Manuelito Review

Before I start, I just want to say that I will try my best to keep the politics to a minimum and focus more on the graphic novel as a whole. Immigration in the United States is a super complicated topic that I will not get into on this blog. This is a review blog and, while I do review things that have political leanings in them, I do my best to avoid putting my political views into them and just review the story and, in this case, the artwork.

With that, if you haven’t been living under a rock these past three years, immigration and the Mexico/America border is a hot topic. While the only viewpoints we see are from politicians, Americans and the news media, we never hear from the actual immigrants. Comic book writer Elisa Amado decided to change that with Manuelito with illustrator Abraham Urias.

The story is about a young boy named Manuelito who lives in a small village in Guatemala. Things have gotten extremely dangerous in the village due to the influx of gangs and soldiers making life hard for everyone that his parents decided to hire a coyote (a man who helps people cross the border illegally) to take him to live with his aunt in the US.

How accurate the journey in this book is is unknown, but the only peril shown in this comic are the soldiers, gangs and the coyote who everyone says is dangerous. While that sounds interesting, the tension is about as thin as the paper this comic is drawn on. Manuelito even has a cell phone THAT HE KEEPS WITH HIM THROUGHOUT THE STORY! There are some tense moments that stop being tense on the next page or so.

There is only one major negative that happens on the journey, but it’s to his friend Coco Loco.

The only great thing with the story is the writing. Amado does a fine job of letting the leader see into the mind of Manuelito and how he’s feeling in a certain situation. There isn’t much of it though.

The artwork is all pencil illustrations. They’re nice drawings that do manage to tell a sequential story. Many may not like this style, but for a story like this, you really don’t need anything spectacular.

While Manuelito does have good writing, the story is OK and the ending is but predictable. This is obviously just a way to tell a point, which it does a fine job of, but as a comic it’s mediocre. The pencil illustrations are great, though so kudos to Urias.

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Lovely Demon: Demonic -Reaper Chronicles #1 Review

You’ll have to forgive me, dear reader, for I have not updated this site in two months. Life gets in the way of us creative types. In fact, I wasn’t going to do a review today since I hade neither the drive nor the topic to write one.

That changed when I finally read that comic I bought at Xaverian High School Comic-Con back in May. That comic is called  Lovely Demon: Demonic -Reaper Chronicles #1 by Zanny Lane. Apparently, it’s the physical version of the webcomic.  That title and the fact that it looked like an American manga is what made me drop $5 (it came with a bookmark and is autographed) to buy it. After reading it, I liked it, but with a few grievances.

The first issue is about Takumi (Tak,) a software engineer for a robot toy company who is unhappy with his line of work. He wants his own company where he can design his own toys. After a chance meeting with a mysterious girl named  Yaffa, his career starts to skyrocket and he keeps meeting Yaffa after every success.

It’s an interesting story that at first will leave you confused as to what a demonic-reaper has anything to do with a story that reads like a slice of life. Then the ending comes along and there’s the demonic-reaper. It does come across as mean that someone who just wants to get recognized for their talents ends up in a horrible situation, but it can also be that maybe Yaffa is evil. The writing is strong enough to make readers want to see more people interact with Yaffa. Maybe even a continuous storyline with Yaffa and an antagonist trying to get in her way.

The art needs a bit of work. It has that manga feel to it and the character designs look nice, but the facial expressions and linework have a ways to go. The action scenes also need a bit of work due to it not being 100% clear what’s going on. The biggest complaint is when Tak runs to the rooftop and we see Yaffa behind a bit away from him and then the next he’s much closer. It would’ve worked better if she only appeared in the smaller panel when Tak realizes she’s behind him.

Lovely Demon: Demonic -Reaper Chronicles has a lot going for it. With some tweaking of the story and better facial expressions/ line art, this comic could go places. This is one of the better American manga I have read in a long while.

 

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Notre Dame de Paris: A Post Mortem

Oh, Notre Dame de Paris, symbol of Parisian pride, ever since your birth in 1345 you have stood as a mighty symbol of Parisian pride and religious faith. Your children have bathed in your glory through the ages and loved you.

Oh, Notre Dame de Paris, you beautiful landmark, one of your sons has used you as the backdrop to weave one of the finest works of fiction featuring a tragic love story where a lustful archdeacon, an egotistical knight and an angry, deaf hunchback bell ringer seek the hand of a beautiful gypsy girl whose beauty and dances have fascinated all three.

Oh, Notre Dame de Paris, you beautiful triumph of Gothic architecture, have survived looters, neglect, riots, Napolean, a revolution and Nazi bombings. All it took was a fire to destroy your majesty.

Oh, Notre Dame de Paris, you wonderful cathedral of Paris, do you not hear and see your children crying in the streets as you burn and your mighty spires topple over, denying future generations of their splendor.

Oh, Notre Dame de Paris, the lifeblood of al Parisians and pride of France, do you hear the loud cries of foreigners who come for miles to bear witness to your majesty now must bear in mind that most of you have now perished in a fire.

Oh, Notre Dame de Paris, proud cathedral of Paris, do you hear the laments of this writer whose heart was moved by the novel you son has written and written in great detail only today to hear the news of your timely death. Your original splendor he will never see in his lifetime.

Oh, Notre Dame de Paris, mighty cathedral, one of your sons has promised to rebuild you, but you will not be the same cathedral that millions around the world have come for miles to visit and admire your beauty. You will be given new additions but your original splendor is now lost to time.

Oh, Notre Dame de Paris, fallen saint of Paris, the world mourns your destruction and will forever remember your original splendor and will be celebrated in the book one of your sons has written that has captivated your beauty. May you rest in peace, oh darling of Paris.

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Kindred (Comic) Review

What some of you may not know, I and an associate have been doing a panel called Comics: An Underappreciated Form of Literature for the past two years at Boroughcon (new, super small con in New York City.) We’ll be doing it again this year at Xavier High School Comic Con on May 11 (time TBA) so come on by.

The reason I brought up the panel is that last year my associate decided to add a new comic: Kindred, the comic adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s novel. Problem is, I never read Kindred in any of its forms so she had to all the talking. This year I decided to just read the damn thing to give my two cents.

For those who’ve never read it, Kindred is about Dana, a young black woman living in 1970’s California who mysteriously gets sent back to 1815 Maryland. Here she meets (and saves the life of) Rufus, the son of a plantation owner who apparently has the power to bring Dana back in time whenever he needs her. Without having a clue as to how to go back and forth through time, Dana must now live like a slave in 1819 Maryland.

Yes, this is one of those books where people are sent back in time where they just might die if they do something wrong. The only thing here is that it’s practically guaranteed that Dana will get beaten (which she does) and even die. On top of that, she has ZERO rights and people WILL be her if she looks at them wrong. Butler does a nice job of making Dana, not a complete idiot and actually competent enough to live “normally” in that era.

The thing that ground my gears about this book is Rufus. He’s a whiny spoiled little shit who Dana has to suffer under because he’s the only one with the power to send her back. Butler does a great at making the reader want to whip that brat.

Also, besides the two beatings, she does have it a little easier than the other slaves on the plantation, mainly due to her “not sounding like a nigger” and can read well.

How does the comic adaptation do in terms of telling the story? It does it pretty well. Unlike in novel form, we do get to see Rufus’s face and reactions when he’s acting like a spoiled little shit, the pain on the characters’ faces whenever something bad happens to them and actually seeing Dana getting whipped is a lot more powerful. In our panel, we show a panel that has the right half of Dana’s face and the left half of Rufus’s face together. This is in the climax of the story that basically shows the conflict between these two very different people and it is pretty impactful.

So now that I have read it, all it did was give me more ammunition for me and my associate’s argument that comics can be literature and should be held at that standard. Call me a snob if you want, but I feel that comics have a place and they can be and are so much than what the masses view it as.

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Walking Simulators: Should You bother Playing Them?

One of the newest video gaming genres is the walking simulator. It is exactly as it sounds: You just walk all over the game’s world clicking on things or going to a certain place and a cutscene starts. It’s basically a movie that you have to work to get the story. Yes, the gameplay is basically non-existent, which means the majority of gamers will just avoid them like plagues.

So, what caused me to talk about walking sims? I finally played one: The Town of Light.

You see, what made me buy this game (it was only $10, don’t worry) was the plot: a woman with a mental disorder returns to the closed down mental hospital she was committed to in order to remember what really happened to her and her friend. It’s also based on an actual Italian mental hospital and events that happened there.

Right off the bat, you can tell the storytelling is going to be her narrating everything. This could work if done right and it was done OK in this game. Yes, the things that happened to her were messed up, but how much of it really happened. Not to mention that despite the game having multiple story routes, the ending is the same and it is pretty messed up.

The only way I can think of that walking sims can actually be remembered is with strong storytelling. That’s basically all that these games can offer. If the story sucks, why bother? There are plenty of games that have great stories that have even spawned comics, novels, animated series and tons of merchandise.

Of course, gamers avoid these games because, well, are they really games? Technically speaking, yes. You need a human to control a character in a computer-generated world in order for something to happen. However, the lack of anything that can be considered gameplay is nonexistent.

Of course, the odd person will defend them saying how come people bash walking sims and not visual novels? Simple: visual novels usually have some type of gameplay element. Hell, Phoenix Wright has collecting evidence and then the trial part, Danganronpa has, well, the same thing but a lot more complicated and the first Corpse Party has you collecting items and running away from ghosts, a maniac and in one part a child molester. Same thing with point and click games: you collected items that you need in order to solve puzzles and then question the developer’s sanity when you find a puzzle that requires you put an octopus in a toilet, use prunes on this one guy which causes him to run to said toilet where he gets raped by the octopus and you getting his belt buckle. If you think I’m making this up, go play Discworld for the PC and PS1.

So, should you play a walking sim? If you just want a story where you control a character and you have to work in it by walking around a computer-generated world, then yes. If you want to play a game, look somewhere else. Do walking sims have a place in gaming? Absolutely! You’d be surprised what has fans nowadays and these developers have found that (small) audience.

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Junji Ito’s Frankenstein Review

First off, Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it. Second, I know I’m late to the party (again,) but 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein. Hell, The Morgan Library has an entire exhibit devoted to this (it’s actually really awesome.) So, I decided to get in on this action by reading Junji Ito’s manga version of it (and buy the 1818 version of the book. What? It’s for historical/scholarly reasons.)

For those unfamiliar with Junji, Ito, he’s considered to be the king of horror manga and his artwork will give you nightmares. Hell, I still can’t look at spirals without freaking out because I read Uzumaki. And that same artwork of his on full display here. While the nightmare fuel he’s known for isn’t that high here, there are still images that will give you nightmares. One of them is the monster. Remember, the monster is supposed to made out of random body parts and sewn together. There are panels that show the monster in some seriously scary ways which is how he is supposed to be.

Everything else, it just looks normal. He does manage to drawn Western people that actually do look Western. Before you go on and say, “it’s manga,” look at how he draws Japanese people. They clearly look Japanese.

As for how the Ito adapts the story, he adapted the 1818 version (Frankenstein shows more free will and Elizabeth is Frankenstein’s cousin who he marries.) It’s also different from the movie versions which people are familiar with (no Igor, no castle with a giant lab where Frankenstein uses lightning to bring him to life. Also, the monster learns how to talk normally rather than just grunt and say random words.) This version is scarier than the movie versions because the monster shows high intelligence. Combine that with high strength and Frankenstein is helpless.

While Shelly’s words may not be on display here, Ito does manage to bring her story to life in a way even literature snobs would enjoy. Trust me, if there was anyone who’s able to make this work as a comic while still being true to what Shelly intended, it’s Ito. In fact, Ito did a lot more to make me want to read the original novel than any movie version or teacher. Now you know how to make me read literature.

Do yourself a favor and read Junji Ito’s comic adaptation of Frankenstein. His artwork combined with the 1818 version of the work makes this worth reading for anyone, even diehard Frankenstein fans. I always say, just because it’s a comic, doesn’t mean it has no literary merit. You’d be surprised at what a comic can do that a novel can’t do.

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My Take on Stan Lee

I know I’m late for this, but life happens.

So, Stan Lee, one of the greatest if not THE greatest comic creator ever, has died. Now, I’m not going to reminisce about how great a person Stan Lee was because I never knew the guy personally. I wanted to meet him at a convention but never got the chance. Instead, I’m going to talk about how his work influenced an industry and in some ways me.

I understand how this subject has been touched on many times, but once you think about it, WHAT did Lee do to influence and for some say change the comics industry? Simple, he made characters that were human. Think about this for a minute: Before X-Men, Spider-Man and anything Lee made, comic characters were, well, characters. Their personalities were dependent on what their title was. There really was no complexity to any of the characters. Hell, Superman was just some super strong alien who punched people and smiled a lot. And played baseball. Yes, that actually happened.

So Stan Lee decided “hey, let’s give characters some kind of scope and depth.” Thus, X-men was made. Let’s not forget Spider-man, Blade, Black Panther and The Punisher. Yes, these are superheroes, but they all have realistic “in a way,” shortcomings and weaknesses that aren’t some space rock. Hell, Spiderman’s weakness is that being Peter Parker sucks. Spider-man=fame, fighting bad guys and hanging out with Iron Man. Peter Parker=dead uncle, dead-end job and dead girlfriends.

This guy has influenced guys like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and way too many indie comic artists to name. This guy said you can make a superhero that has real-world problems and still fight baddies, why? Because that’s what real-superheroes would be like. Yes, people have taken it a bit too far and just create characters that are nothing more than Watchmen ripoffs times 10 or Frank “Sex Sells” Miller clones.

As for me, well, I’m going to be real with you and say not much. I was never really a fan of Marvel/DC but I have seen the 90s X-Men cartoon, Spider-man carton and the Marvel movies. I’m more of a manga guy and whatever American comics I do read come mainly from Dark Horse.

However, I can see the influence in the comics I do read and they do form in my mind that comics are literature and that Lee has had a major hand in it. Granted, I’m not that saddened by his death because I’m not a Marvel/DC fan, but I do know what his work has done for the industry and how well respected he is.

So, Rest in Peace Stan Lee and Excelsior. Your many contributions and cameos will never be forgotten and there probably never will be another comic creator like you.

 

 

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Legally Correct Fairy Tales Review

Have you ever wanted to read classic fairy tales in legalese? No? Too bad, David Fisher did just that.

Legally Correct Comics takes classic fairy tales and writes them in either a legal document, a lawyer’s closing argument or as defendant testimony. This has to be the most original take on fairy tales I have ever seen. Jack and Jill suing the company that made the bucket they were using, Hansel and Gretel getting sued by the kingdom for murder and, now here’s the best part. the Big Bad Wolf is portrayed as a mob boss.

Hell, the absolute best story is the one about the Big Bad Wolf portrayed as a crime boss being questioned by a prosecutor. It is one of the funniest things you’ll ever read. They even have 911 recordings of when he blows the house down.

In fact, one of the weirdest stories in here is of an oak tree wanting custody of Pinocchio. Yes, the tree that Geppetto cut the wood to make Pinocchio is in a custody battle with Geppetto.

Of course, you need to remember that these stories are written in legalese, thus you will see plenty of legal jargon and dry courtroom speeches. It seems that Fisher knows a lot about how trials work because these do seem like actual court records. That’s part of the charm of these stories. Get used to reading lawyers giving closing arguments and showing evidence (yes.)
That seems to be the only real reason some people may not like this book. It gets knee deep in the legal jargon and if you’ve ever read legal documents they are boring. You just need to go into this with a certain mindset that says “this is just absurd court cases that are meant to be funny.” Once you go over that hurdle, this will be a quick read.

If there are any lawyers reading this, I just have to say David Fisher proved to me that lawyers actually do have a sense of humor. I’m not sorry for telling the joke, “what do you call three lawyers dying in a car accident? A good start” because you guys do sometimes come off as heartless vampires.

And I just lost my lawyer audience. Anyway, check this book out to see a different take of telling fairy tales.

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Ubu Roi Review

Have you ever wanted to read/watch something because of the controversy it caused? That’s the only reason I decided to read the 19th Century French play Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry. For those who don’t know, what happened on opening night was the very first line of the play is “SHIT!” which caused the French gentry to lose it immediately. Top that off with tons of violence and satirizing modern French politics and the play needed to be stalled because people were rioting. Yes, 19th Century French gentry were rioting. The was never a production of the play for decades after that.

Right, so the story is about Pere Ubu, a fat, stupid, uncouth dragoon captain who decides to kill the King of Poland and take the throne. The Queen and Prince of Poland are still alive and want to get their kingdom back.

I’m not sure if this is the stupidest play I’ve ever read or it’s one of the most brilliant. On one hand, it’s surreal and ridiculous to the point that it is funny. On the other, the comedy does get stale pretty quickly and Pere Ubu saying “shitr” (yes, that’s how they spell it) gets old as well as lines like “by my green candle.” Not to mention the overly melodramatic lines and Pere Ubu being a huge douche bag that deserves to die.

He also gets stabbed and shot a ton of times and doesn’t die.

I have seen some performances of this play on Youtube and yeah, the acting and lines get dull after a while as the joke dies.

Brilliance, underrated or complete trash, you have to hand it to Jarry that he made a play that small troupes are willing to experiment with. That, I guess is one positive about this play: it allows people to experiment how hey put it on. There are puppet theater versions and versions with insane costumes that are just bedsheets with some designs or signs on them.

I’m, in a way, glad I read this play because I do like to see experimental stuff but sometimes experimental does get boring after a while and this play does get boring after a while. Either it’s the translation I read or the play gives it everything in the first three acts and then loses all steam in the last two.

Eh, shitr happens.

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Chu Ju’s House Review

Many kids throughout mankind’s history have thought about running away from home for one reason or another. Sometimes that reason can be that kid is being abused, their family has major financial trouble or even as petty as not getting that one toy. Gloria Whelan has a story like that called Chu Ju’s house.

Chu Ju is just a normal girl living in a tiny village somewhere in China. Her mom is about to give birth and it had better be a boy since not only does China have a law that says people in the country are only allowed two kids (city one,) but boys are more highly valued than girls. It’s a girl and her parents are thinking about selling her off. Chu Ju figures the best thing to do is to run away, have her family try to have a boy again and Chu Ju tries to live her own life.

This was a rather enjoyable story. The main reason is wanting to know how Chu Ju was going to survive in a country where girls with no family are SOLD to sweatshops, prostitution or as wives for foreigners. Sadly, she did kind of have a pretty easy time alone. Granted, she had to work hard, but everyone she meets except for two treated her like family. Call me a realist, but I expect at least one person to get suspicious.

On the other hand, Chu Ju does show that she is a lot smarter than she lets on. She does lie about her skills but learns fast enough to stay with that family. That’s why Chu Ju is an endearing character, she adapts to her situation which is a great lesson to teach kids. Even the ending is a nice lesson and comes across as a realistic scenario.

Of course, some people have accused Whelan of not understanding Chinese laws. Yes, laws are complicated, but this is a book for young readers and you do need to simplify some things so as to not get in the way of the story.

Chu Ju’s House may be simple, but it is heartwarming. Chu Ju is an interesting character as are her adventures and the ending is great. This is well worth reading if you can get past whatever inconsistencies in China’s laws and culture.

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