What I have today are three award-winning comics that seem to gravitate around common themes. The stories in these books are bleak and depressing. If you’re looking for something uplifting to read, then you’ve come to the wrong place. However, if you are willing to take a risk and give these heartbreaking narratives a chance, then you’re in for a treat.
“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.”
– John Joseph Powell
Writer and illustrator: Taiyo Matsumoto
Publisher: VIZ Media (2007)
Intended audience: Young adult and up
Awards: Winner of Best U.S. Edition of International Material (Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, 2008)
Book borrowed from Cleveland Public Library. Photos taken by me.
I got really excited when I found out that this award-winning manga by Taiyo Matsumoto was available in our online catalog. For those of you who don’t know, “manga” refers to Japanese comic/graphic novel. It is typically intended for adults but there are manga that are also written for children. I became familiar with Tekkonkinkreet several years ago when I saw the movie version at Barnes & Noble. I watched the movie and fell in love with it.
Tekkonkinkreet is set in the fictitious world of Treasure Town, a Disney-esque, neo-punk version of Japan. The book is quite heavy even for a paperback. Not only does it have over 600 pages, Tekkonkinkreet also contains the heartbreaking story of two street urchins of Treasure Town. The boys are not related but, somehow, they are bound by their common desire to keep the peace and rid the city of scums (such as the yakuza). They become even more determined when they learn about a new gang who wants to transform Treasure Town into a giant amusement park. Black and White are always ready to fight. The question is: are they willing to die?
Perhaps the scene that pierced my soul is when White explained to one of the police officers that he and Black are “missing lotsa screws… Heart screws. But White has screws for the parts Black doesn’t. White has them all.” I felt like my heart was being torn apart when I read that.
There is so much violence in Tekkonkinkreet. However, do not let it stop you from reading this book. It talks about brotherhood, faith, courage, the fragility of life, and the co-existence of light and darkness, that one cannot exist without the other.
“What do we say to the Lord of Death?” “Not today.”
– George R.R. Martin
Writer: Joe Kelly
Illustrator: JM Ken Niimura
Publisher: Image Comics (2010)
Intended audience: Tween and up
Awards: Winner of Best Indy Book (IGN 2008) and the Gold Award (5th International Manga Award 2012)
Book borrowed from Elyria Public Library. Photos taken by me.
Joe Kelly’s I Kill Giants is another masterpiece that I was fortunate to have read this year. The story is not stained with blood as Tekkonkinkreet but is equally powerful. In this beautiful collaborative work, we meet a young girl named Barbara Thorson. Don’t be fooled by the bunny ears she always wears and the cross-stitched heart pouch she always carries. Behind this sweet façade is a vicious Dungeons and Dragons player.
The first few pages of the book shows an image of a knight fighting a dragon. Then, it shows Barbara stitching a hammer – THE hammer – on a heart-shaped pouch. The scene switches to a classroom and the panels show Barbara engrossed in reading a book, clearly not paying attention to the class. This is the part where readers learn that Barbara hunts giants, finds giants, and kills giants, and that holds more importance than being stuck in a room full of losers.
I Kill Giants reminded me of Patrick Ness’s When a Monster Calls (reviewed by Myra). Joe Kelly brilliantly weaves fantasy and reality in this story that involves diversity, friendship, bullying, and loss. As the story moves forward, readers learn about Barbara’s preparation for battle as her real life struggles unfold.
We see more than just a girl hunting giants. We see a girl using giants as a means to escape reality. We see a girl dealing with bullies in school. We see a girl suffering from heartache and trying to find the courage to deal with loss and grief. In I Kill Giants, readers will find themselves cheering for Barbara as she forms new friendship, stands up to bullies, and fights the biggest giant of them all. In the end, we are reminded that we are stronger than we think.
“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Writer and illustrator: Jeff Lemire
Publisher: Top Shelf (2009)
Intended audience: Young adult and up
Awards: Winner of the ALA Alex Award, Doug Wright Award, and Joe Shuster Award
Book borrowed from Medina County District Library. Photos taken by me.
If you’re planning to read this book, I suggest you get the collected edition. The Complete Essex County contains all the stories in the Essex County trilogy written by Jeff Lemire. This collection was included in the “60 Comics Everyone Should Read,” a list created by the BuzzFeed community. The stories in the trilogy are: Tales of the Farm, Ghost Stories, and The Country Nurse.
While Essex County is real, the setting of Lemire’s gripping masterwork is imaginary, paying tribute to the Ontario county where he was born. Essex County is completely different from Tekkonkinkreet and I Kill Giants. It is neither drenched in blood nor occupied by giants. Essex County tells the tragic story of a small community drowning in secrets. It has the kind of narrative that the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez would tell.
In Tales of the Farm, we meet a boy named Lester, his strained relationship with his Uncle Kenny, and a death in his family that he is dealing with. In Ghost Stories, readers are introduced to two brothers named Lou and Vince who not only loved hockey but also loved the same woman. In The Country Nurse, a nurse contemplates on her life as she takes care of her elderly patients.
It is necessary to read the complete Essex County in order to see Lemire’s magic unfold. A secret is revealed with each turn of the page. The stories are connected by an invisible thread. The characters share the same fear of isolation and the need to belong. Essex County speaks gently to the heart. It is a reflection on love, family, memory, redemption, and forgiveness.