Friday, June 19, 2015

Graphic Novels: Reviews of some recent arrivals

What is a Graphic Novel?

The term graphic novel has grown in popularity in the last decade, as an increasing number of authors have experimented with this format for presenting narrative accounts. In simple terms it is a text that makes added use of drawn images to communicate its meaning. In some cases, words are absent or largely secondary, whereas in other cases, word and image are used equally with clever integration.

Some include comics within the category, although the pairing of 'novel' with 'graphic' reflects the increased development of long fictional works. But this textual form can cover fiction, non-fiction, comics and anthologies. The definition is slippery. For example, Manga (Japanese for 'comic') are read by adults and children in Japan and can be substantial works with varied literary content. Other recent works by children's authors can have little or no words and once would have been called wordless picture books. Shaun Tan's brilliant book 'The Arrival' tells a complex tale of a man who leaves his wife and child to seek a better future as an immigrant in an unknown country on the other side of a vast ocean. He finds himself in a bewildering city of foreign customs, peculiar animals, curious floating objects and indecipherable languages. This 'graphic novel' tells the story with no words!

Some recent examples

I've had a number of graphic novels that have crossed my desk in recent months; here are just a few examples.

'Anders and the Comet' by Gregory Mackay (Allen & Unwin)

This is an adventure story for readers 6-9 years of age. Anders is a superhero; well a kid with a big imagination. The book celebrates the every day events of children's lives.  It's the school holidays, and Anders, Eden and a new friend, Bernie are amusing themselves in many ways. There are comics to be made, games to be played, ice-cream to be eaten, and rhinos to impress at Wekiwa water park. But when Anders and his friends meet the Green Grabber things take on a whole new direction, leading eventually to a dramatic rescue. The very simple line drawings in comic format with simple language will delight readers.

'The Return of the Queen' Vermonia, YoYo (Walker Books)

The 'Vermonia' series of graphic novels written and illustrated by YoYo (which is a Manga Studio) has now reached book number eight! Vermonia lies in the centre of the universe and its fate rests on the shoulders of four not-so-average kids. All of the heroes in the series have an adversary, avatar spirit, their own love interest and eventually their moment of truth. The illustrations are classic comic black line drawings with enough detail and quality to engage readers aged 9-14 years. This last book in the series ends with the triumph of the key characters. Not for me, but then again, the series wasn't written for me.

'Messenger: The Legend of Joan of Arc' by Tony Lee and illustrated by Sam Hart (Walker Books)
Tony Lee created his story from the original transcripts of Joan of Arc's trial before her death at the stake. He manages to portray powerfully the extraordinary life of a young farm girl who became the leader of an army of men. In 1424 she heard voices and had visions that helped save her village from attack in the Hundred Years' War. Was she touched by the devil or God? Shaping a story from the original transcripts of Joan of Arc's trial before her death at the stake, Tony Lee portrays the extraordinary life of a young farm girl who becomes the leader of an army of men. Her story tells of a young woman who has an unflinching faith in God and in herself. It is also a story of someone prepared to risk everything in the battle for freedom and independence. Joan of Arc's unflinching faith in God and in herself has inspired generations. After a trial for heresy she was executed. She was prepared to risk everything in the battle for freedom and independence. 

The graphic novel format seems ideal for this story and the illustrations of Sam Hart are wonderful, being full of colour and detail. Readers 11-14 will enjoy this story. 

This is book 2 in the series of 'The Bloodhound Boys' books following on from 'The Great Bloodbank Robbery'.  Beneath the earth Skull River is having mysterious earthquakes and yet, the Rocky and Vince have other things on their minds; they have a monster truck race to win. This dangerous and lethal race takes the boys off the track. But will they get back in time to stop the earthquakes? This fast moving tale with its simple (predictable) plot and simple line drawings will keep even the most reluctant boy readers turning the pages. Lots of fun for readers aged 6-9 years.

Other great graphic novels reviewed previously on this site

'Requiem for a Beast' by Matt Ottley

'When the Wind Blows' by Raymond Briggs

'One Minute's Silence', by David Metzenthen and illustrated by Michael Cammileri

'The Afghanistan Pup', by Mark Wilson

'War Brothers: The Graphic Novel', by Sharon E. McKay and illustrated by Daniel Lafrance

'Slog's Dad', by David Almond and illustrated by David McKean

'The Adventures of Scarygirl', by Nathan Jurevicius

'Hamlet', by Nicky Greenberg

'Rules of Summer', by Shaun Tan

'Tales from Outer Suburbia', by Shaun Tan

'The Lost Thing', by Shaun Tan

'Into the Unknown', by Stewart Ross and illustrated by Stephen Biesty

'The Fantastic Flying Books of Mt Morris Lessmore', by William Joyce

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