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: Graphic Novel Update 8/1

I’ve read quite a few graphic novels this last week. Some of them – Thor: Goddess of Thunder, the second volume of Sex Criminals, and the second and third volumes of Ms. Marvel – are likely to have plenty of advocates come next year’s Hugo nominations. But there was another book that I thought a pleasant break from the usual run of superhero comics, both in story and in visual style.

apocalyptigirl_cover

Andrew MacLean’s Apocalyptigirl: An Aria for the End Times is the story of Aria, a solitary survivor in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, accompanied only by her cat Jelly Beans and a rusty nonfunctioning mech named Gus.

I thought MacLean’s writing demonstrates an admirable range of register and tone, switching effortlessly, for example, between Aria’s casual dialog with herself and some almost poetic explication of the mythology of Aria’s world. And MacLean also does an excellent job of building up, within only a couple scenes from Aria’s post-apocalyptic life, a character of surprising complexity.

I was initially a little disturbed, though, by how MacLean handles the other humans in the book. The area’s two warring tribes, the Blue Stripes and the Grey Beards, both speak in “garbled-up languages” that are unintelligible to Aria and represented in the book only with dingbat-like characters. This language barrier seems intended to emphasize Aria’s isolation, but it also has the consequence of helping render the tribes as dehumanized, undifferentiated others that can subsequently be shot, dismembered, and otherwise dispatched by Aria with casual ease.

But the more I mull it over, the more I suspect the discomfort I felt was no accident. One minute, Aria is singing opera, playing “gotcha nose” with her cat, reveling in freshly picked apples; the next, she’s slaughtering her enemies in exaggerated and slightly comical fashion. She even insists, early in the book, that she’s no killer, and yet, it soon becomes clear that she’s more than capable of killing, and doing so with practiced skill and expertise.

apocalyptigirl_excerpt

MacLean highlights these internal contradictions, in fact, by setting off Aria’s narration in two ways that are distinct in both content and visual appearance: the first, set off in speech bubbles, is her breezy casual banter with herself and her cat; the second, in internal monologue captions, her more sophisticated reflections on her world, with the two sometimes coming into conflict and Aria quite literally arguing with herself.

Stories of kickass heroines struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world are hardly new territory – indeed, it’s been a recurrent theme of late – but I suspect there’s also something subtler here, a subtext about the psychology of violence and survival and the things we tell ourselves to keep ourselves sane in horrible circumstances.

And in that respect, I think this is really a standout book, despite appearing at first to be visiting well-trodden ground. It’s not a perfect book by any means – the conclusion of the book felt rushed, with several twists that I found less than wholly satisfying – but it was certainly a nice break, both in terms of subject matter and in visual style, from the superhero comics that I expect will feature strongly in next year’s Hugo nominations.

Comics Connector: Connecting Classrooms and Libraries with Comics Professionals

cbldf_web_kelly_2As part of Children’s Book Week, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has launched Comics Connector, a directory of comics creators and industry professionals who are willing to make library and classroom visits. The directory includes information about whether and how far the individual is willing to travel and whether they require travel expenses or honorariums. So far it’s just the U.S. and Canada, and not all states and provinces are represented yet, but if this takes off, it could be a great resource for teachers and programming librarians (via BoingBoing).

Review: How to Fake a Moon Landing

how-to-fake-a-moon-landing

In How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial, graphic novelist Darryl Cunningham presents an illustrated assault on the charlatans and demagogues who manipulate or deny scientific claims for their own gain.

In the chapters of How to Fake a Moon Landing, Cunningham takes on homeopathy, chiropractic, creationism, and other movements that defy the scientific worldview. A final chapter is dedicated to explaining why the self-correcting process of science provides us with a superior understanding of our world, and how science denialism can have disastrous effects.

Of course, Cunningham’s relatively slim graphic novel isn’t going to provide the level of detail found in a longer prose treatment, but for young adults and others curious about the subject, How to Fake a Moon Landing provides an entertaining and enlightening introduction. A bibliography suggests further reading for each chapter, with titles from authors like Richard Dawkins and Ben Goldacre.

Review: The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science

The Where, The Why and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science
The Where, The Why and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science

If you liked Fantagraphics ornate-yet-hip bestiary Beasts! and you find yourself pondering such unknowables as “why do we have an appendix?” or “what existed before the Big Bang?” then hie thee to the library—pronto—to check out The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science.

Although the foreword by David “The Way Things Work” Macaulay might seem to imply the sort of exploded diagrams and exhaustively detailed explanations that made his books so popular in the 90s, the execution of The Where, the Why, and the How is much more Beasts-like. That is to say, you won’t walk away with any clearer sense of what’s behind some of science’s greatest mysteries (for instance how stars are born, or why do whales beach themselves) but you will be introduced to each concept by a specialist in that field and a graphic artist’s exquisite interpretation of said mystery.

Some illustrations are charmingly direct—for instance “Do Squirrels Remember Where They Bury Their Nuts” is accompanied by a picture of a squirrel studying a road map—and others are as evocative as they are clever—an elephant using a feather to fly in “Why Do Placebos Work?”. In the end, despite the cross section on the cover, The Where, the Why, and the How is no good at dissecting anything with great certainty, but it excels in showing that there is great beauty and possibility in all the things we do not yet know.