A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Saturday, August 02, 2008


Today two advance reviews of some excellent books in the Minx line.

Token Token by Alisa Kwitney & Joëlle Jones

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, my darling Joëlle Jones, is this the part on the story where you grow up and leave this small town and the lovable yokel who you grew up with, and I never see you again? Fame will surely come knocking when this book comes out.

In the interest of full disclosure, since I work closely with the artist on this book, I have been able to watch Token develop over the last year. Joëlle let me read the script, and I've seen the art in its many stages. I have a fond memory of the day when I looked at a newly drawn, unlettered page--this being before I had read the script--and saw an image drawn on a TV screen and asked, "Is that To Have and Have Not?" Joëlle was both impressed by my own cinematic nerdiness and the fact that I could see that in her drawing without even being prompted. But she's that good of an artist, that any writer lucky enough to be working with her should know that they are going to get everything they wanted and oftentimes more.

Still, even seeing the book progress, it is always fresh and new when it's finally put together. Nothing can compare to the experience of reading the finished product. Things change when the words and pictures come together. It's like how reading a play is never going to give you the same experience as watching it performed on a stage.

The main character of Token is Shira, a high school girl who lives with her single father in a Miami hotel during the 1980s. Not exactly popular at her Jewish high school, Shira's best friends are her grandmother and her grandmother's elderly friend, Minerva. A former actress, Minerva shares with Shira a love for the golden age of motion pictures, and the young girl dreams of being part of a larger, romantic story. The script doesn't stack the deck, though, and Shira's fantasies aren't grand or trite cliches; rather, as is often the case with someone searching for herself in adolescence, she doesn't really know what she yearns for just yet. She just know she yearns for something.

This something could be Rafael, a handsome Spanish boy who lives his life with the kind of impulsiveness and passion that Shira has been itching for. Tasting her first real romance, Shira becomes more reckless, but as in any coming-of-age story, her actions will catch up with her and she'll have to find the maturity to deal with the consequences. Kwitney also gives us an added layer, with the young girl facing her own issues over growing up while simultaneously seeing her older friend deal with issues that come with growing old. (Note: The title Token might mislead some to think that it refers to Rafael as a "token" person of color. This is not the case, it refers to a gift Minerva gives Shira, a "token of affection." If I had one complaint, it's that maybe the other connotations of the word could have been weighed heavier when choosing the title. Well, that and the awful cover.)

I like that Kwitney sets her story in the '80s but never hits her reader over the head with it. The past she and Jöelle conjure up is not some alien world that is so overbearingly "period" as to have no sense of normalcy. Not everyone wore day-glo or had Jersey hair, and by staying grounded closer to the truth than most other efforts of this kind, the creators give their audience something it can relate to even if the individual reader didn't grow up in the Me Decade. Given how grounded Kwitney's story is, it would have been a mistake to do otherwise. Token is easily the most true-to-life comic in the Minx line, not relying on any high-concept or fantastical elements. It's simply a story about real people. This is where Jones as an artist really makes the book shine. One of her greatest strengths is in her acting, how she captures emotion on a face or in a gesture. The people she draws are very much alive, and they look like the well-written dialogue is actually coming out of their mouths. Joëlle also has an amazing knack for creating a sense of place, and the Miami of Token is no generic Hollywood version--it's really Miami! I like to linger on her smaller details, the sketchy extras in the backgrounds, or the pose of a body in action (the volleyball and swimming scenes are really impressive, as is the way she draws water).

Token is a fully realized story, packed with romance, humor, and genuine human problems. I know I'm biased, but I've read almost all the Minx books, and this one is far and away the best of the lot. It's a comic with broad-base appeal, moving beyond the teen demographic for a story that traverses generations.

Read the Myspace preview of Token here.

Emiko Superstar Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamako & Steve Rolston

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't think I was going to like this book as much as I did when I first started reading it. The whole "freak" scene didn't really strike me as very convincing, but as with Mariko Tamaki's other recent graphic novel, Skim, the main character was so wonderfully realized, the trappings of the story hardly even mattered. My problem with many of the Minx titles has been that I felt they stopped short, that the growth the protagonists were experiencing wasn't given a full arc. Not so here. Emiko goes through real changes, makes mistakes and faces up to them, and ultimately, my instincts that all was not as it seemed with the Factory prove to be part of the writer's design.

Tamaki is a fairly sly storyteller, actually. Her machinations are not nearly as obvious as they seem. Henry, whom one would think is going to be the expected love interest, has deeper roots in the narrative foundation than a lazier writer might give him, and I completely missed the parallels between the mother Emi babysits for and the performance artist she looks up to until the two story lines crossed over one another. Both, as it turns out, have something to teach our heroine.

No one should be surprised that I am a fan of Steve Rolston's artwork. He and I go way back. This is some of the best cartooning I've seen from him. His work on his own One Bad Day is his finest hour as far as fluid storytelling is concerned, but the sheer confidence and the consistency of style in Emiko Superstar totally outranks anything he has done before. Each panel is as perfectly drawn as the ones that surround it, and his layouts are deceptively simple. He breaks the panel-grid all over the place, but with a clarity that keeps you from noticing or losing your place.

Emiko Superstar is not false advertising: superbly stellar, indeed.

View all my reviews.

Current Soundtrack: Living in Oblivion: The '80s Greatest Hits, vol. 3; ABBA, "When I Kissed the Teacher"

Current Mood: moody & crappy

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All text (c) 2008 Jamie S. Rich


david golbitz said...

I'm glad to see Kwitney back working in comics after what I think was a fairly lengthy hiatus. I'm really looking forward to Token. Joelle's (no idea how to put the little umlaut over the "e") artwork just makes the book that much more enticing.

The only thing I know of Emiko Superstar is what I read in the Minx sampler earlier this year, but it seemed like a fun story, and I've really enjoyed Steve Rolston's artwork for a long time, so I think I'll have to pick it up, too.

Glad to hear they're both great books.

Santiago said...

Both this books are buy in sight for me... thanks for the heads up!