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Review: 'I Kill Giants' by Kelly & Nimura


Jumbie
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Barbara is a 12-year-old who hides a magic giant-killing hammer in her purse. And she knows how to use it too.

 

Or maybe she's just the class weirdo who is letting too many Dungeons & Dragons games get to her head?

 

This well-written, stand-alone book starts off hinting that the giants are a fantasy, but there is never any explicit tell. Barbara confounds her family, her teachers and her peers with her insistence that they cannot judge her until they know what it is to be elbows deep in the guts of a freshly killed giant and that their world is too trivial for people who have grand missions like hers.

 

Barbara gets funny one-liners in regularly, but what makes the writing good is that it never feels like that is all there is to her and we can sense that she is probably just playing a part or at least channeling real stress into these dismissive lines. The people who get in her way are not villains either. So it helps to create more ambiguity about Barbara's struggles to be left alone and her verbal jousting. It raises the question that maybe she's just a self-involved brat.

 

The writing, combined with emotive black & white art, builds up its story through scenes of Barbara preparing for an upcoming giant manifestation, meeting a new neighbor who might become her first friend, struggling with her family dynamics and always, always Barbara's obsession with the secret upstairs at home, the thing she hides from every day, the thing that she never lets anyone talk to her about...

 

The tension pays off in the last 1/3 as the climax hits, along with a storm that engulfs Barbara's seaside town, and we get a resolution to the giant-killing aspect of Barbara's life.

 

The one negative for me was a minor issue with the art. And it's only because 'I Kill Giants' has been touted over the years as a book for reluctant middle-grade readers or for getting prose readers into comics. Kids who are unfamiliar with comics don't always have the artistic vocabulary to follow panel narratives and books that stray from a clean style can be disorienting for veteran readers much less newcomers.

 

 

In 'I Kill Giants,'  it can be hard to figure out who is who sometimes or orient yourself in a scene because it uses a more impressionistic style. This is compounded by being black & white. e.g. the big fight culminates with a splash page that is confusing. First, because there have been no splash pages before this, so we haven't been trained to look for it and second because the left half of the splash seems to stand well on its own so the right half seems at first to be its own separate thing. And the character who is on both pages doesn't seem like one character because it's all black brush strokes and doesn't at first seem to be one person's body.

 

I think when the famous gateway comic 'Bone' went color to appeal to kids more that was the right choice. It helps separate out characters and make the narrative easier to follow for youngsters new to the art form. Given that so much of 'I Kill Giants' current marketing is kid-targeted, I think that a newer, color version is needed.

 

Anyway, the art complaint is all minor and only from the point-of-view of using comics as literacy aids. Otherwise, this book works well all around to tell a self-contained story about a likable character, using art that engages you.

Edited by Jumbie
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