Reading with SJ: Library and Graphic Novel Edition

Here’s something a little lighter for your weekend…I’ve been trying to catch up on my TBR pile: library edition before my entire life savings goes to paying off overdue fees. And sometimes I’m just in the mood to read a certain somethin’ somethin’, so here are a lot of somethin’s, as well as my thoughts on them. Apparently this week I was craving graphic novels and comics for the most part.

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud – Frustrated artist David Smith makes a deal with death (who is also slightly his uncle…long story) that he will have the ability to sculpt anything in his head by laying his hands on it…and in exchange he only has 200 days to live. Not only do things get complicated when love comes along, but it also really explores how ability doesn’t always mean timelines will sync up or professional success will follow. It’s a heart-breaking, mind-bending graphic novel, and I read it in like a day, day and a half, tops. I love books that make me feel, and this…it definitely crushes you a little if you’re an artist. Not gonna lie. The discussions of how ephemeral we really are as people and thus how little our work effects anyone is intriguing and hard to read. However, it really made me think and feel, and there is a definite upswing emotionally at the end. Pacing was perfect, and though I wondered how he would pull off any ending, McCloud did not disappoint. Beautiful, beautiful book, loved every second of it. Best graphic novel I’ve read since Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley.

Skip Beat vol 34 – Yes, I am an unrepentant Shojo manga reader. I love this series in a way that is probably more than healthy. It’s one of the few series I am devoted to any more, and for good reason. The characters are strong, the plot is ever-changing, and the basic action/relationship dynamics are interesting. Plus, it honestly does an interesting job of digging into the craft of acting, especially from an Eastern perspective. The basic plot of the series is that Kyoko is in love with childhood friend Sho who is a tool who uses her when they move to the city, then abandons her when he begins to become successful in music. Crushed and fueled by the need for revenge, Kyoko decides to destroy Sho by becoming even more famous. This leads to her getting on at another agency (in a very, very junior fashion) with an eccentric president who’s bound and determined to fix her cynical views on love. Which is hilarious because she literally has mini grudge Kyoko’s that pop out and attack people when she’s angry enough. Trust me, it’s awesome. In the meantime, she goes through various stages of hate/respect/friendship with her acting senior Ren Tsuruka (who Sho is also insanely jealous of). This never stays as a predictable triangle, and it makes it better that Ren has some pretty dark secrets of his own. So you have two love interests that have fairly unlikable sides, and all the while Kyoko is learning that she truly loves acting and is now getting devoted to being good at it. This volume FINALLY has her realizing her feelings for Ren (which freaks her out) and it keeps chipping more and more away at the person he was before he got into acting, as well as re-establishing this almost impossible wall between them. I always feel something of a kinship for Kyoko, I want her to be happy, I love her irreverence, and sometimes her choices just make me climb a wall. It’s a cute series, fun, and funny, to boot. It’s good to be caught up for five seconds until vol. 35 comes out in September!

Outcast volume 1 by Kirkman and Azaceta – I generally like Image for horror comics. Obviously it’s the company behind Walking Dead, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of Ghosted and some others so far, too. Outcast is an interesting premise: Kyle lives holed up on his own and there are hints of things gone wrong in his past. People see him as the guy who attacked his mother and then his wife and daughter, if I’m reading it right. However, it turns out that all three of these cases involved the people in question being possessed and he has an innate ability for exorcism, though he’s not sure how to control it. The local pastor (who’s going through a personal battle of faith of his own) ends up appealing and recruiting him to help out others who are afflicted, and it seems that even a mere touch or drop of Kyle’s blood will hurt these individuals. While possessed, they often refer to him as ‘Outcast,’ though as of yet it isn’t revealed what this means or what he really is. There are also at least two individuals he can’t successfully help, and there’s mysterious, probably Satan figure who has moved in next door to Kyle. The art in this is really beautiful for a horror comic, and honestly it’s the real star – scenery is eye-catching, expressions range from interesting to appropriately twisted. While the plot is intriguing, I just wish it was a little less repetitive and there was a little more story before it cut off. I get it’s only volume one and it’s a basic set up, but it seemed like a lot of stuff was laid down without a huge amount of pay off or real explanation of things. And, honestly, a lot of the imagery and sequences seem like things we’ve seen before. That’s understandable as it’s definitely part of this sort of genre, but the story thus far isn’t strong enough to render those bits unnoticeable.  It’s intriguing enough that I’d keep reading, but I’m hoping things will pick up. I’m also a little hesitant, knowing how the later volumes of Walking Dead started getting to me, and this series is admittedly pretty grim. I can definitely appreciate Kirkman’s work, but I’m hoping this isn’t a series that really hyper-focuses on fatalistic violence the way Walking Dead tends to, and I’ll easily get bored if the running theme is miserable protagonist resigning himself to his fate over and over. I do agree with some reviews that this seems like more of one of many set-ups for more franchises than a carefully constructed story, but we’ll see. There are a lot of themes going on alluding to the war between good and evil and personal faith, which can be a hard line to walk. Willing to keep reading, but it’ll take another volume at least before I know how I feel about the series as a whole.

National Geographic’s Guide to the World’s Most Supernatural Places – I’m still getting through this one, but it’s fun. I love stuff like this, and while I knew of a lot of these places, there’s a lot I wasn’t aware of. I like reading books like this for research and for ideas, and there are lots to be had here, plus a lot of beautiful and creepy photowork. I also like that it’s divided up into sections: hauntings, magic/witches, vampires, and myths. Definitely a lot in each section and a lot to work with. As always, I would’ve liked some further explanation on a few places, but I’ll definitely take what I can get. One of those fun to flip through before bed or after a long day books.

American Vampire vol 5-7 by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque – This is one of my go-to titles for amazing vampire fiction. The basic premise is vampire powers differ by region and Skinner Sweet is the ornery, long-lasting original American Vampire. Basically, the series traces his adventures and the organization Vassals of the Morning Star who try to categorize and do away with any and all abominations. The characters in this series are great overall, and I was so stoked to find out that it had picked up again. Volume five closes the arc on Pearl and Henry, gives us more Skinner, shows us what the late Cash’s little boy is getting up to (Dracula. It’s totally Dracula), and brings back a character that should have never been put to the side for so long, There’s some truly great stuff there, but the best moments always involve the core characters. While the Dracula story is interesting, it really doesn’t add anything to the universe as a whole, other than the monster mind-control premise. I’m also finding that while I have no idea how I would structure things differently, it gets a little hard bouncing back and forth between a Vassals pov story and the historical/core character stories and then other world-building stories and why they’re important to the specific volume. If it was a TV series I’d say it needed a recap at the beginning of every change in the arc just to keep everything straight, though I applaud just how wide its net reaches.

vol 6 is an anthology of different stories set in the universe by different artists and writers. I’ll be frank. I love American Vampire. I didn’t enjoy volume six. I get they’re resetting for the second cycle, and the stories themselves weren’t bad…brief, a little pointless in some cases, in the case of Hattie’s backstory it kind of destroys how awesomely manipulative she is though I do like knowing that she can be sympathetic…I don’t know. It all just seemed a little off. I get it was as good a time as any for a breather, but it really didn’t feel like it filled in any blanks for me or was all that necessary. The world is big enough for it, but it isn’t Sandman, and the constant change up of artists was more distracting than anything else, because at this point the look of the AV universe and characters is so incredibly specific. I get this was to give something to the fans during a hiatus, but honestly, after waiting so long for the next bit, this volume really did nothing for me and just added more to my confusion. Seriously, I feel like to really make sense of vol 6 I need to reread the entire series and figure out where all these shorts are supposed to go. I love a big world, but there wasn’t much help or a connecting thread with these shorts, or a real point to the volume.

vol 7, however…oh that redeemed things. While I’m a little cringey about the whole ‘bigger, badder, new threat in town’ idea, I like that they moved on to the 1960s, I like that Pearl’s still around, and oh my gawd, Skinner as a mercenary on a motorcycle chasing a semi? Hells yes. We’re getting more into the concept of the Grey Trader, too, and the allusions as to what it is or where it’s coming from is intriguing. I’m holding my breath to see how all of this is handled because this could honestly go great or be a ginormous trainwreck. I worry that Snyder’s trying to do a little too much in the scope of the series, but I’ll fully admit I’m not a fan of adding a third threat to the Vassals vs. vampires vibe – they always feel so left field to me, like the Dracula story in vol 5 or even the Nazi vampire threat in I think vol 3. It feels almost typical for such a non-typical series, a little too pulpy in the wrong way. The overall “new” monster design is badass looking, and the art for this series is always incredible. I don’t think there’s a bad-looking volume in the main story arc at all.

However, I’m excited to see how Skinner will get out of how he was left at the end of this volume. I’m sad if it turns out that the whole point of Gene Bunting is to be a device for the historical flashback stories of the Grey Trader origin, but I was also thrilled to see Cal again in this volume. Really, my only thing with the series as a whole besides being slightly overfond of historical timejumps and pov jumps is that yes, it’s interesting to set in a new threat and to look at vampire origins and the like, and that partially ties into what the Vassals is, but…it kinda neglects that the best part of the series is seeing the main cast in different eras. It’s intriguing to see Cal deal with segregation and changing views, to see Skinner adapt from wild west outlaw to everything else he has been, to see how Pearl has gone to Hollywood, given up Hollywood, and now gone back to her roots. These characters give us the chance to see history and different social views in a whole new light, plus give us some really delectable over-the-top scenes. Give me a greaser slayer, give me 1920s Hollywood producer vamps, give me all the different geographical vampire factions fighting against each other and the American vamps fighting to keep their place. I even like the idea of Vassals being downsized during the sixties. All the world-building is great, and I’m sure the coming arc will be awesome, but I hope it doesn’t get too far away from what makes the series really balls to the wall amazing. Also, if the teaser for volume 8 is to be believed and they’re actually doing vampires in space, then I really, really hope people know what they’re doing.

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