Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Read in November

I'm still catching up on these, but I'm not as far behind as I was: this post will show up as if it went up on December 1, but I'm actually typing these words on December 17. With any luck, this will be live by Christmas, and I can then catch up on December and start fresh with a new year.

A glorious vision, isn't it?

Anyway, here's what I read in November. I hope some of it seems interesting to you.

Roger Langridge, The Show Must Go On (11/9)

Timothy Truman, Scout, Vol. 1 (11/10)

Timothy Truman, Scout, Vol. 2 (11/11)

Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick, Feynman (11/12)

Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz, Elektra: Assassin (11/16)

Paul Pope, Escapo (11/17)

This is a big book for what's basically a slim story, and a late book for an early tale. (The central Escapo story was written and drawn in 1996; the book came out in 2014. The book is around 150 pages; the main story a little more than half that.) A circus escape artist loves a girl who doesn't reciprocate -- and his love is massive, all-encompassing, smothering, in the way that only a teenager or a fictional character can sustain -- and that tension makes him doubt himself and nearly die in his various showy death-traps.

Pope's art is stylish and lovely, particular in the moments of kinetic action -- he's not as interesting in the scenes where Escapo whines about being afraid of death, or his unstoppable love, or similar things. And the book is gorgeously put together, with sketch pages and early draft pages and pin-ups by other hands, all wrapped in a classy design that looks more like the yearbook for some very high-class design school than a graphic novel. So this isn't top-shelf Pope, but it's interesting as all of Pope's work is.

Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts, 1991 to 1992 (11/18)

In hindsight, this is the beginning of the Last Decade of Peanuts, with all of the stentorian gloom that initial capitals can impart.  But, at the time, it was just more Peanuts, with story-lines that had stopped sprawling over multiple weeks around ten years before and a layout that was usually three panels (sometimes just one big one) rather than the rigid four-panel box Schulz worked in for the first thirty-five years or so of the strip. It was less exciting than it was in the '60s and early '70s, and the marketing machine was humming along in the background -- not as obvious as when it really revved up in the late '70s, but still massive -- but Peanuts was still funny, and much less depressive than it had been in those peak years, and still well worth reading. (And Peanuts never complete gave up depression -- even Joe Cool found himself hanging around the Student Union when no one else was there, vaguely unhappy and unconnected.)

I've written about a lot of these books over the years -- go to my review of 89-90 and work back from there, if you're interested -- and have gotten to the point where there's little I can say on a high level about two years of Peanuts comics. And no one wants a strip-by-strip exegesis of the Gospel of Peanuts. (At least, I hope no one wants that. I know I don't.) Peanuts was a great comic strip, and one of the major American cultural products of the late 20th century -- this is not the very best of Peanuts, but it's part of that whole.

Nigel Rees, The Cassell Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (11/19)

Jason, If You Steal (11/23)

Howard Chaykin, The Shadow: Midnight in Moscow (11/24)

Virgil Partch, Cork High And Bottle Deep (11/25)

Alcohol and alcoholism was one of the big pillars of mid-20th century humor -- I could throw out some theories (an easy way to get sex in during a prudish era! allows for physical and verbal humor! all of the major cartoonists were huge lushes!), but it's enough just to point to the fact and nod knowingly.

I can play the rest out like a syllogism: Partch was a major mid-century cartoonist, therefore....but this book exists, so I don't actually have to prove that it logically must do so. And, yes, it collects a lot of cartoons about men in suits drinking in bars, along with some men in suits drinking elsewhere, men in suits coming home to unhappy wives, and people (who probably were mostly men in suits) dealing with horrible hangovers the next day. The editor -- the copyright page indicates this is Jonathan Barli -- has arranged the cartoons in clusters by theme, so there are several pages of men whining that their wives won't "let them stay out," and then a cluster of cartoons about pick-me-ups, and so on, through all of the accouterments of mid-century booze culture.

This is not as funny to us as it was to the American salarymen of the '40s and '50s; we don't live in the same world they did. But Partch's idiosyncratic art lifts even the sexist, anachronistic gags and keeps them interesting, even if many of them are not, strictly speaking, funny any more. Enough of it is still funny, and all of it is visually inventive,to make Cork High and Bottle Deep worth taking a look at, for all but the most determined teetotalers and offense-takers.

Lawrence Block, Defender of the Innocent (11/25)

Dupuy and Berberian, Monsieur Jean: The Singles Theory (11/30)

And that was November. Close readers will notice that I only managed to get through one book of prose designed to be read straight through, and that was the slim collection of stories Defender of the Innocent. This was, I think, the low point of my reading this year -- but that means I can only go up from here, right?

(Also to note: everything just listed above has a post already written and sitting in the queue. Even if I'm hit by a bus, all those posts will publish automatically. If I am not hit by a bus -- which is always my preference -- I will update this list with links to those posts.)

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