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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Charlaine Harris & Christopher Golden: CEMETERY GIRL TRILOGY

Author:  Charlaine Harris & Christopher Golden
Art:  Don Kramer
Colors:  Daniele Rudoni
Letters: Jacob Bascle
Series:  CEMETERY GIRL TRILOGY (Graphic Novel Series)   
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)     
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality1; Humor—1 
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley
         The Pretender (1/2014)  

     Set in Dunhill Cemetery in an unknown city, this series begins on a dark and stormy night when an unidentified, dark-clothed figure seen only in silhouette drags the unconscious body of a young girl out of a car trunk and throws her down into the cemetery where she strikes her head on a gravestone. When she awakens, all she can remember are some splintered fragments of a violent beating followed by an injection. She doesn't know who she is, and she can't remember anything about her life before this moment.  

            GRAPHIC NOVEL 1:  The Pretenders            
Calexa chooses her name.
     The injured heroine decides that the safest place for her to live is in a cemetery crypt, and this novel covers the first 68 days she spends in the cemetery after she awakens, bruised and bloody, with no idea of who she is or whether anyone is looking for her. Deciding that she needs a name, she takes her last name from the cemetery and her first and middle names from some headstones: Calexa Rose Dunhill. 

     Now that the series mythology—amnesiac teenage girl attacked and abandoned in cemetery—is in place, the story line expands to include Anthony (Tony) Kelner, the cemetery caretaker, and Lucinda Cameron, an elderly woman who lives across the street. (Note: I love that the kindly groundskeeper is named after Harris' good friend and frequent collaborator, Toni L. P. Kelner.) Calexa steals food from both of them, and they eventually befriend her, although she refuses to tell them why she won't leave the cemetery. Each time a funeral is held in the cemetery, Calexa watches from afar and is shocked to discover that she can see the spirits of the dead as they rise from their freshly dug graves and go off into the sky.

    Then, one dark night, some local teenagers invade the cemetery to set up an amateurish demon summoning, which doesn't work. Shortly thereafter, Willie, one of the teens, is killed by a drunk driver and is buried in the cemetery. Days later, the teens come back for another ceremony, but this time they commit murder as part of their gruesome ritual. When their victim dies, her spirit pours into Calexa, flooding Calexa's mind with the dead girl's personal memories. Now, Calexa has a decision to make: Should she continue hiding, or should she try to bring justice to the pitiful spirit who is begging for her help?

     Calexa is a terrific heroine. She begins as a beaten-down victim and slowly puts together a new life, one that has absolutely no personal memories to rely on for guidance. In effect, she's making it up as she goes along, beginning with shelter and food, and then developing a support system. But even as Calexa carries out her new daily routine, she is always surrounded by the terrifying fear that looms over her every moment of the day and night: fear of the unknown circumstances her past life, fear of the mysterious person who beat her and injected her and left her for dead, and an overriding fear of the authorities. What if the police find her and send her home, and what if home is where the danger lies?

     The events that make up the plot serve several purposes. 
   > Setting up a strong mystery story arc that will certainly lead to the eventual unveiling of the identity of Calexa's attacker and to her true identity. 

   > Revealing Calexa's moral center. Even though her fear of the police keeps her from notifying them about the murder, she figures out a way to bring the killers to justice while protecting herself. When she steals food, she feels guilty, but she is pragmatic enough to realize that she has to do what it takes to survive (but with the least amount of harm).

   > Alerting Calexa that she can see the spirits of the dead and that they can communicate with her, which will certainly play a major part in future books.

     The realistic art and the dramatic color are absolutely perfect for the story. In fact, Kramer's art really tells the story through body language and facial expressions because the text is minimal. The artwork alone is particularly successful in developing the characters of Lucinda and Tony. 

Calexa watches a spirit rise from its grave.
    Rudoni uses distinct differentiations in hue and tone to separate the scenes. The nighttime cemetery scenes have lots of blacks and grays, while the daytime scenes are earth-brown and sky-blue. The scenes in the homes of the caretaker and the elderly woman take place mostly at night (at least, at first), so they are dark, with subdued colors in the furniture and walls. A saturated red is used sparingly as an unexpected and shocking accent: Calexa's red shoes, the red apple Calexa is stealing when Lucinda first catches her, Mr. Kelner's red hat, the red rose at Willie's funeral, the mottled blood-red background when Cerise raises her knife to kill her victim. The spirits of the dead look like wispy, greenish-gray genies, moaning their way to heaven (or wherever they are going). Dream sequences are sepia-toned. 

     Taken together, the art and the color clearly communicate all aspects of the story and invariably evoke the appropriate tone and emotion. Click HERE and scroll down a bit for an up-close view of the artwork in the trailer for The Pretenders.

     Finally, let's deal with the negative reviews that I've been reading on the Internet, most of which are criticisms of graphic novels in general rather than criticisms of this specific book. Following are some of the general negative comments along with my responses to them: 

>  Comment: "I finished it in less than an hour." "Too expensive." "I read it through quickly and put it on the shelf." "This isn't a real book."
>  My ResponseThese books are called graphic novels for a reason; they are a carefully contrived combination of pictures (graphics) and words that, together, tell a story. The Pretender is 125 pages long, the length of a short print novella, but if it were a print novella—without any pictures at all—it would be much longer, simply because the artwork takes away the author's need to write extensive descriptions of the setting, characters, and scene details. In other words, you do not create a graphic novel the same way you do a print novel, and you definitely do not read them the same way. 

     The artwork is there for a reason—to add depth and delineation. The two symbol systems—words and images—work in concert to pull the reader into the story. As a reader, you might skim through the book quickly the first time just to get the story line, but then you'd go back and take a closer look at the art—the facial expressions, the shadows, the special effects. All of these give you insight into the characters and plot, and all would have had to have been scripted at great length in a regular print novel. Remember those boring info dumps of exposition that we all complain about in print novels? Well, guess info dumps here—just a seamless intertwining of words and images that set the scene, fill in the details, and keep the story moving. 

     As for the expense: Keep in mind that you're getting a well-bound hardback book printed in full color on paper of extremely high quality. It's not the same as buying a pulp-paper, mass-market paperback with a binding that splits the first time you read it.

>  Comment: "I didn't know it was a comic book." "I thought it was an actual book—not a graphic novel."
>  My ResponseOn, the book is labeled a graphic novel on its Kindle page, and amazon includes preview pages of the artwork on the book's hardcover page. The graphic novel genre is also mentioned in the first line of the book description for both the Kindle and hardback versions. Here's what it says: "Charlaine Harris…and Christopher Golden present an original graphic novel illustrated by acclaimed comic book artist Don Kramer…." It could not be stated any more clearly. Therefore, I'm not sure why anyone ordering the book (at least from amazon) wouldn't realize that it is a graphic novel. 

>  Comment: "Not a graphic novel fan." "I don't like comic book format."
>  My ResponseTo these readers, I ask…How many graphic novels have you read? Did you ever read a print novel that you didn't like? Did that experience make you stop reading print novels? Perhaps you just haven't found a graphic novel that appeals to you. Or perhaps you're not quite sure how to read graphic novels. If that's the case, click HERE to read "What Is a Graphic Novel," a brief introduction to what comics are, how they work, and how to read them. Click HERE to read an article entitled, "Why Read Graphic Novels?" Click HERE to read an article from the Los Angeles Times entitled "Graphic Novels: Reading, But in a Different Way." 

>  Comment: "Hate the way it looks on my Kindle."
>  My Response:1 Personally, I'm not sure why anyone would purchase an e-book version of a graphic novel. To me, part of the pleasure of a graphic novel is tactile, and it also requires seeing the whole page at onceflipping through the slick pages and enjoying the color, depth, and shading of the artwork across each page. I'm not convinced that the e-book experience would be as enjoyable as the print experience. I had planned to buy the book to download on my Kindle Fire so that I could test this out, but unfortunately, I have an older Fire that is not compatible with this download. Click HERE to read Jennifer Estep's recent post entitled "Graphic NovelsTo Read in Print or E-Book?"

Here are two more related links that might be useful to newbie graphic novel readers: 
     Click HERE to view a PowerPoint presentation entitled "Some Graphic Novel Basics." Click HERE to read a guide entitled "Graphic Novel/Comics: Terms and Concepts."

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