Posy Simmonds, your gateway to Graphic Novels

If you are new to graphic novels or want realistic graphic stories, Posy Simmonds could be your gateway to graphic novels. She is best known in the UK; both Tamara Drewe and Gemma Bovary were published in serial form in The Guardian newspaper. Simmonds artwork retains the soft-edged realism of sketches and are often combined with large blocks of narrative text; a combination that works perfectly for her satirical relationship dramas. These books share many elements: a heroine who has physically transformed herself, self-involved husbands, infidelity, a frump in his fifties who imagines himself to be the centre of the story, and death.

Gemma Bovary is narrated by Raymond Joubert, a middle-aged French baker and drama queen who is convinced he must save his new Anglaise neighbours Charlie and Gemma Bovary from repeating the tragic mistakes of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary! He steals Gemma’s diaries and is dismayed that Gemma barely acknowledges his existence. Instead she obsesses over her decor, her ex, her body.  She disses both the annoying French locals and the pompous English week-enders yet barely mentions her romantic liaisons. From the outset of the novel you know who is dead–what you don’t know is how it happened.

Posy Simmonds sampleTamara Drewe is set at an idyllic writer’s retreat in the English country side and is primarily narrated by Beth, wife of self-involved popular writer Nicolas Hardiman; she manages both his career and the retreat. The story shifts perspective often, giving us insights into every character. This includes two teen girls, Jody and Casey, who find the drama of Tamara’s life far more interesting than anything else in their boring village. Their neighbour’s life is so interesting, in fact, that Jody is willing to break the law to get the whole story. The frump of this tale is Glen Larson, a fiftyish academic who has convinced himself that the young and beautiful Tamara finds him attractive.

Both books are from the adult collection and are most appealing to readers who have been through a break-up, but could be read by anyone over age 12 who enjoys the social commentary often found in murder mysteries. Although adultery is a major element there are no explicit scenes. Both books reveal vanity, insecurity, stupidity, ego and hubris as the culprits of everyday tragedy. If you’d like to check Simmonds’ work out for yourself, Tamara Drewe can be read entirely online, thanks to the Guardian Archive

Posy Simmonds page on the Lambiek Comiclopedia

Read a brief review of Gemma Bovary from the NY Times

Pocket Full o’ Books in-depth review of Tamara Drewe with artwork samples.

Image from the Guardian Archive

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Around the World by Matt Phelan

Around the World coverTake three determined people, set before them a challenge they can’t refuse, and get ready for (vicarious) adventure.

Toward the end of the 19th century, three individuals took on the challenge of travelling around the world, each for his or her own reasons, and each in his or her own way. Thomas Stevens, eager to leave behind a life in the mines, taught himself to manage one of the new bicycles and peddled across the United States. When the first trip went well, he decided to continue his journey across the Atlantic to England, through Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and finally across the Pacific to finish back in San Francisco. Reporter Nellie Bly set out specifically to outdo Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg. With only one small bag, the clothes on her back, and a pet monkey purchased along the way, Bly flung herself around the world, gaining more fans with every mile, and beating Fogg (and a contemporary competitor from another publication) handily. Joshua Slocum, a retired sailor apparently made obsolete by the rise of steamships, intended little more than to take once more to the sea. Where Stevens’ journey was characterised by people-watching and new friends, and Bly’s by an expectation that the people along her way would cooperate with her determination to make it around the world quickly, Slocum’s journey was almost entirely solitary, dependent on his memories, his expertise, and the wind.

The adventure and factoids that fill Around the World will easily hold the attention of middle grade readers, but don’t miss out on reading it yourself. Phelan’s artistic and literary presentation of these three stories is rich with humour and a keen sense of the complex relationship between the journey experienced, and the journey told.

Check out more reviews from Fyrefly’s Book Blog and Kirkus.

Read the stories from their own pens! Find Thomas Stevens’ description of his journey in Around the World on a Bicycle and Nellie Bly’s story in Nellie Bly’s Book, both available on Project Gutenberg.

Catch the book trailer:

Feeling the wanderlust? Find out what travelling around the world looks like today!

Ten: Graphic Novel Biographies

Where the value of graphic novels is under debate, it may be helpful to have a few clearly educational titles to offer as an entry point to the form. Adaptations of classic novels abound, and fit beautifully into Ashley Thorne’s argument for valuing adaptations and abridgments for their ability to make substantial literature in its original form more accessible to readers. Another great option is graphic novel biographies, which not only introduce readers to some pretty amazing lives, but also, in some cases, accomplish more through the combination of printed words and pictures than might be possible in more traditional forms of storytelling. On the plus side, as is the case with classic lit adaptations, one graphic novel biography often points the way to more, either by the same author or in the same series — it seems to be an addictive sort of work!

By Jim Ottaviani
In partnership with a variety of illustrators, Jim Ottaviani has produced a long list of graphic novel biographies focused on the world of science and its intersection with society (e.g. politics, gender expectations, etc.). In addition to the titles below, look for Feynman, T-minus: The Race to the Moon, Suspended In Language: Niels Bohrs Life, Discoveries, And The Century He Shaped and more.

Primates: the Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks
You’ve heard of Jane Goodall, but maybe not the others, yet. Ottaviani and Wicks give readers a glimpse of the lives and work of these three women, as well as some insight into how their work has contributed to the movement to conserve primate habitats. Continue reading

Jane, the Fox & Me written by Fanny Brit, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, and translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou

Jane, the Fox and Me coverHélène is struggling with a dreary school life of no friends, teasing and poor self-image. Her current strategy for respite is in reading Jane Eyre and reflecting upon how, despite the great adversity she faces as she grows up, Jane remains resilient to the things that unfold in her life.

Much to her dismay, Hélène learns that her class will be spending four days together at an isolated nature camp in the woods. It’s bad enough to have to deal with rejection and teasing during school hours. Having to spend time away from home is something that Hélène certainly is not looking forward to.

While it is somewhat helpful to escape in reading, she is still not immune to the her classmates’ bullying at camp. She bunks with the other “outcasts,” but can’t break the ice. Just when the bleakness is starting to feel all-encompassing, she experiences a moment of connection with a fox. She is inches away from petting it when one of her bunk mates spooks it away.

Hélène is about to give up on hope entirely when a friendly face, Géraldine, comes to join the outcasts’ tent. Géraldine’s friendship helps break the spell placed upon Hélène, and a bit of colour starts filling Hélène’s life as she starts to see her life in a different way.

Simply put, a beautiful book. Arsenault’s use of gray tones, colours and various fonts captures the feelings that are represented within the words. The experience  and feelings of “not quite fitting in” and being unhappy with oneself are well addressed. Moreover, the book shines positive light on the one parent family dynamic of Hélène, her two brothers and their mother.

Read other reviews of Jane, the Fox and Me from the New York Times and Publishers Weekly.

Another blogger’s review of the novel at edge of seventeen.

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