Monday, November 26, 2007

Graphic Lit: First Second books

Though it’s been publishing for not quite two years now, First Second has made a considerable name for itself, putting out a number of high-quality graphic novels for a variety of ages.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of their more recent releases:

“Notes for A War Story”
by Gipi, 128 pages, $16.95.

Three youths wander through a war-torn landscape in an unidentified (though obviously Eastern European) country in this smart, emotionally powerful story from the author of “Garage Band.”

Along their travels they come across a group of older, mercenary thugs who introduce them to the world of petty crime and, eventually, much worse.

Only narrator Giuliano (perhaps because he isn’t an orphan) seems to have any reservations about the path he and his friends are treading. Can he escape before it’s too late?

Drawn in Gipi’s loose, sketchy style and layered with a haunting blue-green color scheme, “Notes” is a captivating tale of what happens to those left behind in war’s wake.

by Nick Abadzis, 208 pages, $17.95.

English cartoonist Abadzis skillfully retells the story of the first dog to orbit outer space in this thoughtful, at times wrenching (and somewhat fictionalized) account.

You can tell Abadzis has done his homework: He fills his pages with small, sharply detailed panels that, even when you know they cannot possibly be accurate, nevertheless feel true to life.

What’s more, the book never feels dense or overwrought. Nor does it play for cheap emotion. Every heartstring tugged is well-deserved as it considers the sins we commit in the name of progress. It’s the rare all-ages book that edifies as well as touches the reader.

“Town Boy”
by Lat, 192 pages, $16.95.

I love the way Lat draws people walking — their torsos leaning back at a 45-degree angle while their legs snake forward in crisscross fashion.

I also like the way he draws noses, mustaches, chins, marching bands — hell, I just love Lat’s work, period.

So it’s not surprising that “Town Boy,” Lat’s thinly veiled autobiography of his adolescence in Malaysia (a sequel to “Kampung Boy, which First Second released last year), charmed me completely.

It’s a warm, funny and thoroughly delightful book that manages to seem familiar in depiction of the small joys and sorrows teenagers encounter, yet is alien enough in its depiction of Malaysian life to seem fresh and unique.

“The Lost Colony Book 2: The Red Menace”
by Grady Klein, 128 pages, $16.95.

Klein’s ongoing series about a small, magical 19th-century American town, hidden and sheltered from the rest of the country, is one of the most challenging and ambitious works First Second has put out yet.

And it’s not just because of the variety of social and racial issues it takes on, or it’s knotty formal structure that’s heavy on flashbacks, as much as the fact that it’s aimed at a tween audience.

“Menace” dwells on such themes as war profiteering, endangered animals, treatment of American Indians and jingoism — just for starters.

It’s a more cohesive, better-designed book than its predecessor, though that doesn’t keep it from tripping over itself at times.

Still, if Klein has bitten off more than he can chew, “Menace” suggests that he’s on the verge of a real breakthrough any day now.

“Sardine in Outer Space 4”
by Emmanuel Guibert and Joann Sfar, 112 pages, $13.95.

More delightful pseudo sci-fi antics about the plucky young space pirate and her friends as they try to keep the evil Superduperman from taking over the galaxy.

If you haven’t enjoyed the series until now, there’s nothing in volume 4 that will endear it to you here.

If you are a fan, though, there’s plenty to like, including a sequence where Sardine time-travels to the future to get a taste of adulthood. Despite the occasional potty joke, this remains a great series for kids.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007

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