Monday, August 03, 2020

Reader's Diary #2184 - Alicia Fox: A Fresh Start

It's not a complaint, a whine about double-standards or any such crap, but I did want to say that i find it amusing that a short story like Alicia Fox's "A Fresh Start" is published in Cosmopolitan as "erotic fiction" when it's basically a porno story like you'd read in Penthouse: Forum only from a female perspective.

It's all good, a pleasant romp in the hay tale involving two old friends who hook up after denying that they could be more than just friends for years. It's got a lot of great imagery (yes, even the non-sexual stuff) and the tone is light and engaging.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Reader's Diary #2183- Lily E. Hirsch: Weird Al Seriously

A long time fan of Weird Al Yankovic (still the best concert I've been to), I have no issue with taking Weird Al seriously. I seriously wish he'd get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I seriously think the man has serious talent (as does his band who should be inducted with him).

Lily Hirsch tries to take him even more seriously, sometimes trying to paint him as a leftist progressive. I don't disagree that he leans to the left but sometimes her analyses of his work attributes more serious themes than I think he usually intended. She acknowledges that Al himself sometimes downplayed this in their interviews.

Still it's a very in-depth look at the man and his work. I definitely learned a few things. Didn't know he was an architect, that the longevity of his original band ranks up there with U2 and ZZ Top, that he was such an Elton John fan. (Why has he barely parodied Elton John at all?)

And, despite my suggestion that Hirsch's biography was a bit political, it's still a light, often amusing read.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Reader's Diary #2182 - Kevin O'Cuinn: Bear With Me

Usually finding the terms "short fiction" and "short story" interchangeable, Kevin O'Cuinn's "Bear With Me" is better classified (as it is on the Feathertale website) as short fiction. Definitely not a story in the plot-sense, it's the musings of a bear (yes a bear, so definitely fiction) on various topics, as if being interviewed but readers don't get to see what the questions were exactly.

It's amusing, occasionally thoughtful, and has a rich overly-sophisticated voice (which adds to the amusement). I don't know that I'd care to read a longer work like this but it works for a shorter piece.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Reader's Diary #2181- Ann Leckie: Night's Slow Poison

Ann Leckie's "Night's Slow Poison" is an example of a great science fiction story. Wonderfully developed world, compelling story, and enough reflections on life that have meaning in our very real world.

The most obvious of the latter is how she talks about immigration and prejudices. However, there's a bit of a throwaway paragraph about people using rudeness as a mask that I especially enjoyed. It calls out those folks who brag about how they "say it like it is" and man, did I appreciate that.

The descriptions in the piece are supremely well done. She has a spaceship navigating through a particularly precarious space in which it must proceed slowly and carefully for a few months and wow, does she ever make you feel that.

The one thing I got a little lost in were the various cultures and why they dislike one another. This is more of an issue with me though. I know I had a similar issue with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine back in the day as I found it hard to differentiate between the Cardassians and Bajorans.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Reader's Diary #2180 - Foenkinos and Corbeyran (writers), Horne (illustrator): Lennon the New York Years

I hadn't been in a major rush to read Corbeyran's Lennon: The New York Years (adapted from a work by Foenkinos). It was hyped a bit at first but then I remembered some critics who said it was full of inaccuracies. I eventually broke down, largely due to Bohemian Rhapsody. As many have pointed out, it's also full of inaccuracies but I knew that going in and still enjoyed it as a movie.

For the most part, I also enjoyed this graphic novel. I do wish though that those who called it inaccurate would have given more examples. Not really having studied Lennon's life before, I didn't pick up on much except it omits any part of him being physically abusive to women or Julian, which he himself has admitted to.

It was interesting to leave that stuff out as other flaws were left in (violence towards men, drug abuse, disinterest in Julian, infidelity) and I suspect it ties back to the frame story. The story's being told from John himself as he unburdens himself from a psychiatrist's couch (this also didn't happen, by the way). I've encountered a lot of framing devices that I really haven't enjoyed, and I know some critics didn't enjoy this one either, but I found it effective in portraying him more sympathetically. I suspect the authors knew the misogyny and child abuse were lines in the proverbial sand that would destroy most readers' sympathies.

Another complaint I've read by reviewers is the repetitive use of certain panels. I will absolutely not knock this or any aspect of the art which was gorgeous (grayscale watercolours). The repetition was always purposeful, a reflection back to a previous scene which now had new context, a reminder that he was sometimes spinning his wheels, repeating previous mistakes.

A will, however, point out that the title is misleading. It implies a memoir of a very specific time in his life, when in actuality it's a full-on biography starting with his birth right up to his death.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Reader's Diary #2179- Various artists and writers: Taskmaster Anything You Can Do...

Hearing that the main villain in the Black Widow movie is going to be Taskmaster I was immediately interested in discovering who he was, not having come across the character before. Fortunately a certain pandemic bought me some time and I've finally gotten around to a Taskmaster collection.

To be sure, he's a great character and I've learned a lot about him. He has the ability to instantly replicate physical moves from a single watching, granted they're not of the supernatural sort or require special equipment (he can for instance, replicate Hawkeye's perfect aim, but cannot shrink like the Ant-Man or doesn't possess the strength of Thor) and I must say, I like that these skills and limitations are well-defined. He also has a schtick of training thugs for hire and has the uncanny ability to escape right at the last second. Oh, and he looks like Skeletor with a cape and boots.

The stories in the collection are all pretty solid though because they've been collected it does grow tiresome that he explains (usually during battle) over and over again what his powers are, presumably for new readers when they originally appeared with lots of time between stories. I also wish collections like this would give a little more info about when they were originally published. I could narrow decades down by context and styles but that's about it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Reader's Diary #2178- Séan McCann and Andrea Aragon: One Good Reason

Not too long ago I read a memoir by another former Great Big Sea star, Alan Doyle. At the time I commented that I'd been surprised to find how similar our upbringings were despite being from outport Newfound; he was a Catholic and a musician, neither of which am I, and yet still we seemed to have shared so many life experiences.

Despite being a musician and a Catholic and being from the same band, Seam McCann's earlier years seemed remarkably different. And reading about the trauma he endured, Doyle and I should count our lucky stars. McCann had been groomed by a local priest, sexually assaulted, and became an alcoholic.

Billed as "a memoir of addiction and recovery, music, and love" I would say the emphasis is on the addiction aspect, as I would also say that despite given co-author credit, the focus is more on McCann than his wife Andrea Aragon. This is not to suggests any of this particular focus is a problem, just throwing it out there so as other readers know what to expect.

His time with Great Big Sea is nonetheless interesting. A folk band is not what one would think of a group living the Rockstar life, but they certainly did. It was also fascinating to read about the level of fame beyond the Canadian border and what that meant for performances. And while he doesn't come right out and name names or get into too many specific grievances, the sting of the break up of the band was still prevalent during the writing of the book. One does not sense the other guys were particularly supportive of his struggle to go sober. I do wonder if any of them have reached out since the book.

Overall, it's a well-paced, inspiring book. It does beg for a sequel at some point down the road though!

Monday, July 13, 2020

Reader's Diary #2177- Emma Cline: Son of Friedman

Emma Cline's short story "Son of Friedman" is a depressing story. It's well written and she certainly captures father/son angst (not to mention aging, success, as well as a few other themes), but yes, depressing.

The whole story takes place in one night as two old friends, Hollywood types, meet up to go to the premier of a film one's son has just produced. Expectations are low.

As an aside, it made me want a martini and a steak.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Reader's Diary #2176- Jared Hines: What's In the Box?

Jared Hines' short story "What's In the Box?" practically overdoses on descriptive and figurative language. It's effective though in slowing down the pace and building up the tension of readers who just want to know what the hell's in the mysterious box that's arrived on his doorstep.

I feel that the "reveal"/ twist-ending is a bit on the preachy side, but otherwise a fun story.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Reader's Diary #2175- Jessica Gunderson (writer), Pat Kinsella (illustrator): Hip-Hop Icon Jay-Z

This is my second musician biography comic from Capstone Press and I'm confident enough now to say I'd advise skipping them. I perhaps learned a bit more from Hip-Hop Icon Jay-Z than I did with the Michael Jackson book but mostly because I just didn't know a lot about Jay-Z to begin with. And to be sure, at just 30 pages I didn't learn a great deal this time either except a few major milestones in Jay-Z's life.

Framing the story around an interview regarding his supposed retirement concert in 2003 isn't a bad idea per se, but the dialogue is forced. The most egregious though is the art. I don't know if there was fear of a lawsuit from using celebrity likenesses or whatnot but not of the people here look like who they're supposed to be. Not Beyonce, not Rihanna, not Kanye, and not even the title man himself.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Reader's Diary #2174- Various writers and artists: Bob Marley in Comics

Bob Marley in Comics is a biography told with various graphic novelists taking a certain period of his life. Despite being a fan of his music, I didn't know a lot about him and felt I did learn a lot. And also about Rastafarianism and reggae music in general. On this note, I cannot say if diehard fans would have learned much new or not.

He's certainly portrayed as a driven man and maybe in part due to having multiple tellers, a complicated man. I recently complained about a Michael Jackson biography that completed ignored some pretty awful allegations about the man. Despite Bob Marley in Comics coming across as pro-Marley, they did at least include some unsavoury moments. One scene in particular shows him slapping his wife Rita. Whether or not they handled this scene with enough depth or sensitivity is a whole other debate, but at the very least they showed it.

Like most multi-authored collections, I had some favourites and some that I didn't particularly care for, but there was no terrible art. I do wish publishers NBM included little bios, perhaps in a back appendix of the creators though.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Reader's Diary #2173 - Sophie Lovett: Bacon

In case anyone ever wondered how I chose the stories I do for Short Story Monday, there's not much of a rhyme or reason. With Canada Day coming up, I simply Googled "short story" + "bacon" and found Sophie Lovett's short story of the titular meat. It's not really Canada related, nor did I expect it to be, but it is still pretty appropriate for this time of Covid and Trump. It tells of a woman who stockpiles bacon in fear of an impending apocalypse. Eventually her family seeks an intervention.

It's an amusing story with a great voice and imagery. Bonus points for making me recall the bacon scene in Last Man on Earth.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Reader's Diary #2172- Michael V. Smith: Weinmeier

Michael V. Smith's short story "Weinmeier" came to my attention via Twitter when someone remarked their amusement over the length of a penis described. I read the money-shot paragraph at the time, and while I found it amusing, it also seemed like a Penthouse Forum story (or whatever the gay equivalent of that would be). I was surprised that it was in Joyland, a magazine that has a decidedly more literary reputation.

So I gave it a second chance, the whole story this time, and yeah, it's quite good. I think what I like the most about it was the reflective tone of the narrator. He recounts a time in his life when he's able to acknowledge the lessons he's learned in the meantime while still be in awe over the confidence and immortality of youth. He was a young man working in a bookstore finding hook-ups when they presented themselves. And on that note, his youthful attitudes were wildly discordant with the realities for gay men in Toronto at the time who could not publicly seek partners. The result is a nostalgic story of summers and flings but with a hint of sadness and danger underneath.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Reader's Diary #2171- Terry Collins (writer), Michael Byers (artist): King of Pop

King of Pop: The Story of Michael Jackson, by Terry Collins and Michael Byers, is a woefully inadequate look at the life and career of Michael Jackson.

Granted at 32 pages, it was unlikely to be an in-depth look and it's aimed at younger readers, but honestly younger readers would turn in a more thorough school essay than this. It doesn't even mention Janet Jackson, let alone La Toya. And then there's the censorship of certain details of his life. I get that not everyone believes the allegations against him sexually abusing young boys, but to ignore them all together doesn't not paint an accurate picture of his complicated legacy. Instead, the supposed drawback to his fame is demonstrated by outlandish tabloid headlines about sleeping in an oxygen chamber, etc. Like, geez, look at the silly rumours. Then there's his death. It says, "Suffering from chronic insomnia, an exhausted Michael struggled to sleep. The long night was restless and led into the dawn. Once he finally fell asleep, the King of Pop never wakened." So, we're just going to ignore the drugs in his system? He died of... sleep?

At least Michael Byers' art is adequate.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Reader's Diary #2170- Mezzo and J.M. Dupont: Love in Vain

Sex, drugs, and rock and roll is often cited as an unholy trinity and the key here is the unholy part. Perhaps no one better personified this than Robert Johnson, even if his music is usually classified as blues (predating rock and roll by more than a decade). Legend has it, of course, Robert Johnson traded his soul at the "Cross Road" to the devil in exchange for his musical gifts.

Mezzo and J.M. Dupont's graphic novel, Love in Vain captures his wild and short life. Was it tragic? By most accounts yes, but rare were the times he was shown to submit to the pain and tragedy around him. Instead he threw himself into music and debauchery, appearing on the surface at least, to always land on his feet. Until of course, he couldn't.

The story is fast and short, entertaining and sometimes poignant. There's a bit of an unnecessary frame story involving a mysterious narrator whose identity is revealed (to not much surprise) at the end, but it's not distracting.

The art is absolutely gorgeous. Very heavy, black ink gives it a look of woodcuts (helping with the historic vibe) and caricatures have a Charles Burns/ Robert Crumb expressive and fluid feel in keeping with the music. I also appreciated the extra attention to detail in the party scenes.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Reader's Diary #2169 - Various artists and writers: Thor Ragnaroks

I picked up the Thor Ragnaroks book as it contained a run on a Beta Ray Bill story, the horse-faced Thor-ish superhero who is rumored to make an appearance in the next Thor movie. I've not read anything with him in it before.

That story turned out to be the best in the collection. The others, "Thor: Blood Oath" and "Thor: Ragnarok," weren't bad (the former was marred by terribly coloured art, the latter by a confusing story-line), but "Stormbreaker: The Saga of Beta Ray Bill" was better on both accounts.

A quick word on the second story, "Thor: Ragnarok": it is very different than the movie of the same name. Yes, his eyes turn white, he's without his Mjolnir hammer, and Hela's costume is pretty accurate, but the similarities end there.

And also a note to artists: please never draw Beta Ray Bill without his helmet again. That... looked wrong.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Reader's Diary #2168 - Tom Butler: The City Inside

Tom Butler's short story, "The City Inside" started strong enough. A man is getting results back at a doctor's office and it's clear there's something amiss. It set a mood to put me on edge. However, the results are definitely not what I could have expected and the story then takes a quirky turn, a clearly meant to be funny. The humour, however, fell a little flat for me and instead I found myself distracted and Googling epigenetics. So not a complete waste!

Monday, June 08, 2020

Reader's Diary #2167- Curtis Sittenfeld: White Women LOL

This morning Donovan Bailey remarked that Canada had "racism with a smile," explaining that there is less blatant racism and more insidious and subtle racism in Canada, which is often harder to fight.

Similarly Curtis Sittenfeld's short story "White Women LOL" takes on this theme. A white woman asks a group of black people to leave a room after assuming they are party crashers, they record the interaction and post it on social media, and she goes viral as a racist. She's shocked by this assessment. In her head she's appalled by the Klan and that sort. But like many of us white folks, we deny that there are degrees and varieties of racism. It's much easier to be smug in our declarations; that we'd never be like those hood wearing idiots than it is to reflect upon our own actions and attitudes. Vodka Vicky in this story is forced to reflect upon this. At first, I'll admit that I read it thinking she had been judged too harshly for a misunderstanding especially by the social media outrage machine, but in the grand scheme of things, what were these but a few stressful weeks in an otherwise privileged life, especially in comparison. Hopefully she'll emerge a better person.

Wonderful, believable, and provocative story.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Reader's Diary #2166- Cherrie Kandie: Sew My Mouth

Cherrie Kandie's "Sew My Mouth" features a beautiful love under tragic circumstance. It's of a lesbian Kenyan couple, trying their best to keep loving one another, in secret, away from the eyes of unaccepting parents (the mother may know), neighbours, and society at large.

The story is raw with emotion and left this reader saddened that this strong, healthy couple wasn't able to thrive.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Reader's Diary #2165- Steven A. Benko and Andrew Pavelich (editors): The Good Place and Philosophy

The Good Place was one of my favourite sitcoms in years. Not only was its humor and storytelling unlike anything else I'd ever seen, it was thought-provoking and revolved around philosophy of all things. Like many other fans, it awakened my interest in the subject.

I figured I'd start off slow and fun. When I came across the Popular Culture and Philosophy series published by Open Court, I thought they'd be perfect. I'd get a lighthearted introduction and then dig in deeper, check out those philosophers and works referenced in the books. I've now read books about the Avengers and Philosophy, Wonder Woman and Philosophy. And now a book about by the very show that inspired the interest in the first place. Oh and on my nightstand I have Black Mirror and Philosophy waiting for me. It seems like I'll never get to the works of Kant, Socrates, and the rest. And for now? I'm fine with that! I feel these essays are thoughtful and easy to understand, funny and practical. They're written by actual philosophers and if they're "just" an introduction, it still feels in depth.

Of course, there couldn't be a more perfect fit for the Popular Culture and Philosophy series as The Good Place though I suppose it could have gone the other way. I had presumed the show was smart and a good look at philosophical ideas, but maybe philosophers wouldn't agree. I don't know that the essayists in this book are a representative sample, but they sure are fans!

With a similar absurd humor, they discuss how philosophical theories have been explored on the show, concepts of ethics, the afterlife, souls, society and so on.

A minor quibble, or perhaps question I still have, is what the hell Chidi is doing in the bad place. I get Eleanor, Tahani, and maybe Jason, but Chidi's biggest flaw is being indecisive. Not one of the writers here seem to doubt this makes him worthy of eternal penance, but I'm not sold on that part.

Otherwise, brilliant show, brilliant book!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Reader's Diary #2164- Tiffanie DeBartolo (writer), Pascal Dizin and Lisa Reist (artists): Grace

Somehow Jeff Buckley escaped my attention when his career peaked and he drowned in a river. I've since heard of him of course, but have not really grown my own appreciation for him yet. Yes, I think his cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is wonderful, definitely among the best, but his skills as a singer/songwriter, I couldn't say. I've listened to the Grace album once, maybe twice.

I'd hoped that Grace, the graphic novel based on his life, would help foster an interest in and appreciation for the man. It didn't make me dislike him, but I can't say I walked away anymore enlightened or inspired.

I think the major issue is that I feel things were rushed. In just chapter two right before signing a major contract, Buckley is shown as saying things like, "I've been doing this for years" and "It's everything I've always wanted." But I don't feel as a reader I really got to see or appreciate this supposed lifelong struggle or obsession and so I wasn't really sold on it.

There's also a frame story about a fan who's inspired by his work and manages a chance encounter with Buckley who sets his music career off. Again, it felt a little underdeveloped and therefore unnecessary.

But it wasn't terrible as a piece of entertainment. Plus, the art was great, with heavy manga influences.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Reader's Diary #2163 - Katy Weicker: Tinder Embers

Katy Weicker's "Tinder Embers" won the 2019 Islands Short Fiction Contest sponsored by the Nanaimo Arts Council, Vancouver Island Regional Library and the Vancouver Island University Department of Creative Writing and Journalism. After reading it I was pleasantly surprised it had been chosen. Not that I had any reason to doubt any of these groups would have reason to pick a sub-standard piece of writing. And the writing is soilid, full of imagery, a strong voice, and humour. But it's very adult-oriented (it's about the day after a one-night stand) and I know some folks sponsoring a public contest would fear picking such a story. But good on them!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Reader's Diary #2162 - Keith Giffen and Alan Grant: Lobo Volume 1

Last week I listened to Melissa Etheridge's Yes, I Am album. It came out originally when I was a teen going through a metal period. It bored me to tears at the time. Now at 43 I was able to appreciate it. It wasn't a teenager's album and that's okay. Sort of the opposite reaction to Keith Giffen and Alan Grant's Lobo, Volume 1 collection. It's over-the-top violent and uses shock for comedy. I would have loved it as teen (when the comics first came out). Now I'm more bored by intentional shock and I didn't particularly like the scenes with maiming. Lobo's supposed to be a likable psychopath I think, and I wasn't particularly endeared to him.

But yes, I'd say I would have enjoyed it at the time. I also appreciated the indie/graffiti style of the art. Reminded me of Tank Girl and certainly fit the stories.

I find it weird though that DC Comics folded him in with the superheros. Without reading those, I think he works better as a solo character. I may be proven wrong, but I cannot see how he can work alongside Superman or Batman and still be this Lobo.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Reader's Diary #2161- Julia Zarankin: Black-legged Kittiwake

In Julia Zarankin's short story "Black-legged Kittiwake", a man named Sam goes through his ex's bird-watching notebooks, looking for clues about where their relationship began to fall apart.

It's a fine balance, watching him reminisce. Do we feel sorry for him? Do we start raising red flags that he's maybe another male who can't let an ex move on? Does he see himself, perhaps, developing a passion for his ex in the same way she had a passion for birds?

I'm making the story seem far more dark and sinister than it comes across. There's a moment at the end where I started getting the unhealthy vibe and admittedly that angle is the one rattling around in my head still.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Reader's Diary #2160- Nancy Hale: The Empress's Ring

Nancy Hale's "The Empress's Ring" reminded me of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Normally such a comparison by me would not be a good thing as I'm definitely not a fan of Moby Dick. However, my main beef with Moby Dick is that it's too damn long and already at just a few pages, Hale's is better.

It reminded me of Melville's book mostly due to the possible themes about pride as a motivator. In this case a woman is haunted and preoccupied by a lost ring from her childhood. It's her white whale. That said, it's definitely a more feminine take, without the aggression of Melville's.

It's also quite rich in visual imagery and another reason I enjoyed it so much was because it reminded me of playing cubby-house (or "coopy-house" as we called it Newfoundland) with my sister as a child.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Reader's Diary #2160- The McElroys (writers) Andre Lima Araujo (artist): Journey Into Mystery

I hadn't jumped into Marvel's huge War of the Worlds event last year until now and this is, from what I can gather, a pretty peripheral story. But it wasn't really that event that drew me in as much as it was the promise of reading about some Marvel characters that I hadn't before: Wonder Man and Ares. In the bargain though War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery also introduced me to a few others I don't believe I encountered before: Death Locket, Sebastian Druid, and a couple of Thor's other siblings, Balder the Brave and his baby sister. If it weren't for Miles Morales and Kate Bishop, the story would have had almost no star appeal.

The story was good with a lot of humour and heart. It revolves this cast of mostly-rejects on a road trip across the U.S. to protect the baby.

The art didn't do a lot for me. I was especially put off my the faces. They seemed inconsistent. Towards the end of the volume though it grew on me more and there was one particular panel featuring Ares leaping from a flaming bus that me realize the action scenes were well done. It was somewhat reminiscent of Paul Pope's style of whom I'm also not a particular fan, but I appreciate it's a style and not cookie-cutter superhero art.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Reader's Diary #2159 - Mark McConville: Dreams

I can appreciate a story inside the head of a guy who's not handling a break-up well.  But there were a couple of sentences in Mark McConville that I really didn't like and they detracted from my overall enjoyment.

Her voice is still embedded in your head like a catchy rock song which has substance and lyrical qualities.

To me this comes off as awkward. Maybe it could be argued that it's a reflection of the narrator's awkwardness?

You’re festering like a fruit bowl laced in small insects. All the flies circle it like little commanders killing what they see fit.

Again, it's another simile which just pulled me right out of the story.

Overall though I enjoyed it, and bonus points for being written in the 2nd person. I have a weakness for that perspective.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Reader's Diary #2158- Jeff Lemire, Ivan Reis, Evan Shaner: Terrifics

I've made no secret that I'm a bigger fan of Marvel than DC. My issues with DC are of course generalizations, but I find them too serious (often trying to recapture "cool" 80s grit), too focused on Batman, and too many of their characters are overpowered.

Doesn't mean though I don't pick up a DC Comic now and again. I'm especially interested in reading about characters I'm unfamiliar with and pretty much anything Jeff Lemire writes, so I find myself reading Terrifics, and very obvious and unapologetic knock-off of Marvel's Fantastic Four.

But being a knock-off still doesn't mean it can't be good. Cracked had the occasional good parody, as did MADtv. And Terrifics is good as well. The characters aren't completely analogous to the Fantastic Four. Plastic Man, for instance has the stretching abilities of Mr. Fantastic, but unlike the latter, he isn't the leader of the group and his personality is probably closest to the Human Torch, if anybody. Plus, no one writes families like Jeff Lemire. Underneath the Marvel-esque humour Lemire infuses the story with heart.

The art is good. It's not too experimental or anything, and perhaps could have veered further away from the typical look of a superhero comic and still worked for this different kind of story, but the characters are drawn with great expressions and movement is captured quite well, particularly in the case of Plastic Man.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Reader's Diary #2157- Jose Saramago, translated by Margaret Jull Costa: Seeing

It's been years since I read Jose Saramago's Blindness but I still consider it one of my favourites. To some it may seem surprising that it's taken me this long to read the sequel but I really liked Blindness so much that I was afraid of not enjoying Seeing and that experience detracting from my fond memory of the first book.

Now that I've finally read it, I can't say that my fears were unfounded. While I ultimately enjoyed Seeing, it was nowhere near the same extent. One of the things I liked the most about Blindness was how well the experimental style fit the plot. Eschewing quotation marks or changing paragraphs after a person spoke, a lot of the dialogue was blurred and it was difficult at times to tell who said what. However, in a world where everyone is suddenly struck blind, that made sense. Most of us would have difficultly differentiating between the various conversations going on around us.

In Seeing sight has been long (4 years) to the world and that style seemed less purposeful and more gimmicky. I suppose it did keep the pace up but otherwise I don't know that it did the story any favours.

Also I wasn't sure it worked as a sequel. In fact, it was only about halfway through the book that it's even clear that it is a sequel. The plot of this book involves an election in which a large majority of ballots are spoiled by being left blank. It leads to political chaos and then violence. Eventually, someone points to the doctor's wife, the woman who didn't go blind in Blindness, as somehow being responsible.

I mean it was still all rather interesting, had some provocative themes about democracy and corruption, and the ending was pretty unique. I won't say what happened or didn't happen, but I will say it probably wouldn't be everyone's favourite ending.

Seeing was good, nowhere near as great as Blindness, but it thankfully didn't detract from it either.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Reader's Diary #2156- Nick Seluk: Heart and Brain

Starting to think I should just avoid books  published by Andrews McMeel Publishers. Usually featuring comics taken from the web, I'm sad to say we don't usually share the same sense of humour and I can't put my finger on why. On the surface, they tend towards quirky, slightly dark which is exactly what I go for. Unfortunately, I'm always left underwhelmed. Same goes for Nick Seluk's Heart and Brain.

The premise is decent: a heart and brain debate responsibilities and living in the now. Could be some smart psychological insight here, a riff on the id vs the ego. Except it's the same joke over and over. The brain is typically right, until he's not. The brain is over-serious, the heart is goofy.

The art is simple, which would be fine if the jokes held up their end of the bargain (we wouldn't need complicated art getting in the way). But when the jokes are just meh, I found myself wanting more from the art.

I did find the brain's pestering of the Awkward Yeti (the host body) just as he was about to fall asleep worthy of at least a chuckle.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Reader's Diary #2155- Dig Wayne: Louie Armstrong on the Moon

Last year I read Youssef Dadudi's brilliant graphic novel Monk! and commented at the time that it had the feel of jazz yet remained accessible, unlike the reputation of actual jazz music. (I'm assuming  actual jazz musicians would disagree that their chosen genre isn't accessible!) This week's short story, Dig Wayne's "Louie Armstrong on the Moon" also has the feel of jazz music, again almost to the point of cliche, but perhaps less accessible.

It compares the styles of Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong to the space race and the first manned moon landing and that's really enough. Maybe not an easy read, but a fun read, with jazzy rhythms and more poetics than prose.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Reader's Diary #2154- Various writers, artists: Wonder Woman / The Cheetah

Looking forward to the next Wonder Woman movie, I felt the need to brush up on the Cheetah character, a villain that will be portrayed by Kristen Wiig. I'm nowhere near as familiar with DC Comics as I am with Marvel, and I admit, I barely know Wonder Woman, let alone her rogues gallery.

This collection, no doubt put out because of the movie, does a good job of highlighting the character's publication history, with stories from her original appearance right up to 2016. But it also highlights the issue that the writers have had keeping the character consistent (though bonus points for later authors trying to rein it all in). Her identity, origins, and powers are all wildly inconsistent and it makes me wonder which ones the movie will focus on. I do hope that they keep the super speed though. Her character is based on a cheetah after all and there's a real dearth of fast female superheroes.

And as I often point out with collections, the quality varies. For the most part though, I found the stories engaging. One even tried to provide commentary on striking a healthy balance with environmental activism, which I enjoyed. My larger issues against involved racism and sexism, neither of which were in the earlier comics as you might expect, but some of the more recent ones. One artist, for instance, seemed to shrink Wonder Woman's outfit more and more with each passing panel. She deserves better.

Overall though I do feel more prepared for the Cheetah's entry into the big screen. I'm very curious about the choice of Wiig though. I'm a fan, but she's a comedian and none of these stories hinted at the Cheetah being a particularly funny character. A worthy adversary, yes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Reader's Diary #2153- Al Ewing (writer), Joe Bennett (artist): The Immortal Hulk vol. 1

It's a cliche at this point that no one stays dead in the comics. And while it's usually just laughed off, I'd say that it's a real problem. It's why in 2016, when Hawkeye killed the Hulk, it should have been shocking, should have had readers in tears, but instead it was met with shrugs. We all knew he'd be back and most likely soon. Sure enough, he's back. And to add to the problem, new writers are coming up with new characters all the time, some of whom are even obvious replacements. But with publishers insistence that readers will miss legacy characters too much or some nonsense, we wind up with a world way too populated with superheroes and no one really given the chance to invest in new versions (unless it's Miles Morales, maybe Ms. Marvel). Sure The Immortal Hulk is good, but there's no reason a similar story couldn't have been told with the Amadeus Cho version of Hulk rather than drag Bruce Banner back from the meaningless dead.

Jeff Lemire writes the intro to this collection and based on his high praise, I was convinced it would be so good as to make me forget all that. It was not. Again, it's a decent comic. There's an arc but each story stands alone, it has horror elements, and the art is fantastic. Plus I liked cameos by characters I've not really had enough exposure to (notably Sasquatch). But overall, I was never able to shake the feeling that there's no reason for the book to exist.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Reader's Diary #2152- Walter Whitman: Eris

Yes, Walter Whitman is Walt Whitman, the poet behind Leaves of Grass. I didn't know he also wrote short stories until now. "Eris; A Spirit Record" was published under "Walter Whitman" hence the name chosen for this post title.

Would hate to base a preference for one form of his writing over another based on a single piece of short fiction, but it certainly didn't capture me like some of his poetry has. Besides the dated language, which he can hardly be faulted with, I found the story overdosing on adjectives, adverbs, and figurative language.

But I did enjoy that it had the air of an old Greek myth. With themes of unrequited love, it tells of an angel who breaks the rules to confess his love to a mortal he had been meant to oversee without interference. (Yes, it also reminded me a little of Nicolas Cages' City of Angels.) Anyway, without giving to much away, it doesn't work out in the end.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Reader's Diary #2152- John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke: The Mask Omnibus

I had heard the Jim Carrey Mask movie took many liberties with the source material, notably cleaning up the violence to a PG level. It still didn't prepare me for the first comics, especially the misogyny. Lesser of an issue: the shoddy art.

Nonetheless, I stuck with it and once the misogyny was dialed way down and the art approved, it grew on me somewhat and I could better appreciate the humour and over-the-top world building. It might even be said to have philosophical themes about absolute power corrupting absolutely.

To be sure though, the mask is definitely not a hero and only at times does it approach anti-hero territory.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Reader's Diary #2151- The Avengers/ Doctor Strange: Rise of the Darkhold

Excited for the upcoming Wanda Vision TV series and Doctor Strange sequel, I can only rely now on rumours: I've heard that they'll connect to one another, that Scarlet Witch may turn evil, and that Doctor Strange may have strong horror elements. I've also heard that the Darkhold storylines may be used and hence my reading of this collection.

I'm not sure that the Darkhold itself will make an appearance as it's already been featured in the TV show Agents of Shield and quite frankly, is kind of lame (it's an evil book, in a nutshell). But should any other element come to fruition, it could be interesting. There are a lot more possible characters that could be introduced for one, including Modred the Mystic, Jack Russell the Werewolf by Night, Dracula, and the High Evolutionary. Werewolf by Night and Dracula could certainly work for the horror angle and the latter could tie in with the Blade reboot, and the more Marvel Dracula comics I read the more convinced I am he belongs in the MCU. The High Evolutionary is also rumored to be making an appearance in the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie, to explain Rocket's origin.

All this aside, if one is not interested in the movies, just the comics, I think they'd still have a good time with this collection. It's more on the magical side of things than superhero sci-fi or crime fighting, it's primarily from the 70s so one can expect a lot of garish colours and cheese typical of comics from the time, and the stories are more or less coherent, though some familiarity with Marvel comic characters would help. I also think it's fair to say that Marvel's usual wise-cracking light atmosphere is pretty absent in most of their more magical stories. I'm not sure what the logic of that is, but I suspect magic is an even bigger leap of faith that other superhero tales, so they have to give it a "serious" air.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Reader's Diary #2150- Patti Weber: On the Rising Wind

Coming from Newfoundland, I can trace my roots back to England, but I don't feel much of a cultural connection to the place. Like most Newfoundlanders, there's a bit of a pull toward the place and of course, Ireland, but the rest is just the United Kingdom and we don't really give it much thought. The Nova Scotians have Scottish roots and who the hell knows anything about Wales?

Patti Weber's "On the Rising Wind" is steeped is Welsh culture and though it comes across as a seaside culture in the story, the sheer Celtic-ness of if seems almost foreign to me. Like folklore and witchcraft all rolled into one. And of course words with an assortment of consonants that I cannot fathom how to pronounce.

For these reasons, I loved it and was entranced by it. There's a melancholy mystery about it though that feels like a secret in the fog.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Reader's Diary #2149- Ebony Flowers: Hot Comb

In the very first story in Ebony Flowers's Hot Comb, she recounts getting a perm as a young girl. It made me remember getting a perm as a young boy, probably around 11 or 12. My mom had been taking a hairdressing class and I was her guinea pig. It was hysterically bad as my wife, who has since seen the pictures, likes to remind me.

It's natural, I suppose, as readers to make such personal connections to a text. But Ebony Flowers' Hot Comb is a memoir of how her hair, and in broader terms how black women's hair, has had an impact on her life. It's an experience that I, as a white male, can only begin to appreciate thanks to stories like these.

These were engaging, funny, sometimes sad or infuriating, and like any collection of short stories, I felt some were more fully realized than others. The art was interesting, very stylistic and in the use of thick, curvy black lines, I wondered if it was a conscious choice to draw in a way reminiscent of hair or if this was just a coincidence.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Reader's Diary #2148- Ernest Hemingway: Chapter V

My verdict on Ernest Hemingway is still out. I really hated The Old Man and The Sea. And I thought I loved his incredibly short (and oft parodied) story "Baby Shoes" but there's debate about whether or not he actually penned that. But he did write the flash fiction "Chapter V" and okay, so I liked it.

The story of six cabinet ministers facing a firing squad, it's the somewhat strange way its told that really sells this story for me. The sentences are short and repetitive but it all adds to the tension and impact. It ricochets around in my head.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Reader's Diary #2147- Jim DeFede: The Day the World Came To Town

I read Jim DeFede's The Day the World Came to Town during my most recent vacation to Barbados. The plan was to visit New York City after Barbados and see Come From Away on Broadway. Both, of course, are based on the stranding of international flights in Gander, Newfoundland after 9/11 and the hospitality received by the passengers.

Our trip to New York didn't wind up happening. With Covid-19 hitting North America, Broadway closed down and we followed Trudeau's advice to Canadians abroad to get the hell home. Borders were closing and flights were being cancelled. It was stressful.

And not that two events are really comparable, but perhaps that played a part in my emotional reaction to Jim DeFede's book. I'd heard the stories many times and though I'm a voracious reader, I don't usually have strong, immediate feelings about a book. (Most books that really resonate with me have a slow-burn effect and I think about them long after the fact.) For The Day the World Came to Town though, I choked up. A lot. Sometimes it was over something sad (a passenger worrying about the status of a loved one who may have been at the Twin Towers that day), sometimes it was over something touching (a small, but thoughtful gesture by a Newfoundlander trying to make someone's impromptu and inconvenient stop a little more bearable).

Of course, I'd be remiss not to give some credit to Jim DeFede for the connection I made to the book. Despite hundreds of travelers and helpful locals, he managed to take just the right amount and right assortment of stories and characters to focus on. And the way he revisited and intertwined these stories throughout each chapter was handled superbly. It could have easily been a confusing mess but instead I felt like I got a real sense of individuals. That makes all the difference.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Reader's Diary #2146- Andrea Warner: Buffy Sainte-Marie

Anyone who follows me on other social media, likely knows that my other pop-culture love, outside of books, is rock music. And very specifically, I'm a bit of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame junky. Like other followers of that institution, I have my list of snubs that should be in but I'd not given much thought Buffy Sainte-Marie before and honestly it's just simply that I hadn't been exposed enough to her, her music, or her legacy.

After reading Andrea Warner's biography though, I've filled up my phone with Sainte-Marie's songs I need to listen to, realize that a large part of the reason I'm so in the dark about her music is by design (it's revealed that she was blacklisted from much tv and radio just as her career should have been exploding largely due to her race, gender, and activism), and that Buffy Sainte-Marie belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I should also say that Warner's biography is one of the best I've read, regardless of the subject. Too often I've read biographies that pretend they're not biased when they're really about either exposing a bad side or promoting an artist. Warner is upfront that she's a fan. But she's not a fawning fan. She analyzes Saint-Marie's work with critical depth and uses Sainte-Marie's own words to push the narrative forward (as close to an autobiography as you could get without being one). It's balanced, enlightening, inspiring, and engaging. I really felt I got a sense of Buffy Sainte-Marie and her music even without yet having a chance to go back and explore her music more fully.

One of the biggest surprises for me personally were the the number of musicians that covered her songs, especially back in the 60s, including the likes of Cher and Elvis Presley, though even Hole covered one of her songs in the 90s. I think this in itself shows how much of an influence and how great a songwriter she was.

Of course, beyond that, her tireless activism, especially for the rights and recognition of indigenous peoples are even more of a reason she should be in the Rock Hall (which is also in dire need of more diversity).

Monday, March 30, 2020

Reader's Diary #2145- Kate Mosse: The House on the Hill

There's a delicate balance in creating a classic ghost story vibe and something original. On the one hand, you know certain elements have become entrenched in readers' minds as creepy and you'd be a fool not to rely on some of them. On the other hand, if you're just going to throw out one horror story trope after another it loses its appeal after a while.

Unfortunately, Kate Mosse's "The House on the Hill" does not find the balance and is a colour-by-numbers horror story. The most annoying detail is a dollhouse, a miniature version of a haunted house, which has a mysterious light inside just like the real one. My god, how many times have we seen that.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Reader's Diary #2145- Mark Manson: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

I hardly ever read self-help books and didn't go looking one for one this time around for any big reason; I began it before the Covid-19 craziness and I'm more content in my life now than I've ever been, but a couple of guy friends mentioned this book to me in passing recently and as books don't often come up amongst my guy friends, I decided to see what drew them to it.

While I've read a few positive reviews of the book written by women, the book very much felt like a book for guys: the course language (it's not actually gratuitous as the title much suggest though), the no-nonsense, tone. And to further generalize, it's also from the perspective of a straight, white, middle-class male. So while I did agree personally with a lot of his insights and arguments, I'm not entirely sure those not in his demographic would agree or find it useful. I mean the gist of his argument is that we'd be happier if we took the hard times in life as opportunities and if we refocused our values, so maybe those concepts are universal. Who am I to say? It's still pretty entertaining though even if one doesn't take away any profound life changes.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Reader's Diary #2144- Arthur C. Clarke: Quarantine

I enjoy a lot of short stories with an unexpected twist or reveal at the end. Arthur C. Clarke's "Quarantine" is not one of them.

 The premise up to that point is fine: organic, artificial intelligent satellites (ahead of his time on that!), have to be quarantined as they've picked up a virus of sorts, an unsolvable problem that has rendered them useless and in danger of infecting other satellites. The reveal though is quite stupid.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Reader's Diary #2143- Margaret T. Canby: The Frost Fairies

Last week I looked at Helen Keller's "The Frost King" a short story for which she came under accusations of plagiarism for its similarities to Margaret T. Canby's "The Frost Fairies". The general consensus seems to be that it was plagiarized but probably unintentionally so. Helen Keller had been introduced to Canby's story in her youth but claims to have forgotten that while the story itself remained in her head. This is a similar defense that George Harrison used for using the tune of the Chiffons' "He So Fine," for his song, "My Sweet Lord."

Canby's story seems a little more sophisticated than Keller's version. Not that Keller's is poorly written but it's just more obviously aimed at children. Of course Canby's still features mythical beings that would be of interest to kids: Santa, fairies, etc. It's largely the same origin tale of how the autumn trees first got their colours. Interestingly though she adds a new character of King Winter, different than King Frost (or Jack, used interchangeably in her story). King Frost is a friendly chap who brings the delights of winter, while King Winter brings the bad stuff (the cold, etc).

Monday, March 09, 2020

Reader's Diary #2142- Helen Keller: The Frost King

I only recently heard the story about Helen Keller's unintentional foray into plagiarism. It was also new to me that she had ever written a short story in the first place. Today, I look at her version, "The Frost King" (scroll down for chapter v) and next week I'll look at the original. 

Even ignoring the plagiarism case, it's hard to not think of the writer when reading "The Frost King." Being blind, her strong use of visual imagery is jarring. That said, I did have a blind great uncle who always used visual descriptions as well so it's not unheard of. 

Besides the rich imagery, it's a pleasant enough myth story explaining to children how the frost king came to give us the rich autumn colours of leaves and features fairies and Santa Claus. It wouldn't be hard to imagine a claymation version of this.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Reader's Diary #2141- Ryan Strain: Out of His League

Despite not really being a hockey fan, I've enjoyed enough books on the subject now that I was actually looking forward to reading Ryan Strain's Out of His League. Of course, it also helped that Strain is a local boy and a large part of the novel is set in Yellowknife. It did not help that it was a self-published book and I've had less than favourable experiences with those.

And too be sure, like a lot of self-published books, it has its fair share of typos. But it was not the worst that I've seen, even including some put out by actual publishers (Charlotte Gray's Gold Diggers comes to mind). In fact, rather than coming across as a self-published book, it instead just felt like a first time novelist's book (which is was). The dialogue was a little stilted, but it also had some real strengths. I like some of the idiosyncrasies that gave the main character, Cal, a bit more depth: his Young and the Restless fandom, for instance. I also enjoyed the hints of a controversial story in his past that Strain wisely chose to hold back for most of the book.

However, it's very hockey jargon-y for non-fans like myself and I found some of the play by play stuff tedious. It also seems to glamorize the misogyny and homophobia barely disguised as jokes prevalent in locker rooms.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Reader's Diary #2140- Dino Buzzati, translated by Judith Landry: The Epidemic

Dino Buzzati's short story "The Epidemic" reads a bit like a satire. It involves a Colonel in a military office whose staff has been hit with influenza. As more and more of his staff go absent, a mistrusted secretary of another department plants the idea in the Colonel's head that the the flu virus has been engineered by government scientists to attack only those who are treasonous to the regime.When the Colonel himself starts getting sick, he pushes on, coming to work every day lest he be perceived a traitor.

It's preposterous of course that a virus could tell who's loyal or not, but I did find myself thinking that it's not entirely impossible that people would be stupid enough to believe it. After all, some believe that certain diseases are sent by God as punishment for sinning, it's not such a far stretch. It also speaks loudly about those a-holes who come to work knowing that they're sick, "proving" that they're dedicated to their work but putting everyone else at risk.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Reader's Diary #2139 Michael Allred, Steve Horton, and Laura Allred: Bowie Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams

On the credits page of the graphic novel Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams, rather than list roles as typical for such a book (writer, pencils, colours, etc) they instead list them as (Screenplay by, technicolor cinematography, and directed). While it left me a little confused as to who did what exactly, it did make me appreciate how much it actually felt like a biopic in the same vein as the recent Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman. All three used creative license and eye candy visuals and focused on a particularly successful period of a musician's life.

The period here ranges roughly from Bowie's beginnings as a musician to the retirment of his Ziggy Stardust character. I particularly enjoyed the cameos from other famous rock stars of the area: the respect/rivalry between him and Marc Bolan (T-Rex), the friendship with Alice Cooper (who knew?), and the mentor/mentee relationship which often reversed roles between him and Iggy Pop.

Though the book is beautifully creative in both storytelling and art, you still get a real sense of the facts. Albeit, it's definitely from a fan perspective and some of the more controversial rumours of Bowie at that time were notably absent.

At the end, there's a visual montage of Bowie's life after the Ziggy Stardust farewell concert and these images were a lot of fun, hopefully also a teaser for subsequent volumes.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Reader's Diary #2138- Victor Gischler (writer), David Baldeon (artist): Spirits of Vengeance War at the Gates of Hell

In the Marvel vs DC Comics debate, I'm a die-hard Marvel guy. Except for Justice League Dark which is almost on par for me (except when Batman shows up and ruins everything). Victor Gischler and David Baldeon's Spirits of Vengeance feels the most like JLD.

That said, it's very plot driven and while I was excited to learn more about Hellstorm and Satana, of whom I was unfamiliar, I'm still not overly knowledgeable. I'm also a little unclear as to why Blade was on the team (I would think Doctor Strange and/or Scarlet Witch would have made more sense). Still, the story was good and fast-paced.

The art was decent and well-coloured, though perhaps not particularly complementary to the story which maybe would have been paired with something either more "out-there" or goth. Then again, Baldeon's style here is more humorous and a case could be made that it added some levity to what could have been an overly heavy tale.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Reader's Diary #2137- Brandon Thomas and Khary Randolph: Excellence Volume One Kill The Past

I started off thinking I'd enjoy Brandon Thomas' and Khary Randolph's Excellence: Kill the Past much more than wound up happening.

The art was great, and remained so, but the story left me confused and wanting more. Out of the gate, the themes were evident: legacies, father issues, masculinity, identity. All good. But the world building was confusing. Heavy on magic and some sort of training institute with an muddled purpose and unclear family tree dynamics. It reminded me somewhat of sci-fi which often starts out writing like the reader already understands the world but subtle world-building and context helps the understanding come later. Unfortunately it never did become clearer here and instead even the plot got lost in it all.