Thursday, April 30, 2015

Doctor Strange and the Search for Vintage Comics

To close out Book Blogger International's comics and graphic novel month, the always-awesome Ryan from Wordsmithonia is here to tell us about his favorite vintage comic book character, Doctor Strange.

doctor strange vintage comics

December 4th, 2014 will always be a bittersweet day for me. It was the day that Marvel finally confirmed a hard release date for a Doctor Strange movie, a movie that I've been dreaming of since I was a kid.

Not to be too big of a nerd, but I love Doctor Strange. I'm one of those who can't wait to get to the flea market, where I can dig through all the dollar comics, all so I can go home with a stack of Doctor Strange books. I buy his solo comics, the issues of The Defenders when he was a member of that group, and I've even found a couple of What If? books that feature the Sorcerer Supreme. He has been my avatar on Twitter, my Blog, and on Facebook for years. He was even a featured character, the first year I did my Favorite Fictional Character posts. I even have an action figure of Doctor Strange, and I'm not afraid to admit it.
doctor strange action figure

For those of you who don't know him, think of him as a supernatural Captain America, charged with protecting our dimension from magical and demonic threats. Over the years he has faced numerous threats, fought for his life, and defeated countless demons and monsters, including Dracula. Since he's a super-hero, he has to have a back story, and it's his back story that gives that movie announcement the bitter edge.

Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme, really did start off as Dr. Stephen Strange, a gifted surgeon to be precise. He was cocky, arrogant, egotistical, and just about every other adjective you can think of that means the same thing. That all ended in a car accident, turning that arrogance into bitterness and alcohol fueled anger. I'm not going to to into his journey, or how he found himself in Tibet, apprenticed to The Ancient One, but for the record, if you don't know it, you should read up on it before the movie comes out. Or you could watch the animated movie that Marvel released in 2007.

doctor strange
For years, because of the comic books, I've had an image in my head of who Doctor Strange is. What he looks like, his mannerisms, his attitude, and how he interacts with those around him, are concrete images in my head. Needless to say, when they announced that Benedict Cumberbatch was going to be cast as Doctor Strange, I was a little taken aback. I mean no disrespect here, but he looks nothing like what this character has always looked on page, and in my head. I think the man is a fine actor, and my even be able to pull the arrogance off, but I'm not sure the subtle nuances of the character are going to be highlighted the way they should. And to be perfectly honest here, I'm not sure I would have been any happier with anyone else. I think Patrick Dempsey had the look I was thinking of, but maybe not the depth I would hope for. I've even heard Viggo Mortensen bandied about, but I'm really not sure that would have been all that much better.

No matter what, I'm over the moon that this project is in the works, and that the movie is slated to be released in November of 2016. Until then, I'll still be hunting through the bins at the flea market, and praying up a storm that with the upcoming release of the movie, that the comic books aren't going to go up in price.

We hope you've enjoyed this month-long celebration of comics. Thank you to all the amazing bloggers who participated! Be sure to check out their blogs and keep the conversation going.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Having an Age of License with Lucy Knisley

Give a big howdy to Chris from Chrisbookarama, here to talk about An Age of License by the writer who turned her into a graphic novel reader, Lucy Knisley. Find out what Chris thinks about Knisley's latest!

age of license lucy knisley cover
I was introduced to the work of Lucy Knisley, and graphic novels, several years ago when I read French Milk. I absolutely fell in love with the genre and Lucy’s style in particular. Lucy ate her way through Paris while soaking up the sights with her Mom. It was delightful and touching. French Milk made me a Graphic Novel Convert. Last year, I bought Relish and thoroughly enjoyed Lucy’s stories of her food loving family and her travels around the world sampling each country’s delicious dishes.

What I love most about the graphic novels of Lucy Knisley is how I can live vicariously through her books. Travel, food, youthful enthusiasm, her books have all of these. In An Age of License, Lucy chronicles her book tour trip through Europe. First, a comic convention in Norway, romance with a new guy in Sweden, a visit with friends in Germany, and finally meeting up with her Mom in France. To be young and free! To have those kinds of opportunities! Lucy’s travel itinerary is one I’d like to follow myself.

The title of the book, An Age of License, comes from a conversation with one of the people she meets on her travels. He claims that is it “the time when you’re young and experimenting with your lives and careers.” While Lucy is experimenting, she’s also struggling to decide what path her life should take, much like the themes in French Milk. She still has career growing pains and romantic woes. She is having an Age of Licence but she is worried about the future and the next phase of her life.
page from an age of license

Lucy does realize that her life is privileged. She has had the opportunity to travel, partly through her work. She also has a variety of friends with amazing jobs whose homes she can stay. She addresses these privileges here unlike in her other books. It always surprised me at how much she could travel.

Obviously, I enjoy her books because her life is so different from my own. I wasn’t able to afford to travel at Lucy’s age. She tries out new things, She’s is very talented, and makes a living with her art. As she says, “It’s not wrong to travel and love and to be silly and lucky, or to even make work about it.” Maybe my own Age of License is behind me, if I ever had such a thing, but I think I can learn something from Lucy’s books. I can take chances, be optimistic, and curious about the world. Her books make me want to take my own adventures, cultivate my own international experiences.

If you have a lust for travel and a love of good food, you won’t be disappointed by Lucy Knisley’s graphic novels.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Sprawling, Epic, Mind-Twisty World of Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN

Please welcome the lovely Memory of In the Forest of Stories, on what makes Sandman a landmark graphic novel series and why it's one of her touchstone comics.

sandman neil gaiman
The Sandman, Neil Gaiman’s ten-volume horror epic, has ranked among my favourite comics for well over a decade. The series revolves around the idea that there are seven beings who embody the key elements of existence--and one of them, Dream, has been imprisoned for most of the twentieth century. The first volume, Preludes & Nocturnes, features Dream’s initial capture and escape; the rest of the series deals with the fallout from his imprisonment.

It’s intense stuff, tailor made for readers who want to wallow in a rich, complex world for upwards of a thousand pages. Sandman ain’t perfect, but it’s a remarkable literary achievement and I can’t help but love it, even as I recognize its shortcomings. No matter how often I return to it, the series never fails to pull me back in and entrance me.

Here are the top five reasons it’s always gonna be one of the comics in my book:

5. It sprawls.

Sandman doesn’t limit itself to a single focal point, time period, cast of characters, or storyline (at least on the surface). Neil Gaiman and a rotating bullpen of artists transport us to such varied places as early twentieth century England, contemporary Florida, ancient Greece, revolutionary France, imperial China, Faerie, Hell, and any number of other realms both fictional and non. Each volume approaches the core premise from a different angle, and Gaiman often pauses to tell smaller, self-contained stories in and around each multi-issue story arc. Three of the ten volumes are basically short fiction collections packed with tales that somehow impact the wider story without demanding the reader devour seventy-four other single issues in order to understand them, so it’s also easy for the new reader to enter the fray without directly engaging with an epic tale. (Though why you’d want to ignore the epic stuff is beyond me. It’s awesome.)

4. It’s different

Okay, maybe Sandman isn’t as different and shiny now as it was back in the day. After all, this was one of the formative comics series of the 1990s; a book that paved the way for DC’s non-superhero-focused Vertigo line and helped expand the mainstream reader’s conception of what comics could be.

When I first read it in the very early 2000s, though, it was unlike anything I’d ever encountered before. My previous comics reading had taken me deep into the American teenager’s quest for a date, the Silver Age superhero’s battle against deranged and/or extraterrestrial science, and the mutant’s struggle to protect a world that hates and fears her. Neither the handful of vintage horror comics I’d read nor the Sandman criticism I gulped down while I was searching for an affordable copy of Preludes & Nocturnes prepared me for this series. It changed my reading landscape with its twisting plot, its rich mythology, and its adult worldview.

Even now, SANDMAN isn’t quite like any other comic I’ve ever latched onto, even though I see its influence in a multitude of other books.

3. The mythology is rich and strange

Gaiman weaves together a vast number of threads from world mythology, making Sandman an excellent experience for anyone with a thirst for folklore. Faerie and Hell both play large roles, and the wider DC Universe encroaches from time to time. It's fascinating stuff, and the bits Gaiman invents wholesale is even more compelling than what he reinterprets.

There are seven beings who embody the essential elements of existence: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium (who used to be Delight). They aren’t gods. They can’t die, though they can change. We probably need them very much, except maybe we could get along without them. Opinions differ. And even though they’re all-powerful and (probably) essential, they’re not always right.

Gaiman gives us a bucketful to internalize, sort through, and evaluate in and around the wider story. It’s tremendous fun.

When it’s not seventeen kinds of painful, I mean.

2. The characters are fascinating

As I said above, Sandman doesn’t limit itself to a set cast. While Dream sits at the series’ heart, he’s rarely the protagonist and often disappears from the book for several issues at a stretch. In his place, we get prehistorical African queens, young American women in search of their lost brothers, emperors and kings from a variety of nations, men who’ve decided never to die and stuck to that resolution down through the centuries, women with worlds inside their heads, talking dogs, angels, demons, faeries both royal and non, and time-displaced strangers trapped in interdimensional inns, to name just a few.

We also spend a fair amount of time with Dream’s siblings, my favourites of whom are Death, Destruction, and Delirium (not always in that order). Death is a practical, cheerful goth girl because it’s much more fun to be nice than to be creepy. Destruction is an enormous redhead who spends his days creating things, even though he’s utter shite at it. Delirium is scattered and sweet and vicious, terrifying one moment and heartbreaking the next.

Dream himself is not a particularly warm or welcoming person. He takes his duties seriously but rarely seems to revel in them, even when he’s obliged to do something that strikes me as particularly delightful. He’s mysterious and cold; the sort of person you find interesting rather than likable, but who is ultimately worth following wherever he leads.

1. It’s a puzzle

While most of the volumes can stand alone, Sandman still has a unifying thread running through it. Even when Dream receives minimal page time, his influence makes itself known over the mortals (and immortals) who can’t help but brush up against his world. After all, everyone dreams.

Well, almost everyone.

As things unfold, it becomes clear the varied storylines aren’t as discrete as they first seem. This character knows that one, who knows people from that other volume, who’re important because they know this thing that’s actually crucial to the wider plot.

Gaiman constructs his story with consummate skill, melding each disparate element to the next in often unexpected ways. Even the scenes that don’t directly impact the wider story still have consequences within this world. Everything is connected. Everything is important.

It makes Sandman an utter joy to read (again: when it’s not ripping one’s heart out and stomping on it). It’s a puzzle, yet Gaiman and the artists provide us with very little concrete confirmation as to how it all fits together. The reader must assemble it for herself, sans handy-dandy visual aid, and the picture she finally ends up with may not be the same as what other readers discover within the exact same text.

I’ve read the later volumes in the series seven times and the earlier volumes nine times, and I still notice new things with each reread. Sandman features such a wealth of mythology, worldbuilding, characterization, and careful plotting that it’s impossible to absorb it all the first time through--or the first ten times through, come to that. SANDMAN is complex and deep, and it rewards the rereader time and again.

It’ll always be one of my touchstone comics.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Score Free Comics During Free Comic Book Day!

Give a big welcome to Kai from Fiction State of Mind! She's here to talk about one of her favorite comic events. Is it a comic con? No, it's Free Comic Book Day! Read on to discover how you can participate.

free comic book day
Hello Everyone! I’m so glad Book Bloggers International is hosting this event. I’ll confess when I first started blogging I didn’t talk about comics, despite being a fan of them for many years. I guess I was worried I wouldn’t be taken as a “serious blogger” if I covered comics.

However I’ve gotten over that! I’ve been pleased to notice that a lot of bloggers have started reading comics and now we have this month long event!

As avid readers we can get very much stuck in genre ruts. With many of us watching our book buying budgets closely, we tend to stick to the same genres and authors. Comic books have really increased in price over the last few years so many of us wait for trade collections to turn up at our library or get them as digital trades on Amazon.

So today I wanted to talk about a wonderful yearly event that will allow you to explore more comic book genres and creators for free.

The first Saturday in May is Free Comic Book Day. Comic shops across the United States will have various titles available for free (really! Not a scam!). For us FCBD veterans the day is kind of like a geeky Christmas! Besides free books the store has really great sales, free sketches and giveaways, also balloons & face painters for children. If you’re really lucky some Stormtroopers from Darth Vader’s legion the 501’st might show up!

Here is how it works. Visit the FCBD website at In the left corner put your zip code in the Find A Participating Store link. Pick a store and plan your trip! Also on the site you will find a list of the comics being given away on the 2nd along with some previews.

Tips For The Day

  • Road Trip It! Every store will have different comics on the shelves so if there are several near you its fun to make a day of it and visit various stores. Each store also limits the amount of comics per person sometimes 3-5 per person is the maximum. So if you are going with your kids or friends you should be able to get some great books.
  • Beware Duplicates! Several of the books given out are flip books which means it will have two different covers. So let’s say you see a Scooby Doo book and next to it a superman animated series book. They may actually be the same book so do a quick flip to make sure the second book is different.
  • Consider a Purchase/Donation Though the books are free the individual stores do have to pay for them along with extra staff for the store, and talent fees. So if you see a cool T-shirt or any other goodie that calls to you buy it. Some stores will also let you get additional comics if you make a donation to their charity.
  • Expand Your Genres If you visit a few stores you should be able to get lots of comics, so take a risk and get some genres you might not have tried before. Here are my suggestions:

fight club comic
Fight Club

Dark Horse comics is known for its more adult themed comics like Hellboy and now Fight Club based on the bestselling novel by Chuck P.

Cleopatra In Space

I’m very partial to Science Fiction so I will definitely be getting this book. I also love seeing a book with a female lead which isn’t that common in comics.

gronk free comic book day

Gronk is adorbs! An all ages read about a monster and the human she adopts.

Attack On Titan

I’m Obsessed with Attack On Titan, a horror themed manga. AOT is one of the fastest growing fandoms. Pick up this book to see what all the fuss is about!

The Phantom

Step back into comics history by reading a classic hero: the Phantom! He was one of the first costumed heroes who starred in stories full of two fisted action and adventure.

rabbids free comic book day

An Example of the kid friendly comics available at shops. So much cuteness!

So I hope I’ve encouraged you guys to visit a comic shop next month! If you would like to send be pictures of your haul send me a tweet @yogikai. I will also be hosting an event encouraging bloggers to share their FCBD journeys using the hash tag #FCBDblogathon

Happy Reading!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Women in Comics: Favourite Characters

The amazing Ana from things mean a lot is here today to talk about her favorite female comic book characters, from Captain Marvel to Kamala Khan. Agree, disagree? Share some of your favorites in the comments!

I’ve been a big comics fan ever since I discovered Sandman well over a decade ago, but lately I’ve been caught by the wave of renewed excitement about the medium that's taken over my corner of the Internet. I’ve read a lot of comics in the past few months, and I even dipped my toes into the world of superhero stories, which I’d previously assumed were Not For Me. Along the way, I discovered many amazing female characters I wouldn’t have met otherwise. When Tasha invited me to write a guest post for Book Bloggers International’s Comics Month, I knew I had to talk about all the amazing fictional women I’ve come to know and love.

Here go a few of my favourite female comic book characters discovered in the past year or so, with one bonus old favourite I just couldn’t stand to leave out:

  • Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel:
    carol danvers captain marvel

    If I had to pick a favourite discovery, Carol would be it. Carol Danvers will fight when she needs to and enjoy the action, but she’s also a diplomat, a skilled conversationalist, someone who’s more than willing to adapt her approach to whatever the problem at hand demands, and a funny, smart lady who cares about her friends. Oh, and she has a cat. Don’t mess with her cat, or else.

  • Helen Cobb and Kit Renner, also from Captain Marvel:
    Helen cobb and kit renner

    I don’t want to make this entirely about Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel (even if it is my latest obsession), but in addition to being awesome in their own right, Helen and Kit embody something I especially love about the series. Carol Danvers is surrounded by other women, and the story makes it clear that they’re important in her life. Her relationships with them matter and they are never subordinate to relationships with men: they’re real and they’re priorities. Helen Cobb is a famous 1940s pilot who challenged institutional sexism to get to where she was, and who is shown to be a mentor to Carol in the time travelling story In Pursuit of Flight (my favourite Captain Marvel story arc to date). Kit Renner is Carol’s young neighbour in New York, and Captain Marvel’s biggest fan. When Carol loses her sense of who she is, her young apprentice (or, as Kit likes to put it, her sidekick) is there to remind her.

  • Kamala Khan, aka Ms Marvel
    kamala khan ms marvel

    Kamala is amazing. She’s a sixteen-year-old Pakistani-American teenager from Jersey City who unexpectedly develops superpowers, and who then uses them to fight for justice in her community, a place traditionally neglected by superheroes. Over the first story arc, she also learns that being a Muslim teenager and being a hero are not by any means incompatible — it’s okay for Kamala to be herself and embrace her powers. In fact, her sense of justice is deeply informed by who she is.

    Also, did I mention she’s a huge geek? Kamala is unabashedly excited when she meets her favourite superheroes, and she’s not ashamed to tell about the fanfiction she’s written about them. Those moments are adorable and they fill me with joy.

  • Katie from Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley:
    katie from seconds by bryan lee o'malley

    Katie is a 29-year-old chef who dreams of owning her own restaurant and who has some regrets in life. When she gains the ability to change the past, she does what many of us would probably do: she abuses it. We watch Katie make a lot of mistakes in Seconds, but she won me over anyway with her heart and humour. Her tendency to argue with the narrator never failed to crack me up. I loved her story, and I loved getting to know her.

  • Sally Heathcote from Sally Heathcote, Suffragette by Mary Talbot, Kate Charlesworth and Bryan Talbot:
    sally heathcote

    Mary Talbot’s fictional account of women’s fight for the vote in the UK places a working class woman from the north at the heart of it all, which was wonderful to see. This is a historical truth that isn’t always acknowledged, and it was great to follow Sally’s journey from a domestic servant in the Pankhursts’ Manchester home to a politically savvy campaigner who stood up for her beliefs.

  • Sister Peace from Castle Waiting by Linda Medley:
    sister peace from castle waiting

    As promised, an old favourite: I love all the characters in Linda Medley’s amazing Castle Waiting but Sister Peace particularly stands out. She’s funny and kind and has a no-nonsense attitude to her, and although her looks defy traditional conventions of femininity (she has a beard), she’s never demeaned or made the butt of a joke for it.

  • Thursday, April 16, 2015

    8 Reasons Why SAGA Is the Perfect Series For a Comics Newbie

    Please welcome Belle of Ms. Bookish, talking about one of her favorite graphic novels, the uber-popular Saga. Why's Saga so popular? Read Belle's post to find out!

    Saga series vols 1-4
    Comics are so much fun, and these days it seems impossible to hang out anywhere online without catching sight of yet another great series. But if you're new to comics and have been wondering where you should start, all those choices can start to feel a little overwhelming.

    I only just started reading comics a couple of years ago. I'd gotten my feet wet with a bunch of graphic novel memoirs and I really wanted to start on some of the comics series I'd been hearing so much about. There were so many to choose from, though! Eventually I started my comics reading life with The Unwritten (another good series, with lots of great bookish references), but there's another series out there that is an ideal one for those who are new to the comics world: Saga.

    So if you're new to comics and not sure what series to start with, here are eight reasons you should choose Saga (and a huge shoutout to Kelly and Memory who helped me to come up with some of these points):

    • It's a classic love story. Like Romeo and Juliet, Saga a classic tale of star-crossed love, only this time around, the star-crossed lovers are Alana and Marko, two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending war. Plus, they have a baby (Hazel) together. And they don't commit suicide. But still, the similarities are there.
    • Fiona Staples is an awesome illustrator. Her illustrations are both beautiful and detailed, and all of her characters are unique and richly depicted. An example? King Robot's head. King Robot is the king of the Robot Kingdom. The denizens of the Robot Kingdom have small TV sets for heads, except for King Robot, who sports a gigantic flat screen TV head. As Memory puts it, King Robot's head is pretty well the best thing in the history of art.
    • A diverse cast of characters. The Saga universe is most definitely not dominated by any one species or race. And even among the individuals of any particular species or race, there's a lot of variation. In addition to these variations, each character that's drawn is different from all the other characters, which is the way things should be. And I love that baby Hazel has her mother's wings and her father's horns.
    • There's a book involved in the storyline! I won't say more so as not to give anything away, but if you're like me and love when a book plays a major role in a story's plot, you'll find it here.
    • The best animal companion ever. As Memory points out, the Lying Cat deserves a bullet point of her own. A companion to the freelance bounty hunter The Will, this very unique cat has the ability to tell when someone is lying. And she will say so. Out loud ("Lying").
    • The humour. It's a serious story--we're talking about two worlds engaged in a senseless war, the repercussions of which stretch across the universe. But there's so much humour here, too, not just in the narrative but also in the illustrations.
    • Great characterization. There's not a single cardboard character to be seen anywhere, not even when it comes to the minor characters. Whether it's the good guys or the bad guys, the major characters or the minor ones, they all ring true--they real to the reader.
    • There are only four volumes so far. The fourth volume was just published back in December, and the fifth volume is expected later this year. As Kelly points out, this is definitely a plus for a beginner to comics. As many series readers know, as a series grows, so can the number of characters and the various character arcs and plot points. It can all make for quite a complex read. (Case in point? Check out Kelly's fabulous reading guide to Fables, a very necessary read once you get more deeply into the series.)

    Of course, Saga isn't just a great first read for those new to comics. It's a wonderful series for the more seasoned comics reader, too. So if you haven't read this series yet, it's one that shouldn't be missed. And if you want to know more about the series before diving in, check out Memory's great, in-depth review of the first four volumes.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2015

    Kick-Ass Kids in Comics

    Today, welcome our very own Tif Sweeney from Tif Talks Books, talking about kick-ass comic book kiddos.

    Let’s be honest.  Most of the time, heroes in most stories tend to be the mature, dashingly handsome adult, male or female.  In comics, the general population would probably gravitate to the super heroes … Bruce Banner turned Hulk, Bruce Wayne turned Batman, Clark Kent turned Superman.  In reality, comics offer us so much more than that.  We get rising female stars.  We get fairy tale characters that we grew up with.  And, sometimes, we even get some kick-ass kids saving the day.  

    runaways by brian k vaughan
    Brian K. Vaughan brings us a whole group of them in the Runaways:  Alex, Nico, Chase, Karolina, Molly, and Gertrude.  The six teens unite to take on the universe’s worst enemies that are hiding in plain sight - millionaires, philanthropists, and scientists . . . also, their own parents.  Dumbledore once said, “It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but even more to stand up to your friends.”  Can you imagine the amount of courage these youngsters have to have to stand up to their families, the very people who raised them to be who they are today?

    izabel from SAGA
    Let’s get a little younger by looking at Izabel from Saga, yet another creation of Vaughan.  She is a permanently young teen, only living in the waist up.  She tends to the outcast toddler of Marko and Alana, two lovers living in exile.  Not only do these two trust Izabel in helping to care for their child, but Izabel frequently stands up for the family, takes on beasts to protect those she cares about, and even transforms into reason and authority.

    kick ass kids from FABLES
    Teenagers have proven to hold their own, but what about the younger generations?  Willingham brings us seven of them in Fables, and they are not dwarves.  They are the children of Snow White and Bigby Wolf:  Ambrose, Darien, Winter, Connor, Therese, Blossom, and Ghost.  These kids are destined for great things, both good and bad, but there is one that stands above all the rest.  If Ghost were to go head to head with any of his siblings or any other kick-ass kid previously mentioned, he would blow them away.  A secret child with unspeakable powers used for good is the most kick-ass kid in my book.

    Who are some of your favorite kick-ass kids in comics?  Could s/he stand up to my ultimate pick, Ghost from Fables?

    Monday, April 13, 2015

    The Definitive FABLES Reading Guide

    Kelly from The Written World is here today with an update to her famous Fables reading guide. For those of you who aren't familiar, Fables is an epic, complex comic series about fairy tale and folklore creatures who've been forced out of their world and into the world of humans. The series concludes this year, so now's the perfect time to read it if you haven't already! Kelly's here to help you get started.

    fables comic

    In 2009 I took a chance and finally read Fables by Bill Willingham. I had heard lots of good things about it, but I was still trying to figure out if I even like comics. But, I had gift cards from Christmas and I was determined to see what all the hype was about. It was honestly one of the best decisions ever! When 2009 ended I was all caught up in the series and eagerly awaiting the new releases. I still get excited every time and will be very sad when the original series ends this year. I did some googling once to find a reading guide, and at the time I couldn't find anything complete. So, I made my own. I try to update it every few months. Here is the recent update:

    F= Fables and J = Jack of Fables.

    It starts off easily enough:

    F - Volume 1: Fables: Legends in Exile (Issues 1-5)

    F - Volume 2: Animal Farm (Issues 6-10)

    F - Volume 3: Storybook Love (Issues 11-18)

    F - Volume 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers (Issues 19-21; 23-27)

    F - Volume 5: The Mean Seasons (Issues 22; 28-33)

    F - Volume 6: Homelands (Issues 34-41)

    NOTE: Congrats, you are now safe to start Jack of Fables. The events in this book pick-up after issues 34 and 35 of Fables contained in Homelands. You do not have to start now, but if you want to it is now safe. It didn't actually release until after Volume 8 of Fables.

    F - Volume 7: Arabian Nights (and Days) (Issues 42-27)

    F - Volume 8: Wolves (Issues 48-51)

    STOP!! If you haven't all ready, you should read 1001 Nights of Snowfall. I did not, but it ties into Volume 9 of Fables. (I don't think you lack if you just read it whenever. It is technically a prequel.)

    F - Volume 9: Sons of Empire (Issues 52-59)

    F - Volume 10: The Good Prince (Issues 60-69)

    F - Volume 11: War and Pieces (Issues 70-75)

    F - Volume 12: The Dark Ages (Issues 76-82)

    STOP!! You are now on a Fables vacation. In order to read Volume 13 you have to read Jack of Fables because this is a Crossover edition.

    J - Volume 1: The (Nearly) Great Escape (Issues 1-5)

    J - Volume 2: Jack of Hearts (Issues 6-11)

    J - Volume 3: The Bad Prince (Issues 12-16)

    J - Volume 4: Americana (Issues 17-21)

    J - Volume 5: Turning Pages (Issues 22-27)

    J - Volume 6: The Big Book of War (Issues 28-32)

    STOP!! It is now time for a Jack of Fables vacation. Sort of. When released as individual issues Volume 13 actually contains Fables, Jack of Fables, and The Literals. When they released it as a trade paperback they put everything together and called it Fables.

    F - Volume 13: The Great Fables Crossover (Fables: Issues 83-85; Jack of Fables: Issues 33-35; The Literals: Issues 1-3)

    Note: If you are worried about any possible spoilers it is now save to read Cinderella: Fables are Forever. (More about this spin-off below). You can do what you want for the rest of the Fables and Jack of Fables. A suggested order is such (this is how they were released and I read them):

    J - Volume 7: The New Adventures of Jack and Jack (Issues 36-40)

    F - Volume 14: Witches (Issues 86-93)

    J - Volume 8: The Fulminate Blade (Issues 41-45)

    F - Volume 15: Rose Red (Issues 94-100)

    J - Volume 9: The End (Issues 46-50) - This concludes Jack of Fables.

    F - Volume 16: Super Team (Issues 101-107)

    Note: If you are worried about possible spoilers after this comic it is safe to read Werewolves of the Heartland and the first Fairest. (More on these comics below.)

    F - Volume 17: Inherit the Wind (Issues 108-113)

    F - Volume 18: Cubs in Toyland  (Issues 114-123)

    F - Volume 19: Snow White (Issues 114-123 (back-up stories only) and issues 124-129 (December 24, 2013)

    F - Volume 20: Camelot (Issues 131-136)

    F - Volume 21: Happily Ever After (Issues 141-149) (May 5, 2015)

    F-  Volume 22                                                             (July 28, 2015)

    The Spin-offs and Standalones:

    There is also the standalone comic Werewolves of the Heartland. The comic is a chance to see Bigby all by himself. It is technically a good introduction to the series; but if you are worried about any possible spoilers it was originally set to be released around the same time as Super Team and follows events from that comic.

    Then, there is Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love (Issues 1-6) and Cinderella: Fables are Forever (Issues 1-6). From Fabletown with Love doesn't have many spoilers, but you are best to wait and read it until at least after Volume 11. Fables are Forever, though, does talk about events from later in the series. If you want to avoid possible spoilers do not read it until after Fables: Volume 13. Also, the two collections are entirely unrelated. There is no need to read one right after the other.

    The newer spin-off to the Fables series is Fairest. On the one hand it is an excellent introduction to the series and is a possible starting point if you are new to the series. On the other hand, if you are interested in keeping things in order and not having any spoilers at all (even minor ones), I recommend starting this series after you read Volume 16 of Fables.

    Fairest - Volume 1: Wide Awake (Issues 1-7)

    Fairest - Volume 2: Hidden Kingdom (Issues 8-14)

    Fairest - Volume 3: The Return of the Maharaja (Issues 15-20)

    Fairest in all the Land

    Fairest - Volume 4: Of Mice and Men (Issues 21-27)

    Fairest - Volume 5:                               (Issues 27-32) (February 25, 2015)

    Then, Jess Nevins released Fables Encyclopaedia. It is essentially the annotated version of Fables. It is something worth having wherever you are in the series. I have been warned that it does contain spoilers up until Volume 18 of the main series, though.

    Lastly, there is the novel Peter & Max. This is an original novel that also can be read as an introduction to the series. I don't remember any spoilers for the series, so I wouldn't worry about a reading order. If you are in the mood for a Fables novel instead of graphic novel, pick this one up!

    One thing I was remiss in mentioning before is the video game The Wolf Among Us. I am not a big gamer, but I am tempted! Anyway, from what I have researched the game is a prequel to the series and will not spoil anything if you play it first and then decide to read them later. It has sparked a new comic book spin-off, though. The Wolf Among Us is an official prequel to the Fables series and expands on the game. As of yet it is just in individual issues and I couldn't find a release date for the trade.

    Now this is where things get interesting... Fables is doing a crossover with another Vertigo comic, The Unwritten. If you have never read The Unwritten before, it is another literary graphic novel where the main character travels through various fictional worlds. It works really well for a crossover. The crossover is going to occur in a collected The Unwritten graphic novel and take place in Fables. It is set to be released next year. So, for the sake of having all the information available here is the reading order if you are interested in the crossover.

    The Unwritten:

    Volume 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity (Issues 1-5)

    Volume 2: Inside Man (Issues 6-12)

    Volume 3: Dead Man's Knock (Issues 13-18)

    Volume 4: Leviathan (Issues 19-24)

    Volume 5: On to Genesis (Issues 25-30)

    Volume 6: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words (Issues 31-35)

    Volume 7: The Wound (Issues 36-41)

    Volume 8: Orpheus in the Underworlds (Issues 42-49) (February 4, 2014)

    This all leads up to the crossover...

    Volume 9: The Unwritten Fables (Issues 50-54)

    And, because I am a bit of a completest, I would also mention that there is a standalone volume in The Unwritten series called Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice.

    And, if you enjoyed The Unwritten, the rest of the series is as follows:

    Volume 10: War Stories (Issues The Unwritten Apocalypse 1-6)

    Volume 11: Apocalypse  (Issues The Unwritten Apocalypse 7-12) (May 26, 2015)

    Lastly, just because for some this might be the easiest way to get the Fables series, here is a list of what the Deluxe editions contain:

    Volume 1: Fables 1-10

    Volume 2: Fables 11-18

    Volume 3: Fables 19-27

    Volume 4: Fables 28-33 (1001 Nights of Snowfall)

    Volume 5: Fables 34-45

    Volume 6: Fables 46-51 

    Volume 7: Fables 52-59 and 64

    Volume 8: Fables 60-63, 65-69 

    Volume 9: Fables 70-82 

    Volume 10: Fables 83-85, Jack of Fables 33-35, The Literals 1-3, & Werewolves of the Heartland

    Thursday, April 9, 2015

    Discover Passages to Obscure Worlds with CITIES OF THE FANTASTIC by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters

    Get ready to expand your comics repertoire with Alex from The Sleepless Reader! Alex lives in Switzerland and is here to tell us about a fascinating Franco-Belgian graphic novel series called Cities of the Fantastic. What makes this series a cult hit? Read on to find out.

    One of the best things of having lived in Brussels was the exposure to its vibrant comics scene. As a kid I devoured the most famous Belgian series such as Tintin, Lucky-Luck and the Smurfs, but now the world of the Franco-Belgian bande dessinée culture opened up to me.

    In Brussels it’s impossible to escape the 9th art: there are dedicated comics book shops everywhere, the Trail of the city’s comics wall murals is one of its most popular tourist attractions. Belgium has more than 700 professional comics creators, making it the country with the most comics artists per km² and some of the best were even knighted!

    Brussels' comic wall murals

    Of all the new Belgian artists I got to know, my favourite is without a doubt François Schuiten. Together with French writer Benoît Peeters he created the Les Cités Obscures series, or Cities of the Fantastic. They started in the 80s and have reached cult status. Schuiten in particular is so admired in Belgium that he got to design his own metro station.

    All these cities belong to a continent that exists in an anti-Earth, almost like a parallel universe. Each city is dominated by a particular aesthetic, for instance, Samaris is influenced by oriental architecture, Renaissance and the Baroque, Xhystos is connected to Art Nouveau and Urbicande to Art Deco and Bauhaus. Each aesthetic influences and is influenced by the city’s political structure and its inhabitants’ culture and way of thinking. This makes for really interesting story-telling and world-building, at least if you’re an art buff like me.

    cities from les cites obscures comics

    Visually, this series is exactly my cup of tea (I want ALL THE PRINTS). Schuiten was trained as an architect and it shows. The perspectives are larger-than-life but there’s a special attention to detail.

    The stories, in the tradition of the Franco-Belgian comics, have a surrealist streak. Their meaning can be analysed and discussed to your heart’s content. For instance, in Fever in Urbicand a small, skeletal cube is offered to the city’s most famous “urbatech” and it slowly starts growing. Over the next few weeks it continues to expand and replicate, passing through all solid material, until eventually overtaken the entire city. In The Leaning Girl, a girl becomes victim to a strange phenomenon during a visit to a theme park: her body tilts 45 degrees, “as if gravity to which it is subject came from another universe”.

    In between the main books, there are companions and spin-offs that Schuiten and Peeters developed to add to the world-building. My favourite: an illustrated tourist guide to the Cities.

    tourist guide of the cities in les cites

    Another interesting detail: travel between worlds is possible, through "gates" or “passages,” and Jules Verne and Claude Monet are known to have crossed them. One known passage is the Art Nouveau master-piece Maison Autrique, in Brussels. You can even read reports of crossings in websites like the Office to the Obscure Passages.

    There are currently 12 volumes in Les Cités Obscures, but not all translated into English. This is a fascinating series that deserves to be widely known and read. I’m sure it’ll happen so, after all, according to the American website The Obscure Cities, The Leaning Girl was a hit at the San Diego Comic Con!

    Tuesday, April 7, 2015

    Fear of the C-Word

    Please welcome to our lovely abode Candace from Beth Fish Reads, writing about why she no longer fears the C-word: comics!

    comics: hidden, this one summer, hereville, anya's ghost
    When I'm asked if I read graphic novels, I light up with enthusiasm and can barely stop talking about my favorite books and making recommendations. So why is it that I find it difficult to use the C-word in public? "Um, well," I mumble quietly, "I guess I do read comics."

    Perhaps I imagine that there's something artsy and mature about saying I read graphic novels: I'm on the cutting edge, I appreciate good art, I support alternative ways to tell a story. Saying I read comics, on the other hand, seems to imply that I'm either a sweet middle-schooler reading The Powerpuff Girls or a sullen teenager locked in my room reading Batgirl (not that there's anything wrong with that).

    Comics, however, are so much more than superheroes and pink ponies. The comic is, in fact, a medium not a genre, and it's time for the C-word to shed it's less-than connotations. Besides, who among the non-comics readers can say they've never read a novel for pure escape and enjoyment?

    So here I am admitting it to the world: Yes, I read comics!

    But wait, don't get all superpowery on me now that I've come out in the open. It's not that I don't love me a caped hero once in a while, but my reading tastes draw me elsewhere. I always found myself to be a little outside of the hero universe, with its ingenious technology, mad scientists, and complicated weapons, not to mention the interlinked stories and deep history.

    comics essex county, shackleton, boxers, the initiates
    Although I like a gripping good vs. evil story as much as anyone, I'm more attracted to comics that deal with mysteries, fantasies, quests, relationships, and friendships and those that take me to new worlds. I like my comics to offer escape, but I also want themes and characters and plot lines that make me think and open my mind.

    What I'm really saying here, is that I pretty much read the same things in comics as I do in so-called regular books. And so doesn't that really make my point? There is no reason for me to be reluctant to use the C-word: Comics are as diverse as traditional books, and it's time to stop with the euphemisms and call them what they are. Besides, there's something magical about discovering that perfect combination of irresistible story and art style that makes comics--of any genre--such a pleasure to read.

    Hi, my name is Candace, and I'm an adult and I read comics.

    Thursday, April 2, 2015

    Webcomics: From the Interwebz to Ink

    Please welcome two of our favorite bloggers, Heather from Capricious Reader and Andi from Estella's Revenge, talking about their favorite webcomics that have made it into print!

    Webcomics are plentiful and seem to be on the upswing in popularity among general comics readers, so when Heather and I (Andi here!) heard that Book Bloggers International would be devoting a month to comics, we wanted to share this specific jam! 

    If you're newer to comics or just don't like adding one more website to your feed reader, you may have missed webcomics completely! If you're a little more comfortable with comics collected into book format and you have an open mind about exploring comics you're unfamiliar with, check out these webcomics that have been collected into print volumes! I've linked the actual websites below because you can sample some of the work, and if you get hooked you can purchase a collected volume or keep reading online!


    Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton is possibly the best known collection from this list as I see it popping up on blogs more and more. Beaton's comics are literary, historical, and hilarious! 

    Strong Female Protagonist written by Brennan Lee Mulligan and drawn by Molly Ostertag - Alison Green, THE strong female protagonist, is one of those main characters you can’t help but identify with. Sure, she has superhuman abilities, but underneath all that strength and super-ness, lies a very uncertain girl with real world problems like money, family, friendship, lack of confidence, and a past she just can’t escape.  

    Rutabaga the Adventure Chef by Eric Colossal - Rutabaga is sick of cooking with the same old ingredients. The series begins with him finding an ancient magical sword (think Sword in the Stone), but he’s really only interested in the rare mushrooms that grow on top of it. Throw in one sidekick named Pot (he’s a pot), some magical creatures, and a lot of adventure, and you'll be enchanted.

    Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran - Octopus Pie follows two girls living in Brooklyn, NY. Eve Ning is quite the grumpy cuss who finds everyone and everything pretty much annoying. And she will grumble all about it. Her roommate, Hanna Thompson, is a complete pothead who runs a successful business, much to Eve's chagrin, baking amazing baked goods. Ha! Hanna bakes while baked. I just got it. 

    Piled Higher and Deeper (PhD): A Graduate Student Comic Strip Collection by Jorge Cham -  A newspaper and web comic strip that follows the lives of several grad students, it deals with issues of life in graduate school, including the difficulties of scientific research, the perils of procrastination, the complex student–supervisor relationship and the perpetual search for free food.

    With this little guide, we hope you'll be able to find some new-to-you webcomics in easy-to-read (and collect) volumes. These little gems deserve a home on your shelves. 

    Wednesday, April 1, 2015

    Teaching Comics

    Welcome to comics and graphic novel month here at Book Bloggers International! To start us off, Jenn from The Picky Girl has written the perfect post: about her experiences teaching comics in an English Lit course. Read on!

    One semester, in addition to the textbook for my Intro to Literature class, I also requested the campus bookstore stock copies of Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. The first class day came around, and one particularly attentive student raised her hand and asked tentatively, "Uh, Ms. Ravey, did you know that this is a comic book?"

    She looked a bit horrified, so I chuckled inside, asked if I could borrow the book for a second, and proceeded to show the rest of the class. Some of them looked at me like I was nuts, but that's one thing I love about teaching college freshman and sophomores: keeping them on their toes.

    However, as it was apparent that most of my students had never read a comic or - almost worse - thought of them disdainfully, I decided a more expansive intro was in order.

    scott mccloud understanding comics

    I had already read and marveled over the genius that is Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, which, if you haven’t ventured far into comics/graphic novels and want a primer, you could do much worse. McCloud uses the medium itself to define and explore the complex world of images and comics.

    So we used a chapter of McCloud's text as a brief intro to the world of comics, to help students understand how to read them and why. Words like "gutter," "frame," and "closure" all gave them a bit more vocabulary to back up whatever observations they might make. Of course, much more goes into introducing a text (we also read about the Islamic Revolution and watched an interview with Satrapi), but it was a constructive way of talking about the medium and, I think, made them more confident that I wasn't a lunatic and that this was a legit English course.

    Teaching annotation is also key in helping students deconstruct a text, so students also had to use some means of marking the text (I did and usually do recommend post-it notes). It helps to give students actual tasks for annotating (for those who aren't practiced in reading critically): 1/mark a wordless image that you felt conveyed a lot of meaning and explain why; 2/mark a page where the panel choices increased tension; 3/mark a section that you felt was confusing and why. I don't tend to be so specific or attempt to direct student reading, but I felt it would be good to at least get them thinking while they read.

    What I loved, though, was how enthusiastic even the non-readers were. In fact, this assignment provoked comments from the most reserved in the class, and their observations went a long way in furthering our analysis.

    For example, students pointed out how well the image of Marji's duality was represented in the image below and seemed more able to understand her divided nature. One student pointed out how the veil seemed to take away any and all outside interests in favor of only abstraction.

    persepolis comic

    Then another student pointed out the horrible symmetry in the second image - bodies thrown about violently, brutally in one and joyfully in the one beneath it. The juxtaposition was disturbing to them, and we had an energetic talk about how different the culture was from what they might have anticipated beforehand; many thought this region didn't have that kind of fun or that people there were incapable of it, which made the horrifying conclusion an even stronger image.

    persepolis book

    Though I put a lot of thought and effort into my syllabus and the various texts we will cover, I never quite know how students will react. Persepolis is an excellent choice, I believe, but it's certainly not the only appropriate comic to bring into the classroom.

    The challenge is the layers you must unpack to successfully approach teaching a comic. Just as prose is a medium, comics is a medium. Within that medium, you have various genres. It can be overwhelming. Recently, I asked my friend Ryan, aka my comics guru, where to begin with comics. His response is so comprehensive, and so smart, I had to share it with you because you may feel ill equipped to teach comics or even read them.

    My advice is similar to Ryan's:

    1. pick up a comic
    2. pick up another comic
    3. read about comics (Understanding Comics by McCloud gets high ratings from me, and Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art is the standard. I'm currently reading Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean by Douglas Wolk. It's interesting but a bit rambling.)
    4. think about why you want to teach comics
    5. incorporate comics into your curriculum
    6. troubleshoot

    First, you can't teach comics without reading them. You certainly can't teach comics without having the framework with which to discuss them. Often, though, I hear other teachers talk about using technology or a text because it's cool or the students will like it. Students and teachers rarely agree on what's cool, and teachers are pretty horrible at determining what students will actually like - me included. If you don't know why you're using [insert random teaching idea here], your students will know that, and ultimately your lesson will not be as successful as possible.

    The purpose in my class was to present students with a variety of forms - poetry, short stories, a play, a novel, a comic - that emphasized setting, theme, tone, character, etc. but which also delved into different aspects of the human experience. Critical thinking and critical reading skills are not bastions of an old guard, and in an era when media frequently bemoans the lack of reading (the studies and articles are too numerous to link), it's important to note that comics reading, at least, seems to have increased.

    The more comics I read, the more convinced I am that we should be introducing them to students and educating them about the influences behind and theories of comics. So many of them are, if not all good, heavily informed by the creators and thinkers before them that there is value in using them in the classroom. As lecturer Arnold Blumberg points out, there is also value in "train[ing] the next generation to have a cultural memory that lasts more than five years." But before I start designing a syllabus for a full-on comics course, I have lots and lots of reading to do. I encourage you to read the posts this month and do the same. I know I will be taking notes.