Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Reader's Diary #1879- Lisa Hanawalt: Hot Dog Taste Test

I think I was won over by Lisa Hanawalt's Hot Dog Taste Test.

At first I just wasn't getting it. It was clearly and intentionally quirky but I did what I always do when I'm faced with such a style and don't understand it: I blamed the writer. She was being self-indulgent. Weird for the sake of weird. Etc. As if the problem could not possibly have been me.

Hot Dog Taste Test is a collection of art, comics, observations and graphic memoir essays, many of which revolve around food.

And despite my earlier hang-ups I was enjoying it by the end. There's one image in particular that still makes me giggle just thinking about it: a cartoon showing what an intruder would actually see if they should walk in on Lisa Hanawalt in the bathroom contrasted with what Hanawalt imagines they would see.

Did the humour change becoming more accessible by the end? Possibly; it is an eclectic bag so maybe the more idiosyncratic stuff was balanced more heavily at the front end. Then, there's also just a chance that Hanawalt's unique outlook just started rubbing off.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Reader's Diary #1878- Safia Moore: Turning Point

Perhaps with shades of Stephen Spielberg's AI, Safia Moore's short story "Turning Point" nonetheless takes a less common approach to AI in science fiction with an intelligent robot who doesn't want to take over, but rather simply to exist. It is curious about love while acknowledging that what it could experience and could convincingly give to a family would be a reasonable facsimile of love at best. It has worked out that its survival depends upon finding a family that will give it a chance and this is its escape story.

It's engaging with some thoughtful looks at what it means to love, to be family, and so on, though the ending is one of those up in the air deals and I'm as of yet undecided if it works as a single piece or if it feels more like the first chapter in an unprovided book.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Reader's Diary #1877- Kazuki Ebine: Gandhi

Kazuki Ebine's manga biography of Gandhi wasn't the first biography of Gandhi that I've read and I can't really say that I learned anything new this time around. If anything, the last one offered up a more balanced picture, touching upon Gandhi's treatment of women.

This one at least has visuals to make the telling at least interesting and the artwork is good. The characters are suitably expressive and Ebine's approach to panels, breaking them to make subtle points and so on, had artistic merit.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Reader's Diary #1876- Scott Adams: I Can't Remember If We're Cheap or Smart

Scott Adams is one of those who like to whine that their career took a downturn when they started supporting Trump. (Easy solution to that, I would think.) Still, not having paid any attention to Dilbert comic strips over the years, I wondered if his earlier work was any good. I like Kanye's earlier music, after all.

So, no.

There are about four basic punchlines possible for every Dilbert strip:
1. Businesses are crippled by bureaucracy
2. Upper management is greedy
3. Upper management is corrupt
4. Upper management is inept

While none of these are original ideas, a truly funny person could still manage to state them in clever or amusing ways. At best, one or two Dilbert strips in this collection made me smirk.

And when these are the only 4 Adams makes, it's even more perplexing that he's a Trump supporter. At best you might give Trump credit for cutting down on bureaucracy, but the rest?

The art is overly simple. I get that as they were originally found in newspapers, the quality would have to be less than a graphic novel where the artist is afforded more time. Plus, simplicity isn't always dumb or lazy (read How to Read Nancy). But when many of these feature a 2nd panel (of three) where the box outline of an office building is shown with a speech balloon emanating from it, I think it's safe to say Adams' lack of an Eisner Award has nothing to do with Trump.

Why did Dilbert ever bring Adams success then? Perhaps there was a lack of office-based comic strips. Perhaps some of y'all find this crap funny. Who am I to judge?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Reader's Diary #1875- Sabrina Symington: First Year Out

Very early into Sabrina Symington's graphic novel First Year Out: A Transition Story I chastised myself for dwelling too much on the didactic nature of the book. First off, some topics need to be forthright and obvious; the level of ignorance in society practically demands it. Second, and most importantly, the story is about the transitioning of a transgender woman. My real issue with didactic stories is when they're not upfront about it. You know, those authors that pretend to be writing a ghost story or mystery or something and not-so-casually drop in other educational themes.

So, if First Year Out: A Transition Story is educational (and it is), it was intentionally so. Everything is explored here, from gender theory and feminism, family and society acceptance, mental health, the range of different experiences by transgendered folks, physical and scientific explanations, and so on. Some of these topics I was already familiar with, some I was not (I hadn't, for instance, ever heard of TERF politics). The book could be dialogue heavy at times, but necessarily so and still not at the expense of the central character Lily who was easy to want to see succeed, to find happiness.

The art work was not really my cup of tea, finding it amateurish-looking, but not so much that it took away from my enjoyment. Besides, its simple nature helped balance out some of the complex themes.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Reader's Diary #1874- Chief R. Stacey Laforme: Living in the Tall Grass

The poems in Chief R. Stacey Laforme's Living in the Tall Grass: Poems of Reconciliation are more traditional than the ones I've been reading lately but that didn't bother me in the least. The rhyming poems I wasn't always able to get to scan well for me, unable to grasp onto the intended rhythm, but I enjoyed the others.

I think what I appreciated the most was the range of emotions and perspectives in this collection. Many are upbeat and positive while others take dark turns. Some have humour, some have sadness. Some raise some very important and topical political opinions. Largely, as the subtitle would suggest, these deal with the mistreatment of indigenous people in Canada, especially exploring some of the ramifications of residential schooling, but the topics are not exclusive to this.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Reader's Diary #1873- Ivan Bunin: The Gentleman from San Francisco

The central theme of Ivan Bunin's short story "The Gentleman from San Francisco" seems to be that death is the great equalizer. Hard to argue with that or even to suggest that it's not worthy of a piece of literature.

Still, I found Bunin's getting there a bit tedious. A story of a wealthy man taking a cruise to Italy, it does have moments of brilliance (I especially enjoyed the contrast of the naive and ignorance rich folk playing about on deck against the hard working folks below and the peril they were all actually surviving), but otherwise I found it wordy and stuffy.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Reader's Diary #1872- Jeff Lemire (writer), Lewis Larosa and Mico Suayan (artists): Bloodshot Salvation The Book of Revenge Vol. 1

To state that no one writes dysfunctional families as well as Jeff Lemire is to not entirely capture what he does so well with said families. In Bloodshot Salvation: The Book of Revenge Vol. 1, and in loads of his other books, Lemire depicts a troubled family but one that at its core is strong. At least some family members love one another, they just tend to make bad mistakes, have to overcome extreme obstacles, and so forth. This is not the cynical look at dysfunction that most writers choose. Granted, there are some genuine villains.

Not having read any Bloodshot books before, I wasn't sure how accessible this would be. The nanite-enhanced ex-soldier has apparently been around since 1992. To be completely ignorant of such a long history, I was afraid I'd be confused. Again, Lemire also gets credit here. I got enough of the mythology and backstory to follow along easily and best of all, it was seamlessly worked in so that it didn't take away from an engaging and exciting  plot nor the complex characters.

Also great was the art by Lewis Larosa and Mico Suayan with colouring by Brian Reber.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1871- Rosemary Clewes: The Woman Who Went to the Moon

The subtitle of Rosemary Clewes' The Woman Who Went to the Moon is Poems of Igloolik which is what drew me to the book but is also what made me skeptical. Clewes is not from Nunavut and this collection of poetry is based upon a mere week-long visit. I've read far too many books by brief visitors to places (Newfoundland and Nunavut, especially) where suddenly the writers deem themselves experts, spouting off local cultural beliefs and customs (often incorrectly, often insensitively), offering solutions to local complex dilemmas, and all that jazz. My reservations were not in the least assuaged by a blurb from poet John Reibetanz on the back cover in which he refers to the "woman shaman" supposedly invoked by Clewes and referring to the locals of Igloolik as Innu when they are in fact Inuit.

Luckily, I think Clewes by and large takes a healthier approach in which the book comes across as a travelogue. Her outsider ignorance and inexperience is acknowledged up front and she shares her enthrallment and questions about the place, coming across more as gracious to the people and the nature she encountered, the hospitality, the teachings; never pretending to be superior or even now, one of them.

 My personal favourite poems in the book are those where she is less stretching to compare her experiences to something else (not that there is anything wrong with this-- we all do it in order to make sense of our surroundings) or those where she ponders on what it all means in an existential sense, but rather the simpler, literal poems. In these I thought Clewes skill with imagery rang true
while her focal points provided more than emotional enough resonance.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1870- James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales (editors): Live from New York

I've been a fan of Saturday Night Live since the days of Mike Myers, Phil Hartman, and Dana Carvey. I was way too young to watch it at the time. I recorded the shows and watched them on Sunday morning while my parents complained that it wasn't fit for me to be watching but laughing through the occasional sketch anyway. (My mother in particular loved Dana Carvey's "choppin' broccoli" bit.)

Live from New York is basically a collection of anecdotes, observations, and opinions from past and present cast members, hosts, writers, and others who have had some sort of involvement.

The brief chunks and organization into chronologically important eras of the show make the 700+ page book go down easy. No doubt readers, just like fans of the show, will have their own favourite sections. I was interested in particular in the Dick Ebersol years as these are mostly ignored in compilation shows and other retrospectives. And of course, I was also on a nostalgic kick later in the book, starting to read about sketches and cast members I have loved over the years.

Is it enlightening? Somewhat, yes. With so many having gone on that stage or having worked back stage, there was bound to be a large variety of opinions, even some discrepancies in memory. To James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales' credit, they left in the words of those who were not necessarily happy with their time at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Still when so many people contribute, a clearer picture started to emerge. Harry Shearer, for instance, seems like a very difficult man. Cecily Strong is not as confident as she appears. Those whom you thought got along, didn't necessarily (Jan Hooks and Nora Dunn, for example), while others whom you'd not think all that alike turned out to be best friends (Seth Myers and Andy Samberg, for example). Also, Penny Marshall throws her family out of Lorne Michael's office window.

I also feel that Saturday Night Live has settled into a functioning groove. Like Letterman, it was more experimental in its earlier days, more subversive. This is a bit of a for better or worse scenario as those earlier sort of pieces were not always necessarily funny and so it depends on what folks really want from the show.

Interestingly enough, the one person who captured most of the book's attention was also the one person who did not really come into focus: Lorne Michaels, the originator and long time producer. He really comes across as a difficult man to know. Some in the book argue otherwise, but most seem to agree. It also seems to depend on when one first got to know him. Clearly those closer to his age and whom helped him start the show in the first place fill less intimidated than the majority of the newer casts. I also found it very amusing how so many seemed to attribute his quirkiness as part of his Canadian upbringing; a theory that at least one Canadian writer on the show calls out as BS.

It feels odd to note something missing from the book considering it's heft, but I did wish there was more about the musical acts over the years. There is some mention, of course. It would be hard, for example, not to mention the contributions of folks like Paul Simon or Justin Timberlake to the show or to ignore the infamous Sinead O'Connor moment, but there still could have been more.

Finally, I look forward to another updated edition to get the scoop from folks like Leslie Jones, Michael Che, and Pete Davidson who had not joined the cast when this book came out.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Reader's Diary #1869- Tom Neely: Henry and Glenn Forever and Ever

Oh my God did I enjoy this comic.

The premise alone is worth the price of admission; punk gods Henry Rollins (Black Flag) and Glenn Danzig (Misfits) are a married couple. I think what makes this so funny is that it subverts their tough guy personas (they enjoy watching the Golden Girls together) and the idea of either one having mundane domestic concerns is amusing. I think it would be a knee-jerk reaction to suggest that the comic is homophobic (the argument being that their being gay is the joke) when really, you kind of root for them as a couple. Plus, Rob Halford (Judas Priest), who is openly gay, does the foreword for the book, so he clearly doesn't take issue with it-- not, of course, that he speaks on behalf on all gay men, but it's something.

There's a lot of awesome satire and absurdity (Henry and Glenn's neighbours, for instance, are Satan-worshipping Hall and Oates) and, Hall and Oates notwithstanding, a lot of great punk and heavy metal cameos for fans of those genres (like myself). And the titular characters are surprisingly well developed, with Henry getting to be the more grounded half while Glenn is the more emotional.

The art is a bit mixed in this "Completely Ridiculous Edition" as it opens with the original Henry and Glenn comics which are drawn great in classic comic styles (Glenn looks like a Nancy character, his mother bares a striking resemblance to Archies' Miss Grundy) by Tom Neely, but then a lot of other underground and indie comics artists do their own art and story tributes to the characters. These are a real mixed bag with some so sketchy and rushed I could barely read them to some pretty cool parodies to some very interesting and wholly original looking pieces. In all cases, I appreciated the creativity, the experimentation, and humour.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Reader's Diary #1868- Naoko Takeuchi: Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon

I'm not sure how I've made it this far without ever having seen Sailor Moon anime or having read any Sailor Moon manga, but she's certainly popular enough of a character that it was high time I remedied that.

I suppose in the end I can understand why she's enjoyed such a following though I'm likely not the demographic Naoko Takeuchi was aiming for. Sailor Moon and her gang have well-defined personalities and she doesn't hide stereotypical feminine attributes while making the girls appear heroic.

I wasn't, however, wild about the cliched plot (the villain tries to find crystals that will enable her to take over the world) and even less impressed with the art. The majority of panels seemed to be characters with next to no setting but with really busy and distracting patterns that had no apparent connection to the characters or plot.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Reader's Diary #1867- Camy Tang: Idiot

Camy Tang's "Idiot," is a cliched tale of love at first sight, beginning with the cliched line, "Their eyes met across the room."

Clearly this is all intentional and it's still entertaining in any case.

It also rings true. Told through a man's inner voice, he believes he's picked up on a vibe, an attraction with a woman across the room (not "love" really, but we all know that) but not being 100% sure it's mutual must make a decision whether or not to pursue it, explore further.

Henry Cavill should take note.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Reader's Diary #1866- Lorina Mapa: Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me

Lorina Mapa, a long time Canadian citizen who immigrated here from the Philippines years ago, has just been called back for the unexpected death of her father.

As we all know, and as such is the often the case during these emotional shocks, it leads to a flood of memories, depression, and introspection.

Recounting her life in the Philippines, Mapa begins by sharing a succinct history of president Ferdinand Marco's corruption and ultimate downfall in the 70s and early 80s. (For what it's worth, Imelda's depiction doesn't seem like a far stretch to find similarities between her and Ivanka or Melania.) She also presents a fascinating look at class, gender, and religion in the Philippines.

Largely though, this is socio-political background and it never fails to amaze me when writers from countries which have gone through such upheaval nevertheless capture the contrasting mundanities of everyday life, the stuff that's familiar to even a white guy from outport Newfoundland. In this case, it's largely her preoccupation with 80s pop music. (Eventually this will help pull her through her troubled emotional state.)

Mapa's art is pretty simple and I wasn't surprised to see a reference to Tintin in the background of one panel, but this makes, I think, a reader such as myself better able to empathize. Mostly in black in white, the use of yellow for one particular sequence is purposeful and more engaging.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Reader's Diary #1865- Jillian Tamaki: Boundless

I was a big fan of Jillian Tamaki's art when she collaborated with her cousin Mariko Tamaki on both Skim and This One Summer, so I was very curious to know how I'd take to her work when she was solely responsible for both art and writing.

At first I wasn't sure and was even surprised that I wasn't even enjoying the art aspect. The first few stories felt rushed and experimental. However, I started to get into them and in the end I'd say I'm still a fan.

Essentially these were short stories, many of which have a weird twist (a woman keeps shrinking away into nothing, teens are getting "high" from a sound-file downloaded from the internet) and there's equal doses of subtle wit and ennui.

The art is varied enough so that in addition to complementing the varied plots, also kept things visually interesting.

And sure, I didn't enjoy the first couple or so stories, but like with any short story collection, we pick and choose our favourites.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Reader's Diary #1864- Kalman Andrasofszky (writer), Leonard Kirk (artist): Captain Canuck Aleph

I really want to like Captain Canuck but cannot get behind the character at all. I found the original by Richard Comely to be really really cheesy and poorly done, even compared to other superhero comics of the time which were themselves cheesy.

Still, I've seen loads of those other creations salvaged by newer writers and artists, so I held out hope that Kalman Andrasofsky and Leonard Kirk could revamp Comely's old work into something finally cool.

Alas, it's all just marginally better. It's less cheesy (though the villain is a bit of an unbelievable moustache twirler) and the Canadian settings are cool, but the story is convoluted and disjointed. Plus, Andrasofkszky focuses too much on peripheral characters for a reboot such as this and I thought the Captain himself got lost in mix.

Leonard Kirk's artwork is definitely 1000x better than Comely's but even then it's standard superhero fare, nothing overly inventive or exciting.

I think I'm giving up on this guy.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Reader's Diary #1863- Sinead Moriarty: Lost and Found

Sinead Moriarty's "Lost and Found" is an all too common tale of a deadbeat father and the emotional stress that puts on the mother.

The story zips along, not so much domestic imagery as one might expect, but more dialogue and insight into the mother's doubts and anger. Still, there's a hint of a humorous tone that (without trying to give too much away) gives way to some righteous wish fulfillment at the end.

Totally engaging.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Reader's Diary #1862- Thornton Wilder: Our Town

Though Thornton Wilder's Our Town seems on the surface like a rather simple, rather uneventful little play, I suspect there's more going on.

I was quite taken with the idea of the stage manager as narrator and with the almost complete lack of props. In this regard it's like Wilder didn't want us to ever forget it was just a play. On the other hand, it's "our" town, not "your" or "their" town and he also seems to suggest that this could be anywhere, reclaiming some of the realism after all.

And that push and pull, I think, comes together in the end when a deceased character, despite warnings, tries living a day over again realizing that she cannot.

I found myself wondering: which is the facade, our memories or our day to day lives?

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Reader's Diary #1861- Joshua Corin (writer), Todd Nauck (artist): Deadpool Too Soon?

I'm not always a fan of Deadpool. What some view as freeing (that he can be R rated or higher) I think has actually worked against the character at times (mostly because sometimes the edgy humour feels forced, but to a lesser extent, sometimes he's just hard to root for).

In Deadpool Too Soon? though I feel that Joshua Corin struck the right balance. The story involves Deadpool inviting those Marvel characters he considers friends (incidentally, the more humorous ones: Forbush Man, Squirrel Girl, Groot, Rocket, Ant-Man, Spider-Ham, Howard the Duck and... er, the Punisher) over to his house to pose for a Christmas card (see, likeable!). Unfortunately, one by one the characters keep getting mysteriously murdered, decapitated to be precise. Deadpool sets out to solve the case, hoping to rescue whomever remains. And, while there's obviously dark humour, it doesn't get in the way of what is a surprisingly engaging murder mystery.

As an added bonus, Corin creates the unholy Squirrel Girl / Deadpool union: Squirrel Pool. Having the two of them together in the first place is always good for a chuckle (the two brands of comedy -- one being squeaky clean, the other... not so much) so the hybrid just ups the ante in a weird, should-be-more-unsettling-than-it was way.

Todd Nauck does an admirable job capturing the likenesses of each character in their more well-known appearances but blending them just enough so that the book feels like they belong together.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Reader's Diary #1860- Gail Simone (writer), Aaron Lopresti (artist): Wonder Woman / Conan

I've never seemed to have gotten a good sense of Wonder Woman, at least in comparison to some of the other DC Comics superheroes (Superman's the over-powered goody two shoes, Batman's the under-powered grumpy one), but I felt that I knew enough that I didn't think a Wonder Woman / Conan the Barbarian crossover would be a poor fit. He's usually presented as a violent, sometimes misogynistic meathead, while Wonder Woman is usually a balanced, intelligent, icon of feminism.

But the crossover was in great, capable hands with Gail Simone. It seems more like a Conan story in many regards (it's mostly set in his universe and Wonder Woman's memory has been mysteriously wiped so we have no idea for the longest time how she's gotten there). However, Conan is thankfully given a bit more emotional depth than usual as it's revealed that he had his heartbroken as a young boy and he's convinced that Wonder Woman is his long lost love finally returned. This angle is interesting in its own right but Simone has also developed a couple of awesome villains, the shape-shifting crow sisters, the Corvidae.

The art is decent with typical realistic looking comic book fare and the settings and colourings again mostly fit the Conan side of the story; slightly gritty and beige, looking like a Biblical / middle-Eastern fantasy sequence.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Reader's Diary #1859- Kate Harty: A Canadian Summer

Whenever we leave the country and chat with the locals, they most often follow the revelation that we're from Canada with the question, "Toronto?" When roughly a sixth of the population lives in the GTA, I suppose it's not a totally asinine question. And considering that the vast majority of Canadians live in urban centers, within spitting distance of the U.S., no less, I have to acknowledge that me and my family aren't exactly representative Canadians anyway, myself having lived my entire life on Canada's peripheries.

So when I see a story like Kate Harty's "A Canadian Summer" about an Irish family vacationing in the Canadian wilderness, it makes me a little happy that many realize that it's the nature and space here that makes the place special.

Harty's story is rife with adjectives like a high school writing assignment, but as it's predominately a setting piece, imagery without much plot, it's fitting. Plus, it's a high school writing assignment.

"A Canadian Summer" is a peaceful, introspective and Zen story.