Hugo Ballot Reviews: Graphic Story

Designed by Kathy Sanders for the 42nd World Science Fiction Convention, aka LA Con II, held in 1984.
Hugo trophy designed by Kathy Sanders for the 42nd World Science Fiction Convention, aka LA Con II, held in 1984.
This is another post in my journey of reading the Hugo nominated stories before casting my ballot. I have attempted to read all the nominees with an open mind, rather than cast a No Award vote for anything that had made it onto the ballot due to the bloc-voting scheme of the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies. The Short Story and Novella categories were extremely disappointing, while Novelette category contained one great story, one good, and the rest dreck. However! I want to point out that this set of reviews is much more upbeat. This was a fantastic and fun category to review!

This time I’m reviewing Best Graphic Story. This category is awarded to a science fiction or fantasy story told in graphic form, such as a comic book, graphic novel, or webcomic. So, what did I think of the Hugo-nominated comics?

First up is Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt. This was very good. It introduces a new character, Kamela Khan, who is a Pakastani-American teen growing up in New Jersey, and tells how she gains super-powers and then names herself Ms. Marvel in honor of a superheroine she has personally seen protect people, Captain Marvel. It’s a fun story about a girl who doesn’t want to be different, navigating the complicated journey to adulthood along with the problems of being a daughter of muslim immigrants in a post-9/11 america and coping with having superpowers coupled with her strong sense of responsibility.

Her (mis)adventures, both in and out of costume, are engaging, suspenseful, and exciting. The comic strikes a healthy balance between humor and seriousness. The artwork is great. The characters are all interested and believable. And the superheroing is fun!

I really like this, and want to vote it fairly high on the ballot!

Next up is Saga Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples. I had trouble getting into this one, at first. Probably because it is volume 3, so we’re dropping into a story in progress. So I went and read some of the other Graphic Stories then came back.

I think when I reached the line, “No one makes a worse first impression than a writer,” I was completely hooked. This story is interstellar sci fi. With magic. And robots that can have babies. And a couple of races are at war, but I don’t know why. Two of the central characters are members of said pair of races, and not only are they in love, but by the time volume three begins they’ve had a baby together and are on the run from all sorts of different strange people who want a piece of them for one reason or another.

I like it. The writing is good. They handle the multiple viewpoints very well. The artwork is good and weird enough to carry off the strange premise.

I want to vote this one high on the ballot, too!

Then we come to Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick, written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky. Another one I had a difficult time getting into. Then it picked up.

The premise is weird: girl discovers orgasms. Discovers that when she has them, time freezes and she can move around and do things while the rest of the world is frozen. Girl eventually figures out that this isn’t just another aspect of sex that no adult wants to tell her about, and that she is the only person in the world who can do it. Until years later, she meets and hooks up with a guy, and finds out he can, too. He also thought he was the only one in the world who could do it.

The story begins with her explaining how when she was about 10 years old her father, an employee of BankCorp, was killed one day when a crazed gunman came in and started shooting people. Years later, she meets this guy who can do what she does when he attends a fundraising party she and her roommate are throwing, trying to save a library whose mortgage is being foreclosed.

They fall in love, and eventually start planning a way to save the library. It starts out with small thefts of cash from branches of the bank which they pull off while time is frozen. Each cash theft is dropped off in donation boxes. Then they plan the big heist. Enough money to save the library entirely.

Unbeknownst to them, they aren’t the only people who can do this thing. And these other people who can do it have an organized Sex Police that prevent the fraction of humans who can freeze time from wreaking havoc on society. So they are busted in the middle of the big heist, and then things get really interesting.

It’s an extremely strange premise, but the writer and artist stick to it and carry the premise out to its logical conclusion. There are several threads and hints of bigger plots planted throughout, so I may have to pick up volume two when it becomes available, because now I want to know how it turns out.

Also, this gets bonus points for the long scene where they wanted to license the lyrics for Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls,” but when it came time to publish the comic, they had failed to secure the rights, but the pages were drawn and lettered. So they cover all of the word balloons of lyrics with faux post-it notes that explain all the ways they tried to license the lyrics for the comic and then later for the graphic novel collection, with occasional commentary on how perfect the song was for the scene and how wonderful Freddy Mercury’s voice was.

So by this point, I’m now wishing that there was some way to vote at least three different comics as number one.

Now we come to The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate, Carter Reid. This was not included in the Hugo packet. This happens sometimes. A particular publisher isn’t willing to give a free copy to be distributed to the voters. Because The Zombie Nation is a web comic, I suspect Mr Reid or his publisher figured voters could go read it on line for themselves. And we can.

In fact, because some people have recommended it to me in the past, I have tried reading it before. And generally I haven’t liked it much. But I feel just a teensy bit cheated that I can’t even find anywhere on the web site any indication of which strip is the beginning of what’s included in the book, and where it ends. Because what has been nominated is not the entire strip, but a specific collection published as a paper book. So I’m knocking some points off for that, besides the fact that I have previously not been impressed enough with the comic to keep reading it.

So, I finally have a story to rank last!

Finally, we come to Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery, written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch. OMG! This comic is awesome heaped on top of awesome, covered in awesome sauce, with a side of awesome! Seriously, this comic is incredible! I love it so much, that I think I may just buy several copies of the hard copy version of volume 1 to give to people I think might enjoy it.

Imagine any fantasy based monster-killing, orc-slaying roleplaying game you’ve ever been in. No, scratch that, imagine all of them. Now imagine that all of them happen in the same world. Now imagine that there is a big city in this world where several adventuring parties (who sometimes call themselves mercenaries, but sometimes inside the story they refer to themselves as adventuring parties!) hang out to spend their treasure, quaff a lot of ale and mead, and raise trouble. Imagine that one such all-girl team calls themselves the Rat Queens (each of the most notorious adventuring part has a gang-type name: the Rat Queens, the Peaches, the Four Daves, the Brother Ponies, and the Obsidian Darkness). Now imagine that after a particularly bad drunken brawl, they five gangs wake up in jail, and are offered a deal to each go take care of one problem outside the city, and their criminal records will be wiped clean.

Finally, imagine that it is an elaborate trap, and assassins are waiting for each group.

With me so far? Good, because now you’re at the end of the very first issue of the comic. Or page 32 out of 132 of this volume. And from here, things just get more interesting!

The characters are fun. The setting is fun. The dialogue could have been lifted from an 80s buddy action film (the good kind, with the quips and the one-liners intermixed with banter and occasionally serious stuff; the kind of thing that all of us wish that modern action movies still had). Except the four buddies are all girls, and for the dialogue alone this movie would have been rated a very hard R. Then, of course, because there are monsters to slay and assassins around every corner, and sorcerers hurling deadly spells, and some of the characters can heal for horrific wounds on their own while others can be brought back from death’s door with a spell… and you’ve got a very over the top comic.

But it’s fun! It is a send up of both epic fantasies, action films, and everyone’s most groan-worthy roleplaying… without being mean spirited and most importantly without losing the thread of the plot. And the art is awesome!

Rat Queens is hands-down the winner of slot number one on my Hugo ballot in this category. And with Zombie Nation at number five, the only thing left up in the air is where how I’m going to rank Saga, Sex Criminals, and Ms. Marvel, because I want all of them and Rat Queens to take home an award, dang it!

10 thoughts on “Hugo Ballot Reviews: Graphic Story

    1. I cannot emphasize enough what a relief and a joy it was to read through a category where everyone that was nominated with good. The one I’m putting in last place isn’t poorly written, it’s just not my cuppa, as they say.

      Rat Queens is so fun. Ms. Marvel is so good! Saga is funny and weird and engaging. Sex Criminals is extremely weird by fun and interesting and engaging.

      So nice to have a category that hasn’t been piddled…

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