Movies!

No graphic novel blog is complete without at least a hat-tip to the many graphic novel based movies that are out there. Recent years have seen many superhero movies, especially from Marvel Comics in preparation for The Avengers movie. There has been talk for years about a Wonder Woman movie, but no one has yet been announced for the title role. While female superheroes are in short supply, there is no shortage of heroines in manga movies. Below are three examples from Hayao Miyazaki, one of the founders of Studio Ghibli and the author of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. They all star strong girls doing extraordinary things, and all of them are interesting and lots of fun to watch. Highly recommended!

Howl’s Moving Castle
I love this title because it is based on a novel by Diana Wynn Jones, one of my favorite YA fantasy authors. Sophie is a 19-year-old girl who has worked all her life in her family’s hat shop, resigning herself to a dreary existence because she thinks of herself as very plain. When the wicked Witch of the Waste comes into her shop and turns her into a 90-year-old woman, Sophie finally sets off on an adventure. She finds the moving castle and moves in, telling them she is a cleaning lady and winning over Howl’s apprentice, the fire demon Calcifer, and eventually Howl himself. Along the way she gains a menagerie of friends, including a scarecrow and a wheezing dog, and helps Howl end a horrible war. It’s a fantastical adventure, full of fun and thrilling moments. Sophie, like so many of Miyazaki’s heroines, discovers hidden depths and is able to bring peace and harmony by loving the people around her.
The movie was dubbed into English by some amazing stars, including Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, and Billy Crystal. I prefer the undubbed version, but it is funny to hear Christian Bale as Howl.
Howl’s Moving Castle. Walt Disney Pictures/Studio Ghibli, 2006. Rated PG.

Spirited Away
In this fantastic animated movie, Chihiro and her parents are moving to a new house. On their way they find a seemingly abandoned amusement park where her parents are turned into pigs. Chihiro, left on her own, cannot get out of the park before sundown. When darkness falls, Chihiro finds herself in a strange new world, where the amusement park turns into a vacation spot for the local spirits. A strange boy named Haku saves Chihiro and tells her to get a job from Yubaba, the witch who runs the resort. Chihiro befriends the other workers, heals a polluted river god, and rescues a “No-Face,” a voracious spirit. Finally she has to save her friend Haku, meeting along the way Yubaba’s twin Zeniba. Chihiro’s courage, resourcefulness, and love allow her to rescue her friend and her parents. This is a spiritual, magical journey. It has some scary moments, but overall it is a wonderful film. Chihiro, like so many of these heroines, provides a model of what ordinary girls are able to do when tested.
Spirited Away. Walt Disney Pictures/Studio Ghibli, 2003. Rated PG.

Kiki’s Delivery Service
Kiki is a thirteen-year-old apprentice witch who is spending a year alone in a big city far away from home (a tradition for new witches). She goes with her cat, Jiji, to a beautiful seaside town, where she makes a living doing the only thing she knows well – flying! She experiences the usual struggles of a thirteen-year-old: boys, the desire to fit in, and the need to find out more about herself. Kiki, like so many of these girls, is adventurous, headstrong, and charming. Her anxieties are the usual teen and pre-teen anxieties; anyone of that age (or older!) can recognize themselves in her. It’s a fun, moving film, and comes highly recommended.
As with Howl’s Moving Castle, this animated feature was dubbed by famous actors, including Kirsten Dunst and Phil Hartman.
Kiki’s Delivery Service. Walt Disney Pictures/Studio Ghibli, 2003. Rated G.

Blog: Comics Should be Good

Comic Book Resources is one of the best websites out there for information about graphic novels. It has news, articles, reviews, videos, forums, and resources lists. There are actually 4 blogs hosted by this site. Robot 6 is a news blog that focuses on comics and pop culture. Recent posts include a preview of the next Avengers Academy comic and a list of titles to be published through the Dark Horse iPhone app. Spinoff Online is mostly about movies, with a few notes about comics. Recent posts review Black Swan and preview some Green Lantern footage. Their articles about comics are almost entirely about comics that have been made into movies. CBR Live! covers comic conventions with occasional brief posts about other comic related items (like an exhibit at the Tate Modern Museum in London). Finally, there is a blog engagingly entitled Comics Should Be Good. Many contributors write reviews of new comic books and occasionally post various general thoughts on comic books.

One of the things I enjoy about this blog is that they post a review a day. The blog is specifically about comic books rather than graphic novels. I enjoy it because the contributors are incredibly passionate about their subject, as are the commentators. The blog is aimed particularly at adults (their holiday gift guide includes handmade Wonder Woman underpants and alcoholic whipped cream). However, they review a variety of interesting comics from the past and present, and it’s always interesting to see what sort of interesting, unusual comics they discuss.
A new feature of this blog, one actually related to the overall theme of this assignment, is a podcast called “3 Chicks Review Comics.” They discuss comics of all varieties, including their picks of the week, but they put a feminist spin on them. For example, the Young Justice television series on Cartoon Network didn’t have a single line of female dialogue until almost the end of the show. They are smart and funny, and it’s nice to hear women talking about comics.

One of the blog administrators has done “A Year of Cool Comics” (as of December 1, he’s up to Day 334). This feature has highlighted all sorts of interesting comics. Some are predictable, like Stan Lee’s Amazing Spiderman, and some are unusual, like Octopus Pie or Achewood, which are webcomics. I was excited to see a review of Smile, one of my favorite graphic novels, which traces the biography of the author through middle and high school, while she had braces. The review has several pages from the graphic novel, allowing readers to see the art style, and gives a brief synopsis and his opinion of the book (as positive as mine!).

While this blog might not be as helpful for professionals as some of the others I reviewed, it is great for anyone interested in comics for their own sake.

“Comics Should Be Good,” a Comic Book Resources blog: http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/

Blog: School Library Journal Blog – Good Comics for Kids

This section of the School Library Journal blog reviews various graphic novels for children. The authors usually post one review at a time, focusing on new releases. They also often post links to articles or other blog posts on various graphic-novel-related topics. In the last few weeks they’ve been updating the blog with holiday gift ideas (I’ve added a few things to my list!). These posts will have lists of recent releases, with one or two highlighted. This blog is excellent for librarians and teachers because it is a reputable source as well as being a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Some of my favorite recent posts include “Robots, pirates, and detectives,” a collection of links and reviews of books that relate to any of these general topics. I enjoyed the link to an article by Peter Gutierrez called “Building Better Readers with Graphic Storytelling,” which is all about using graphic novels in the classroom to encourage literacy skills. There are also reviews of an Amelia Rules book and a collection of Native American tales that I’m looking forward to reading.

The two main authors also do weekly “Reading Piles” – the graphic novels on their reading lists. On November 22, Kate reviewed the first Kill Shakespeare volume. I love this series, which is an unusual retelling of Shakespeare’s plays. The same week, Brigid reviewed two Robot City Adventure books, a series I have not yet picked up but which look like fun, interesting reads. They seem to be steampunk-like retellings of historical events, starring robots. The Indestructible Metal Man, for example, is about a ship like the Titanic, except some of the passengers are robots who try to save the sinking ship.

This blog is updated frequently with booklists and reviews. They do reading lists for the summer and for holidays. Unlike most graphic novel blogs, this one focuses on graphic novels for children, and the primary authors are enthusiastic about their topic. They always link to their sources, opening a world of other reviews and articles on graphic novels. I trust their advice and have often found new items to add to my reading list here. The blog is simple and the posts brief, perfect for busy professionals. They also offer an RSS feed, which I appreciate. I highly recommend this blog to any librarian looking for new graphic novels for children.

School Library Journal Blog – Good Comics for Kids: http://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/goodcomicsforkids

Blog: Comics and More

This is a personal blog by a man named Dave Ferraro, a bookstore manager from Wisconsin. His blog is primarily reviews of comic books and graphic novels. He is thorough, and examines a wide array of titles. He has been blogging on this topic since June 2005, and has yearly top 10 and top 20 lists. Mr. Ferraro has a new release “Pick of the Week” and lists other noteworthy new releases as well. The pick of the week for 11/24 was Miss Don’t Touch Me, Vol. 2, by Hubert & Kerascoet, and Mr. Ferraro links to his earlier review of Vol. 1: “a thrilling look at a woman in a difficult situation who no longer has anything left to lose, even if it is all over-the-top and silly in the end.” He also posts a weekly “Manga Monday” – last week’s review was Arisa, a new, very popular manga title about twin sisters who live very different lives (Mr. Ferraro comments: “Yes, it’s a little Parent Trap… but it really turns into something altogether different.”).

As I mentioned, he reviews comics and graphic novels, including manga, so his blog is more well-rounded than many others. He mostly focuses on graphic novels for adults or older readers, but he does occasionally highlight books for younger readers, like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Castle Waiting. His top 20 list of 2009 includes two fun children’s graphic novels: The John Stanly Library: Melvin Monster (about a little green monster who wants to be a good boy instead of a bad monster) and Wonderland (a continuation of Alice in Wonderland with some unusual twists). There are books for all ages and interests on this site.

Mr. Ferraro’s reviews are usually excellent, and I am always happy to take his recommendations. His blog also lists other notable comic sites, and his features are a good way to learn more about new developments in the world of graphic novels. This blog is a good resource for professionals who want another opinion on new releases and for casual readers looking for their next fix. While it isn’t a professional site, I enjoy it immensely.

Comics and More: http://comics-and-more.blogspot.com/

Blog: The Manga Critic

This blog is written by Katherine Dacey, one of the authors of the School Library Journal Good Comics for Kids blog. She reviews new manga titles in great detail, highlighting the plot, illustrations, and positive and negative aspects. I especially appreciate her humor; in a recent review of Dragon Girl, Vol. 1, by Toru Fujieda, she remarks “If you’re playing along at home right now, scan your Shojo [manga for girls] Manga Bingo Card for the following clichés,” and then gives a list. Her reviews are thorough and usually tongue-in-cheek, and a great way to find new titles to read or order.

She also looks at older titles, some of which are being re-released, and some of which are just classics. Ms. Dacey reviews the recent re-release of the 1978 comic Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, in which the two famous men team up to defeat an alien race. The aliens are called The Scrubb, and Ms. Dacey wryly comments, “If you had any doubt that ten-year-old boys were the target audience for the original comic, look no further than the names; The Scrubb’s ruler is named Rat’lar.” She gives the history of the original publication and a brief description of the new publication (released in two different versions, one markedly more expensive than the other).

Another type article she often writes is the “Manga Hall of Shame.” As she points out, “when it comes to manga, there seems to be a general consensus on what constitutes a bad comic: over-the-top fanservice, sexist plotlines, a complete disregard for logic, and lousy artwork.” These articles show just how ridiculous manga can be. Ms. Dacey hosted a contest in which readers could nominate manga to the Hall of Shame. My favorite entry was actually the runner up, a review of the Twilight manga. I have a soft spot for people who mock the Twilight series; this contributor, who has not read the original books, wonders how the graphic novel version could be so entirely plotless and incoherent. He concludes: “Maybe the printer got the pages mixed up accidentally and just bound them all together in whatever order he happened to pick them up. … Seriously, that must be what happened. That’s really the only explanation that for this. No, wait! I tell a lie. It’s possible that the printer just mislaid half of the pages. What’s in the book is in order, but every other page is missing. That must be it!” The other contributors are just as hilarious. There are plenty of terrible manga out there to mock, as it turns out!

While most manga blogs focus on titles that are more appropriate for high school students rather than younger children, Ms. Dacey makes a point to highlight manga for younger students. She also has an extensive holiday gift guide that lists comics for elementary school students and tweens and young teens. This blog also has extensive lists of resources and links to encourage further exploration of the subject. It’s a wonderful resource for anyone interested in learning more about manga – both good and bad!

The Manga Critic: http://mangacritic.com

The Adventures of Josie True

This fun web game stars 11 year-old Josie, a Chinese-American 4th grader. Her teacher, Ms. Trombone, goes missing the day before the class’s big field trip, and Josie takes it on herself to find out what happened. The game was created in 1999 by Mary Flanagan, a professor of media studies, to bring technology to underrepresented groups. Professor Flanagan hoped to draw in 9- to 11-year-old girls to help them increase their math, science, and technology skills. While they travel back in time with Josie to Chicago and Paris, girls learn how to manipulate the website and solve fun puzzles based on math or science. They learn about how technologies work and can find role models in both Josie, who courageously decides to rescue her favorite teacher and solve the mystery, and Ms. Trombone, who is an inventor as well as a teacher. This is a relatively simple game; players simply click through different rooms, solving puzzles and answering questions along the way. These questions test math and science skills, as well as spatial awareness (matching shapes) and reading skills. Josie’s diary is also available for online viewing, and there are online quiz games and offline science experiment ideas (I particularly like the “How to Make Slime” activity). After rescuing her teacher from Chicago, 1922, the two go to Paris and have all kinds of excellent adventures. This is an easy, fun game to introduce 9- to 11-year-old girls to online gaming.

Why I recommend this game:
Josie True is a wonderful heroine, especially because she represents groups that are often left out of the online community – girls and minorities. She meets famous women from history, such as Bessie Coleman, the first African-American international aviator. Professor Flanagan is “demonstrating how the Internet can be an egalitarian tool for self-expression.” (NY Times article 3/29/00). The mystery and puzzles will help draw them in; the game is engaging without being pedantic. I love that this game appeals to girls, especially non-white girls, and may help them gain computer skills and realize that they can be just as good at math and science as their male peers – no matter what society tells them. This is a great message within a great game, and I think young girls would get a lot out of it.

The Adventures of Josie True: http://www.josietrue.com

Other Resources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2000/03/29/business/is-anybody-not-out-for-e-billions-josie-true-for-one.html

Imagine Game Series (for Nintendo D.S. and Wii)

This series of games came out in 2007 and is still expanding. It was created by Ubisoft, one of the biggest game developers in Europe, as part of its Games for Girls series. The games are aimed primarily at girls, although they can appear to children of both sexes. They allow girls to pretend to be any number of careers, from artist or party planner to teacher or veterinarian. There’s even a diary version of this game (My Secret World, by Imagine) where girls can record their thoughts, take online quizzes, and connect with friends. There is also a website (ubisoft.com) that allows girls to create an avatar and further explore the careers from their games, as well as playing in a Style Lab or with online Petz. Girls can chat with other users, but there are plenty of parental controls in place to ensure their online safety. This is a very creative way to encourage career exploration. It’s even somewhat realistic. In Imagine: Teacher, players pretend to be a rookie, charged with bringing more students into the classroom. The teacher has to increase students’ knowledge, help them find the career that suits them best, create a fun and engaging learning environment, and talk to parents and school staff. In Imagine: Artists girls learn different art techniques (painting, drawing, even collage), create their own works of art, and then upload their creation to their online gallery to show off to friends. And in Imagine: Family Doctor, players learn about their patients’ symptoms and medical histories, and then diagnose them with mini-games, give advice, and write prescriptions. While this story- and people-oriented game style might not appeal to young boys, it would definitely draw in many young girls, even those who are not otherwise into gaming.

Why I recommend these games:
While Imagine: Cheerleader or Imagine: Prom are not the most progressive concepts out there, it’s great that these games encourage young girls to try out different careers. I believe this teaches children that they can be whatever they want to be. Many of these careers are both progressive and fun, like Zookeeper or Soccer Captain, and some are very informative (apparently Imagine: Party Babyz is a very realistic demonstration of the joys and trials of babysitting). This is an excellent way to introduce girls to light, fun gaming that they can do socially (Nintendo DS encourages players to connect with their friends to chat and play together). This will help girls master technology and help them narrow down their possible career choices.

Other Resources:

http://blogs.reuters.com/mediafile/2008/07/16/lets-hear-it-for-the-girls/

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