Fence

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: C.S. Pacat & Johanna the Mad
Genres: Graphic Novel, Young Adult, Fiction
Pub date: July 2018 (read Nov. 2018)

Disclaimer: This is a review for the first 3 volumes. However, I’ve kept it spoiler free so read on!

Why is this so good?!?! I really don’t understand, it’s just a comic about a couple of pretentious boys trying to make their high school’s fencing team, and yet I got so into it! Usually I just wait for the volumes to be released, but after reading the first volume, I had to go in search of the individual issues because it was just so good! (and I knew I would forget who all the boys were) I just finished issue #12, which encompasses the first 3 volumes, I’m just going to review them all here.

Fence is ultimately about two freshman fencers, Nicholas and Seiji, but it features an extended cast of secondary characters. Nicholas is new on the fencing scene and just really wants to be a fencer like his estranged father was. Nicholas is lacking in technique because of his lack of training, but he is very fast and has natural instinct. In contrast, Seiji has been fencing his whole life and is very technically skilled. He’s ranked 2nd nationally to fencing all-star Jesse.

Everyone expected Seiji to go to Exton, an elite fencing academy, but at the start of term, he shows up at Kings Row, expecting to win one of the 3 coveted spots on the fencing team, even though he’s only a freshman. Nicholas has won a fencing scholarship to Kings Row, but he’s only allowed to stay if he makes the team. In a surprise twist of fate, Nicholas and Seiji are roommates and quickly become rivals.

The entire first 3 volumes are just about the tryouts to make the fencing team. The boys compete in 24 matches and the top 3 ranked fencers make the school team to compete against Exton. It shouldn’t be so interesting to read 12 issues about high school fencers competing to make a school fencing team (like who actually cares about fencing these days?), but it is extremely readable and enthralling. Fence has a great extended cast that explores the rivalries and relationships that exist between all the fencers, what it means to be a good fencer, and a good sport, and how our familial relationships and support affects our abilities and psyche. There’s lots of drama between the fencers, but there’s also camaraderie. You come to like each and every one of the fencers (and the coach) and we start getting the back stories of some of the fencers.

My assumption is that after the team is established in the first 3 volumes, Pacat will expand the series to include Jesse (the #1 ranked fencer) and the rivalries between Exton and Kings Row. The first 3 volumes were fantastic and I can’t wait to see where this series goes in the future!

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Saga, Volume 9

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Genres: Graphic Novel, Science Fiction
Pub date: Oct. 2018 (read Nov. 2018)

So I can’t stop talking about Saga this year. For some reason Volume 8 affected me more than any other volume and I found it incredibly meaningful. So I was really looking forward to Volume 9, but apparently Vaughan decided that this will be the volume in which he kills us all.

This volume was brutal. I loved it in the way I’ve loved every issue of Saga, in that it’s very original and fun, but it also destroyed me and left me feeling a little concerned for the series. Vaughan took some risks in the plot and I’m interested to see where it goes, but also a little worried! I’m trusting him to bring this story back from the brink, but losing it over the fact that Vaughan and Staples appear to be taking a bit of a hiatus after this volume!

 

MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW – Read no further unless you’ve read Volume 9!

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If you’ve read this volume, then you of course know that I’m talking about the high death count in it. Killing off characters can be a great device to move your story forward, test your characters, and inspire your readers. But I fear 3 MC’s in one volume is a bit too much. Honestly, I can totally get over the deaths of the journalist and the robot guy (I’m seriously the worst with names), but you cannot kill off Marko!! This series has a ton of supporting characters, but let’s be real, we’ll all here for Marko, Alana, and Hazel. I’m hoping Marko comes back somehow in the next issue because I seriously don’t think I can do this series without him. Their family unit is the backbone of this series and is what makes it so special!

Check, Please!: #Hockey, Volume 1

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Ngozi Ukazu
Genres: Graphic Novel, Young Adult, LGBTQIA+
Pub date: Sep. 2018 (read Oct. 2018)

Okay, this was very sweet. It’s not quite what I was expecting, but I liked it nonetheless. Check, Please! is a graphic novel about young hockey player, Eric Bittle. “Bitty”, as he’s christened by his teammates, is just starting University. He’s a former figure skater, internet vlogger, and baker extraordinaire, who has been offered a spot on the Samwell University hockey team. Bitty quickly fits in with his teammates, buttering them up with his delicious pies, and fortunately they are all very accepting of him when he comes out to the team. But Bitty harbours a deep fear of being checked while playing hockey and seems to have started off on the wrong foot with the team captain, Jack.

I struggle to say further what this story is about. It’s not really a plot driven story, but a character driven one. The first volume is a compilation of Bitty’s first two years in University and I believe the second volume will cover his final two years. This book is about post-secondary education – the friendships and relationships you build in these formative years, the pressures to succeed, and the jealousy and insecurity that sometimes develops from that pressure. There are so few books that are set in University and those “new adult” years, so I really appreciate any literature featuring characters in their 20’s. Most of all though, I appreciated that this was a lot of fun!

A Nigerian immigrant from Texas is definitely not someone I would peg to write a book about boys and hockey, but this book never takes itself too seriously, so it just works. I feel like it could have had a little more depth. Ukazu explores the themes I discussed above, but it is fairly surface level, so I excited to see where she takes it in the next volume. But it was a very enjoyable book to read and the artwork is super cute!

Always Raining Here

Rating: ⭐
Authors: Bell + Hazel
Genres: Young Adult, LGBTQIA+, Graphic Novel
Pub Date: Mar. 2016 (read Sep. 2018)

Note: This is a review of Volumes 1 & 2

Okay, I keep seeing this graphic novel at my local chapters because it’s set in the lower mainland and I was intrigued, so when the mood struck me I read both volumes of the original webcomic online.

It’s a short series about two gay high schoolers, Carter and Adrian. Carter is super horny when he first meets Adrian and decides to pursue him since he’s one of the only other gay guys in his school. Adrian is still getting over his relationship with David and wants nothing to do with Carter. But eventually the two have an awkward interaction at a party and become friends.

I really didn’t like the first volume. Carter was way too creepy and persistent in chasing after Adrian. Adrian keeps telling him to back-off and leave him alone and Carter just keeps hitting on him. The creepy non-consensual come ons are never okay. Not in straight relationship, not in same sex relationships. Never.

Carter finally gets his shit together though and interrupts two sexual harassment scenes at a party that looked like they were about to turn into rape and Carter takes several punches to the face to protect the victims. After this, Carter and Adrian finally become friends for real.

I liked Volume Two. The characters had very little depth in Volume 1 and not a whole lot happened. Volume 2 was almost twice as long and had a much stronger story. Honestly, I don’t even think Volume 1 is needed, especially with all the creepy shit that went down. Carter and Adrian actually seemed more like real teenagers in the second volume.

Adrian is stressed out about doing well in school and at the same time trying to focus on his role in the school’s musical theatre production. Carter on the other hand, is a bit of a drop out who just doesn’t care about school. He stops hitting on Adrian and the two actually start to develop a real friendship. What I liked about this volume was the way that it flipped the story. Carter seems like the messed up one in the friendship, but it’s actually Adrian who starts losing it with all the pressure he’s under and takes advantage of Carter.

Teenagers are put under a surprising amount of stress in high school, between being expected to do well in classes, participate in extra-curriculars, and still maintain a social life. I thought this was portrayed well in Always Raining Here and that it provided some good insight into why teenagers tend to act out. Both boys were under a lot of pressure from their parents, while also trying to navigate the confusing world of teenage hormones.

The artwork was pretty decent, but inconsistent. I read this as the webcomic though, not the published graphic novel, so I’m not really sure what changes were made in the published version. Sometimes things were a little confusing, but I think that’s due to the nature of the comic and that the two creators were working on this while being in school full time. Overall I’d give it 3 stars because I quite liked Volume 2, but I really didn’t like Volume 1.

Saga, Volume 8

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: ⭐
Author: Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples
Genres: Comics, Graphic Novel, Sci-fi
Read: Feb. 2018

I love Saga so much. It doesn’t take very long to read one of these volumes, but they are so reliably fun and enjoyable.

Since I’m 8 volumes in and I haven’t written a review for Saga, I’ll give a brief summary. Saga is a graphic novel set in space that starts off with a bit of a Romeo and Juliet premise. Alana and Marko are from two feuding planets (well one’s a moon), Landfall and Wreath. Alana is from Landfall and has wings, while Marko is from Wreath and has horns. The two fall in love, become pregnant, and are basically chased across the galaxy by other planets and people that don’t want any evidence of their traitorous relationship.

I am just in love with Alana, Marko, and their daughter Hazel. I wasn’t totally into the idea of reading about two soldiers and their tag-a-long baby, but this is a truly fantastic series about love and family and throughout the series Vaughan tackles a lot of different socials issues. It is bit of a bizarre series and definitely NSFW (there’s a fair bit of sex and nudity throughout the series), but Fiona Staples artwork is gorgeous and I love how creative Vaughan is with his characters and storyline. His characters do some pretty bad things and make bad decisions, but he’s still able to make you love them. Each character has their own morality line about what is and isn’t acceptable and it’s interesting to watch them try and stay on the safe side of their line while still trying to protect the people that they care about.

Each volume consists of 6 issues and they’ve recently released 2 books containing 3 volumes a piece. But I’d recommend hitting up your local library for this series. 8 volumes can seem pretty daunting, but they are quick reads and I would highly recommend!