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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Reader's Diary #1722- Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales took me forever to finish. It's long and written in middle English so it definitely wasn't a book I could just plow through. I had many others on the go ever since I started this one (back in 1926, I think it was). Usually after such a clunkster of a book I joke that I have gotten Stockholm Syndrome, grown to love the book that had held me hostage for such a long time.

That didn't happen this time around. Perhaps it had most to do with the long final tale, the Parson's Tale, that wasn't representative of the book as a whole. Whereas most were narrative poems, the final was a prose sermon. I just chugged my way through it and that was it.

I did enjoy the narrative poem tales though head elsewhere if you're looking for an in-depth analysis or summary of each. There was a lot of variety in themes and moods, from from funny and entertaining pieces to serious and moralistic. It was enlightening, if not a little depressing, to see how little humanity has changed since the late 1300s.

The language was difficult to get through, much harder than Shakespeare and I tried at one point switching to a modernized translation. This however, had been done poorly, and removed the poetry aspect. I found myself missing the rhythm of Chaucer, even if I was understanding it a little better. My new strategy, and the one I stuck with, was Googling online summaries of the tales ahead of time in order to get at least a vague idea.

While I'm glad, I suppose, that I've finally read it, it's also a book that I think better served perhaps in a university class setting where students would benefit from a group (and led) discussion.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Reader's Diary #1721- Art Baltazar and Franco: Itty Bitty Hellboy

Though he seems to me like one of unlikeliest superheroes to be adapted for young readers, Art Baltazar and Franco's Itty Bitty Hellboy is nonetheless a pretty fun ride that I would definitely have been into as a kid.

Instead of occult-based mysteries, we get a blend of slapstick and irreverent humour spread throughout a collection of low-stakes rapid-fire adventures. The humour and simple, colourful and curvy cartooning seems like something that would be at home on Nickelodeon.

Does it owe enough to Mike Mignola's original adult-oriented creation? Would Itty Bitty Hellboy readers find the transition too jarring once they've matured and want to move on to Mignola's? For that I'm afraid you'll have to turn to someone who's a bit more of an avid fan. I've read a couple originals and enjoyed them. I read this and enjoyed it. But I’d still not say I’m familiar enough to compare.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Reader's Diary #1720- Linh Nguyen: Down Feathers

Someone I follow on Twitter recently announced, somewhat smugly I thought, that they wouldn't be lying to their kids about Santa Claus. Fine if Christmas isn't part of your cultural practices, but the implication here was that parents who do so are evil. It's not the first time I came across such an idea. A friend I met sometime back also boasted about not doing the whole Santa thing, stating how traumatic it was when she found out her parents had been lying. Please. This cheapens the very idea of trauma.

To me it's a part of the magic, it's permission and support of childhood imagination. Which brings me to Linh Nguyen's beautiful short story "Down Feathers." It revels in fairy tales and stories and imagined locales and adventure. It's about the awakening of a child's fantasies and the few adults who manage to hang on.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Reader's Diary #1719- Duane Swierczynski (writer), Michael Gaydos (artist): The Black Hood The Bullet's Kiss

I find it hard not to compare superheroes from Archie Comics' Dark Circle line to DC and Marvel comics, though they've been around just as long. The Black Hood, for example, made me think about the Punisher, but the former character's been around since 1940 whereas the Punisher didn't appear until 1974. That said, I think it's fair to say that Swierczynski's dark vigilante reboot owes at least some debt to the Punisher and his ilk.

It certainly works though, not particularly beholden to any previous Black Hood incarnations (a former Black Hood is killed off right at the start and his killer, a police officer, takes on the role). This version is scarred emotionally and physically, addicted to pain killers, and out for vengeance. The grimy art by Michael Gaydos adds to the wonderfully noir voice.

One giant misstep, however, is with the six issue of the series where Gaydos is replaced by Howard Chaykin. How Chaykin enjoys such a following, I have no idea. His work here is absolute garbage; misshapen faces, people posed weird, fingers and feet all poorly proportioned and bent. People (self-included) like to rag on Rob Liefeld, but Howard Chaykin makes his art look like Da Vinci's. Even Swierczynski's writing can't rise above such a horrible distraction.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Reader's Diary #1718- Molly Knox Ostertag: The Witch Boy

As someone who did not share a lot of typical "boy" interests as a child, curious about the occasional "girl" interest, and whom was chastised for both, I sure would have loved Molly Knox Ostertag's The Witch Boy had it been around. And I don't doubt for a second that it'll be equally as important to kids today.

Aster is the titular Witch Boy, born into a society where girls are expected to go into witchcraft, boys into shapeshifting. Ostertag is careful to note the importance of both (they are equally crucial), and sensitive, I think, to societies that are heavier on gender roles. But this is about those small yet significant population of folks who might do better if they were allowed to follow their hearts. Like Aster, unfortunately, most are mocked or get in trouble for doing so, even by family members who feel they're doing the right thing or can eradicate such feelings with a stern lecture.

Despite "Important" topics, it's first and foremost an engaging adventure story with compelling, well-defined characters. The art is bright and expressive, stylistically similar to Hope Larson or Faith Erin Hickes.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Reader's Diary #1717- Andy Mangels (writer), Judit Tondora (artist): Wonder Woman '77 Meets The Bionic Woman

This is my second time reading a Wonder Woman '77 comic and as I pointed out the first time around, not having watched the original Linda Carter TV series its based upon, I have to read it for solely for its value as a comic. This also holds true for the Bionic Woman character. I vaguely recall having watched The Six Million Dollar Man as a young boy, but cannot with any certainty say the same about the spinoff show.

While this trade decent job of catching me up on the Bionic Woman as a character, at least one of the comics handled the TV tie-in rather awkwardly, having villains recap old episodes in an overly long bit of exposition. For the most part, however, it's a fun crossover. It was also a bit unusual in that for most cross-publisher crossovers I've read there's been some explanation as to how the characters are just now meeting and that usually involves some sort of alternate universe theory. There doesn't seem to be any of that here and I don't know how either team will end up explaining why they don't always help each other out from now on. It's also a bit atypical in that most crossovers have heroes go through some sort of mistrusting battle phase to appease the fanboys who like to argue over "who'd win in a fight between." It's refreshing that the Bionic Woman and Wonder Woman only seem to have respect for one another. It was also an unexpected treat to have cameos from Wonder Girl and Donna Troy.

The art is fine, nothing groundbreaking, but I did quite like the photo-realistic covers by Cat Staggs.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Reader's Diary #1716- Roger Langridge (writer), Gisèle Lagacé (artist): Betty Boop

I didn't know a whole lot about Betty Boop before heading into this new incarnation by Roger Langridge, except that she was a slightly (sometimes not-so-slightly) sexualized singing cartoon character from the jazz era. Even knowing that little bit though was enough for me to wonder where modern writers would go with her.

While she still dresses the same (low cut, short, short dress and a heart garter), the stories are very child friendly and innocent. Most stories follow the same essential plot, Lenny Lizardlips and his trio of ghost gangsters plot to takeover Grampy's house but are inevitably foiled by Betty Boop and/or her gaggle of friends. But while simplistic, they're charming and fun.

The art, by New Brunswick illustrator Gisèle Lagacé isabsolutely splendid. It's stylish and retro and adorable in that ol' timey cartoon way and coloured with colours leaning heavily on the black and white and red.

I do worry though that even with all the great features it will struggle to find an audience. With the 1930's slang and all the rhyming jazz numbers, I'm not sure enough kids will pick it up. Those that do though will be in for a treat.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Reader's Diary #1715- Various artists and writers: Gumby 50 Shades of Clay

I kind of love that as long as we have comics no pop culture icons will ever die. Thanks to publishers like Dynamite, Papercutz, and others we have comics from almost every decade: Jem, My Little Pony, the Flintstones, Betty Boop, Gumby, and more.

The last of those is a bit of a curious fit. While the others started in more traditional animation, Gumby began as claymation. I watched a Gumby movie or two as a child and while I don't remember a whole lot, I know that was the biggest part of its charm. Similarly, it feels like such a character loses something when it's rendered in straightforward comics. Nothing against the illustrators here, but I found myself thinking it would have worked better as a photocomic, complete with clay Gumbies in various poses. (On the plus side, this thought did lead me down a rabbit hole exploring the world of photocomics, otherwise unknown to me. I've since ordered and have a few titles on the way thanks to this list.)

Besides all that, this collection is whimsical and imaginative enough as it is. Despite the title, it's really aimed at kids and the in-jokes for adults don't get any raunchier than that.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Reader's Diary #1714- Premchand, translated by T.C. Ghai: Bade Bhai Sahib

In Premchand's "Bade Bhai Sahib" an older Indian brother chastises the younger for not trying harder in the British-run school. He spouts the necessity and importance of getting an English education (while inadvertently revealing some of its asinine nature, especially in the Indian context). Making the older brother a more tragic character, however, the younger brother succeeds in school anyway whereas the older brother continues to fail.

While there are some slight humorous touches, they don't undermine the seriousness of the tale, though given the more recent intense focus on the problems with colonialism, especially in terms of education, my 2018 eye may be reading with more scrutiny than would have been expected (at least from white readers) back when it was written (1934). The different perspectives of the two brothers made me reflect more upon a CBC article from just two days ago, in which Tomson Highway's brother Daniel, discusses their different takeaways from residential school.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1713- Joshua Whitehead: Full-Metal Indigiqueer

Reading Joshua Whitehead's poetry collection Full-Metal Indigiqueer, I found myself thinking a lot about accessibility and more specifically, how accessible poetry should be. Over the life of this blog I've gone through, and got exhausted with, a poetry phase. I was reading a lot of contemporary white poetry and after a while it all sounded the same: slightly mournful and full of words only poets use. When the poems wouldn't trigger any emotion except for bitterness over the use of "ephemeral" or yet another Greek reference, they started to become inaccessible. Yet, poems that are too accessible are problematic as well. They become poorly written rhyming quatrains, odes to dead dogs in the local obituaries. Though I've not read anything by her yet, Rupi Kaur's poetry has been similarly criticized as pandering to the masses, equivalent to shallow pop songs.

To be sure, Full-Metal Indiqueer, despite its many references to modern global culture, is not a shallow pop song. It's as inaccessible as all hell. But damn it, unlike all that dull white poetry, it's evocative and makes you want to access it. I'm still not 100% sure I understood all of his intent, but I trust that there were true intentions (verses obscure for the sake of it), and how I did interpret some worked for me. This is thoughtful, exciting poetry. While the themes can be angering or sad from time to time, reading it as a whole was a fun experience.

The most startling thing about Full-Metal Indigiqueer is the strong voice. The back of the book identifies the narrator as being a trickster hybrid of organic and technological identities and whether that is Whitehead's own voice or a character remains to be seen. It was, in any case, completely mesmerizing. So completely inventive and in control and unique and proud of it, weaving effortlessly in and out of more standard English and occasional Cree to invented spellings, number-letter combos, and pseudo-programming jargon. Language is essentially his bitch. His use of punctuation was like nothing I've ever seen before. Instead of adding actual question marks (?), for example, he consistently wrote [question mark] and to me it solidified these questions, acknowledging that by merely asking they become real, a Schrodinger's cat statement/question; a perfect metaphor for a character that is comfortable in his own skin regardless; he's here (H3R31AM) and whether he is organic or technological at the moment or somewhere in between hardly matters. What matters is love, sex, culture, Culture, death, history, future, and all those awesome themes good poetry brings us closer to understanding.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Reader's Diary #1712- Matthew Rosenberg (writer), Tyler Boss (artist): 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank

I've heard a lot of hype around 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank and to be honest, it probably made me judge Matthew Rosenberg and Tyler Boss's 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank a little more critically than had I discovered the book on my own.

This tale of a quartet of misfit kids robbing a bank is certainly entertaining and funny. It hits the nostalgia buttons of Stranger Things and Paper Girls (though I'm a little unclear what the time period is meant to be in this case), has the imagination of The Lego Movie, the edge and quirk of a Tarantino movie, but I'm not sure that it's as good as any of those. The characters are well defined and interesting, the plot is unique, and it is certainly stylistic but it's perhaps there where it fell apart, at least a little, for me.

I wasn't wild about the art. It's minimalistic in the vein of David Aja's work on Hawkeye, complete with the flat pastel colours of Tintin comics. Boss also plays with panel sizes, reminding me Chris Ware's art. Again, these are all good comparisons. Sometimes though the characters movement felt stiff and unrealistic; people walking without bending their knees enough, that sort of thing. And the dimensions were also off from time to time. Panels, for instance, showing the front of a van present the driver and passenger as being way too far apart.

It all sounds rather nit-picky on part and again, I did quite enjoy it. Because of the slight imperfections, however, I'm just not sure it deserved all the hype.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Reader's Diary #1711- Various artists and writers: Native American Classics

Native American Classics is a collection of (mostly) older stories and poems by indigenous North Americans illustrated into a comics format.

One aspect I cannot comment on, of course, is the fairness and accuracy of this compilation in terms of the various indigenous cultures they represent. I will instead point you to Beverly Slapin's (much more thorough) review of the book here.  The only disclaimer I'll make is that the creators of this book (who, according the biographies at the back, are also of indigenous heritage) would probably beg to differ on some of her points.

I can comment on my enjoyment of the book and by and large, I did. There were a variety of themes and tones, ranging from the serious to more light-hearted. The art was mostly good, though (as Slapin also points out) in one or two instances didn't always seem to match the tone, or even details, of the stories.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Reader's Diary #1710- Thi Bui: The Best We Could Do

One of the most shocking things about Thi Bui's The Best We Could Do is that is her first graphic novel. It's absolutely beautiful. Stunning. The linework, the watercolours, the unique angles and paneling, the connection to the text. It's flawless. And, as a credit to her respect for the medium, she writes in the preface that she told this story as a comic as she wanted to "present history in a way that is human and relatable and not oversimplified." It's that last one that jumps out at me as many non-comics readers suggest that comics are simpler. That fact that Bui gets it shines through in every page.

Here is a complex story of Vietnamese and familial history, of an immigrant experience, paternal legacies and insecurities, of self-discovery through others. It's touching, frustrating, funny (not hysterical), and enlightening.




Monday, January 15, 2018

Reader's Diary #1709- NoViolet Bulawayo: Happy Birthday Africa President

It's the rarest of times that I come across a sentence so spectacular to make me fall in love with the author's writing almost immediately, but it happened several times during NoViolet Bulawayo's "Happy Birthday Africa President."

The first was with the second sentence in the story, a run-on sentence and spectacular because it breaks rules intentionally and to great effect. It's an artist laying down a setting and also triggering the effect that ubiquitous propaganda posters have on one's senses. The next time was shortly after in a scene describing the sun, "searing us like we owe it money," a sentence pulling double-duty to describe the heat plus the mindset forced upon the characters by their poverty.

The plot itself isn't complicated, basically a fight breaks out between characters of different political bents, but it certainly has topical and relevant themes and besides, the writing is so gorgeous and masterful I'm left in awe.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Reader's Diary #1708- Various artists and writers: Marvel Generations

Marvel readers are no doubt aware that almost all of their legacy characters have been replaced, somewhat, in recent years. The somewhat is the problem. The publishers seem not to know what to do with the divisions among their fans. Some, most likely for nostalgia, want the heroes to stay the same, be the same characters they grew up with. Others welcome the changes, as the new characters are more diverse and it's about time. Personally, I see where these sides are coming from (except for the racist, sexist, bigoted sides-- your side can go to hell), and my solution would be to simply introduce brand new diverse characters rather than rewrite the old ones. That one would take a longer investment than I think Marvel, a rather short-sighted company, is willing to take on. They typically, very half-heartedly, try a new character for a single arc of comics, find that it hasn't sold as well as familiar characters and cancel it. The promotion is almost non-existent, they don't back it up with t-shirts and other merchandise, and most importantly, they've not exhibited any patience.

In the case of the newer variants on the old, Marvel seems unwilling to commit fully and write the old ones out of existence. Yes, we have a female Thor now, but the old one is still around. Likewise for Iron Man (sort of), Hawkeye, and a bunch of others. This doubling will be problematic down the road, I suspect (and some would argue, it already is), but for now Marvel Generations was at least a good way to catch people up on the newbies and to celebrate the legacies.

These were enjoyable, if somewhat, inconsequential stories. In all cases, the new characters found themselves plucked from their current existence and meeting their namesakes at some point in the past, prior to them having met in the real/ current time. The new ones all know enough about time travel to try and keep a low profile, but all wind up in various battles, fighting side by side, and then returning. Some of the authors try to give the stories more importance, tacking on lessons they've learned about themselves or their roots, but those angles seemed forced and non-canon. It's best to just enjoy these for their entertainment value.

As there are various creators taking part, the quality is a mixed bag, though none are terrible and some are quite good (G. Willow Wilson's writing, the artists on the Spider-Man story, for example).

There are a few other characters that could have made it in but did not for whatever reason (e.g., Wasp) but one omission I found most glaring was Nova and the reason is that the two Nova characters are included on the cover! I'm guessing they initially planned to include them?

Reader's Diary #1707- Christian Klengenberg: Klengenberg of the Arctic

I first heard of Christian Klengenberg through a student of mine. He was a descendant of Christian Klengenberg and told me some of the most fascinating stories. I've since met a lot more of his descendants and have been very curious to read Klengenberg's autobiography, Klengenberg of the Arctic. Written in the early 30s and published shortly after his death in 1931, the book has been long out print and very hard to come by. Finally, I've been able to track the text down online (and hopefully someone will republish it as a book).

Originally from Denmark, Klengenberg was a world-traveled adventurer and jack of all trades by the time he ventured north to Alaska and northern Canada. It was here that he seemed to be most at home and where he married an Inuk woman named Gemina and began a family. His was not a life without controversy, however. He once went to trial for murdering a man. While he was acquitted for that, some still had their doubts and indeed, he was also under suspicion for a few other criminal acts including the theft of a ship and the disappearance of another man.

Of course, one shouldn't expect to find any evidence against him in his autobiography, but it was at least interesting to get his side of these stories, as well as many other tales. His personality runs large in these pages and at times he can come across as a bit arrogant (about himself and his family). This is especially problematic when he suggests in one paragraph that he is easy-going and can get along with anyone, but later describes a near mutiny against him. Some of his arrogance, I suppose, was warranted as there is no doubt he had superb survival skills and was more adaptable than a good many visitors to the north before and since. Nor, it should be noted, does being arrogant prove he was guilty of any of the crimes accused of him.

Klengenberg of the Arctic is a wildly entertaining and insightful collection of memories by an eccentric personality, one that has left an immeasurable impact on the north.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Reader's Diary #1706- Tony Medina (writer), Stacey Robinson and John Jennings (illustrators): I Am Alfonso Jones

I had a few reservations heading into Tony Medina's I Am Alfonso Jones, mostly on my ability to talk about it after. A few misconceptions going in: 1. this was aimed at American black teens 2. it would be overly didactic. If number 1 was true, would I, a white, middle-aged man in Canada be able to review it? I took some solace in the fact that I try not to be too much of a reviewer anyway, but rather focus most of my time simply thinking aloud about my own personal reactions to a book in the (unrequited) hope that someone might what to share their own thoughts and discuss. If number 2 was true, well, again related to my privilege, I shouldn't judge how didactic someone from another race, another culture feels they should be. I enjoyed Netflix's Luke Cage, for instance, but at first felt the messages were heavy handed. Then, I considered the possibility that for some peoples it isn't exactly  the time for subtlety. Again, not my place to decide. All that in mind, I'm glad I chose to carry on.

Yes, I Am Alfonso Jones may be aimed at American black teens, but probably not just at them and there's something others, including myself can take away. Just the story alone is engaging; of a teenage boy who is murdered by a police officer and finds himself of a subway of souls who are to travel forever, or at least until there has been justice. It's also creatively told, with flashbacks, multiple perspectives, and a subplot about a hip hop version of Hamlet. (Had I remembered Hamlet a little better, I think would have aided in my enjoyment in that aspect.) And the art is great, with fluid lines, a 70s sort of style (Will Eisner-ish), and black shading. More importantly though, messages about racial biases and inequality, abuses of power, etc were not lost on even me who has never lived in an area with a large population of black people. I have, however, lived in populations with a large number of indigenous people and they too have, unfortunately, often met with the same fate at the hands of the police.

And, I didn't feel it overly didactic. I did learn a lot of history but perhaps owing to creative storytelling, it felt natural and unforced. It's also a fair book that, while it certainly takes a stand for justice, nonetheless explores all the complexities without selling easy, unrealistic fixes.

I Am Alfonso Jones will stick with me for some time.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Reader's Diary #1705- Tom Gauld: Baking with Kafka

Ignore the pretentious blurbs on the cover of Tom Gould's Baking with Kafka collection of comics; the ones that praise his "irreverent erudition," "timeless truths about the human condition," "the hubris and frivolity of humankind." Yes, it has Kafka in the title, yes it has some of the stylings of Edward Gorey (with simpler pictogram characters*), but it's funny first and foremost. Sure it would help to have an appreciation of reading and writing to really get the targets of his punchlines, but those other reviewers make the book sound all but accessible to the non-snob. Yes, Gould makes some enlightened points along the way, but he's also not afraid to get silly. Think Kate Beaton's brand of humor.

*I tried to see if those classic people icons from signage-- you know the black or white silhouetted ones you find on bathroom doors, wheelchair spaces, walk signs, etc worldwide-- have a proper name and found surprisingly little info online. I think the history of these designs could make for a fascinating, and apparently needed, graphic novel. Perhaps by Box Brown, Scott McCloud, or even Tom Gauld himself?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Reader's Diary #1704- Meredith Gran: Octopus Pie (Volume 1)

Continuing with my exploration of webcomics, I was pleased to get to know the characters of Meredith Gran's Octopus Pie series, a set of millennials who live and work together in New York.

The star, however, is the grumpy one on the cover: Eve. I'm hesitant to call her the straight character as those tend to be less idiosyncratic and Eve's high cynicism doesn't really fit that description. Still, it's her slightly jaded outlook on hipsters, yuppies, stoners, technology, sexism, etc that sets the tone for the book. Indeed, as much as I liked the secondary characters, when Gran decided to revolve a few strips at the end around them I was less engaged.

There's nothing uproariously funny here but it's consistently amusing and sometimes even insightful. Stories had lasting stakes, somewhat like Lynn Johnston's For Better or For Worse but with perhaps less progression, and the art reminded me of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series, but with perhaps less manga influence.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Reader's Diary #1703- Brigitte Finakly and Lewis Trondheim, translated by Helge Dascher: Poppies of Iraq

For us North American with no ties to the middle east, it's easy to get a very skewed, ignorant picture of that part of the world, one that doesn't see any cultural differences between one country and the next, one that doesn't change. Most of what I've read has been set in Iran rather than Iraq and so, I'll admit I found myself comparing (at least to the best of my recollection) the two countries.

I should also acknowledge that these are large countries in terms of size and population and one person's experience is not necessarily an average experience. Poppies of Iraq is Brigitte Finakly's memoirs, and as an Orthodox Christian with a French mother, surely her life growing up in Iraq was different than most. Of course, those differences, that unique point of view are largely responsible for making this book so interesting. It's a character-driven social studies lesson with occasional poignant themes of immigrant/ refugee experience.

The art is fine, if not a bit simple. It reminded me of travel comics in that most scenes merely illustrated the text rather than interact with it. But it was coloured nicely and the lack of panels complimented the nostalgic aspect of the memories. The largely expressionless characters balanced out the nostalgia with a more pragmatic tone.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Reader's Diary #1702- Leo Tolstoy: Too Dear!

Not so much a resolution, but I've decided in 2017 to take a break from volunteering. This sounds terrible, I know, but rest assured I still believe volunteerism is important and it's only a temporary break. I've found, however, that with my current workload and family commitments, I've not been doing an adequate job on the volunteer front and so, it's time to step aside.

One thing I will not miss, however, is committee work or more precisely, decision by committee. Again, I get why this is important and no one likes a dictator, but yeah, the process, the length, the bickering of minute details, the dominance of certain personalities, etc can drive me nuts. Leo Tolstoy's "Too Dear!" set in Monaco does a pretty good job of satirizing that. I suppose it would be funny if it didn't touch too directly on my current nerves. I will say that I did find that while it reminded me somewhat of Joseph Heller's Catch-22 it was far less annoying.

There's also a pretty interesting message in here about how one's fate, one's access to justice can be largely out of his control and determined by economic factors and convenience.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Reader's Diary #1701- Tillie Walden: Spinning

Readers love to cite research that suggests that fiction readers tend to be more empathetic, attributing the finding to being more attuned to different perspectives. I'm a little more cautious with the idea, believing that that's only true if one actually reads about different perspectives.

I'll gloat as a reader now though because Tillie Walden's Spinning couldn't be much further from my own story. A young, female lesbian figure skater from Texas? Nah, I cannot relate. But that's not important. I can, nonetheless, relate to loneliness, imposter syndrome, growing out of childhood passions, confusion, love, and all that stuff that unites us as human beings.

It's an introspective book that doesn't feel self-indulgent. Walden herself acknowledges in a note at the end that she wasn't even sure what the book was about (though she usually says just "skating") but despite not having a singular theme or defined focus its a beautiful portrait of a real person growing up: no rose-coloured glasses, no hyperbole, but some impressive axels along the way.

Like the writing itself, the art is typically simple and subdued but curiously poignant at the same time.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Reader's Diary #1700- Faith Erin Hicks: The Nameless City

I was a fan of Faith Erin Hicks' Friends with Boys but I have to say that I was too often distracted with The Nameless City provoking questions about cultural appropriation. First thinking it was going to a fantasy novel, it soon became clear that the book was based largely on, or at least inspired by, feudal China. Not believing this to be Hicks' roots, I started questioning the intent and need of her telling this particular story.

I'm of the mindset that fiction writers should be able to, nay have to, tell stories from different perspectives but I've also been swayed by the well-posited arguments that dominant cultures shouldn't be exploiting others but rather stepping aside to listen, to let them express themselves. As a white, middle-class male I am certainly not one to solve the debate or suggest where the line should be but I had qualms that The Nameless City was somewhere past it.

A quick Google search proved that I was not alone in these concerns. Angie Manfredi and Wendy Xu both took exception to this aspect, and yet an Asian American woman replies to Manfredi that she was fine with it. Does it make sense to say that I believe such debates are healthy even if the ends don't justify the means?

Despite my distractions, I did enjoy the book as an action-packed story of a forbidden friendship. I also found that the story of a City constantly being fought over by people who didn't actually belong there in the first place to be a compelling metaphor for the English and French fighting over Canada, despite it truly being the land of various Indigenous groups. Again, though, there's some (healthy?) discomfort in a white male interpreting it this way and a white, English woman telling it (if one assumes such a metaphor was her intent).

Friday, January 05, 2018

Reader's Diary #1699- R. Sikoryak: The Unquotable Trump

It's hard not to just repeat what every other reviewer of R. Sikoryak's The Unquotable Trump has said: it's simultaneously funny and sad/scary.

Many said that Obama was hard to satirize as he was pretty normal and besides for in the eyes of a few ignorant racists, not all that controversial. Trump, on the other hand, should be a gold mine. He's crazy as a loon, dumb as a stump, and has the vain self-interest of a cartoon super-villain. The problem, I think, is that we fear we're making light of him and the gravity of the situation when we mock. Not taking him serious is arguably what got the U.S. (and the world at large) in this mess to begin with.

Nonetheless, satire continues to play an important role in difficult times in both uplifting us with humour and in pointing out the imperfections, however many and obvious, in the supposed leaders.

Sikoryak knew that there was no need to make up stupid quotes for Trump. Instead, he just cherry picked a small sampling and threw illustrations around them. The illustrations in this case are parodies of famous comic book covers throughout history.He's done this gimmick before, most recently and notably with his adaptation of Apple's Terms and Conditions. To be clear, Terms and Conditions is the superior piece of art and it was obvious that he'd put more work into that earlier project. Rather than covers, it had full spreads of panels, and the book was quite longer. Still, fans of comics and of Sikoryak's ability to imitate so many signature styles will once again appreciate The Unquotable Trump.

Will it make a difference in the long run in ousting this human garbage from the presidency? By itself, probably not, but hopefully it inspires many other voices and actions. Together, it has to help.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Reader's Diary #1698- Jomny Sun: Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too

I wanted to like Jomny Sun's everyone's a aliebn when ur a aliebn too but I feel it came up short.

The art is cute, simple but with a unique style. The premise of an alien investigating Earth to study humankind, accidentally befriending the other flora and fauna which it has confused for humans, and nonetheless learning a bit about humanity nonetheless, has so much potential to be funny and profound at the same time.

Alas, a whiff of existential philosophy and a strong taste of quirk is about all you get.

I did like the subtle nod to/dig at The Giving Tree.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Reader's Diary #1697- Rudolph Dirks and Harold H. Knerr: Katzenjammer A Selection of Comics

The Katzenjammer Kids are one of the first funny page standouts and one of the longest running comic strips of all time. At least in some form. Rudolph Dirks created the strip for the New York Journal in 1897 but when he left the organization in 1914, he was not allowed to take the title with him according to the courts and this created an odd arrangement. Harold H. Knerr took over writing and drawing the Katzenjammer Kids while Dirks drew the exact same characters for the Pulitzer newspapers but first under the name Hans and Fritz and then shortly after as The Captain and The Kids. Both the Knerr and Dirks forms lasted for a long time and left a huge legacy. Some credit Dirks with being the first to employ the use of speech balloons but I've also heard that attributed to Robert F. Outcault in The Yellow Kid comics.

This collection by Coachwhip contains both Katzenjammer Kids comics and The Captain and the Kids comics. The artwork is nearly identical, but as for the writing, I'd be hard-pressed to decide who was better.

On the one hand, Knerr's plots are much more formulaic. They mainly involve two boys pranking a man or being foiled by a third boy. They almost always wind up being spanked. Despite the familiar gags however, they are admittedly most often funny. Dirks on the other hand are not as formulaic but the stories are more hit or miss. They are both dated (with the spanking, some questionable racial stuff) and the main characters speak in such a strong German pronunciation that it's a challenge at times to understand.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Reader's Diary #1696- Nidhi Chanani: Pashmina

In some ways Nidhi Chanani's Pashmina reminded me of Katherena Vermette's A Girl Called Echo. Both might be considered coming-of-age stories and a vital part of this journey for both characters is an exploration of their cultures and history.

In Priyanka's case this means learning about her Indian heritage and that exploration is challenged somewhat due to the fact that she's been raised in the U.S. and her mother refuses to answer many questions about the place, clearly being overwhelmed with emotion. Even more frustrating, her mother is also the one who attributes aspects of Pashmina's personality that she doesn't particularly care for to growing up in the U.S. rather than India. The topic of India is off-limits except when it's not. This will all begin to change, however, when Priyanka discovers a magical scarf, a pashmina, that gives her surreal visions of India and when her mother suddenly allows Priyanka to visit her aunt in India.

I love the complexity of Chanani's characters in this touching story. There are also themes that both younger and older readers will likely connect with. The art too is pretty good. In the gray-scale panels, it reminds me of Vera Brosgol in the simplicity but when she puts on the pashmina and the colours come in, it's stunning; rich and vibrant, sometimes even intricate.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Reader's Diary #1695- Eleanore D. Trupkiewicz: Poetry by Keats

Eleanore D. Trupkiewicz's "Poetry by Keats" is a beautiful Americana portrait of flawed characters. It's basically a Kacey Musgraves song (and as I'm a huge fan of hers, I'm also a fan of this).

It's a story of a waitress in a less-than-romantic relationship who begins an emotional affair with an artsy type, perhaps the polar opposite of her current boyfriend. The characters feel real and while there's sadness and danger it's made less stifling by hope.