Review: Bleach Vol 2 by Tite Kubo

Bleach, Vol. 2

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Immediately after checking into the Kurosaki Clinic with a mysterious scar on his back, the muscle-bound Chad goes AWOL. Accompanying Chad is a talking parakeet imbued with the soul of a young boy named Y?ichi. It doesn’t take newbie Soul Reaper Ichigo Kurosaki long to surmise that a Hollow must be involved. By far the strongest spirit he’s faced to date, Ichigo is about to discover that not every soul is bound for the Soul Society, especially if it’s tainted with innocent blood

Review:

I loved this volume of Bleach!  Picking up right where the first volume left off, Chad  is in oodles of trouble because of a possessed parakeet.  Housing the soul of the a young boy, Chad has promised to keep him safe, unaware that a Hallow is hot on their heels.  It’s a good thing that Chad is a strong, sturdy fellow, because the evil spirit does its level best to thoroughly annihilate him.  Rukia tries to race to the rescue, but without her Soul Reaper powers, she’s even more helpless than Chad and the parakeet!  Ichigo is temporarily out of the picture.  His sister Karin is very ill, and he’s been tasked with seeing her home safely.  Will he get to Rukia and Chad in time to save the day?

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Review: Midnight Secretary Vol 1 by Tomu Ohmi

 

Title: Midnight Secretary Vol 1

Author:  Tomu Ohmi

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

Mad Men meets Vampire Diaries

Kaya Satozuka prides herself on being an excellent secretary and a consummate professional, so she doesn’t even bat an eye when she’s reassigned to the office of her company’s difficult director, Kyohei Touma. He’s as prickly—and hot—as rumors paint him, but Kaya is unfazed…until she discovers that he’s a vampire!!Kaya quickly accustoms herself to scheduling his “dinner dates” and working odd hours, but can she handle it when Kyohei’s smoldering gaze starts turning her way?!


Review:

Midnight Secretary is a very fun, fluffy read.  I wasn’t expecting much from it, and I wasn’t really in the mood for it, so I kept shuffling it from the top of my reading pile, and now I’m sorry I did.  Once I got it in my hands, the cover kind of turned me off.  I don’t find it appealing at all, so here is another instance where I misjudged the book by it’s cover.

Kaya takes pride in her job, and she wants to be the best executive secretary possible so she can get a great job, and so her mom won’t have to work so hard.  After her father died, her mother got a job at Tohma Corporation, and she worked hard to put Kaya through school.  She even helped get her a job at Tohma, and now that Kaya is getting her big break, she’s going to make her mother proud.  The big break turns out to be a mixed blessing.  She’s assigned to be Kyohei Tohma’s secretary.  Kyohei is the younger son of the senior director, and he’s a jerk.  He is a demanding boss, who works long hours, and his exacting expectations have caused countless secretaries to quit.  Kaya is determined to succeed, though, but his dismissive attitude is hard to deal with.

Kyohei has a reputation for being a ladies man, and Kaya quickly discovers that this is true.  He juggles the ladies with consummate skill, arranging meetings with them in his office after dark.  He is quick to disparage Kaya’s looks, and he grumpily complains that she’s not good looking enough to work for him.  Kaya ignores every complaint and quickly proves that she is efficient and dedicated to her job.  When she suspects that Kyohei and his girlfriends are using drugs in the office, she doesn’t hesitate to get to the bottom of her suspicions.  She’s afraid that if there is illegal drug use going on that he’ll get caught, the company will suffer, and she’ll lose her job.  What she discovers is that he’s a vampire, and that the hanky panky in his office  is Kyohei drinking the blood of his beautiful lady friends.  The illegal drug use would probably have been more welcome than working for a blood-sucking playboy!

I enjoyed Midnight Secretary because Kaya is so unflappable.  She takes the discovery that her boss is a vampire in stride, and quickly decides that she’s going to defend his secret and make sure that he is taken care of so that he can continue to perform his job duties.  Well, that and he’s threatened to have her mother fired if  Kaya quits, so she doesn’t really have much choice.  Meeting every challenge that he throws at her head-on, Kaya quickly proves that she is indispensible.  Despite Kyohei’s gruffness, she can’t help but find him attractive, especially after his secret weakness is revealed and he is forced to drink her blood.

The art is very attractive and reminded me of Mayu Shinjo.  The delicate lines are expressive, and the characters are attractive, even Kaya, who hides her baby face behind ugly glasses and a severe hair style.Midnight Secretary is fun and flirty, and I can’t wait to read the next volume. 

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Bleach Vol 1 by Tite Kubo

 

Title: Bleach Vol 1

Author:  Tite Kubo

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

Hot-tempered 15-year-old Ichigo Kurosaki, the hero of the popular fantasy-adventure Bleach, has the unsettling ability to see spirits who are unable to rest in peace. His sixth sense leads him to Rukia, a Soul Reaper who destroys Hollows (soul-devouring monsters) and ensures the deceased find repose with the Soul Society. When she’s injured in battle, Rukia transfers her sword and much of her power to Ichigo, whose spiritual energy makes him a formidable substitute Soul Reaper. But the orange-haired teenager isn’t sure he wants the job: too many risks and moral dilemmas.


Review:

Bleach is one of my favorite series, and I realized with a great deal of dismay that I am far, far behind in my reading of this title.  I don’t think I’ve reviewed many of the volumes, so I opted to take advantage of a comp copy through Vizmanga.com to reacquaint myself with Ichigo, Rukia, and the rest of the gang.  This is a very fun series that features a ton of action, surprisingly touching emotions, and fan favorite protagonists in both Ichigo and Ruikia.  If you enjoyed The Ghost and the Goth or The Curse Workers by Holly Black, I think you should give Bleach a try.  Admittedly, the length of the series is daunting, and it’s still being published, but there are enough volumes released in English that you can read it in manageable chunks by utilizing online sales and trips to the library. 

Ichigo Kurosaki is 15 years old and he can see ghosts.  His sisters can too, though all they can see are faint outlines.  Ichigo can see, touch, talk to, and channel these pesky spirits that he thinks are a pain in the butt.  He just wants to be left alone to mind his own business but NOPE!  That’s not happening.  Ichigo also has a high moral obligation to help anyone in trouble, even those troublesome ghosts.  When an evil spirit threatens to hurt his family, he’s forced to borrow Soul Reaper powers from Rukia, a Soul Reaper who was badly injured saving his bacon.  Too hurt to fight, she offers to lend Ichigo half of her dark powers so he can save his family.  She’s dismayed to discover that he’s so spiritually powerful that he steals all of them, and now she can’t get them back!

I love the relationship between Ichigo and Rukia.  Their back and forth banter is humorous and full of snark.  While Ichigo isn’t exactly disrespectful, he doesn’t understand the need to put himself in danger, fighting the Hollows, regardless of the obligation he acquired when he snatched away all of Rukia’s power.  When the chips are down, though, her forceful prodding  makes him realize how important a Soul Reaper’s duties are.  If he doesn’t take care of the restless spirits, they will eventually turn into Hollows, and once they become these evil monsters, they lose their last shred of humanity.  There is no going back, and the Hollows have an insatiable need to feed on souls.   Rukia put her life at risk to save Ichigo and his family, so he acknowledges that he has a duty to help Rukia until she can figure out a way to get her powers back.

Ichigo is one of my favorite characters because he can’t stand to see an injustice and not want to correct it.  He and One Piece’s Luffy have a lot in common. Both of them will give their heart and soul, not to mention their life, to defend those needing help.  They are white knights in attitude.  Ichigo can’t turn his back on bullying, or just stand by when someone is about to get hurt.  He’s not perfect, and there are many times when he should learn to keep his mouth shut, but he can’t do it.  He is fiercely devoted to his friends and family, and he won’t let anyone hurt them.  Now that he’s a Soul Reaper by default, he can’t ignore when a soul is in danger, either.

The first volume of Bleach is fast-paced, brimming with frantic action, yet it doesn’t let the characters and their interactions take a back seat to all of the fighting.  That is what I enjoy most about Bleach.  The character come to life for me, and I so badly want Ichigo to master his new powers so he doesn’t come to harm.  It’s hard watching such a likeable guy getting the crap beat out of him, even though I have few doubts that he’ll always persevere.  That assurance is the main appeal of manga for me.  I know that even as the protagonists are facing certain doom, they will eventually find a solution to all of their problems.  Reading along as they figure that out is what makes reading them so rewarding.

Grade:  A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Yuhi: Ceres Celestial Legend Vol 2 by Yu Watase

 

 

Title: Yuhi: Ceres Vol 2

Author: Yu Watase

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

Aya and her twin brother Aki thought they were going to a celebration of their sixteenth birthday at their grandfather’s home, but the funeral-like atmosphere tips them off that something’s not right. Their "birthday present" turns out to be a mummified hand–the power of which forces an awakening within Aya, and painful wounds all over Aki’s body! Grandfather Mikage announces that Aki will be heir to the Mikage fortune, and Aya must die! But Aya has allies in the athletic cook and martial artist Yûhi, and the attractive, mysterious Tôya. But can even two handsome and resourceful guys save Aya when it’s her own power that’s out of control?


Review:

I have mixed feelings about the second volume of Ceres.  On one hand, I love the legend of the Celestial Maiden.  Ceres is tormented with rage and longs for revenge against the man who stole her feathered robes, prohibiting her from returning to heaven.  Worse, he violated her, and she bore his children, trapped in an ugly place she couldn’t escape from.  Now, fate has caused both Ceres and Mikage to both be reincarnated as the twins Aya and Aki.  This has never happened before, and she’s obsessed with winning her vengeance.  Every time she sees Aki, Ceres wrestles control away from Aya and attacks him, even though he has no memories of his previous life.  I find this storyline so compelling.  For centuries, Ceres’s thirst for revenge has kept her trapped, reborn over and over into the Mikage family, only to be discovered and killed during the ritual as her host body turned sixteen.  When I think about how angry I would be after being thwarted time and time again, I am surprised that she hasn’t done more damage to the Mikages and their property as yet.  I would have gone absolutely ballistic, leaving the surviving Mikages to deal with harried property insurance adjustors.

Aya, though, is grating on my nerves.  Is it really wise to chase after Toya in not much more than her underwear, leaving her defenseless when her evil cousin Kagami gets his paws on her?  Ugh, ugh, ugh!  I would not feel like I was in a position of power in enemy territory while dressed in my panties and a bra.  Ugh!  That’s like the nightmare where you forgot to put your clothes on before rushing off to school.  And to so ardently declare her love for Toya, a guy she just met, and a guy who works for the people who are trying to kill her?  Aya, while Yuhi isn’t as interesting, he is a lot safer, so maybe you should go for him instead?  He is more than capable of protecting you, and he can cook!  Take him instead!

I was a little bored with this volume.  Whenever Ceres made an appearance or Kagami had page time, I was all interested again.  Ceres is fascinating because she reveals little tidbits of her history every time she manifests, and Kagami – ah, Kagami.  He is just so evil and conniving that you can’t help but like, even admire him, just a little bit.  He sees an opportunity for the Mikage family to gain immense power, and he’s going to seize it.  With both Aki and Aya in his control, there is nothing he can’t do, once he figures out how to tame Ceres and her incredible power. 

The second volume of Ceres was both irritating and compelling.  Aya drives me nuts, but legend of the Celestial Maidens kept me turning the pages.

Grade:  C+

Review copy purchased from Amazon

Review: Aya: Ceres Vol 1 by Yuu Watase

 

Title:  Aya: Ceres Vol 1

Author: Yuu Watase

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

Aya and her twin brother Aki thought they were going to a celebration of their sixteenth birthday at their grandfather’s home, but the funeral-like atmosphere tips them off that something’s not right. Their "birthday present" turns out to be a mummified hand–the power of which forces an awakening within Aya, and painful wounds all over Aki’s body! Grandfather Mikage announces that Aki will be heir to the Mikage fortune, and Aya must die! But Aya has allies in the athletic cook and martial artist Yûhi, and the attractive, mysterious Tôya. But can even two handsome and resourceful guys save Aya when it’s her own power that’s out of control?


Review:

Okay, I have a confession to make.  Yuu Watase is like crack for me.  She has a gift when it comes to writing angsty, action-packed series, and I just gobble her stuff up.  It’s a mix of cotton candy, corn dogs, and French fries.  That’s a lot of junk food, but it is so tasty and filling that it’s hard to resist.  And yes, I just compared Yuu Watase’s writing to carnival junk food.  That’s okay, though, because I love carnival junk food!

Aya and her twin brother Aki are turning 16.  Instead of hanging out with their friends as they had planned, their parents demand that they accompany them to their grandfather’s house.  Once there, they discover all of their relatives, somberly awaiting their arrival.  To cap off the really, really weird day, Aya and Aki are given a box to open.  inside the box is a mummified hand, and once they see it, their lives will never be the same again.

Aki collapses in a pool of blood, shredded by some magical force unleashed by the mummified hand. A power awakens within Aya, and she discovers that she’s the descendant of a celestial maiden, and now her family wants her dead!  With her entire family out to kill her, who can she trust?  The Mikage family bodyguard, Toya?  Or the martial artist chef Yuhi?  Who is going to save Aya from her family, and who is going to save her from the destructive power she can’t control?

I love this story!  I have seen the anime, but I haven’t read the graphic novels yet.  I thought it would be fun to read them all, and blog about them as I do.  Hopefully you will be inspired to read them yourself, or watch the anime, which is still one of my favorites.  When it came out, it received some flak, mainly because Aya can be irritating, especially when she gets herself in to trouble, and then has to have one of the guys come and save her.  While I prefer a more self-reliant heroine, I love how Watase brought the legend of the celestial maidens to life in Ceres.  Add in her detailed artwork with her delicate linework, and mixing in a dash of humor to the horror and action elements, and you have an engaging, fast-paced story full of mystery and weird supernatural powers.f

This first volume introduces the major characters, and sets the tone for the rest of the series.  Ceres is the story of a powerful family, and the dark secret they have been hiding for centuries. It is also the story of Aya’s coming of age.  She is a spoiled and overindulged teenager, who thinks life is one big party at the local karaoke place.  She hasn’t had many responsibilities, and she’s never had to really do things for herself.   Now that she’s lost the shelter of her family, she’s forced to deal with her mother’s betrayal, and somehow keep herself alive.  Suzumi and her brother-in-law Yuhi come to her rescue, and now Aya must navigate  treacherous waters as she tries to decide who she can trust.  If she’s wrong, she’s going to end up dead, and nothing’s she learned in high school has prepared her for this nightmare. The cliffhanger at the end made me happy that I have the next volume, and ensured that I would be reaching for it quickly.  This is a fast-paced story with many unanswered questions that beg to be answered.  Only 13 more volumes before we get them!

Grade:  B+

Review copy purchased from Amazon

Review: Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff

 

Title:  Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant

Author: Tony Cliff

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

Lovable ne’er-do-well Delilah Dirk has travelled to Japan, Indonesia, France, and even the New World. Using the skills she’s picked up on the way, Delilah’s adventures continue as she plots to rob a rich and corrupt Sultan in Constantinople. With the aid of her flying boat and her newfound friend, Selim, she evades the Sultan’s guards, leaves angry pirates in the dust, and fights her way through the countryside. For Delilah, one adventure leads to the next in this thrilling and funny installment in her exciting life.

A little bit Tintin, a little bit Indiana Jones, Delilah Dirk is a great pick for any reader looking for a smart and foolhardy heroine…and globetrotting adventures.


Review:

What a fun read!  Selim is a lieutenant in the Turkish Janissary Corps, and he’s content to be a soldier.  Sure, the sultan is a blood-thirsty jerk, but Selim’s life isn’t so bad.  He enjoys living a quiet life, brewing his delicious tea and keeping his head firmly attached to his neck.  All of that changes when he’s given the task of acting as the translator for a new prisoner.  Delilah Dirk is everything that Selim is not.  She’s bold and confident, and she thrives on danger.  She’s a master swordswoman, she’s traveled the world, and nothing intimidates her.  When Selim relates Delilah’s boastful stories to the sultan, his peaceful life comes to a screeching halt.  Delilah has arrived at the palace with one goal in mind, and that’s robbing the sultan.  When she escapes, Selim is accused of being her accomplice, and suddenly he’s living a life on the run.

I enjoyed the interaction between Delilah and Selim.  Delilah is like a forest fire; she is a force of nature, and if you find yourself standing against her, good luck!  She is clever and resourceful, and nothing phases her.  Like a cyclone heading for landfall, it’s best to just get out of her way.  Selim, on the other hand, is quiet spoken, and he wants to live a long, happy, healthy  life.  He immediately realizes that he’s live a short, painful life if he continues hanging around with Delilah, but honor requires that he pay back the debt that he owes her.  She rescued him when he was about to be executed, and while he’s rather go hide somewhere safe, his pride won’t allow him to shirk his obligations.  Never mind that Delilah drags him from one deadly adventure to the next.  A debt is a debt, darn it!!

I loved Selim.  He thinks he knows what he wants out of life, but he really hasn’t a clue.  Racing about after Delilah is one heart pounding thrill after another, and while Selim professes to dislike his new circumstances, he has to admit that there are some advantages.  Fresh air, nights under the stars, the satisfaction of a good meal cooked from scratch.  Delilah’s an entertaining companion, full of death-defying tales of her previous endeavors.  When he’s given the opportunity to settle down and have that peaceful existence he’s longed for, he realizes that there’s something to be said for the company of a good friend.

At it’s core, Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is the story of friendship.  Sure, it’s got all of that fun sword fighting, mass destruction, and running for your life, but this is the story of two polar opposites who discover that together they make a team to be reckoned with, and that together, they make a more cohesive whole.  The full-color, expressive art is just as engaging as the storyline, and the dialog is snappy and keeps the plot racing along.  This is a fun read, one that’s hard to put down.  I read it in one sitting, and was entertained from the first page to the last. 

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Guest Post: Tony Cliff on Writing Strong Female Characters and Giveaway!

Today’s special guest Tony Cliff has a guest post for us, and after, you can win a copy of his graphic novel Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant.

Writing Strong Female Characters by Tony Cliff

I don’t know whether she meant it sincerely or whether she was just trying to tease me, but when a notably feminist-minded female friend saw the cover for my first little Delilah Dirk comic back in 2007, she said, “oh! You made a feminist character.” Knowing how vocal this friend could be about feminist issues, it was often fun to bother her about it with a grab-bag of stereotypically misogynist remarks, so she could have been returning the favour by maligning-but-not-really my labour of love. Pointing out that the project I’ve been working on for months secretly demonstrates feminist principles would have been a sort of, “ah ha, you’re part of the club and you didn’t even know it” statement. Whatever her intentions, she was the first person to posit that Delilah Dirk might be a “strong female character.” Since then, presumably because I am a human male and the incongruity is astonishing, I am often asked why and how I have written a “strong female character.” Let me tell you!

I’ll just pass by arguing about whether Delilah Dirk is, in fact, a “strong female character.” Since that first mention, enough people have framed her as such that I’m just going to roll with it. No one that I am aware of has argued that DD is specifically not a “strong female character.” If I’m reluctant to embrace that term (as indicated by my liberal use of scare-quotes), it’s probably due to my personal tendency to be contradictory, but also because I am occasionally suspicious of peoples’ motivations in throwing the term around.

I’ll also pass by the question, “why do you write strong female characters,” because Joss Whedon has already addressed that question very eloquently. Listen to him here (http://youtu.be/cYaczoJMRhs?t=1m44s).

If possible, I would also defer to Joss Whedon about how to write strong female characters. He has more experience than I do. I’m not entirely sure what makes a “strong female character.” Others have invested years of post-graduate study in this topic – there are tests to see if your work of fiction has sufficiently fully-featured female characters, there are classifications, there are archetypes and stereotypes… I just sat down one evening to invent an adventuresome character who seemed appealing.

Here is the extent to which I considered Delilah’s gender: inspired by Hornblower and Sharpe adventures during the Napoleonic Wars, I wanted to have a sort of logistically hyper-flexible (i.e. “globetrotting”) action character, and the genre and setting were already chock-a-block full of male characters. Plus, a female character in 1810 naturally faces more obstacles due to societal norms, which I thought would present more opportunities for conflict. It would generate laughs, too, because our society has come so far since then that the gender roles are comically outdated. Feel free to roll your eyes in disagreement, if necessary – again, I am a White Male. I was also motivated by the mainstream comics I had encountered – mostly Image comics of the late 1990s. The female characters were across-the-board boring. Too serious, too bland, no sense of humour, no depth or colour.

Meanwhile, throughout my life I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy the platonic friendship of a few actual human females. I have studied them – made notes, measured and analyzed their behaviours and characteristics. I have dissected their droppings and run samples of their blood through complicated scientific equipment, at great personal expense. I have made a surprising number of astonishing conclusions!

There are differences, but all you need to figure them out is a little observation, a little time, and to not be a raging garbage bag of misogynist filth. Sure, there might be subtle differences between a male character and a female character who are identical except for their gender. But the gulf is not very wide. Maybe you know how to write characters who fall all along the personality spectrum, from a cruelly selfish man to heroically brave man, to a paralyzingly cowardly man. If so, you’re more than capable of embracing the socially and physiologically imposed differences between genders. They are minor by comparison. Yes, there may be aspects of a character that are forced on them by their physiognomy and anatomy, how they think of themselves, and how your society of other characters treat them based on their perceived gender, but this is where imagination and observation come in.

So how do you write a strong female character? And is this different from a believable female character? Is there something that separates strong from believable? Is it just the addition of swords? Is it some other “empowering” trait? After all, the forcefulness of how a character represents their gender is not necessarily an indication of their strength. I am suspicious that when people say “strong female character” what they really mean is “believable female character” or just anything except “curvaceous plot device.” Assuming you want to step away from having your character serve the limited purposes of a plot device (ahem, Princess Peach, ahem, every damsel in distress), I like two simple tools for the job: contrast and depth.

Contrast is a simple idea, and it applies to anything you’re creating, at any step in the process. It is a flexible and infinitely useful fundamental concept. Follow along. When you’re reading a WHERE’S WALDO book (or WALLY, I guess, for you Europeans), it is difficult to figure out Where Waldo is because he is surrounded by other humans, some of whom wear stripy things and/or share similar colours with Waldo. This is low contrast. It’s hard to tell where Waldo is because he’s surrounded by so many things that are similar. He gets lost in the Waldo-ness.

Conversely, if you put Waldo on a flat, deserted ice floe, voila! he’s easy to see. He is the only Waldo-shaped and -coloured object that’s visible. This is high contrast. Waldo stands out because of all the not-Waldo-ness around him. Meanwhile, the polar bear behind him? Neither you nor Waldo saw it coming, because a white polar bear against a white background is the epitome of low contrast.

You can (and ought to) apply principles of contrast to everything. Readability and understanding increase when contrast increases. So it goes when you are creating a character. Their happy moments stand out in contrast to their sad moments. Their angry, intense, moments stand out in contrast to their quiet, meditative, sitting-and-sipping-tea moments. I believe this is what sets an interesting (“strong/believable”) character apart from a dull character. Certainly, if you’ve heard the term “one-note character,” this is a way to combat that, and it’s the beginning of achieving a little depth of character. Just put them in situations where they’ll be motivated to have different feelings.

It is frustrating to realize that I have just given advice that amounts to, “give the character more than one feeling,” because if you think about it that simply, it seems inconceivable that anyone could make anything even passably interesting for the maker without clearing this low hurdle. But I guess it needs to be mentioned. Those dour, guns-blazing ladies in my late-90s Image comics all had approximately two-and-a-half modes of expression: “scowl”, “scowl harder”, and “laugh derisively.” Sometimes they would look very serious while sunbathing by the pool, or on a boat, or on cloudy days. Not exactly a rich tapestry of emotion.

Conversely, in his series of novels, Horatio Hornblower is a well-rounded, fully-coloured character. The stories are no major touchstones in the history of literature, but they are solid, enjoyable, and are improved dramatically by the depth that C.S. Forester gives his protagonist’s character. Hornblower’s strength, resolve, and bravery stand out so much more impressively because they are contrasted against his worry, neuroses, and his internal conflicts.

For advice on achieving depth of character, I’m once more going to defer to someone with more expertise than me. After all, this is the sort of topic that one could write a book about, as many have. I like Lajos Egri. His excellent book THE ART OF DRAMATIC WRITING was written in the 1930s and is designed for the playwrights of the time. Nevertheless, it is a timeless, effective guide to building integrated characters and stories, whether you’re writing a novel, comic, movie, or even an actual play, as preposterous as that notion may be. If you didn’t know when it was written, you might mistake it for being more modern than McKee’s STORY. Egri’s emphasis is on designing stories that could not exist if it weren’t for the characters within them. Weak characters? Weak story. If that seems to you like it might be a recipe for the type of dull literary fiction that lacks the excitement of a good adventurous or romantic story, please see my earlier thoughts re: Horblower. Strong characters make for strong stories. A dull story is elevated and made interesting by entertaining characters, whereas the greatest roller-coaster of a plot is still mind-numbingly dull without interesting characters.

Much of Egri’s approach involves building a character up from their backstory. He is good at providing direction on how to do so. Now, admittedly, backstory and depth are not the same thing. But they can work in tandem. I find that one inspires the other.

Boiled down as simply as possible, depth can be found by giving your character likes, dislikes, wants, needs, preferences, quirks, and fears, among other things. Characteristics. Indiana Jones began as an homage to the heroes of adventure serials from the early 20th century. One of those is H. Rider Haggard’s character Allan Quatermain. Admittedly, I have not read a lot of Quatermain stories – maybe only three-quarters of one story – but you’d think that would be enough to give me a sense of his character. I know him only vaguely as a pith-helmeted avatar for the readers who would have revelled in what would have been exotic adventures back when those stories were written. What does everyone know about Indiana Jones? Whip, hat, competitive, and he’s scared of snakes. It’s not much, but it’s enough to be interesting, and it’s all established in the first ten minutes of his first story. The same can not be said for Quatermain. Say what you will about Wikipedia, feel free to contrast Quatermain’s “Appearance and Character” section with that of Indiana Jones or Horatio Hornblower.

At this point, I’ve wandered away from specifically talking about writing “strong female characters.” Though… I like to think that’s the eventual goal – some time far in the future, we might not need to differentiate between “strong female characters” and “strong characters.” Maybe you shouldn’t be writing strong female characters. Maybe you ought to write strong characters, making them ladies when that makes sense and men when that makes sense. Based on what I hear on Twitter and elsewhere, I can acknowledge that we’re not there yet, but I also get the feeling that I might be preaching to the choir: the type of person most likely to read about how to write a female character is the type who’s probably already inclined to do so, and that person is not the person who needs to be convinced of the value of a treating your differently-gendered characters equally.

So my hope is that you’ll keep writing your characters, and hopefully I’ve shared some viewpoints that complement your own. Perhaps I’ve simply illuminated some of my own biases, and you’ve encountered a type of thinking or some cognitive mistakes you want to avoid. Either way, I hope you’ll keep writing (or start writing) richly-developed characters and sending them out into the world so that, eventually, somewhere down the road, no one feels that a character’s gender requires a special approach to writing.

Thank you, Tony!!

About the book:

Lovable ne’er-do-well Delilah Dirk has travelled to Japan, Indonesia, France, and even the New World. Using the skills she’s picked up on the way, Delilah’s adventures continue as she plots to rob a rich and corrupt Sultan in Constantinople. With the aid of her flying boat and her newfound friend, Selim, she evades the Sultan’s guards, leaves angry pirates in the dust, and fights her way through the countryside. For Delilah, one adventure leads to the next in this thrilling and funny installment in her exciting life.

A little bit Tintin, a little bit Indiana Jones, Delilah Dirk is a great pick for any reader looking for a smart and foolhardy heroine…and globetrotting adventures.

Giveaway:

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Graphic Novel Review: Bluffton by Matt Phelan

 

Title: Bluffton

Author: Matt Phelan

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

Matt Phelan, graphic novelist extraordinaire, presents a rollicking tribute to vaudeville, small-town dreams, and Buster Keaton as a boy.

In the summer of 1908, in Muskegon, Michigan, a visiting troupe of vaudeville performers is about the most exciting thing since baseball. They’re summering in nearby Bluffton, so Henry has a few months to ogle the elephant and the zebra, the tightrope walkers and — lo and behold — a slapstick actor his own age named Buster Keaton. The show folk say Buster is indestructible; his father throws him around as part of the act and the audience roars, while Buster never cracks a smile. Henry longs to learn to take a fall like Buster, "the human mop," but Buster just wants to play ball with Henry and his friends. With signature nostalgia, Scott O’Dell Award–winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan visualizes a bygone era with lustrous color, dynamic lines, and flawless dramatic pacing.


Review:

I don’t think that I’ve read anything by Matt Phelan before I picked up Bluffton, but now that I’m aware of him, I’ll be trolling his backlist.  I wanted to read this book because I saw that it took place in Muskegon, Michigan in the early 1900s.  That’s the only reason.  I didn’t realize until I started reading it that it’s about Buster Keaton’s childhood.  Doh!  While I have heard of Buster Keaton, I didn’t really know anything about him, so this book was informative as well as a visual treat. 

Bluffton is the story of Henry Harrison and his magical summers in Bluffton.  Once the vaudeville performers, led by Joe Keaton, begin vacationing in the sleepy town near his home in Muskegon, Henry’s life will never be the same.  He quickly makes friends with Buster, but along with their friendship is envy and a longing for a more exciting life.  Henry is envious of Buster’s talent and the constant attention sent his way.  Buster, on the other hand, longs for a more normal childhood.  He wants to play baseball, and if asked, which he never is, he’d prefer to be a civil engineer than a vaudeville star.  When pretty Sally shows an interest in Buster, the boys friendship is put to the test. 

This was a perfect summer weekend read.  It’s an engaging coming of age story, and it manages to sneak in some history, seamlessly and compellingly, at the same time.  Henry has to come to terms with his normal, though happily ordinary, life, while watching Buster’s star blaze brighter and brighter. The only thing  that keeps Buster from being unlikable is that he, unlike Henry, has no real choice for his future.  His father has honed his stage presence since he was a young boy, and nothing is going to change the course of his life.  Not the authorities seeking to take Buster away from his parents under the suspicion of abuse, and certainly not Buster himself, who longs to have a say in who he is and what he does. 

Bluffton is a heartwarming, slice of life story, about two boys and their unlikely friendship.  It’s a gentle story of summers gone by, and wistful dreams for the future.  While Henry woefully lacked any talent for entertaining, he made his dreams come true in his own way. 

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher