Friday, June 22, 2018

Reader's Diary #1854- Mana Neyestani: An Iranian Metamorphosis

More than once I've expressed my shock and admiration for those cartoonists who tackle their home country's tyrannical regimes. The bravery that this must take!

Mana Neyestani's story is likewise brave but one feels the Iranian government inadvertently pushed him in that direction. According to Neyestani, he never set out to be controversial at all. Writing for the children's section of a newspaper, he accidentally insults a cultural group (who believed they were being called cockroaches, hence the connection to Kafka alluded to in the title). This group gets angrier and angrier and the Iranian government imprisons Neyestani believing him to have orchestrated a violent upheaval on purpose. He is denied a fair trial and interrogated mercilessly.

While he has since escaped Iran I nonetheless view his portrayal of his ordeal as brave; he must know that his likelihood of returning safely to his birth country has been vastly decreased.

I also found the inadvertent racial slur angle to be quite fascinating from a 2018 perspective. No one is denying that they shouldn't have been offended, but the reaction by the Iranian government is so over the top. It might cause some pause for thought for those who are so quick to condemn mistakes on social media; how far should their wrath go? Where is the line between taking victims seriously and due process? How drastic should a culprits sentence be?

One minor issue is the abrupt ending. There is a conclusion but it wraps up in a single page text-only epilogue.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Reader's Diary #1853- Raymond Briggs: Gentleman Jim

At only 32 pages, I still managed to go through some ups and downs reading Raymond Briggs' Gentleman Jim.

Right away I wasn't sure the brand of humour was going to be up my alley. Essentially the titular Jim is too stupid almost to exist. He decides one day that he's had enough of cleaning toilets for a living and instead wishes to become a cowboy. He's knowledge of the job, and indeed of anything a fully functioning adult should know, is sorely lacking.

Should I be laughing or should I be concerned that he doesn't have assisted living?

Fortunately, it becomes more and more absurd, to the point of funny, and at the end I even considered that Briggs had made a rather pithy statement on adulthood vs. dreams.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1852- Zac Gorman (writer), CJ Cannon (illustrator): Rick and Morty Volume 1

I don't watch as much TV as I used to. This is not some intellectual brag as there is not some "bettering myself" agenda, it's simply that I don't seem to have the time anymore. In saying that there are a few shows I'd like to be better up on. I'm way behind in my Marvel TV shows and I've been curious about Rick and Morty.

One thing I do seem to have time for, fortunately, is comics and so I thought I'd read a Rick and Morty comic to see what they're all about. Of course, I realize that the comics may not totally be an accurate representation of the writing on the TV show. I've read a few Simpsons comics and find them to be a mildly entertaining but no where near as great as the Simpsons TV show in its heyday, but at least readers would get a reasonable idea of what the characters are about (Homer's dumb, Bart's a troublemaker, and Lisa's smart and moral) plus the kind of humour (softly edgy, satirical). Any Rick and Morty watchers out there would be a better a better judge than I whether or not the comic captures the essence of the show.

From what I can tell, the humour is somewhere in between the Simpsons and Family Guy. It doesn't try to beat you over the head with satire and pop culture references like Family Guy but it's slightly edgier than the Simpsons. There's also a mix of Futurama in there with sci-fi based stories. Likewise the illustration is similar to the above three, perhaps with a touch of Adventure Time.

Which is all to say I was entertained and amused. I don't feel particularly enlightened, but it's the summer and there'll be other comics to scratch that itch.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1851- Warren Ellis (writer), Stuart Immonen (artist): Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E. Complete Collection

As it was slowly dawning on me that I wasn't particularly enjoying Warren Ellis's Newxtwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., the phrase "trying too hard" came to mind. Trying too hard to be funny, trying too be edgy, to be cynical, different, etc.

I knew I'd only recently read a Warren Ellis comic so I went back to review what I had thought of that one (Karnak), and lo and behold, that was my exact same criticism: trying too hard.

I then spent a lot of time considering that phrase. Can I really criticize a guy for trying? Well yes and no. If he is really trying, I think he's trying the wrong things; focusing on quick, irreverent wit rather than on compelling characters and story. But maybe he's not trying at all and just knows that this stuff sells. I'll acknowledge that I'm largely alone in my assessment of Ellis's work; the whole reason I read it in the first place was because it was on a list of "10 Marvel Graphic Novels You Need to Read Before You Die." Nonetheless, I didn't connect with it at all.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Reader's Diary #1850- Alexander Jablokov: Living Will

Alexander Jablokov's short story "Living Will" struck a particular nerve for me as it's about a married couple and Alzheimer's which runs in my wife's family.

It is the husband in this case who discovers that he's developed the dreaded disease and he's trying to upload his memories and personality into a computer before he gets too far gone.

Depending on who you ask, the sci-fi angle may not be as far out as it first seems. Jablokov's take here is particularly interesting as he suggests that it can never be the real thing. Indeed, the point here isn't to exist after death, or after his memories are gone. Through this emotional story, many philosophical questions about memory and humanity could be posed.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Reader's Diary #1849- Leanne Shirtliffe, illustrated by Georgia Graham: Saving Thunder the Great

It's been a while since I've read a picture book, let alone written about one on my blog, but I've finally read Leanne Shirtliffe's Saving Thunder the Great: the true story of a gerbil's rescue from the Fort McMurray wildfire and I'm counting it as my Alberta pick for the 11th Canadian Book Challenge*.

I've read a few picture books based on real life tragedies and haven't always enjoyed them. Sometimes the situations have been too specific and isolated to really need or appeal to an international audience, sometimes I've found them questionably too graphic and insensitive for younger readers.

Forest fires are a very real part of life in Yellowknife (hopefully not this summer as we've had a wetter than usual spring) and so I could relate to that aspect of Shirtliffe's book, but even if they were not, I think it would still be appealing. Kids of course will like the gerbil, but they'd also likely be drawn to the danger of the story which Shirtliffe wastes no time getting to. Parents, like myself, will be more likely drawn to the mom in the story who is determined to take her son's gerbil with her. Her son is off, safely, visiting his grandparents in Newfoundland and she misses him terribly.

I also don't think most readers would find it too traumatic. It helps, I suppose, that most of the damage was property damage and that it could have been much worse. That said, I will correct one detail in the author's note at the end. She writes that "the fire claimed no one." Maybe not directly, but two were killed as they tried to escape the town.

Georgia Graham's illustrations are big, colourful, and realistic; highly appropriate for this true story.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Reader's Diary #1848- Thomas Mann: Death in Venice

So Thomas Mann's Death in Venice is a rather piece of shit.

It involves a vacationer in Venice who becomes attracted to and obsessed with a young boy. He's a pretentious windbag from the get-go and he manages to get infinitely worse by trying to rationalize his sexual perversion as an intellectual, artistic idea.

He's better than Lolita's Humbert Humbert in that he doesn't act on his attraction (the boy remains unaware) but worse when you learn that he's actually based on a real-life experience of Mann's.