Category Archives: 100 Must-Read Graphic Novels Project

Barefoot Gen, Vol. 1: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima by Keiji Nakazawa, Translated by Project Gen

Barefoot Gen 1 Title:
Author: Keiji Nakazawa
Publisher: Last Gasp
ISBN: 978-0867196023
Genre: Graphic Novel, Manga
Pages: 288
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Never a good time to read about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and yet something draws me to picking up more books about that time and what happened to them during WWII. I don’t know what it is – maybe just some fascination or dread even (which I will never admit) – the fact that we know how it ended and yet we want to know more about it – the horror of it all, but more than that it is the human stories that come out of it, with every new read on the bombings. Yes, that’s why for sure. And this time in the form of a graphic novel.

“Barefoot Gen” is a series consisting of 10 books. The story begins in Hiroshima during the final months of the World War II. Six-year-old Gen Nakaoka and his family live in poverty and struggle to make ends meet. Gen’s father Daikichi is critical of the war. He hates the idea of it. And then in all of this, his brother Koji joins the Navy and on August 6th, the atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima, killing Gen’s father and his siblings. His mother and he escape and “Barefoot Gen” is the story of that survival, as they witness the horror of war and the bombing.

The book is autobiographical in nature and though you think it is only but a comic, it manages to wrench your heart. The perspective of war from the eyes of a six-year-old and the maturity as well of it will leave you speechless.

Books such as “Barefoot Gen” will always be so relevant (sadly so) – given the atrocities of war and the common folk who are always in the eye of the storm. For most part of reading the book, I just didn’t know how to react. There was a lot of sadness and love and more than anything else, a lot of anger at a chosen few who decide to do what they do, when all that the majority wants is peace and the chance to be alive and thrive. A read not to be missed out on for sure. Can’t wait to read the other nine parts.

 

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Indira by Devapriya Roy and Priya Kuriyan

Indira by Devapriya Roy and Priya Kuriyan Title: Indira
Author: Devapriya Roy
Illustrator: Priya Kuriyan
Publisher: Context
ISBN: 978-9386850683
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I am not a fan of some ideologies of Mrs. Indira Gandhi and yet I find her life extremely intriguing and to a very large extent, am in awe of her for sure. I guess it has a lot to do with being told stories from her life as we were growing up. She was almost an idol then, till of course, we made our way into the world and got to know her political aspirations and the means she sometimes used to achieve them. However, that is not what I should be talking about right now.

Right now, I want to talk about the graphic novel (interspersed with a lot of text as well) “Indira”, beautifully illustrated by Priya Kuriyan and written just as well by Devapriya Roy. I remember discussing this book with its publisher at Jaipur Literature Festival this year and being very excited to read it. I finally did and I loved it for so many reasons.

At the same time, there were times I felt that this book felt short in terms of chronicling so much more. I guess they also had to stick to the story of the other Indira and her coming-of-age in contemporary India. Also, kudos to Devapriya for not idolizing Mrs. Gandhi but showing her just as she was – another human being with very strong talents.

Kuriyan’s illustrations are simple and yet breathtaking in so many ways. The detailing is strong and complements the writing tone. The writing is simple and at so many places I loved the meta angle to the book which totally works to its advantage (you will know when you pick it up and read it).

We need more books such as “Indira” to reclaim our past and history, given so much of it is at stake in current times. Lest it be forgotten. Books such as these will remain proof of what happened, why and how.

I, Parrot by Deb Olin Unferth. Illustrated by Elizabeth Haidle

I Parrot Title: I, Parrot
Author: Deb Olin Unferth
Illustrated by Elizabeth Haidle
Publisher: Black Balloon Publishing
ISBN: 978-1936787654
Genre: Graphic Novels
Pages: 160
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

There are graphic novels and then there are graphic novels that almost speak to you. They are relatable, empathetic and make you see things in a different light. “I, Parrot” is one such graphic novel – unique, wondrous and soulful at the same time.

The book is about Daphne, a lonely woman, her life, her attempt to keep her life afloat so she can get the custody of her child someday from her ex-husband, her current love who she cannot make head or tail of and forty-two exotic parrots she has to take care of for her employer who is out for the weekend.

There is poignancy and humour in this large-hearted graphic novel like none other than I have read in recent times. It will take some time to get into it though – the whining and constant complaining will not make you want to turn another page, but once you do, the rewards of this graphic novel are multiple.

Unfreth’s writing is layered. There is more than what meets the eye. Of course, the usual metaphors are there of freedom and so on and so forth, but there are also a bunch of painters at work and what that means is something you have to discover for yourself. At the same time, Elizabeth Haidle’s illustrations are to die for. The way the parrots have been drawn and the world that exists around them is spectacular and introspective. Illustrations in a graphic novel have to account for sixty percent and Haidle gives it her heart and soul to this one.

“I, Parrot” is a strange book – told with a lot of heart and touches on extinction of not only birds but also the human heart. It is told with tenderness and takes a funny look at the impossible things of life, only to show that redemption can after all only be found in the most unexpected places of them all.

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story Expanded Edition by Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson with Kyle Baker

The Fifth Beatle Title: The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story Expanded Edition
Author: Vivek J. Tiwary
Illustrated by: Andrew C. Robinson with Kyle Baker
Publisher:M Press; Expanded edition
ISBN: 978-1616558352
Genre: Graphic Novel, Graphic Memoirs
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Not much is known about people behind the scenes in any profession. It is always people who hog the limelight, get spoken of or written about. Which is how the world works. The ones who are in the shadows rarely get any credit. Not to say that it happens to all. Maybe to some. Maybe not to some. And we all know of The Beatles – almost about all four of them, even some additions, but very few know of Brian Epstein, on which this graphic novel is based.

Brian Epstein was The Beatles’ manager. Actually, I think he was more than just their manager. He was their friend, philosopher and guide in the true sense of the phrase. “The Fifth Beatle” (as he was known after his death by Paul McCartney many years later) is the story of Brian. Not just because he discovered The Beatles and gave the world the joy of listening to them but also because people need to know the man behind this band and what he stood for to believe in four unknown musicians and make them the darlings of the pop music scene in a very short time.

Vivek J. Tiwary’s research is meticulous and the writing is spot-on. From speaking of Brian’s personal life (being gay and Jewish wasn’t easy on the man) to his professional life (despite having a soft corner for George, he never let that come in the way of furthering the career of The Beatles), Tiwary covers everything with just the right amount of content. It doesn’t feel too much, nor does it feel too little. Plus, the illustrations of Andre C. Robinson and Kyle Baker are so spectacular that you just go back and fix your gaze on so many panels.

Brian Epstein’s life comes to life in the true sense of the word through this graphic memoir and it doesn’t take a lot to read this one. If anything, I reread it because you can never get enough of a good graphic memoir and more so given I didn’t know anything about him or had heard of him at all before buying this one on a whim.

My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1 by Gengoroh Tagame . Translated by Anne Ishii

51rq4hPobXL Title: My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
Author: Gengoroh Tagame
Translated from the Japanese by
Publisher: Pantheon Graphic Novels
ISBN: 978-1101871515
Genre: Graphic Novels
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“My Brother’s Husband” is a graceful manga by Gengoroh Tagame. It handles homosexuality, homophobia and xenophobia (to some extent) very tenderly and not once did I feel berated being a gay man or an insider looking out while reading this manga. Tagame tells the story of parents and in turn of children and how important it is for children to learn, believe and accept alternate sexualities. At the same time, this manga doesn’t get preachy at all. It doesn’t sermonize or ask you to change yourself. It provides different perspectives and that’s that to it.

Yaichi – a single Japanese dad is forced to confront his painful past when an affable Canadian named Mike Flanagan shows up at his door, declaring himself to be the widower of Yaichi’s estranged gay twin Ryoji. Mike wants to explore Ryoji’s past, his family and his growing-up years. Yaichi takes him in reluctantly and thus begins a relationship of understanding, apprehension and fear not only between Mike and Yaichi but also between Mike and Yaichi’s young daughter, Kana. It is how Kana begins to question and understands Mike and at the same time Yaichi’s overcoming of homophobia is what the manga is all about.

Japan as a country is quite conservative when it comes to the question of homosexuals. It isn’t easy to talk about it in the open – more so in traditional societies of Japan. Maybe that is why this manga is needed now more than ever. Tagame explores each aspect – alienation, small incidents of homophobia, questions about the relationship that wasn’t mainstream and the differences of perception between the East and the West tenderly and with much insight.

There are multiple viewpoints, which is great because he then doesn’t give only one point of view and leave it at that. It also talks of how relationships can alter feelings and how life as it goes along, gives you the opportunity to keep embracing the new, no matter how different it might be. The story is beautiful and the characters are so well-rounded.

This book is definitely for those who want to understand what the LGBT people face, no matter how basic it seems in the book. This could however be the perfect guide and also not just for adults but children as well. “My Brother’s Husband” embraces differences and talks of cultural clashes at the same time. I cannot wait to read the second volume soon.