Manga Art

Illustrators generally get paid to work on projects. This means taking someone else’s vision, story, or text and bringing it to life in pictures. Doing so requires special talent as the illustrator must listen to and absorb someone else’s ideas before creating their accompanying artwork. Mark Crilley is a talented and experienced illustrator who got the chance to find out what would happen if he pitched a book that contained illustrations that didn’t follow a specific theme, a book about illustrations without being a how-to book, a book about the art. We all benefit because Watson-Guptill Publications accepted that proposal.

Mark Crilley’s Manga Art: Inspiration and Techniques from an Expert Illustrator is a beautiful and fun jaunt through Crilley’s imagination. The art contained in the book is diverse and masterfully created. There is no storyline. There is no plot. There are no editors or committees. This is a book created “in an atmosphere of complete artistic freedom.” It works.

The book is arranged in five sections, an organizational scheme that seems likely to have been imposed after most of the illustrations were created. The sections each contain a set of illustrations that fit a general theme, grouping together sketches and full-color illustrations of characters, Japan, science fiction, conceptual art, and styleplay. Each illustration includes interesting comments from Crilley describing the art. These sometimes focus on the craft of creating the piece, sometimes on a thought or experience that influenced the image or sparked its creation. Occasionally there is a cool “Your Turn” tip connected to an illustration to help the reader think about ways to enhance their own creations.

This is a fun, interesting, enjoyable, and inspiring book that makes me want to walk away from my computer and pick up some art supplies.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery

I enjoy graphic adaptations of classic novels and short stories. Admittedly, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. This is an instance of the adaptation working, very well.

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”: The authorized Graphic Adaptation is a lovely and perfectly horrifying adaptation of the 1948 short story. The book was scripted and illustrated by Jackson’s grandson, Miles Hyman. Hyman does an excellent job of staying true to the original feel of the story with haunting, deep images that evoke genuine emotion. The words on each page are sparse, letting the artwork communicate much of the story. This is a wonderful use of a different medium to project the same message and creepiness of the original and required true translation skills. Hyman succeeds. There is a rhythm here that is controlled and which builds from mysterious to worrisome to absolutely horrifying. Fantastically done! If you enjoy the genre, this is worth your time.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

The Manga Guide to Physiology

I’m re-using this first paragraph introduction from the last review I wrote for a book in this series:

This is one of several atypical educational books that use graphic art to help teach difficult concepts or illustrate the action and another wonderful entry in the “Manga Guide to…” series that I have been reviewing.  I keep requesting review copies of each title in the series as they come out, and I have yet to be disappointed. This is an impressive series that consistently makes very difficult academic topics more interesting and a little easier for students. I would not consider these a replacement for a textbook, and neither would the publishers of the series, but every book that I have reviewed from the series would make an excellent supplement, especially for the struggling student.

The Manga Guide to Physiology tackles all of the main points of a typical Physiology 101 course that might be taken by a college freshman. It does so with clarity, with precision, and surrounds the academic details with an enjoyable narrative that makes the information much easier to absorb. In fact, I would go so far as to say the story makes the subject matter move from difficult, but interesting, to enjoyable. This is done by giving a context to the subject matter that the reader can relate to.

Kumiko Karada is a freshman nursing student who is struggling. She is failing her physiology class and has one chance to pass. She must do exceptionally well on a makeup exam. This is a daunting task, made easier with the help of Osamu Kaisei, an assistant professor in the Department of Sports and Health Medicine. It turns out that Osamu is also a gifted teacher who is preparing his course syllabus and materials for the same class that Kumiko is failing. The two work together to help Kumiko learn what she needs to know.

Topics covered in the book include all the main systems: circulatory, respiratory, digestive, kidneys and renal, the brain and nervous, musculoskeletal, endocrine, and also details like body fluids, cells, genes, and reproduction. The information is accurate, up-to-date, and clearly presented. The topics are first introduced within the narrative, but gaps and additional details are added at the end of each chapter. The chapters are each based on a specific system.

Studying physiology? This book won’t replace your textbook and doing your homework, but it has a very strong chance of helping you overcome the fear and intimidation that are often associated with these complex topics. Like the other titles in this series, I recommend this book highly.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy.

Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War

I confess that I have never been deeply interested in The American Civil War. After reading this book, I’m convinced that the only reason I wasn’t interested is because of how the topic was presented to me. I am now very interested.

Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War takes the history and scholarship surrounding the conflict which shaped the United States and which still has an impact on its internal politics and struggles and adds what was always missing for me: the human element. Each chapter takes an ordinary, everyday object from the era and uses that object to begin a vignette that demonstrates how the war affected real people. We are given solid history, but within a context that gives the facts meaning. As Jonathan Fetter-Vorm did with Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb, a difficult and complex topic is deftly broken down into easily digestible portions along with a moving and real sense of why I as a reader should care.

The artwork in the book is powerful and evocative. The narrative is cinematic. It is not hyperbole to say that I was transported into the story while reading, to the extent that I often forgot I was reading; I was so moved with emotion that more than once I found myself in tears. Combine this with the solid presentation of historical facts and I am left with a hunger to know more. For this, I say this book belongs in every school library in the country and on the shelf of anyone interested in good art, excellent storytelling, and careful scholarship.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy

I like this sort of book, the type that combines complex ideas with approachable expression and style. It is even more enjoyable when I’m already interested in the topic.

The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy provides a solid, basic foundation to the thoughtful contemplation and interesting ideas in philosophy. It is scheduled to be published in April 2015.

The book presents its information using an enjoyable graphic style that is well done and pleasant to the eyes. The topics are broken into six chapters, each of which builds on the previous. The order is logical, which is good for a book on philosophy, and is actually where we start after a short introduction. Logic is followed by a discussion of perception. This leads to a discussion of the mind, free will, God, and ethics.

The cartoon narrative that is the vehicle for these discussions uses a guide, Heraclitus, one of the early philosophers who predated Socrates. He takes the reader on a journey from the beginning to learn about philosophical thought from the earliest stage to later ideas that built upon, and often contradicted, them.

Most of the big names are mentioned along with a brief description of their main themes. This includes all your favorites across time, such as Plato, Descartes, and Mill. In total, I counted more than 20 different philosophers introduced. That is great in a comic-style book of 168 pages. The introductions are short and necessarily simplified, but this provides an excellent beginning to help the reader get the big picture.

I recommend the book for anyone from later elementary school through college who does not already have a basic understanding of philosophy and the main schools of thought.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb

This is one of those books that is hard to categorize. It is alternately fascinating and disturbing, historically important and tragic, accessible and thought-provoking. This is a perfect mix of what I think we should feel when confronted with the history of The Manhattan Project and the world’s entry into the Atomic Age.

Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb strives and succeeds at two tasks. It tells an accurate history of the facts and events leading up to the creation of the first atomic bomb through its use by the United States in the destruction of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasake. It also successfully prompts the asking of philosophical questions that humanity must wrestle with when faced with such destructive power.

Throughout the black and white illustrated book, the graphics are clear and compelling. You feel the emotions of each moment, the fears and the excitement, the hope and the despair. You look into the eyes of the participants and feel their complexity and depth. This set of people were not monochrome in their beliefs, but complex and this comes through.

The events are told clearly, using a linear style that also incorporates both flashbacks and foretelling. It does so to great effect. Throughout, we get just enough scientific explanation to make the complexity of the topic clearer, using descriptions that are easy to understand while also technically accurate and complete enough to be meaningful.

All this is good. But there is one thing that this book accomplishes that is even better. It makes you think. This is no mere scientific or historic text, although it is both of these. It is also a philosophical springboard to deep meditation. This is a very good thing. You start by feeling alongside the participants the excitement of a scientific quest as they ask, “Can it be done?” You end with the same question most of them ended with, “Should it be done?”

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

Survive! Inside the Human Body

This is a special review. This time around, I am including three books in a new educational manga series. I originally intended to produce three individual reviews, but I’m pretty excited about these books and don’t want to make you wait. The series was just published, so if it isn’t on your local bookstore shelves now, it will be soon.

Survive: Inside the Human Body, Volume 1: The Digestive System, Volume 2: The Circulatory System, and Volume 3: The Nervous System are being published by No Starch Press, the same people who brought us the Manga Guide to series, several books from which I have reviewed here in the past. Like that series, this set of books was originally published in another country (Korea, this time) and licensed by No Starch and translated into English. During this process, the information in these books was reviewed by medical doctors for accuracy. The story line was also updated in a few places to adjust the fun to an English-speaking audience.

There is much to love in this series. The information is useful and detailed. I’ll tell you more about that in a paragraph dedicated to each volume. In all the volumes, the illustrations are beautifully done, colorful (not black and white!), and genuinely add to the experience without distracting from the information or the story line. There are lovely samples to view on the No Starch site at the links above.

The three volumes have one story line that arcs across the set. It is a cute story that is pretty typical in its use of standard manga motifs like overstated graphic representations of emotions. In all three volumes, at the end of each chapter, there are a couple of pages that step out of the arcing story line that give more academic details with just enough detail to tie up any loose ends that the reader may have without crossing the line into overwhelming the reader.

The first volume covers the digestive system. It covers everything from the mouth to the anus and all the stuff in between. Beautiful illustrations show useful details and help the reader understand what the action describes. We learn about how food is processed, how nutrients are absorbed, how beneficial gut flora are vital to the process, and how waste is eliminated.

The second volume covers the circulatory system. Here we learn about blood and its components, the liver and filtration, the heart, the lungs and oxygenation, the bones and blood creation, blood types, and we even get a few bonuses with side tracks into skin, the nose, and the ears.

The third volume centers on the nervous system. Topics covered include the brain, different kinds of cells in the nervous system, and the diagnostic tests that can be used by doctors to investigate when problems occur.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

Diabetes and Me

I don’t have diabetes. However, I know people who do. I also know people who are at risk. Some of these are kids. This book will be useful to anyone who has diabetes or is close to someone who does, especially if a child, adolescent, or teenager is involved.

Diabetes and me: An Essential Guide for Kids and Parents is filled with excellent information and advice that make the book worth reading accompanied by hand-drawn illustrations that transform the information into a comic book format that is a bit more accessible for both younger and older readers. It does so with a tone that is positive and hopeful about the future. The author, Kim Chaloner, is a middle school science teacher who was diagnosed with diabetes at age sixteen. Her husband and the book’s illustrator, Nick Bertozzi, is an award-winning and established illustrator and author in his own right.

The book acknowledges from the beginning that a diagnosis of diabetes is a life-changing event. It is with this perspective that the author gently takes the reader on a journey through the maze of fear, uncertainty, and confusion that is common and normal in such a moment and beyond all this to help the reader figure out how to answer the question, “What do I do now?”

The book is filled with practical information about doctors and specialists and what each one the diabetes patient is likely to interact with and why. It discusses common treatment options, monitoring, diet, and exercise. The book acknowledges various doctors and treatment centers for their assistance vetting and guiding the content and gives a solid warning to the newly diagnosed to be careful about what sources of information they trust, especially when it comes to internet searches and potential snake oil treatments.

As someone with no personal experience with diabetes, I learned a lot. I can easily imagine that someone struggling with a new diagnosis would find the book a welcome resource, as well as someone who has had diabetes for years but doesn’t feel like they really understand what is going on.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

The Cartoon Introduction to Statistics

The is the second statistics-cartoon/manga mashup book that I have reviewed. The first one was about four years ago. Both books are pretty good, but they each present the topic differently. The previous book tells one main story as the book progresses, and statistics is taught because this story exists. It contextualizes the academic topic while expressing it in a simpler way and then adds the complex mathematics at the end of each chapter of the story that fit that chapter’s needs.

The Cartoon Introduction to Statistics teaches the basics of statistics using comics to illustrate various portions of the greater topic. Each chapter in the book covers a very specific facet of statistics, and each of these chapters build upon those that came before it. We start with a nice introduction that gives a high level view of what statistics can do for us and why we should care. This leads into discussions of numbers, random raw data, sorting, sample size, variables, simple and complex analyses, generalizing from a sample to a wider population, parameters and the central limit theorem, normal distributions, probabilities, inference, confidence, hypotheses and testing, and what statistics can and can not tell us (probability vs. certainty). All of the mathematics are contained in the back of the book and are referred to in the text when and where appropriate.

What makes this book stand out are the illustrated examples used throughout the book. Rather than being a book with one main narrative or plot, this is a non-fiction prose book that has occasional illustrated stories used to clarify complex concepts. Some are simple, like talking about how to determine how many fish in a lake fit a certain category. Others are more imaginative, like exploring whether male or female dragon riders are faster while taking into account dragon size. Regardless of whether the examples are more realistic or more whimsical, they are well thought out and useful. The illustrations throughout the book are nicely drawn and consistently appropriate.

I’m sure the question out there is whether I like this book better or the first one I reviewed. The honest answer is that I think both books are very well done, but each will appeal to a different audience within the population of people struggling to grasp the main concepts of statistics. Some, especially the math-phobic, will find this book more useful with its authors’ decision to move the mathematics to the back of the book and concentrate on the bigger picture and its parts. Others will appreciate the similar progression of topics of the other book, which puts the math at the end of the chapter and immediately reinforces what was just taught. Both are worthy entries in the education-focused manga/comic library.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

Legends of the Blues

Computers are not the only thing I am interested in. Not by a long shot. I have so many interests and hobbies that I haven’t yet mentioned on this blog. One of my interests is music. Some of you know I am a musician. I play bass in a local band. I have played guitar for more than 20 years. I love music. One style of music that has been a strong influence is the blues. Not only modern stuff like post-British-Invasion bands, but the old stuff, too. I also enjoy comics and manga and I’ve reviewed several titles that combine these with educational topics.

Legends of the Blues is filled with 100 one page biographies of blues musicians. The artists in the book were chosen by the author, William Stout, because he both loves their music and because he thought it would be fun to draw a picture of each of them. And draw he does! Stout calls on the style of R. Crumb as he creates beautiful portraits of each artist. Part of the process of selecting artists was that Stout had seen an older book by Abrams titled R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jass & Country. Stout tried not to repeat any of the artists from Crumb’s book, but in the end there were a couple he loved too much to leave out of his own book.

So, to the point. Who is in here? There are tons of big names you should recognize like Bessie Smith, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Blind Willie Johnson. There are also some less-well-known artists who music really deserves to be better known, people like Cow Cow Davenport and Big Joe Williams.

Each biography in the book lists the artist’s main instruments, when and where they were born and died, and some recommended tracks along with a one page synopsis of their place in the history of the blues. Each one is interesting and worth reading. Then, on the facing page, you have a beautiful portrait of the artist being discussed. Very cool.

That would be enough for me to give this book a recommendation.

There is a bonus that I did not expect and appreciate greatly. Accompanying the book is a CD of 14 songs chosen by William Stout. The CD is titled “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” and is an eclectic mix of traditional blues from both the juke joint and the Gospel sides. This CD includes several songs I have not heard before and did not have in my library, but which will be in regular rotation in my play lists from now on.

If you like blues, this book is worth the price of admission.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?