Reading with SJ: Graphic Novels part 3

Time once again to see what I’ve had in my TBR stacks! Because I can plow through graphic novels at an alarming rate, we’ll take another look at that stack today.

The Gigantic Beard that was Evil by Stephen Collins – I obviously picked this up because of the title because that is brilliant. Written about a perfect little island called Here and the fear of the not-island places called There, this title is wonderful about making you feel better about being imperfect and expressing yourself. It’s a weird, charming story, slightly reminiscent of Tim Burton, but lighter. It’s got a modern setting but feels much more like a strange fairy tale or like something from years ago. Read it in one sitting and absolutely loved it. I developed a ton of sympathy for the lead character throughout, and I’m still not sure what to make of the last pages. Altogether, wonderful book.

The Valiant by Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, and Paolo Rivera – I was enamored with this when I saw it on the library shelf, and really excited to read it. I…honestly, I’m probably the one dissenting opinion given the reviews it’s gotten, but I felt like it moved WAY too fast and there was WAY too much going on to really enjoy the story. You never get a full description of what a Geomancer is, what Gilad is actually supposed to do or why. If the Immortal Enemy is necessary, than why are there still Geomancers? What’s his function, anyway, besides to just be evil? Is there some goal or purpose I’m totally missing? Honestly, it felt like I jumped into the middle of something, but I’m not finding any info on the right place to start, if that’s the case. There’s a huge battle scene where heroes just show up and there’s no real revelation on who they are. The Bloodshot/Kay stuff seems rushed and a little forced, which is a shame because I really like her character. I like her personal revelations, but it all seems so pointless by the end. What even happens to the Immortal Enemy? He’s this huge part of the book and then you don’t even see what becomes of him onscreen. I just…while the concepts were interesting, I liked seeing the evolution of Gilad throughout history, I just…really would have liked this to have more to it. I can’t hate it, because it is an interesting story, but I’m really confused. Befuddled. It felt like a set up for other stuff,and I get there are other heroes/books in the universe, but for this particular story…what was I actually supposed to have gotten out of it other than okay, there’s this enemy, there’s this battle, and it kinda got resolved but not really…

Seriously, someone explain this one to me.

The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Guay – I love Jane Yolen anyway, but this book is beautiful. It’s a unique sort of story that would fit in with a lot of folkstories. The people of the Island of May assume that all the dragons were killed hundreds of years ago, but when one shows up, it’s up to the healer’s daughter Tansy to help guide the revolt against the beast. While some of this is typical fantasy and some of the characterizations are a smidge stereotypical, I couldn’t help but like the character of Tansy. She’s the youngest, she dances to her own music, yet she’s smart and compassionate. It’s also really interesting to take the time to read all the background dialogue between people of the village – the perfect interpretation of how life goes on in a town even as tragedy happens, and people’s own opinion of things and how their lives are turning out. Let me just say, I also really like the character of Lancot, and I didn’t think I was going to. Presented as a drunken hero con artist at first, he actually turns out to be a storyteller who’s cashed in on his ability to tell people of adventures they yearn to still be true. When he realizes that he’s actually been hired to kill a dragon and runs into Tansy as he tries to take the coward’s way out, she doesn’t judge him, but helps him figure out a solution based on his own interests. The kite scenes were magical, and although their relationship is a little forced/fast-paced,it’s not unbelievable. He’s a different sort of hero, but at the end of the day it’s him AND Tansy who save the day, which is refreshing. I do feel like your enjoyment will depend on what you want from a story like this. I agree with some of the commentary that the artwork is a little uneven – some pages it looks more rustic than others. It still fits with the genre, though I do agree that I wished things could have flowed a little better from panel to panel. It definitely doesn’t read like a comic book and more like a grown-up/teen story book, if that makes sense. I loved the oversized feel of the book, it made me feel like a kid reading a picture book and discovering magic between the pages all over again. All in all, though, I curled up with this late on a Friday night a few weeks ago, and had a lovely time losing myself in the pages.

The Star Wars by JW Rinzler and Mike Mayhew – I…okay, I love the original Star Wars series. I have a love/hate relationship with the universe as a whole, as a lot of fans do. I get why this was made. Conceptually it sounds interesting (and profitable): hey, let’s take the original rough draft of Star Wars and give it life in comics!

In reality? Please do not pay money for this. There are a few things that are interesting: seeing Darth Vader broken essentially into two characters (that are both confusing and pointless), Han Solo as a giant green alien, the Wookie battle Lucas originally intended for the first movie with the original Wookie design,talking R2-D2, and the Sith and Jedi as two different warrior groups with no real connection to magic or religion . Overall, though, this is such a mess. I feel like chunks were missing, it moved so fast. It reads like he was trying to cram an entire trilogy of action into one movie. There is SO MUCH political talk and fighter pilot talk…for those who have slogged through A New Hope the novel, this is worse. So much worse.

There’s also a lot of dialogue that takes you out of the story – a lot of modern/ earth phrases that just don’t fit the Star Wars universe in any form. I still have no idea how many planets were involved in this version. Theme-wise, it’s a complete rip off of Flash Gordon and a lot of serials like it. You can see very obviously what his influences were, but his interpretation of them just…no. You have plot elements that just don’t work, like Leia and Annikin Starkiller declaring their love randomly at different times in battle/action when they’ve barely known each other all that long…and after Annikin punches Leia in the face. Yep. You read that right. And she’s also portrayed as somewhat younger than her on screen version, too, so that makes it just awesome to see on the page.

Scenes like the death of Mr.Starkiller (Annikin’s dad. I’m not opening the book to look up the name), or Prince Valorum gallantly switching sides don’t mean a thing because they’re immediately glossed over and not resolved. Overall, a lot of the characters are harsh and mean or complete cardboard. While there are a lot of things that are interesting to see because you can tell what they got re-interpreted into, I just…it’s not worth it. Get it at the library if you’re that curious.

I find it hard to believe Lucas Publishing was that desperate for profits to release this into the world. I’d be embarrassed to show this to people, honestly. I get that he’s at a point where this is an interesting study of early draft, but it wasn’t necessary at all. It really adds nothing to the mythology and, if anything, I could see it compromising a lot of fan feelings for the universe. This obviously shows that Lucas prefers action and it just isn’t always a good thing. It defeats the purpose of all his interviews about the importance of storytelling, because this is a jumbled, appropriated mess. This is cross genre without trying to blend the elements into a complete new product.

The art is the strong point. Facial expressions are beautiful, movement dynamic, the choices of dress and other things to allude to what these early versions influenced is interesting…but also problematic. I honestly don’t know if a lot of these designs were original and turned into the versions we know in the movies by the original production team, or if the artist was that clever to give us all visual cues to help us keep track of things. Also, was it really necessary to make General Luke Skywalker look like a militaristic George Lucas? Seriously, that’s all I could see, and it severely turned me off throughout the book.

Which brings us to my other huge problem with this. This may be a early draft, but I am highly suspicious of it being the only early draft. This is the problem when you’re marketing things to anal fans with good memories and collections they still have in their basements. I dug around until I found my old copy of Star Wars: The Making of the Movie I bought years ago at a library book sale. It’s a children’s book written circa 1980 by Random House. Pages 58-61 talk about the Star Wars that Might Have Been. Please note that these pages include the same character designs for Chewbacca/Wookies as The Star Wars, and the SAME design that’s called Luke Skywalker in The Star Wars is referred to as Han Solo here.

It details out several other early versions: one where there was no Darth Vader, no Death Star, but the villains were a planet of Wookies who rode on giant birds. In another version, Luke was a princess who was trying to rescue her brother with the help of Han Solo, who was old enough to be her father (or militaristic George Lucas). Apparently, next came a version starring C-3PO and R2.

I fully get that this is from a kid’s book, but it was copyrighted in part by Lucasfilm, so it had to have gotten some approval to be published. I also get that there has never been a coherent timeline/streamlined story between the main titles, the EU, and everything else Lucas’s companies have tried to do. I get it. It’s hard to keep all of that streamlined, especially when it wasn’t known how big things were going to get and you’re taking things on a case by case basis. But that also, in turn, makes me wonder what draft got made into this comic, or if it was multiple drafts crafted together to be interesting/show evolution of the universe and foreshadowing, because it truly does not read like one full draft of a movie. Still, that just makes it harder, because I honestly don’t know what to believe now. Did the art team make things look similar to parts of the original trilogy and the prequels on purpose or were these things always there? Is this actually THE rough draft or one of many? Is this just another thing produced in the hopes that I feel like I have to have it and pay money for it?

Honestly, it makes me not care. If anything, it’s one of the hundreds of reasons that fandom/universe tired me out. While interesting, this just feels like one of many products put out to make money off the Star Wars name, and for no good reason. If anything, this is almost a detriment to the trilogy, because it makes you wonder how much thought actually went into things and how much was being crafted by design teams and done out of necessity. I love seeing early versions of stuff. I’m a sucker for production work. I don’t expect everything to be perfect because I know how that process works, but this…this just makes me feel sad and irritable.

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