I enjoyed Tetris: The Games People Play even though it was essentially a business story. Box Brown is good at making characters out of real people, and the very analog style of art worked really well in contrast to the pixels of the game under discussion for most of the book. It laid everything out clearly with the convoluted selling of rights that some people didn’t have, and in the end it all works out for the Russian who invented the game (though his friend and sidekick through most of the story ends up um.. badly in a way that surprised me and could have been a frame for a very different style of book).
In the beginning of the book there was a bit about the importance of games and the cultural significance of them, which gets wrapped around back to by the end. I think that’s the best part, and what I’ll probably return to. It felt a little like reading Scott McCloud in its clarity and use of the comic format.
I’ve become less of a devotee of the power of games in the last year or two, mostly because I’m seeing more ways that adding game layers to things enhances certain political projects. Which is conflicting, because while I love games and I wish I could play them more, but I prefer it when games are kept in the realm of recreation and art, not business or the betterment/anaesthetizing of society or the efficiency of an organization.
So yes, the book about Tetris made me feel bad about the world. But it’s good.
I think I liked Legends of Zita the Spacegirl even more than the first book. And I liked the first one a lot.
Legends has Zita dealing with the tedium of fame. When she finds a robot who can take her place during all the autograph signings and such it sounds great. Then the robot takes her place on a mission that will let Zita go home again. Zita has to find new allies and get her life back.
The book has Zita dealing with awesome new characters and setting up seeds of connection for the future books. She’s clever and heroic and even though she’s out of her depth she doesn’t lose her head. It is a bit more explicitly a part of an ongoing series than the first was, but Hatke is doing a great job making it work on its own as well. Very recommended for the middle school crowd.
Brain Camp is a comic, written by Susan Kim, about going to camp where terrible experiments are being done on the campers to make them smarter. But at what cost?! It’s drawn by the awesome Faith Erin Hicks and looks great. The story about three kids who figure something weird is going on at camp, is decent but not earth-shaking.
I liked how they used the ensmartening against the camp-runners by the end, and the reason the two main characters have better resistance than most is kind of clever and cute. The reason for the experiments is also a good twist on the basic idea.
In all, a good little story (but no match for the really greatness of something like Hicks’ Friends With Boys).
I was really excited about Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado’s kids comic Giants Beware! and it did not disappoint. Claudette is a brave little girl in a town that’s very wary of the outside world. She tricks her little brother (who wants to be a sword-making pastry chef) and best friend (who wants to be a princess) into helping her on her quest to go kill the giant in the hills near the town (which no one has seen for ages).
The story does great things with impatience, bravery, cleverness and family. It reminded me tremendously of Bone, which is a very good thing. Highly recommended.
Boaz Yakin’s comic Marathon is a retelling of the story of the messenger who ran to Athens to warn the city of the Persians about to sack them. That’s just the third act though. There are plenty of scenes of running beforehand. Eucles wants to be fighting not running, but running becomes the way to victory.
I wasn’t a huge fan. The rough linework in the art and all the beards led to people all looking interchangeably similar. I don’t really give a shit about these kinds of military honour stories either so there wasn’t a lot for me here.
Sardine in Outer Space is a science fictional story written by Emmanuel Guibert and drawn by Joann Sfar that’s much more goofball than y’know, serious speculation, but is also a tonne of fun. Sardine is a little girl who travels around in space with her pirate uncle Captain Yellowshoulder as they fight the terrible villain Supermuscleman in a collection of short episodes.
There’s lots of travel to one-note worlds where they deal with aliens and the stakes are always very high, loads of traps and clever escapes. It’s exactly the kind of thing I wished I’d had to read as a kid, like Spaceman Spiff adventures, but packed into a book. It’s translated from the French by Sahsa Watson but feels very natural in its voice.
Joann Sfar is of course responsible for the grownup comic The Rabbi’s Cat, but also for the kids comics Little Vampire and Dungeon which I also recommend. Sardine is much more madcap and targeting younger readers than the Dungeon series.
Ben Hatke’s Zita the Space Girl: Far From Home is a great science fictional kids comic. Zita and Joseph find a big red button in a field. Zita presses it and Joseph gets sucked through a vortex. Then she summons up her courage and presses it again to go after him. They’ve both ended up on an asteroid filled with aliens (and robots), some of whom speak English. The asteroid is going to be destroyed by a comet in three days though, so they need to get out of there. Joseph has been kidnapped and taken to a castle to be imprisoned and Zita gathers up her resources to go find and rescue him. She makes allies and gets betrayed and eventually everything works out pretty well.
There’s nothing crazy complex going on with the plot, but the characterization is fun. There’s a war-bot that likes to tell stories of his escapades (much like warship in The Culture novels) and a giant mouse who doesn’t speak but prints out little messages from his collar. The art is cute and the story moves really quickly. I liked it a lot.