It is certainly, frightfully, dawning on me: I am a slow reader. Challenging myself to read 100 books this year is me trying to get a glance of my ear without the aid of a mirror. I now confess that I cheated. No, not in the way that I rated a book that I haven’t read or haven’t read in its entirety, but I somehow cheated myself by reading a bunch of graphic novels.
While I do not have a strong penchant for comics (‘comics’, referring to X-Men, or Batman, manga, etc, though the distinction I wish to relay is dubious), I somehow like standalone graphic novels, for the mundane reason that they rest my eyes. For the past weeks, I think, I downloaded pdf copies of graphic novels often featured in ‘best’ lists around the Web. Here is a list of them, together with my personal rating.
Ghost World– written by Daniel Clowes in 2001, it is about two adolescent girls Enid and Rebecca. These two are self-proclaimed hipsters, self-assured, arrogant, and somewhat conceited. The book does not follow a particular plot line; sometimes it just features the two ranting about the ‘uncool’ fashion styles of people they meet, or discussing horoscope, drinking coffee at an ‘unconventional’ cafe, sharing musical tastes, jeering at ‘old people’. These two girls are certainly irritating. But the charm (Wikipedia said) of the book lies on its undramatic, unembellished treatment of the coming-of-age genre. On the other hand, I would say that this ‘udramatic/ unembellished thing would easily translate to its lack of charm. Arguably postmodern, this book is somewhat lethargic, fragmented, world-weary, and hence, vapid. Well, practically all I said in this paragraph is what we get from this. This was made into a film by the way. 2 stars.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen– I believe this was made into a film, but I haven’t seen it. This book is basically your mushy 19th century adventure novel marked with annoying British witticism. The only thing I liked in this book is that it features a set of literary characters from different works. There is Allan Quatermain from H. Rider Haggard‘s 1885, Mina Harker from Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, Captain Nemo from Jules Vernes’ Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells science fiction novel of the same name, Dr Jekyll from Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Campion Bond, grandfather of Ian Flemming’s James Bond, Professor Moriarty, the archenemy of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and Detective Dupin from Allan Poe’s short story “The Murders in the Rue Morge” (his inclusion particularly inducing shock and excitement from me), among many many others which I did not care to look up who. As Allan Moore says of it, it is basically a “Justice League of Victorian England.” The story is ok. The illustrations are good. 2 stars
.Lost Girls– Another Allan Moore book. This is somewhat embarrassing. Moore classified this (I guess, with an academic poker face) as porn. He said that it is part of his efforts to elevate pornography from the muck of tastelessness. But this certainly is still porn, with a very vague storyline and highly artistic depictions of love-making. By the way the girls the title is referring to are Alice (from Alice in Wonderland) Dorothy (from The Wizard of Oz) and Wendy (from Peter Pan). A precaution: this book features lesbianism and gay sex, threesomes, and other sexual quirks that may disappoint any fan of conventional porn. I hope that’s not you. Hehe. 2 stars.
Maus– This highly acclaimed novel by Art Spiegelman tackles the horrors of Nazism among the Jews. Spiegelman has a quirky way of casting; he used anthropomorphic animals (like a metaphor or something) as his characters, with Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Americans as dogs, etc. Of course, there are a lot of Nazi-related materials out there (Schindlers List, Diary of Anne Frank, The Pianist, etc) but this one separates itself by its brilliant juxtaposition of the past and the present. There is this tackling of the issues between an aging father and a son, a crumbling marriage, other family-related things. Spiegelman’s style is also something like a pseudo-biographical approach with a dash of metafiction. 3 stars.
The Tale of One Bad Rat– About a sexually-abused teenager who ran away from home to trace the paths of her idol Beatrix Potter (remember that children’s book with bunnies as characters?). The very content is heavy, it is somewhat a melodramatic meditation on the effects of abuse and the steps to recovery. 2 stars.
Blankets– I really liked this one. It is an autobiographical story by Craig Thompson, looking at his Christian fundamentalist childhood, his bittersweet first love, how he gradually lost his faith, his increasing alienation with his family and his brother. It is multi-faceted and poignant confession drenched with nostalgia. This one really struck me. 5 stars.