Graphic Novel Round-up – January

As with last month I thought it best to do a graphic novel round-up for January. In fact this will likely happen each month now as it makes more sense to me and graphic novel opinions are usually briefer than novels.

The House That Groaned by Karrie Fransman – Published by Square Peg.

This is one of those graphic novels that are so utterly surreal they become a thing of brilliance. The basic premise sees a pretty young woman move into a flat in block and we watch her and her neighbours live their lives. What makes it so beguiling is the oddity of the occupants. We have Brian who is sexually obsessed by women with disease or disfigurement, Janet, who runs a diet group and is haunted each night by phone calls from The Midnight Feasters. Then there’s Matt who retouches photographs of models for a living but is so stricken with OCD that he can’t touch anything out of his flat.

These quirky and kooky people build a patchwork of the ludicrous and it just works. There are strange twists in circumstance throughout the tale as each person interacts and we find out what made them all the way they are via flashbacks. The book does a lot to communicate the fragility of the human mind and how we interact with one another. There is a particular shocking twist towards the end that was genius and highlights how we judge first appearances. What with this being an adult graphic novel, it’s worth keeping in mind that it features graphic images and subjects (as seen in the trailer below).

The artwork is as delightfully bizarre and highlights the modern day fairytale aspect by using big bold images and a limited colour palette. On the subject of the colours, Fransman uses an abundance of blue and green hues which in my mind represents the loneliness communicated in the story; it makes everything look rather bleak. I love how Karrie uses perspective and an almost sleight of hand to draw Mrs Durbach, too, an old lady who literally blends into the backgrounds and objects around her.

It’s a great literary graphic novel that touches upon so many different aspects of life. It is also an utterly beautiful object to hold in your hands and shouts very loudly that physical books aren’t going anywhere.

The House That Groaned is out Now.

Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary M Talbot and Bryan Talbot – Published by Jonathan Cape.

There is a growing trend in literary graphic novels to create a book that is predominately a memoir. This falls into that category succinctly. Sadly this one falls more on the dull than the informative, though. The book tracks the life of Lucia, the daughter of James Joyce and that of Mary Talbot. The book highlights possible similarities between the two and focuses on the unfairness of childhood and the sacredness of our dreams.

Much of the novel is sad and melancholy as we watch as Mary is brought up by a disinterested father who shouts at her for seemingly anything and as Lucia is robbed of her one dream of becoming a dancer. Each shares a foreboding father figure but yet can’t help but love them wholeheartedly. Personally, while I wanted to be interested in these lives I found myself getting a little distracted in the myriad of shouting and crying.

However, Bryan Talbot’s artwork is brilliant as always. It’s a joy to look at as he creates picturesque panels that ooze with nostalgia. His use of sepia tones with flashes of colour is so easy on the eye that it becomes the driving force, which of course takes away from the story. I can’t help be a bit disappointed with this graphic novel, despite the sheer brilliance of the art. The issue with these memoirs is that the reader needs to have an interest or investment in the subject. I tried, but ultimately did not succeed.

The Dotter of her Father’s Eyes is Out February 2nd.

Explorer: The Mystery Boxes Edited by Kazu Kibuishi – Published by Amulet Books.

This is the first graphic novel that I’ve read that is aimed at kids and it’s a very good one. It is in fact a collection of short stories that each revolve around a central premise, a mysterious box. Each story is very original and completely different. Most are a hit and only one or two are a miss.

Each writer and artist deals with what could be in the mysterious box very well and range from alien worlds to mythical ideas. It’s always an interesting practice to see how a group of creative writers deal with the same idea. It shows the variety of these imaginations on display.

A personal favourite is The Keeper’s Treasure by Jason Caffoe which shows a young man seeking out the mystery box as a treasure. The box is guarded by a wonderfully looking creature who postulates on what the box could contain as it has never been opened. It has such a humorous and interesting ending; it is perfect story creation for kids and teens.

It’s hard to single out any one artist as they all bring different styles to the table from traditional American comic styles to Japanese art that features pale palettes with no bold outlining. Each story, regardless of narrative looks lovely. Explorer is a great collection of tales, some are for pure entertainment but some actually make you think a little. I certainly hope more graphic novels like this can exist to bring in more teens and kids to graphic novels that aren’t just about superheroes.

Explorer: The Mystery Boxes is out March 2012.

These books were kindly supplied by the publisher.

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