The 2013 Eisner Awards: Reviewing the Best Reality-Based Comics
Abrams ComicArts Art from The Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song by Frank M. Young and David Lasky
The Eisners, "the Oscars of comics," will be announced at Comicon (in San Diego) next month and I'm still madly reading to catch up with the best of the best of 2012's amazing crop of graphic novels. But, as it's (officially now) summer in Phoenix, it's not too burdensome for me to sprawl under a ceiling fan and cocoon, desert-style. This month I've been pleasure-trolling through the Eisner nominees for "Best Reality-Based Work." Though they are wildly disparate topically and stylistically, each of the six books in this category is entertaining, informative and, in its own way, inspiring. I confess that the first three on the list probably wouldn't have hit my radar if it hadn't been for their Eisner nominations; I would have been the poorer for not having found them.
Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller, by Joseph Lambert (Center for Cartoon Studies/Disney Hyperion)
I thought I was well acquainted with the story of Helen Keller and her tutor and lifelong companion Annie Sullivan, having grown up hearing and seeing their story in many forms. In fact, when I was in the second grade (please don't do the math) our class wrote letters to the octogenarian Helen Keller expressing our admiration of her, which she answered in a single letter to the group. I have no idea if kids today know anything about Helen Keller (and this book is suitable your younger readers) but it brought me both a new interpretation of the famous "spell water" episode and insight into what "trials," beyond the obvious ones of her physical disabilities, that Helen Keller went through with Annie by her side.
The Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song, by Frank M. Young and David Lasky (Abrams ComicArts)
If documentarian Ken Burns did comics instead of films, this might be what they'd look and sound like: the book includes a CD of rare Carter Family radio recordings. And that's a compliment. This is a straightforward, chronological telling of the history of the Carter Family musical group -- one of whom was Maybelle Carter, mother of June Carter Cash, Johnny Cash's wife. But it's also a story of the first half America's 20th century, American folk and country music, the early days of the music recording, and performance business plus more. This one I got from the library, but I've got to own it now.
A Chinese Life, by Li Kunwu and P. Ôtié (Self Made Hero)
Neither Phoenix nor Scottsdale Public Library has this one, so I bought it. Since it's nearly 700 pages and I have to sleep sometime, I've yet to read it cover to cover. But oh my gosh, this one's a stunner. This is Li Kunwu's memoir of life in China from the creation of the People's Republic in 1949 to present day. When I first opened the book blindly to get an impression for this piece, I landed on a five page arc depicting kids (including the author) randomly creating DA Zi BAOS--large-character public denunciations--during Mao's Cultural Revolution. The feral excitement and power of the youth as they manufacture denunciations is interrupted when a female friend of Li's asks if he knows where there is any petrol: she wants to burn all the DA Zi BAOS, her parents have been accused. When Li tells her it's probably a mistake, she turns away, saying she hopes that Li's father is never accused as her father was that day. If the other 690 or so pages of this book are just 1/10th as powerful, I'm in for quite a schooling.