Monday, April 29, 2019

Nault's adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale an instant classic

Women writers, comic books and women in comic books are the loosely connected themes to the bulk my recent reading.

Let’s start with a superb graphic novel — Renée Nault’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Nault’s rendition is exactly what Will Eisner had in mind as he envisioned the comic book developing into the graphic novel.  Eisner’s concept of the graphic novel was one of art and text in sequence, telling a complex story about important issues.; essentially, a comic book for adults.  

Nault, a Canadian, (as is Atwood), deftly handles the source material, remaining true to the spirit of Atwood’s fine and frightening novel of a near future in which America is caught up in a civil war. The hand maids are young women, held captive against their will, and compelled to serve as brood hens for a conservative arm of Christianity. 

Set against the horror of the story, Nault’s water colors leap from the page.   And it is exactly here — in the juxtaposition of beauty and horror — that the power of the graphic novel lies.  Nault has set a high bar for future graphic novels, whether an original work or adaptation.

The Handmaid’s Tale joins March, Maus and Persepolis as a superb and lasting example of how the comic book has morphed into a powerful vehicle  for telling meaningful stories for adult readers.

Two books by Robert Crumb, The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb and Odds & Ends, are best reserved for the Crumb aficionado.  Illustrations range from designs for business cards to concert posters to portraits.   

Also for aficionados is Reinventing Comics by Scott McCloud, which is a follow-up to his pioneering treatise on comics, Understanding Comics. McCloud wrote Reinventing Comics 20 years ago and changes in technology and the comic industry reveal how badly the book has aged. 

Caroline Fraser won the Pulitzer Prize last year for her biography, Prairie Fires, The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Half-way through this engaging book I was amused to realize that I’ve never read Wilder’s classic children’s series.   Now, I believe, I need to pay a visit to that little house on the prairie.  

Fraser’s writing is highly readable and her research impeccable.  Prairie Fires is especially engrossing when Fraser explores how Wilder often crossed the line between fiction and fact in her books.  

My first thought on seeing The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen in my local bookstore was “OK, enough is enough.” The book is published by Quirk Books, which also published The Legion of Regrettable Superheroes, The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains, and The Legion of Regrettable Sidekicks by Jon Morris.

In its design,  The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen appears to be following ground already plowed by Morris. I liked Morris’s three books. I truly did, but I failed to see how a fourth book — even one written by another author — was necessary.

I was wrong.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book by Hope Nicholson. It is a valuable addition to comic history.

Nicholson’s a good writer, lively and engaging. And she doesn’t limit this history of women in comics to superheroes, but touches on the full scope of women’s roles in comics from the 1930s to today.

Additionally, she furnishes information on how to read  the actual exploits of the female characters she features here. In some cases, Nicholson must send us to the back-issue bins at our local comic shop, but in a surprising number instances the stories are available on-line or have been assembled into hard-cover collections.

Strong recommendations for The Handmaid’s Tale, Prairie Fires, and The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen.

Books read -- January
1.   Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens
2.   Voodoo River, Robert Crais
3.   Yossel, April 19, 1943, Joe Kubert
4.   Lie In The Dark, Dan Fesperman
5.   A Canticle For Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
6.   Flash, The Making of Weegee The Famous by Christopher Bonanos
7.   Neptune's Brood, Charles Stross
8.   Perish Twice, Robert B. Parker
9.   The League of Regrettable Sidekicks, Jon Morris
10. Casino Royale, Ian Fleming
11. Mrs. Palfrey At The Claremont, Elizabeth Taylor

Books read -- February
12. The Golden Tresses of the Dead, Alan Bradley
13. The Problem of Susan and Other Stories, Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell
14. The Rhesus Chart, Charles Stross
15. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
16. Shrink Rap, Robert B. Parker
17. Wish You Were Here, Graham Swift
18. The Big Fella, Babe Ruth and the World He Created, Jane Leavy
19. School Days, Robert B. Parker
20. The Boats of the Glen Carrig, William Hope Hodgson
21. The Professional, Robert B. Parker
22. Distrust That Particular Flavor, William Gibson
23. Flannery O'Connor, The Cartoons, ed. Kelly Gerald
24. Comics & Sequential Art, Will Eisner
25. Sharpe's Escape, Bernard Cornwell
26. Thirteen Ways Of Looking, Colum McCann
27. Late In The Day, Tessa Hadley

Books read -- March
28. Still Life, Louise Penny
29. Golden State, Ben H. Winters
30. Slowhand, The Life and Music of Eric Clapton, Philip Norman
31. The Border, Don Winslow
32. Careless Love, Peter Robinson
33. Dreyer's English, An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, Benjamin Dreyer
34. The Best Cook in the World, Rick Bragg
35. The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells
36. Red Dragon, Thomas Harris

Books read -- April
37. The Dragon Factory, Jonathan Maberry
38. K, A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, Tyler Kepner
39. Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe
40.Wolf Pack, C.J. Box
41. Run Away, Harlan Coben
42. A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories, Flannery O'Connor
43. The Hand Maid’s Tale, art and adaptation by Renée
Nault, based on the novel by Margaret Atwood
44. The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb, Robert Crumb
45. Odds & Ends, Robert Crumb
46. The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen, Hope Nicholson
47. Prairie Fires, The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Caroline Fraser
48. Reinventing Comics, Scott McCloud

Currently  Reading --
The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
Letters to a Friend, Diana Athill
The Goat Getters, Eddie Campbell

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