ARC Review: Manga Classics Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Stacy King, Crystal S. Chan, and Julien Choy

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Romeo and Juliet

Author: William Shakespeare, Stacy King, Crystal S. Chan, and Julien Choy

Category: Comic/Manga Drama Adaptation

Publisher/Date: UDON Entertainment/15 May 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38920941-manga-classics

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Romeo-Juliet-Manga-Classics-Crystal/dp/1947808044/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/romeo-and-juliet-william-shakespeare/1127403905?ean=9781947808041

Romeo and Juliet is the classic tragedy of western literature. Created by William Shakespeare, it is tale of two very young lovers from Verona, Italy who defy the wishes of their feuding families, get married then, and tragically, end their own lives in the name of love. It is their deaths that ultimately help the rival families of the Capulet’s and Montague’s find reconciliation. Manga Classics brings an incredible new reading experience with this adaptation of Shakespeare’s most popular and frequently performed plays: Romeo and Juliet.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for death, suicide, physical violence, murder, and tumultuous family relationships.

I’ve always been fascinated by Shakespeare — a Shakespeare class that I took during my very first term of college was what sold me on being an English major. What I remember most about Shakespeare, though, is reading Romeo and Juliet during English class back in high school. I didn’t have a ton of problems reading it myself (though I was pretty reliant on the glossary at the bottoms of the pages of the book we used), but almost the entire rest of my class had a ton of trouble following along — to the point where they would ask me to “translate it into English” so that they could figure out what was going on. Needless to say, that wasn’t exactly the best Shakespeare experience for them OR for me.

This is the kind of text I wish that my classmates would have had in high school instead of the straight text of the play. Shakespeare’s plays weren’t really made to be read straight; they were made to be performed, and comics is a wonderful format for this because it combines reading the play with watching the drama unfold. What was even more delightful for me was the fact that the text itself is virtually untouched; every one of Shakespeare’s original lines is given space inside a word balloon, and it’s not at all abridged. Readers of this adaptation are getting Shakespeare’s original work in its entirety, but they’re getting it in a way that is dynamic and fun and, for many younger readers in particular, easier to digest.

The only thing that I found off-putting about this book relates to the illustrations. The art itself is lovely and rich and a pleasure to look at; what bothers me, though, is how the characters are drawn. The majority of the characters look like your “typical” manga-style characters, which wouldn’t be a problem except that the characters are virtually all white Italian people (as the adaptation kept the play’s original location of Verona, Italy) and manga facial characteristics are actually depicting Japanese facial features. There’s a lot of confusion that goes around about how manga characters in all manga “look white” even though the style is designed to depict Japanese characters, and white manga characters have a very different look to them. I worry that because the characters in this book are drawn as Japanese manga characters rather than as white characters, it’s going to continue to spread the idea that manga characters are white when they really aren’t. I feel like this is something that should have been taken into account more.

On the other side of things, the team who worked on this adaptation really did their research — they took a trip to Verona to look at the architecture and really understand the history of the place and to find the most accurate backdrops for the illustrations they could find. They put a lot of work into ensuring that the details in the book were accurate, and I really appreciated that.

Overall, this was a really good adaptation of this play, despite the issues I have with depictions of race. If you love Romeo and Juliet, or want to read the play but have trouble following Shakespeare’s text alone, this is a really nice way of experiencing the story.

Final rating: 4 of 5 stars

ARC Review: A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns

Authors: Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson

Category: Non-fiction comic (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Limerence Press/12 June 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36580693-a-quick-easy-guide-to-they-them-pronouns

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Quick-Easy-Guide-They-Pronouns-ebook/dp/B07DD6H2WQ/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-quick-easy-guide-to-they-them-pronouns-archie-bongiovanni/1128110826?ean=9781620104996

Archie, a snarky genderqueer artist, is tired of people not understanding gender neutral pronouns. Tristan, a cisgender dude, is looking for an easy way to introduce gender neutral pronouns to his increasingly diverse workplace. The longtime best friends team up in this short and fun comic guide that explains what pronouns are, why they matter, and how to use them. They also include what to do if you make a mistake, and some tips-and-tricks for those who identify outside of the binary to keep themselves safe in this binary-centric world. A quick and easy resource for people who use they/them pronouns, and people who want to learn more!

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher. This book has content warnings for depictions of misgendering (not condoned).

As someone who uses they/them pronouns and has to deal with getting misgendered on a regular basis, this guide was incredibly validating and also very thorough. Not only does it give solid examples of how to use they/them pronouns in conversation, but it also addresses why people should use them when they are asked and how it feels if they don’t. Archie and Tristan present two different perspectives — one from someone who uses they/them pronouns and one from someone who doesn’t — that are intricately woven together to form the narrative, and it really works because it is hard to get people to understand this stuff. People argue that it’s “bad grammar” (it’s not) or “unnatural” (nope) or “too hard” (you probably do it every day), and it’s demeaning and exhausting. Tristan’s portion of the narrative shows exactly what being a good ally should look like, and Archie’s portion also shows a variety of methods that they/them pronoun-users can utilize to advocate for themselves.

Additionally, this book is just a delight to read. The text is fantastic, and the illustrations are wonderfully done and a joy to look at. It’s informative and funny, and the comics form does an excellent job of utilizing emotion to get the point across. This book is one of the reasons why I love comics — there are few other forms that can get emotions across like this.

I have two small criticisms. First, I do wish that more people involved with this book besides Archie used they/them pronouns, although I really appreciate how everyone credited for working on this book had their pronouns listed out to make it clear who was working from personal experience and who wasn’t. Second, I don’t actually recommend asking people to say their pronouns in public situations because that is essentially asking someone to out themself, and not everyone is comfortable with that. In many cases, it’s possible that someone will either be forced to come out or forced to misgender themself, and neither of those options are very appealing to us. Dealing with this is a tricky thing, but I think more discussion needs to take place around it.

Aside from those two small things, I adored this! I would definitely recommend it for anyone who is looking for something to hand to those people who insist on misgendering you repeatedly (or insists that “theirs” is not a real word… Yes, I actually got that once) and you want them to knock it off.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Herding Cats by Sarah Andersen

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Herding Cats

Author: Sarah Andersen

Category: Humor Comic

Publisher/Date: Andrews McMeel Publishing/27 March 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35924705-herding-cats

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Herding-Cats-Sarahs-Scribbles-Collection-ebook/dp/B079JD9K2X/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/herding-cats-sarah-andersen/1126946455?ean=9781449489786

Adjusting to life as a world-famous cartoonist isn’t easy. Terrifying deadlines, piles of junk-food wrappers under a glowing computer screen, and an ever-growing horde of pets….umm, never mind–it’s pretty much the same.

With characteristic wit and charm, Sarah Andersen’s third collection of comics and illustrated personal essays offers a survival guide for frantic modern life: from the importance of avoiding morning people, to Internet troll defense 101, to the not-so-life-changing futility of tidying up. But when all else fails and the world around you is collapsing, make a hot chocolate, count the days until Halloween, and snuggle up next to your furry beacon of hope.

I received and ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for anxiety/depression/mental health.

I’ve related to very few pieces of writing as well as I did to this book. I hadn’t read any of Sarah Andersen’s comics before this one and I was initially drawn in by her art style and (to no one’s surprise) the cats, and while both of these aspects delivered I hadn’t expected the very relatable mental health depictions that came along with them.

Many, many of the comics involved situations that felt like they had been taken straight out of my life — be it wanting to be alone instead of around people, doing a terrible job keeping track of time and panicking over my poor time management, or feeling like everything in the world is terrible except for my cat, I could see myself in so many of these scenarios. These comics are funny and personal, and they made me feel less alone as I read them. Sometimes everything in the world feels like it just sucks and the only good thing I can find is my cat — and that’s okay. Sometimes things are just going to be bad for me.

The end section about managing being an artist with anxiety was also a great touch, and I really appreciated getting another perspective on trying to balance mental health priorities with art. I felt better about my own work after reading this, personally, and think it’s wonderful for anxious artists who feel kind of alone in their situation.

Overall, I really loved this! I look forward to reading more of Sarah Andersen’s comics.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review: Krazy: The Black and White World of George Herriman by Michael Tisserand

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Krazy: The Black and White World of George Herriman

Author: Michael Tisserand

Category: Adult Nonfiction — Biography

Publisher/Date: Harper/6 December 2016

Edition: Hardcover

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29099896-krazy

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Krazy-George-Herriman-Black-White/dp/0061732990/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/krazy-michael-tisserand/1123749348?ean=9780061732997

In the tradition of Schulz and Peanuts, an epic and revelatory biography of Krazy Kat creator George Herriman that explores the turbulent time and place from which he emerged—and the deep secret he explored through his art.

The creator of the greatest comic strip in history finally gets his due—in an eye-opening biography that lays bare the truth about his art, his heritage, and his life on America’s color line. A native of nineteenth-century New Orleans, George Herriman came of age as an illustrator, journalist, and cartoonist in the boomtown of Los Angeles and the wild metropolis of New York. Appearing in the biggest newspapers of the early twentieth century—including those owned by William Randolph Hearst—Herriman’s Krazy Kat cartoons quickly propelled him to fame. Although fitfully popular with readers of the period, his work has been widely credited with elevating cartoons from daily amusements to anarchic art.

Herriman used his work to explore the human condition, creating a modernist fantasia that was inspired by the landscapes he discovered in his travels—from chaotic urban life to the Beckett-like desert vistas of the Southwest. Yet underlying his own life—and often emerging from the contours of his very public art—was a very private secret: known as “the Greek” for his swarthy complexion and curly hair, Herriman was actually African American, born to a prominent Creole family that hid its racial identity in the dangerous days of Reconstruction.

Drawing on exhaustive original research into Herriman’s family history, interviews with surviving friends and family, and deep analysis of the artist’s work and surviving written records, Michael Tisserand brings this little-understood figure to vivid life, paying homage to a visionary artist who helped shape modern culture. 

I first heard about George Herriman during my introduction to comics studies class during undergrad, and I immediately fell in love with Krazy Kat. It was a simple premise — the mouse threw bricks at the cat, the cat was in love with the mouse and viewed the bricks as a sign of affection, and the police dog was in love with the cat and kept going after the mouse because the mouse was hurting the cat. Such a simple story, and yet so many complexities. Race is a theme touched upon in many of the Krazy Kat strips, and gender within the comic is fascinating because Krazy’s gender isn’t static; in most strips Krazy’s gender is unspecified, and in a few “he” or “she” pronouns are used, and it’s never really implied that one is “more correct” than another, bringing into question both gender and sexuality of the characters. This book takes these and other themes found in the strip and Herriman’s other works and delves into how they relate to Herriman himself.

Herriman is a complex person who in many respects was very private about himself, and Tisserand did an excellent job of exploring Herriman’s life using what was available. Krazy Kat is Herriman’s most well-known work, so I appreciated the time that was spent covering his background and his other works that preceded Krazy Kat that hadn’t gotten so much attention. Some people seem to have found that this made the book too long for their taste, but I really liked this because it really shows how an artist of Herriman’s caliber got started in his career and centered him in his story rather than his work. I know Krazy Kat and I knew a little about Herriman already from my studies, and this book supplemented what I already knew with a rich story of Herriman’s life.

The writing in this book was also very smooth; while the book is a bit on the longer side for a biography, it flows well and is an easy and engaging read. I really enjoyed this book, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in biographies about artists, comics, and complex human beings. Well worth reading.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars