Blasts from the Past and Future Highlight Our August Book Club Reads
Stories running from prehistory to future space travel were under discussion this August by members of the Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs.
The Chula Vista group’s August selection was Sentient by Jeff Lemire and Gabriel Walta. Sentient was an Eisner Award nominee for Best Limited Series and is the second book by Jeff Lemire for the group. It takes place on board the U.S.S Montgomery, where an attack kills all the adults on the ship, and the onboard A.I. VALERIE must help the ship’s children survive in space and get them safely to the colony. Can VAL do it?
Yasmine moderated the discussion, and the overall opinion was that it was an enjoyable read. Everyone was happy with the pace and length of the book. Despite there not being many words in the book, it didn’t hinder the story, which members thought was well told and intriguing. They were also pleasantly surprised that the main character was a good A.I. for a change and that it had such a good relationship with the kids onboard. Some members found that the art style grew on them, and Susan felt that there was a lot of emotion shown in the art. In the end, even with a good A.I. in the book, some members had the opinion that having A.I.s in our lives wouldn’t really be a good thing or something that was needed, but all members agreed that reading about them is very interesting.
For September, the group will read Descender by Jeff Lemire.
The Downtown group delved into The Department of Truth, vol. 1: The End of the World by James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds. What happens when you discover all the conspiracy theories are true? One organization, the Department of Truth, has been covering them up for years, but what is the Truth?
Moderated by Attiba, the group decided that conspiracy theories are fun. The disorienting art by Martin Simmonds enhanced the story and tied into its oppressive nature. Tynion’s story, in turn, seemed very relevant right now. Most members liked this series by the Eisner Award–winning writer (whose work currently includes Batman, The Joker, Something Is Killing the Children, and The Nice House on the Lake) and would continue with this trippy and weird story.
In September, the Downtown group will continue with James Tynion and his Something Is Killing the Children Vol. 1 illustrated by Werther Dell’Edera.
For the August meeting, the Encinitas Group read Blue Monday, vols. 1 and 2, by Chynna Clugston Flores. Set in the early 90s in a small northern California town, the books follow a group of friends navigating the teenage experience while being guided by mod, punk, and alternative culture. The discussion began with a take on the overt crudeness of volume 1 and how although it is not up to current social norms, it was appropriate for both the time the story took place and the time it was originally written. The crudeness in some ways played to the book’s authenticity as it reflected the teenage social perspective at the time the story occurred. It also reflected general social trends that began in the 90s, including more focus on the “disgusting and edgy.” That, in combination with the work being “80% autobiographical,” made the overt antics “kind of appropriate,” especially considering the small-town setting, where pre-Internet teenagers had nothing but time.
Members found that the story developed nicely through the latter half of volume 1 and into volume 2, which the group unanimously agreed was much more polished with better character development and story progression. The group also found that the art in the second volume was more refined and that the color, which was absent from the initial printings of the work, enhanced the story and complemented it nicely. While not all themes were relatable (e.g., have a crush on a teacher to the point of obsession, not being part of a similar subculture), the group generally found the story driven by good interpersonal relationships with enough mischief thrown in to stir the pot. Themes of teenage friendships, cliques and belonging, and romance are, however, common, and Blue Monday followed the tried-and-true formula laid out by filmmaker John Hughes to tackle these topics of teenage angst, all while doing so through the filter of a particular subculture.
Overall, the work was a look into a small teenage world driven heavily by music (what teenage subculture doesn’t have its own soundtrack?) and a look back to the not-so-distant-past where kids had more freedom, but had to work for what they wanted: being “Caller 9” to win tickets to a concert, waiting to “tape” music videos from cable television and songs from the radio, and having to just show up to your friends’ homes to see if they could hang out. While such things may be completely unrelatable to those who grew up in the age of the Internet, it was a heavy dose of nostalgia for the group members who remember making mixtapes and burning CDs and a time where there was no pressure to maintain a digital image and cyber identity, despite living in a teenage wasteland.
Escondido Group 1 read Tsutomu Nihei’s futuristic manga, Blame! Master Edition vol. 1 for August. In an endless expanse of levels similar to the cyberpunk architecture of the Death Star, stoic protagonist Kyrii roams in search of humans possessing the lost Net Terminal Genes. But in this bleak metal and plastic hell, Kyrii must constantly fight for his life against cyborgs, transhumans, and silicon lifeforms. His only safeguard is the high-powered Gravitational Beam Emitter, which he constantly fires to carve a solitary path of carnage and destruction. Having climbed 5000 levels, Kyrii trudges ever forward as both an alien and a target.
Alexander led the discussion and said he was drawn in most by the futuristic atmosphere of Blame! rather than by the characters. He shared that the author/artist Nihei worked previously in construction and architectural design, and his intimidating artificial landscapes really show it. Nicole said the “in-your-face” art reminded her of the movies Akira and Dune. Renate was reminded also of Bladerunner and artwork by H. R. Giger. Randall likened the story’s mystique to Inception. Sophia thought the repetitive violence and Kyrii’s isolation reminded her of being caught in a nightmare. April and Nicole wanted more details and depth for the story, as even the large omnibus edition was mostly Kyrii just wandering and quashing robotic threats. Renate said that Kyrii was kind of bland compared to the other beings he encounters. Randall thought the story was really entertaining but that Kyrii’s gun was overpowered and lame.
Group 1 will convene again to discuss Cyclopedia Exotica by Aminder Dhaliwal in September.
Escondido 2's August selection was Basketful of Heads, vol. 1 by Joe Hill and Leomacs.
In Basketful of Heads, readers experience cheesy 80s horror similar to Evil Dead 2! It has all the right horror tropes, blood, and hilarity, with a fun moral lesson mixed in to make it one of the more interesting titles the group has read this year. The story focuses on June Branch, a Viking axe, and both being trapped on an island during a major storm. The visuals and art pop off the page. Color tones reflect the 1980s and help set the mood of the story in each issue. Members were pleasantly surprised they didn't guess which way the story was going to go. It was fun going back to find hints and clues as to what was occurring. We don't want to give too much away with a review. This is just a bloody, campy, fun read and Esco2 highly encourages other book clubs to give it a try.
Next up, in September Escondido 2 will read Chainsaw Man vols. 1 and 2 by Tatsuki Fujimoto.
For their August selection, the La Jolla group read Ronin Island, vol. 1, by Greg Pak and Giannis Milonogiannis, as well as The Wicked + The Divine, vol. 2, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie.
Members found Ronin Island to be a quick read: an apparently straightforward story with meaning tucked into the depth of the characters, and the quiet worldbuilding that unfolds throughout: a 19th century alternate universe, set on an island off the coast of Japan after a mysterious natural disaster erupts throughout Asia, destroying lives and livelihoods. Despite the title of the volume—“Together in Strength,” also the island’s apparent motto—the two leads of the comic are perpetually at odds, one the son of a well-respected samurai, the other a Korean refugee with almost nothing to her name. Through them, Greg Pak explores what it means to be a samurai, what it means to be an outsider, and how our heritage defines us—as well as, of course, fighting monsters, though even the origin of those creatures speaks to larger questions of class threaded through Pak’s story. By the end, the group was left even more curious about the history of the island, and what the region’s past might mean for its future.
The second volume of The Wicked + The Divine introduces new gods to its audience and to Laura, and recenters Laura’s story—with devastating results. McKelvie’s art—and Matt Wilson’s coloring, which everyone agreed was magnificent and integral in a way we don’t always recognize about colorists—continues to tell a story all its own in this second volume; in issue 8, for instance, the coloring shifts and fades and moves to the rhythm of a pulsing beat captured in the layout, the perfect insight into newcomer Dionysus. The group also discussed the ways that this volume mirrored the first, and the parallel lines drawn between Luci’s and Laura’s arcs—arcs that function so well because of the buy-in that Gillen’s characters (compelling and complicated and utterly three-dimensional) demand. In this volume, Laura straddles the line between fan and friend and is never fully able to bridge the gap in ways that don’t render her frustrated and jealous—until she is, for a split second, and forever changes the story to come. With this volume, Gillen continues to raise the stakes and explore his vast, intricate lore, all the while keeping us grounded in the characters’ emotional lives and connections to each other.
In September, the La Jolla group will be reading Sweet Tooth, vol. 1, written and illustrated by Jeff Lemire, and Animal Man, vol. 2, written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Chas Truog, Tom Grummett, and Brian Bolland.
For August the Museum group discussed Richard McGuire’s award-winning 2014 graphic novel Here.
A unique book, Here is a series of snapshots from one spot on Earth: a single corner of the author’s early 20th century–built house in New Jersey, viewed from the same spot over years spanning from 3,000,500,000 BCE to 22,175 CE (don’t worry, the bulk of it is when humans are around). Readers emphasized the necessity of physical media or a 2-page digital view for maximum enjoyment of Here. It was generally liked by everyone from the concept to execution.
Most definitions of comics include the idea of images presented chronologically, so Ben asked if members would consider this a comic like the other works they’ve read. Hints of stories rise and fall in the tide of time—not so much a narrative as an experience, with no resolutions. The group found the ephemerality of human influence on a spot poignant, and it inspired lively and introspective discussion. The book is less concerned with plot than themes, less about words than evocative images. It is entirely nonlinear, though brief linear threads appear and echo through other times. Ben asked many smart questions that were too hard to write down fast enough to also absorb the equally smart answers. Attendees pondered their own homes; those who have experienced home ownership agreed with Ben’s description of that experience as a dialogue with previous owners of the house.
Here expands that dialogue to include the whole history of the Earth. The group enjoyed recurring motifs in words spoken, images juxtaposed, and big and small moments’ impacts on that little pixel of Earth that is the focus of Here. It is a book that resists analysis. Words are sparse, and as with an impressionist painting, much of the enjoyment is found in how the reader personally connects to the work. The book is about here, not us, and we are just brief visitors in the life of that spot. Still, as human readers we couldn’t help but get invested in some of the blips featuring humans, while space evolved at its own pace.
August brought everyone back to their computers for a virtual meetup and lots to discuss about DC’s 2016 reboot of several Hanna-Barbera characters, specifically The Flintstones, vols. 1 and 2 by Mark Russell and Steve Pugh.
These two volumes following the lives of the Flintstone and Rubble families could have been just a light-hearted reimagining with animals taking the place of new technology and Fred and Barney getting into their expected hi-jinks. Mark Russell took a perpendicular turn instead, writing 12 issues of satire of modern America with stories focusing on religion, marriage, PTSD, consumerism and multi-level marketing, and the existential dread of those fully conscious and talking appliance animals whose sole function seems to be serving humans until they’re replaced.
Several members went in with low expectations of the series. The nomination was inspired by a random Internet recommendation, and everyone thought it would be light and fun. However, Russell examined some surprisingly mature themes and injected dark humor and clever jokes into the stories along with the expected caveman puns and visual gags the Flintstones cartoon was known for. Members enjoyed that the series was easy to get into and follow, with each issue a stand-alone story jabbing at a particular subject. While some of the commentary about our current society was less subtle than others, members appreciated the balance of cynicism and hope for humanity that was eventually reached by the end of the series. They also appreciated Steve Pugh’s art and design for the characters. They were recognizable as the original characters, but updated and exaggerated to look more like cavemen.
The Oceanside Club read Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection (2010) by Matt Dembicki. The group wanted to highlight Indigenous authors and characters, and this title fit the bill.
The 24 stories in the anthology were united by all being tales of the trickster, a creature who takes on many forms and causes all kinds of mischief. Members all agreed the stories reminded them of Aesop’s Fables. As with Aesop’s Fables, Trickster is a great read for children, who would benefit from the messages relating to how to live a good life and be a good person. Some of the stories strives to explain the world around us, some teach us a lesson, and some are mostly there for entertainment. In addition to the multiple stories, Trickster contains interesting, varying styles of artwork, making it an easy book to pick up and read even when you don’t have much time. Members discussed the tradition of telling stories over generations and how they may or may not have evolved over time. Native Americans, however, are known for striving for exact retellings, and we learn many of their traditions throughout the pages of this book.
In September, the Oceanside Club will be celebrating Banned Books Week, which takes place September 26–October 2, by reading a book that was banned or challenged in the past. Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read, and this year the theme is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” The graphic novel the group will be reading is The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell.