Call me crazy but I’m one of those people who gets a little peeved when general news outlets refer to comics or trade paperbacks as graphic novels. Aside from simply being the wrong term, it also carries with it a sense that the writer is trying to make comics sound more mature, a distinction that’s unnecessary to anyone even remotely familiar with the adult-oriented medium. What’s the difference? Well, a trade paperback is a collection of single issues brought together for an easier read while a graphic novel was created all at one time. It’s basically the difference between calling a short story collection exactly that versus a novel (well, not exactly because the issues are serializing one big story usually, but you get the idea).
The two books I’m writing about today actually are graphic novels, though and they also both happen to have been written or inspired by well known people. How much involvement said celebs actually had in the creation of the book itself, I have no idea, but that’s not really important.
I started off with Get Jiro because I needed a tonal shift after finishing another book of Y: The Last Man and this certainly gave it to me. As regular readers of UnitedMonkee and Monkeying Around The Kitchen know, I’m a pretty big fan of Anthony Bourdain having read both Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw and regularly watched No Reservations. One of the interesting aspects of reading through Jiro was that he and Rose put in a good deal of elements seen on various episodes of Reservations. You’ve got the little eels from Spain that only exist for a few weeks cooked simply over fire and the little birds you eat whole (except for the head) while wearing a towel over your head, plus others. This was an interesting experience because, while the thing being done was more described than shown, I had the images already in my head from watching the series.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself, what’s the book about? Set in a future version of Las Angeles, Get Jiro takes place in a city completely obsessed with food and nothing else. LA has become a zoned area where only the privileged can live on the inside eating amazing food made by one of two camps: money hungry Bob or ultra-hippie Rose. Niether are particularly likable but that’s okay because they’re the bad guys. Our hero is Jiro, a sushi chef on the outer rim who garners the attention of both who want him in their camps, but more so don’t want him to join the other guys. All in all it’s a hyper-real, satire with healthy doses of blood and violence. The book really felt like a more light-hearted Frank Miller/Geoff Darrow book in both look and feel which is by no means a bad thing.
But, it’s not perfect. I thought the world-building was pretty light. I didn’t need everything completely laid out for and actually enjoyed the opening text the succinctly explained the world’s super foodie culture, but wish they would have explained the set up of the city in a little more detail or maybe just showed a map, that would have done it. It also felt like a lot of set up for a relatively quick payoff, I could have done with more of the big battle at the end, but I guess that wasn’t the story they were going for which is fine.
For his part, Foss is a delight to read. He packs so much into panels that he really is Darrow-like, a trait that more comic artists should aspire to and a trait that fits in really well with the graphic novel idea because guys like this tend not to be able to hit monthly deadlines. Still, I’d rather get larger doses of these kinds of artists a few times a year than one issue every year. There are times, though, when Foss lets his background characters look a little dead in the eyes which can be a little off-putting, but that’s a minor complaint.
I’m not sure how well this book would go over with people who aren’t fans of Bourdains because of all the cooking stuff, but it felt like there was enough explanation to bring in new readers (though the big blocks of text explaining such things might turn some people off) but if you are a fan or just like the gonzo craziness of something along the lines of Crank, then give this movie a watch. I just realized how insane a Neveldine and Taylor adaptation of this movie would be and now I want to see it!
Greendale was pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum in every way from Jiro both as a piece of fiction and as a story that I interacted with. Neil Young’s name is on this book, but it’s basically based on his concept album-turned-movie from earlier in the 00s, neither of which I have any experience with. It’s also tonally and artistically different from the kinetic, hyper-real portrayal of reality seen in the other book. This is a much more grounded fantasy done in a softer artistic style. This is pure Cliff Chiang and looks exactly like anything else you’ve seen of his, but there seems to be a strange softening effect added to every single page, which was kind of a bummer because these pages really sing and could have used some brightness even given the darker elements of the story.
Speaking of the story, this one focuses on Sun Green who lives in the fictional West Coast town of Greendale. She’s a teenager trying to figure out who she is, how she fits into the grand scheme of things and how she really feels about all of the war and environment issues that went on during the Bush Administration (and still do, this story’s just set in that time period). She also comes from a family of women who tend to display supernatural abilities tied to nature and disappear when they feel like it. Sun meets a boy and starts thinking about heading to Alaska to try and stop off shore drilling when a mysterious man (who looked a like like Neil Young to me) shows up and starts messing with her cousin and brother.
After reading this book, I’m not completely sure how I feel about it. I think I liked it, though it was a little heavy handed at times. On the other hand, I like how it kind of presented the weirdness of this world as the story progressed and didn’t feel the need to front load everything. You’re just kind of thrown in, given a little information and figure things out as you go. I like that, I’m just not quite sure how I feel about that journey itself. It’s got a good “we can do it” message, but, at the end of the day, so does every high school/college movie pitting a bunch of kids against a corporation like Step Up Revolution. Does the way a message is conveyed make it any more or less meaningful? Maybe when it’s presented so many times that it becomes noise. On the other hand, it sure is a pretty looking book and did make me feel something, so I think I’ll keep it around for at least one more read.