Weekend reading, viewing

A quick overview of some of the entertainment consumed over the weekend:

The Graveyard Book, written by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Dave McKean, HarperCollins: I don’t know why I tend to forget that Gaiman is a very successful prose author in addition to a lionized comics creator. I’ve read some of his novels and liked them very much. Maybe I just have a fixed impression of him as a comics creator, or maybe I just don’t read that much prose fantasy. The Graveyard Book is about a human boy whose family is murdered and who’s subsequently raised by the denizens of a rustic local resting place. Nobody Owens, as his ghostly guardians name him, has a childhood populated with vampires, werewolves, ghouls, witches and malevolent human forces, though it feels perfectly normal to him. That’s the key to the book’s appeal for me; “Bod” doesn’t know how weird his life is, so he tends not to overreact. The plot feels casual, almost lazy, which fits right in with the novel’s undemanding charm. It’s a great choice for a rainy afternoon.

Julie and Julia, directed by Nora Ephron, based on a book by Julie Powell, Sony Pictures: I have an abiding fondness for Julia Child. As a result, I have an abiding dislike of much of what passes for food television these days. So any opportunity to celebrate this culinary icon is welcome, even if Meryl Streep’s performance seems more like an impersonation than the creation of a character. It’s a good impersonation, capturing Child’s fluty charm and imposing sturdiness. As I suspected, I could have been perfectly happy skipping over the parts of Julie Powell, who kept a blog about her attempts to cook every recipe in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Powell’s blog turned into a book, which turned into this movie, though not without a great deal of mewling self-pity, apparently. I couldn’t make it through more than a third of Powell’s book, and I strongly suspect Ephron and company didn’t care for it much more than I did. Amy Adams, who is a fine and versatile actress, has been criticized for not holding up her end of the film, and that strikes me as unfair. She’s playing Powell as a selfish, immature opportunist, which can’t be accidental, and she’s doing it well. How entertaining could such accuracy possibly be?

Only One Wish, written and illustrated by Mia Ikumi, Del Rey: If you’re absolutely manic about episodic comics that suggest you be careful what you wish for, then perhaps completism will demand that you give this bland outing a whirl. Completism has its costs, though, and subjecting yourself to dull manga may be one of them. Anyway, there’s this complicated urban legend about text-messaging and getting your wish, and teen-agers here do a number of predictable things with their good fortune. Absolutely nothing unexpected happens, though Ikumi seems convinced that her twists and turns will startle. Maybe I’ve read too much manga of this kind and my startle threshold is higher. I must give thumbs up to the great design on the wish-granting witch, though. (Review based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)

Upcoming and incoming for 1/28/2009

A few quick links before we get to new arrivals from this week’s ComicList:

  • Deb Aoki posts results from the 2008 Best New Shonen readers’ poll at About.Com.
  • Johanna Draper Carlson shares a preview of Mijeong (NBM), another book from Byun Byung-Jun, the gifted creator of Run, Bong-Gu, Run!
  • GLAAD appreciates people who like us, who really, really like us.
  • Now, onto the Wednesday haul.

    Del Rey has three books that catch my eye: the fifth volume of Hiro Mashima’s fun, lively Fairy Tail, the second of Miwa Ueda’s twisted-sister drama Papillion, and the sixth of Hitoshi Iwaaki’s enduringly awesome Parasyte.

    HarperCollins delivers a second printing of Paul Gravett’s excellent Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know. It’s a terrific overview of a medium that’s tricky to summarize. Gravett pulled off a similar trick with his essential Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comics.

    In a similar vein, Netcomics offers Manhwa 100: The New Era for Illustrated Comics, promising a compilation that represents the Korean comic book industry.

    Tokyopop’s big offering for the week is Benjamin’s full-color manhua Orange. Brigid Alverson shared a preview at MangaBlog, and Paul Gravett recently posted an interview with the creator conducted by Rebeca Fernandez. The other highlight from Tokyopop is the fourth volume of Ai Morinaga’s Your and My Secret, gender-bending comedy at its very best.

    Awards watch

    It looks like there are some new additions to the current roster of nominations for the list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens, assembled by the American Library Association’s Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). (I say “looks like,” because my memory is far from perfect, so apologies if the books I’ve pegged as new nominations have been there for a while.)

    DC’s Minx line seems to be making a favorable impression on nominators, with Re-Gifters joining The Plain Janes. The current edition of Sequential Tart has the first part of an interesting insider’s view of the Minx line from Mariah Huehner, including this assessment of some of the imprint’s early sound bytes:

    “Its times like this I really wish marketing a product based solely on its own merits, of which the titles in MINX have a lot, was the preferred method. Putting down other kinds of books aimed at the same demographic doesn’t do much to elevate the medium. And anyway, wouldn’t it be better if teen girls were readings more of everyone’s titles? I don’t think it’s a choice between Manga and MINX. I think you’ll find a lot of crossover.”

    The first volume of Fumi Yoshinaga’s The Moon and Sandals (Juné) is an interesting choice, partly because Digital Manga has given it an age rating of 18+. It follows two couples, one adult and one teen-aged, and the older pair does reach a sexual milestone, though I’m blanking on how explicit that encounter was at the moment. I thought the book kind of dawdled in a perfectly likeable way, but it does end with an emotional gut-punch worthy of Natsuki Takaya at her most ruthlessly tear-jerking.

    The successful partnership between Tokyopop and HarperCollins (just look at the sales figures for Warriors) hasn’t stopped HC from publishing graphic novels on its own, and Mark Crilley’s Miki Falls books earn two slots on the YALSA list.

    As usual, the list also serves as a handy collection of recommended reading for me, with intriguing-sounding titles like Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age from Penguin/Viking:

    “A very unscientific poll recently revealed that 99.9% of all people who attended middle school hated it.”

    Yay! I’m in the majority! (Though 7th and 8th grades were classified as “junior high” back when I endured them, right around the popularization of the internal combustion engine.)

    And while it’s only kind of tangentially related, there’s a great interview with this year’s Eisner judges over at Bookslut, one of whom is Robin Brenner, one of the librarians who assemble the YALSA list. Some of my favorite quotes:

    “The shift from the collector market to the reader market has been incredibly significant, in terms of just where one can find comics and graphic novels today but also in terms of signifying the growing diversity of what’s out there and what people want to read. I feel the industry can only benefit from a concentration on attracting readers rather than collectors — so the story and artistry of the title is the most important thing.” (Brenner.)

    “The industry’s attempt to force-start another speculator glut, is, fortunately, somewhat of a miserable failure.” (Comics writer Chris Reilley.)

    “I would like to see a few less comics about zombies; they’re really overstaying their welcome in my opinion.” (Reilly, again.)

    Well, zombies do move rather slowly.