Wednesday, January 6, 2010

two graphic novels

I doubt you can find two graphic novels that are more dissimilar: Gene L. Yang’s semi-autobiographical American Born Chinese and Joann Sfar’s bizarre Goth fantasy Vampire Loves. But I happened to read them in the same day so here goes.

American Born Chinese reminded me immediately of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, as it was a humorous memoir of boyhood growing up living the American dream from a minority status. Though Jin Wang suffers some of the same adolescent problems with girls that Alexie’s counterpart did (surely it must be a requisite of all boys to suffer these problems?), beyond that the comparison fades. The book was a National Book Award finalist and a winner of the Michael L. Prinz Award, and its proponents laud its three seemingly disparate strands of narrative coming together with a clever twist. For me, the three strands didn’t come together quickly enough. That, however, is the only criticism I can draw up against it. I am always suitably impressed by writers/graphic artists who do everything themselves, and Yang’s style is accessible and highly readable.

The three strands are that of the Monkey King, a well-known Chinese legend; Danny and his misadventures when his stereotyped Chinese cousin comes to visit; and Jin Wang’s seventh grade friendship with Wai-Chen and everlasting crush on Amelia Harris. The thing all these have in common is trying to disguise or ignore part of one’s nature, and in the latter two examples, one’s sense of Chinese identity. I would recommend this book as it’s humorous and a quirky, appreciable read.

By contrast, you wouldn’t expect to have anything in common with Ferdinand the Vampire in Vampire Loves, but the dark humor and irony in Sfar’s signature style makes characters like vampires, wailers, wraiths, mandragoras, tree men and so on have the exact same relationship problems you’d find on Friends. Well, maybe not quite the exact same ones. Sfar is recycling many characters that have appeared in his other books, which number over 100, including the Little Vampire series, so it may not have been the best time for me to jump into his universe. Nevertheless, despite the weirdness and ghoulishness, this crowd would hit it off with the cast of Being Human and it’s sort of this combination of the nightmare and the mundane that makes Vampire Loves a fast, jaunty read.

Ferdinand is a shy, retiring, “old-fashioned” vampire who hasn’t quite hit it off with the Goth culture in his Vilna residence. “Young” Goth vampire Aspirine wants to get inside his coffin (no, really) but he prefers her older sister Ritaline. His real love, the tree-girl Lani, seems to have no concept of monogamy; on an ocean liner, he has an exciting adventure with a Werewolf and a female wraith. My favorite story was with the Japanese student in the Louvre who finds Ferdinand there and accidentally knocks him out with her Polaroid. While it doesn’t pay to think too carefully about the undead, the living, and the fantastical all wanting to fool around together, purely on the surface, the drawings are cute. And it’s another that’s written and drawn by the same person!

No comments: