Friday, September 30, 2016

The 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - September 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, Pooker has won a signed copy of Gary Dvorkin's Ransom's Voice for taking part in last month's mini-challenge to read something by an author who had not yet been reviewed in all past 9 editions of the Canadian Book Challenge. Congratulations, Pookr! (Canadian Book Challenge mini-challenges are exclusive to members via email.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Reader's Diary #1391- Jody Houser (writer), Francis Portela (artist): Faith Vol. 1 Hollywood and Vine

There's been a lot of positive press about Jody Houser's Faith, the plus-sized superhero, but in retrospect, it was all about that single aspect. And yes, it's great, and overdue to see a superhero with a more realistic body type. But there seemed to be little emphasis on the story itself, except perhaps to say that her weight is never the plot, or even really an issue. Again, that's all good, but you can have the greatest and most inspiring character ever and without a plot, who cares?

And honestly, I just finished Faith: Hollywood and Vine a couple of days ago and I've already forgotten most of what happened. I do remember a plot about saving puppies (that was pretty funny, actually) but the rest of what I remember is mostly character building. I like character-building, of course, and I'd probably not have to go back many blog posts to find instances when I wished for more of it. I liked that Faith consistently had Walter Mitty-type fantasies. Besides adding doses of humour, it humanized her even more. Imagine, a superhero who needs to fantasize?! There were also references to Faith having once been part of a superhero team known as the Renegades. Not having followed Valiant superhero comics before, some of this was lost on me, but not so much I couldn't understand what was going on (honestly, there wasn't much going on, but more on that later). I was, I should add, a little disappointed that the men in the story didn't also have more realistic bodies, but I'm not a men's right nut, so I didn't lose sleep over it. Plus, I don't know how much of this (the love affair with the hunky Torque, for example) was carried over from Faith's previous writers so maybe we'll see a plus-sized love interest (a fat guy who isn't evil or clumsy comic relief or both?!) in the future. Finally, I'd be remiss to not mention how great it was that Faith was a comic-reading geek, but then, perhaps given the readers, this might be considered pandering.

And now we're to the story. It involved aliens, a cult, brainwashing, an exposing of Faith's secret identity, and that all sounds good, but good god it takes a long time to get there. Then, when the final dust-up happens it's over too fast except for a cheesy cliffhanger to continue in future comics.

Also, I really didn't think much of the art. I mean, it's capable and all, but it's pretty generic looking (Faith's larger body, aside). Likewise the colouring is nothing inventive, with a spray-painted by computer tone.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Reader's Diary #1390- James Robinson (writer), various artists: Scarlet Witch Volume 1 Witches' Road

Ever since I'd seen those gorgeous covers by David Aja I'd been wanting to get my hands on the collected volume of Scarlet Witch comics. I'm not sure what I was thinking— I've seen enough superhero comics by now to know that it's quite common practice to have someone else do the cover art. It's also a rather annoying one as it doesn't exactly help readers know what to expect inside.

I really enjoyed James Robinson's writing on this series. Especially well done was the development of Scarlet Witch's character; she's had a troubled past for which she's trying to atone and it's even revealed that she's taking medication for depression. I thought she had a lot of depth and as she travels the world seeking to right the broken witchcraft, it's hard not to root for her.

The art, on the other hand, was more problematic and suffered most due to inconsistency. It starts off quite strong with Vanesa Del Rey's vintage horror look, very similar to Robert Hack's work on the new Sabrina series, but Del Rey's out after a single comic, replaced by Marco Rudy in issue 2. I suppose, given the globetrotting nature of the story, different artists can be justified somewhat to capture certain locales and Rudy does paint a beautiful picture of Greece. Plus, he's pretty inventive in his water colours, reminding me of David Mack's work; perhaps not as great as Mack, but still interesting. Then it starts to go down hill with the introduction of the generic art of Steve Dillon in issue 3. Chris Visions and Javier Pulido's work on issues 4 and 5 were better, but by this time I was just wishing for a more unified collection overall. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Reader's Diary #1389- Taqralik Partridge: Igloolik

The time will come, I don't doubt it, that I will have lived longer away from Newfoundland than I actually lived there. And, I suppose, I've made my peace with that. I'm no longer sure that I'd fit in anywhere but St. John's at this point, and I quite like living in the North. I might remain where I am, I might live there again, I might even wind up somewhere else. Who knows? Still, there are certainly things I miss about Newfoundland. The smell of the ocean is perhaps one near the top of that list. My wife, not from Newfoundland but with roots there, understands this. And while I won't suddenly break, suddenly need to return, I think she, above anyone else would understand and even be supportive. In this, the narrator of Taqralik Partridge's "Igloolik" reminded me of my wife.

She [the narrator] has been newly dating a guy and though she doesn't come right out and say it, falling in love. And though there is no reason to doubt that his feelings are mutual, it is also clear that he has another love: Igloolik (a town in Nunavut, far north of the Montreal setting of this story). At one point, one that she immediately regrets, she claims not to understand, though it is apparent that she really does and is just lashing out at the situation that threatens to pull them apart. It ends on an ambiguous but optimistic note.

It's a beautiful story, a story fighting hard to not be tragic.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Reader's Diary #1388- Sui Ishida: Tokyo Ghoul 1

I was more than 3/4 of the way through Sui Ishida's Tokyo Ghoul before I began to hypothesize that it was a metaphor. On the surface it's about a college student named Ken who, as a result of an organ transplant, becomes half ghoul. Ghouls, in this version of Tokyo, are human-looking creatures that feed on human flesh. Ken struggles to accept his new identity and to reconcile with his fully human-past.

But was it really about the common, and more real, college experience of realizing that who one has become no longer resembles who he was before, no longer fits into his former world?

As interesting as the theory is, and when I happen upon such ideas it makes the reading more personally satisfying, I was a little late in the game to see decide if the metaphor works throughout and though I did enjoy the story, wasn't about to reread it right away.

The art in the book was decent overall though I didn't enjoy the action sequences. I get that much of it was meant to be quick, but the speed lines and sound effects were overdone and it was hard to see anything and really understand what happened at those moments.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Reader's Diary #1387- Tom King (writer), Gabriel Hernandez Walta (artist): The Vision Volume One / Little Worse Than a Man

There are a a lot of references to Shakespeare, specifically The Merchant of Venice, sprinkled throughout Tom King's first volume of The Vision comics. While the story has little in common with the plot of the play, there are definitely thematic similarities. In particular, the modern struggle we have with Shylock's character (is he a villain or misunderstood and much maligned figure?).

The Vision, whom Marvel fans know as the synthezoid (think an artificially intelligent robot with largely organic or organic-mimicking parts) superhero played by Paul Bettany in the Avengers movies, just wants an ordinary life. Ordinary, in his mind, equates to fitting in with the everyday humans. He creates a wife and twin children to complete the ideal. Granted, he's not trying to fool anyone into thinking he's human. It's complicated as he doesn't seem to try to be something he isn't, yet what he is he isn't sure.

As you might predict while dancing around the "just wants to be real boy" trope, things do not go smoothly. It starts when the super-villain Grim Reaper shows up and attacks Vision's family when he is not at home. Defending her children, Virginia (his wife) winds up killing the Reaper. Instead of coming clean about it, however, she buries the body in the backyard.

The compelling thing about the whole story is whether or not these actions (and the devastation that follow) are human-like. It would seem to me that plenty of humans would have made similar calls in the situation described above and the issue isn't so much that they're synthezoids, it's that they're living in a superhero world with super villains. Perhaps the more compelling proof that they can never be human is the Vision's naivete that they would ever be accepted. We have issues accepting other races, sexual orientations and identities, religions; what chance would a superhero synthezoid have? Then, I'm a pessimistic human, perhaps The Vision's optimism doesn't set him apart from other optimistic humans.

If you are assuming then that this is a tragic tale, yes, it is. And it's thought-provoking. One of the most intelligent and emotional superhero comics I've read in some time.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Reader's Diary #1386- David Mamet: Glengarry Glen Ross

Glengarry Glen Ross, at just 108 pages, is still not an easy play to read. At first I though the dialogue was off, but then I realized that just the opposite might be true: it may be too realistic. If you've ever transcribed an interview (I have), you'll know what I mean when I say that everyday speech is rarely an eloquent thing. You don't often notice it in actual conversation, but there are weird pauses, lots of ums and other guttural nonsense, sentence fragments and so on. You don't notice it because you're also reading facial expressions, gestures, you're aware of the context and so on.

Mamet's dialogue is full of this and of real estate jargon. I'm sure that if you've seen the play performed (or the movie adaptation) you'd have a much easier time following along, but reading it? It ain't Shakespeare and there's nothing pretty about these words.

Not that this is a condemnation of the play, of course; it was written for the stage, not the page. What is a condemnation is my lack of enthusiasm for the story even after deciphering it. I get that it's about alpha-males carrying too much about, and willing to stoop to any level to get, stuff that most us probably don't care about or wouldn't admit if we did, but plot-wise it drags and never amounts to much. I even read a convincing interpretation that the play is really about organized religions. Fine, but it's all just character, with barely a point and even less of a tale. It might have made a fine painting.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Reader's Diary #1385- Junji Ito: Uzumaki

A few days ago I came across a list (which, unfortunately, I cannot seem to find anymore) of disturbing comic plots. Most were from American superhero comics (Wolverine killing everyone, the Joker killing Robin, both made the cut) but the one that caught my eye was Junji Ito's Uzumaki which drew comparisons to both Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft and involved a town being haunted by... spirals?

Luckily I was easily able to get my hands on a copy and I'm glad I did. First off, the Poe and Lovecraft comparisons are definitely warranted. There's an overarching plot but each chapter reads like a short story and each has weirdness spiraling out the wazoo. I'd hardly call it disturbing though. Sure there are some twisted images but I've seen worse and more nightmarish in North American comics. Nonetheless, it's all very cool and the story itself is very unique.

The art, too, is quite good. Ito is particularly skilled at using shading and expressions to capture emotion (often fear) in his characters.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Reader's Diary #1384- Deborah Marcero: Ursa's Light

As adults, we sure do like to classify things. Like arts and sciences. Mutually exclusive, right? Deborah Marcelo's picture book Ursa's Light reminds us all how wrong that assumption is. Not that her child readers would need such a reminder because what arts and sciences have in common is perhaps a child's greatest strength: imagination.

Ursa, the titular character and anthropomorphic bear, has an even bigger imagination than most. Full of wild ideas, she wakes up one morning determined to fly. She studies birds, bats, and dandelion seeds for inspiration, sketches her plans, and of course, experiments, never giving up when one device after another, just like in real life aviation history, has her crashing back down to Earth. Finally though, it is through artistic expression that Ursa succeeds.

Marcero's characters are wide-eyed and friendly and her backdrops are full of subtle but aesthetically pleasing patterns.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Reader's Diary #1383- Shigeru Mizuki: Showa 1926 - 1939 A History of Japan

A bit of a Japanophile, I've been eyeing Shigeru Mizuki's Showa History of Japan series for a while, trying to get up the gumption to tackle it. Each edition is over 500 pages and even for a manga that's daunting. It certainly didn't help that in Frederik L. Schodt's introduction he warns that some readers may find it too much like a textbook or too overwhelming. Nonetheless, I pushed forward.

And I'm very glad that I did. I think Showa 1926 - 1939 is as overwhelming as you want it to be. There are certainly a lot of facts presented and there are a lot of facts alluded to. For the latter,  footnotes advise to check out the notes compiled at the end. It is, of course, up to a reader what to do with these. I decided early on not to bother. I felt that I was getting enough facts as it was and to keep flipping back and forth, I'd lose sight of the narrative. But I didn't feel that my reading suffered any. I was still able to get the gist of Mizuki's thesis (that there were a lot of factors, including hunger and poverty and pride and propaganda that led to Japan's war fever) and it's not like I was expecting a test at the end.

Lest I be suggesting that it's a dry read, it's certainly not. In fact, at times there is even humour. Interspersed with Japan's history is Mizuki's autobiography and the way he depicts himself as a violent, curious but none too bright, and altogether odd child adds much needed comic relief.

Finally, the art is stunning. Bearing little resemblance to the style I've become accustomed to with manga beyond the sharp, thin lines, Mizuki's range is vast and expertly employed. Scenes go from highly realistic, especially when depicting national and international historical events, to simple but exaggerated cartoon expressions, especially when depicting vignettes from his own life.

It felt like I was reading something truly special.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Reader's Diary #1382- Souvankham Thammavongsa: Ewwrrrkk

It's rare that I appreciate when a short story ends abruptly. Usually it feels like an excerpt, incomplete. In Souvankham Thammavongsa's "Ewwrrrkk," however, I don't mind it all and indeed it captures the feeling of the final scene perfectly. Plus, there's a bit of an air of mystery that not only leaves a reader feeling intrigued, but also contrasts with the brutally honesty of the earlier half of the story.

I'll try not to give too much away but it involves a girl being schooled on the birds and bees by her grandmother and later, by life itself. I quite enjoyed the grandmother character in particular who reminded me of a just a tad more blunt version of my own who, though old-fashioned and conservative in many ways, was nonetheless pretty open and forthright about certain biological and societal expectations.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Reader's Diary #1381- Duncan Pryde: Nunaga

When you're reading nonfiction and you notice there's a photo insert, do you skip ahead and look at the photos first? I almost always do. This time however, I missed that there was a photo insert ahead until I'd read about 50 pages or so. It was almost jarring. The man I pictured was older, at least my age. The man in these photos was in in his young 20s. And I have to say that it skewed the remainder of my reading.

Nunaga is the memoir of  an ex-Hudson's Bay Company man who'd lived in a few Nunavut communities (then still part of the Northwest Territories) before getting involved in politics. Venturing to northern Canada by way of Ontario, originally from Scotland, Pryde was then 21 and it was 1958. In 1971, when this book was first published, Pryde would have been 34. Still younger than I am right now.

I don't mean to be ageist, and I think people tended to mature a little faster in those days, but I found it very difficult to take some of Pryde's confidence in his assumptions seriously. Though I've now been in the north longer than Pryde was at that point, I won't deny that he more fully immersed himself into Inuit culture than I ever have and therefore he'd certainly be more knowledgeable than I. But still, the parts where he summarized and generalized Inuit culture I still took with what I hope to be a healthy grain of salt. Though he claims he was fully welcomed and accepted, I had to keep in mind that he was still a white man from Scotland. And at such a young age, perhaps a little more self-assured than he should have been or would have been later in life.

Despite the skepticism, I still quite enjoyed Pryde's account. It had northern adventure and depicted a time that will never come again. Plus, despite the over-confidence I spoke of above, I quite enjoyed his voice. One attribute that he ascribes to the Inuit people was pragmatism and its an attribute he seemed to admire above all else. Thus, he uses such an approach to his storytelling and this makes for plenty of moments involving hunting, trapping,  dog-sledding, and even sexual relations, that will be uncomfortable for many 2016 readers (especially Western, white readers). Nonetheless I appreciated that it was a consistent voice.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Reader's Diary #1380- Geneviève Castrée: Susceptible

Just back in July of this year, Canada lost a wonderful young talent (cartoonist and musician) named Geneviève Castrée to pancreatic cancer. If Susceptible is any indication, we also lost a lovely individual.

In the vein of other autobiographical less-than--ideal-childhood tales, Castrée gives a very open and honest account of growing up in 80's Quebec as the daughter of a mother who has her own issues (not the least of which is immaturity), an emotionally negligent step-dad, and a biological dad whom she barely remembers and lives on the other side of the country.

I say open and honest and I'm reminded of an article I once read chastising David Smalls for being unfair and one-sided to his mother in Stitches (a harrowing account of a REALLY messed-up childhood). I believe that Castrée, despite everything, finds the humanity in her mother and biological dad, not so much her mom's boyfriend but perhaps sometimes a turd just can't be polished. The line I appreciated the most, however, despite the praise I've heard for her openness and despite the critics of memoir comics who find them too self-indulgent, occurred when Castrée was recounting an early boyfriend of her own. The scene shows a makeshift blanket-tent and above Castrée writes, "We draw inside of it and do other things which aren't too serious but I still want to keep them private." I found this to be tremendously endearing and by holding back I think it says even more about her character.

The art is good. The characters themselves reminded me of Nicole Rubel's Rotten Ralph illustrations, which is to say not so much realistic but consistently stylized. It's black and white but patterns and water-colour grayscale adds a lot of depth. The writing is all in cursive, which does add an intimate feel, but it's quite small. (This is my 2nd complaint about small text in 3 days. Perhaps I'm getting old!)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Reader's Diary #1379- Ian Flynn (writer), Jamal Peppers and Ryan Jampole (artists): Worlds Collide Vol. 1 / Kindred Spirits

A blurb from Newsarama atop the cover of Ian Flynn's first volume of Worlds Collide, a Sonic the Hedgehog / Mega Man crossover event, declares "It's a dream come true for fans of both characters!"

But that must be a pretty niche group, what about the rest of us? I think I may have played a game or two of Sonic back in the day and never, ever played Mega Man. So why would someone not interested in either of these video games even bother? I can't speak for anyone else, but I had a couple of reasons for picking it up. First off, I've spent most of this year exploring the corners of Archie Comics Publications; stuff just a little or far off the beaten path of Archie Digests (The Shield, Jinx, and so on). But I've also been a little curious about their video game-based comics output, finding it a little strange that they'd even take these on, finding it even stranger that Sonic the Hedgehog comics are still going strong long since the character's popularity in the gaming world has waned.

After reading this crossover, I'm still not entirely sure why, but I'm guessing they might strike a chord with younger audiences (perhaps more so than nostalgic gen x'rs). These weren't exactly what I'd call high brow by any stretch. The plots are almost entirely action-based with next to no character development, and the art and "science" has all the depth of a 1980s Astro Boy cartoon. On the Astro Boy theme, I was interested and pleased to note that the art does resemble anime (not great anime, but anime nonetheless), setting it apart from other Archie Comics output and being respectful to the characters' Japanese origins.

For crossover appeal, it does what all good superhero crossovers do: due to some misunderstandings, Sonic and Mega Man face off against each other, each getting the upper hand in their respective worlds, then reuniting to beat mutual enemies.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Reader's Diary #1378- Michael Alan Nelson (writer), Jean Dzialowski (artist): Fall of Cthulhu / The Fugue

On our travels this summer, we stopped along a beach in California and along the wall of a sea break, someone had graffitied, rather ominously, "IT WATCHES" accompanied by a tentacle-eyeball monster.
My son with a kelp "whip" (note the graffiti on the wall)
Of course this led to a discussion with my kids about Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos. Cthulhu is one of the most bizarre and enduring horror icons and discussing it with the kids, I realized that I wished to delve a little deeper. So, when I recently came across Michael Alan Nelson's Fall of Cthulhu: The Fugue, I just had to pick it up.

Part of a six volume series, I'm unsure that I wish to continue. Cthulhu doesn't even make an appearance yet and I really didn't like the art, colouring, or even the lettering! Jean Dzialowski's scratchy art looked somewhat amateurish (inconsistent and stiff), the colouring was too dark (I get the story is meant to be dark, but we still need to see something), and the lettering was too small and too tight. An exception to the art were the superb and horrific Dreamlands sequences by Andrew Ritchie which reminded me of Travel Foreman's work on Animal Man or Yanick Paquette's work on Swamp Thing. But despite all of that, Nelson's writing did draw me in. It's dark and occultish (reminding me at times of Preacher or, to a lesser extent, Justice League Dark) and filled with just enough mystery to keep a reader interested. So, maybe I will hang in there for future volumes. We'll see.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Reader's Diary #1377- E.M. Clinton: Untechnological Employment

To be honest, the only reason I chose to highlight this story this week is because I found it mildly amusing how easily stumbled upon it could be for someone looking for dirt on Hillary Clinton's emails. (That's not how I came upon it!) With the author's last name, the epistolary format of the flash fiction story told as telegrams which look like texts or short emails, the references to the White House and confidential communication, it all makes for a pretty funny coincidence.

However, E.M. Clinton's "Untechnological Employment" itself is actually about a delayed space launch due to weather. The details beyond that were a tad confusing, owing in part to the aforementioned telegram format. After a couple of reads, I believe what happens involves a Native American tribe being asked, much to the chagrin of those at the space agency, to perform a sun dance.

Points for attempting a unique format for flash fiction, even if the execution left something to be desired.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Reader's Diary #1376 - The Topps Company: Bazooka Joe and His Gang 60th Anniversary Collection

Recently my son gave our daughter a birthday gift certificate for and all of us had a ball searching their website, even me who barely has a sweet tooth at all (some exceptions!). For my wife and I it was their nostalgic candy section (you can search by decade), that led us down memory lane. But when we hit upon Bazooka Joe (still available but in a different package), I started reminiscing about the comics and wondered if they'd ever been compiled. That's when I discovered the 60th Anniversary Collection: Bazooka Joe and His Gang published by The Topps Company a few years back.

Remember how terrible it all was? The gum was hard as rocks and held its elasticity and flavour for about 2 good bubbles, then you wrapped it the lame, poorly coloured and unfunny comic wrapper that you'd read a 100 times before. (Or swallowed it and worried about your stomach sticking together or stuck it to the bottom of your desks- which I never did, unlike the rest of you gross assholes.) Still, what is funny is how we sometimes get nostalgic for such things. And surprising considering how poor-quality the product was, the anniversary collection book was amazingly well done.

First off, the dust cover is a replication of their old classic wrapper, complete with a waxy feel. And then, when you take the cover off, the cover itself is coloured that bubble-gum pink (with small flecks of white), the page edges have been coloured pink as well, and the book has the rectangular-dimensions of a scaled-up piece of Bazooka Joe bubble gum.

Then, inside, there are a surprising number of essays detailing the history of the gum, the comics, the creators, pop-culture trivia, and so on. In some cases these essays repeat one another, but by and large they're well-written and surprisingly fascinating. You'd never know, for instance, by looking at an old Bazooka Joe comic that original artist Wesley Morse, was as talented as he was. But then you see some of his earlier work and read about his training? The man had serious skills. But he was no starving artist and had no qualms about pumping out less serious work for money. (In addition to Bazooka Joe comics he had also drawn a number of Tijuana Bibles.)

It's also pretty evident that most insiders had no illusions that the comics were groundbreaking works of art. They were limited by space and continuity (unlike comic books or even newspaper strips there was no guarantee readers were going to read them in any particular order) and they were repeated after so many years, believing that most of the gum chewers were kids and wouldn't remember the comics of yesteryear. In an essay near the end, R. Sikoryak talks about how comics started being more respected in the 80s, especially after such works as Maus, Watchmen, and American Splendor, and went on to state, quite astutely, "No one would call the Bazooka Joe strips timeless and intelligent graphic-novella packaging for mature audiences." But, equally astutely, he points out the postmodernist charm of the it all and like Sikoryak, I've come around on the corny gags (I'm a dad after all and corny jokes are my currency).

One final bit of trivia: when ordering this book, the thing I remembered most about Bazooka Joe was the odd-ball way he had his turtleneck pulled up over his face. Turns out I'd been remembering that incorrectly and the turtleneck guy was actually Joe's best friend Mort. (Joe was the kid in an eye-patch). Interestingly, and perhaps attributing to my mistake, this mistaken identity was also featured in a Seinfeld episode in which Jerry pulls a turtleneck up over his face and claims to be Bazooka Joe.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Reader's Diary #1375- J. Torres (writer), Rick Burchett (artist): Jinx

Sprinkled throughout Archie Digests and Pep Comics since 1947, Jinx was more commonly known as L'il Jinx, a rough-and-tumble, precocious girl with a handful of friends. But while the teenage Archie gang often got the "L'il" treatment in "L'il Archie" comics, the reverse wasn't true for L'il Jinx until J. Torres' 2011 graphic novel Jinx. Jinx was now in high school.

I think Jinx is best viewed as a precursor to the more critically acclaimed Archie reboots (Mark Waid's Archie, Chip Zdarsky's Jughead, for example). Torres's storylines are just a tad on the juvenile side (Jinx fights to be the only girl on the football team, a boy who has a crush on her calls her names) but a little self-awareness on that front helps to tamp down the cloying cliches. Burchett's art, however, was particularly disappointing. Looking at his rough sketches included in the back, they looked fine and I was surprised how little I enjoyed the end product. The final lines looked broken and almost hesitant rather than confident and worst of all, character expressions were overdone, resulting in goofy rather than funny faces. Like Heather Graham when she tries to do comedy. Also disappointing was the colouring. It had that spray-paint by a computer look where everything has a consistent shine, even clothing.

Still, not the worst comic ever and enough to convince me that Jinx's teenage years deserve an audience.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Reader's Diary #1374- Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas: Red A Haida Manga

Since becoming aware of Haida art, and purely from an aesthetics point of view, I've loved it. Of course, not being of the culture, I lack the insider understanding and full appreciation of the iconography, and so I was both excited and nervous to read Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas's Red: A Haida Manga. The art, I was sure, would be beautiful, but would I comprehend the story?

I am happy to report that, yes, it was an all around pleasurable experience and the story, of the folly of vengeance, was mostly straightforward. Perhaps it helped that a summary on the dustjacket summarized the traditional Haida Gwaii story, perhaps it helped that Yahgulanaas borrowed some narrative techniques from Japanese manga, of which I am more acclimatized. Did I pick up all of the Haida symbolism, I'm guessing not, but I really enjoyed what the art brought to the medium. The thick black, curvy lines making up the panel borders was mesmerizing and help blend it all together. In some scenes characters held on the borders, in some the borders transitioned into pieces of the scene inside, and gutters, the spaces between panels and traditional to most Western comics, were all but non-existent. The result was a mystic and yet natural feel to the whole piece.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Reader's Diary #1373- Jeff Parker (writer), Evan Shaner (artist): Flash Gordon The Man From Earth

As I continue to explore non-Marvel/DC pulp icons, the ones that have have clung on since their hey-day of radio-dramas, newspaper strips, and lunch boxes and yet now seem to just exist in the background, largely with forgotten legacies and no one quite sure what to do with them (let them fade into obscurity? Reboot with a movie franchise? Who owns the rights anyway?), I didn't have high expectations for Jeff Parker's take on Flash Gordon: The Man from Earth. I've enjoyed seeing the originals of the likes of Dick Tracy, I've enjoyed the attempts of rejuvenating the likes Buck Rogers and the Green Hornet. But The Man From Earth is the first one I thought could really make the most of a comeback.

I knew next to nothing about Flash Gordon. I vaguely remember there was a movie in the early 80s, but I'm not sure that I ever saw it, and for the longest time I thought DC's speeding superhero, the Flash, and Flash Gordon were one and the same. So, with Parker's reboot there was a lot to learn and I was immediately put off. Flash Gordon has no superpowers, by the way, but he is the athletic, blonde son of wealthy family. Ew. Do we really need that again right now?

But miraculously, Parker endeared him to me and I can almost pinpoint the moment it happened. Coming near the end of the book, Gordon recounts how he got his name from a teacher who said, "You'll always enjoy your life Mr. Gordon. You're all flash, and no substance." It has become apparent how these words stung and in retrospect makes his heroic actions more genuine, more sincere than some rich white kid who just happens to save the universe out of boredom. And thankfully Gordon isn't the only strongly developed character, reporter Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov, also have hinted at complexities.

Not that it's a dull character-driven novel by any stretch. Flash Gordon: The Man from Earth is a space opera of the highest caliber, with an assortment of crazy worlds and plots like out of Star Trek or Guardians of the Galaxy. Finally, Evan Shaner and Jordie Bellaire's art is spectacular, drawn and coloured in the vein of Fiona Staples work in Saga.

Lastly, this collection adds a few bonus stories, with work from different artists and writers, all of whom help to prove that Flash Gordon deserves to continue as a pulp-culture icon.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Reader's Diary #1372- Gemma Files: Thin Places

Following Gemma Files' "Thin Places," the National Post tells us that she is an award-winning horror writer. Yet, just having read "Thin Places," I can say that it's not the kind of story I usually think of when I think of horror. This is realistic horror, more drama really. And, it's insightful; a look at grief and all of its manifestations. Nightmares, seeking answers, guilt.

And there are some just excellently written lines; honest, poignant, sadly witty:

One of the chief unspoken truths of parenthood is that a minute or so after you have a child, you soon find you’ve signed up for a lifetime spent doing things you don’t even vaguely want to do. And I knew from the very beginning that volunteering to chaperone my son’s first choir camp trip was definitely going to be one of those things, the memories you make mainly by agreeing to grin and bear it, for your child’s sake.

When a writer goes to such places, it makes me trust them. And when you can put your trust in a writer, things can get emotional (scary or otherwise) fast.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Reader's Diary #1371- Various writers and artists: Best of Josie and the Pussycats

Josie and the Pussycats have been popping up in comics news a lot lately, first for their introduction in the Archie horror series Afterlife with Archie and then for their new series by Marguerite Bennett, in a new, revamped style similar to the rebooted and critically acclaimed Archie and Jughead series.

Of all of the characters from Riverdale, I couldn't say that I was greatly informed about this trio. Actually, if I'm being honest, before now I couldn't have told you with any confidence that they were a trio and certainly couldn't have named anyone in the group besides Josie. But, as I'm looking forward to seeing them in Afterlife and in Bennett's new take, I thought it was high time to get familiar with the band and some of their more classic comics. I've been finding that enjoyment of the newer takes, often subversive takes, depends somewhat on a familiarity with older, classic comics.

Best of Josie and the Pussycats comes introduced with an essay by Paul Castiglia, talking about their origins, significance, and impact. The origin story interested me, for sure, and I was happy that the collection editors included their first appearance comic as well as the "first appearance" comics of essential characters. As for the significance and impact, I'm somewhat skeptical. I believe Castiglia when he talks about Josie and the Pussycats as one of the first all-girl rockbands (albeit fictional) and of the importance of adding Valerie, a rare positive example of a black female in mainstream comics at the time. However, I'm still doubtful that Josie and the Pussycats was as inspirational as Castiglia implies. Like the rest of Archie comics, despite popularity, they were never a critically acclaimed comic in those days, and did Josie and the Pussycats really lead Joan Jett and the rest of the Runaways to pick up guitars? I'd say such claims are tenuous at best.

This compilation shares comics from 1969 to 1988 which is a little strange considering that it was published in 2001. I'm left wondering what happened to them in the 1990s. Did Nirvana kill them like they did hair metal bands? Still, the selections were well chosen to get a sense of the characters and the comedic styling (similar to other Archie comics, but with a few more music related stories rather than dating woes). I do, as I'd hoped, feel more equipped now to tackle the new incarnations.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Reader's Diary #1370- Grant Morrison (writer), various artists: The Multiversity (Deluxe Edition)

Earlier this year I reviewed Jonathan Hickman's Secret Wars, Marvel's attempt at mashing up and reconciling all of their universes and subsequent characters. Around the same time that the Secret Wars issues started coming out, Grant Morrison was finishing up a similar project for DC Comics called The Multiversity. Questions about whether or not there was blatant copying or if this was a coincidence not withstanding, it was next to impossible not to compare and decide which one I'd like more. Which was the Finding Nemo and which was the Shark Tale?

Alas, I'd have to say that The Multiversity was the Shark Tale. Basically, I found it to be a confusing mess. Reading other reviews of this project, it seems that I'm not the only one who didn't quite get the frame story. How the universes in The Multiversity collide, how characters cross over, seems to happen any number of ways: a comic, a cubic portal, The Flash runs really fast, and so on. There are overarching villains, but just what their motives are is ridiculously muddled and when all is said and done inconsequential. Still, of those that found similar fault, some nonetheless liked the individual stories. I can't even say that. I wasn't connected to a single character and honestly, they were all underdeveloped. There was an overabundance of unfamiliar characters that needed more depth and the more familiar DC characters were flat and directionless.

I've come across some theories about what it's all supposed to mean. It seems to have been Morrison's commentary on the powers that be (fan pressure and publishing houses) who can constantly destroy universes or squeeze them together into something more coherent as a whole. And, I think, Morrison is basically saying, "nice try, but creativity will win out. New universes will spring up once more and the cycle will continue."

Creative yes, but so sloppily and self-indulgently told. Furthermore, rejecting the reader's demand for some semblance of clarity, for a freaking narrative, as boring is an unfair cop-out.

The art, however, I will say was spectacular. The decision to go with a variety of artists worked; each bringing new styles and tones appropriate to the individual stories, lighter when they needed to be, monstrous when they needed to be. They weren't, unfortunately, able to bring this all together, but that should have fallen on Morrison.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Reader's Diary #1369 - Robert J. Sawyer: Flashforward

Robert J. Sawyer's one of those who I credit with bringing Canadian genre fiction into its own after years of Canada's literary scene having the reputation of being rather serious and stuffy. This was based purely on his writing reputation— I'd not read anything by him except a single forgettable short story a few years back.

Not that I'd call Flashforward serious, but I was relieved to find that it does what all great sci-fi should do: balances the science with ample doses of philosophy. Flashforward, for those like me who hadn't read it nor seen the TV show, is based on a CERN experiment that unexpectedly gives everyone on the planet a short glimpse into their lives 20 years into the future (if they are still living). However, as brief as this moment is, thousands of people die when their consciousness is elsewhere through plane crashes, automobile accidents and so forth.

What's unfortunate is that I could get behind the future vision premise, but I was soured in the latter half of the book with what I took to be a plot contrivance for which I could no longer suspend my belief. It seems that not only was CERN not shut down after this fatal incident, but they convinced the entire world to go on holiday, to get in safe positions, so that they could try the experiment again. Never mind how impossible the logistics would be (would no one be giving birth at the time? Having a heart attack and needing CPR?), the idea of the world uniting on this was almost laughable.

But still, there were enough positive angles overall that I'd still consider it a good read.