To Kill A Mockingbird by Haper Lee, adapted and illustrated by Fred Fordham

To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel

To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel by Fred Fordham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s kind of terrifying to adapt something because you’re not just adapting the thing in question. You’re trying to adapt the aura of it; some books have this indefinable something about them that you can’t ever pin down in words, but you know it’s there. And even little white girls growing up in rural North Yorkshire knew that there was a something about To Kill A Mockingbird. I cannot speak for the text itself, nor for its nuanced problems and challenges which better voices than I have elaborated on, nor for its cultural status, but I can speak for this adaptation itself. The care of it, the craft of it, and the curious way that it is neither graphic novel nor book but rather something in between.

I would call it more of an illustrated novel, rather than a graphic novel. The difference is fine, I know, and probably something I’d struggle to describe to you were I pushed, but it’s there. The lettering uses the same font throughout for example, a calm steady consistent font that doesn’t vary by character or panel. It gives the book a great sense of intimacy but also adds this strangely intriguing sense of remove. We see what we’re told to see, read what we’re told to read, and the text itself? Well, that felt distant – even now, even despite the great embedded cultural weight that To Kill A Mockingbird holds within the world. I find that intriguing; that a story so well known can still hide away, just a little, just enough.

This is a beautifully produced book and Fordham’s aesthetics here are wonderful. He draws a lot from the film (particularly, I thought, with his interpretation of Atticus), and situates him within a town full of quiet, soft colours. I rather loved his use of frames; a vast amount of his panels are un-edged, merging softly with the book itself and giving the whole page a sense of timelessness. Those that are framed are rare but potent, introducing a note of dynamism and sudden focus. It’s a quality piece of work. It is, however, a clear adaptation. It’s not a repurposing, nor a retelling, nor a questioning. It’s adapted. Deliberately. Carefully. Perhaps a little too carefully at points but again, understandably so.

It’s also important to note that stylistically I felt that it reached down towards the younger end of secondary but the text itself retains the use of the n- word and the themes located therein. It’s perhaps something then to read in company with the text itself, or rather with the facility to discuss and challenge and think about some of the content.



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El Deafo by Cece Bell

El Deafo

El Deafo by Cece Bell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Sometimes, due to library reservation queues and the like, it takes me a long time to get to a book. And that’s a good thing, because it tells me that it’s being talked about, that it’s being passed from hand to hand fever-quick and passion-bright, and sometimes it makes me nervous. I wonder whether these books that have had such buzz about them can live up to that noise; I ask myself if they can be all that I want them; I wonder whether they’re worth the wait. But every now and then I forget all of that because I’ve got an alert about a book that I put it on hold a long time ago, and now it’s finally here. And that moment will never not feel like Christmas.

And oh my friends, El Deafo is everything. It’s a treat; a fictionalised autobiography, drawing on the childhood experiences of Cece Bell herself, but allowing moments to merge together, and conversations and characters to be reshaped and remade for the story. It’s rendered in a softly beautiful palette of sun-soaked colour and rich, rounded lines that allow this story of childhood to almost fall off the page and into your heart. God, I sound like some hideous advert you have on channel 339402 but forgive me because it’s true. This is richness here, heartfelt and lovely and warm and honest storytelling. It is the story of Cece’s deafness, caused by an illness at age four, and it is so beautifully personal, funny and honest, that it’s difficult not to fall in love with it.

But I fell in love with it a little more once I read Bell’s potent afterword. She is, as she writes, “an expert on no ones deafness but my own” and provides some context on “what a deaf person might choose to do with his or her hearing loss”. It’s eloquent, calmly told truth, and something that underlines the great depth of El Deafo. This is a story of layers and texture, driven by Bell’s personal experience but also her recognition that “our differences are our superpowers.” A potent message for any age, but when it’s teamed with art this adorable and a story with this much heart, it’s almost irresistible.



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The Motherless Oven : Rob Davis

The Motherless OvenThe Motherless Oven by Rob Davis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s hard to review this twisting, dark labyrinth of a book because reading it felt less like reading, and more like a theatrical experience. I’m conscious that that’s such a loose way to talk about reading for every text is full of theatre and experience, but something about The Motherless Oven leaves me a little bit lost for words. And so, because of this, I focus rather on the experience of reading it; of those sharp, acute panels and those moments where I really didn’t understand what was going on but could feel it somewhere within the pages, a lifeless heart, a contradiction, words pushing against each other with a story to be told but a story told in language that I did not and do not yet wholly understand.

It was complicated. Complex. Can I deliver an idea of the plot? Yes. Approximately. Like writing words with sand, I make a semblance of what it was and in that process make it into what it is not.

The world of The Motherless Oven is a world populated by machines and human children and when it rains, knives fly down from the sky and spike the ground. Scarper is facing his deathday. There’s a girl. A boy. Parents locked up in the shed and lions at the school gates. When Scarper’s father escapes the shed, it’s up to Scarper to get him back.

Like sand, this book, like sand running through a cupped palm.

Read The Motherless Oven for the panels where the girl stands in a knife-storm; a patio table as her umbrella, for the panels where the mothers look after the children, and for the moments where the text aches at the edge of its speech bubble and palpably seeks to be somewhere elsewhere in that moment. Read it for the reading. There are elements of 1984 in this for me, and of the Clockwork Orange and of Stand By Me. The darkest of moments, and the brightest. So often the same.

This book is locked to me and yet, somehow, so very open, all at once.

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Sisters : Raina Telgemeier

SistersSisters by Raina Telgemeier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Telgemeier’s work is a joy and this book is life-affirming. ‘Sisters’, a sequel to Smile details the great joy and pain that is sibling life. Raina has longed to be a big sister but, upon the arrival of Amara, she rapidly learns that things aren’t quite what she thought they would be. A younger brother, Will, also follows making Raina the big sister in a family that she desperately wanted but doesn’t quite know how to deal with now that it’s here.

Things come to a head on a road trip which sees the narrative shift between the present and past; a richly coloured lushness placed against sepia tinged frames, and it’s delicious. It really is. This is artwork that thrives and lives. I’d defy anybody not to laugh at some of the more emphatic panels which focus on Amara’s temper tantrums, and the subtle background work which hints at some discord between the parents is clever, delicate and sympathetically done. These are books that capture story and life and moments within their pages and it is quite fabulously done.

Telgemeier’s work came somewhat strangely into my life. I found my copy of Smile all by itself on a shelf in Asda and I snatched it up in a ‘wait, what’s this doing here’ sort of manner. And I’m so glad that I did. Telgemeier writes with such a genuine warmth, lightness and humour that I am rapidly in the process of devouring everything she’s ever done. I’ve just read The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy’s Great Idea. It’s fabulous.

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Y : The Last Man : Brian K. Vaughan

Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned (Y: The Last Man, #1)Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned by Brian K. Vaughan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a lot of time for Brian K. Vaughan.

It started with my discovery of Runaways, a series that rapidly came to encapsulate some of the best things about comics for me. And with Pride, I realised that I was in it for the long haul. I like what Brian K. Vaughan does. I like the art of his writing; the great soaring arcs of plot and of action that can be captured over ten issues or ten frames, the moments where everything seems to still and hinge upon a word, and those moments of writing that seems to almost split and bare a characers soul before me. I like that. I am, at times, rampantly jealous of that.

I’ve taken a long time to get round to Y:The Last Man. I’m not sure why. A little bit of it is due to the fact that I get a lot of my books from the public library and they’ve always been hard to get hold of. The comic books, I mean, not the libraries. Although in today’s climate – ? I digress. Suffice to say, though I have been aware of the series for a long time, I’ve only just got round to it.

And that pains me because this series, this book of such a simple premise – what happens if all the men on earth suddenly die? – is so very good. It is so good because there is a coda to that thesis statement and that is this: all the men on earth have died, save one. The last man. The eponymous Y – Yorick Brown. And his monkey, Ampersand. The two of them have, against all odds, survived whatever it was that has killed every other man on earth.

This volume follows Yorick as he tries to find his girlfriend, tries to escape the various authorities on his tale, and tries to figure out just what it means to be the last man.

What I love about this volume (and the great, wild arcs that develop from it) is the fact that Vaughan is unafraid to give us a problematic hero. (A Hero. Ha. Yorick’s sister is called Hero. Their father was really into Shakespeare.) Yorick is flawed. His life is not as it should be.

Maybe that’s it. Perhaps Y:The Last Man is about the nature of heroism and what that entails. Destiny, maybe, and the problem of great and world-shattering hope being put into the hands of those who aren’t quite ready for that yet. Humans, maybe. That’s the best way to describe it. This volume, and the series as a whole, colours the post-male world in shades of vivid and deep grey. Nothing is quite right any more. But then, what’s right? Why do we do what we do? Is this simply the world reasserting itself? Is this how it was always going to be? What would you do? What should Yorick do? How do you continue to live in a world where you’re the only one left?

Choose light. Choose dark. Choose rage. Choose hope. Choose to walk into tomorrow with your eyes wide-shut, or with your arms outstretched and ready to receive whatever may come. Just choose something. Something. Anything.

I love that Vaughan throws all that at us and asks us to consider what we’d do. And I love that he doesn’t make it clear. He doesn’t make it easy. He doesn’t make it right. Yorick makes decisions, foolish and blind, and – it’s true. To him. Maybe not to the ideals of what this world could be. But it’s his experience of that world, and Vaughan lets that happen in the right way. The complicated, contradictory and often foolish way.

This is storytelling, really, even the parts that made me feel uncomfortable and antagonistic towards the text. And don’t get me wrong, there are parts of this story which are deeply problematic – but they are problems of this story and they are integral to this story and this story is Yorick’s and so, to ignore these problems and to edit his storyline would pull the story far away from him and to a place that it should not be.

Y: The Last Man is a lesson in how to handle the light and dark, the madness of story and how to let it tell itself. It is a lesson in complexity and darkness and shadows and light, and it is is a lesson in a comic that is anthemic in scope and reach.

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Briony Hatch : Penelope & Ginny Skinner

Briony HatchBriony Hatch by Penelope Skinner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Briony Hatch is a slim graphic novel, coloured in black and whites and reminiscent of something doodled in pen and ink on the inside of an exercise book. It’s definitely a story of two halves; the intense teenage ennui of life and the struggle of Briony to figure out where she fits in, coupled with a rather intensely poignant (and sardonically true to life, oddly enough) tale of love and ghosts and regrets. Overlaying both stories is Briony’s devotion to the book series ‘Starling Black’ and her deep and pained reading of the final book in the series. Think Harry Potter and Fangirl and you’re about on point with that one.

The big key point about Briony Hatch is twofold (and I apologise now that I seem to be splitting everything about this review into bifold reasoning, but hey-ho, maybe it’s the weather or something) and the first is the art. Briony is very much herself, from her tumultous and haphazard hair through to the butterfly wing bulge of her stomach and her intense and scene-dominating eyes. It’s quite the thing to have all of this conveyed in black and white and it’s a little startling at first, but once you come to terms with it, it’s hard to not love it just a little bit.

The second bright strength of Briony Hatch rests in the humour. There are a few moments when Briony meanders off into daydreams, blurring her life with that of Starling Black, and when the daydreams become rather pleasurable,she comments: “This fantasy is better than I thought!” There’s a few other rather delicious asides throughout: “I am of the internet generation … So even though I’ve never had sex … My imagination is extremely graphic”

Where Briony Hatch does suffer though is with the lettering and stylistics of that lettering. It’s all delivered in a, whilst appropriate, personal and handwritten style that does fit but does, also, seem somehow jarring for the wider tones of the story engaged in in the second half. Whilst that is worth noting, it’s worth noting in the context of a story that’s rather deliciously unique and a little bit of a surprise and a lot of pleasure.

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Nancy Drew – Ghost In The Machinery : Stefan Petrucha & Sho Murase

Ghost in the Machinery (Nancy Drew: Girl Detective, #9)Ghost in the Machinery by Stefan Petrucha

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An odd thing this, but sort of madly appealing in a problematic sort of way; Ghost In The Machinery is an adventure “so big that it takes three graphic novels to tell the whole story”. Ghost In The Machinery is the first in the series and complete, after a fashion, though with several big over-arching gapes of plot that I presume lead into the next one.

It begins with Nancy, Bess and George camping out in the woods coincidentally on purpose to investigate strange lights in the woods. They investigate the lights and come across an old munitions factory which is due to be demolished the next day (explosives, naturally, we do need the dramatic here) and the lights lead inside. And so Nancy and her pals decide to investigate. As you do. I was mildly hysterical at this point, though I went on with it because it’s sort of hard not to. When a book, a comic, a play, whatever, starts with such headlong giddiness and sort of careens down the path of not giving one iota about it, you do tend to go along with it, even if it’s just out of a sense of delirious fascination as to where it goes next.

And so I did, and so it does go to places quite surprising and a bit quantum-leap(y) at points (and a few that were maybe more – wait, what, did I miss a page or two?), but it still managed to retain a certain sense of dynamism about it that kept me interested. A lot of that is due to the art, the ferocious vividness of Nancy; the smart panels which balanced out each other on the page (2:2, 3:3 etc, providing a sense of continuity and equality, but also warning you about the visual highlights yet to come, which will deviate from this rhythm).

So: to sum? There’s a lot at fault with this comic really but a lot that’s good with it as well; that sort of crazy adherence to the source text’s eccentricities, the character of Nancy herself remains an intense joy and she’s rendered here with brilliant and intense effect, and, you know, there’s a bit with a tank. Bits with a tank are always good.

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