The term “graphic novel” calls forth comparisons with novels in general. The two forms, after all, are about stories told on paper between covers of some sort.
A better description, though, would be “movie book.”
Think about it. Most of the story in a graphic novel is told through the colorful images that accompany a fairly small amount of text. It’s a lot like a movie in which the visuals usually are paramount, with dialogue and narration secondary.
This is especially true for action movies, and many, if not most, graphic novels are action movies on paper.
Consider Children of Saigo, written by my former Chicago Tribune colleague Glenn Jeffers with Jethro Morales as the artist/inker, Andy Dodd as colorist, Kel Nuttall as letterer/editor and Bill Farmer as the one responsible for the front cover colors.
It’s a quick-step, rollicking story about the four adult children of Masaki “Mike” Iwanaga, a Chicago cop dying of cancer and the descendant of the last samurai.
Mike’s ancestor was the only survivor of the 1877 battle in Kagoshima, Japan, that wiped out the last remnants of the samurais under the leadership of Saigo Takamori. He was ordered by Saigo to flee the field (and thus have to live with the disdain of outsiders) in order to keep the 1,000-year-old tradition alive.
Mike has taught his four children — Shiro, Ben, Zoe and Teron — the samurai skills that had been handed down to him. So the four aren’t only Mike’s children, but also the children of Saigo.
Shiro and the “strays”
In present-day Chicago, with Mike in an Oak Park hospital, the four, like the children of many families, are often squabbling in minor and some major ways.
The oldest, Shiro, the owner of a trucking company, is Mike’s only biological child. The other three were adopted or, as the disgruntled Shiro says, were picked up as “strays.”
Ben is the second oldest, a military vet who loves history, especially as it’s embodied in Mike’s two samurai swords. Zoe is a party girl who also designs high-fashion kimonos and steel swords. The youngest, Teron, is the business whiz in the family.
They are a United Nations of diversity, this hyper-blended family — Shiro has ethnic roots in Asia; Ben, in India; Zoe, in Europe; and Teron, in Africa.
Revenge and response
The sibling competition gives texture to a tale that’s oft-told — revenge and response. And Children of Saigo is full of rock’ em, sock’ em kabooms and kapows. Swords, of course, play an important part.
And, yes, heads do roll.
Jeffers and his colleagues do a fine job of trotting out a dozen or more characters without bogging down the pace of the narrative.
Not all of the characters survive the tale, but the ones who do come out alive appear ready to go on to further adventures in future “movie-books.”
Patrick T. Reardon