Monday, September 15, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #258: Bigfoot by Pascal Girard

It's easier to become famous now than it ever has been in history -- easier for a life to be completely transformed by a sudden audience, for good or bad. There have been plenty of stories about the fantasy side of that story -- the ingenue discovered at the soda fountain, the kid who goes out there in the chorus and comes back a star, the singer who gets on that big TV show -- but not much from the more realistic side. And fame is fractal now: someone can be intensely famous, suddenly, in a small area.

Teenager Jimmy is that kind of famous. A video of him dancing -- as the aphorism says, like nobody was watching -- was uploaded to YouTube by his best friend Simon. It was a small joke, but now everyone in their small Canadian town has seen the video -- and everyone knows "Disco Jimmy," and isn't shy about calling out to him whenever he's out in public.

That would be bad enough, but Jimmy's Uncle Pierre films his own video soon afterward: he thinks he's seen Bigfoot. Jimmy tries to convince him not to post it, but the lure of fame is too strong. And soon Pierre is being mocked as well, even more so because he's related to Disco Jimmy.

But that's all really background in Pascal Girard's naturalistic and affecting graphic novel Bigfoot; this is really the story of a couple of love triangles that intersect with Jimmy. In big fake entertainment, the hero has always been in love with someone, pining from afar, and gets together with her after the big corny showboat maneuver in the third act. Bigfoot is more like real life: Jimmy likes, or loves, or has a crush on Jolene, a girl he's known all his life. But he can't tell her, maybe because he's not sure what to say, or what he really feels -- but he wants to be near her. So he signs up for a drawing class at the local cultural center, because he's overheard that Jolene is in the class.

But teenagers are restless and unsure, so Jimmy also gets roped into a double date with Simon, with two girls from the local religious school. And so he spends time with Jessica, walks her home, kisses her on her doorstep. In a Hollywood movie, this would be a huge betrayal; in life, it's just what happens when you're not sure what to do. And it all comes together, or apart, when Simon and Jimmy and Jolene all spend a weekend in Pierre's remote cabin -- Simon wants a shot at his own Bigfoot video, Jolene is along to see what happens, and Jimmy is hoping to spark something with Jolene.

None of it works out that way, especially for Jimmy. Girard never breaks the flow of his story with narration, but Jimmy's negativity and grumpiness -- even if we readers know exactly why, and what he's feeling -- drive events exactly the way he doesn't want. It's honest, and sad, and utterly true -- I was reminded a lot of the great movie Gregory's Girl; Girard has a similar sense of the aimless lack of focus of young men and the places that can lead.

Bigfoot is told in a tight three-by-four grid, packing twelve panels to the page and allowing for a lot more story and nuance than you'd expect from a 48-page album. (It's an interesting contract to the two other Girard books that have been translated into English: the earlier Nicolas has mostly borderless images on its small pages, and the slightly later Reunion has a looser grid, again without panel borders.) Bigfoot is an exquisite, perfectly poised story of young love and longing and jealousy, equally universal and specific.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 9/13

I'm back again for another week of new books -- as always, my hope is that one of these will be your favorite book of the year, or at least something you read and enjoy. All of the below items came to me through the offices of the hard-working publicists of "big publishing" -- I haven't yet read any of them, so none of this is technically a "review." But I can tell you some things about these books from looking at them and from prior knowledge, so that's just what I'll do.

Last Plane to Heaven is the final short-story collection from Jay Lake, and probably his last book; he was fighting colon cancer -- hilariously, heartbreakingly fighting it, out in public, at conventions and in his online writings -- for several years before he died this June, and cancer and the drugs that fought it stole Lake's ability to write fiction along the way. (Yet another twisted irony that the stronger Lake would have made much of: his cancer killed him by inches, stealing all of the things that mattered one by one before that final blow.) I haven't read as much Lake as I should -- I used to have a shelf of his novels waiting for me, before the flood -- but I hope to make time for this, to remember a fine writer and a great member of the SF community, an excellent man who stood up and said "fuck cancer" as loudly as he spun intricate stories and told the truth of this world as he saw it. Last Plane to Heaven is a Tor hardcover, officially going on sale tomorrow.

Nancy Kress has a new short novel, Yesterday's Kin, available now as a slim trade paperback from Tachyon -- who also published her Nebula-winner After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, two years back, in the same format. It's an alien-contact story, with a landing in near-future New York and the evolutionary biologist who's dragged into their schemes.

Jack Campbell's major military SF series is back in The Lost Stars: Imperfect Sword, the third in that series (which I think is a continuation of his previous ten-book series "The Lost Fleet"). It's an Ace hardcover coming October 7th, and it involves the liberation of something called the Midway Star System -- I suspect there may be a certain historical parallel in mind here.

Mercedes Lackey has a new Valdemar novel in Closer to Home, the first in a new subseries called "The Herald Spy." It's a DAW hardcover coming October 7th, and it centers around Mags, a popular character from Lackey's previous Valdemar subseries, "The Collegium Chronicles." I haven't read Lackey's books in a few years, but I found her '90s and '00s books always dependably entertaining and usually a lot of fun -- she was my guilty pleasure at the SFBC for a lot of years.

Terry Pratchett has mostly concentrated on novels over his long and wonderful career -- it's how he's written over fifty of them -- but I guess he has written enough nonfiction to fill a book. Because that book now exists: A Slip of the Keyboard, a Doubleday hardcover coming September 23rd. (Doubleday is in the middle of a big Pratchett burst, focusing on the odder Discworld pseudo-non-fiction books, for which I love them: if they can manage to bring the hilarious and nearly untranslatable [1] Nanny Ogg's Cookbook to American shores, they'll officially become my favorite publisher ever.) I've been a Pratchett reader for a couple of decades now, and I'm a huge lover of novelists' occasional nonfiction -- don't ask me why, but it's a form I always love -- so this was a book that raised an audible sound from me when I opened the package. (As a respectable middle-aged man, I won't characterize that sound.)

Doubleday is also bringing out an American edition of The Compleat Ankh-Morpork, a massively expanded and updated version of the map that Pratchett's UK publisher first released a decade or so ago. This version is credited to "Terry Pratchett, aided and abetted by The Discworld Emporium," which I suspect means that Pratchett organized and edited and approved all of it, but that others ferreted out all of the references from his novels and did most of the heavy lifting to put it all together. (In particular, I can't find a notice of who actually drew the map, which is a gigantic double-sided thing -- even after the substantial work of organization, just putting it onto paper was a massive undertaking.) This will be available October 28th, and is a perfect example of the kind of thing book publishing can do and electronic publishing simply can't. If you had any questions about the muckily fabulous twinned central cities of Discworld, this is the place to go for your answers.

[1] British English is not that far from American English, admittedly. But British cookery, and the details thereof, is very, very far.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #257: The Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple

I'm having the damnedest time trying to figure out a way into this book, so maybe that means I should just start describing it and see if that leads anywhere. It's a graphic novel, reading like the demon-inspired stepchild of Bodyworld and Dungeon Quest, about the quest to save the world after a magical apocalypse that apparently killed everyone but kids.

Farel Dalrymple tells that story -- the story of the kid-gang called The Wrenchies, the toughest and strongest and most fearless fighters against Shadowmen and the other terrors of their very broken and very nasty world, and how they eventually were led by an ancient Scientist and a group of adult Wrenchies to save that world -- sideways and inside out, telling first the story of the boys Sherwood and Orson, who went into a cave they shouldn't have, met a creature that shouldn't even exist, and killed it when it attacked them. And then he circles to the Wrenchies, but only for a while -- only to keep setting the scene, to let us see just how ragged and cruel and liberating the future apocalypse will leave the world, without parents or babies, just kids who know that when they grow up far enough they'll turn into monsters themselves.

We don't know how these things connect. We also don't know why the focus switches to Hollis, another kid in the time before the apocalypse, who lives in New York and befriends an adult man named Sherwood, busily creating a comic book in the window right across from Hollis's. (And we've already seen that comic book, The Wrenchies, which is not the story we're reading and is not the story of that kid gang -- though the kids in the gang found the comic and read it.) We're not even sure why Hollis always dresses in a superhero costume -- well, OK, we've got a pretty good idea about that, from a dozen other stories.

Hollis's story connects to the Wrenchies and their world, and loops back to Sherwood, as well -- poor Orson wanders off between panels and doesn't play a major role. There's a lot of exposition in The Wrenchies at about the halfway mark, as if Dalrymple decides he's probably hooked us by now, so he might as well give us (and the characters) the backstory and set most of the cast off on their quest to save the world. And so he does.

The Wrenchies is loose-limbed and gangly, sprawling all over, even more than its three hundred pages would seem to allow. Even after the ending, there's another twenty pages of short stories about Sherwood and Orson -- I suspect these might be leftover pieces of the story, or pieces of an earlier version, or something like that; parts of the story that was in Dalrymple's head but didn't make it into the main narrative.

It's energetic and full of ideas -- full of wordy speech balloons and complicated page layouts that show schematics of the complicated underground lairs of the Wrenchies and their fellow kid-gangs, full of noise and light and magic and monsters and transformations and noble sacrifices and all those kinds of things that youngish boys not unlike most of the Wrenchies themselves like so much. It's a bit much some of the time, in the way of an overstuffed bag, but it's heart is always in the right place and Dalrymple's art, somewhere in the unmapped regions between indy and superhero, serves this story very well.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Incoming Books: Week of September 13

I had two big book-shopping trips around last weekend -- one to a comics shop and one for a new reading project -- and since I love lists, I'll run through what I picked up.

The reading project is something I think I've mentioned before here, but just became more urgent: I've been thinking about reading a bunch of the Vintage Contemporaries series for the past year or two, and accumulated a few of them. But I was doing a bit of research online, and realized that right now is the thirtieth anniversary of the launch of that series: the first seven books came out in September 1984. So my plan is now to read in that series in publication month (plus thirty) as much as possible, focusing on the originals and probably starting with Bright Lights, Big City later this month. (But I'm also looking forward to reading more obscure things by writers I'm not familiar with as well -- especially women writers, like Emily Prager, Gladys Swan, and Janet Hobhouse, since I think I semi-ignored women writers as a teenager in the '80s.)

So I went out to my local used book store, the Montclair Book Center, and got a nice stack of Vintage Contemporary, which I'll just present as a list (since I'm sure 99% of you don't care about 1980s literary fiction):
I'm focusing entirely on the early Vintage Contemporaries, with those great slabs of color and dot-filled covers. (It looks the style shifted in about 1988, which gives me four years of books to gather.) And reviews of some of them should start showing up here within a few weeks -- though I'm also still building out my spreadsheet of what VC published and when.

Pretty much everything else is comics -- some of these are replacements for flood-lost books, some of them are new stuff, and they came from various places. But here's what's new in La Casa Hornswoggler:

Scott McCloud's Zot, Book 1 -- the late-90s Kitchen Sink edition, containing the first ten issues (in color) of the series that didn't make it into the larger, later, and still available HarperCollins edition. I'm still hoping someone will reprint Destroy!!! one of these days.

The Potpourrific Great Big Grab Bag of Get Fuzzy by Darby Conley -- the fourth treasury of the newspaper strip with strips from the 2007-2008 time period. I missed this one the first time around, but I like reading treasuries of strips I like, so I grabbed this when I saw it and recognized I was missing it.

Strip Joint a collection of Carol Lay's "Story Minute" strips from the mid-90s. Interestingly, this is also a Kitchen Sink book -- that's a press I don't think I appreciated enough while it was around.

Two books from Rick Geary's "Treasury of Victorian Murder" series -- The Mystery of Mary Rogers and The Saga of the Bloody Benders (my review) -- because you can never have too much historical murder on your shelves, particularly when it comes from Geary.

An Age Of License, the new graphic novel by Lucy Knisley -- author of Relish and French Milk -- the story of her 2011 European book tour and related stuff, from a creator almost too young and talented and enthusiastic to believe.

Mind MGMT Vol. 2: The Futurist by Matt Kindt, because I just read the first volume, and because Kindt is a massive talent who hasn't given us a less than gripping story yet.

Isaac the Pirate, Vol. 2: The Capital by Christophe Blain, also because I recently read the first volume and really enjoyed it. This series, though -- unlike Kindt's -- is not still running; there's only one short French book left untranslated, and I get the sense that even that isn't the real ending. But the world is large and time is long; you never know what will happen next.

Two "Abe Sapien" books from Mike Mignola's Hellboy universe -- the first volume, The Drowning (my review), and the fourth, The Shape of Things to Come. The first of those is written solo by Mignola with art by Jason Shawn Alexander; the latter is written with Scott Allie (Mignola's editor) and drawn by Sebastian and Max Fiumara.

Jeff Lemire's recent DC miniseries in book form: Trillium. (I'd vaguely thought that this was an ongoing -- which shows how much attention I'm paying to periodical comics these days -- probably because I'd conflated it with Mind MGMT.) Lemire has done a lot of good stuff, like The Nobody and The Underwater Welder, so I have high hopes for this.

Richard Sala's Cat Burglar Black which I reviewed for ComicMix when it first came out. Sala is one of the people I'm concentrating on replacing in this first round of post-flood buying -- along with Kim Deitch, Evan Dorkin, and the Hellboy-verse; I may perhaps be a bit quirky -- and this helps to fill that shelf back up.

Seconds the big new graphic novel by Brian Lee O'Malley. You've probably heard of it; O'Malley is coming off the Scott Pilgrim juggernaut, and it's gotten a lot of press.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi's tough and unflinching short story collection Abandon the Old in Tokyo (see my review from the 2010 run of Book-A-Day), which I think stands as not just some of the best comics stories ever created, but as one of the great short-story collections period. Tatsumi is just that good.

And some more Hellboy-universe books to continue rebuilding those shelves. Since I bought those stories the first time around -- actually, the first two times, since I bought most of the Hellboy and B.P.R.D. stories both in individual issues and then as trade paperbacks -- they've been reprinted in nice uniform hardcovers, which is what I think I'll focus on this time around. So I now have Hellboy Library Edition, Volume 2: The Chained Coffin, The Right Hand of Doom, and Others and B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs Collection, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. (I've had so many reviews of Hellboy stuff that I can't begin to give you links.)

And I've got a box of books from yet another seller on its way to me; one thing that Book-A-Day dependably does is whet my appetite for books, so I end up buying them even faster than I read them. But there's no serious reader who would call that a bad thing.