Hugo reading 2017: Introduction and Graphic Stories

Day 1:

The Hugo voter pack arrived in my inbox today, and because I take my democratic duty very seriously, I’m planning to read as much of it as I can.  I’m comforting myself with the thought that it can’t possibly be as puppy-infested as last year, but I’m also wondering if I am truly morally obliged to read what is almost certain to be a rapetastic and nasty-minded Chuck Tingle parody by an author who chooses to go by the name ‘Stix Hiscock’.

I’ve already looked through and voted on the professional and fan-art, some of which was really lovely.  I especially liked Elizabeth Leggett and Likhain in the fanart category, and was quite taken with Galen Dara, Chris McGrath and Victo Ngai in the professional artist category.  Though, now I think about it, I think I actually preferred Leggett and Likhain to any of those three.

The latter was an interesting category to judge – I found that I tend to judge cover art on a) whether it’s pretty to look at (I’m really not a very visual person, and know nothing about art, so that’s the best I can do), and b) whether it suggests a book I would like to read.  So the first three on my ballot all fell into the ‘very pretty’ category, and the last three, which did not appeal strongly to me, I really judged by how likely I would be to read those books.  Which meant that John Picacio came last, not because he is a poor artist – none of them were, as far as I am able to judge – but because his covers said ‘1950s pulp SF with hardly any female characters’ to me.  Julie Dillon, who is, I suspect, objectively not necessarily a better artist had books that screamed ‘fun, but not very well-thought-out fantasy or light SF with plenty of female characters, and I’d probably feel embarrassed to read this book, but I’d still love it’, and Sana Takeda – who I felt didn’t quite belong in this category, as she was the only one doing graphic novels rather than covers – came fifth on the grounds that her work said ‘graphic novels, probably quite good ones, but I don’t really like graphic novels’.

Which brings me to the graphic novels.  Let me start by saying that I really do not enjoy reading graphic novels – I tend to find it hard to pay attention to the graphics, and I feel like I’m not getting enough plot-per-page to carry them around as reading material.  (Yes, I’m a philistine, but I like my stories neat. So I’m not a great judge for this category, but that’s not going to stop me voting in it!

I started with Black Panther Volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet, by Ta-Nehisi Coates and illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze.  I am the wrong audience for all graphic novels, because of the aforementioned non-visual-appreciatingness, but also because I have terrible trouble telling the characters apart.   I just can’t hold their faces in my head very well, and so I find the plot hard to follow.  This was even more the case here, because the plot appeared to be complicated and political, and something that I would probably have rather enjoyed if it had been the start of a novel, but as it was, I couldn’t figure out which faction was which and who was allied to whom and why.  Also, I found the narrative style a little irritating – very rhetorical and portentuous, which only works for me if I am quite invested in a story.

Rather a pity, because I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essays, and I was hoping to enjoy this more.

My second graphic novel was Ms Marvel Volume 5: Super Famous, by Willow Wilson and illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa.  I came to this one with high hopes, having heard a bit about Kamala around the place, and I was not disappointed.  It’s heaps of fun, super cute, and the ending is adorable.  Nice plot about an evil development company using drones and evil magic potions to take over the town, but it’s really all about the characters (who I can actually tell apart!  Hooray!).  Kamala has a whole network of family and friends who are clearly people with their own stories, and her story is as much (if not more) about her relationships with them and her difficulty juggling all her responsibilities as it is about her superpowers.  And there are some great one-liners.  I love the whole concept of a superhero with physics homework and boy problems, and I’m always up for witty dialogue, so this one is a win for me.

I may even have to overcome my aversion to graphic novels to read more of it.  Maybe.

Day 2: My lunchbreak reading today was Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda.  I do not recommend this as lunchbreak reading, as it is quite bloody.  I have a feeling that I’ve read some of Liu’s short stories, but I’m struggling to remember them.  This is another very political fantasy, and it’s humans versus arcana.  Arcana have wings or tails or superpowers and seem on the surface of things to be more potentially powerful than humans, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.  And also, it seems that killing them, or consuming parts of them, allows humans to be healed of wounds, and even become semi-immortal.  You really don’t have to get very far with this premise to end up in some fairly unpleasant places, and this book certainly does that.  Beyond this, there are multiple factions within both the Arcana and the humans, which again I found hard to follow, because I had trouble distinguishing between characters.  (I just do better if I have names to tag characters to rather than faces – graphic novels rely much less heavily on names because they assume you can tell everybody apart.  Ha.)

I’m a bit torn on where to rank this one.  The artwork was really, really lovely, my favourite of all the books so far, but this didn’t help me recognise characters, alas.  Which made it very confusing – when you have lots of factions and have trouble telling which is which, that’s a problem.  And it was way too dark for my taste – highlights include torture, lots of maiming and killing, people being eaten, and babies being threatened with horrible fates.  This is another story which I would have enjoyed more in novel format, I think, except that it is so VERY much not my cup of tea.  But at least in novel format, I would have had fewer visuals in my head.

So yes.  My instinct is to rank it higher than Black Panther, because of the artwork, even though Black Panther was just confusing, as opposed to confusing and distressing.  But I haven’t decided yet.

My tram reading was Paper Girls, Volume 1, by Brian Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, coloured by Matthew Wilson and lettered by Jared Fletcher.  I liked this quite a bit.  It had a sort of 1980s feel to it, which was appealing, and centres around four teenage girls who are delivering newspapers when there is… an alien invasion.  Or maybe a time traveller invasion.  With multiple factions.  Hooray, more politics!  I found the characters mostly easy to tell apart (though two of the girls kept looking very alike to me), but I still spent a lot of this story feeling confused.  I’m beginning to think that perhaps I am rather stupid.  Then again, time-travel plots tend to require you to get to the end of the book before everything makes sense, and this is clearly just the start of the story.

This is definitely at second place on my ballot so far, after Ms Marvel, but ahead of the other two.  Part of me would like to read more, because I did like the characters, and I always like a good time travel plot, but I’m not sure I’m willing to make the investment of time required.  I didn’t love it, and the artwork did not excite me.  And the weird near death experience stuff didn’t quite work for me.  I think there is also possibly some religious subtext going on (apple computers = apples + fruit of knowledge; heaven and hell in dreams; a bearded guy who looks like a cliché cartoon of God in an apple T shirt, who is in charge of judging people), but I’m not too sure where it is going, and feel a little wary…

Day 3

Another graphic novel read in my lunch break!  Can I have four categories done and dusted by tonight?  Of course I can!

So, next up was Saga, Volume 6, by Brian K Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples and lettered by Fonografiks.  I wondered how I’d go with making sense of this one, since it’s volume 6, but I actually quite liked it.  The characters were strong, and I could mostly tell them apart, and there didn’t seem to be too many factions going on (though again, factions and politics – is that a big trend at the moment, or have graphic novels always been about warfare and politics and tribalism?).  This particular story centred around a couple who are of different and enemy (but apparently cross-fertile) species, who are trying to find their daughter again.  She seems to be locked in some sort of prison camp / re-education kindergarten, and if anyone finds out who she is they will try to kill her.  The why of this is presumably in previous volumes.  There was a bunch of stuff I didn’t quite follow which clearly related to the overarching story, but the central narrative of this story was quite nice, and I enjoyed reading it.  Possibly the more so because it fit in so nicely with my enjoyment of the Vaughn short story… I apparently like narratives where supposed enemies are friends and working together.

Again, I don’t feel any particularly strong need to read more of the story (and for goodness sake, if you are reading it, don’t read it at work.  There were several pages I had to turn quickly without reading because those were images I just could not have on my work computer), but I did like it.  It has just overtaken Paper Girls and is sitting in second place, after Ms Marvel.

Fingers crossed, I’ll be able to read The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse than a Man, by Tom King, illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta, between work and my hair appointment today, and I will post the review then…

OK.  I started The Vision.  I got nearly halfway, and was finding it OK (and for once, having no difficulty telling characters apart), but then there was a scene with someone doing something terrible to a cat who looked quite a bit like Mystery, and that was it for me. I’m afraid I’m not going to read any further into that one, because I don’t need more pictures like that in my head (the cartoonist draws cats really well, and that doesn’t help), and I really wasn’t enjoying it enough to risk it.  I don’t know how I can possibly judge this one, so it just won’t go on my ballot.

My delving into Graphic stories for this year is officially over.

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