Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Art of Richard Thompson

In the realm of comics, my son started with Calvin and Hobbes at five years old, then went deep into Garfield, took a left and held tight to Foxtrot, and now, at nine, is dedicated to Pearls Before Swine and Cul de Sac. We've followed the Richard Thompson story for some time, but it was only tonight that we finally got around to watching the documentary short "The Art of Richard Thompson", and man oh man... what a talent. If you have about 22 minutes to spare, I suggest giving it a go. One of the best things you'll see all year.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Creature Comforts

Creature Comforts
Chas Addams ~ Simon and Schuster, 1981

As many of you know from my other blog, I've made books a major priority in the upbringing of my son. Perhaps even the number one priority. And what all those books and hours and hours of story-times have helped to create, is not necessarily a die hard reader, but an avid storyteller and artist. 

At nine-years old, he would rather read a graphic novel over a straight novel, and will almost not really read anything unless it has a picture in it. Thanks heavens for fabulous authors like Chris Ridell (the boy's current favorite) who weaves fabulous art into equally fabulous stories. (BTW... If you are on Instagram and do not follow @chris_riddell, you are missing out. His sketchbook work is out of this world!) Trips to the book store now almost exclusively rotate around the graphic novel and humor section, where my son collects Tin Tin and Foxtrot and Calvin and Hobbes.

This summer while listening to NPR, my son heard a story on Charles Barsotti, the recently deceased and legendary New Yorker cartoonist, which opened up the now ongoing New Yorker cartoonist conversation in our house. A conversation that almost always inevitably ends up back at one of my childhood favorites, Charles Addams.

Granted, everything I learned about anything spooky always came from my older sister Drake. She read me aloud whole Stephen King novels as a child, showed me my first Edward Gorey book, and taught be to appreciate vampires and werewolves and zombies. And introduced me to Chas Addams, New Yorker cartoonist and master of the comic macabre.

This book has been making the rotation at our house of late, in a big way. The thing I always loved as a child about his work was the fact that the joke was not always evident at first blush. Much like Gary Larsen went on to perfect in The Far Side, the laugh is often visual and not in the words, and sometimes it takes an extra beat or two to sniff them out. As Robert Mankoff put it in an article on Addams for The New Yorker in 2010, "He tapped into that vein of American gothic that has a touch of paranoia about it, seeing behind every comforting façade the uncomfortable truth about the duality of human nature. But where Gothic literature usually combined these themes with romance, Addams made the horror hilarious: disturbing, but at the same time friendly, identifiable, and acceptable."


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Saturday, January 3, 2015

Father Christmas Goes on Holiday

Father Christmas Goes on Holiday
Raymond Briggs ~ Puffin, 1975

It's still sorta Christmas, right? Raymond Briggs is one of my favorite children's books authors, for no other reason than he's also a graphic novelist, and his picture books reflect that. My son loves his Fungus the Boogeyman (what little boy or girl wouldn't!?!), and that book has instilled a loyalty in him for anything Briggs. Most famous for the unforgettably wordless The Snowman, this book is actually a sequel to Briggs' original book, Father Christmas, but I couldn't seem to locate that one in our stash of Christmas books from the attic.

When Santa decides to go on a pre-Christmas holiday, he sends his pets to the kennel, fashions his sleigh into a motor caravan, and heads for the south of France.

Following some la creme nightmares and the absence of anonymity, he tries Scotland only to run into SHARKS!!! Finally settling on Las Vegas where the steak, french fries, ladies, and sun almost make up for the giant hotel bill.

In the end, dear old Father Christmas remembers there's no place like home for the holidays.

Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Volume One

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 1
Hayao Miyazaki  ~ Studio Ghibli, 1983

Did it seem like the holidays would ever end? Whew... That said, hello 2014. Nice to know ya! 

The holidays here were spent meticulously viewing the collection of Hayao Miyazaki movies my son received for Christmas via the chimney. Some he'd seen before at a friend's house. Some he'd seen before back when we went retro on my old VHS. Some we'd seen at the movie theater. Some we'd rented and some we'd never seen before. But let me just tell you... when he opened the bundle of DVDs, he did what any boy who dreams of being a film maker someday would do. He hugged them. :)

You see, after raising a child on classic books and all things literary highbrow, I've created a human being obsessed with drawing and reading comics and graphic novels and watching movies and making-of featurettes. Now, I'm not saying I'm a Miyazaki expert. I, like most people in the free world, saw Spirited Away when it retrieved all that attention a million years ago. And I vaguely remember my sister being obsessed with him way back when. But it was my friend, Thingummery, who turned my son onto his movies My Neighbor Totoro and Nausicaa

And being that my son has a mind of his own, after a zillion viewings of Totoro, he's driven enough now to seek out every Miyazaki thing he can find. Including the little graphic novels that pop up here and there on the tiny but awesome juvenile graphic novel section at our local library... little graphic novelizations of his favorite Miyazaki movies, like Howl's Moving Castle, one of the aforementioned DVDs my son was gifted for Christmas. That particular book is the full screenplay of the animated movie that was adapted from the novel by British fantasy writer Diana Wynne Jones, and really brings the gorgeous detail and artistry in the movies to life on the page. 

After he got hooked on those, I started sniffing around for more and was delighted to discover what I'm sure every self-professed nerd this side of Tokyo knows... that although Hayao Miyazaki is best known in the States for his film work, back home he is also a manga legend. (Manga... another thing I know not a lot about, but I'm giving trying to understand on behalf of my son.) Miyazaki's most famous manga work is Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, of which we'll only delved into two of the seven volume English translation. (I don't know about anyone else, but that right to left reading gives me a massive headache, and my son hasn't quite mastered it so I end up doing the bulk of the reading, at least in true sequence.)

Like most things Miyazaki, there is an environmental message as the story follows a young princess, Nausicaä, in a post-apocalyptic world who is trying to make peace while a soul sucking mold threatens to overcome the human race. That's probably a really simplistic view of what the story is, but there are giant insects and cool flying machines and civilizations teetering on the brink of extinction. All that stuff little boys love, though it is refreshing to find most of Miyazaki's heroines are just that, heroines. Plus, the lead character has a little pet squirrelfox that my son adores, probably because it looks vaguely like a Pikachu.

Now, I'm not going to go too much deeper, 
lest someone who is a real expert log on and mock me. I'm just trying to follow the cultural trail that my son leaves in his wake. His movies and this perfectly timed Simpsons Miyazaki tribute is more my speed. That said, I would recommend all things Miyazaki to any boy or girl who craves imagination with heart.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Dan Santat ~ Arthur A. Levine, 2011

One of the first books I bought for my son in the graphic novel arena, I originally purchased it for the sole reason that Dan Santat is a super hero. Just look at him for heaven's sake! Smart. Talented. Funny as all get-out. I discovered his work via Gallery Nucleus, an art galley in Los Angeles that specializes in a lot of work by cartoonists, animators and illustrators. I fell in love with a painting of his of a robot trashing a city with his laser powers (that I eventually purchased), and soon after is arrived and took a proud spot of my bedroom wall, I promptly ran out and bought my son Oh No! Or How My Science Project Destroyed the Worldillustrated by Santat and penned by another man of awesome, Mac Barnett. All you have to do is look at Dan's art, his incredible marketing savvy, and addictive Instagram to get the idea that he is... like... the coolest guy ever! His books are full of butt-kicking fun. They made you wish that your kids were friends with his kids and you could hang out with him all the time.

But that's neither here nor there... the point is Sidekicks is... how do you say it?... totally BOSS.

Captain Amazing is a middle-aged (?) superhero... exhausted and tired... unable to come home after a long day of saving said day and spend quality time with his pets. The gist of the story is that his pets decide that one of them should stand-in for Captain Amazing's long-gone sidekick and a battle of the critters commences and hilarity ensues.

The USA-clad under-hamster named Fluffy is my fave, though Roscoe, Manny and Shifty are close behind. 

As you can see, the artwork is full of cut super hero fun, with lots of great body language, facial expressions and a fab great use of color. (Plus a more than ample bad guy in Wonder Man!)

This is another book we've gifted too many times to count. It's one of my first go-to gifts for boys 1st to 3rd grade. I hate to say it, but I always feel like the gift a graphic novel feels heftier and more like a real present than a novel does. It's probably the amount of color and the fact that the books weigh more, but I never feel like I'm skimping when I wrap one of these up. My son's copy is nearly falling apart at this point, as it's stayed in front rotation for three years now.

It's anthropomorphic fun for all, but now that I'm looking at the pub date, it leaves me wondering... isn't it about time for a Sidekicks 2?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Zita the Spacegirl

Zita the Spacegirl 
Ben Hatke ~ First Edition, 2010

This book was one of the first graphic novels my son fell in love with, purchased on his own at his school book fair in first grade. We've subsequently gifted it to many of the children we know and cheered it on when it was nominated for a Texas Bluebonnet Award from the Texas Library Association (beat out narrowly by Postcards from Camp by Simms Taback). 

The story is classic. Girl does something reckless that puts one of her friends in jeopardy. Girl must take a chance to save her friend. Then, of course, girl ends up needing to save the world in the process. Zita has everything you could want in a sci-fi story. A mysterious and spooky beginning. A rebel main heroine who may have some naughty qualities. Portholes to other universes. Creatures both adorable and horrific. A team of misfits. A mentor. It's a fabulous G-rated introduction into the graphic novel arts, and the art is straightforward and huge fun to ogle.

The intro to the book includes a quote from G. K. Chesterton that I think says it all...

There are two ways of getting home; 
and one of them is to stay there.
The other is to walk around the whole world
Till we come back to the same place.

Zita's creator, Ben, was kind enough to pen the banner for this blog, if you haven't noticed. If you don't know much about him, check out his work, because he is a super awesome guy with a real talent for telling children's stories through images. Plus, the man breathes fire, for heavens sake!

The original book was followed up with Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, and a third book, Return of Zita the Spacegirl, is due out in the next year.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Bad Island

Doug Tennapel ~ Graphix, 2011

I long ago gave up presuming what my son might think is scary. He's an excellent judge of what his brain can and can not handle, and I've miscalculated the creep factor on many a family-friendly movie or book with disastrous results. Having seen all the Harry Potter movies by the time he was seven, read the Hobbit when he was six, and watched every current episode of Doctor Who by eight and a half, I'd still say his most traumatizing life moment came while watching Snoopy almost leave Charlie Brown for his original owner, Lila, in the 1972 television special Snoopy Come Home. And while the rest of the under-ten set love 'em some Jack Sparrow, one little trip down the river on the Pirates of Caribbean ride at Disneyland had my son swearing off the franchise for life. 

So I was shocked at first when he took a shining to the work of Doug Tennapel. First Ghostopolis... then Cardboard... then Bad Island.

It's not that Doug's stories are scary. Most of the time the relationships and sentiments are pretty G-rated, even if the pictures are dark and doom-filled. There are enough monsters and dead people and big teeth and evil neighborhood boys to scare the crap out of a gentle animal-lover like my boy, yet he gobbles them up like popcorn. Doug is definitely one of of my son's favorite authors as far as graphic novels are concerned, and I have to say I do sneak reading them myself from time to time.

This one stars a family with all sorts of small, interpersonal drama. The son is thinking of running away from home. The daughter ruins the mother's favorite plant when she gets angry. Mom and dad bicker over what snacks to pack for the family vacation.

The scenario seems pretty all-American until their family boating vacation takes a turn for the worse, and the foursome is shipwrecked on what can only be described as... well, a bad island. 

All the while, another story is being set up, a battle in the past between crazy crab monsters and giant rock creatures, but we don't fully come understand how the two stories intertwine until the end.

I'm always impressed with how seamlessly Doug pulls off intertwining current humdrum facts-of-everyday-life with an other-world sense of magic without it coming across as too cheesy. Very intense and creative stuff, dealing with all sorts of themes like death and inner fear and family dynamics and, of course, the destiny of unknown universes. Sort of Iron Giant-esque and very well-illustrated.

I won't give away what makes the island so bad, as you need to read the book to find out for yourself. But I will say this, as my son has gotten older and demanded more and more graphic novels, I've had to get used to not spending quarters and dollars on books like in my full-on thrift shop days. It's not too often that good graphic novels end up on Goodwill shelves or in the penny sales on Amazon. Particularly in the juvenile graphic novel genre. That's what makes places like Half Price Books a godsend for graphic-bookovores like my son, but even they can't keep us stocked adequately. Though the library has recently started sporting a juvenile graphic novel section, the pickings are pretty puny. I've definitely made my way back into being a full-price bookstore patron. Good thing I got a job last year. ;)