Today’s Cerberus, vols. 1-2

Sixteen-year-old Chiaki is sleepwalking through life, unable to find real enjoyment in anything. As it turns out, it’s not just a teenage phase. Eight years ago, on a trip to Greece, he was bitten by a strange three-headed dog. That dog was the mythical Cerberus and that bite stole a piece of Chiaki’s soul. Now, Cerberus feels really bad about the whole incident—bad enough to come to Chiaki’s house personally and try to make things right.

But the Cerberus who shows up at Chiaki’s house isn’t a dog. She’s a cute teen girl who calls herself Kuro—and who has a dog tail. Chiaki, thinking it’s fake, grabs her tail, and Kuro transforms into another girl with a totally different face and personality! Another tug of the tail turns her back. Chiaki soon discovers that Cerberus can take the form of three different girls: Kuro, Shirogane, and Roze. These girls (a.k.a. Cerberus’s three heads) have different attitudes and priorities, but they are here to be Chiaki’s companion and bodyguard. Which is good news for Chiaki, because he has no friends and his incomplete soul has begun to attract monsters.

This is a harem manga—a story with many girls interested in one guy—despite the fact that three of the girls who are obsessed with Chiaki are kind of the same girl. There’s also his classmate, Hinata, who happens to be a monster-fighting shrine maiden, and volume two introduces another mythical canine, Fenrir, also in the form of a pretty teen with an interest in our hero. That’s not to say that Chiaki’s entire social scene is made up of girls who are into him; with the help of Kuro, he’s starting to make friends, including a socially-awkward classmate and his cat-demon companion. The characters’ personalities are distinct and make for interesting conflicts and friendships.

Chiaki is well-intentioned, if a bit of a listless loner. Kuro also has her heart in the right place, but is completely clueless. This results in a lot of humor based around an uncomfortable Chiaki frantically trying to stop Kuro from joining him in the bathtub, or in bed, or explaining to her that “put on an apron to help clean up” does not mean “take off all other clothes.” As of the first two volumes, the manga doesn’t show any nipples or genitals, and no one is actually having sex, but there are a number of sex-related jokes and suggestive scenes.

The art is crisp, polished, and detailed. All of the characters are delicate and pretty, with expressive faces. The backgrounds are intricate, but without distracting from the characters. When monsters or other supernatural elements appear, they blend smoothly with the style of the rest of the art.

So far, this is an upbeat, mostly low-stakes story. Kuro (the form Cerberus most commonly takes) is determined to help Chiaki learn to be happy. She recruits his classmate Hinata to help, and it’s cute to watch them drag Chiaki to an amusement park and convince him to throw a study party. Periodically, monsters come sniffing around Chiaki, which usually means a fight for Cerberus and/or Hinata. However, there are hints that things are more complex than they seem. For example, Roze wears a mask that blocks some of Cerberus’s power. Just what is she hiding?

Fans of wacky fantasy will enjoy the oddball premise of this series, while fans of harem-style romantic comedy will like the cast of unusual characters and their frequent, silly misunderstandings. The fanservice and some sex-based humor makes this series best for readers who are at least in their teens.

Today’s Cerberus, vols. 1-2
by Ato Sakurai
Vol 1 ISBN: 9780316545457
Vol 2 ISBN: 9780316504591
Yen Press, 2016-2017
Publisher Age Rating: Teen

Yvain: The Knight of the Lion

Yvain: The Knight of the Lion is a graphic adaptation of Chrétien de Troyes’s epic poem about King Arthur and his knights. The plot is fairly simple: Yvain avenges his cousin by fighting Sir Esclados. When Esclados dies an accidental death after battle, the maid Lunette convinces Lady Laudine to marry Yvain, as he is clearly a worthy knight for who will fight for honor. Yvain falls in love with Laudine and then leaves her to pursue more battles. When he misses Laudine’s imposed deadline for his return from battle, she closes her heart to him and Yvain is left to fight back for his love as well as his honor.

For the most part, Yvain’s qualities make him a hero in today’s world as much as they did in Arthurian legends. Yvain doesn’t turn away from a fight if he thinks it’s for the right reason. Also, his loyalty to Laudine is mirrored in his lion companion’s loyalty to him, suggesting that loyalty inspires more loyalty (and in the lion’s case, a distinct fighting advantage, too.)

At the same time, author M.T. Anderson and illustrator Andrea Offermann illuminate the characters who are left out from a narrow definition of loyalty. In a society where social capital and jurisprudence are carried out by fighting, women have no option other than to rely on men to represent their best interests. The narrow scripts of fighting, winning, losing, and defending one’s honor that create male heroes are the same ones that imprison females.

Offerman’s settings are surreal and wispy, further emphasizing the ways these stories occupy the imaginations of readers past and present. Some settings are filled with lush greens and reds while others are pale and bleak. The fights are bloody without being gory, and at times the artwork bursts out of panels, gutters, and captions so that the story can tell itself.

Within the story are the stories that the characters tell each other, and these stories are cleverly, if somewhat confusingly, depicted as tapestries. At one point readers see the chained female slaves who are responsible for making these story tapestries. These slaves are robbed of the rewards of understanding or appreciating the expansive artwork they create. Though these female slaves are of past fiction, they serve as a reminder to today’s readers to think about the circumstances of a story’s creation and telling and to be sensitive to the unseen creators whose stories are not told.

I strongly recommend this fast-paced text to mature middle school and high school readers. It has a worthy place in a school library and could be easily included in any unit that covers medieval Europe, myth, heroes, or Arthurian legends.

Yvain: The Knight of the Lion
by M.T. Anderson
Art by Andrea Offermann
ISBN: 9780763659394
Candlewick, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: (10+)

Norse Myths: A Viking Graphic Novel

Every child knows who Thor and Loki are (thanks to Marvel’s The Avengers), but how many of them know the real Norse gods? And when you have patrons who are not familiar with the original tales, how do you introduce them to Norse mythology? With comics, of course! From Capstone Publishing comes Norse Myths, a graphic novel series based on the original tales and mythology of the gods and goddesses of Valhalla.

In Thor vs. the Giants, writer Carl Bowen and illustrator Eduardo Garcia showcase three Norse myths where Thor is up against the gods’ notorious enemies, the giants of Jotunheim. With help from his allies, including his brother Loki, his father Odin, and a friendly giant, Thor is able to trick the giants and defeat them using wits and strength. Twilight of the Gods (written by Michael Dahl and illustrated by Eduardo Garcia) features Ragnarok. The gods engage in an endless fight with fierce monsters, demons, and the dead; a battle that will eventually lead to the destruction of the world and the gods themselves. Both graphic novels include short character biographies (with a punctuation guide for the difficult names and words), along with discussion questions, writing prompts, a glossary, and a short synopsis of the tales.

With bright color schemes and detailed expressions, Eduardo Garcia brings the characters and tales of Norse Myths to life. Each god has their own appearance and color scheme, making one different than the other. The enemies and monsters are gruesome and frightening, especially the demon army and the giants. Each myth is written in simple language, and provides explanations of characters or scenes when needed. The stories themselves show the characters’ personalities that readers may be familiar with, which include Loki’s trickery and Thor’s pride. Children will be able to understand each tale and the daily lives of the Norse gods and goddesses, while learning a thing or two about this ancient mythology.

Thor vs. the Giants and Twilight of the Gods are a must have for any library collection, whether it be public or school. Patrons who enjoy mythological tales, George O’Connor’s Olympians series and Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase series, will be intrigued by these books. These are a great choice if you are looking for more mythology comics or to expand your collection of ancient tales.

Norse Myths: A Viking Graphic Novel: Thor vs. the Giants
by Carl Bowen
Art by Eduardo Garcia
ISBN: 9781496534873
Capstone Publishing, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 9-13

Norse Myths: A Viking Graphic Novel: Twilight of the Gods
by Michael Dahl
Art by Eduardo Garcia
ISBN: 9781496534897
Capstone Publishing, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 9-13

Orpheus in the Underworld

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Orpheus, the son of one of the Muses, is gifted with the talent of music. His playing of the lyre is so beautiful that even rocks creep closer and the waters still just to hear him play. He wins over the heart of Eurydice to be his bride through the sound of his lyre and voice. But tragedy strikes on their wedding day when a poisonous fanged serpent bites Eurydice on her ankle and kills her instantly. Determined to test the limits of his abilities, Orpheus grabs his lyre and heads to the underworld to achieve the impossible—bringing Eurydice back to life.

One of the things I like most about Orpheus in the Underworld is that it’s a pretty decent adaptation of a famous tale. Not only that, but unlike other versions I’ve read or heard, this one takes the time to let us get to know Orpheus and why he could go to the underworld. Instead of just saying “He lost his love and went looking for her. Oh, and right he was great with music too.” we get to hear about his mother being one of the Muses, how he practiced his talent and wasn’t just gifted it, how he fell in love, and how Eurydice died thanks to another god’s child. Then, and only then, do we get to his journey to the underworld. It’s nice to have an actual story to follow for a change. Does it tell everything? No, but that includes an entire epic that is quite long. Most of the time people just discuss the death bit and attach a crappy moral to it. Instead, this version allows us to get to know the characters on their own.

Here’s where I’m going to ding the book a little bit, because I’ve really come to expect exceptional production quality from Toon Books and Orpheus in the Underworld falters in a couple of places. Right at the beginning, a couple of the images look as though they were enlarged to take up more space on the page than was originally intended. As such, some of the lines are fuzzier than in the rest of the book. It doesn’t kill the overall book, and maybe if I wasn’t as attuned to illustrations I wouldn’t notice, but it does present some weird contrasts of sharp crisp lines, then fuzzy lines, then sharp crisp ones again. The other thing that bugs me, and again this sounds weird, is the font choice. It’s just too formal and cold versus something that could match the life and depth of the illustrations. It just doesn’t jive well for me, because the illustrations have an air of depth to them. I mean, there’s a scene halfway through the book where Orpheus enters the underworld for the first time and sees the stillness of the place and, instead of just showing rocks and unswirling dark pools, it’s this giant cave with a field of flowers and trees not moving. And you get this epic sense of quiet and stillness. The font just doesn’t match it.

Looking past the font, there are some really great artistic choices in this book. For starters Pommaux draws Cerberus, the three headed dog that guards the underworld, with snakes on his body, which is apparently something that he is supposed to have, but never gets included. Who knew? I also liked that Hades is actually pictured looking more like the classic renditions of Zeus, with just a bit of red mixed into his clothing instead of a depressed emo goth type or a a being made of flame. Hades is Zeus’s equal in many regards and this depiction puts him in that place, which is nice.

Overall this is a great addition to the Toon Books line of adaptations of Greek myths. It has some minor flaws to it, but the depth to the story and the quality of the illustrations outweigh those flaws. In addition, there are some great notes and resources included that allow for readers to learn more about the characters. Orpheus in the Underworld could be a good way to introduce English classes, especially middle/high school age, to Greek myths. Reading the story on the page, especially a normal translation of the tale, can be painful to read with outdated language and phrasing. This series gives readers a visual narrative to follow, so they can make a connection and understand. It also allows for discussions on different ways of interpreting and understanding different tales, as you can discuss why Cerberus in this book has snakes, or why Hades looks like an actual king instead of an emo flame. A great way to introduce a complex topic to multiple ages.

It’s also important to note that the story is not fully told through the comics medium. Many pages are more like a children’s book, with a large image accompanied by narrative text.

Orpheus in the Underworld: A TOON Graphic
by Yvan Pommaux
ISBN: 9781935179849
Toon Books, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 years

OLYMPIANS, vol. 8: Apollo: The Brilliant One

apollo

As if the Ancient Greeks aren’t responsible for enough innovations that still influence modern art, music, sports, philosophy, and science, George O’Connor’s OLYMPIANS series is here to remind us that they also invented the comic book hero.

The series, which is now up to eight books, features myths from a different god or goddess in each volume. They feel simultaneously ancient and modern. Rather than take a page from Rick Riordan and create mythology-inspired fusions, O’Connor sticks to the tried and true traditional stories. This series is not only entertaining, but also useful as a teaching tool for elementary and middle school mythology units. Students can read these books in any order without losing value or meaning. In addition, the author’s notes and bibliography at the back of the book allow readers to dive more deeply into mythology after this series is complete.

In Apollo: The Brilliant One, the muses take turns telling stories about Apollo as a way of giving thanks to a statue in his likeness. This framing device allows for easy mini-chapter breaks and allows readers to see where one story ends and another begins. The muses also add an interpretive flair: the muses of comedy and tragedy argue whether a story of Apollo skinning a human for thinking he may be a better musician than Apollo is a cautionary tale or a case of dark humor.

The artwork here is mostly solids in muted colors, giving these stories a contemporary dark fantasy feel not unlike Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. O’Connor is a bit of a minimalist when it comes to setting, which works to his advantage when it comes to drawing non-existent places. The muses, in the frame story, are placed in a covered walkway against the stars that inspires a sense of vastness and awe in the readers.

O’Connor is also wise to keep his fight scenes simple. I have a tendency to skip fight scenes completely if I have a hard time tracking who is doing what, but when Apollo fought against the python I found myself slowing down because I was busy cheering for him. When the python is rising up to eat Apollo, we see almost nothing else aside from his huge, dark, body and his bright green mouth. Where’s Apollo? He’s a small speck off in the corner. But don’t worry too much, he’ll find a way to kill the python.

Apollo is at his best when he’s slaying beasts. But Greek mythology has a lot to say about Apollo when he is not at his best, that is, when he’s looking for love. O’Connor doesn’t stop to provide commentary on some of these troubling stories, but his art allows readers to pause and make their own interpretations. For example, he is in hot pursuit of a nymph named Daphne, who has declared herself to a life of being single. Apollo comes down to try to grab her as his bride, and the ferocity with which she grimaces, attempts to run away, and, when those tactics don’t work, pleas to Mother Earth shows that Apollo isn’t getting the message that no means no. However, as much as O’Connor squarely places my sympathy with Daphne, a victim of unwanted sexual advances, I also have to wonder about Apollo. What made him think his hot pursuit of her was acceptable behavior? Okay, I know he’s a god and all, but I’m still asking this question today when I read about stories of rape.

At the end of the stories, the nymphs close out the volume by commenting on Apollo: “And through it all, no matter what, he remains unbowed, unchanged, eternal. There is a sort of heroism in that.” The same could be said for the power of mythseven the stories that are problematic and upsetting have lasted thousands of years and deserve to be told and retold, though they are not beyond contemporary criticisms.

OLYMPIANS, vol. 8: Apollo: The Brilliant One
by George O’Connor
ISBN: 9781626720152
First Second, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

Olympians, vol 8: Apollo: the Brilliant One

apolloApollo—the brilliant one—inspires all, and it’s time for his tale to be told! In the latest volume of George O’Connor’s Olympians series, the Muses share seven stories about this inspiring and passionate god. Among the tales are the harrowing story of his birth; his tragic courting of the nymph Daphne; the story of his son, the healer Askelpios; and his musical competition with the satyr Marsyas. Prepare to meet the golden god like you have never before!

I was excited to get my hands on this book—I love George O’Connor’s Olympians series, which retells myths about the major gods and goddesses in the Greek pantheon.

The stories in this volume are engaging and skillfully introduce the reader to Apollo and his roles. Though using the Muses as narrators does somewhat break up the story’s pacing, and some might find the jumps to different stories jarring, O’Connor creates effective transitions and manages to tie everything together. Also, I think the multiple narrators works as a storytelling device in this book because Apollo as a god had many roles and the different stories highlight them. The result is an engaging collection of tales about this temperamental god.

O’Connor’s brightly colored illustrations bring the stories to life. His use of color is especially effective in setting the mood. His character designs are distinctive and his characters’ expressions demonstrate their personalities and emotions well. O’Connor also uses the panels to briefly inject some needed humor into stories that regularly turn tragic.

Another strength of this book—and one that is present in the series as a whole—is that O’Connor portrays his retellings in ways that are both meaningful and accessible. A reader familiar with Greek literature will appreciate the broader themes, as well as the storytelling and design choices. For example, O’Connor had one of the Muses tell her story in iambic pentameter. That being said, younger readers and those unfamiliar with the Greek myths will be taken in by Apollo: The Brilliant One’s great storytelling and art.

O’Connor offers plenty of supplemental materials to support comprehension and discussion. He includes character pages for each of the major characters and offers some basic information about the characters, their roles, and their symbols. The end of the book also has notes full of his own commentary, a bibliography for further reading, and discussion questions.

The publisher’s site gives the ideal age range as 9 to 12. Given the violence and implied sexual content in some of the stories, this age range works as a starting point. Readers who grew up with Greek myths will appreciate the opportunity to revisit these stories, and Apollo: The Brilliant One, is a great way to introduce new readers to the myths. This volume is a solid addition to a strong series, and readers curious about or enamored with Greek mythology will enjoy Apollo: the Brilliant One as well as the rest of the Olympians series.

Olympians, vol 8: Apollo: the Brilliant One
by George O’Connor
ISBN: 9781626720152
First Second, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 9-14

The Heroes of Olympus: The Lost Hero, Book 1

lost heroRick Riordan is the absolute king of middle grade literature involving modern youth interacting with ancient deities. Percy Jackson and the Olympians remains as popular as ever, and Riordan’s Kane Chronicles series, which focuses on Egyptian mythology, is another perennial favorite. Percy Jackson and Kane respectively have recently enjoyed well received graphic versions and it was only a matter of time before Riordan’s third series, The Heroes of Olympus, was treated to an adaptation as well.

Where Percy introduces readers to a world where the Greek gods still exist and produce half blood children with mortals, Heroes takes Riordan’s premise one step further, attempting to introduce the Roman pantheon alongside their Greek counterparts. Jason, the protagonist of The Lost Hero, wakes up on a bus with no memories of who he is or how he got there. Alongside Jason is Leo Valdez, who claims to be Jason’s best friend. Jason also finds himself holding hands with Piper McClean, who says she is his girlfriend. Worse, the three are on a field trip with their school, which is an academy for juvenile delinquents.

When the trio is attacked by a bully that turns out to be a monster from Tartarus, Jason instinctively defeats him, and it is revealed that he, Leo, and Piper are half bloods. However, not only is Jason instinctively aware of his gift, but he also refers to the Greek gods by their Roman names—a quirk that perplexes Olympians’ Annabeth Chase when she arrives to claim the three for Camp Half Blood while searching for her missing boyfriend, Percy Jackson.

As usual, Riordan’s heroes rarely stay at their camp for long before embarking on a quest. Several characters from Olympians make appearances, as well as lesser known gods from Greek and Roman mythology. Jason’s identity is the big mystery. Piper and Leo harbor secrets of their own, but they mostly take a back seat to the globetrotting action. Those hoping for the fleshed out back stories of Jason’s cohorts as seen in the original novel may be disappointed. However, the inclusion of cameos by other characters from the Olympians series will keep fans connected.

While the artwork for the launch of the graphic version of this Riordan series isn’t bad, it felt inconsistent. Initially, characters’ expressions appear stiff when compared to the situation in which the characters are involved. Leo Valdez is the clear exception here, as his grin always appears appropriately mischievous as his character presents itself. Still, character appearances seem to vary from panel to panel. For instance, Annabeth appears physically larger on some panels than others. However, most of this improves as the pages turn. Notably, the coloring does a great job of setting the mood for each trial the characters face, though it sometimes suffers from too much shadowing and darkness. This could be due to the fact that several scenes take place at night or in a cave. Either way, out of the three adaptations of the Riordan series, the artwork for The Heroes of Olympus lacks the richness of the other two.

Likely, none of these quibbles will inhibit the built-in fan base from reaching for this volume the minute it hits the shelves. Librarians already know that Riordan’s books are a hot commodity and that this graphic novel belongs on shelves everywhere.

The Heroes of Olympus: The Lost Hero, Book 1
by Rick Riordan, Robert Venditti
Art by Nate Powell
ISBN: 9781423163251
Disney-Hyperion, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: Ages 10-14

Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem

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A story of horror, monsters, and the ravages of war is not often envisioned as an uplifting tale—but that is exactly what Niles, Santoro, and Wachter have provided for their readers in this triumphant reworking of the Jewish golem legend. As a monster, redeemer, or agent of revenge, the golem has long been a staple of popular culture and comic books in particular. In this version, however, the creators have gone back to the legend’s ancient roots to tell a story that is steeped in faith, family, love, and community, accompanied by exquisite artwork.

Originally published as a limited three-issue comic, the hardcover graphic novel relates the intricate, moving, and heart-wrenching tale as told through the memories of its young protagonist. We first meet Noah in the trenches in April 1944 when his thoughts turn to a time when he first met monsters. He was fifteen and too young to fight in the army; all able-bodied men from the village were sent to the front and “all that remained in [his] village were old men, old women, children and their mothers” (10). Niles purposely omits the location of the village; all the reader discovers is that the people are fighting the encroaching hordes of Nazi soldiers. When a British plane is shot down and Noah and his grandfather rescue and hide the injured pilot, the village becomes embroiled first-hand in the mêlée with very little hope of surviving the oncoming skirmish. Echoing an aspect of the golem legend, the first chapter ends with Noah’s grandfather secretly ascending a staircase, opening a chest, and placing a tiny clay figure in Noah’s hand: “…sometimes it takes monsters to stop monsters” (28).

The second chapter illuminates the growing unease in the village as the Nazis find the downed plane and, in a graphic and wordless sequence of panels, discover the hiding place of the pilot. Although wounded, Noah’s grandfather encourages the villagers to gather and bring loads of clay from the river bank to the barn, where they quickly form a massive and rough clay figure. The golem tears itself from the ground in response to Noah’s fear of the oncoming army troops and grief from the sudden death of his grandfather. The final chapter demonstrates the power of the golem and its relationship with Noah. In due course, the story takes the reader on a circular journey that reunites them with the older Noah first encountered at the beginning of the tale.

The story is followed by several pages of sketches and notes by Dave Wachter, describing his motivations in illustrating the golem and designing the cover image for the graphic novel. Wachter’s realistic and powerful black-and-white illustrations and masterful use of panel arrangements complement the story. He uses intricate backgrounds sparingly to portray the confusion and complexity of battle zones or the tranquility of the pastoral countryside of the village. More often, he focuses on the faces, body language, and hands of the main characters.

Allusions to variants of the golem legend abound, but the creators of this book assume that its background story does not need to be stated outright. Their research and reverence for the legend of the golem radiates throughout the entire volume and certainly elated this reviewer. Respect for the reader, too, underlines the power of this reworking. Humanity shines through this exploration of monsters, both mythical and all too human.

Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem
by Steve Niles, Matt Santoro
Art by Dave Wachter
ISBN: 9781616553449
Dark Horse, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: (14+)

Classic Fantastic: Sandman

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.

sandman-vol-1-preludes-nocturnes-tp-new-editionWhat’s it about?

Sandman gathers together the stories of The Endless – seven siblings who have been since the beginning of time and will be until the end: Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, Delirium (once known as Delight), and Destruction.  These brothers and sisters embody all aspects of their names. While they each play a part, Dream is at the heart of the series.  Opening in 1916, the story begins with a cult ceremony gone wrong, imprisoning Dream for more than 70 years.  Once he finally escapes, he must recover his symbols of power and rebuild The Dreaming.  Even after the struggle to regain these items, Dream must step back into his role and undo all the damage that has occurred in his absence.  Imposters and usurpers, gods and mortals, angels and demons, , witches and nightmares all populate the world of Sandman.

The series spans 10 volumes, totaling 75 issues. Some volumes are made up of individual tales with no immediately obvious bearing on the overall plot, while others are tightly focused on certain characters and events. It’s difficult to sum up Sandman, partly because it’s made up of so many wonderful small moments and fully-realized characters.  Do you talk about Dream moping, feeding the pigeons while Death yells at him for having a pity party?  Or Lucien, the Dreaming’s librarian, and his collection of books that were never written?  The tragedy of Wanda, a transgender character who cannot follow her friends into the Dreaming?  Or Lyta Hall, the avenging fury tracking down a son that’s part dream and part mortal?  One of my favorite interactions is between Dream, Despair, and Delirium as they vie for control over Joshua Norton, best known as the Emperor of the United States. His dreams keep him from becoming truly insane or falling into complete despair, even after he loses everything.

Sandman is character-driven, and it’s through them that we see the underlying story.  Change comes to all of us, even members of the Endless.  Dream claims to be immutable; however, he has spent 70 years living in a cage and that is plenty of time to think on your life, even for a being that is beyond immortal.  Though we do not know Dream prior to 1916, we see his gradual transformation after his release.  He seeks vengeance against his jailers, is cold and distant to his subjects, and remains apart from the world.  As time passes, though, Dream attempts to atone for his past sins and gain a better understanding of himself and his siblings.  When Delirium sets out to find Destruction, the absent member of the Endless, Dream unexpectedly accompanies her.  This adventure sets in motion events that will threaten the Dreaming’s very existence.  But truly, this is the slow culmination of repercussions for Dream’sactions, leading to a frantic climax that intricately ties together the characters and stories.

sandman 2Notable Notes

Neil Gaiman is a prolific author who has split his time between writing prose and graphic novels, including several award-winning titles for adults and children, such as American Gods, Coraline, Good Omens, 1602, and The Graveyard Book.  Though Gaiman has authored other graphic novels, none have had the scope or impact of Sandman.   However, should you have the good fortune to see him speak at a convention or go to a book signing, expect to be crushed in a mob of fans.  Gaiman’s fandom continues to grow exponentially, particularly since writing the Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife” (2011) and being scheduled for another.

The Sandman series has won several awards, including multiple Eisner Awards, a Hugo, and a Bram Stoker Award.  One of the more notorious stories regarding Sandman is that of the 1991 World Fantasy Award.  Issue #19, “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” won the 1991 Award for Best Short Fiction.  The rumor is that WFA changed the wording of this category afterwards, making comics ineligible to receive it.  Harlan Ellison delights in colorfully recounting this story in his introduction to Sandman vol. 4: Seasons of Mist.

Another unusual element of the series is its use of multiple artists and styles.  Like a dream, the visuals flow and change, sometimes quite drastically.  What begins as a fairly gruesome story, penciled by Sam Kieth and with a strong resemblance to Tales from the Crypt and Supernatural Thrillers, shifts to faded watercolors, bold and frenetic blocks of color, or sketchy pencil outlines.  Each story is defined as much by its art as it is by the plot or dialogue.  Notable contributors include Dave McKean, Mike Dringenberg, Jill Thopmson, P. Craig Russell, and Charles Vess, to name just a few.

Significance

It’s difficult not to be trite and say Sandman is worth reading because it’s Sandman… it’s a classic!  It was a groundbreaking graphic novel.  Imagine back to a time when Neil Gaiman wasn’t a big name in the literary world.  In the late 1980s, Gaiman was working on a prestige comic-series that revived Black Orchid.  DC gave him a monthly title with the hopes of raising his profile a bit as Black Orchid was released.  After some pitching, Gaiman was granted permission to go with Sandman, another revival of an older DC character.  What began as a horror title grew into an epic fantasy that mixed elements from literature, comics, and mythology.  When Vertigo was launched in 1992, Sandman was one of the core titles that helped found the imprint.

The power of storytelling is at the heart of Sandman.  Again and again, characters discover the significance of stories and the way they impact the world.  In Sandman, dreams are a form of storytelling and they can give people strength or destroy them, sometimes in the most gruesome, devastating ways possible.  It is noteworthy that Dream, in the final volume, tells William Shakespeare that “I am Prince of stories, Will; but I have no story of my own.  Nor shall I ever.”  Of course, Gaiman was concluding Dream’s story with that issue.  The series plays with the art of storytelling, challenging readers in ways that we typically expect of prose works, and going against traditional comic format.

Rather than having a focus on superheroes and action-driven stories, Sandman explores its world through its characters.  While Dream is the central character, he is often absent from issues and sometimes the majority of a volume.  The story is built through its extensive cast of characters and their interactions with the Endless, the Dreaming, and each other.  Several volumes gather together short stories set in the past or with seemingly little consequence.  Still, there is an overarching storyline that becomes apparent as readers make their way through the series.  Like threads in a tapestry, the individual issues weave together to create a rich and intricate story.  This is the sort of graphic novel that you pick up again and again, discovering a new link between characters.  Gaiman has stated that he knew how the series would end long before he got there, and there are subtle hints and moments that play out long after they’ve been spoken.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the impact Sandman has had on the comic world.  Gaiman managed to do the unthinkable in the world of trilogies, series, and movie editions – he made a story that ended when he wanted it to.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that there haven’t been spin-offs.  Oh my, the spin-offs!  Lucifer, Dead Boy Detectives, Death, and Sandman Mystery Theatre are just a few of the many titles that have spawned in the wake of Sandman and its marvelous cast. Moreover, the Endless have made several cameos in other DC titles.  A few years ago, Lex Luthor had a run-in with Death (where she requested a magic singing pony!), who also made an appearance in Madame Xanadu.  Desire, Destiny, and Dream pop up on occasion as well.  This seems fitting, considering that Sandman was populated with the likes of John Constantine, Wesley Dodds, Martian Manhunter, Hector Hall, Element Girl, and the Phantom Stranger.  There’s even a huddled conversation between Superman and Batman, confessing that they each have a reoccurring nightmare that their lives are just TV show plots.  Gaiman’s creation has had a lasting effect on the world of comics, both with its characters and with its intricate storytelling.

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Sandman’s fanbase was unusual from the start.  Women made up the majority of the audience, and often these were women who didn’t typically read comics.  It can appeal to both those who enjoy episodic stories and those looking for lengthy epics.  Readers of mythology, urban fantasy, and horror will all find something to enjoy here.  I would be reluctant to offer this to younger teens, since the series is deeply rooted in the horror genre, and the opening issues are particularly violent.  In fact, this is where I feel that Sandman really shows its age.  We’re coming up to the series’ 25th anniversary and some of those early issues have a style that is clearly from the 1980s.  Visually, the characters are disproportionate and sometimes crude.  As for the plot, it takes a few issues for things to focus and for Gaiman to really find his voice.  Looking back on the whole creation process, readers should feel fortunate that the series wasn’t ended prematurely.  However, it’s well worth getting over this rough patch to get to the powerful storytelling that follows.  As with the rest of the plot, every action has a consequence, and we see the impact of even these uneven moments throughout, finally revisiting and contemplating them in the closing volume.

 Why should you own this?

For those readers who don’t expect great literature from graphic novels, I give them Sandman.  It’s a well-crafted tale – or really, a multitude of tales – that explores the power of story, and what librarian doesn’t love want a book that imparts the significance of storytelling?  By adding it to your collection, you’re also getting work from a multitude of artists; there’s an artistic style for every taste.  But really, when it comes down to it, you’re getting a classic.  These characters take on a life of their own and will stay with readers long after they’ve finished the final volume (and maybe several spin-offs).  Those looking for a rich world, a labyrinthine story to get lost in, and some of the most memorable characters to accompany them, would do well to pick this up.  Just hope your companion isn’t the Corinthian.

All of the Sandman volumes are currently in print and easy to locate.  Indeed, if you’re in a comic shop and they don’t have at least one volume available, turn around and walk away.  Collectors can pick up Absolute editions, though libraries should skip these gorgeous but expensive editions.  Vertigo will be releasing a two-volume omnibus edition later this year.  While the numerous spin-offs are definitely optional, there are a few titles that are part of the Sandman canon and are worth including with the original ten volumes.

During the madness of San Diego Comic Con ’12, Gaiman announced that to commemorate Sandman’s 25th anniversary, he would be writing a prequel, telling the story of the event that left Dream so susceptible to the cult that captures him.  It’s a little difficult not to think of Gaiman’s cameo in season 5 of The Guild, where he promises that Sandman Zero is coming out soon and Zaboo can be included.  I’m sure that fans will be looking forward to it with a certain amount of trepidation and excitement.

Sandman series

by Neil Gaiman

  • Preludes and Nocturnes

  • The Doll’s House

  • Dream Country

  • Season’s of Mists

  • A Game of You

  • Fables and Reflections

  • Brief Lives

  • Worlds’ End

  • The Kindly Ones

  • The Wake

Vertigo, 1989 – 1996

 

Additional Key Volumes

  • The Dream Hunters (1999)

  • Endless Nights (2003)

Zeus and the Rise of the Olympians

16EBC581-536B-4392-A6EB-66D1BB789FF1Img100Story-
The story is the Greek myth of the fall of the Titans and rise of the Olympians retold in a graphic novel format. The Titans were giant, ancient gods in Greek mythology who ruled the earth before the Olympians, the Greek gods that are more commonly known today. The Olympians include Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Athena, Hestia, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Hermes. To tell the story, the author begins with a little before the birth of the Titans and talks about the goddess of earth, Gaea, and her husband, god of the sky, Oranos.

Writing-
The myth is told by a teacher in ancient Greece giving a lecture to students. Occasionally, a student interjects a question or comment relating to the myth, which is a device the book uses to bring different points up to the reader. The ending was a little strange, as there is likely to be no sequel, but it seemed to hint at one. As a general note, it’s important to remember that all Greek myths, including this one, can have slight variations, as they used to only be passed around by word of mouth and influenced by the different city-state cultures within Greece.

Art-
Earth-toned watercolors are in consistent use, giving the book a surreal and mythic feeling. The solid lines that exist don’t always define where the colors end, making the lines seem like (very well done) sketch outlines. This less structured art style helps add to the mythic feel of the book. The mythical creatures were drawn very well, considering how abstract they can be when compared to humans.

Warning-
Since the plot revolves around a battle between gods, there’s lots of violence and bloodshed. The book doesn’t specifically say that Ouranos was castrated by Cronus, nor does it mention the castration of Cronus by Zeus. However, Ouranos’s was strongly hinted at and if readers want to read another version of the myth, it’s very likely that they’ll run into those events.

Zeus and the Rise of the Olympians
by Ryan Foley
Art by K.P. Jayakrishnan
ISBN: 9789380741154
Campfire Graphic Novels, 2012