By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
March 8, 2011 -- Maybe I’m just a sap, but two new graphic novels made me feel warm and fuzzy this week.
The Story of Lee (NBM, $11.99) is a shojo (romance) manga about a Hong Kong girl and a Scottish boy stumbling over language barriers, family complications and cultural roadblocks on the way to maybe, possibly, could-be love. Do they get together? Will they? Can they? It doesn’t seem possible throughout, and – without spoiling the end – there’s definitely room for a sequel.
As novel as this situation might be for readers, it’s oddly familiar territory for the creators. Writer Sean Michael Wilson is a Scot living in Japan, and artist Chie Kutsuwada is a Japanese living in London. Their familiarity with the turf wars gives this unpretentious East-meets-West, boy-meets girl story an easy, breezy sense of verisimilitude.
And, OK, Lee and her Western boyfriend Matt make a cute couple. There, I said it.
Meanwhile, the warmth of Abram ComicArts’ The Night Bookmobile ($19.95) is chilled a bit by the suggestion that the joy of reading is a mixed blessing.
The van of the title is one found by a young woman named Alexandra as she takes a late-night walk in Chicago after a fight with her boyfriend. Within the bookmobile she finds, amazingly, every book she has ever read, including her childhood diary. The dreamlike nature of this treasure trove is accentuated by the heroine’s inability to find the bookmobile when she seeks it – instead, it appears when she least expects it, according to its own obscure rules.
This celebration of the written word has a dark side, though, as Alexi becomes obsessed with finding the bookmobile, and perhaps becoming a night bookmobile librarian herself. The current custodian hints darkly at the price one must pay to do so, which ratchets up the anxiety as the years pass and an anxious and lonely Alexi races to her goal.
Written and drawn by Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife), The Night Bookmobile is a short story illuminating the wonderful and terrible seduction of the written word. As Neil Gaiman says in a foreword, it’s “a cautionary fantasia for anyone who loves books.” And, like The Story of Lee, it practically cries out to be a series.
* I thought I was familiar with most of Marvel’s superheroes back when it was called Timely in the 1940s, so I was surprised when Marvel revived a dozen of them in a 2008 maxiseries called The Twelve, and several were strangers. Now that I’ve read Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Mystic Comics Volume 1 ($59.99), I’ve discovered where characters like Dynamic Man and Mastermind Excello came from – and why they are deservingly obscure.
Most comics from the 1940s are pretty amateurish, but some had a rough charm and an infectious enthusiasm. Not so the substandard Mystic Comics, produced primarily by the second-rate Harry “A” Chesler Studio. Mystic never produced a legitimate star, and you can see why from this Masterworks, which collects the first four issues. It is unadulterated drek.
* A British publisher named Rebellion has embarked on reprinting in chronological order the adventures of perhaps the most famous British comic-book character. However, I have to say the first two volumes of Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files ($19.99 each) aren’t for everyone.
That’s probably because “Judge Dredd” never seemed to know what it was. Sometimes it was straightforward adventure fiction, other times it was a parody of adventure fiction. As a reader, I was never quite sure whether I should laugh or not. And given that “Dredd” was originally published in five-page increments (in the weekly 2000 AD anthology), most stories weren’t long enough to find out. And Dredd the character is rigidly one-dimensional, which – while presumably part of the joke – is boring in large doses.
These books do contain two of Dredd’s longest and most famous adventures (“Luna One” and “Cursed Earth”), plus the story of Dredd’s clone Judge Rico, which was the basis for the ill-fated Sylvester Stallone movie. The longer serials give the writers room to flourish, but the art is wildly uneven – especially since artists can change every five pages!
It is interesting to see the superhero genre through a British lens, where the benign authoritarianism that is the subtext of American costumed heroes is exaggerated and ridiculed. But that alone may not be enough to sustain interest for the casual reader through these 300-page, B&W behemoths.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at firstname.lastname@example.org.