In this post, reviews of: A Review of Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series, including The Stonekeeper (Graphix, 2008), The Stonekeeper’s Curse (Graphix, 2009), The Cloud Searchers (Graphix, 2010), The Last Council (Graphix, 2011), and Prince of the Elves (Graphix, 2012) and Copper (Graphix, 2010, Reprint Edition); Paul Yee’s Shu-li and Tamara (Tradewind Books, 2008) and Paul Yee’s Shu-li and Diego (Tradewind Books, 2008).
A Review of Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series, including The Stonekeeper (Graphix, 2008), The Stonekeeper’s Curse (Graphix, 2009), The Cloud Searchers (Graphix, 2010), The Last Council (Graphix, 2011), and Prince of the Elves (Graphix, 2012) and Copper (Graphix, 2010, Reprint Edition).
I’m reviewing the first five books in the Amulet series as well as Kibuishi’s stand-alone book, Copper! The Stonekeeper begins the series, which focuses on the struggles of one family as they come to terms with a tragic accident and the loss of the father figure. Emily and her little brother Navin are moving to a new town presumably for the fresh start that their mother envisions will be important for all of them. They live in a house that was once owned by Emily’s great grandfather who is now presumed to be dead. Things soon escalate into the realm of the fantastic when Emily’s mother is somehow taken by a mystical being in the basement. Upon following their mother, Emily and Navin find that the basement extends into a whole other world. In this new landscape, Emily discovers that the amulet that she is wearing contains magical powers and she must learn to harness them in order to rescue their mother. She and her brother eventually come upon the “secret” home of their great-grandfather, who is on his deathbed. When Emily decides to take on the powers of the amulet, she ostensibly takes on his legacy and all that comes with it, including a band of robots (with appropriately fun names such as Miskit and Cogsley) that end up being worthy sidekicks. The first book in the Stonekeeper concludes with a cliffhanger, as Emily’s mother is rescued from the clutches of evil creatures, but she remains poisoned. Emily and Navin must continue adventuring in search of a cure.
The second book, The Stonekeeper’s Curse, develops the lineage of Emily’s new powers, specifically as they arise from the amulet she is now wearing. She is tasked with finding a special fruit that will help cure the poison that is coursing through her mother’s body. Emily and her brother Navin are soon unfortunately separated. Emily goes on her journey to find a cure for the poison with the help of a new “foxy” sidekick, Leon Redbeard, while Navin realizes that he must come to her aide, if she is to avoid being sidelined by the Elf King’s henchmen. If you want to find out what happens to Emily and Navin’s mother, you will have to read The Stonekeeper’s Curse yourself! This particular book further develops the alternative kinship system being formed, as Emily and Navin come to befriend the inventive creations their great-grandfather made, which include humanoid-esque robots.
In the third book, The Cloud Searchers, Leon Redbeard realizes that they are going to need more support if they are going to be able to defeat the Elf King. Though Emily and Navin believe their adventures might be over, Leon makes clear that there is a larger issue at hand: the very fate of this magical kingdom they’ve stumbled upon. Leon realizes that they must locate a mythical city located somewhere in the sky and so they embark on another journey, with the hope that they will find the city known as Cielis. The surprise of the third book is that a foe from an earlier storyline seems to have become a tentative ally.
In the fourth book, The Last Council, Emily, Navin, and their many allies have entered Cielis, but there seems to be something amiss in the city and this particular book explores what happens when Emily begins to trust one of the individuals connected to the titular council with whom Emily seeks an audience. This book further develops the complicated and multi-tiered nature of Emily’s quest, which includes more than one enemy.
In the most current book of the series, Prince of the Elves, Emily, Navin and all the rest must face the various enemies that have arisen in the course of their quest to save this magical world. This particular book most fully develops the curse connected with those who become stonekeepers. As has been evident, Emily is entirely unsure of the voice and the entity who sometimes speaks to her through the amulet. In this chapter to her adventure, it becomes increasingly clear that she must be very cautious of the power of the amulet, which very much has a destructive dark side, one that has claimed those who are now her biggest adversaries. Unfortunately, book five is the latest in the series, and I have no clue when Kibuishi plans to wrap this series up!
As with all of the books in this series, the illustrations are absolutely lush and breathtaking. You can tell that Kibuishi was likely a big fan of fantasy fiction and film because there are certain panels that recall something straight out of David Eddings or Tolkien. One detail that I absolutely loved about the books is that the panels themselves are circumscribed in rough borders that look “sketchy,” giving the pristine use of colors a rougher quality. Finally, though Kibuishi is listed as the main “author” to the text, there is a section at the end of each book which details the the larger “staff” that is required to pull off these graphic novels. In some sense, it might be more accurate to call these books a collaboration.
Kazu Kibuishi’s Copper was apparently originally a webcomic, so the version I read is actually a compilation of those comics. Consequently, there’s a little bit narrative cohesion among the different comic strips and you sort of read them as an impressionistic whole. In this case, the titular main character and his beloved dog Fred go out on various adventures. There is a clear surrealistic and fantasy impulse to this work. The first two strips see Copper engaging in various activities only to discover that it was all a dream. These two comic strips thus remind us that perhaps these adventures all stem from the imagination of a young boy. Nevertheless, we revel in his outings, his desire to find the perfect melon bread, to gain new friends, and to avoid almost certain disaster. Copper’s dog Fred is an equally important character, perhaps a little bit “Eeyore” in quality, but an excellent foil. There are a couple of longer comic strip sections as well and these often reveal the development of Kibuishi’s attention to narrative and herald his interest in the graphic novel form, which comes to fruition in the Amulet series (to be reviewed at a later time). I believe, though, that the most monumental piece of this work is actually the concluding section in which Kibuishi offers a step-by-step process of how to make one’s own graphic novel. As part of the course I am teaching next year, I am having students produce and digitize their own comic strips. Admittedly, I’m not expecting these comics to go through the entire and rigorous process that Kibuishi sets up, but I have decided that during a time away from research and writing I will attempt to use Kibuishi’s approach as well as the work of Ivan Brunetti in the construction of a comic in order to see what might be useful for students. I rarely tell people but I was once commissioned to do a mini-comic for a job that I worked at as an undergraduate and I’ve always had a fondness of sketching though my talents were obviously limited. It’s something I picked up from collecting Marvel comics as a kid and I am relishing the opportunity to see how difficult it may be to actually make a short comic strip of my own. Kibuishi’s step-by-step process makes the construction of a comic seem rather doable, with perhaps the exception of the use of adobe photoshop only because I have such limited technological capability.
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A Review of Paul Yee’s Shu-li and Tamara (Tradewind Books, 2008) and Paul Yee’s Shu-li and Diego (Tradewind Books, 2008); both illustrated by Shaoli Wang.
Paul Yee’s Shu-li and Tamara and his follow-up Shu-li and Diego are two children’s books which explore the daily adventures and misadventures of our spirited young protagonist known as Shu-li. Her parents are Chinese immigrants living in Canada and they operate a restaurant. In the first book, Shu-li is looking to make a new friend and believes she has found it in a classmate named Tamara, but there are rumors that Tamara may be a petty thief and that Tamara comes from a very low income background. Those rumors soon filter up to Shu-li’s parents and they seem rather discouraging when it is discovered that Shu-li has decided that Tamara is her friend. Shu-li and Tamara still team up on a school project to raise money for an African tribal village, which is looking to get help with the purchasing of some livestock. At first their bake sale goes badly, but with the help of some classmates, they turn their fortunes around. Of course, Yee throws one last wrinkle into the equation when it is discovered that some of the money they have raised is missing. A classmate casts suspicions on Tamara, but it is discovered that the money has simply been misplaced. This story seems to be suggestive of the fact that one cannot listen to gossip and rumors in the judgment of others. In this respect, the “Shu-li” series certainly operates with a specific moral message.
In the semi-sequel to the first book, Yee shifts the focus on the friendship that eventually develops between Shu-li and Diego after they are tasked with taking care of a dog named Baxter. Baxter’s owner is a customer who occasionally purchases food from the Chinese restaurant and Shu-li, having always fantasized about owning a dog, is particularly excited about the prospect of this opportunity. Of course, Shu-li’s parents realize how much work and care it takes to properly handle a dog. And as we can expect, there are many crises that develop, the most climactic of which is the fact that Baxter goes missing and Shu-li and Diego must mount a desperate campaign to find him before his owner recovers from a hospital procedure. As with the previous book, this one explores not only a friendship in development, but also the issue of raising and caring for another living being. Thus, Shu-li and Diego reveals how even children at young ages must come to develop a sense of empathy that will extend to their contact with animals.
The illustrations give these stories a dynamic edge that would obviously find popularity with its target audience. Of course, the rather wholesome rhetorical nature of these books will have parents also approving of these narratives and characters. As I’ve been teaching a graphic novel course, it’s been interesting to think about the differences between children’s picture books and graphic novels. The main contrast seems to exist on the level of panel usage, which in most children’s picture books, there is no actual panel to panel transition. If there is a “gutter,” it appears in the shift from one page to another.
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