Graphic Novel Review: ODY-C, Vol. 1: Off to Far Ithicaa

So, brief note, the “Reading for the Hugos 2016” titles were feeling a little repetitive. I’ll still be reviewing Hugo-eligible works (and they’ll all have the Hugos2016 tag), I just won’t be bothering to note it in the title.

Anyway, ODY-C.

ODY-C Vol 1 Cover

Matt Fraction, of Hugo-nominated Sex Criminals fame, has another graphic novel out this year that hasn’t gotten nearly much buzz. Sex Criminals was my top pick for the last Hugo vote – I’m a sucker for library-related fiction – but I may have liked this even better.

And once again, I find that Goodreads reviewers don’t share my opinion. Well, some of them at least. The reviews seem to be split between What the hell did I just read and This is goddamn genius.

I lean strongly toward the latter, but I understand both perspectives: No doubt, this is not the kind of book you can flip through casually and expect not to get hopelessly lost. It does require a bit of focus (and it doesn’t hurt to have at least a passing familiarity with The Odyssey, on which it’s based), but it definitely rewards the effort of a close reading.

ODY-C Sample Page

At the start of ODY-C, Odyssia and her all-female crew, having just sacked the siegeworld Troiia after a century of war, prepare the ship for its long voyage back to their homeworld of Ithicaa. The end of the war, however, means the gods have lost a valuable source of entertainment, and the Olympians proceed to make the voyage home for Odyssia very difficult indeed, as the crew encounters a pleasure planet of lotophages, a colossal alien cyclops, and the strange Aeolus who offers them a perverse bargain in exchange for a shortcut home.

So, basically, a gender-flipped SFF version of The Odyssey, but Fraction brings a lot of smart twists to the source material that make it a distinctive story in its own right. Fraction mashes up that sort of magical Clarke’s-third-law technology with elements of myth in a number of original ways, and some of those permutations, like the backstory that explains the lack of men in the story, border on brilliant. And Christian Ward’s art is just a trip, falling somewhere in the hallucinatory terrain between Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ill-fated Dune adaptation, a prog rock album cover, and your uncle’s airbrushed 70s panel van.

There are a few missteps: The narration occasionally trips over itself in an attempt to emulate the epic register of Homer’s original (and I spotted at least one glaring typo which I think got missed in the archaic syntax), but overall, ODY-C brings exactly the kind of genre-stretching, bar-raising originality that I think needs to be celebrated and awarded. With so many good graphic novels already released this year and more yet to come, I can’t guarantee it’ll make my final five for the Hugo nominations, but it definitely has a damn good chance.

Reading for the Hugos 2016: Now with Space Whale Poop! 9/7

Somehow, until a trip this weekend to the local comic book store, I had missed completely that Craig Thompson not only had a new graphic novel, but that he had a new science fiction graphic novel. The fact that Space Dumplins was written primarily for a juvenile audience may explain why it had escaped my notice, but it would be a mistake to dismiss this merely as a kids’ graphic novel: Very much in the same vein as Adventure Time, Thompson layers juvenile humor with references and subtexts that only an adult would be likely to get, creating a story entertaining enough for any age.

Space Dumplins

Gar and Cera and their daughter Violet are a hardscrabble working-class family, and their life only gets harder when a confluence of bad luck threatens to tear them apart. Violet’s school gets eaten by a rogue space whale, Cera’s promotion from textile worker to fashion designer’s assistant doesn’t quite live up to expectations, and Gar’s departure for a special assignment takes him far from his family. And then, it goes from bad to worse as a space-whale diarrhea disaster displaces millions of asteroid dwellers. It falls to Violet and her two friends – erudite sentient chicken Elliot and loud-mouthed lumpkin Zacchaeus – to save Violet’s dad and reunite the family.

Space Dumplins page 107

As you can likely tell, it’s full of scatalogical humor, dumb jokes, and goofy action, and I loved it. I believe it may also be Thompson’s first full-color graphic novel, and the result is gorgeous. It may be a little lowbrow for more serious SF readers, but if you can enjoy Adventure Time or Powerpuff Girls unironically, then you’ll likely want to check it out.

In other graphic novel news, I also recently finished Warren Ellis’ Trees, Vol. 1: In Shadow, and it too is going on my list of potential Best Graphic Story nominees. Aliens have invaded the earth, landing enormous tree-like structures at various points around the globe and terrifying humanity with the prospect of alien conquest. And yet, the trees do nothing but sit silently, while humanity, reacting in fear and panic, turns against itself. Smart sci-fi with a global cast of characters, volume one of Trees unfortunately ends rather abruptly on a cliffhanger, and it may not satisfy Hugo voters looking for a more self-contained narrative. Nonetheless, I was impressed, and I’m very much looking forward to volume two.

Two other Hugo-eligible works I’ve recently finished and recommend: “The Bone Swans of Amandale,” a new novella published in C.S.E. Cooney’s collection Bone Swans, is very good. I’m not usually a fan of fairy-tale remixes, but this one – a take on the Pied Piper story – really shines. The protagonist, a shapeshifting rat, brings the proper amount of irreverence to a story that might otherwise have come off overly affected, and Cooney preserves the weirdest, most haunting aspects of fairy tales in their raw unsanitized form.

And, in Related Works, I found Felicia Day’s new memoir You’re Never Weird on the Internet to be hilarious and utterly charming. If you haven’t watched her web series The Guild or any of her other work, you might get a little lost in parts, but there’s also plenty in Day’s memoirs about how women are treated in certain corners of fandom – Day’s chapter on her personal experiences being doxed and threatened by GamerGate supporters is particularly tough reading – that I think needs to be heard.