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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Reader's Diary #2017- Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose (writers), various artists: Hungry Ghosts

I'll be upfront that I may have misjudged Anthony Bourdain, a little too harshly, a little ignorantly. Based solely on commercials for Parts Unknown, I had decided his was an arrogant prick. Since his suicide however, the more I've heard about him, the more I feel I was way off the mark. He seems at least to have been a pretty nice guy, and perhaps even a progressive, really nice guy.

I was also pleasantly surprised to hear that he'd written a horror graphic novel. Partnering with Jose Rose, this is a collection of tales framed as being told by a group of chefs, each one trying to out do the last. Various well-known artists take turns illustrating.

It had a very strong Tales From the Crypt vibe, which was intentional according to Rose's afterword. As most fans of that series could tell you, this means that it's more often gruesome and darkly comedic rather than really scary, but a lot of fun. Also like Tales From the Crypt, some stories are clearly better than others. The weaker ones here suffered from Saturday Night Live syndrome in their weak endings.

The art was consistently strong and not as jarring in style as you might expect despite featuring work by people I typically admire (such as Francesco Francavilla of Afterlife with Archie) and by people I'm normally not particularly fond of (such as Paul Pope of Battling Boy).

I do wonder though how Japanese people would feel about Bourdain telling these stories largely based on Japanese folklore.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Reader's Diary #2016- Hugh Behm-Steinberg: Taylor Swift

Hugh Behm-Steinberg's flash fiction "Taylor Swift" is quirky and funny, no doubt about it. It's based on a world where people can online order clones of Taylor Swift to be delivered right to their door. Many people have a few Swifts knocking about, some of whom are used as servants, some for sex, some for entertainment.

Underneath it all though there's a sinister statement about fame and one's transition from person to product, about how we're all guilty of this to some extent. I found myself wondering what Swift herself would think. Some people love marketing themselves, some regret the loss of privacy that arises while pursuing their art as a business. Of course, Behm-Steinberg isn't the first to philosophize about the situation (arguably this was the point of Kanye West's Famous video which also featured Swift) but it has to be one of the more amusing takes.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Reader's Diary #2015- Yvan Alagbé, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith: Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures

The art work in Yvan Alagbé's Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures is unlike anything I've encountered before. The black ink is heavy and rough but there's still a grace to the linework, especially the curves. It's artistic and simultaneously challenging and inviting.

The stories themselves I found to be mostly incoherent. Panel by panel, I could, and sometimes did, take it to be much like visiting an art gallery. They were provocative and left a lot of room for interpretation. However, when hints that they were supposed to be part of a larger narrative arose I found it more frustrating. There were gaps in the plot, it wasn't always clear who was speaking, and so on.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Reader's Diary #2014- Gord Hill: The Antifa Comic Book

Gord Hill's illustrations in The Antifa Comic Book reminded me a lot of Ed Piskor's in his Hip Hop Family Tree. As a fan of that series, this is a good thing. However, it also made me compare the writing. Piskor slows down the history of hip hop to a snail's pace and in doing so, he's able to better flesh out the characters and stories to make it all more palatable, more than a simple timeline of facts. Hill however covers all the way from World War 1 to the present in 127 pages and at times it's near impossible to keep track of all of the various fascist and anti-fascist groups.

It's still a good, educational read. I appreciated in particular the way that he destroyed the myth that Europe and North America is civilized (compared to the rest of the world, as was implied during my own schooling and upbringing). I also thought it quite fascinating and worthy of noting how many groups co-opt positive or progressive sounding names for their fascist, right-wing, racist ideologies.

Fascism itself is a term that I've never fully understood beyond a catch-all definition for asshole dictatorships. However, Hill does an excellent job defining it on the very first page and if readers don't think immediately of Trump they're quite frankly idiots and/or fascists themselves.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Reader's Diary #2013- Brett Milano: Vinyl Junkies

When I first got into record collecting a couple or so years back, I was very eager to grow my collection fast but despite a vinyl resurgence there was still nowhere to buy in Yellowknife, except the occasional rare find at yard sales. Then I saw that someone had taken out an ad in the local classified looking to either sell, buy, or trade records. Paydirt!

However, after a rather long and awkward phone conversation I had determined that I'd never be paying a visit to his home, let alone flipping through his collection. No matter what gems he may have had. He was a completely different kind of collector, a serious collector, and me? I just wanted some good stuff to listen to.

In Vinyl Junkies, Brett Milano tries to make the case that even those who don't think they're serious collectors usually are, or at least have a bigger problem than they're willing to admit. After reading about some of the collectors he describes, I'm not convinced.

The thing is, I'm not an audiophile. With some exceptions, I can rarely tell the difference between an mp3 and a vinyl track. I don't have a top of the line turntable and the one I have is hooked up to a small single speaker. I'm also not interested in making money off of my collection, I'm not looking for rare foreign pressings. But I do like the object. I do like listening to a whole album (or at least a whole side) again. Collecting takes me back to my youth somewhat when I collected cassettes and then CDs. And my collection shows my nostalgic bent: I have classic albums that predate me and I've got a few from the past 5 or so years, but my interest is really in getting 90s albums on vinyl, a large number of which were never even originally distributed on such a medium. So far I've gotten Oasis, Nirvana, Tragically Hip, Tori Amos, Bjork, Weezer, Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Pearl Jam and my list of must-haves from that decade is much, much longer. Bored yet? Than Brett Milano's Vinyl Junkies is definitely not for you.


Monday, March 04, 2019

Reader's Diary #2012- Madeline Ashby: Domestic Violence

While I quite enjoyed Madeline Ashby's short story "Domestic Violence," the world-building, the characters, it felt like I read it before or was it a Black Mirror episode? Or am I mixing up a couple of things. In any case, it rendered the twist at the end a little ineffective as I saw it coming, but the story was engaging and provocative enough up to that point for it not to matter.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Reader's Diary #2011- Ralph Ellison: Invisible Man

I know schools have a bad reputation for ruining novels but Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man is one I wish I'd read in such an environment.

Featuring the perspectives of a black man in 1930s U.S., it was hard at times for me to fully grasp the significance of the setting. How would it compare to today? At times characters came across as caricatures; was this intentional or just the 21st Century, Canadian white male lens?

This is not to say I didn't enjoy the book because I did a great deal. I suspect there are a lot of important themes that readers could take away but for me, and especially relevant to our current times, the idea of maintaining/submitting our identity while assisting progressive groups was especially provocative. Sometimes it feels like you have to agree with every single stance of a group or else you're a traitor to the cause. You must become invisible to an extent. (For the unfamiliar, Ellison uses "invisible" in the figurative sense and the book should not be confused with the sci-fi The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells.)

I was also equal parts compelled by and frustrated by the narrator's point of view. I don't recall ever feeling as claustrophobic with such a perspective before. It was so insular, so void of outside interpretation or details it could become confusing at time. Yet, it was also effective for those very reasons; if the narrator was bewildered, then so was I! Never have I had first person pov feel so much like a second person narrative.