This post was originally published in “The Elkhart Truth” in October 2014.
What makes Gene Luen Yang stand out as a comic book creator is his background in education: until fairly recently, he was a high school computer science teacher, who created comics as a hobby. Then “American Born Chinese,” which he both wrote and illustrated, became the first comic to be a finalist for the National Book Award in 2006.
Yang’s works always aim to educate, whether about immigrant stereotypes in “American Born Chinese” or the complicated history of the Boxer Rebellion in his more recent “Boxers & Saints.” (You can read my review of “Boxers & Saints” in the Commons Comics archives.) His newest work, “The Shadow Hero,” a collaboration with Malaysian-born illustrator Sonny Liew, is a prequel to the short-lived “Green Turtle” series from the 1940s, and closes with an essay about the original series, as well as a complete reproduction of the first issue.
But since some readers, especially of comics, tend to associate “educate” with “zzzzzzz” or “too many words,” let me assure you: “Shadow Hero” is not just smart and instructive, but also visually striking, action-packed, and often surprising.
Since my last post was about comics for very young kids, I should note that “Shadow Hero” is written for teens and older. As with a lot of superheroes, a violent family tragedy catapults Green Turtle into maturity and responsibility—as well as into a vaguely silly costume that needs a few revisions before it settles into a final form.
Continue reading “A Story Unfinished for Seventy Years: “The Shadow Hero” by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew”
“Clyde Fans,” by Seth. Drawn and Quarterly, May 2019. 488 pp. Hardcover, $54.95. Adult.
Drawn and Quarterly sent me a free review copy of this book.
Canadian comics artist Seth cultivates an antique persona, complete with tie, overcoat, fedora, and what look like horn-rimmed glasses. With a given name like Gregory Gallant, you wouldn’t think he’d need a pseudonym.
But Seth likes to push boundaries: between people and their public and narrative personas, as well as between history and fiction. Seth’s first major book, “It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken,” published in 1996, was supposedly autobiographical, about his search for a “New Yorker” cartoonist who had disappeared from public view. As the book gained popularity, Seth eventually let on that he had manufactured the whole scenario, although much of the detail from the narrator’s life in the story was autobiographical. In an odd twist, despite the book’s fictional core, it’s often cited as the catalyst for an explosion of autobiographical comics that began in the 1990s and has fueled the genre since.
Seth’s just-released “Clyde Fans” is also fictional, although as he explains in an author’s note in the back of the book, it began with a real-life Ontario storefront of the same name, which he used to walk past. The office was closed, gathering dust, but he could see two framed portraits on a back wall, and wondered about the story behind those two men and their defunct business. He began writing a serial comic about Clyde Fans and the two brothers who ran it, whom he named Abe and Simon. Abe narrates in the image below, and you can see the two portraits hanging on the wall behind him before the frames zoom in for close ups:
Continue reading “The Weight of Memory: “Clyde Fans,” by Seth”
“My Favorite Thing Is Monsters,” by Emil Ferris. Fantagraphics, February 2017. 386 pp. Paper, $39.99. Adult.
Chicago comics artist Emil Ferris deems “monster” an “honorable title. It represents struggle and wisdom bought at a high, painful price. . . . I make a distinction between good monsters―those that can’t help being different―and rotten monsters,” she told “The Comics Journal” in 2017, when her multiple award-winning masterpiece “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters” was initially released. How do you define a “rotten monster”? “[T]hose people whose behavior is designed around objectives of control and subjugation.”
This gorgeous and complicated book teems with monsters, both good and rotten. Among the good monsters are the protagonist Karen, an elementary school student who portrays herself as a werewolf detective, with surprisingly luxurious eyelashes,
Franklin, her gay black friend,
and Deeze, her wise but troubled older brother, who teaches her how to see and appreciate art, how to draw, and especially, how to “draw [her] way through” difficult events and emotions—like the overt racism of 1960s Chicago:
Continue reading “Redeeming Monsters: “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters,” by Emil Ferris”