Review: Stargazing Dog by Takashi Murakami

 

Title: Stargazing Dog

Author: Takashi Murakami

Publisher: NBM Publishing

ISBN: 978-1561636129

 

May Contain Spoil

From Amazon:

Translated from the Japanese bestseller, this story centers on Oto-san, a man who finds himself abandoned by his family and friends with nothing in his life happening the way he had planned. He embarks on a road trip to escape it all, and he soon discovers the only one he can count on completely is his faithful, recently adopted dog, who helps him see the light at the end of the tunnel. Illustrating the valuable lessons of friendship and loyalty, this is a heartwarming tale of two endearing characters and their shared adventure into the unknown.

Review:

I don’t know what exactly I expected from Stargazing Dog, but a sad story of wasted opportunities wasn’t anywhere on the list.  From the cover, I expected a carefree tale about a man and his dog.  It’s not.  It’s a story about a man without goals or the ability to change, and the love he has for his dog, the one constant in his life.  Happie provides most of the narrative, and as someone who loves dogs and can’t imagine life without my Buu, the deceptively simple language packs a powerful punch.  It actually felt like someone stabbed me in the heart a few times as I become totally engrossed in Happie’s life with Daddy.

Told in two parts, the first half of the book follows Daddy and Happie from a comfortable life in the suburbs, to divorce, to homelessness.  Through it all, Happie stays faithfully by Daddy’s side.  His whole life revolves around Daddy, and he is over the moon as long as he gets his daily walk and is allowed to spend time with the center of his universe.  When Happie first enters Daddy’s life as a puppy, the man tolerates the dog and allows his daughter to keep her new pet.  As the years slowly pass, the only anchor in Happie’s life is Daddy, and Daddy slowly grows fond of the dog.  Unconditional love is hard to resist, and Daddy soon succumbs to Happie’s worship.  As his fortunes decline, Daddy’s world begins to revolve around Happie, and soon, the two only have each other.  Everything else is gone; sold, stolen, discarded.  Just their mutual affection remains, even as life-threatening illnesses and a life on the road take their toll on both of them.

The second half of the book follows Okutsu, a social worker who is trying to uncover the mystery left by Daddy and Happie.  Okutsu is a lot like Daddy, except that he lacks one thing that the homeless man still possessed; the blind love and trust of a dog.  As Okutsu follows leads to close his case, he is forced to reflect back on his treatment of his dog when he was a child.  He wasn’t always nice to the dog, and even when he was at his meanest, the dog still accepted him with unwavering devotion.  Unconditional love isn’t always as easy to return as one would think, and when Okutsu was a boy, he resented his dog for always loving him, no matter how cruel he could be. 

This book resonated with me because of the relationship between Daddy and Okutsu and their dogs.  Neither one of them is particularly successful in their dealings with other people, but they have learned to form a deep connection with their pets.  Even as Okutsu chides his dog for stargazing and staring into the night sky, you can’t help but wonder how the lives of both men would have changed if they had been the dreamers and the stargazers.  Neither of them seems motivated to become more than they are, and if they didn’t have their dogs, they would both be alone, emotionally detached from everyone and everything.  Maybe that is what struck me the hardest about this book – the dogs had a fundamental ability to live and love that both men were sadly lacking.

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: The Story of Lee Vol 1 by Sean Michael Wilson and Chie Kutsuwada

 

Title: The Story of Lee Vol 1

Author: Sean Michael Wilson

Illustrator: Chie Kutsuwada

Publisher: NBM

ISBN: 978-1561635948

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Lee, living in Hong Kong, meets Matt, a fine young Englishman. Their relationship becomes stronger by the day, despite their deep cultural differences. But there is Lee’s Dad to contend with who views this affair very suspiciously. And there is another contender for Lee’s heart, a Chinese young man, whose jealousy takes on twinges of xenophobia. Will Lee and Matt’s relationship successfully cross the cultural divide and overcome the negative odds? Two worlds collide creating good sparks… and bad ones.

Review:

I enjoy stories about family dynamics.  I love the clash of personalities between parents and their children, or between siblings, as everyone struggles to find a place for themselves within the framework and expectations of their family.  I was excited to receive a review copy of The Story of Lee, but I have mixed feelings after reading it.   The conflict resolution between Lee and her father was too easily won, and the romance between Lee and Matt had no chemistry.  There were no sparks flying, and their misunderstandings were smoothed over too easily as well.  I never felt emotionally involved in Lee’s quest to discover herself.

I did like Lee.  She has dreams, and she’s not going to give them up.  Not for anybody.  If this means dropping out of college and aimlessly working at her father’s store in Hong Kong, then so be it.  She doesn’t want to be a dentist!  Her demanding father wants her to be a dentist.  Lee’s father is strict and critical of every little thing she does.  She’s too bold for a girl, she’s disrespectful, and she listens to her music too loudly.  What is wrong with the girl?  Poor Lee!  Even if she had been perfect, she still wouldn’t have measured up in her father’s eyes.

When Matt enters her life, it’s like all of the discontentment she’s been feeling comes swirling to the surface.   Matt’s from the UK, the place she most wants to be, he listens to the same music, and he understands her like nobody else.  There are a few cultural issues to work through, but Lee is instantly drawn to him.  Their romance fell flat for me, though, because it lacked tension.  Their cultural misunderstandings were also resolved too quickly to be convincing. 

While I am feeling indifferent to this volume of the series, I am curious to see what happens now that Lee and Matt are changing locations.  How will that effect their relationship?  Can it survive in a different venue, one that now puts some distance between them?

Grade: C+

Review copy provided by publisher

NBM’s Glacial Period Sells Out

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

GLACIAL PERIOD SELLS OUT

First Printing Nearly Gone;

NBM Goes Back to Press on Louvre Graphic Novel

 

Glacial Period, the first graphic novel from Paris’ Louvre Museum, is selling out of its first U.S. edition. To keep readers and retailers from missing out, NBM is going back to press.

NBM has sold more than four thousand copies since releasing Glacial Period — the first of four Louvre graphic novels — at the end of 2006. The book, from NBM’s ComicsLit imprint, was born after artist Nicolas De Crecy felt overwhelmed, small, and ignorant before Louvre’s incredibly rich art collection. The result is a story set thousands of years hence in a glacial period where all human history has been forgotten. A small group of archeologists fall upon the Louvre, buried in age-old snow. They cannot begin to explain all the artifacts they see. What could they have meant? The interpretations are nonsensical, absurd, and farcical.

The critics love Glacial Period.

“A clever upending of the resilient myth that masterworks of art preserve the history and spirit of their era; the meaning of art, De Crecy suggests, belongs to the people who experience it.” — Washington Post

“Humorous, insightful, and touching.” — Comics Buyer’s Guide

“Beautifully painted.” — Book Page

“De Crecy is a gifted storyteller whose eye for body language and ear for a funny line never fails him. He deftly combines art history, science fiction and simple philosophizing in a short but very sweet tale.” — Publishers Weekly

“De Crecy’s art is breathtaking. He lives up to his reputation as a mad genius with this amusing work.” — Booklist

Book details: 6” x 9”, 80 pages, full color trade paperback with flaps, cover price $14.95, ISBN 1-56163-483-2.

Glacial Period by Nicolas De Crecy Graphic Novel Review

Title:  Glacial Period

Author:  Nicolas De Crecy

Publisher:  NBM Comics Lit & Musee Du Louvre Publications

ISBN:  1561634832

May Contain Spoilers

Thousands of years in the future, a new glacial period has enveloped the world in a sheet of ice.  The past has been forgotten, and a group of archeologists, seeking clues to the history of mankind, stumble upon a most mysterious find.  Coming upon the Louvre, buried in ice and snow, they are bewildered by its contents. 

This was an interesting read.  The main character is a genetically modified canine, Hulk, who looks more like a pig than a dog.  With his sense of smell, which includes a Carbon 14 option, it’s his job to date the archeologists’ finds.  When he is separated from the group, he makes an amazing discovery on his own, and is soon becoming acquainted with the residents of the museum.   Hulk and all of the art objects talk, and through them, the history of the museum is revealed.  Now the antiquities have a favor to ask of Hulk; the museum will soon be swallowed up by a subterranean chasm.  Will he be about to save the long forgotten treasures?

The human archeologists, when they finally find the Louvre, are dumbfounded by the images that surround them.  Their ridiculous speculation over the paintings is amusing, and makes me wonder how  accurate our current understanding of ancient cultures really is. 

For an educational comic to bring awareness to the Louvre, I thought this was really well done.  If you have any interest at all in the Louvre, I think you’ll enjoy this unique glimpse into the museum.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by NMB

Unholy Kinship by Naomi Nowak Graphic Novel Review

Title:  Unholy Kinship

Author:  Naomi Nowak

Publisher: NBM

ISBN:  1561634824

May Contain Spoilers

Luca has been caring for her unstable sister ever since their mother was institutionalized.  Their father, a psychologist, died when she was 10.  When Gae, her sister, begins to display more signs of her mental illness, Luca struggles to keep them together, and to understand the link between her sister’s ramblings and the death of their father.

At 112 pages, I felt that this story could have been lengthened, which would have made it less confusing.  It felt unfinished, and there are subplots that needed to be tied up.  Story threads were introduced, and then just left hanging, like the cause of their father’s death.  Were the monkeys just a psychotic episode that Luca shared with her sister, or were they real?  Was her mother really mentally ill or was St Mark’s Asylum trying to keep the results of the her parents’ research a secret?

Throughout the book, we witness Luca’s difficulty forming attachments with other people.  When her only friend sets her up on a double date, she ends up going home with Matt, drunk.  That night, she starts having dreams about talking monkeys (er, yes, that’s a little weird).  When she avoids Matt, she puts stress on her friendship with Jasmine, whose boyfriend is pissed that Luca won’t take Matt’s phone calls. So, Jasmine will no longer speak to her, which further isolates Luca.

As Gae’s condition seems to worsen, St Mark’s Asylum scares Luca with their concern that Gae will soon sink into an uncommunicative state like their mother.  They assign a nurse to the case, who comes over every day, medicating Gae.  The sisters are rarely given the opportunity to be alone together, and when they are Gae is more often than not in an incoherent state.  When Luca tricks the nurse so that Gae misses her evening dose of medications, Gae lets Luca in on a secret she’s been keeping since the death of their father. 

The book is presented in full color, on glossy pages.  While I found the character designs a little odd, I liked the color combinations the author used to illustrate her story.  The art was easy to follow, and the page layouts were varied.  The shapes and sizes of the panels worked together to keep the story visually interesting.  I didn’t care for the hand-lettering; because of spacing, sometimes it was hard to read.

Unholy Kinship is the account of a woman who is surrounded by instability, and her attempt to keep a grip on reality. 

 Grade:  C

Review copy provided by NMB Publishing.