Dec 21, 2012

Graphic Novel Review

It's time to review some more fun and interesting graphic novels, as well as books. The Books category on the Magnum Arts blog contains posts about graphic novels, books, and issues surrounding books. Today I'm going to review some books from an earlier generation that should not be forgotten. 

The Henry Reed books bring back memories. I used to read these a lot when I was a kid, and out of a sense of nostalgia I checked them out of the library again.

Henry Harris Reed is an intelligent, insightful boy of thirteen or fourteen who goes to stay with his aunt and uncle in New Jersey while his parents are in Italy.

Henry decides to keep a journal (not a diary, diaries are for girls) and writes about the stray dog Agony he adopts and the business he sets up in his mother's barn, with Midge, a girl in the neighborhood. 

First published in 1958, the Henry Reed books are simple, entertaining reads, with illustrations by the great Robert McCloskey. McCloskey's illustrations have a fun, Norman Rockwell look and compliment the story very well. Click on each title to take you to the corresponding Amazon page.

Keith Robertson published several Henry Reed books after Henry Reed Inc, and all are worth reading:
The books take place in a much more simple time, but despite that the storytelling is timeless. There are no wizards, magic spells, zombies or monsters, and none are needed. 

The re-issues of the books have cheesy, updated covers that look worse than the original covers, obviously painted in the 80's to make the books hip to a new generation.

Robert McCloskey, besides being a talented illustrator, was a children's book author as well, having written eight books he illustrated, including another one of my favorites, Homer Price, first published in 1943.

Homer lives in Centerburg, a small town in Ohio, and is a mild-mannered boy who enjoys fixing radios, and who somehow gets involved in a series of outrageous incidents, such as tending an unstoppable doughnut-making machine in his uncle's diner. Shady merchants and larger-than-life paraphernalia appear in several stories.

McCloskey published an amusing sequel to Homer Price, Centerburg Tales that is a fine follow-up.

The Homer Price and Henry Reed books go well together as entertaining snapshots of small town America, from a age where there was no television, Internet, smart phones or video games. They don't deserve to be forgotten.

Update: A thorough review of the great Robert McCloskey located in a separate blog post. McCloskey is such a talented illustrator and writer, this brief mention does not do him adequate justice. 

Click on the picture on the right for a larger view, an illustration from Homer Price in the chapter called The Doughnuts.

This is a classic by Louise Fitzhugh, who also did all of the illustrations. Harriet considers herself a spy, and wants to be one more than anything when she grows up. She has a route that she patrols after school, spying on people in her neighborhood, and writing her observations in her notebook.

In her notebook, she writes down everything she knows about everyone, even her classmates and her best friends. Then Harriet loses track of her notebook, and it ends up in the wrong hands. Before she can stop them, her friends have read the always truthful, sometimes awful things she’s written about each of them, which turns her world upside down.

Harriet The Spy is an engaging read with a strong female protagonist, and Fitzhugh wrote a sequel staring one of the side characters, called Sport!

A sequel book was published called Harriet Spies Again, written by Helen Ericson, with the permission of the Fitzhugh estate. Judging by the reviews on Amazon, this is a pale and unsatisfying sequel that lacks the charm and spunk of the original book.

There was also a 1996 movie based on the book, which, according to Entertainment Weekly, updates Fitzhugh's deadpan commentary to a frenetic, 90s' pop vibe, to appeal to its target audience.

I'll take the book, thank you very much.

The Great Brain - John D. Fitzgerald

This is another great series of books I really enjoyed when I was a kid, and are still worth reading today. The Great Brain, first published in 1967, is loosely based on childhood memories of the author, set in the fictional town of Adenville, Utah between 1896 and 1898.

The narrator of the books is John D Fitzgerald, younger brother to The Great Brain, Tom, who is always concocting schemes to make money or con both kids and adults, such as the time when Tom charged kids a penny to see the first indoor bathroom ever installed in a house, or plotted a way to get back at a teacher who spanked him in front of the class.

The younger brother John D is in awe of his older brother's brain, and follows him around as Tom gets into one misadventure after another, all the while trying to outsmart those around him.

There were several Great Brain books written, all fun reads:

Like Harriet The Spy, The Great Brain was made into a movie in 1978 starring a young Jimmy Osmond that was mostly forgettable, with hammy, after-school-special acting and a syrupy voice over. If you want to see the first part of it, click HERE.

The Grain Brain books are illustrated by the great Mercer Mayer, who, like Robert McCloskey, has published a number of his own books. 

Mayer's illustration have an antique, Victorian look, and heavily utilize crosshatching to provide shade and depth to his work. He's the perfect choice to provide the illustrations for these books.

Mayer has a gallery on-line where you can view his other work as well; check it out HERE.

Mercer Mayer Amazon page

Best Graphic Novels of 2012
The sci-fi blog has a great post of the best comics and graphic novels of 2012. Check out this list HERE and discover some new stuff!

Best Web Comics
Readers of the website Ars Technica pick the best web comics out there. Take a look; you might get hooked! Check it out HERE.

Daybreak - Brian Ralph

Zombies are all the rage these days (there were LOTS of zombies at Dragoncon last year, this year, but I came back with all my brains intact). This graphic novel puts the reader in the story, with the protagonist who is missing part of an arm talking directly through the reader throughout the book.

The art is rather primitive, and looks as if the book was rushed in order to take advantage of the zombie craze, but the talking-to-the-reader gimmick is interesting.

Ghostopolis - Doug Tennapel

This is a very charming graphic novel about a boy named Garth who has a terminal illness who gets inadvertently pulled into the ghost world by a washed-up ghost wrangler (kind of like an afterlife version of the Men In Black).

In Ghostopolis, spirits live like the living and are ruled by an evil dictator who wants to use Garth for his own ends.

Ghostopolis has a Monsters, Inc/Tim Burton feel to it that makes for fun reading.

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