Novel Review – “Tales from Outer Suburbia” by Shaun Tan

Not really for children, but for adults who remember what it was like to be a child in suburbia.

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“Tales from Outer Suburbia” by Shaun Tan

Hardcover
96 pages
Published October 28th, 2008 by McClelland & Stewart (first published 2008)
Original Title: Tales from Outer Suburbia
ISBN:0771084021 (ISBN13: 9780771084027)
Awards
  • World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Collection (2009)
  • New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award Nominee for Patricia Wrightson Prize (2009)
  • Ditmar Award for Best Artwork (2009)
  • Western Australian Premier’s Book Award for Young Adult (2008)
  • Children’s Book Council of Australia Award for Older Readers Book of the Year (2009)
  • Aurealis Award for Illustrated Book / Graphic Novel (2008)
  • Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis for Bilderbuch (2009)
  • Tähtifantasia Award (2016)
  • Australian Independent Booksellers Indie Book Award for Children’s (2009)
  • The Inky Awards Nominee for Gold Inky (2008)
  • Adelaide Festival Award for Children’s Literature (2010)
  • Australian Book Industry Award (ABIA) for Illustrated Book (2009)
  • Literaturpreis der Jury der Jungen Leser for Sonderpreis (2009)
  • The Inky Awards Shortlist for Gold Inky (2008)

About

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‘water buffaloes are like that; they hate talking.’

From the publisher, “Breathtakingly illustrated and hauntingly written, Tales from Outer Suburbia is by turns hilarious and poignant, perceptive and goofy. Through a series of captivating and sophisticated illustrated stories, Tan explores the precious strangeness of our existence. He gives us a portrait of modern suburban existence filtered through a wickedly Monty Pythonesque lens. Whether it’s discovering that the world really does stop at the end of the city’s map book, or a family’s lesson in tolerance through an alien cultural exchange student, Tan’s deft, sweet social satire brings us face-to-face with the humor and absurdity of modern life.”

My Thoughts

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‘He was saying the same sentence over and over, ending with “tasoo-ke-te, tasoo ke-te.”‘

This review may come off as a bit biased because I love “The Arrival.” Honestly, it isn’t so much as an “apple to oranges” kind of comparison between the two books, but maybe a comparison of two of the most glorious pieces of fruit one can eat. Each is wonderful in their own ways.

Both of these novels are excellent, but they are different in a slight, albeit essential way. There are words in “Tales From Outer Suburbia”… The experience of Shaun Tan’s illustrations is a bit more on the nose.

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‘It opened into another room altogether… an impossible room somewhere between the others.’

“Tales From Outer Suburbia” is a collection of fifteen nuanced short stories. All are threaded together with an exploration of the vapidness, bewilderment, joy, sorrow, and enlightenment of living in the suburbs; specifically the suburbs of eastern Australia. Each of the stories is captivating and a hell of a lot deeper than the two or three pages devoted to each. For example “Stick Figures,” is a story about wooden stick figures that are part of a suburban landscape. They move unimaginably slow, and their purpose is not precisely known. However, if you think about suburbia and the little bits of nature that come through the manicured lawns and the shopping malls, nature could very much seem like an unknowable creature that exists, but we have no idea the purpose of. As someone who has spent much of their life living in the suburbs and had to travel to visit nature, I get what he is trying to say. Nature can become the unknowable.

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‘How great it must have been long ago, when the world was still unknown.’

Another glorious story was “No Other Country.” This story explores what it means to be a person of two ideals. The unexplored model of what a place should be as one ideal and the current situation you live in as the other.

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‘The fire burned with astonishing intensity.’

What if you could escape to the ideal place at your leisure? Would that change how you felt about your current living situation? Again this taps into a lot of what Shaun Tan writes about in “The Arrival.” The idealized world and the reality. Would you appreciate your reality if you could escape it once in a while? It is a powerful short story, and absolutely worth the read.

I feel like reading a Shaun Tan book is meditative. They are never boring, beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated. However, his work is saturated with a calmness and purposefulness. His words and images are impactful without being jarring. You don’t see that often in any type of literary work. It speaks to a mastery of craft that I as a reader feel privileged to partake in. As you can probably tell, I am a fan and recommend his work. However, it isn’t for everyone. It is fanciful and calm and deep. Sometimes, that is not what one needs in their books. So my suggestion is that if you are feeling self-reflective or full of ennui, give one of his novels a try. I doubt that you would regret the experience.

Graphic Novel Review of “American Gods Volume 1: Shadows (Neil Gaiman’s American Gods: The Shadows #1-9)”

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Russell, P. Craig et al. American Gods.

Stats

4 out of 5 Stars
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published March 13th 2018 by Dark Horse Books
Original Title American Gods, Volume 1: Shadows
ISBN 1506703860 (ISBN13: 9781506703862)
Edition Language English

Summary

“What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.”

― Neil GaimanAmerican Gods

30430From the publisher, “Shadow Moon gets out of jail only to discover his wife is dead. Defeated, broke, and uncertain where to go from here, he meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who employs him to serve as his bodyguard–thrusting Shadow into a deadly world where ghosts of the past come back from the dead, and a god war is imminent.

Collecting the first nine issues of the American Gods comic book series, along with art process features, high res scans of original art, layouts, character designs, and variant covers by BECKY CLOONAN, SKOTTIE YOUNG, FABIO MOON, DAVE MCKEAN, and MORE!”

My Thoughts

“Hey,” said Shadow. “Huginn or Muninn, or whoever you are.”

The bird turned, head tipped, suspiciously, on one side, and it stared at him with bright eyes.

“Say ‘Nevermore,'” said Shadow.

“Fuck you,” said the raven.”

― Neil GaimanAmerican Gods

6050678-07Reading “American Gods Volume 1” was a challenge for me. It wasn’t due to the source material or anything like that. It is hard for me to remove my personal bias towards anything that is not the book. I have a similar difficulty with movies where I love the book. American Gods is a brilliant bit of urban fantasy. I mean it is Gaiman, so of course it is. Everything the man touches is fantastic.  The man could write a jingle for a used car salesman, and it would be magic.

This graphic novel was able to add magic to an already magical and well-done story. Since the prose is pretty much word for word of the source material, the magic was in the form of the stupendous graphics that were done by Scott Hampton and many others.

Much like a cinematographer, Hampton added atmosphere and aura to the words and gravitas of the scenes. He used a combination color palette of muted colors and psychedelic hues.  Some scenes, depending upon the action going on took a somber tone that matched the narrative. Other scenes, when the magic was buzzing, the images blaze off the page like a kaleidoscope of otherworldly colors. The whole story seems like a fever dream in a lot of ways. It is beautifully done and effective.

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Other illustrators took a hand in this volume, and they read like a who’s who in current famous comic illustrators and designers. They drew various vignettes and variant covers in their respective styles. Becky Cloonan from “Gotham Academy” fame and Fabio Moon who designed one of my favorite graphic novels of late, “Daytripper, ” among others.  The story lends itself well to many design interpretations, and this was demonstrated well here.

Conclusion

“All your questions can be answered if that is what you want. But once you learn your answers, you can never unlearn them.”

― Neil GaimanAmerican Gods

Volume 1 is grandly done. If you are a fan of the book or TV show, it can only add to your personal experience, and that is saying something. Most of the time, movies, and graphic interpretations screw it up. “American Gods Volume 1” is thankfully not one of those instances.

Graphic Novel Review – Revival, Vol. 1: You’re Among Friends (Revival #1) by Tim Seeley

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Stats

4 out of 5 stars
Paperback, 128 pages
Published December 12th, 2012 by Image Comics (first published November 1st, 2012)
ISBN 1607066599 (ISBN13: 9781607066590)
Edition Language English
Series Revival #1
Setting  Wausau, Wisconsin (United States) 

Awards

Harvey Awards Nominee for Best Artist (for Mike Norton)

Best Writer (for Tim Seeley)

Best Cover Artist (for Jenny Frison) (2013)

About

“Subtitle to the book is “A rural noir by Tim Seeley + Mike Norton”

For one day in rural central Wisconsin, the dead came back to life. Now it’s up to Officer Dana Cypress to deal with the media scrutiny, religious zealots, and government quarantine that has come with them. In a town where the living have to learn to deal with those who are supposed to be dead, Officer Cypress must solve a brutal murder, and everyone, alive or undead, is a suspect. The sell-out hit series created by NYT Bestselling author TIM SEELEY and Eisner winning artist MIKE NORTON is collected with bonus material!”

My Thoughts

Revival is one of those odd little gems that you accidentally discover while searching for something to read. I started it on a whim and knew absolutely nothing about it.

It is gorgeous.

It calls itself a “rural noir” whatever that means, and has tinges of the supernatural. But really, it is a story about people put into unusual circumstances. Zombies sound trite. Shuffling dead people who want to eat your braaaaaains.  Zombies seem very overdone as a literary device, but this story puts some excellent twists on things and turns the genre on its head a bit.

“We stood up on two legs
And raised our heads above golden grass
He was there

We sharpened stone and steel
Used tools to harvest grass, beast and brother
He was there

We clustered together
In brick and mud swarming with rats and plague
He was there

We built nations and mistrust
Our fingers hovered over the red button
He smiled

Still we build
To rise above the golden grass
Away from the reach of his scythe

When he will harvest no more”
― Tim Seeley, Revival, Vol. 1: You’re Among Friends

The story is also slightly of the horror genre, slightly urban fantasy. Definite chills and shivers here in there.

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Shudder-inducing panel.

Check it out if you love deep characters and a little supernatural spice in your reading. Fair warning, this is a very adult, very very graphic novel where lack of blood and splayed organs are not an issue.

Graphic Novel Review – “Habibi” by Craig Thompson

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“The Sufi saint Rabi’a Al-Adawiyya was seen carrying a firebrand and a jug of water – the firebrand to burn Paradise, the jug of water to drown Hell…

So that both veils disappear, and God’s followers worship, not out of hope for reward, nor fear of punishment, but out of love.”
― Craig Thompson, Habibi

Stats

5 out of 5 stars
Hardcover, 672 pages
Published September 20th 2011 by Pantheon (first published September 2011)
Original Title Habibi
ISBN 0375424148 (ISBN13: 9780375424144)
Edition Language English

Awards

  • Harvey Awards Nominee for Best Graphic Album-Original
  • Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for Best Writer/Artist (for Craig Thompson) (2012)
  • IGN Award for Best Original Graphic Novel (2011)
  • CBH – Best Comics of All Time #94

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About

“From the From the internationally acclaimed author of Blankets (“A triumph for the genre.”—Library Journal), a highly anticipated new graphic novel.

Sprawling across an epic landscape of deserts, harems, and modern industrial clutter, Habibi tells the tale of Dodola and Zam, refugee child slaves bound to each other by chance, by circumstance, and by the love that grows between them. We follow them as their lives unfold together and apart; as they struggle to make a place for themselves in a world (not unlike our own) fueled by fear, lust, and greed; and as they discover the extraordinary depth—and frailty—of their connection.

At once contemporary and timeless, Habibi gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling.”

My Thoughts

 

“You’re more than a story.”
― Craig Thompson, Habibi

When trying to make an argument about why graphic novels are richer, deeper, and more complex than the spandex-clad superhero saving the day; this is the book I hand you. A tome that is nearly 700 pages long and it is filled to the brim with an intricately woven tapestry of middle eastern lore, myth, and culture. It isn’t perfect, but it is incredible.

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First, let us talk about the good and when I say it is good, it is really good. This book, if it is anything else is an ode to calligraphy. Calligraphy or caligraphic images permeate the story and the pages. The shape of calligraphic characters is just as important as the number itself.  The flow and richness of characters and words change form with the direction of the plot. For example, The word for bird changes the shape of the characters and flows into the shape of an actual bird. Caligraphy fills the scenes, gives shape to the plot, gives meaning to the characters struggles, and fleshes out their personality.  The abstractions are weighty and deep but at the center of the swirling calligraphy is a love story. One that spans decades.

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It revolves around Dodola and Zam. Two individuals who at the beginning of the story are eking out an existence on a ship buried in the sand stranded in the desert. To feed them, Dodola prostitutes herself out to traveling caravans to bring food to their home. Zam is said to have the power to find water so his family job is to bring water home to them. Both jobs are equally necessary and symbolic in keeping them alive. Like two halves of a coin, this duality is present in much of the book. Armstrong deftly jumps from character to character creating this universe that they live by switching back and forth chapter by chapter. As the story progresses Dodola and Zam are parted after Zam witnesses Dodola getting raped. Zam, contextually, does not understand what he has seen so he renders himself psychologically. This culminates in a choice that he can never come back from.

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After their parting, each individual desperately yearns to be with the other so that they are complete. By themselves, they represent only half a person or half a soul. Again the theme of duality is present.

It is hard to believe that Craig Thompson does not know calligraphy, nor has he extensively traveled the middle east. His book is a love note to the beauty of calligraphy as much as it is anything else.

Let’s talk about the not so good. This book is long. Exhaustingly over-long. Even worse, it is so intricately detailed that putting it down will culminate in a lost plot for the reader. I feel like he suffers from what I call Jordanism. Aptly named for Robert Jordan who can never get to the damn point. For me, it was too many side stories and rehashing of similar events. But It could have been edited down and it still would have punched me in the gut. But exhaustive detail is an Armstrong characteristic. It was present in “Blankets” and it is present here. It isn’t bad, just know what you are in for.

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Also, there have been write-ups about this being orientalism. I am not going to pretend that I can talk about that effectively. I do not have the experience to be able to relate or review it in that light. However, if you are interested there are scads of articles written about that and regarding Armstrong’s other works. Check it out.

By the end of this book, I guarantee it will be like nothing that you have read before. Whether classifying it as a love story, religious text, or historical doctrine; the story will resonate.  Just know what you are in for. You will be rung out by the end of it.

 

 

Check out Link It Up Thursday here.

Review of “The Thing Beneath the Bed (The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle #1) by Patrick Rothfuss” #bookblogger #bookblog #kidsbooks @PatrickRothfuss

If you are looking for this title, it can be found on worldbuilders.com

About

“This is not a book for children.

It looks like a children’s book. It has pictures. It has a saccharine-sweet title. The main characters are a little girl and her teddy bear. But all of that is just protective coloration. The truth is, this is a book for adults with a dark sense of humor and an appreciation of old-school faerie tales.

There are three separate endings to the book. Depending on where you stop, you are left with an entirely different story. One ending is sweet, another is horrible. The last one is the true ending, the one with teeth in it.

The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle is a dark twist on the classic children’s picture-book. I think of it as Calvin and Hobbes meets Coraline, with some Edward Gorey mixed in.

Simply said: This is not a book for children.”

My Thoughts

First and foremost, an honest disclaimer, This is not a kid’s book. It is delightfully wicked fun, but in no way shape or form should you read this to your unsuspecting child. Unless of course, you are a bit of an asshole. In that case, read on. I had the fortune of hearing a live reading of this by Mr. Rothfuss himself a few years ago.

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Image courtesy of goodreads.com

You would think by the sweet saccharine pictures that there was nothing menacing underneath it all, but oh god you will see. I don’t want to give it all away because of spoilers. But this sweet saccharine girl is not what she seems.

The fun part of this book is once you finish it, go back and reread. See what you missed. It is hilarious what we readers gloss over. Try to get your hands on a copy of this, it is out of print I’m afraid. The library has a few copies. Do it. I would give it six stars if I could.

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Rothfuss, Patrick. The Thing Beneath the Bed. Subterranean Press, 2010.

You can also find copies of this and it’s sequel on worldbuilders.com

Graphic Novel Review of “Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus” by Chester Brown

Theological Musings in a Polemical World

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By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56243974

Awards

None that I can find, however, Chester Brown is a highly acclaimed author for many of his other works.

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Stats

3 out of 5 stars

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus by 
Chester Brown

Hardcover, 280 pages

Published April 12th, 2016 by Drawn and Quarterly

ISBN 1770462341 (ISBN13: 9781770462342)

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http://www.pastemagazine.com

About

From the publisher, “The iconoclastic and bestselling cartoonist of Paying for It: A comic-strip memoir about being a john and Louis Riel returns and with a polemical interpretation of the Bible that will be one of the most controversial and talked-about graphic novels of 2016. Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus is the retelling in comics form of nine biblical stories that present Chester Brown’s fascinating and startling thesis about biblical representations of prostitution. Brown weaves a connecting line between Bathsheba, Ruth, Rahab, Tamar, Mary of Bethany, and the Virgin Mother. He reassesses the Christian moral code by examining the cultural implications of the Bible’s representations of sex work.”

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Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus is a fitting follow-up to Brown’s sui generis graphic memoir “Paying for It”, which was reviewed twice in The New York Times and hailed by sex workers for Brown’s advocacy for the decriminalization and normalization of prostitution. Brown approaches the Bible as he did the life of Louis Riel, making these stories compellingly readable and utterly pertinent to a modern audience. In classic Chester Brown fashion, he provides extensive handwritten endnotes that delve into the biblical lore that informs Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus.”

My Thoughts

This novel is a fitting followup to Chester Brown’s “Paying For It;” a practical and positive look at what it is being a John and hiring a prostitute. Paying For It is hailed by sex workers for its advocacy of Prostitution and normalization thereof.

Brown has been a vocal advocate for many years for sex workers, and it is evident in many of his works. He reminds me of a guy who is obsessed with Star Trek, or bugs, or 16th-century weaponry used in northern France. Nothing wrong with being passionate about something, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to be stuck on a road trip with him. He seems very very intense…

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This collection is fascinating in how he approached nine individual Bible stories, completely turned them on their head, and presented them in a new way. All the while threading them together into a cohesive thesis on his beliefs. Some of the stories featured are of Bathsheba, the prodigal son, Cain and Abel, Ruth, Rahab, Tamar, Mary of Bethany, and the Virgin Mother. One of his stories shows Mary as a prostitute but still very much loved by God and fit to be the mother of Jesus.

Prostitutes, who often are demonized by the Christian church and society are shown as people who just have a job to do. The novel is definitely polemic, and if you are an easily offended reader or prefer to not read something that has religious overtones, maybe this book is not for you.  However, it is a quick read, and sometimes stories need to be turned on their side to see things from a new angle. Whether or not you believe them to be the truth, much as the author does, it doesn’t matter. Enjoy the well-written stories and the simple but still elegant graphics. If these stories intrigue you, and you would like to know more there are 100 pages on notes at the back of the book detailing why he made certain literary and artistic decisions and the research behind them.

I didn’t necessarily like this graphic novel, but it was indeed interesting. Sometimes interesting and thought-provoking are good. I have one of Brown’s other works, Ed the Happy Clown sitting on my shelf waiting to be read. We will see what kind of rabbit hole it leads me down.

Graphic Novel Review of “Mouse Guard Fall: 1152” by David Peterson

“Take no duty of the Guard lightly. Friends must not be enemies
Just as enemies must not be friends.
Discerning the two is a life’s work.”

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Stats

Hardcover, First Edition, 192 pages
Published July 21st 2009 by Archaia (first published May 30th, 2007)
Original Title
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152
ISBN 1932386572 (ISBN13: 9781932386578)
Edition Language English

Awards

Winner of “Best Publication for Kids” Eisner Award, for Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 and Mouse Guard: Winter 1152.

Winner of “Best Graphic Album-Reprint” Eisner Award, for Mouse Guard: Fall 1152.

#87 on the Goodreads Best Comics Ever List

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Book Summary

“Take no duty of the Guard lightly. Friends must not be enemies
Just as enemies must not be friends.
Discerning the two is a life’s work.”
― David Petersen

From the publisher,” The forest is a dangerous place for any animal, especially one as small as a mouse. In the past, the mouse world endured a tyrannical Weasel Warlord until a noble band of mouse soldiers fought back. Ever since the Mouse Guard has defended the paces and prosperity of its kingdom. For generations, this league of scouts, weather-watchers, trailblazers, and protectors has passed won its knowledge and skills.

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Now three of the Guard’s finest have been dispatched. The mission seems simple: They are to find a missing mouse, a grain merchant who never arrived at his destination. But when they see him, they make a shocking discovery—one that involves a treacherous betrayal, a stolen secret, and a rising power that has only one goal: to bring down the Guard…”

My Thoughts

“The best solution is always found at the point of my sword.”―Saxon’s belief

If you were walking around a bookstore and came across this book sitting on a shelf you would think that with its cartoonish depictions of animals wielding swords and bright colors that it was a children’s book. You could not be further from the truth. This is a very nuanced story about betrayal, bravery, endurance, and sincerity; it is most certainly not a children’s story.

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artstation.com

To start off, imagine what it is like to be a mouse in the first place they are small, weak, and fearful. Mice are prey animals in nature. Their entire lives are spent in fear of the unknown next predator around the bend. Almost every creature in the forest could be a predator to them. In response, you build your home in the most protected and sheltered spot you can find and hope for the best. Now imagine you are a guard mouse. You are weak and small by nature. However, you have learned to be strong because you have to be.  You must be brave because the smaller you are, the more bravery means and there are mice to protect. Thus flows the story of mice who are brave sent out into the forest to protect the weaker.

Stylistically, the panels are superbly drawn. The illustrations look as if they glow from within like light shining through the trees in autumn. Wind could rush therough my room as a read this and I would not be more convinced that it was fall. The illustrator completely nailed what fall is supposed to feel like.

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Conclusion

I would recommend this to anyone over the age of ten. I think if a child tried to read this before that age, much of the subtleties would be lost on them. But, I would especially recommend this to any comic book/graphic enthusiasts out there. This is a graphic novel that graphic novel lovers, love.