Graphic Novels? Or Comics?

Whatever you call them, "graphic novels" or "comics," they all originated in what our friend Jeff of Beachead Comics - the guy who supplies us with our fixes - calls "the funny pages." Today's post is dedicated to him, despite the odd color. Hiya, Jeff! May the gods & goddesses of commerce smile upon you! Those of you in the Lehigh Valley, be sure to stop by Beachead Comics on Chew St. and check out Jeff's wonderful store and classic decor. It's a fun place.

Before I get started, do click on the above title. Very cool website. So okay, I may sound a little punchy today. We had a great weekend in Wilkinsburg with J&P and the canine cousins (as well as the feline spawns of Satan), and I'm feeling very relaxed.
I'll start with the meta stuff -Robert Rodi's What They Did to Princess Paragon. It's a weird one, and funny, a comedy of errors. Our hero is Jerome, a stereotypical overweight man still living with his mother, the real world traded for a world in which superheroes (and more importantly, superheroines) always manage to save the day. Our villain, Brian, is a hugely successful comic book author/artist who has decided to increase his prestige by turning a declining WWII character, Princess Paragon, into a lesbian in order to increase sales through shock value. Jerome is appalled and disgusted, and will stop at nothing to save his true love, particularly when he finds out that Brian himself is gay.

By far the funniest and, ultimately, most lovable character in the book is Jerome's malapropist mother, Peachy Kornacker. With my own son about to head off to NYC in a few days, it's hard for me not to identify with Peachy when she makes the following emotion-laden speech:

"Well, fine then," she said at last, her voice small and gravelly.
"I guess I have to submit defeat. You go on off to Chicago
and enjoy yourself. But do me a favor and be careful.
You just cross your p's and q's, do you hear me? Lock
your door at night. Don't get smart with any strangers
who might have guns on them. And phone your mother
so she doesn't develop the problem of not knowing my
son isn't bleeding to death in a gutter somewhere."

And later, when Jerome has returned after doing terrible things his mother doesn't even know about, she berates him,

"I only wish your father was alive to see this! It would KILL him!"

Okay, so maybe it's not the most original humor, but the really good stuff is too context-specific to quote here and still make sense. You should just read the book. It's fluff, but it's funny fluff. And it does raise the issue of how the creators of particular comic book characters must feel when their creations are taken over and changed by other writers.
Which brings me to the book I happened to read next, entirely unwittingly. A very fun book by Dave Gibbons and John Higgins called Thunderbolt Jaxon. This was yet another book I'd gotten on a whim from PBS (all four of today's books were from PBS, requested knowing very little about them). It turns out that the character was an old British hero with an origin shrouded in vagueness (i.e. never explained), so Gibbons and Higgins made one up. After reading it, I have to say that it's still rather shrouded. Sure, they explain how Jack gets the magic belt - but the rest of the connections don't make a whole lot of sense. Still, I enjoyed the book, especially because there aren't many out there with Norse gods (aside from Thor). I hope they continue the series, as I'd like to see what happens with Loki!

Anyway, it was interesting to go from a novel dealing with the issue of recreating an old character, to a graphic novel that was an actual recreation of a 1949 character.

Adam Sacks wrote and drew a lovely, amusing and spot-on book (I can't even really call it a graphic novel, exactly) called
Salmon Doubts which really spoke to me. You can click here to see a few pages from it - it's quite different. My favorite pages are the sperm-and-egg pages. Just go buy a copy and support him, okay? He only graduated in 2003 and he probably needs the money. ;-)

I've saved the best for last. For stunning art and a remarkable, riveting story, read Pete Stathis' Evenfall. So far I've only read Vol. I, and I'm not sure the second volume is even available yet. But I need to find it, as I am hooked. Ordinarily, I post my graphic novels at PBS when everyone in the family is done with them, but this series I will keep. Stathis' stories remind me of Neil Gaiman's (highest praise I can give them!). I believe he publishes these himself; more power to him, as that's a hard row to hoe. I can't praise this enough. If you like Gaiman, you will like this. And an added bonus for my family: a book in which for once the main character isn't lily-white.


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