Saturday, May 16, 2015

31 Days of Comics: Day 16 – A Comic That Makes You Cry

May has become the go-to month of the Comic’s Industry (even though National Superhero Day is late April, but whatever… Congress… pshaw).  It is when Marvel drops their big movie of the year.  May also sees the annual Free Comic Book Day celebration take place on the first Saturday of the Month, so I hope you all got to check that out.  May also has 31 days of the month so what better way to celebrate the wonderful world of sequential art with the 31 Days of Comics?
Seth Hahne, who runs the blog GoodOkBad, has put together the 31 Days of Comics challenge.  A daily challenge in which you are given a category and you have to fill it with a comic that you think fits it the best.  You’re all on the internet, I shouldn’t have to explain it to you.  For the rest of the month I will be taking this challenge.  It is my hope it encourages others to make and share their own lists either in the comments here or on their own websites.  The sharing not only might turn comic fans on to works they have yet to sample but maybe catch the eye of a few non-comic fans and highlight the diversity of the form. 

Our prompt for Day 16 is “A comic that makes you cry.”

I Kill Giants
Written by Joe Kelly
Art by J.M. Ken Nimura

This one was tough.

It was tough in the sense of being a difficult task as there have been plenty of instances where I have at the very least teared up while reading comics if not out and out bawled like a baby.  Off the top of my head the last issue of Hitman, the last issue of Y the Last Man, the Death of Peter Parker in Ultimate Spider-Man, the death of Skurge, almost all of We3, and a number of parts of Saga so far have all moved my eyes to various levels of moisture.  In the end I had to go with I Kill Giants, simply because it is the most real, raw, and emotional story I’ve come across so far in comics (although while doing research I found something that I’m going to have to get that may beat this out next year).

But this was tough in a few other ways as well.  Going back and reminding myself about I Kill Giants meant digging in and feeling the story all over again.  It meant putting myself back in the position of Barbara Thorson and taking on her life, struggles, pain and eventual triumph in the face of that pain.

Joe Casey is a mixed bag for me but the one thing I’ll admire about him is he’s willing to take chances and not write the same old, same old cookie-cutter story.  Regardless of the results of his chances I can never say that he didn’t try to do something new and interesting.  And I admire comics that I might not think are “good” but at least attempt to be interesting.  With I Kill Giants Joe Casey not only wrote a type of story that I’ve never seen before but made it have a depth of character and emotion that was needed in order to properly execute it.

The two biggest weaknesses in “bad” comics, to me at least, are the inability to portray fully-formed characters and to make the reader care about said characters.  They are obviously linked as most readers find it difficult to care about cardboard cut-outs and recycled genre tropes.  Punisher works if you know his back story.  The Punisher knock-offs didn’t because other creators just copied the big guns and willingness to kill without giving us a reason to care.
I Kill Giants centers around Barbara Thornson a fifth-grader who will gladly tell everybody around her that she kills giants.  As one could expect Barbara is an outcast, a “geek” girl who loves baseball stats and Dungeons and Dragons and carries around a hammer called “Coveleski” in her purse.  One of the great things is that while the world around Barbara seems to be basically our world, as comic readers we are have to be inherently suspicious of it.  Is it possible that she actually does kill giants?  Is it her destiny to be the secret protector of a world who views her as a little bit crazy? Or is she an example of somebody who has let their imagination and fantasies infect her reality?  Ken Nimura’s art does a great job of playing with this idea.  The pencils and cartoonish nature of the art subconsciously make us question the possibility of Barbara’s world being inhabited by giants.

As the story progresses we understand that the giants are really just a metaphor and that the things haunting Barbara are, sadly, the type of things that all of us have or will face at some time in our lives.  Her struggle with a bully at school is done in such a painful way.  On one hand Barbara does and says things that I think every one of us who has ever dealt with bullies has wanted to say.  But, sadly, the fantasy fulfilment ends there as the results just cause Barbara more emotional and physical pain.

In the end however it isn’t the bully at school that is the “giant” Barbara needs to slay.  It is the problem “upstairs” at home.  It’s not a spoiler, as Casey reveals about half way through the series, that Barbara’s mother is very ill with cancer and Barbara can’t bring herself to face that fear.  Out of necessity Barbara has created the Giants, as something tangible to show she isn’t afraid.  Because while Giants are big and terrifying, they can be punched in the face. Cancer can’t

I won’t spoil the ending other than saying it is both extremely heartbreaking and uplifting all at the same time.  The tears that come from it are genuine, but they are the best type of tears.  Tears both representing the sadness that human existence will bring us, and the triumph and resilience of that same humanity.  This is one of those books that even if you know exactly where it is going to go, it doesn’t matter.  Its story is so universal, the main characters so fully formed, and the execution done at such a high level that it will hit you like a ton of bricks. 

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to find a box of tissues.

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