Category Archives: 741.5

741.5 : Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is one of the most important writers of the modern era, period. Her dark dystopian visions have made for incredibly entertaining and jarring fiction. There is more to her than dark science fiction however, she is a very accomplished poet, environmentalist, and in 2008 even wrote the libretto to an opera.

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Yep, She’s Awesome.

But it turns out, she’s always been a comic book writer at heart.

In a PREVIEWS world Exclusive interview that was conducted at the Dark Horse Comics booth for this year’s San Diego Comic Con Atwood said, “I started with drawing comics when I was a very, very young person. Only later did I become a novelist.”

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Pictured: Atwood’s reaction to getting to write a comic book.

Her first professional attempt at comic book fame is entitled Angel Catbird. It’s about a scientist who, through a freak lab accident (of course) has his genes spliced with those of an owl and a cat. The resulting super hero can, “see both sides of the complex cat/bird relationship.” If you couldn’t tell, there is a fair amount of tongue-in-cheek humor to this graphic novel while also raising awareness of environmental  issues, especially rare and migratory bird conservation.

Environmental activism has been a hallmark of Atwood’s fiction and her personal life for decades. Recently, Margaret Atwood won the 2016 PEN Pinter Prize for her political and environmental activism. Angel Catbird  is being published by Dark Horse Books in tandem with Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives, www.catsandbirds.ca, an initiative led by Nature Canada, the oldest conservation charity in the country.

Margaret Atwood will be visiting Traverse City on October 20, 2016 as part of the National Writers Series and will be discussing her new novel Hag-Seed, a modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I would highly recommend getting tickets for this event as she is a literary and cultural icon. It doesn’t get much better than Margaret Atwood.

741.5 : Ben Templesmith

We’ve focused a lot on comic book writers in 741.5, while neglecting the other side, the artists. Great comic books are more than just the writing and plot, there is a big, impossible to overlook element : the art. No, not drawings, art!

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Handsome devil Ben Templesmith at the New York Comic-Con 2011


Ben Templesmith, an Australian comic book artist and writer, has a very recognizable and eccentric artistic style. He is best known for his work on popular comics like 30 Days of Night, Doctor Who, and Batman: Gotham by Night. However, with the exception of Batman, he mostly draws and writes for the smaller comic book publications like Image Comics and IDW Publishing. These smaller outfits are more likely to publish comic books from lesser known artists and their subject matter is almost entirely outside of the caped crusader genre. We’re talking zombies, sci-fi, and other worldly cop dramas and mysteries.

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Check it out!

 

SPEAKING OF ZOMBIES! Ben Templesmith’s twisted style is most apparent and most effective in a bizarre horror/detective comic called Wormwood, Gentlemen Corpse. Technically Wormwood is a demon worm (but often claims to be a God) who takes over dead bodies and uses them to communicate and move about different layers of the underworld. This is one that Templesmith didn’t just illustrate, he is also the writer and creator.

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Wormwood’s most typical form is a well dressed gentlemen but he can take over any available corpse.

 

It isn’t all zombies in Templesmith’s world. One of the most stunning stories he worked on is a short lived detective story called Fell: Feral City, written by king of horror (in comic and novel form) Warren Ellis. The combo of Ellis and Templesmith sent fans into a frenzy for this comic, and we (I mean ‘they’) were devastated when the story dropped off suddenly. Apparently, Ellis’s computer died and took all the scripts for future comics with it in 2008. In 2010 Ellis had created a new script and sent it off to Image Comics and Templesmith but the story had lost momentum and it was difficult finding the money to continue the project. Both artists are planning on picking the story back up though.

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Some day….

 

Only nine issues long, the comic concerns the disgraced Detective Richard Fell who gets sent out of his home precinct into Snowtown, a collapsing urban nightmare across “the bridge” from the regular city. It seems that Richard Fell has been exiled to a place where true depravity reigns and he alone is fighting for justice. As the comic goes on it becomes clear that there is something else going on in Snowtown, aside from the unimaginably horrible crimes. Many fans of this comic theorized that Richard Fell actually was killed, and is now trapped in a Hell of his own design.

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Awesome!.

 

Templesmith has a ton more comics where he is illustrator and writer or co-creator. Comics like Silent Hill, Welcome to Hoxford, Dead Space, and Ten Grand cement his place as a creator of the weird and horrible, with a tongue in cheek humor and a devastatingly twisted mind.  He is truly one of my favorite story tellers and illustrators and if I see his name on a cover, I usually get it. I’ve yet to be disappointed.

awesome
So awesome.

741.5 : Marjane Satrapi

So far, we’ve reviewed comic books that have strong literary value. Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novels, however, are literature that just happen to be graphic novels! And honestly, if you haven’t heard of them before this blog post, I feel bad for you since you must be living under a rock….in a cave… on Mars. Seriously, they are incredible for their moving content and brutal honesty. Satrapi’s books are consistently well reviewed, and this review will prove to be no different.

Comics Alliance voted the French-Iranian artist and writer Marjane Satrapi as deserving a life-time achievement award at the age of 45! Her autobiographical graphic novels (and almost all of her work is autobiographical) consistently win awards for their illustrations and for the literature. If you are someone who is just stepping into the world of graphic novels, Satrapi’s Persepolis is an ideal first step. It is gut wrenchingly powerful and very funny.

marjane-satrapiSo French!

Satrapi has the distinction of being the first artist featured on 741.5 who is the graphic artist and author of her books (and she’s a woman, if you hadn’t picked up on that yet). Her art style is comprised solely of stark black and white images, meant to create a deep emotional impact while still being easily navigable and important to the story. I also feel, especially in her work related to the Iranian Revolution, that the black and white images reflect the with-us-or-against-us mentality of the post-revolution society.

persepolis1  persepolis2

Satrapi’s graphic novels, Persepolis (Vol. 1 & 2) describe her childhood and experiences growing up during and after the Iranian Revolution and her escape to Europe and adulthood. This thoughtful, sensitive, and astounding story brings the historic event into a new personal light. A light which shines brightly to uncover a young girl’s hopes and dreams, her very soul, in the midst of unrest and oppression.

The story starts with Satrapi as a child at the beginning of the political protests against the Shah of Iran in 1977. With little to no understanding of the political world, she supports the early days of the revolution based on what she hears from idealistic grown ups. Her childlike devotion to God and the revolution mirror the fanatic crowds protesting in the streets. The revolution is wrestled away from the liberal idealist and thrown in the opposite direction resulting in the imposition of Islamic law. The oppressive regime comes of age just as Satrapi does, both wanting to assert their will over the other and impose their own meaning of independence and justice.

punkisnotdead punkisnotdead2 punkisnotdead3And she’s a punk!

These fantastic graphic novels were turned into an award winning French animated film in 2008, which you can also borrow from our sight and sound department. Be warned, it is in French so you’ll be reading either route you take.

Another spectacular piece of non-fiction from Satrapi is a book called Embroideries.

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C
oyly calling to you to open the cover

 Embroideries is phenomenal, I may like it even better than Persepolis. It’s about three generations of Iranian women drinking tea together, the conversation inevitably turning to discussions of love, men, their bodies, and sex. This amazing story looks at the sexuality of Iranian women across generations and is very insightful, pragmatic, and blunt. The story provides insight into arranged marriages, forced childhood marriages, and sex outside of marriage in a country where that could lead to imprisonment and public humiliation/punishment and even death.

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Finally, there is Satrapi’s stunning and unusual book Chicken with Plums, which was recently adapted into an award winning film. It is the story of Marjane Satrapi’s Great Uncle, the famous Iranian musician  Nasser Ali Khan. He played the tar, an important Iranian stringed instrument. When Khan’s tar is destroyed by his angry wife and he cannot find a suitable replacement, he gives up on life and wills himself to death. “Since no other tar could give him the pleasure of playing, Nasser Ali Khan decided to die,” we read early in the book, “He lay down in his bed…. [And] eight days later, November 22, 1958, he was buried beside his mother in Shemiran’s Zahirolodoleh Cemetary. All those who had known him were present on that day.”  This story of Khan and his tar is a heartbreaking treatise on the soul, art, and the struggle to truly live.  

741.5 : Brian K. Vaughn

Brian K. Vaughn is a consummate story teller. His creator-owned comics were described in a 2007 interview with Wired Magazine (after he won their Rave Award) as “finite, meticulous, years-long story arcs”, to which Vaughan comments, “That’s storytelling, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Something like Spider-Man, a book that never has a third act, that seems crazy.” Swoon. Truly a comic book writer after my own literary heart.

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Don’t worry girl, I’ve got well structured plot for days
(2014 DC Comic-con)

When I say something is a creator-owned comic that means it is a story without a comic book legacy. Spiderman, Batman, Superman, they all are legacy comics owned by DC or Marvel with hundreds of different writers following a prescribed pattern. Vaughn ended up writing for big names like Captain America, Spiderman, The X-Men, Green Lantern, and even the wildly popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics (considered the eighth season by series creator Joss Wedon) early in his career. He also wrote for the television show Lost and was an executive producer for Under the Dome.

However, Vaughn started writing his own stories in 2000 and hasn’t looked back. In 2002 he started Y: The Last Man with Vertigo Comics. This is his first huge independent success. The story is about an amateur escape artist named Yorick Brown and a  badly behaved Capuchin monkey Yorick is training named Ampersand. They are the only two males of their species to survive the simultaneous deaths of every XY chromosome carrying creature on Earth. Planes once piloted by men drop out of the sky, doctors drop dead in the middle of surgery, cars crash wildly on the streets. Society plunges into chaos while the women left behind are forced to deal with the destruction.

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A Man and his monkey
(Cover of Issue #23)

Like any well written science fiction, it is a fascinating thought experiment as well as a hero’s journey. While we follow Yorick on his quest to find his family and the girlfriend in Australia he attempted to propose to immediately before the death of half of all life on Earth, he has run ins with women of all ilks who are working, sometimes to different ends, to rebuild society.

There is a group of roving anti-male, one breasted, Amazons hunting him down to destroy him while another group made of Israeli soldiers seek him out as a political bargaining chip. He has a secret agent and a biologist accompanying him on his travels to protect him and to try to find the secret of what saved him and how it can save humanity’s future. He comes across a town completely made up of former female convicts happily and peacefully building a community where he is forced to reevaluate his sense of right and wrong. In addition to being a hero’s journey, the series asks, “What would it be like to be literally the last man on Earth?”

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Apparently beggars CAN be choosers.

Vaughn’s characters are incredibly well written and complex, and the voice he lends to his female characters comes across as totally genuine. In fact, while reading this comic, you’d swear that Yorick is more of a supporting character, the real story is about the women left behind. They are flawed, strong, and believable characters who are out not just to survive this apocalypse, but to thrive.

A movie of Y: The Last Man has been in and out of production for years but Vaughn announced in October 2015 that the project had found new life in a different form as a television series through FX. Keep and eye out as Ryan Reynolds has been tapped as a possible Yorick Brown.

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Vaughn’s latest work has also been very popular. An epic space opera entitled Saga. In Saga’s two worlds, Landfall and it’s only moon Wreath, fight a never ending war. The war has been so destructive that the two sides decide to export the war, dragging other worlds into the fray as battlefields and forcing the inhabitants to choose a side. The technologically advanced people living on Landfall have wings, everyone’s wings are different, from butterfly wings to feathered appendages. Wreath’s population have varying styles of horns and reject technology, using magic instead.

Two worlds give rise to our two main characters, Alana from Landfall and Marko from Wreath. Both are former soldier’s for their respective sides but when Marko is taken prisoner and Alana is assigned to guard him they, with the assistance of a trashy romance novel, fall in love and decide to go AWOL.

keepreadingKeep reading!

The story begins with the birth of the the narrator and the couple’s daughter, Hazel, blessed with both wings and horns. Vaughn said this about the story in Comic Book Resource in 2011:

I realized that making comics and making babies were kind of the same thing and if I could combine the two, it would be less boring if I set it in a crazy sci-fi fantasy universe and not just have anecdotes about diaper bags … I didn’t want to tell a Star Wars adventure with these noble heroes fighting an empire. These are regular people on the outskirts of the story who want out of this never-ending galactic war.”

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D’aww

They are real parents, dealing with real parental problems, such as disapproving in-laws and a snotty teenage (undead) baby sitter, while also being the two most hunted beings in the Universe. Both Wreath and Landfall see them as a threat to victory over the other, (blinded by their own generational hate, they cannot see their daughter as a symbol of peace) and both look upon Hazel with complete revulsion and disdain. There are multiple assassins trying to catch up with the new family as well as a terrorist group who are against both sides trying to use her as a bargaining chip.

This story is filled with other stories branching off of Alana and Marko’s tale. We meet a six year old sex-slave, liberated by two of the assassins trying to locate Marko and Alana, who can see the past of any object she touches. The story of the assassins, who are joined by Marko’s ex-fiancee, is fascinating as their goals begin to shift due to personal tragedies and new found understanding. The crowned prince of Landfall, a robot with a television for a head, chases down  the low born robot revolutionary who killed his wife and stole his infant son from the palace.

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Don’t you want to read this comic just to find out about the snow seal in overalls with a battle ax?

The art in Saga deserves more than just a mention. Fiona Staples designs all of the ships, characters, and weapons. Vaughn stated that no one’s art is like hers and he gives her incredible artistic license to create his world. It was her choice to give all the robots different kinds of televisions for heads, all the Wreath residents different horns, and all the Landfall people varying wings.

Vaughn has certain themes that are threaded through all of his stories, creation and destruction especially interest him. Yorick is needed for the creation of children for the destroyed planet. Alana and Marko create a child who, though totally innocent, cannot help but leave destruction in her wake. Swarming around these dual realities of nature are emotional and fragile creatures, desperate to make sense of what is happening and clinging to each other while attempting, and often failing, to find solace through love. Though Vaughn writes science fiction, these tropes are so familiar that the reader cannot help but feel gutted by the events that unfold in each story.

In short (too late), I highly recommend his work.

741.5 : Mark Carey

In which a librarian delves into the literary world of graphic novels and comic books. 

Graphic novels are becoming more and more popular in library collections for adults, teens, and kids. Adults, I’ve noticed, struggle with appreciating graphic novels. They have a tendency to hear the term “graphic novels” and picture 50 Shade of Gray. If you bring up “comic books” they assume it’s all Marvel or DC Comics caped crusaders spouting rehashed dialogue in runaway, over-complicated story lines. This assumption about comic books isn’t always mistaken, how much character development can you get out of an indestructible alien who is faster than a speeding bullet and can leap tall buildings with a single bound?

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But there is a thrilling breed of graphic novel/comic out there, a literary one where story lines and characters are dynamic and powerful as well as entertaining. There are so many titles, writers, and artists that I can’t wait to explore in this new segment of Fine Print. The first author I’d like to highlight is an author whose career I have followed since the late 1990’s : Mike Carey. Now this post is definitely not meant to be an exhaustive over view of Carey’s work. We have a number of his comic books and novels in our collection. I’m just touching on some of the most accessible and most popular work he has published in an effort to get you, the reader, interested in comic books.

Carey’s latest work is a fantastic and unique zombie thriller, and a novel rather than comic book, called The Girl With All the Gifts. It is a great introduction to his writing style and story structure and a fantastic way to start reading a comic book author without reading a comic book. The Girl with All the Gifts is the Books and Brewskis’ book club pick for July and is being made into a movie starring Glenn Close which will be released to theaters September 23rd, 2016.

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Carey’s literary focus doesn’t stop at writing gripping fiction. His original comic book series entitled Unwritten deals with Tom Taylor, misanthrope and son of a wildly successful missing youth fantasy writer. As Tom, a writer in his own right, begins to investigate what happened to his father, his identity becomes more and more malleable and tied to his fathers fictional protagonist; Tommy Taylor.

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Mike Carey, in an interview with Nicholas Yanes from scifipulse.net, said that:

“The most important reference point is the autobiography of Christopher Milne – who is famous as the Christopher Robin of the Winnie the Pooh books. Milne grew up feeling that his father had stolen his childhood from him, turned a profit from it and then given it back to him in a form he couldn’t use. Our Tom is very much in that situation when we first meet him, although we take his identity crisis a fair bit further than that.”

Carey may be best known for his series Lucifer, a spin off of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series published through DC’s Vertigo comics. The premise is the Judaeo-Christian Devil has retired as King of Hell to run a cabaret in Los Angeles. In the Sandman story “Season of Mists”, Lucifer expels all demons and damned souls from Hell before locking Hell’s gates and handing over the key to Hell to Dream of the Endless, the title character of the Sandman series. Eventually, Hell is turned over by God to two Angels to run,  Duma (the angel of silence) and Remiel (“set over those who rise”).

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(Gaiman insisted that Lucifer be drawn to look like David Bowie, I think he nailed it)

But you do not need to be familiar with the Sandman series to enjoy Lucifer, you just need to know a little bit about western mythology. The gods, demons, and other divinities that exist in other faiths are vital to the story line. Lucifer, as an apostate of Heaven, is able to travel through different realms and work with and manipulate the powerful creatures of each realm, including his brothers in Heaven, to get to what he wants.

What does he want? He wants to show the Host the folly of worship and blind obedience. Lucifer’s personality is not “evil” as most would view evil, but rather he is driven by his own free will and desire for complete freedom.  Lucifer makes it a point of always being honest, but in a way that is still manipulative in true devilish fashion. This personality quirk makes for some excellent twists and turns set to the backdrop of a very complex mythological universe. Mike Carey said this about the character;

“We play safe. Most of us do, most of the time… but Lucifer doesn’t know the meaning of safe, and he never bothers to look down at the tramlines. He goes wherever the hell he likes, picks his fights where he finds them and generally wins… following [his] own will and [his] own instincts to the very end of the line, no matter what the obstacles are.