Review – The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

Title: The Sculptor

Author: Scott McCloud

Genre: Graphic Novel

Stars: * * *

Cover - The Sculptor

I have complicated feelings about Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor. I very rapidly became immersed in the narrative, so much so that I blew through 200 pages while standing around in a store. However, despite the ease at which I devoured the book, it wasn’t wholly satisfying as McCloud relies too heavily on overused tropes and fails to rise above what other writers have done, often better, before.

SPOILERS AHOY

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Review – Wandering Son Volumes 1 and 2 by Shimura Takako

Title: Wandering Son: Volumes 1 and 2

Author: Shimura Takako

Star Rating: * * (Volume 1), * (Volume 2)

Genre: Graphic Novel, Transgender/Gender Identity

Volume 1

Cover - Wandering Son 1

When I heard that Wandering Son was about two kids, Yoshino and Shuichi, dealing with trans identity issues, it skyrocketed upwards on my to-be-read list. After all, there are not many stories dealing with trans realities in a positive and well-thought out manner, and I was super excited to see that this series was receiving excellent ratings. Unfortunately, volume 1 did little to endear me to the series as I thought that both the art and the story were weak.

The Wandering Son volumes are packaged in beautiful, oversized hardcover editions. Regrettably, the series would have looked better in the normal, smaller tankobon size. Takako’s art is very simplistic and sparse. While the printing is clear and crisp, by enlarging the pages so much, the blankness of many of them was emphasised, as well as the weaknesses of the character designs. While is it not uncommon for manga to have rather barebones backgrounds and similar character constructions, I felt that both were an impediment to my immersion in this story. I kept getting characters mixed up since most had the same, wide-eyed face, and even the hair styles weren’t all that different. Very little stood out to me in regards to the art, and I missed the detail that is often present in so many popular manga.

Wandering Son Example 1

Another major issue I had with the book was the way in which decompression was used. Decompression refers to the pacing of a graphic story. A decompressed story is one that moves slowly, and can take many panels to show small events or reactions. This particular technique is quite common in Japanese manga, and I usually quite appreciate the more sedate, but detailed pace. However, the decompression in this volume left too many gaps in the narrative for me to fully understand what was going on. Scenes would be quite detailed, but then the story would jump forward to a different day or week. Very little time was spent on transition scenes, and even though these can be less interesting or emotional, they are still crucial to a well-constructed story.

Finally, I am sad to admit that there was just not much happening in this volume. Yoshino and Shuichi are just starting to figure out that they may be different, and it is understandable that they need time to sort out their feelings. However, most of the manga is comprised of Shuichi looking distressed and uncomfortable while she stares at things. When dealing with an introverted character that is rather shy and withdrawn, an author has to work particularly hard to make their struggles engaging and understandable for the reader. In the Wandering Son, we don’t get that far into Shuichi’s head, and being pummeled with panel after panel of emotional angst that isn’t very well conveyed does not make me feel for the character, or want to know more about her journey.

Overall, volume one starts off with a very interesting and potentially powerful premise that unfortunately just does not pay off.

Volume Two

Cover - Wandering Son 2

Volume two is where everything really starts to fall apart for me. Technically, the book is a lot better than volume one. The story flowed a lot more smoothly, and I wasn’t getting lost between scenes. I still had many problems telling characters apart, but there were also more characters introduced that looked sufficiently different that the volume felt less same-y than before. Furthermore, the character development was more interesting, and Yoshino and Shuichi were doing more than just spending pages upon pages looking stricken and nervous. Overall, volume two was a much more enjoyable read except for one rather gigantic problem that ruined the entire book for me.

Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence

My issues with this book center on the two characters: Yuki and Shii. Yuki was actually introduced in volume one in a short, but disturbing scene. During Yoshino’s first public appearance as a young boy, Yuki hits on him rather directly despite the fact that Yuki looks to be in her twenties and Yoshino is a pre-teen dressed in a high school uniform. The scene was short, and I forgot about it until Yuki reappeared in volume 2. This time Yuki runs into both Yoshino and Shuichi wandering around as their preferred genders. She invites them over to her house, but tells Yoshino that she would love it if he came back alone one time. When the two kids come over again, Yuki expresses displeasure about Yoshino not coming on his own, and her partner, Shii, walks in just as she’s petting Yoshino’s face. He accuses her of having an affair with Yoshino, and the escorts the two kids out of the apartment. While in the elevator, he fondles Yoshino’s crotch and chest, acting quite surprised that Yoshino is biologically a girl. This leads both Yoshino and Shuichi to discover that Yuki is also transgender, and sets her up as a mentor for the two.

I have tried to come up with a positive interpretation for this scene, but I just can’t. Some have claimed the Shii tends to act spontaneously and was just trying to check to see if Yoshino and Yuki were having an affair, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that he sexually touched a minor. Under the law in my country, what he did is considered sexual assault, and the narrative even shows that Yoshino was quite disturbed and upset by the incident, yet these feelings were completely brushed aside. Given the disproportionate levels of violence perpetuated against trans and gender queer people, this supposedly gag-like scene is unacceptable. I was even more discomforted by the fact that Yuki was supposed to be a mentor for the two pre-teens despite her inappropriate behaviour.

Before I abandoned the series, I wanted to see what would happen with Yuki. In volume 3, Yoshino goes to Yuki when his classmates have found out that he and Shuichi are gender queer and have begun to mock and torment the two of them. Yuki acts completely inappropriately with Yoshino, asking to compare their panties, and wanting to bath together so that she can see his breasts. She encourages Yoshino to share a bed with her, and then she cuddles with him in a way that makes Yoshino uncomfortable enough to run away as Yuki is far too physically close, and saying uncomfortably intimate things. The two end up “making up” by the end of the chapter, and once again I was left feeling extraordinarily uncomfortable at the fact that a pre-teen was just molested by an adult who suffered no repercussions for her actions. For a manga that spends so much time delving into controversial and difficult concepts, it was a terrible error to write plots involving violence without unpacking them with the same care and respect as the other difficult issues approached by this series.

Final Thoughts

I was really excited to read Wandering Son when I heard that it dealt with gender identity issues. However, I wasn’t a fan of the story, and there are some extremely problematic aspects to the narrative that I just can’t brush aside. Violence, particularly sexual violence, is perpetuated against trans people all the time, and I cannot support or enjoy a story that uses this violence as a gag. Even if this is one of the few substantive stories about kids dealing with trans identities, the scenes in volume 2 make it a highly inappropriate and problematic read.

RRRs: The Fables Spin-offs Edition

Rapid response reviews are shorter entries for books that I want to comment on, but don’t have enough time or material to finish a normal post. Given the sheer length of the Fables series, the only way I’ll ever be able to tackle most of its volumes is if I keep my comments short and sweet! My reviews for the actual Fables series are simple: go read them all! To get the whole story, readers need to finish all of the books, and even though there are 19 volumes (as of now), all of them are worth the read. Today’s RRR, therefore, is dedicated to the Fables spin-offs since they are almost as voluminous, but differ widely in their importance to the main series and their overall quality.

Title: Jack of Fables (Volumes 1-9, including The Literals mini-series)

Author: Bill Willingham

Rating: *

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Graphic Novel

Cover - Jack of Fables Series

I’m cheating a bit with Jack of Fables as I am lumping all of the books into one write-up (though I did write mini-reviews for volumes one and two here). Simply put, I hated this series. Jack of Fables is extraordinarily different from its predecessor, and very little of what I loved about Fables was present in Jack. Admittedly, the story premise is quite intriguing as these books deal with the existence of the Literals, beings that are the anthropomorphic representations of writing tools, but the titular character makes the story all but unbearable. I read the full series because there is a cross-over between it and Fables, but after trudging through these books, I am pretty sure I could have just skipped Fables 13 and saved myself the trouble. While the Literals are an interesting concept, most of the series is dedicated to showing how Jack is a terrible human being. The humour is sexist (for example, Jack sleeps with his half-sisters and this fact keeps coming up throughout the entire series as something that is supposed to be funny or admirable), the art is inconsistent, and I could not care less about any of the characters. Unless you are a diehard Fables fan, these books should be a skip. Continue reading

Review – French Milk by Lucy Knisley

Title: French Milk

Author: Lucy Knisley

Star Rating: * ½

Genre: Graphic memoir/travelogue

Cover - French Milk

French Milk is about Lucy Knisley’s month-long trip to Paris when she was 22. It is meant to be both a travelogue, as well a series of ruminations on the transition to adulthood. Unfortunately, the book does neither particularly well.

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Review – Will-O-the-Wisp by Tom Hammock and Megan Hutchinson

Title: Will-O-the-Wisp: An Aurora Grimeon Story

Authors: Tom Hammock and Megan Hutchinson

Star Rating: * * *

Genre: Graphic Novel, Mystery, Paranormal

NOTE: Review copy obtained via NetGalley.

Cover - Will o the Wisp

Synopsis

After her parents died from accidentally ingesting poisonous mushrooms, Aurora is sent to live with her estranged grandfather deep in the southern swamps. Not only must she contend with this cantankerous old man, but she must figure out how to fit in with the diverse residents of Ossuary Isle. When strange occurrences begin to happen, she starts to explore the realm of Hoodoo magic alongside a priestess from the swamp in order to protect her new community from a vengeful spirit.

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Double Review – The Unwritten 8: Orpheus in the Underworlds and Locke and Key 6: Alpha and Omega

The following two reviews are going to be short because I find it hard to write about books that I really enjoy. Instead of giving people a fair and accurate description of the good and the bad, I just want to run around in delight, babbling about all the things that I liked. To prevent my review from becoming just a series of animated gifs, I’m going to challenge myself to be brief and concise in my attempts to encourage people to read the latest volumes of both The Unwritten and Locke and Key!

Also, since both books are new or soon-to-be-released entries in popular series, let me be clear that there are at least some SPOILERS AHOY!!!!

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Review – Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of London by Sylvain Cordurié

Title: Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of London

Authors: Sylvain Cordurié (Author), Laci (Illustrator)

Star Rating: * * *

Genre: Graphic Novel, Mystery, Paranormal

NOTE: Review copy obtained via NetGalley. Publication date is February 11, 2014.

Cover - Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of London

Synopsis

After the events at Reichenbach Falls, Sherlock Holmes goes into hiding. By convincing everyone that he is dead, he hopes to avoid any reprisals for his part in Moriarty’s death. However, he finds himself drawn back to London for a case from a very strange client. Individuals linked to the royal house are being brutally killed, and it is not the queen that has sent for him, but a demonic master vampire who needs Holmes to track down a rogue monster. With Watson and his wife being threatened, how can Holmes crack this case without handing over his soul to the proverbial devil?

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