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Archive for the ‘Graphic Novel Review’ Category

A fantastic review!

Written on Monday, December 1st, 2008 [permanent link]

Chester Comix just got a fantastic review on this web page devoted to helping educators find useful comic books for their reluctant readers! This is a great site for you to bookmark after reading this fun review. (At one point they note all the social studies concepts I’m packing in, and they add, “yet Boyd does it so effectively and with such good humor (using Star Trek analogies along the way, even) that I barely realized that I was learning new things as I was reading.” That’s the idea!!!

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Comic book review: "Buddha: Kapilavastu," by Osamu Tezuka

Written on Monday, September 8th, 2008 [permanent link]

AGE APPROPRIATE: 11th grade and up (nudity and violence)
PAGES: 400

I’ve spent a lot of my free reading time this summer digging into ancient India. One of the biggest school districts in Virginia has begun to teach ancient India to elementary students, and I’d like to draw a comic book about it this fall. As I have waded through library books and old National Geographics, I also looked for any other graphic novels on the subject.

I found an 8-part epic about the life of Buddha, written and drawn by Japanese manga forefather Osamu Tezuka! I’m not a fan of manga comix, so this was a chance to learn not only about the life of the founder of Buddhism but also to try swimming in a form of comix that is very popular with American teens.

There is a lot of vitality to Tezuka’s storytelling. He’s called “the Japanese Walt Disney,” and “Buddha: Kapilavastu,” the first of his 8-volume series, has a lot of action and silliness – in many cases the animals LOOK like they came from the Walt Disney studio. It amazes me as a cartoonist that even within a scene or even one panel Tezuka draws some characters seriously and others in very cartoony fashion. He even puts himself into some panels — with scribbles over his head identifying himself! The unevenness between his panels showing the scenery of India and panels showing goofy sentry jokes and panels dropping modern references make for a strange ride. And American audiences may be unsettled by the casual nudity of a mother and a small boy or the violence (blood is shown black since the comic is not in color). But maybe this all-but-the-kitchen-sink approach is the appeal of manga – Tezuka certainly uses all the elasticity of the art form (sometimes characters bounce off the panel borders or break them into pieces).

But if it’s good manga, does that make it a good telling of the life of the founder of one of the world’s great religions? The person who becomes Buddha is only born in volume 1! He appears on only a handful of the 400 pages, in only two of the 12 chapters. So I learned much more about Tezuka as an artist than I did about the historical Buddha. The rest of this first volume is filled with the antics of fictional characters — some of whom don’t survive this volume and so have no impact on the life of Buddha. Some of their stories deliver messages about the caste system in India, but it’s also clearly filler — Japanese manga comix are often published weekly, so there’s much more volume to their stories than you find in American comix.

So the bottom line is: do I think the path to enlightenment can be found on my way to paying $15 for each of the next seven volumes in the story????

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Posted in Graphic Novel Review | 1 Comment »

Book Review: "Pyongyang" by Guy Delisle

Written on Wednesday, February 27th, 2008 [permanent link]

I listed in my Teacher reading list a comic for high-school age and up called “Pyongyang,” but wanted to expand on my one-sentence review of the comic.

With the New York Philharmoic performing a groundbreaking concert in North Korea this week, now is a great time to have students read “Pyongyang,” a 2005 comic by Canadian-born cartoonist Guy Delisle. The concert has provided a splash of media attention to this closed, Communist country, but Delisle’s work provides a lot of simple details that show how a government can grind down people. He proves that in the modern rush to digitize and animate and YouTube, the pencil is still one of the most powerful tools a human can wield.

The grayness of his pencils perfectly suits his travelogue about his time in North Korea’s capital city while supervising an animation project. Most of us who follow the news have a mental picture of this nation controlled by one totalitarian family for the past 50 years, but Delisle provides evidence of a cultural brainwashing that goes even farther than I suspected.

The details are human and built naturally:
Peasants sweep the superhighway that no one uses.
Nothing else can hang on a wall holding a portrait of Kim Il-Sung.
Movies and TV shows continue to glorify resistance to the Japanese occupation in World War II or the American fighting in the Korean War. (There was a massive effort before this week’s concert to tear down a lot of street posters showing the same kind of images, but reporters still saw some of them.)

But the most chilling moment comes when the cartoonist notices there are no handicapped people on the clean streets of Pyongyang. His guide answers, “There are none. We’re a very homogenous nation. All North Koreans are born strong, intelligent and healthy.” And that’s that. Delisle concludes that his guide believes it – the propaganda has sunk in.

The best joke is that the North Korean handlers panic about any photography a foreigner attempts. But they never questioned Delisle’s pencil. Their mistake.

CONTENT WARNING: There is no violence or nudity and only a handful of PG-13 swear words.

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