Graphic Novels : way more than superheroes

Are you a graphic novels fan? Until recently my answer would have been a resounding “no.” Just not my cup of tea, or so I thought. But one day, more out of idle curiosity than anything, I decided to give them a shot. Now graphic novels are a part—not a big part, mind you, but still a part—of my reading repertoire.

Here’s what I like about ’em. They allow for a fairly quick and easy read but then you can go back for a second (or third) look and discover things you didn’t see the first time round. Also, the words and pictures work together in a very special way so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I think you call that “synergy”.

This is the one I’m reading right now: Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (2018). Krosoczka has written and illustrated a number of kids’ books, including the very popular Lunch Lady series. In this outing, Jarrett tells his own story and that of his big, messy, dysfunctional family. He was raised by his grandparents and never knew his father. As for his mother, she flitted in and out of his life but mostly she was gone. One day he learned the reason why: his mother was a heroin addict. Much of her adult life was spent either in jail, in rehab or using. For such a bleak subject, I found this book to be ultimately positive and affirming.

Here are some other graphic novels I have enjoyed over the years. All of them are real life stories (which I think is part of the appeal for me) and just note the incredible range of subject matter.

My Friend Dahmer by Derk Backderf. This was my intro to the graphic novel world and was recommended by a former WPL staffer. It’s the story of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer while he was still in high school but already plenty disturbed. A very interesting read. You might want to check out the DVD of the same title. Actor Ross Lynch is excellent in the title role.

Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs. The author, a renowned children’s illustrator, tells the story of his parents, two working class Londoners who met in the 1920’s and stayed together until their deaths. It is utterly delightful and more moving and funny than you might expect from a graphic novel. Also check out the DVD of the same title. Every bit as charming as the book.

Becoming Unbecoming by Una. This one is about sexual violence against women, including the author’s own experiences. There is a lot more going on in this book besides personal narrative (such as various stats, questions and musings) which adds to this graphic novel’s complexity. The illustrations perfectly express the author’s emotions.

Secret Path by Gord Downie (of The Tragically Hip) and Jeff Lemire. It’s a true, unbearably sad story about Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, a 12-year-old Indigenous boy sent to a Canadian residential school. Then Chanie decided to run away… The story and images will haunt you.

— Penny D.

PS  And just released is Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation. I haven’t read it yet, but it is getting a lot of buzz.

I Want to Be a Ghibli Heroine!

Forget Being a Disney Princess, I want to be a Ghibli Heroine!

Like many people in North America, I was raised on Disney movies. Snow White, Cinderella, Robin Hood, The Little Mermaid, and so on and so forth. They are good movies, and I still enjoy them to this day – but I wish I had been raised on Studio Ghibli movies too.

Studio Ghibli is the Japanese equivalent of Disney. Founded in 1985, they have been creating animated masterpieces for over 30 years. While Disney movies are starting to have stronger and more independent heroines, they used to mostly be tales about princesses who didn’t have much more going on than being good people who were pretty. Since its inception, Studio Ghibli has made films with strong female protagonists who were leaders and heroes, while also maintaining very real and human flaws and vulnerabilities. The protagonists can make mistakes, and we can develop sympathy for the antagonists. Studio Ghibli movies will also often have quiet moments that show the mundane lives of their protagonists. These moments of ordinary make them seem more like real people, and make for accessible role models. The heroes aren’t in hero mode 100% of the time, they have moments of ‘real life’ too. The stories are also more varied than the boy meets girl, they get married and live happily ever after template.

The first Studio Ghibli film I ever watched was ‘Princess Mononoke’. The protagonist is male, but the movie’s namesake is a close second. She’s a girl who defies all the stereotypes that are associated with the word “princess”. Literally raised by wolves, San operates mostly on instinct, and certainly doesn’t have any of the normal princess mannerisms. She is fighting against civilization to protect the forest that has been her home, and she is fierce and uncompromising as she does it. San is definitely a heroine with courage and the ability to protect what she holds dear.

Some of the other Ghibli heroines don’t have the same kind of epic battles, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t as heroic. A great example of this is Satsuki from ‘My Neighbor Totoro’. She is a child whose mother is quite sick. Satsuki, her father, and her younger sister move to be closer to the hospital that is caring for her mother. She stays strong for her family, takes care of her younger sister, and still has cheer and laughter despite her circumstances. It may not be what we are used to describing as a movie hero, but Satsuki is brave and she sets a wonderful example of dealing with life’s difficulties with optimism and grace. There is a wide variety of characters and they are heroes in their own unique ways, showing strength in all its different forms.

Studio Ghibli movies have more going on than just great characters. Their stories are rich and moving, and the animation is beautiful. Each movie of theirs that I have watched has deeply affected me, and made me realize something about myself or world view. They have a way of touching your heart and challenging your mind in ways that are completely different from what we are used to. One of their most unique films is ‘The Red Turtle’ because there is no dialogue. This story of a shipwrecked man uses art and music, and a few vocalizations, to convey they story. I think this movie proves that the people at Studio Ghibli are master storytellers.

Lucky for you, the Waterloo Public Library has many Studio Ghibli movies! While it isn’t technically a Studio Ghibli movie because it was made before the studio’s official founding, you should see ‘Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind’ because it is amazing. You can visit your closest WPL location to also check out: ‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’, ‘The Secret World of Arrietty’, ‘When Marnie Was There’, ‘Ponyo’, ‘Only Yesterday’, ‘The Wind Rises’,  ‘From Up On Poppy Hill’, ‘Spirited Away’, ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’, and ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’.

— Ashley T.

 

Ethel & Ernest

Now here’s a real charmer for you. By turns sweet, sad and funny, the animated film Ethel & Ernest will steal your heart.

I looked for this recently-made animated film at the local theatres, but didn’t spot it playing anywhere. So when a fellow library worker mentioned it had just come into WPL, I was thrilled! And I was not disappointed.

PEOPLE-PROD-Ethel-and-ErnestEthel & Ernest is based on the graphic novel of the same name by renowned children’s writer/illustrator Raymond Briggs (The Snowman, and many others) and pays affectionate tribute to Briggs’s real life parents. Ethel and Ernest are working-class Londoners who meet in 1928 and stay together until their deaths in 1971.

The movie consists of little vignettes of daily family life, told against the backdrop of changing times. The days of the Second World War are particularly fraught. The parents argue over whether to evacuate young Raymond to the countryside (“Over my dead body!” wails Ethel. “No, it will be his dead body.” counters Ernest), the family’s house and street are damaged by bombs and Ernest, working as a volunteer fireman, is utterly overcome by the destruction he has witnessed.

Ethel & Ernest packs a lot of emotion, but in an understated, maybe English, kind of way. I was a bit surprised at how involved I became with the characters, something I didn’t expect from an animated film. Watching Ethel & Ernest age and their health decline and then pass away, well, it is moving.

So yes, check out Ethel & Ernest. You might also want to have a look at the graphic novel (published in 1998). It is every bit as lovely as the DVD.

— Penny D.