Monday, December 31, 2018

My Year in Review 2018 - Fiction and Nonfiction

The FICTION ranked from least favourite to favouite: Novels, Novellas, Short Story Collections, Plays, Picture Books, and Poetry (Graphic Novels recorded separately):

33. Thomas Mann- Death in Venice
32. Herbert T. Schwarz- Tuktoyaktuk 2-3
31. Michelle Knudsen- The Evil Librarian
30. Edward Albee- Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
29. Cherie Priest- Agony House
28. Raymond Yakelaya- The Tree by the Woodpile
27. Moshe Sakal- The Diamond Setter
26. Tanya Davis - How to Be Alone
25. Rupi Kaur- Milk and Honey
24. Richard Van Camp- When We Play Our Drums, They Sing
23. Chief R. Stacey Laforme- Living in the Tall Grass
22. Rosemary Clewes- The Woman Who Went to the Moon
21. Rebecca Hendry- One Good Thing
20. Leanne Shirtliffe- Saving Thunder the Great
19. Tanya Tagaq- Split Tooth
18. Elle Wright- Touched by You
17. Mario Puzo- The Godfather
16. Geoffrey Chaucer- The Canterbury Tales
15. Terry Fallis- One Brother Shy
14. Dante Alighieri- The Divine Comedy
13. Carlo Collodi- Pinocchio
12. Monique Gray Smith- Lucy and Lola
11. Joanne Lilley- The Birthday Books
10. Louise Penny- A Fatal Grace
9. Thornton Wilder- Our Town
8. Tess Gerritsen- Playing with Fire
7. Alootook Ipellie- Arctic Dreams and Nightmares
6. Kenneth Oppel- Silverwing
5. Joseph Kesselring- Arsenic and Old Lace
4. Tom Rachman- The Italian Teacher
3. Joshua Whitehead- Full-Metal Indigiqueer
2. Kerry Clare- Mitzi Bites
1. Ethel Wilson- Swamp Angel

The NON-FICTION ranked from least favourite to favourite:

20. Stephen Elliott- Sometimes I Think About It
19. Niccolo Maciavelli- The Prince
18. Steve Jenkins, Derek Walter, and Caprice Crane- Happily Ever Esther
17. Frederic Wertham- Seduction of the Innocent
16. Laura Sarkadi- Voice in the Wild
15. Ian Lendler- One Day a Dot
14. Elise Gravel- The Mushroom Fan Club
13. Bill Braden- Aurora Up!
12. Libby Whittall Catling- The Mundane and the Holy
11. Christian Klengenberg- Klengenberg of the Arctic
10. Catherine Lafferty- Northern Wildflower
9. Bev Sellars- They Called Me Number One
8. Jordin Tootoo- All the Way
7. Dave Bidini- Midnight Light
6. Alison McCreesh- Norths
5. Sean Howe- Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
4. Sharon Butala- Where I Live Now
3. Roxane Gay- Hunger
2. James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales- Live from New York
1. Angela Hovak Johnston- Reawakening Our Ancestors' Lines

My Year in Review 2018 - Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels

Whoo-boy! So this is a lot of graphic novels. Too many graphic novels. And yet, I still didn't meet my goal. Each year I take part in a Graphic Novels and Manga Challenge and my goal this year was to reach 208: Diamond Age. Actually, I didn't really set out to reach that level, but when I reached my earlier goals, decided to keep going. I'm not really disappointed.

My mix this year is a lot of Asian comics (largely discovered through Paul Gravett's Mangasia), crossovers, photo-comics, and thanks to becoming a judge for the CYBILS Awards this year, YA and Juvenile titles. Of course, there's also a fair share of superhero titles in there.

I've ranked them from my least favourite to favourite, though I will say that I enjoyed far more than I didn't and so you'll still find some pretty great books with a high number.

I wouldn't expect this number to be as high next year. While I love comics (clearly), I also pride myself on being a well-rounded reader and this year my balance was way off.

199. JinHo Ko- Jack Frost 1
198. Scott Adams- I Can't Remember if We're Cheap or Smart
197. Spike Steffenhagen, Joe Paradise, Larry Nadolsky- Joan Jett and the Runaways
196. Martin Powell- Jungle Tales of Tarzan
195. Mairghread Scott, David A. Rodriguez, Max Dunbar- Transformers G.I. Joe: First Strike
194. Trigger, Yoh Yoshinari, Keisuke Sato- Little Witch Academia 1
193. Various writers and artists- Archie Crossover Collection
192. Kalman Andrasofszky, Leonard Kirk- Captain Canuck: Aleph
191. Nate Evans and Vince Evans- Tyrannosaurus Ralph
190. Jomny Sun- Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too
189. Manuro Gorobei- Hocus and Pocus 1
188. David F. Walker, Sheena C. Howard, Ray-Anthony Height- Superb 1: Life After the Fallout
187. Zun, Moe Harukawa- Forbidden Scrollery 1
186. Sergio Ruzzier- Fox + Chick: The Party and Other Stories 
185. Kris Bertin and Alexander Forbes- The Case of the Missing Men
184. Rodney Barnes- Joshua Cassara- Falcon: Take Flight 1
183. Isabel Quintero, Zeke Pena- Photographic
182. Duncan Tonatiuh- Undocumented: A Worker's Fight
181. Shea Fontana, Yancey Labat- DC Super Hero Girls: Date with Disaster
180. Pab Sungenis- I Can Has Empire?
179. Sholly Fisch, Igor Lima- Mighty Mouse: Saving the Day
178. Christopher Dominic Peloso- Tiny Ghosts: Suicide is the Highest Form of Art
177. Joey Comeau and Emily Horne- Anatomy of Melancholy
176. Kanako Inuki - School Zone Vol. 1
175. Ashley Spires- Gordon: Bark to the Future!
174. Rob David, Larry Goldfine, Freddie E. Williams II- He-Man / Thundercats
173. Antony Johnston, Sam Hart- Atomic Blonde
172. Teresa Radice, Stefano Turconi- Violette Around the World 1
171. Jaime Hernandez- The Dragon Slayer: Folktales of Latin America
170. Will Henry- Wallace the Brave
169. Ian Boothby, Nina Matsumoto- Sparks!
168. Ashley Spires- Fluffy Strikes Back
167. Olivia Burton, Mahi Grand- Algeria is Beautiful Like America
166. Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen- Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E: Complete Collection
165. Naoko Takuchi- Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon 1
164. Tom Taylor, Stephen Byrne- Justice League/ Power Rangers
163. Mike W. Barr, Diogenes Neves- Suicide Squad Most Wanted: Katana
162. Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle- Moonstruck Vol. 1: Magic to Brew
161. Luke M. Molver- Shaka Rising
160. Rudolph Dirks and Harold H. Knerr- Katzenjammer 
159. Brian Jones, Brent Anderson- Ka-zar: Savage Dawn 
158. Mark Evanier, Steve Uy - Grumpy Cat / Garfield
157. Adam Rapp, Mike Cavallaro- Decelerate Blue
156. Kazuki Ebine- Gandhi
155. Cassandra Clare, Cassandra Jean- The Mortal Instruments 1
154. Nathan Hale- Raid of No Return
153. Various writers and artists- DC Meets Looney Tunes
152. Kentaro Miura- Berserk Vol. 1 
151. Warren Ellis, Gerardo Zaffino, Roland Boschi- Karnak: The Flaw in All Things
150. Michael Avon Oeming, Mel Rubi- Spider-Man/ Red Sonja
149. Chynna Clugston Flores, Rosemary Volero-O'Connell- Lumberjanes / Gotham Academy
148. Brenna Thummler- Sheets
147. Ru Xu- Newsprints
146. Kate DiCamillo, Harry Bliss- Good Rosie!
145. Ngozi Ukazu- Check Please Book 1: #hockey
144. Sam Sykes, Selina Espiritu- Brave Chef Brianna 
143. Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, Mitche Weiss- Noodleheads Find Something Fishy
142. John Schnepp, Guiu Vilanova- Slayer Repentless
141. A.J. Lieberman, Riley Rossmo- Cowboy Ninja Viking: Deluxe Edition
140. Joris Chamblain, Aurelie Neyret- Cici's Journal Vol. 1
139. Hamish Steele- Deadendia: The Watcher's Test
138. Takashi Hashiguchi- Yakitate!! Japan 1
137. Penelope Bagieu- Exquisite Corpse
136. Gail Simone, Aaron Lopresti- Wonder Woman / Conan
135. Sabrina Symington- First Year Out
134. Dav Pilkey- Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas
133. Julia Kaye- Super Late Bloomer
132. Maggie Thrash- Lost Soul, Be At Peace
131. Jillian Tamaki- Boundless
130. Tove Jansson- Moomin
129. David Jesus Vignolli- A Girl in the Himalayas
128. Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Boya Sun, Matt Rockefeller- 5 Worlds: The Cobalt Prince
127. Jerome Ruillier- The Strange
126. Jeff Lemire- Roughneck
125. Caitlin Major, Kelly Bastow- Manfried the Man
124. Zac Gorman, CJ Cannon- Rick and Morty Volume 1
123. Gabby Rivera, Joe Quinones- America: The Life and Times of America Chavez 1
122. Dennis Hopeless, Victor Ibanez- Jean Grey Nightmare Fuel 1
121. Joshua Corin, Todd Nauck- Deadpool: Too Soon?
120. Jeff Lemire, Lewis Larosa, Mico Suayan- Blood Shot Salvation: The Book of Revenge Vol. 1
119. Mi-Kyung Yun- Bride of the Water God 1
118. Mana Neyestani- An Iranian Metamorphosis 
117. Ivy Noelle Weir, Steenz- Archival Quality
116. Various writers and artists: Tales from the Crypt
115. Grant Morrison, Jae Lee- Fantastic Four: 1234
114. Joe Flood- Sharks
113. Molly Brooks- Sanity and Tallulah
112. Various artists and writers- Milk Wars
111. Dav Pilkey- Dog Man
110. Raymond Briggs- Gentleman Jim
109. Luke Healy- How to Survive in the North
108. John Layman, Chris Mooneyham- Predator vs. Judge Dredd vs. Aliens: Splice and Dice  
107. Eleanor Davis- You and a Bike and a Road
106. Lorina Mapa- Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me
105. Sina Grace, Alessandro Vitti- Iceman: Thawing Out Vol. 1
104. Tony Isabella, Trevor Von Eeden- Black Lightning 1
103. Abhishek Singh - Krishna: A Journey Within
102. Duane Swierczynski, Michael Gaydos- The Black Hood: The Bullet's Kiss
101. Nicole Perlman, Marco Checchetto- Gamora: Memento Mori
100. Mariko Tamaki- She-Hulk 1: Deconstructed
99. Kelly Thompson, Sophie Campbell- Jem and the Holograms 1: Showtime
98. Various writers and artists- Kraven's Last Hunt
97. Jay Disbrow- Monster Invasion
96. R. Sikoryak- The Unquotable Trump
95. Various- Gumby: 50 Shades of Clay 
94. Sarah Graley- Kim Reaper 1: Grim Beginnings
93. Faith Erin Hicks- The Nameless City
92. Ian Lendler, Shelli Paroline, Braden Lamb- One Day a Dot
91. Dan Slott, Michael Allred- Silver Surfer: New Dawn 1
90. Various- Marvel Generations 
89. Various- Native American Classics 
88. Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Boya Sun, Matt Rockefeller: 5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior
87. Inhae Lee- My Milk Toof
86. Penelope Bagieu- Brazen
85. Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss- 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank 
84. Neil Gaiman, John Romita Jr.- Eternals
83. Sina Grace- Nothing Lasts Forever
82. Mairghread Scott, Robin Robinson- The City on the Other Side
81. Kohei Horikoshi- My Hero Academia
80. Brigitte Finakly, Lewis Trondheim- Poppies of Iraq
79. Andy Mangels, Judit Tondora- Wonder Woman '77 Meets The Bionic Woman 
78. Vera Brosgol- Be Prepared
77. Mark Waid, Alex Ross- Kingdom Come
76. Jeremy Whitley- The Unstoppable Wasp Vol. 2: Agents of G.I.R.L.
75. Matt Dembicki- Trickster
74. Wei Dong Cheng, Chao Peng- Monkey King: Birth of the Stone Monkey
73. Archie Bongiovanni, Tristan Jimerson- A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns
72. Meredith Gran- Octopus Pie: Volume 1 
71. Herve Bouchard- Harvey
70. Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin, Giovanni Rigano- Illegal
69. Ben Clanton- Peanut Butter and Jelly
68. Art Baltazar and Franco- Itty Bitty Hellboy 
67. Simon Hanselmann- One More Year
66. Roger Langridge, Gisèle Lagacé- Betty Boop 
65. Hope Larson, Jackie Ball, Elle Power- Goldie Vance Volume 4
64. Ed Piskor- X-Men Grand Design 1
63. Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale- Batman: The Long Halloween
62. Lisa Hanawalt- Hot Dog Taste Test
61. Amir, Khalil- Zahra's Paradise
60. Liz Prince- Coady and the Creepies
59. Marc Andreyko, Jeff Parker, David Hahn- Batman '66 Meets Wonder Woman '77
58. Michael Deforge- Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero
57. Marguerite Abouet, Mathieu Sapin- Akissi: Tales of Mischief
56. Wilfrid Lupano, Gregory Panaccione- A Sea of Love
55. Aron Nels Steinke- Mr. Wolf's Class
54. Whitney Gardner- Fake Blood
53. Jacob Seger Weinstein, Vera Brosgol- Lyric McKerrigan, Secret Librarian
52. Iasmin Omar Ata- Mis(h)adra
51. Cheah Sinann- The Bicycle
50. Jeff Lemire- Royal City
49. Jacqueline Jules, Dave Roman- Pluto is Peeved!
48. Tetsu Saiwai- The 14th Dalai Lama
47. Gabrielle Bell - Everything is Flammable
46. Sebastian Kadlecik, Emma Steinkellner- Quince Vol. 1
45. Ben Clanton- Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt
44. Hope Larson- All Summer Long
43. Eric Grissom, William Perkins- Gregory Suicide
42. Nidhi Chanani- Pashmina 
41. Laurie Halse Anderson, Emily Carroll- Speak
40. Mel Tregonning- Small Things
39. Cecil Castelluci, Marley Zarcone: Shade The Changing Girl Vol. 1: Earth Girl Made Easy
38. Jarrett J. Krosoczka- Hey, Kiddo
37. Mariko Tamaki, Joelle Jones- Supergirl: Being Super 1
36. Paul Jenkins, Jae Lee: The Sentry
35. Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, Nate Powell- The Silence of Our Friends 
34. Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden- How to Read Nancy
33. Tom Gauld- Baking with Kafka 
32. Melanie Gillman: As the Crow Flies
31. James Robinson, ACO- Nick Fury Deep: Cover Capers
30. Li Kunwu and P. Otie- A Chinese Life 
29. Tee Franklin, Jenn St. Onge- Bingo Love
28. Don Brown- The Unwanted
27. Elaine M. Will- Look Straight Ahead
26. Jesse Jacobs- Crawl Space
25. Sonny Liew- The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye
24. Tillie Walden- Spinning 
23. Tony Medina, Stacey Robinson and John Jennings- I Am Alfonso Jones 
22. Claudia Gray, Yusaku Komiyama- Star Wars: Lost Stars
21. Mariah Marsden, Brenna Thummler- Anne of Green Gables
20. Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3- Black
19. Salva Rubio, Efa- Monet, Iterant of Light 
18. Paul Gravett- Mangasia
17. Saladin Ahmed, Christian Ward- Black Bolt: Hard Time Volume 1
16. Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda- Monstress 1: Awakening
15. Yusei Matsui: Assassination Classroom 1
14. Molly Knox Ostertag- The Witch Boy 
13. Debbie Tung- Quiet Girl in a Noisy World
12. Tom Neely- Henry and Glenn Forever and Ever
11.Inio Asano - Goodnight Punpun 1

THE TOP 10!!!

10. Nick Drnaso- Sabrina
9. Malik Sajad- Munnu
8. Keiji Nakazawa- Barefoot Gen Volume One
7. Hiroya Oku- Inuyashiki 1
6. Thi Bui- The Best We Could Do
5. Aminder Dhaliwal- Woman World
4. Ari Folman, David Polonsky- Anne Frank's Diary
3. Chad Sell- The Cardboard Kingdom
2. Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross - Marvels
1. Jen Wang- The Prince and the Dressmaker

Reader's Diary #2001- Neil Gaiman (writer), John Romita Jr (artist): Eternals

Like most fans, I was excited to hear that Marvel Studios was finally getting the rights back to their X-Men and Fantastic Four properties. However, I did have some reservations. I'd always been happy with Marvel Studios constant introducing of new characters. The Guardians of the Galaxy for instance were not household comic book names before the movies. Would a focus on the X-Men and Fantastic Four put a halt on that?

Not so, at least according to studio head Kevin Feige. In particular he seems committed to an Eternals movie. I've read a lot of Marvel comics these past few years and I was not familiar with these characters. I'm excited to see how these relatively obscure characters will come across on the big screen.

Created by Jack Kirby, I was unfortunately not able to get a hold of one of his collections. However, I did get find one from 2007 written by Neil Gaiman. Not bad.

I feel like I've gotten a good sense of the characters while still having gotten a plot beyond a simple origin story. I can see how there could be use for them in the MCU. Almost taking things back to the beginning in its mishmash of science and religion, there's room to help explain why so many aliens across the universe are humanoid and even speak the same language. Is that necessary? Probably not, as we've all taken to Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy, agreeing as it seems, to suspend our beliefs. But such explanations certainly wouldn't hurt and if they could be tied to larger, exciting stories, all the better.

I do hope, however, the casting is much more diverse than in this book. A bunch of godlike aliens from the beginning of time, and they all happen to be white? That's pretty racist.

As for John Romita Jr's art? I've always found his work to be good technically if not the most creative. This looks like a typical superhero comic. But the Eternals are not meant to be typical and I feel like this should have been more "out there."

The 2018 Book Mine Set Short Story Online Anthology

One short story (online and available for free) every Monday. There are 53 stories for 2018's anthology as there happened to be 53 Mondays this time around, so consider it a bonus. I hope you'll find a mix of well-known and obscure authors, stories from around the world with lots of unique perspectives, classic stories and modern tales, and from a gamut of genres. I've ranked them here from my least favourite (something lost in translation, offensive, incomplete, etc) to my favourite (compelling voice, provocative message, complete, etc). Feel free to disagree in the comments! Each link below will bring you to a few brief thoughts I had on each story and within those posts you'll find direct links to the stories themselves.

Care to join me in 2019? Consider participating in Short Story Mondays!

53. "Seven Brothers in the Sauna" - Aleksis Kivi
52. "The Day Rock and Roll Changed the World" - RaisinGirl
51. "The Going of the White Swan" - Gilbert Parker
50. "'He, I Say, He' or 'A Flash of Black Light'" - Roberto Monti
49. "Bernie Goes to the Vatican" - JoAnn Chateau
48. "The Gentleman from San Francisco" - Ivan Bunin
47. "The Boy Who Dreams" - Susan Hill
46. "Creole Democracy" - Rufino Blanco-Fombola
45. "The Ghosts of Many Christmases" - Henry Lawson
44. "The Pumpkin Patch" - C.A. Verstraete
43. "Christmas Eve" - Ray Waddell
42. "The Trench" - Erri de Luca
41. "A Gravedigger's Daughter" - Anonymous
40. "Rudolph" - Mabry Hall
39. "Pythonesses" - Rene Novella
38. "The Spirit of the Bank of Lower Canada" - Michael Sheldon
37. "Your Misery, Then Mine" - Katlynn Chrans
36. "The Dinosaur" - Augusto Monterroso
35. "Division" - Jake Waller
34. "Idiot" - Camy Tang
33. "The Bicycle" - Keith Harris
32. "The Audition" - Gary Beck
31. "Bade Bhai Sahib" - Premchand
30. "A Soldier's Short Story of Battle" - Benjamin Paige
29. "The Music of Erich Zann" - H.P. Lovecraft
28. "A Canadian Summer" - Kate Harty
27. "Turning Point" - Safia Moore
26. "Wood" - Mitch Findlay
25. "Blondie" - Manuel Gonzales
24. "Too Dear" - Leo Tolstoy
23. "Down Feathers" - Linh Nguyen
22. "Semper Fi" - Andre P. Cramblit
21. "Rocks in the Pond" - Maryam Atoyebi
20. "Fifteen Lakota Visitors" - Taqralik Partridge
19. "Damage" - Anonda Canadien
18. "The Wanderers" - Guadalupe Nettel
17. "If She Were to Lay Down" - Molia Dumbleton
16. "Half as Much" - Katherena Vermette
15. "These Deathless Bones" - Cassandra Khaw
14. "Sigrid Under the Mountain" - Charlotte Ashley
13. "Eleven" - Sandra Cisneros
12. "New Year's Eve Party" - Wayne Scheer
11. "Hot Pink" - Ren Watson

THE TOP 10!!!

10. "August Heat" - W.F. Harvey
9. "Shooting an Elephant" - George Orwell
8. "Lost and Found" - Sinead Moriarty
7. "A Cup of Tea" - Katherine Mansfield
6. "The Gun" Philip K. Dick
5. "Happy Birthday Africa President" - NoViolet Bulawayo
4. "Poetry by Keats" - Eleanore D. Trumpkiewicz
3. "Mother of Invention" - Nnedi Okorafor
2. "Best Practices for Time Travel" - Doretta Lau
1. "Living Will" - Alexander Jablokov

Reader's Diary #2000- Wayne Scheer: The New Year's Eve Party

I know I've said it many times here on my blog, but this time of year, Christmas and New Year's always puts me in a good mood because I see it as a hopeful time.

In Wayne Scheer's "The New Year's Eve Party" he too captures this feeling without getting overly sentimental. Even more remarkable is that the hopeful note revolves around finding love while nearing the end of one's life.

Scheer has painted a realistic picture with wholly authentic characters.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Reader's Diary #1999- Nathan Hale: Raid of No Return

Not being a big fan of media about war, I didn't have a lot of enthusiasm going into Nathan Hale's graphic novel Raid of No Return, but I wound up enjoying it.

First off, though Hale is American, I didn't find the story of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour to be as unfairly depicted as it could have been, nor was the subsequent story of the U.S.'s first air raid on Japan (before the horrific atomic bomb drops) to be as propaganda-ish as I'd feared.

In some regards it reminded me of Pierre Berton's history books in how Hale had the ability to succinctly summarize and use strong characterizations to make facts not only easier to understand but even entertaining. More impressive, he managed to inject a lot of humour without coming across as disrespectful to what is clearly a heavy topic.

One feature I found less successful was the frame story. It's being told by a real-life historical figure, also named Nathan Hale, just before being executed. It was unnecessary and a bit odd. Fortunately it wasn't so intrusive that I couldn't get into the World War II parts.

Reader's Diary #1998- Nate Evans (writer) and Vince Evans (artist): Tyrannosaurus Ralph

I'm certainly not finishing the year off on a high note with most graphic novels I'm finishing being complete duds. Nate Evans and Vince Evans' Tyrannosaurus Ralph is no exception.

It feels like someone sat down and said, you know what boys like? Dinosaurs, aliens, and fighting. Let's write that. Easy dough.

When it began there was a bully introduced and I though this theme would carry through out. And while it does get mentioned here or there again, it too began to feel contrived. Mention bullying a bit so schools will buy it but don't really have anything to say on the matter.

It's about a boy who gets turned into a t-Rex by a mad-scientist who needs him to fight off aliens in a gladiator-style competition. Oh and if he wins, he also saves a girl from being a slave/bride. Let's add casual sexism to the issues.

The art was marginally better with some fun alien designs. However, the mad-scientist guy was exceptionally odd and always drawn with an angry expression on his face, even when he's not meant to be angry, even when he's being supportive; it was very jarring.

Reader's Diary #1997- Zun (writer), Moe Harukawa (artist): Forbidden Scrollery 1

For some reason I've found the past few manga books I've read to be confusing and oddly, I believe the biggest problem comes from too much left out in the gutters. When the scenes changed, there too often seemed to information missing to help readers follow. Imagine cutting out every other or every third paragraph in a regular book and expecting to understand what's going on.

I at least got the gist of the premise of Zun's Forbidden Scrollery 1; it's set in a book store that carries a lot of books with magical properties, but the plots themselves are a mess and the characters all seem to blend together.

Moe Harukawa's art at least is a step up from the last manga I read, with occasional glimpses of some lovely outdoor scenery, but they are too few and certainly not enough to salvage the book.

Reader's Diary #1996- Manuro Gorobei: Hocus and Pocus 1

I loved the Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid and while Manuro Gorobei's Hocus and Pocus 1: The Legend of Grimm's Woods isn't of that particular brand name, but rather Comic Quests, the idea is mostly the same.

Of course, the CYOA books were comics, but it should have been an easy enough idea to adapt to comics. But Gorobei attempts a few modifications that I'm not sure were all that successful. First off, rather than have the choices go to a page number, they go to a panel number. And the choices aren't always spelled out the same way, but rather some numbers appear in a panel and you must choose to "go there" with the choice somewhat implied. This took some getting used to but eventually I did.

Another feature was the use of three helpful animals that you could take on your journey, each with unique attributes that could be useful in particular situations. However, if you use them, they go to sleep and I was never clear on whether or not you could wake them again. I think Gorobei wanted to add a game-type element, but I found the additional complication unnecessary.

Perhaps it was the time it took for me to adapt that detracted from me getting really invested in the plot or characters. Fortunately, I just watched the Black Mirror "Bandersnatch" episode and I'm reminded that character development and compelling plots are still achievement with such a format.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Reader's Diary #1995- Trigger and Yoh Yoshinari (writers), Keisuke Sato: Little Witch Academia

It feels weird to criticize someone for ripping of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series considering she herself ripped off so many other sources. But at least she was able to combine them in a way that was unique and entertaining and compelling characters.

I cannot say the same for Trigger and Yoshinari's Little Witch Academia which was a real dud. Keisuke's art didn't help matters, almost void of interesting details and with exaggerated expressions that just aided to the annoying-ness overall.

Towards the end there's a least a glimmer of hope as the plot veers begins to veer away from Harry Potter territory, but I'll not be continuing with the series to find out.

Reader's Diary #1994- David F. Walker, Sheena C. Howard (writers), Ray-Anthony Height (artist): Superb 1

I read a lot of YA graphic novels this past year and one thing that leaped out at me is the diversity: LGBTQ, ethnicities, religions, able-bodiedness, all finally representation. Yep, they kids are alright.

I've not, however, encountered a character with genetic disorders. One of the main characters in David F. Walker and Sheena C. Howard's Superb: Life After the Fallout however has Down's Syndrome. Unfortunately, however, it serves as a reminder that diversity can't be the only draw and needs to be handled well. I didn't think the balance was struck in this book and perhaps it was while trying to show that someone with Down's could be a hero, they wound up almost ignoring the fact that he even had Down's. In fact, when that's brought up later in the book it even came as a surprise. It shouldn't be the only issue, the only aspect of his personality, of course, but it's not exactly a service to pretend it's not relevant.

I wish too I could say that otherwise the book was great. Unfortunately, it's pretty much an X-Men knock off, with a government organization hunting down enhanced individuals. The art was like a cross between Howard Chaykin and Rob Liefeld and so plenty of people would likely enjoy it, whereas I'm not a fan of either and really did not.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Reader's Diary #1993- Ray Waddell: Christmas Eve

I don't know that I'd classify Ray Waddell's "Christmas Eve" as a short story as I suspect it's true and therefore I'd suggest better referred to as creative non-fiction, but this is all just as an aside.

Set in the country side of British Columbia in the early 30s, the memory is idyllic and especially important to the author as it represented an escape from the City and the less-than-perfect life there. It's rich in imagery and similar to the scenes presented in Jingle Bells.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Reader's Diary #1992- Jaime Hernandez: The Dragon Slayer

Jaime Hernandez's The Dragon Slayer: Folktales of Latin America is one of those cases where I like the content more than the presentation. The three folktales are amusing and perhaps educational in that folktale sort of way, and I don't have much familiarity with Latin American folktales so I found the cultural stuff very interesting.

When I say that I liked the content more than the presentation, I should also note that I didn't have any serious reservations with Hernandez's work. The biggest issue is probably that it's too short, too few folktales. The art is simple, and while I didn't personally find it remarkable, it's also completely fine.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Reader's Diary #1991- Sebastian Kadlecik (writer), Emma Steinkellner (artist): Quince Vol. 1

It took me a while to warm to Sebastian Kadlecik and Emma Steinkellner's Quince Vol. 1. An origin story of a teenage superhero, I wasn't finding it terribly original.

Maybe it was Lupe, the superhero in question; her personality, her voice, that first hooked me. She was just so darned likeable. And I began to realize that yes, I'd seen a lot of it done before, I still hadn't seen it done often enough. We can stand a lot more larger, non-American, people of colour superheroes.

The art though never did win me over. I found the backdrops in particular very sparse in detail, or even blank altogether. It was bright and colourful at least.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Reader's Diary #1990- Brenna Thummler: Sheets

I quite enjoyed the Anne of Green Gables graphic novel adaptation drawn by Brenna Thummler so was curious how I'd enjoy an original book conceived, written, and drawn solely by her.

Sheets is about a world where ghosts exist and dress in sheets, knowing that if they're caught they'd likely just be passed off as kids dressed for Halloween. Good premise. It also revolves around a living teenage girl who is struggling to keep the family laundromat afloat since her mom has died and her father has spiraled into depression. Eventually she meets and befriends one of the ghosts.

All that is great, but it really fell apart at the end for me. The story concluded too conveniently, too quickly, and with some loose or, at the very least, under-developed threads.

Like in Anne of Green Gables, the art is strong but I imagine polarizing. It's very unique. She paints some beautiful backdrops, seeps to have a penchant for long flowy lines and texture, but there are some odd style choices. In this one, I found the weird mouth shapes quite distracting.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1989- Will Henry: Wallace the Brave

While reading Will Henry's collection of comic strips in Wallace the Brave, I found myself thinking back to my childhood and Family Circus comics. The humour is similar in its inoffensive mildly amusing sort of way. And because I have since come to agree with critics of Family Circus that it wasn't particularly good, I am wondering about Wallace the Brave; not whether or not I now think it's anything special (I don't) but if I would have liked it as a kid.

The answer is probably. There's a bunch of kids with active imaginations in a seaside setting, so certainly would have related. That said, I also didn't have access to as many comics as kids do these days so I wasn't particularly discerning.

The art is nothing like Family Circus. The linework is sort of jagged, almost fast-looking, but all the characters have a consistent style. The best work comes, unsurprisingly, when Henry spends more time on details and especially great are the ones in which the kids' overactive daydreams run amuck.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1988- Dav Pilkey: Dog Man Lord of the Fleas

It was just a month or so ago that I read my first Dav Pilkey book and the first in the Dog Man series. I was instantly charmed by the humour and the premise (supposedly a comic written by kids) and the art which complemented it all so perfectly.

This time around I'm just a tad less enthusiastic. Of course, I no longer have that "discovery" feeling, but I also think the premise is less convincing this time. Some of the jokes, while still funny, seem more like an adult pretending to be a kid and likewise some of the art is notably better and therefore worse if that makes any sense. I suppose kids who continually draw comics would improve over time, so not that unfathomable. Finally, Dog Man himself loses some of the spotlight to his nemesis Petey the Cat and his clone/son.

Still, it all remains humorous, feel-good, and full of unrestrained imagination and adventure.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Reader's Diary #1987- Molly Brooks: Sanity and Tallulah

Molly Brooks' Sanity and Tallulah is a delightful sci-fi graphic novel starring the two titular girls who are science and adventure obsessed and best friends. In this story they bio-engineer a three headed cat that goes missing aboard their spaceship home.

The characters are richly defined and diverse, the setting is well-developed and interesting, and the art is friendly and inviting with grey and pink tones that give it a bit of a retro-feel.

I suspect this will be the first of many books starring this duo.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Reader's Diary #1986- Susan Hill: The Boy Who Dreams

When I was a child, I desperately wanted everyone's Christmas creations added to the canon of Christmas stories. If I was to do that with the additions people have made to the Nativity story, we'd have quite the full stable. Mary, Joseph, Jesus, some shepherds, three wise-men, a camel, sheep, the Little Drummer Boy, Nestor the Long Eared Donkey, Pippin the Christmas Pig, and now, with Susan Hill's "The Boy Who Dreams," a clairvoyant boy.

It's a fine tale with a tone that matches the fantasy/Biblical original. She's particularly good with imagery. It's a bit long perhaps, but it held my attention. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Reader's Diary #1985- Luke W. Molver: Shaka Rising

Usually when I think of a graphic novel as being uneven or inconsistent, I mean the art is good but the story is not or the other way around. In the case of Luke W. Molver's Shaka Rising, I feel the art is uneven and the story is uneven, both have their good and bad points.

In terms of the story, I was quite drawn to the plot of the Zulu warrior and his rise to the top. There were age-old, world-wide themes of ambition and jealousy that in reminding me of Shakespeare and the Bible made me reflect upon how we're all very much the same, warts and all. But then, the South African setting and Zulu culture elements made it so unique.

Those were the story's positives. Then the dialogue was so stiff and preachy. If it was in a film we'd mock it as Oscar bait. Every single line was meant to be profound as if important people can never have a goofy moment of relaxation.

The art? I quite liked the choice of colours, but they were applied with a computer-aided spray paint technique that I've never enjoyed. And body movements and positions looked rigid.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Reader's Diary #1984- Jerome Ruillier, translated by Helge Dascher: The Strange

In many ways, Jerome Ruillier's graphic novel The Strange was what I'd been hoping to get out of Duncan Tonatiuh's The Strange. While both deal with the troubles faced by undocumented immigrants, I felt like I really got more a sense of the character and situation in Ruillier's. For one, it's longer. I'm a fan of short stories, even flash fiction; I'm not against brevity per se and think a lot can be accomplished in a short space, but Tonatiuh's needed expansion and Ruillier's delivered.

Ruillier's approach was to take the perspectives of many characters, the immigrant (the "strange") as well as those he'd encountered in his new country. If there's any truth to the old adage, three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth, Ruillier takes it even further with yours, yours, yours, yours, mine, and the truth. The result is a complex and more complete, empathetic picture.

As with Tonatiuh's book, however, I would have liked more at the beginning to help explain the person's motivation for leaving, but I didn't find myself dwelling on it as much this time around.

The art is quite interesting and I would guess that it's polarizing. It looks rough, rushed, almost amateurish at times, though you can also tell it's a stylistic choice rather than any lack of ability on Ruillier's part. But the use of animals, as in Maus, fits the themes of culture clashes well.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Reader's Diary #1983- Duncan Tonatiuh: Undocumented A Worker's Fight

Most ratings and reviews of Duncan Tonatiuh's Undocumented: A Worker's Fight have been so favorable that I'd really had my hopes up for this one. Especially with the current prejudices against immigrants, I thought it could be a very timely, important story.

I'll grant that the art is quite good and interesting, the tale itself is so rushed it's underdeveloped. It begins with Juan's life in Mexico before sneaking across the US border. Finally in the US he is beaten and mistreated and taken advantage of, especially being underpaid. I really felt the need for more in the first half. There was such an opportunity to humanize this person that was blown. If life is that bad in the US, why go? What was his original motivation? I think we needed to see how bleak and desperate his life was in Mexico to fully appreciate the full story.

Likewise, I liked the characters voice and got some sense of his personality, but it was too short to really connect. It felt like a pamphlet.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Reader's Diary #1982- Cassandra Clare (writer), Cassandra Jean (artist): The Mortal Instruments 1

I'd heard of Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series before but not read it. However, I wouldn't say that a familiarization is necessary to enjoy the graphic novel adaptation. (Perhaps if you did enjoy the originals it would even work against your enjoyment?)

I liked the fantastical blend of religion (angels and demons) and other mythology (vampires, fairies, werewolves, etc) and the art, very manga-ish with exaggerated swirls which complemented the goth-feel.

I did wish a bit more time was spent exploring the whole "fish out of water" trope with Clary the protagonist adjusting rather quickly to a sudden bizarre world around her, but the trade off was a fast paced story with mystery and danger.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Reader's Diary #1981- Mabry Hall: Rudolph

I'm not sure who caught the Saturday Night Live episode this weekend hosted by Jason Momoa but there was a darkly comedic sketch starring Pete Davidson as Rudolph. Mabry Hall's flash fiction piece "Rudolph" is similar to tone to that but with a bit more noir feeling.

It's entertaining, well-written, and though it has a cliffhanger ending still feels complete in and of itself.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Reader's Diary #1980- Wilfrid Lupano (writer), Gregory Panaccione (artist): A Sea of Love

Like Mel Tregonning's Small Things which I read just a month back, Wilfrid Lupano and Gregory Panaccione's A Sea of Love is another gorgeous wordless graphic novel.

This one is about a man separated from his wife from being lost at sea. It's more mature than Small Things but not risque or inappropriate by any means. It's amusing, has adventure, and there's a sweet love story to boot. The married couple seem a bit stereotypical in their gender roles at first, though the wife has a bit of an adventure of her own and seems to overcome her domestic, doting role somewhat. (She reminded me a little of Lady Jane Franklin, actually.)

But where the books shines is the art. The characters are exaggerated caricatures that reminded me of old French animation, while the backdrops are immaculately rendered in heavy, atmospheric water colours. Maybe these two styles should clash, but they wind up balancing out the story.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Reader's Diary #1979- Cherie Priest (writer), Tara O'Connor (illustrator): Agony House

Just recently marked the 26th Literary Review's Bad Writing in Sex Award and as always these were a real treat to behold. So bad they're at the very least entertaining. But of course, it doesn't have to take a sex scene to come on a piece so spectacularly bad that it haunts you. There are plenty of books that I didn't enjoy this year but none had the distinction of having a memorably bad passage... until now.

He wasn't paying a lick of attention. He was too wrapped up in the chase, following his nose like a cartoon bird on a cereal box.

It's meant, I suppose, to be a funny simile, but man, is it ever corny and awkward. And it's particularly so since she seems to go out of her way to avoid referencing the actual character or the cereal. Yet elsewhere she name drops McDonald's and Wendy's. Would mentioning Toucan Sam and Froot Loops been that difficult? Not that it would have been a great sentence even with it, but it's just laughably bad this way.

To be fair though, the rest of the book isn't terrible to this extreme. I did find friendships rushed to the point of implausibility and the book's plot could have used some work (the worst for me was that it took a character the entire book to read a comic that, had she read it at any normal speed, could have probably solved the whole predictable mystery remarkably fast). But there were some aspects I liked; the comic parts themselves were well done and I enjoyed how they connected to the textual story, I enjoyed the New Orleans setting, and there were hints at least of weightier themes (gentrification, police racism, and so on).

Friday, December 07, 2018

Reader's Diary #1978- Sergio Ruzzier: Fox + Chick The Party and Other Stories

Sergio Ruzzier's Fox + Chick: The Party is an odd collection of 3 comics concerning a pair of friends known simply as Fox and Chick. The entire book is just 45 pages and formatted more to look like a traditional picture book, though it has panels and speech balloons.

What makes it odd though is the stiff dialogue and stories that just feel a little... off. In the first one for instance, Chick asks to use Fox's bathroom and doesn't come back out. When Fox checks on him, it turns out that Chick has invited his friends in through the bathroom window for a party.

The whole thing, the art and dialogue, feels old fashioned in a way. I wonder of some of this is cultural as Ruzzier originally hails from Italy.

Quirkiness aside, it was cute and amusing.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Reader's Diary #1977- Shea Fontana (writer), Yancey Labat (artist): DC Super Hero Girls Date With Disaster

I'm glad there are female lead superhero titles and I'm glad that there are some more child-friendly superhero comics, but Shea Fontana and Yancey Labat's DC Super Hero Girls: Date With Disaster isn't exactly memorable.

The story is fine and fun, though some of the girls on the team seem to be poor fits as superheros for those familiar with their more complex mature story lines. Still, I guess some of their personalities and attributes are kept in tact (Harley Quinn's accent for example) and I was exposed to some characters that I'd not come across before (such as the Wasp knock-off, Bumble Bee).

The art, though bright, was also not my cup of tea. All the characters looked like Bratz Dolls (especially off-putting for Commissioner Gordon), and looked done by a computer; which is not a problem per se just not my own personal preference.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Reader's Diary #1976- Ian Boothby (writer), Nina Matsumoto (artist): Sparks!

A couple of times in the first chapter of Sparks! a graphic novel by Ian Boothby and Nina Matsumoto about a couple of cat superheros whose disguise is a single dog costume, I laughed at loud. It's a kids comic, so I immediately felt embarrassed for laughing so hard at it. Then I noted that Boothby had written Simpsons and Futurama comics as well and felt a little better.

Too bad though that it didn't remain as funny. It was still good, amusing and entertaining overall, but the villain baby was decidedly less so and it's such an overdone trope.

The cartooning by Matsumoto fun; fluid with a manga influence, and like most Scholastic comics, brightly coloured.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Reader's Diary #1975- Aminder Dhaliwal: Woman World

On the last page of Aminder Dhaliwal's graphic novel Woman World, there's a screenshot of a text conversation where she shares her idea for Womanworld in which men have gone extinct. She acknowledges that "something exactly like this probably already exists" and many of us would immediately respond, yes, it's a quite popular series called Y, The Last Man and it's by Brian K. Vaughan.

But like a good cover song, if you can bring something new to something that's already been done, it's perfectly fine. And Aminder Dhaliwal's Woman World is perfectly great. One (big?) difference is that there is no last man. It's focused entirely on women. But also, whereas Vaughan's take is more sci-fi with occasional humour, Dhaliwal's is more humour with occasional sci-fi. (Not sci-fi in the robots and space or time travel sense but in the new disease wipes outs half of humankind sense.)

Vaughan wasn't the only writer I found myself thinking of while reading world, but each other comparison was to someone else whose work I also admired and each time Dhaliwal spun it differently enough to make something truly her own.

The humour, for instance, was quite similar to Kate Beaton's. Kate Beaton usually has intelligent, hilarious satire, but is not afraid to get silly. And so does Dhaliwal. But whereas Beaton usually does so in short vignettes, there's a longer narrative running through Woman World, only stopping here or there for unconnected gags.

And Woman World also reminded me of Baroness Von Sketch Show, quite possibly the funniest show on TV right now. Just as that cast simultaneously celebrates and pokes fun at women, recognizes the spectrum of female personalities, and skewers the patriarchy without allowing that to take over the focus, so does Dhaliwal.

The art is very Beaton-esque as well, but my favourite scenes were the opening and closing ones which were the only ones to have colour. These had a cool vintage look.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Reader's Diary #1974- Henry Lawson: The Ghosts of Many Christmases

I didn't exactly get what I anticipated with Henry Lawson's "The Ghosts of Many Christmases;" there were no ghosts and it wasn't exactly a short story.

"Ghosts" in this case, are memories, and it's exactly that, a collection of Christmas memories, with no unifying plot. Still, it was fascinating to me to learn about Christmases in the olden days of Australia. There's a comfortable tone to the piece, like hearing your grandpa reminisce.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Reader's Diary #1973- Jacqueline Jules (writer), Dave Roman (illustrator): Pluto is Peeved!

I remember in my first few years teaching being informed by a student that there was no longer a dinosaur referred to as a brontosaurus. Somehow what I'd learned as a kid had changed and it completely slipped by me. Fortunately I was paying attention when the designation of Pluto had changed and it was no longer considered a planet. Many people, however, never understood why or have forgotten the rationale. Jacqueline Jules and Dave Roman answer this question and more in a child friendly comic book approach that shows how science evolves over time as new discoveries are made. While Pluto is the anthropomorphic star of the book, the brontosaurus I mentioned above also makes an appearance.

The artwork is simple and eye-catching with nice bright colours.

One small bone of contention is that the answer to the question as to why Pluto is no longer considered a planet is not fully explained until the textual notes at the back of the book. In the comic book portion, it is explained that as a conference in 2006 some astronomers developed new criteria for what constitutes a planet, but they skip over which criteria Pluto failed to meet until the end notes which may be skipped over by lots of readers.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Reader's Diary #1972- Liz Prince (writer), Amanda Kirk (illustrator): Coady and the Creepies

What a fun ride Liz Prince and Amanda Kirk's graphic novel Coady and the Creepies turned out to be after beginning with a car accident that left one character a paraplegic and another dead.

Coady and the Creepies deals with a a punk rock band of triplets who are touring around the country, having supernatural adventures along the way. The characters are well-defined, each with unique and enjoyable personalities. As a fan of punk music, I enjoyed that angle, even though I thought some things could have been handled a little better. Fake rock song lyrics are always cringe-worthy in comic books and they're no exception here. Also, there's a bit about an old punk rocker upset that Coady and the Creepies are girls and that they don't know punk music history. While I do think knowing music history is a good thing, I suppose there is something very punk-attitude about not caring. But there were a lot of classic punk rock bands and singers in real life (X-Ray Spex, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Patti Smith...) so I don't know that it's fair to pretend that females in punk is a new idea.

Small complaints though as I really did enjoy the book. Amanda Kirk's jagged line work had a real punk-vibe and the gorgeous colours and thick black lines reminded me of Ted Harrison's art. Ted Harrison isn't, of course, the most punk of artists, but I've always enjoyed him.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Reader's Diary #1971- Maggie Thrash: Lost Soul, Be At Peace

I saw on Twitter today someone stating that if they don't like the art, they don't bother reading the comic. I get the rationale and wholly agree that the art in a graphic novel should be as crucial as the textual elements, but I've had a few times where I've enjoyed the story in spite of the art rather than because of it. Maggie Thrash's graphic novel Lost Soul, Be At Peace is one of those instances.

I thought her art looked very amateur from a technical point of view. (Though it also reminded me of some old animated National Film Board of Canada films.) Nonetheless, I was very drawn into the story.

It's a ghost story but with an interesting twist. Perhaps heavy on the melancholy side, it nonetheless raises an important, not often discussed fact of growing up: the realization that sometimes we never get answers or solutions.