Monday, February 29, 2016

The 9th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - February 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")

Reader's Diary #1266- Maclean Patrick: The Silent Whisper


I enjoy finding unexpectedly universal moments. Like deja vu. Like old couples who communicate without hardly any words. Like being 53 million in debt and begging Mark Zuckerberg for a loan.

The tagline of Maclean Patrick's blog refers to him as "A Daily Writer [who] Speaks about his Daily Nonsense." The interesting thing about his short story "The Silent Whisper" is that Malaysia is almost irrelevant. There's a moment in the beginning when he describes the heat at 3 a.m., when he describes then looking out the window and seeing so many people still moving about, that doesn't seem like a typical Canadian experience. Perhaps if one lived downtown in Toronto during a heatwave, I suppose, but certainly nothing I connect with.

However, it's the plot that hits close to home. The narrator's woken up and knows falling back to sleep will be a chore. And at such an awkward hour, he knows he'll be exhausted the next morning. Man, how many times have I been there?

Then he's visited by a spectral, whispering form, who demands an answer. To what we're never told, but it sounds a lot like she's a grim reaper and the word "suicide" is like the elephant in the room.

Taken literally then, it's a supernatural tale. But I think, at its heart, it's of those insomniac nights when the pressures and stress haunt us and the dark thoughts are never far behind.

Malaysians and Canadians alike have, unfortunately, experienced that.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Reader's Diary #1265- Emily Carroll: Through the Woods

I'd come across Emily Carroll's Through the Woods so many times through the Graphic Novels and Manga Challenge, that I had to finally give it a read for myself. And I can see why so many are drawn to it.

The art is superb. With rich, almost overly inked colours, selectively chosen to give each panel its own mood, the book is gorgeous. Stylistically, her characters are very Gorey-ish, again fitting for a book a macabre tales. The setting seems of a time gone by, when the best ghost tales were told. Perhaps Victorian England, or New England. Perhaps the 1920s flapper era. Hardly matters. 6 stories all revolving in or near an ever-creepy woods.

I'm not sure all the stories work equally. The first, My Neighbour's House, left me a little confused, to be honest definitely not the strongest to start with. But stories like "His Face All Red" are so good  you just know you'll be adding them to your next round of campfire ghost stories. The last story, "The Nesting Place" is also great, though I'd have to say, felt somewhat out of place; more Lovecraft than Brothers Grimm. As problems go, you could do a lot worse than that!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Reader's Diary #1264- Various writers and artists: The Death of Superman

According to the cover of The Death of Superman it's "The best-selling graphic novel of all time!" That struck me as surprising. Granted, I do recall it being a big deal at the time, and I wasn't even really into comics at the time, so for it to have hit my radar, I'm guessing that in 1992 it probably was the best-selling graphic novel of all time. I'm skeptical if those claims would still hold up today, however.

It's surprisingly difficult to determine the best-selling graphic novel of all time. However, looking at Amazon.ca's list of best-selling comics and graphic novels, I think any of the following are probably more likely contenders:

Alan Moore: The Killing Joke (2603 days in the top 100)
Frank Miller: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2975 days in top 100)
Alan Moore: Watchmen (not currently in the top 100 but I can't imagine it hasn't outsold The Death of Superman)

The interesting thing is, all of those were published in the 80s and that suggests that when The Death of Superman first came out it probably did outsell those other titles. However, it has had no where near the same legacy or longevity.

Why not? To begin with, all of those who rushed to by a supposed collector's item, i.e., the final Superman comic, were beyond pissed when he was back to life mere months later. There is no legacy because it essentially meant nothing. Secondly, it doesn't hold up particularly well.

At the risk of getting myself blacklisted from every comic-con from here on in, I think the Moore and Miller titles listed above are also overrated. But I won't deny that they were game changers and still hold up today, or at least a far cry better than The Death of Superman.

I was taken aback at how dated The Death of Superman actually felt. Not so much for the early 90s references (this fills me with endless amusement), but for the dated way characters narrate the action with their thoughts. I would have thought that by the 90s such a thing was long gone. It felt out-of-place, like hearing a laugh-track today.

I am, however, dying to know what in the heck was going on in DC Comics at the time. As Superman faces his toughest foe ever, the Justice League shows up. Er... sort of. Booster Gold? Maxima? Bloodwynd? Superman is dying and only this second tier roster bothers to show up? Where is Batman? The Flash? Wonder Woman? The classic Justice League characters from when I was a kid are largely still the same ones today, but clearly something had happened in the late 80s/ early 90s, once again showing how poorly The Death of Superman holds up. One familiar face was Supergirl, but she's dating the red-headed son of Lex Luthor? WTF?

As for the story itself, there's not much of one. It's basically Superman getting his ass kicked for 100+ pages with so many sound effects it begins to feel like a bass drumuntil he dies. Of course, he dies saving the day, but you knew that.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Reader's Diary #1263- Helen Phillips: The Knowers


Lately I've been deep sighing without realizing it. Someone will ask what's wrong. Wrong? Yes, why the big sigh?

..............................................................................................................................................................

Helen Phillips' "The Knowers" revolves around that familiar "what if" question: What if you could know the date of your own death? Would you want to know? What would you do with that information?

I would want to know. Incidentally, I asked a Ouija board that question once upon a time and while I don't recall the answer, I know I've outlived it by far. I think it was around 29 years of age. Considering some of the choices I was making at the time, 29 would have seemed about right.

 One of the most interesting details in "The Knowers" is birthdays being usurped by deathdays. Every year, on April 17th, the narrator "celebrates" another year being alive, knowing that on one particular April 17th, years from now, she will cease to exist.

It's a morbid story. And in case the tone of this post hasn't tipped you off, depressing. I did find it tragically hilarious, however, that upon the date in question, the narrator's husband will only talk in solemnly profound sentences just in case it's the last thing his wife hears. She tells him to knock it off.

Beautifully written. One of the best things I've read, and will read, this year.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Reader's Diary #1262- Alex de Campi (Writer), Fernando Ruiz (Art): Archie vs. Predator

There's a lot said in the introduction and afterword of the bizarre crossover Archie vs. Predator about how it is drawn in the traditional Archie style, most often this is in reference to the zombie-infested Afterlife with Archie series which has its own unique style.

They are right, of course, that seeing the brightly-coloured and friendly smiling cartoon faces of Archie and the gang splattered in blood, getting their spines ripped out, and so forth is a bit jarring. In that regard, there's no denying the incongruously fun blood-lust of Archie vs. Predator.

But in the end, that's really all this comic has going for it. Afterlife with Archie (hey, they brought it up), is just as subversive (actually more so), but also has better visuals, better story telling, and is a genuine work of art. Archie vs. Predator is Archie + violence.

I suppose if you were a predator fan, you'd be a little more into this book. I remember enjoying the original Arnold Schwarzenegger/ Jesse "the Body" Ventura film back when I was a kid. Then the sequel with Danny Glover came out. It stank and I thought the world was done with the Predator. It's only in more recent years that someone decided we needed more Predator (Alien vs Predator???) and here we are.

Still, I enjoy weird crossovers and I can get behind "just fun." Who would you like to see Archie and the gang encounter next? Freddy Krueger? ISIS?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Reader's Diary #1261- Christopher Priest (Writer), Various Artists: Black Panther / The Complete Collection Volume 1

I know a lot of people are super excited to see Spider-Man appear in the upcoming Civil War movie— and don't get me wrong, so am I!— but I'm even more stoked to see the Black Panther appear. It's a character that had been completely unknown to me growing up and the more I hear about him and his fictional country of Wakanda, the more I'm intrigued. Plus his costume in the trailers looks very cool.

Trying to get a sense of him beforehand, I went looking for must read Black Panther titles. Time and time again, people recommended Priest's take. Mat Elfring, of ComicVine, writes, "This was the run that really defined the character. [...] this is the most important of all the stories."

After reading The Complete Collection, Volume 1, I'm skeptical and far less excited.

First off,  it's amazing that this many people can take a stab at the artwork and no one can get it right. It begins with a story illustrated by Mark Texeira. Let me just say, for all the complaining I've done over the past year about generic superhero art, Texeira made me long for generic superhero art. It's heavily painted and looks messy, faces are often grotesque, and aren't even consistent from one panel to the next. As the later artists go the more generic route, this problem with consistency continues to plague the whole collection. The worse is for a character named Everett Ross. Everyone seems to want to completely overhaul the character.

And no wonder. He sucks. Single-handedly the downfall of the entire run. An American government rep meant to be T'Challa (the Black Panther's real name) guide in the U.S., Black Panther's story is told entirely through his eyes. He's meant to be funny. He's not. But the attempts are there and he just underscores how little we little we know about T'Challa who comes across as flat and dull. He's the king of an African super-nation and a superhero, and he comes across as boring. How is that even possible?!

Ross also cannot tell a straightforward story. You know how everyone was playing with the narrative flow in the 90s? Yeah, it's possible to make that work but when it doesn't? Awful.

If this is the best source material, Marvel Studios has their work cut out for them.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Reader's Diary #1260- Don Delisle: A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting

As I'm in the final stretch of my master's, I'm starting to look forward to attending to some of those things I've been neglecting these past three years. Top of that list is spending more time with my family. Don't get me wrong, I've not been a total shut-in, but they've had to be VERY patient with me. Sorry, can't play a game right now, I'm working on my course. Can't come watch the soccer game A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting, I just had to read it. But not to worry, I read it after they went to bed. It would have been too sadly ironic to bear reading it front of them!


And it's hilarious. Mostly, I suspect because I saw myself in Delisle. There's a vignette when he thinks it would be funny to pretend he's cut off his hand with a chainsaw, mortifying his child in the process. Yep, been there!

But, despite the cover and the title, it's not so much a collection of stories about neglecting his children as it is about the... less than wise parenting decisions he makes when he does spend time with them. It's sweet in a way, as you can tell these are things Delisle's actually chastised himself for, but in all honesty they're harmless (it's not real neglect like starving a poor kid to death or anything) and in fact, show a goofy, average dad spending quality time with his kids.

The cartooning is simple. They put the emphasis on the jokes on simple stories, without developing elaborate backdrops or details that quite frankly would have felt out of place here. It's a quick read, designed to give a dad more time to spend with the kids and (not really) scarring them forever.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Reader's Diary #1259- Charlene Carr: One Good Thing


I came across Charlene Carr's name in a story about (a surprisingly large number of) Newfoundland romance writers. Checking out her website, I came across the short story, "One Good Thing." I don't think I'd classify it as romance, at least not in the stereotypical way, but it is an engaging dramatic tale.

Small town troubles (done very well, I might add) and a violent episode that turns even worse thanks to a freak accident should be enough to keep any reader enthralled, but what I keep returning to is the insightful way Carr handles "the bad guy." Or in this case, the bad guys. Call it 2 shades of grey if you want, but Carr practically destroys the good versus evil dichotomy. Depicting two men, both of whom society has already determined are villains as having incredibly different personalities, provided a much richer and complex story than I'd expected.

Just as not all villains are created equal I suppose, nor are romance writers.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Reader's Diary #1258- Hope Nicholson (Editor): Moonshot / The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 1

Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection is a wonderful sampling of comic art and stories written by and/or/with indigenous creators across North America (with the larger portion being Canadian). It features my recent discovery and newly crowned favourite comics illustrator, David Mack, and a few others familiar to me: Richard Van Camp, David Alexander Robertson, and I was also pleased to discover new artists that I'd not come across before.

The end result has so much wonderful variety, with art ranging from very comic-book traditional to stuff unlike I'd seen anywhere else. Likewise with the stories; some are traditional tales, some are horror and sci-fi, and some (deliciously) combine all of the above.

Some stories feel more complete while others feel like excerpts. That's not a critique: at the end of the collection biographies are included of all of the creators. There are many here that I will definitely follow up with and check out more of their work.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Reader's Diary #1257- Elodie Harper: Wild Swimming


Elodie Harper's "Wild Swimming" was the winner of a Guardian short story contest judged by Stephen King. You'd be correct then to suspect it's horror. But you probably weren't expecting something set in Lithuania, nor the events that transpire there. And have you ever heard of the extreme sport of wild swimming? Me neither.

If all of that isn't interesting enough, it's also told as an epistolary short story via emails.

Whew, with all of that going for it, it would almost be forgiven if the story itself was poorly written. Fortunately, it's engaging the whole way through.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Reader's Diary #1256- Kieron Gillen (Writer) and Salvador Larroca (Artist): Star Wars Darth Vader Vol. 1

In Kieron Gillen's Darth Vader, Volume 1, there's a Star Wars character I'd not heard of before named Aphra who at one point says, "I'm happy my blood's doodling in the margins of a story worth telling" and therein lies my whole problem with this book. It's all the margins.

Set between A New Hope (i.e., episode 4) and The Empire Strikes Back (i.e., episode 5), the whole thing feels unnecessary. I'm never thrilled when yet another movie comes out set during one of the World Wars haven't we heard all of the interesting stories by now?— so you can imagine how I'd feel about an unnecessary side story from a fictional war. 

Of course, sometimes I'm still surprised, and someone will tell an interesting and new story. Even in the Star Wars mythos, I'll admit that my son and I enjoyed the Clone Wars TV series, which was set between Attack of the Clones (episode 2) and Revenge of the Sith (episode 3). So what I'm saying is, if the story telling is good enough, I can come around.

I didn't come around for Darth Vader, Volume 1. I'm left basically underwhelmed. It felt like just a way to squeeze out more Vader. I get he was a kick-ass villain and a money maker, but the character died and it's time to move on.

But, I'll concede some good points. For a guy who spends his entire time in a mask, they manage to get some emotion out of Vader through his body language, through flashbacks, through words
— and I'll give credit for that. I'm not a fan of Larroca's art (especially his tendency to draw characters look straight into the "camera"), but Delgado's colours are great: dark, but shiny, just like Vader himself.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Reader's Diary #1255- Tania Del Rio (Writer), Will Staehle (Illustrator): Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye

Magic, puzzles, and steampunk. Hints of Roald Dahl, Lemony Snickett, and Edward Gorey. Ah, what a wonderful book.

Warren the 13th, the titular star of the book, is surrounded by assortment of eclectic characters: witches, perfumiers, pirates, and octopi, and more. Warren's certainly likable. Mannerly and obedient to a fault, but also odd in his own right. But those around him? Some clearly cannot be trusted. The rest? Well, who's to say?

Warren is the rightful heir to a a now dilapidated hotel, a hotel that holds a valuable secret known as the All Seeing Eye.

It's rare to see a book packaged this well. The illustrations, with rich etchings, expressive and outlandish cartoons, and everything cast with deliciously detailed shadows that suggest secrets of their own. The colouring too, with its rich reds, blacks, gold, silvers, and white, is magnificent.

The look of the book might also be its downfall. I brought this book at home from the library for my son to read, knowing he'd enjoy the story, but it took me reading the first the chapter to him before he'd give it a chance (then he devoured it in a day or so). It looks old fashioned, right down to the two columned pages and the fonts. I could tell he was skeptical.

That's not a bad lesson though. Sometimes those old relics (or old looking relics) have delightful surprises.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Reader's Diary #1254- Craig Thompson: Space Dumplins

After the decidedly mature Blankets, I wasn't sure what to expect with Craig Thompson's take on a space adventure aimed at younger readers, but Space Dumplins was wild, colourful, and fun.

There's a lot in here that reminded me of others' work: Adventure Time, Sponge Bob, Ren and Stimpy, the Jetsons, etc. Not that any of these are bad things. The art and jokes are quirky, sometimes witty, sometimes just gross. This is not a bad combination, nor is to suggest Thompson hasn't created something unique or added his own original flair. (Check out his use of speech balloons!)

The tale of a girl off to save her father in space along with her two polar opposite, but equally misfit friends, clicks along with such energy it would be next to impossible for any kid to turn away.

For the adult readers, there are still a lot of mature themes to explore, much in the same way of the better Pixar movies. Classism, animal rights, environmental concerns, are all measured out so cleverly that you almost don't realize there's more going on beyond the bright lights and puns.Will kids pick up on it? Perhaps, perhaps not, but at least seeds of critical thought will be planted.

The art, with with its many curves, is frenetic, adding to the pacing and the colours, like a black-lit mini-golf course, lend a sense of awe for the outer space setting.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Reader's Diary #1255- Sean Hill: unnamed


Sean Hill runs a Twitter account called "Very Short Story." As you can guess, each story is less than 140 characters. Nonetheless, if you're a fan of microfiction, he does it well and has gained a lot of followers in the process. He's also published many of his quick tales in a hardcopy book.

I picked today's short story, about a lonely ant-loving man, not because it stood out as a particularly great or terrible example, but simply as it was his most recent and does, nonetheless, represent what he does. There's an honest-to-goodness character there; one you immediately make judgements about and sympathize. He's given a backstory that has had repercussions on his present. There's even a setting. All within such a short space!

I encourage you to check out more from his Twitter feed while you're there.