A 215-page account of a teenage girl getting braces on her teeth may seem like thin soup for a comic book memoir, but Raina Telgemeier's art and storytelling brings Smile to life.
My 13-year-old daughter just got braces so I thought she would enjoy Smile, but I ended up taking it and reading it over the weekend. Raina starts the book with a visit to the orthodontist, who tells her she needs braces. That night she falls face down on the pavement and knocks her two front teeth out (actually, one falls out and the other one gets driven up into her skull bone -- yikes). So what was initially going to be a simple set of braces turns into something more complicated, which nicely parallels with the increasingly complicated issues that a young girl about to enter junior high school must deal with, including new friends and new feelings. The book ends up being less about braces and more about the day-to-day trials and triumphs of early teenagerhood.
Autobiographical comic books, especially ones about people's everyday lives, are my favorite kind of comic book, and I'd place Telgemeier near the top of my list. She's great at presenting image moments. Her use of timing and framing is probably what has gotten her nominated for Eisner, Ignatz, Cybil, and Web Cartoonists' Choice awards. Her use of exaggeration (see panel four, above) is employed sparingly and to good effect. When I was finished with Smile, I felt as though I'd really gotten to know what Telgemeier's early adolescence was like.
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Karl Schroeder's 2014 novel Lockstep featured tour-de-force worldbuilding, even by the incredibly high standards of Karl Schroeder novels: the human race speciates into cold-sleeping cicadas who only wake for one day in ten, or a hundred, or a million, allowing them to traverse interstellar distances and survive on the meager energy and materials available in deep space; with his new novella The Million, Schroder shows us how Lockstep is lived on Earth, the cradle of the human species, where a brutal murder threatens to blow apart the life of a very out-of-step protagonist.
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Didier Ghez is a dedicated Disney historian who has embarked on a massive, multi-volume history of the art of Disney in his They Drew As They Pleased series from Chronicle Books; I enjoyed the first three volumes of the series, but volume 4, The Hidden Art of Disney's Mid-Century Era: The 1950s took my breath away.
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