Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

Drawing Conclusions: A Serial Reader

We want that “paradoxical search for familiarity combined with strangeness; want more of the same – but with a difference,” says Victor Watson in Reading Series Fiction.

Watson’s book considers series written for children, but it still applies, doesn’t it? There’s nothing like reading a series.

Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead is one of my favourite series; I twitch in my seat when I learn that there is a new installment.

Image Comics 2011

Volume 15, We Find Ourselves, was no exception. Though, in contrast, it was a relatively quiet addition to the series.

(I mean, as quiet as it can be, when the world is overrun with zombies, right?)

The emphasis here, however, is on the relationships between the characters.

And, ultimately, that’s what makes this series so appealing and sustainable: it’s all about the characters and how they respond to the overarching situation that they’re in.

Whether it’s parent-child or romantic, whether it’s short-term (and, obviously, lots of the relationships in this series are short-term) or extended; the relationships are what secure my interest in Robert Kirkman’s storytelling.

(I’ve been following this series for about two years now; I’m thinking it’s about time to have a real binge, gather them all together and re-immerse myself in that world. Maybe I’ll plan that in time for the next installment but, in the meantime, this volume counts towards my Dystopia reading for 2012.)

But while some series are old favourites, I’m new to others, like John Layman and Roy Guillory’s series, Chew. Vasilly got me hooked on these, beginning with Taster’s Choice.

In this first volume, readers are introduced to Tony Chu, who is cibopathic; he can take a bite of an apple and get a feeling about what tree it grew from, what pesticides were used, when it was harvested.

They also meet Amelia Mintz, who is a saboscrivner; she writes about food so accurately and vividly that people get the sensation of taste when they’re reading her words.

Already you have a sense of the bizarre and quirky flavour (sorry!) of this series. But it’s not just fun, but intriguing.

Bao Publishing, 2010

Three years ago, 23 million Americans (116 million globally) died as a result of what the government claimed was an avian flu, but there are questions surrounding that.

Well, there are always conspiracy theorists, right? But is there some truth to this?

The bulk of the story is action-oriented, and tension abounds, as does the snark.

“Do me a favor, Chu, don’t go orderin’ some free-range organic beet salad or any hippy-dippy bullshit like that. You go into a chicken speakeasy and order anything other than chicken, they’re gonna think you’re a copy or an asshole. Try not to tip ‘em off that you’re BOTH.”

In the second volume, International Flavor, readers meet Lin Sae Woo, who is a covert operative for the US Department of Agriculture, on assignment on the isalnd of Yamapalu; Woo is one of the most lethal agents in the USDA, who has a trained rat named Jellybean

The structure of this volume is even more playful. (There were times while reading the first volume that I simply grinned at the illustrations; even without the snappy dialogue, the images alone can be comical. But the very design of this volume had me smiling.)

For instance, the third chapter has three prologues. (Okay, maybe you have to be there, but this struck me as funny. But perhaps “Hand over the chicken and nobody gets hurt” is more your style.)

There is a morgue full of bodies, a military compound, a popsicled Rooskiebabe, and loads f bite marks in this tropical island paradise.

And, as if that’s not enough, near the end, there are three panels on the right-hand page, each with a blasting yellow box:

CLIFFHANGER!
CLIFFHANGER!!
CLIFFHANGER!!!

Okay, now that’s fun, right?!

Also fun, but of a different sort, is the Fables series by Bill Willingham, which begins with Legends in Exile.

(Clearly I’m not the only reader who is new to this long-standing series, because there is always a hold list for the volume I need from the library.)

And of course chapter one, “Old Tales Revisited”, begins with Once Upon a Time.

That’s not surprising. But what is? It takes place in New York City.

Though, fittingly, at the corner of Bullfinch and Kipling: the juncture of two talespinners.

Snow White is the deputy mayor (King Cole is the real deal) of Fabletown.

And magic can be used to buy wizards’ spells to make someone’s enchantment invisible to the Mundanes (aks Mundys) or to make a space much larger (e.g. a regular apartment in the Woodland into a castle).

In both the first and second volumes, there is a murder to solve.

(Because I was new to the series and to the characters, I wasn’t much bothered by the first death, but the second one was haunting. I kept hoping it was a ruse, but don’t hope for it: it’s real. Except, I know, it’s a story. But it’s real, y’know?)

So even if readers are not amused by the idea of Bill Willingham’s reimaginings for these familiar characters, the plot is engaging.

In the second volume, there is a conspiracy as well. Because murder alone is not interesting enough apparently. (Yes, I’m still a little bitter about which character was murdered.)

There are no fantastic elements to the series by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie about life in the Ivory Coast in the 1970s. (Here, I chat about meeting Aya.)

In English, the third volume of this series is titled Aya: The Secrets Come Out.

(At first, I was quite smug about that. There is a secret revealed at the end of the second volume, so I figured that I was “in the know”. I should have realized: where there is one secret, there are probably more.)

Some of the scenes in this volume could be set anywhere.

Young people are working and partying, caring for younger siblings and gossiping, dreaming of escaping to elsewhere and meeting in dark corners out of the sight of adults.

Other themes distinctly suit the Yopougon setting.

For instance, in a beauty pageant, some contestants are judged to be more European-looking and others more African-looking (which adds another layer to the question of ‘who wins’). And another character announces to his family that he intends to take a second wife (who happens to be significantly younger than the first wife, than the man himself).

The cast of characters is only slightly larger in this volume than the second. The chart (complete with images) covers two pages at the beginning of the book, directly following the map which shows where Ivory Coast is situated in the continent of Africa.

There is a new section in the chart for a family of three who hasn’t appeared in earlier volumes. and there are three other individuals who appear next to related characters. Aya’s much younger sister, Akissi, takes on some dimension (which makes sense, as I believe there is a volume devoted to her eventually), and readers who are familiar with the series can more firmly attach names to characters whose roles were less prominent in the earlier volumes.

Those who begin with the series with this third volume might find it less satisfying; the scenes change quickly, announced only with a change of colour palette, and there is a lot of ordinary activity that is only briefly sketched, which might not resonate without an understanding of the relationships between these characters.

But for those who have stuck with the series, there is a satisfying sense of community that settles into place with this third volume.

Loyalty, ambition, friendship, betrayal: many of the characters are exhibiting and longing for these things and readers who have a history with these individuals will find themselves eager to see what’s next.

Which graphic novel series are you enjoying or thinking about starting?

4 comments to Drawing Conclusions: A Serial Reader

  • I’ve been wanting to read The Walking Dead for awhile but I have a thing about zombies. Why? I have no idea though I’m perfectly fine with vampires. ;-)I’m glad you’re enjoying Chew. It’s so quirky and odd and gross and interesting. . . even the parts that make me a little queasy at times! I keep reading great things about Aya. I’m going to give it a try.

    Have you read Y: The Last Man? I read the first book in the series but kept telling myself “Would women really act that way if every man on Earth was dead?” :-)

    • I have a friend who was in exactly the same position with the zombie thing, but TWD turned her too. (Heh, ‘turned’, sorry, that’s probably not helping.) The TV series is so well done, too (and actually wouldn’t provide spoilers because they changed so many of the essential elements anyway).

      I’m frustrated that I can’t find the rest of the Chew comics in the library; I might have to buy them, and that means buying the series, right? Because what’s the point in having the third volume and not the earlier ones? I had the first book in the series of “Y”, but I just didn’t click with it at the time; I might try it again because I understand that it gets better? As for Aya, I’m sure that you will really enjoy it; I’ve just gotten the fourth volume to read, and I’m really looking forward to it.

  • I finally requested the first volume of Chew – unfortunately as an inter-library loan it takes a bit longer to get to me. A friend had talked it up a while ago and guess it’s time to start it!

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