Saturday, December 31, 2016

The 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - December Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

1. Click on the icon above
2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)
3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as John Mutford (Anne of Avonlea)
4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

And in prize news, both RIEDEL Fascination and Pussreboots have won signed copies of Alan Bradley's Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mewed for taking part in last month's mini-challenge to read a Canadian novel that was part of a series. Congratulations to you both! (Canadian Book Challenge mini-challenges are exclusive to members via email.)

Friday, December 30, 2016

My Year in Review: Nonfiction and Fiction

Overall, 2017 was not a great year for my non-comic reading.  I only read 4 non-fiction books, and 17 fiction books. Here are both sad lists, both ranked from least to most favourite:

4. The Arrowheads- Avro Arrow: The Story of the Avro Arrow from Its Evolution to Its Extinction
3. Peter Steele- The Man Who Mapped the Arctic
2. Duncan Pryde- Nunaga
1. Germaine Arnaktayuok and Gyu Oh- My Name is Arnaktauyok / The Life and Art of Germaine Arnaktauyok

17. Linwood Barclay - Fear the Worst (novel)
16. David Mamet- Glengarry Glen Ross (play)
15. Devon Code- In a Mist (short story collection)
14. Marina Endicott - The Little Shadows (novel)
13. Michel Tremblay- The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant (novel)
12. Ian McEwan- Atonement (novel)
11. Robert J. Sawyer - Flashforward (novel)
10. Brett Wright and William Shakespeare - YOLO Juliet (YA play- sort of)
9. Miguel de Cervantes- Don Quixote (novel)
8. Annelies Pool- Free Love (novel)
7. Lawrence Osgood- Midnight Sun (novel)
6. Sally Clark- Moo (play)
5. Dashiell Hammett- The Maltese Falcon (novel)
4. Tania Del Rio- Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye (Junior Novel)
3. Mark Dunn- Ella Minnow Pea (novel)
2. Wayson Choy- The Jade Peony  (novel)
1. Tom Stoppard- Rosencratz and Guildenstern Are Dead (play) 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My Year in Review 2016 - Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels

While working on my masters, my leisure reading took a hit. I focused primarily on comics and graphic novels because they were quicker to read. But then a funny thing happened. I began to realize that this is my preferred reading format. Not that I've abandoned traditional novels and non-fiction altogether, but it's not surprising to me that my comic reading this year was at an all-time high and my other reading was at an all-time low.

I had a few goals this year in terms of comics and graphic novels and am happy to report that I met all of them. I wanted to explore the output of Archie Comics (including but beyond traditional Archie),  to learn more about lesser known superheroes, to catch up on some wildly popular manga, and to delve into long lasting pop culture icons.

Here's my list, ranked from least to most favourite:

122. Matthew Inman: How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You
121. Sang Eun-Lee: 13th Boy
120. J. Michael Straczynski (Writer), Andy Kubert (Art): Before Watchmen / Nite Owl
119. Howard Chaykin: Buck Rogers Grievous Angels
118. Ian Flynn (writer), Jamal Peppers and Ryan Jampole (artists): Worlds Collide Vol. 1 / Kindred Spirits
117. Tamora Pierce and Timothy Liebe (Writers), Phil Briones and Alvaro Rio (Artists): White Tiger / A Hero's Compulsion
116. Charlie Huston (writer), David Finch (artist): Moon Knight, Volume 1 The Bottom
115. Various writers and artists: The Death of Superman
114. Tite Kubo, translated by Joe Yamazaki: Bleach 1
113. Amy Wolfram (author), Karl Kerschl (artist): Teen Titans Year One (collected)
112. J. Torres (writer), Rick Burchett (artist): Jinx
111. Margaret Atwood (writer), Johnnie Christmas (artist): Angel Catbird
110. Various artists and writers: Civil War II: Choosing Sides
109. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko: Mobile Suit Gundam Origin I Activation
108. Garth Ennis (writer) and Steve Dillon (artist): Preacher Book One
107. Michael Alan Nelson (writer), Jean Dzialowski (artist): Fall of Cthulhu / The Fugue
106. Chuck Palahniuk (writer), Cameron Stewart (artist): Fight Club 2
105. Irv Novick: The Shield
104. Tite Kubo, translated by Akira Watanabe: Zombiepowder 1 / The Man with the Black Hand
103. Christopher Priest (Writer), Various Artists: Black Panther / The Complete Collection Volume 1
102. Neil Gaiman (Writer), Mark Buckingham (Artist): Miracleman The Golden Age
101. Geoff Johns (artist), Ivan Reis (artist): Blackest Night
100. Fabian Nicieza (writer) and Patrick Zircher (artist): Cable and Deadpool: Volume 2, The Burnt Offering
99. Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker (writers), David Aja: The Immortal Iron Fist (The Complete Collection)
98. Grant Morrison (writer), various artists: The Multiversity (Deluxe Edition)
97. Nicholas Burns (editor): Arctic Comics
96. Various writers and artists: Best of Josie and the Pussycats
95. Judd Winick (Writer), Guillem March (artist)- Catwoman / The Game Vol.1
94. Kathy Hoopmann (Writer), Mike Medaglia (adapted by), Rachael Smith (artist): Blue Bottle Mystery / An Asperger Adventure
93. Jennifer Holm (Writer), Matthew Holm (Artist): Babymouse Queen of the World
92. Matt Kindt: Mind Mgmt, Volume 1 The Manager
91. Paul Jenkins (Writer) and Jae Lee (Artist): Inhumans (Collecting 1-12)
90. Alex de Campi (Writer), Fernando Ruiz (Art): Archie vs. Predator
89. Kieron Gillen (Writer) and Salvador Larroca (Artist): Star Wars Darth Vader Vol. 1
88. Jai Nitz (Writer), Janusz Pawlak (Artist): Toshiro
87. Sam Bosma: Fantasy Sports No. 1
86. Jamie Delano (Writer), John Ridgway (Artist): John Constantine Hellblazer / Original Sins
85. Kate Beaton: Step Aside, Pops
84. Haruki Ueno, translated by Alethea and Althena Nibley: Big Hero 6 Vol.1
83. Marc Andreyko (writer), various artists: Wonder Woman '77 Volume 1
82. David Alexander Robertson (writer), Scott B. Henderson: The Ballad of Nancy April Shawnadithit
81. Bob Gale (Writer): Back to the Future / Untold Tales and Alternate Timelines
80. Jon Eastman (writer), Gian Fernando (artist): Escape from Alcatraz 2 Presumed Dead
79. Felipe Smith (Writer), Tradd Moore (Artist): Ghost Rider / Engines of Vengeance
78. Svetlana Chmakova: Awkward
77. Dan Archer: Escape from Alcatraz 9 The Lone Wolf Breakout
76. Wren Nowan (writer), Michael Reardon (artist): Escape from Alcatraz 14 The Final Breakout
75. Sara Ryan (writer), Steve Lieber (artist): Escape from Alcatraz 13 The Dummy Head Breakout
74. Mark Waid (Writer), Daniel Indro and Ronilson Freire (Artists): Green Hornet Volume One Bully Pulpit
73. Brandon Seifert (writer), Joko Budiono (artist): Escape from Alcatraz 10 Battle of '46
72. Victoria Jamieson: Roller Girl
71. Maris Wicks: Human Body Theater
70. Harvey Pekar (writer), various illustrators: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar
69. John Allison (Writer), Lissa Treiman (Artist): Giant Days Volume One
68. Jason Latour (writer), Robbi Rodriguez (artist): Spider-Gwen: Most Wanted?
67. Keith Giffen and John Rogers (Writers), Cully Hamner (Artist): Blue Beetle, Shellshocked
66. Chelsea Cain (writer), Kate Niemczyk (artist): Mockingbird 1 I Can Explain
65. Geneviève Castrée: Susceptible
64. Fumi Yoshinaga: Ooku Vol. 1 The Inner Chambers
63. Rob Williams (writer), Eddy Barrows and Diogenes Neves (artists): Martian Manhunter Volume 1 The Epiphany
62. Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder (writers), Natacha Bustos (artist): Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 1 BFF
61. Alan Moore (writer), Brian Bolland (artist): Batman The Killing Joke
60. Jody Houser (writer), Francis Portela (artist): Faith Vol. 1 Hollywood and Vine
59. Greg Pak (writer), John Romita Jr. (artist): World War Hulk 
58. Marguerite Bennett and G. Willow Wilson (Writers), Jorge Molina (Artist): A-Force Warzones!
57. Clamp: xxxHolic 1
56. Sui Ishida: Tokyo Ghoul 1
55. Patti LaBoucane-Benson (writer), Kelly Mellings (artist): The Outside Circle
54. Bill Watterson: Yukon Ho!
53. Margreet de Heer: Religion / A Discovery in Comics
52. Teva Harrison: In-Between Days
51. Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Adrian Alphona (artist): Runaways / Pride and Joy
50. Jennifer Hayden: The Story of My Tits 
49. Chris Roberson (Writer), Michael Allred (Artist): iZombie / Dead to the World
48. Dan Parent: Archie's Pal Kevin Keller
47. Don Delisle: A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting
46. David Alexander Robertson (writer), Scott B. Henderson (artist): Sugar Falls
45. Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman (Writers) and Anzu (Artist): X-Men Misfits 1
43. Ta-Nehisi Coates (writer), Brian Stelfreeze (artist): Black Panther A Nation Under Our Feet Book One
42. The Topps Company: Bazooka Joe and His Gang 60th Anniversary Collection
41. Richard Van Camp (writer), Scott B. Henderson (artist): A Blanket of Butterflies
40. Robbie Thompson (writer), various artists: Silk Sinister Vol. 1
39. Ben Clanton: Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea
38. Brendan Fletcher (writer), Annie Wu, Pia Guerra, Sandy Jarrell (artists): Black Canary Vol. 1 / Kicking and Screaming
37. James Robinson (writer), various artists: Scarlet Witch Volume 1 Witches' Road
36. Dennis Hopeless (writer), Javier Rodriguez (artist): Spider-Woman Baby Talk Volume 1
35. Jeff Parker (writer), various artists: Batman '66 Volume 1
34. Jeff Parker (writer), Evan Shaner (artist): Flash Gordon The Man From Earth
33. Ryan North: The Best of Dinosaur Comics 2003 - 2005
32. Peter Milligan (writer) and Mikel Janin (artist): Justice League Dark Vol. 1 In the Dark
31. Dan Slott (writer), various artists: She-Hulk The Complete Collection
30. Jennifer Grunwald (editor): Strange Tales
29. Jeff Lemire (writer), Mikel Janin (artist): Justice League Dark Vol. 2 The Books of Magic
28. Jonathan Hickman (writer), Esad Ribic (artist): Secret Wars
27. Alexis Norton (writer), Dave Norton (artist): Escape From Alcatraz 4 The Doc Barker Gang
26. Geoff Johns (writer), Ivan Reis (artist): Aquaman The Trench, Volume 1
25. Brian K. Vaughan (Writer), Pia Guerra and Jose Marzan Jr (Artists): Y The Last Man / Unmanned
24. Hope Nicholson (Editor): Moonshot / The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 1
23. Juan Diaz Canales (writer),  Juanjo Guarnido (artist): Blacksad
22. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (writer), Robert Hack (artist): Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Book One
21. Ed Piskor: Hip Hop Family Tree 1983-1984
20. Tom Hart: Rosalie Lightning
19. Emily Carroll: Through the Woods
18. One (writer), Yusuke Murata (artist): One-Punch Man 01
17. Chip Zdarsky (writer), Erica Henderson (artist): Jughead Volume One
16. Jeff Loveness (writer), Brian Kesinger (artist): Groot (Collected)
15. Junji Ito: Uzumaki
14. John Lewis with Andrew Aydin (writers), Nate Powell (artist): March Book One
13. Brian Bendis (Writer), Alex Maleev and David Mack (Artists): Daredevil, The Man Without Fear!
12. Kurtis J. Wiebe (writer), Roc Upchurch (artist): Rat Queens Vol. 1 Sass and Sorcery
11. Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Steve Skroce (artist): We Stand on Guard

THE TOP 10!!!

10. Mark Waid (Writer), Fiona Staples (Artist): Archie Volume One
9. Greg Pak (Writer), Various Artists: Planet Hulk (Collected)
8. Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis (Writers), Brooke Allen (Artist): Lumberjanes / Beware the Kitten Holy
7. Evie Wyld, illustrated by Joe Sumner: Everything is Teeth
6. Craig Thompson: Space Dumplins
5. Various writers and artists: Spider-Verse
3. Tom King (writer), Gabriel Hernandez Walta (artist): The Vision Volume One / Little Worse Than a Man
2. Brian Azzarello (writer), Eduardo Risso (artist): 100 Bullets / First Shot, Last Call
1. Scott Snyder (Writer), Yanick Paquette (Artist): Swamp Thing

Reader's Diary #1430- Various writers and authors: Civil War II Choosing Sides

Last year I read World War Hulk Frontline, mistakenly believing it was a compilation of the famous World War Hulk comics. I was disappointed to learn that the particular story I'd been interested in was told elsewhere and this was only a story from the periphery, involving smaller characters whose own involvement was minimal at best.

And here I am again with Civil War II: Choosing Sides. This year's Marvel Event was the much maligned Civil War II. Once again the superheroes are torn apart by philosophical differences, this time over predictive justice. It seems that an inhuman named Ulysses has the ability to tell the future. One half of the superheroes want to use this info to stop criminals before they become criminals, the other half see this as unfair and problematic. (This was a rather throw away plot on Agents of Shield that lasted for all of an episode or two.)

But Civil War II doesn't really delve into that all that much, instead dealing again with lesser known characters and/or those whose involvement is minimal at best. On the cover you see a veritable who's who of Marvel superheroes, while on the inside most of these appear briefly if at all.

This all said, it's slightly more enjoyable than World War Hulk Frontline and that's for a couple of reasons. First off, keeping up on comic book websites and social media, this time around I feel like I already know enough about the main event that the side-stories aren't completely lost on me. Secondly, there's more variety of characters here.

Still, I'm amongst those who question the need and appeal for the whole Civil War II event in the first place, so this compilation is rather like milking a sick cow. Not even a cameo from Canada's own Justin Trudeau makes it worthwhile.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The 2016 Book Mine Set Short Story Anthology

Another 52 weeks, another 52 short stories found for free and online. The links below offer my thoughts on each story and embedded in each of those posts you'll find links to the stories themselves. Though I've ranked them from least to most favourite, few were the stories I didn't enjoy at all.

52. "The Swing" by Salomat Vafo, translated by Kosim Mamurov
51. "The Shomer and the Boreal Owl" by Stephen Marche
50. "A Canadian Over Hiroshima" by D.M. Gillis
49. "Untechnological Employment" by E.M. Clinton
48. "1993" by S.L. Dixon 
47. "Amundsen" by Alice Munro
46. "The United States has Gone Crazy" by Stuart Ross
45. "A Short Story About Contemporary Life in California" by Richard Brautigan
44. "She's Gone West Indie" by Bryan Manning
43."Star Maven" by Sarah Crysl Akhtar
42. "The Woman who Tried to be Good" by Edna Ferber
41. "The Nine Billion Names of God" by Arthur C. Clarke
40. "Thicker Than Blood" by Nancy Brewka-Clark
39. "A Dragonfly Dashed by My Face" by Carmelinda Scian
38. "The Christmas Goblins" by Charles Dickens
37. "The Green Honda" by Don McLellan
36. "The Phantom Coach" by Amelia B. Edwards
35. "Second Job" by Liz Betz
34. "The Pale Man" by Julius Long
33. "Three Tshakapesh Dreams" by Samuel Archibald
32. "The Crichton Farm" by Jana G. Pruden
31. "Scatter" by Rosalie Kempthorne
30. "Ewwrrrkk" by Souvankham Thammavongsa
29. "Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Mystery" by John Walsh
28. "The Blogger Wolf" by Douglas Sovern
27. "Sheets of Earth" by Silvina Ocampo, translated by Daniel Balderston
26. "Treaties" by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
25. "A Jungle Graduate" by James Francis Dwyer
24. unnamed by Sean Hill
23. "Let Us Pray" by Melanie Carstens
22. "Mallam Sile" by Mohammed Naseehu Ali
21. "Strawberry Lipstick" Kseniya Melnik
20. "Questions Surrounding my Disappearance" by Edward Riche
19. "Borges in Vegas" by Phillip Koch
18. "The Immortal Bard" by Isaac Asimov
17. "One Good Thing" by Charlene Carr
16. "Good King" by Andrew F. Sullivan
15. "Smile" by Mubashir Ali Zaidi
14. "Tattered Cotton" by Elise Holland
13. "Where Are The Men?" by Austin Clarke
12. "Igloolik" by Taqralik Partridge
11."In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried" by Amy Hempel


10. "The Ward" by Andrew Pyper
9. "The Silent Whisper" by Maclean Patrick
8. "Thin Places" by Gemma Files
7. "Wild Swimming" by Elodie Harper
6. "Off Days" by Shane Jones
5. "BOOM!" by Kimberley Jean Smith
4. "annie96 is typing" by Pascal Chatterjee
3. "Give Yourself Nightmares" by Billie Livingston
2. "Mountain Under Sea" by D. W. Wilson
1. "The Knowers" by Helen Phillips

Monday, December 26, 2016

Reader's Diary #1429- John Walsh: Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Mystery

A few years back I tried to find a Sherlock Holmes Christmas story and the closest I could find was "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" which wound up not being great and not all that Christmas-related after all.

But fortunately, enough well-respected authors have taken up fan-fiction where the old detective is concerned and it's not unusual for me to find a Sherlock Holmes story that I enjoy even better than the original Arthur Conan Doyle tales. Such is the case with John Walsh's "Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Mystery."

Early on Walsh establishes Holmes's relatability (he's dreading a Christmas dinner with his brother Mycroft) and his un-relatability (his quick powers of deduction reminded me of Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal). Then the mystery presents itself and Holmes is in his glory. A challenge is just what he wanted for Christmas.

And the ending? I'll really try hard not to spoil it, but will say that Sherlock Holmes turns out not to be the only fictional character to get the fan-fiction treatment. It's a perfect Sherlock Holmes story for Christmas all around.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Reader's Diary #1428- Lawrence Osgood: Midnight Sun

One of the bigger controversies in Bookland in 2016 came from Lionel Shriver's speech about the right of authors to take on the voice of someone from another culture, another gender, another sexual orientation, and so on, regardless of whether or not said group has had a history of being exploited and misrepresented. Personally, the whole debate made me uncomfortable, but that surely was the intent and it's good to feel uncomfortable from time to time. And as always, while I don't agree with extremes on either side of this debate, it was surely an important conversation to have.

In 1993 Annie Proulx wrote about Newfoundland in the critically acclaimed and award-winning novel The Shipping News. Hailing from Newfoundland, of course I had to read it. It left an odd feeling. On the one hand, the story and writing were good, on the other, Newfoundland felt... off. The setting, and more importantly, the people, didn't ring true. I maintain that Annie Proulx had a right to write about us, but should she have? (Later she would write about gay, male cowboys.) I want to stress that by asking the question, I am not suggesting that she shouldn't have, but truly pondering out loud.

All of which takes me to Lawrence Osgood's Midnight Sun, a novel that largely employs the supposed perspective of various Inuit characters and incorporates Inuit legends into the plot. Osgood, for the record, is not Inuit but had lived and worked in the Canadian Arctic for a number of years. To say that the question of whether or not Osgood should even be writing this book was a distraction would be an understatement. But that's fair; it should be something to consider. The way a mysterious white lady is fawned over and fetishized as a supernatural being reminded me of the way the tribes people of The Gods Must Be Crazy reacted to the mysterious Coca-Cola bottle. Such a comparison can't be good.

But then, there's a complimentary blurb from respected Inuvialuit politician and Inuit rights activist Rosemarie Kuptana on the cover, and surely she has more claim to be offended by Osgood's appropriation than I. If she's fine with it, why shouldn't I be?

Well, just as, I suppose, you'll find a range of opinions from Newfoundlanders about The Shipping News, I don't doubt that some Inuit would agree with Kuptana and some would disagree.

All the politics aside (but not out of mind), the story and writing itself is quite interesting. Blending supernatural with political drama, a unique setting, and complex characters, and solid writing, Midnight Sun is compelling the whole way through.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Reader's Diary #1427- Juan Diaz Canales (writer), Juanjo Guarnido (illustrator), Anthya Flores and Patricia Rivera (translators): Blacksad

Blacksad is a great comic all around. Revolving around the titular Blacksad, a cat-faced private investigator, these stories have a noir feel, but with surprisingly progressive undertones. The art by Juanjo Guarnido is similarly great. The colours match the stories, his backgrounds are rich and detailed, and the characters (all have various animal faces) and superbly expressive.

There's an introduction, however, by Jim Sternako, that almost did the book in for me. You know the kind: so full of hyperbolic praise that it almost turns you from the get go. The largest sin is suggesting that there's something unique about the animals-as-people approach.

I didn't find anything particularly groundbreaking about Blacksad and I almost felt obligated to fault it for that. But no, it's a damned fine, damned enjoyable book.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Reader's Diary #1426- Charles Dickens: The Christmas Goblins

Published years before "A Christmas Carol," Charles Dickens' "The Christmas Goblins" feels like a rough draft of the later novella. Actually, to put in more modern terms, it feels like a sitcom version of what should be a movie. The plot is rushed through and a character has an implausibly life changing experience.

The Scrooge character here is Gabriel Grubb, a sour-souled grave digger working on Christmas Eve. However, he doesn't seem bitter about this but rather enjoys it. It's a carol-singing boy that really gets under his skin.

As he begins to dig, goblins show up to chastise him for digging a grave on Christmas Eve. This I really didn't get. Maybe criticize him for enjoying it, but the story does state that it has to be readied for the next day. If someone has died and the burial has been scheduled for the next day, how is Grubb to be blamed for this?

Anyway, to send their message home, the goblins give him visions of families enjoying themselves for Christmas, even those whose circumstances might suggest they have little to celebrate. Grubb is so touched by the odd experience and visions that he becomes a changed man.

I just hope he finishes that grave.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Reader's Diary #1425- Chelsea Cain (writer), Kate Niemczyk (artist): Mockingbird 1 I Can Explain

Up until now I'd only known Bobbi Morse, a.k.a. Mockingbird, through the tv series Marvel's Agents of Shield. Sure she kicked butt and the love/hate chemistry between her and her ex, Lance Hunter, was entertaining, but still not the most memorable of characters. However, the idea of her headlining her own comic was intriguing.

Chelsea Cain's take on this character is, for those as similarly unschooled in Bobbi Morse as I was, surprising. First off, she's a lot more adult-oriented than Agents of Shield would lead you to believe. One story revolves around a bondage club. That said, it's still not graphic or anything, but more mature than I was expecting.

But she's also more 3-dimensional that I'd anticipated. She's definitely a confident fighter, but I quite enjoyed the glances into her past. As a child she desperately wanted to have super powers. As an adult, she has an on again off again relationship not only with Lance Hunter, but also with Hawkeye. Who knew? (Okay, many people besides me.)

The stories themselves are a bit disconnected. It begins with a story about how she may or may not have actually gotten superpowers but the follow up stories go off in all sort of tangents, none of which conclude the initial set up. These individual threads are all, fortunately interesting, action packed, and funny, but in a trade I'm used to have a 6 issue arc wrapped up. And, to be fair, Cain does acknowledge all of this in a final essay, promising that the story will start coming together in later issues.

Kate Niemczyk's characters are fine, if a bit generic, but they pop really well with colourist Rachelle Rosenberg's use of awesomely detailed patterns.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Reader's Diary #1424- Yoshikazu Yasuhiko: Mobile Suit Gundam Origin I Activation

Ah, piloted mecha suits. Think Tony Stark's Hulkbuster, think Avatar's AMPs, think Pacific Rim's Jaegers. Certainly not an original idea, but ones that nerds the world over have embraced for some time.

For many, their fandom began with the late 70s/early 80s animated Gundam TV series out of Japan. There have been many spin-offs both in print and anime form, but one that seems to have garnered particular respect is Yoshikazu Yasuhiko's Mobile Suit Gundam Origin series. Yasuhiko was the original character designer so people will thrilled to have him back and perhaps more importantly, the books are very faithful to the original series.

Not having had any exposure to the original series, I can't say that I share their enthusiasm. I found it all confusing and underdeveloped. The artwork is very busy and pages upon pages of smoky, gritty explosions, with little to no text left me completely in the dark of what was going on, who was getting hurt, or who was winning. The little text, when it was there, was compelling. The premise seems a bit like the Hunger Games set in space in that after the Earth has become overpopulated, space colonies (think districts) have been formed and one of those colonies wishes to separate. Unfortunately, there's precious little exposition. That would be fine if the art was up to the challenge of telling the story, but it was not.

Most reviews I've read on this series have been positive and in that way it reminded me of the graphic novel adaptation of Game of Thrones. It would seem that with both, prior knowledge of the stories and characters are needed to enjoy it and few acknowledge or appreciate that for newcomers, things needed to slow down and properly fill in the gaps.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Reader's Diary #1423- Andrew Pyper: The Ward

My family, like most families, has been touched tragically by cancer. Not my immediate family, but enough that I know that Christmas, with its insistence on mirth, can be especially difficult for those suffering. Not enough, however, that I can honestly say how I'd react if a really close loved one was dying. I suspect that it would be like Ed from Andrew Pyper's "The Ward," not really wanting to hear the well-wishes of others, not wanting to make idle chit-chat, and definitely not wanting to sing carols.

You would have gathered enough from the above to correctly ascertain that "The Ward" isn't exactly the cheeriest of Christmas stories, but I will say there's a sweet and tender moment at the end that still fits the spirit of the holiday.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Reader's Diary #1422- Andrew F. Sullivan: Good King

A favourite scene from Bill Murray's Scrooged is when he's witnessing his childhood, courtesy of the Ghost of Christmas Past. We see him on Christmas Eve after his father has come home from the butcher shop where he works and hands him a packet of meat. His Christmas gift. That's when his parents start arguing and his father offers up this gem,

All day long, I listen to people give me excuses why they can't work... 'My back hurts,' 'my legs ache,' 'I'm only four!'

It's so over-the-top, I find it almost impossible not to laugh (being the fan of dark comedy that I am).

I bring it up because I also found some of the tragic Christmases in Andrew F. Sullivan's "Good King" to be over-the-top. However, I then saw it as a litmus test of sorts. How over-the-top you find it may just depend on just how good/shitty your own childhood memories of Christmas are.

Structure-wise, I quite enjoyed the tale. It involves a man nicknamed Big Red, a warehouse worker, who is called upon to assist a worker who has just been attacked by another. However, Big Red's attempt at mouth-to-mouth results in a series of Christmas flashbacks. Most of which are not pleasant.

Still, like my favourite Christmas stories, there's hope. In this story I find it in Big Red, who despite his upbringing, seems to have risen above it. No, he's not rich or famous, but morally, he's all right.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Reader's Diary #1421- Ben Clanton: Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea

I've seen Ben Clanton's junior graphic novel Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea already popping up on a few Best of 2016 lists, so I figured I'd see what all the fuss is about.

It's a quirky book with adorable characters. Of course people love it. The grinchier side of me thinks it's a tad too quirky and adorable, almost template. But, I'm not the age group it's intended for, and perhaps this light, friendly humour is a healthy antidote for kids who might otherwise gear themselves toward slightly older, slightly more cynical humour.

The illustrations are very simple, but I do rather think this is a positive. It would no doubt be inspirational for kids to put a pen to paper to tell a simple story regardless of drawing ability.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Reader's Diary #1420- Jennifer Grunwald (editor): Strange Tales

In case you can't tell, that's the Incredible Hulk on the cover. Barely recognize him? That's because this Marvel compilation more than lives up to its name. Definitely not canon, these Strange Tales are written and illustrated by indie, avant-garde, and online comics artists. The results are eccentric and varied as those behind it. The only common thread is that they are written around Marvel superheroes.

I didn't recognize anyone beyond Paul Pope, Matt Kindt, and Jeffrey Brown, but I was happy to get the introduction to so many other fine talents. Fortunately, brief creator biographies are provided at the end, so I can follow up with those that jumped out.

And the ones that jumped out the most did so because of either their quirky sense of humour and/or their art. James Kochalka's Hulk comics may not have had the most complex art, but they were hilariously silly and the art fit. Nicholas Gurewitch's art on the other hand was far more technical and serious, but this gave weight to the surprise ending/punchlines.

Of course, in such a collection there were bound to be some that I wouldn't enjoy, some whose brand of humour I didn't get, some art that just wasn't my thing, but overall I found it to be a wildly creative package and give huge kudos to Marvel to supporting those that think outside the box.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - November Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

1. Click on the icon above
2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)
3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as John Mutford (Anne of Avonlea)
4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

And in prize news, Heather has won a signed copy of Richard Van Camp's Three Feathers for taking part in last month's mini-challenge to read a Canadian novel set north of 60. Congratulations, Heather! (Canadian Book Challenge mini-challenges are exclusive to members via email.)

Reader's Diary #1419- Margaret Atwood (writer), Johnnie Christmas (artist): Angel Catbird

It's hard to find a moderate voice on Margaret Atwood. It seems some think everything the woman writes is golden, worthy of yet another Governor General's Award, while others despise her simply because she's popular-- heaven forbid a Canadian writer get famous, the mere fact alone should disqualify them from any awards which apparently can only be given to flavours of the week. I happen to think Atwood is a damned fine writer. Most of her novels are great (not all) and I enjoy her poetry. I don't, however, think she's has any business writing children's books (Princess Prunella is dreadful).

All of this is my way of saying that I was open to the idea that her first attempt at a comic is good, but I was skeptical. Reviews would be no help.

In her introduction, Atwood goes out of her way to justify her qualifications in writing comic books. She read them as a kid, she even drew some! Then she describes the terrible struggle she had finding an illustrator and a publisher for Angel Catbird. Please. Publishers are savvy enough to know that there are enough of the "Atwood can do no wrong" types out there willing to shell out a few bucks regardless of the quality.

Now that I've read it, I wouldn't go as far as saying she has no business writing comics, but this smacks of a first, amateur attempt. It would seem that she's not read a superhero comic since her youth because Angel Catbird comes across oddly dated. Strig Feleedus, the man whose DNA is merged with a cat and an owl (in a ridiculously implausible manner), tends to narrate the action in his thoughts and speech the same way that Spider-Man stopped doing in the 80s. "My hands... what's happening?" If he's looking at his hand and they're suddenly not human-looking, we can guess what he's thinking! Less is more!

Johnnie Christmas's art is slightly better, but just serviceable. I'm a sucker for background details and Christmas's are sadly scant. They come across like newspaper strips when artists at least had the justification that they were under a deadline.

All in all, a disappointment.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Reader's Diary #1418- Marc Andreyko (writer), various artists: Wonder Woman '77 Volume 1

After the success of Batman '66, the comic based on the old Adam West TV series, I'm not shocked that DC would try to replicate that with Wonder Woman '77, this time based on the Linda Carter series.

Largely, I would suppose this is another win. That said, I've never actually seen the Linda Carter series so, whereas I could give praise to Jeff Parker and illustrators for capturing the whimsy of the old Batman series, I cannot say whether or not Marc Andreyko and crew were able to replicate the feel of the old Wonder Woman series. I would say it does give a pretty accurate portrayal of the 70s, but that's as far as I can go.

However, I can state that it works as a fun, low-stakes comic book series. Not yet having found a Wonder Woman comic that has really worked for me in terms of offering me compelling stories or endearing me to the character, this series doesn't quite achieve either of those either. That said, it's the first one that I've nonetheless enjoyed.

Now if they'll just do a Superman '78 series based on the old Christopher Reeves movies, we'd be all set.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Reader's Diary #1417- Sally Clark: Moo

Some plays I read and enjoy and don't care if I ever see it performed. Other plays I read, don't enjoy, and think that perhaps it best be seen. Sally Clark's Moo is one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and has left me wanting to see it.

Moo is a dark, fast-paced comedy about one of those typical disaster couples. The Sid and Nancy type. I don't think I'm alone in stating that Harry, the Sid in this equation, is easily the villain of the two, but Clark also goes out of her way to chip away at any sympathy one might feel towards Moo, the Nancy. The play opens with Harry having Moo locked up in an insane asylum under false pretenses. Yet that is not a deal breaker.

It's a quirky story and one that could provide much fodder for intelligent debate, yet for all of that, it's accessible and works just fine as pure entertainment.

Reader's Diary #1416- Silvina Ocampo, translated by Daniel Balderston: Sheets of Earth

It's usually only when an artist (painter, musician, actor, writer) does something distasteful that we make the effort to separate the artist from his work. The art must have came from the muse, the great beyond, belonging to the world and let's not credit the monster behind it, or at the very least, let's not give him back his art. Odd that this is when the artist is free.

The artist in Silvina Ocampo's "Sheets of Earth" is a gardener. He does not have a fall from grace and is thus consumed by his work. Literally. The struggle is weak, more acceptance really. Likewise, those around him seem to not put in any effort to help.

It's an interesting tale with the air of a parable.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Reader's Diary #1415: Ian McEwan: Atonement

Years ago I created a list called "glaring omissions" of all the books that everyone else seemed to have read by me. I stuck it up on the side bar of this blog and over time have whittled away at it, bringing the number down from 20 to 2. Ian McEwan's Atonement has been one of the hold outs for a couple of reasons. First off, I've since seen the film adaptation and regardless of how I feel about a movie, I'm much less likely to read a book after seeing it on the screen. I usually find it taints my perception, I find it hard not to envision the actors in the roles and so on. Secondly, I've since read Ian McEwan's Saturday. I enjoyed it but probably not enough to be inspired to seek out another novel by him, being more interested in familiarizing myself with other authors. But now that time has passed and both are becoming more distant memories, I've finally given in and knocked Atonement off the list.

I knew I was in trouble when it opened with a quote from Jane Austen. Finding old British literature rather stuffy, especially Austen, it was not a good sign.

For the few remaining people who have not read Atonement or seen the movie, the story involves a couple of sisters, Briony and Cecilia Tallis, and their childhood friend Robbie. Briony is increasingly becoming shocked at the actions of Robbie towards her older sister Cecilia, not understanding that they are on the brink of a new, sexual relationship. When a rape happens nearby, Briony convinces herself and others that Robbie is the culprit and many lives spiral downward as a result.

Being set in the 30s and involving an upper class British family is essential to the story as it would be much more implausible or at least much less likely in today's society. I started to wonder if perhaps McEwan was making such a point, that just as Briony needed to atone for her sins, so must society for having created such a culture of secrecy and rigid norms that would allow such tragedies to happen. But if that was the case, McEwan struck me as the type of father who, upon catching his teenage son smoking, would force him to smoke an entire pack in order to become sick and learn the lesson the hard way. The first third of Atonement is in itself stuffy. The Tallis family is pretentious and unlikable. Worst of all, the plot plods along so painfully slowly.

Not that I think McEwan is a bad writer and in fact, take any page and you can find some gorgeous passages. It's such passages that allowed me to continue. Still, as a complete package Atonement was a tedious chore.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Reader's Diary #1414- Harvey Pekar (writer), various illustrators: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar

I had seen the infamous clips of Harvey Pekar being "interviewed" by David Letterman before but quickly put them out of my head, not thinking about him again until reading The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar, a double collection of two American Splendor anthologies. Harvey Pekar was the grandfather of graphic memoirs.

That's a pretty neat title for someone who never himself drew. Instead he tended to badger artists friends into illustrating his work. Fortunately, he seemed to have some pretty talented friends. His most common collaborator, and the only one whose work I was previously familiar, was Robert Crumb. I'm okay with Crumbs thick-lined, almost grotesquely exaggerated cartoons, but it was Gerry Shamray's work that really blew me away. He used negative space like no one I've ever seen before.

Actually, all of the authors here are to be applauded for finding any way to illustrate Pekar's work. Half the time they're simply rants, the other half really text-heavy stories and observations. (Future graphic memoirists have found a better balance of words and pictures, for sure.) Nonetheless, it all works as a complete package, a package meant to give a sense of who Harvey Pekar the man is (or was, as the case might be).

At first I wasn't sure I'd like Harvey Pekar all that much. Or even at all. He seemed to take pride in being cheap and using his friends. Worse, he had a misogynistic streak. (Any woman who dared turn him down was a "bitch," or even a "cunt" in one case.). Not that I ever got over my reservations completely, but by the end, I grew to discover that he was more complex than that, he was more sensitive than he first appeared, and he had a penchant for self-deprecation. Nonetheless, he came across as honest and for a study of another man's life, you could do worse than The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Reader's Diary #1413- Elise Holland: Tattered Cotton

I like to see real middle class domestic life in my stories and TV. A little less sheen, an acknowledgement that we're not all supermodels living in immaculately mini-mansions and wearing designer clothes fresh out of the store. This is not to say I want us always presented as slobs either, and Elise Holland does a supremely fair job of balancing it all.

"Tattered Cotton" is a simple story really. There's a couple who are now in that real stage of couples life. Worn clothing, complete with holes, simple conversations about supper, not a lot of sleep or free time, 2 kids. But in love nonetheless or because of it all. Still, when finding themselves with a night to themselves, they make the most of it. The story, from the woman's point of view, is about getting fixed up for their date. As the husband points out, he's attracted to her when she's less than fancy. But still, fancy is appreciated on both sides on occasion.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Reader's Diary #1412- Ta-Nehisi Coates (writer), Brian Stelfreeze (artist): Black Panther A Nation Under Our Feet Book One

It was back in February, in anticipation of the Captain America: Civil War movie that I read Christopher Priest's first collection of Black Panther comics.While the comics were a huge disappointment, luckily Black Panther's portrayal in the movie was not and my appetite for the character was whetted once more.

Make no mistake, Ta-Nehisi Coates' Black Panther run is vastly superior. Brian Stelfreeze's art is consistent, there's no annoying Everett Ross character, and Wakanda is far more interesting than the United States.

But as great as Wakanda is, and it's the star of this book, I'm still left longing for more insight into King T'Challa (a.k.a. Black Panther). As an anti-monarchist I struggle with the idea of a king as a superhero anyway, so I'm not necessarily looking to like the character as much as to understand him. Unfortunately he's just not on the page enough. Granted, the other characters are interesting in their own right, they're not the ones with their name on the cover.

Despite my issues, I am glad to have read this as a collected volume versus the individual comics. Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn't come from a comics background and perhaps that's why I found the story a little slow to develop. Slow is not necessarily a bad thing, but as individual comics, I suspect many many would find it all a little too boring and not bother coming back. As a collection though, I began to see the myriad plots and characters coming together and I'm hopeful that Black Panther himself will be developed a little more in future collections. I even sense that the idea of democracy is just around the corner.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Reader's Diary #1411- S. L. Dixon: 1993

"1993" by S. L. Dixon provides an unintended lesson in subtlety. It tells of a young boy in rural Ontario who is a closeted Canadiens fan. In Leafs country.

Did you catch that "closeted" there? If you usually associate such a word with gay people who are fearful of revealing their true selves, rest assured that the connotation was intended.

Very early in the story I was feeling good that Dixon's story could be a metaphor, especially with the hockey cover story; the message may be felt in the athletic community, where I have heard, it is even harder for young people to be themselves.

But then all subtlety is lost.

Why couldn't he love like everyone else did? Why did he have to feel such a way about something everyone else saw as wrong?

Just a little later

Nicholas couldn't understand all of the hatred, as it wasn't a choice he made, but it was who he was.

and finally

Loving the Canadiens was no longer a taboo issue and Nicholas could be free to love without ridicule or torment.

I don't know. I guess to me those lines stuck out like sore thumbs, more relevant to the metaphor than the actual surface story. As if readers might be to dumb to pick up on the connection otherwise. Also, the tone of the story, despite the "message," comes across as lighthearted and comparing a boy and his Habs sweater to a gay person who wants to be himself without fear of repercussions seems to trivialize the latter if you ask you me.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Reader's Diary #1410 - Ryan North: The Best of Dinosaur Comics 2003 - 2005

It's very fitting that one of the strips in Ryan North's The Best of Dinosaur Comics 2003 - 2005 refers to Scott McCloud's definition of comics: "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in a deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer." 

I've never been 100% comfortable with this definition, though I'm a huge fan of McCloud's 1993 masterpiece Understanding Comics, from where it originally came. First off, I'm not entirely sure about  the omission of hand-crafted art. This definition would suggest that a family photo album is a comic while a single panel Far Side cartoon is not. Secondly, I'm not entirely comfortable with the omission of words. Sure I can think of brilliant wordless comics (Shaun Tan's The Arrival), but the best comics are the ones where well-chosen words and pictures work together. 

So, despite North's claims that he created the web-comic series Dinosaur Comics with the simplest of intentions and methodologies (he wanted to meet girls who were into comics but he couldn't draw, so he found a handful of dinosaur cliparts, stuck them in a particular order, and repeated these images and sequences day after day, only altering the words), he nonetheless understood that there was something deliciously subversive about the whole thing. Here, words ARE the most vital part of the comic. You can only barely suggest that the pictures are in a deliberate sequence, and secondly, as the words sometimes don't even reference the images at all, the only thing that keeps it interesting at all are the words. It is, of course, fascinating that this works at all, not feeling monotonous at all and one almost forgets that it's the same set of images day in and day out. Whereas McCloud puts all the emphasis on images, North provides an example where the images hardly seem important at all.

Humour-wise, Dinosaur Comics reminds me a lot of Kate Beaton's comics, both take on a variety of subjects (comics, science, philosophy, and so on) with a hint of academia, but ample doses of friendly sarcasm (snark, but dialed down). It's like a first year university student trying undergraduate degree what to pursue. Again like Beaton, North avoids pretension in a project such as this all thanks to an infectious personality (though North projects his personality onto a T-Rex), one that is self-deprecating, cordial, and full of curiousity.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Reader's Diary #1409 - Mohammed Naseehu Ali: Mallam Sile

Mohammed Naseehu Ali's "Mallam Sile," set in Ghana, is full of wondrous imagery, most of it describing the titular character. Then, about halfway through, the story switches and seems to focus on his new bride. But, in case you were missing Mallam Sile, the two come together— in the most perfect way— at the end.

For a story that seems to dwell in characters, the plot is surprisingly compelling and raises a lot of questions about theological determinism versus free will. 

Friday, November 04, 2016

Reader's Diary #1408 - Dennis Hopeless (writer), Javier Rodriguez (artist): Spider-Woman Baby Talk Volume 1

Another Marvel character I didn't know much about, but as I've been exploring the Spider-Verse a bit this year, I knew enough that I definitely couldn't forget her. She may not have been around as long as Peter Parker's Spider-Man, but longer than Spider-Gwen, Silk, or Miles Morales's Spider-Man.

And as female Marvel character who's been around for a while, you'd be correct to assume that she's not always been treated with a lot of respect by the myriad of artists and writers who've had their turn. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see a very pregnant and respectably posed Spider-Woman, especially after the Milo Manara debacle just a few years back.

I'll also say that I was surprised that they went with 2 males for the writer/artist team, but I think the results are great. Again, this is coming from a male who's never been pregnant, so perhaps my opinion on this isn't highly prized either, but Jessica Drew's (a.k.a. Spider-Woman's) pregnancy did remind me a lot of my wife's two pregnancies, so it at least seemed accurate.

Of course, my wife didn't give birth in a Black Hole while fighting off an army of Skrull terrorists (that I'm aware of), so lest I make you think this is all about a pregnancy and not a superhero, I would like to set the record straight that even in a late stage pregnancy, Spider-Woman kicks ass. The balance between depicting a single mother, going through many physical and emotional changes, and a funny, action-filled superhero comic was just perfect.

For the most part, Rodriguez's art looked like generic superhero stuff, but I was quite impressed with his varied use of panels, whether they showed several Jessicas in one scene to capture her movements or repeated a scene several times side by side but with minor differences to slow down the pace, I found it all very purposeful and appropriate.