Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1767- Li Kunwu and P. Otie: A Chinese Life

Another book brought to my attention courtesy of Paul Gravett's Mangasia book was A Chinese Life written and illustrated by Li Kunwu with assistance from P. Otie. Gravett had used it as an example of historical comics, a genre that enjoys popularity across a large swath of Asia.

It's interesting to note that A Chinese Life is also Kunwu's autobiography as I found myself questioning his role as history teacher. Documenting China from 1949 (creation of the People's Republic of China) to the present, it is through one individual's eyes; one who was a celebrated propaganda artist for the Republic and became a member of the Communist Party. P. Otie, who is French, states in his intro that he tried to balance patriotism against fact, propaganda against critique. And while I'd suggest that they succeed on that front, I wondered if one man out of a billion would be representative. I'd be okay if he wasn't (it's A Chinese Life after all, not Chinese Life), but when all was said and done, I do feel that I have a better sense of China as a whole, rather than just of Li Kunwu.

This period of history is fascinating and like nothing I can compare it to in Canada. The overt and sudden upheavals brought on with Mao, the adoption of Communism, the Cultural Revolution, felt almost shocking in its intensity. Children ratting out adults resulting in imprisonment, outright disdain for cultural history, modern technology coming almost shockingly late compared to most of the world, the hybrid of socialism and capitalism that they have currently adopted... it's all so very overwhelming.

Li Kunwu's art is perfect for this story. It actually (and this will probably seem like an odd comparison) reminded me of Jim Unger's Herman cartoons. This was in the inky, rough, caricatures. Clearly the roughness was intentional. Describing his time as a propaganda artist, Kunwu shows some of his Mao art and we can see that he is quite capable of refined line work. But there's something more truthful about the roughness. It also seems at times like Kunwu barely raises his pen, and it gives the history more of a connection, more of a natural fluidity.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1766- Molia Dumbleton: If She Were to Lay Down

Molia Dumbleton's "If She Were to Lay Down" is a quietly beautiful story of a woman working through her attraction toward a man who is asleep on her couch.

At the very beginning there's a slight implication that she doesn't find him physically attractive, perhaps even finds him a bit on the simple side. But as the story progresses, we (and she) begin to understand just what she does like about this man.

It's thoughtful, full of purposeful imagery, and overall, quite lovely.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Reader's Diary #1765- Rob David and Larry Goldfine (writer), Freddie E. Williams II (artist): He-Man/ Thundercats

I was a huge He-Man fan back in the day, spending any chore money I had on the dolls, refusing to let go when all my friends had moved on to G.I. Joe. Somehow though I don't have any recollection of the Thundercats. Looking them up, I see that they first aired just a couple of years after He-Man, when I was still a Saturday morning cartoon junky, so I must have encountered them, but even this crossover comic between Thundercats and He-Man didn't jog any memories.

I did learn a little about a few Thundercat characters and the mythology through this book, enough to find it even stranger that I wasn't into them back in the 80s. My favourite He-Man characters were the animal based ones (Buzz-Off, Stinkor, Clawful) and Thundercats were all cat-based He-Man-looking heroes. Again, how did I miss these??? Was my childhood retconned?

Despite being impressed with the Thundercats though, the crossover comic by Rob David and Larry Goldfine didn't do a lot else for me. The story, which revolved around Skeletor and Mumm-Ra, the main villains of both franchises, teaming up to take over the world was pretty obvious for a crossover comic. That is to say, it was fine, but nothing terribly original. Likewise, all the typical crossover tropes were there. There's a contrived scene where the heroes turn on each other, that sort of deal. There wasn't much of the background characters either, which in old He-Man cartoons I always found more interesting than He-Man himself.

There were some small problems that perhaps would have been overlooked with a stronger story. For instance, there are attempts at narration, basically the heroes offering their philosophical interpretations, but it's completely unnecessary and distracting. Also distracting is the busy art. Normally I like watercolours, but combined with Freddie E. William's abundance of lines and panels, the pictures were a bit over-complicated.

There were a few fun moments here or there. In the final comic, for instance, they explore the multiverse. In one world and making the best of their home at DC Comics, we see Prince Adam/ He-Man as Clark Kent/ Superman. In another we see a world where the Thundercats and He-Man characters are all morphed into hybrids. I would have liked a visit to Etheria and a meet-up with She-Ra as well, but I guess I couldn't have it all.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Reader's Diary #1764- Inhae Lee: My Milk Toof

Finally, a photocomic more aligned with what I was imaging the form could be. Finally a writer that takes the time to create stories, takes the time to create photos that help tell the story.

My Milk Toof, which began life on a blog, tells of two baby teeth who move back in with the adult (unseen, except for a hand now and then) who'd lost them in her youth. This collection is subtitled, The Adventures of Ickle and Lardee, and based on these character names, you'd be correct to assume that the book can be on the cutesy side.

So, it's a little more saccharine than I'd normally choose, but it's occasionally funny. Plus, I appreciate the creativity and effort that went into it.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Reader's Diary #1763- Jordin Tootoo, with Stephen Brunt: All the Way

Two huge takeaways for me from Jordin Tootoo's autobiography All The Way: My Life on the Ice are Jordin's love for his brother Terrence, who committed suicide in 2002, and how much of an advocate for communication Jordin is.

I don't have a lot to add about Terrence's suicide except that I was living in Rankin Inlet when it happened at went to a very emotional service in the middle school. I was new to the town at the time and didn't really know the Tootoos, but the impact of Terrence's death on the town (everyone went to that service) was palpable and has stuck with me. Sadly, suicide, as I would soon learn was a very common tragedy in Rankin and the rest of Nunavut.

Perhaps related to that is the issue of communication. Jordin describes being a young boy when him and Terrence would escape the house to avoid his parents' alcoholism and abuse. They'd be playing outside at all hours with other young friends who, in hindsight, he figures were also avoiding trouble at home. Still, that fact he has to figure is underscored by the fact that they didn't talk about it. To be fair, they were kids looking to escape. Who'd want to talk about crap going on at home? That said, even as adults there was a lot being hush-hushed, too much being kept in secret, bottled up until it exploded. I wonder if this is yet another terrible side-effect of colonization of the north.

Jordin's book is almost immediately shocking from the very first chapter in his unflinching openness. Right away he gets into his troubled relationship with his parents, their drinking, their abuse. I've met both parents and didn't know this. I didn't hear it talked about. I've seen Jordin touring the town with his father and things looked great. I found myself wondering what the effect of this book was. How did they feel when they read it? I think a follow-up book is necessary. I would imagine that emotions were initially negative, some sadness, some anger, but I would also imagine that Jordin's dragging the past out into the light is an important first step toward healing.

I'm not much of a hockey follower, but I found All The Way to be a compelling human story with important messages.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Reader's Diary #1762- Michael Deforge: Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero

I was a few pages into Michael Deforge's comic Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero before I was confident that it was meant to be funny.

That might sound like an attack on his writing or comedy, but it's not meant as such. It is, however, meant to convey how wry and idiosyncratic it is. It's also sometimes witty, sometimes silly. There's a species of snake in the book called a Harmless Snake but they are deadly poisonous and have given themselves the name as a "form of camouflage". If you don't "get" the humour right away, if you're like me, it will quickly grow on you.

Most of the book is told in page length strips but nonetheless, characters become well-defined. They're flawed characters but I came to appreciate them.

The art matches the style in quirk and is coloured in black, white, and pink.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Reader's Diary #1761- Kentaro Miura: Berserk Vol. 1

I became aware of Kentaro Miura's Berserk manga series thanks to the 11th Annual Graphic Novel and Manga Challenge where another participant has been enthusiastically reviewing the series.

I wish I could share the enthusiasm, but I suppose I can help balance it out with a dissenting voice?

While I'm terrible at finishing any manga series, even if I wasn't I don't think I'd be continuing with this one. I found it hyper-masculine and gratuitously violent and while I thought I could appreciate the humour of how over-the-top it all was (the main character's name is Guts and his sword is ludicrously big), the novelty of that wore off very quickly. It then seemed like cheap shock tactics.

I also didn't really like the art which reminded me somewhat of Hajime Isayama's work in Attack on Titan. In both I found the body proportions to be often slightly amateur-looking and off, a head sometimes too small, fingers occasionally too short, people bending stiffly, that sort of thing.

If I was to name one positive feature, I did enjoy the horror. It's largely a fantasy based tale but touches of the grotesque added a more interesting element. Plus, if it's a monster, it's hard to argue that the proportions are wrong.