Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - August 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, Kate has won a hardcover copy of Kelley Armstrong's Omens for taking part in last month's mini-challenge to read something by any of the most read Canadian authors (for the Canadian Book Challenge) as found in the sidebar stats. Canadian Book Challenge mini-challenges are exclusive to members via email.

Reader's Diary #1368- Wren Nowan (writer), Michael Reardon (artist): Escape from Alcatraz 14 The Final Breakout

As the subtitle states, this comic by Wren Nowan and Michael Reardon details the final escape attempt from Alcatraz. Just three months after John Paul Scott and Darl Dee Parker tried, and failed, to leave Alcatraz behind them for good, Alcatraz the prison was closed for good.

Of all of the documented escape attempts, I wouldn't call Scott's and Dee's the most thrilling or inventive (they found weak window bars in the kitchen from years of past prisoners' filing attempts and managed to finally make the breakthrough), but none of these stories were exactly boring. Michael Reardon's masterful watercolour art on this issue is also enough to keep one engaged.

Unless I can get my hand on the volumes that I've missed, or if they finally publish a collected graphic novel version, this also ends my time with this series— one of the best souvenirs I've ever purchased. Now, reflecting back, there seemed to have been a theme (one born out of facts, not of artistic license) of the need for prison reform. Alcatraz was a tough place and seemed to exist to appease the general public that criminals were being punished and being punished harshly. If reform was not a consideration, certainly an engaging environment was not. To some extent, I think that's where the escape attempts came from; sheer boredom and a need to escape the monotony.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Reader's Diary #1367- Sara Ryan (writer), Steve Lieber (artist): Escape from Alcatraz 13 The Dummy Head Breakout

Of all of the escape attempts from Alcatraz, the one dubbed "The Dummy Head Breakout" by Sara Ryan is perhaps the one that captured the most attention and still remembered today. And why wouldn't it? It involved the classic chiseling out through the vents, there were paper mache dummy heads, and three escapees have never been seen again. This stuff is legendary.

My son and I also found it somewhat amusing, mostly due to the hapless inmate Allen West. Claiming to be the mastermind behind the whole thing, he was the only one of the quartet not to have gotten out. First off, he hadn't chiseled his hole big enough, and secondly, when you see the four confiscated paper mache heads side by side, the quality of his bust compared to others sends me into fits of giggles every time. See if you can tell which one is his. Hint: like the hole, West didn't finish this either.

Steve Lieber's art in this one is fine, if in the style of generic pseudo- realism.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Reader's Diary #1366- Alice Munro: Amundsen

It's been so long since I've read anything by Alice Munro, I've mostly forgotten why I'm not a huge fan of her writing. Yes, as pro-Canadian lit as I am, that statement must seem rather shocking, but no, after reading several collections of Alice Munro, I knew that I did not care to read another. The only reason that I can recall now is that I found her supposedly "short" stories, too long and boring.

However, I did come across "Amundsen" a short story of hers that managed to fit into the pages of a New Yorker, and so thought I'd give that a shot.

I don't know that I'd go as far as calling "Amundsen" boring, but I'm also not sure that had it gone on for another 70 pages I would have wished to continue. There's something about it that seemed cold, calculating, and cynical. At first I thought it was Munro's delivery. The story is so tightly controlled near the beginning, especially revelations about the setting, that I felt as if Munro was dangling a carrot just out of reach. The place and time and other setting particulars were vague and more than a little confusing. Much detail came later and, I suppose, I've applauded other authors for similar tactics, slowly pulling back the curtain on the setting allows it to not stall the plot. Though in this case, I found it distracting.

This rigidity, however, is also manifested in the two main characters and the plot of their ill-fated love. Perhaps this was the point, that back in those days and circumstances, communication was stilted and many of those practical marriages of the time were disastrous; strangers marrying strangers because it was expected. Viewed in that light, I suppose "Amundsen" could be taken as a happy ending (spoiler: a wedding is called off). But it's the Munro version of a happy ending so don't expect balloons.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Reader's Diary #1365- Patti LaBoucane-Benson (writer), Kelly Mellings (artist): The Outside Circle

The Outside Circle, by Patti LaBoucane-Benson, tells a story of Pete, a young Cree man, whose life seems to be going off track. He's abandoned a girl who he's gotten pregnant, he's involved with a gang, and to top it off, he murders his heroin addicted mother's boyfriend. However, things finally start turning around when he is introduced to the In Search of Your Warrior Program. This program, which exists in real life and which author Laboucane-Benson has been instrumental in overseeing, involves historical awareness, indigenous spirituality, and other researched, successful counseling approaches.

While at times The Outside Circle could be didactic, it was largely offset with honesty and artistic flourishes. Pete's life is not pretty and LaBoucane-Benson doesn't shy away from harsh realities. Swearing is tampered down somewhat with comic cursings (i.e., F#@$), making it more likely to be used in schools, I suppose, but there's also a lot of violence depicted. Personally, I think it was important to show this.

The artistic approaches came courtesy of both LaBoucane-Benson and artist Kelly Mellings. One favourite and powerful scene comes early in the book when Pete's mother is signing a "Permanent Guardianship Order" for her younger son, Pete's brother Joey, to be taken into the custody of Social Services. Instead of the wording one might expect on such a document, it instead details historical legacies which have contributed to this scene: residential schools and the '60s Scoop.

Also, Mellings makes much use of masks as a symbol, a theme that carries throughout the book, until finally explained near the end. It's a powerful and compelling image.

Ultimately, The Outside Circle is a story of hope, offering an insight to a program that may help heal the lives of many in need.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Reader's Diary #1364- Jeff Parker (writer), various artists: Batman '66 Volume 1

Is there a more extreme character in comics than Batman? On the one side, you have this bright, campy 60s version, and on the other a version so dark and cynical, he's just a few syllables above grunting. That there's still an attraction to both versions is crazy (they're making a new animated version with Adam West reprising the role). Shouldn't there be a happy medium? Aren't these essentially just two different superheroes sharing the same name?

Regardless, I do have a little fondness for the old '60s Batman. Growing up in Atlantic Canada in the 80s, Sunday morning meant the Halifax version of Switchback, a talk/variety show aimed at kids. It was an hour and a half long, but two 15 minutes segments were devoted to Adam West Batman episodes (later I think it was Get Smart). It was hard not to appreciate the cheese.

Batman '66 amazingly captures it all in a series of comics set in the style of that old show but written today. This means that you get the classic versions of villains, like the Joker who is drawn to look just like Cesar Romero, but also new characters who weren't even created at the time, drawn seamlessly into that era, like Harley Quinn.

The art, drawn by various artists, is stellar, even if I felt the quality slipped ever-so-slightly after the very first issue, with its overdose of Ben-Day dots and gaudy colours. Still, even the volume as a whole, is a brilliant piece of pop art.

I'm not sure that I'm any rush to read the next volume, though. Fun as it all is, it's like candy. There's no character development or substance at all really, but for pure entertainment it's great.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Reader's Diary #1363 - Dan Archer: Escape from Alcatraz 9 The Lone Wolf Breakout

In terms of pure silliness, like something out a Scooby Doo cartoon, this was one of my favourites of the Escape from Alcatraz comics series.

The lone wolf is inmate John Giles, a robbing murderer and known escape artist. At Alcatraz, however, he's known to be quiet, he keeps to himself, doesn't cause trouble. He's rewarded for his good behaviour by getting laundry duty. At the time, laundry was delivered from the U.S. Army, washed by inmates, and then picked up again. For years, Giles bides his time, slowly smuggling enough for a full uniform.

Finally, when the uniform is complete and on a day when the Army is returning, Giles ducks out of sight to quickly don the uniform. He manages to make it on board, but of course, this plan is just ridiculous and he's noted missing onshore almost immediately. Guards call the captain, and, well, let's just say that the years of planning this escape were wasted.

Archer's art is great, with lots of hatching lines for detail and watercolours, mostly in army shades of green and brown.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Reader's Diary #1362- David Alexander Robertson (writer), Scott B. Henderson: The Ballad of Nancy April Shawnadithit

I really admire David Alexander Robertson's drive to remember the lives of particular indigenous Canadians through graphic novels and I was very happy to see that he'd taken on Shawnadithit. Anyone growing up in Newfoundland certainly knows who she was, but I'm unsure how many outside of the province do.

Still, honorable as his projects are, I've always been a little luke warm toward the execution. He tends to place the historical stories with fictional, and usually unnecessary,  frames. In this story, a girl whose necklace is broken causing her to be late for a fishing trip, falls asleep and dreams of Shawnadithit.

But again, it does the job of reminding people of who Shawnadithit and her Beothuk people. Though we learned a lot about Shawnadithit in elementary school, I don't recall hearing about how many Beothuks were taken as slaves. It was a very important reminder about the injustices they faced. Their legacy must never be forgotten and I thank Robertson for keeping it alive.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Reader's Diary #1361- Chip Zdarsky (writer), Erica Henderson (artist): Jughead Volume One

For someone who wasn't all that into Archie comics as a kid, I sure do find myself reading (and enjoying!) a lot of that company's output lately. That's because I've found them, in recent years, to be one of the most madly awesome publishers in terms of creative decisions and hiring talent. Jughead Volume One is a prime example. It's everything I ever wanted Archie comics to be. It's actually funny and the art is cool.

Perhaps even more so than Mark Waid's recent run on Archie, Jughead seems to understand the appeal of the source material and stay true to it. And when I say source material, I mean decades of digest magazines. There is a frame story throughout this collected volume (i.e., that Riverdale High has been taken over by rather militant faculty), but there are weird and hilarious episodes, short stories that see Jughead and the gang traveling through time, as pirates, as super spies, and so on. Said short stories can stand on their own, but explained away as Jughead's various over-actively imaginative dreams.

Now, I say all this about Zdarsky respecting the source material and so on, but I should be honest that my daughter (who has been really into Archie comics as a kid), was less than blown away. When I said it's everything I ever wanted Archie comics to be, she's never wanted them to be anything else. Fortunately, those digests still exists so, with Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson's take?  Boom, fan base expanded. Traditional diehard fans and newbies alike can all find something to love.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Reader's Diary #1360- Annelies Pool: Free Love

I once went to a writers workshop where the author presenting insisted on using the 3-act structure. I hadn't heard of it before and while he was able to provide plenty examples of movies and novels that did indeed use that structure— even ones I enjoyed— I hated it. It made everything too predictable, too cookie-cutter, stripped of any magic.

It came to mind again most recently while reading Annelies Pool's excellent novel, Free Love, which looks at woman named Marissa who has entered Alcoholics Anonymous. Of course, with someone entering AA or any sort of rehab, you just know where the plot's going to go: there's definitely going to be a relapse before this gets better. But, without trying to give too much away, Pool doesn't go this predictable route and yet the book still held my attention and still had an honest-to-god plot. Major kudos to her. (And in-yo'-face, Mr. Unnamed Author!)

Set right here in Yellowknife (with flashbacks set in Hamilton, Ontario), I was also very impressed with the delicate but accurate balance Pool struck while reflecting the beauty of the place and its people, yet not denying some of the social issues. Less familiar to me were the behind the scenes of AA meetings and I found them fascinating, especially the familial bonds that develop. Actually, I should be more specific: the healthy familial bonds. In biological families, we don't always have the unconditional love we deserve.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Reader's Diary #1359 - Samuel Archibald: Three Tshakapesh Dreams

Sometimes in a piece of fiction, I'll come across an observation that seems so precise and so obscure that it immediately rings true. In Samuel Archibald's "Three Tshakapesh Dreams" the line, the details of which are marginally important to the story at best, goes,
It was just by Saint-Eusèbe Church and the McDonald’s cigarette factory, where in spring and summer the dried tobacco smells so much like cinnamon buns that it’s been twenty years since I’ve eaten one of those damned buns.
I can only conclude that Archibald himself has once had experience being near a cigarette factory. I haven't and never in a million years would have assumed that dried tobacco smells like cinnamon buns.

Such lines are clever. If this presumed throwaway line feels authentic then the author gains trust and everything feels probable. "Three Tshakapesh Dreams" deals with a First Nations man who works as an uncover cop in a rather seedy and tough neighbourhood of Montreal. Heroin, prostitution, biker gangs, and mafia. It's all foreign world of experience to me. Honestly, Archibald might be pulling the details out of his ass and those familiar with that place and life might laugh their heads off over the inaccuracies, but man, it feels real and therefore, intriguing as all hell. Almost like disaster tourism but from a safe distance.

But it's not just the setting, the story, too is suspenseful and full of drama. I quite enjoyed it.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Comics, Cartoons, and Graphic Novels from Across Canada

Lists, while often helpful, can become obsolete almost immediately. Two cases in point: In 2007 I made a list of books to read from around the country, province by province. Now, of course, it's missing some very notable titles from the past 9 years: Half-blood Blues, The Sisters Brothers, or anything by Alan Bradley, for instance. More recently I created a list called the 13 Greatest Canadian Graphic Novels of All Time. This one is almost embarrassing in retrospect. Again, and of course, many great graphic novels came since, but at the time I was also pretty ignorant about the nationality of about a gazillion well-known and respected graphic novelists (artists and/or writers) from right here in Canada. Still, rather than update those (anyone still happening upon them likely take them with a grain of salt anyway), I've decided to somewhat combine the two ideas to create a list I've not yet done before, one that bridges my passion for both Canadian books and comics: comics, cartoons, and graphic novels by province and territory. Again, it's not a perfect list. Likely you'll notice a personal favourite that I've overlooked (please let me know in the comments!). Also, it's not comprehensive. Some of these artists and writers are quite prolific and there's no way I could list all of their output. Finally, a quick word about the categorization. By and large I've categorized them by birthplace or current home of the author or artist, or where the book is primarily set. It's not a perfect system, but for those hoping to read comics from across the country, hopefully it'll be a useful guide. Oh, and it'll probably be obsolete tomorrow.

Yukon Ho! - Bill Waterson
The Klondike - Zach Warton
White Fang- by Jack London, illustrated by Penko Galev

Northwest Territories
Ramshackle - Alison McCreesh
Nelvana of the Northern Lights - Adrian Dingle
A Blanket of Butterflies - Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Scott Henderson
We Stand on Guard- Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Matt Hollingsworth
Encounter on the Eagle- Wally Wolfe

Arctic Comics - edited by Nicholas Burns
The Country of Wolves - Neil Christopher, illustrated by Ramón Pérez
Far Arden- Kevin Cannon

Newfoundland and Labrador
Life with Archie: The Viking Trail - George Gladir, illustrated by Stan G.
The Ballad of Nancy April: Shawnadithit - David Alexander Robertson, illustrated by Scott Henderson
The Underworld Railroad - Jason M. Burns, illustrated by Paul Tucker
Sparky - Matt Troke
Atlantis #1 - Geoffrey Sterling and Scott Stirling (writers), Danny Bulanadi (artist)

Prince Edward Island
War Brothers - Sharon E. McKay, illustrated by Daniel Lafrance
Anne of Green Gables - Lucy Maud Montgomery, adapted by C.W. Cooke and illustrated by Guancarlo Malagutti
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S. Thompson, adapted by Troy Little

Nova Scotia
Civil War- Mark Millar, illustrated by Steve McNiven
Friends with Boys- Faith Erin Hicks
Underwater Welder - Jeff Lemire
Hark! A Vagrant - Kate Beaton
Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat Volume 1: Hooked on a Feline - Kate Leth

New Brunswick
Tangles - Sarah Leavitt
You Might Be From New Brunswick If... - Michael de Adder
The Errand - Leo Lafleur, illustrated by Adam Oehlers

Jane, the Fox and Me - Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Pyongyang - Don Delisle
Dirty Plotte - Julie Doucet
Paul Has a Summer Job - Michel Rabagliatti
Pride of Baghdad - Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Nico Henrichon
Moon Knight: The Bottom - Charlie Huston, illustrated by David Finch
Swamp Thing - Scott Snyder, illustrated by Yanick Paquette
Susceptible - Genevieve Castree

It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken - Seth
Herman Classics - Jim Unger
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power - Ryan North, illustrated by Erica Henderson
Dinosaur Comics - Ryan North
Essex County - Jeff Lemire
Animal Man: Volume 1 The Hunt - Jeff Lemire, illustrated by Travel Foreman
For Better or For Worse - Lynn Johnston
Scott Pilgrim - Brian Lee O'Malley
Northwest Passage - Scott Chantler
Runaways: Pride and Joy - Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Adrian Alphona
Ms. Marvel: Volume One No Normal - G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona
Through the Woods - Emily Carroll
Baba Yaga's Assistant - Marika McCoola, illustrated by Emily Carroll
Skim - Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
This One Summer - Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Hyena in Petticoats - Willow Dawson
Rex Libris: I, Librarian - James Turner
Captain Canuck Volume 1 - Richard Comely, illustrated by George Freeman
Johnny Canuck - Leo Bachle
Jughead Vol. 1 - Chip Zdarsky, illustrated by Erica Henderson
Alpha Flight Classics - John Byrne
The Book of Losers - Ben Wicks
Night Wanderer - Drew Hayden Taylor, adapted by Alison Kooistra, illustrated by Michael Wyatt
Tru Detective - Norah McClintok, illustrated by Steven P. Hughes
Child Soldier - Jessica Dee Humphreys and Michel Chikwanie, illustrated by Claudia Davila
Susanna Moodie: Roughing it in the Bush - Carol Shields and Patrick Crowe, illustrated by Selena Goulding
In-Between Days - Teva Harrison
Jinx - J. Torres, illustrated by Rick Burchett

Louis Riel - Chester Brown
Moonshot - Edited by Hope Nicholson
Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story - David Alexander Robertson, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson

Look Straight Ahead - Elaine M. Will
You Might be from Saskatchewan If - Carson Demmans, illustrated by Jason Sylvestre
Devil Dealers - Ross May, illustrated by Brett Wood
War Crimes - Alison Tieman

Saga - Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples
Archie Volume One - Mark Waid, illustrated by Fiona Staples
Spawn, Origins Collection Volume One - Todd McFarlane
The Outside Circle - Patti LaBoucane-Benson, illustrated by Kelly Mellings

British Columbia
Binky the Space Cat - Ashley Spires
Black Canary Volume One: Kicking and Screaming - Brendan Fletcher, illustrated by Annie Wu, Pia Guerra, and Sandy Jarrell
Y: The Last Man - Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Pia Guerra
Red: A Haida Manga - Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas
The Listener - David Lester
Rat Queens - Kurtis J. Wiebe (writer), illustrated by Roc Upchurch

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Reader's Diary #1358 - John Lewis with Andrew Aydin (writers), Nate Powell (artist): March Book One

I know far less American history than Canadian history, and beyond Newfoundland and Northern history, I'm not great at that either. When it comes to American Civil Rights leaders, I could have named Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks, but beyond them, I'd be scrambling. So, it was great to have an introduction to Congressman John Lewis's role— an introduction I'd probably still not have had had it not been told in a graphic novel format and the second volume winning an Eisner Award.

John Lewis comes across as a compelling but sweet, almost quiet man, and to think of him as helping lead a revolution might seem at first to be counter-intuitive. Until you see his path and personality intertwine. It is not surprising then to see him turn to the teachings of Gandhi and practice nonviolent resistance. But more importantly, and perhaps most interesting considering it's a side most people don't consider, March shows the work and practice involved in such a tactic. Indeed, it worked. And looking at it now, it's remarkable. It's embarrassing and confusing and angering to see white people refusing to even serve a black person in a restaurant. I don't get how or why they could have behaved that way, to try (and fail) to take away another human being's dignity.

Nate Powell's art perfectly matches the text, expressive and black and white to capture the time period, with a Will Eisner sort of style, sometimes abandoning the panel lines and giving such scenes an air of historical significance beyond Lewis's personal story. Powerful stuff.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Reader's Diary #1357- Brandon Seifert (writer), Joko Budiono (artist): Escape from Alcatraz 10 Battle of '46

Continuing on with the Escape from Alcatraz series, comes the exceedingly violent "Battle of '46" written by Brandon Seifert and illustrated by Joko Budiono. During this escape attempt, people on both sides of the law lost their lives. If you visit Alcatraz today you can still see pock marks from a grenade that was thrown during this battle.

Reading these escape attempts, it's hard sometimes not to admire the dedication, creativity, and tenacity of some of the prison. This particular tale involves the methodological observation of the guards; where they kept their keys and guns, their routines, as well as sizing up potential bars for weaknesses and acquiring a contraband bar spreader.

It's not to suggest that Seifert (or other writers in this series) glamourized these criminals or their escape attempts, and indeed, bios let you know all about why they're there. Recently in Yellowknife we had an escaped murderer on the loose for 3 days — I know it's serious when it happens in real life and I know the deaths in the Battle of '46 were very much real. Still, from a distance, these are some exciting stories.

Budiono's sepia art, sometimes enhanced with bright reds to show blood, again helps set the historical and violent tone. Plus, his faces are very expressive, helping capture the fear, anger, and regret that must have plagued those involved.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Reader's Diary #1356- Irv Novick: The Shield

Starting to explore the world of non Marvel/DC superheroes as well as Archie comics beyond Double Digests, The Shield was a perfect find. This collects the first 8 Shield comics from January to the summer of 1940, published originally in PEP Comics.

The Shield started out as the alter-ego of Joe Higgins, a chemist who's devised a suit to give him super strength, speed, and make impervious to bullets and flame— all while defending his country. He's a pretty patriotic guy, in case you haven't guessed, answering to the one person who knows his true identity, real-life J. Edgar Hoover. The publishers refer to him as the first truly patriotic superhero. (Yes, he predates Captain America.)

One must read early superhero comics with an understanding that times were different, superhero comics were new, and haven't had scores of writers and artists perfecting the genre. One notable thing to normally expect is a large dose of racism. Granted, in terms of these early Shield comics, the racism is relatively low. 1940 predates America's involvement in WWII, so perhaps that explains it; the villains are from fictional lands, the Stokians and the Moscovians. The latter is clearly based on the Germans with exaggerated accents, but still mild compared to many comics of the time. 

The quality, however, is 1940's. There's little character building, almost every scene is narrated as if there's little faith in the art that readers can extrapolate what's going on, and the dialogue is over-the-top with cheese. The Shield keeps referring to everyone as "boys" like he's the host of Amazing Race Canada. 

The art isn't terrible but man, I did get more than a little hung up on The Shield's ridiculous suit. It's basically a red leotard with a flag patterned woman's one piece bathing suit stretched over the top. Too funny.

All that said, one good thing about not having a lot of character building is that future writers and artists have a lot to develop, without having to work overcoming or rewriting past creative decisions.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Reader's Diary #1355- Howard Chaykin: Buck Rogers Grievous Angels

Continuing on with my exploration into pulp heroes of early American radio dramas and newspaper strips (earlier I looked at Green Hornet and Dick Tracy), this time I looked at Howard Chaykin's attempt at rebooting sci-fi icon, Buck Rogers.

See if you can tell which line in the back cover summary gave me cause for concern:

Now, over eighty years after the creation of the newspaper strip that became a household word, Chaykin has returned the character and his universe back to the basics: Buck Rogers, former World War I ace is accidentally suspended in time only to awaken to a new and different easth, 500 years in the future, fragmented by war and ruled by an omnipotent force— the Chinese.

Now I've read enough comics from that time period to expect blatantly racist propaganda. But I have to say that I was was surprised to see, in a reboot, that Asians would be bad guys again. 

It turns out though that this was a conscious point on Chaykin's part and indeed Buck Rogers, surprising for his origin, lectures others about racism. 

Not that it's handled well. The racists in the book refer to the Chinese as "the slants" and "Chinks" and to be honest it's uncomfortable. I know, I know, in real life racists say nasty, ugly things, but this is a Buck Rogers comic, it's not exactly going for realism. Plus, if other details from the original strips were changed, this detail needn't have been the one to keep. And even with his anti-racism, Rogers is far from a hero. Worse than being condescending (he's speechifies his Marxist theories about war), worse than being a sexist (he laments that he finds it difficult to take orders from a "skirt"), he's also way too trigger happy.

The art, too, was terrible. I should change that, what I mean to say is that I didn't like it. The lines are scraggly and painted over, looking like rough sketches that no one bothered to fix up, and the colouring looks almost like spray paint graffiti art, giving everything an unnecessary and out of place shine.  But, it was at least different and points for that. Like Paul Pope's art, maybe it's just a taste I've not yet acquired. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Reader's Diary #1354- Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon

The first time I ever saw Casablanca it felt like a parody. Every other line I'd heard before, often in parodies themselves, and it became distracting, hard to take seriously. I had similar trouble getting into Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. The hard-boiled detective, the femme fatale, everything felt like trope. More unfamiliar, but no less distracting, was Hammett's penchant for excruciating detail:

Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down–from high flat temples–in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.

It works, I suppose, for a detective novel. Readers are forced to pay attention to every little detail, in essence making them feel like armchair private investigators themselves, but until one gets used to it, it makes for a tedious read. Plus, The Maltese Falcon isn't exactly a "whodunnit" and readers don't really have a chance to figure it all out before Spade, so poring over tiny details is kind of a pointless exercise when all is said and done.

Still, despite the book's legacy working against it, despite the minutiae, it was an entertaining read overall. I appreciated the San Francisco setting as well as the twists of the ever-growing complex plot.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Reader's Diary #1353- Bryan Manning: She's Gone West Indie

Bryan Manning's "She's Gone West Indie" started off so strong and I was loving it. The language is so authentic, so rife with real Newfoundland vocabulary and colloquialisms that I suspect many non-Newfoundlanders would find it difficult, and yet it felt natural, unforced. But the essence of Newfoundland is not just captured in the words but the details themselves: the macho masculinity that suppresses conversation even between a father and son, the homophobia, the turrs.

 All that richness aside, it fell apart at the end. So badly and abruptly that I wondered if the story was excerpted or the publication accidentally omitted a link to the second page.

I'm also at a lost for the title. In the story, one of the men clearly has had a difficult time dealing with the death of his mother. I wondered if "gone West Indie" was a local Newfoundland euphemism for death for some reason or another. (As much as the rest of Canada likes to think of Newfoundland English as one consistent language across the whole province, it can vary greatly from outport to outport and this might have been an expression unfamiliar in my neck of the woods.) I also Googled the term. I did find a joke that went:
Person 1: My wife's gone to the West Indies.
Person 2: Jamaica?
Person 1: No, she went on her own accord.

But I can't really see much significance in that (beyond a wife leaving), so it might be just a coincidence.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Reader's Diary #1352- Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (writer), Robert Hack (artist): Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Book One

Remember that Running Man movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger, supposedly based on the novella by Stephen King's alter-ego Richard Bachman? The only thing it had in common with the book was the names and the loose premise that criminals were expected to fight for their life on national TV. Yet both were good in their own way. I sort of feel that way about Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Sure the characters are the same as in the original Archie comics, and yes, she's still a witch, but it doesn't feel like the same Sabrina. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is also the writer behind the zombie-filled Afterlife with Archie comics and if I had to choose between the two, I think I'd stick to the zombies. In those comics, familiarity with the original Americana world of Archie comics are essential, giving this new, horrific world a more deliciously subversive flavour. Aww-shucks humour replaced with dark comedy. With the Sabrina series, it feels more like capitalizing on the brand.

It is, nonetheless, an excellent horror comic that works on its own and it does have an awesome old-school horror comic aesthetic. Sabrina, the daughter of a warlock and a mortal, has a complicated enough life as it is, trying to decide, at 16 years old, her life's path: to embrace her witch roots or to live as a mortal (which would open possibilities of true love). But then the vengeful Madam Satan shows up and things get worse. Much worse.

Aguirre-Sacassa does a wonderful job creating a fascinating Satanic witch culture, while Hack's art, not necessarily as great at Francesco Francavilla's Afterlife with Archie work, nonetheless maintains a creepy but vintage air, perfect for the plot and setting.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Reader's Diary #1351- Alexis Norton (writer), Dave Norton (artist): Escape From Alcatraz 4 The Doc Barker Gang

Continuing on in the great comics series, Escape From Alcatraz, is the 4th escape attempt and one of the more violent attempts led by the Doc Barker and his gang.

This particular attempt was interesting for a few reasons. Doc Barker, son of infamous "Ma" Barker, was shot and killed during his escape, the escapees intentionally sought to get time in "D Block" where the rowdier inmates were sent as an additional punishment (mistakenly believed by prison staff as the most secure block), and of personal interest to me, the plan good not have gotten as far as it did without the help of a trusty "librarian" (inmate Dale Stamphill delivered library books, along with contraband tools).

Dave Norton's art in this issue is some of the best in the whole series with black and white or sepia toned panels that have a near photo-realism. This is combined with a font mimicking old typewriter font, very much in keeping with the setting.

Reader's Diary #1350 - Chuck Palahniuk (writer), Cameron Stewart (artist): Fight Club 2

Last December I read Cameron Stewart's Batgirl of Burnside and entirely missed that Stewart is Canadian. I could have counted it toward the Canadian Book Challenge! Drat for lost opportunities. But, wow, I'm shocked at finding yet another high profile Canadian comics writer/artist. I'm starting to think that it's safer to assume they're all Canadian unless I hear otherwise. We definitely have a disproportionately large number of Canadians in the medium and, my friends, that's why Canada is the coolest.

But patriot pride aside, I wasn't overly thrilled with Fight Club 2. I will say, however, that the art wasn't the problem. And also, before getting into it, I'll say up front that I'd only seen the movie of Fight Club, I didn't read the book, and as Palahniuk goes through pains in this book to point out the differences, my expectations for this sequel may have been unfairly skewed.

In the movie, I remember Tyler Durden as being a figment of Sebastian's imagination brought on by the stress of a mundane life. It seemed to imply that this could happen to anyone. In this sequel, however, there seems to be more emphasis on chronic mental health issues. It starts to appear that Sebastian has been a long term sufferer of schizophrenia (though that word is never used) and that's it's rooted in his genes. Whichever approach you like best, I suppose, is a matter of opinion, though I enjoyed the former.

While that is the primary idea, the book itself begins to take on too many themes and has an annoying, rather silly plot involving Sebastian's wife Marla to boot. There's a meta-theme about Fight Club and the movie and Tyler Durden having taken on a legacy and life of their own, out of Palahniuk's control, but it's all rather unoriginal. Maus II did it so much better. Plus, Palahniuk's attempts to deflect the book's issues tried to head off the critics, having characters in the book accuse him of being gimmicky and of trying too hard to be clever. And it doesn't work. The Emperor may yell out to those he passes that he knows darn well that he's naked, but he's still naked.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Reader's Diary #1349 - Jon Eastman (writer), Gian Fernando (artist): Escape from Alcatraz 2 Presumed Dead

At the end of the amazingly well-done Alcatraz tour, we ended up (of course) in the gift shop (which must seem like a surreal idea in itself for those still living who first encountered the place as a functioning prison). There were souvenirs-a-plenty, but I think I struck gold with the Escape from Alcatraz series of comic books.

I was skeptical at first. I've read enough educational comics to know that they can be... shall we say, less than stellar? Still, a quick glance through a copy suggested that the art at least was good and at 3 for $15, it didn't feel like too much of a risk. Plus, my Kobo broke while on vacation, so I needed something to read on the flight home. I wound up buying 6.

Now my only regret is now getting all 14. They were that good. Hopefully they'll wind up compiling them all in a graphic novel format.

Each documented escape attempt gets its own comic (presented chronologically), and the 2nd, Presumed Dead, by Jon Eastman and Gian Fernando, details the 1935 escape by Ted Cole and Ralph Roe.

Fernando's art is mostly in the vein of pseudo-realism familiar to superhero comics. Still, the sepia, subdued tones helps mark the book as historical while also capturing the drab life of prison. There are also a few creative flourishes here or there, that add to the story. In one panel, after hearing about how the only daydream anyone ever had there was to escape, there's a silhouette of a man standing near the bars in his cell. The next panel has that exact panel copied into a 2 x 2 sequence, and the next in a 4 x 4 sequence. It's a powerful way of showing the institutional effect on all of the prisoners.

None of the prisoners, nor their escape attempts, are glamourized in these titles but their various personalities still come through, sometimes by fact alone, sometimes by artistic touch. In the case of Ted and Ralph, Ralph comes across as the less repulsive of the two. In any case, these comics are more about the ingenuity and bravery/naivete of desperate men.

Ted and Ralph are of the very few whose escape attempts were not foiled by others. That said, their success is dubious and most assume they drowned.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Reader's Diary #1348- Haruki Ueno, translated by Alethea and Althena Nibley: Big Hero 6 Vol.1

If I don't often read a book after I've seen then movie, it's even rarer that I read a novelization of a movie. There are, however, a few reasons why I made an exception with Haruki Ueno's manga novelization of Disney's Big Hero Six animated movie. The first is the setting. I absolutely loved the mashup of San Francisco and Tokyo, San Franokyo, and as we were headed to San Francisco, was keen to read books set there (sort of). Secondly, Big Hero Six was originally based on Marvel comics (though you'd never know that from Yen Press's manga-- there isn't a whisper of Marvel anywhere in this edition), but having seen the film, manga seems like it would be a good fit.

On the plus side, the plot seems identical to the film (if I'm remembering it correctly), and if you liked the film, you'll likely like this book. I found myself disliking the main boy-genius Hiro once again, but knowing that he comes around to be more likeable helped. It feels like a genuine manga, not something slapped together to capitalize on the movie. On the negative side, the movie isn't contained in this single volume and San Franokyo isn't highlighted nearly as well.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Reader's Diary #1347- Richard Brautigan: A Short Story about Contemporary Life in California

I'm back from my two week vacation, and may I just say upfront how my travel bug is now very much awake and excited? While working on my masters, travel took a backseat and my wife planned an excellent vacation to get us all back into the swing of things: Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles and then a drive up to San Francisco. We had the fun, eye-candy stuff, typical tourist stuff, and some more out of the way, quiet surprises.

One of those surprises turned out to be the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, California, announced by a modest wooden sign somewhere in the forest and along the twisty-turns of California One. Now, I'm a sucker for visiting libraries on vacation and with one named after an author (even one I've not yet read), we just had to stop.

My first thought was that it wasn't a library at all. It turned out that you cannot actually borrow books, but rather buy them. (This was just as well considering I, and most tourists, would likely not return at least for a very long time.) But then, seeing all they offer and do, I've reconsidered and it is a library, and a good one at that. I believe that libraries should use literacy to help build community, and the Henry Miller Memorial Library has that in spades. First off, it's not just an average bookstore. It sells only materials that tend to fall into the counterculture vein. Most authors tended to fall into the beatnik or hippie categories and I like when a library's collection reflects the community which it serves. Secondly, there was a lot of emphasis on activities. It was an arts space, complete with a makeshift performance space and evidence of past creative projects, mostly of the DIY and/or avant-garde variety (a chair made out of old cassettes, a crucifix of computer monitors and twigs). And while I'd still like to see some reading material being offered for free, the bookstore itself is non-profit.

And perhaps most importantly, we were made to feel welcome. We were the only ones visiting at the time and first greeted by a cat, who quickly got bumped out of the way by a jealous dog who needed our petting more. The young woman inside, originally from Detroit, was the one who, once she found out that I was a librarian, told me about Richard Brautigan's "The Abortion" prompting me to buy a collection of his works. (She was quite lovely, by the way, not pushy at all, in fact apologizing when I bought the book that she wasn't trying to push a sale on me!) Obviously this post isn't about "The Abortion" but impatient to read something by him, started with a short story, "A Short Story about Contemporary Life in California."

This is a very short, very meta story and as such, I think I'll enjoying exploring his works more in depth. However, it also references Jack London's Sea Wolf throughout and, not having read that either, it made it hard to fully appreciate Brautigan's point. It seems to be he's suggesting that the California experience has not changed: people move to California to fulfill their dreams, get knocked around a bit, and the end result may not be their original intent, but they've had an adventure nonetheless. I can live with that.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Reader's Diary #1346- Phillip Koch: Borges in Vegas

Being a decently small northern "city," Yellowknife has its advantages for celebrity watchers - if you're the type to consider Canadian writers celebrities. Each year the Northwords Festival brings in an amazing roster and should you be so inclined, you can easily meet and engage in conversation with the likes of Joseph Boyden, Michael Crummey, Kathy Reichs and many more. Having met a few myself, it is now apparent that for better or worse (and I would argue, better), writers tend to be quite down to Earth. Nowhere near as eccentric as you might suppose for those with a career in the arts (some exceptions, of course!).

On that note, Phillip Koch's short story about spending a Vegas stay with Borges, is an interesting one mostly because of the setting. It turns out that Borges just wants to have a good time while the narrator seems disappointed not to be shooting the literary shit at every opportunity. So the question seems to be whether or not Vegas, of all places, has brought out the authentic Borges? Are our "good time selves" our true selves?

(This is a pre-written post to appear while I am vacationing in the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and San Francisco.)