If you’re making your literary Christmas wish list, consider these new graphic novels when checking it twice.
“To Kill a Mockingbird”
Between Harper Lee’s classic 1960 novel and the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck, who isn’t familiar with the Great Depression-era tale of feisty tomboy Scout Finch, her lawyer- father Atticus Finch and their reclusive neighbor Boo Radley? This gorgeously rendered graphic-novel version provides a new perspective for old fans but also acts as an immersive introduction for youngsters as well as any adult who somehow missed out on the iconic story set in Maycomb, Alabama. Illustrator Fred Fordham interprets Lee’s world via a detailed small-town Americana setting that belies the seething racism that pervades the community. Scout stands up for her dad – and gets in some scraps – when townspeople criticize Atticus for defending a black man accused of raping a white girl. Prejudice and hatred share pages with hope and understanding in a tale that seems as relevant in our divided times as it did nearly 60 years ago.
The history of the Beatles is one any hardcore Fab Four fan knows by heart, and probably a lot of casual fans of the hugely influential British outfit do as well. “The Beatles in Comics” doesn’t break much new ground in marrying prose biographical material with vintage photos. But it’s the comic-book mini-interludes – by more than 20 illustrators – that make this worth a read. The best of them enlighten familiar periods in Beatles history, such as how the song “Scrambled Eggs” became “Yesterday,” plus stories told from the points of view of photographer Astrid Kirchherr, manager Brian Epstein and others who flew close to the band’s legendary orbit. A meeting between the group and Elvis Presley is drawn in a caricature style, but the best work comes in depictions of the hubbub caused by John Lennon’s “We’re more popular than Jesus now” quip and that time the world thought Paul McCartney was dead. He turned out to be OK and so, too, is this solid musical tome.
Ari Folman, the Israeli director of “Waltz with Bashir,” takes the moving words of Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl” and, with his “Bashir” art director David Polonsky, creates an engaging, poignant coming-of-age journey. With its cartoon style, imaginative storytelling and teenage Anne’s wide-eyed mood swings, this adaptation leans kid-friendly. Anne chronicles her life over two years (1942-44) living in a cramped secret annex with her family and others, trying to escape certain death as a Jew in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. She laments her living conditions, bouts with anxiety and depression, rivalry with her “perfect” sister Margot, and friction with her mom. Folman also deftly tracks Anne’s maturity and emotional growth even as she’s surrounded by paranoia and terror as the war rages outside their walls. The adaptation ends abruptly, just as the actual diary does, and it’s hard to shake Anne’s fate during the Holocaust after getting to know her hopes and dreams through colorful panels and fantastical episodes.
In a follow-up to 2011’s excellent “An Elegy for Amelia Johnson,” Andrew J. Rostan hits a Daily Double with this emotional memoir. “Form of a Question” recounts how Rostan, at age 22, realized a dream by making it on “Jeopardy!,” the game show he watched with his grandfather as a kid already showing a gift for trivial pursuits. It’s the travails he deals with along the way – troubles fitting in socially, romantic hangups, bouts with insecurity and self-confidence– that make this tale sing. Illustrator Kate Kasenow deftly uses a wide-ranging color palette to showcase Rostan’s non-linear storytelling, and brilliantly reveals how his busy mind works, with “Jeopardy!” answers (or questions, as it were) coming to life as lively apparitions during a winning streak. But victory is not everything, as Rostan makes clear – taking control of one’s own board is a far greater achievement.