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Stella Matutina
books and stories and musings, oh my!
Fantasy Picks For the Holidays - Part IV 
16th-Dec-2008 01:29 pm
Well, I decided to take the plunge and put together some graphic novel recommendations. Oddly enough, all but one of these were originally self published. Self publishing is a bit of a scary field, but it does seem to lend itself to graphic storytelling. Many of these stories are so unconventional that I doubt any traditional publisher would've taken a chance on them, but their creators have really made these ideas pay off. Almost all of them have since been picked up by traditional publishers, too.

All these books are appropriate for either adults or YAs.

CASTLE WAITING, VOL. 1 by Linda Medley

What's it about? There's this castle, see, and it was once the site of a Sleeping Beauty-like story. It was very nearly abandoned after the princess awoke, but her three handmaidens stayed on. They've turned it into a sort of a refuge for the misfits of the world, who have come together as a tight little family.

Oh, and they're all fairy tale types. Horses who walk upright, women with demon babies, bird-headed men, bearded nuns... you get the picture.

My thoughts? This is such a fantabulous book that I ordered my own copy as soon as I'd finished it. Medley does some gorgeous things with the material, and the whole setup is developed really nicely. The stories follow basic fairy tale patterns, but nothing is quite what you'd expect.

My one complaint is that this volume doesn't form a complete story. Sister Peace gets the full treatment, but everyone else is kind of left hanging. Medley is still publishing new issues of the ongoing comic book series through Fantagraphics, though, so hopefully there's another collected volume on the horizon.

You can read my full review here.

Giveability? Fantagraphics recently picked the series up and has published a gorgeous little hardcover edition with a built-in ribbon bookmark. It'd make a great present for the fairy tale-loving feminist in your life, and is appropriate for anyone from 12 to 148.

Price? $33.95 CAD, $29.95 USD, or £21.99 GBP

More info! You know I'm gonna refer you to LibraryThing. Alas, Linda Medley seems to have taken her website down, but you can still check outAmazon.ca. if you want to learn a little more and/or buy the book.

BONE by Jeff Smith

What's it about? The Bone cousins are run out of Boneville yet again after another of Phoney Bone's schemes goes awry. They become separated as they flee from an angry mob, and eventually find themselves in a mysterious valley. As they navigate their way through this unfamiliar territory, they become enmeshed in an old, old story that will shake the foundations of their world.

My thoughts? Now this is what I'm talking about. It's funny; the Bones make hilarious protagonists, and the situations they find themselves in are just priceless. It's sweet; the cousins really care about each other, despite all their bickering. It's epic; the quest they undertake is sweeping. And Smith brings it all together really, really well. Neil Gaiman has said that BONE starts off like Terry Pratchett and ends like Tolkien; I think it's more like a combo of the two all the way through. It's a ton of fun, and it lends itself very well to rereads.

My sketchy little review, (which is really due for an update), is here.

Giveability? This would be a great gift for the humorous fantasy fan on your list, or for anyone with a taste for epic sweep. Scholastic publishes full-colour editions of all nine books, but your best bet is to get the whole series in the bloody big omnibus Smith published shortly after the ongoing series wrapped up its thirteen-year run. It's much cheaper than buying the individual volumes, and your giftee will probably just want to bust on through the whole series in three days flat anyways; why make 'em wait?

I'd say this would be appropriate for anyone 10 or up, but be aware that there are some frightening scenes. There's no sex, though, and no foul language. Younger readers may prefer the smaller, full-colour editions just because they're easier to hold.

Price? The one volume edition is $49.99 CAD, $39.95 USD or £29.99 GBP. The little coloured editions are $10.99 CAD, $9.99 USD or £6.69 GBP a piece.

More info! LibraryThing, as always. Jeff Smith has a website, too, and you can buy the book or learn a bit more on Amazon.ca.


What's it about? Rubel, a young thief, has just returned to his home city of Oceansend after four years abroad. He expects to find a loving grandfather and a slew of supportive friends waiting for him, but instead he discovers a world turned upside down. His grandfather is dead. His friends are gone. And there's an ominous Shadow Lady dogging his every move...

My thoughts? If you caught my reviews a few weeks back, you know I think this series is just the cat's meow. Oakley has a rich, detailed backstory for these characters and their world, and his art is just phenomenal. (Don't even get me started on his architectural work. We'll be here all night). The books are a ton of fun; the plots twist and turn, the backstories are intertwined in some surprising ways, and Oakley combines the best qualities of prose fiction and graphic storytelling. It's good stuff. Damned good stuff.

My review for THE RED BOOK is here. You can read my reviews for books 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 here.

Giveability? The first volume would make a great gift for anyone from 12 on up. It's available in a trade paperback edition and would make a good under-the-tree gift. It has particular appeal for those who like epic fantasy, humorous fantasy or coming of age stories.

Price? $18.95 CAD in comic shops, or $15 from the publisher.

More info! LibraryThing's got a little bit, but Oakley's website is by far the best source for online information. You can buy the books through him, too; he quit selling to Amazon a few years ago because it was no longer financially viable. There's also a chance you could find T&K in your local comic shop. Even if they don't have it on hand, I'm sure they'd be willing to order it in for you.

ELFQUEST by Wendy and Richard Pini

What's it about? The trite answer is that it's all about these elves who go on a quest. And that does work as a single-sentence summary, but it doesn't cover the half of it. The elves aren't just searching for some Stupendous and Magical Thingy, though that does come into it. They're looking for their past and their future. They're looking for their people. They're looking for the place they belong.

My thoughts? This series was part of my 2006 Top 5. I absolutely love it. It's entertaining, heartwarming, heartwrenching... the works. And it's got its place in the history of the comic book; the Pinis are largely responsible for the multi-issue story arc that now dominates graphic storytelling. They set out to tell a great, big, sprawling story, and they suceeded. This is a series about family, honor, belonging and change. It's beautifully told - and, what's more, it's a hell of a lot of fun to read.

You can read my review of the first volume here.

Giveability? Elfquest is suitable for the epic fantasy fan who's 12 or older. There's quite a bit of sexuality and a fair amount of violence, so keep that in mind. Them elves don't wear all that much, either.

DC picked the series up a couple of years ago and has since published a very affordable series of manga-sized compact editions that cover the original quest and a couple of important story arcs afterwards. The first compact edition would make a great stocking stuffer. If your giftee is a big fan of prestige editions, DC has also published the first story arc as a series of four beautifully coloured hardcovers. They're wicked expensive, though, and are definitely a major under-the-tree gift.

Price? The compact editions are $13.50 CAD, $9.99 USD or £6.67 GBP a piece. The archive editions are $69.99 CAD, $49.99 USD or £33.50 GBP each.

More info! LibraryThing. (Duh). The Pinis also have a great website where you can learn more about the whole series and even read some back issues. You can buy Elfquest either through them or through Amazon.ca.

SANDMAN: PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES by Neil Gaiman and a whole host of artists

What's it about? For seventy years, the King of Dreams has been held captive by a British magician. When a lackey’s blunder allows him to escape, Dream embarks on a journey to regain the tools of his trade and restore order to his neglected realm. And you just know his imprisonment is going to have some big-ass consequences throughout the rest of the series.

My thoughts? GOD, I love this series! I mean, I love it. I tend to get rather incoherant about it. The artwork is, perhaps, a bit dated, but the story? The story's the thing. SANDMAN is, in effect, a story about stories; the stories that endure, the stories we share, the stories we live. It's remarkable. I hesitated over whether or not I ought to include it here, as I think it falls more firmly into the realm of horror than dark fantasy, but what the hell? It's most definitely supernatural horror, so it's fantastical enough to suit diehards.

Lots of folks will tell you that PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES isn't the best place to start. I disagree. It's definitely not the most spectacular volume; in fact, it's not really on the same level as the others. But if you want the rest of the books to have the maximum impact, you've gotta start here. The events in this book impact the rest of the series in some mindblowing ways. And really, saying that PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES isn't quite as good as the rest of SANDMAN is a bit like saying that one chocolatier's product isn't quite as good as another's. Both chocolates are awesome, but one is awesomer.

You can read my review here.

Giveability? This would make a great gift for the horror/dark fantasy fan on your list, provided they haven't read it yet. It's available in a lovely trade paperback edition that would make a great under-the-tree gift. Or, if your giftee has already read the series, you might consider spluring and getting them the first volume of the recently remastered ABSOLUTE SANDMAN. It's a thing of beauty.

There's plenty herein to offend the squeamish. Keep that in mind.

Price? $23.99 CAD, $19.99 USD or £12.99 GBP.

More info! Oh, LibraryThing. (Seriously: if you're not yet a LibraryThing member, what's keeping you?) Neil Gaiman has a bit of info on his website, but it's all pretty superficial. (He does sometimes talk about the series on his fantabulous blog, though). You can buy this or any of the other SANDMAN books on Amazon.ca.
Mythology & Folklore
16th-Dec-2008 09:08 pm (UTC)
LOVE Castle Waiting. I haven't read Bone yet, but I plan to amend that next year.
16th-Dec-2008 11:01 pm (UTC)
You're in for a real treat!
16th-Dec-2008 11:35 pm (UTC)
Yay! Graphic novel ideas! Added Castle Waiting to my 'want list now'. ^-^ Also like the sound of Thieves and Kings: The Red Book. ^-^ (I'm afraid I never really got on with either Elfquest or Sandman, although I might give Elfquest a try. That was ages ago when I still borrowed books from the kiddie section in the library.)

Thank you for compiling this list, sweetling! The two I mentioned I'm most intruiged by are ones (well, all of them but Elfquest are, really) I'd never have heard of otherwise. ^-^ Most of my graphic novel reading restricts itself to manga and that not too much either.
17th-Dec-2008 03:49 am (UTC)
I find most of my mine by chance. My library only started stocking them a couple of years ago, and I read everything as they got it in. That's how I discovered Castle Waiting, Bone, Elfquest, and the ever-popular Fables. T&K was a friend's recommendation, and I'm so glad I gave it a go. Unfortunately, of all the ones I've posted it's probably the toughest to find as it hasn't been picked up by a traditional publisher and so hasn't been marketed as widely as the others.
17th-Dec-2008 11:38 am (UTC)
All I know to look for are comics and friends' recommendations. (I did almost pick up Maus when I was last shopping with a friend, but I put it back on the grounds that I know it'd just upset the hell out of me. It's the biggest reason I've not yet got around to reading The Devil's Arithmetic either.)

Mmm... It should still be findable, but indeed perhaps a lot harder to do so than the others, especially living in a non-English-speaking country. I'd imagine it'd be easier to find on your side of the world. But you never know. I wound up finding books I'd never have imagined finding in this country before. (Like a Tibetean, Sanskrit, German dictionary. o_O) We'll see. Course books first.
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