The God of Death explores the meaning of life in The Many Deaths of Laila Starr, a beautiful and rich comic written by Ram V and illustrated by Filipe Andrade.
The story opens in the chaos of life and death. In a hospital in Mumbai the young baby Darius is born, and Laila Starr, an orphan girl, dies from injuries after a fall.
Amidst this chaos, the God of Death is called to the corporate office of the Purveyor of All Goodness. It seems the newborn, Darius, will one day invent immortality. Death is fired. Her services are no longer necessary. Feeling scorned, Death returns to earth in the mortal body of recently deceased Laila Starr.
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr was recently published as a trade volume of 5 single issues originally published in 2021. In each of the 5 issues, Death is reincarnated in the body of Laila Starr. During each reincarnation, she finds herself by Darius’s side as he navigates life after the death of a loved one. Unfortunate accidents haunt Death, and her stays on earth are never long. However, the God of Life takes pity on his friend, reincarnating her after each death. Death gives Life meaning, and he does what he can to aide her on her journey..
The concept of the comic is fascinating—filled with deep subtext and meaning. Death, threatened by immortality, desperately tries to remain relevant, and in the process, experiences the human cost of death. The art by Filepe Andrade brings magical realism to Mumbai with a pallet saturated with warm tones. The illustrations capture the chaotic and beautiful realities of life and mirrors the lyrical text it accompanies.
The text blew me away. It is filled with poignant observations about the cycle of life. Over the course of the comic, both Death and Darius grasp for deeper understanding of life lost to death and the lives death leaves behind. The magnitude and our understanding of death evolves as we age. Over the course of the series, Darius grows from a child to an old man, and his experiences with the death of those around him affect both him and Laila Starr in meaningful and different ways. The lyrical text beautifully captures the rich complexity. For instance, the third issue is narrated by a cigarette in text boxes partially outlined in a cloud of smoke. While musing on the burning embers of a fragile life, it observes three teens “engrossed in the great rituals of youth. Writing their own dreams onto peeling walls. And negotiating vulnerabilities with the unspoken language of laughter, confessions, and stolen cigarettes.” These words by V paired with illustrations from Andrade beautifully explore the intricate balance between life and death.
Over the course of the last month, I picked up this book a number of times, and each new reading brought greater appreciation as I explored the depth of the illustrations and text.
I am excited to put this into the hands of my students, especially those who love philosophical explorations and beautiful stories. And it is sure to sway those who are hesitant to appreciate the literary value of the comic format. While the book is intended for an adult audience, I know that many high school students and teens, who are on the precipice of exploring life on their own, will also appreciate The Many Deaths of Laila Starr.
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr By Ram V Art by Filipe Andrade BOOM! Studios, 2022 ISBN: 9781684158058
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Indian, Character Representation: Indian,
Adaptations of classic literature seem to be a logical step in the normalization of graphic literature in education. Manga Classics has cornered the market on manga adaptations, and deservedly so. Though I am not typically a fan of many graphic novel adaptations, I was thoroughly impressed with the work of Manga Classics. Manga Classics are not just for the young adult reluctant reader. They are fun, engaging ways for all to experience favorite classic novels. With the intention of making classic literature more accessible, a small team of story adaptors and artists have worked tirelessly to bring this project to life and, quite frankly, it shows.
Let’s take a look at just four of the over sixteen titles currently adapted: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, adapted by Crystal S. Chan and illustrated by Julien Choy; Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, adapted by Crystal S. Chan and illustrated by SunNeko Lee; Hamlet by William Shakespeare, adapted by Crystal S. Chan and illustrated by Julien Choy; and A Midsummer Night’s Dreamby William Shakespeare, adapted by Crystal S. Chan and illustrated by Po Tse. The first noticeable similarity among all four volumes is the consistency and quality. The ability to adapt texts accurately and adequately across almost 300 years is a testament to Chan’s talent as a writer and story adapter.
Of these adaptations, Les Misérables and The Jungle Book are particularly impressive. That Chan manages to condense Les Misérables, a novel clocking in at over 1000 pages, into less than 350 pages, without losing any of the context or emotion of the original text is a great indication of the works yet to come from the Manga Classics team. The primary difference? A manga adaptation is much less daunting than the original, behemoth book. Similarly, Chan makes The Jungle Book, a relatively dense text for modern readers, charming, fun, and accessible to a new generation of readers.
Fans of manga, both of new generations and old, will certainly enjoy the artwork throughout Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The fantastical premises of these works, rife with ghosts, fairies, and mythological figures, lend themselves to visual interpretation. Julien Choy and Po Tse bring these works to life through vivid imagery and beautiful character drawings. Tse’s interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s act two, scene one is nothing short of stunning. It takes a particular artistic skill to bring illumination and movement to black and white drawings, yet Tse is thoroughly successful. Choy is equally triumphant in bringing life to the ghost of Hamlet’s father. The artwork throughout all of these volumes is sure to appeal to manga fans everywhere.
I cannot recommend volumes from the Manga Classics series enough. These volumes are fun, easily digestible, and clearly made with care and intent. Though I only reviewed four volumes of this series, I am confident that any volumes your library system selects from this series are a good investment. These volumes will fit on the shelf perfectly next to the rest of your library’s manga collection.
Manga Classics: The Jungle Book, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Les Miserables, Hamlet By Crystal S. Chan Art by Julien Choy, Po Tse, SunNeko Lee
Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales is the umbrella title for a series of three compilations themed after a specific region of which this one is the third. The first two cover Europe and Africa while the fourth one, on Oceania tales, is in publication. All have been funded through Kickstarter efforts.
I had high hopes for this collection of Asian folktales, but was dismayed to discover that few of them have source notes or any markers for context. The geographic location is mentioned, but no background is provided for readers who may not be familiar with yokai, kitsune, demons, and other supernatural beings from Japan, China, India, Georgia, Laos, Myanmar, Turkey, Iraq and Tibet. I was very pleased, however, with the reworking of “The Ballad of Mulan” which followed the ancient tales rather than the Disney film. Aside from this tale and a few others such as the title story and “Urashima Taro,” most of the stories may not be familiar with young audiences. This is not a criticism, but it is also where source notes could have made this an outstanding addition to the ongoing reworkings of folklore in the comic book format.
The length of the stories varies as does the black and white art work in this anthology. Several of the tales have been modernized to including texting and other nods to contemporary life, but the vast majority have retained the ancient settings; particularly those by a diverse range of illustrators including Gene Luen Yang, Nina Matsumoto, and Carla Speed McNeil. Most of the other creators in this collection are known better through their webcomics and indie titles. The illustrations range from manga-like cartoon-y artwork to detailed and realistic penciling and the application of black and shadows. The mood of the stories is also as diverse as the tales themselves, with a mixture of light and dark themes. Some of the tales are excerpts from longer legends and books such as Yang’s “From the Journey of the Monkey King” from American Born Chinese. All the tales offer warnings or advice for the protagonists and the readers. Unfortunately for many of the protagonists, there is a great deal of pain in learning these lessons. They do, as the overall theme indicates, offer a cautionary edification for the reader.
I wish I could recommend this for library collections but the lack of source notes for this storyteller is truly a stumbling block. There is no need in today’s publishing world not to respect the tales and culture from where the stories originated. Very few of the entries even acknowledge that the individual tale has been adapted.
Tamamo the Fox Maiden and Other Asian Stories By C. Spike Trotman, ed. Kate Ashwin, ed. Kel McDonald Art by Carla Speed McNeil, Gene Leun Yang, Nina Matsumoto, et al ISBN: 9781945820342 Iron Circus, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: all ages NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Browse for more like this title Related to…: Inspired by myth, Retelling
Indian-American Priyanka, also known as Pri, is a comics-loving teenager who has important questions. She wants to know why her mother left India and who her father is, but her mother remains tight-lipped. After Pri discovers a pashmina (a kind of shawl) in an old suitcase, she finds herself transported to a bright and magical India. Convinced that she needs to visit the real place, Pri travels to India to discover the origins of the pashmina and herself.
Nidhi Chanani weaves together a story full of magic and realistic situations to form a charming narrative of identity and growth. Pri is a compelling protagonist, whose struggles to fit in are relatable. Pri’s determination, demonstrated through her persistent questions and decision to use her own prize money for airplane tickets, helps her to reach her goals. Chanani also includes a greater conversation about injustice and the importance of choice for women. As Pri comes to understand her identity and her mother’s story, she finds her strength.
Chanani conveys a setting filled with Pri’s close family and friends, school drama, the goddess Shakti, and magic. Because the main character and her family are Indian-American, the story naturally includes elements of Indian culture. The characters also use some Hindi words, and although the words are not explicitly translated, there is usually enough context for non-native speakers to get the gist.
Chanani’s artwork captures movement and body language well, and her ability to draw strong scenes add to the emotional power of the work. She also includes little details, such as posters of Sailor Moon in Pri’s room, to give a sense of the characters’ identity. Many of the illustrations are in black and white, and so Chanani’s judicious use of color effectively symbolizes idealism and packs a big punch at key moments.
Pashmina is a rich, sweet graphic novel about understanding your identity and finding your purpose. There is no gore or sexual content, but, given some of the more emotionally mature topics, this comic is ideal for readers ten and older. Readers looking for a work with a great feminist message will gravitate toward this one. I, for one, hope to see more work from Nidhi Chanai.
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani ISBN: 9781626720879 First Second, 2017 Publisher Age Rating: 10-14