Thoughts: Malice in Ovenland Vol.1

Thoughts: Malice in Ovenland Vol.1

Malice

In middle school, I was one of those kids going through all the adventure books the library had to offer. From the The Famous Five to kid detectives to opening that wardrobe, I loved it all and then had fun with my friends digging holes, running away from imaginary bad guys and hidden doorways. After that, a lot of “grown-up” books were a disappointment to me at first until I learned to embrace speculative fiction and started to consider other topics exciting as well. But this is a very long-winded way of saying that I still am that kid looking for adventure stories and when I heard about Malice in Ovenland, I knew I had to give it a go. And yes, middle-grade books still deliver the same fun and no, I did not try to explore behind my kitchen oven, cause that would be weird. (it was very dusty!)

Malice in Ovenland is a middle-grade comic by Micheline Hess and published by Rosarium. The first volume introduces fierce young, Black Lilly Brown, who does not get to spend her summer at camp like her friends but instead has to take care of her mother’s organic garden and a list of other chores. Already, and with adult eyes, I find this positioning important: Lilly lives with her mom and loves fast food but her mother has chosen to grow organic food to take care of her daughter and herself and Lilly also has responsibilities that she might not enjoy but takes care of nonetheless. This is not your spoiled middle-class kid and I love this glimpse of Lilly’s mother. And then, when Lilly attempts to clean the oven she tumbles into Ovenland, like Alice once fell into Wonderland.

malice1

How fantastic are those colors and especially that last panel!?  I love all the details like the cracked glasses and the horribly-green Bleh! Now in Ovenland, Lilly is locked into the dungeon, meets a queen and finds a kingdom in crisis over the lack of incoming grease. Yup people, if you’re going organic, make sure you’re not cutting off the kingdom behind your oven!

Lilly is everything I’ve always wanted from a heroine in an adventure story and I was in turns delighted and grossed out with her. There is a lot of monologuing going on initially but keep on reading it’ll get better and I did not find the message overly preachy, so hopefully middle-graders won’t either. I think there is a lot of potential in this story and I look forward to future volumes and Micheline Hess’ next project. I wish I’d had more female characters of color to look up to when I was younger, especially ones so visually present as in comics, and Malice in Ovenland totally delivers. It makes me want to get some kids from somewhere just to push this comic on them. And since I don’t have and don’t want kids, this is high praise indeed.

Malice in Ovenland Vol.1 will be out August 31, get it for your kids and your inner child! Also make sure to check out Rosarium Publishing here, they specialize in multicultural speculative fiction, comics, and a touch of crime fiction.

Disclaimer: I received an egalley of this book from the publisher. But never fear, I remain my opinionated self!

Thoughts: Paper Girls Vol. 1

paper gilrs

As you can see, I’m still in my exploratory comics phase. This time I have even tried a comic set in the 1980s! I know, right! Not at all my favorite decade. But I was told there’d be dinosaurs, so here I am.

Paper Girls is another work by popular writer Brian K. Vaughan, he of Saga fame, wonderfully drawn by Cliff Chiang and with the most amazing color palette courtesy of Matt Wilson. Started in 2015, this volume collects the first five issues, and the story is apparently already plotted with quite a few more issues planned.

Set in 1988 Ohio, the story stars a group of 12-year-old girls who deliver the newspaper on their bikes. Mac, Tiffany and KJ are joined by “new kid” Erin and they make their rounds together in groups. The story drops us right in the middle of Halloween night and it soon becomes apparent that very strange things are at work.

First, our protagonist Erin has a weird apparently recurring dream about an apple and aliens and a sibling in hell. I had no idea what was going on and to be honest it just got a lot more crazy as I read on, so I still have only an idea of what all is happening. The paper girls crew saves Erin from some teenage dude who is harrassing her, sadly with unnecessary use of homophobic slur. At least Erin intervenes, educates Mac on this issue and there’s a nod to LGBT history. Still could’ve done without this. Cue some weird wrapped up ghost speaking an unidentifiable language stealing one of the girls’ walkie talkies, cause this is he 80s. There’s strange technology and some new strangers appearing in astronaut-like gear, barding it up in some futuristic Shakespearean language and riding pterodactyl! Which is super cool, but they also appear to be the villains. We’ll see!

As you can see craziness in plot abounds! The imaginative world-building is awesome, but it’s also a lot of stuff piled up and we don’t get to see it go anywhere much at the end of the volume. I can only hope that volume 1 is similar to a pilot and the next issues will show a clearer path with more concrete plot lines. But I’m willing to suspend judgement and wait how it all unfolds.

paper girls

Our main characters are a group of very different and happily somewhat diverse preteen girls. This is pretty great as this group doesn’t get much limelight in comics to my knowledge. Their dialogue is spitfire, and lively, but apart from Mac’s hardened attitude they are not yet round enough characters to rest the crazy plot on. I really enjoyed seeing a bit of their complicated home lives and in the case of Mac, what’s behind the front she puts up. The cliffhanger at the end of the volume shows that we might be confronted with different sides to these girls and hopefully this will make them stronger characters, #6 needs to step on it!

Considering this a long pilot, I will give Paper Girls Vol. 1 a generous 3.5 star rating. The preteen protagonists and the different groups of strangers as well as the apple(icon) disk the girls find hint at a generational conflict of epic and timey wimey proportions. I’m really interested in finding out how this plays out, so if I manage to get my hands on the next issues, I will definitely read on.  But don’t go into this expecting something epic like Saga, perhaps Paper Girls will develop into an amazing comic but it’s not there yet. Being a science fiction comic about four girls, I’m also disappointed to see that the creative team is made up solely of men. They write and draw these girls well, but there are currently enough men publishing comics, it’s time to let women tell their stories.

Are you a fan of the 80s? What’s you favorite book set in or from that time?

Have you reviewed this work? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Source: I received Paper Girls Vol. 1 as an egalley, thanks to NetGalley and Image Publishing. But I’ll remain my opinionated self!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading

The meme that we use to share what we read this past week and what our plans are for the upcoming week. Now hosted by The Book Date.

Last Week

Readathon! I had a blast following everyone’s progress on instagram, I guess I do have a preferred social media app. Pretty happy with the books I managed to read, even if I slept a solid 7 hours and spent 3 more cooking and cleaning the kitchen. Maybe I’ll lock myself in next time, but the quiche was definitely worth it and this time I managed to get a picture:

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Here’s my readathon wrap-up picture.

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My faves in order:

Nimona – so much love for this perfect comic

Ghost Summer – I read the novella and it was wonderfully creepy and atmospheric

Bitch Planet – such an amazing feminist comic! Bit violent for my taste, but fits the subject

Every Heart a Doorway – such wonderful imagination, loved the imagery and asexual mc

Uglies – super readable and love the discussion of beauty and norms, not sure I’ll read the sequel though

Currently

I’m making my way through the rest of the short stories in Due’s collection. She’s made me a fan of the Southern gothic.

ghost summer

I’m also read Paper Girls Vol.1, whoa the colors are amazing!

paper gilrs

And then i need to get through all my non-fiction reads, so this week I want to concentrate on this one, cause dinosaurs 🙂

articulating dinoaurs

Soon

Deepika’s readalong of RK Narayan starts next Sunday, so there’s still time to join in on the fun!

malgudi days

And then I’ll also start making my reading list for my oral exam, so be prepared for Chican@ lit!

What are you all reading? Let me know in the comments!

Trying out Scribd

scribd

2015 seems to be my year of trying bookish online subscription services. First, I tested audible and I can report that I’m still happy with their selection and my nausea-free commute.

In recent weeks I’ve also been looking at the various e-book flats, such as Oyster, Scribd and Kindle Unlimited. Since I own a kindle, I figured Kindle Unlimited would be ideal, but I find their selection to be quite limited (ha!). They have popular books, but not all of the major publishing houses and nearly all the books I was interested in cost extra. Oyster may be great for everyone with Apple products, but I’m not a fan. Which is why I then signed up for Scribd 14-day trial. The “Netflix for books” offers access to their library of books, documents, comics and audiobooks (soon you only get 1 credit per month) for $8,99.

I know Scribd from their days as a document and presentation sharing platform and more recently from Duke UP’s Reading Friday, where you get to read a couple of chapters of their new releases on Scribd. Their academic books are a big part of why I’m interested in Scribd in the first place, of course there is not a ton of the newest UP releases, but they do have many new-ish works that are activist and scholarly anthologies, memoirs etc. and I can use for context. I do have my university library, of course, but my field is kinda niche and lets not talk about the budget for my particular interests. Usually when they have the books I need there’s only one copy, everyone else suddenly needs it, too, and though their e-book selection is growing slowly, I end up having to scan way too many pages.

On to the comics: I think at the beginning of the year or there around, Scribd started offering comics, lots of Marvel, but also such gems as March and Lumberjanes.  And then there are so many novels I want to read, my Scribd library looks insane. I heard there’s hardly any new releases, but that’s not a particular concern of mine and so far I have enough ebooks to last me a good long while plus several train conductor strikes.

What I’m not so fond of is that I cannot read any Scribd stuff on my kindle, but I’ve read two ebooks on my phone app recently and it didn’t trigger migraines, so I think I’ll be fine. But this is something that irritates me. I want that Russian smart phone with the e-ink on one side! Also, Scribd works on iOS and android and of course in any browser, but I read somewhere there’s either no windows tablet app or a pretty bad one. For all those audiobook fans, Scribd let me know immediately after signing up that the all the audiobooks you want thing is apparently over and it’s now unlimited books and 1 audiobook a month.

I think at $8,99 a month, the price is also a concern of mine. But I’ve quit my gym membership, so it’ll fit my budget fine. And let me rant tell you about libraries in Germany: They are not free! (apparently that’s the case in the UK?) I’ve always been okay with the reduced student price, but now I’m not living in a major city, their budget here sucks and the selection is very very narrow, the e-book library is even worse. Also, they don’t charge a yearly flat, but per pile of books once you’re over 20 and extra for bestsellers, DVDs etc but also for renewing books or ILL. And I rarely read in German. So, $8,99 doesn’t sound too bad.

Also, more recently I’ve been thinking of the books I own (finally all in one place, even if only for a couple of months) and why I purchased them. That’s really something for another blog post, but the gist of it is that quite often I bought books I really wanted to read at one time, but couldn’t get a hold of any other way and had to buy. And I want to start putting together a library, not just a mess of books that ended up on my shelves. So that’s what I’m taking into account while I try out Scribd and decide whether to subscribe or not, even if it would only be for the next few months. I’ve already read two otherwise very expensive graphic novels, amazing short stories and now a great fantasy.

Has anyone tried ebooks flats? What are your thoughts on Kindle Unlimited, Scribd and Oyster?

 

5 on my TBR

Although I don’t quite manage to read as much as I used to, this has in no way influenced my tbr list. So I thought I might make the “5 on my TBR” posts a regular thing (is there a meme for this? I’ve been out of the game too long). That way we all get to look at pretty book covers and book lists! 🙂 Here we go:

 1) Emma Pérez: The Decolonial Imaginary

perez

Emma Perez discusses the historical methodology which has created Chicano history and argues that the historical narrative has often omitted gender. She poses a theory which rejects the colonizer’s methodological assumptions and examines new tools for uncovering the hidden voices of Chicanas who have been relegated to silence. (goodreads)

Absolute must-read for anyone interested in Chicana history, the borderlands and the intersection of queer theory and decoloniality. I’ve read bits and pieces as you do with secondary lit, but read the intro if you read nothing else.

2) Haruki Murakami: The Strange Library

murakami

A boy’s routine day at the public library becomes a trip down the rabbit hole in Murakami’s short novel. The boy meets a demanding old man, who forces him to read the books he’s requested in a hidden reading room in the basement. After following the labyrinthine corridors, the boy is led by the old man into a cell, where he must memorize the history of tax collection in the Ottoman Empire. In the bowels of the library, the boy meets a beautiful, mute girl who brings him meals, as well as a subservient sheepman who fixes the boy crispy doughnuts and clues him in to the old man’s sadistic plans.

(publishersweekly)

Murakami, I’ve been meaning read more of your works. This seemed like a pretty amazing one to try, bookish Japanese wonderland-esque. Please, someone tell me the “beautiful, mute girl” part is better than it sounds.

3) Jewelle L. Gomez: The Gilda Stories

gilda

Escaping from slavery in the 1850s Gilda’s longing for kinship and community grows over two hundred years. Her induction into a family of benevolent vampires takes her on an adventurous and dangerous journey full of loud laughter and subtle terror.

(goodreads)

Black lesbian vampire saga ftw! Gomez and Buffy are pretty much the only ones who don’t make me run at the mere mention of vampire these days. Now, if only my library could get a copy.

4) E. Lockhart: We Were Liars

We-Were-Liars

A beautiful and distinguished family.

A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

(goodreads)

Because, intrigue, twists and unreliable narrators! Also, Ana’s review.

5) Rokhaya Diallo: Pari(s) d’Amies

diallo

“a story about a diverse group of friends in Paris and the joys, pains, heartbreak, and racism, that they encounter. Created by activist Rokhaya Diallo (co-founder of Les Indivisibles), and with illustrations by Kim Consigny, the series centers on lead character Cassandre who returns to Paris after two years spent in the US; and with a comedic tone, this comic book is giving representation to minorities too often ignored in France”

(afropunk)

Diallo is an amazing activist, so I can’t wait to see how her anti-racist, social justice work is reflected in the comic. Perhaps also interesting for US-Americans, to get an idea of race relations and racism in Europe. Follow the link to get a preview.

Have you read any of these works? And what have you added to your tbr list recently?

Thoughts: Marzi

marzi

The graphic memoir Marzi (yes another one of those!) is the result of the collaboration between Marzena Sowa, writer, and her partner Sylvain Savoia, artist. It tells Sowa’s story of her childhood in communist Poland, between 1984 and 1987, in a series of vignettes.

 A child narrator sharing her experience of growing up during a time of political upheaval that sounds familiar! Comparisons with Satrapi’s Persepolis can be made. Marzi, too, uses the idea of the universal child to draw in readers and remind that they were still people trying to live a normal life, going to school and running errands. The strength of this memoir lies in the child perspective, which I think is very convincingly done.  Marzi’s voice rings true not only when she tries to make sense of the adult world, but also while playing with her friends and going to school. Making the seemingly banal, everyday convincing seems to me to be a much more difficult job than extraordinary moments. But for all the similarities, Marzi is quite another thing altogether.

 I’m quite happy that by reading Marzi I got to discover Poland in the 1980s. I’m not sure what everyone’s experience with Poland and Polish literature is, but this book reminded me how close Poland is and yet how little I still know about it. I have Polish friends, been to Poland a couple of times and I vividly remember one childhood friend who wasn’t allowed to play outside for too long, because her mother was afraid that thanks to Chernobyl it would be too dangerous. We lived in the most Western part of Germany, but still. So it’s always been there, but not there. Perhaps I should try not to forget what’s quite close, when I read Japanese fiction etc.

 So the Chernobyl catastrophe is one of the important political events Marzi experiences during her childhood and I especially love this page, which shows what she as a child remembers of the event:

 marzi1-2

What she remembers is closed windows and doors and waiting inside, even though it’s hot outside and yelling adults and having to drink foul-tasting medicine. The third panel shows how Marzi and her father are surrounded by the adults’ angry speculations. The next panel depicts a young boy “who is apparently better informed” telling Marzi that what’s going on (“It’s a smoke that’s very dangerous for people…and mushrooms”). Compared to the yelling adults, the boy really does appear to be the one who is informed and the children have to rely on each other to find out what is going on.

 I also wanted to show you a page from the comic to give you an impression of the drawing style. I can’t really read a comic if I find the style off-putting, no matter how great the story. From the cover of Marzi, and especially the character, I was afraid the style would tend towards manga, but the comic is really quite traditional and detailed. It’s only Marzi, especially her eyes, who stands out. As you can see from the page, the colors are a sort of reddish-brown, the muted, somewhat depressing background contrasts sharply with Marzi’s brightness. You can see what sort of story this is going to be from just this contrast. So that’s really well-done. The strict organization of the panels is never broken and while I prefer artists to play around with the format, I find that it works in Marzi; the structure looks like a photo book to me and thereby mirrors the episodic structure of the story.

 The problem with this vignettes style, and with collecting them in one book, can be the lack of overarching story. I really enjoyed the episodes in themselves, but when it became clear, that a larger story was not going to happen, I changed my reading style. Reading one episode, taking a break, then reading the next worked much better for me than reading it in one sitting. I became less impatient, started to focus more on the vignettes as closed stories and as a result enjoyed the book a whole lot more.

I’ve learned a lot in the last two years about graphic literature, but I was basically convinced of their potential by studying Maus and Persepolis and Fun Home. The bad thing about this is that I now probably have ridiculous expectations. While Marzi has a strong protagonist and fascinating political background and is drawn very well, this is not the kind of comic that makes you spend two hours decoding a single panel.

But then, not every comic has to push the form and use all it has to offer. Marzi is an important book in that it draws attention to the more recent history of Poland under Jaruzelski, Chernobyl and the Solidarnosc union, but also reminds that these were not simply notable points in history, but that actual people were trying to live normal lives. This alternation of the universal and the strange is perhaps Marzi’s best achievement.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Excited for … (pt. II)

Maybe 2012 won’t be so bad after all, book-wise at least. Alison Bechdel’s new comic, Are you my mother?, comes out May 1! I loved Fun Home, that is, I really enjoyed it and then spent three weeks with it for a paper and went from mildly to wildly enthusiastic about it. That’s close reading for ya! (and how fun would it be to write a paper comparing these two memoirs!??)

As Fun Home was all about Alison’s relationship with her father, queering the modernist canon and making the case for the comics medium I’m very excited to see what she will do with Are you my mother?. We got glimpses of her mother before, but always in relation to Alison and her father. Still, she was portrayed as an actress and English (I think) student and that together with the subtitle, a comic drama, makes me hope that Bechdel will once again drawn on literature to represent her family.

Will you be reading this one?

Review: Palestine

In Palestine, Joe Sacco collects impressions and experiences from his visit to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip at the time of the first intifada in the early 1990s. Sacco went there because he felt that the Palestinian people were misrepresented in Western media and wanted to see for himself how they lived and what their side of the story looked like.

Maltese-American Sacco thus positions himself as the Westerner, the outsider. He leads the reader through the occupied territories and refugee camps but he does so in the role of the reporter, the outsider.

Sacco is a cartoonist and journalist and in Palestine, he favors a gritty style which is reminiscent of Robert Crumb. His reporting style reminds of Gonzo journalism where the personal style is foregrounded to achieve accuracy and the personal and emotional experience provides the context for the story. As Sacco is invited into people’s homes and listens to their stories, he becomes more and more sympathetic and involved in their plight.

In terms of color, he keeps to black and white which suggests both seriousness and a difficult topic. His drawing style however, at least in the first part seems to contradict that, characters are drawn in a very cartoony style.  Their facial features such as the nose, ears and teeth and exaggerated and distorted.

As to encapsulation and layout, Sacco switches between splash pages and asymmetrical panels. His panel structure becomes more ordered in the latter part of the book though.

He employs a dense style which resists easy consumption. At first this can be a bit overwhelming, and it slows down the reading pace considerably, but Sacco wants readers to devote some time to each panel or page and be aware of the complexity of his subject.  Sacco might be using the comic format, supposedly a simplifying medium, to take on the Israel-Palestine conflict, however, he makes use of exactly this medium’s possibilities to convey the complexity of his chosen topic. These possibilities are a density of text and image on most pages and even in most panels, which require readers to devote more time to the process of decoding than other graphic works do. Together, the unhurried pace and absence of a goal in Sacco’s narrative and the density of text and image is how Sacco detains readers.

From what I’ve seen of a later of his works, Sacco’s style seems to have evolved and improved and he went to for example Bosnia with the goal of reporting in graphic from in mind. So perhaps there will be more structure to his later works, though I did not mind the lack in Palestine, it served a definite function.

Palestine is an example of what Sacco refers to as comics journalism. I have to say I’m intrigued by this use of the format for journalism It might be a time-consuming way to report, but in case of ongoing conflicts such as this one, I can definitely see the advantages.

The comic book format keeps surprising me, what I always considered a medium solely for superhero tales now shows how well it can represent individual and collective trauma.