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Monday, May 21, 2018

Reader's Diary #1830- JoAnn Chateau: Bernie Goes to the Vatican


(This is a pre-written post scheduled to appear while I am vacationing in Italy, Vatican City, San Marino, and Monaco.)

JoAnn Chateau's "Bernie Goes to the Vatican" is a lighthearted story about a Bernie Sanders fan / dog-sitter. The connection to Bernie's Vatican speech, loss of the New York Primary, and walking an overly-enthusiastic dog is a tenuous but I think it's about finding solace through animals. In any case, it's an amusing tale and Chateau writes slapstick well.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1829- Libby Whittall Catling: The Mundane and The Holy

The Mundane and The Holy is nearly a perfect title for this collection of essays from newspaper columnist Libby Whittall Catling.

Dealing with her new life living in the bush in Reliance, Northwest Territories, the episodes are often practical (dealing with farming, hunting, cooking, and so on) but also with a philosophical bent. Holy typically conjures up ideas of Christianity but Catling's outlook is more land-based spirituality.

I wasn't surprised to see at one point she referenced Henry David Thoreau as I found myself prior to that drawing such comparisons anyway. And, to be honest, my comparisons were more in favour of Catling. I thought her style was far more accessible and humble while no less profound or useful. The only comparison to work out in Thoreau's favour was that there were too many typos in Catling's book.

I had to put myself in check a couple of times while reading it. For the most part, Catling's essays are uplifting. She seems to have found a real peace and contentment living far removed from society. She didn't downplay the dangers or the hard work, but nonetheless I found myself romanticizing it. Then I reminded myself that 1. I'm already content and 2. Libby moved there with a man who'd lived that lifestyle for 40 years and knows what he's doing whereas my wife and I would surely die within a couple of months tops.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1828- Richard Van Camp: When We Play Our Drums, They Sing / Monique Gray Smith: Lucy and Lola

Presented as flip book of novellas, Richard Van Camp's When We Play Our Drums, They Sing and Monique Gray Smith's Lucy and Lola are both part of a "Journey Fourward: Novellas on Reconciliation" series.

In Richard's book, a preteen boy name Dene Cho has gotten at trouble at school and has been assigned to meet a local elder to learn about his Dene culture. This is somewhat up his alley however as he is very proud of his culture and in fact, it was a cultural misunderstanding that led to his trouble in the first place. He is quite angry about such trouble, especially given the way his people have been treated by schools in the past. He is also very concerned that things have not gotten any better. There's a sense that this has come at the right time in his life. While his anger is undeniably justified, where he goes next, how he uses this anger, could set the tone for the rest of his life. Thankfully the elder he befriends is patient and with the aid of stories and drumming, sets Dene Cho on a path of teaching and leadership.

I questioned if Dene Cho's character was just precocious or whether or not Van Camp's depiction was too heavy-handed. I also question if I'm in any position to judge how much subtlety another culture's messages need. In any case, I found the character of the school principal more personally provocatively. He's white and has a lot to learn about the local culture. On the other hand, he's been there for 27 years, which shows at least some dedication, and his assignment for Dene Cho (complete with an invitation to invite Elders into the school to help teach the staff and students) suggests it's not too late for him.

Monique Gray Smith's Lucy and Lola involves a set of preteen twins who are staying with their Kookum (grandmother) over the summer while their mother is off at school studying to pass her bar exam. They are upset at first to be away from their mom for so long, but thankfully their grandmother is a patient teacher and lets them know they are loved. They also meet up with their mother again for a brief but emotional reunion. It is then that the three generations discuss residential school ramifications and moving forward. Smith balances the heavy (but important) messages with a sweet and often funny subplot involving a pug.


Friday, May 18, 2018

Reader's Diary #1827- Mark Waid (writer), Alex Ross (artist): Kingdom Come

I recently read Kurt Busiek's Marvels and was blown away by Alex Ross's artwork so went seeking more, landing on Mark Waid's Kingdom Come originally written in 1996.

I wasn't as blown away this time. Ross's talent is still remarkable here; his lighting is unbelievable and his style with gouache paint lends a seriousness and respectability to a story with literary intentions.

But I'm less convinced about those literary intentions. I feel that Mark Waid circled around heavy, important themes but never quite landed on them. Or they were lost in a muddled story. It involves a aged and retired Justice League in a world that has now been overrun with new heroes with questionable values and methods. While taking on the newcomers, it's implied that the original characters were somehow responsible for this new state of affairs in the first place.

I feel like it could be a parable for the power passing from one generation to the next but I'd have to read it again to see if that works.

Because of the plethora of characters and busy plot, it was harder for me to attend to Ross's art.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Reader's Diary #1826- Iasmin Omar Ata: Mis(h)adra

I don't mean to suggest that they are the same simply due to the fact that they're both about people with epilepsy, but while reading Iasmin Omar Ata's Mis(h)adra I found myself recalling David B.'s Epileptic. But don't worry, the comparisons are all favourable. Both have beautifully creative ways of expressing what it feels like to have a seizure and largely colour is used in this expression. In Epileptic, it's with thick black inks, and in Mis(h)adra the yellow and pinks of healthy day to day life is contrasted with shocking blacks and reds (as well as "shaken" lines and shifting angles) during seizures.

Still, the experiences of the central characters are quite different. In Epileptic, a family grasps at any potential cure they can find, while in Mis(h)adra, Isaac struggles just to get someone to even believe him. 

Besides the fascinating look at a condition I've not actually seen in person (to my knowledge), I also enjoyed the softer, slower story about finding and accepting supportive people despite at times when it feels like no one will ever understand or care.

A final note on the characters; they reminded me stylistically of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim art. No surprise, I suppose, to see that he provided a glowing blurb for the cover!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Reader's Diary #1825- Bill Braden: Aurora Up!

Bill Braden's Aurora Up! is essentially two books in one and while I personally found the first more interesting, this is not necessarily how others would feel.

I've been told a little about the history behind Northern Lights tourism in Yellowknife. The story goes that it wasn't that long ago that the first potential tour operator presented his case to local business groups and wasn't taken all that seriously. People traveling all the way to Yellowknife to see northern lights? Niche market at best. But even in the short span that I've lived here (going on one decade), I've noticed an astronomical climb in this kind of tourism. There are many operators around town and it's not uncommon to fly back home to Yellowknife and be one of a handful of locals surrounded by tourists.


The first half is mostly about northern lights in general. Braden gets into the various cultural interpretations as well as the science behind them. He even discusses photography tips. Yellowknife is particularly well situated to view the northern lights and Braden explains why.

The second half revolves around the City itself; the culture, the climate, the history, and industry. Again, tourists and other outsiders would likely find this half more compelling. For locals there's unlikely to be any new info here as it's rather surface level, and also, as it's meant more as a marketing tool, it paints a really rosy picture. I love Yellowknife (else I wouldn't be here), but like any other place, it's not perfect.

Still, as a souvenir, or as a tool to entice loved ones to visit, it's well put together, complete with Braden's gorgeous photos.

Reader's Diary #1825- Paul Jenkins (writer), Jae Lee (artist): The Sentry

Marvel's The Sentry has only caught my periphery before and even then, not often. I mistakenly thought the character had been popular back in the day but faded out of popularity over time. Interestingly, this made the reading of Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee's The Sentry trade paperback even better.

The story involves a character named Bob Reynolds, an every man (slightly overweight, bit of a drinker) who just happens to have been a superhero named The Sentry. Unfortunately, no one remembers him. For some reason he's been wiped from everyone's memories and any physical evidence of his heroic exploits have mysteriously gone missing. However, his nemesis "The Void" is returning and in order for The Sentry to save the universe, he will need his past superhero friends to believe and remember him.

I thought this was all clever enough seeing as The Sentry is not a particularly well-known superhero today and that it was rather tongue-in-cheek to make us think he's been erased from our, the readers', memories as well. Interspersed throughout this story are scenes from old classic Sentry comics...

Except! It's even more clever than that because this was in fact The Sentry's first appearance and those "old" Sentry comics were fakes. Jenkins and Lee just shoehorned him into history! And, thanks to Lee's masterful illustrations, it's entirely believable.

I've see this done before (Archie Comics did a similar thing with Kevin Keller), but not as well.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Reader's Diary #1824- Amir (writer), Khalil (artist): Zahra's Paradise

It shocks me sometimes how brave some writers are. Amir is Iranian and make no bones about it, Zahra's Paradise takes a scathing and explosive look at the current regime. Granted, from my understanding Amir is currently living in Canada, but still, what if he ever goes back? That said, if all of the accusations in this graphic novel are accurate, it definitely needed to be said.

To be sure, the book is a work of fiction. The plot revolves around a mother and son trying to locate the whereabouts of their son/brother who disappeared after a protest. But, it presents the so called leaders as corrupt, inept, and even murderous. It also presents the general Iranian populace as being far more modern and progressive than I think most of us in the Western hemisphere would have assumed. I found that part fascinating. Likewise, how life there can seem so much like my own for one brief moment and then there's a scene of bodies hung from a crane.

Khalil's accompanying art had me struggling at times though. It's good, don't get me wrong, but it reminded me stylistically of Dave Berg's "The Lighter Side of" strip from MAD Magazine. That, combined with the flowing, loopy font gave a really satirical tone. But when I think of satire, I think of humour as well as political messages. There may have been moments of humour, but I'm not sure it was enough to warrant the style. When things were particularly gruesome or nasty, I felt the art worked against it.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Reader's Diary #1823- René Novella: Pythonesses

(This is a pre-written post scheduled to appear while I am vacationing in Italy, the Vatican, San Marino, and Monaco.)

Though the website on which René Novella's "Pythonesses" refers to it as a short story, I'm not sure in hindsight that it fits my own definition of that form. For one, it appears to be nonfiction and, while passing no judgement, I think short stories are fictional. Secondly, it's so brief and so unresolved, it would barely even meet flash fiction criteria.

Whatever it is, I nonetheless enjoyed this reminiscent tale about how two very different woman described the narrator in very different terms as a child, one positive, one negative. The voice is strong and you can tell with his subtle self-deprecation that he's chosen to believe the negative.

Why? I wish I knew.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Reader's Diary #1822- Ed Piskor: X-Men Grand Design 1

I'm a huge fan of Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree series and I also loved the idea behind X-Men Grand Design: to summarize 50+ years of X-Men comics into a coherent story. I still consider myself a student of comics, especially Marvel, and the X-Men franchise has been difficult at times for me to wrap my head around.

I'm not entirely sure yet though that I'm on board with the results. This 1st collector's edition sees only the first 2 of a planned 6 volume set and so my final verdict may have to come after it's all said and done. I see a lot of seeds being planted (especially for the popular Dark Phoenix and Apocalypse story lines), but whether or not it'll all come together, I'm not so sure anymore. Plus, X-Men history tends to get even more confusing once they started to add time travel and that hasn't entered into the equation yet.

I am following along for the most part, but at times it does feel disjointed; to the point where I went back more than once to see if I'd accidentally skipped a page.

That all said, I'm enjoying seeing the X-Men in their early days. I had no idea that Beast, for example wasn't always blue and wasn't always a genius. Nor did I know that Juggernaut was supposed to be Professor X's brother. So, clearly, my academic interest is at least being met.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Reader's Diary #1821- Various writers and artists: Archie Crossover Collection

It would seem that the good folks at Archie Comics have a very different definition of crossover than I. All of the stories in this collection are really cameos from real life characters (namely the Ramones, Lady Gaga, Michael Strahan, George Takei, and Mark Zuckerberg). Missing are some of the actual crossovers that they've done throughout the years: Archie Meets the Punisher and Archie vs. Predator, for example.

And, unfortunately, none of these stories are great. I found the intros to the celebrities to be awkward plugs and most often the Archie gang seemed overly squeaky clean (yes, even by Archie standards). There was a notable lack of rivalry between Veronica and Betty and Reggie, who's usually portrayed straddling the villain line, winds up with bizarrely evil grins despite saying nice things.

In recent years Archie Comics have done a lot of wildly interesting and creative things. This however is more similar to the classic Double Digest kind of material. So, it's mildly entertaining but utterly disposable.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Reader's Diary #1820- Raymond Yakeleya (writer), Deborah Desmarais (illustrator): The Tree by the Woodpile

In Raymond Yakeleya's author bio at the back of The Tree by the Woodpile and other Dene Spirit of Nature Tales he writes of Elders passing away and how important it is to keep telling Dene stories. It is in this vein that I admired and enjoyed the three tales in this simply written (aimed at juvenile readers) collection.

With the exception of the 2nd tale (which involves a hunter regretting the killing of a wolf), the stories are not high action but pass on a wealth of invaluable information. I was especially interested in reading about the land around Tulita, Northwest Territories and the perspectives on religion and faith.

I do wish the publishers had had a larger budget however, as it would have been nice to have more art. The illustrations by Deborah Desmarais were really nice but more of them could have helped break up particularly long passages of text. As well, a copy editor may have helped catch a lot of the typos and grammatical issues.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Reader's Diary #1819- Grant Morrison (writer), Jae Lee (artist): Fantastic Four 1234

Fantastic Four: 1234 is my 3rd time reading a book by Grant Morrison, the previous books being All-Star Superman and Multiversity. Unfortunately, I'd say Fantastic Four: 1234 had none of the positives of the former and all of the problems of the latter.

After watching Hollywood botch Superman in recent years with out of place grittiness, it was great to see Morrison find a way to lighten up the character, remain true to the roots, without being campy. But the Fantastic Four have also been botched with grittiness and this time I think Morrison has been as guilty as Hollywood.

And, as I complained with Multiversity, it's one thing to be creative, it's quite another to be confusing and while 1234 isn't as "out there" as Multiversity, I think some editing would have helped remedy some of the more confusing aspects.

Jae Lee's art was great though. It's gritty, which as I've stated above is an issue, but he can hardly be blamed for complementing the writer's depressing story.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Reader's Diary #1818- Martin Powell (writer), various artist: Jungle Tales of Tarzan

There's a curious foreword to Jungle Tales of Tarzan, a collection a comics based upon Edgar Rice Burroughs' short story collection of the same name and adapted here by Martin Powell with various illustrators. In this foreword, Robin Maxwell writes that despite the world recognition of the literary character, the countless adaptations and re-tellings and loosely based sequels have all "profoundly warped the original intent of Edgar Rice Burroughs." Just how, she does not say.

Never being overly interested in the character myself, the most recent Tarzan critiques I  heard were of the 2016 live action movie The Legend of Tarzan. I didn't see it, didn't really want to, but I did hear more than a few people call out the film for racist undertones. I thought (hoped?) that this is the warping of which Maxwell referred. Could it be that Burroughs' original creation did not have a racist subtext?

Well, these comics do. He's still "king of the jungle," feared by, and superior to, the black folks who live nearby. Sigh.

Maxwell goes onto write, "we think we know all there is to know about Tarzan and his beloved Jane, but unless we have read the original books, we know next to nothing."

Forgive me if this collection doesn't sell me on seeking those out.

(And lions don't live in the frigging jungle.)

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Reader's Diary #1817- Christopher Dominic Peloso: Tiny Ghosts Suicide is the Highest Form of Art

In the forward to Tiny Ghosts: Suicide is the Highest Form of Art, Christopher Dominic Peloso writes that Tiny Ghosts is "not really a comic." Just three sentences later he writes, "the comics tend to skew toward the creepy and supernatural."

But I see where his classification issue arises. Though Tiny Ghosts fits many accepted definitions of comics as art arranged sequentially in order to convey information, it is still rather unfamiliar to most people's schema of comics. For one, it's photos. For another, each story is just two photos long. And perhaps the biggest issue of all is the position of the text. We've become so used to speech balloons that when there aren't any, the comics seem strange. Even stranger when there is still text but it all falls beneath the photos, coming across more like a child's picture book than comics as we usually think of them.

The lack of clarity on the classification isn't the only interesting side to Peloso's project. While photocomics are rare, micro-fiction is nearly as uncommon, and this project started as a collection of two sentence stories that originally had no visual component. Photos were added after the fact in an effort to get more readers interested. Though more than just an after thought, he states that he tried to not just do a literal retelling. Sometimes the pictures, for example, presented an unexpected character or setting.

Of course, experiments and intentions are all good, but that doesn't necessarily mean it works. Fortunately, I'd say that overall I enjoyed the collection. As with any anthology of short stories, I had my favourites and ones I didn't particularly care for, but by and large, I found it to be a good mix of funny, thoughtful, somewhat dark tales.


Monday, May 07, 2018

Reader's Diary #1816- Erri De Luca: The Trench

(This is a pre-written post scheduled to appear while I am vacationing in Italy, the Vatican, San Marino, and Monaco.)

France and Italy, by outsider impressions, are romantic getaways (and not just in the "love" sense of the word). Though to the folks living and working there, especially in the blue-collared jobs (versus creative pursuits), that's got to be a bemusing notion at best.

In Erri De Luca's "The Trench" an Italian man is hired to dig a trench near Paris in search of a sewer pipe. He's somewhat worried that the trench will collapse. It doesn't get much more down to earth than this.

It's interesting because I don't trust myself as a reader here. I think there are hints at a more intriguing story, perhaps the main character has complexities, hidden motivations. Perhaps though it's just the idea of France and Italy that has skewed my expectations and it's really just some dude doing his damned job.


Sunday, May 06, 2018

Reader's Diary #1815- Mike W. Barr (writer), Diogenes Neves (art): Suicide Squad Most Wanted Katana

I first noticed Katana in the Suicide Squad movie a couple of years back. I didn't really get a sense of the character that time around and have been curious ever since.

With the Mike W. Barr and Diogenes Neves trade based on the character (which was also published in 2016), I have a marginally better understanding, but also some new questions.

In this story about Katana's attempts to stop a fascist death cult from taking over the fictional country of Markovia, she comes across as an overly serious type, to the point of cheesy. Whenever she's asked who she is, she responds, "my name is that of my blade-- Katana." Still, she also seems to have a defined and personal moral code. And scenes where she interacts with a cat reveal a softer, more human side. The book also provides some insight into the character's mythology; particularly highlighting the souls trapped in her sword.

But that defined and personal moral code? It's defined in a way that would mostly only make sense to her. She's one of DC's anti-heroes and that's the part I'm still not entirely clear about. Several times she introduces herself in the book as being a member of the Justice League. So why, how she winds up with the criminal Suicide Squad gang, I'm unsure. This is not really a criticism of Barr and Neves, however, as they didn't need to get into all of that. I'm just saying that for a layman trying to get to know the character, the book is only moderately helpful.

I'd also be interested in hearing from women and from Japanese people about their impression of the character.


Saturday, May 05, 2018

Reader's Diary #1814- Rebecca Hendry: One Good Thing

While I enjoyed Elizabeth Hay's Late Nights on Air, I was never comfortable weighing in on whether or not it painted a realistic picture of Yellowknife. Set in the late 60s, early 70s and therefore long before I came to town, hers wasn't a Yellowknife I recognized. Interestingly, while Rebecca Hendry's One Good Thing is only set a few years later, still much earlier than my time, I do think she captured the feel of the place; the geography and the people.

It is a rather slow story though and many times when I thought a plot was developing, it didn't amount to much. It's largely about a young girl who, new to the north, comes to love her new home but fears her time there will be short lived no thanks to her parents' rocky relationship and a mysterious altercation between her father and a family friend. The characters however are rich and developed and that, along with the descriptions of the town, kept me reading despite the slow pace.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Reader's Diary #1813- Ivy Noelle Weir (writer), Steenz (artist): Archival Quality

Archival Quality is wonderful graphic novel that combines a traditional ghost story with themes of friendship and mental illness. I'm skeptical, however, that it will find an audience.

Despite loving being a librarian, even I think that title is off-putting. The abundance of brown on the cover also looks a bit dull. Yes, there's a skull and a ghost, but is it enough? The images too are a bit on the juvenile side. I actually quite enjoyed Steenz's art throughout and it reminded me somewhat of  Faith Erin Hickes or Vera Brosgol. These are both stellar comparisons, of course, but they also write more for children or young adults. The way mental health and employment is dealt with in this book though? I think adults would appreciate it more.


Thursday, May 03, 2018

Reader's Diary #1812- Mariko Tamaki: She-Hulk 1 Deconstructed

I've been a fan of Mariko Tamaki before but had not known her to do superheroes, so I was excited to see her take on She-Hulk. I'd also consider myself a fan of that character but I've been disappointed in the past to see her passed off on Marvel's more comedic line. I like their comedic line, for what it's worth (Squirrel Girl, Howard the Duck) and so on, but there always seemed to be hints of more serious story lines involving the character, references to other comics that I somehow missed. On the back cover of this trade, I feared I was in for this again. "Jennifer Walters," we're told, "survived the second civil war... barely." Alas, I didn't read much about Marvel's Civil War event (because nobody did).

Fortunately, and not suprisingly given Tamaki's skills as a writer, she gives Jennifer Walters a.k.a. She-Hulk the balance she deserves. There's humour but there's also pain. She gives the character a sense of weariness and guarded-ness (likely based on the recent civil war events) but presents her as intelligent and empathetic. In other words, she's a fully developed complex superhero.

I enjoyed the art which started off, I thought, a bit simplistic. Backgrounds were often more basic  and it reminded me somewhat of comics from the 70s or 80s. However, they seemed to improve and increase in detail as the book progressed.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Reader's Diary #1811- Kurt Busiek (writers), Alex Ross (artist): Marvels

I just recently came across this article by Tom Baker at WhatCulture! called "10 Marvel Graphic Novels You Must Read Before You Die" and at number 1 he's placed Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross's Marvels.

Now having read it myself, I can't say that I'd argue. It is a remarkable book.

Marvels follows a photojournalist named Phil Sheldon whose been documenting a world filled with Marvels (superheroes) since the 30s to the present day (the 70s, in this case). Having seen others try this street view, adjacent to the action approach and it... not really succeeding, it's amazing how well Busiek pulled this off. It's never boring, not for a second; you get enough superhero action even if they're not the focus.

I really can stop thinking about what it all means. I think there's a strong case that the Marvels in this story are really no different to the everyday person, than our militaries and governments are to us in real life. At one moment they can seem heroic, at another demonic, and thus we keep see-sawing between fan-like adoration and hostile distrust. We never have the full story and what portions we get are controlled and though we know this, we still too often believe that reality is black and white.

And Busiek also makes this about comics. Comics give us these rich metaphors and the medium is as important as any other art that philosophizes on our existence.

Which brings me to Alex Ross. His art is stellar and the work he puts into these drawings and watercolours is evident and superior to most superhero art I've seen. It has a Norman Rockwell quality which is clearly intentional at times and fits the above themes brilliantly.

You do not need to be a long time Marvel Comics fan to enjoy this book by any stretch but if you are, you will certainly appreciate all the cameos and Easter eggs (including some non-Marvel references) immensely.


Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Reader's Diary #1810- Wei Dong Cheng (writer), Chao Peng (illustrator): Monkey King / Birth of the Stone Monkey

Monkey King: Birth of the Stone Monkey is the first of a 20 volume set of graphic novels based on the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en and adapted here by Wei Dong Cheng, illustrated by Chao Peng. This story revolves around a monkey named Sun Wukong.

I am told that in addition to incorporating ancient Chinese folk tales, there are elements of Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism as well. Not being much familiar with any of these philosophies/religions, I cannot say with any certainty that Cheng's adaptation represents them fairly or accurately. I can say that as an outsider, I still thought the book worked as as fantastical adventure tale, with Sun Wukong presented with superhero-like qualities and sometimes behaviours that I found similar to those of tricksters in many indigenous North American tales.

The art I thought similar to some unremarkable Japanese manga, though it was coloured nicely. Also, unlike most Japanese manga published for North American readers, this book goes in the more familiar left to right direction.