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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The Savage : David Almond / Dave McKean

The SavageThe Savage by David Almond

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The wild child phenomenon is something that’s been represented repeatedly in literature, perhaps most notably in the case of The Wild Boy of Aveyron. But it’s never been treated like this.

Almond and McKean have produced a strange, enthralling hybrid of a book. It’s not quite picture book, it’s not quite graphic novel, it’s a layer between the two – switching from one story to the other and then eventually, beautifully tightening the gaps between the two. I won’t attempt to write a synopsis of it, because I don’t think that would do it justice. What I will say is that it deals with themes of masculinity, bullying, and the real / fantasy world but do note that it’s definitely not one for younger children, as it contains scenes of physical violence and intense imagery. And what I will also say is that The Savage is one of those books to experience, and experience it you must.

It’s stunning. My love for David Almond grows with every book of his I read. What he does so very well is he writes the primal magic of childhood. Remember the days when snow was amazing and not something that made your commute impossible? Almond does. And here he produces something quite stunning, drawing in elements of the wild child myth but also moments reminiscent of The Lord of The Flies and even at points bits that made me think of Apocalypse Now.

The artwork is what completes this though. It’s similarly outstanding. McKean’s work is exuberant, viciously so. It revels in telling the story and it’s beautiful. Some of the moments where the Savage is exploring the town are full of a kinetic, primal energy that falls off the page. McKean’s sense of the visual, the construction of his images is superb. What’s particularly stunning is that the majority of these images are told in such a limited colour palette. We have forest scenes, coloured all in greens, shifting from light misty pale washes for the background, all the way down to dark, almost black shadows cast across peoples faces. And then, at night, the darkness is expressed in tones of blues, from light to dark, and then, when required, punching straight into great swathes of empty, page swallowing blacks.

This is outstanding in every way. I read. I cried. I gasped. And I fell in love with Almond. Again.

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