Thursday, August 07, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #219: I Kill Giants by Kelly & Niimura

If, as Shaw said, all progress depends on the unreasonable man, then we can expect Barbara Thorson to drive a lot of progress in her time. She is deeply, massively unreasonable -- world-class stubborn and entirely bull-headed, totally devoted to a particular view of the world that is shared by no one at all around her.

To make it worse for Barbara, she's a fifth-grader, so no one is likely to listen to her in the first place. She's bullied horribly by nastier, larger girls -- but gives as well as she gets, since she's fearless and has the towering courage of her vastly unrealistic ambitions. Barbara, you see, claims to be a giant-slayer: claims that the world is full of horrible, misshapen, massive creatures of legend, that emerge now and then and can only be stopped by death.

Her story is I Kill Giants (of course!), written by Joe Kelly and drawn in an impressionistic, chiaroscuro swirl of tension and livewire energy by JM Kim Niimura.

The first question anyone would ask: are there actually giants in Barbara's story, hulking creatures that must be killed? Or is it all a metaphor for something more everyday but equally devastating? Yes. Yes and yes. I Kill Giants is in that odd netherworld of genre comics, where ominous supernatural forces represent and embody emotional and personal crises, along with just a few other books like Nate Powell's Swallow Me Whole and Sam Kieth's The Maxx. Yes, Barbara does have to fight giants. Yes, "giant" is a whopping great metaphor for something else. Both are true, and both are needed to make I Kill Giants the engrossing story it is.

Barbara is a wonderful, fascinating creation -- one of the least crowd-pleasing main characters in comics ever. She's a kid, she's a girl, she's angry and cruel and dysfunctional, she's obsessive and grumpy and lashes out at the few people who try to befriend and help her. She always wears bunny ears that are never mentioned by anyone else. She is everything Big Comics avoids: not imposing, not sexy, not friendly, not relatable, not even the fun kind of crazy. But she is absolutely, uniquely Barbara: a perfect fictional creation in a world formed precisely around her.

I came to this book several years late -- it was originally published as a short comics series in 2008, and collected in 2010. But there are always more books that any of us haven't heard of or haven't read than ones we have, so it's probably new to many of you. And it's entirely worth searching out.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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