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.

Starlight

Full disclosure here….. I am a HUGE fan and admirer of Richard Wagamese!! He could write out my grocery list and I am sure that I could find poetic beauty throughout. So it was with very mixed feelings that I cracked open Starlight, Wagamese’s final offering. On the one hand I couldn’t wait to delve into it but on the other, I knew it was his last and I felt profound sadness at the loss of such a master writer.

Starlight is the story of six people whose lives are connected through vastly different circumstances. Emmy and her 8 year old daughter Winnie, on the run from two brutal and callous men, Cadotte and Armstrong, find themselves forced to do what it takes to survive. Having her child collaborate in the stealing of food and fuel breaks Emmy’s heart but desperation trumps morality when it comes to keeping her child safe. It is during a failed shoplifting attempt that Frank Starlight enters their lives.

Starlight, a man at peace with himself and the world around him, offers Emmy and Winnie a safe haven and an opportunity to rebuild their lives. Along with his hired hand, friend Eugene Roth, the woman and girl are exposed to the natural wonders of the world they inhabit. They learn how to be still in nature and to learn to listen and live in the wilderness.

While this transformation is happening, the two men from whom Emmy and Winnie broke free, are driven by a boundless depth of hatred, revenge and evil to avenge the damages inflicted upon them by the woman and girl during their escape.

The juxtaposition of pure love and pure evil are strikingly presented with Wagamese’s usual powerfully poetic prose. His artful descriptions of the landscape evoke such an intense sense of peace and tranquility while his portrayal of the violence and brutality of Cadotte and Armstrong induce visceral feelings of panic and fear.

I am in awe of this master writer and his ability to take me past the written word and into the moment itself. It is a transcendent experience all the more beautiful and mournful because he has penned his last prose.

— Nancy C.

The End of World Comes Close to Home

It took a long time for me to write about Moon of the Crusted Snow simply because I knew that nothing I could write would do the novel any justice. It was brilliant.

I knew Moon of the Crusted Snow would be on my favourite novels list even before I finished reading it. When I finished the novel, I immediately flipped back to page one and read it all over again. I just didn’t want it to end.

Winter is approaching in the remote Anishinaabe reservation in Northern Ontario. One day, people wake up to find the power has shut off. The internet is down. The phone lines do not work. A short time later, the water does not turn on. The community is completely cut off from the rest of the country. Most people in the community assume it’s a temporary problem – that workers will arrive shortly to fix the problem. But no one ever comes.

As the temperature drops and resources dwindle, they discover that the major cities have also gone dark. The power isn’t coming back on. The grid has collapsed. There are no reasons, no explanations and no answers. The modern world has ended.

Fear slowly takes hold of the community. How will they stay warm? How can they stay fed? How long can life continue? It evokes all sorts of questions – how long can anyone survive when everything you once had is gone?

It’s no surprise that author Waubgeshig Rice was the recipient of the Anishinabek Nation’s Debwewin Citation for Excellence in First Nation Storytelling. As I was reading, I could feel the cold in my bones as the winter conditions are described. I could feel the fear in the mothers and fathers when children start succumbing to the elements. I loved that he wrote parts of dialogue in the Ojibwe language and intertwined pieces of First Nations history throughout the story.

My only regret is that Moon of the Crusted Snow is too short. At just over 200 pages, there could be so much more to discover. After I finished reading, my mind kept going back to the people of Anishinaabe and what their community would look like five, ten, twenty years down the road without modern conveniences. I hope that Waubgeshig Rice will seriously consider doing a sequel.

Nothing I can say about this novel will accurately paint a picture of Waubgeshig Rice’s brilliant storytelling. Please pick up this book and discover his story for yourself.

— Lesley L.

From Horror to Hope

Two books written  about the experiences of North American Indigenous women had the power to shake my assumption, based on a lot of previous reading on the subject, that I understood the kind of pain and suffering that First Nations women and girls have endured since colonialism ripped their worlds asunder.

NotYourPrincess#NotYourPrincess, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale, is a stunningly beautiful compilation of short stories and poetry, written as “…a love letter to all young indigenous women trying to find their way, but also to dispel those stereotypes so we can collectively move forward to a brighter future for all”.

Broken down into four sections, the selections take us from horror to hope, from brokenness to healing. The written words are accompanied by rich and powerful artwork and photography and compel the reader to stop and breathe in the message being relayed. The emotional intensity jumps off the page and takes your breath away, not just as an empathetic response but as a celebratory ‘high five’ for the healing that is happening and the strides that are being made.  A mere 109 pages in length, this book doesn’t ask for a huge commitment from the reader but it gives back value a hundred times over.

calling down the skyRosanna Deerchild, a celebrated author and broadcaster, has written Calling Down the Sky, a powerful poetry collection that gives voice to the generational effects of her mother’s experience as a residential school survivor. You can sense the struggle her mother feels when her daughter prods her to share her story. She is overflowing with the emotional impact  of her experience and yet overwhelmed by the telling of it.

One of my first thoughts reading Deerchild’s poems was how she used such small words and yet the message they delivered was like a punch to the gut. I could almost visualize her mother reverting back to the language of a child as she remembered the cruelty and horror inflicted on her and her fellow ‘inmates’. No flowery language required; her voice is as trenchant  as the cruelty bestowed upon them.

Both are stunning and important works of art.

— Nancy C.