Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Reader's Diary #1943- Olivia Burton (writer), Mahi Grand (artist), translated by Mike Kennedy: Algeria is Beautiful Like America

Near the end of Olivia Burton's graphic memoir Algeria is Beautiful Like America, she writes that she has "leapt feetfirst into black-and-white memories that weren't [her] own."

I suppose this explains the use of black and white and colour throughout the book. As she visits a contemporary Algeria to visit a land where her parents and grandparents spoke of fondly, their home as French colonialists, prior to moving back to France, the scenes are predominately black and white and the only time colour is introduced is when she takes a photo. It's a way of showing her creating memories of her very own.

I respect the artistic intent then, though I do wish the whole thing had been in colour. As it was, I found the gray-scale and soft pencil lines to be lacking heft, leaving me mostly unconnected. Likewise, the lettering was thin and small; lettering being something I don't usually even notice unless I don't like it.

I did enjoy some of the themes; wrestling with the colonial sins of one's ancestors, the rose-coloured nostalgia of the elderly, for instance. And I appreciated learning about Algeria, its present culture and the history of reclaiming independence from the French. But I felt the personal story was left in need of stronger art.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Reader's Diary #1942- Jacob Sager Weinstein (writer), Vera Brosgol (illustrator): Lyric McKerrigan, Secret Librarian

Children's picture books essentially meet Scott McCloud's widely accepted definition of comics; "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in a deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer." Despite having said features however, it's never felt to me when reading a picture book that I'm reading a comic. They've seemed to be related but ultimately separate beasts.Picture books most often don't have typical comics tools and symbology.

Jacob Sager Weinstein and Vera Brosgol's Lyric McKerrigan, Secret Librarian is one of the few classification-blending examples. It has the size and length of a typical picture book, but also has panels and speech balloons. Neither of the latter features are mandatory for McCloud's definition above but would certainly help in introducing younger readers to more traditional comic books.

I also think younger readers would quite enjoy it, which comes as a bit of a relief. I see "Librarian" in a title and I immediately think it's going to be well-intentioned but ultimately boring and/or schmaltzy. Or miss the mark on librarianship altogether.

Weinstein's story of the evil Doctor Glockenspiel's threat to destroy the world's books unless he's given one billion trillion dollars is action packed and anything but boring. It's also, with a large credit to Vera Brosgol's art, hilarious in a Despicable Me silly and over-the-top sort of way.  I especially enjoyed Glockenspiel's three henchman, identical except for their varied facial hair.

Given the ludicrous plot, you might think that my other fear (i.e., missing the mark on librarianship) was justified. It's not like most us deal with super-villains on a daily basis after all. However, Lyric McKerrigan, Secret Librarian saves the day with reader's advisory which is an actual librarian skill. Sure it's never referred to specifically as "reader's advisory" and sure, she also makes use of a series of physical disguises, but these are just fun liberties. (And I have been known to wear a wig at work.)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Reader's Diary #1941- Michael Sheldon: The Spirit of the Bank of Lower Canada

Michael Sheldon's ghost story "The Spirit of the Bank of Lower Canada" reminded me of Stephen Leacock's writing. It's satire, not too hilarious and slightly smug, but amusing nonetheless.

This one takes the idea of a ghost writer quite literally. The ghost in question is Mr. Percy Aikanshaw who was the speech writer for bank president until, and after, the day he died. For generations, he's been loyal to the bank and highly appreciated. Then one day that all changes.

The satire on generational divides is as relevant today as it was then.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Reader's Diary #1940 Edward Albee: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

A couple of weeks back the Simpsons spoofed Edward Albee's play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and only because I was in the middle of reading it, coincidentally, did I recognize it. The spoof itself didn't work. It wasn't funny, it was an overly long sequence, and it seemed weird. It was also not so much a spoof as it was merely Marge and Homer doing the play.

Which is to say that the play itself isn't funny, is overly long, and weird. It's also nasty. The entire play involves a dysfunctional couple who invite another couple to their house and for the entire evening (actually really early morning), play cruel, emotional mind games with one another, dragging the newcomers into their twisted hobby.

Actually, now that I write it out, it actually seems interesting and like something I could get into. In actuality however, I found it suffocating and annoying. Perhaps it's meant to trigger in the audience the same sort of emotions felt by the unfortunate house guests? But it also felt artificial. None of the dialogue rang true at all. It was set in the early 60s so I get that there'd be some slang of the day that  I'd not be accustomed to, but none of these conversations felt believable. It's not so much the content either as I'm sure there are emotionally abusive couples out there. I also realize there are eccentric types out there. Even above and beyond that though it seemed artificial and I was never able to suspend my belief. I think I'd hate seeing this live.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Reader's Diary #1939- Don Brown: The Unwanted

On page 10 of Don Brown's graphic novel, The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees, two people in a war  street turn to face the reader. (I almost said the "camera".) The first person's speech balloon says, "They evicted people from their houses and burned all of their possessions, and they burned down the houses of opposition members. Many people died." The second says, "It was a peaceful demonstration-- no weapons, nothing."

This technique of having characters mid-action state something about it but in the past tense is employed by Brown many times after that but it never really loses its effectiveness. They come across as actual quotes (because they are, as Brown references at the end), and therefore stark reminders that this is real, not just a graphic novel, real people, not characters.

That said, voices like the second person quoted above who deny the tragic brutality of Assad's regime and the ensuing civil war, are fortunately minimal. Still, Brown doesn't skirt the complexities but rather addresses them head on and easy to grasp. In his end notes, he states that the situations were even more complex than he portrayed, but I think he did an admirable job of balancing important perspectives against simplicity and maintaining the humanity of the victims. I found myself thinking a lot about the people in the caravans being reported now heading toward the United States.

The art reminded of some French illustrators (such as Nicolas de Crécy), quick, sketchy, and coloured with watercolours. The line work suits the chaotic scene, while the paint seems to ground the story and even give it historical significance.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Reader's Diary #1938- Laurie Halse Anderson (writer), Emily Carroll (artist): Speak

Not having read the original version of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, I cannot measure how faithful the graphic novel adaptation, but it certainly holds up on its own. And, as Anderson states in a note at the beginning of the book, art is a crucial part of protagonist Melinda's story, so a graphical novel approach should be a "natural fit."

As those familiar with the book would tell you, Melinda is a teenage rape survivor, suffering the emotional consequences on her own. She cannot bring herself to speak, to reach out for help, yet most outsiders can tell something's up. Most, unfortunately, are chalking it up to her being weird. She's withdrawn. She bites her lips to the point of scabs. She cuts. Her grades are failing. Worst of all, her rapist still goes to the same school and she nearly collapses at his mere sight.

The back cover of my copy forgoes the usual plot synopsis and blurbs, opting instead to just highlight three powerful words, "I said no." It also pretty much lets you know that this is a book about rape. So, when the first half of the book revolves around Melinda alluding to an event from her past that has left her traumatized, it put me, as a reader in a weird position. Unlike those around Melinda, I know what happened, even if I don't yet know all the details. We're at a discord then from Melinda's peers and it sets up a frustrating feeling. You want them to lay off Melinda, especially considering what she's been through (though some are being mean to her, regardless of what she's been through). Worse, I even felt a little impatient with Melinda to talk already. Which caused no little amount of soul searching. Would I be this impatient with an actual victim? Or was I always cognizant that she was a fictional character in a book and therefore removed from such concepts as "she's just not ready to talk yet." In any case, when Melinda actually does reveal what happened, it's not the black and white resolution as I'd believed it would be. It's still a crucial moment, but new challenges then present themselves, just as Melinda feared, though she is definitely on the right path for her own healing and for protecting others.

As a former teacher, I appreciated the development of those distinct, realistic personalities. (Side note: I did find the art teacher a little creepy, especially when he stopped to offer Melinda a ride.)

Emily Carroll's work here reminded me less of her own previous work with Through the Woods and more of Jillian Tamaki's work on Skim. Simple, fluid lines and mostly realistic looking characters contrast well against Melinda's more creative art projects. Also, I sensed that Carroll really enjoyed the tree motif.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Reader's Diary #1937- Anne Frank, adapted by Ari Folman, illustrated by David Polonsky: Anne Frank's Diary

I'm a fan of, and highly respect, comics and graphic novels, so the idea that a graphic novel adaptation of Anne Frank's Diary might be disrespectful didn't occur to me. Fortunately it did to Ari Folman, meaning he took the utmost care with his process, explaining his reservations and final decisions in a note at the end. Some passages, for the sake of space, would have to be cut. And anyone who's read the original knows how strong and distinct Anne's personality was; was it possible to preserve that with visuals replacing many of the words? I would dare say that Folman and Polonsky pulled off what surely was a very intimidating task with skill and grace. Now, I admit that I haven't read the original since I was a teenager, so I can't really say if I felt anything was lost, but the book was also authorized by the Anne Frank Foundation, whom I'd like to think would not have done so unless it was of utmost quality.

Anne's personality definitely shines here. In some ways she's a typical teenager going through puberty with all the curiosity and up and down emotions that entails. Of course, even as long ago as I read the text-only version, I still recalled that Anne was anything but typical. She was tremendously open and honest (I realize it was a personal diary, but even then many of us are afraid of revealing too much), insightful, and tremendously self-aware. Spending the day closed off from the world, not even able to talk to the few people beside her, no doubt played some part in this, but one suspects that Anne would have been a gifted writer even had she never been forced to endure what she did.

Polonsky's art just avoiding getting in the way of Anne's story would have been an achievement of sorts, but ultimately would have rendered a graphic novel adaptation pointless. Thankfully, the art (as meant to do in graphic novels) adds and enhances. It's dark and mesmerizing at times, but at others captures Anne's wild imagination and sense of humour. I especially enjoyed a page where she writes of her love of film stars. Polonsky presents six portraits of Bette Davis, Joan Fontaine, Carole Lombard, Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, and Marlene Dietrich. These could have sufficed just as they were, but he goes above and beyond by imposing Anne's features over them as no doubt many teenagers would be wont to fantasize.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Reader's Diary #1936- Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson: A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns

Tristan, one half of the creative team behind the educational comic A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns, identifies himself early on as a cisgender male and acknowledges an important question right up front, "you might be wonder what a cisgender guy has to add to this conversation." Thankfully, the other half, Archie (who identifies as non-binary) is there to field the answer, stating that as the book's intended audience is wide open, including those for whom the very concept of non-binary is new, Tristan was invited to participate.

Like Tristan, I'm not always sure if it's appropriate for me to weigh in such matters, but as the book takes a very open and welcoming tone, I'll go on record that I am fully in support of whatever pronouns a person wishes me to use. I've wrestled with the use of "they/them" not because I wished to deny anyone's identity, but because I've been so accustomed to using it as a plural pronoun that I'm sometimes confused to whom the pronoun is referring. For instance, even after reading this guide, when I read Archie's brief bio at the end that began, "Archie Bongiovanni has been drawing comics for over a decade, which also means that they're a part time server" I immediately went back to the start of the sentence because I thought I'd missed someone's name. This all said, I don't want to be the sort of grammar guy that gets hung up on a typo in a Malala speech nor whom denies an individual the pronoun they identify with simply because I find it momentarily confusing (compare my brief inconvenience of adjusting with a lifetime of being mislabeled and unaccepted). Tristan and Archie do note that there are other gender neutral pronouns (such as "ze/hir") but it seems to me that the majority of non-binary folks have landed on "they/them" and I can adapt. Thankfully, Archie and Tristan are there to help.

The guide is short, at just 60 pages, and intentionally so as they explain that it is meant to be bought and shared like a pamphlet. Still they pack a lot in including explanations as to why pronouns matter, a guide to their usage in writing and conversation, and how to deal with those who resist using them. The art is simple, sketchy, and grayscale, with a lot of comic symbology (frustration tornados, for example); all of which add up to enhance the quick, friendly vibe of the book.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Reader's Diary #1935- Frederic Wertham: Seduction of the Innocent

I've been a student of comics for some time now and as any such student could tell you, Frederic Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent, a 1954 diatribe about comics and their negative impact on youth, is legendary and notorious. It's been credited/blamed for altering the course of comic books, especially in the U.S. market, with horror and crime comic sales plummeting to the point where they were never again dominant genres; an increase in censorship and book burnings; a stigma on comic books as juvenile, trashy, and inferior that still lasts to this day;  a self-imposed "comic-code" approval guide that lasted, into the 21st century (Archie comics were one of the last adherents and when they finally dropped the "comics code approved" logos from their covers hardly anyone even noticed).

Since then much of Wertham's scientific methods and approaches have been debunked. He's been accused of small, biased samples, and jumping to conclusions that were not merited. And, in most of the literature I've seen, he's been presented as a bit of a goody-two-shoes crack pot, an anti-comic/pro-censorship zealot, and in my head, akin to the Simpsons' Helen Lovejoy and her cries for someone to "please, think of the children!"

Still, because of its reputation, I've wanted to read Seduction of the Innocent myself. I am so glad I did and feel now that I have a much more accurate and complex picture of the man and his motives.

Some of the critiques about Wertham and this book were obviously justified. He had a hate on that sometimes ventured into the bizarre, and more often into elitism, as if the medium itself is somehow as evil as the content and would not allow for any argument that "good" comics could ever exist or would appeal to young people. (I'm not a fan of many "educational" comics myself, but there are some stellar comic books out there that qualify as first class literature!) He criticized, for instance, the cheap newspaper and colours that were then used without any imagination that this could, should, or would improve. He criticized, rightfully so, comic book ads for guns and switchblades but recommended throwing out the baby with the dishwater. And speaking of babies and dishwater, he had a particularly annoying penchant for analogies that just didn't work to prove the points he was trying to make.

And yet, he's one of the earliest examples I've read of someone criticizing comics for sexism and misogyny (calling out the ubiquitous rape or threatened rape tropes) and for sub-humanizing people of colour. Wertham's bad science aside, we (and yes, I include myself here), are still calling out comics creators for such shit and if we didn't genuinely believe that such images and story lines were harmful, why would we bother speaking up?

I found myself pondering censorship a lot during the reading of Seduction of the Innocent. I think right and left camps have equally advocated for and abused censorship and it almost always backfires or sets dangerous precedents. However, I think people need to call out bullshit including racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry. Have you seen some of the comics from Wertham's day? Holy cow, those some of the most overtly racist stuff out there. While such stuff still exists in comics, I think things have improved a great deal and not due to censorship, but rather due to writers, artists, and readers who believe in respect and who call out those who don't, demanding better rather than simply for the absence of worse.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Reader's Diary #1934- C. A. Verstraete: The Pumpkin Patch

It's a common writing exercise to write from the perspective of an inanimate or otherwise non-sentient entity, such as a plant. But there's a reason it's common, and typically, as in the case of C.A. Verstraete's "The Pumpkin Patch" which is told from a pumpkin's point of view, it's a fun read as a result.

In this particular story, we get a brief glimpse into what I suppose we'd call pumpkin culture. This particular pumpkin is of the belief that pumpkins are a honored part of a Halloween tradition, but unfortunately has been left in the dark about what's involved in becoming a jack-o-lantern. It's more amusing than scary obviously (not that the pumpkin would agree), though a twist at the end veers it slightly into horror territory.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Reader's Diary #1933- Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Hey, Kiddo

Sometimes the strength and resiliency of people amazes me.

In Jarrett J. Krosoczka's graphic memoir Hey Kiddo, he presents himself as a rather meek albeit affable kid whose mother is in and out of rehab and jail, whose father is absent entirely until his later teenage years, and who is being raised by his sometimes rough-around-the-edges grandparents. Such issues are shown as "getting to him" emotionally, but he rarely seems to act out on it, copes with art, and for the most part keeps a positively outlook and is even able to forgive. In one scene, he's shown as being bullied by older kids in a high school gym locker room. He's included this memory, so it must have had impact, but that alone would have been enough to cripple me, let alone all the family drama. Somehow, Krosoczka comes across as amazingly well-adjusted.

 Obviously it's an inspirational sort of story and I suppose teens dealing with their own issues and unconventional families might appreciate it. I am assuming this was behind Scholastic's choice to publish it. That said, to me it felt more like the sort of story an adult would appreciate, given its reflective quality. With the burnt orange monotones, with the use of real artifacts embedded in some scenes, with the overall tone, it reads like an adult looking back rather than a child actually going through these things. Again, I realize that some teen readers will still gravitate toward such books, but to me it felt more like Craig Thompson's Blankets than say, Katherena Vermette's A Girl Called Echo.

Intended audience aside, I really enjoyed it.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Reader's Diary #1932- H.P. Lovecraft: The Music of Erich Zann

As Lovecraft stories go, "The Music of Erich Zann" is pretty tame in terms of terror and weirdness. It also doesn't contain any Cthulhu mythos.

Still, it's a nicely paced, mysterious, atmospheric and creepy piece. The narrator recalls a time when he lived in a boarding house on a street that he can now no longer find on any map. At the time, his upstairs neighbour was often overheard playing a kind of music he'd not heard before and when they finally met, his manner suggested he troubled mentally and perhaps even with just cause due to some unforeseen force. It does have a strange, sci-fi ending but it's also rather ambivalent which may not be to everyone's taste, but I thought it lent to the off-putting vibe.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Reader's Diary #1931: Hope Larson: All Summer Long

I enjoyed Hope Larson's graphic novel adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time but have wondered about original works. Finally with All Summer Long I can say I'm a fan of her own storytelling as well.

All Summer Long is about one particular summer in the life of a thirteen year old girl named Bina. Her best friend Austin is off to summer camp and was becoming stand-offish just before he left. Her plans to relax in front of the TV all summer have squashed by her parents and she's bored. Maybe Austin's older sister will fill his void.

One neat thing about Larson's story is the way she uses really specific, unique details to somehow make the story seem authentic. I'll also say that the theme of young male-female platonic relationships struck a chord with me. As a child, I lived in a remote section of remote town and the only playmate I had nearby, other than my older sister, was a girl a year older than me a few houses away. I was pressured by parents to "hang out with boys" but preferred her company and used proximity as an excuse. But then, once we got older, I'd walk ahead once we neared the bus stop, fearing the teasing that might come if the other kids realized that we hung out. It was wrong. We drifted apart. In Larson's book there's a very similar situation but thankfully Austin is stronger and more mature than I was at the time and I could certainly have used this book back then.

Larson's art is simple and accessible, with a yellow monochromatic scheme that complements the summer setting as well as giving it an air of nostalgia for any old geezers like me who might just pick it up.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Reader's Diary #1930- Elise Gravel: The Mushroom Fan Club

I know that Elise Gravel's junior nonfiction book The Mushroom Fan Club was successful because ever since reading I feel the need to find my favourite mushroom.

It's easy to read, educational with bright, whimsical pictures, but the biggest strength is Gravel's enthusiasm for a topic most people don't even think about beyond "do you want them on your pizza or not?"

I do, however, have one stray, observation: everyone seems to classify it as a graphic novel. I think I have a pretty open idea of the term, but I wouldn't classify this as such anymore than I'd call a mushroom a plant. Yes, the fungi in Gravel's book have been given cartoon faces and yes, a few of them even have speech balloons, but that's about all it would have in common with a comic. The pictures aren't arranged in any necessary sequence and most illustrations simply complement a page of regular text. I suppose the classification hardly matters considering that I enjoyed it anyway, but just as I picked it up originally because I thought it was a graphic novel, there may be those who avoid it accordingly.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Reader's Diary #1929- Whitney Gardner: Fake Blood

I know people often debate whether or not a character's relatability is relevant to one's enjoyment of a book, but I loved Whitney Gardner's graphic novel Fake Blood and I attribute that largely to seeing myself, or at least my much younger self, in central character AJ. If it makes it any easier to digest to those who weigh in against relatability, how about this then: because I can see myself in the character, it's proof that he rings true. Authentic or believable characters should at least be a fair point.

AJ is newly starting grade six. Internally, he compares himself unfavourably to his friends as a bit of a boring dud. And, as he's crushing hard on a new girl in class, he's not exactly confident in his chances. When he finds out she's into vampires, however, AJ develops a plan to make himself more interesting...

The resulting story is very sweet and funny. I also thought there was a compelling theme around the idea of "being oneself." I know concerned adults always stress how important that is, but sometimes, especially for young people, it's also important to play around with their identities. It can be fun and it can also help a person discover aspects of their personality they never knew they had.

There's a subplot in Fake Blood involving AJ's teacher that I thought was a bit on the predictable side, but otherwise the book was great. I especially liked the parodies throughout, including such targets as Harry Potter and Twilight.

Art-wise, I'll say that the quirky, simple style is reflective of the tone of the book, but perhaps not remarkable from a technical sense.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Reader's Diary #1928- Pénélope Bagieu: Brazen

While I quite enjoyed Pénélope Bagieu's Exquisite Corpse when I read it a few months back, I still wasn't overly excited to read Brazen, a graphic novel style collection of Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World.

I'm all for the topic, it's just that I've never seen such collections really work. To summarize a life into a overly brief biography seems, I don't know, insulting perhaps? Too elementary in any case. I'm often left wishing that the writer had just picked one life per book as a focus. I suppose it depends on what we want from such a collection and if it inspires more independent research into a person, that might be considered a win. And on that note, Bagieu did make me download some music by Josephine Baker and Betty Davis.

Another reservation that I had with the collection was Bagieu's take on different cultures. Not from those cultures myself, I cannot say with any authority that she misrepresented them, but I did wonder if it was best for her to tell their stories. Of course, had Baglieu focused only on western white women, that wouldn't have sent the right message either. Maybe it could have been a collaborative book instead?

As it was, with only Bagieu's voice, I found that too many of the women blended together. She has a sort of irreverent sense of humour (it reminds me of Kate Beaton's), which I enjoy a lot, but when almost all of women here are presented with a similar personality, I felt I lost some of their individuality.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Reader's Diary #1927- Catherine Lafferty: Northern Wildflower

Catherine Lafferty's Northern Wildflower is an inspiring memoir filled with engaging anecdotes and insight.

What really sets the book apart, however, is Lafferty's perseverance. A Dene woman, she was no stranger to racism and the effects of colonialism. On top of that, she admits also making some choices that in hindsight probably weren't the best. Still, she seemed to take such moments as opportunities to learn and always managed to rise above it all, most often with humour and positivity, while still calling upon and working toward systemic changes.

Such a memoir could only work if it's honest in detail and emotion and Lafferty does not hold back on either front.

Mahsi Cho to Catherine for bravely sharing her story.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Reader's Diary #1926- Sarah Graley: Kim Reaper 1 Grim Beginnings

Sarah Graley's Kim Reaper 1: Grim Beginnings is a hilarious story of a university student named Kim who's taken grim reaping as her student job.It has potential for a lot of dark humour, but the comedy stylings are mostly light and of the silly variety. Reaping is portrayed more as an assistance to the souls of those whose time is up to get to where they're supposed to go.

I also enjoyed that Kim is mostly viewed through the eyes of Becka, a more normal university student, who develops a crush on Kim before realizing her rather unique job and getting caught up in her strange adventures. Becka's shock then mirror the reader's.

As for the art? It wasn't really my thing. It's very fluid and simple, fitting I suppose of a rather un-serious comic such as this, and similar to Rick and Morty (not surprising as Sarah Graley also worked on that series).

Monday, October 08, 2018

Reader's Diary #1925- Cassandra Khaw: These Deathless Bones

Cassandra Khaw's short story "These Deathless Bones" narrated by a witch bride of a king drew me in almost immediately with her rich voice and unique mythology. Then the story begins to switch gears and I was even more impressed.

At first it's clear that she's none too taken with the king's son, her stepson, but while he's presented as a petulant, spoiled brat, I wasn't entirely sure he was deserving of whatever she had in store. But slowly and methodically, the little prince's true character is revealed...

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Reader's Diary #1924- Ngozi Ukazu: Check Please! Book 1 #Hockey

I've been reading a lot of graphic novels lately that explore themes of acceptance. In that same vein, I've been hearing wonderful things about Ngozi Ukazu's Check Please! Book 1: #Hockey a graphic novel about a former figure skater who is now on a varsity hockey team. He's also gay.

I'm not sure, however, that the theme was enough to ultimately win me over. In addition to the wonderful theme, there are other positives. Notably, the characters are all very richly defined. It's also quite fun.

But overall all, I found it to be uneven. In her introduction, Ngozi writes that she doesn't consider the book to be "Very Serious Art" and yet there were glimpses into the greatness that might have been. Bitty, the central character, is a vlogger. As an idea that's fine, but the panels showing him vlogging didn't do anything for me being way too simple. The background doesn't change and it's just him staring straight ahead while the speech balloons change. Then there are other scenes where Ngozi really proved her artistic chops: there's an overhead outdoors scene of a hockey game on a lake where the colouring is just beautiful, there are flashbacks of the team captain drawn in a different, vintage-looking style.

Most problematic for me though was the climax of the story which seemed rather obvious from the get go. Fortunately though this is the 1st in a series and now that the big reveal (which wasn't really a big reveal) is out of the way, I was drawn in enough that I'm curious what happens next.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Reader's Diary #1923- Joanna Lilley: The Birthday Books

The short stories in Joanna Lilley's The Birthday Books all fall into the quietly insightful category. Had I been in the mood for something with a lot of drama, I'd probably have been disappointed but as it was, this was just what I was looking for right about now. She writes realistically and with economy, though also with warmth.

And, for the most part, I'd not consider any on the gloomy side, instead there tended to be epiphanies and character growth. Plus, Lilley had a real knack for description and with a gamut of settings and scenarios from Yukon to Scotland, I felt like a real armchair traveler.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Reader's Diary #1922- Dave Bidini: Midnight Light

I hope this doesn't count as too spoilery, but at the end of Dave Bidini's Midnight Light, his memoir of a summer spent working for the local paper, the Yellowknifer, he writes, "Yellowknifers were distinct and true in all of their imperfections, and they taught a lesson one can never be too smart to learn: it's okay to be yourself, whether anyone's noticing or not."

As themes or morals go, it's pretty great and, dare I say it, a pretty astute observation about Yellowknifers especially considering Bidini's relatively short time in the city. It's also explored and written about really well, especially in Bidini's use of reporter John McFadden as an illustrative example. (John McFadden was a rough-around-the-edges Yellowknifer reporter who gained a brief national spotlight after being sued by the RCMP for obstruction of justice.)

Still, I found myself hung up another theme, perhaps a more personal theme, defined a few chapters earlier in Bidini's description of a particular area of town known as the Woodyard, "The Woodyard was still hidden because of its location, visible only once you were in it."

This past Canada Day marked my 10th year in Yellowknife and I'm just now making my peace with one facet of Yellowknife life: there's always a lot happening behind the proverbial scenes. There's more than one might expect and it's happening fast. If you want to keep abreast of it all, you will need to work hard at it and work constantly. If you do not, you'll just have to accept and wait for the inevitable next thing.

Bidini writes about his time here in 2014 and his mere presence came as news to me these four years later. This is not to say he didn't make an impression on people in Yellowknife, just that I wasn't one of them. He seems, too, to have gotten to know certain local "celebrities" far more intimately than I ever have or likely ever will. To some extent, this is due to his role while he was here, acting as a reporter for the Yellowknifer. In essence, it was his job to "be in the know" and he had limited time to do so. I'll also give him credit for being good at what he does in terms of drawing astute, and arguably, shrewd conclusions about people in a short span of time. It certainly doesn't hurt that he was able to write about it all in a very conversational, often witty, tone.

There are, however, undercurrents of gossip that would likely go unnoticed for readers not from here, but that will likely ruffle a few feathers locally. While he sometimes uses aliases or states that particular sources didn't wish to be named, for the most part Bidini names names, shares some pretty personal stories, and even some rather unflattering opinions. Times like those I am thankful that I was caught up in my own world during Bidini's visit! Still, I am quite interested in how those mentioned receive the book.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Reader's Diary #1921- Maryam Atoyebi: Rocks in the Pond

Maryam Atoyebi's "Rocks in the Pond" is a pleasant, slice-of-life type flash fiction story about a couple seeming to be newly in love, wrestling a little with self-consciousness and being open about their feelings. They resist comparing themselves to cliched romance stories but as a reader, I just wanted them to dive in. This is a testament to Atoyebi for making me root for the couple in such a short space.

The story is marred somewhat by typos.