Tag Archive: halloween

Oct 25 2016

Review: Graphic Novels for Halloween

Halloween is on us again, and as in previous years, I thought I would do a Halloween themed review of books for kids, middle schoolers, and teens.

I recently discovered a series of classic horror literature converted to graphic novel format.  These include Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven & Other Tales.

Muted colors pervade Frankenstein, emphasizing the themes of loss and loneliness from the original text.  Characters are drawn with a perspective that creates a feeling of viewing from a  distance or being separated from the events of the story.  Frankenstein’s monster, were it not for his stitches and hallow face, could almost pass for a regular man.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde also utilizes color to emphasize theme but, in contrast to the monochromatic tones of Frankenstein, the illustrator makes heavy use of red, brown, green, and even pink.  Perspectives are closer with less depth of field, highlighting themes of chaos and madness.  Mr. Hyde is portrayed with deformed, almost caricature witch-like features.  In addition his face is marked with sores indicating disease such as smallpox or similar.

The Raven & Other Tales makes strong use of bright almost neon colors.  In one section of the book, each page is overlaid with a different bright color such as purple, turquoise, or red.  The reader is given a sense that the narrator is experiencing hallucinatory sensations.

While Dracula uses similar color schemes as Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the drawings are less detailed or refined.  In some places, sketches take on almost a satirical expression while in others there is detailed use of shadow and shading.  These may have been deliberate choices to highlight certain aspects of the story line.

Retaining the dialogue of the original text, these classics have been carefully illustrated to   retain the feel and theme of the original.  The graphic novel format may appeal to teens interested in exploring the original text in a more accessible or familiar format.  This introduction to the stories may further inspire teens to delve into the original novels.


Ghosts, a graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier, centers around the story of Catrina (Cat) and her family.  Her sister Maya has cystic fibrosis, so the family has moved to the coast of Northern California in an effort to improve Maya’s health.

BahÍa de la Luna is different from other places in that the old missions and constant fog provide the perfect conditions for ghostly visitors.  The entire town is obsessed with ghosts and as such Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is an especially grand affair.  Maya is delighted by this revelation.  Cat, however, desperately wishes it would all disappear.

As with Dracula and the other classics, the graphic novel format makes the story more accessible to younger readers or to kids who might not otherwise read a 200 plus page book.

The inclusion of the cystic fibrosis story line is presented in a positive yet realistic manner.  Cat knows that her sister’s lifespan is likely to be cut short due to her condition, and as such she is protective of her even as she finds her annoying.  The novel does not shy away from the subject of death but addresses it with a frank yet sensitive tone.  Maya’s illness has made her determined to live as full a life as possible, and feeds her obsession with the town’s ghost culture.  Cat, on the other hand, struggles with the idea that her sister might not always be around and as such, retreats more into herself and tries to reject the ghost stories.

Some readers objected to the depictions of the Dia de los Muertos celebrations claiming Telgemeier appropriated a culture that is not her own and that she presented the holiday as more of a “Mexican Halloween” than a day during which families honor and pray for those who have gone before.

Ghosts is not as scary as the title implies, but since the Dia de los Muertos holiday has come to be celebrated starting on Halloween Day it is an appropriate book for the time of year.  Children of Hispanic descent will likely enjoy a book which depicts characters who look like them and who have cultural similarities.


Peanut Butter and Brains written by Joe McGee and illustrated by Charles Santoso introduces the reader to Quirkville, a town overrun with zombies.  Reginald is a young zombie who is different from the other zombies in that instead of craving brains, he desperately wants a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  The residents of Quirkville are understandably frightened of the zombies.  After all, nobody wants to get their brains eaten.  In addition, the other zombies are confused by and skeptical of Reginald.  How can a zombie not be interested in brains they wonder?  Then one day, Reginald sees a little girl at the bus stop with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in her hands.

Peanut Butter and Brains is a great book for beginning readers.  Santoso’s illustrations nicely complement the story line without being too frightening for small children.  The theme of standing out from the other zombies emphasizes the positive aspects of being unique.

Parents will be amused by Reginald’s eagerness for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and may in fact see their own picky eater within the plot lines.

Peanut Butter and Brains will delight kids and will not bore parents quite as quickly as a constant diet of peanut butter and jelly might.


I Will Not Eat You by Adam Lehraupt and Scott Magoon presents Theodore a monster who lives in a quiet cave.  Occasionally various animals wander by the cave and each time, Theodore wonders if he should eat them, but each time decides that he is not hungry.  Eventually, a little boy comes to the cave.  Theodore is getting hungry.  Should he eat the little boy?

I Will Not Eat You is a delightful book about little boys, dragons, and unusual friendships.  Illustrations are presented in large images with broad strokes and bright colors.  Young children will be eager to see whether or not Theodore eats the little boy, and parents will audibly laugh at the somewhat dark twist at the end.

I Will Not Eat You is a perfect addition to the collection of Halloween themed books and will likely become a favorite among young kids and parents.

Oct 29 2013

Review: Classic Halloween Stories

In the last decade, there have been countless vampire, zombie and similarly themed books.  A television series of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow began airing recently on FOX, NBC has commissioned a modern retelling of Dracula, and the BBC did it’s own interpretation of The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2007).  Submitted for your consideration are recommendations of four horror literature classics in honor of Halloween.

In Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Victor Frankenstein, never having fully recovered from the death of his mother, becomes convinced he can create an immortal being.  Modern film adaptations tend to focus their attentions on the monster, creating a horror tale, rather than the original focus of caution against the misuse of science.  I recommend reading both the original 1818 version and Shelley’s 1831 revision.  The 1818 version has a more autobiographical slant, hinting more at Shelley’s feelings of competition with her stepmother, her guilt over her mother’s death in childbirth, and her own feelings of ambivalence towards her children.  The 1831 revision takes a more conservative approach, making Victor more a victim of fate and circumstance than someone suffering the consequences of poor choices.  The 1831 revision also puts Elizabeth (Victor’s wife) in a more subservient role rather than as an equal.


The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving is another classic many of us have grown up with.  Modern retellings embellish the character of Ichabod Crane and make the Headless Horseman into an evil, ethereal creature.  In reality, Sleepy Hollow was likely derived from German folklore about “The Wild Huntsman”, whose victims were full of arrogance and held little moral value.  In Irving’s rendition, Crane is in competition with Abraham Van Brunt for the hand of Katrina, the only child of a wealthy local farmer.  Crane is a scheming outsider who cares only for Katrina’s inheritance, whereas Van Brunt is well known within the town as someone of strong moral character.

Many themes have been argued for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but some scholars agree that having been forced into bankruptcy after the War of 1812, Irving was disillusioned with the idea of America as the land of opportunity and instead saw Europe as a place superior in culture and history.


Dracula by Bram Stoker has been the primary source for all things vampire over the last century.  The idea of a vampire-like creature has existed in stories for centuries.  From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to True Blood to Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, the vampire myth is seen throughout popular culture.  While Transylvania seems more than a bit removed from Sunnydale or Bon Temps, all of these retellings have drawn some inspiration from Dracula.

Many adaptations such as the two Dracula films from the 1970’s or Dracula the Undead by Darce Stoker (Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew) stick closely to the original novel.  Others take a less conventional turn such as The Batman vs. Dracula or Sherlock Holmes and Count DraculaWhile Dracula was originally published as a horror novel, no one seems able to agree on one central theme with suggestions ranging from subtle homoeroticism to the urgent need for Christian salvation.


No discussion of classic horror literature would be complete without Edgar Allen Poe – the author of many poems and short stories such as “The Raven” and “The Pit and the Pendulum” that continue to haunt readers today

As with many of Poe’s writings, both of these works deal with themes of death and loss.  In “The Raven”, the narrator dwells on the recent loss of his love and finds himself sinking into hopelessness and despair as he engages in a one-sided conversation with the Raven.  Through this discussion, the narrator sinks into hopelessness and despair. The bird’s incessant “Nevermore” eventually convinces him that his soul is damned and that he will never see his lost love again in the afterlife.

In “The Pit and the Pendulum”, the narrator finds himself locked in a small cell where he nearly falls into a pit.  He then loses consciousness and when he regains it, finds himself strapped to a board with a pendulum slowly lowering, ready to slice him in two.  Thanks to the gnawings of some clever rats, he is saved, but then the walls start closing in.  Eventually, he has no choice but to jump into the pit.  Each of these incidents demonstrates the psychological impact that terror has on a person, a theme that is recurrent throughout Poe’s work.

The death of Poe’s wife at the age of nineteen has frequently been suggested as a driving force behind his continual themes of loss, dying and terror.  In addition, Poe was a contemporary of and was well acquainted with both Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. Gothic literature was a significant trend at that time, so this undoubtedly influenced each author’s writings.

Poe and many of his works have permeated pop culture, and Poe himself is a frequent figure in movies, television and books.  In an episode of The Simpson’s, “The Raven” was adapted with Marge playing the role of Lenore and Bart as the narrator.  As with Dracula, Poe also teamed up with Batman to solve a series of murders in Batman: Nevermore and “The Telltale Heart” and “The Raven” have also been adapted to film.  “The Pit and the Pendulum” has been adapted to film several times, and John Cusack starred in a 2012 film entitled The Raven, which centers around the last days of Poe’s life.

 

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