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Thursday, December 31, 2020

My Year in Review 2020 - Fiction and Nonfiction

The FICTION ranked from least favourite to favouite: Novels, Novellas, Short Story Collections, Plays, Picture Books, and Poetry (Graphic Novels recorded separately):

7. Ryan Strain - Out of His League
6. Jose Saramago - Seeing
5. Yoko Ogawa - The Memory Police
4. Katłįà - Land-Water-Sky
3. Johanna Stoberock - Pigs
2. John Kennedy Toole - A Confederacy of Dunces
1. Daniel David Moses - Coyote City

The NON-FICTION ranked from least favourite to favourite:

7. Séan McCann and Andrea Aragon - One Good Reason
5. Lily E. Hirsch - Weird Al: Seriously
4. Andrea Warner - Buffy-Sainte Marie
3. Steven A. Benko and Andrew Pavelich (editors) - The Good Place and Philosophy
1. David Kyle Johnson (editor) - Black Mirror and Philosophy

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Reader's Diary #2158 - Katłįà: Land-Water-Sky

I read Catherine Lafferty's memoir Northern Wildflower a couple of years back and despite enjoying it, I was nervous to read her latest, Land-Water-Sky (this time published under her Dene name Katłįà). It was largely because this time around it was a novel and I've discovered before that liking a novelist's nonfiction and vice versa, isn't always a guarantee.

I am happy to report that I enjoyed Land-Water-Sky a great deal. It is an epic tale beginning in the north prior to colonial invasion and moving into the present. There are fascinating, legendary creatures that survive these hundreds of years shifting themselves to navigate the changing world, but hanging on to grudges that predate even the humans. It is when they intertwine their lives with the humans that things really get interesting.

Mixed in with the story are important themes of domestic abuse, Indigenous rights, and so on, but these are worked in seamlessly with the unique story and well-defined characters. One thing I haven't seen pop up in other reviews of this book, surprisingly, is that it's often quite scary! As a horror fan, this was a really pleasant surprise and if Katłįà ever decides to write a full-on horror book, I'll definitely have no qualms about digging into that one immediately!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

My Year in Review 2020 - Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels

Here we go, the first of my year end countdowns. In a year when I had every excuse in the book to read more, I read less overall. In my defense, I feel I read denser this year and that slowed me down across the board, including graphic novels. A few comments on my selections: 

  • shameful that I didn't read any manga (a couple have manga-ish art)
  • for someone who prefers Marvel to DC, I only read one more Marvel title and DC had a higher ranking
  • I read a lot more people of colour (writers and characters)
  • I read a lot more music biographies

Ranked in order from least to most favourite:

38. Terry Collins, Michael Byers - King of Pop: The Story of Michael Jackson
37. Jessica Gunderson, Pat Kinsella - Hip-Hop Icon : Jay-Z
36. Nick Seluk - Heart and Brain
34. Brandon Thomas, Khary Randolph - Excellence Volume One: Kill the Past
33. The McElroys, Andre Lima Araujo - War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery
32. Al Ewing, Joe Bennett - The Immortal Hulk: Vol. 1
31. Gail Simone, Adriana Melo - Plastic Man
30. Keith Giffen, Alan Grant - Lobo: Volume 1
29. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips - Bad Weekend 
28. Tiffanie DeBartolo, Pascal Dizin, Lisa Reist - Grace: The Jeff Buckley Story
27. Derek McCulloch, Shpeherd Hendrix - Stagger Lee
26. Ebony Flowers - Hot Comb
25. Victor Gischler, David Beldeon - Spirits of Vengeance
23. Various - Thor: Ragnaroks
22. Brianna Jonmie, Nahanni Shingoose, Nshannacappo - If I Go Missing
20. Charles Forman - I Am Not Okay With This
19. Various - Bob Marley in Comics
18. John Arcudi, Doug Mahnke - The Mask Omnibus
17. Sergio Aragones - Groo: Friends and Foes
15. Vivek Shraya, Ness Lee - Death Threat
14. Foenkinos, Corbeyran, Horne - Lennon : The New York Years
13. Jeff Lemire, Ivan Reis, Evan Shaner - Terrifics Vol. 1 : Meet the Terrifics
11. Nnedi Okorafor, Tana Ford, James Nevlin - Laguardia

THE TOP TEN!!!
10. Mezzo, J.M. Dupont - Love in Vain
9. chris (simpsons artist) - the story of life
8. Various - The Tomb of Dracula
7. Megan James - Innsmouth
6. Neal Adams, Denny O'Neil - Superman vs. Muhammad Ali
5. Vivek K. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson - The Fifth Beatle : The Brian Epstein Story
4. George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott - They Called Us Enemy
3. Gene Luen Yang, Gurihuru - Superman Smashes the Klan
2. Cole Pauls - Dakwäkãda Warriors
1. Michael Allred, Steve Horton, Laura Allred - Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Reader's Diary #2157 - Gene Luen Yang (writer), Gurihiru (artist): Superman Smashes the Klan


Though comics are often abused for propaganda, there's still a certain pleasure when the villains are pretty clearly actual villains. Captain America punching Hitler in the face was a milestone moment. I don't think we see such overt stories anymore as comic writing has largely gotten better, more complex and subtle in their societal commentary. 

Still as racism once again started raising its ugly head in the wake of Trump, it's nice to see a title called Superman Smashes the Klan even if I'd have liked to see him take a swipe at the Proud Boys as well. 

On that note, it would have been better had the book been set in the present day than 1946, considering we haven't exactly gotten rid of the Klan, let alone racism in general. Still Gene Luen Yang uses the setting not only to address racism, but also the history and evolution of Superman as well. In the endnotes he acknowledges that there was a radio program in the 40s in which Superman went after the Klan, and like Yang's update, described the Klan terrorizing a new Chinese American family that have moved into Metropolis. I found this especially interesting as most people tend to think of the Klan as an anti-Black group. In actuality, of course, they're undiscriminating in their discrimination, and hate anyone different than themselves. 

The fight against racism is a personal fight for Superman, as he, too is an immigrant. Unlike the Chinese American family in the book though, he can hide his "alien" identity. It takes the help of the young protagonist Roberta Lee to help him realize that he shouldn't. A great subplot involves another young boy who has befriended Roberta's older brother and wrestles with the fact that his uncle is a white supremacist. Yang handles the story with sensitivity and complexity, while still writing a kickass action tale. 

Gurihiru's art isn't typical of superhero comics, aiming perhaps at a younger audience than most DC Comics and resembling Archie comics with a dash of manga. It's bright and expressive and to be honest, as I've grown tired of superhero art lately, I preferred this. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Reader's Diary #2156 - Candra Anaya: Curious Bunny on the Darkest Night of the Year

I don't often do children's stories for Short Story Monday, but as the title of Candra Anaya's "Curious Bunny on the Darkest Night of the Year" shows, it's an appropriate choice for today. (Here in Yellowknife today, the sunrise is 10:07am and sunset is 3:04pm.) And while I'm sure children would enjoy it-- there are talking animals and a bunny takes a ride on the back of an owl, after all-- adults might still take it as a metaphor for remembering your roots and loved ones when you've perhaps gotten in a bit over your head.


Monday, December 14, 2020

Reader's Diary #2155- Mary Elizabeth Summer: Christmas Cookies

Not knowing anything about the Beaverton Resource Guide, where the flash fiction story "Christmas Cookies" appears, nor its author Mary Elizabeth Summer, I wasn't sure if the story of a young girl making cookies for Santa would remain sweet through to the end, or if there'd be a twist. Without weighing in on what I was hoping for (so as not to offer any spoilers), I'll just say I wasn't disappointed. Fun, quick story. 

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Reader's Diary #2154 - chris (simpsons artist): the story of life

First off, yes, the creator behind the story of life goes simply by chris (simpsons artist) and yes, none of it is capitalized. 

His work first came to my attention on someone's Twitter feed who clearly didn't get it. This was the photo, presented as an example of a shitty textbook in a shitty school:



This illustration, in fact, comes from the story of life and let me assure you, is not meant to be taken seriously. Mostly his art is intentionally wrong and weird. Weird for the sake of weird? Sure, so not everyone's cup of tea (my wife, for instance, understands that it's a joke, she doesn't find it particularly funny, while my daughter and I were in hysterics). I think what I appreciate is how it's presented as someone who tried to be serious, like a mocumentary, but who failed miserably. I also like how consistent it is. Most people have too many fingers and derpy eyes. Most animals have human faces. 

It's also largely positive and clean. Granted I like dark humour as well, there's something bizarrely uplifting about chris (simpsons artist)'s art. Like you believe his naivete and root for him. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Reader's Diary #2153 - Vivek Shraya (story), Ness Lee (art): Death Threat

 

Vivek Shraya's graphic memoir, Death Threat details her  ordeal with a series of emails from a deranged and hateful individual named Nain who took issue with her existence as a trans-gendered woman

Nain's exchanges are inconsistent, often incoherent, and out of touch with reality. Clearly not everyone with mental illness is dangerous, but when it's combined with such a level of hatred, Vivek's fear is certainly understandable. Worst than that, it takes a toll on her physically and emotionally. She has trouble sleeping, she begins to doubt her parents and friends. 

Before too long, fortunately, she had the idea to turn the experience into a comic book nad this not only proved cathartic but also took her power back. This seemed to let the wind out of Nain's proverbial sails and the emails stopped. (At least by the end of this book, I'm curious if there's been any word since.) The book therefore is mercifully short, but it's nonetheless powerful and I don't think anyone would be left with the impression that every transgendered individual stops violence against themselves that easily. 

Adding to Vivek's story is Ness Lee's highly creative and stylized art which takes a lot of figurative risks that pay off and enhance the emotion. 

Monday, December 07, 2020

Reader's Diary #2152- Christine Yant: The Gift

 Christine Yant's "The Gift" is a wickedly amusing story about a down on their luck family who finally have an unexpected treat: dinner!

So it all sounds amusing and like a happy ending, expect for the readers who know something that the family doesn't. 

I really hope I haven't given too much away!

Friday, December 04, 2020

Reader's Diary #2151 - Various artists and writers: Robin / 80 Years of the Boy Wonder

For someone who's shared his disdain on Batman many, many times, I've sure read a lot of his comics. Perhaps even more oddly, very few of these featured Robin, though supposedly they are the quintessential superhero/sidekick team. So it was more out of a completist's goal than anything else to finally read some Robin comics, to try to get a sense of the character and his relationship with Batman. 

Robin: 80 Years of the Boy Wonder is a hefty volume and it includes a lot of must read material, from his very first appearance in print to the passing of the Robin moniker from Dick Grayson to Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, and Damian Wayne. Reflected in these stories and their art are the values of yesterday to today, the simpler hero tales to the grittier, more complex turn superhero comics took from the 80s onward. 

Despite the size though, I'd argue it's still not perfect as far as being a representative summary. While I realize Dick changed his alter ego to Nightwing, and not Robin, I felt the story of how that happened was missing. Likewise, the endings of partnerships with the latter Robins are never shown. We're told in an essay that Jason Todd was killed off as the result of a fan vote, but this is never shown. Call me morbid, but I wanted to read that! 

Still, additional features, like an essay by Burt Ward who played Robin in the campy 60s live action TV show, helped make up for at least some missing stories. 

All in all, a really good collection, just shy of great.