Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Reader's Diary #2098- Gerry Alanguilan: Elmer

Gerry Alanguilan's Elmer presents an alternate universe in which chickens suddenly acquired intelligence and consciousness on par with humans.

There are a few ways Alanguilan could have gone with this: could have been all for kicks, could have been all for shock, but it's so much deeper than that. It is funny at times, it is shocking at times, but it's all purposefully provocative with themes of racism, vegetarianism, and redemption running large.

On top of that it's all drawn so beautifully, black in white (which you may be thankful for the amount of blood) with lots of additional detail and mood set with hatching and crosshatching.

One of the best graphic novels I've read this year. Definitely original.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Reader's Diary #2097- Patrick Allaby: Martin Peters

Patrick Allaby's graphic novel Martin Peters is a fictional coming of age biography about a teenage boy in New Brunswick with diabetes. Sort of. Though the cover may make you think it's all about diabetes, Allaby strikes a better balance than that. It's as much about relationships, puberty, and music as it is about diabetes. Sure he gets into things like symptoms and dangers and so on but it doesn't come across as an "educational" comic (you know, the sort that teachers hand out because they think all comics are cool but kids have no interest in them because they're so didactic). First and foremost, Martin Peters is a great story.

The cartooning is simple with an indie vibe. He mentions Chester Brown and you can see that influence. Maybe Seth, as well. It's also all done in gray scale which I always feel suits biographies well.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Reader's Diary #2096- Cassondra Windwalker: Half an Orange

Cassondra Windwalker's flash fiction "Half an Orange" does not involve dream interpretation.

Still I find myself thinking about it. A week or so ago I dreamed about a dying budgie (there were more weird details than that but I know there's nothing more tedious than someone recounting their dreams). Just for shits and giggles I looked online to see what dream interpreters would say about it. The thing is, I don't really put a lot a stock into dream interpretation. I do believe that, at least on occasion, dreams may be our subconscious trying to tell us something, but a stranger has no idea of your own personal symbols. I grew up with budgies so I have very distinct connotations of these particular birds that would be altogether missed by an online dream encyclopedia. Of course, sometimes due to common cultural stories we share some symbols, but even then we likely make it our own.

Here's where Cassondra Windwalker's "Half an Orange" comes in. It involves a stuffed rabbit and there are direct references to the Velveteen Rabbit. While that story typically conjures up ideas about childhood, attachment, authenticity, and so forth, the rabbit in this story also becomes a symbol for unresolved guilt and poverty.

Great story.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Reader's Diary #2095- Doug Moench (writer), Paul Gulacy (artist): Master of Kung Fu Volume 2

I don't recall having encountered Marvel's Shang Chi character until I heard the announcement that he was getting his own film in the MCU, played by Canada's own Simu Liu. So I tracked down a collection of Shang Chi comics: Master of Kung Fu: Fight Without Pity Volume 2 1975 - 1977.

It hasn't excited me for the movie much.

Some of this is my own preference. At least according to this collection, he doesn't have super-powers and his stories tend to be along the lines of spy stories (he's a reluctant recruit on MI6 missions). I've heard that in later Marvel stories he develops the ability to clone himself, so I'm unsure what Marvel Studios plans are. I'm not a fan of spy stories though. I never really enjoyed James Bond and likewise I'm also not all that excited in the upcoming Black Widow movie which also seems to be taking that sort of tone. Again though, it's a personal taste thing. I suspect many would love such an approach.

I also don't really get a sense of the character. Doug Moench's run on the character is supposed to be one of the better ones, and while there were definite strong points (which I will get to momentarily), strong characterization wasn't one of them. Chi is shown as usually stoic and quiet and the primary thoughts he shares is when he's annoyingly describing the action (this was a drawback to most superhero comics in the 70s and earlier, unfortunately). It doesn't give a lot of insight. I did find myself wondering if I hadn't made a mistake from starting from the second volume. Perhaps the origin story would have given me more of idea of what makes him tick. Then there were there the peripheral characters, largely other MI6 agents, all of whom I found tedious and interchangeable (macho men with racist, sexist tendencies).

I did, however, like Moench's approach to story-telling, often eschewing straight forward chronological timelines. I also liked Gulacy's art (even if it was quite 70s in its garish colours and disco chic style). He had quite inventive use of panels and some of the character faces and action scenes were well done.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Reader's Diary #2094- Jacob M. Held (editor): Wonder Woman and Philosophy

Wonder Woman and Philosophy: The Amazonian Mystique is my second foray into the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series and I've quite enjoyed both though they are quite different. Though my earlier choice also had a superhero focus (Iron Man vs Captain America) that one was, due to the nature of the topic, set up more as a debate whereas the Wonder Woman book just explored a whole bunch of angles in the character's mythology and history and how they could be interpreted under a philosophical lens. Is the use of her magical lasso, for instance, ethical?

Another major difference was the introduction of female philosophers. Perhaps it's not surprising that a book about Wonder Woman would have a bit more acknowledgment of great female thinkers (Simone de Beauvoir features heavily) I was a bit dismayed in my earlier attempts this year to explore philosophy to find an almost dearth of female thought. Finally Wonder Woman and Philosophy has pointed me towards more writers to explore that are not men.

One thing that has been consistent across these two books in the series, however, is the (not surprising) fact that as collection of essays from different authors, I appreciated some more than others. Not that there were any I hated, mind you, there were just some I felt frustrated that I couldn't argue or ask questions about point points I wished were addressed.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Reader's Diary #2093- Cathy Ulrich: The Ghost of a Very Small Thing

I came across Cathy Ulrich's "The Ghost of a Very Small Thing" on Lunate, a website specializing in "Flash fiction. Short stories. Poetry. Scares." and while it looked on the surface like a piece of flash fiction, after reading it I wasn't sure if it intended to flash fiction or perhaps prose poetry. Not really relying on hard and fast definitions as much as personal connotations. Poetry tends to be less accessible than flash fiction. After a few more reads (the beauty of flash fiction) I found it more accessible than I had initially and I'm more comfortable that it's flash fiction, though it certainly has  a poet's touch with Ulrich's strong use of imagery.

The title is apt as it captures the slight hint of something wrong. Perhaps there's something supernatural at play, perhaps not, and do I sense something just a bit off in the described relationship?

Monday, October 14, 2019

Reader's Diary #2092- Unknown British author: The Three Sillies

My mother used to reference the old British folk tale "The Three Sillies" quite often when I was a child but as an adult I haven't found too many others familiar with the story.

It tells of a man who is courting a daughter and one day while visiting her family discovers them crying over the future fate of a grandchild who may be injured by a mallet that is lodged in the ceiling and which, they assume, could someday fall on his head. (The version I was always told had an axe, not a mallet.) Of course the obvious and sensible solution rather than crying about it would be to simply remove the mallet. The courting man mocks them and sets upon a challenge of his own devising to travel far and find three folks who are sillier. Should he be successful he wishes to marry the daughter. (Why he'd want to marry into such a silly family anyway, I'm not sure-- doesn't sound like he's the sharpest tool in the shed either.)

Of course he is successful, managing to find a series of humorously silly (i.e., dumb) individuals. You can see why kids would enjoy the story of idiocy and slapstick, though being an old folktale it has its share of violence (even in this version which tried to sanitize the axe into a mallet). And I guess there's a moral about simply fixing a problem with the most obvious and easy solution, but I just remember it from my childhood for being funny, not because of any profound lesson.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Reader's Diary #2091- Sean Michaels: Us Conductors

I have a thing for rare, unusual musical instruments and the theremin is one of my favourites. I mentioned this recently to a friend of mine who suggested I read Sean Michaels' Us Conductors, a historical novel based upon the Russian inventor Lev Termen.

Largely why the book works so well though isn't the allure of this odd instrument, but the odd character of Termen. On the one hand he's a scientist, full of facts and figures. On the other he's a romantic. The latter, however, also makes him rather annoying. It's a story of unrequited love, told by Termen to the object of his desire, Clara Rockmore, one of the few world masters of the theremin. Annoying, by the way, isn't a critique of the book but rather the authentic type of toxic masculinity in which men can't take no for an answer. Not a surprising personality trait coming from a guy that literally found something that wasn't there in the music of his invention. It's also a trait that arguably kept him alive. Once he's sent to the Siberian gulags for being mistaken as a spy against Russia (he was, in fact, a spy for Russia), it's arguably the misguided hope for a reunion with Clara that keeps him going.

Spies, weird musical instruments, unrequited love? It sounds like it should be a wonderful novel. And I did enjoy it, but I did find it at times to be unfocused, a bit of, "all this for what?" Still Michaels' writing was crisp and his attention to detail was quite engaging.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Reader's Diary #2090- Sadat Hasan Manto: Toba Tek Singh

Sadat Hasan Manto's short story Toba Tek Singh is about an insane asylum patient (the titular character) who has heard news that the inmates are either going to be moved to Pakistan or to India based on whether they are Muslim or Sikh. Toba Tek Singh however is very stressed and perplexed by this info as he has no idea where the place her previously called home was considered Pakistan or India. Finally the answer is revealed to put Toba in conflict.

It's as relevant now and here as it any time, any place as we, as a species, love to draw political maps that don't always coincide with cultures. It's a curious story though and I feel that perhaps some of the finer satirical points are lost on me, perhaps due to its translation. Why, for example, did it need to be set in asylum?

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Reader's Diary #2089- Gerard Way (writer), Gabriel Bá (artist): Umbrella Academy Apocalypse Suite

It's been out for a while, but I hadn't really been interested in reading Gerard Way's graphic novel Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite until I head it was adapted for a Netflix show.

I get the appeal though, it borrows heavily from the X-Men but with a smaller, more manageable cast and a goth, almost steampunk aesthetic. However, I feel like I enjoyed the world building more than the plot of this particular arc. It's particularly strong when Way goes way over the top in the mini-stories along the way, but the main tale about a rogue member of the Umbrella Academy-- one previously outcast for not having any super-abilities-- who discovers a hidden talent and turns villainous, falls flat with a lot of build-up and too-quick resolution. Nonetheless, the series itself has a lot of potential.