Saturday, December 16, 2017

Reader's Diary #1687- Samya Kullab, Jackie Roche, and Mike Freiheit: Escape from Syria

I don't know where one would have to live in the world right now not to have heard about the troubles in Syria and the plight of the millions of displaced Syrians. Canada too has done a share of welcoming refugees.

Still, unless you've encountered the Syrian immigrants, it's hard sometimes to put a face on the tragedy. It's news. Something that happens to other people.

Samya Kullab's Escape from Syria helps personalize the crisis, following one specific family. It is probably best aimed at mature juveniles, teens, and adults, as she doesn't shy away from the violent images when they are necessary. There's an explosion on the very second page. There are heads on spikes later.

It follows a family first as they escape to Lebanon and try to gain some semblance of normalcy. The country is over-burdened however and their efforts begin to look in vain. They are a resistant sort however and eventually they get sponsored to come to Canada. They are worried that the culture shock will be too much and that they will not be accepted.

Kullab offers a very balanced picture, perhaps owing to her journalism background, and any sentimentality comes across as genuine, unforced.

The art is deceivingly simple. I was first reminded of old Sunday school comics. However, artistic touches help elevate the tale. I especially like the use of repetition to hit home points. In one scene for example, Amina the teenage daughter is studying. Her position on the floor with a book in front doesn't change while her family enters and leaves in the background across several panels. In one, they have placed a blanket over her as the night has grown cold.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Reader's Diary #1686- Allie Brosh: Hyperbole and a Half

Thanks to Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half, a few nights back my wife gave up on trying to sleep beside me and instead videoed my laughing fit. I'm talking tears down my cheeks, stomach muscles clamping up, the works. Eventually she stopped recording and told me I wasn't allowed to read it anymore that night. I put it down and attempted reading Canterbury Tales instead but then I'd recall a detail from a story in Hyperbole and a Half and the giggles would come on again. It was ridiculous.

I honestly did not expect to like this book that much. I've seen the character around before; the crudely drawn character supposed to represent Allie Brosh herself. I'd never been clear on what it's supposed to be: a worm? a penis? And that yellow-triangle on her head? A hat? Her hair?

But my god does she squeeze emotion out of that thing. That, along with the sarcastic, self-deprecating, slightly dark humour and I was won completely over.

On top of that, Brosh offered a few genuinely touching stories about depression that captured what it feels like like nothing else I've ever read.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Reader's Diary #1685- Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig (writers), various artists: The Shield Daughter of the Revolution

Archie Comics, still on a high, have wisely decided to revisit the superhero line (published under their Dark Circle label). Also wise is their decision to modernize and take the opportunity to get things right.

The Shield was one of the cheesier properties with its over-the-top patriotism. That's not a huge hurdle to clear as Marvel has managed to keep Captain America relevant and as popular as ever. But he was also yet another straight, white male character. With this relaunch they at least change one of those. This time the Shield is female. She's still white. Her sexuality didn't come up.

Revamping a character also requires an origin story and while I've never been one to mind a good origin tale, I know some folks are tired of them and I think even they would be pleased with how it's handled here. Rather than told in a straightforward manner, a modern day Shield finds herself having bizarre flashbacks to the American Revolution. She knows this is impossible (or believes so anyway) and so her origin story is revealed slowly as she pieces clues together and starts reclaiming more and more memories.

Even the patriotic angle is well done as it is unclear at some points who's side she is on and whether or not flag-waving for the American government makes her a hero.

Despite wrestling with her identity, she is presented as both physically and mentally strong and dressed in a cool uniform that is appropriate for fighting.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Reader's Diary #1684- Richard F. Outcault: The Yellow Kid Comic Strips 1895 - 1898

Many students of comic books have heard of Richard F. Outcault's Yellow Kid comic strips, but I'd venture to guess that a relative few have actually read them.

Outcault is often credited with the first comic strip, though that is debatable. Less debatable is his simple innovation that would change comics forever: the speech balloon.

I'm not sure that in itself warrants reading the comics, but the art isn't bad. Mostly depicting children from a fictional slum and home to a large immigrant population, the line work is somewhat reminiscent of John Tenniel's Alice in Wonderland illustrations. Many aren't true comic strips but rather cartoons (single panels and therefor non-sequential), but even these are filled with activity and detail. I would not be surprised to hear that they held influence on Norman Rockwell or Will Eisner as I can similarities in both.

The writing is, however, not great. I suppose some of it is lost through time. No doubt some of the satirical targets have been forgotten. But attempts at humour are not great. It's mostly people spouting misspelled phrases (trying to capture accents and grammar, I suppose) and some poorly done slapstick.

It's also racist but perhaps not in the way you'd think. While "yellow" is sometimes used by racists to refer to Asians but in this case it only refers to the colour of the kid's gown. Black people, however, are really treated poorly; as caricatures, as lower-class. The N-word is used, as is the word "coon."

UP History and Hobby who published this collection was careful to note these offensive depictions but offering the book as is nonetheless as a historical artifact. That said, they could have taken more time with the production. It's really just coloured photocopies of the originals and so, some of the text is too blurry and should have been restored. One page is photocopied twice.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Reader's Diary #1683- Jacques de Pierpont (writer), Hervé Bourhis (artist): Heavy Metal

Heavy Metal was my first music love. So, when I found this "Little Book of Knowledge" on the subject, I had high hopes that Jacques de Pierpont and Hervé Bourhis would do for the genre what Ed Piskor did for Hip Hop. I also hadn't been really attentive to heavy metal for sometime now and so I was hoping that it would help me get caught up.

First off, it's not as readable as Piskor's books which tend to treat hip hop legends almost as story characters. Heavy Metal is more like a chronologically arranged book of heavy metal trivia. As luck would have it, I'm also a fan of trivia so this wasn't a huge problem.

Secondly, a large portion of the book dealt with the history of the music and so I didn't necessarily brush up on as many new artists as I'd hoped. Still, it was nice to revisit some facts and figures that I'd forgotten and I did get a few new names and songs to add to my playlists. I also never really paid much attention to anything heavier than thrash and de Pierpont more than adequately delved into death, black, and doom metal.

Bourhis's illustrations were good; stylistic, heavy on the black ink (appropriate), though without much of a narrative, it's hard to say how he'd deal with sequential art.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Reader's Diary #1682- Anna Paquier: A Potted Cactus

Anna Paquier's "A Potted Cactus" is labeled on the Short Edition website as humorous, and indeed it's that. There's a quirky sensibility that is helped by the quick pace of the tale.

It is, however, still about a young man who has been hit by a truck and near death. There are themes about the afterlife and it could provoke readers to consider what they would do with their own lives if given a second chance.

Plus, it's set at Christmas, so an all around good read!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Reader's Diary #1681- Gemma Correll: The Worrier's Guide to Life

Gemma Correll's The Worrier's Guide to Life reminded me somewhat of the type of humour my best friend/ cousin and I had as children: to be funny, you just need to escalate the punchlines to the point of ridiculousness. Of course, being young boys we had a lot of diarrhea jokes thrown in for good measure and Correll's comedy is decidedly much more mature than that, but the idea is the same. Take a milk moustache and then explore other dairy-based facial hair: yogurt unibrow, pat o' butter soul patch, etc.

So yes, it's funny and I'm sure most will find it amusing, but it's also a bit formulaic (list heavy). I'm not sure that it wouldn't grow tiresome in a longer or second book but that's for Correll to worry about.