If anyone had told me that I would become a huge fan of fantasy graphic novels with an anthropomorphic badger and more, I would have suggested they change their prescription.

Cover of Grandville Bete NoirDon’t get me wrong – I like graphic novels, well, some anyway.  I give a wide berth to superheroes and the like, but Grandville and the nicely put together Detective Inspector LeBrock and his terribly English, monocle-wearing sidekick Detective Sergeant Roderick Ratzi have me hooked.

The Grandville books are set in a steampunk world with murder, greed and political conspiracy as the themes. When I reserved the first book in the series I had no idea they were fantasy, or that my would-be heroes were animals. While most of the characters are anthropomorphic animals, there are a few “doughfaces” representing humans.

England has recently won independence from superpower France (Napoleon won!). The far right have bombed Robida Tower, with the English being accused. Having created the fear, the scheming politicians/moguls plan to unite their citizens in a war against terrorism, thus overcoming any further socialist republic tendencies. They are working on the explosive finale, but not if our heroes have anything to do with it.

Cover of Grandville Mon AmourArchie LeBrock is no gentleman when it comes to dishing out justice and the body count is high in Grandville, the first book in the series. Think working-class Le Carré, Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming and pure fantasy. The steampunk theme is a perfect match for the characters and the stories, and adds an extra quality to the whole series. I found myself studying the background instead of just reading the words and moving onto the next frame.

The English resistance movement have struggled against France and have won independence, but at what cost? LeBrock and Ratzi find power does indeed corrupt and they have to face the unthinkable in the second title in the series, Grandville Mon Amour. Once again they burrow their way through the political system to find the rotten apples at its core. As a wee sideline, we get a small hope that Archie might find love again.

I love the sly digs, the twisted, quite fictional history and the visual and verbal puns which are a large part of the pleasure of reading these books. Despite my initial wariness (I mean, fantasy!?) I will read these books again and wait for the next two that will finish the series. I’m yet to read book number 3, Grandville Bete Noir, having saved it for a treat.

Cover of The Tale of One Bad RatI first came upon the terrific penmanship and fertile mind of the author of the Grandville series, Bryan Talbot, with The Tale of One Bad Rat set in the Lake District of England.

It would be hard to find a graphic novel less like standard comic books than this. I loved the almost Beatrix Potter-like watercolour drawings and the moving story of teenage runaway Helen and her pet Rat. Her story evolves, her past and her reasons for running away slowly becoming obvious as Helen tries to deal with her fear and self-loathing and  find her place in the world. An excellent combination of a sadly familiar story with a satisfactory ending, enhanced by beautiful drawings.

Have you ever had your reading tastes altered by a book, as firmly as I have? Ever tried reading graphic novels? Put a book back on the shelf after spotting the word “fantasy” and thought, not for me? I have enjoyed having my head turned by all of these books and will be more open-minded (I hope) in future.

Working in a library, there are at least two absolutes:

  • There are hundreds of thousands of books I could read
  • I am never going to read them all

With this in mind, I have found the solution. Never again will I have to worry and fret about all those classic titles that cause me shame to admit I have never read. With my new tool, I can sound as if I know the plot to the biggies and nod sagely when people discuss the nuances of character development in The Clan of the Cave Bear or the sense of place in Death in Venice.cover of 90 Classic Books for People in a Hurry

My great weapon for feeling superior? 90 Classic Books for People in a Hurry by Henrik Lange

This slim but filling book lets you read the classics, from The Bible to To Kill a Mockingbird, through to Lord of the Flies and Catch 22, by simply reading a single page with three cartoon squares.

It sums up the tale, the characters, the subtle plot lines, the good, the bad and the ugly and you can almost head to your book club, safe in the knowledge you can bluff your way through.

Spoiler Alert: Once you read it, if you have a good memory, which thankfully I don’t, you may not be able to actually read the book in the future, because you now know how it ends.

It is written with wit and strips away of of the pretentiousness that can accompany the reading of classics.

One of my favorites was the summing up of The Lord of the Flies

So bad boy Jack sets the entire island on fire which gets a navy ship to come to the rescue. The officer says he would have expected better of British boys

So, dip in and enjoy a classic, you could read a dozen while eating your lunch.

I love comics, and am always on the troll for good ones. Yesterday I asked Twitter “Comics peeps – do you have any recommendations of comic/graphic novel memoirs or biogs? Or something sciencey?” and got some great ideas for comics reading – most of which are at the library (phew):

Thanks to @feddabonn @patrickoduffy @megingle and @rekuhs. You rock.

Check out more of our comics posts and do you have any 0ther ace comics you’d like to share?

The covers alone say so much about the diversity of imagination you can find in graphic novels. A selection from our latest April new titles.  If you haven’t explored this genre before I’d encourage you to give it go.

It’s no secret that comic memoirs are one of my favest thing: See Draw your life – graphic novel memoirs and this one on Tangles. Fabby Flavorwire has just made my morning by coming up with a tasty list for us graphic novel memoir lovers: 8 Worthy Successors to Alison Bechdel. I’ve read Unterzakhn and  Tangles already, and have Dotter of her father’s eyes at home on my to-read pile.

I’m happy to report we have them right here at Christchurch City Libraries for your delectation:

 Cover Cover  CoverCover

I’ve just been reading (and looking at) a book which I feel like recommending to everyone. It’s the story of a hunting, shooting, fishing Kiwi bloke called Stag which might not sound like it has appeal to many women. But… this book, Stag Spooner; wild man from the bush by Chris Maclean, has everything.

First its a great story – as well as being a hunter, Stag was a talented artist who created what could be New Zealand’s first graphic novel. This is included in the book and will seem immediately familiar to people today. Stag went off to fight in World War II and made a bit of money designing envelopes and Christmas cards for his fellow soldiers to send home to their families. Examples of these also fill the book. Check the family archives – there might be one of these among your grandparent’s World War II memorabilia. Stag’s story also harks back to a time when hunting and fishing opportunities were far richer and many families supplemented their diet and their income by what they could shoot in the hills or catch in rivers and the sea.

Stag was very much an individual as photographs in the book show and also a man for whom his family was very important. The rest of his life story makes compelling reading, as does the story of how this book came to be.

Stag Spooner is also a beautifully produced book.  All the elements – the cover, the layout, the quality of illustrations and paper are just as a good book should be.

I seem to be on a visual kick at the moment – I have managed to gather a huge pile of graphic novels recently, and am finding some real gems. I don’t know whether it’s an attempt by my poor pre-Christmas brain to cope with the insanity of all the lists in my head, or the fact that there’s so much tinsel everywhere I’ve just given in and succumbed to the visual madness.

Luckily for me, other people seem to be thinking the same way – many of the books I’m reading have been returns from other customers, and I’ve just scooped them straight off the Recent Returns shelf.  Others have been ordered by our clever buying team, and appear on my holds shelf. A few are old favourites, some are titles I just didn’t manage to read when they were first published, and some are brand new.  Here’s a few of the titles I’m loving right now.

  • Joe Hill’s Locke & Key series – consistently great story-telling, lovely artwork, and a steady supply of titles make this one of my consistent favourite graphic novel series
  • Staying within the family, dad Stephen King’s current graphic adaptation of The Stand. I think I’ve had a wee moan before that some of the other adaptations of King’s work have not been so great, but this series is outstanding.
  • Kick Ass 2 – this is one I never got around to reading when it was first published.  Book 1 is fab, as is the movie (although as with most of the titles in this post, needs to be read/watched away from young and delicate minds).  Here’s hoping with book 2.
  • Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always. I’ve always loved Clive Barker, although sometimes he scares me – I’m hoping that this graphic novel will do the same! Also the cover reminded me of one of my favourite movies – Monster House – so that’s got to be a good thing …
  • The Underwater Welder arrived on my holds shelf as highly recommended by someone or something I can’t remember. The title confused me every time I looked at my reserve list – visions of some unholy mixture of Jacques Cousteau and that ’80s music video from Flashdance, but reviews are glowing and the artwork looks promising.
  • Memorial is another one that I must have seen and requested at some point. Again, I don’t know much about it, but it looks pretty, and sounds weird – just my cup of tea.
  • And finally, Tune.  I’m reading this already, and adoring it!  I may even try to squeeze it on to my Best Of list. It’s rude, and clever, and laugh-out-loud funny.  The art is perfect, it’s full of nerdy pop-culture references, and basically what I’m saying here is: find it, read it, and love it!

I found this graphic novel yesterday at Shirley Library quite by accident. It’s called Aotearoa Whispers, The Awakening. I think it’s awesome, so decided to blog it as maybe other people might enjoy it too. The story is set in Christchurch. Be warned there were a couple of illustrations of the Cathedral, the Chalice and the chess set from the square – this gave me a bit of an unexpected whiplash of nostalgia ( a reaction I wasn’t expecting from a graphic novel) and the author Gonzalo Navarro wrote his foreword in the city in February 2011, in the aftermath of the earthquakes.

The Awakening tells the story of of Kahi Moana, a young teenager who has a potentially life-changing exchange with his grandmother after tripping over his own shoelace.

The conversation that ensues with his kuia introduces the reader to Te Rauparaha, touches on aspects of local history (it mentions the naming and history of Cathedral Square), the battles at Kaiapoi Pa, Ōnawe and Akaroa before moving on to share a retelling of the traditional kōrero of Māui and Mahuika from the perspective of the author. Ultimately the conversation with his Nan impacts on his perspective of how he sees the world and views his own identity.

I loved the style of the art work and the fact that I could read the story in Te Reo  (the translation has been provided by Charisma Rangipunga) or English.  The fact that the story was set locally and that the storyline included events and happenings that occurred in our area. It  made me feel like I had an instant connection with the story and the characters.  I also liked the fact that it was sharing story in a graphic novel type format, I haven’t come across many New Zealand stories told in this way.

If you try this one and like it, you might also like to have a look at Ngārimu Te Tohu Toa (Te Reo) which tells the story of Te Moana nui a Kiwa Ngarimu VC or Victory at Point 209 if you want to read the English version.  Both of these were written by Andrew Burdan who has also written Hautipua rererangi (Te Reo) or Born to Fly (English version) which tells the story of NZRAF Flying Officer Porokoru Patapu (John) Pohe of Ngati Rangi,who served 22 missions in his first tour of duty during the Second World War.  I have added both of  these to my for later shelf.

As an aside, If you do read Aotearoa Whispers and it whets your appetite in terms of learning a little more about local history then you might like to check out our website Tī Kōuka Whenua. This resource is a great source of local history and Ngāi Tahu information- and if you’re interested you can read more about the battles mentioned in Aotearoa Whispers, the history of Kaiapoi and the battle at Ōnawe Pa as well.

There’s a few things in the library that we librarians have a love-hate relationship with.  Sophisticated picture books are one of those things. Clearly, we love books – did I mention we are librarians? And clearly we also love order (librarians!).

And sophisticated picture books (you know, those over-sized books you find in the kids’ area, which look like picture books, but are way too grown-up for your average three year old) are truly things that inspire both love and hate in many of us. Well, in me, anyway. These books are big. Picture book big. But we classify them as children’s fiction, and so we have to find creative ways of shelving them in areas where they tower over their tiny brothers and sisters, lurk at the ends of shelves, get left in piles at the ends of rows, or even (gasp!) get hidden in the actual picture book bins. My librarian’s soul hates this uncertainty.

But oh! the books themselves. Given an unlimited budget and a house with an extra dimension to hold an infinite library, I would empty my wallet and fill my bookshelves with these works of art.

Tohby Riddle, Colin Thompson, Gary Crew, Shaun Tan, Dave McKean, Ben Templesmith: all artists who have the gift not only of art but of language.  Sometimes they write and illustrate, sometimes they team up with others to create books that truly transcend boundaries.  [Insert drivellingly adoring comment about the partnership between Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean].

Most of the time these books end up in the children’s area, but sometimes the content is just too grown-up for this, and you have to go exploring a bit further. Gaiman and McKean often end up with the adult graphic novels, along with Templesmith, whose art is gloriously bloodthirsty in a hauntingly horror-filled mixed-media, overlaid transparency and watercolours kind of way; and Gary Crew and Shaun Tan can be found loitering in the teens’ section. Both Shaun Tan and Neil Gaiman’s works have been turned into astonishingly beautiful movies – we have The Lost Thing here in the library on DVD, and Gaiman’s Mirrormask can be found in places like Alice’s. Colin Thompson’s illustrations have been turned into jigsaws and you can buy Tohby Riddle’s signed artwork online.

Above all, though, you can find them here at the library. It would make me more than happy if you came and found these books and took them home with you. Not only will you too be able to share and appreciate the beauty of these works of art, but then I won’t have to worry about how to shelve them …

At the beginning of the year, I was checking out the graphic novel section at Central Library Peterborough, when a young bloke approached me. “Have you read this one?” he said, and thrust Blankets by Craig Thompson at me.

I’m glad he did. I was totally sucked in to this autobiographical story. It’s a beautifully drawn (in both senses) tale of first love, religious doubts, growing up, and family relationships. It has a raw and tender honesty.

This was the first in a run of brilliant autobiographical comics / graphic novel memoirs. The comic author/artist draws (and draws on) part of their own life as a story.

The next discovery was Are you my mother? A comic drama by Alison Bechdel. It is the follow-up to Fun home, an autobiographical tragi-comic about her relationship with her high-school English teacher and funeral home director (and gay) Dad.

Are you my mother? has Alison exploring her difficult relationship with her mother – she can’t find in her Mom the motherly support she wants. It is a layered, complex and touching story that any son or daughter will recognise. She explores her own motivations and drives, and draws you in.

I love how she also delves into the life and work of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott and embeds him into her own story. Art and literature is there, in abundance. As Laura Miller’s review in The Guardian points out:

Like all of Bechdel’s work, Are You My Mother? is furiously literary, full of citations and quotations, and crafty symbolic parallels to the books its author is so often depicted reading with furrowed brow. The presiding genii of this particular work include Adrienne Rich, Sigmund Freud, Alice Miller and, above all, Virginia Woolf and the British psychoanalyst DW Winnicott. (“I want him to be my mother,” cartoon Alison says.) The concepts Winnicott contributed to object relations theory (the “good enough” mother, transitional objects, the true and false self, etc) provide themes for each of the book’s seven chapters, but its swirling, circular structure derives from Woolf.

My next autobiographical comic was Paying for it: a comic strip memoir about being a john by Chester Brown. It was a challenge. It’s an unblinkingly honest and compelling account of prostitution, from the rare perspective of the “john”. Chester’s tone is dry as a bone, and his pictures have a similar precision.

His friends mentioned in the book are allowed to have their say via footnotes included in the book. They serve as a kind of chorus or commentary, and let you know a little bit more about Chester than what he has revealed. It really is something to behold.

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle was recommended to me by Auckland librarian Sean M (big tip of the hat!). Guy comes across as a reasonable,  thoughtful bloke. He documents the difficulties and oddities of life in Jerusalem on both sides of the wall. Stephen Carlick’s review in The National Post says:

… it’s his juxtaposition of the various points of view — Israeli, Palestinian, Christian, that of Médecins Sans Frontières, and his own —  that makes it his best. The tension in the Holy City between what is how sacred to whom is central to the success of Jerusalem, largely because of the clear-eyed way Delisle depicts the struggles of daily life in a city where so many strongly opposed factions coexist.

The success of this book is how it simply presents the everyday details of life.

These comic autobiographies explore the micro and the macro. They manage to show both an individual’s life in prosaic detail and the big picture of human experience. A local comic memoirist is doing just that in the excellent blog Let me be frank. New Zealand author/artist New Zealander Sarah Laing presents past and present episodes of her life in comic format. It’s brilliant, and well worth signing up to.

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