Review: Habibi, Craig Thompson

Nyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyynnnnnnnnggggg. Come on, dude.

Is what I was saying throughout most of Habibi. I wanted to be saying what I was saying throughout most of Thompson’s previous book, Blankets, which was nothing actually because I was so breathless from the beauty of the story and the illustrations. I wanted that to be the case with Habibi, and occasionally it was, like when the characters were telling each other stories from Muslim traditions. Craig Thompson never didn’t succeed at making his stories beautiful. If he had stuck to this, we’d be having a very different review right now.

Let me back up. Described by Thompson as a fairy tale, Habibi is set in the fictional country of Wanatolia, an Arabian Nightsy place complete with harems and sultans and deserts. Dodola is raising a small boy named Zam, whom she rescued from slavers, on an abandoned ship in the middle of the desert. This is all very nice for Zam, up to a point (that point being the point at which he discovers how Dodola procures rations for them both), but then Dodola is taken away to be part of the sultan’s harem, and then a bunch of depressing stuff happens to both of them, and eventually (spoilers) they are reunited.

Basically, the book starts out lovely, but then gets super rapey. I do not like super rapey books. And here’s what it is: If your book is about real life, and you are careful, you can have a super rapey book. I might not want to read it, but I am far less likely to say “Come on dude” to you. If your book is a fairy tale and it’s super rapey, then that tends to fall into the realm of the unnecessary (as a rule! not always!). If you’re going to show sexual abuse, be prepared to deal with the emotional consequences for your characters. Don’t toss it in there because you need your characters to undergo many trials. When you do it that way, it makes me feel icky. It’s not that I’m trying to hide from the fact that rape is a real thing, it’s that I need books to treat it like a real thing, and give it the weight it deserves.

Leaving out the questionable way Thompson deals with rape in this book, the misery the characters go through was just too much misery. It was too much misery in too episodic and haphazard a way. They bounced from one miserable life to another miserable life, steady being miserable, that shorthand thing of making characters sympathetic by inflicting misery on them. There’s something to be said for putting your characters through hell, and I’m all for it, I really am, I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer as much as the next geeky girl, but you still have to make them recognizable people whose experiences change them. I didn’t feel anything for Dodola and Zam, I just sort of wanted the book to be over.

Boo. I was so excited for this book and I ended up not liking it at all and sort of wanting to give Craig Thompson the look of squinty-eyed wrath at which my family excels. I wish it had been one huge long book of stories from Muslim tradition. That would have been gorgeous and exciting and wonderful. Instead it was occasionally gorgeous and exciting and wonderful, but overwhelmingly unawesome. I’m going to go reread Blankets and make myself love Craig Thompson again.

But don’t take my word for it!

Review: Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale, the Brothers Whedon

Okay, nobody really calls them the Brothers Whedon. But perhaps they should.

The Shepherd’s Tale is the story of Shepherd Book from Firefly. If you are not a fan of Firefly, what the hell, dude? Why are you reading this review instead of watching Firefly from start to finish? I’m only going to spoil it anyway so you might as well trot along and watch it. I promise it will be worth your time. If you are a fan of Firefly, you are probably aware that Shepherd Derrial Book is a man with a mysterious past. From his keen knowledge of what the bad guys are thinking, to the fancy-pants medical treatment the Alliance gives him for free, to the time that one scary guy was all “That’s no Shepherd,” you know the man has a story to tell (“That’s my whole problem with picking up tourists; they ain’t never what they claim to be”).

The Shepherd’s Tale tells that story. It begins at the end, when the Operative has ordered an attack on Book’s home planet, and skips back and back and back in Book’s life. Before he was fighting for his life on a planet called Haven, he was shipping out on a ship called Serenity, and giving strawberries to a bright-faced girl with a parasol; and before that…you’ll have to read it to find out.

But I warn you that it left me unsatisfied. It was clunky. The transitions between time periods were TV show transitions, where Scene A ends, and Scene B starts with a line of dialogue that could have been a response to the last thing that happened in Scene A, but in fact is the beginning of Scene B. It doesn’t work quite as well in comics.

A bigger problem, as far as clunkiness goes, is that the revelation of the backstory of a character in an ensemble cast isn’t interesting when it involves zero interaction with said ensemble cast. As I was reading the comic, I kept being ZOMG, Mal’s going to be upset when he finds out about this! and then feeling sad that I would never, ever get to see Mal’s reaction to it. Book’s story is interesting on its own, I suppose, but I kept comparing it to how amazing it would have been if it had been revealed in dribs and drabs over many happy (well, this is Joss Whedon; over many bleak but enjoyable) seasons of Firefly.

Firefly comics just make my heart hurt from missing Firefly. I hate it that the show was canceled, and the movie was insufficiently successful to cause future movies to get made. I wanted so much more. I wanted Saffron to come back (and maybe in my head, she comes back and happens to mention to Mal that she didn’t kiss Inara NOT THAT I HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT THIS TOO MUCH OR ANYTHING). I wanted Inara’s and Shepherd Book’s backstories revealed, slowly, with reaction shots and snide comments from the rest of the crew. I hoped possibly there would be an episode where the Alliance tried to use Simon’s worthless parents to get at him and River. I may or may not have invented a whole scenario where Zoe got pregnant and Jayne was adorably overprotective of her.

Basically I just want Firefly back. I want it back. Please come back.

Review: Exit Wounds, Rutu Modan

Exit Wounds was a gift from Ella, formerly of Box of Books and now of Now with Pictures. Ella is fantastic. She has a series of picture vignettes about her imaginary ancestors that you really need to go investigate right now. (Here is the first one.) One time she drew an awesome picture of a memory I shared with her about playing hurricane with my sisters as a kid. Recently I came home from a smashing day of discovering $3 margaritas, and found, fittingly, a box of books on my doorstep from Ella. It contained Cold Comfort Farm, Exit Wounds, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Ratking, and The Circular Staircase. I was so excited! Having been in a minor graphic novel slump, I started with Exit Wounds. When I opened it, I discovered Ella had enclosed this adorable picture of a platypus. Yay.

Exit Wounds is all about a taxi driver in Tel Aviv called Koby Franco who is contacted by a woman named Nuni. Nuni, who has been romantically involved with Koby’s estranged father Gabriel, has begun to worry that Gabriel was killed in a recent train station bombing. She hasn’t heard from him (in several weeks, as it turns out); one of the bodies from the explosion has not yet been identified; and when Koby visits his father’s apartment, he finds it empty, with mold growing on the food in the kitchen. Though Koby is disgusted with his father for his father’s many affairs, particularly this most recent one with the much-younger Nuni, he begins to worry. He says this, which I love:

I thought I would never want to see him again as long as I lived. But now I realized that I was always sure we would meet again, sometime in the distant future. We’d finish the fight we’d been having our whole lives and then he would finally apologize.

(I sometimes worry that I’m ruining things for you by sharing the best (to me) bits of a book I’ve read. Like if I read Lolita and quoted that line about making it up very gently in my review. Only that line really depends on context to achieve its maximum chilling effect, and I think the thing I’ve just quoted is poignant anyway. Notice how I haven’t actually said the line from Lolita. By the way, you should read Lolita.)

Exit Wounds is a lovely and strange and unpredictable story. With a plot that could incline towards melodrama (a fault of which, again, I am generally extremely forgiving), Exit Wounds is surprisingly quiet and restrained. There’s never a big reveal, or a Shocking Plot Twist™, just a lot of small character moments that show you how little people are knowable, even the people theoretically closest to you.

I also liked it that Exit Wounds talked about the way its characters look. I really love it when comics do this. Sometimes they leave it alone, because it’s easy for a traditional book to say “it was like a Greek face, very pure in outline” or “an abrupt deficiency where the suave sign of benevolence should have risen”. In a graphic novel your artist has to be able to draw what you’re describing, and artists’ styles differ so much. A beautiful character can look all weird and elongated if that’s how the artist draws, and then I am always thinking, Wait, do the other characters notice her freakishly long neck and toothpick wrists? So I like it when a graphic novel hangs a lampshade on it. (“I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.”) Nuni talks about being self-conscious about the way she looks, that she’s not beautiful and slim and all the rest of it. Yay to Rutu Modan for having a non-slim-beautiful woman, and yay for depicting it in pictures and then talking about it.

Graphic novel slump semi-busted! I would now like to have a streak of graphic novels to read and enjoy as much as I did Exit Wounds. Meantime I am reading one issue of Sandman a day, right before bed. I tried this once before, when I was reading it for the first time, but I only made it halfway through A Game of You before I had to give up and read it all at once. This time I know what happens in the end, so it should be okay.

Also read Exit Wounds:

A Striped Armchair
Book Addiction
Boston Bibliophile
Largehearted Boy

Did I miss yours? Tell me!

Review: I Kill Giants, Joe Kelly and J. M. Ken Niimura

Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. Sigh.

I will never stop sighing. Every time my eye falls on this book, I heave a huge sigh. Oh, expectations. I am your slave and you always make my life more difficult if you possibly, possibly can. Why are you like this? It has been ten thousand years since I read a graphic novel that made my heart sing. Yes. Ten thousand. That’s how many years it has been. I haven’t read a graphic novel that made my heart sing since the year 7990 BCE.

Unless Gunnerkrigg Court and The Unwritten count. Just, like, no graphic novel has blown me away for a while now. I loved Bayou and Ordinary Victories, but those were, as previously mentioned, ten thousand years ago. I wanted I Kill Giants to rock my world, and although it was good, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting (hoping).

I Kill Giants is good. It is good! It’s good! It’s about a ten-year-old girl called Barbara who claims that her goal in life is to hunt and kill giants. She wears bunny ears and acts up in school, and for reasons that are not explained, she is terrified to go upstairs. She resents and quarrels with her older sister, who is attempting to take care of everything at home, the cooking and the talking about problems. But Barbara isn’t having any. Nor is she interested in discussing her issues with the guidance counselor at work, who tries to talk to her about her problems with the teachers and other kids.

The thing is, the thing is — here’s the thing. I am not the biggest fan this world has ever seen of magical realism. It’s all well enough in its place, and sometimes I like it a reasonable amount, but most of the time I would say I would rather have magic, or realism. Not some half-ass both-at-once deal. I make exceptions for Salman Rushdie. That’s it. Just Salman Rushdie. If, upon mature reflection, you find yourself not to be Salman Rushdie (or, I guess, okay, Helen Oyeyemi), then make the smart decision: Don’t write magical realism. JUST PICK A SIDE.

Please tell me what graphic novels to read. I’m begging you. I miss them. I want to reread the Sandman, but when I get done with the Sandman, I want to have something equally amazing to read. Surely there is something? I want the Diana Wynne Jones of graphic novels! Which is…yes, the Sandman. Shut up. I want the other Diana Wynne Jones of graphic novels! I will perish if I do not get this straightaway!

I spent this whole weekend in my pajamas watching movies, writing blog posts, and reading Sandman. This may mean that I don’t deserve any good graphic novels, or it may mean I had a long and stressful week and deserve good graphic novels times infinity. I’m inclined toward the latter.

Believe these reviews, not mine:

things mean a lot
Rebecca Reads
The Zen Leaf
Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
Reading Rants
Book Sake

As ever, please tell me if I missed yours!

Runaways (vol. 1), Brian K. Vaughn and Adrian Adolpha

Runaways has been sounding wonderful to me for a while now. It’s a comic book about a group of kids whose parents turn out to be supervillains. The kids witness their parents sacrificing a young woman; duly horrified, they run away from home. Their parents are supervillains and they all run away! Supervillains! Their parents are supervillains! As premises for comic books go, this is a fun one. With runaway children, and parents that are supervillains. It was adorable and charming in many ways.

I am sitting here heaving huge sighs of unhappiness, because I wanted to and in many ways did like this book. It made reference to The Prisoner. The kids all have different powers and do different things. I think it’s possible that if I had read this book in single issues, one at a time over several weeks, rather than in a big compendium of the whole run of comics, the problem that bothered the crap out of me would have bothered me less. But I didn’t do that. I read it all in one day, on the drive to and then back from visiting my grandmother.

Briefly, what stopped me enjoying Runaways was race stuff. I wasn’t happy with the portrayal of the only set of black parents. I’m about to spoil a whole bunch of things about this volume of the series, so if you don’t want to know, stop reading. Fairly enormous spoilers follow.

First of all, there are twelve parents, but the guy to shank the poor, innocent, teenage girl at the beginning is the black father. Then it’s the black mother who shoots the cop nonfatally, and subsequently, when the cop gets shot fatally, guess who does it? The black father! Oh, yeah, and check out the backstory. All the parents were engaged in their various activities when they were summoned by the Super Evil Evil People, who then set them on the path to supervillainy. One set of parents were scientists, one time-travellers, one mutants being persecuted, one aliens checking out the earth, and one magicians. Guess what the black parents were doing before they became supervillains? They were petty thieves! They robbed people with guns! That’s what they did before they became supervillains. Nice, eh?

Oh, but wait, I am not quite done. Hold for the really huge spoilers. When the book starts, and the kids are first running away, the parents get a note that basically says Dear parents, I still love and trust you and will tell you where we are soon; and then throughout the book you are always wondering who the mole is. Personally, I was hoping that the note was part of a cleverly masterminded plan to fool the parents. I was hoping that, and ignoring evidence to the contrary, because–why? Because I didn’t want the mole to be the one of the kids never really under serious suspicion of being the mole. But it was. It was the black kid. Who then dies in the final battle.

In short, the black characters seemed disproportionately criminal and wicked compared to the others, without any real plot reason for them to be that way. And the longer the book went on, and the more I wanted to find it fun and awesome, the more I felt I could not find it fun and awesome because I was so uncomfortable with the race stuff. Frown.

Burma Chronicles & Love and Rockets

And now for some comics that did not rock my world but count towards the Graphic Novels Challenge anyway:

Burma Chronicles, Guy Delisle

Once again Guy Delisle, French-Canadian animator and cartoonist, went a-traveling to a faraway land with an oppressive regime.  In this case, his wife Nadège was working for Médecins sans Frontières (MSF); Nadège, Guy, and their small son Louis take off for Burma (Myanmar) for a year.  Delisle notes at the beginning of the book that the UN has recognized the regime and calls it Myanmar, but that many countries, including Canada, have not.  Hence Burma.

If I hadn’t read Pyongyang first, I think I’d have liked Burma Chronicles better. Burma Chronicles is charming, with keenly noted observations of day-to-day life in Burma, but Pyongyang was so chilling and scary that it was hard for this one to live up to it.  Because Delisle was in Burma longer than he was in North Korea, he got to know people better, but you’d never know it from the book.  He has an eye for detail but not an ear for conversation.  His wife’s present throughout the book, and I never had any idea what she was like.

This isn’t to say that I no longer love Guy Delisle.  At first his wife believes that they will be going to Guatemala rather than Burma, and Delisle immediately pops Star Trek into the DVD player and starts playing it in Spanish.  A man after my own heart.  I love watching Buffy in French.  Plus there’s a picture of him trying to bathe his son in a shower that’s worth the price of admission all by itself.  Tip: Don’t try to bathe a baby in the shower.

Love and Rockets, vol. 1, by the Hernandez Brothers

Am I stupid?  Stupid in the head?  Very, very stupid?  I think I must be extremely stupid, y’all, because I swear to Jesus, I was reading these stories and they did not make sense to my brain.  I have heard that Love and Rockets is glorious.  It may be glorious but it is right over my head.

Any thoughts on this?  If you loved Love and Rockets, please tell me what I’m missing.  I have heard good things!  I don’t want to lose a good graphic novel series around being a fail reader.  Should I persist into volume two?  Now that Delisle has given me a taste for travel writing, do you have any recommendations along that line?  Good travel books?  Anyone?

Pyongyang, Guy Delisle

I first heard about Guy Delisle over at A Life in Books, when Lesley reviewed Pyongyang, and since then it seems he’s been popping up all over the place.  Delisle writes travelogues in comics form of the time he has spent living in countries with oppressive regimes, which is a slightly weird thing to be known for, but never mind.  Pyongyang chronicles Delisle’s two-month stay in North Korea, where he is supervising the animation of a children’s cartoon.

From the first page I loved Pyongyang.  Delisle starts by excerpting the travel information he’s received about going to North Korea.  “Do not do anything on your own,” says one of them, and indeed Delisle is not supposed to go anywhere without his guide.  The guide is responsible for ensuring that Delisle sees and hears the best of North Korea, and is always taking him to see monuments of Kim Jong-Il, or pointing out “volunteers” cleaning up roads or picking up trash.

Delisle has an excellent eye for small, chilling details of life in North Korea.  At one point he notes that only married men with children are permitted to travel outside of North Korea.  He leaves it at that, but the implication is obvious.  What creeped me out the most is when Delisle realizes he hasn’t seen any handicapped people since coming to North Korea.  He asks his guide, and the guide says there are none.  Everyone in North Korea is born strong and healthy and intelligent.

I always think it must be very difficult to end a travelogue.  The obvious ending to a travelogue is, And then I went home, but that’s not necessarily very satisfying, particularly if, as in Delisle’s case, you have been writing about some serious, important issues.  Pyongyang doesn’t just end, it has an ending.  Props, Guy Delisle.

I am afraid that Burma Chronicles will be unable to meet the standard set by Pyongyang, but so far it is also good.  Updates as warranted.  This review brought to you by the Graphic Novels Challenge!  Which I’d completely forgotten about, along with all my other challenges, until I noticed that someone else had read Pyongyang for the Graphic Novels Challenge, so I guess I cannot really say that this review was, in fact, brought to you by the Graphic Novels Challenge.  That reminds me, I bet some of the books I have read recently can go towards some of my other challenges, and I didn’t even notice.  Dear, dear, dear, I am plainly teetering on the edge of senility here.

Other people reviewed it too:

A Life in Books
A Striped Armchair
The Captive Reader
The Bookling
Helen’s Book Blog

Have I missed yours?  Tell me and I’ll add a link!

Guest review: Blankets, Craig Thompson

That’s right, everyone!  My puppy voice paid off!  My mumsy has agreed to review Blankets here guestily.  I am hoping that she will find she loves doing guest reviews and will subsequently write about some of the cool and interesting books she read when she was getting her master’s degree in pastoral theology.  She has many books about women in the Bible and feminism in Catholicism and like that, and I would slap a Women Unbound label on the reviews she would write of them, and then I would pretend they counted towards my totals.  Because I have been shamefully neglecting that challenge this month.

So, without further ado, heeeeeeeeeeere’s Mumsy!

Blankets, Craig Thompson
(a review by Jenny’s lovely mum)

First, a somewhat shaming confession:  when I was a kid, I would deliberately make friends with kids whose parents would spring for comic books.  I was a big reader anyway, anything from “Little Women” to the back of the Cap’n Crunch box, but I was a truly impassioned comic books fan.  So the graphic novel format is already close to my heart.

“Blankets” is Craig Thompson’s memoir of his childhood in an intensely religious, rigidly fundamentalist home.  Wedged between his family and community’s punitive, authoritarian God and his own compelling need to draw and write, young Craig is a  loner and a misfit who wants desperately to  find a way to please God while maintaining some vestige of inner integrity.  Some of this is painful to read – Thompson is very, very good at drawing emotional turmoil, and  the first episode of this novel was so heart-wrenching that I wasn’t sure I could continue reading.

But then, oh then, in his senior year of high school, he meets Raina at church camp.

And that is where Blankets moves from being an interesting memoir to being the most moving story of first love that I have ever read.  Thompson has a true artist’s gift for total recall, and he has not forgotten one beat of his heart from that year: his drawings of his two weeks at Raina’s house seem to actually shimmer with passion.  Wielding the graphic novel format with the skill of a master, Thompson never has to use more that the simplest prose to convey sweeping, transcendent emotion.  Craig’s love for Raina is his first genuine experience of the divine – the experience he so longed for, and never found, in church – and he is able to convey this with absolute simplicity and overwhelming tenderness.

I love memoirs, but my one objection to them has always been that I sometimes cringe when I imagine what the publication of the memoir did to the relationships of the author with his significant others.  (I once heard an author say that when you lived with a writer, you always knew there was an assassin in the family.)  So kudos to Thompson for respecting the privacy of both family and friends, while penning a memoir so nakedly open that one is shaken at the end by how much he revealed of his inner life.  And more than kudos to Thompson for using his beautiful drawings so brilliantly, often conveying in a single panel what could not have been expressed in a thousand words.  The two panels in which his parents express their deep pride in their grown son, while remaining utterly oblivious to the man he really is, are truly impressive.

Other reviews:

things mean a lot
The Zen Leaf
Regular Rumination
A Life in Books
Stuff as Dreams Are Made On
Book Addiction
Melody’s Reading Corner
Rhapsody in Books
A Good Stopping Point
Sophisticated Dorkiness
Shelf Love
Book Lust
Bart’s Bookshelf
One Swede Read
Reading Rants!
Should Be Reading
So Many Books
1 More Chapter
Experiments in Reading
One Literature Nut

Phew!  That was many! Let me know if I missed yours.

Review: Swallow Me Whole, Nate Powell

Y’all, at some point, I’m going to do a mental illness reading challenge.  Is there already one?  I’m going to do one if there isn’t already one.  I love mental illness (I mean I do not love it.  It is awful and ruins people’s lives.  I just find it very interesting).  As soon as I think of a clever name and invent an adorable button, I will be all over this, and Swallow Me Whole is one of the books you can read for it.  PREPARE YOURSELVES.

I read Swallow Me Whole for the Graphic Novels Challenge!

Swallow Me Whole is about two step-siblings called Ruth and Perry who both see and hear things that other people can’t.  Perry sees a small wizard creature who tells him what to do, sometimes things he doesn’t want to do.  Ruth collects insects in jars and rearranges them endlessly; she hears them speak, and she believes that she can perceive patterns that most of the world is missing.  Ruth starts taking pills; Perry does not.

At first I had some problems with the style of art and the lettering.  The lines are slightly wavery, and the letters are too, and I kept having to read the words twice.  I thought: Aha!  This is what people complain about when they say they have a hard time with graphic novels!  Overwhelming art and letters!  In the end, though, I adjusted and enjoyed the book quite a bit.  Like Ruth and Perry, the reader is not always sure what’s real and what isn’t.  It’s disorienting and scary, which makes it easy to sympathize with the characters.  I love it that Nate Powell writes characters with severe mental illnesses, while keeping them relatable.

I wasn’t a hundred percent sure what happened at the end though.  It made me feel stupid.  I hate it when I finish books and feel stupid.  I finished and felt stupid and resented Nate Powell with his, you know, wobbly lines, and I went online to see what he had to say for himself.  And you know what he said?  He said if there was ambiguity, it was probably down to bad storytelling.  Actually in this case I think I am just stupid, but I appreciate Nate Powell for saying that.

Mental illness challenge.  I’m going to do it.

Other reviews:

Stuff As Dreams Are Made On (thanks for the recommendation!)
Reading Thru the Night

Let me know if I missed yours!

Review: Gunnerkrigg Court, Tom Siddell

Can this count as part of the mini-challenge where we read graphic novels with animals in?  Animals are not main characters exactly, but they are around, and rather important.  And I didn’t like the other graphic novel I read for the mini-challenge, so I hereby decree Gunnerkrigg Court counts.  So let it be written; so let it be done.

Gunnerkrigg Court is about a girl called Antimony Carver, who goes to live at a boarding school called Gunnerkrigg Court, following the death of her mother.  (Her father is off somewhere doing some sort of we don’t know what he’s doing.)  It is a webcomic that gets updated three times a week, so if you want to read the whole of it from the beginning, you easily can at its website.  I read the first volume in book form (at the recommendation of Bride of the Book God), and the rest of it at the website. It is still going on!  You have not come to it too late to join the webcomic party!  And Gunnerkrigg Court just gets better and better as it goes on!

Boarding school stories are wonderful.  Gunnerkrigg Court follows Antimony, with her magicky powers, and her best friend Kat, with her sciencey wisdom, as they learn more about the school and the world of science and magic around them.  Their parents were at the school before them, doing magic-and-science type things, and Kat and Antimony find out about that too.  Siddell incorporates elements of different mythologies into the world – Antimony, for instance, encounters Muut out of Egyptian mythology and Reynard from Alsace-Lorrain-ian folk tales.  (I remember that because MY PEOPLE were from Alsace-Lorrain, lo these many years ago, so I used to really like the Reynard myths.)

This is the second of two graphic novels I have read recently that reminded me of a particular good things comics can do, that books can’t.  When a comic is released serially, it can deviate from the ordinary narrative of the series, for one or two issues or even loads of them at a time (cf. World’s End, Dream Country, Fables and Reflections) and tell other stories.  These stories can illuminate some other part of the comic’s fictional world, or expand on the themes of the series, or give you the whole thing from a different character’s perspective.  The story about Rudyard Kipling and Oscar Wilde in The Unwritten contributed something to the reader’s understanding of the world, definitely, but it wasn’t directly related to Tom (er, as far as I know).  It was its own separate thing.  Similarly, Gunnerkrigg Court has several chapters that are self-contained stories, looking into characters’ backgrounds, or just letting the characters have some fun.

I guess books can do this – cf. American Gods – but it tends to irritate me, when it’s a book.  I am all, STOP IT.  LET ME GET BACK TO MY STORY.  I am all, WHERE ARE SHADOW AND MR. WEDNESDAY? and I stomp about in a temper.

Other reviews:

Bride of the Book God (thanks for the recommendation!)
Reading Rants

Tell me if I missed yours!