Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Three Cybils Reviews: The Clunkers


I really enjoyed being on Round 2 of the graphic novels category for the Cybils this past year, and part of what made it so nice is that I had nearly double the number of books to read (not a hardship for graphic novels). With ten books, you get a nice variety of topics, targeted age groups, and artistic styles. With ten books, there are also bound to be a few clunkers. These three titles didn't impress me for various reasons - sometimes it boiled down to my own personal reading tastes, sometimes not.

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad! by Nathan Hale
Big Bad Ironclad is about the ironclad steam warships that both the North and South used in the Civil War, and the pioneering men who designed, used, and fought in them. I like history and historical fiction a lot - when it's about certain topics. The Civil War? Fascinating! The naval history of the Civil War? Not so much. The story is told in a jocular style, with some people represented as animals and a few (obvious) liberties taken with the facts for laughs. It's clearly meant to be funny, but the humor fell mostly flat for me. 

I also quickly tired of the Nathan Hale gimmick (Nathan Hale is both the name of the author/illustrator and the name of an American spy who was hanged during the Revolutionary War. Spy Nathan Hale tells this story to his would-be executioners - though it hasn't happened yet in his timeline - as a way to put off his execution, much like Scheherazade). For kids interested in naval history (and I know there are many), this should fit the bill, and I know the humor will be a good fit for other readers, but this just isn't for me.

Marathon by Boaz Yakin and Joe Infurnari
This story of Eucles, the Athenian man who ran the first "marathon" from Sparta to Athens in 490 BC, has such high appeal, but the art prevents it from really succeeding. The book's main focus is Eucles' run, but it also relates a lot of his childhood as well as necessary context for the fighting between the Greeks and the Persians. It skips around in time and place a lot and multiple characters are introduced. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but the art is so sketchy that it's impossible to understand what is going on. Characters cannot be distinguished from one another and there's no real sense of place or time. The art may be stylistically very good, but it doesn't work as a vehicle for storytelling. The only reason I was able to understand some of what went on is because I knew some of the story already.

Ichiro by Ryan Inzana
Ichiro's American father was a soldier who died overseas many years ago in the Iraq war, and his father's father has cultivated in Ichiro a love of war and a distrust and even hate for anything non-American. (Ichiro has a shirt he is rather fond of that reads "Kill 'em all and let God sort them out.") Then Ichiro's Japanese mother takes him to live with her father in Japan, and it is there that Ichiro first starts to explore his Japanese heritage and reject some of the ideas his American grandfather has inculcated in him. His adventure truly begins, however, when he falls through a hole in the ground into a fantasy realm of warring gods...and this is where the story lost me.

Inzana uses these mythological elements to explore the complex ways that race, war, and heritage impact our lives, but it doesn't quite work for me. I found these sections a bit jumbled, though the message is earnest and important. (Some may say the book is a little too message-heavy.) I did enjoy the art, with its bold colors and clean lines (always the kind of art I like best). I think there's a lot to unpack here, which may be better appreciated with multiple readings. Still, it was not a favorite.

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