Hot Off the Press!
Highlights from the past week, with commentary from the NFNT gang.
New ih Kids
Graphic Biography: Steve Jobs and Steve Jobs: Genius by Design
Jane, the fox & me
Illustrator Isabelle Arsenault recently won the illustrious Canadian Governor’s General Award for her illustrations for the original French publication of this title. Set in Quebec of the mid 1970s, with Fanny Britt’s exceptional text superbly translated into English by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ourliou, the book is a definite winner in all aspects. It is a thing of beauty with evocative black illustrations on mostly grey toned pages punctuated with the infrequent inclusion of colour that blooms gloriously to a satisfying conclusion. It is ironic, perhaps, that the beauty is wrapped around the very heavy theme of bullying and body image among teenage girls. Hélène has not always been ostracised, but now the loneliness, the hurtful actions of former friends, and her negative self-image is only managed through her absorption into books, currently Jane Eyre. Hélène’s interpretation of the novel is highly reflective of her own voice and thoughts as an individual, highlighted by those infrequent bursts of colour mentioned previously with the full page panel spreads cloaked in soft pastels and introspection. Her focus on Jane’s slenderness and wisdom is offset by Hélène’s respect for her own family and her mother’s unconditional support, although she is not aware of the bullying that her daughter is experiencing. Everything is magnified when the entire class is treated to a nature camping adventure. Hélène needs a new bathing suit which makes her look, in her own eyes, like a sausage. She ends up being in the outcast tent at the camp, silently ignoring everyone else as they ignore her until the appearance of a fox changes everything. “With the fox out front, the outcasts’ tent is transformed into a tent of miracles” (79). The expressive and allusive fox is portrayed in full colour and represents, ultimately, hope, friendship and contentment. Hélène is illustrated with an average build that is disconcerting when contrasted with the negative jibes against her and her acceptance of their truth. She is an appealing character who needs to be coddled and cuddled instead of having to face the attacks on her own. Her resolve, bolstered with her identification with the Jane of her reading, if not necessarily of the original novel, is courageous and engaging. Her quirky character is vividly expressed through the facial expressions, body language, and colour of the illustrations, while her voice is equally lucidly articulated through the hand-lettered font and exquisite translation from the French text. The universality and timelessness of the story is balanced with references to streets and other markers of the city of Montreal and the record player and recordings of several decades past. The historical aspect of the tale, accompanied by the large picture book format of the graphic novel, aids in anchoring the age-old problems of the past securely in the present. Cruelty of classmates, negative body images, lack of friendships, and feelings of powerlessness and inevitability flourished before, are with us still, and quite possibly will be in the future. Recognizing the power of literature, friendship, and self-awareness triumphs and trumps this negativity and is the essence of the gift of this engaging graphic novel. Jane, the fox & me by Fanny Britt Art by Isabelle Arsenault ISBN: 9781554983605 Groundwood, 2013 Publisher Age Rating: 10-16
Classic Fantastic: Cowboy Bebop
Classic Fantastic is our series of features on the classics of the format — check out our other picks for the most important titles in terms of appeal, innovation, and storytelling, which every library should own.
What's it about?Cowboy Bebop is an anime series that presents the exploits of intergalactic bounty hunters as they venture throughout Earth’s planetary colonies in search of wanted criminals and other unsavory individuals. Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, and Faye Valentine make up the crew of the Bebop, a weathered but dependable spaceship that serves as home for these space-faring guns for hire. They are assisted by Edward, an aloof master hacker, and a hyper intelligent Welsh corgi named Ein. Together, this ragtag band of mercenaries bounce around through space looking for work to satiate their empty bellies and bank accounts.
Notable notesCowboy Bebop earned its reputation as a critically acclaimed series because it showcases the depth and complexity of the main cast, building a fascinating and well developed world that these characters live in, and wrapping the experience together with a memorable soundtrack performed by a live jazz group. Each of these individual elements come together quite nicely, giving the show a significant amount of charm and a distinct identity. The heroes and villains of Cowboy Bebop stand out as their individual beliefs and values are put to the test through a multitude of challenges that define their personalities. Out of the entire crew of the Bebop, Spike, Jet, and Faye prove to be the show’s most interesting characters. They are united by their own personal tragedies and shady histories. Each of them bring to the table a past that has left them emotionally, or in some cases, physically scarred and broken. Painful as those injuries are, it is those experiences that define them. Jet, an ex-cop who was injured in the line of duty by corrupt officers, has become a jack of all trades and near master of all. He uses his skills as a former cop to track down bounties, shows exceptional skill in games of strategy, and has a passion for bonsai. Faye Valentine, a femme fatale and amnesiac, lives a conflicted lifestyle. She is desperate for money in order to pay off a massive debt but has developed a gambling addiction, causing her to throw away reward money faster than she can earn it. Spike Spiegel, emerging as the real star of the show, is prone to laziness and chooses to ignore bounty opportunities that don’t interest him. An expert in gun warfare and martial arts, Spike has a tendency to be incredibly cocky, though his proficiency in combat has earned him that right. Spike is a true man of mystery, and very little is known about his past until he is forced to confront it. Coping with one’s past is a major theme in Cowboy Bebop. Faye is the only character who actively tries to find out what happened to her while Jet and Spike are comfortable to let sleeping dogs lie—that is, until they are forced into situations that reacquaint them with old ghosts. The universe that Jet, Spike, Faye, Edward, and Ein play in is just as interesting as the characters themselves. Set in the distant future, mankind has moved away from Earth out of necessity. Earth has been battered and bruised after a hyperspace gate located near the moon malfunctions and explodes. Colonizing the solar system’s inner planets, humans live on in a new civilization that bears similarities to Joss Whedon’s Firefly television series. Although humans have mastered faster-than-light travel, they still use automobiles to get around and shoot at each other with standard firearms. Planets and moons closest to Mars are modern, comfortable, and technologically advanced while frontier worlds are governed by the old world sensibilities of the Wild West. Bounty hunters are colloquially known as “cowboys” who regularly tune into “Big Shot,” a light hearted, Western-themed version of America’s Most Wanted starring slick cowboy Punch and cute cowgirl Judy. Throughout the show, there is attention to every type of person trying to eke out an existence, from criminal syndicate enforcers to blue collar space truckers, giving the show’s universe a genuine “lived in” feeling. No discussion of Cowboy Bebop is complete without addressing its soundtrack. Though the characters and world building drive the series forward, the music by Yoko Kanno and The Seatbelts gives it heart, soul, and a high sense of style. The music of Cowboy Bebop employs a variety of different musical styles, most notably blues and jazz as well as subgenres including bebop and fusion. In any anime series, there is much consideration for the opening and closing credits and the songs produced for both. I normally skip them after the first time, but not so with Cowboy Bebop. The music is so well done, so incredibly produced that it can easily be enjoyed by itself, making the purchase of the show’s numerous soundtracks a wise investment.
SignificanceCowboy Bebop remains one of the most popular anime series of all time, having earned top honors in many “Best Of” and “Top 10” lists from numerous print and online sources. The show ranked second in Newtype USA’s 2004 Top 25 Anime Of All Time and earned recognition in the 1999 and 2000 Anime Grand Prix awards. The success of Cowboy Bebop spawned a short-lived manga series, a feature film and video game. Besides its critical accolades, the influence of Shinichiro Watanabe’s slick direction has carried over into his other productions, Samurai Champloo and, more recently, Space Dandy.
AppealCowboy Bebop is the perfect gateway show for those looking to break into the world of Japanese animation as it is readily accessible and lacks some of the more notorious elements the format is known for. The show relies heavily on high quality animation, thoughtful storytelling, and deep, complex characters while simultaneously avoiding gratuitous violence and sexuality.
Why should you own this?Cowboy Bebop has withstood the test of time, becoming the genre’s most talked about and revered television series and an essential addition to any personal or organizational library. With a long lasting and influential legacy, it is easily accessible to each and every type of anime fan. Editor's note: Sadly, Cowboy Bebop has long been unavailable for purchase, but Funimation has now acquired the rights and will be releasing the series on both DVD and Blu-Ray in 2014. Keep your eyes peeled for the official release date, and no doubt the Blu-Ray will be especially popular as it is the first time the series will be released in that format. Cowboy Bebop Funimation, forthcoming in 2014 Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe 650 minutes, Number of discs: 6, DVD Company Age Rating: 13-up Related media: Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (Sony Pictures)
Classic Fantastic: Vagabond
Classic Fantastic is our series of features on the classics of the format — please check out our other picks for the most important titles, in terms of appeal, innovation, and storytelling, that every library should own.
Tina has a slight problem. While she enjoys fooling around with her occasional boyfriend, James, whenever he arrives home from school, she discovers she is more drawn to her guitar teacher Evan. To complicate things, Evan seems to feel the same way back, despite his own attachment to a girlfriend, conveniently (or not so) in Germany for a few weeks. Tina's friends, if you can call them that, do little to help her figure out her situation, and instead gossip behind her back about her issues and berate her for indecision. Welcome to the story of a girl, as the back of the book announces. Hailed as a teen Sex and the City, Leela Corman's odyssey is a mellow and truthful look at the awkward entanglements, confusing feelings, and sense of obligation that often make up relationships. The sex here is fairly graphic, but far from sensational, and the simple art, all sharp shadows and strong lines, creates just enough of a picture to get the scene across. The chain of events Tina journeys through is vital to getting across the pressures girls feel externally as well as put upon themselves. Silence is almost a character in the book -- we aren't privy to Tina's thoughts, and a great deal of the story follows her in contemplation through the streets and subways of New York. This is the kind of story that feels especially true -- even if you don't live in such a city, or tackle relationships the same way, you can relate to the often painful back and forth of trying to figure out your own head. Subway Series ISBN: 9781891867149 by Leela Corman Alternative Comics 2002
Shut Up, Stop Whining and Get a Life: A Kick-Butt Approach to a Better Life
Shut Up, Stop Whining and Get a Life is a comic adaptation of the motivational book of the same name by life coach Larry Winget. It’s frank and doesn’t cut corners when giving advice. The advice it gives is logical, practical, and explained clearly, so understanding what he’s saying isn’t hard. The book isn’t preachy and doesn’t look down on the reader, instead giving blunt advice that can be followed with the right investment of effort. The art is blocky, has lots of solid lines, and there’s not much shading in characters. These qualities help give it a more fun feel. Even though you might not think that kind of art a good thing for a book that’s supposed to help you be more productive, it actually helps by making the book more engaging and easier to pick up. This book is for older audiences; there are two pages that touch upon sex (and show a man’s buttocks), but kids and teens generally don’t care about the topic anyway. Shut Up, Stop Whining, and Get a Life: A Kick-Butt Approach to a Better Life by Larry Winget Art by Shane Clester ISBN: 9781610660020 Writers Of The Round Table Press, 2011 Publisher Age Rating:
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