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Monday, May 21, 2018

Reader's Diary #1830- JoAnn Chateau: Bernie Goes to the Vatican


(This is a pre-written post scheduled to appear while I am vacationing in Italy, Vatican City, San Marino, and Monaco.)

JoAnn Chateau's "Bernie Goes to the Vatican" is a lighthearted story about a Bernie Sanders fan / dog-sitter. The connection to Bernie's Vatican speech, loss of the New York Primary, and walking an overly-enthusiastic dog is a tenuous but I think it's about finding solace through animals. In any case, it's an amusing tale and Chateau writes slapstick well.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1829- Libby Whittall Catling: The Mundane and The Holy

The Mundane and The Holy is nearly a perfect title for this collection of essays from newspaper columnist Libby Whittall Catling.

Dealing with her new life living in the bush in Reliance, Northwest Territories, the episodes are often practical (dealing with farming, hunting, cooking, and so on) but also with a philosophical bent. Holy typically conjures up ideas of Christianity but Catling's outlook is more land-based spirituality.

I wasn't surprised to see at one point she referenced Henry David Thoreau as I found myself prior to that drawing such comparisons anyway. And, to be honest, my comparisons were more in favour of Catling. I thought her style was far more accessible and humble while no less profound or useful. The only comparison to work out in Thoreau's favour was that there were too many typos in Catling's book.

I had to put myself in check a couple of times while reading it. For the most part, Catling's essays are uplifting. She seems to have found a real peace and contentment living far removed from society. She didn't downplay the dangers or the hard work, but nonetheless I found myself romanticizing it. Then I reminded myself that 1. I'm already content and 2. Libby moved there with a man who'd lived that lifestyle for 40 years and knows what he's doing whereas my wife and I would surely die within a couple of months tops.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1828- Richard Van Camp: When We Play Our Drums, They Sing / Monique Gray Smith: Lucy and Lola

Presented as flip book of novellas, Richard Van Camp's When We Play Our Drums, They Sing and Monique Gray Smith's Lucy and Lola are both part of a "Journey Fourward: Novellas on Reconciliation" series.

In Richard's book, a preteen boy name Dene Cho has gotten at trouble at school and has been assigned to meet a local elder to learn about his Dene culture. This is somewhat up his alley however as he is very proud of his culture and in fact, it was a cultural misunderstanding that led to his trouble in the first place. He is quite angry about such trouble, especially given the way his people have been treated by schools in the past. He is also very concerned that things have not gotten any better. There's a sense that this has come at the right time in his life. While his anger is undeniably justified, where he goes next, how he uses this anger, could set the tone for the rest of his life. Thankfully the elder he befriends is patient and with the aid of stories and drumming, sets Dene Cho on a path of teaching and leadership.

I questioned if Dene Cho's character was just precocious or whether or not Van Camp's depiction was too heavy-handed. I also question if I'm in any position to judge how much subtlety another culture's messages need. In any case, I found the character of the school principal more personally provocatively. He's white and has a lot to learn about the local culture. On the other hand, he's been there for 27 years, which shows at least some dedication, and his assignment for Dene Cho (complete with an invitation to invite Elders into the school to help teach the staff and students) suggests it's not too late for him.

Monique Gray Smith's Lucy and Lola involves a set of preteen twins who are staying with their Kookum (grandmother) over the summer while their mother is off at school studying to pass her bar exam. They are upset at first to be away from their mom for so long, but thankfully their grandmother is a patient teacher and lets them know they are loved. They also meet up with their mother again for a brief but emotional reunion. It is then that the three generations discuss residential school ramifications and moving forward. Smith balances the heavy (but important) messages with a sweet and often funny subplot involving a pug.


Friday, May 18, 2018

Reader's Diary #1827- Mark Waid (writer), Alex Ross (artist): Kingdom Come

I recently read Kurt Busiek's Marvels and was blown away by Alex Ross's artwork so went seeking more, landing on Mark Waid's Kingdom Come originally written in 1996.

I wasn't as blown away this time. Ross's talent is still remarkable here; his lighting is unbelievable and his style with gouache paint lends a seriousness and respectability to a story with literary intentions.

But I'm less convinced about those literary intentions. I feel that Mark Waid circled around heavy, important themes but never quite landed on them. Or they were lost in a muddled story. It involves a aged and retired Justice League in a world that has now been overrun with new heroes with questionable values and methods. While taking on the newcomers, it's implied that the original characters were somehow responsible for this new state of affairs in the first place.

I feel like it could be a parable for the power passing from one generation to the next but I'd have to read it again to see if that works.

Because of the plethora of characters and busy plot, it was harder for me to attend to Ross's art.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Reader's Diary #1826- Iasmin Omar Ata: Mis(h)adra

I don't mean to suggest that they are the same simply due to the fact that they're both about people with epilepsy, but while reading Iasmin Omar Ata's Mis(h)adra I found myself recalling David B.'s Epileptic. But don't worry, the comparisons are all favourable. Both have beautifully creative ways of expressing what it feels like to have a seizure and largely colour is used in this expression. In Epileptic, it's with thick black inks, and in Mis(h)adra the yellow and pinks of healthy day to day life is contrasted with shocking blacks and reds (as well as "shaken" lines and shifting angles) during seizures.

Still, the experiences of the central characters are quite different. In Epileptic, a family grasps at any potential cure they can find, while in Mis(h)adra, Isaac struggles just to get someone to even believe him. 

Besides the fascinating look at a condition I've not actually seen in person (to my knowledge), I also enjoyed the softer, slower story about finding and accepting supportive people despite at times when it feels like no one will ever understand or care.

A final note on the characters; they reminded me stylistically of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim art. No surprise, I suppose, to see that he provided a glowing blurb for the cover!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Reader's Diary #1825- Bill Braden: Aurora Up!

Bill Braden's Aurora Up! is essentially two books in one and while I personally found the first more interesting, this is not necessarily how others would feel.

I've been told a little about the history behind Northern Lights tourism in Yellowknife. The story goes that it wasn't that long ago that the first potential tour operator presented his case to local business groups and wasn't taken all that seriously. People traveling all the way to Yellowknife to see northern lights? Niche market at best. But even in the short span that I've lived here (going on one decade), I've noticed an astronomical climb in this kind of tourism. There are many operators around town and it's not uncommon to fly back home to Yellowknife and be one of a handful of locals surrounded by tourists.


The first half is mostly about northern lights in general. Braden gets into the various cultural interpretations as well as the science behind them. He even discusses photography tips. Yellowknife is particularly well situated to view the northern lights and Braden explains why.

The second half revolves around the City itself; the culture, the climate, the history, and industry. Again, tourists and other outsiders would likely find this half more compelling. For locals there's unlikely to be any new info here as it's rather surface level, and also, as it's meant more as a marketing tool, it paints a really rosy picture. I love Yellowknife (else I wouldn't be here), but like any other place, it's not perfect.

Still, as a souvenir, or as a tool to entice loved ones to visit, it's well put together, complete with Braden's gorgeous photos.

Reader's Diary #1825- Paul Jenkins (writer), Jae Lee (artist): The Sentry

Marvel's The Sentry has only caught my periphery before and even then, not often. I mistakenly thought the character had been popular back in the day but faded out of popularity over time. Interestingly, this made the reading of Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee's The Sentry trade paperback even better.

The story involves a character named Bob Reynolds, an every man (slightly overweight, bit of a drinker) who just happens to have been a superhero named The Sentry. Unfortunately, no one remembers him. For some reason he's been wiped from everyone's memories and any physical evidence of his heroic exploits have mysteriously gone missing. However, his nemesis "The Void" is returning and in order for The Sentry to save the universe, he will need his past superhero friends to believe and remember him.

I thought this was all clever enough seeing as The Sentry is not a particularly well-known superhero today and that it was rather tongue-in-cheek to make us think he's been erased from our, the readers', memories as well. Interspersed throughout this story are scenes from old classic Sentry comics...

Except! It's even more clever than that because this was in fact The Sentry's first appearance and those "old" Sentry comics were fakes. Jenkins and Lee just shoehorned him into history! And, thanks to Lee's masterful illustrations, it's entirely believable.

I've see this done before (Archie Comics did a similar thing with Kevin Keller), but not as well.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Reader's Diary #1824- Amir (writer), Khalil (artist): Zahra's Paradise

It shocks me sometimes how brave some writers are. Amir is Iranian and make no bones about it, Zahra's Paradise takes a scathing and explosive look at the current regime. Granted, from my understanding Amir is currently living in Canada, but still, what if he ever goes back? That said, if all of the accusations in this graphic novel are accurate, it definitely needed to be said.

To be sure, the book is a work of fiction. The plot revolves around a mother and son trying to locate the whereabouts of their son/brother who disappeared after a protest. But, it presents the so called leaders as corrupt, inept, and even murderous. It also presents the general Iranian populace as being far more modern and progressive than I think most of us in the Western hemisphere would have assumed. I found that part fascinating. Likewise, how life there can seem so much like my own for one brief moment and then there's a scene of bodies hung from a crane.

Khalil's accompanying art had me struggling at times though. It's good, don't get me wrong, but it reminded me stylistically of Dave Berg's "The Lighter Side of" strip from MAD Magazine. That, combined with the flowing, loopy font gave a really satirical tone. But when I think of satire, I think of humour as well as political messages. There may have been moments of humour, but I'm not sure it was enough to warrant the style. When things were particularly gruesome or nasty, I felt the art worked against it.