Monday, October 30, 2017

Reader's Diary #1689- Mary Wilkins Freeman: Luella Miller

Mary Wilkins Freeman's "Luella Miller" is a unique tale of horror as it deals with illness as the only real symptom of a supernatural occurrence, though witchcraft is hinted at.

It tells of a woman who seems to have control over others, claiming to be too unhealthy to fend for herself yet outliving all of those who come in contact with her.

Published in 1902, it has the superstitious air of such stories that sought explanations for happenings that science as of then could not explain. This is not a criticism on my part as I prefer stories that could have rational explanations but nonetheless plant seeds of doubt.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Reader's Diary #1688- Joshua Williamson and Tom King (writers), Jason Fabok and Howard Porter (artists): Batman / The Flash The Button

I'm perhaps an easier sell for Batman / The Flash: The Button. No, I'm not a die-hard DC guy and in fact, consider myself more of a Marvel guy, but this comic uses two legacy series as its base and fans of those respective properties were understandably guarded against having such legacies tarnished.

The legacies in question are Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen and Geoff Johns' Flashpoint. (I realize that the latter doesn't have near the reputation as the first, but still.) However, as someone who thinks Watchmen is overrated and Flashpoint was just good, I didn't have reservations going in.

And I quite enjoyed this. The Flash and Batman are doing some real detective work, there's a wildly interesting mystery that even has larger religious themes, there's emotional heft with Batman meeting his father, and it was all pretty entertaining. I almost didn't even mind the ridiculousness of the "cosmic treadmill."

The art, too, is stellar and one panel in particular blew me away in how it captured the Flash's speed:

It reminds me of those warped panoramic photos that people share online of when people move or a cat walks through the scene.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Reader's Diary #1687- Matt Kindt (writer), Tomas Giorello (artist): XO Manowar Soldier Volume 01

Matt Kindt's XO Manowar Soldier: Volume 01 was a reading choice based almost entirely on glowing reviews. I wasn't particularly thrilled with Kindt's other critically acclaimed series Mind Mgmt but thought I'd give him another chance.

Again, unfortunately, I'm unsure why there's so much hype. I'll admit that some of this may be my issue. I'm sort of done with hyper-aggressive white males as heroes and this feels pretty much like Conan the Barbarian in Space. The set-up itself is also a tired trope: just when I thought I was out, they drag me back in. I will grant that some of the world building is impressive, but that's about it. Even the concept of the super-advanced XO armour is underwhelming, barely even being used in the entire trade paperback.

The art is decent, again with the creative world-building flourishes, touching on great in the 3rd story thanks to an assist from David Mack.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Reader's Diary #1686- Mimi Pond: The Customer is Always Wrong

In the thank-yous that open Mimi Pond's The Customer is Always Wrong, she credits her children as the very center of her life, giving her "joy, delight, strength and unconditional love." I think the shout out to domesticity threw me off.

As did the title. I thought it would be a memoir about ungrateful or rude customers at a diner.

I wasn't prepared for tales of cocaine and heroin addiction, breaking and entering and violent mistaken identity, of cancer.

However, once I came to accept the wild, unexpected ride that it was, I have to admit being entertained. There's some sadness, I suppose, but I can't say that I really connected to that part. Maybe the slight dark humour cancelled it out, maybe had I been familiar with the characters in the first book I'd have felt a stronger connection. I hadn't realized when I began that this was actually a sequel, but nonetheless I'd still suggest that the book can stand alone.

The art is fine; sort of a loose, sketchy vibe with grayish blue watercoloured highlights that elevated it all.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Reader's Diary #1685- Emil Harris: My Favourite Thing is Monsters

Emil Harris's My Favourite Thing is Monsters is definitely one of the more creative graphic novels I've read in some time.

It's also one of the thickest and with that comes a slew of plots and themes. The overarching theme, however, is the difference between monsters. Karen Reyes, the book's child protagonist and narrator depicts herself as a monster (mostly resembling a werewolf). This isn't done necessarily with any ill-intent or self-deprecation. She happens to like cheesy horror villains and mostly prides herself as being a bit of freak. (That said, when she comes out to her brother, it's far from easy.) But she also comes to learn that there are real-life monsters as well. These are definitely not her favourite kind.

I was into monsters as a kid as well, and also like Karen, I had a wild imagination. Early into the book I found myself recalling a time as a child, who along with my same-age cousin, was convinced that my church-going, cookie-baking grandmother was selling cocaine. It turned out that those brown packets of white powder in her attic was taxidermy powder from a mail order course my uncle had taken. And also that we watched too much Remington Steele.

Before getting a lot further into My Favourite Thing is Monsters, however, I began to realize that this was not just the story of a young girl with crime fantasies. Set in 1960s inner-city Chicago, crime and hardship was a reality.

The story is mostly about the death of Karen's upstairs neighbour Anka. Karen is convinced it's a murder and turns herself into a sleuth in order to get to the bottom of it.

The book isn't perfect. The pacing is somewhat problematic: Anka's lengthy history is explored but all at once. While interesting, it almost made me almost forget about Karen altogether. There were also more and more loose ends being created rather than tied up and while there is a sequel, I would have liked at least some resolution in the first volume for such a commitment. I'm nervous Harris may have bitten off too much.

But the art is incredible. Down in a sketched-up notebook style, it's somewhat reminiscent of Lynda Barry's work. It's also detailed and superb when need be, light and cartoonish when fitting. In any case, it will inspire a good many to pick up their pens and start doodling.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Reader's Diary #1684- Lin Jenkinson: Transformation

I prefer flash fiction (all short fiction really) that feels complete, that doesn't make me long for a longer piece. Lin Jenkinson's "Transformation" unfortunately doesn't do that for me.

Which, as insults go, isn't really that bad. The story, of a man becoming a vampire, would work excellently as the opening of a full length novel.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Reader's Diary #1683- J. Michael Straczynski (writer), Esad Ribic (artist): Silver Surfer Requiem

I've been hearing a lot about a great buzz about Dan Slott's recent Silver Surfer run, though it's usually followed up with comments about how sad it is. Unfortunately I've not yet been able to get my hands on these particular comments yet, but my Silver Surfer curiousity has at least been piqued and I was able to get my hands on J. Michael Straczynski and Esad Ribic's Silver Surfer Requiem trade.

I've encountered both of these artists before but was underwhelmed both times. Not so this time around. The story of Silver Surfer making peace with his upcoming death (don't worry, this wasn't canon) was poignant and Ribic's watercoloured art was not only unexpected but added a heft to the story which otherwise ran the risk of cheap and obvious sentimentality.

As there's a lot of soul searching and reflection, it's also a good place for those like myself to get to know the Silver Surfer character; his history and personality.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Reader's Diary #1682- Robert E. Howard: Pigeons from Hell

Robert E. Howard's "Pigeons from Hell" begins as a classic ghost story, complete with haunted house, but one that is still genuinely creepy.

It's also uncomfortable in that it deals with slavery in the American south. As many critics of the latest book banning of To Kill A Mockingbird would tell you, that's okay. Not all literature should make you comfortable. It fact, much should challenge readers.

That said, while Howard thankfully calls out slavery for the evil that it is, his story is still racist overall. From what I can gather about Howard (the creator of Conan the Barbarian), he doesn't have any Haitian roots yet he stereotypes and appropriates their culture.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Reader's Diary #1681- Nagata Kabi, translated by Jocelynne Allen: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness

Not sure how Nagata Kabi's My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness first crossed my radar, but I'm glad it did.

It begins with Nagata finding herself terrified and in bed with a female prostitute. This is her first time being intimate with anyone. From there the book backtracks to explore how she got there and then the ramifications that followed.

While the title might suggest a focus on the "lesbian" aspect, I'd argue that the book is more about mental health than anything else. It's not just loneliness that's explored, but depression, eating disorders, and imposter syndrome as well.

It's not a comfortable read by any means. For starters, and for me, the way Nagata depicts herself in her art, somewhat deprecatingly, she looks to be a young girl. And as a male reading a book with a naked young girl on the cover, it's something I avoided in public. I should note, however, that in that scene she's actually meant to be 28 years old.

But of course some of the issues are difficult as well and everyone's experiences with mental health and illness is unique. How easily she seems to beat bulimia might seem almost implausible. Her attraction toward her mother as a young girl may be off-putting, though it is rather Freudian and I'd like to think was one of the few times in the book Nagata didn't explain herself well.

That all said, there is a charm to it all and the subtle, dark humour helped me along. I also appreciated the non-sitcom ending: it's hopeful but far from resolved.

The art, while not spectacular, is quirky and sufficiently expressive.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Aviva Contest: A Healthier Library, A Healthier You!

Voting for Aviva has officially begun!

 I hope you will consider casting a vote for the Yellowknife Public Library. We believe our holistically healthy public library idea is the first of its kind in Canada and will reap positive benefits for the entire community: (you will need to register the first time, but you can cast up to 18 votes).

Also, please help spread the word to your friends and through your social media channels. You may use the link above and/or this video:

Monday, October 09, 2017

Reader's Diary #1680: Lauren Schenkman: The Removal

There's the briefest of seconds near the beginning of Lauren Schenkman's "The Removal" when the story approaches horror. A man named Victor is on an operating table, expecting to have everything "non-essential" removed. This is scary and tragic enough as it is. We're thinking cancer, right? Then the IV drip starts to flow and... oh my god, he isn't under and the doctor is starting anyway!

Or wait, maybe he is under and this is a near-death experience. The grotesque objects removed from Victor's cavity he understands to be resentments and jealousies and quite frankly, many of the things that unfortunately define what it is to be a man these days. But even as the doctor removes more organ meat than seems humanly possible, it's, I suppose, a hopeful story in that should Victor survive this ordeal, maybe he won't be such an entitled and sexist prick.

A fascinating story.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Reader's Diary #1679- Mark Waid (writer), Mike Wieringo (artist): Fantastic Four Ultimate Collection

I remember enjoying the first Fantastic Four movie. Sorry, the first official one, not the notoriously bad 1990s version that never made it to theaters but has since leaked to YouTube. I'm talking about the one that had Chris Evans as the Human Torch. Granted it was 2005 before Marvel Studios really proved what a successful superhero movie could be and so I'm curious how much I'd enjoy it now.

I bring it up because it was really my first exposure to the Fantastic Four movie and I've wanted these characters to do well. I really want them back at Marvel Studios. Still, I've not read a lot of their comics beyond their appearances in big event comics.

Mark Waid's Ultimate Collection seemed like a decent place to start as I did enjoy his work on Archie.

Thankfully, in this collection he was able to capture some of the fun and the familial bonds that the Fox Studios producers have so poorly delivered in the wake of that 1st attempt. (I should also acknowledge that I am one of the few to suggest they ever got it right). The stories may not be earth-shattering, but they perfectly highlight the characters' personalities (except maybe Sue Storm who could have been expanded better) while being wildly entertaining.

Mike Wieringo's art is suitable, expressive and fluid, though I did find his approach to hair quite odd and therefore distracting (it looks like people are wearing hairnets).

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Reader's Diary #1678- R.L. Stine (writer), German Peralta (artist): Man-Thing Those Who Know Fear

Earlier this year I read a collected volume of Man-Thing by Steve Gerber and while I didn't regret it, it was a bit of a let down, especially when compared to the DC equivalent Swamp Thing. I complained at the time that due to Man-Thing's almost complete lack of rational thought, there was hardly anywhere to go with the character.

In R.L. Stine's version, however, Ted Sallis (i.e., the man trapped inside the Man-Thing's body) has not only reclaimed his mind but even the ability to speak. However, he's at risk for slipping back into his more animalistic self.

This should make for a decent premise: a man trapped inside himself a la Metallica's "One." Unfortunately, it's ruined by ban pun after ban pun. I like Marvel's sense of humour, I even like puns (I'm a dad after all), but it's absolutely relentless here and it's quite awful. I went from wanting Man-Thing to be able to express himself more to wishing he'd shut up.

The art, I suppose, is decent and it would seem that some was at least inspired by the Swamp Thing's more surreal moments. It's too bad that it's undermined by Stine's terrible cheesiness.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Reader's Diary #1677- Jaume Cabré, translated by Liz Castro: Pandora

Jaume Cabré's "Pandora" tells of a gutless man who finds himself hiring a hit man to off his wife. However, when a different, more acceptable solution presents itself and he no longer requires this extreme measure to be rid of her, he is unable to call it off.

It's a great example of a story where the protagonist is not likeable but it doesn't much matter to one's enjoyment of the story. In fact, it just might help. In any case, despite the out of the ordinary situation, Cabré's descriptive inner monologue for this character sells the idea and even makes it relatable just as long as you've been in any situation that, through poor choices of your own, has spun out of control.