Smile : Raina Telgemeier

Smile (Smile, #1)Smile by Raina Telgemeier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is very little about this adorable, funny and heartfelt coming of age comic that I did not love. Inspired by the authors own dental experiences, Raina goes through the most epic of toothly sagas after falling over and losing her two front teeth. We follow her throughout this journey, through retainers and braces and back again.

And it’s lovely. I would give this to everybody and anybody. Perfect for those who may need a little bit of reassurance to get through their visits to the dentists, perfect for those who feel like they don’t fit in and perfect for those who just love a good comic, Telgemeier’s book is full of warmth and love and the weirdest sort of pride in coming to terms with what happened to her.

Artistically, it’s a delight. Coloured in the richest of sunny hues, it’s set in the urban backdrop of San Francisco and the landscape is practically edible. There’s panels where Raina looks ruefully up at the innocent road sign and mutters about how much she’s really coming to hate this freeway exit, and others where she takes the new road to school. Each and every panel is so lovely, there’s very little else to say. I will note though that it’s not perhaps one of the most stylistically avant-garde of comics but it is is gorgeous and a perfect introduction to the medium, particularly for the younger reader.

God this comic is gorgeous. Utterly, vividly gorgeous. It made me laugh, it made me smile and it made me fall in love with the protagonist. Smile is one to discover.

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The Tentacles of Doom : Andi Watson

The Tentacles of Doom!. Andi WatsonThe Tentacles of Doom!. Andi Watson by Andi Watson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s something sort of relentlessly appealing about Gum Girl and it’s something you sort of have to accept. This collection of three short stories, the second in the series (the first being Catastrophe Calling) are very carefully crafted adventures of the titular Gum Girl. Despite my innate difficulties with the concept of somebody being called Gum Girl (surely, but surely it should be Choddy Chick, no? No?), I really enjoyed this.

It’s a vivid, vivacious and intensely bright collection of stories. Watson’s got a lovely sense of character to both his goodies, his baddies and the adults as well (which is quite the achievement in comics this brief). I really love the colours in this as well, the bubblegum candy brights are balanced nicely so that the pages remain eyecatching and yet not off-putting. What’s also interesting is that even in these brief and bright stories, there’s some very clear and strong storytelling. If anything it’s very precise bearing in mind the size of these panels and length of the stories, and it bears some weight to Watson’s abilities.

I could see this working nicely alongside Vern and Lettuce by Sarah McIntyre. Both titles have that sort of funny, nonchalant irreverence and appeal.

There’s an excellent piece here where Watson discusses more about his creative process (though it does include the mildest of spoilers for this series, it’s fascinating).

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I Kill Giants : Joe Kelly & JM Ken Niimura

I Kill GiantsI Kill Giants by Joe Kelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s hard to precis a book like this without throwing immense spoilers around the room and pointing to said spoilers with neon flashing arrows. As a result of this, I hope you’ll forgive me for delivering a fairly bald synopsis albeit it one with a coda of ‘you really should read this’.

Barbara lives in a world where the fantastical and the real intertwine. She’s clearly struggling, locked in a world where the only friends she has are characters from her near obsessive interest in Dungeons and Dragons. And the other thing Barbara has is an interest in killing giants.

Kelly’s story is moving, harsh, and intensely funny at points. It’s one to go blind into in a way, though if you’re using or reccommending this professionally, I would suggest that you read it yourself in order to fully understand the thematic depth and elemental darkness present in this stunningly bold book.

Artistically it’s a vicious, intense ride. Coloured solely in black and white, starkly so at points, the dynamic Manga style allows for some stunning panels. Niimura’s splash pages are stunning, rarely not leaving you breathless. I had a great amount of love for his speech panels, bleeding storytelling with every stroke. There’s some stunning use of speech redactions in them, reinforcing the fact that this is Barbara’s story and some things are too hideous for her to be able to hear.

And now for that coda:

This book is Neil Gaiman meets Patrick Ness meets Molly from Runaways meets Ted Hughes. And if that does not make you pick up a copy, then I do not know what does.

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Angel & Faith : Daddy Issues – Christos Gage & Rebekah Isaacs w/ Chris Samnee

Angel & Faith: Daddy Issues (Angel & Faith, #2)Angel & Faith: Daddy Issues by Christos Gage

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I adore Faith. I could (and do!) write her for days. She’s a gift, an utter gift of a character, and I’m so very much in love with this series.

Gage has Faith, he’s got her. Perfectly. Gage’s Faith is a hard won character, a woman who’s pushed through the darkness in her life, and living, every day, with a sort of permanent guilt at who she is and what she’s done. I think this is key to Faith, this survivors guilt and the hard, hard edge inside her that will not let others experience what she has. She’s a Saver, is Faith, more than a Slayer. Always was. Just took her a while to realise it, and the world a while longer.

So here, in this comic, she does her thing and she does it in the most glorious partnering with Angel. Now usually, Angel (“Aaaangel”) irritates me so much, and here he doesn’t. He’s purposeful, solid, and I believe in him and everything he does. This guy is a hero. Still trying to make up for the impact of his actions as Twilight, permanently caught in a redemption cycle, he’s a mirror to Faith.

The two of them work through a series of adventures (mishaps/dreams/pain filled relivings) involving one of the most unnerving demons ever, and one of the most perfectly unnerving vampires ever. I won’t spoil it. But I will spoil the little, wondrous spark you get inside of you at witnessing the splash page of his/her/its arrival.

The other lovely thing about this is that we have somebody who can draw these characters and draw them well. Isaacs is perceptive and graceful with her sense of movement throughout the panels, allowing the beats to happen when they need to happen and yet giving a sense of vital action to the entire piece. Faith and Angel have always been hard characters to draw, the former sliding occasionally into pastiche whilst the latter shifts into blandness. That doesn’t happen here. Isaacs catches the eyes, and that’s where it all happens. Not in the fists, or the kicks, or in the perfect perfect hair. These two are about their eyes. Always have been.

This is great, great stuff. This is the comic you come to when you’re over self-referential navel gazing. This is the comic you come to when you need a little Faith.

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Avengers vs X-Men : Brian Michael Bendis

Avengers vs. X-MenAvengers vs. X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Whilst doing my ritual X-Men and Avengers “Who’s Alive? Who’s Dead” Game proved somewhat easier in this book (basically everybody’s everything!), I remain somewhat disappointed at the final product.

The Phoenix is back. And I properly love the Phoenix and have done ever since the glory of the Claremont days. I even put up with the slightly rubbish moments the Phoenix had in Ultimate X-Men, just so I could get more of this ‘character’ that fascinated me. This time, she’s headed straight for Hope Summers as a host. Because of this, to go all Harry Hill, it’s one big fight in Marvel-land. The X-Men won’t let the Avengers take Hope, and the Avengers won’t let the X-Men keep Hope.

And the tragedy is that ‘fight’ pretty much sums this entire book. The level of actual character development remained minimal and in some cases, felt distinctly retrograde. Cyclops, so intriguing to me in Utopia, became so very flat and dull. He’s a character who borders on this at the best of times, and I didn’t connect with him in the slightest. Problem was that I also had a similar reaction to Captain America, leader of the other side – and when you’re struggling to empathise with two of your main characters, you’ve got a problem as a reader.

Artistically and structurally, it felt bizarrely balanced. There were moments which were superb, and others which felt like they were just rote panels on rote pages. Every now and then the artwork seemed to switch off simply to draw several Hulk Smash-esque panels that felt like they had very little to do with the story as a whole.

Hope is a character I find massively exciting. I was intensely disappointed in how she was used here and particularly annoyed with the ending involving her and one other mutant – both used in a fairly deus ex machina method.

Avengers vs X-Men is a comic that is nowhere near as good as it could be, and that’s a disservice to characters of this quality

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