The Escape Manual for Introverts by Katie Vaz

Published: 6th August 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Andrews McMeel Publishing
Pages: 144
Format: Graphic Novel
Genre: Non-Fiction
★ – 1 Stars

Feeling cornered at a wedding reception by gossipy guests? Stuck at a holiday party that lasts forever? This beautifully illustrated book is the ultimate funny, sometimes absurd guide to escaping those painfully awkward situations.

Trapped in an airplane seated next to a chatterbox? Are you hosting a dinner party with people who just won’t leave? Katie Vaz has the key to your escape. The Escape Manual for Introverts guides readers through different scenarios with themed chapters (“Friends,” “Relatives,” “Strangers,” etc.). Each chapter covers a range of situations, from an invitation to karaoke night to group lunchtime. And she offers a number of escapes for each scenario: bringing odoriferous foods to lunch for a while, having a pet (real or imagined) that “requires” frequent check-ins, and even investing in a jet pack. This book features Vaz’s full-page illustrated spreads, hand-lettering, and spot illustrations. From the silly to the sincere, Vaz’s clever, hilarious escape plans and bizarre excuses speak to the introvert in all of us.

I am always wary about these kinds of books not only because it’s always focused on the introverts and never on the extroverts but because introverts are often portrayed in negative ways. Even this book, which I thought was going to be at least funny if not relatable in a way, is a poor construct of comics, advice and what is probably meant to be humour but never comes across as such.

For something that’s supposed to be a fun guide for introverts it’s really disappointing. There isn’t any real substance here, not that I expected it, but I was expecting fun cartoons and recognition about experiences like I have found in other similar books. Instead this is a book that offers up suggestions and excuses about how to get through the day around people and it makes introverts look like horrible antisocial people who need to lie in order to get by in the world.

The layout is sparse which only makes it even less interesting. The words are minimal and the pictures are useless, the entire thing was essentially a How To on not talking to anyone and avoiding being around people at all times which is not what being an introvert is about.

Vaz mentions in her authors note that it’s meant to be a cheeky book, but she also says she hopes introverts and other socially awkward people can use these tips. I can see how a few may be useful, the less extreme ones but there are a lot of farfetched ones too. The advice varies from a few reasonable things like how to get off phone calls quicker and avoiding small talk but the majority are things like eating pungent foods to avoid people wanting to be near you and various other subterfuges which again, probably are meant to be funny, or actual advice I have no idea how I’m meant to interpret these suggestions.

This is an annoying book all round as a guide or as a fun book looking at introvert behaviour. I would like to know where are the myriad of books for extroverts telling them to stop talking so much and being so loud all the time? Not to mention how to enjoy an introvert’s activity and company without judgment or belittling, instead there’s more of this nonsense.

You can purchase The Escape Manual for Introverts via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

I Think I am in Friend-Love With You by Yumi Sakugawa

Published: 6th December 2013Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Adams Media
Pages: 128
Format: Graphic Novel
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

I have a confession to make.
I think I am in friend-love with you.

What’s friend-love? It’s that super-awesome bond you share with someone who makes you happy every time you text each other, or meet up for an epic outing. It’s not love-love. You don’t want to swap saliva; you want to swap favourite books. But it’s just as intense and just as amazing.

And it’s this search for that connection that comic-book artist Yumi Sakugawa captures in I Think I Am in Friend-Love with You. It’s perfect if you’ve ever fallen in friend-love and want to show that person how much you love them…in a platonic way, of course.

I really loved this book. It has a super sweet message about how important friendships are and how they can hold as much weight and importance as romantic relationships. The illustrations are both cute and a teeny bit horrifying but I liked the layout and how Sakugawa keeps it simple but profound. Emotions are portrayed sometimes without words and the figures in this book have no real shape or gender so it’s perfect for all friendships.

The narration is first person addressing another and with basic illustrations alongside the words their affections are described. From simple things like sharing a love of books, enjoying movies together, hanging out and sharing small thoughts about their day are all ways they love their friend. It also covers other things like wanting to be near them and have long conversations over tea and stay up late chatting online. What makes me love this is it shows how the smallest things can mean so much. Spending time together, sharing passions and small gestures are all miniature acts of love that make friendships so special.

This was the perfect book until it got to the end. I was disappointed only because I felt it altered the intention of the book and the story that was being expressed and it changed the dynamics slightly. It didn’t ruin the story, it was still conveying the same overall message, but that changed made it slightly less perfect for me.

What made it fabulous was I could see so much of my own friendships in this story and seeing it as a universal experience, as well as one treated with affection, sincerity and a small amount of humour was really wonderful. It’s heart-warming and sweet and I love that this kind of book exists; it put everything I have ever wanted to say to my friends into words and it was so refreshing to see such an honest, loving and genuine book about love and friendship.

You can purchase I Think I am in Friend-Love With You via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Murder on the Rockport Limited: From Podcast to Graphic Novel

With the release of the second The Adventure Zone graphic novel, Ally from Ally’s Appraisals and I thought it would be a great idea to look at how we each experienced the novel; myself having listened to the entire TAZ Balance podcast, and her only having read the graphic novels.

Naturally there are a few differences in structure for graphic novel adaptation, but a lot has thankfully stayed the same.

Warning: If you haven’t listened to the podcast for this arc, here there be minor spoilers.

 

How did you enjoy the story knowing/not knowing the podcast?

Amy: I loved the story because I loved reliving the story in visual form. I heard the boy’s voices in my head and I loved being able to read it with their voices.

Ally: Before reading Murder on the Rockport Limited, I had read the first in the series, Here There Be Gerblins and I remember really loving both the story and characters. While I’m not as familiar with the characters as Amy, I very much got a clear grasp of their characters.

Amy: With the hints and clues to future events I knew what was coming and I loved the easter egg hunt to see just what Carey had included in the illustrations. From background detail, characters in crowds or the smallest detail in character stat sheets it was a fun read to see the references I understood, and it often replaces some of the jokes that were excluded by simply making them visual.

Ally: Sometimes I would see little details in the background or read an offhand comment by a character and it would pull me up. Just the knowledge that this story has already been told in a different format really made me aware of little things like this – I couldn’t help thinking, ‘I am sure this means something to someone.’

Amy: It’s hard to say just listen to the arc to match the graphic novel because it draws from multiple episodes. Murder on the Rockport Limited takes storyline from episodes before and after the actual arc and even alludes to things that are far from happening.

Ally: I will admit that after I finished the graphic novel I did flip back to certain pages and ask my partner questions like, ‘will this come back in later books?’ or ‘Is this character important?’ I swear the characters Angus talks to at the end were too fancy and pretty looking to just be throw away characters – I swear they must be coming back or something!

Things Amy noticed that were missing or different from the podcast

While the majority of the storyline was there, naturally not everything could be included. Seeing which scenes and lines were omitted was an interesting game I played while I read and while I know some parts couldn’t possibly be included because the content wasn’t quite story related or only possible in the audio medium, they were missed.

  • I missed the references to everyone in the town of Rockport looking like Tom Bodett, and I wished desperately that Carey had made all the background characters look like Tom Bodett as a subtle nod, but I understand why she couldn’t do that.
  • In the podcast, The Director gives the trio tokens and are told to present them to the resident artificer and “he will help [them] out with acquiring a few new tools that [they] can use on [their] adventure”. She also provides directions and instructs them about how to find the chambers. In the graphic novel this is brushed over with the characters getting a guidebook which explains everything they need to know about navigating the moon base, and Taako mentions their first stop is to see Leon the Artificer.
  • Connected to this, Leon mentions it is against the rules of the Bureau of Balance to hand out magical items to people, and that instead they leave it to fate as a work around situation. This is the only explanation given before the tokens are put in and each character gets their new item. Everything else is the same, the items they acquire are the same, and Taako has the first of his many funny and trying interactions with poor Leon about how he uses the machine.
  • Structurally it contains not only the Rockport arc, but the Moonlighting episodes from before and after. These episodes, come to be known as Lunar Interludes, are the events that happen on the Bureau moon base that are separate from the adventure arcs. This is where characters level up, buy items and you get more of the overarching story from the Director. The way they have been split is perfect for the graphic novel as it gives great cliff hangers and it allows the Interludes to be included because they hold vital information as well.
  • There were a couple big scenes not included such as the initiation test the trio were required to do to join the Bureau of Balance as well as a battle in a swamp when they first land near Rockport. These are inconsequential really, though there were some great origins of later events, but this was early on in the podcast when Griffin was trying to have more random mini battles for the players and not simply continual story.
  • Robbie at the moment is only visually referenced which means no Pringles just yet but I have high hopes for his return if the story stays on the same track.
  • Just as in Gerblins the official licenced names of characters and places have to be changed so instead of going to Neverwinter the train is heading to Ever Summer which is just adorable.
  • The other big one is of course the ending. While the podcast arc ends simply enough, the novel adds a little extra that extends the character development and brings a few more details forward so we don’t need to wait for further arcs to learn things. It also gives a greater sense of the Bigger Picture and great foreshadowing.
  • Not quite a difference but additional dialogue is included that doesn’t happen in the original story. This is often still within the established scenes though and is more for space and timing than anything else. There is still word by word dialogue taken from the podcast, even if it is out of order it is included. Clint has tidied up Griffin and the boys’ conversations into something succinct and appear more intentional, the jokes that are spur of the moment on the podcast become clever and funny dialogue in the story.

Looking at the list it goes to show how much actually stays the same. The tiny jokes and the off the cuff remarks are the main things missing but they are also things that are funny in the podcast, not actually connected to the story (see Jenkin’s voice crisis which is a delight).

Ally: Oh wow! This does answer a lot of the questions that arose for me when I was reading. I did think the whole scenes on the moon were over so quickly! It just seems all so easy and glossed over how they joined the Bureau of Balance – I’m glad there is more to that whole part of the story.

Also Tom Bodett? Pringles? I – I honestly have no words…

 

Things that didn’t make sense to Ally as a first time reader of the story

While I extremely happy to pick up the two The Adventure Zone graphic novels and read them with not much prior knowledge, there were a few things that I thought I was missing out on. Nothing too serious just small moments and throwaway comments that let me thinking that there was probably more to it than what I read.

  • No dogs on the moon – I honestly have no idea why this caused such a passionate response. I know Magnus asked for a dog but the passioned panel of NO DOGS ON THE MOON really confused me. I just kept asking myself, why? What did the dogs do? Why aren’t they allowed back 😛
  • Leon and the gashapon machine that the trio used their tokens on really confused me. While it certainly was a visual joke that worked well, I think the conversational tone really threw me as I did not really get what was happening.
  • The part where the trio find out about the organisation and the moon base happened so quickly!

I felt like I had barely been introduced to this before we were speeding onto the next adventure. Like, what is the Bureau of Balance – I have a basic understanding but it did leave me quite unsure and curious.

As you can see, the main points that didn’t completely gel with me were the ones based on the moon. So, while I completely followed the main story, I did feel like the larger story and world building was a bit vague. Due to this, I did feel this part of the story left a lot of gaps for questions for me but because of how awesome the rest of the following story was, I was quick to forgive and move on.

 

Final Thoughts

Ally: Having read Amy’s post about her experiences with the graphic novel, I am shocked at how much content has been left out as well as how much foreshadowing there appears to be. Some of the content left out does appear to relate to moments that confused me, so it is good to know that there is the chance that it will be included and fleshed out more in future releases.

Amy: Overall, I think it certainly acceptable to only experience the story through the graphic novels because I have full trust in Clint and Carey to bring to life Griffin’s story and all the wonderful additions the boys made on their epic journey during production.

Ally: I’m not ready to sit down and listen to the podcast but as a first time reader, I am really enjoying the characters, the story, and the way that the DnD elements have been incorporated into it all.

*          *          *

It was fascinating to see how the graphic novel came across to someone who had never listened to the podcast.

If you’d like to read my review of Murder on the Rockport Limited click here or if you’d like to get started listening to The Adventure Zone: Balance from the very beginning you can find it here. If you enjoy a great story or actual play D&D podcasts it might be just the story for you.

 My review of the first book Here There Be Gerblins can be read here. The third book Petals to the Metal is available now.

 

The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited (#2) by Clint McElroy

Published: 16th July 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 First Second
Illustrator: Carey Pietsch
Pages: 240
Format: Graphic Novel
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Star

In the second Adventure Zone graphic novel (adapted from the McElroy family’s wildly popular D&D podcast), we rejoin hero-adjacent sort-of-comrades-in-arms Taako, Magnus, and Merle on a wild careen through a D&D railroad murder mystery. This installment has a little of everything: a genius child detective, an axe-wielding professional wrestler, a surly wizard, cursed magical artifacts, and a pair of meat monsters.

You know, the usual things you find on a train.

I squealed and smiled and was in a delightful mess of joyous emotions as I read this story. This arc of the Adventure Zone story has some great characters and some of the best interactions. I have no doubt my enjoyment was heightened because I have also listened to The Adventure Zone podcast but I think even without that there is a lot of humour and a great story to get involved with. You don’t have to know the podcast and you don’t have to know D&D to enjoy this, there are character introductions so you are reacquainted with known characters from the first story, or introduces them if this is your first experience, but there’s also stat sheets and introduction for new characters as well. There are great meta jokes and the rules of new items and spells are integrated seamlessly into the design of the pages so you have context for actions and know about weapons and spells.

There is a connection to Murder on the Orient Express, as evident not only from the title but the great train mystery Griffin has laid out. The trio of heroes Taako, Magnus, and Merle all return as they continue the Bureau of Balance’s missions to collect the relics, this time trapped on a train with a small circle of suspects and a mystery to solve. This arc introduces some of the best characters, many are reoccurring and some are brilliant one offs.

A special mention of course has to go to Carey for her amazing artwork. Her interpretation of these characters is divine. I loved her depictions of characters like Angus, Jess and Jenkins, not to mention those at the Bureau. Angus McDonald brings all his sarcasm and cuteness to the page without losing any of his charm. The art is just as important as the story because Carey makes every movement, every background character or action count. The tiny details make it an absolute joy because not only is the story brilliant, but there is an entire other level of enjoyment from her bright, colourful, emotional illustrations. The detail is amazing, the Easter eggs to past and future campaigns/characters are there for podcast listeners and even those who haven’t listened to it get great details like other adventures happening in the background and fun details and jokes.

I actually love the changed ending. It gives a great sense of the bigger picture and the grander adventure that is yet to come while not taking away from the original story. It may be different than the podcast, but Clint has reworked scenes and it still fits with who these characters are. We get a better insight into who they are earlier on with some great intrigue and foreshadowing. At the end of the book there are once again stunning artwork by various fans, each with their own interpretations of the characters and various scenes. It is wonderful to see so many different styles and how each player has been interpreted.

I don’t think I can express enough how hilarious this story is. It is funny in book form and there are wonderfully humorous moments where they break the fourth wall and once again interact with Dungeon Master Griffin. The mystery is pretty good as well. There are clues and surprises and a few moments I had forgotten about from the podcast that I loved reliving again. One thing I find interesting reading these graphic novels having also experienced the podcast is not only knowing what comes next, but I know what lines were omitted and what other aspects have been altered for adaptability. It is amazing to see the work Clint has done to make the story flow even though Griffin had already made a fantastic story and plot, to see it be translated to beautifully to the page is amazing.

You can purchase The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

 WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

The Simpsons Forever! by Matt Groening

Published: 3rd November 1999Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Design
Pages: 96
Format: Paperback
Genre: Graphic Novel
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Picking up where The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to our Favorite Family left off, The Simpsons Forever! brings all the history, tidbits, and cold hard facts on every episode from the past two years, and much, much more. Fans will find the highlights of all the shows from seasons nine and ten, plus eyeball–busting two–page spreads for special episodes (like the annual Halloween show). Heavily packed into these pages are updated favourites like Best Homerisms, Famous Chalkboard Sayings, All–New Simpsons Singalong Lyrics, Couch Gags, and classic screen images. And, yes – it’s all cross-referenced!

This book is the second as part of a series released by Matt Groening that start at season one and work through the series aired at the time up until season 14. Each book is a continuation of the previous publication with multiple seasons covered within. This is important because anyone who reads this book, especially thinking they are getting a full series exploration, will no doubt be disappointed. While the first book covered seasons 1-8, this second one is very short, covering only seasons 9 and 10 but it still is filled with detail. Each episode overview for both seasons includes quotes, blink and you miss it things you may have missed, as well as fun information about background characters, songs, show highlights, character bios as well as the numerous and varied movie and pop culture references made by the writers and animators.

This is a great read if you like the attention to detail that The Simpsons have always had and the clever and creative signs, references and homage, or unique characters that have been created over the years. The trivia is enlightening and I was reminded of things I had long forgotten and even learnt a few things that made me even more in awe of the genius minds of the people who work on the show.

I went looking for these books when I learnt of them because I’m a long time fan of The Simpsons. This book is from early on in the shows run, when only 10 seasons had been aired, and nowhere near as comprehensive as the later publication featuring the first 20 seasons, which even now is old given the new 30th season. Having said that, it is still a great read. I think being closer to the airdates there were more things to include, and more focus could be put on each episode without worrying about making anything too long or cluttered. If you are a trivia nut like I am the little random facts are fun to learn and it’s great to read about just how much thought goes into background characters and crowd scenes. Hopefully I can track down the rest of these early books because I think they would be an enlightening read, especially ones that cover more seasons.

You can purchase The Simpsons Forever via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

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