Review: I Kill Giants, Joe Kelly and J. M. Ken Niimura

Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. Sigh.

I will never stop sighing. Every time my eye falls on this book, I heave a huge sigh. Oh, expectations. I am your slave and you always make my life more difficult if you possibly, possibly can. Why are you like this? It has been ten thousand years since I read a graphic novel that made my heart sing. Yes. Ten thousand. That’s how many years it has been. I haven’t read a graphic novel that made my heart sing since the year 7990 BCE.

Unless Gunnerkrigg Court and The Unwritten count. Just, like, no graphic novel has blown me away for a while now. I loved Bayou and Ordinary Victories, but those were, as previously mentioned, ten thousand years ago. I wanted I Kill Giants to rock my world, and although it was good, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting (hoping).

I Kill Giants is good. It is good! It’s good! It’s about a ten-year-old girl called Barbara who claims that her goal in life is to hunt and kill giants. She wears bunny ears and acts up in school, and for reasons that are not explained, she is terrified to go upstairs. She resents and quarrels with her older sister, who is attempting to take care of everything at home, the cooking and the talking about problems. But Barbara isn’t having any. Nor is she interested in discussing her issues with the guidance counselor at work, who tries to talk to her about her problems with the teachers and other kids.

The thing is, the thing is — here’s the thing. I am not the biggest fan this world has ever seen of magical realism. It’s all well enough in its place, and sometimes I like it a reasonable amount, but most of the time I would say I would rather have magic, or realism. Not some half-ass both-at-once deal. I make exceptions for Salman Rushdie. That’s it. Just Salman Rushdie. If, upon mature reflection, you find yourself not to be Salman Rushdie (or, I guess, okay, Helen Oyeyemi), then make the smart decision: Don’t write magical realism. JUST PICK A SIDE.

Please tell me what graphic novels to read. I’m begging you. I miss them. I want to reread the Sandman, but when I get done with the Sandman, I want to have something equally amazing to read. Surely there is something? I want the Diana Wynne Jones of graphic novels! Which is…yes, the Sandman. Shut up. I want the other Diana Wynne Jones of graphic novels! I will perish if I do not get this straightaway!

I spent this whole weekend in my pajamas watching movies, writing blog posts, and reading Sandman. This may mean that I don’t deserve any good graphic novels, or it may mean I had a long and stressful week and deserve good graphic novels times infinity. I’m inclined toward the latter.

Believe these reviews, not mine:

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Rebecca Reads
The Zen Leaf
Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
Reading Rants
Book Sake

As ever, please tell me if I missed yours!

  • I often feel the same way about magical realism books. I usually end up feeling unsatisfied by the way the “magical” aspects are handled, such as with The Girl with Glass Feet.
    I did really enjoy The Time Travelers wife though, so I guess there are some exceptions.

    • Same to me. I didn’t really think of The Time Traveler’s Wife as being magical realism, although I guess it could be classified that way. It was just so matter-of-fact, rather than the sort of vague fuzziness that I associate with magical realism. Hm.

  • I also have very high expectations for this… but then, I also like magical realism. (Except it annoys me when critics call it magic realism. It needs an -al, or just doesn’t flow right). Hmm.

    Elfquest was my Diana Wynne Jones of graphic novels, but I don’t know how much you’d like that. It’s about these very short elves who live on another planet and are bonded to wolves, except then the evil humans drive them out of their home and they meet some other elves who are NOT bonded to wolves and who also don’t age and die (like the first group of elves do) and then they kind of team up and end up going on a great big quest to find their origins and stuff. And also, make babies (which is very, very hard for them to do). There are tricky bits and great character interactions and shocking revelations. I had craploads of fun with it. Could be worth a try, if you can get your hands on just the first couple of books from the library? The manga-sized editions from DC Comics are a good way to go, if you can swing it. Everything’s in the right order, which I don’t believe it is with some of the older trade paperback collections.

    • I was just thinking that about magic/al realism when I was typing this post. I was thinking I like the word “magic” better than “magical” in general, but that the term wouldn’t work without the -al.

      Okay, I will see what I can do about finding Elfquest. I’m slating my graphic novel hunger by reading one issue of Sandman every evening before bed. It is incredibly difficult not to just gobble them all up in one massive reading orgy, but I’m determined (maybe) to continue this way.

  • Eva

    I’ve been in a huge graphic novels slump too. (Although, unlike you, I lurve magical realism.) I just got Three Incestuous Sisters from the library, so I’m hoping I like that. But I suspect we have different graphic novels taste because I cannot get into Sandman (I love a lot of the storylines, but I hate the art), so I won’t give you recommendations!

    • I have probably said this already, but I had the same problem with Sandman when I first read it. I’m still not wild about a lot of the art, particularly in the earlier issues. But the stories were so good they eventually won me over. The fifth volume has really nice art, a good storyline, and an abundance of non-cartoony women. And the sixth, which is short stories, includes some stories that are among the most beautiful art of any graphic novel I’ve ever read.

      ….Ignore me. I’m just sad for you not to love Sandman. It’s got loads of good female characters who are flat-chested, so, you know, that was nice for flat-chested me. :p

      • Eva

        I don’t think I’ve gotten past the fourth; maybe one day I’ll try again! Especially since there are apparently flat-chested characters! That would be a nice change from most comic style art. lol

        I did read The Dreamhunters and loved it. Much better artwork!

  • I was underwhelmed by this one, too, though Jason adored it. It wasn’t the magic realism for me, though. I’m not sure what it is. As time has passed, I’ve found myself less and less fond of graphic novels in general.

    • Aw, that’s sad. Do you think it’s just an issue of its still being a fairly young format, and there being fewer graphic novels to choose from than traditional books? I often think of that when I’m in a graphic novel slump.

  • Bayou is amazing. I am picky about my magical realism. It just ruined one book for me buy popping up strongly at the end. I had a feeling it might go there, and when it did, it just went flat for me.

    • Bayou is so amazing. Bayou–sigh. I am sad at how long it’s taking them to release the second volume of Bayou. I need it now, not in late February! :p

      What was the book that was ruined for you?

  • I wish I could recommend something, but I’ve been on the lookout for new stuff myself. I’m currently reading Jack of Fables, but more than being satisfying it’s reminding me of how much I miss Fables. But! An old friend of mine recently started a comics blog (it is weird to see a book blog by someone who has known me since I was 15 :P) and I’m hoping that in time he’ll lead me to something brilliant. Here: http://1foe.com/ (Please ignore the rave review of I Kill Giants on the front page :P). Also, I got quite a few GNs for my birthday, and hopefully one of those will be excellent (in a way that doesn’t involve magical realism) and I’ll be able to recommend it to you.

    • I can’t make it load! Frown! But I will keep trying, and add it to my Google Reader, because I am seriously jonesing for good graphic novels. A lovely blogger just sent me a copy of Exit Wounds, so I am hoping good things from that one.

  • I love that the girl wears bunny ears. But yes, me too – Bayou was the last graphic novel I can remember that I really went bananas over.

    • Me too, nearly. I really did love The Unwritten, but it’s so long in between the release of different volumes that I keep on forgetting what happened previously. I’m going to have the same problem with the second volume of Bayou, but at least with Bayou I have a copy of the first volume to refresh my memory.

  • Awww. I was hoping you love it but I do love magical realism. Love, love, love it! There’s a websited called ComiXology where you can read the first volume of different series. Have you seen the site before? https://comics.comixology.com/
    What about the Bone series by Jeff Smith? Have you read it?

    • I haven’t seen that site before! Oh goody — though I’m afraid I’ll end up getting hooked on comics that then aren’t available in full from my library. :p

      I started reading Bone and I didn’t love the first volume. Does it get better?

      • You didn’t like Bone Vol. 1?! It does get better since the first volume is an introduction everything. Try vol.2 of it. If you don’t love it, you should probably give it up forever.

  • I just read a really good review of The Color Trilogy by Kim Dong Hwa, so you might be interested in that, maybe. I am not at all familiar with graphic novels as of yet, though I do have a couple sitting on my shelf unread. The only one I have read is the first book the graphic novel adaptation of The Stand, by Stephen King. I actually thought it was pretty good, and the illustrations were excellent.

    • I’ve never even heard of that. I’ll have to look into it.

      What graphic novels are waiting on your shelves? I love graphic novels with my whole heart, and I just wish that more were being written. I think the format has amazing storytelling possibilities that are just beginning to be tapped into regularly. LOVE.

  • The Unwritten totally counts, because it is flawless. If it gets collected into trade paperbacks, it counts! (Which is why octopus pie and Hanna is Not a Boy’s Name count, two very awesome webcomics.)

    I particularly liked Polly and the Pirates, a lightweight and straightforward story about a girl finding out the truth about her motherβ€”it also includes tiny girls beating up on people bigger than them, and I am always up for that. (Probably why I liked Tangled so much!)

    • Tangled was awesome! Except that, how did she know how to swim? That bugged me disproportionate to how important it was to the plot. Seriously, though — how could she ever possibly in any imaginable world have ever learned how to swim? SHE LIVES IN A TOWER. IN A TOWER.

      (Thanks for convincing me to watch Tangled. It’s not better than Beauty and the Beast but I thought it was pretty damn good. Easily worth owning on DVD.)

      Thanks for the recommendations!

  • Wish I could help! I really enjoyed reading this though, as I always do. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks, Amy! πŸ™‚

  • Sandman = amazing. Nothing else comes close. Sorry. No, I take that back — there’s probably something out there but I don’t know it. Again, sorry.

  • OK, I am going to take up the challenge! Have you read:

    – Castle Waiting by Linda Medley
    – Laika by Nick Abadzis
    – French Milk by Lucy Knisley
    – Gemma Bovery by Posy Simmonds
    – Blankets by Craig Thompson

    And I am totally with you on the magical realism thing.

    • I have read and loved French Milk and Blankets, but did not care for Castle Waiting. Two out of three is a good record, though, so I will see if I can acquire the other two you recommend. Thanks, Lesley!

  • Aw, I always feel bad when people say that there must be something wrong with them if they have different opinions than the majority. I quite like the lone voice of dissent in a crowd of conformity myself πŸ˜‰

    • Well, I do too — actually, a negative review of a book that has been generally reviewed positively often makes me decide to try it — but in this case, the “something wrong with me” thing is down to the fact that this book should have been everything I love. I love family tragedy books, I love graphic novels, I love troubled kids, I love nearly everything Ana loves, and I particularly love it when a fictional social worker isn’t an asshole. (Start paying attention and you will find that almost every social worker on TV is a big jerk. It makes me sad because my daddy is a social worker and is the opposite of a jerk.) But yet the book didn’t do it for me. That’s what makes me so sad.

  • I hate when my expectations cause me to feel let down after I read a book. Seeing as this is the first time I’ve heard of this one, I think I’ll just have to give it a try. It does sound very interesting. Good luck on finding that amazing graphic novel that you are looking for!

    • Thanks! If I do find it y’all will be the first to know! :p

  • mee

    So you don’t make exception for Gabriel Garcia Marquez? πŸ™‚ Like Eva, I do not like the art of the Sandman series (story so-so), so I’m not sure what to recommend (also I haven’t read DWJ oops). But here are a couple of graphic novels that I read and loved last year: Pride of Baghdad, Pedro and Me, The Contract with God Trilogy. But all based on true stories, so they’re not fantasy.

    • I actually really hated One Hundred Years of Solitude. It felt like a hundred years of the same damn incest-ridden story over and over again. Snarl.

      I don’t need fantasy! I will take any recommendations. Thank you! πŸ˜€

  • I haven’t read ANY of the graphic novels mentioned so I’m way out of my league here.

    • You should! Try Blankets — it’s gorgeous and a good introduction to the things graphic novels can do that books can’t.

  • Dear Jenny,

    I’m the guy Nymeth mentioned, and actually I would like to make a recommendation personally. I think you may find this graphic novel quite refreshing… this one is 100% realism, and I believe it’s unlike anything you’ve seen:

    http://1foe.com/the-walking-man/

    You know, I’ve been checking out the graphic novel reviews at TMAL.com (and several other book websites, including this one). I must say I’m coming up with a surprisingly big list of books worth reviewing, but I’m not complaining!

    In fact, these days I’m even pondering on pacing up and start posting not once, but twice per day… so statistically speaking it shouldn’t be too long before I tip you off on comic books that seriously make you go “wow”. πŸ˜‰

    See you around! Have fun,
    P.

  • I hate to admit it, but I have never read a graphic novel. I just can’t quite bring myself to do it. I adored comics when I was little, but I was thrilled to move on to books with no pictures and I guess it’s a sort of arrested development that holds me to that position still. I would love to feel the desire in me arise for pictures but… nope…. still nothing. But I very much hope you find the perfect book soon.

    • Well, I have a soft spot for pictures myself, I confess. I love getting those old editions of classics that have full-page color illustrations scattered throughout. :p

      That said, when graphic novels are at their best, the pictures and text are working together to say things that text by itself can’t say (or can say, but not with such economy and beauty). Graphic novels have an edge over regular books when it comes to silence in particular — they can portray silence as silence and stillness as stillness, rather than a description of silence and stillness. I’m repeating myself here, but if you’re going to try one, I’d go with Craig Thompson’s Blankets. That was the graphic novel that I would say opened my eyes to the things graphic novels can do. Plus it’s really good.

  • Mumsy

    I can relate to what LitLove says…I never deliberately choose a graphic novel because I want pictures, even though I loved comics as a kid. But I have been amazed at the power of some graphic novels; how a single brilliantly conceived panel with a handful of words can do what thousands of words could not. It’s still not a genre I go to on my own – but I have been very impressed by the ones Jenny clobbers me over the head with.

    • Yeah! You’re WELCOME. <3

  • You’ve probably seen these already, but I did do a graphic novel sampler a week ago: http://bookaunt.blogspot.com/2011/01/graphic-novel-sampler.html

    Now I’m curious about I Kill Giants… But with a premise like that, why not just go for it? So, good point about magical realism. I assume you’ve read Hereville, which DOES go for it.

    • I did see that, and I think Hereville and Vogelein are two I’m going to try (in spite of the magical realism — I don’t always love it, but sometimes I do, and hope springs eternal). I like the title of Hereville particularly, but no, I haven’t read it.

  • Lu

    I know what you mean – I’ve fallen into this as well. I’ve read 3 graphic novels lately that were varied from just okay to mediocre. I hope to find some good ones. I have Castle Waiting on my shelf for next week, so I’ll let you know how that goes!

    • I’ll be interested to see what you think. I was sure I was going to love Castle Waiting (I love subversions of fairy tales!) but I was completely unmoved by it.

  • I cannot help you in the graphic novel department, as I’ve only read a few and am myself trying to find more I’ll enjoy! But I’m with you on magical realism. Every once in a while I find a book I like, but generally…too weird. I think I Kill Giants will not be my next graphic novel.

    • Yeah, same. Why is magical realism so weird? I love magic! Surely inserting it into regular books should make them better! πŸ™

  • I am SO in agreement about the no-magical-realism-except-for-Salman-Rushdie thing! I started out just lukewarm about it, but then after the Magical Realism Explosion of the 1980s and 90s, I am just sick to death of seeing it in every book I pick up. And unlike you, I also have a low tolerance for magic at all. I just want some &^%^%$! realism, thanks.

    (Not that a book involving magical realism can’t overcome this preference of mine if it’s really, really good. But it’s a hurdle, is all I’m sayin’.)

    • I have a high tolerance for magic, when it’s really magic, and it’s got rules, and people have to abide by the rules. But magical realism, any damn thing can happen and it’s just, like, oh yeah, that’s magical realism for you! It’s too vague.

  • I hate how expectations can totally knock a book down by a few points. Maybe you wouldn’t have enjoyed it more if your expectations weren’t so high but at least you wouldn’t be so disappointed.

    • Yes, exactly. And I had waited so long to read this book, and built it up so much in my mind, it would have been hard for it to live up to what I wanted from it.

  • I absolutely LOVED this graphic novel and I don’t read them often. I wouldn’t have called it magical realism, though. I just saw it as a young girl imagining things. I see my preschool running around talking to his imaginary friends all day long. I saw Barbara as a child trying to come to terms with a very stressful situation. It did leave me sighing because I was so satisfied.

    I can’t really give suggestions on graphic novels, as I rarely read them. I really enjoyed UNDERSTANDING COMICS by Scott McCloud. It’s nonfiction, explaining why and how graphic novels/comics work successfully.

    • I read Understanding Comics (largely because of you!) a while ago, and I thought it was great. Scott McCloud is a funny guy. I’m kind of curious to read his proper book, Zot or whatever, but haven’t seen it at the library yet.

  • I don’t read true graphic novels, I read manga, and it is not really the same thing. There are one or two I have read that you might like, but for the most part, I don’t think you’d love them as much as you’d want to.

    That said, if you do find the DWJ of graphic novels, let me know. πŸ˜‰

    • If I find the DWJ of graphic novels, I will let you know promptly, loudly, and often. :p

  • First off: Gunnerkrigg Court. Yeah. Just… yeah.

    Anyways, I know what you mean. I haven’t read all that many good graphic novels or comics to be a reliable commenter (nor can I offer any good alternatives…), but I often feel like the books I read are merely good and not as mind-blowing as I might have hoped they would be. And then I fall back on old favorites (which reminds me… I should really reread The Sandman…).

    • Yeah, Gunnerkrigg Court! I love it!

      I am rereading Sandman and spinning it out as long as I can by reading one issue each night. The only problem is that I keep getting confused and skipping issues, and having to go back and read them out of order. :/

  • JanArrah

    Well since you like Sandman, have you tried it’s spin-off, Lucifer? It’s really good. Little bit different, but good. It has that same epic sweep from beginning to epic end. In fact, Mike Carey, the writer on Unwritten, wrote Lucifer too!

    You might also wanna try Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things. It’s a fun series about a young girl and magic and how magic can sometimes go horribly, horribly wrong. I love it.

    iZombie is a really fun series, it’s so much fun. It’s got a very retro 50’s vibe from Allred’s art, but basically the main character is a normal girl except that she lives in a graveyard, eats brains once a month to survive, and her bestfriends are a Ghost and a Wereterrier.

    Books of Magic is another great series. It started with a mini by Neil Gaiman, but became an on-going written by John Ney Reiber with art by Peter Gross (artist of Unwritten). It’s about a young boy who has discovered that he will be the single greatest magic user of his era and him coping with that and the strange crap that comes his way after his entire world has changed.

    You can also check out Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld. It’s a 12 issue maxi series you can find easily on e-bay for cheap or you can buy the black and white Showcase Presents version. Basically it’s about a young girl who discovers that she’s actually the princess of a magical world known as Gemworld and when she travels there, she becomes a grown woman (due to time moving differently between the two worlds) and she has to face the evil Dark Opal who rules her world and is trying to kill her (of course).

    If you liked the movie Inglorious Basterds, check out Time Bomb. It’s a time traveling comic where a group of elite soldiers go back into the past and kill some Nazis. It has that kind of fun, craziness of Inglorious Basterds.

    The Unknown by Mark Waid. It’s a great story about a young woman that solves mysteries. She’s a kind of super sleuth like Sherlocke Holmes, but a little cooler.

    Welcome to Tranquility by Gail SImone, basically it’s about a superhero retirement home and all the crazy inhabitants. It’s really fun.

    Fallen Angel by Peter David. This started at DC and moved to IDW, so there are a bunch of different volumes out there. It’s about a strange woman named Lee who has come to Bette Noir, a dark and evil city that is reported to be the city that shapes the world. Lee has become a pain in the current “ruler’s” ass, Doctor Juris and has set up a “Court of Last resort” for those who need and want her help.

    So there are some. Sorry you didn’t like I kill Giants. It’s one of my favourite comics of all time tho.