A Land Called Tarot

I began this blog one year ago! While I may not have been as consistent as I had hoped, I am still proud that I have at least maintained it! I hope you enjoy my coming reviews and writings!

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Cover (first published February 2017)

 

A Land Called Tarot by Gael Bertrand

Can you really read a book with no words? I think you can, if the illustrations are done well enough demonstrate the overall theme and plot and characters of the story. To illustrate my point, A Land Called Tarot is a fantasy story told in a comic book format with no dialogue. There are a few fantasy language words between segments and there are roman numerals that correspond with tarot cards. If I had been more familiar with the names of the cards and their association with the roman numerals, I would have had a better understanding about where the story was headed as the numbers were presented. For example, the first roman numeral given is XVI. This is 16, which is named The Tower. The hero travels to [spoiler] a tower! While I am glad I did not bother trying to interrupt the flow of my reading to connect the roman numerals to a name that would show me where our hero was headed, it will be fun to re-read with this knowledge in stow and piece the story together a bit more clearly.

I really enjoyed the flow of the plot. I will admit there were times I was a bit confused as to what was happening, but I came up with my own explanation and moved on. A story with no words requires the reader to develop their own understanding of the plot along with the artist. One of the reasons I purchased this book was because I thought I may be able to read it in a different way each time. I was correct. While I may understand more about the author’s intent as I study the roman numerals, nothing is stopping me from creating a narrative with the pictures in my own way—like reading a picture book to a child and ignoring the text the author provides.

After completing part one, my first thought was that I was reading video game cut scenes. I enjoy watching my fiancé and my former college roommate play video games. A Land Called Tarot seemed to have a similar pacing. Each quest seemed contained, yet connected. This is a positive thing, as I feel it allows for the wordless story to be a little better understood.

I would recommend taking a look at this graphic novel and really delving into the pictures. It is definitely worth seeing how good illustrations do not require text to tell a beautiful story. I am excited to know that an author/illustrator has successfully developed a story without the use of dialogue or words in general. It really demonstrates the power of visual art.

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XVI (photo credit: Bertrand, A Land called Tarot)

Scarlet Spider

By Chris Yost

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Consider this. First, you are a clone. Second, you are a failed experiment. Kaine lives with both realities. Kaine used to be an assassin and a supervillain to Peter Parker Spider-Man. The first volume was a tad confusing until the end of the volume where I read a bit about the history between Peter Parker, Ben Reilly, and Kaine. I could have done research beforehand, but I didn’t want to spoil any of the story. I also know my fiancé has told me the story of Kaine’s past, but I couldn’t remember all the little details.

In the first volume Kaine wants to move to Mexico and chill on the beach with a drink. However, he only makes it to Houston before he reluctantly helps saves a girl who is being smuggled across the border. After saving her from near death, he takes her in to keep her from being deported. Aracely can read people’s minds and can connect with other’s emotions, even evoking a sense of fear from her opponents. She eventually takes on the superhero identity of Hummingbird during a mission she goes on with the Scarlet Spider. Despite his best efforts to remain a loner, Kaine develops friendships with a cop and doctor couple, Officer Wally Layton and Dr. Donald Meland, and a woman at the hotel, Annabelle. He befriends them all fairly naturally, considering his constant inner dialog of being a monster and wanting to be alone.

Kaine confronts this monster inside him in volume 2, when he nearly dies from an attack by a Wolf gang who are after Aracely. This scene seemed to be a defining moment in Kaine’s acceptance of himself. He is trying to be a new man in a new city trying to get away from all his evil deeds of the past. However, the monster is still inside of him and it will always be. Accepting that came at a price, but he was not without another savior. One thing that makes this series great is Yost’s way of maintaining Kaine’s constant struggle between good and evil. He never seems to become fully evil, yet at the same time, he can’t feel truly good.

I enjoyed many aspects of this series. I loved the fact it took place in Houston, Texas. Texas is a fantastic state (I am biased). I was amused that they included a rodeo issue in the series to allow for some “traditional” Texas elements. I was also pleased to see that Houston accepted their new superhero with open arms. They praised him and indicated they were happy he was there to be their personal superhero. Their acceptance was probably one of the reasons that Kaine found a home among these Houstonians. I also enjoyed seeing the Rangers featured for a few issues in volume 2. The Rangers are a team of superheroes (like the Avengers) that help out areas located in the Southwest United States.

Scarlet Spider is my “a book you can finish in a day” book/series for the 26 book 2017 reading challenge. I knew I wanted to do a comic for that category, but it would be too easy to just read a single graphic novel, so I decided to read a short series. This comic is 25 issues with a one issue special (12.1) for a total of 26 issues in four trade paperback editions. I completed them all in one day to accomplish the task. This series is one my fiancé has been trying to get me to read for over a year now. I am glad I finally got around to reading it! It was well worth it.

After Death

A.D. After Death, Book One 

What would happen if there was no more death?

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A genetic cure for death has been found in this new 3 part series by Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire. However, one man is beginning to feel the repercussions of death and question his place in a world where they are no longer mortal. This comic book reads like a mixture of a traditional comic book and a picture book. The present day story is done in the format of a paneled comic book, but the pages containing flashbacks are designed with long text accompanied by simple and gorgeous water color illustrations. This format allows the reader to clearly understand the author’s intent for that scene.

After death’s cure, it seems people operate in fifty year cycles. The lead character, Jonah, takes on a new job for the new cycle. It is almost as if humans realize they need to make a change every fifty years or they’ll get bored or go crazy. I am not positive that was Snyder’s message, but it makes sense to me, as I enjoy a variety and I am mortal. I cannot imagine, nor would I ever desire, to be immortal on Earth.

Jonah seems to be going through an “eternal mid-life crisis,” in a sense. He reflects on his first memory and memories that he believes defined him, for example he was a bit of a kleptomaniac as a kid. According to him, the whole reason the cure for death was found was because he stole the wrong thing. This “thing” he stole was not revealed in book one, which is the author’s catch for getting you intrigued for book two, I am sure. We do know that Jonah Cooke was a normal, everyday man who discovered, or revealed, the extraordinary. One thing I do like about his character, is that he does not seem to have changed in the future. He is a random, boring guy who still likes to “collect” things that may or may not belong to him.

Overall, I recommend this book, but reserve any final thoughts for future volumes. The story can go in so many directions that  I don’t feel I can give a proper review until the story is complete. However, it is intriguing and I write this ramble in hope others pick up this series too and enjoy it along with me.

Note: book two came out this week at your local comic shop! I have not read it yet.

Black Widow

Black Widow: The Finely Woven Thread (2014) & Black Widow: The Tightly Tangled Web (2015)

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By Nathan Edmonson. Art by Phil Noto.

I have always known Black Widow as an Avenger. I was first introduced to her through the cartoons as a strong female character that would fight alongside Captain America and the rest of the primarily male team. In 2014, I heard Black Widow would be featured in her own solo series with Edmonson as the writer and Noto as the artist. I finally got around to reading her story. I have completed the first two collected volumes, available from my local library. The story from Black Widow issues 1-12 and Punisher issue 9 was solid. Edmonson showed us who Natasha is as a character, human, and spy. Though the story was good, I think the best part of the books was the artwork.

The art and coloring took me a while to get used to, yet it was quite striking and I eventually fell in love with it. The characters look sketched. The outlines of the characters appear to be almost unfinished with the lines not connecting in almost a randomized fashion, yet it almost seems more natural that way. In addition to the outlining, each panel seems to have been water colored. I don’t know if this is done via the computer or by hand. I assume it is colored through a computer but made to look hand colored with watercolor (if someone knows please let me know in the comments, thanks). As much as I praise the drawings and coloring of these collected comics, I do have a complaint. The dark panels were nearly impossible for me to distinguish the drawings. It is like in a movie where everything goes pitch black except a small outline where the lead character is standing. However, when I moved from the corner couch to the other one more directly under the overhead light, I could see all the details in the dark panels as clear as if it were day. I would say it was my room lighting, but I read comics in the “dark” spot all the time and never have trouble. Therefore, I suggest if you read this book, make sure you are sitting in a place with plenty of overhead light. The art is worth it.

My favorite part of the series is getting to know Natasha’s soft side, primarily though her interactions with a stray cat. This cat is always there waiting for her whenever she returns from her solo or group adventures. Her main problem with adopting the devoted kitty is that she does not want to make a single location home. She claims on one of her missions that home is wherever she is at that moment. She delves deep into her projects and makes sure that the mission is complete to the satisfaction of the client, given that the client isn’t evil. Her constant travels are contrasted by her neighbor lady who is stuck in the same place with an abusive husband. Natasha asks her why she stays. Ana, the neighbor, says it is home. When Natasha returns from her mission, she beats up Ana’s husband and threatens him if he ever lays a hand on Ana again and then tells Ana she should leave anyway. I do not know the conclusion to that story. Though, shortly after, the reader sees that Natasha has formally adopted the kitty, Liho, and she is even having Isaiah, her lawyer and manager, take care of Liho while she is out of town. Apparently, even someone who tries to find a home anywhere, realized she needed a place to return. A place to come back to care for someone—in this case, a cat.

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Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

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Since I have moved away from my mom’s yummy meals, I have had to start cooking for myself. My first year away, I attempted to try new foods and cook new things, but my heart just wasn’t in it. In January 2016, I decided I needed to eat healthier and joined the 6 week Daniel Plan to kick start my healthy living. A few months later, I discovered that cooking shows are on Netflix and became motivated to create my own dishes. I binge watched Chopped and haven’t looked back. However, TV isn’t the only way to become inspired. Lucy Knisley’s Relish is a fantastic graphic novel that combines my two favorite things-comics and cooking (recipes).

Lucy wrote an autobiography in a way I have never seen before. She illustrates and tells about her journey with food. Each chapter gives a snippet of Lucy’s life experiences and includes a recipe that goes with the story. She begins with her life in New York City. Her parents are both culinary fanatics, which means she grew up around good, healthy food. Lucy was absolutely forbidden to eat fast food and enjoyed primarily home cooked meals. This does not mean she did not eat sweets, as there is a recipe for homemade chocolate chip cookies at the end of chapter 3 and a whole chapter dedicated to her rebellion and enjoyment of so-called junk food. After her parents’ divorce, she moved out of the city and worked on a farm with her mom. There she learned how to appreciate food in a new way.

My favorite chapters were about her trips to foreign countries. Lucy and her childhood friend, Drew, went with their mothers to Mexico when they were young teens. The mothers got sick, so Drew and Lucy got to explore the town and try new foods. They ate huevos rancheros, tamales, empanadas, etc. When they were a little older, Lucy visited Drew who had recently moved to Japan with his family. The best part of that chapter was the 4 page visual recipe for sushi. It looks delicious, but way too complicated for my taste. I think I’ll just visit a restaurant for that kind of meal.

On the topic of making the food, I waited to write this post until after I had formally made the Huevos Rancheros. It was the recipe at the end of the Mexico chapter and it looked the best to me. Bonus: it was simple! The picture below is of the double page illustrated recipe and my dinner tonight! The meal did not look that big on my plate, but I assure you I am happily full.

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I highly recommend Relish: My Life in the Kitchen. It is fun, witty, and full of food.

Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1

By Kelly Sue DeConnick ; Art by Emma Rios

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Death. Death is something that happens to everyone in time. Some survive for years, others do not. In this story, even death has its cycle. Death (personified) can be replaced with a new Death. Through this fairytale-like story, set in the Wild West, we see the impact death has on the world and in people’s lives.

A butterfly and a skeleton rabbit (Bones Bunny) narrate Pretty Deadly. Traditionally, a butterfly symbolizes new life, and in this situation, Bones Bunny represents death. Therefore, personified symbols of new life and death narrate the story of Death replacing Death. Confusing? Yes, I was confused too. However, DeConnick uses these narrators to weave a tale together in pieces, revealing only a little of each character at a time. This method allows me to truly appreciate individual characters as they are gradually revealed and as their past is steadily uncovered.

To introduce the characters generally, Sissy and Fox put on a show for the local villagers for money. They tell the story of Mason and Beauty. Mason takes his love and locks her in a tower to keep her away from other men. She pleads with him, saying she will die if she is locked up. He does not listen. She pleads with Death to take her. Death instead falls in love with her, but eventually grants her request. However, she and Death have a child that Death names Ginny. Ginny becomes a Reaper of Vengeance, “a hunter of men who have sinned.” She is then called Deathface Ginny.

The art is as beautiful as it is gruesome. I love how Rios incorporates the symbolism of the story into her art. Butterflies burst forth from death, water engulfs the living and brings new life, and the desert reveals the lack of life in the world. Life and death go hand in hand. Even when a character dies, he or she is still alive, they are just not “among the living.” Souls seem to live on despite physical death, yet they can eventually be “set free,” as Alice desires throughout the story. Although this tale seems to overtly focus on death, to me it comments more on the beauty and frailty of life.

I checked this book out from my local library and hope to check out volume 2 that comes out in late August 2016! I first discovered DeConnick by reading Captain Marvel and fell in love with her story telling ability. I am looking forward to reading more books by her and can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

The Complete Persepolis

By Marjane Satrapi

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Telling off some European girls for making fun of Satrapi for being Iranian – p. 197

I fully believe humans have not inherently changed over the centuries. I also believe that humans are the same across cultures. I don’t mean to say that we all think the same, have the same ideals, or even want the same things, but that we are all struggling, growing, and trying to find our individual place within our cultural environment. Persepolis solidified these feelings for me. In her introduction Satrapi states, “I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists.” Satrapi, through an autobiography of growing up in Iran (and Europe) during the Iranian/Islamic Revolution (1979) and Iran-Iraq War, she shows the humans involved in their fight for freedom and her interpretations of the world as a child and teenager. I really enjoyed this perspective, as I felt it was an authentic representation of some groups of people who opposed the Islamic Revolution and found ways to quietly, or loudly, oppose the Islamic extremists.

Marjane Satrapi led an eventful life as she watched her beloved country change in basically one year and then continue to become more and more fundamentalist as she became more liberal during her teenage years and early twenties. Before the Islamic Revolution, she went to a French school in Iran. Her parents were progressive and wanted her to be well educated. After the Islamic Revolution, universities were closed for two years to “revamp” the educational system to fit Islamic ideals and women were forced to wear a head covering or risk being harassed or arrested. Anyone who did not strictly follow the new Islamic guidelines for the country were arrested, and many were killed.

Satrapi’s first major encounter with harassment regarding the veil was when her mother’s car broke down. While her mother was waiting to be picked up by her husband, two “bearded guys” (synonymous with Islamic fundamentalist men in this book) indicated that women like her (those not wearing the veil) needed to be raped and thrown in the garbage. I find this absolutely abhorrent. I cannot understand how they believe that a woman not wearing a veil should be treated like that. Though, I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. Some men even in non-Islamic countries try to tell women how to dress, lest they “tempt the man into sin,” rather than teaching men how to respect women and their bodies. Women are always at risk of being raped, and for some reason, the Iranians believed a head scarf would better “protect” them, just like “dressing modestly” is supposed to prevent women from being raped elsewhere. Apparently, if you’re not wearing a veil or you’re not completely covered, then you’re “asking for it.”

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Watching the TV – p. 74

On the other hand, Satrapi makes an observation later in the graphic novel that makes more sense for the Islamic fundamentalists to have women wear head coverings and adhere to a nearly impossible dress code. She states, “The regime had understood that one person leaving her house while asking herself: ‘Are my trousers long enough?’ ‘Is my veil in place?’ … ‘Are they going to whip me?’ no longer asks herself: ‘Where is my freedom of thought?’ ‘Where is my freedom of speech?’ … It’s only natural! When we’re afraid, we lose all sense of analysis and reflection, our fear paralyzes us … Fear has always been the driving force behind all dictators’ repression. Showing your hair or putting on makeup logically became acts of rebellion” (302). Therefore, the Islamic Revolution, according to this graphic novel, is using the head covering as a way to strike fear into the citizens and to locate dissenters. I truly felt bad for all the progressive Iranians who lived and are living in Iran. Some try to leave, but they have to hope that the Visa will go through and they can escape.

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Advice from her beloved grandmother – p. 150

The story is divided into three main story arcs. Marjane Satrapi as a child during the Islamic Revolution, her life in Europe during a majority of the Iraq-Iran War, and her life back in Iran after she is tired of being alone in Europe. She was sent to Europe because Satrapi’s parents believed it would be better for her to be away from the new regime and the danger of war. They raised her to be educated and think independently, Iran did not really allow that freedom. In Europe, she made some friends and some enemies. Satrapi spoke her mind and did not allow others to insult her heritage, or else she would fight back. This caused her to move around a lot and have to attend multiple schools. However, her most devastating moment was when she caught her boyfriend of two years, who she had doted on and left all her friends for, cheating on her with another woman. Along with having some arguments with her landlord around this time, she leaves and becomes homeless in Europe. Eventually, she managed to go back home to Iran and her family. She loves her family, deeply. She said that her time Europe was lonely and she almost wishes she had been able to stay in Iran during the war, if only to have her family by her side. Family and friends are important to most everyone across the world. We form bonds and relationships and want to experience life beside them.

I enjoyed that this autobiography was told using a simple black and white comic style. The style of art really helped lighten some of the horrible situations that the author endured. I learned a lot about the lives of some progressive Iranian Muslims and their ability to live through all sorts of torture and discrimination. I also saw the humanity in the novel. Humans can be vicious, cruel, and heartless toward one another, but they can also show love, humility, and compassion for each other. What I got from this story is that race, religion, or any other defining label should not matter in how we relate to one another. Humans are humans and we should treat each other with kindness and respect.