Category Archives: Graphic Novel Review

Graphic Novel Review: Cheshire Crossing

Before Andy Weir became the bestselling author of The Martian, he dabbled in fanfiction and webcomics. One of these early works has been revamped and released as a graphic novel, and you can read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

Years after their respective returns from Wonderland, Neverland, and Oz, the trio meet here, at Cheshire Crossing—a boarding school where girls like them learn how to cope with their supernatural experiences and harness their magical world-crossing powers.

But Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy—now teenagers, who’ve had their fill of meddling authority figures—aren’t content to sit still in a classroom. Soon they’re dashing from one universe to the next, leaving havoc in their wake—and, inadvertently, bringing the Wicked Witch and Hook together in a deadly supervillain love match.

To stop them, the girls will have to draw on all of their powers . . . and marshal a team of unlikely allies from across the magical multiverse.

The Review

The cover blurb describes Cheshire Crossing as a boarding school where students “learn how to cope with their supernatural experiences and harness their magical world-crossing powers.” This might lead you to believe it is a Hogwarts-like institution complete with magical curriculum. Well, it’s not. The premise is a bit darker than that.

When teenagers Alice Liddell, Wendy Darling, and Dorothy Gale first arrive at Cheshire Crossing, they think the place is an asylum. Because that’s all they’ve known the last several years. Apparently, after each of them returned home from their cross-dimensional adventures, their families interpreted their stories as the ravings of the insane.

However, Cheshire Crossing isn’t simply the latest sanitarium attempting to cure them. As its head Ernest Rutherford (yes, the Nobel Prize winner) explains, it’s a research facility. The only “patients”are the three girls, and they were specifically brought because Rutherford (somehow) knows they can actually travel to other worlds. While Dorothy and Wendy are glad to be in a place people finally believe them, Alice doesn’t want any part of it. She steals Dorothy’s silver shoes in a bid for freedom, and her rash actions initiate a chain of events that pits the three against the Wicked Witch of the West and Captain Hook.

As the preface explains, Cheshire Crossing was originally a fanfiction crossover webcomic that Andy Weir wrote prior to The Martian. Sarah Andersen redrew the art, and the result is the Ten Speed Press graphic novel.  Certain aspects of the story hold to the original; for example, Dorothy’s shoes are silver as they were in Baum’s novel. Other parts are updated; although Cheshire Crossing is set in 1904, Wendy wears a crop top and combat pants. Andersen’s character designs are also a departure from the traditional. With the exception of Neverland’s Indians, the cast in these stories have generally been depicted as white. However, Andersen’s skin tones run the gamut from the Wicked Witch’s fair complexion to Captain Hook’s dark one.

As mentioned before, it’s essentially fanfiction so it assumes readers have a rudimentary grasp of Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Mary Poppins (yes, there’s also a magical nanny in the line up) and doesn’t bother providing that background. It doesn’t even introduce Rutherford as a Nobel prize winner; his scientific accomplishments are only ever referenced in a roundabout manner.

The story itself starts off slow. There’s a lot of the characters figuring out who the others are and what Cheshire Crossing is in the opening pages. But after Alice steals Dorothy’s shoes, it’s nonstop action interspersed with the occasional brief flashback.

Even though the book’s titled Cheshire Crossing, most of the story takes place in Wonderland, Neverland, and Oz. The plot abounds with twists and turns as the inhabitants, rules, and powers of the three worlds intermingle. But though its swashbuckling duels and magical showdowns are engaging, the fights always boil down to the simple conflict of good guys versus bad, and there’s little character development to speak of. Alice and Wendy are especially one-dimensional as the ever-scowling grouch and knife-throwing tomboy, respectively. The villains aren’t much better with their evil insta-romance. However, if you’re more interested in external confrontations than internal development, this book may hold appeal for you.

One last note: the book is a self-contained story, but the epilogue does leave the door open for a sequel.

In summary

The promotional flyer for Cheshire Crossing touts it as perfect for middle-grade readers, young adults, and fans of the three classics it was based upon. I agree that fans of the original stories will find the graphic novel entertaining, as it essentially amounts to a fanfiction crossover. Its action-packed narrative and visuals are also fine for MG readers so long as you’re okay with mild cussing. However, it lacks the level of complexity (especially in the character arc department) that I normally associate with YA works.

First published in The Fandom Post.

Graphic Novel Review: The Cardboard Kingdom

A few years back, the We Need Diverse Books movement caused a stir in the publishing industry by demanding that books portray a broader spectrum of family backgrounds, cultures, races, genders, etc. The Cardboard Kingdom feels like a response to that movement, and you can read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

Welcome to a neighborhood of kids who transform ordinary boxes into colorful costumes, and their ordinary block into cardboard kingdom. This is the summer when sixteen kids encounter knights and rogues, robots and monsters–and their own inner demons–on one last quest before school starts again.

In the Cardboard Kingdom, you can be anything you want to be–imagine that!

The Review

The Cardboard Kingdom is a collection of sixteen stories in graphic novel format. Chad Sell is the sole artist for the work so that the illustration style remains constant. However, ten additional authors participated in the writing of this work. Except for “The Bully” and “Megalopolis,” the stories are stand-alone, but they all draw from the same cast of neighborhood kids who are spending their summer vacation playing make-believe with homemade costumes and cardboard props.

Each chapter/story focuses on a different child, who has his/her own unique imaginary persona. This persona stays the same throughout the book. Therefore, the kid who dresses as a blob is always a blob, the girl knight is always a knight, and the boy who wants to be a sorceress is always pretending to be a sorceress. The make-believe aspect allows for colorful illustrations, and Sell tailors the palette for each chapter to complement the featured character’s color scheme.

As for the story plots, they range from simple subjects, like learning to make friends or watching over a younger sibling, to heavier topics like divorce. Interestingly, although the creators go out of their way to include every skin tone and hair texture you can think of, race is not the source of tension between any of the characters. Nor is class, family background, or economics. A bit of Spanish is used in the dialogue for the Dominican American character, but aside from that, all the kids have equal status in the same pizza-and-soda suburban culture.

However, bullying and gender identity are the sources of quite a bit of tension. Three stories focus on the problems encountered by cross-dressing children, and another is about a boy crushing on another boy. As for bullies, there’s only one bully that harasses the neighborhood kids, but he pops up throughout the book, and his story takes two chapters to tell.

The book is aimed toward 9- to 12-year-olds. As such, story endings are predominantly positive. Children attain the understanding of their parents, rivals become partners, misfits find acceptance, and the bully becomes a friend and ally. However, “The Gargoyle,” which is about a boy whose parents are divorcing, contains so much fraught emotion that its ending is appropriately ambivalent.

In summary

The Cardboard Kingdom is part imaginary fun, part We Need Diverse Books project. Kids will enjoy the vibrant illustrations of the cast and their alter egos, but it feels like the creators tried a bit too hard to include characters and issues that every single person can relate to. As a result, certain details feel like they were forced in for the sole purpose that the publisher could say they were being inclusive.

First published in The Fandom Post.

Graphic Novel Review: A Game of Thrones Vol. 3

HBO’s wildly popular Game of Thrones series is well into Season 4 and, not surprisingly, regaling fans with bloodshed and debauchery aplenty. The  Random House graphic novel based on the series is also chugging along with its recent release of Volume  3, and you can read on for my review. (For my review of Volume 2, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

In King’s Landing, Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell—the Hand of King Robert Baratheon—is surrounded by enemies. Some are openly declared, such as Ser Jaime Lannister and his sister, Queen Cersei. Others are hidden in the shadows. Still others wear the smiling mask of friends. But all are deadly, as Eddard is about to discover.

The Review

A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel: Volume 3 is a hardcover compilation of the bimonthly Game of Thrones comic Issues 13 through 18. This volume’s narrative begins with King Robert traipsing off to his ill-fated final hunt and ends with Sansa pleading Joffrey for her father’s life.

In the TV series, Eddard seemed soft in the head for not telling Robert about Cersei’s bastards. While he still seems stupid for confronting Cersei directly about her twincest, the volume provides some background and flashbacks that explain why he’s so determined to spare her. However, his failure to include the pride and power of the Lannister family in his calculations make him look like an idiot. The lack of emotional nuance in Patterson’s artwork doesn’t help. Cersei looks like she’s constantly PMSing, and in the pivotal scene where she declares, “You win or you die,” her expression is so blatantly murderous you have to wonder if Eddard’s blind not to notice.

His sons and Arya fare much better. Jon demonstrates compassion when he speaks up on Sam’s behalf, bravery in a tussle against a White Walker, and heart-wrenching anguish when he gets news of his father’s imprisonment. The Rob Stark that rode to battle in the TV show looked a born leader, but the comic shows the lengths he went to convince his bannermen to follow him. As for Arya, you can smell her fear as she escapes the Lannister’s clutches.

As for the level of violence in this installment, there’s plenty of bloodshed and dismembered limbs between the walking dead attacking the Night’s Watch and Eddard getting sacked at King’s Landing, but probably the most disturbing illustration is Drogo (bloodlessly) dispatching Viserys. As for sex and nudity, there are a couple of post-lovemaking scenes, but the most provoking is a full frontal illustration of Hodor.

The actual cover is plain white with the title in shiny blue letters on the spine beneath the dust cover that features Patterson’s pencil art. Speaking of pencil art, Volume 3 also includes “The Making of A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel: Volume 3″, where Editor Anne Groell explains the character design process for the comic series. So those who do enjoy Patterson’s illustrations will probably want to pick up this volume for its character pencil sketches.

In Summary

Volume 3 continues to provide flashbacks and insights not included in the TV show. While Eddard still seems an idiot when he confronts Cersei about her bastard children, you get a better idea of what motivates him to do so. However, as in the series, everyone gets scattered after Eddard’s imprisonment. With Arya on the run, Sansa with Joffrey, Jon at the Wall, Rob and Cat on the march, and the boys at Winterfell (to say nothing of the Lannisters or Daenerys), it will be interesting to see how the graphic novel handles the dispersion of characters.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Hello Kitty: Delicious! Comic Review

When it comes to the Hello Kitty franchise, Sanrio seems very open to licensing her image to others. (Hello Kitty Swarovski crystals anyone?) One of its latest partnerships is with Viz Media, which has been granted permission to create graphic novels featuring the iconic cat. They’ve recently released the second of these books entitled Hello Kitty: Delicious!

The Review

Hello Kitty: Delicious! is the second of Viz Media’s Hello Kitty comic book series. Three contributors from the first comic, Fashion Music Wonderland, are joined by a few new artists. Along with Chabot’s classic-style drawings and McGinty’s less conventional renderings of Hello Kitty, we get Buscema’s 1950s inspired art and Monlongo’s illustrations, which, like Chabot’s, stick closer to the Sanrio standard.

As in Fashion Music Wonderland, the stories within Delicious! are created by different artist/writer teams and have no written dialogue, which make them ideal for small children (though they might need help with sound effects and signs like “Mummies of Ancient Egypt”). Unlike Fashion Music Wonderland, there’s no specific Hello Kitty design used for the stories. In fact, she’s not the central character in every story; in Banana Split, the monkeys Tim and Tammy share the spotlight. The only common thread is that food figures into every plot. Delicious! also features a wider cast, which makes the book more fun. And for anyone unfamiliar with Hello Kitty’s lesser-known companions, Delicious! includes the illustrated guide “Family and Friends.”

The book contains seven stories. There’s no cutout paper doll like Fashion Music Wonderland, but interspersed through the book are three 1-page shorts written and illustrated by Buscema. Chabot’s contributions – Hot Stuff, Banana Split, Very Big Problem, and Piece of Cake – are cleanly drawn and easy to follow. Cute humor figures into all of his stories although some youngsters might possibly find the giant chasing Hello Kitty scary. McGinty’s artwork for Food Fright is definitely on the scarier side with mummies and illustrations turning black and white when the power goes out. Food Fright’s storyline is also a bit confusing as is the one for Sweet Dreams, Hello Kitty’s dive into a psychedelic candy Wonderland. As for Monlongo’s Martian Munchies, it blends cute with gross with a space alien’s version of pie.

In summary

Viz delivers seven food-themed tales and three shorts featuring beloved Sanrio characters. As in Hello Kitty: Fashion Music Wonderland, these are stand-alone stories, but each one is cute, fluffy fun. Combined with the artists’ colorful drawings, they’re perfect for youngsters.

First published in the Fandom Post.

Hello Kitty: Fashion Music Wonderland Comic Review

My husband and I are pretty big Hello Kitty fans. Yes, that’s me AND my husband. He’s actually the bigger fan, with Hello Kitty iPhone accessories and the Hello Kitty decal on the car. And it was his idea for us to attend Sanrio’s 50th Anniversary celebration in Santa Monica and visit Hello Kitty’s Puroland in Japan (which you can read about here).

One thing we’ve noticed about Japan’s feline ambassador is that Sanrio seems very open to licensing her image to others. (Hello Kitty Swarovski crystals anyone?) One of its latest partnerships is with Viz Media, which has been granted permission to create graphic novels featuring the iconic cat. They’ve recently released the first of these books entitled Hello Kitty: Fashion Music Wonderland.

The Review

I should emphasize that this is not a translation of an existing Japanese comic. The story was written by Viz Media, and the illustrations produced by one Argentinian and three American artists. But though the comic is intended for a Western audience, storylines are simple enough to be understood across cultures.

Regarding the artwork, each of the three stories within Fashion Music Wonderland is drawn by a different artist. While all of them use bright colors, their illustration styles are distinctly unalike. Chabot’s artwork, which I liked the best, is closest to the standard Sanrio look. Maderna uses softer lines and colors for her illustrations. McGinty has a cluttered style and takes the most liberties with the Sanrio characters, exaggerating proportions and depicting them from multiple angles.

Fashion Music Wonderland has been called a graphic novel by some, but it’s really a comic book. It contains three simple stand-alone stories that feature no dialogue and a minimal amount of text for things like signs and flyers. As such, it’s perfect for very young readers. The only common element connecting the three stories is Japanimation Kitty, Sanrio’s latest version of the famous cat. With her pink wig, maid-style costume, and sparkly eyes, she looks like a Visual Kei band member. Each story takes normal Hello Kitty and thrusts her into circumstances that transform her into Japanimation Kitty. It’s not groundbreaking storytelling, but it is cute and certainly a book that little kids and hard-core Hello Kitty fans will enjoy.

By the way, don’t be fooled by the two cover designs. Fashion Music Wonderland is printed with a rock band cover and a Wonderland cover, but both versions contain the same material inside. Extras include a cutout paper doll with clothes and accessories and two notecards.

In summary

Fashion Music Wonderland is rated A for all ages, and the 48-page wordless comic is definitely appropriate and well suited for a kid audience. But though the artwork and stories are as charming as the cute cat herself, the books are probably too simple for anyone past third grade (unless you’re a hard-core Hello Kitty fan).

A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel: Vol 2 Review

I am a relative latecomer to the Game of Thrones fandom. I didn’t start watching the HBO series until it was in its third season. Having made it through to the rather gruesome Season 3 finale, I await Season 4 with great anticipation. For fans wanting to get their hands on all things Game of Thrones, Random House is releasing a graphic novel based on the series, and I recently had the chance to review Volume  2.

Back Cover Blurb

Now, in the second volume, the sweeping action moves from the icy north, where the bastard Jon Snow seeks to carve out a place for himself among bitter outcasts and hardened criminals sworn to service upon the Wall . . . to the decadent south and the capital city of King’s Landing, where Jon’s father, Lord Eddard Stark, serves as the Hand of King Robert Baratheon amid a nest of courtly vipers . . . to the barbarian lands across the Narrow Sea, where the young princess Daenerys Targaryen has found the unexpected in her forced marriage to the Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo: love-and with it, for the first time in her life, power.

The Review

A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel: Volume 2 is a hardcover compilation of the bimonthly Game of Thrones comic releases. The actual cover is plain white with the title in shiny green letters on the spine. The dust cover design is a bit more interesting with the outline of a raven in green superimposed on Patterson’s pencil art, but it isn’t exactly flashy. The pages inside, however, are vibrantly colored.

Volume 2 contains Issues 7 through 12 as well as “The Making of A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel: Volume 2” and a sneak preview of Issue 13 (cover art plus six pages of uncolored line art). Editor Anne Groell provides most of the commentary for “The Making of A Game of Thrones,” which explains the process by which five pages from Martin’s novel got turned into the Hand’s Tourney depicted in Issue 9.

In addition to Patterson’s illustrations, Volume 2 includes each issue’s cover art by Mike S. Miller and two illustrations of Jon Snow at The Wall by Michael Komark. Komark’s art, which look more like paintings than comic book art, are dramatic and breathtaking. Miller’s cover illustrations aren’t quite as captivating, but they do a satisfactory job of setting the mood for the pages to follow. However, Patterson’s art, although beautifully colored, isn’t exactly a feast for the eyes. Action scenes come off as stiff and clumsy, and facial expressions are overdone. I should note that some of Patterson’s characters, like Tyrion, are similar to their TV counterparts while others, like Theon and Lysa, look completely different.

This volume’s narrative begins with dwarf Tyrion Lannister’s visit to The Wall and ends with his demand for trial by combat in the Vale. Not having read the original novels, I can’t make any comparisons to them, but the graphic novel and TV show follow the same general storyline. The two mainly differ in the details they focus on. For instance, Abraham uses several pages to introduce the overweight Black Brother Samwell Tarly, providing a clear picture of the circumstances that forced him into the Night’s Watch. While the TV show relied on brief sweeping visuals to convey the scope of Lysa’s Vale and the Eyrie, the graphic novel follows Cat as she rides through her sister’s territory and makes the long, treacherous climb to the mountaintop castle at night. Game of Thrones has a mind bogglingly huge cast, but Abraham’s storytelling allows you to absorb and get a much better grasp of the characters than the show did.

Speaking of the show, the TV creators always seemed to push the limits of how gratuitous they could get with violence and sex. Patterson’s not nearly as gruesome when it comes to hacking and slashing. Victims definitely bleed and fall, but he doesn’t show guts spilling onto the ground in painstaking detail. As for sex, Volume 2 contains none although there are several nipples poking around.

In Summary

Abraham does an excellent job of presenting the complex plot and characters in his adaption of A Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, the artwork isn’t quite at the same level. Given how visually stunning the TV adaption was, the graphic novel may disappoint fans of the HBO series. The graphic novel, however, isn’t nearly as gratuitous when it comes to sex and violence, which may appeal to those captivated by Martin’s story but would rather not watch disembowelments in gory detail.

First published at the Fandom Post.