Saturday, December 24, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide Part 3: Children's Books

Our whole family was hit with a bad cold, so this gift guide has taken a bit longer to put together, but it looks like we're all on the mend just in time for Christmas! Let's jump right in now though shall we to Part 3 of my Holiday Gift Guide, focusing on the best in Canadian Children's Books.

As many of you parents know, reading to your child can be one of life's great pleasures. If your little one happens to have selected a poorly written and drawn book for a bedtime story however, the night becomes a long and arduous one. I'm looking at you Dora books! I'll admit, there are even a few books in Rosie's collection that I've had to hide or give away, because they're just too painful to read.

Here are a few that we've read this year that have been a joy for both parent and child to read. Again I'm focusing on books by Canadians because well - I'm Canadian and we're blessed with lots of good talent here.

I Want my Hat Back
Written and Drawn by Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press,

Jon Klassen is an award-winning animator, and this is the first children's book that he's written and drawn. The story: the bear has lost his hat, and wants its back. He goes through the forest looking for it. Here's a little YouTube video for it:

What I like about this book, beyond the wonderful illustrations is the clarity and simplicity of the storytelling. This is something that looks easy when done well, but is very hard to pull off. The bear is a character and the forest animals have a lot of personality. The dialogue is also very funny.
Everyone in the family will love this book!

I Know Here
Written by Laurel Croza, Pictures by Matt James
Groundwood Books
HC, $18.95 

This is the first book by Laurel Croza. It's based on her own experiences as a little girl moving from place to place as her father worked on various dam projects in Saskatchewan. The story follows a little girl's move from Saskatchewan to Toronto. She talks about all the things she loves in her small town, and the fear and excitement that moving to an unknown big city.

What I love about this book is that it doesn't undermine a child's thoughts and feelings, everything the little girl describes is meaningful and true. Here's a sample:

"This is where I live. I don't know Toronto. I know here."

Every word seems careful chosen and honestly the book is quite powerful. The drawings are lovely as well. This is a real treat. Happily, I'm not the only one to have discovered it. The book has garnered a lot of attention, getting shortlisted for a Governor General's Award for Children's Illustration, and is the winner of the 2010 Boston Globe Book Award, the 2011 Ezra Jack Keats Award, and the New York Public Library New Writer Award.

When You Were Small
Written by Sara O'Leary, Drawn by Julie Morstad
Simply Read Books
HC, $19.95

I first became award of Julie Morstad from Drawn and Quarterly's "Milk Teeth" book of her work, still my favourite of their "Petits Livres" series of books. When I found out she had drawn some children's books, I was anxious to check them out.

It turns out that she has actually done a series of books with writer Sara O'Leary and each is lovely, gentle, sweet, charming and GORGEOUSLY illustrated. They are all great, and you should get them all, but I think the first one is the best (although honestly it's hard to pick): "When You Were Small". Every night Henry sits with his dad and asks to hear about when he was small, and his father tells him stories...

Here are the other two books in the series which are equally deserving of attention.

Where You Came From

Saturday, December 17, 2011

London Free Press Holiday Gift Guide

I'm very happy to have been included in James Reaney's yearly Holiday Gift Guide (under "O" for  "Original"):

Original, hand-screened T-shirts with logos including a Nihilist Spasm Band-inspired kazoo image are available from London artist Diana Tamblyn. She also has comics, $2-$24.

If you're in the London area, I'd be happy to do arrange a drop-off or pick up. I have plenty of tees in just about every size and various colours. Email me for your preference and to make arrangements.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide Part 2: Graphic Novels & HCs

Parker - Martini Edition HC

By Darwyn Cooke, IDW Publishing, 308 pages, $75.00

What would be one of the best books to get a comic book lover this Christmas (or crime lover, or film noir lover)? This book! If it's not under the Christmas tree for me this year, I will be sorely disappointed.
This oversized hardcover book collects the first two Parker graphic novels: "The Hunter" and "The Outfit", along with an additional 65-pages of content AND a brand new 8-page story by Cooke. Other extras include an art gallery section and bonus material by the likes of Ed Brubaker and Abbey Westlake (Donald Westlake's wife). It looks gorgeous too,  packaged in a slipcase edition!

If you haven't read them, the Cooke Parker books are very faithful adaptations of Richard Stark's (aka Richard Westlake) books, but they also work perfectly in and of themselves. You don't need to have read a Stark book or know anything about the Parker character (played by Lee Marvin in Point Blank and also Mel Gibson in Payback), before picking this up.

Cooke one of the modern masters working in comics right now. I'd put him right up there with Mike Mignola and Jaime Hernandez, and I think this is his best work. It's that good.
Check his work from the Hunter here.

Now don't delay, go out and buy this book for your favourite comic lover today!


By Rebecca Kraatz, Conundrum Press, 138 pages, $15.00

I picked up this book at TCAF (Toronto Comic Arts Festival) in the Spring. It was the release I was most looking forward to at the whole show - and that's really saying something, since the whole space at TCAF buzzes with energy, creativity and talent. Apprently I wasn't the only one, as Andy Brown from Conundrum Press said it the book his best seller at the show.

Her previous graphic novel - House of Sugar was so good that Hope Larson had to start a publishing company just to print it. It remains the only title that Tulip Tree Press ever put out. It won Kraatz the Doug Wright Award for Best Emerging Talent in 2007. The book remains one of my favourites - and Snaps is even better I'd say.

This book is a series of short stories - some connected some not. All the stories were inspired by 1940s photos that Kraatz has collected (mostly from flea markets). The photos gave her ideas for the stories and images.

Kraatz is also a visual artist in addition to being a cartoonist, and does a lot of her work as woodburns. This technique translates to pen and ink really well, giving a woodcut kind of look.
Snaps had stayed on my night table since the Spring, which is where my favourite books end up staying as I tend to look at them over and over again. It has a wonderful, ethereal quality to it, and it stays with you for quite some time.

The stories pack quite an emotional punch. I've lent this book to a couple of friends and the response tends to be "I never knew a book could be like that".
My only complaint of the book is that the cover isn't nearly as strong as the contents. I wouldn't want people to overlook it on the shelves because it is really subtle and doesn't jump out at you.

Don't judge the book by its cover though, pick it up today!

Hark A Vagrant

By Kate Beaton, Drawn & Quarterly, 160 pages, $19.95

What can I say about 2009 Doug Wright Best Emerging Talent winner Kate Beaton and her "Hark a Vagrant" comics that hasn't already been said?

Her comics (about mostly Canadian history) are witty, charming and hilarious! This NYT best-seller is a compilation of some of her best webcomics. This is a great gift for almost everyone you know - they don't need to like comics to enjoy it either. 

I want to add something that most people don't comment on - her cartooning skills. Don't let her style fool you - though the comics may look like they've been dashed off, Beaton has been getting more and more polished. It's very hard to do what she's doing and depict characters and situations with just a few lines. I'd say she's approaching Quentin Blake style, and she's only going to get better!

Over the past few years, Beaton has built up an ardent and loyal fan base who have quickly turned this online sensation into a best-selling book. See what all the fuss is about and pick it up today.
You can also check out the webcomic here.

Two Generals

By Scott Chantler, McLelland & Stewart, 152 pages, $19.95

Full disclosure: I'm a good friend of Scott Chantler's and I've watched him work on this book for years now. You know what though? It's been worth the wait as it's the best thing he's done to date.

Two Generals tells a story near and dear to Scott's heart about his grandfather - Law Chantler's experiences in the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, along with his best friend, Jack, a fellow officer, during WWII.

As mentioned, this book was a real labour of love for Scott and involved his going back through family history, his grandfather's diary and photos and a huge amount of research. In fact he's devoted a whole website to outlining his research process for the book here

Scott's toured the county speaking about this book at different book festivals and has picked up a boatload of awards nominations to boot: White Pine Award, Eisner Award, Joe Shuster Award.

This book would make a great gift for history lovers and graphic novel lovers. If you can, try to pick up the hardcover version that looks like a leather bound diary. It's gorgeous!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide Part 1: Minis

I thought I'd make a stab at posting some recommendations of quality comics you can give (and receive) this Christmas. First up we'll start with a category that is near and dear to my heart: mini-comics!

I'll also be focusing on Canadian cartoonists & artists and/or books with Canadian content (just 'cause that's how I roll).

Old-Timey Hockey Tales
Rob Ullman & Jeffrey Brown

32 pages, colour cover, B&W interior. $6.00

This is a great mini-comic full of stories of hockey legends like Rocket Richard, Gordie Howe and Terry Sawchuk. Stories alternate by Rob Ullman and Jeffrey Brown, a pair of terrific cartoonists.

A MUST for all the hockey fans on your list. I ordered a copy awhile back for myself (not because I'm a hockey fan so much, but because I think Ullman in particular is a fabulous and underrated cartoonist). I kicked myself once it arrived as it's perfect for many people I know and I ended up making another order.

Don't be like me. Save yourself $$ on your purchase and buy multiples the first time out!

The Doug Wright Awards 2011
Dustin Harbin
24 pages, Fancy, schmancy shiny colour cover, B&W interior, $4.00

This 5-part series was original published on The Comics Journal website. It covers off Harbin's experience in attending the Doug Wright Awards for Canadian Cartooning this past year at TCAF.

As a Canadian, I'm a sucker about reading what Americans think of us. Luckily Dustin thinks we're all charming, cultured and polite (which of course we are).

Harbin is really coming into his own as a cartoonist, check this out and see what all the fuss is about.

I Love You Gabrielle Bell
Jason Kieffer
20 pages, 2-colour cover, B&W interior, $1.50

I had to pick up this cute little mini-comic, because I too love Gabrielle Bell. Who doesn't really? In this comic, we find Kieffer falling for Bell at TCAF where he was selling his comics close to her booth. It's an unrequited love story, but quite funny and charming. 

I admit it's a little unfair to include in this holiday gift guide as Jason doesn't sell this mini-comic from his site, so I'm not sure where you can get it. I picked it up at The Dragon in Guelph this past summer, so I imagine stores like the Beguiling, Luckys and Quimbys would have it.

Kieffer does have a free preview for an upcoming work in progress though about "Zanta", the guy who wears a Santa hat and no shirt and is found doing pushups in the Toronto subway. I totally remember this guy and he does have a good back story. I hope Kieffer finished this book!