Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The 2017 Book Mine Set Short Story Online Anthology

Another 52 weeks, another 52 short stories found for free and online. The links below offer my thoughts on each story and embedded in each of those posts you'll find links to the stories themselves. Though I've ranked them from least to most favourite, few were the stories I didn't enjoy at all.  My number one pick might cause a few groans as people tend to turn on stuff that gets too popular as this one surely did. But a good story's a good story.

52. Sevim Ak "Moving to a New House"
51. Björnstjerne Björnson "The Father"
50. Bruce Handy "The Year in Internet Memes and Social-Media Obsessions"
49. Barry Rosen "A Visit to Tim Horton's"
48. Mary Hallock Foote "A Cloud on the Mountain"
47. Lucy Clifford "The New Mother"
46. Linda Ferguson "This Heady Thing Called Love"
45. Mohamed El-Bisatie "A Conversation from the Third Floor"
44. Mikhail P. Artzybashev "The Revolutionist"
43. D.C. Archibald "Down the Line"
42. Lin Jenkinson "Transformation"
41. Peter Jordan "Broody"
40. Robin Quackenbush "The Oak and the Willow"
39. Eileen Register "The Hurricane
38. Ed Lately "Remain"
37. Madeleine Thien "10^80 Pieces"
36. Astrid Lindgren "Pomperipossa in Monismania"
35. Nicole Mullen "Read This If Your Child Was Eaten By a Pelican"
34. Mary E. Wilkins Freeman "A Stolen Christmas"
33. Karen Ovér "Lazlo and Laroux"
32. Mary Wilkins Freeman "Luella Miller"
31. Destiny West "The Forgotten"
30. Jaume Cabré "Pandora"
29. Frank Westcott "Oh, Oh Henry"
28. Jan Kaneen "Breaking Windows"
27. Devon Balwit "Down the Road"
26. Robert E. Howard "Pigeons from Hell"
25. April White "Luck and the Long Dark"
24. Doug Patrick "The Playground with Dad"
23. Tamar Merin "What You Looking At?"
22. Terri-Lynn Quewezance "Wapihti"
21. Diego Vecchio "The Tobacco Man"
20. Ted Chiang "The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling"
19. Mezbauddin Mahtab "A Little Early Story"
18. Barbara Honigmann "Double Grave"
17. Tiana Reid "Stories From Saint-Martin"
16. Anna Paquier "A Potted Cactus"
15. Lauren Schenkman "The Removal"
14. Erin MacNair "Thin Crust"
13. Laolu Poe Alani "Adéláìdé"
12. Erskine Caldwell "Kneel to the Rising Sun"
11. Austin Bunn "The End of the Age is Upon Us" 
The TOP 10!
10. Donald Hubbard "Meat Shop"
9. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie "The Arrangements"
8. Kate Reuther "A Man Walks Into a Bar"
7. Heikki Hietala "Lord Stanton's Horse"
6. Gina Balibrera "Álvaro"
5. Sarah Selecky "The Cat"
4. Aruna Harjani "The Tour Guide"
3. Mensje van Keulen "Sand"
2. Chika Unigwe "The Smell of Home"
1. Kristen Roupenian "Cat Person"

Monday, December 25, 2017

Reader's Diary #1694- Mary E. Wilkins Freeman: A Stolen Christmas

There's a classic sort of vibe to Mary E. Wilkins Freeman's "A Stolen Christmas": the sentimental, moralistic, inner-turmoil kind of tale often attributed to folks like Charles Dickens or O. Henry. But there's a certain charm in that, like an old tacky Christmas ornament that finds its way onto your tree every year.

The moral in this particular tale is about materialism and envy; apparently as relevant to Christmas in the 1800s as it is today. In this case, a poor mother finally succumbs to the pressure and steals, which she soon comes to regret. She's not an entirely unsympathetic character, however. And of course, being the cliched kind of story it is, there's also a bit of a twist at the end.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Reader's Diary #1693- Emma Jacobs (editor): Vinyl Me, Please

Vinyl Me, Please, subtitled 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection would make a great gift for the record collectors in your life. I started collecting vinyl a couple of years ago and have quite enjoyed the hobby. I'm not a big audiophile in the sense that I hear much of a difference between vinyl and say an mp3 (though I can on some!) and my love comes more from the product itself, but that's neither here nor there.

I keep a running list of must-haves that I've been whittling away at and the book only managed to add 3 new additional which doesn't sound like a good track record but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy reading about the albums recommended here and indeed, I owned some of them already (granted only 6 which also isn't a good ratio) and still others had already been included to my list.

With 24 music writers representing a great variety of musical tastes, it's a bit of an eclectic though rock runs largest. Therefore, genres like punk, metal, jazz, and hip hop are a little more scant. Country fares even worse. However, it still provides some good starting points.

A nice feature, though not employed often enough, is cocktail recipes to accompany some albums. I sadly didn't get to try any yet as mostly required liqueurs absent from my embarrassing excuse for a liquor cabinet.

A few negatives besides too few cocktail ideas: not enough background info on albums (the year it was first released, the track listings) and occasionally they seemed to intentionally veer from the obvious choice just for that reason even when the obvious was clearly more deserving (e.g., Sign O' The Times over Purple Rain or Amnesiac over OK Computer), but these issues are minor.

The contributors' love for these records shone through and even if I wasn't often able to drop a needle and listen along, I felt like I did vicariously.

Friday, December 22, 2017

My Year in Review 2017 - Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels

My year in comics, manga, and graphic novels was a productive one in terms of both quantity (105, or just a little more than 2 per week on average) and quality. On the surface the list probably looks like a mixed bag, but if you consider that I consider myself a student of comics, it might make a bit more sense. I explored (slightly) lesser known superheroes, I caught up on some major superhero crossover events, comics featuring non-white/non-cisgendered/non-male characters, I ventured into webcomics (ones that went to print anyway), and I went way back for some really early comics. I also tried to stay current on titles that critics and fans were talking about. And of course, Canadian comics. With that in mind, ranked from my least favourite to favourite, are all the comics, manga, and graphic novels I read in 2017:

105. The New Ghostbusters (Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening)
104. Xena Warrior Princess: All Roads (Genevieve Valentine, Ariel Medel, and Julius Gopez)
103. Overwatch Anthology: Volume 1 (Various) 
102. The Yellow Kid Comic Strips 1895 - 1898 (Robert F. Outcault)
101. Red Sonja: Wrath of the Gods 1-5 (Luke Lieberman and Walter Geovani)
100. X-Men Gambit: The Complete Collection Volume 1 (Tom DeFalco and Fabian Nicieza)
99. Hawk and Dove Volume One: First Strikes (Sterling Gates and Rob Liefeld) 
98. Man-Thing: Those Who Know Fear (R. L. Stine and German Peralta)
97. All-Star Western Volume 1: Guns and Gotham (Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Moritat)
96. Elektra: The Complete Collection (Peter Milligan, Larry Hama, and Mike Deodato Jr.) 
95. Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider 1 Back in the Hood (Peter David)
94. The Unstoppable Wasp Volume 1: Unstoppable (Jeremy Whitley and Elsa Charretier)
93. Luke Cage: Avenger (Various)
92. Little Lulu: A Handy Kid (John Stanley and Irving Tripp) 
91. Deathstroke Volume 1: The Professional (Christopher Priest)
90. Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage (Various)
89. Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1 (James Tynion IV, Freddie E. Williams)
88. French Milk (Lucy Knisley)
87. Josie and the Pussycats: Volume 1 (Marguerite Bennett, Cameron Deordio, and Audrey Mok)
86. Conan: The Blood Stained Crown and Other Stories (Kurt Busiek)
85. The Creeps (Fran Krause)
84. Reggie and Me (Tom DeFalco and Sandy Jarrell)
83. XO Manowar Soldier Volume 1 (Matt Kindt and Tomas Giorello) 
82. Sinfest: Viva La Resistance (Tatsuya Ishida)
81. The Shield: Daughter of the Revolution (Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig) 
80. Nova Volume 1: Origin (Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness) 
79. The Customer is Always Wrong (Mimi Pond) 
78. Cyanide and Happiness (Kris, Rob, Matt, and Dave)
77. Booster Gold Volume 1: 52 Pick-Up (Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz)
76. Namor The First Mutant Volume 1: Curse of the Mutants (Stuart Moore and Ariel Olivetti)
75. Hercules: Still Going Strong (Dan Abnett and Luke Ross) 
74. Captain Atom Volume 1: Evolution (J. T. Krul and Freddie Williams II)
73. The Man-Thing: The Complete Collection Volume 1 (Steve Gerber)
72. The Unbelieveable Gwenpool Volume 1: Believe It (Chris Hastings and Danilo Beyruth)
71. The Uncanny X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga (Chris Claremont and John Byrne)
70. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter S. Thompson and Troy Little) 
69. Eyes of the Husky (Doug Urquhart)
68. The Totally Awesome Hulk Volume 1: Cho Time (Greg Pak, Frank Cho, and Mike Choi)
67. A.D. After Death (Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire)
66. Cloak and Dagger: Shadows and Light (Bill Mantlo, Al Milgrom, and Chris Claremont)
65. The Infinity War (Jim Starlin)
64. My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness (Nagata Kabi) 
63. A Girl Called Echo: Volume 1 (Katherena Vermette and Scott B. Henderson)
62. Ajin Demi-Human 1 (Tsuina Miura and Gamon Sakurai)
61. Fantastic Four: Ultimate Collection (Mark Waid, Mike Wieringo)
60. Heavy Metal (Jacques de Pierpont and Hervé Bourhis)
59. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe (Ryan North and Erica Henderson)
58. Attack on Titan Colossal Edition (Hajime Isayama)
57. Japan Ai (Aimee Major Steinberger)
56. Venom: The Complete Collection Volume 1 (Rick Remender) 
55. Justice League Dark Volume 3: The Death of Magic (Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes, and Mikel Janin)
54. Rebirth (Geoff Johns)
53. Nightwing Volume 1: Better Than Batman (Tim Seeley and Javier Fernandez) 
52. The Worrier's Guide to Life (Gemma Correll)
51. Battlepug 1 (Mike Norton)
50. Hawkman Book One (Geoff Johns and Rags Morales) 
49. Nick Cave: Have Mercy on Me (Reinhard Kleist)
48. The Smurfs Anthology (Peyo)
47. Cyborg Volume 1: The Imitation of Life (John Semper Jr. and Paul Pelletier)
46. Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat! Volume 1: Hooked on a Feline (Kate Leth and Brittney L. Williams)
45. My Favorite Thing is Monsters (Emil Harris)
44. Shazam Volume 1 (Geoff Johns and Gary Frank)
43. Batman / The Flash: The Button (Joshua Williamson, Tom King, Howard Porter)
41. Warlock: The Complete Collection (Jim Starlin) 
41. Our Cancer Year (Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner, and Frank Stack)
40. Oglaf (Doug Bayne and Trudy Cooper)
39. Zatanna (Paul Dini) 
38. Alpha Flight: The Complete Series (Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, and Dale Eaglesham)
37. Silver Surfer Requiem (J. Michael Straczynski and Esad Ribic)
36. Hip Hop Family Tree 4 1984-1985 (Ed Piskor)
35. Nunavik (Michel Hellman)
34. Invincible Ironman Ironheart Volume 1: Riri WIlliams (Brian Michael Bendis and Stefano Caselli) 
33. The Infinity Gauntlet (Jim Starlin, George Perez, and Ron Lim)
32. X-23: The Complete Series (Various) 
31. Scooby Apocalypse: Volume 1 (Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis)
30. Vampirella: Hollywood Horror (Kate Leth and Eman Casallos) 
29. The Flintstones Volume 1 (Mark Russell and Steve Pugh)
28. Old Man Logan Volume 1: Berzerker (Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino)
27. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and the Great Lakes Avengers (Various)
26. The Arab of the Future (Riad Sattouf) 
25. Escape from Syria (Samya Kullab, Jackie Roche, and Mike Freiheit)
24. The 9/11 Report (Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón)
23. Snotgirl Volume 1: Green Hair Don't Care (Bryan Lee O'Malley and Leslie Hung)
22. Terms and Conditions (R. Sikoryak)
21. Plastic (Doug Wagner and Daniel Hillyard)
20. Uncle Scrooge "Only a Poor Old Man" (Carl Barks) 
19. Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick (Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky)
18. Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One (Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, and John Totleben)
17. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection (Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird) 
16. The Comic Book Story of Beer (Jonathan Hennessey, Mike Smith, and Aaron McConnell)
15. Secret Path (Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire)
14. Will I See? (Iskwé, Erin Leslie, David Alexander Robertson, GMB Chomichuk)
13. My Friend Dahmer (Derf Backderf)
12. Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness (Reinhard Kleist)
11. Vinland Saga: Book One (Makoto Yukimura)

THE TOP 10!!!
10. Tetris (Box Brown)
9. Black Widow Volume 1: The Finely Woven Thread (Nathan Edmonson and Phil Noto) 
8. Adulthood is a Myth (Sarah Anderson)
7. My Brother's Husband (Gengoroh Tagame) 
6. Secret Empire (Nick Spencer)
5. Descender Volume One: Tin Stars (Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen)
4. Paper Girls 1 (Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang) 
3. Black Hammer: Secret Origins (Jeff Lemire and Deam Ormston)
2. Bitch Planet 1: Extraordinary Machine (Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro) 
1. Hyperbole and a Half (Allie Brosh)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Reader's Diary #1692- Doug Wagner (writer), Daniel Hillyard (artist): Plastic

Imagine Dexter but with schizophrenia and then ramp up the dark comedy and you'd have an idea of what Doug Wagner and Daniel Hillyard's Plastic is like.

The plot revolves around a retired serial killer named Edwyn; retired as he has fallen in love with Virginia, a sex doll, who has subdued his violent appetites. This twisted serenity does not last however as Virginia is kidnapped and Edwyn is forced into becoming a hit man in order to get her back. Other characters include a dead mother, a dead police officer, and a runaway sexual assault victim who may or may not still be in a state of shock.

It's violent, and over the-top-violent, but even then the story comes first in one scene, for instance, a murder is "off-screen" as it works best in that case for readers to imagine what they will.

If you are not put off by dark comedy, Plastic is inventive and wildly entertaining. The art too is great, reminiscent of old horror comics like Tales from the Crypt and coloured in wonderful mood settings by Laura Martin.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Reader's Diary #1691- Tatsuya Ishida: Sinfest Viva La Resistance

Tatsuya Ishida's Sinfest: Viva la Resistance was ultimately a disappointment. His cartooning is top notch, with a cast a well-defined, cutely drawn characters (think Jeff Smith's Bone series mixed with Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes). Unfortunately, the writing came no where close.

Supposed to be funny, it all came across as mildly amusing at best, sexist and juvenile at worst. The two most common themes are gender and religion and while both are worthy topics, don't expect anything in the way of profound insight. A heavy reliance on stereotypes and surface level analysis are about it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Reader's Diary #1690- Katherena Vermette (writer), Scott B. Henderson (artist): A Girl Called Echo Vol. 1

It was difficult not to compare Katherena Vermette's A Girl Called Echo, Volume 1 of the Pemmican Wars series to David Alexander Robertson's graphic novels also published by Highwater Press and also illustrated by Scott B. Henderson. (There are even references to some of these collaborations in the book.)

While I enjoyed Robertson's books, I wasn't always a fan of the frame stories. Often they felt unnecessary. Interestingly, I almost found the opposite problem with Vermette's A Girl Called Echo: the frame story was more compelling than the other.

Echo is a teenage Métis girl who lives in some sort of home for youth, and visits her mother on occasion, who also lives in some sort of facility. At school Echo has at least one friend and seems unaware that she is being judged and mocked by some of her classmates. Largely she lives inside her own head, listening to (some pretty awesome) early 90s rock music on her iPod. She daydreams periodically about finding herself in another time, during the Pemmican Wars (early 1800s). At least, one is left to assume it is daydreaming; perhaps later it will be revealed that it is some sort of time-traveling magic. 

As you may have guessed by the description above, it's a very character-driven book and at only 44 pages, that means there is less room for a major story to develop. It's a small complaint, but I think this would be better as a full-length graphic novel rather than a series of short comics. Nonetheless, I am sure many will find Echo endearing enough to tune in again.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Reader's Diary #1689- Kristen Roupenian: Cat Person

Normally once December rolls around, my Short Story Monday posts are all Christmas related, but as Kristen Roupenian's "Cat Person" was trending on Twitter recently, I broke down and followed the crowd. I mean, how often does a short story get read and discussed these days?

For all the discussion, however, I avoided as best I could what people were saying so as to form my own opinions first.

It is a great story. On the surface it seems like a pretty easy, straightforward story but there were so many different things rattling around in my brain after. It's got a lot of details, which may be mere set-pieces, but they do make the situation feel authentic and dare I say it, even something many could relate to.

It's told from the perspective of a 20 year old who gets involved with a 34 year old and much of it is in the narrator's head. This, perhaps unfortunately, is the truth for many in the dating world. They see it as a bit of a game and rather than communicate with one another, they form opinions and fantasies and negotiate without ever consulting the other. Man, I don't miss those days.

I think it's worst these days because texting and social networking could lead people to believe that they are communicating when they're not, sometimes putting an even faker version forward than we did way back when. Man, I wouldn't want to be dating now.

Then there's a whole theme of, for lack of a better word, owing. What do we owe our dating partners? And isn't it scary that many feel that sex is owed before honesty?

Of course that leads to other issues, especially in male/female relationships and the balance of power. Without giving too much away, while the story is somewhat uncomfortable the whole way through, it takes an especially unpleasant turn right at the end.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Reader's Diary #1688- Fran Krause: The Creeps

Fran Krause's The Creeps is the Boaty McBoatface of comics.

Apparently readers submitted their fears to his website and he illustrated them. Sounds more promising than the results which were, quite frankly boring. Not scary, not funny.

The packaging didn't help. The publishers never took the time to really explain the process at all. In the back couple of pages Krause thanks those that shared their stories with him and gives credit to them by first name (though most are chalked up to "anonymous"). The fact that this was based on a webcomic and fears were submitted online isn't mentioned directly, not explained, just assuming I suppose that anyone bothering the read the book would know. Likewise, there's nothing stating that this was the 2nd volume of such books. How hard would it have been to include a proper introduction? Something other than than the short comic that merely, and incorrectly states the book will creep you out.

And the comics are just randomly assigned. Some fears are physical, realistic fears, some are existential, some are just bizarre and perhaps organizing them by such (or other) topics would have guided the reading a little, but it's like no one could bothered. Even Krause's style, which is pleasant and quirky enough, doesn't really add anything to the text. I found myself reading the fears and moving on, forgetting to even bother looking at the images.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Reader's Diary #1687- Samya Kullab, Jackie Roche, and Mike Freiheit: Escape from Syria

I don't know where one would have to live in the world right now not to have heard about the troubles in Syria and the plight of the millions of displaced Syrians. Canada too has done a share of welcoming refugees.

Still, unless you've encountered the Syrian immigrants, it's hard sometimes to put a face on the tragedy. It's news. Something that happens to other people.

Samya Kullab's Escape from Syria helps personalize the crisis, following one specific family. It is probably best aimed at mature juveniles, teens, and adults, as she doesn't shy away from the violent images when they are necessary. There's an explosion on the very second page. There are heads on spikes later.

It follows a family first as they escape to Lebanon and try to gain some semblance of normalcy. The country is over-burdened however and their efforts begin to look in vain. They are a resistant sort however and eventually they get sponsored to come to Canada. They are worried that the culture shock will be too much and that they will not be accepted.

Kullab offers a very balanced picture, perhaps owing to her journalism background, and any sentimentality comes across as genuine, unforced.

The art is deceivingly simple. I was first reminded of old Sunday school comics. However, artistic touches help elevate the tale. I especially like the use of repetition to hit home points. In one scene for example, Amina the teenage daughter is studying. Her position on the floor with a book in front doesn't change while her family enters and leaves in the background across several panels. In one, they have placed a blanket over her as the night has grown cold.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Reader's Diary #1686- Allie Brosh: Hyperbole and a Half

Thanks to Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half, a few nights back my wife gave up on trying to sleep beside me and instead videoed my laughing fit. I'm talking tears down my cheeks, stomach muscles clamping up, the works. Eventually she stopped recording and told me I wasn't allowed to read it anymore that night. I put it down and attempted reading Canterbury Tales instead but then I'd recall a detail from a story in Hyperbole and a Half and the giggles would come on again. It was ridiculous.

I honestly did not expect to like this book that much. I've seen the character around before; the crudely drawn character supposed to represent Allie Brosh herself. I'd never been clear on what it's supposed to be: a worm? a penis? And that yellow-triangle on her head? A hat? Her hair?

But my god does she squeeze emotion out of that thing. That, along with the sarcastic, self-deprecating, slightly dark humour and I was won completely over.

On top of that, Brosh offered a few genuinely touching stories about depression that captured what it feels like like nothing else I've ever read.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Reader's Diary #1685- Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig (writers), various artists: The Shield Daughter of the Revolution

Archie Comics, still on a high, have wisely decided to revisit the superhero line (published under their Dark Circle label). Also wise is their decision to modernize and take the opportunity to get things right.

The Shield was one of the cheesier properties with its over-the-top patriotism. That's not a huge hurdle to clear as Marvel has managed to keep Captain America relevant and as popular as ever. But he was also yet another straight, white male character. With this relaunch they at least change one of those. This time the Shield is female. She's still white. Her sexuality didn't come up.

Revamping a character also requires an origin story and while I've never been one to mind a good origin tale, I know some folks are tired of them and I think even they would be pleased with how it's handled here. Rather than told in a straightforward manner, a modern day Shield finds herself having bizarre flashbacks to the American Revolution. She knows this is impossible (or believes so anyway) and so her origin story is revealed slowly as she pieces clues together and starts reclaiming more and more memories.

Even the patriotic angle is well done as it is unclear at some points who's side she is on and whether or not flag-waving for the American government makes her a hero.

Despite wrestling with her identity, she is presented as both physically and mentally strong and dressed in a cool uniform that is appropriate for fighting.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Reader's Diary #1684- Richard F. Outcault: The Yellow Kid Comic Strips 1895 - 1898

Many students of comic books have heard of Richard F. Outcault's Yellow Kid comic strips, but I'd venture to guess that a relative few have actually read them.

Outcault is often credited with the first comic strip, though that is debatable. Less debatable is his simple innovation that would change comics forever: the speech balloon.

I'm not sure that in itself warrants reading the comics, but the art isn't bad. Mostly depicting children from a fictional slum and home to a large immigrant population, the line work is somewhat reminiscent of John Tenniel's Alice in Wonderland illustrations. Many aren't true comic strips but rather cartoons (single panels and therefor non-sequential), but even these are filled with activity and detail. I would not be surprised to hear that they held influence on Norman Rockwell or Will Eisner as I can similarities in both.

The writing is, however, not great. I suppose some of it is lost through time. No doubt some of the satirical targets have been forgotten. But attempts at humour are not great. It's mostly people spouting misspelled phrases (trying to capture accents and grammar, I suppose) and some poorly done slapstick.

It's also racist but perhaps not in the way you'd think. While "yellow" is sometimes used by racists to refer to Asians but in this case it only refers to the colour of the kid's gown. Black people, however, are really treated poorly; as caricatures, as lower-class. The N-word is used, as is the word "coon."

UP History and Hobby who published this collection was careful to note these offensive depictions but offering the book as is nonetheless as a historical artifact. That said, they could have taken more time with the production. It's really just coloured photocopies of the originals and so, some of the text is too blurry and should have been restored. One page is photocopied twice.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Reader's Diary #1683- Jacques de Pierpont (writer), Hervé Bourhis (artist): Heavy Metal

Heavy Metal was my first music love. So, when I found this "Little Book of Knowledge" on the subject, I had high hopes that Jacques de Pierpont and Hervé Bourhis would do for the genre what Ed Piskor did for Hip Hop. I also hadn't been really attentive to heavy metal for sometime now and so I was hoping that it would help me get caught up.

First off, it's not as readable as Piskor's books which tend to treat hip hop legends almost as story characters. Heavy Metal is more like a chronologically arranged book of heavy metal trivia. As luck would have it, I'm also a fan of trivia so this wasn't a huge problem.

Secondly, a large portion of the book dealt with the history of the music and so I didn't necessarily brush up on as many new artists as I'd hoped. Still, it was nice to revisit some facts and figures that I'd forgotten and I did get a few new names and songs to add to my playlists. I also never really paid much attention to anything heavier than thrash and de Pierpont more than adequately delved into death, black, and doom metal.

Bourhis's illustrations were good; stylistic, heavy on the black ink (appropriate), though without much of a narrative, it's hard to say how he'd deal with sequential art.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Reader's Diary #1682- Anna Paquier: A Potted Cactus

Anna Paquier's "A Potted Cactus" is labeled on the Short Edition website as humorous, and indeed it's that. There's a quirky sensibility that is helped by the quick pace of the tale.

It is, however, still about a young man who has been hit by a truck and near death. There are themes about the afterlife and it could provoke readers to consider what they would do with their own lives if given a second chance.

Plus, it's set at Christmas, so an all around good read!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Reader's Diary #1681- Gemma Correll: The Worrier's Guide to Life

Gemma Correll's The Worrier's Guide to Life reminded me somewhat of the type of humour my best friend/ cousin and I had as children: to be funny, you just need to escalate the punchlines to the point of ridiculousness. Of course, being young boys we had a lot of diarrhea jokes thrown in for good measure and Correll's comedy is decidedly much more mature than that, but the idea is the same. Take a milk moustache and then explore other dairy-based facial hair: yogurt unibrow, pat o' butter soul patch, etc.

So yes, it's funny and I'm sure most will find it amusing, but it's also a bit formulaic (list heavy). I'm not sure that it wouldn't grow tiresome in a longer or second book but that's for Correll to worry about.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Reader's Diary #1680- Kris, Rob, Matt and Dave: Cyanide and Happiness

Cyanide and Happiness is the kind of comic I think of when I think of webcomics. Simple, not particularly well-done art and quick punchlines. None of that is necessarily a criticism; as Scott McCloud explained in Understanding Comics, sometimes it's the simplest of cartoons that resonate the most.

The description in the introduction declares that there'd be a really good chance, especially if under 15 and over 50, that readers would be offended. A fan of dark humour, I welcomed it but many pages in, I wondered when it would ever become offensive. Then there was a comic strip in which a woman declares she's pregnant. The man in the strip kicks her in the stomach and says, "problem solved."

Yeah, there's dark humour and there's distasteful. The next strip was undoubtedly written to balance it out. In this one, a man says that he wants kids, a woman kicks him in the groin and again says, "problem solved." No, that's not even close to equivalent.

However, it's clear that the punchline in a good many of these is shock. I don't necessarily believe these guys condone the behaviours, but when shock is the entire joke, it's lazy. I would have loved it at 15.

I did like some strips at 40 though. More than just shock, I mostly appreciated the ones with puns and off-the-wall humour. My favourite in the book featured a son talking to his father. He asks how squids have sex and the father responds, "the same way I have sex." [pause] "With squids."

Finally, I enjoyed reading a little about how the comics came together. Apparently the four creators hadn't even met each other until four years after writing the comics together online. And, as each writer signed their own strips, I tried determining if I appreciated one creator over another, but it was remarkable how similar they all were.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Reader's Diary #1679- Nick Spencer (writer), various artists: Secret Empire (collected)

When Marvel announced that their Secret Empire story line would see Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, revealed to have been a sleeper Hydra agent, it was met with a fair bit of controversy. (Okay, mostly Twitter controversy, so not really.) It seems that for many long time fans, Hydra was synonymous with Nazis and this was akin to sacrilege. Creators and publishers involved quickly came to the defense urging fans to be patient and watch the story unfold.

More of a fan of the collected volumes and trade paperbacks anyway, plus never having been a huge Captain America fan outside of the movies, I was content to wait it out and weigh in after the fact.

I quite enjoyed it. In fact, as Marvel events go, this was one of my favourites. Never have I seen such a large cast of characters handled so well. Yes, I noticed the absence of a few (Spider Woman, She-Hulk, Moon Knight, etc) and yes, some had little more than a single line or appearance in a single panel, but by and large it was very well balanced. Much more so that any of Jim Starlin's major event storylines back in the day and everyone seemed to love those.

The story revolves around a bunch of cosmic cube fragments that have the ability to alter reality. The biggest change, which is revealed from the get-go, is that the star character Captain America has secretly been a villainous Hydra agent all along. He proceeds to encapsulate many New York superheroes within the city, bar the superheroes in space from entering Earth, and compete against the remaining superheroes to gather up the rest of the fragments. Once he gets those he plans to alter even more history and on an even grander scale: in this new reality Hydra will have always been in power.

It's not perfect. The use of various reality-altering gems, cubes, and other paraphernalia is so overdone by Marvel at this point that those aspects come across as a little lazy.

Still, it's entertaining and provocative but in a good way. With Trump having usurped and bastardized the American dream, the themes in Secret Empire are timely and thoughtful.

As for all the controversy, it wasn't the real Steve Rogers anyway and that was made clear right from the beginning. Furthermore, if anyone suggests that it glamourizes Nazis or even the fictional Hydra, they clearly haven't read a page of it.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Reader's Diary #1678- Sarah Anderson: Adulthood is a Myth

Continuing with my self-guided education of webcomics, Sarah Andersen's Adulthood is a Myth began life which began online as Sarah's Scribbles saw me laughing out loud late one night all by myself. Why is it that doing so instantly makes you feel pathetic? Like there's a shame in laughing?

In any case, Andersen's brand of introspective, self-deprecating, observational humour is right up my alley. Sure many of her cartoons are about being a millennial and menstruation, neither of which I can relate to, I definitely saw myself in the rest of these: the imposter syndrome! the social anxiety! the insecurities! Sounds like a downer, doesn't it? But no, it's all done in a friendly laughter-as-therapy sort of way, a solace-in-the-fact-that-others-feel-the-same approach.

Even the cartoons that would otherwise be just mildly amusing are elevated to hilarious in the simple but expressive cartooning. Andersen accomplishes so much just with eyes alone: altering the size of pupils, a few stress lines here or there, and so on, all to comedic and satirical effect.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Reader's Diary #1677- Nick Sibbeston: You Will Wear a White Shirt

I somewhat ashamedly admit to not having hear of, or at least not having paid attention to, Nick Sibbeston until 2015 when he published his autobiography You Will Wear a White Shirt: From the Northern Bush to the Halls of Power. This despite my having lived in the north for 13 years at that point.

Better late than ever, I've finally acquainted myself with the remarkable life of Mr. Sibbeston, former premier of the NWT, former Canadian senator, and residential school survivor.

An autobiography isn't always trustworthy of course (nor is a biography, for that matter), but he gained my trust somewhat by largely remaining humble and admitting to his flaws. That said, he still comes across as a determined man and someone who sticks to his convictions. I don't know that I'd have had the perseverance to keep failing English courses and redoing it over and over until I succeeded; to face depression, additions, and infidelity with lifelong faith and counseling; to overcome the abuse and neglect suffered at residential school.

Not to suggest that I agree with every action and opinion, but I did wind up quite admiring him. I particularly respected his dedication to preserving Dene culture.

It helps that his tone is conversational and filled with astute observations. That said, those outside the north may be somewhat bored with the more politics-heavy second half. Northerners will likely still find it a least a little interesting how many of the issues in Sibbeston's early career are still relevant today. I also found the East vs. West stories fascinating. I moved to the north a couple of years after Nunavut was officially formed so to hear of the challenges of the NWT when it still encompassed that larger area and unique Inuit culture was very revealing.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Reader's Diary #1676- Various writers and artists: Overwatch Anthology Volume 1

I learned a valuable lesson with the first volume of Overwatch Anthology: don't base a reading choice solely upon a book's standing in an Amazon bestsellers list.

Had I researched this a little more and discovered that it's based of a popular online first-person video game, I would have been far more reluctant to pick it up. I am gathering, in hindsight, that the book is only selling well to (the admittedly many) fans of the game.

Apparently the books and animated films are Blizzard Entertainment's attempts to create a media juggernaut. I suppose it worked for Pokemon, so why not. With little character development or backstory in the game, these other mediums are meant to enhance. Unfortunately the comics don't really stand up on their own. Rather than balance the action, which fans of the games would reasonably expect, against plot and character development, the focus seemed to me to be too much on the former. The result was a mess of nonsensical stories and characters I couldn't have cared less about. If it was meant to inspire me to check out the game or the films, it failed miserably.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Reader's Diary #1675- Frank Westcott: Oh, Oh Henry

Frank Westcott's "Oh, Oh Henry" is response of sorts to O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi". While initially having one of the characters mock the sentimentality, it later embraces it though it refocuses on gestures rather than gifts, tries to peel the commercialism away from the original.

Of course, it invites a comparison to the classic and while I acknowledge that O. Henry's is a bit over-the-top by today's tastes which tend to value subtlety, that story has been such a part of Christmas tradition that I've never minded it. Nor do I share the character's take away that it's all about physical, unaffordable gifts. Still I appreciate Westcott's use of the story as a conversation starter.