September and October Book Discussions!
We’re back with TWO (count ‘em, TWO!) big months worth of Comic-Con International Graphic Novel Book Club discussions, including 20 separate books!
The Balboa Park Book Club’s selection for the month of September was Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Selected in recognition of Banned Books Week, the club chose to read a book which has been extensively challenged in libraries and schools around the United States. Moderator Sam led the discussion, and it was kicked off by a short introduction into the world of Banned Books by Charles Brownstein, Executive Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, who joined the meeting via video conference. Brownstein provided context for the discussion by highlighting some of the ongoing legal action concerning the book. The group discussed the self-styled Tragicomic, including Bechdel’s use of real images from a family photo collection to create portions of the art, as well as the non-linear narrative, which contributed to the sense of captured memories. The intensely personal nature of the coming-of-age story connected many of the group members with Bechdel, and brought out a rich discussion surrounding LGBTQ issues, identity and the relationships we all have within our families.
After the One Book, One San Diego selection for 2018 was revealed to be March, the Balboa Park Book Club voted to read Books 1–3 for their October meeting. By Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, the book chronicles Lewis’ journey as part of the Civil Rights Movement, covering difficult ground like the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, the Freedom Riders, and the journey to the Voting Rights Act. The group discussed the role of memoir in the communication of history, and how the unique nature of a graphic novel allowed the reader to be placed directly on the front lines, immersed in the struggle. March provided the group with a number of jumping-off points for conversation about which things have changed over the years, and which have remained painfully constant. One of the group’s interesting discussions related to the role of allies in movements connected with identity and race, spurred by the questions in the book surrounding the role of white volunteers within the SNCC.
The club’s selection for November is Rat Queens, vol. 1, by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch.
For September and October, the Downtown Book Club decided to once again do a long-form read over two months with Ernie, our resident lover of myth and legend, moderating both meetings. For an epic adventure, the club dove into David Rubin’s The Hero, Books 1 & 2, chronicling the mythical Twelve Labors of Heracles with a modern approach. Members ranged from being very familiar with the myths surrounding Heracles to only vaguely familiar, with one person having read the tales in the original Greek! This made for a lively conversation as the group discussed how much mythological context you need when reading storytelling with archetypes and how a modern take serves an ancient story.
Rubin’s artwork was repeatedly praised as the strength of the book, with the color as a particular stand out. The art was hailed as kinetic with Rubin demonstrating a great talent for drawing action. There was debate about how well the stories of Heracles work set in another time, with some members unsure of subtly changing the era and a number of members enjoying the shift and wanting to read a Victorian interpretation. Rubin’s presentation of the classic Greek hero through the lens of modern celebrity sparked contemplation about what it means to be a hero in any time and if the motivation for committing heroic acts ultimately matters. The most controversial discussion surrounded depictions of violence in Book 2. Readers attempted to reconcile the events of an ancient—and sometimes brutal—story with our current sensibilities of how violence is viewed and understood.
Another member recommended that those who enjoy Rubin’s art should check out The Rise of Aurora West by David Rubins, Paul Pope, and JT Petty. Next month the Downtown Club will discuss Superman: American Alien, written by Max Landis, and illustrated by a slew of top comics artists, who each tackled a chapter.
The Encinitas group continued with its exploration across multiple genres and styles by discussing Fables: Deluxe Edition Book 1 by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham in September. Though the first vol. didn’t initially grab all of the members, as the series continued, everyone became engaged and enjoyed the ride. Being based in folktales and fairy tales, many of the plotlines are purposely heavy-handed, but the group felt this actually added to the appeal. It was also appreciated that Willingham takes a deep dive into some lesser known folk and fairy tales, too, as all of the book club members remarked they had to look up who Weyland Smith was. The series has a lot of great touches, too, such as seeing Colin the Pig escaping and hiding out in the first vol.. And—speaking of Colin—he was a favorite of all our members and (spoiler alert!) his fate made everyone sad! All in all, Fables is a solid and satisfying read, and a good alternative to anyone fresh to comics looking for something to explore beyond the superhero genre.
For October, the selection was a little darker, as the group tackled the first two volumes of the Eisner Award-winning series (FIVE awards in 2018!) Monstress by writer Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda. All of the group members—especially those who are gamers— remarked that Monstress has a structure that feels a lot like a video game, which nobody thought was a bad thing, just very interesting. The world of Monstress was not an easy one for everyone to understand, but it speaks a great deal to how much the group enjoyed the setting, as much of the fun in the discussion involved piecing together all of the parts and having Voila! moments when things made sense. Truly, Monstress presents a lot to take in, and a number of the members are planning to re-read the books with the new insight gained from the meetings. Sana Takeda’s art is intriguing, as some of the line work is paired with atypically outstanding texturing and coloring. As one member put it, “every panel is like a painting.” Unlike Fables, Monstress is likely not an easy entry point for readers new to comics, but it’s a deep and satisfying series that is certainly worth exploring.
In November, Encinitas will read Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast.
In September, Escondido enjoyed discussing I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young. We learned some of our very favorite curse words from this book, though the group was a bit divided in their feelings about it. Most of the club enjoyed the title, along with the many jokes. The crude humor pulls no punches, and Young utilizes his trademark art style in wicked, ultra-violent ways. Some of the members didn’t care for the over-violent approach to problems, and Young’s penchant for writing around, or skipping, potentially meaty moments, such as Gertrude’s defeat of the would-be assassin. Everyone wondered what the sequels could hold for such a unique premise.
In October, group discussed March: Book One, written by Rep. John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, and illustrated by Nate Powell. This book was part of the overarching One Book, One San Diego county-wide read, in partnership with KPBS (this is the first time a graphic novel was selected), The autobiographical look at John Lewis’ humble beginnings, from doing sermons for chickens on his small family farm, to becoming a leader in the civil rights movement, inspired and educated our book club. We appreciated Lewis’ openness about dissent within his own group, and discussed Powell’s use of black and white illustrations and the symbolism and impact they had on the story. Our group was also interested in how a 16-page comic book, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, inspired Lewis to use the comic format to tell his own story. Several members also attended the recent speaking event of the March creators at the San Diego Civic Theater, and spoke of the inspiring speeches performed not only by Congressman Lewis, but Andrew Aydin as well. The Escondido group is motivated to read the entire March trilogy in the near future.
For November, the group will read Fables by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham, and also get back on track with Saga, vol/ 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.
In September La Jolla read Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery, vol. 1, by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch, and continued their long-form read of Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra with vol. 2. The group really enjoyed Rat Queens. This book has been on our reading list for a long time, but none of us knew what to expect. Once we all jumped in, we enjoyed the art, the team comradery, and the unique spunk behind each character. We had a great discussion and look forward to continuing with vol. 2 in the future.
Continuing with our standard “read one new book and continue a previous read” philosophy, Y the Last Man Book 2 was our continuation choice. We really enjoyed this vol. and the back story to the town of Marrisville. The group had an in-depth discussion on town dynamics, all things Yorick (the titular “last man”), and how the group continues to come together as they make their journey across the country. Once again Brian K. Vaughan has pulled us in with his story and we look forward to continuing this journey.
For October the group tried to stick with our tradition of picking two books with a spooky Halloween feel. We jumped in with Batman the Long Halloween, by writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale. We all enjoyed walking through the 12-part series of holidays presented in the book and trying to unearth who was “The Holiday,” the main villain. The dark colors and themes fit perfectly in with our Halloween celebration and our resident Batman expert Bob walked us through the discussion with great questions that really got us all thinking.
Finishing up our October discussion for October, we read and discussed Locke and Key vol. 3 by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. This volume brought us a few new keys into the world of the story. We had an in-depth discussion on what each key did, who has possession of them, which keys we like more and which ones less, and what roles we see them playing in the future. We look forward to continuing with vol. 4 to see what key will be next and what part it’ll play in the storyline.
In November La Jolla will be reading The Activity by Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads and continuing Y the Last Man Book 3 by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra and Jose Marzan.
For September and October, the Mission Valley Book Club chose two graphic novels with similar themes, The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang and The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag. Both books are aimed at the young adult crowd but were enjoyed thoroughly by the group, as the themes of self-acceptance are valuable at any age. The main characters in each story go on a journey of self-discovery that leads them to being more honest and open about who they are, both with themselves and the most important people in their lives. While it can be hard to be accepted, it is harder still to live a life that is disingenuous. Mission Valley has always loved tales of daring and adventure and these two graphic novels were no different.
Next month we will be continuing the saga of Saga, vol. 9, the latest collection of stories by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.
North Park read the Greg Rucka Batwoman graphic novel, collecting Rucka’s first story arc drawn by JH Williams III, as well as the follow-up arc drawn by Jock. The story reintroduces Kate Kane as Batwoman, a disaffected West Point dropout and playgirl by day who fights the Religion of Crime by night. Overall, everyone thought the story was interesting, and some members appreciated the way Kate Kane was introduced and developed as a new LGBTQ+ character.
The art however, especially the Williams III issues, was a big hit. There was rarely a page drawn that could be considered a “normal” comic book page. From panels shaped like the bat insignia and lightning bolts, to coloring (by Dave Stewart) that ranged from realistic earth tones to surrealistic reds and blacks within the same page, the art was dynamic to say the least. Everyone was a fan, although some members found the pages difficult to read on a tablet using guided panel viewing.
North Park was lucky to have their October selection of March: Books 1-3 coincide with the 2018 “One Book One San Diego” campaign of encouraging everyone in San Diego to read one book together each year and discuss it. This year was the first vol. of March and the program kicked off with a public talk by Rep. John Lewis, his co-author Andrew Aykin, and artist Nate Powell, which several members got to attend.
March tells the story of John Lewis from his youth in rural Alabama and his growth into a civil rights leader in the ‘50s and ‘60s as African Americans struggled for equality in a segregated nation. Everyone appreciated Lewis’s powerful story, but it was a story that chronicles the violence and hatred heaped on blacks in America.
One member mentioned how timely the story still is, mirroring some of the continued hatred we’re still seeing in America today. However, the group appreciated seeing another narrative of the Civil Rights movement, having mostly learned of it through the lens of Martin Luther King Jr. March really broke down the effort, time, and organization that went into peaceful protests, as well as the differing and sometimes conflicting philosophies leaders had while trying to work towards a common goal. Everyone also believed that reading Rep. Lewis’ story as a comic humanized characters and breathed life into a story that may not have been as engaging as a chapter in a history book.
More San Diego-area clubs coming in 2019 ... Stay tuned for details!