Category Archives: Graphic Novels

Castle Waiting Volumes I and II by Linda Medley

(Volume I) 2006. Fantagraphic Books. Hardcover. 472 pages.

(Volume II) 2010. Fantagraphic Books. Hardcover. 384 pages.

From: the public library

Recommendation from: Olduvai Reads

In a nutshell:

Castle Waiting starts with the story of Sleeping Beauty, but these two graphic novels are really about the motley group of characters who occupy the castle many years after Sleeping Beauty’s story is done. In the ‘present day’ narrative, the story is mainly domestic, telling of the amiable makeshift family that lives in the castle and how they get along. The main character, in a way, is a lady named Jain, who fled an unhappy situation while pregnant to eventually take refuge at the castle and give birth there. She quickly befriends the other inhabitants, which include capable Dinah and her slightly ‘simple’ adult son Simon, three elderly women who used to be Sleeping Beauty’s ladies-in-waiting, a talking horse, a taciturn blacksmith, the steward who is a talking stork, and a bearded nun. As a newcomer, Jain draws out the backstories of most of these characters.

Review:

The Castle Waiting books are cozy fantasy. Nothing extravagantly exciting happens at the castle, with most of the ‘action’ occurring in the characters’ backstories. In the first volume, for example, a big portion of the book is about Sister Peace’s past. As a girl who could grow a beard, she joined a circus and became friends with another bearded lady. They end up leaving the circus and discovering a religious order of bearded nuns, whose origin story is also told. At the time of reading the first volume, I wasn’t prepared for this long of a ‘sidetrack’ to the main story. I thought I’d be getting more of Jain’s story, which is kept quite mysterious. But I did enjoy Sister Peace’s stories.

I enjoyed Volume I but I was much fonder of Volume II. I felt there was more of a balance between life at the castle and the characters’ backstory diversions. Jain decides to move into a long unused part of the castle, and two guests help with checking for old traps and hidden passageways, to the delight of the younger residents. A magical trunk and a bowling game also figure into their activities.

For all that they are gentle and cozy, the books do refer several times to darker subjects such as a past war, the plague, and abuse. It makes the castle’s status as a refuge something that the reader can truly understand. Almost all of the characters have experienced loss of some kind.

A blurb from NPR on the back of Volume II lauds it for being “both women-centered and women-powered.” Particularly with Sister Peace’s story, this is true. I found the books’ approach to gender to be very refreshing not only in its approach to women but also to men. At one point, after looking after Jain’s baby, Simon wonders sadly to his mom why men can’t have babies, and she says she is sorry that is not the way God made things and comforts him. I’m pretty sure I saw the following thought in a review somewhere: by making home-life into the focal point, engaging the energy of both men and women, Medley subverts the expected connotation of home as female domain.

Just as the ‘action’ is mostly found in the backstories, so too is romance. The makeshift family in the castle are bound by the bonds of friendship, reinforced by their everyday tasks of creating a home together. Men and women relate to each other under terms that are platonic and familial, with requisite teasing and encouragement. This is also refreshing, expecially in fantasy. These are characters who are great company to the reader.

I have noted that there were four years between the first volume and the second, and can only hope that a third volume might be on its way and with slightly less of a gap. The story is definitely not done, with some intriguing threads left unresolved. There is some sort of ghost presence in the castle, for one, and also Jain’s backstory, while partially told in Volume II, is still far from complete.

Excerpts from others’ reviews:

Olduvai Reads (on Volume I) – “The 457 pages in this hardcover collection just fly by, and you emerge feeling like you’re part of the Castle Waiting family.”

Stella Matutina – “They face the same sorts of challenges that plague us all, and they get through them together. So some of them are anthropomorphic animals, or half-giants, or single parents to green babies. They’re people, first and foremost, and they have a wonderful family dynamic.”

things mean a lot – “Plus, Castle Waiting will delight fairy tale lovers with references to “Puss in Boots” and “Rumplestinskin” and other legends and myths that help create a truly magical atmosphere.”

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Filed under Fantasy, Supernatural & Surreal, Graphic Novels

Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco

Subtitle: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995.

2000. Fantagraphics Books. 227 pages.

Recommendation from: The Boston Bibliophile

Review:

Safe Area Gorazde is fascinating just by being what it is: a journalist’s account of a conflict told to us in graphic novel format.  It makes you want to see how such a thing is done.

In the beginning of his graphic novel, Sacco gave a condensed but informative history of the Balkan conflict, including crucial events that occurred in World War II.  (I read a blog post recently where the blogger said it amazed her how seemingly inexhaustible World War II is as a subject – there are so many different facets that can be examined.)

Sacco also started his novel by describing his 1995 arrival in Goradze via the UN convoy, and introducing the town of Gorazde, and the people who were still there.  Gorazde was one of the villages in Eastern Bosnia that was designated by the UN as a safe area for civilians but was attacked nonetheless by the surrounding Bosnian Serb army.  In many chapters, the graphic novel jumped back in time through the recollections of those who lived in Gorazde during the siege and attacks.  In other chapters, Sacco came back to 1995, and examined how the people of Gorazde viewed the future, now that peace accords were being hammered out.

Sacco has a frank artistic style, and the people depicted were expressive and toothy.  (I don’t know why the teeth really jumped out at me in this graphic novel, but they did.)  The most harrowing portions of the book for me were Sacco’s interviews with the people who had fled to Gorazde from villages that had been “ethnically cleansed.”  An older man from Visegrad described seeing men, women and children killed methodically on a bridge.  Sacco captured the fear and ghastliness of the man’s experiences.

The 1995 chapters are not as bleak, and Sacco works in some understated humor there.  I liked that he interspersed these chapters among the accounts of the war.  I got a little confused with chronology sometimes, but the contrast highlighted by this interspersing of the 1995 ‘peace’ time with the war stories helps in the understanding of both.

What Safe Area Gorazde brought home to me is how quickly neighbor can turn against neighbor and how sad it is when the value of peaceful community is trumped by an aggressive, violent allegiance to a cause or way of seeing things or to “one’s own kind”.

Others’ thoughts:

Boston Bibliophile – “But again it’s his characters who steal the show with their careful, detailed faces. The reader can feel the tension in a basement refuge from something as simple as someone’s slightly downcast eyes or head tilted just so.”

things mean a lot – “. . . Safe Area Goražde is at times an incredibly violent book, but this is the kind of violence that has a clear purpose – it’s not meant to shock, but to shake the reader out of the kind of sense of distance and complacency we tend to slip into far too easily.”

Valentina’s room – “. . . what I loved most was the obvious passion he puts in his work. It’s intimate, detailed, shocking and highly informative.”

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Filed under Graphic Novels

Mouse Guard Fall 1152 by David Petersen

2007. 192 pages. Hardcover. Archaia Studios Press.

From: the public library

Recommendation from: Tales of Capricious Reader

In a nutshell:

In Petersen’s world, mice live in a collection of communities scattered throughout a region.  Guard mice are responsible for keeping travelers and traders safe as they journey from community to community.  This graphic novel follows three guard mice, Lieam, Kenzie, Saxon, as they try to track a traitor.

Review:

The book is geared toward a younger audience, and the story is interesting, but not novel.  The setting and characters remind me a bit of Brian Jacques’ Redwall books that I read growing up.  But the main reason I picked up this graphic novel is because I saw the drawings from another blogger’s review and the mice were so cute!  They are fierce and wield swords and yet you still want to pet them on the head.

The book resolved the main storyline but definitely set the reader up for the sequel graphic novels, which I will probably read.

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Blankets by Craig Thompson

IMG_3322 Blankets by Craig Thompson

2003. 582 pages.

I flew through Blankets last night.  I’d finish one chapter and a thought would flit through my head that this may be a good stopping point, but then somehow the page would turn and I’d be moving on.

Blankets is not the very first graphic novel that I’ve read.  A few years ago, I was at my sister’s and her husband had some graphic novels checked out of the library.  I read one of them – don’t remember what it was called – and it was about spies, I think?  but though it wasn’t terrible, the reading experience didn’t make me want to continue reading graphic novels.

Then an online friend of mine from the rottentomatoes forum recommended Blankets and I was intrigued by a graphic novel that was about regular people.   I figured this would be a better entry point to the graphic novel genre.  And it was.

I like the memoir genre and even took a class on reading and writing memoirs in college.  Blankets is essentially a graphic novel memoir, focusing on his struggles with the Christian church and belief, his relationship with his younger brother, and most heavily, on his first love, Raina.  The central event of the book is when the teenage Craig goes from Wisconsin to Upper Peninsula Michigan to stay two weeks with Raina and her family.

My experience of growing up in conservative Christianity was more positive than Craig Thompson’s, but I could still identify with some of his experiences, including his dislike of church snow camp.  I never had a teenage love like Craig did with Raina.  But whether my experience was similar or not, the novel made me feel the emotions of it all: loneliness, shame, exhilaration, contentment.  The drawings and dialogue capture the exquisite pain and joy of the human experience.  If that sounds grandiose to say, so be it.

I don’t think Blankets is perfect.  There is no real unity to the novel.  All the different parts don’t gel together into one piece.  Also, some of the philosophizing was uninteresting, like this one part where the shadows in the cave analogy is interspersed with Craig’s adjustment to being back from his trip to Raina’s.  It didn’t quite work.

It’s possible that the piecework nature of the novel could be defended by saying it’s similar to the handmade quilt that is a focal point in the story.  It’s a patchwork affair, squares of life stitched together.  And because that’s such a pretty metaphor for the book’s structure, I can forgive the seeming lack of structural unity.

My friend from rottentomatoes had recommended more graphic novels to me after I told him I’d be reading Blankets.  The recommendations include the well-known Maus and others called Too Cool to Be Forgotten and Shortcomings.  I welcome other graphic novel suggestions.

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Filed under Graphic Novels, Memoir and Personal Essays