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!
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