Kazzack! Pow! Five Top-Notch Graphic Novels – Holiday Gift Guide

Three days ago on December 5th, a pretty righteous event occurred in the annals of literature where art and prose meet. Fantagraphics, the esteemed publisher of alternative comics, graphic novels, and classic comic-strip anthologies by some of the world’s finest illustrators and cartoonists, launched its much-anticipated, multi-volume collection Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips. This book, subtitled Through the Wild Blue Wonder, is the first of 12 volumes covering years one and two of the syndicated strip that ran for 27 years. It’s also the first comprehensive compendium of Walt Kelly’s influential newspaper comic published to date.

Walt Kelly (1913-1973) received much of his training at Walt Disney Studios in Los Angeles, working on animated films like Fantasia and Pinocchio and the Donald Duck cartoons. After World War II, he moved back to New York and became the artistic director for a stint at the short-lived New York Star. He also created Pogo, a soon-to-be daily comic strip set in the Okefenokee Swamp in the southeastern United States and populated by anthropomorphic animal characters (like the lovably snarky Pogo Possum) that dabbled in social satire and intellectual humor. By 1949, it was featured in hundreds of newspapers across the country, and at the time of Kelly’s death in 1973, it had a dedicated audience of tens of thousands of readers.

So how does this apply to you, dear readers? Because truth be told, the celebrated Walt Kelly got his start at the tender age of 13. He had been doodling for years, and his love of drawing and talent for synchronizing art and words landed him a job as a cartoonist and reporter at the Bridgeport Post. The rest is history.

Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I dedicate this post to some of the great writers out there who speak not only through words, but through art. As a person who is woefully inept with a paintbrush, let alone design programs on the computer, I would have to say that some of these selections blew me away. They brought me back to those Sunday mornings when my brothers and I were kids, lying on the floor, newspaper spread out before us, reading the Sunday comics (Cathy, anyone?).

Of course, these are just a few of the many, many, many greats out there available to readers of all ages. There’s also a whole crop of new-ish artists online who have attracted legions of fans from around the world. If you are an avid comics and/or graphic novel aficionado, please do fill me in on where to look next.

Nursery Rhyme Comics (with an introduction by Leonard S. Marcus) – While this stupendous collection of nursery rhymes illustrated by 50 celebrated cartoonists might be seen as “babyish” by precocious older middle-graders, I’ll throw in the novel idea that it’s suitable for readers of any age — including adults. Yes, the content itself isn’t sophisticated; most people can recite ditties like “Hickory Dickory Dock” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” by rote with their eyes closed. What’s unique about these renderings, however, is each artist’s visual interpretation of what’s actually transpiring within the rhyme. (Who knew the donkey in “The Donkey” was a sax player?) From New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s “There Was a Crooked Man” to Bad Kitty author Nick Bruel’s “Three Little Kittens” to Pulitzer Prize-winning Jules Feiffer’s “Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play” to Love and Rockets co-creators Gilbert and Jamie Hernandez’s “Humpty Dumpty” and “Jack and Jill,” each kooky and often witty rendition breathes new life into an old treasure. Some of my personal favorites? Lucy Knisley’s gritty “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe” shows a tattooed grannie running a rock & roll babysitting joint and moonlighting as the lead guitarist of The Whips, Richard Thompson’s hilarious “There Was an Old Woman Tossed Up in a Basket” features another old hag catapulted into the sky by a contraption called an “old lady launcher,” and Craig Thompson’s moody presentation of Cat and Owl’s glamorous starlit romance in Edward Lear’s “The Owl & the Pussycat” (Miss Cat looks just smashing in her hip trench-coat).

Around the World by Matt Phelan – From the Scott O-Dell Award-winning author-illustrator of the highly acclaimed graphic novel The Storm in the Barn, this gorgeously illustrated, atmosphere-heavy account of three intrepid globe trekkers is a sight for sore eyes. Set at the end of the 19th century following the publication of Jules Verne’s popular novel Around the World in Eighty Days, the book is separated into three separate sections dedicated to telling the (possibly) little-known stories of former miner Thomas Stevens, trailblazing girl-reporter Nellie Bly, and retired sea captain Joshua Slocum, respectively — all real people inspired by Verne’s journey who vowed to make similar trips across the globe in Verne’s honor. From April 9, 1884, to December 17, 1886, Stevens traveled 13,500 miles from England to Japan (punctuating both sides of the journey with boat trips from San Francisco) on a nickel-plated Columbia Express bicycle with a 50-inch front wheel. In 1889, Bly, a reporter for the New York World, became the first woman to circle the world alone with only two dresses to her name (!) — she did it in 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes, and 14 seconds, beating Verne’s record time and arriving two days ahead of her predicted schedule. Slocum made the journey in 1898, taking three years and two months and traveling more than 46,000 miles by sailboat. What’s even zanier? He set sale again 17 years later, never to return. For a lesson in history or just a pleasure-filled read, pick up the super talented Matt Phelan’s book. It’s a keeper.

To read the rest of the post, please visit  Letter Blocks: The B&N Parents and Educators Blog.

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