Check It Out: Taking comic books seriously

Last week, San Diego once again was the scene for the world's largest and most notable gathering of comic aficionados.

Comic Con is an opportunity for fans the world over to descend onto one city and meet their favorite comic book authors and illustrators, as well as shake sweaty hands with AAA celebrities promoting their latest Hollywood venture or simply letting their inner geek out to play (the term "geek" is used with love!).

What people may not know is that Comic Con plays host to the annual Eisner Awards, an Oscar-like program that honors those within the comic book industry who have crafted truly remarkable stories and artwork.

The purpose of this week's Check It Out is to shine the spotlight on a small sample of winners from this year's Eisner Awards. These titles are available at the Newport Beach Public Library, so grab them off the shelf and find out what makes them so special:

Darwyn Cooke (Best Short Story, Best Graphic Album - Reprint): Although Cooke has done extensive comic work for DC and Marvel, his graphic novel adaptations of Richard Stark's (aka Donald Westlake) Parker series of hard-boiled crime thrillers propelled him further into the spotlight.

"Parker: The Hunter" and "Parker: The Outfit" are brilliant showcases for Cooke's artistic talent as his visual style taps into a bygone era of artwork that didn't relied on bulging muscles, big guns and tiny waists. Both stories share the exploits of Parker, a master thief who has been betrayed by his former organization and is out for revenge.

Craig Thompson (Best Writer/Artist): Thompson made a splash with his autobiographical graphic novel, "Blankets," but it was "Habibi" that won him the prize of Best Writer this year.

Talking too much about the book would be spoiling much of what makes it special, but the premise involves two child slaves in a fictional Islamic land who develop a relationship with one another only to be torn apart. Thompson's art style is so bold and so majestic that the work will take your breath away.

"Tale of Sand" (Best Publication Design, Best Graphic Album, Best Penciler/Inker): Earning many accolades this year, "Tale of Sand" is a bittersweet piece of work.

Although Ramon Perez is credited for crafting the graphic novel, the script is adapted from an unproduced full-length feature by legendary puppeteer, Jim Henson. The story involves a normal everyman named Mac, who suddenly finds himself in the American Southwest and encounters all sorts of strange and interesting creatures.

"MetaMaus" (Best Comics-Related Book). Though not a graphic novel, the book is important because of the legacy it charts. In 1980, Art Spiegelman crafted one of the most famous pieces of work relating to the Holocaust. "Maus" and "Maus II" explored the life of Spiegelman's father as he bore witness to the terror instilled upon the Jewish people (presented as mice) by the Nazis (depicted as cats) in the early 1940s.

"MetaMaus" offers a behind the scenes look on the development of the comic and includes a dialogue about why Spiegelman chose to represent Jews as mice and his father's entire transcript.

So whether you are seriously into graphic novels, or you haven't looked at a comic book since you were a child, take this opportunity to check out these very creative works on your next visit to the library.

CHECK IT OUT is written by the staff of the Newport Beach Public Library. All titles may be reserved from home or office computers by accessing the catalog at For more information on the Central Library or any of the branches, please contact the Newport Beach Public Library at (949) 717-3800, option 2.

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