In the dull days of February and March I have read five graphic novels: among the five were one standalone (Encyclopedia of Early Earth), one consisting of a series collected into one edition (Amy Unbounded) and the first three in the series Locke & Key. All provided very different reading experiences.
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg should have general appeal. Eowyn Ivey who wrote The Snow Child which I will post about later this week said this about the book: “The Encyclopedia of Early Earth is a delightful accordion of a book. This graphic novel casts a spell like that of Scheherazade – when you sit down with it, prepare to stay until the last page.” And, another writer, Mark Haddon said:”It’s a book about many things – love, snow, god, poisoned sausages … but mostly it’s a celebration of storytelling itself. Strange and wry and funny and beautifully drawn.” It includes a journey to Britanitarka, stories about The Old Lady and the Giant, Dead Towns & Ghost Men and The Great Flood and much about The Gods. I found it unusually calming.
Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming by Rachel Hartman came to my attention after I read and reviewed Seraphina. It was a genuine “for fun” read largely because I enjoy it when one book is connected to another even though neither is actually a sequel to the other. In this graphic novel Amy is reading the epic of Belondweg who was a mythical queen responsible for uniting Goredd (the country in which Seraphina takes place). Blondweg saves Goredd from invaders. In her introduction, Lind Medley says that Amy “lives life with an unbounded spirit and enthusiasm which wins over crotchety old widows, reserved businesswomen, and even makes a careless dragon face the consequences of his actions”. Medley concludes her introduction with this encouraging and inspiring dedication: “Here’s to the turn of a new century, to new heroines and new literature classics, and to being unbounded.”
The remaining three graphic novels I read are the first three in a series and are for a different audience, or at least a more narrowly defined audience, than the two above. The first volume is called Welcome to Lovecraft and that is the reason I looked into these books,- the connection to the name Lovecraft, an American author known for his horror fiction. It turned out not to be about the author but about a house named Keyhouse and a town called Lovecraft. Its writer is Joe Hill, the son of two writers and the artist is Gabriel Rodriguez. the introduction by Robert Crais says that “Locke & Key is a graphic novel of the richest kind, presenting a story and characters conceived with all the depth of a full-blown novel, yet perfectly rendered by both writer and artists to take advantage of the graphic medium. ” The main characters are members of a family whose father is brutally murdered: we are presented with this back story in the first few pages so passing on this information to possible readers is not a spoiler but, rather, a warning. The three children are likeable characters: Tyler, the oldest son feels responsible for not saving his father, Kinsey the middle child and daughter is a sensible, sensitive young woman and Bode is a six-year-old who will play a major role in future volumes.After their father’s death, the family moves to Lovecraft, Massachusetts to live in their father’s nephew’s house. But the past has followed them.
Just so you know, Joe Hill is also the author of the novel, Heart-Shaped Box and a collection of stories, 20th Century Ghosts and is working on a new novel The Surrealist’s Glass.
Gabriel Rodriguez is a Chilean artist and the co-creator of the “twisted but wonderful world of Locke & Key. In his biographical note at the back of Volume 1, he asks “that readers unlock their hearts and minds, and accept an invitation into new realms and tales, thrilling experiences, and secret places that his efforts craft into a vivid universe.” I seriously believe it is this unusual and creative art work that has kept my attention for three volumes when I only intended to read one as a sample.
The second book is entitled Head Games and is built around the idea of using keys to open our heads and see everything that is hidden away inside. This concept becomes very interesting when applied to a situation in which Tyler must prepare for a test the next day and has not read the material he will need to know. There are terrific pages showing all the keys on a two page spread labelled The Known Keys (excerpts from the Diary of Benjamin Pierce Locke, 1757 – 1799) and a special section entitled “Series Illustrator and Co-Creator Gabriel Rodriguez, for the first time, shares the process involved in developing a page of Locke & Key”. I think these additions enrich these volumes considerably and ensure that they will become references for some readers.
The third volume in the series is called Crown of Shadows and the introduction is written by Brian K. Vaughn who says this: “…just look at how perfectly each scene is paced, how thoughtfully every single page is constructed. I once told another writer that while comics can be creepy or unsettling, they’re almost never frightening. Without the benefit of music, sound design, and editing, I think its tough for most fiction to elicit genuine fear.” Vaughn think that maybe Hill and Rodriguez have created some truly scarey scenes. The black and white drawing on the page facing the introduction is a good example as far as I am concerned. Vaughn continues the introduction with this: “And while the supernatural stuff is brilliant (I will never tire of learning about new keys), the reason I’m afraid is because of how much I’ve come to care about Tyler, Kinsey, and especially Bode. Those kids aren’t characters, they’re people.” I have found this to be true for me also: I have invested in these three kids and their mother and what happens to them. Since that is one of the main things I ask of whatever I read, I guess that means that if a graphic novel meets the same criteria as novels and short stories I have finally reached the stage of accepting graphic novels into my reading circle.
The Art Gallery at the end of this volume and the expanded lexicon of the keys are updated and equally impressive as the same features in the second volume. The fourth volume is entitled “Keys to the Kingdom”. I wonder how long I can hold out?
Have you tried a graphic novel yet? Choose carefully and get recommendations from those who know your reading habits. I started with Jeff Lemire’s Essex County and that choice made a very big difference in my attitude towards graphic novels.