Posts Tagged ‘First Second Books’

A War with No Name

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Notes for a War Story by Gipi isn’t a work of nonfiction, but it was certainly inspired by real events—the author lives in northern Italy, right near the western border with Slovenia. If not for the fact that he lived in Italy, the fighting in the former Yugoslavia could have been his war, and his life. And the book is a reflection of that, the story of three teenagers lingering on the outskirts of war, never seeing it, but feeling its effects nonetheless.

Stefano/Little Killer, Christian, and Giuliano (the narrator) are three kids wandering through the countryside in an unnamed country, stealing stuff to sell and just looking to survive and maybe some day make it big. Giuliano is a bit of an outsider to the other two, because he was raised by two parents with good jobs, and really only left that life behind so he could fit in with his friends. He is filled with doubt about the things they do, but it is unclear to him—and even to us, the readers—if this is because these things are wrong, or because he “just doesn’t understand.”

We follow the trio as they become acquainted with a man named Felix, who pulls them into the business of organized crime and later into the war itself, in a reflection of the real-life connections between organized crime and factions in a civil war. The book doesn’t analyze or explain these connections—this is just the way it is, and when Giuliano actually has the intelligence and temerity to question that state of being, it separates him further from his friends.

The story itself can be a little hard to get into, but it quickly picks up and becomes a rather easy, though emotionally-detached read. The characters are designed with sketchy, awkward lines that succeed in illustrating the scene while generating feelings of unease. I appreciated how the protagonists looked like teenagers, even when their mood shifted from scared to sinister and points inbetween.

Notes for a War Story has had a share of accolades piled upon it, including the 2005 Goscinny Prize for Best Script and the honor of Best Book at Angoulême 2006. It’s a shame that we don’t see as much impact stateside, because this book has a lot to offer in terms of craft and subject.

Notes for a War Story
by Gipi
translated by Spectrum
published by First Second (New York, 2007)
ISBN 978-1-59643-261-1

MoCCA Fest 2011: Sequential Non-fiction

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

As we mentioned it several times last week, it should be no surprise that we attended MoCCA Fest 2011 at the Lexington Avenue Armory this past weekend. We walked the floor, attended panels, and of course, bought lots and lots of comics.

At 12:30pm on Saturday they held the “Sequential Non-fiction” panel, which started a tad late as the previous panel about “Teaching Comics” ran over. The late start was not a problem; moderator Heidi McDonald managed to keep things running smoothly and ended the panel on time. The panelists were Dean Haspiel, Nick Bertozzi, Sarah Glidden and Nick Abadzis. I also spotted Lucy Knisley of French Milk in the audience, taking notes (and I’m sure she wasn’t the only one, as a few faces looked familiar).

Nick Bertozzi spoke about his recently-published Lewis & Clark graphic narrative, which was originally intended to be a mini-comic flip book that would read right-to-left in chronicling their journey west, then the reader would flip it around to read left-to-right for their return journey back east! The book ended up being a little too lengthy for that, so what we have instead is a fairly straightforward, 99% accurate account of their travels (Bertozzi admits he had to make dialog up). His next project is Shackleton, which deals with the famous Antarctic explorations of Ernest Shackleton.

The other Nick, Nick Abadzis, went into the origins of his graphic story Laika, about the first dog in space. He was inspired by a BBC article in which it was admitted that Laika did not survive very long on her journey. To create the book he did a lot of research in Russia, including visiting a private museum at the home of Gagarin (presumably Yuri Gagarin, but I’m not certain). The book was offered to several British publishers who were not interested, though one French publisher was. The book would have had its initial publication in French had First Second not made an offer for it. Abadzis is currently working on a book about the lives of his father and father-in-law.

Dean Haspiel went into his collaborations with Harvey Pekar and Jonathan Ames. Comparing the two, he said they were both very different in how they worked. Pekar turns in pages with stick figures and dialog, while Ames, despite being new to comics, understood instinctively to turn in full comic scripts that laid everything out. He also spoke about the origins of his book Cuba: My Revolution, where his friend Inverna Lockpez has been telling him bits and pieces of stories of her life in Cuba, and eventually he told her that she might have a real story to tell.

Of course, Sarah Glidden spoke about How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, and how she started off her career making daily journal comics to get into the habit, and doing the Birthright trip gave her an opportunity to write about a little more substantial. She originally started off making mini-comics about the trip (which she still had on sale at her table), but at a previous MoCCA Fest an editor Vertigo picked them up and asked her if she’d like to do an entire book.

When asked about the things that were most important in creating graphic non-fiction, Abadzis mentioned being balanced (and that his family was complaining he wasn’t), while Glidden cited this as a reason she didn’t like to tell other people’s stories, because she could mess up the facts. Haspiel emphasized it was important to him that he entertain his readers, while Bertozzi said something that is probably true of all the creators on the panel: he wanted a copy of his book in every library.

Ben-ding Over Backwards

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

While Ben Hatke of Zita the Space Girl may seem like an old hand at art and illustration, one thing he’s a newcomer to is bookstore signings.

In this short strip set at Politics and Prose, watch him try to eat when nervous, attempt to talk and sign at the same time, and find out whether it’s possible to outdo Eragon’s Christopher Paolini. (Probably not.)

(via Doodles and Dailies)

A Post-War Postcard

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Despite not being as long or as seminal as other epic works such as Craig Thompson’s Blankets, Alan’s War by Emmanuel Guibert is probably the longest I’ve ever taken in reading a graphic novel. It’s just so rich and dense, with so much information packed into every page and panel, that you can’t just breeze through it. Nor should you—this is the story of a man’s life, and what a life it was.

Alan’s War is the story of Alan Cope, a young man from California in the ’40s who like many young men his age back then, found himself drafted into the army and sent overseas to fight in World War II. “Fight” being a very loose term in his case, as he was drafted late into the war, and by the time he finally got sent to France, the war was mostly over. So he finds himself moving from place to place, performing mostly administrative and cleanup work, learning a lot about Europe (and life) in the process. He ended up living there after the war, which is how he met Emmanuel Guibert, the comic artist who took their conversations and transcribed them into this beautiful book. Guibert is not a speaking presence in this graphic novel; Guibert was the audience then as the reader is now.

Guibert chose to keep his dialog and pacing as true to Alan’s original delivery as possible. As such it is very comfortable, measured, and occasionally contradictory. Guibert notes these contradictions in the introduction, but they do not detract from the story one bit. I found it very easy to follow, even when Alan’s account gets sidetracked as he tries to sneak in smaller anecdotes and bits of information into the narrative, and even with all the people Alan met it was relatively easy to keep them straight, though I found myself at times flipping back to try and remember who he was talking about.

The book is actually a collection, as the novel was originally published in three volumes back in France. The first volume or chapter, covers Alan’s training and stateside experiences, while the second chapter is his travels through Europe. The final chapter is more of an epilogue, as Alan basically goes through a laundry list of what happened to him and all his friends: some moved away and he lost touch, some he was reunited with, and others died. As a resident of the 21st Century it’s fascinating to see how Alan was able to track down people without the Internet, using only letters and phone calls and coming up pretty successful most of the time. He even wrote to Henry Miller at one point and got an answer regarding the whereabouts of a couple of dear friends.

The narrative shines in this graphic novel, but the art is also beautiful to behold. Many panels may seem empty, but what few elements Guibert does put in them convey so much information. His facial expressions are charming, but the real standouts are his landscapes. Some are almost indistinguishable from photographs, the detail being so rich.

I really enjoyed this book; it was funny and charming, and provided a look at military life that was more humble and less violent than the portrayals we’re used to getting. Guibert is right in that Alan Cope was a natural storyteller, though he sells himself short: Guibert is excellent as well.

Alan’s War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope
by Emmanuel Guibert
translation by Kathryn Pulver
lettering by Céline Merrien
published by First Second (New York, 2008)
ISBN 978-1-59643-096-9

Manifested Destiny

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Last week the popular computer game The Oregon Trail made its way to Facebook, courtesy of The Learning Company and Blue Fang Games. For those too old or young to have experienced it, The Oregon Trail was a computer game created in 1974 where the player assumed the role of a settler in 1848 traveling on the historic Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City. The game was well-known among students as it seemed to be installed on every single school computer (which were usually Apples) and teachers often had students play it during computer class instead of actually teaching them anything. I suppose it had the virtue of making it so that kids learned a handful of basic computer skills with some American history on the side, but what people really remember is dying of dysentery and writing funny things on their headstones.

I’ve been playing the Facebook conversion and it’s not bad. Because this is Facebook, it’s had some of the mandatory social elements tacked on—you can use your friends as members of your party (and subsequently watch them suffer from scurvy) and you can assist friends who are playing the game by fixing their wagon or hunting for them. Hunting, by far the most popular gameplay element of the original, is no longer limited by how many bullets you have (bullets are actually unlimited), but by how much energy you have. Energy refills over real time, so you can log off and come back to a full energy bar. Because time stands still in the game when you log out, it’s actually far easier than the original computer versions. So far no one’s died of dysentery or cholera, my wagon only turned over once in a river, and I only actually lost the game once, when I failed to reach Oregon before winter came. The game stacks, so items and money earned in a previous attempt carry over when you restart in Missouri, and it’s actually easier as you level up.

There’s also a real life monetary element to the Facebook version, where you can use your real money to purchase “Trail Notes,” which are used to buy really useful items and favors in the game. However, the game is easy enough you’ll never really need these extra perks.

The Oregon Trail is one way to make westward settlement come alive for today’s youth, another recent interpretation is Nick Bertozzi’s graphic novel adaptation of the journey of Lewis and Clark. The book is set for release next week (February 15), but right now you can take a look at his overall creative process on the First Second Blog. He goes through five overall steps: writing, layout, penciling, inking, and digital manipulation. It’s really interesting to see a page go from a rough layout to a finished page, and it will be even more exciting to see the entire work when it’s released.

Westward Explorers

Monday, October 11th, 2010

American history is full of great stories, but few capture the imagination as much as the journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, sent by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the scope of the Louisiana Purchase in 1804.

Nick Bertozzi, author of Stuffed! and The Salon, is working on an oversized black-and-white graphic novel chronicling their journey, from moments like their grand departure from St. Louis to buffalo hunting to meeting with various Indian tribes.

First Second Books has made a 24-page excerpt of Lewis & Clark available on their site; the book will be released on February 15, 2011.

A Dutchman in Upstate New York, circa 1634

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Last year I attended a panel at New York Comic Con called “Telling a Story With Imagined Pictures,” where various creators of nonfiction comics talked about their work. One of these was the artist George O’Connor, who worked on Journey Into Mohawk Country, an account of one Dutchman’s trip from Manhattan further into New York State in the winter of 1634. I later picked up a copy of the graphic novel from First Second Books’ table. I recommend dropping by if you see their table at a con; they usually have good sales like “Buy 2 and get a 3rd for free” and the books are priced down to $10 on top of that.

George O’Connor is the artist of the book, but the writer is an interesting case. All of the text is taken straight from the journal of Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, as translated by Syracuse University Press. So there is no narrative flourish, no need to create riveting text. The text is simple and plain, and what happened, happened. The story is not boring and has its moments of levity, and moments of historical interest.

Where there is flourish and room for creativity is in the illustrations by O’Connor. With such a simple, bare-bones narrative to work with, O’Connor must fill in the blanks, connecting journal entries into a continuous story and speculating on what the travelers might have felt and what little inconsequential things could have happened that were not important to be noted in the journal but still add flavor and context nonetheless. There’s an extended “spiritual” sequence toward the end with no text from the journal that is probably all bunk, but it adds an emotional arc that is otherwise lacking from the dry journal entries. Overall, the illustrations might add a bit of fiction to the novel, but they are appropriate and do not take away from the basic character of the original journal.

At the Comic Con panel O’Connor spoke of the research he did, and it shows. The clothes are period-appropriate and the snippets of Mohawk culture we view are “authentic,” vastly different from the claptrap we’re usually fed by our popular culture. These are the Indians I remember from my fourth grade textbook, and I would recommend this as essential reading for anyone studying the rich history of New York State.

Journey Into Mohawk Country
written by H.M. van den Bogaert
illustrated by George O’Connor
color by Hilary Sycamore
published by First Second Books (New York, 2006)
ISBN 1-59643-106-7