Tuesday, February 17, 2015
YALSA top ten GNs 2009: Cairo
Written by G. Willow Wilson. Illuastrated by M. K. Perker.
Published by DC/Vertigo (2008)
It's kind of interesting to go back and read someone's first published work after they become super famous (well... relatively super famous). Wilson is now (by far) best known for her work on Ms. Marvel (which was on this year's YALSA top ten GN list), but back in 2007 she was writing for Vertigo.
I owned the first volume Air (the series Wilson did at Vertigo after Cairo), and while I even talked to Wilson at a con I don't believe I ever actually read it. I had actually read this book before, which seems kind of strange to be honest. Air lasted 24 issues, which by the records of Vertigo series from the last decade or so is actually pretty good.
As for Cairo, well, it reminds me of an action movie. Not a "shoot them until everyone is dead" movie, but a "lots of disparate characters running around doing different things while other people shoot at them" movie. There are six main characters in the book, who get thrown into random pairs as they circle events about a hookah that has a djinn/jinn/genie inside it. A male drug smuggler who's trying to get the hookah back ends up with a female Israeli soldier who just wants to go back to Israel without getting killed. A young, white American girl on holiday and an Egyptian journalist get kidnapped as hostages and have to escape. And there's the young, male Lebanese-American who was going to be a suicide bomber until his flight got cancelled and he ended up trying to help a jinn.
They run around Egypt trying to find each other, escaping bad guys (wait, an Israeli soldier, a potential suicide bomber, and a drug smuggler count as good guys?), encountering magic stuff and entities, and fighting goons and/or monsters. The difference between this and other stories is that it was made by Muslim creators, and thus their knowledge of and experience with other countries/cultures can create a different world (though considering that Wilson converted to Islam like five years before this book came out you might want to question the accuracy of everything).
As for the art by M. K. Perker (who also drew Wilson's series Air), it didn't really grab me. The layout is fine, the panel to panel story telling works, and there are even a couple of pretty fun fourth-wall breaking bits. However, I think that at the time this comic came out Perker was a lot more used to editorial cartooning (at least that's what I can surmise from his Wikipedia page), and I suspect drawing a full 150 page graphic novel was quite a different experience for him.
Looking through Cairo again I think my major problem is with the faces of the characters. They look kind of awkward? Maybe that's not the right word, but it seems as though their features, while expressive, don't always fit on their faces right, as though they were the wrong size. Now, just to clarify, this isn't always the case, and their are times when the characters are supposed to look kind of weird, however it does happen just enough for it to be noticeable by me. Looking at his work since then, Perker doesn't seem to have this problem anymore (his stuff for The Unwritten looks really nice), so I think it was just inexperience.
Looking at the YALSA lists you have to remember one thing: these are not the "best" books of the year, these are "great graphic novels for teens". I think that means that there's a greater emphasis on teenage characters, but also on non-white characters, LGBTQ characters, and other people who are generally underrepresented in our media as a whole. Librarians are far more likely to think about those sorts of things than the Eisner judges (who, while they generally pick very good books, have also only ever chosen comics about white people or animals to win their "Best Publication for Teens" award). For librarians it's important to help people find books that appeal to them and feature characters like them, but also provide books that represent different viewpoints than library users have experienced before. On that level, I think Cairo probably succeeds, at least in an "action movie" kind of way.