Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 200

I Kill Giants

by Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura
Genre notes: fifth graders, fantasy, calamity, tears
184 pages
ISBN: 1607060922 (Amazon)

I Kill Giants exploits expectations in order to tell a story that, while common, is made special by its telling. The creative team breathes a crispness into Barbara Thorson’s imaginative life that many such tales lack—and those stories, in their lack, are built of shallow caricatures that never come to life for the reader. Traveling with Barbara through the travails of her fifth grader’s existence, we are given a unique vantage into the lives and motivations of much of her supporting cast. There are still clichés that never entirely extricate themselves from the crushing weight of their familiarity (for instance the story’s bully, Taylor, is just like every other storybook bully you’ve ever encountered in bad literature), but for the most part Kelly’s script is a relief.

Accordingly, Niimura’s visual work impresses when one considers just how easy it would have been to really screw up the story by producing the wrong kind of art. When Niimura draws giants, they are impressive. When Niimura draws Barbara the giant slayer, she is awkwardly confident. When Niimura draws the intersection of fantasy and reality, we find ourselves either charmed or chilled according to Niimura’s direction.

In any case, I Kill Giants is the story of Barbara Thorson. Who kills giants. Or so she tells just about everyone.

Barbara is, sigh, precocious and outspoken. She’s a bit geek (she's into D&D and baseball history) and has a difficult homelife. Her interaction with teachers (and school psychologist as a result of her interaction with teachers) doesn’t cry out for emulation. She seems to almost purposely make enemies with those around her. And yet, despite the difficulties she presents for herself (and for the reader who wants to sympathize), she cuts figure as an able protagonist. She’s far from perfect and—for this story at least—we prefer her for it.

Amidst portents of the arrival of a grave doom, the heralding of a coming giant, Barbara has to negotiate a society with which she shares no interest. Against her wishes, the society around her makes many overtures of peace and goodwill. Some make ground while others break it. And all the while, the unseen world becomes increasingly active as the prophesied doom grows ever nearer. In the end, it’s in Barbara’s interactions with both worlds and their inevitable clash that I Kill Giants’ story takes shape.

And it was wonderful to take in.

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