graphic novel

Photo of Frank Chu and Prince Charles by Thomas Hawk used under a Creative Commons license.

Jen Wang, Koko Be Good (First Second, 2010).
A graphic novel and a sort of three-legged bildungsroman about young San Franciscans Koko, Jon, and Faron. When Jon meets Koko, he is planning to move to Peru to do charity work, a plan that seems like a good idea, but her outlook on life causes him to question himself. Koko, on the other hand, could use a little more structure and long-term planning, but instead she has Jon and Faron, who driftlessly works in his family’s restaurant. Wang’s characters are more complicated than they first appear; nonetheless, the dialogue sometimes evokes overly earnest late-night dormroom conversations. Even so, the terrific artwork more than makes up for it.

Here is the author’s site. Wang has posted a shorter, earlier (2004) work by the same name; here is the backstory. Here’s a quick and effective preview. Take a longer look on Google Books. Or take a look at the excerpt offered by the distributor. Cory Doctorow calls it a complex story engagingly told with ingenious layouts and lovely art. Eric Adelstein came away with a craving for more. Greg McElhatton says it defies easy categorization. Comicsgirl says Wang’s San Francisco is a place where people actually live and work. Xaviar Xerexes calls it a thought-provoking story with lively characters and a tone that mixes seriousness with fun. Sterg Botzakis calls it beautifully illustrated. Kristin Fletcher-Spear calls the artwork wonderfully unique and the characters truly realized. Erin Jameson says the combination of text and art is sublime. Cathlin Goulding likes the illustration of San Francisco neighborhoods. Zack Davisson loved the artwork, but not the characters or story. Holly agrees with Davisson. So does Ray Garraty. Johnny Bacardi gives it mixed praise. Jonathan says the characters are by turns funny and serious, but always real. DeBT appreciates Wang’s departures from conventions. Ralph Mathieu calls it delightful twice. Andrew Wheeler says the characters are realistically verbose and pompous. Wang talked to the Wall Street Journal about her inspirations. Kris Bather interviewed her. Here is another interview with Shaun Manning of CBR. Here’s one with John Hogan of GraphicNovelReporter. Here’s one with J. Caleb Mozzocco of And here’s one with Alex Dueben at Suicide Girls. MTV Geek! toured her studio. See more of Wang’s art here.

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This was to Fishtown
Photo by C. Young Photography used under a Creative Commons license.

Kevin Colden, Fishtown (IDW Publishing, 2008).
A graphic novel set in the eponymous working-class neighborhood of Philadelphia, and based on a murder there in 2003.  Fishtown is about four teenagers who murder an acquaintance for a relatively meager sum of money.  It’s a bleak story, well-executed.  I hesitate to recommend it, but if it sounds like something you might enjoy, you probably will.

Colden’s work initially was published on the internet and can still be seen here and here; he revised it somewhat before it came out in hardcover. Christopher Irving profiles Colden. Valerie D’Orazio calls Fishtown a chilling portrayal of teenage apathy and bloodlust. Alli Katz (Philadelphia Weekly) says Fishtown becomes a character in and of itself–not the hipster-ridden, art-show Fishtown, but the Fishtown of old row homes and families that have lived in the neighborhood for decades. Bryan Kerman says the tale is ultimately as mysterious as the murder: random and sick, but not rich in the telling. Dustin was continuously interested in the story even though he found none of the characters to be likable. Joshua Grace thought it had a few cool story telling devices, but he didn’t really like it. rzklkng says we all know kids like these. Jillian Steinhauer calls it an emotionally charged, upsetting, and incredibly well executed comic. Lisa Fary says Colden handles the horror of the kids’ actions and aftermath without passing judgment or making excuses for them. Rob Clough appreciates Colden’s effort to understand the murder. John Ostapkovich (KYW 1060) says it’s not for the squeamish. Sam Costello says it’s truly disturbing, unusually so in comics. Marc Sobel says it’s a quick, discomfiting read and depressing as hell, but a beautiful book. Glenn Carter says it’s dark, powerful, poignant stuff, highly recommended on every level. Timothy Callahan says its story will haunt you long after you close the covers. Callahan interviewed Colden. So did Brian Heater (part one) (part two). Here is another interview, with Michael C. Lorah. This is one of a number of blogs posting a release by the publisher’s publicist. Jaime Valero reviews it en espanol. Here’s a resource for the real Fishtown.

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Photo by missbax used under a Creative Commons license.

Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie, Aya (Drawn and Quarterly, 2007).
A sweet graphic novel about three teenage girls in a working-class neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in the 1970s. Aya and her friends consider their prospects for boyfriends and the future. It’s a story that could be set anywhere, except that it very much is set in a particular time and place — the Yopougon (or “Yop City”) neighborhood. This is a mundane Africa — no wars or famine. Written by Abouet and wonderfully illustrated by her husband, Oubrerie, Aya comes with a brief glossary and a peanut chicken recipe that sounds delicious. There are sequels, too.

Here is Wikipedia’s page on Oubrerie. Their publisher provides these bios of Abouet and Oubrerie. Here is an excerpt. Elizabeth Chou says it’s a unique portrait of daily life in a working class African city in the 1970s. Eva says it cleverly describes what it was like to be a young girl in Cote D’Ivoire.  Corinne calls it a fast and humorous book about the ups and downs of love and friendship. Betty’s mom says it’s a little gem. Gavin says it’s beautifully illustrated and fun to read. Marie likes Oubrerie’s charming, humorous style and the cute story. Dirk Deppey says the storytelling and art are masterful. Jessica Walker (World Literature Today) calls it a captivatingly quick read. Leroy Douresseaux says it’s simply a story of ordinary lives. Megan Milks sees a whimsical exploration of the class and gender politics of working-class Abidjan in 1978. Geoff Wisner says it captures the fun and optimism that filled Abidjan then. Juliet Waters calls it quirky and charming. Tom Spurgeon likes the soap opera tropesShould it have been a graphic novel, thebooleyhouse wonders. Ali didn’t like it much. John L. Daniels Kr. gives it five stars. This sentence has fewer syllables than EM’s haiku review does. Publishers Weekly has the trade perspective. John Zuarino interviewed Abouet for Bookslut. And Angela Ajayi interviewed Abouet for the Wild River Review. Check out this Abidjan group on Flickr.

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