgess Woods.

This little story is about Blue's attempt to deal with his father's death and to deal with the bully Hopper who is set on cashing in on Blue's pain by bullying him even more after Blue's dad dies. Blue, in his young boy scrawl starts to write about a wild, savage boy who lives in the woods behind his house. This savage can't talk, but he knows how to survive alone by living on berries and roots and rabbits or whatever he can steal from the nearby houses. No one knows about the savage because if anybody saw him, he would chase them and kill and eat them.

Hopper makes his way into Blue's story and the Savage is used as Blue's alter ego who is strong enough and crazy enough to take on Hopper. That's where Blue's story and his reality starts to blend as the Savage not only shows up in Hopper's room at night, but also in Blue's sister's room. From the Savage Blue learns power, and from Blue, the Savage learns humanity.

Although the writing is sparse, the watercolors by McKean are powerful and full of rage and frustration - a perfect mirror for a boy who suddenly finds himself fatherless and alone. The watercolors are reminiscent of Stephen Gammell's watercolor spattered illustrations in Monster Mama in their anger and spittle.

I think for some the writing is too sparse which would be a detriment to caring about Blue, but I think there is just enough in the relationship with Blue and his little sister Jess to find this little book sad and charming. I empathised with Blue and rejoiced in his empowerment through writing on his own terms. It doesn't matter if the Savage was real or not, only that Blue found his young voice and learned how to roar.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Vampire Loves by Joann Sfar

Publisher: First Second (May 2006)
Paperback: 192 pages
Genre: graphic novel
Rating:  3 out of 5

From the front cover:
Meet Ferdinand, a vampire who bites his victims with only one tooth in order to pass as a mosquito, who loves the music of dead folk singers, and who has no end of trouble trying to make sense of his relationships--some with the living, some not.
 Vampire Loves follows the strangely romantic adventures of Ferdinand and his friends as they flirt with, seduce, cheat on, break up, and make up with all manner of unearthly creatures including ghosts, other vampires, tree-folk, and the occasional golem.

My thoughts:
Considering how long Ferdinand has been alive, one would think that he'd be a much better boyfriend, but he is just as clueless and naive as a young teenager. This first volume starts off with his cheating tree-folk girlfriend asking for his forgiveness for her cheating, and when he freaks out, she leaves again. Ferdinand learns nothing from this exchange. At the end when he seems to have the same argument with his on-again, off-again girlfriend Lani, it's just proof that this is really about the misadventures of Ferdinand, but it's not about the maturation of Ferdinand. 

What makes this GN somewhat charming is Ferdinand's a lusty vampire with no skills. He truly doesn't know what to do with women and he seems to only like women who won't like him back. Still, he's a gentle sort, trying to be moral in an immoral world. The main frustration, again, is that the reader does not see any change from the Ferdinand in the beginning to the Ferdinand at the end.

Source: Liliha Public Library, Hawaii

Thursday, November 4, 2010

DVD Review: The Least Among You

Publisher: Lionsgate (2010)
Cast: Cedric Sanders, Lauren Holly, Louis Gossett, Jr.
Director: Mark Young
Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: (from the product description)

Leaders are not chosen, they are called. Inspired by a true story.

Arrested in the 1965 Watts riots, Richard Kelly (Cedric Sanders) must serve probation at an all-white seminary. Although encouraged to break racial boundaries by its president Alan Beckett (William Devane), the school wants black followers not leaders. Even former missionary, Kate Allison (Lauren Holly), initially rejects Richard. A prison sentence looming, Richard meets Samuel Benton (Louis Gossett, Jr.) -- “the gardener in the basement.” As Samuel guides Richard through his many trials, Richard must choose between his dreams and his destiny.

My thoughts:
I've been gravitating towards feel good movies based on true stories.  Perhaps in these bleak economic times, what I want in my entertainment choices at the end of the week are stories about real-life people who have battled their own demons and have inspirational testimonies to tell about their journey out. I'm not always looking for the fantasy movie, the science fiction movie. I'm not trying to escape issues, I just want to watch the story of other people who succeed despite major setbacks in their life.

The Least Among You is one of those stories. The portrait of Richard Kelly is so realistic because he's in no way perfect. He is a product of the Watts Riot so he's seen many things that the white seminary students have no experience with. Because of the violence he sees in his own neighborhood, it's almost like he is coming into the seminary with a chip on his shoulder, so that seems to egg on the white students who want to push his buttons.

It's also realistic in that although he's at a seminary, that doesn't mean that the Christians are always acting in the most "Christian" way. One of the most disturbing scenes is when he comes back to his room and one of his classmates actually burned his mother's cross on Richard's desk in Klu Klux Klan fashion. I shudder to think that some of these "boys" in seminary are pastors today. 

Like all good movies, there's also growth in the protagonist. Richard is so angry that he doesn't always recognize those kids and those adults that are actually trying to help him and guide him, but part of his growing in this movie has to do with learning to forgo anger and distrust for patience and love.

Louis Gossett Jr. is the moral center of this movie, and as usual, this veteran actor doesn't disappoint. The script is not as tight as it could be, but Gossett's star power is undeniable.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Emily the Strange: Seeing is Deceiving by Rob Reger

Hardcover: 64 pages 
Publisher: Chronicle Books (August 24, 2006)
Rating: 4 out of 5

What I love about libraries is that there are so many treasures just waiting for me even in the most modest public library, so here's a shout out to the Liliha Public Library in Honolulu, Hawaii.
What I love about this library is they have a fabulous young adult section and one of the largest graphic novel and manga collections I've seen. Whoever their young adult librarian is, they are doing a great job. The building itself is also interesting because the parking is on the roof. For more on this library, check out the library tour on the Hawaii Book Blog.

Anyway, I discovered this gothic looking book and found out that Emily the Strange not only has a whole franchise of merchandise, but she has quite a devout following around the world. The character was created by Rob Reger and his company, Cosmic Debris Etc, Inc. out of Oakland, California.

Emily the Strange reminds me of a teen version of Olivia (the pig). She has her same preference in colors (red) with the teen goth black added in, same quick intelligence and the same charming arrogance that comes from the belief that the world truly does revolve around them. Love it!

I found out that this is her 4th book which basically means that I'm on a mission for books 1-3, but in this one, Emily challenges her devotees to see things her way. What I like are the ghostly spot varnish tricks on the page and the clever die-cuts that truly make this book a fun trek into optical illusions and a nice gift for the teen or tween that just doesn't need another Jamba or Starbucks gift card.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Hapless Child by Edward Gorey

My plan was to blog about some "Halloween" type of graphic novels before Halloween, but I've been trying to post this one up for a week and I think it's the book that's haunted. This is the first time I could even post the cover art.

This little Edward Gorey masterpiece of fine line drawing is indeed haunting. There is nothing light and whimsical about the pictures or the story, so although this looks like a children's book, it's not.

Orphaned, hazed by schoolmates and enslaved by a drunken brute, little Charlotte Sophia never finds her happy ending.

It's Gorey stuff, yes, but what is so fascinating is the detailed penwork in the pictures. The illustrations are reproduced in the book in the same size as Gorey's original drawings and a study of the details reveils other horrors that foretell the tragedy of Charlotte Sophia's life.

Hardcover 64 pages/Pomegranate Communications (March 2008)


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