Each summer I make it a point to read graphic novels. I’m attracted to the idea of an illustrated story as a form of brainless reading entertainment. Generally, I am really impressed with the skill illustrators use to tell their stories. And generally, I’m disappointed with the lack of story. So, really, I guess I also try to read a few graphic novels to see if it is possible to tell a compelling story with impressive artwork. I’m sure it must be an incredibly difficult job. Being either an author or an illustrator is challenging enough work, but to combine the two must be a herculean task. Which I suppose is why it is rare to find both a well illustrated book and an interesting story. Without further ado, here are my summer reads:
An Elegy for Amelia Johnson by Andrew Rostan: This, like so many graphic novels, was a fine example of an artists skill with a pen. The illustrations were clear and clean. Unfortunately, that is about the only positive thing I can say about this book. The plot was, uh, flat. Amelia Johnson is dying, so her last wish is to pair her two best friends, a struggling writer, and a film producer together to make a film about her life. The two have never met each other, only heard about the other through Amelia, and are at odds from the beginning, each seeing their role as the one possibility to add life and beauty and art to this memorial to Amelia. A road trip ensues, following one cliché after another. The two butt heads, go their separate ways, reunite for Amelia’s sake, and eventually fall in love-which was what Amelia had in mind from the beginning. It was a stupid book, that didn’t bother to address the major theme insinuated in the plot: how do we want to be remembered? It touched on it, but this thin plot was more concerned about moving the characters geographically, not developing the characters.
Gingerbread Girl by Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover: This started out as a wholly unique and exciting work of literature. The premise is that Annah is certain that her mad scientist of a father removed part of her brain and created a twin sister for Annah. Either that, or Annah might be crazy. The book takes on this mystery of trying to figure out if this twin of Annah’s is real or just her imagination. The plot shifts from one narrator to another, starting with Annah, then Annah’s love interest, then a pigeon outsider her window, and a dog on the street, and a stranger. This shift of narration was a high point for me. I found it completely enjoyable to watch the storyline shift, and the author did it quite seamlessly, which was extremely impressive. Ultimately, however, they author also forgot to write the last 100 or so pages. Either that, or ran up against a deadline and just submitted what was complete. The mystery was never solved or resolved. Not even remotely, not even in an ambiguous way that could still give the reader some sense of resolution. In a series of short, quick images the story just sort of fast forwards over a few plot points and then ends. I literally was left wondering if my copy was missing pages. While this book started off very strong, and was certainly an original story, it utterly failed and is not worth your time.
Petrograd by Philip Gelatt & Tyler Crook: Get this book! This was an excellent read. The graphics were a little messy, the pen lines were more frantic, (much more so than the two previously mentioned books) but they made this gritty story look gritty and it totally worked. In fact, towards the end there are some extremely powerful spreads that are stories in themselves. But where this book thrives is in its story (and that is always how any graphic novel should be). Set in Russia during World War I, this is the story of a British spy who is caught up in a plan to assassinate Rasputin. This was a gripping non-fiction that came across as well researched (the only graphic novel I’ve ever read with a bibliography, and quite a comprehensive one at that). I’d highly recommend this graphic novel.
Mister Wonderful: A Love Story by Daniel Clowes: This is as simple as a story can get. A lonely man takes a chance to meet someone to love by agreeing to a blind date. His insecurities eat at him as his date becomes increasingly late. Once she does show up, Marshal is caught off guard because she is attractive, kind, and enjoyable company. She is just the sort of person he wants to share the rest of his life with. But the rest of their evening isn’t so simple. Over the course of the evening, and a few misadventures along the way, the two explore what it means to find someone who is worth spending the rest of your life with, flaws and all. This well illustrated novel is in full color (always exciting for a graphic novel) and is just cynical enough and just sweet enough to be completely believable and fully enjoyable.