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This is John Lewis' memoir of his time in SNCC during the Civil Rights Movement, co-written with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell.

It begins with Lewis preparing for the 2009 inauguration, and the contrast between that and the 1960s Jim Crow era was probably much more uplifting just a few months ago. As things are today, the book feels more necessary than ever. It's not as though the work stopped after the Voting Rights Act, after Obama's election, after anything, but there is so much more of it now.

Part of me wishes I had at least one experience of reading this before the election, with Obama still president, because those flashes to his inauguration in the comic, the hope that is so tangible, all of it is painful to read now.

I've known the general story of the Civil Rights Movement for almost as long as I can remember, having grown up reading those Scholastic biographies of Martin Luther King, Jr. And I've learned much more about it later on, from how much community organization was going on to the many different groups and philosophies involved. That said, I found this comic to be a valuable addition, particularly the first-person narrative and the way the black-and-white illustrations grab you.

The three volumes cover all the big points up through the signing of the Voting Rights Act, from the lunch counter sit-ins to the bus boycotts to Freedom Summer and Selma and the March on Washington, but it's the little details within the big moments that make the comic so good. Ones that particularly struck me were the students who couldn't make it through the nonviolence training or the fear of being killed—I feel it's always so easy for people to say, "If I were there, I would have marched or protested or volunteered," but to be honest, I'm not sure I would have been brave enough, particularly as a college student. The stories of all the people who were killed while helping are pretty chilling, and I'm glad that the authors and artist make it very clear how dangerous it was and how the activists there didn't know if they would make it through or not.

Other moments: one of the people running the lunch counters shutting it down and fumigating it with the protesters still inside; the ways people still resisted even while they were in jail; how the activists set up check ins; and through it all, just how violent the pushback was to every single tiny step. I keep returning to that after reading all the justifications for police violence on the protesters today and how quickly just saying "no" becomes a reason to beat you down. It's not that I didn't know, but seeing it illustrated brings it home in a very particular way.

My one complaint is that I wish Lewis had gone more into how the movement started to splinter, how some people began to advocate for physically fighting back, or the increasing divide between SNCC and the SCLC and other organizations. Lewis hews to his nonviolent philosophy here while also trying to portray other people's points of view without demonizing them. I think his attempt to walk the line of upholding nonviolent resistance without condemning those who thought he sold out makes those parts a little too abstract; without the dialogue and arguments and examples of what happened in those clashes of philosophy, much of the power of the comic is lost.

I also wish he had gone into more detail because I would have found it extremely helpful for right now, when it feels like there's a different answer or strategy every day, and as a roadmap for making change with a large coalition of groups who frequently don't see eye to eye.

All in all, very worth reading, and I only wish it were longer and had more details about how to deal with splintering coalitions.

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Jan. 15th, 2014 01:40 pm
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What I've read: Finished Anuja Chauhan's Those Pricey Thakur Girls! It's by far my favorite of her books, and now I kind of wish there were a version of Battle for Bittora done in rotating 3rd person POV, because I would have LOVED to see Pushpa Pande's sections. Hopefully a longer review to follow soon!

Also finished Chi's Sweet Home volume 2, which is just as cute and full of cat as the first volume. Definitely comfort reading for me, and I laughed especially hard at Chi getting mad at people ignoring her, climbing up on the table, and sitting down on the postcard people were looking at instead of where their attention should rightfully be focused (Chi, obviously).

What I'm reading: I finally started reading comics on my tablet! I say "finally" because that was the original reason I wanted a tablet in the first place. Anyway, I'm in the middle of the Greg Rucka Wonder Woman run (I blame [personal profile] chaila) and generally enjoying it. There are WAY more women than I usually see in superhero comics, though I am super skeeved out by Doctor Psycho and all the rape stuff he jokes about. I mean, you are supposed to be skeeved out, but given that the art is still male-gaze-y, it feels like one of those having your cake and eating it too things.

Also, totally get the appeal of Diana. She reminds me of why I like Captain America, at least in the MCU, and I really like that mostly her idealism and desire to do good and be good are genuine and not made fun of. It's so hard to find depictions of nice and good people who are interesting and have depth; most writers seem to save that for the morally ambiguous characters. And I looooove that she just goes ahead and makes decisions and her staff has to flounder to figure stuff out in her wake, and while she might apologize, she never angsts about it or questions her choices.

The art is mostly okay, given the genre? I think? I've never followed superhero comics closely, so I am not sure. I do love that Diana so far has very consistently been drawn with really broad shoulders and narrow hips; it's a silhouette I don't see very often on women. Still a lot of the twisted torso poses to get T&A in, and I rolled my eyes when one villain stepped out with her face entirely in shadow... but her naked body was of course visible!

It's also always weird getting into a new superhero/team and figuring out who the standard villains and secondary characters are. Various wiki articles help, but because comics is so convoluted, I hit a point when my eyes just glaze over as the details of betrayal! new allegiances! resurrection! secret identity! world resetting! and whatnot go on and on and on.

This is also interesting because it's my first foray into the DCverse that isn't centered around Gotham and its ilk.

What I'm reading next: Probably a lot more Wonder Woman.

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Oct. 9th, 2013 10:21 am
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What I've read: Finished The Zoya Factor and even managed to write it up! Whoo! Recap of review: romance drags on a little too long, but overall shows potential for the author. Looking forward to getting my hands on her next two books.

I also finished Tenea B. Johnson's R/evolution, which I need to write up with Smoketown. I am really curious as to what she's working on next. I love her prose and her ideas; mostly it feels like the books need to be fleshed out a lot more, R/evolution in particular.

What I'm reading: I started on Rucka's run on Wonder Woman, thanks to [personal profile] chaila's posts, though I haven't gotten too far. It's interesting, because I actually don't know anything about Wonder Woman except for the Amazons background. It's also weird reading superhero comics again. I also read an issue or so of Saga, which seemed cool but was too visually dense to read well on the 7" tablet, as well as an issue or so of the new all-female X-Men title. No real impressions of it, except that I love Storm's hair. /is shallow

What I'm reading next: More Anuja Chauhan when I get the books? Maybe more comics if I grab the tablet again? (My dad wanted me to leave it for my mom so she could try to use it. Ha.)
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I really love the world of this movie: the claustrophobia of giant walls going up, the success then failure of the jaegers, how so many people were exhausted and tired of fighting, instead of just encountering the threat for the first time. It also gets points for having more than one speaking role for POC. On the other hand, I wish more of the supporting cast were POC as well and that Mako had more to do.

I'm also surprised that I've found little to no comparisons to anime in the write ups I've seen on my network! I know both Guillermo del Toro has said the movie is not based on Evangelion, and Travis Beacham says he wrote the bulk of the script before having seen the show/movies/franchise, but it feels as though the influence of the show is everywhere.

Spoilers for Pacific Rim )

I really wanted more of the world after watching the movie, so I checked out the Tales from Year One comic. Alas, while it had some good backstory, I found it largely skippable and rather annoying.

Spoilers )

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Apr. 10th, 2013 09:42 am
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What I've read: I finished Alison Bechdel's Fun Home after seeing her at a City Arts & Lectures event. The event itself was great; Bechdel herself isn't all too talkative, but there was a short video clip of her creating a comic page and discussion of her process, which I hadn't been expecting and was really interesting. I don't have much to say about Fun Home yet, especially since I'm still in the middle of her next memoir about her mother, but it's definitely worth reading, and I kind of wish I had read her stuff before going to see her. Oh well! At least it was incentive to get some of her books!

I also finished Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London, which I like, but possibly not as much as everyone else. As most people have said, the voice is fantastic, as is the sense of place, but every time I was getting into it, more murder mystery details showed up and I would promptly lose track of what was going on. Clearly plot brain has disappeared again.

A lot of Meljean Brook )

What I'm reading now: I'm still in the middle of Bechdel's Are You My Mother, which is an interesting experience because it has therapy and mothers, but Bechdel's relationship to her mother, problematic as it is, is very different from mine with my mother. (Me: I WISH my mom would not talk to me!) I also started Aaronovitch's Moon over Soho because I wanted to see how a few dangling threads at the end of Rivers of London were resolved, but now the mystery has hit and, predictably and sadly, I have lost interest.

What I'm reading next: Who knows! I feel like a fantasy + romance fun blend but don't like most paranormals and their more dominant than you heroes, but I can't really think of anything. I should also read vol. 2 of Wandering Son before it's due back at the library.
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In which I make my yearly foray into superhero comics, usually Batverse.

I heard about this arc as an origin story for a new version of Batwoman, in which Kate Kane is discharged from the Marines for refusing to say she's not gay. In Elegy, we get her flashback origin story, in which she dons the cape and mantle as a new way to serve and protect, along with the story of how she encounters the new leader of the Religion of Crime.

The art is gorgeous: I especially love the bright reds and deep blacks when Kate is Batwoman. There are some small takes on the superhero outfit that may or may not be new—I don't read very many of them—and I especially loved the wig. I also like how the color palette shifts to warm, golden tones when Kate is out of costume. Although her body shape is the usual female superhero curvy when she's in the Batwoman uniform, all hourglass waist and round hips and large breasts, when she's out of costume, she looks much blockier, with broad shoulders that she tends to emphasize with suit jackets and the like.

I felt as though her sexual orientation was organic to the story; the emphasis is actually more on her Marine background and how "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" influences her to get on the superhero path. Also, teeny cameo of Lt. Dan Choi!

I rolled my eyes a little at the backstory for the villain, but people who like superhero comic tropes may enjoy it. It's definitely no different from all the Angsty Backstories I so adore in manga.

I also love Kate's relationship with her father, though I wish a little that her story wasn't one more to add to the Dead or Missing Mother pile.

Overall, a good, fast read, but I'm still sticking with my "only reading superhero comics via giant compilations" resolution.

ETA: Non-spoiler text Batverse spoilers in the comments! (Please feel free to spoil me since I am never caught up and probably never will be.)
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
At least this year I'm getting it out before Chinese New Year! Though that's mostly because it's super late this year...

As usual, these are my favorites out of the sequential art I've read this year, as opposed to what came out this year. The "new-to-me" series aren't actually always new to me; some series in particular are on the list because though I started the series earlier, what I read this year was enough to put them on my favorites list.

I was pretty terrible about writing things up this year, thanks to grad school getting increasingly busy every semester. If it's linked, I wrote it up, but feel free to ask in comments about anything!

Overall, I largely paused in my attempt to read more manhua, as there's still not very much being published in Taiwan right now, and the quality isn't so great. I am so sad there has been nothing new by Nan Gong Yu! At least I saw her series running in a magazine, so I'm fairly sure she's still writing. Just... very slowly?

I also read much less new stuff, at least, that's how I feel. I started two massive rereads during the summer (FMA and Fruits Basket), and mostly I was looking for rereading or at least a continuation of a series I knew thanks to my brain being extremely worn out by school. I also went on a brief superhero comics run to find out what happens to Catwoman; unfortunately, aside from Selina's Big Score, which I loved (and which started me on said spree), the rest largely reconfirmed that I'm not much of a superhero comics fan.

Favorite new-to-me series )

Also recommended )

Favorite ending series )

Favorite continuing series )

Total: 236 (74 rereads)

All sequential art read in 2009 )
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It's 1933 in Charon, Mississippi, and young Lee Wagstaff lives with her father on a small plot of land. She knows the bayou is dangerous, but she'll soon find that out first hand.

This comprises the first four chapters of the free online comic. It's a slight volume that's mostly set up for the rest of the story, and the titular character isn't even introduced until near the end. Still, you get enough to appreciate the gorgeous art (colors by Patrick Morgan), and there's already enough story to pique my interest.

Lee is an awesome protagonist. She's smart and brave but still thoroughly a little girl, and Love seems to be very good so far at sketching out characters, from Lee's playmate Lily, whom I want to slap, to her uncle and aunt and, of course, her father and Bayou. I also love the fantasy elements in the story, particularly the savage Jim Crows, and I'm looking forward to seeing even more of that as Lee and Bayou journey deeper into the bayou.

The art is lovely. In some of the panels, you can see Love's sketched guidelines or bits of pencil that haven't been edited out; it might feel unfinished for some people, but I enjoyed having those rough bits. The colors are gorgeous. I'm also glad that Love doesn't try to fit too much in a page. I'm so used to manga now, and when I read non-manga comics, I frequently end up feeling as though the art is too crowded, with too many panels and too many speech bubbles and too many words everywhere. Love gives the art room to breathe.

I'm still trying to decide if I should read ahead online: I love having the physical version and I already spend too much time on the computer as is (oh my eyes), but I want to know what happens!

So far, a great beginning and highly recommended.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Steinberger is a geek girl: gamer, cosplayer, shoujo manga fan, Volks doll fan. Ever since she got into the Volks doll scene, she's been dying to visit the Volks store in Tokyo. One day, she writes to Volks and gets an enthusiastic reply; they actually know of her through her doll articles in the US! So she and two friends head off to Japan. Their plan: dress as geisha, go see Takarazuka performances, dress up in Tokyo, eat, and go see dolls!

This is more of a sketchbook rather than a comic; there's some sequential art involved, given that it's a trip, but most of the art is not in the form of panels. It's also incredibly fun to read. Steinberger's art is extremely friendly and round and happy, and she notices odd things that I enjoy. One of the slightly unfortunate things is that she can't read or write Japanese—I'm not sure if other people will care, but I really wanted to know what the Japanese on particular drawings was.

I am still not sure what to think of dressing up as a geisha. On the one hand, it is something I would love to do. Also, there's the factor that it's being done in Japan, probably making money for the Japanese people running the business, in a context in which people know a lot more about who and what geisha are. On the other hand, I do not know.

Some other parts of the book occasionally hit my "please do not make fun of Engrish" button, from the making fun of Engrish to Steinberger getting annoyed at being stared at. For the latter, I completely don't begrudge her getting annoyed at being stared at; it's probably annoying as hell. However, I still have a kneejerk reaction of "Yeah, welcome to my world!" inherited from homestay in Japan with two tall white guys who were all "We stick out! We miss American food!" after I had gone through a year of depression and lost a lot of weight thanks to a combination of culture shock, homesickness for Taiwan, and literally not being able to eat all the non-Chinese food. But I digress! Although I spend a lot of space here writing this reaction up, I didn't really hit it that often. Much of this is because you can tell Steinberger loves it there, and the overall feeling I got from her excitement wasn't "OMG this is so exotic and foreign!" but "OMG I have heard about this for forever and FINALLY I AM HERE!"

Instead, I had a lot of fun through most of the book. It made me remember being in Japan and exploring Harajuku and Shibuya and Akihabara, it made me miss the food and the public transportation, it made me wish I had had enough money when I was there to buy awesome clothes at Harajuku and the like. It also interestingly made me incredibly homesick for Taiwan. A lot of the things in Japan are different, of course, but a lot of things have either been imported to Taiwan or are shared characteristics, from the squatting toilets of DOOM and ladies on the street handing out advertisements on tissue packets to sock stores to the food. I miss the food so much!

Most of all, I loved all the geeking out, from cosplaying and Takarazuka and dolls (not my areas of geekdom) to assorted manga and anime references. I laughed so hard when they visited Tokyo Tower thanks to CLAMP, although they went because of Magic Knight Rayearth and my friends and I went because of X (sadly fortunately, when we went, no necrocuddling was involved). I am also extremely jealous that she got to see Takarazuka! Some day...

Also, if you read this, check out the omake as well! Actually, check out the omake even if you haven't read it; it's a pretty good preview of what the book itself is like. Cute and fun.
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Kimberly Keiko Cameron, also known as "Skim," is currently trying to negotiate her place at school. She and her best friend are starting to drift apart, she has a crush on her English teacher Ms. Archer, and the suicide of one of the popular girls' boyfriends is affecting everyone.

The story here isn't new, although the specifics of it are—the teacher crush, the student suicide. What makes Skim feel different is the execution of the plot, from the fallout of Skim's crush to how she has to negotiate friendships and alliances in high school. I especially liked the portrayal of Katie, the popular girl whose boyfriend committed suicide right after he dumped her; she was much more real than I had expected, and I appreciated that.

The art is also beautiful. Jillian Tamaki's style is somewhat like other indie comics, except certain panels, which look like Japanese paintings. I can't tell if it's me stereotyping the art based on ethnicity, as it's only occasionally, and usually only when she paints Skim. Here's a sample, although you can't really see the effect I'm talking about until page 19 or so. It's the small fuzzy high eyebrows and the roundness of the lower face, along with the curve of the nose, that work together to remind me of paintings of Heian court ladies.

I liked this much better than Mariko Tamaki's Emiko Superstar and hope she does another project with her cousin.

- [profile] minnow1212's review
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(Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things, Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics, and Courtney Crumrin in the Twilight Kingdom)

Courtney Crumrin is a young girl (I'm guessing late elementary or middle school) who's forced to move to a new town when her parents decide they can't afford their place and take up her great-uncle Aloysius on his offer to let them stay at his house. Unfortunately, the town is full of plastic rich people (which Courtney's parents like), the house is full of strange creaky things, and the woods are full of goblins.

I've always loved things like The Nightmare Before Christmas—creepy and goth but not so much that it scares the living daylights out of me (in contrast, I do very poorly with horror that isn't for YA). The Courtney Crumrin series is right up this alley, and I think people who enjoy Tim Burton and Nightmare and Corpse Bride and Coraline (book and movie) will love this. The visual style in particular reminds me of those movies, and I love Naifeh's stark black and whites. Sometimes they can be a little overwhelming because there's so much contrast jammed into the multiple tiny panels—Naifeh in particular doesn't use white space quite as well as CLAMP does in xxxHolic—but the claustrophobic effect is very fitting for the series.

Courtney herself is very much not a spunky heroine. She's mean and antisocial and really doesn't like people, and quite often, her morals are rather disturbing. I found this rather refreshing in a YA book. The first book consists of unrelated shorts, and while it's fun and cements the relationship between Courtney and her uncle, I wanted a little more. You get that in the second book, which has a storyline that was very affecting and Courtney growing up, and not always in a good way. The ending in particular was great. The third book tries to integrate Courtney a little more with other kids her own age, and while I don't fully buy it, I still like it enough to read more.

Also, Uncle Aloysius kicks ass. I love him.

The series suffers a little from the Lone Girl syndrome, but at least a female mentor comes in during volume 2, even if she's not as influential as Aloysius. Race-wise, I am not sure; the stark black-and-whites make it very hard to do gradations in skin tone. Still, I think Courtney's friend in the beginning of volume 3 is black, and while I liked having POC, I thought the way Naifeh dealt with it was very stereotypical and annoying. Thankfully, it is only in one chapter, but still.

I also thought I was sick of Faerie, but I like Naifeh's version. And one of my favorite things about the books are that they really deal with the fact that the heroine doesn't like people much and is antisocial. I don't think it's something she will get over, and I very much like watching how she is not necessarily learning to love people, but how she is learning responsibility toward them, even if she doesn't like them. I feel like I haven't seen that many YA books go that way, which made this particularly enjoyable.

Fun and spooky and rather twisted. I want more now! Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] yeloson for the rec!

P.S. Have just read Naifeh's Polly and the Pirates (like) and read the first volume of Gloomcookie years and years ago. I remember Gloomcookie as having awesome art and a completely incoherent plot. I also see Naifeh has illustrated some other stories he hasn't written. Are any of those recommended, or should I just stick to the ones he writes?
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Emiko is an ordinary girl going through an ordinary summer, complete with baby-sitting job, until one day, a chance encounter at the mall leads her to performance artists at The Factory. Eventually, Emi becomes one of the performance artists.

I feel this comic falls into the genre of "ordinary person discovers avant garde stuff and it changes her life, even though the avant garde crowd eventually falls apart." It may be a cousin to the genre of "ordinary guy meets artsy and free girl, and horizons are expanded, though the artsy and free girl is not meant for this world," albeit with a heroine instead of a hero. I am, as you may be able to tell, not a fan of either of these genres. I dislike the portrayal of the radical or avant garde as only able to illuminate "ordinary" people's lives and to not be self-sustaining. I'm also tired of the idea that artsy is good, but only in limited amounts.

On the plus side, I loved having a multiracial heroine in a comic not about her multiracialness. I also liked that the art gives the women in the comic different body shapes.

There's a side plot about a suburban housewife wanting to escape that I wanted to like, but it felt too rote, much like most of the comic for me. Well-intentioned, but ultimately not interesting.
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After her father dies in a car accident, Emily, her mom, and her younger brother Navin move to their great-grandfather's house in a quiet neighborhood. The house itself is creaky and needs a lot of work, and while they're cleaning, Emily discovers an amulet. Soon, her mom is kidnapped by a tentacly monster thing, and she and Navin head to the world underneath the house to rescue their mother.

I read this about a month ago, and sadly, I do not remember much of what happens. [livejournal.com profile] yeloson already noted how Emily is the one leaping into action and jumping into things, while her little brother is the more cautious one, which is a nice change from assigning the female characters the more practical yet unengaged with plot action bits. While Kibuishi does complicate the role of the amulet and how strangely insistent it is on some things, I felt like I left the world wanting more, be it plot or characterization or themes or anything.

Instead, the series so far feels like a kind of cool but still fairly standard character-discovers-magic-world-is-savior type book. Still, it'll be interesting to see if Kibuishi does anything more with it in the second volume.
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This is a collection of shorts that Kim previously published online; although I think some have recurring characters, others feel very random. Also, I read it over a week ago and already returned it to the library, so my memory of this is very sketchy. (Oh hey, it's available online! Check out the right column in Lowbright to find links to the other shorts in the book.)

I felt like this volume has much of the American indie comic sensibility—crowded art, neurotic characters, big focus on failed love lives—which is sad, as there's a reason why I don't read many American indie comics (I know, I stereotype). I didn't feel for either of the characters in the main story, particularly with the way one talks about a blind character ("Her eyes were so giant and sparkling and gorgeous, like she could see things we couldn't!"). I do like that the blind girl shows up later and acts like a normal person, but when the other two characters were talking to each other, all I could think was that I so didn't feel for them feeling awkward about saying things like "As you can see" or whatnot.

I also hated the plotline revolving around Nancy sending a letter back to someone who seemed to be stalking his girlfriend. There's acknowledgement that what Nancy does is mean-spirited, but not enough for me, and the ending portraying the letter-sending guy as sad also annoyed me, given that he was the one sending creepy, stalker-y letters.

I don't know. Much of the humor (much of it scatalogical) didn't amuse me, and the general neuroticness annoyed me. It was good to see bits of Korean-American-ness in there as background, but not the center, but all the same, it wasn't enough to get me over my dislike of the characters. I'd personally skip this and go for Kim's Good as Lily instead.
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Sadly, this is not quite as charming as its predecessor, but then, I think that may be an impossible task. Still, it's a worthwhile read, although the last story is somewhat awkward, as it tries to Teach Us About Racism.

The first story is about the cat and his journeys with the rabbi's cousin Malka and his lion; I love how you can't quite tell what's fact and what's fiction as Malka tells his tales. And! As bonus, there is a hilarious talking snake, although this snake is more sinister and less amusing than Koh of Silver Diamond. Even so, the conversations among the cat, the lion, and the snake are priceless.

The second story is the One About Racism, and I was poised to like it until the ending. The rabbi, a Russian Jew, and several other people, decide to go find the Ethiopian Jews and encounter many adventures along the way. Unfortunately, Sfar seems to be espousing the typical viewpoint that judging people based on race is bad (which I agree with) and leaving it at that (which I don't agree with); he ends by showing that the Ethiopian Jews are just as prejudiced as the Jews who refused to marry the Russian Jew and his black sweetheart. Which, okay, I'm sure it's true, but not the point!

I still think it's worth reading, but had I known the ending of the second story, I might have skipped the last few pages so I could keep an untarnished memory of the series.
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It's Grace Kwon's 18th birthday, and mostly she's thinking about her cute drama teacher Mr. Levon and the school play. That is, until she goes out at night and stumbles across herself at 6, 29, and 70. Now she has to hide the other Graces from everyone as she tries to help the drama club raise money.

This is a cute, light YA story in which everyone has realizations and comes to terms with themselves. The gimmick of the many Graces sometimes doesn't work so well—I especially wish they were spread out more in terms of age so that 70-year-old Grace's life weren't such a surprise—but Kim pulls it off. Hamm's art reminds me more of indie art than manga or superhero comics, but I found it fitting for the story. I like that there are many curvy women and girls represented, and that the Asian people look Asian in a non-stereotypical way!

The title ties in less with the story than I wanted; it's pivotal for one of the Graces but not necessarily all of them, and some of the futures felt unnecessarily bleak. Also, I want to argue that being single at 29 or 70 is not always a giant tragedy! People can have rich and enriching lives without being a part of a couple or having kids!

Still, I think Kim might do well with even more pages to flesh out his characters, and I'm always grateful to have Asian-American characters who aren't dealing with culture angst.
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Ann Marie Fleming found a few reels of old film when she was recovering from a car accident, and portrayed in those reels was Long Tack Sam, magician extraordinaire and her great-grandfather. After researching his life a little, she left with even more questions: who was Long Tack Sam? How did he negotiate being Chinese while touring worldwide during the turn of the century? And why was this world-famous magician almost completely forgotten today?

The graphic novel is actually based on a film Fleming wrote and directed, albeit adapted to take advantage of the different format. It's a combination of memoir, biography, and cultural history, as Fleming ties together the story of her own search and how it affected her with the not-always-factual story of Long Tack Sam and the history of the world at the time. Long Tack Sam lived through the fall of the Qing dynasty and the rise of the Republic of China, two world wars, the rise of movies and the downfall of vaudeville and other travelling acts like his. His story is particularly interesting because it is so international; he married an Austrian (I think) woman and raised three biracial children, two of which ended up marrying Chinese (I forget about the third). And he was travelling at a time when it was just as common to see a white man playing a Chinese man than an actual Chinese man.

I'm not sure if you get a cohesive story out of this book, but I also don't think that's the point. Information about Long Tack Sam is piecemeal and untrustworthy; Long would tell different peopel different stories, his advertisements would say something else, and all of it had to be rediscovered. What we see is what Fleming had to puzzle together, and as such, I think the patchwork nature of the story works.

Fleming doesn't go as into issues of race and racism as I wanted. It's perpetually there in the background, but I suspect that one of the ways Long Tack Sam dealt with it was to use it to his advantage and capitalize on his own "exoticness" to the non-Chinese world. He also incorporated his daughters in his act later, changing their names to more "Chinese" stage names. I wish there had been more about Fleming's grandmother and what she thought of all this, but I suspect that would have been difficult, given that her grandmother had passed away before she started the project.

Still, an interesting look at an interesting life lived during an interesting period.
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This is for books and Western comics only; manga and manhwa get a separate post.

Thoughts about the year in books )

Amazingly, I managed to blog about every single book I read this year! I didn't link the full list, but you can always look in my tags or memories.

The below are my favorites out of all the books I read this year, not books published this year.

  1. Emily Bernard, Some of My Best Friends )

  2. Emma Donoghue, Kissing the Witch )

  3. Ursula K. Le Guin, Voices )

  4. Megan Lindholm, Harpy's Flight )

  5. Laurie J. Marks, Elemental Logic series )

  6. Susan Beth Pfeffer, Life as We Knew It )

  7. Joann Sfar, The Rabbi's Cat )

  8. Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore )

  9. Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens )

  10. Elizabeth E. Wein, The Sunbird )

Also recommended: Carl Chu, Chinese Food Finder: The Bay Area and San Francisco; Brenda Dixon Gottschild, The Black Dancing Body: A Geography from Coon to Cool and Waltzing in the Dark: African American Vaudeville and Race Politics in the Swing Era; Theodora Goss, In the Forest of Forgetting; Margo Rabb, Cures for Heartbreak; Madeleine E. Robins, Point of Honour; Joanna Russ, What Are We Fighting For?: Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism; Sarah Smith, The Vanished Child; Beverly Daniel Tatum, Can We Talk about Race?: And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation; Lawrence Weschler, Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology; Ysabeau S. Wilce, Flora Segunda; Helen Zia, Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People

Total read: 131 (6 rereads)

Complete list of books read in 2007 )
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A dog gets a mail order robot and assembles it; the two go off together and have adventures. Along the way, dog and robot are separated.

I have no idea how to sum this up. It's a wordless comic, and on the larger scale of things nothing happens. But at the same time, everything happens in the course of a few months -- friends are lost and found again, people are changed, lives go on.

I love how sweet the art is, how Varon pays attention to all the little details, how she doesn't forget that her characters are dogs and ducks and anteaters, albeit anthropomorphized ones. And I just love how the ending isn't what I would have expected, but it's perfectly right.

Definitely recommended, particularly if you liked the movie The Iron Giant (I haven't read the story) -- and not just because the two are about robots! They've both got this old-fashioned but not necessarily nostalgic tone, and both of them are about friendships.
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I love this. LOVE.

In 1930s Algeria, a rabbi's cat eats a parrot and miraculously gains the power of speech.

Well, it's miraculous to the cat, as much as cats are amazed by things. The rabbi sees it as a miracle and a misfortune, as the first thing the cat does is lie. The cat then claims he is not Jewish, then demands a bar mitzvah. The rabbi, understandably confused, goes to seek his rabbi, and things sort of go on from there.

The cat is so very cat-like:

The rabbi tells me that of course I'm Jewish, since my masters are Jews. I tell him that I'm not circumcised. He tells me that they don't circumcise cats. I tell him that I haven't had a Bar Mitzvah. He tells me that the Bar Mitzvah occurs at thirteen years of age. So I tell him that I am seven years old, and for cats, the years are multiplied by seven; therefore, it's as if I were seven times seven years old, which is definitely more than thirteen. I tell him that if I am a Jewish cat, I want to be bar-mitzvahed.

Some of the charm is lost in the quote because you can't see the accompanying panels, which are scribbly and reddish and almost misshapen, but just enough to perfectly capture the tilt of the cat's head and the slyness in his eyes.

The rest of the book is about ordinary things: will the rabbi pass his dictation test? How will his daughter's marriage turn out? But it is so perfect and funny and charming and true true true, nevermind that it is being narrated by a cat. I love the cat and I love the rabbi and I love his daughter Zlabya. I love how they are selfish and kind and petty and generous; I love the rabbi's nonkosher meal; I love Zlabya's shopping trip; I love the lion; and most of all, I love the cat.

I am only sorry that I didn't buy this before when Mely first blogged about it.

Go read this.

- [livejournal.com profile] coffeeandink's review
- [livejournal.com profile] buymeaclue's review


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