Friday, May 31, 2013

Review Me Twice: Inside Out by Terry Trueman

Inside Out is a very short book. Terry Trueman has been praised again and again for writing books that not only find a genuine teenage voice to delve into difficult topics, but for doing it in books with language choices and lengths that appeal to reluctant readers.

Without talking down to the audience by being overly simplistic or didactic, Trueman tells a compelling tale about two boys holding up a coffee shop, from the POV of another boy, with severe adolescent-onset schizophrenia, who is one of their hostages.

It's a quick read, but it isn't fluff. And please, take my advice... if you are a fan of maple bars, get one before you sit down with this book. Otherwise, you are going to be seriously jonesing for one before you're done.

This book reminded me a lot of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  Our main character, Zach, has the very same kind of mannerisms.  He seems a lot younger than he really is but... he's weirdly endearing during the book.
Also, I like that the "bad guys" in it aren't really bad.  They're just confused, scared kids.  I like that not everything is as it seems in the book.  It's well written.  

The ending was... surprising.  It didn't end exactly how I thought it would, but I like it more for that reason, I think.  A quick read, so worth picking up.

My Bottom Line 4 out of 5

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Unreliable Narrator

When you're reading something with a first-person narrator (the story is told from the point of view of a character) and even sometimes in third-person narration (the story is told by an outsider to the story) you can sometimes run across what is called an "unreliable narrator."

Unreliable narrators occur for many different reasons. There are official classifications for unreliable narrators based on how they are unreliable:

The Picaro exaggerates or boasts to embellish the story. If you're familiar with Moll Flanders, she is a good example of this.

The Madman has a mental affliction of some kind. This category applies to this week's review book, Inside Out, because our first-person narrator has severe schizophrenia. If you're ever read The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe, Montresor is also a Madman-type unreliable narrator.

The Clown is a narrator who doesn't take narration seriously. They toy with the reader, making it difficult or impossible to determine what is meant to be truth and what is a joke or trick.

The Naif is what it sounds like: a naive character. Sometimes they're naive because they're young and/or inexperienced, or sometimes they have cultural differences from what they're witnessing and therefore don't understand it. Two famous examples are Holden Caulfield from J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn.

The Liar just straight-up lies to the reader, usually to cover up something bad  s/he did during or before the story.

There are other types of unreliable narrator, but those are a few of the common ones.

Some famous examples of unreliable narrators include:

"The Merchant's Tale" from Geoffery Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is slanted because of the narrator's (the merchant's) misogyny, stemming from his unhappy marriage. "The Wife of Bath" from the same book is narrated by a woman who often misquotes things and misremembers details.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd First Edition Cover 1926.jpg

Agatha Christie uses unreliable narrators to enhance the mystery in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (where the narrator makes lies of omission, but never overtly lies) and again in Endless Night.

As with many stories that take place in psych wards, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey has an unreliable narrator. In this instance, "Chief" Bromden has schizophrenia, like the kid in Inside Out by Terry Trueman. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen is the autobiographical story of Kaysen's stay in a mental hospital; because she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, you can argue that she might be an unreliable narrator (in the same way most autobiographers are).

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita is narrated by Humbert Humbert, who slants the details of the story in an attempt to justify his pedophilia.

Chuck Palahniuk uses an unreliable narrator with disassociative identity disorder to tell the story in Fight Club.

There are many, many more examples of stories with unreliable narrators. Which ones have you read?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Favorite Book about Psychology

This week's review book, Inside Out by Terry Trueman, is about a teenage boy with schizophrenia, so we're choosing our favorite books about psychology / psychological disorders.

This was a hard choice for me because this is one of my favorite subgenres of YA fiction: psychological disorders, depression, self-injury, psych wards... I love it all. So I'll be talking about the first book of this subgenre that I recall reading: Kissing Doorknobs by Terry Spencer Hesser.

Tara is a teenage girl who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The title of the book comes from her compulsion to - before opening any door - touch her lips with all ten fingers with equal pressure before touching the knob. She has several other compulsions and obsessive behaviors, including repeating prayers, arranging food on her plate perfectly before eating it, and avoiding stepping on cracks (for fear of genuinely breaking her mother's back).

I read this book over and over (to the point that I was almost concerned that I was developing OCD myself) in my teen years. It talks about the inner turmoil Tara suffered, the external influence of her OCD on her friends, parents, classmates, and it talks about how her treatment works (exposure therapy and - if I recall correctly - a medication to balance certain chemicals that leave certain neural pathways open for too long, causing the obsessive, repetitive behavior in people with OCD).

If you don't know a lot about OCD, this is a good place to start. If you're familiar with the disorder, this book might be a bit too simplistic.

Like Alex, I had a few options that I could pick.  The big one in my mind was Fight Club.  While good, it's not my FAVORITE psychological book.  However, I loved everything about Ellen Hopkins' Identical.

I'm going to tell you this right now: THERE WILL BE HUGE SPOILERS FOR THIS BOOK!!  I can't really tell you why it's my favorite psychological book without the spoilers: sorry.

The book gives us twin girls, one of whom Daddy "loves" (read, sexually abuses) and the other who wants to be "loved" by daddy, because he ignores her. 

The abuse alone does all sorts of terrible things to the girls' mentality.  One of them binges and cuts herself: the less "loved" one turns to drugs, alcohol and sex.  And as if their father (who is a judge) wasn't enough, their mother, the woman running for congress, pretty much just ignores both girls and turns a blind eye to their father.  She's also still blames him for an accident he caused, injuring her.

Through the whole book, we're following both twins.  We see how completely different they are and see how they deal (or really, don't deal) with their issues.  At the end, in typical Hopkins fashion, we find out that one of the twins DIED in that car crash... and the other developed a split personality of her sister.

It's fascinating and crazy and heartbreaking and you realize that the twin left alive probably feel like it was all HER fault, despite it not being her fault at all.  And it's interesting to read it a second time and realize that it's, technically, from the viewpoint of one person.  One person who thinks she's two.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Problem Novels

The word "Problem Novels" really incorporates a lot of things.  I was going to give you some psychological based novels but... I think this is better.  Really, problem novels are anything that have to do with intense, hard problems that people (mostly teens) deal with.  Cutting, suicide, rape, schizophrenia, even autism.  Problem novel really just refers to an issue that most people don't have to deal with.

I'm going to give you a few books that deal with these things.  I haven't read them all, but the ones that I haven't, I hear are good.  Enjoy!

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

Probably one of the more well know books that deal with psych problems, this book takes us into a mental institution.  One of the inmates writes about a patient who faked insanity to serve out his term, Randle Patrick McMurphy.  He's constantly upsetting the whole place and is challenging the, scary, head nurse, Nurse Ratched.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

This book has been mentioned here before, and probably will be again.  But it's such an amazing book, I couldn't exclude it.  Our main character, Malinda, is raped by the school hot shot.  Instead of speaking out, she clams up, barely speaking at all.  It's a great book about facing your fears, relationships and how terrible things can really effect you.

Girl, Interrupted Susanna Kaysen

I, personally, have not read this book, but I know that Alex has, and loves it.  It's Kaysen's memoir about time that she spent in a mental institution during the 1960s.  She talks about her mindset while there, the girls that she stayed with and how their insanity effected each of them differently.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

I've read this book a few times, and still really like it.  Haddon worked with autistic patients for many years, and this book is what resulted.  A 15-year-old boy with Asperger's lives with his father and discovers a dead dog.  Instead of minding his own business, he decides to investigate the murder.  He faces fears, presses against his limitations and has to deal with all sorts of new issues he's never faced.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

If you haven't read this book, you've probably seen this movie (if not... well, don't read this because there are spoilers.)  About a guy who has split personality disorder, but doesn't discover it (and neither do we) until the end of the book, when everything starts to get serious.

These are just a few "problem novels."  What are your favorites?  Let us know in the comments!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Author Bio: Terry Trueman

This week, we'll be reading a book by Terry Trueman.

(This guy.)

Trueman was born in 1947 in Birmingham, Alabama, grew up in Washington, and earned a BA in creative writing (University of Washington), an MS in applied psychology, and an MFA in creative writing (Eastern Washington University).  Clearly, he's a slacker who will never amount to anything. ;)

Stuck in neutral cover.jpg

His first novel, Stuck in Neutral, was published in 2001 and won the Printz Award. It is about a teenager named Shawn who has cerebral palsy, told from his point of view. Trueman wrote this book because his son, Sheehan, was born with cerebral palsy in 1979.

Inside Out was Trueman's second novel, and is this week's review book. It was published in 2003, and tells a story about a teenage boy with schizophrenia who is a hostage in a store robbery.

Published only in the UK, in 2003, was Trueman's third novel: Swallowing the Sun. It's about a Honduran teen saving his family after a mudslide in his village.

In 2004, Trueman published Cruise Control, which is a companion book to Stuck in Neutral, told from the point of view of Shawn's brother, Paul.

Trueman's fifth novel (fourth in the US) is No Right Turn, published in 2009. It's about a teenage boy (see a trend?) whose father shot himself. The boy befriends the neighbor just to get rides in his Corvette, and even goes so far as to take the car out on his own, risking their friendship and a great deal more.

Sheehan Cover Pic

In 2007, Trueman published a work of non-fiction as a prequel to his most popular work, Stuck in Neutral. It is about his son, Sheehan, the inspiration for the novel.

Stuck In Neutral

Then Trueman wrote another novel about Honduras, this time with the teenager, his family, and his village weathering Hurricane Mitch in 1998 instead of a mudslide. In real life, Mitch was the worst storm to hit the Caribbean area in two centuries.

Trueman keeps a schedule of many school and library visits, talking to students about his books and the issues they cover. To read more about what he's up to, check out his website.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

By Its Cover: Cold Mountain

This is one of those covers that fits the title, but probably not a lot else.  You can see the rolling mountains in the background. If you've never seen the Appalachian Mountains, that's pretty much what they look like.  They're much smaller than, say, the Rockies, and they're very ROUND on top.  For a mountain range, it's not very big. (As Alex once told me when I mentioned I had to drive over a mountain every day, "That's not a mountain.  It's a big hill.")

The blue and black is a nice touch because, well, a large chunk of this novel takes place during the winter time.  It gets cold and snowy.  Besides, it's called COLD mountain, so I feel like putting such cool colors on the cover was a good idea.

It's a simple cover, but I think that's kind of good for this book.  It's not trying to be flashy or be something it's not.  It's almost as if the book is telling you, "I don't need a flashy cover.  You're going to like me for my writing."

I agree with Cassy on every point with this cover. The image doesn't need to be complex; the subtle Appalachian Mountains background is enough to get the point across. Besides, the titular mountain is more of a metaphor for simpler, happier times in the book than about the literal place (although they're rolled into one) so we don't need a literal, clear image of the mountain.

Also, this book is known. It's award-winning, best-selling, instant classic... all those cliches they put on covers. So it could have a plain color cover and it would still work, because you know what Cold Mountain is.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Review Me Twice - Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

I saw the movie to this ages ago (and enjoyed it!)  It was also part of the reason I picked this book (the other being I saw it on the display at the Library and decided we should do it.)

Other than not being able to get the image of Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger out of my head (who, incidentally, don't look ANYTHING like the characters in the book), I was a little less impressed with Cold Mountain the book than Cold Mountain the movie.

The thing that really killed it for me was Inman.  He had fled the army after he was injured (totally believable considering that was a HUGE problem on the Confederate side towards the end of the war.)  That was about where my interest ended.  There was a lot of walking going on with Inman.  A lot of uninteresting walking.

Also, for a guy who is trying to hide from the confederate army, he certainly talks to a lot of people.  He never seems to have qualms about going up to houses or villages or just believing whatever random strangers on the road tell him.  And it gets him in trouble more than a few times.  You would think he would learn after awhile, but he never really did.  And he ALWAYS ended up on top.  Always.  The man had the uncanny ability to get himself out of situations, which makes the ending all the more unbelievable.

However, I really liked the parts with Ada and Ruby.  I liked watching Ruby, a self-sufficient woman who could care for a farm on her own, whip Ada into shape.  And I liked watching Ada pull out the softer side of Ruby.  She dulled Ruby's edges.  Their story was engaging and interesting and really hopeful.

So, I guess I half liked the book, because the chapters would alternate between Ada and Inman's stories.

My Bottom Line 2 1/2 out of 5

Honesty time: I did not finish this book. And the main reason was something Cassy already covered: Inman's chapters are snoozefests, while Ada's are far and away more interesting to read, but not compelling enough for me to want to suffer through an Inman chapter to get to the next Ada chapter. So I would put the book down more often and for longer than I should have to get through the whole thing.

Like Cassy, I very much liked Ruby and the way she interacted with Ada. Usually, I can't stand a helpless, clueless, depressed character, but I liked Ada from the beginning, despite her complete and utter inability to function as a human being on her own (though I can totally understand why... having been bred for education and society, she was plunged into circumstances requiring her to run an estate and feed herself with no training in those areas, and she couldn't exactly Google "biscuit recipe"). But then Ruby shows up and things get even better.

I've never seen the movie, but I might watch it now just to see the remainder of the story.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Famous Civil War Fiction

This week's review book, Cold Mountain, is a historical novel set during the Civil War, so here are a few others:

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, is perhaps the most famous Civil War novel (although much of that fame is undoubtedly due to the film adaptation and Rhett Butler's delivery of the controversial "give a damn" line). It was first published in 1936, earned the Pulitzer in 1937, and technically is set during the Civil War Reconstruction, in Atlanta, GA. Plot summary: Scarlett and Rhett have a complex back-and-forth relationship.

Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels (1974) won the Pulitzer in 1975, and chronicles the four-day Battle of Gettysburg. (The 1993 film Gettysburg was based on this novel.) It does so through the perspectives of the commanders of each side. Presumably, this book heavily influenced Joss Whedon's creation of Firefly.

Michael Shaara's son, Jeff Shaara, wrote Gods and Generals in 1996 as a prequel to The Killer Angels. It, too, was adapted to film, with much of the same cast as Gettysburg. This book deals with events leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg, again through the eyes of the officers of each side.

First edition cover

Are you a fan of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott? Me too! March, by Geraldine Brooks, is a parallel novel to Little Women, from the perspective of the girls' father. It won the Pulitzer in 2006 (it seems like Civil War fiction is the way to go if you're gunning for a Pulitzer...)


During the Civil War, there was a Confederate POW camp in a town called Andersonville in Georgia. MacKinlay Kantor wrote a novel about it, called Andersonville, and it won... you guessed it... the Pulitzer in 1956. He based much of the story on prisoner memoirs.

The Red Badge of Courage is the oldest book on this particular list, published serially starting in 1894 (and published as a complete novel in 1895). H. G. Wells referred to this book's public reception as an "orgy of praise." It has never been out of print, and has been adapted to film several times. The titular "red badge of courage" is a wound sustained on the field of battle, which our young, terrified protagonist wishes for, to counteract his cowardice and prove that he is worthy. 

This is only a small sample of Civil War novels. Do you have any favorites not listed here? Tell us about them!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Favorite War Books

While I was thinking about what to choose this week, I had a few decisions to make.  Did I want to pick a book about a real war or a fake one (Because, if I had gone with fake, Westerfeld's Succession is amazing.)  I could also be kind of glib about it (part of me really wanted to put down The Chocolate War.)

I decided against all of that, however.  I decided to give you a war book that actually spans two wars and is very much real.

If you've ever read (or seen) Schindler's List, you know the hype behind the little girl in the red coat.  The red coat is the ONLY splash of color in the entire movie.  And even in the book, she kind of makes an appearance in a big way (she's lingering behind the line, being moved gently along by a Nazi soldier, and before she turns the corner, this five year old girl watches a man be dragged out into the street and shot.)

What you may not of known is that this little girl actually existed, and did not die (like the movie suggests.)  Not only did she live, she wrote a memoir about her life.  She was very young during the Holocaust, and even at that young age remembered the dangers she was in.  She remembered moving from house to house and the people who took them in, risked their lives for her and her mother during those years of Nazi occupation in Poland.

What's even more heartbreaking is that when the war finally ended, and Poland was liberated, she was still trapped.  Everyone was so hopeful when the Russians were around.  They thought it was going to be the dawn of a new age.  They thought that things were finally going to get better.  But, as we all know, they didn't.  Things were horrific during those Cold War years.

And Ligocka was a teen during those years.  A moody, rebellious teen, just like all teens seem to be.  The book is moving and sad and hopeful and... really, just beautiful.  She tells a wonderful story that you just can't put down.

Out of all the wars in the world (even excluding fictional ones) Cassy and I managed to pick two books from the same war, and specifically, about the Holocaust.

I love Art Spiegelman's Maus I & II. They are graphic novels about his father's experiences in World War II. He sat down with his father and interviewed him about what it was like to be a Polish Jew during the Holocaust.

In the illustrations, each animal represents a different group: mice are Jews, cats are Nazis, pigs are non-Jewish Poles, dogs are Americans.

The first volume was the first graphic novel ever to win a Pulitzer prize, in 1992. Maus was originally serial, published in Raw.

One of my favorite things about these books is that,  by using the interview with his father as a story-telling framework, Spiegelman combined the as-it's-happening account of the war with the many-years-later perspective, blending the two very well.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Civil War History

We all know that I could go on for days and days and days about Civil War history.  I mean, it last for four years on our own soil.  There's a LOT that happened.  But, I'm going to try and just stick with the highlights here.  Starting with...

Why it Started:

We all know that Slavery was a reason that we were fighting the Civil War.  The South wanted it; the North didn't (though, let's not fool ourselves.  The North didn't LIKE or respect the blacks, they simply just didn't want to enslave them.)

But a big part of it was State's Rights too.  The south believed that their rights in their states should be held up in all states (mainly, that they could bring their slaves to states where slavery was illegal and still keep their slaves around.)  This was a huge issue.  The south also strongly believed that it was their right to secede from the Union, which they inevitably did.  The North believed more strongly in preserving the union.  The south and north were one country and should stay that way.

The Major Players:

Ulysses S. Grant- He was a General in the Union army and fought more than a few battles.  But he didn't win them all.  For a long time, people thought that the South was going to win the war.  The Battle of Fort Sumter was the first battle in the Civil War and it was a confederate win.  As we all know, Grant became the 18th President of United States (or maybe you didn't.  You could have not known that.)  He's also credited with ending the Civil War at Appomattox Courthouse.

George McClellan- He was commander of the Army of the Potomac (the largest army the Union had.)  He was also widely known for organizing troops quickly and effectively.  He was put in charge of the Army of the Potomac after the devastating defeat at Bull Run

Robert E. Lee - Probably the most famous name on the Confederate side.  He was very loyal and, though he opposed the succession, he joined Confederate forces because his home state fell into the Confederacy.  While Lee won many battles, he met his match with Grant and the two were constantly meeting on the battlefield.  Inevitably, it was Lee that surrendered to Grant.

Stonewall Jackson - The other name that is incredibly recognizable.  Jackson won the Battle of Bull Run, an incredible Confederate win, and continued to fight until he was killed by friendly fire at the battle at Chancellorsville.  He was determined and about as stubborn as Grant was.

The Major Battles:

Battle of Fort Sumter

This is considered the first fight (or skirmish) of the Civil War, and was won by the Confederate side.  The siege was composed mostly of volunteers to the Union army.

Battle of Bull Run

It was the first MAJOR land battle between the two sides.  The Union army hadn't been properly trained yet and it let to a major victory for the Confederate army.

Battle of Belmont

It was where Grant started his Civil War career.  It showed off Grant's leading savvy, despite not holding onto Belmont for long.

Battle of Winchester

Winchester was, surprisingly, a pivotal place to hold (surprising because the town is so tiny, you blink and you miss it.  And that's MODERN Winchester.  Civil War Winchester must have been SO TINY.)  Really, it's claim to fame is that it changed hands over 100 times during the war, 14 times in just one day.

Battle of Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg was a HUGE battle, mainly because it had more troops than any other battle during the civil war.  It was a crushing defeat for the union army, having twice the causalities than the Confederates.  A large factor was that the confederates had the high ground, and the Union army kept heading straight at them.

Battle of Gettysburg

The largest battle in the war, it was considered the turning point of the Civil War.  A Union win, this battle had almost 50000 casualties and was a war that caused the Union army to rally.  The war tide started turning after this, despite the war lasting two more years.

Obviously, these are just a few facts about the war.  Some facts that are more pertinent to the story this week?  Towards the end of the war, the Confederate army started hemorrhaging men.  Tons of men left the army, whether legally or illegally, because they knew that the south had lost.  Despite that, the Confederate army would send them back, or more often, just kill them on sight.

Also, Virginia was probably the most fought on land.  It was kind of a "no-man's" land, in between the two armies.  Virginia actually was a divided state: half of it wanted to succeed and the other half was against the succession, a division that became permanent when West Virginia separated from Virginia, becoming its own state.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Author Bio: Charles Frazier

This week, we're reading Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. 

Not a lot is known about him.  He was born and raised in North Carolina and hasn't done a whole lot when it comes to writing.  Cold Mountain was his first, and most successful, novel of the three that he has written (the other two are Thirteen Moons and Nightwoods.)

Cold Mountain was actually based on stories that he was told as a kid. It has been compared to Homer's Odyssey, but... set in the American Civil War, alternating chapter-by-chapter between Inman's and Ada's points of view. While it is a LARGELY fictional novel, there was a real Inman that was in the Confederate army.  He was a relation of Frazier's. 

Frazier was an English professor before he wrote Cold Mountain.  He graduated from the University of South Carolina.  Currently, he's living in North Carolina with his wife and his daughter.

No blog, but he does have a Facebook site that looks like it's kept up pretty regularly.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

By Its Cover: Blankets

From a first glance, it is clear that this book contains a love story of some kind. If you look closely at their faces, you would probably guess that it's a little sad.

What is not clear is the important element of religion. It plays a very large role in the story (and Thompson's life during the time being portrayed in this book) and it is nowhere to be seen on the cover.

Or... after you read the book, you may recall a scene where Craig, in Sunday school, is being asked what he thinks people will do in heaven. He says drawing, because he assumes you do what you love to do in heaven, and he loves to draw. The teacher says no, you spend all your time in heaven praising God, and Craig asks why he can't praise God by drawing. The teacher doesn't see how this is possible, and Craig suggests that it is by drawing His creation: the trees, animals, etc. So in this way, perhaps Thompson illustrated that part of the book in plain sight. Or maybe I'm overthinking it; I don't know.

At any rate, this cover caught my eye because of the monotone, and the minimalism, and the aesthetic. It's pretty and I wanted to know what the title meant. (Blankets show up several times in the story; I counted five, but there are probably more.)

I'm not really sure what I expected out of this book, based on it's cover.  A romance, definitely, which is what I got.  I expected them to be older, though.  The two characters, on the cover, don't look to be teenagers, so I was a little surprised when that was what they turned out to be.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Review Me Twice: Blankets by Craig Thompson

As we told you on MondayBlankets is an autobiographical graphic novel by Craig Thompson, written between 1999 and 2003. He published it as a way to tell his family that he was no longer a fundamentalist Christian like them.

That story also contains a love story (as is evident from the cover art). I like the combination of the two. It's a sort of coming-of-age story, sort of love story, sort of shift-in-faith story. It's a great combination, and Thompson gives appropriate weight to each part.

It's a linear story, from Thompson's childhood to adulthood, incorporating flashbacks that inform the story at various stages, and make links between events of his life. I thought these were done very well, because they epitomize the phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words"; one small drawing in the middle of a page about a significant event can explain a complex feeling it brought about, by reminding you of a previous event in the story line.

The illustrations are beautiful, especially the ones dealing with his fears and concerns (particularly about going to hell for being selfish - see the example I used for grayscale yesterday) and anywhere he's talking about how beautiful Raina is.

I... am just not that much of a graphic novel fan.  And the more that I read them, the more I realize that.  I like them well enough, but for the most part, I'd rather just read a novel.

I liked Blankets well enough. I liked that he had such an inner struggle with his religion.  Religion is hard and, as often happens when it's shoved down your throat in childhood, you either completely embrace it or you reject it.  Thompson was more of the latter but he didn't completely reject religion.  He still believed in God and spirituality, he just took a more relaxed approach to it.  A more compassionate approach you could say.

I liked his relationship with his brother more than anything in this book.  I love reading about sibling relationships and he and his brother... it was heartwarming.  And even though they grew apart during their teens, they were still brothers in the end.  Which, I loved.

I didn't really care that much about him and Raina.  Raina REALLY annoyed me.  Sometimes I just kind of wanted to tell her to suck it up and deal with life.  And what annoyed me more was that her excuse for ending it with Craig were kind of dumb.  "I'm going through a hard time so clearly I should be alienating the people that care for me the most."  I don't know; I just wasn't a fan.

The book just kind of made me feel "meh."  I didn't think it was great, but nor did I think that it was terrible.  Just not my kind of book, I guess.  Like I said, I think it's the graphic novel.  It's harder for me to lose myself in a GN because it takes so much WORK.  I guess, my thing is reading isn't supposed to be work and it kind of feels that when I read a Graphic Novel.

My Bottom Line 3 out of 5

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Color & Detail in Graphic Novels

I had a lot of feedback about the layout in graphic novels post for the week we reviewed The Lesser Evil saying that people wanted more like that the next time we covered a graphic novel. So here you go! (I'll  be using a lot of comics as examples this time around, so just go ahead and allow the line to blur between GNs and comics for a little while.)

It's amazing the range of color schemes you get in graphic novels. There's so much more than just the dichotomy of "color" or "black and white."

Stark Black-and-White


Undoubtedly, the vast majority of you recognize the above-left image as xkcd. You would be right if you corrected my implication that xkcd is always in black-and-white, because yes, sometimes there is color. That's the beauty of webcomics... it costs nothing extra (except a little added time) to post in color as opposed to black-and-white. But when publishing on paper, like with Bone by Jeff Smith (above-right), many artists (or the publishers) choose to work in stark black and white in the interest of saving ink and, therefore, money. Beyond the issue of money or time, though, many artists choose to work in black-and-white in order to focus on the message. Instead of being distracted by pretty backgrounds and detailed drawings, the reader pays more attention to what is being said.

Shaded Black-and-White (Grayscale)


Grayscale is often referred to as black-and-white, because that's basically what it is, but with more shading options, while still saving money on printing costs. The above-left image from Megatokyo is a prime example of grayscale; the only ink being used is black, but in different saturations to allow the artist to reflect that things are different colors, produce more nuanced backgrounds and facial expressions, and create useful images like shadows or demonstrations of distance. It's a softer, more complex version of black-and-white. This is the style our review book, Blankets, (pictured above-right) is drawn in.

Black and White With SOME Color

I didn't even have to think hard to come up with the example for this coloring style. Frank Miller's Sin City is the epitome of this style, to the point that it was vitally important that the film recreate it, or it would have been an enormous flop. This style is great for accentuating important parts of a scene. It's been a while since I picked up Sin City, but I'm quite sure blood featured prominently, and to emphasize it, what do you do? Print it in red, with nothing but black and white on the rest of the page. Ingenious in its simplicity, really.

Basic Color

This is probably the most common style of coloring for comic books, particularly older ones. It's more expensive than black & white to print, but it allows more diversity in the illustrations. You can tell what color clothes, hair, walls, signs, food, animals are supposed to be. It helps differentiate between characters (wait, is Archie in love with the blonde one or the black-haired one?) But it isn't as complicated to accomplish as...

Complex Color

The difference between basic color and complex color is the same as the difference between stark black-and-white and grayscale. This has more shading, and more color choices (instead of just primaries and secondaries, you have tertiaries and beyond) which allows for more nuances, more details, and more epic-looking views like the one above.

Perhaps Batman isn't a fair choice, since he used to be illustrated in basic color. Which brings me to a good point...



From left to right, those covers appeared in 1963, 1990, and 2005. You can clearly see the art getting more complex and detailed. Usually when you see this, you can attribute it to improvements in technology. You won't find advanced CGI in 1960s comics because the techniques and equipment didn't exist yet. In the superhero genre, you can also chalk up this trend partly to the fact that the gritty reboot is so prevalent. Darker, scarier, and deeper is the way of the superhero now. This can be accomplished with more complex (albeit darker) color palettes and more detail in facial features, wounds, backgrounds, weaponry, etc.

QC Classic Posters: Cast (Limited!)QC Dungeons & Dragons Print

These two images are from the merch store for Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques, one of my favorite webcomics. Sometimes a change in style is due to improvement of the artist's abilities as they get more practice and try new things. You can see a clear difference from Jacques' style in his older work (left) to his newer stuff (right). Some of this is also due to improved technology (I remember there being a significant shift in style when he bought a new drawing pad for his computer). More detail, more shading, more colors.