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Graphic Novel Friday: A Trifecta of Minor-Key Coolness

Three really cool comics/graphic novels came in recently: The Raven and Other Poems by Poe as illustrated by Gahan Wilson, Lewis Trondheim and Fabrice Parme's Tiny Tyrant (vol. 1), and Sturm, Arnold, and Frederick-Frost's Adventures in Cartooning. No one really saves the world in these books, although there is one pretty entertaining quest. There are no superheroes taking on super-villains. No, instead there's a lot of talent, humor, and imagination on display. All three made me smile, and I think sometimes that's more important than being blown away. Here's a peek at all three, with a sample page from each...


The Raven and Other Poems by Edgar Allen Poe, illustrated by Gahan Wilson (Papercutz) - The books in this reborn Classics Illustrated series have been hit-or-miss for me, primarily because the classics have so many amazing antecedents in terms of art. But there could be no more perfect pairing than Gahan Wilson and Edgar Allen Poe. From beginning to end, The Raven and Other Poems (bringing back the out-of-print Wilson original) is just a lovely book, brought to life by Wilson's ultra-cool retro-ghoul black humor. Giant eyeballs, gleeful renderings of Poe himself, a seemingly smug raven, crypts, caskets, and ossuaries all take center stage. I don't quite know how Wilson makes the accoutrements of death seem both so eccentric and so funny while maintaining enough gravitas to make it all work...but work it does. I could've done without the preview of Frankenstein in the back of the book, but that's a minor quibble. If you want to introduce your kids to Poe, this would be a good way to do it. Or, if you just want Poe's poems with some first-rate art, this book's for you.


Tiny Tyrant, Volume One: The Ethelbertosaurus by Lewis Trondheim and Fabrice Parme (First Second) - I'm a huge Trondheim fan, whether he's collaborating with Joann Sfar on the Dungeon series or flying solo as with his darkly hilarious A.L.I.E.E.E.N. With Tiny Tyrant he's ostensibly appealing to kids the way Sfar did with his Sardine in Space series, but it's such an insane romp that adults will enjoy it as well. In fact, given this comment on the book's Amazon page maybe it's better off for adults: "I am an elementary school librarian, and I thought this sounded like a fun title for my students. Unfortunately, I don't think it belongs in an elementary library. It's a little too rude, has various insults that I would not care to hear my students using, and also mentions suicide and killing each other with guns. I found it amusing, but I would rather not have it in my school library." Except: it's so much fun! I would've loved this as a kid. In the first of these stories first serialized from 2001 to 2004, our anti-hero Ethelbert, the prince of an imaginary country--bratty, selfish, and brash--throws some old bones at a couple scientists and orders them to make a Ethelbertosaurus, with the expected unexpected results. Other crackpot adventures include Ethelbert's hate-affair with books, a crazy Christmas, and fun with remote-control helicopters. Ethelbert is often a one-boy wrecking crew, and Parme's beautiful art--paying tribute to Mr. Magoo and the Pink Panther-is up to the challenge of conveying so much action.


Adventures in Cartooning by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost (First Second) - This frenetic, often hilarious book promises to show you "how to turn your doodles into comics!" but I'm not buying it. Adventures is nothing more or less than an excuse for some characters, including a magic elf, to go on a quest and, in the process, bust that fourth wall between the reader and the story. So, Chuck Jones-style, you get characters commenting on the size of dialogue balloons, the magic elf explaining the idea of panels to a knight, and an explanation of what dotted lines mean in comics. But you also get absurd talking vegetables, a horse that suddenly bloats to the size of a dragon, and, of course, pirates. Kids will get an idea of some comics conventions from this book, but mostly they'll be giggling at the deceptively simple panels and the ever-changing storyline. I really had a great time with this one, and I think you will, too.


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