Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Reader's Diary #1747- Stephen Elliott: Sometimes I Think About It

I have so many mixed feelings about Stephen Elliott's Sometimes I Think About It, a collection of essays. The biggest, most nagging question I have is how much do we forgive for art? If the man can write a killer sentence, do I have to like him?

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I walked away from Sometimes I Think About It feeling like I hated Elliott, but I don't think I'd click with him and vice versa. I certainly understand that he had a very traumatic childhood and no doubt his worldview has been shaped by that. He seems pretty liberal and open-minded. I am too.

I was especially put off by his fascination with online videos that show people being humiliated or abused. Worse, his friends try to comfort him over the guilt he's felt about watching such stuff. "And it wasn't like I was downloading child porn," he writes. And yet a few short pages later he writes about a naked high school girl that he's watched being mocked in a locker room. Worse still, he resents that his friends and counselor try to make him feel better about his guilt and I don't buy that it's because he's truly repentant but because he gets off on being judged harshly. Now I resent him  because it put me, as a reader, in a position of either dismissing his abhorrent behaviour or giving him what he wants. It's a clever, evil sort of trick as he likes to make himself out to be a submissive but if he holds the power, doesn't that him the dominant?

And yet. Before I got to that particular essay, I had earmarked a page because I appreciated the writing so much. "I worry that my brother will think I drink too much. Then I worry that maybe I drink too much."

It's two simple sounding sentences but they perfectly capture a mildly neurotic, accurate thought process; the idea of seeing ourselves through others first.

The book is full of such beautifully authentic lines. No flowery language but poetic nonetheless in the concise arrangement of well chosen words.

No one wants to like the art but not the artist and yet, and yet, and yet. Sometimes we have no choice.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Reader's Diary #1746- Salva Rubio (writer), Efa (art): Monet, Iterant of Light

Monet is not an artist that I'd been particularly drawn to before and to be honest I've forgotten how Salva Rubio and Efa's graphic novel biography wound up on my tbr pile. In any case, I'm glad that it did and I do have a newfound appreciation for Monet and his paintings.

I also learned a lot about impressionism which I didn't know before (or have long since forgotten), and I found the obsession with light over form quite intriguing, including that fact that this was such a novel concept before Monet and his peers.

Almost as fascinating was a look into the culture of French artists in the 1800s.

Rubio's treatment reads smoothly, like a novel rather than a textbook, and Efa's art is gorgeous, working in scenes from Monet's paintings seamlessly. An appendix at the end shows the original paintings many panels were based upon and clarifies some of the liberties that Rubio had to take for the sake of storytelling.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Reader's Diary #1745- André P. Cramblit: Semper Fi

André P. Cramblit's "Semper Fi" is an interesting look at a young Karuk woman's navigation through a country that often sees itself as literally black and white. Not being either, she must make choices as to where she fits.

I really appreciated this perspective and the quiet way it was handled. When I went back after and looked up what the title meant and saw the whole connotation to familial or group loyalty it made me appreciate this flash fiction story even more. It's not that the woman was compromising, it's that she was steadfastly maintaining her unique identity.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Reader's Diary #1744- Mark Long and Jim Demonakos (writers), Nate Powell: The Silence of Our Friends

In The Silence of Our Friends, Mark Long recalls his white father's relationship to a black man during a particularly dangerous time in Houston's history. The father, Jack, was a reporter and his friend, Larry, was an activist who advocated that the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee be allowed to demonstrate for civil rights at Texas Southern University. Despite the SNCC's stance against violence, local police would make it violent. In one particularly fateful altercation, a police officer was inadvertently shot by another officer, but black protestors would be blamed. Jack's eye-witness testimony wound up being crucial.

The Silence of Our Friends is but one of many powerful stories to come out of the fight for civil rights and a very important one for allies especially. Long, Demonakos, and Powell do an admirable job showcasing the pressures allies face while helping in the struggle and the importance of persevering. They are also very careful to acknowledge that these struggles are still nothing compared to those with whom they are allied. Among the more dramatic moments, there were often more softer, touching moments. Scenes of Jack and Larry's children innocently playing together were quite moving.

Nate Powell (whose work I recognized from the more recent March series) is well suited for such historical works. In a style similar to Will Eisner's, his art has a lifelike tone, with emotive characterizations, and an approach to panels that dials in an out from hard fact history to more subtle, personal stories.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Reader's Diary #1743- James Robinson (writer), ACO (artist): Nick Fury Deep-Cover Capers

Anyone comparing the Nick Fury of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the Nick Fury of older Marvel comics may have been a little confused. Most notably, the original was white, and Samuel L. Jackson is clearly not. The original also had hair.

In more recent years the comics version has come to more or less resemble the big screen version. I didn't particularly care one way or the other and I assumed they just switched it. It turns out however that the blacker, balder version is meant to be the son of the original, a junior Nick Fury.

Besides learning that little tidbit, I'm not sure that I gained a whole lot more insight into the character through James Robinson's Nick Fury: Deep-Cover Capers. Not that I still didn't enjoy reading it. Most impressive was the art by ACO, easily some of the most inventive art I've seen in a superhero comic in some time. With huge 60s pop art flourishes, and coloured in bold neon colours by Rachelle Rosenberg, it's the best kind of eye-candy and well-suited for a globe-trotting spy thriller. I think some critics would suggest that the art is too distracting for the story, and they wouldn't be wrong if they said the flow is sometimes confusing, but it's all so entertaining.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Reader's Diary #1742- Jeff Lemire: Royal City

Ah Jeff Lemire. Man do I love his writing. In Royal City, Lemire returns to his more serious side to examine a dysfunctional family and their inability to cope with the loss of their son/brother.

It's a plot not immediately recognizable to me, having only lower levels of dysfunction and tragedy (at worst) in my immediate family. But Lemire is a master of capturing realistic human emotions and there's always that connection. In Royal City, for me, that came with Patrick Pike (arguably the protagonist) who has come home after an absence, barely recognizing the person he was when he lived there originally; memories with a sort of detachment.

I've also come to miss Lemire's art. I know in some of his superhero stories it wouldn't have always fit, but here his scratchy style and watercolours fit the melancholy tone.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Reader's Diary #1741- Jeph Loeb (writer), Tim Sale (artist): Batman The Long Halloween

For a non-Batman fan, I sure do find myself reading a lot of Batman titles. The thing is, there are a LOT of Batman fans and so whenever you see a "Best of" comics list, inevitably there will be a Batman book on there, whether it's Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, or The Long Halloween.

I'd already read the first two in that list and wasn't thrilled with either. Early into The Long Halloween, I thought I was finally being won over. The story was more straightforward and engaging and Jeff Loeb wasn't trying too hard to show how gritty he be. It's basically a murder mystery as Batman, commissioner Jim Gordon, and district attorney Harvey Dent try to stop the serial killer dubbed "Holiday" who has been targeting a mafia family whenever there's a, you guessed it, holiday.

Alas, my enjoyment started to wane about halfway through. Not only did each chapter bring a new holiday and murder, but also a visit from a different member of Batman's rogues gallery: the Joker, Cat Woman, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, the Mad Hatter, and so on. It suddenly dawned on me how crappy of a superhero Batman really is. He's somehow a part of the Earth/Universe saving Justice League, yet he can't even keep Gotham City safe? Gotham is a crime infested hell hole.

With that gnawing at me for the remainder of the book, it didn't help that the resolution to the mystery turned out to be a convoluted mess.

Tim Sale's art work though is good; characters with an exaggerated appearance and thin, fluid lines that seemed to be influenced by the jazz age and fit the noir, gangster storyline.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Reader's Diary #1740- Matt Dembicki (editor): Trickster

If I could give any advice to potential readers of Trickster: Native American Tales A Graphic Collection, it would be to first skip to the message from the editor and author/illustrator bios all found at the back of the book. I have a few reasons why I'd suggest this approach. First off, in the editor's note Matt Dembicki talks about the process involved in the compilation. Of particular note, he talks about meeting and gaining trust from various indigenous communities. This is important as not all cultures have the same relationship to stories and it's too often been the case that settlers appropriate and exploit stories, stories that sometimes were not meant to be shared outside, taken out of context, and so on. He also refers to giving the storytellers final approval of storyboards, including any editing changes.

Second, the bios of the contributors eased my mind that the tellers actually had right to tell the stories, belonged to the tribes that the stories originated from. Of course, as Joseph Boyden and some others have shown us, this is unfortunately a real concern.

Finally, I felt it was important to keep the various cultures separate in a collection of tales that seeks to find a common element (i.e., a trickster character) and refers to a blanket "Native American" group. One big take away for me from the Indigenous Matters MOOC from the University of Alberta was to be specific whenever possible, recognize that sometimes it is more important to refer to say Dene or Inuit rather than lump them all together as indigenous (or aboriginal), acknowledging that they have different cultures and values, even if there may also be similarities.

With all that in mind, I felt more ready to read the stories and wound up enjoying them more as a result, learning lots in the process. Many seem to be morality tales, others seem to be origin stories, and all were entertaining (for some, perhaps, that was the only intent-- which would also be fine, of course). With any collection with various contributors, some of course seem better than others. Some, for instance, seemed to better match the tone of the art to the story, some had a more creative, unique style, and so on. A favourite of mine was Roy Boney Jr's computer aided artwork in "Horned Toad Lady and Coyote" by Eldrena Douma. It just stood apart as nothing else in the book and than I've seen before.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1739- Joey Comeau and Emily Horne: Anatomy of Melancholy

After reading a Gumby comic recently, I went off to explore the world of photocomics. I came across a list of such comics to start with, but I was put off somewhat by a couple of sentences in the intro to the article that seemed to suggest photocopies were easier, lazier, or required less talent:

A creative option for people who can't draw (or who just want to 'draw' with a camera?) the Photo Comic involves taking pictures of things — either posed inanimate objects, or actual people — and making a comic out of them. [...] Arguably, Photocomics can be done cheaper and with less time consumption

 To me, however, I don't think this needs to be the case and perhaps should only be said of lesser quality photocomics. Certainly there's room for careful, purposeful photography and accompanying text.

Which brings me to Joey Comeau and Emily Horne's Anatomy of Melancholy: The Best of A Softer World. Apparently A Softer World was an internet sensation a few years back, unbeknownst to me. Each strip consists of three photo images with text of typically wry or dark humour.

The strips really challenge the definition of a comic. I've referred to Scott McCloud's definition of a comic many times on this blog ("juxtaposed pictorial and other images in a deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer") and while the definition has its share of critics, it nonetheless provides a good conversation starter. 

At first glance, Emily Horne's A Softer World photos seem to fit the definition. Upon reflection though, I'm not entirely sure that they do. Where they run into trouble is the "deliberate sequence" rule. In most cases here it's like she simply took a single photo and cut it into thirds. Is that a sequence? In other cases, a photo is zoomed in slightly. Again, is this really sequential? In Understanding Comics, McCloud also gets into great discussion about the importance of gutters. The space between panels usually has huge implications: how much time has passed, what happened in the unseen time, and so on. The gutters in A Softer World are fake. There is no time passing whatsoever. Perhaps these thoughts led me to also not appreciating the photography itself. Maybe at the time they first appeared they appeared novel and artistic. From a 2018 perspective they look like run-of-the mill Instagram photos.

Then there's the text by Joey Comeau. It's never meant to be dialogue but merely a caption to the image. On rare occasions it's funny or insightful, but most often it's just mildly amusing thoughts. Again, A Softer World had a huge following so clearly my lack of enthusiasm is a personal and minority opinion. Unfortunately I felt it confirmed the critique of photocomics I shared at the beginning of the post.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1738- Philip K. Dick: The Gun

I'll be honest, I went looking for a short story with "gun" in the title due to the tragedy in Florida last week. I came upon Philip K. Dick's "The Gun" and it wound up, for me at least, bearing more relevance to Colten Boushie's murder, another gun tragedy that hits a lot closer to home.

The plot of "The Gun," in a nutshell, is that a group of space travelers are shot down on a planet that they believed to be dead. It turns out that the "gun" was set up to guard a treasure even if/when their people had all been eliminated.

"Don't you see? This was the only way they knew, building a gun and setting it up to shoot anything that came along. They were so certain that everything was hostile, the enemy, coming to take their possessions away from them. Well, they can keep them."

At this point, I found myself thinking of Gerald Stanley. It would seem then that Philip K. Dick would, like the majority of us, weigh in against Stanley and his obvious prejudice and mistrust.

However, the treasure turned out to be cultural artifacts. The space travelers are easily able to dismantle the gun and access said treasures.

"[...]their possessions, their music, books, their pictures, all of that will survive. We'll take them home and study them, and they'll change us. We won't be the same afterwards. Their sculpturing, especially. Did you see the one of the great winged creature, without a head or arms? Broken off, I suppose. But those wings— It looked very old. It will change us a great deal."

But now I'm seeing another side of things and considering cultural appropriation of indigenous peoples. Sure in this story the gun was wrong, but as we've seen with cultural appropriation, clearly the previous society on that planet were in their right to want to protect their ideas and collected knowledge. Dick, however, seems to suggest that such protection would be wrong and that they should eagerly want to give up their treasures to outsiders. But we're not talking farm equipment, we're talking a people's very identity!

In the end then I found the piece very provocative.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Reader's Diary #1737- Paul Gravett: Mangasia

I've been into comics for some years now but I still consider myself a student. One area I still don't feel particularly knowledgeable about is manga, even less so with other Asian comics. Outside of Japan comics, I've read exactly one manhwa (Korean comic) and a handful of middle Eastern comics. I'd hoped that Paul Gravett's Mangasia: The Definitive Guide to Asian Comics would lay a solid foundation.

While Gravett didn't touch upon Russian comics or anything west of Pakistan, it was nonetheless very enlightening. While I'd come to easily recognize the typical style of Japanese manga, for instance, seeing styles from across Asia was interesting. Just as Japanese manga has had a huge influence in North America, however, it's also had a profound impact across Asia and their style has largely been adopted. I also found it fascinating to compare to North America in terms of themes; in Asia there seems to be more examples of historical themes, overt propaganda, folk stories and religion. While we certainly have examples of those in North America (I've found, for instance, that North American indigenous comics tend to have more folklore and historical themes), there is more of an emphasis in our part of the world on superhero stories and for older readers, travelogues and memoirs. Again, you'll find superheroes, travelogues and other memoirs in manga as well, but the balance is different.

Some of the similarities are also compelling. Both regions, for example, have dealt with censorship and with misconceptions about comics being just for kids.

A more subtle discovery for me was the independence of their comics scene. A lot of what I've read prior has suggested, or outright declared, that manga was highly influenced by American comics. Gravett doesn't for one second pretend that American comics didn't have on impact on manga, indeed giving some illustrative examples, but I began to better understand that Asia has fostered its own manga art-forms, dependent more on local histories, cultures, and relationships with Asian neighbours than on America.

Finally, for my student role, I found the book incredibly helpful. First off, I felt much better about the amount of manga that I've read so far, finding many more titles that I recognized than I'd expected. Secondly, the list of influential titles that I didn't recognize has led to an expanded tbr list, which is never a bad thing! A solid foundation, for sure.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Reader's Diary #1736- Kris Bertin and Alexander Forbes: The Case of the Missing Men

I'm a sucker for Canadian comics, for parodies, and for artwork with hatching/cross-hatching. With Kris Bertin and Alexander Forbes' first "Hobtown Mystery" set in Nova Scotia, a cover clearly parodying old Nancy Drew books, and pages with scratchy shading that looks like it took forever, I thought The Case of the Missing Men would have won me over much more successfully than it did.

The Canadian setting is fine, I suppose, though it doesn't feel quite real. And, as I'm from the East Coast myself, I expected to recognize it at least a little. But that "not quite real" feeling was pervasive and problematic throughout the entire book. The synopsis on the back of the book refers to the story as "Nancy Drew meets David Lynch." I'm embarrassed to say that I've not actually seen any David Lynch films. I do know that he has a reputation for being weird, and based on that, I'd say the comparison seems apt. Also based on that, I'm guessing I'd not be a fan. It felt more to me like a dark version of Wes Anderson and I've always felt that Wes Anderson must not have had a normal conversation ever in his life. Some quirky characters and shenanigans fine, but nothing about this felt plausible. No one reacted believably. The whole thing was odd. It certainly didn't help that the plot was a convoluted mess that never really got resolved.

This was even felt in the art. Again, I don't want to be too critical as it looks like it took a long time, but expressions and especially movement looked stiff and strange. Joints bent too much or not enough, eyes not focused properly, and so on.

Perhaps it did work as a parody. On this front I cannot weigh in too heavily as it's been years since I've read Nancy Drew (or Hardy Boys or Bobbsey Twins). I doubt, however, that they were ever this weird-but-not-in-a-good-way.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Reader's Diary #1735- Brian Jones (writer), Brent Anderson (artist): Ka-zar Savage Dawn

I'd say that Ka-Zar was Marvel's answer to Tarzan and Conan the Barbarian, but I'm not sure they needed an answer, having owned both of those properties at some point (Conan again as of recently), and I don't guess the world was clamouring for yet another loin-clothed, muscled-bound white male hero, but nonetheless I'm a student of Marvel and so, I had to finally get my hands on a collection. This one is from the early 80s written by Brian Jones and Brent Anderson.

A few positive observations if one was to compare to Tarzan and Conan, downplayed is the racism and hyper-violence of those other characters. (Downplayed, not entirely void.) While he makes a lot of meat-head wisecracks, Ka-Zar is, at the very least, a romantic. That said, the romance isn't exactly handled greatly either. He falls in love seemingly at the drop of a hat. Worse, he falls for two women who seem content to let him choose (a la Betty and Veronica). On that note, one of his main interests is Shanna, who, despite her scantily clad presentation, is shown at first with a bit more individuality, self-respect, and strength than I was expecting of Marvel from that time. Alas, that didn't last and before long she was reduced to a lovestruck damsel in distress persona.

A final thought/question regards the fictional Savage Land in which this story is set. There's little indication in this volume of when and where it is, though there are references to tall New York buildings, so it's clearly meant to be modern times and on Earth. A Google search reveals that Savage Land is supposed to be underneath Antarctica (complete with tropical vegetation, breathable air, fictional creatures and dinosaurs, and even a sky). I'd say I don't know how well this would hold up to modern readers, but hey, most are willing to accept Wakanda and even Themyscira, so I guess some people can suspend their beliefs. Personally, I'd like a bit more "acceptable" explanation in this time of smart phones, satellites, etc. Maybe there's a portal underneath Antarctica that transports visitors to an Earth-like planet or alternate universe? Yeah, let's go with that.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Reader's Diary #1734- Melanie Gillman: As the Crow Flies

Melanie Gillman's As the Crow Flies is a quietly powerful coming of age story about a 13 year old, queer, black girl, who is questioning her relationships to others and to God while on a Christian girl's wilderness retreat. She's also feeling out of place that she's the only person of colour there (or at least so she thinks at the beginning).

I say "quietly" powerful as the predominant arc is perhaps a tad predictable. If you were expecting a story about a young teenager reluctant to accept her situation come around after a combination of natural discovery, and inter and intrapersonal connections, you'd be exactly right. However, it's so much more than that and challenging in all the right ways. Gillman infuses some pretty necessary lessons about perspectives that are too often minimized if acknowledged at all. Those "casual" word choices, for example, that reinforce dominance for those already in power.

Pretty heady stuff, to be sure, and it doesn't stop there. The complexities of feminism are also explored (white feminism vs. p.o.c. feminism; acceptance of trans-gendered women), sexism in religion, colonization, and so much more. What makes it all so wonderful is that Gillman somehow makes it all seem so authentic rather than didactic. These are still kids (complete with crushes and social cliques and so on) but Gillman doesn't downplay or insult their intelligence. 13 year olds can still have some pretty profound thoughts and make some pretty astute observations.

The art, too, is incredibly well done. Coloured pencils complement the quiet, organic vibe; the panel depictions set the pace and perspective perfectly; and realistic bodies abound (I especially like the subtle way they added a few extra eyebrow hairs between camp counselor Penny's eyes).

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Reader's Diary #1733- Herbert T. Schwarz: Tuktoyaktuk 2-3

To conclude his introduction to Tuktoyaktuk 2-3, his collection of poetry, Herbert T. Schwarz writes

And from the people of the Arctic, the Innuit, whose spiritual values and unique life-style have been hammered out by thousands of years of incessant struggle to survive, there is a world's wisdom to learn. So forget for a while the teeming city around you. Relax and unwind and come with me to the far North to meet the Eskimo.

I never did shake my reservations with that concluding paragraph; the rest of the book either confirmed my fears or else my perspective was tainted too much from the get-go. We have hints of the noble savage trope, the generalizations, the idea that the Inuit wouldn't be reading this in the first place, the subtle bragging of the author's own hardiness and insertion of himself as a guide to another culture, the pretentiousness. Yeah, that wound up to be pretty accurate. The only thing missing was some clue that, despite all the supposed intellectualism, he also didn't know the difference between it's and its.

In the rare moments when Schwarz focused more on recalling his own observations from his time in Tuk rather than on trying to impress, the anecdotes were interesting; occasionally funny with some good imagery, but overall I found reading it to be a bit of a chore.

And lest I seem too preachy or smug, I've probably been guilty myself of some of these very same things from time to time, so I did, at the very least appreciate the chance to self-reflect and promise to do better.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Reader's Diary #1732- Kohei Horikoshi: My Hero Academia

I've been enjoying a few tweaks on Marvel's X-Men scenario lately; In Black Kwanza Osajyefo gave mutant-like abilities only to black people, while in Kohei Horikoshi's My Hero Academia the script is flipped by assigning mutant-like abilities to the majority of the population, rather than just a select few. It's fascinating to see such re-interpretations and how the writers imagine their ramifications.

I was disappointed, however, to find that Horikoshi seems to abandon the idea too early into the manga series. The story revolves around a young teenage boy named Izuku Midoriya, one of the 20% of the population born without super abilities. This is almost a catastrophe for Izuku as he wants nothing more than to get accepted into an elite superhero training school and become a superhero. His journey of overcoming such obstacles should make for an exciting tale of ingenuity and perseverance. However, when "real-life" superhero All-Might notices Izuku's bravery and determination, All-Might reveals that one of his superpowers is to pass his powers to someone else and as Izuku proves himself worthy, All-Might gifts him with these powers. There's still a chance that All-Might is just playing Izuku in order to give him drive and self-confidence, but it's looking more and more that Horikoshi has simply gone a different, easier route. I'll have to read further volumes to find out for sure.

Which wouldn't be the end of the world; the story is fast-paced, entertaining, and sometimes funny. The art is typical manga-style.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Reader's Diary #1731- Anonda Canadien: Damage

It's kind of shocking that Anonda Canadien was only 14 when she wrote "Damage." It has the quality of writing you'd expect from someone who's been doing this for years (from the opening hook sentence, to the strong imagery, to the varied sentence lengths for effect). She'll definitely be a writer to watch.

It's also shocking that this story of residential school feels so real coming from someone who, thankfully, has not lived it personally. That said, it's less shocking and more sad when you read her author's statement and understand that it comes across as so authentic because she's still feeling the effects and for some, those she spoke to for this story, the memories are still very much vivid. She's still proud, however, that her people are strong and rose above and will continue to rise above the terrible legacy of residential schools, even while they can never forget.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Reader's Diary #1730- Nicole Perlman (writer), Marco Checchetto (artist): Gamora Memento Mori

I suspect there are many out there like me who first encountered Gamora in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Long time comic readers, however, know that she's been around for quite a while (1975) and was not lumped into the Guardians group for the longest time. There are, nonetheless, a few consistent parts to her character bio: she's a green alien, for instance, and she was raised as a deadly assassin by the villain Thanos.

Besides being green, however, her appearance has changed greatly over the years and in Nicole Perlman and Marco Checchetto's Memento Mori she's drawn far more respectfully and suited to actual combat than many of the over-sexualized versions of the past. Actually, she and most of the characters in this book owe more to their screen versions than past comic book appearances.

Memento Mori backtracks a bit in Gamora's story to the beginning of her journey as a hero rather than a villain, when she begins to realize that vengeance and hatred can be self-destructive and doesn't offer the closure we often think it will.

For the most part the story works and is entertaining, though it's a bit dialogue heavy. I support the idea of problems being solved with words rather than fighting, but in this book the talking often takes place while fighting (which is just weird) and Gamora's change of heart seems too rushed to be plausible.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Reader's Diary #1729- Rupi Kaur: Milk and Honey

I first heard of Rupi Kaur when Milk and Honey started making bestseller lists. As she and her poetry began to get famous, however, more and more critics came out of the wood work. And finally a third wave of attention came with a backlash against said critics for being anti-populist. This is a lot of attention for poetry and I just had to see what all the fuss was about.

I'm not anti-populist for the record. I can enjoy a pop song as much as some obscure indie world music. I also, however, don't subscribe to the argument that if something appeals to a multitude of people it must be good. And good is largely subjective anyway. Hell, even the definition of poetry is subjective.

As for me, I wasn't blown away. Some of the poems were decent with strong imagery, some compelling narrative, topical themes, solid rhythm, and interesting artistic flourishes in terms of line breaks, punctuation, and so on. Too often though they did not meet my personal definition of poetry feeling more like platitudes.

Of course, it clearly resonated with a lot of others and there are certainly worse diversions out there.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Reader's Diary #1728- Dan Slott (writer), Michael Allred (artist): Silver Surfer New Dawn 1

Last year I heard a lot about how emotional Dan Slott's latest Silver Surfer arc had been making fans and I was intrigued to say the least. However, I then discovered that he first started his run with the character back in 2014 and, not one who likes to jump in at the middle if I can help it, decided to start there.

I wouldn't say this first arc was overly emotional unless you count amusement, and really, why not? I'm still learning my way around the Silver Surfer character but from what I can tell his stories are meant to embrace campy, psychedelic 60s sci-fi. At least this is what Slott and Allred bring to the table and bring it marvelously.

A silver humanoid character that rides throughout space on a surfboard is, of course, a ridiculous idea. If that isn't acknowledged and embraced upfront the whole thing falls apart. In the New Dawn trade, it is certainly acknowledged and embraced. Characters questions are typically met with "because cosmic power"  or in other words, it's a Marvel comic, just go with it. That's when questions are asked at all. At one point Silver Surfer looks at a bunch of humans who aren't asking more questions and says, really, you're just going to accept this? They respond by stating that their whole world is dominated by bizarre and confusing superheroes and they've largely just come to accept things the way they are. Fair point.

Further playing with the ludicrous nature, Silver Surfer is most often a serious character, making him either the essential straight-man to bounce one-liners off, or else making his occasional joke even more amusing.

(This all said, I do hope to find it explained in some Marvel comic why there are so many humanoid aliens and why so many communicate in English.)

The art perfectly complements the tone with 60s homages (including pseudo-Ben Day dots) and bright colours by Laura Allred. 

Finally, it's a wonderful arc introducing and well-developing the Dawn character and planting the seeds for a most interesting relationship with Silver Surfer. If this particular volume wasn't necessarily big on the feels, I can definitely see them coming.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Reader's Diary #1727- Ethel Wilson: Swamp Angel

Ethel Wilson's Swamp Angel was an unexpectedly great treat. I knew it had legendary CanLit status, but, well, it had legendary CanLit status. I expected it to be boring and dated, to be honest.

As for it being boring, I cannot say that some readers wouldn't still argue that opinion. It does come across at some points like it's setting up for a scene that will tie everything and everyone together, but it never really does. Towards the end, and noting how few pages left, I started to suspect this might be the case and I recalled an experiment by Milton Berle in which he set a joke up but swapped out the punchline for another unrelated, nonsensical and non-funny punchline. Due to the warm-up and Berle's rhythm the audience laughed anyway!

Perhaps I'm a bit like that audience as I enjoyed the novel anyway, but I do recognize that the plot leaves a lot of loose ends and questions.

I think what I enjoyed most was Wilson's great character studies. Most characters, including the protagonist Maggie Lloyd, begin as almost cardboard characters but then, as the book progresses, Wilson strips them down to essentials and builds them up again with complexities. She also uses pacing to complement the story, particularly with chapter lengths; some as short as single paragraphs, to show more rapid passing of time. And, some of her sentences are just stunners. I particularly liked a comment by Mrs. Severance, "Everything happens again and it's never the same."

Swamp Angel is rich in symbolism but openly has characters discuss objects as symbols. There's something simultaneously pragmatic and artistic about this approach that quite won me over.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Reader's Diary #1726- Dennis Hopeless (writer), Victor Ibanez (artist): Jean Grey Nightmare Fuel 1

It was only through the recent Marvel Generations collection that I even heard Marvel had been doing a new story line with a teenage version of Jean Grey, the supremely powerful, often dangerous X-Man.I was intrigued enough to pick up the first arc even though I've always been somewhat lukewarm on the character.

I did learn a few things that I hadn't before; though I've read some past issues involving Jean Grey as the Dark Phoenix (i.e., when she turns bad), but I don't recall anything about a connection to a cosmic bird god that is behind all the destruction. In this new book a teenage Jean Grey from another time line (I think; who can keep up with the X-Men's time traveling adventures?), who knows what happened to the other adult Jean Grey and is horrified to learn that the Phoenix (the cosmic bird god) is now stalking her as well. She needs to stop this and stop it now.

Still, the verdict is out whether or not I will grow to appreciate the character more. She's certainly strong, intelligent, and determined, but I don't think she's yet risen above the far-fetched plot for me. This is not entirely a criticism as I'm interested enough that I wouldn't rule out reading future volumes, but I think I'll still want a bit more character development before I'm won over.

The art is fine and coloured well but nothing groundbreaking.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Reader's Diary #1725- Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden: How to Read Nancy

For many (self-included), Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is the quintessential book on... well, understanding comics. Perhaps because of that I found myself, perhaps unfairly, comparing Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden's How to Read Nancy to McCloud's book. They are very, very different beasts and whereas I think McCloud's book would be more beneficial to those interested in creating comics, as the title in Karasik and Newgarden's book states, theirs is solely meant for readers. Of course, even then there is some overlap with McCloud's themes but the approach is remarkably different.

Whereas McCloud draws on examples from an enormous variety of comics, Karasik and Newgarden focus entirely on a single Ernie Bushmiller comic strip. You might think from the title it would mean all Nancy comics, but no, it's very specific to one somewhat random (but still representative) strip.

Curiously I didn't find this approach tedious. It reminded me of some of my better English teachers and the way they could analyze the heck of a poem, word by word, line by line, even dissecting the punctuation, and so forth, not only keeping the initial appeal of the poem but miraculously making it even more interesting. Though, like I felt in those classes, sometimes I was skeptical that the poets intended all that. To their credit, at one point these authors concede that "it is doubtful that Bushmiller spent more than a moment or two consciously [applying a particular technique]" adding that at this particular point in his career, he was "likely on automatic pilot". I suspect a lot of artist get to this point and/or get lucky that certain appealing features find their way in, but knowing the right things to at least consider is a step in the right direction for both creator and consumer alike.

One of the best things about Nancy to illustrate certain techniques is the supposed simplicity allowing the strip to be edited to show each element or approach no matter how minuscule.

Apparently this book is an elaboration of an essay originally written in 1988 and while I'd say the additional information and discussion are largely successful, the build-up to the actual analyses is too long. An Authors' Note, Foreword, Introduction and Preamble? Whereas I'd defend the tedious approach to their analyses, the filler at the beginning of the book was just overkill and took a lot of patience to get through.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Reader's Diary #1724- Rufino Blanco-Fombola: Créole Democracy

Not surprisingly with a title like "Créole Democracy", this tale by Rufino Blanco-Fombola is highly political in nature.

I believe there's something lost in translation as the story seems to keep a sterile distance and ends a bit abruptly, but it still manages to provoke some serious thoughts about fear and its impact on democracy, the dangers of highly polarized societies and so forth. More interesting in 2018 I think is that, set in Venezuela, if you asked many Canadians a couple of years back if such an extreme scenario was possible here, we'd probably say, "yes, but unlikely." Now with what's going on with our nearest southern neighbour, I'm thinking we'd be much more scared.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Reader's Diary #1723- Kwanza Osajyefo (writer), Tim Smith 3 (artist): Black

First off, the concept behind Kwanza Osajyefo's Black is insane and brilliant: only black people have superpowers and this has been covered up for years.

Black owes a great deal to Marvel's X-Men and Inhumans franchises in that many of the superpowers are the same (including a variety of superpowers versus any one particular skill) and some of the more social conscious story lines are similar (basically, whereas humans are afraid of the mutants/inhumans, in Black white people are afraid). But where Black gets its political edge is that black people are already feared, hated, persecuted, and exploited by white society; with a superhero element added in? That raises the stakes a lot and proves to be a goldmine for themes and storytelling.

Especially interesting is the division and variety among the black people in the book, raising questions in real life about appropriate resistance in particular. Actually, diversity in the book is handled amazingly well. There are various body types, transgendered folks, albino folks, men, women, bi-racial people, and more and yet it feels, as it should, natural.

More than just an issue book, it's a damned fine story to boot with action and intrigue galore.

Smith 3's art is fine, a bit generic and would have been better coloured, but Khary Randolph's covers are amazing.