Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Reader's Diary #2084- Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham The Complete Collection Vol. 1

I'm sure for a lot of folks, their first exposure to Spider-Ham was in the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie. Of course, some die-hard fans have known of him since his introduction in the 80s. For myself, I remember seeing an ad for those comics back when I was a kid and desperately wanting to get my hands on them (I loved parodies) but not having a comic book store in my hometown, never did get one. So I was ecstatic to find a collection of those published this year.

No doubt I would have loved them as a kid, they are funny, have action, and the art is more in the line of classic funny cartoons rather than traditional superhero art. Reading it through 21st century, adult eyes, I can appreciate those things still, but am also aware of how casually minor racism, sexism, and even fat-shaming was thrown into pop culture.

I appreciated the comic more when it had those old-school slapstick gags of cartoons, sometimes bending the laws of physics or even the comic medium itself (stretching into another panel, for example) and when they played up the parody elements, especially seeing their takes on other Marvel superheroes (Captain Americat and Deerdevil, for example).

Monday, September 16, 2019

Reader's Diary #2083- Rachael Dunlop: Without Parallel

Rachael Dunlop's world in Without Parallel seems to be some sort of dystopia where people are born as twins, but one is selected to die shortly after their 19th birthday. The specifics, perhaps due to this being a flash fiction story, aren't exactly clear (is everyone born a twin? Was this a human created condition?) but it's still enjoyable nonetheless.

I particularly liked how in the head of one twin the story is. It leaves the impression that the other twin is not thinking such things, but a twist at the end reveals that's not necessarily the case.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Reader's Diary #2082- Russell Waterman: A Price Too High

Russell Waterman's short story "A Price Too High" takes the old urban legend about blues legend Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil and combines it with the "pass it on" trope of such horror movies as It Follows. It's clear that a love of music and of the supernatural could only add to your enjoyment of this story.

I also enjoyed the descriptions of the setting. I've never lived in a place that could ever be described as humid and Waterman made me really feel it. It was also well tied into the stifling nature of the curse.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Reader's Diary #2081- Wendy Pini and Richard Pini: The Complete ElfQuest Volume One

I was recently participating in a local reading Bingo challenge where one of the squares required me having to get a recommendation from a staff member at the local book store, the Book Cellar. I was pleased at first to see that she'd recommended a graphic novel. I was then less pleased to discover that it was fantasy (not that I hate fantasy, but not particularly excited by it either) and it was 700 pages (I know comics are quicker reads than novels, but that's still a lot).

But I did enjoy it. The fantasy world building was quite good and I was especially impressed by Wendy Pini's art. I'm not surprised that she was inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame. Her characters are ridiculously good, despite sometimes looking like Bratz dolls (a style that has rubbed me the wrong way before) with their big, bright eyes and oddly sexual bodies. Her line work was bold and defined, with hatching, cross-hatching, and thickly inked almost like wood-cuts.

The plots were fine, but there were annoying moments. The love triangle in the first volume went on for way too long. The fairy character in the last volume was the JarJar Binks of the series.

Still, I can definitely see why the staff member at the Book Cellar was such a fan.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Reader's Diary #2080- Stephanie Dickinson: Big-Headed Anna Watches Over

Stephanie Dickinson's short story "Big-Headed Anna Watches Over" opens on a scene where a 14 year old has just given birth. It's gut-wrenching and doesn't let up from there.

I'm reminded of the recent news story about the teenager girl who just got out of prison for killing her rapist. Though Dickinson's story is set in 1922, it's hard sometimes to think society has gotten any better.

This is a flash fiction piece, but in a short space, Dickinson has developed Angéle into a real character; something the males in Angéle's life never did.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Reader's Diary #2079- Anthony Foliot Snowking: Tales of An Old Town Versifier

When someone says they're going to write poetry in the style of Robert Service, I'm usually skeptical. I'd consider myself a fan of Service, but usually when people say that what they really mean is they don't read poetry but they remember "The Cremation of Sam McGee" from elementary school and find rhymes fun.

In Anthony Foliot's (aka the Snowking) Tales of an Old Town Versifier, one particular poem ("Looks Like My Job is on the Line") describes how this isn't necessarily the case for him. He intentionally studies other poetry but decides (based largely on the enthusiasm, or lack thereof, of his peers) to stick to "versifiying" (aka writing like Service) rather than "poetry."Of course, there's some tongue-in-cheek here, implying that "poetry" is pretentious compared to "versifying," a word which in actuality sounds even more pretentious.

I'd be lying if I said that Foliot was as good as Service, but as he's a fan himself, I'd venture to say he'd agree. The poems don't scan as well and sometimes when trying to find the rhythm I got a little too distracted to catch the stories. However, when they did work, I found them to be amusing blue-collar tales mostly with northern flair.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Reader's Diary #2078- Nicolas Michaud and Jessica Watkins (editors): Iron Man vs. Captain America and Philosophy

I should clear up the title before beginning, Iron Man is not taking on both Captain America and Philosophy. Instead, philosophers are debating who is the better superhero, mostly in the context of the Civil War story line.

It's hard to declare who's the ultimate winner, but for my money I think those who championed Iron Man made the stronger case. That's not so much the point though as I suspect the real purpose behind these books is to make philosophy fun and show how it can be used to make convincing arguments. Others in this series include Twin Peaks and Philosophy, David Bowie and Philosophy, and The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy. I'm particularly keen to read Black Mirror and Philosophy which is set to be published early next year.

It's definitely a good intro to some famous philosophical ideas, though on the debate side of things, I sometimes wished they'd had more ground rules. With Marvel stories and characters being told any number of times by any number of writers, some canon, some not, some in comics, some on the big screen, I felt sometimes that the philosophers were cherry-picking details to make their cases.

And of course, as with any compilation, I enjoyed some more than others. Most at least seemed to appreciate that the book was to be light in tone, even if they took philosophy itself seriously.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Reader's Diary #2077- Whit Fraser: True North Rising

In the preface to Whit Fraser's northern memoir True North Rising, he says he's flattered that his colleagues refer to him as a "natural storyteller" and says it is now "time to put that to the test."

He passed.

I know this because despite the book being riddled with typos⁠— and I mean riddled, perhaps one of the worst books I've read in that aspect— they were not enough to keep me from being wholly engaged.

Perhaps it's Fraser's affable tone, perhaps it's his ability to drop in and out of flashbacks with ease, perhaps it's his keen sense of who and what is important, but most likely it's a combination of all of these things that makes his storytelling reputation so well earned.

Fraser first came to northern Canada as a young, relatively inexperienced reporter. It happened to be during some of the most critical points in recent history: specifically the Berger Inquiry and the creation of Nunavut. These events, and the people involved, would have a profound affect on Fraser and the book is as much about them as the writer himself.

I wonder if those not from, or never having experienced, the north would have the same interest. I suspect that they would and I also believe they'd get a better sense of life here. Typos there may be, but I believe he's still captured it accurately.

I'm encouraged to read on Sarah Minogue's NorthReads blog that a second edition is planned and free of typos. I'd suggest waiting for that one.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Reader's Diary #2076- Krzysztof Pelc: Green Velvet

Krzysztof Pelc won the 2019 CBC Short Story Contest for "Green Velvet" and without having read the other contenders, I'd still say it was a good choice. It involves an immigrant family, told from the perspective of a son observing (and rooting for) his father who's decided to claim a green velvet couch that someone has left out on the curb.

It's amusing with literary intentions-- the couch is clearly meant as a metaphor for and risk-taking. Fitting the couch up and around stairs, of course, is funny to anyone not involved (remember the "pivot!" shouts of Ross on Friends?).

Monday, August 19, 2019

Reader's Diary #2075- Therese Beharrie: The Wedding Ring

Therese Beharrie's short story "The Wedding Ring" is one of those stories where I just need to talk about the ending. Doing so here, of course, means I have to give away spoilers so feel free to clink on the link to the story and read it first.

It's about a heartbroken woman who sneaks into the wedding of her former lover. Clearly it's an emotional piece and I liked debating with myself whether or not she is a reliable narrator. At the end, she notes that her ex notices her briefly then lifts the veil to his new bride and kisses her and I have so many questions. Did he actually notice her and if so, is the kiss warranted (to send the message that his ex should move on) or cruel?

Monday, August 12, 2019

Reader's Diary #2074- Wm Lindmier: Human to Animal

The difference between pessimism and cynicism is fine to be sure, but if you compare the Saturday Night Live character Debbie Downer (pessimist) to the narrator in Wm Lindmier's short story "Human to Animal" (cynic) you'll likely have a better idea. Granted, both are ripe for some great dark comedy.

Jim-not-Jim, the narrator, is a security advisor for multiple nations as is paid to think up worst case scenarios. The verdict on whether or not this job has taken on its toll on Jim-not-Jim or if he's always been this way is still out. A favourite line of mine from the story, sees him in a room filled with Doctors Without Borders, who he refers to as, "All these other idiots eating little appetizers and telling stories about human-to-human outbreaks of drug-resistant tuberculosis in Somalia over free cocktails." Idiots!

Underneath it all, there's a theme of how easy it is, especially for us news junkies, to succumb to fear. The balance between preparedness and succumbing to paranoia is increasing difficult to maintain.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Reader's Diary #2073- Various writers and artists: Marvel Two-In-One Presents the Thing / Cry Monster

Marvel Two-In-One was a comic book series that lasted from the mid-70s to the early-80s and each issue featured the Thing teaming up with another superhero, or occasionally a villain.

I'm not the biggest fan of the Thing, and after this my impression of him as a meathead remains unchanged, but I did quite enjoy the premise. Collecting issues from 1973 to 1976, it took a lot of restraint not to peek ahead to see who the next partner would be but I knew that would ruin the surprise. While he teamed up with the usual and familiar characters (Thor, Iron Man, and so on), my favourites were those where he teamed up with lesser knowns: Tigra, Kazar, and even the Son of Satan.

Being the 70s though, the writing and art isn't as good as stuff being put out today, but for entertaining cheese you can't go wrong.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Reader's Diary #2072- Richard Wagamese: Runaway Dreams

Richard Wagamese's Runaway Dreams is one of the more traditional books of poetry I've read in a while; not in a Ojibwe tradition, or in a form poetry sense, just not as experimental as many I've read lately. And while I do like and admire experimental poetry, there was something comfortable about Richard Wagamese's carefully chosen words.

The themes themselves weren't always comfortable (racism, alcoholism, identity, abuse) but often they were (nostalgia, music) and they were always told with alluring imagery and invitation.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Reader's Diary #2071- Judy Blume: Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

I recently did one of those "how many modern classics have you read" quizzes and there were a few on there that I wasn't sure whether or not I had read them. Perhaps I'd just forgotten? Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. was one that I'd heard a lot about and seems like something my sister would have had on her bookshelf growing up (which I raided frequently) so I thought maybe I had. I hadn't.

I can say this with confidence thanks to the "we must, we must, we must increase our bust" chant of Margaret and her prepubescent friends. I had a couple of roommates in university that would often recite this (followed by a fit of giggles) and I never knew where it was from. Twenty-odd years later and I'm finally in the loop!

Despite being quite far from the intended audience, I quite enjoyed the book. I'd heard enough to know that it was largely about Margaret being impatient for adolescence (for her period, more specifically), but I hadn't known of some of the other plots (drama with her grandparents, trying to find a religion). I quite enjoyed how well Blume balanced these.

I also enjoyed Margaret's voice, which to me rang authentic. Of course, never having been a girl at that age, I can't say that it really was, but based on the popularity of the book among girls, I'm assuming Blume pulled it off. I wonder too if it still sounds real to a modern girl or whether or not nostalgic moms pass it down.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Reader's Diary #2070- Scott O'Dell: Zia

It was some 12 years ago that I read Scott O'Dell's popular young adult book Island of the Blue Dolphins. I remembered that I'd enjoyed it at the time, though almost nothing else. I certainly didn't recall that Karana, the island castaway protagonist, was indigenous. I think this speaks volumes about the strides that have been made in the meantime in cultural appropriation awareness that one of the first questions I had was whether or not Scott O'Dell had any business telling this story. What kind and how much research did he do for authenticity? Did he attain permissions from cultural knowledge keepers?

While looking into this, I came upon Debbie Reese's critical analysis of Island of the Blue Dolphins which answers these questions and weighs in thoughtfully. While the specific examples are not from Zia, the sequel to Island of the Blue Dolphins, many of the takeaways could be the same. The most generous of these would be that O'Dell was well-meaning, though inaccurate. That Island of the Blue Dolphins is entertaining should barely matter considering that better books, written by Indigenous people, exist.

That Zia isn't even that entertaining makes it even less necessary and I'm not surprised that it's been largely lost to history. Zia is Karana's niece and she is determined to make contact with her aunt after 18 years away. It sounds like it could be a good reunion story, or a compelling story about Karana's re-integration to living among people again after such a long time. Unfortunately the book is poorly paced, meandering here and there by ripping off books like the Old Man and the Sea and Moby Dick and taking forever to get around to Karana's return. When she does, it's anti-climactic and there's barely any interaction between Zia and her aunt.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Reader's Diary #2069- Eric Robert Nolan: Denver Disappeared Wednesday

I know it's a bit morbid to find stories of the end of the world fun, but I also know I'm not alone in feeling that way.

I would guess Eric Robert Nolan feels the same way based upon his flash fiction, "Denver Disappeared Wednesday."

There are, to be sure, heavier themes suggested: the dangers of war and technology being number one, but with the fast, relatively unexplored space of a few short paragraphs, it also revels in the aesthetics of a summer disaster flick.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Reader's Diary #2068- Kei Miller: Augustown

A friend of mine recommended Kei Miller's novel Augustown. Whenever a friend recommends a book, it's  nerve-wracking. What if I didn't like it and he wound up asking me what I thought? I was also hesitant that I'd need more of a knowledge of Jamaica in order to appreciate it.

The first fear was easily cast aside as I could tell early on that I was going to love it. The style was instantly engaging; unique perspective and delivery (touches of magical realism but not confusing like most books I've read that would fall under that description), rich imagery and defined voices, characters that felt real, and strong, provocative themes (classism, racism).

As for my lack of Jamaican culture interfering with my enjoyment or understanding, I say that it wasn't an issue, though I would also think it obvious that my friend appreciated it on many different levels than I seeing as he's from Kingston.

Of course, as readers it's almost a given that we'll compare and contrast books to our our own knowledge and experience. I found myself, for instance, comparing it to Michael Crummey's Galore, a novel set in Newfoundland and considering how both books presented history in mythical tones with the magic diminishing over time until the present day (though Miller also makes a subtle point about legacy and the keepers of knowledge, suggesting that it's not as simple as a downward slope on a graph.)

There was also a very significant plot point about a young Rastafarian boy having his hair cut as punishment from a teacher. As a boy in outport Newfoundland, hair was not of huge importance to me (unless mullets count), but I was able to better grasp the significance of that scene due to the stories we still sometimes here of white teachers cutting the hair of Indigenous boys right here in Canada.

It's a book that will stick with me for a long time.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Reader's Diary #2067- Motley Crue with Neil Strauss: The Dirt

There's a crap ton of rock books out there and I'm a sucker for all of them. Yet despite the Motley Crue autobiography The Dirt having the reputation as one of the wildest, I'd not read it. I suppose it may have been the recent Netflix adaptation that finally pushed me into doing so, but I've not seen that either-- but after reading the book, I'm not sure I want to.

Motley Crue reminds me of a close high school friend. We'd all claimed "our" bands; I was Metallica, Mike was Guns n' Roses, and Darryl was Motley Crue. It was most likely through Darryl that I grew an appreciation for Motley Crue, but I definitely never became a super fan. After The Dirt, I'm even less so.

Without a doubt, it's a book that kept drawing me in, though it quickly went from annoying to repulsive. There was all of Tommy Lee's adolescent bro talk, to delusions of grandeur (putting down other hair metal bands of the time despite that fact that they had just one great album in their entire run). Then we get to the rape, DUIs causing death, and spousal abuse.Truly awful stuff.

Even when they tried to show remorse for past actions, blaming a lot on drugs, it came across as insincere, still bragging about their wild exploits.

The most fascinating thing about it all is that they survived.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Reader's Diary #2066- Ian Couch: Asshole Island

With a title like "Asshole Island," you might assume this short story by Ian Couch has a Chuck Palahniuk/ Bret Easton Ellis sort of vibe. You'd be right.

It's about an uninhabited island of Vanuatu where people are sent as punishment for being "assholes." Not criminals necessarily, just jerks, and the narrator is one of them. It's amusing, though I suspect only tolerable in this very short form.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Reader's Diary #2065- David Stewart: Eau de Newfoundland

For a piece of flash fiction, there's almost a sensory overload in David Stewart's "Eau de Newfoundland" and this is a very good thing, indeed!

You get the smells (of the Atlantic-- which is one of the things us ex-pats miss the most), the visuals (majestic icebergs), and the sounds (I'll save this one as a surprise).

Plus, it's got charm and humour. It also features the word Newfie, which tends to rankle some feathers, but not me when it's used as it is here, without malice or connotations.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Reader's Diary #2064- Bridget Canning: Newfoundland and Labrador Considers How to Maintain its Romance

Bridget Canning's "Newfoundland and Labrador Considers How to Maintain its Romance" is actually part 2 of a series of flash fiction stories from Canning, but I think it largely works as a standalone.

I say largely because I did find it jarring when I first realized that the province is being personified. Not that there was anything wrong with that (Wayne Johnston also did it pretty effectively with Colony of Unrequited Dreams) I just wasn't expecting it and I wonder if Part 1 set it up better.

Still, it definitely captures it. The line "Those who've left you get served a lifetime of nagging desire, a leaky faucet of yearning they can't turn off" particularly resonated with me.

I'm also a sucker for stories written in the 2nd person.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Reader's Diary #2063- Seanan McGuire (writer), Rosi Kampe (artist): Spider-Gwen Ghost-Spider

Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider is an off-shoot of Christo Gage's Spider-Geddon run. There's a scene in the latter in which Spider-Gwen is zapped away and trapped in another parallel universe and this tells her her time away.

In this reality, she encounters another version of herself who has succumbed to the dark side, become a villain in the vein of the Green Goblin (Gwen-Goblin). Spider-Gwen agrees to help Peter Parker and Mary Jane capture Gwen-Goblin and revert her back to hero-dom. In return, they agree to get back to the universe where she left to help all the other Spider-people defeat the Inheritors.

The Gwen-Goblin story line is okay. And I suppose there's something to be said about how we can can be pushed or pulled by life into good/bad directions, even a message about redemption-- but really that's been explored in the Spider-Verse stories before. I thought the collection worked best, however, once that Gwen-Goblin arc ended and Spider-Gwen returned. It maybe didn't work as well at that point as a standalone but as an extension of Spider-Geddon, it revisited some of the deaths that occurred and gave them more emotional heft than we'd been given previously.

The art wasn't my favourite. It reminded me somewhat of Howard Chaykin's work, of which I'm not a fan. His line work especially looked rushed. For the most part it wasn't that bad but some panels were real doozies.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Reader's Diary #2062- D. Boyd: Chicken Rising

When my wife first started coming home from university with and meeting my parents, she was taken aback somewhat by our tone with one another. We were loud, snippy, and some mornings if we were up before her, she'd awake thinking, to our surprise, that we were in an argument.

In D. Boyd's memoir about growing up in New Brunswick, she doesn't mention the volume of her parents voices, but they seemed loud. They also seemed, at times, a bit cruel. Usually finding fault, that sort of thing. I related to that as well.

But Boyd recalls it all with lots of humour, glimpses of insightfulness, and love. Her mother eventually develops more as a character and we see the softer side. Her dad, not so much, though nothing comes across as bitter even if it's clear that Boyd still doesn't agree with many of their parenting choices.

The art is great, simple but with just enough exaggeration and expressiveness to sell the emotions and humour and great use of details and shading to highlight her great talent.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Reader's Diary #2061- Jody Houser (writer), Stefano Martino (artist): Stranger Things the Other Side

Yes, like many others, I'm a fan of Netflix's The Stranger Things. Still working my way through the third season, but it's been great so far. The third episode may be one of the best they've ever done.

Wondering what we'll do when it eventually ends, I was pleased to see that Dark Horse comics picked up the comic book rights as the sci-fi/fantasy/80's homage series seems tailor made for comics.

And so far so good with Jody Houser and Stefano Martino's The Stranger Things: The Other Side graphic novel. This story revisits the first season of the show, but from a different angle; showing Will's adventure in the Upside Down. A couple of notes on that:

1. If you haven't seen the show, you likely have no idea what I meant by "the Upside Down" and likewise, I'm not sure that the book can standalone.

2. Houser totally nails the tone of the show. I am curious though about stories beyond the show and if they (Dark Horse, Jody Houser if she's still on board) ability to tell brand new stories. This one's plot doesn't break new ground.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Reader's Diary #2060- Gay Degani: Abbreviated Glossary

Gay Degani's "Abbreviated Glossary" is a flash fiction unlike no other. Well, maybe. I was reminded in a couple of ways of Hemingway's classic "Baby Shoes." Imagine that story as a blink in a series of life.

It's powerful and speaks volumes about life's rapid fires. It's told in chunks but they fuse together almost miraculously.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Reader's Diary #2059- Christos Gage (writer), various artists: Spider-Geddon

I do enjoy the Spider-Verse, the idea of many Spider-People, variations on a Spider-Man theme across multiverses coming together. I enjoy it actually a lot more than I thought I would, initially fearing it would result in a too-crowded world and losing sight of solo characters. The movie especially showed that such concerns could be overcome, but I also enjoyed the Spider-Verse comics collection from a few years back.

I didn't, however, find Spider-Geddon to be as successful. First off, it's really just a rehash of Spider-Verse. There are a couple of new fun characters (a favourite is Spiders-Man, a massive mound of live spiders in the shape of Spider-Man and collectively acting, er...somewhat, as the singular hero) but this time around it does feel too busy. It's hard to even care about the familiar ones when their masks never come off and they only get a line here or there let alone connect to the newbies. Even the villains, the vampire-esque Inheritors are lackluster this time around. Especially annoying was their tendency to dismiss the Spider-people as non-threats when clearly they were defeated before. Now instead of making them seem threatening, they just come across as stupid.

More appealing for me were the one-off stories in the Spider-Vault at the end, showing some of the new Spider variations in action in their own universes. These felt more creative and finally meant to do some character development.

)As a side note, has their ever been a Spider-Man variation who was LGBT or Q? How about one that wasn't able-bodied?)

Friday, July 05, 2019

Reader's Diary #2058- Tasha Spillett and Natasha Donovan: Surviving the City

Tasha Spillett and Natasha Donovan's Surviving the City isn't long at 54 pages; more of a comic than a graphic novel, but like a good short story manages to fit a lot of great ideas in.

It deals with two teenage indigenous girls in Winnipeg, best friends. But one of them runs away, leaving the other devastated and worried. The streets are full of dangers.

It touches on a lot of themes and topics including Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, systemic/colonial racism and danger, friendship, and cultural customs. In that regard, there's no doubt that the book was intended to educate. But the story is strong and enthralling and the art is rich and engaging in terms of colours and symbolism.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Reader's Diary #2057- Various artists and writers: This Place

This Place: 150 Years Retold is a collection of comics by various indigenous artists and writers. The "150 Years" is primarily a response to the colonial Canada 150 celebrations and it's all sort of brilliant that "Canada" doesn't appear in the title.The retelling, it could easily be argued, is about filling in conveniently ignored gaps in Canada's history and setting the record straight on some misconceptions and outright lies.

Each comic is drawn by a different team and addresses pivotal moments in First Nations, Metis, and Inuit history from 150 years ago up to the present and even beyond. Accompanying each story is an intro by the writer and a time line.

Clearly there's an educational intent of the collection but thankfully it doesn't come across as one of those Stay in School/ Don't Smoke / Beware of STIs type comics often foisted upon young readers because "comics are cool". The art and writing is typically incredible.

As a collection of course, there are bound to be ones you're more drawn to than others (for me Richard Van Camp's writing stood out, as did GMB Chomichuk's art) and there was a huge variety in styles and approaches and moods. There's anger, there's hope, there's laughter, there are tears.

It's all around a very solid anthology of artistic talent from "this place" filled with crucial stories.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Reader's Diary #2056- Frank Tieri (writer), various artists: Jughead the Hunger, Volume One

Archie Comics' horror line continues its surprisingly good run with Jughead: The Hunger series written by Frank Tieri and drawn by Michael Walsh, Pat and Tim Kennedy, and Joe Eisma. For me the 2 best horror comics they've put out has been the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Afterlife with Archie, but this is pretty decent too.

It sees Jughead as a werewolf, and with the subtitle "The Hunger" I suppose he's the obvious choice, but he was the main zombie in Afterlife with Archie, so I'd like to see another character have a starring role. Though it was a nice touch to have Betty Cooper as an undercover werewolf hunter.

On that note, I think the book managed to balance the old-school horror vibe with more modern sensibilities (making Betty a kick-ass, Buffy-type character). It's also got a little of the typical cornball humour that is trademark for Archie Comic, but the creative team was also not afraid to go for the more mature gore.

The art is pretty good, especially with the dark colours and panels typically in monochromatic reds or oranges. Similar to Afterlife in that regard.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Reader's Diary #2055- Roselynn Akukuluk and Danny Christopher (writers); Astrid Arijanto (artist): Putuguq and Kublu and the Qalupalik!

Roselynn Kulukjuk and Danny Christopher's Putuguq and Kublu and the Qalupalik is a perfect graphic novel for early readers. Telling a story of the mythical sea monster that garbs children who wander too close to cracks in the sea ice, they strike just the right balance of fun and scares.

For Inuit children, I'm sure it's great to see their own culture represented while non-Inuit children would also benefit from learning about other cultures. (Some may have already had exposure to this particular creature through the Robert Munsch / Michael Kusugak collaboration A Promise is a Promise).

Astrid Arijanto's art works wonderfully with the story, capturing the prettiness of a Nunavut spring landscape with simple but friendly and highly expressive characters that reminded me somewhat of Fisher Price Little People.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Reader's Diary #2054- ​Téa Mutonji: The Doctor's Visit

If you've ever gone to a mental health professional, there's a good chance you'll recognize the resistance of Kate, the roommate of the narrator in Téa Mutonji's short story "The Doctor's Visit" who recounts her first visit to a psychiatrist.The first time the doctor says anything close to a cliche, Kate balks. Dismisses her as an uncaring, quack.

What I found most interesting is that the verdict is really still out on this doctor but the point seems more about recognizing how difficult it is to take that first step for help. I imagine, as is the case with Kate, it's even more so when that there's trauma as an underlying cause.

Finally, I also enjoyed comparing Kate's friend to the doctor. Though the narrator has given Kate lots of advice prior to the visit (even what beverages she should drink), when Kate begins to tell her story, the narrator simply listens. It would seem, at least from this early stage, that the friend may play a key role in Kate's healing as well.

Mutonji has done a remarkable job capturing complex human emotions.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Reader's Diary #2053- Tom King (writer), Mitch Gerads (artist): Mister Miracle

Mister Miracle isn't the first superhero comic to contrast superhero life with domestic life. Off the top of my head, Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman did it with Animal Man, Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez did it with Spider-Woman, and Tom King himself did it before with Vision (drawn by Gabriel Hernandez Walta). I'll admit that I'm a sucker for these kinds of stories and it's particularly easy to be a sucker when they're as good as Mister Miracle. It's also no wonder that King and Mitch Gerads won Eisner Awards for best writer and best artist respectively.

Mister Miracle isn't the most well known superhero, and if I'd encountered him before now, I didn't recall. Originally created by Jack Kirby in the early 70s, he's an alien to Earth from the planet New Genesis who acts as a stage performing escape artist. He's immortal and has the usual superhero abilities (strength, speed, smarts, and stamina). He's also romantically linked to Big Barda, a reformed supervillain.

In this story, Mister Miracle and Big Barda are trying to move past their dark past (Mister Miracle was raised as the evil Darkseid's adopted heir) but a war affecting their birth planets and their friends keeps calling them back. Laid out like that, the plot seems simple enough. But it's so much more.

Infused in this are rich, provocative themes handled with maturity and philosophy; depression, reality, and nature vs. nurture to name but a few. And all of this is balanced out with wit and slapstick. It's a damned funny book to boot.

All of which would be fine enough as it is, but Gerads' art matches the writing panel by panel. It's a mastercraft of a book and should be taught alongside Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. Especially great is the way he breaks the "rules" for effect. Blurriness gives particular panels glitchy-vibes showing Mister Miracle's tenuous grip on reality and peace. Darkseid's evil legacy cannot be contained in a single panel. Words and scenes betray one another as Mister Miracle and Big Barda risk life and death breaking into Darkseid's lair all while debating kitchen renovations, effectively showing how even the adventure-stuff is just par for the course for these two.

If I read a better comic than this this year, I'll have read two genius books.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Reader's Diary #2052- Brooke Hartman (writer), Evon Zerbetz (artist): Dream Flights on Arctic Nights

There are more than a few picture books that catalogue the animals that live in the north. What sets Brooke Hartman and Evon Zerbetz's Dream Flights on Arctic Nights apart from the rest is the art.

First off, Hartman's decision to set the book at night is a neat and unique choice and Zerbetz makes the colours practically pop off the black backgrounds (the text too is in white). I thought at first it was done in oil pastels but it turns out to be linocuts. In addition, there's a real flow to the pictures which perfectly complements Hartman's verse (which thankfully scans!) and the idea that it's all in a child's dream. It reminded me of somewhat of Van Gogh's Starry Night.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Reader's Diary #2051- Teresa Wong: Dear Scarlet

Mental health talk has come along way. I remember back in the day, when anyone had a mental health problem my mother would say they had a case of the nerves and leave it at that. Nerves was all encompassing. Except for postpartum depression. I distinctly remember her being surprisingly up on that and empathetic with sufferers, though she never experienced it herself.

Still, and despite progress in mental health recognition, a postpartum depression memoir is brave. There is still stigma attached and there's an idea of Motherhood that doesn't make it much easier for people like Teresa Wong. Her graphic novel Dear Scarlet: The Story of My Postpartum Depression wrestles with it in the form of a letter to her daughter. She knows, objectively, that there shouldn't be shame but the nature of depression is such that she felt it nonetheless.

There's beauty among the sadness and stress and hopefully others who experience postpartum depression will find some degree of solace in knowing they are not alone.

This is Wong's first graphic novel and so the art is a little amateur perhaps, but it's direct, reminiscent of Sarah Leavitt's Tangles in how it still conveys complex, real emotion even with simple art.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Reader's Diary #2050- Barry Loewer (Editor): 30-Second Philosophies

A short time ago I read and quite enjoyed Stephen Law's The Philosophy Gym. It was a very engaging and enlightening introduction to philosophy. Still not fully confident to progress beyond the beginner stage though, I thought 30-Second Philosophies, edited by Barry Loewer and with an introduction by Stephen Law himself, would be another fun choice.

Subtitled The 50 Most Thought-Provoking Philosophies Each Explained in Half a Minute, I think therein lay the problem. I, and assume Loewer, had mistakenly believed that these could be reduced to such brevity (dumbed-down?). Too often the ideas were confusing or else lacked the real life connection that Law's The Philosophy Gym found and explained so well and so entertainingly.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Reader's Diary #2049- Neil Simon: Lost in Yonkers

Lost in Yonkers, a play by Neil Simon, isn't necessarily fun but it's also not without some dark, dry wit here and there.

Basically it’s a dysfunctional family story about a multi-generational family living in New York in the early 40s. A couple of teenage boys are dropped off to live with their cold, impatient grandmother after their mother dies and their father needs to hit the road for work. There’s also an aunt with an unspecified cognitive disability and a low-tier gangster uncle.

There seems to be some debate in review circles whether or not books need to have likeable characters. Given the focus on dysfunction, it was quite likely for this play to become overbearing. Centering it on the boys though allowed me characters to root for. Would their grandmother’s bitterness lead them into a life of crime like their uncle or would they remain optimistic and warm like their aunt?

In addition to the plot, Simon has given some pretty decent character studies. In particular, the grandmother character becomes far more easy to empathize with before the play is through, though never rises to the level of sympathy. Less successful for me was the aunt character. What could be a compelling look at the sexuality of adults with special needs is hampered somewhat by an inconsistent and too-convenient range of cognitive abilities. Nonetheless, she is a charmer.

I'd be curious to see the play or movie though as it felt somewhat short, almost sit-com length.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Reader's Diary #2048- Robert Carlton: Hannigan's Backyard

Robert Carlton's "Hannigan's Backyard" begins with a nightmarishly surreal description of a garden that is almost Lovecraftian. It becomes clear though, as the story progresses, that childhood imagination and fear may be fueling the memory. The truth might be far less sinister.

It's a story necessarily rich in imagery but accurate in terms of emotion. It made me recall a house not far from where I lived as a child that had huge white concrete lions and chains out in front. It was ostentatious and way out of wack from the Newfoundland outport surroundings. I may have believed the man inside to be a James Bond sort.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Reader's Diary #2047- Daniel Kibbelsmith (writer), Ricardo Lopez Ortiz (artist): Black Panther Vs. Deadpool

Just a couple of days ago I wrote about a Squirrel Girl/ Ms. Marvel team-up and about how it worked so well because they offered balance to one another; Squirrel Girl could use a little more seriousness, Ms. Marvel could use more fun. A Deadpool / Black Panther pairing should take that idea to its extreme.

Of course, the "vs." in the title tells you up-front that it isn't a love-in. Black Panther clearly has little patience for Deadpool. However, they do team up do defeat Jack O' Lantern in Wakanda. As Deadpool himself points out, this is par for the course in such a crossover: two heroes hate each other at first but then must put their differences aside in order to defeat a common enemy.

It's funny, definitely falling more in line with a Deadpool comic than a Black Panther comic, and not without its charm. The art took me a while to appreciate. I do like when a superhero comic doesn't look like all the other superhero comics, but Ortiz's character work is scratchy and exaggerated almost to the point of grotesque. However, it also adds energy and humour, so complements the story well.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Reader's Diary #2046- Susan Orlean: The Library Book

My only knowledge of Susan Orlean was the brilliantly bizarre film adaptation (called Adaptation) of her non-fiction The Orchid Thief. In the film (starring Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep), a book about flower enthusiasts takes some wild left turns and is shockingly exciting.

The same might be said The Library Book (of which there are no film adaptations planned as of yet, to my knowledge). The "might" is not lack of assertiveness on my part, it's that I'm biased.

The Library Book deals with the burning of Los Angeles Public Library in 1986; the worst library fire in American history in terms of damage. Along the way though, Orlean discusses the history of the LA Public Library, of libraries in general, and looks at the direction and relevance of libraries today. The hook, I'm presuming, for people who are not library aficionados like myself is the number one arson suspect: Harry Peak. Peak was by all accounts an eccentric character and his most notable quirk was his compulsive lying.

Like Adaptation, the Library Book doesn't exactly follow a clear path. Peak's story is introduced early, but then left for a few chapters for Orlean to talk about libraries, then revisited. I assume that she's struck a great balance. Non-library folk, hopefully, will find something surprisingly interesting as they patiently wait to get back to Peak and the true crime angle. I, on the other hand, was just as (if not more), fascinated by the library stuff.

Of course, managing a Public Library myself, I was constantly comparing the LA Public Library to my own. It was clearly much bigger and they took on much more of an archival role than mine. They were devastated by the loss of materials, whereas my biggest concern would have been the lives of the patrons, staff, and firefighters. Not that people weren't a concern at the time, but there was a lot of emphasis on salvaging irreplaceable "things". On the other hand, the talks about budgets, the growth needs, the importance of libraries in serving the needs of the homeless? All those things definitely struck chords.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Reader's Diary #2045- Devin Grayson, Ryan North, G. Willow Wilson (writers), various artists: Marvel Rising

A fan of both Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl, I was pleased to see that they were teamed up in Marvel Rising, even better that G. Willow Wilson and Ryan North were on board as those two writers are the reason those two characters are so beloved.

It's a great balance too as Squirrel Girl is often over the top funny but could use more serious action, while Ms. Marvel often falls the other way. While this volume is more aimed at younger readers perhaps, it's still a fun romp for us old folks and I was happy to see Arcade appear as as a villain as I'd only just encountered him for the first time a short while ago in an old Captain Britain comic.

I did find myself thinking more about Ms. Marvel as a character than I had previously. Perhaps it's because there are a few rumours floating around about her appearing in an upcoming MCU movie, just after Marvel Studios has reclaimed the rights to the Fantastic Four, that I've taken note that she doesn't have any unique abilities. She can stretch? That's sort of Mr. Fantastic's thing. She can get big? That's Ant-Man's. But I suppose there are other MCU characters that have the same powers (Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk all have brute strength), so it's still possible to co-exist.

I also found myself thinking about the role of actual religions in a Marvel universe. It's odd to think about that this time around as Ms. Marvel's Muslim identity isn't focused on at all in this particular book like it was in some of the solo books I read, but I don't know how a character in that role can believe in the same Gods as they do in the real world, considering that universe has their own. The same thing goes for Daredevil and his Catholicism.

None of these thoughts are to suggest that the book didn't hold my attention, just that when I put it down I was thinking more about the characters than the plot.

Art-wise, it's a bit inconsistent which is not surprising considering that different artists were involved, but all did manage to infuse a lot of humour and youthful energy.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Reader's Diary #2044- David H.T. Wong: Escape to Gold Mountain

I'd heard but whispers of stories of the Chinese who first came to Canada, usually tied to their exploitation in order to finish the Canadian Pacific Railroad. It was ashamedly missing from the history I'd learned in school. I wonder if it still is? I'd like to think that Canada's at a slow turning point in acknowledging our racist, colonial, murderous past; a necessary turning point if we can ever get even an inch toward the ideal Canada a good many of us had been led (shockingly off-mark) to believe had already been achieved.

When I came across David H.T. Wong's Escape to Gold Mountain: A Graphic History of the Chinese in North America I thought it could serve as a good primer on the topic.

That it did. I'd thought from the name that it would have more to do with one of the gold rushes than it did, but Gold Mountain was the Chinese nickname for North America at the time. While following the fictional Wong family, the book is still largely steeped in facts, facts unbeknownst to me (such as head taxes, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Opium Wars, relationships with indigenous people, and so on). It's not exclusive to Canada, but also the U.S.. The family angle does provide an emotional hook but seeing some of the more graphic scenes (hangings, crushings) I'd like to think readers would have had an emotional reaction anyway. Perhaps the family helps the more optimistic takeaways of the story; resilience and overcoming great odds.

I wasn't overly enthusiastic about the art though. The character-work looked amateurish and the backgrounds, while more more realistic, look like they may be line tracings of old photos. It would also have benefited from colour.

Nonetheless, the story telling is well-done and it's a story that needs to be shared.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Reader's Diary #2043- Shawn Kobb: Street Dog

The last time I was in Vancouver I was taken aback by how many homeless people had dogs. For protection, for companionship, it made sense to me. But as this is not something I've encountered in Yellowknife despite having a large homeless population, I found myself wondering about the complications; are shelters accepting of these animals? Is it possible to scrape enough food together for a second mouth? And what about the economics? I'm sure some people are dog lovers and are maybe even more likely to donate spare change, I'm sure there are others who deem it irresponsible and withhold donations (the same folks who'd withhold donations for a homeless person who smokes). Of course, a homeless dog owner would be able to weigh in on this and I could only guess.

Which is why I could not say with any certainty that Shawn Kobb's "Street Dog," a short story about a homeless man and his dog, depicts a situation authentically.  There's one particular passage that decidedly didn't ring true to me:

It’d probably be more interesting if I said he occasionally hunts down a rabbit and returns it to me so I can clean it and cook it up for the two of us. That’d be a lie, though. I doubt he knows how to hunt rabbits, and I sure as hell don’t know how to clean one. Lighting a fire is a good way to get the cops to come down hard on you.

This came across as a writer wondering aloud if a homeless person's dog could do such a thing and deciding against it rather than the thoughts of an actual homeless person.

Otherwise though, I believed the emotion of the story and quite enjoyed it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Reader's Diary #2042- Jeff Parker, Michael Moreci (writers), Dan Parent (artist): Archie Meets Batman '66

I'm still holding out for a Batman '66/Wonder Woman '77/ Superman '78 (with Christopher Reeve) crossover, but in the meantime an Archie/Batman '66 is a pretty good fit too considering that the Archie gang was quite popular at the time. (There's a reference to their "Sugar, Sugar hit from the era.)

As crossovers go, it's pretty good. There's no traveling to an alternate dimension nonsense and both franchises get equitable treatment. Batman's rogues gallery decide they've had enough of their plans being thwarted in Gotham City and set their sites on Riverdale instead. Of course, villains don't always think things through and of course, Batman (along with Robin, Batgirl, and Alfred) just head on over to Riverdale as well. But with the adults in town being under the sinister Siren's spell, Batman needs to recruit Archie's gang to lend a hand.

The writing feels like typical Batman '66 while the art is reminiscent of Archie comics. And as both rely on a lot of puns and slapstick, it meshes quite well.

Best of all, there's a set-up for a sequel, likely to be set in Gotham City the next time around.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Reader's Diary #2041- Maggie Shipstead: Acknowledgements

I definitely have a contender for favourite short story of the year with Maggie Shipstead's "Acknowledgements". Particularly surprising considering how uncomfortable it made me.

It's a very meta-story about a man who's just written a novel and recounts a woman who inspired it all (much, I'm sure, to her chagrin).

I think, at my worst, in my younger days, I may have had a bit of this asshole narrator in me. Hence, the discomfort. But because it rings so true I'm in love with the writing. The nauseatingly pretentious, immature, entitled voice? My god, it's good.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Reader's Diary #2040- Nnedi Okorafor (wirter), Leonardo Romero (artist): Shuri The Search for Black Panther

I'm a bit fickle when it comes to humour in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I enjoyed both Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther but I thought the former needed to dial down the jokes while the latter needed to lighten up a little. That said, I did think the character of Shuri added some comedic relief and that's one of the reasons I think it was a break out role. I'm not surprised that Marvel Comics has since given her a title series.

I quite enjoyed Nnedi Okorafor's take. Shuri is very similar to her character from the movie but with some added depth. She's strong and wrestles with finding/maintaining her own identity with the expectations upon her by an admittedly wise ancestry.

Also, I'm so thankful that Okorafor also touches upon some of the issues I've had with some previous Black Panther comics, namely the patriarchal overtones and the idea of a monarchy (vs. democracy). Make no mistake, this is a smart comic.

But it's also fun! At one point Shuri has her soul sent into space and she winds up in Groot's head.

Romero's art doesn't have anywhere near the gravitas of that beautiful Black Panther cinematography but his lines are fast and simple, similar to Erica Henderson's work on Squirrel Girl, and again, perhaps this helps balance against the more serious themes.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Reader's Diary #2039- Dorotheé Floriane Conley: Tiled Floors

Lest anyone be caught off guard, the title of Dorotheé Floriane Conley's blog is Weird Short Fiction. That her first short story published there, "Tiled Floors" comes across as either a bad trip or a nightmare, is not altogether surprising.

Not typically a fan of surrealistic writing, I'm good with it in small doses like this. I appreciated the bizarre voice and imagery even if I didn't exactly understand it all. (How does a snail kick anyway?)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Reader's Diary #2038- Scott Snyder (writer), Greg Capullo (artist): Dark Nights Metal

I've read a few Scott Snyder books now and I can safely say, the dude has a pretty out-there imagination. I think it's great when focused (Swamp Thing) but less so when unrestrained (AD). Dark Nights Metal is somewhere in between.

It definitely doesn't feel like a Batman story and that's fine by be as he's one of my least favourite superheroes. Batman is the central character in this ensemble piece and it feels more like a Justice League Dark book than a Justice League book. John Constantine, Swamp Thing, and Zatanna do at least make an appearance (that corner of DC has always been my favourite). Essentially, it takes an evil parallel world (think "the Upside Down" of Stranger Things) but cranks it up to a heavy metal degree by giving the 52 Multiverses of DC Comics lore each their own gothic versions.

One distraction for me, and not one really to blame on Snyder but on all of these "event" stories of DC and Marvel, is that I focus on other superheroes I know that never make an appearance yet we get no explanation. Where, for example, was Supergirl during all of this?

The ending I found a bit weaker, a bit rushed, but not terrible by any stretch.

Greg Capullo does a fantastic job with the art with a healthy blend of Marilyn Manson via Steve Ditko that complements Snyder's dark psychedelia perfectly.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Reader's Diary #2037- Mark Russell (writer), Mike Feehan (artist): The Snagglepuss Chronicles

A fan of Mark Russell's surprisingly clever Flintstones comics a couple of years back, I was very much looking forward to his take on Snagglepuss as a gay Southern playwright. Then I heard it was illustrated by Mike Feehan of Newfoundland and I couldn't wait.

The Snagglepuss Chronicles is great and I want that said up front. It's a super interesting story about the cold war, the McCarthy Hearings, and homophobia. However, that it's Snagglepuss is pretty much irrelevant. Yes, other cartoon characters show up (notably Huckleberry Hound and Quickdraw McGraw) but they might as well have had regular names and been people. Russell used the Flintstones premise to satire modern society but it didn't seem like there was much concern about the source material here. Again, the story itself is wonderful but the packaging is altogether odd.

Feehan's artwork is really good as well, reminding me somewhat of Dave Berg's work (MAD Magazine). It is, however, hindered a little by the premise and I have to admit that the human-like legs on the cartoon animals were somewhat creepy and a whole lot distracting.