Monday, December 31, 2018


As of this moment, I have nineteen blog posts written and scheduled -- they'll roll out over the next two weeks.

I have never been better positioned to be hit by a bus in my entire life.

Note: I still would prefer not to be hit by a bus.

Book-A-Day 2018 #365: Love and Rockets, Vol. 4: Issues 1-6 by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez

This is not a book; this post breaks one of my silly self-imposed rules. (I'm just noting that up front. I'm not going to do anything about it.)

The fourth run of Love and Rockets returned to a magazine size and a periodical publication: there have been six issues since it was launched in 2016. So, to close out I Love (And Rockets) Mondays for the year, I thought I should look at the most recent material, to see what the Locas and Luba's family are doing with themselves right now.

Each issue has 32 pages of comics (plus four pages of ads or other editorial matter; there's usually a letters page), so, as of about a month ago, there are 192 pages of new Hernandez Brothers comics, roughly the size of one of the individual graphic novels.

Like New Stories, or like any serialization, this is work in progress, mostly middles of stories. The only major break from New Stories is the new logo (seen to the left; it changed slightly for issue two and later) and the altered credit line -- Gilbert and Jaime finally get their first names on the cover after thirty-five years. (And it has been consistently alphabetical, or maybe age order, for all six issues to date.)

As with New Stories, they alternate covers. Like the classic magazine series, the other brother contributes a back-cover. For the new century, though, there are also variant covers -- several for the first issue, and a Fantagraphics-exclusive for all of them to date. (If I were a retailer, I would not be happy at all if a publisher had a cover only available for purchase directly from them, and so I'm happy I'm not a retailer.)

The stories continue from New Stories as well: Jaime finishes up the Maggie-and-Hopey-go-to-a-punk-reunion in the sixth issue, has a little more with Tonta and her gang, and continues the baffling and now apparently standalone adventures of Princess Anima in space. Gilbert milks the lots-of-Fritz-clones story for the first couple of issues, and then drops it to focus on Fritz's long-unknown twin daughters. (Unknown to the reader, unknown to each other, but one was, retroactively, not unknown to her mother.)

I'm finding the Jaime material of this era generally more successful -- the Maggie and Hopey story is another strong one, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it comes together in a single book. Tonta and her friends are still goofballs, though, and their stories are, I guess, more slice-of-life than anything else: they don't seem to be going anywhere. And I think the Princess Anima stuff needs to have an ending before I have any clue what it's going to be: it feels to me like Jaime is doing a Gilbert-style id-fueled SFnal story, without long-term plots and driven by immediate momentum. There are interesting bits, and he as always draws wonderfully, but I'm not sure if there's a there there.

Gilbert, on the other hand, is doing a lot of quirky things with his drawing, not all of which are immediately working: using heavier borders for flashbacks, for example, which he felt he needed to explain in the stories. I also noticed some deliberately stiff layouts and "camera" movements: there's one sequence where Killer and Jimmy stand stock still for several panels while the viewpoint rotates around them one quadrant at a time, and a number of places where he lines up faces repeatedly. As in the late New Stories era, he's also spending a lot of time in these stories having his characters face each other and talk through the same things over and over again -- Killer is now a singer, let's run through the top 10 Fritz impersonators for this issue, Baby/Rosario and Rosalba are twins and here's how they were separated, Fritz has never done porn but there are rumors she has, and so on and on and on.

I suspect he's been getting letters about some aspects of this -- or maybe somewhat different complaints -- because he has stories titled things like "Fritz Haters Will Just Have to Be Patient" and "More for the Haters." He's also drawing "must be 18" censor-boxes over the naked chests of his female characters a lot, sometimes in art on the walls -- which I thought was a quirky, fun choice; maybe a comment on the art-world -- but also sometimes in characters actually in the stories, which is more metafictional. Jaime has drawn nipples in the same issue, so it's not an obvious issue of censorship -- just another artistic choice that isn't quite clear yet.

But Gilbert wrote his way out of the swamp of Too Many Fritzes, and the last couple of issues sees more lightness to his work, as it opens out to more of the cast and shows changes in their lives. He's still doing the people-standing-still-and-talking-at-each-other thing, but it wouldn't be Gilbert without some odd artistic choices.

Love and Rockets the periodical was always like that, though. The books organize and coral the material, putting all of the wild-hair ideas into separate volumes and allowing the larger stories to stand alone. But the ongoing comic, in whatever format, is full of pieces of story in any era -- Tonta or Rocky, Errata Stigmata or Mila -- and those don't always turn into anything nicely book-shaped. We read Love and Rockets because both Gilbert and Jaime are great cartoonists, with a few touchpoints in common, and because even if we think what one of them is doing this year isn't all that great (Too Many Fritzes, Adventures of the Ti-Girls), it's always going to be at least an interesting, unique failure.

It's been going thirty-five years so far, in various formats. I can hope for thirty-five more, can't I? To see what ninety-something Jaime and Gilbert will be doing?

Note: this is day 365, but it's not the end of Book-A-Day. Look for a post-mortem tomorrow listing the whole series...and about fourteen more daily Book-A-Day posts running through mid-January, since there's stuff I read in 2018 that I haven't gotten into that format yet.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/29/18

This is the last Reviewing the Mail post for the year, and I thought it would be purely Christmas gifts -- most of which, I have to admit, are things I bought myself to unwrap, since I've reached that age when no one knows what I want half as well as I do.

But one last publicity book snuck in just under the deadline: literally, since it arrived on Saturday, December 29th. (I guess I may get mail the day this posts, but I'm not expecting anything -- and I won't list that until next week, in 2019.)

Anyway, there will be a number of books I bought later down in the post, and I'm not going to make any serious distinction between the ones I bought and let my wife wrap, the ones other members of my family bought from my wish list, and the ones I bought and just took away. But, first, comes that Last Publicity Book of 2018:

Hilo: Then Everything Went Wrong, the fifth book in a middle-grade action-adventure SF graphic novel series by Judd Winick. (I read the first one and wrote about it in a long everything-I've-read-over-two-months post in the summer of 2015.) The robot kid Hilo is still traveling with two Earth kids, and sometime since book 1 they picked up a robot girl (Izzy) -- and at the beginning of this book, they're reunited with Dr. Horizon, who created them. This is a series for kids much younger than me (and my two sons, who are both officially adults as of a few days ago), but it seems to be awesome for those kids. It goes on sale January 29th from Random House Books for Young Readers.

Then the rest of it:

Shadowbahn is the new novel by Steve Erickson, and, no, I'm not going to explain the difference between Steven Erikson and Steve Erickson again. Erickson was first and he's one of the great visionary writers of our time. I won't describe this one, because I haven't read it yet -- but, for a taste of Erickson, let me link back to a post about his first novel Days Between Stations, which I re-read this year.

The Not-Quite States of America is a hybrid travel/history book by Doug Mack, which got great reviews and which I've been vaguely looking for recently. Mack visited all of the territories and commonwealths and other political entities connected to the US that are not states, and wrote about them all.

Killing Commendatore is the new novel by Haruki Murakami, whom I've been following since A Wild Sheep Chase back in the mid-80s. (And which I've been thinking it's about time to revisit.) I've been slowly liking each new Murakami book less and less this past decade -- in reverse order, Men Without Women, his finally-translated first two novels Wind/Pinball, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, 1Q84, the novella The Strange Library, the short-story collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, and After Dark. (I seem not to have written at any length about Kafka on the Shore, which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel the year I was a judge -- maybe that's best.) I expect to read this and grumble about it sometime in 2019, but perhaps it will surprise me.

The Labyrinth Index is the ninth novel in Charles Stross's magnificent Laundry series. (The series seems to have quietly lost the word "Files" sometime, at least on the card page.) The previous book was The Delirium Brief, and that post has links back to what I wrote about the earlier books. I don't read nearly as much SFF as I used to, so my saying this is my favorite series possibly doesn't have the punch it once did -- but it's been my favorite series since about 2005, back when I was reading a huge swath of the field.

Exit Strategy is the fourth novella-as-book and concluding volume of "The Murderbot Diaries" by Martha Wells, and I already have a bookmark in it. I actually expect to finish it before this post goes live; it's already been pushed back a few days in my reading queue by Book-A-Day stuff.

The Finder Library, Vol. 2 by Carla Speed McNeil probably doesn't need too much explanation: it collects four more books/storylines from her medium-future SF series. I did grumble a bit about the world-building when I wrote about Volume One earlier this year, but I always do that: she's great with characterization and plot and with writing and drawing intricate detailed worlds that feel real.

And last is Royalboiler, an art book by Brandon Graham, the cartoonist of Multiple Warheads and King City. If all goes according to plan, I'll read this today (the day this post is going live) to finish up Book-A-Day. Hey, I'm on vacation!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #364: Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Cosmic horror can come from anything. Humanity's place in the larger cosmos is so contingent, so uneasy, that the slightest change could doom us all. Every serious SF reader knows that bone-deep: the universe is indifferent to all kinds of life, and life is often hostile to other life.

Jeff Vandermeer, though, is the only one I know who would think to apply those principles to a wildlife refuge near his home. What if that land was alien somehow, I imagine he thought. What if something happened to make it different, to make it hostile? What could happen next? What could emerge?

Annihilation is the story of that land, a fictional version of the St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge or a fictional space inspired by it. In this first book of Vandermeer's "Southern Reach trilogy," it's Area X: a region cut off from the rest of the world for three decades.

Well, that's the story the twelfth expedition into Area X knows. It could be wrong. Maybe they've been lied to. A secretive government organization, given all power over a bizarre and frightening outside-context problem inside the US, isn't necessarily going to be telling the whole truth now, are they?

There are four women who make up that expedition; one other backed out just before they left. For reasons sufficient to the Southern Reach, they are known only by their roles: the biologist, the anthropologist, the surveyor, the psychologist. The psychologist is their leader, as much as anyone is. The biologist is our narrator. We're reading the journals she kept during that trip: all expeditions are required to have all members write down their experiences as they go. (Vandermeer doesn't play up the "and only I am escaped to tell the tale" aspect -- the biologist is too focused on her duties and with understanding the strangeness around her -- but the format locks in those comparisons to Poe and Lovecraft.)

Annihilation is set entirely in Area X. It opens with the expedition already on-site, having passed through whatever barrier or frontier exists under some kind of hypnosis. They're not sure how they got there, and they know that there's a very good chance they won't come back. The second expedition killed themselves; the third killed each other; the eleventh reappeared mysteriously outside Area X simultaneously and died of cancer within weeks. Those are the ones we know about specifically: it seems unlikely that all of the others made it back unscathed.

Area X is full of strangeness, and that strangeness quickly infects the expedition. The strange things are biological, or seem to be, and the biologist struggles to even describe what she is experiencing. That's cosmic horror, too: that sense of existential wrongness, of things broken so badly they can't be understood and can barely be described in rough sketches.

This is a creepy, disquieting book, full of horrors both psychological and external -- horrors that are both psychological and external simultaneously, horrors that are horrible because they are both. The biologist is as reliable a narrator as we could hope for, but that's not much. Vandermeer's career-long interest in fungi and other strange growths pays off in Annihilation: he had been writing about creepy things much like this for years, and here transmuted those obsessions and concerns into a slim, taut novel that delivers perfectly on its promise.

There are two more in the trilogy: I'll need to find them. (There's also a movie; I'm vastly less likely to spend any time on it.)

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #363: The End of the Fucking World by Charles Forsman

To a teenager, everything is huge. Everything is monumental, more important than anything else that has ever happened to anyone in the world.

Teenagers have no goddamn sense of perspective: that's how they're wired.

Charles Forsman, from what I've seen so far, focuses on that teenage feeling, that sense of being overwhelmed by life and trapped in a hostile world, and both amps up the tension of that feeling and places it in everyday life. His work appears, or at least what I've seen of it, as series of minicomics -- short moments, often shocking, to be strung together afterward to make a longer narrative of shocking moments.

(See my post on his book I Am Not Okay With This, a slightly later work.)

The End of the Fucking World is core Forsman, the book that got turned into a Netflix series, the stories that got him known.

Alyssa and James are seventeen -- extremely seventeen. James tells us at the beginning of the book he has some kind of problem with diminished emotional response: that's not how he says it, obviously. And Alyssa is his girlfriend, who seems to be the same way. Neither one seems able to interact normally with anyone else. Every tiny thing is, well, The End of the Fucking World.

So they run away, steal a car, hit the road to live life their way. But they're aimless and unfocused, the epitome of my favorite Elvis Costello quote. [1] And their world is just as random and violent and cruel and heartless as they are.

It would have to be, wouldn't it? It's the world that created them, and so it's the world that eventually grinds them up.

The story is told in eight-page chapters, mostly alternating between James and Alyssa's viewpoints. Depending on your sympathies, they can be deeply frightening in their affectlessness or horribly vulnerable in their cluelessness. Maybe both, even.

Forsman's art is simple, in a punky minicomics style: direct and clean, with faces a bit more cartoony than you'd expect for a story this violent. And he's sympathetic to Alyssa and James's desires while being clear-eyed enough to see how horrible and destructive they are. This is a shocking story, as shocking as the title. And it's a bit silly in its genre element: I Am Not Okay has its supernatural conceit better integrated, and is a more mature picture of a confused, mixed-up teen. But this is where Forsman started, and there's real power her in this story.

[1] "I'm not even sure what I want, but that's not the point -- it's that I want it now."

Friday, December 28, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #362: Special Exits by Joyce Farmer

This book is a memoir. But I can't say how much "memoir" means "actually true."

Of course, that's the case for all memoirs, isn't it?

Special Exits takes place in the early '90s. Laura is our central character, a woman in her early 50s. She lives in Los Angeles, with her husband Art; their grown son Pete lives nearby. (Art and Pete are only minor characters.) Her father Lars lives in a slowly decaying house in South LA, in a neighborhood that probably was much more white and much "nicer" when he moved in five decades before. He lives there with his second wife, Rachel -- Laura's mother died when she was very young, and Rachel has been her stepmother nearly her whole life.

Lars and Rachel are around eighty: still in decent shape, all considered, but getting older. And things are getting harder and harder for them -- Lars is getting hard of hearing and Rachel eventually has vision problems, and they both have more and more trouble getting around. Special Exits is the story of their decline. There's only one way a book like this can end.

Special Exits is by cartoonist Joyce Farmer, who was born in 1938 and lives in the LA area. I think the word "memoir" here means that Laura's story is similar to Joyce's, and that she's transmuted her real life her into something cleaner to turn it into a story. Or maybe it's all word-for-word true, and she just changed the names. It doesn't really matter: Special Exits was true enough to Farmer that she called it a memoir, and so we readers should take it in the same spirit.

Farmer keeps the focus on Lars and Rachel most of the time -- Laura, the character based on her, is an occasional presence in their life, but the narrative spends as much time on the old couple without her as it does in the moments when she's there. Laura is not our window into their world: we're in that cluttered little house in need of repair in South LA with this couple.

Farmer is sparse with dates, but Special Exits seems to cover four or five years, starting about 1990 and ending in 1994. There are a few major events in the outside world as signposts, like the Rodney King riots and the death of Nixon, to show what year we're in. So the world is there, but it's not central: this is the story of a family, and even more so the story of one marriage, as seen from just outside of it. Lars and Rachel aren't saints -- they're grumpy and forgetful and lash out at each other -- but they clearly have a long, deep love, and they care about and for each other.

Laura is the outside observer, drawn back to her childhood home as her parents can do less and less for themselves and need more and more help. She does what she can, but it's always a matter of time -- for everyone in the world, always, it's only a matter of how much time.

Farmer tells this story naturalistically, in mostly short scenes arranged into a dozen chapters. There's a few flashbacks, but she's primarily telling the story of the last years of her parent's lives, not trying to sum up those lives. Lars and Rachel did more and were more than we see them in Special Exits, and we know that -- but who they were and what they did for these years is enough for one book.

Farmer's art is detailed and precise, with lots of little lines to define her world. She works in an eight-panel grid most of the time, with thin panel borders that disappear several times per page. It's an illustrative style without being fussy, giving Special Exits a down-to-earth, homey feel.

There are a lot of comics memoirs about parents, particularly about the ends of their lives, from Maus to Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Special Exits stands up well in that company: it has a particular story to tell about interesting, distinctive people, and Farmer tells and draws that story in an appealing, day-to-day manner.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #361: Pim & Francie: "The Golden Bear Days" by Al Columbia

I can't tell you what's the deal with Al Columbia. Maybe no one can.

He famously was going to take over from Bill Sienkiewicz on the Alan Moore-written Big Numbers comic nearly thirty years ago, but had a nervous breakdown (maybe), disappeared (sort of), and destroyed all of his finished art (almost certainly). His career in comics since then has been occasional, with short pieces in anthologies and other random appearances. As far as I've seen, this is his only book-length publication.

Pim & Francie: "The Golden Bear Days" came out just about a decade ago, collecting material about the title characters that Columbia had created over many years before that. It's not a graphic novel.

It's not a story of any kind. It's a lot easier to list the things Pim & Francie isn't than explain what it is: it doesn't have any finished stories, any complete narratives, any obvious through-line.

There's no explanation for the random artifacts in the book, but I like to think of it this way. Imagine there was an animation studio, back in the early days -- late '20s, early '30s -- more influenced by Grand Guignol than happy musical theatre. Imagine that their main characters were two child-sized figures, Pim and Francie. Imagine that unnamed studio generated a number of cartoons and comics stories about those characters, full of horrors and terrors. Imagine that work was suppressed, violently, and almost entirely destroyed. And imagine that someone -- call him Al Columbia -- assembled what was left three generations later, with haunting, tantalizing hints of the stories of Pim and Francie.

You can imagine a coffee-table book, telling the history of that studio, with scraps of memos and release dates for the material, wrapped up in a narrative explaining who the people behind Pim & Francie were and what they did. Columbia provides none of that here. All he gives us is the art: sketches, torn comics pages, random animation cells, model sheets, sketches for background art or covers, isolated vignettes, things that might be comics panels or might not. All of it is only barely in sequence, if at all. No stories are complete; no stories are explained; no stories are more than a handful of isolated moments.

Pim and Francie's world is full of death and mayhem of all kinds: self-inflicted, since we see these "children" being horribly cruel to themselves and others; supernatural, with the child-snatching Cinnamon Jack and some kind of forest-dwelling demon-witch they call "grandma;" and just plain human, as in the knife-wielding Bloody Bloody Killer. Pim and Francie are occasionally perpetrators, often about to be victims, and regularly onlookers at something that is about to happen. The overall town is of ominousness and menace; this is a world stuffed top to bottom with horrible things, and there can be no end to them, no safe place for children...or for whatever Pim and Francie actually are. Sometimes they're with what seem to be friendly, loving grandparents -- but those are also clearly ineffectual and unable to protect the moppets from the horrors of the world.

Pim & Francie is a monument to something, but it's hard to say what. It's a window into an alternative world of entertainment, one more sadistic and cruel than our own, presented as torn pages, coffee-ring stained art, and random scraps. I don't know if Columbia has an overall vision for this project: if there's anything larger than a bunch of horrific and ominous moments. But the moments he has presented here are powerful, and the atmosphere is like no other book I know. And he's a killer draftsman in that rubber-hose '30s style. If all that intrigues you, you might as well check it out. There is nothing else like Pim & Francie.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #360: Stigmata by Claudio Persanti and Lorenzo Mattotti

Traditionally, a lot of Eurocomics appreciation -- on my side of the Atlantic, at least -- has been focused tightly on the art. Whether that's because there was just a lot more interesting art in the European mainstream, or because a lot of that work was only available in the original languages for many years, I don't know. But I come from the opposite end of the comics world, as a guy with an English degree from a semi-snooty school, so my instincts are always to think and write about the story and the story-telling.

(And, obviously, the art is central to storytelling, but I'm more likely to be concerned with panel-to-panel transitions or how information is conveyed than with the details of brushwork and pictoral representation.)

Most of what I've seen about Lorenzo Mattotti over the years seems to come from that other tradition, gushing about the pictures he makes and the things he does to make those pictures. And, as far as I can tell, Stigmata is the first comics work of his [1] I've actually read -- and it's written by someone else, the novelist and screenwriter Claudio Persanti. My sense is that Mattotti, like a lot of European artists, both writes his own works sometimes and works from scripts by others sometimes -- there doesn't seem to be the stigma of being "just" the artist you sometimes see in American comics circles.

So I don't know how characteristic Stigmata is of Mattotti's work; I don't have a good baseline here.

The nameless main character of Stigmata is a shiftless drunk, a man in early middle age with nothing much behind him and nothing to look forward to, just getting by working as a busboy in some cheap cafe. But he has some kind of vision, and develops stigmata -- the traditional wounds on the palms of the hands seen in hysterics who also happen to be Catholic. (Well, in my world, at least -- the world of Stigmata seems to include an actual supernatural force that does random things to people that damages them for life, and which I suppose we're supposed to call God.)

It ruins his life: he loses his job, he's hounded by the creepily devout, his home burns down. So he runs away to join the circus: an odd choice for a man of forty-one, but it wasn't his plan, just the way it happened. He settles down again, finds a wife and a place, and his stigmata go away for long periods of time.

But the moral of Stigmata seems to be that God will screw up your life no matter what you try to do, and so it all goes bad again and again, until our main character gives up entirely on wanting things or having a regular life. (Which, again, I guess is what Persanti is saying God least for this guy.)

The story of Stigmata left me cold: it's steeped in a kind of punitive Christianity that's alien to me, a world I don't want to be part of or concern myself with. But Mattotti's art is amazing -- loose looping whorls of ink, every page with a speed and energy, even though it's usually confined in a four-panel grid.

So I guess I come down with all of those other critics I was talking about to begin with: Mattotti's art is the real draw in Stigmata, unless you already have a substantial cargo of Catholic guilt to bring to the book.

[1] With an asterisk: I did see the version of Hansel & Gretel written by Neil Gaiman and based on a dozen Mattotti paintings. That would too much deform the word "comics" for me; it might not for you.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #359: Tales Designed to Thrizzle, Vol. 1 by Michael Kupperman

Today kicks off a mini-theme section of Book-A-Day; I read four 2009-2010 books from Fantagraphics over four days early in December, because I had them all digitally. They came in during the era when I was reviewing books seriously but getting many more things than I could fit into my Realms of Fantasy monthly column. The books otherwise have nothing in common, but some readers might wonder "why is this guy suddenly reading a bunch of old Fanta books?"

That's why. It's not a good reason, but it's the one I have.

I come to Michael Kupperman's Tales Designed to Thrizzle, Vol. 1 backwards. Kupperman was first known as a maker of humorous comics -- this series, in particular -- and has only recently moved into more serious work like All the Answers (which I read a couple of months ago).

Vol. 1 is, as I hope anyone can tell, the first collection of his Tales Designed To Thrizzle comic -- and I'm amused to see that, at last as the mid-aughts, one successful way to start a career in making funny comics was still to draw twenty-some pages of them and put them out in a little booklet, the way it had been since the undergrounds in the late '60s. (It might still work these days, but a creator can get better, more immediate feedback and audience by posting stories online in whatever format is popular that week. [1])

Vol. 1 has the first four issues of Thrizzle, which were published individually from July 2005 through August 2008. (There were four more issues, which were in turn collected in 2012's Vol. 2...which I may need to search out now.) The book presents them in order as they originally appeared, covers and all, rather than re-sorting the contents into some other scheme. Up front is a self-mocking foreword by Robert Smigel, and separating each issue are wallpaper-looking full-page designs, which fit the aesthetic of Kupperman's work well and may have been in the original issues as well.

The first three issues are ostensibly divided into three sections by "audience" -- adult, kid, and old people -- with frontispieces insisting that readers outside those ages shouldn't read that section. The fourth issue drops that for a quirky format "specially designed to help you through your entire day!" (In that case, the reader is supposed to read one page each half-hour, starting first thing in the morning.)

I was going to say here that Thrizzle has the standard lots-of-short-pieces format of most single-creator humor comics, but nothing about Thrizzle is standard. Kupperman has an absurdist sense of humor and his comedy rarely drops into the usual comics tropes (goofy superheroes, toys and fads of the cartoonists's youth), instead looking to old magazines and vaguer cultural knowledge, plus a whole lot of random surreal ideas (sex blimps, foreplay robots, porno coloring books, criminal fingertalk).

I found it really funny a lot of the time, and distinctively different from other funny cartoonists I'm familiar with. Kupperman uses a few different art styles, including one that looks almost like clip art and a really heavily-inked look full of tiny lines -- so Thrizzle has jokes like no one else's comics and looks like no one else's comics.

It is weird and funny and weirdly funny and funnily weird. Kupperman has a unique comic sensibility, and I want to see more of it.

[1] A month ago I would have just said "Tumblr," but oops!

Monday, December 24, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #358: Birdland by Gilbert Hernandez

This is not a Love and Rockets book; I've run out of those. But it's a first cousin to Love and Rockets, featuring characters who first appeared there and a group of characters who later appeared there in a slightly different arrangement.

It's also chock-full of sex, which might be why it's not in print these days: sex has migrated almost entirely to the electronic realms for the 21st century, since print can't keep up and is pirated within seconds. (Other possible reasons: Hernandez or his publishers think it wouldn't be good for his current career, normal book/comics outlets have gotten more prudish over the past couple of decades, or the stars are not quite right.)

Anyway, this is Birdland. It's an unabashedly pornographic comic by Gilbert Hernandez, originally published as a three-issue miniseries by Fantagraphic's spin-off smut-publishing line Eros in 1990, with a loosely-related mostly-silent one-shot in 1994. I read the 1999 printing of the trade paperback collection, which has what I think are all of the Birdland pieces together.

It's set in a porno next-universe-over version of his Palomar/Luba world, circa 1990: Inez and Bang Bang are strippers at Polka Parade, a young Fritzi is a therapist and her sister Petra is her receptionist. The central male character is Fritzi's husband -- at this point, her only one, but that would change in the regular continuity -- Mark Herrera, though his brother Simon is also important. There's also La Valda, another stripper for the competing club Stinky's who "steals Bang Bang's act" (said act, in toto: looking like she does, dancing naked, band-aids over her nipples) and Stinky's doorman Pee Wee, so there can be another man for the sex scenes.

The plot is loose and semi-random, but it's more than just an excuse for the sex scenes: Birdland feels like Hernandez turned up the sex knob on his work to eleven, then broke it off and jammed it even further up with pliers. It's more explicit -- very explicit, with lots of spurting bodily fluids and engorged appendages being rhythmically inserted hither and yon -- but it's all embedded in one of those Beto obsessed-with-the-wrong-person plots.

Since the knobs are jammed up past eleven, everyone is obsessed with sex with the wrong people: Fritzi has frozen out Mark for unexplained reasons, but he's having affairs with both Inez and Bang Bang while pining for his wife. Simon is obsessed with Fritzi, and sleeping with Petra as the next best thing, which is fine because she's obsessed with Mark in turn. Fritzi's practice consists entirely of hypnotizing her (all male) patients and having sex with them while they're under -- before long, Petra learns the truth and gets into the action, too. And then there are the aliens, who wander around the edges of the beginning of the story before abducting everyone for the literally climactic ending of the original mini-series, as everybody gets it on with everybody for a cathartic release before returning to earth to ring more changes on the same relationship problems.

Hey, it's a sex comic: you have to expect that it's going to be full of sex. Birdland's sex isn't the zipless fucks of the usual stroke book: Hernandez's characters are obsessives, and endlessly talk about who they love and want and can't have even while bopping with the wrong person.

In a lot of ways, Birdland feels like unfiltered Gilbert Hernandez: all of the sex, all of the surrealism, all of the random connections, all of the quirky spirituality. Whether it really came out that way or if he carefully crafted it to look that way doesn't matter as much -- either way, this is close to peak Beto, right in the middle of his career. If you're interested in his work, and aren't turned off by the pervasive sex, Birdland is a book you need to pay attention to. (Assuming you can find it.)

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/22/18

Surprisingly, I do have books to write about this week -- three books came in from the Great Publicity Machine, and I bought one. (Hey, I was ordering a lot of presents online, so what if a book for me just happened to find its way into the cart along the way?)

The three books from the GPM are the first three novels of L.E. Modesitt, Jr.'s Saga of Recluce fantasy series: The Magic of Recluce, The Towers of the Sunset, and The Magic Engineer. I can't tell you much about that series personally -- I read one of them (I think slightly later than these initial three) quite a long time ago, and liked it but didn't manage to read forward or backward in the series from that point. But it's a well-regarded, interesting fantasy series that's avoided all of the usual epic-fantasy junk and has ranged up and down a long, complex timeline for nearly thirty years. I think it can be seen as the grand-daddy of a lot of later "industrial fantasy" series, too -- it's big and interesting and influential and full of different things, with novels that almost all stand alone.

All good stuff. So it's nice to see Tor is reinvigorating it from the beginning with excellent, atmospheric new covers by Marc Simonetti. (See their blog for a post about the new art.) The three covers are all one triptych painting, so here's the whole thing in one:

And the book I bought myself was also, coincidentally, from Tor:  The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, a Lovecraftian story (pretty obviously, from the title) by Kij Johnson. I like modern reworkings of Lovecraftian material: he made such a rich world, full of creepy and quirky stuff, much of which can be unpacked repeatedly in different ways over multiple generations. And Lovecraft's personal unpleasantnesses gives a reason for successive writers to want to mine what good they can find in those works, too. I've been looking for this one for a while, since I've heard good things about it and Johnson's work in general. Plus, I'm really fond of novellas-as-books these days.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #357: The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 3 by Herge

I still feel like there's something wrong with a forty-nine-year-old man reading the Tintin books for the first time, but it's not like I can go back and read them any earlier now, can I?

The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 3 collects three WWII-era Tintin stories: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Shooting Star, and The Secret of 'The Unicorn'. I say "WWII-era," but there's no indication at all in the stories themselves that a global war was going on. It's the same world of adventure and derring-do as the earlier books (see volumes one and two), full of smugglers and pirates and ruffians, all of whom must eventually fall to the legitimate authorities (though the villains of Shooting Star are state-backed; it's a fictional South American state and they're explicitly nasty capitalists).

These books came in quick succession: serialized one after the other (1940-41, 41-42, 42-43); and all were published in color book editions by the end of 1943. Herge was clearly a powerhouse -- remember this was in Belgium, in the middle of the war, with all of the related shortages and controls.

But, again, none of that shows in the stories: they're adventure tales about criminals: drug smugglers, sharp-elbowed capitalists from fictional countries, murderous hunters of lost treasures. And they are after strange and mysterious things, mostly: a strange meteor that crashed in the North Atlantic, a pirate's treasure. (Though Golden Claws, and from Tintin's side Unicorn, are both cases where he gets caught up in something and has no idea what nefarious plot is going on, just that something is obviously wrong.)

Golden Claws introduces Captain Haddock, who I gather becomes a major supporting character from that point forward. His character has not aged well, and it takes the previously wince-inducing scenes of Tintin or his dog Snowy "accidentally" getting drunk and sloppy in the earlier books and makes them even bigger, more violent and stereotypical when it's a big, bearded guy doing the drinking. I hope that he develops a character other than "alcoholic who is stupidly combative when drunk" in later books.

This omnibus series makes an interesting -- that word here means "inexplicable" -- choice by ending with Unicorn; that book apparently leads directly into the next book, Red Rackham's Treasure. Or maybe the publishers figured their readers would be hooked anyway by volume three, so a little cliff-hanger wouldn't hurt anyone. In any case, this book ends very obviously with a "buy the next book" message.

The Tintin stories have been the formative adventure tales in comics form for several generations of young people by this point -- more in Europe than on my side of the pond, obviously, but he's still a treasure of world literature. And the stories do still mostly hold up, aside from the comic drunkenness. If you have young people in your orbit, they might still find this exciting: it's got all of the good stuff.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #356: Story of My Life by Jay McInerney

Some books wear their influences really obviously. So any reviewer has to say the obvious first, just to get it out of the way.

I'm still, in my own mind, in the middle of a reading project to hit all of the classic '80s Vintage Contemporaries. (The original plan was to read them at more-or-less the time of publication, thirty years later, but that foundered on a rock called A Fan's Notes.) So I keep trying to hit those books regularly, and I thought Jay McInerney's third novel, 1988's Story of My Life, would be a quick little read, and I'd finally have a chance to read something by him that wasn't Bright Lights, Big City.

What I didn't realize was just how much Story of My Life owes to Catcher in the Rye. Oh, sure, Alison Poole is four or five years older in 1988 than Holden Caulfield was in 1951, and she definitely does more cocaine and has more sex than he did. (Plus the whole "being female" thing.) But the voice of Story is hugely influenced by Catcher, down to the occasional telling word choice like "phonies" on the first few pages. It also, I assume, was McInerney's attempt to do another book like Bright Lights -- cocaine- and voice-fueled, set in go-go '80s NYC, about spoiled youth going rotten -- after what seems to have been the misstep of his second novel Ransom.

Like Holden and the unnamed narrator of Bright Lights, Alison is hugely spoiled, vastly less self-reflective than she appears to be, adrift in her modern world, and telling us her story with an in-your-face voice. (Alison is in the first person, moving her closer to Holden than the "you" of Bright Lights.) She's a rich-girl college dropout, living on her rich semi-estranged father's dime in an expensive apartment while she takes acting classes but spends most of her time partying with friends and dating a succession of what seem like mostly older men (early thirties) in finance and similar high-paying fields. It is very obviously the kind of life that can't be sustained: Alison complains regularly about how far gone this or that friend is, and we readers are supposed to take that as an indication of how far gone she is, despite her protestations.

Story covers a few months in her whirlwind life, up to her twenty-first birthday and just after. She meets a new guy, Dean, who she seems to like despite her protestations that she doesn't fall in love and inevitably loses interest in a man after a few weeks. She runs around the clubs with her roommate Jeannie, crazy friends Didi and Francesca, and visiting even-wilder-older-sister Rebecca. She goes to her classes most of the time. She complains about her father not sending her allowance, and the resultant money troubles. (Of course, Alison doesn't pay for anything -- not cocaine, not her meals, not her apartment, nothing. That's what rich men are for.)

It is all told through Alison's voice, which is loud, profane, demanding, and endlessly self-centered -- it's a good thing Story is a short novel, because 188 pages is more than enough time to spend this close to Alison Poole. All of the dialogue is reported through that voice: everything in Story is filtered through Alison's monstrously massive self-regard, and she has to be treated as a very unreliable narrator because of that.

I'd class Story as an interesting novel but not a good one: parallel to Bright Lights and offering another view of that Rat Pack '80s millieu, a male writer's attempt to do a modern woman's voice (and not, to my mind, entirely succeeding), a book with a lot of ambitions and chops but also a lot of mess and overreach.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #355: Batman '66, Vol. 1 by Jeff Parker and various artists

I don't know if I want corporate comics to loosen up. If they do, they'll probably be better, and have a better chance to survive -- which are two different things, only one of which is obviously good. But they're so often so tedious in their stolid seriousness that any bit of levity is welcome.

One of the wafts of levity in the past decade has been the Jeff Parker-written Batman '66, which is, yes you guessed it, a comics version of the Adam West TV show, done as straight as possible with all of the same elements. I've been hearing about it for a while now, so I finally checked out Volume 1 from the library to see for myself.

Parker is joined here by a bunch of artists, who aren't always credited on the stories. I also think these first appeared digitally as individual stories, and then only later were collected into print issues (and then this book), which adds more uncertainty. But the covers are by Michael and Laura Allred, and it looks like most of the stories are drawn by Jonathan Case, who is uncannily on-model for the actors of the '60s series. (Other artists with work here: Ty Templeton, Joe Quinones, Sandy Jarrell, Ruben Procopio, and Colleen Coover.)

These stories aren't deliberately campy or silly: they're telling stories of the Adam West Batman in that characteristic mode, with occasional obvious sound effects, slightly breathless captions and dialogue a little too mannered for most circumstances. Parker uses a wide array of the oddball villains of the show: yes Joker and Riddler and The Penguin and Catwoman (two different versions, unexplained here as it was unexplained in the show), but also Egghead and The Siren and The Mad Hatter and Clock King and The Sandman. They are all weird, but Batman villains have always been weird. This is the way Batman and his villains are weird in this world: silly rather than murderous, larcenous rather than terrorist.

I don't think I'd want a steady diet of Batman '66 stories over a long period of time, and that fact that the series seems to have already ended implies the general audience agrees with me there. On the other hand, I don't want a steady diet of any kind of Batman stories, and I'm way out of the mainstream there. These are distinctive Batman stories, in a style that hasn't been used in about fifty years: Parker is good at telling stories in that mode, and he's paired up with artists who generally bring a similar sensibility. (Procopio, on the Sandman story, looks more back to the '90s animated show to my eye, and is a little more cartoony than I think works for this style.)

My sense is that the audience for this book is narrower among regular comics-readers than it would be otherwise -- people who want to read Batman stories but don't obsess about the right kind of Batman stories -- so I hope it and the other Batman '66 stories have made it over the wall into general population; the people who'll like this best are the ones who don't consider themselves Batman fans.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #354: Michael Chabon's The Escapists by Brian K. Vaughan and various artists

If a story has a moral that says, basically, "stories like this one are not as important or good as other kinds of stories, which are more special," is that enough to make you throw it across the room in disgust?

In this case, it didn't...mostly because it was a library book, and I don't want to damage someone else's things. But Michael Chabon's The Escapists has a severe case of wanting to eat its cake and have it too, even though The Escapist is a pretty unappetizing cake to hang onto.

Perhaps I should explain.

Michael Chabon wrote a novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, almost twenty years ago, a fictionalized version of the Simon/Kirby team (or maybe not -- that was one piece that went into it, and influenced the title, at least). In that novel, the main characters created a Golden Age superhero called The Escapist.

For some reason, The Escapist turned into a real comic book, with various people doing new fake versions of the various fictional phases of his invented comics career. I read a collection of those stories earlier this year, Amazing Adventures.

Michael Chabon's The Escapists, the book I have today, is from that same publishing burst (originally serialized in 2006 and republished in this edition about a year ago), but is even more metafictional: it's the story of some people in modern-day Cleveland who get the rights to The Escapist and make up new adventures of this old, mostly-forgotten minor hero. And, of course, in the end they learn that they should make up their own stories, and not just extend old stories. (Before that, they get other cliches to fill up the book: the shy nerd who can't tell the punky girl he loves her, the strong silent type who looks good in a supersuit, the eeeevil corporation who will stop at nothing to buy back the mostly worthless thing they sold by accident, and so on.)

On the one hand: yes. Comics desperately needs the make-your-own-stuff message, even though it will never heed it. On the other hand: did you just get me to read two hundred pages of comics about a fake legacy character and then say that stories about legacy characters are crap?


I'm sure writer Brian K. Vaughan would object that he's not saying legacy characters are crap, exactly -- he's done a bunch of them over the years, after all -- but that new ideas are better. But, OK, if that's your message, why tell it in a story about someone else's character? There is a huge disconnect here between medium and message, to put it mildly.

Artistically, The Escapists mixes the fictional world of its silly hero with the real-world exploits of its dull protagonists, giving work to a variety of different artists (Steve Rolston, Jason Shawn Alexander, Philip Bond, and Eduardo Barreto; none of them credited to specific pages) and allowing the story to have both kitchen-sink drama and pulse-pounding action. So, yes, more cake-eating and -having is going on there, as well.

Frankly, The Escapists is best used as an object lesson in the art of Having It Both Ways.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #353: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 6: Who Run the World? Squirrels by North & Henderson

Some people read The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl for the girl power, the body positivity, the overall positivity, the young-readers friendliness, the focus on computer science, or the kooky take on the Marvel Universe. Not me, though.

(Other people may read it because they are crushing hard on Koi Boi, obsessed with Eric Henderson's art, or totally in love with writer Ryan North's bottom-of-the-page notes. But those aren't what does it for me, either.)

No, I'm all about Brain Drain. Give me an existential brain-in-a-vat-in-a-robot-body, teetering on the edge of total nihilism and trying to live in the modern world, and I'm happy.

This sixth book of Doreen Green's adventures, titled (not all that compactly) The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 6: Who Run the World? Squirrels, has a whole bunch of Brain Drain in it, and so I like it very much. I trust the creators will take this to heart and choose in future to exclusively please this one random Internet dude who gets these books two years later from the library, instead of listening to everyone else who they are actually trying to reach and who pay money up front. [1]

(How did we get to volume six? Good question -- check out volumes one, two, three, four, five and the hardcover OGN.)

The five issues reprinted here (#s 17-21 of the ongoing series) include, as has been the norm for the last few volumes, one big epic story (four issues) and then a smaller story (the last issue). The big story is fun and all, with a new villain who has a nefarious plot and a very sneaky way of getting around Doreen's defenses. But it's the same kind of thing as most SG stories: new threat seems unstoppable, but then she stops it.

No, the single issue is where it's at, with a concentrated dose of Brain Drain action. While SG is off visiting her evil twin in the Negative Zone (see the OGN if that sentence makes no sense), Koi Boi and Chipmunk Hunk and my man Brain Drain have to stop crime in Manhattan single-handedly. [2] They do succeed in the end, of course, but along the way we get great moments like this:
I would be firmer, for my part: I won't apologize for my cool dude protocols at all.

This collection is obvious pretty deep into Squirrel Girl-dom; no one should start here. But the series is still doing the stuff it does well, and even if you're way outside of the target audience (girls 5-15, I guess, particularly those with an interest in science) it is quite swell and a lot of fun. I am still surprised Marvel allows North and Henderson to be in the MU but not of it, but I suppose I shouldn't be looking gift horses in the mouth, should I? They could ruin this in a second any time they feel like it, and probably will, eventually.

But it's here for now: enjoy it.

[1] This argument is used straight-faced by a lot of other white guys on the 'net, so why shouldn't it work for me, too?

[2] Because even though there's a Marvel Universe, with Spider-Man and several Avengers teams and the Fantastic Four and Doctor Strange and Daredevil and several dozen other heroes in the same place, in any specific comic all of the crime is the responsibility of the title hero, to foil directly or delegate said foiling as she sees fit.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #352: Fallout by Jim Ottaviani and various artists

Jim Ottaviani has been writing comics about science and scientists for a little over two decades now, and I've only intermittently caught up with him. (See my posts about The Imitation Game, from earlier this year, and Feynman, from 2015.)

Fallout is a much earlier book than those two, published in 2001, and it shows Ottaviani struggling to put all of his material into comics form -- or, maybe, to determine what material should be in comics form.

That's always the question, though: what is this story that I'm telling here? What points are necessary, which scenes do I need to show, and which details are unnecessary or confusing? At this point in his comics-writing career, Ottaviani was still erring on the side of leaving everything in: Fallout not only has over twenty-five pages of notes and backmatter, it also contains entire government memos and long detailed letters crammed onto the comics pages themselves, running in tight columns next to related comics panels over a half-dozen or more consecutive pages.

In retrospect, Fallout does try to do too much, to include all of the sides of what the subtitle calls "the political science of the atomic bomb." And that overwhelms the tighter story that can sometimes be seen peeking around the edges, one that uses Leo Szilard and J. Robert Oppenheimer as contrasts and opposing lenses through which to see the Manhattan Project.

Ottaviani begins well before Manhattan, though -- even the famous letter to Roosevelt from Einstein urging its creation happens well into the book. Fallout starts out looking like the story of Szilard, starting in the interwar years as he fled the rise of Naziism and continuing as he became part of the team that built the first bombs. But Szilard, as Ottaviani tells it, wasn't actually all that important to the actual building of the bomb, and he wants to tell that story, too. So Szilard loses his center of the spotlight for long stretches, as Ottaviani includes nearly everyone on the very large team over many years that was involved in making atomic power into a weapon.

Again, there's too much here: it's not one story, and Ottaviani wasn't ruthless enough to cull it down to a single story that he could tell in one book. Oppenheimer, credited first in the subtitle, doesn't show up for the first time until the book is half over.

The art is similarly varied, from a variety of artists all doing interesting work but not looking like they're doing consecutive pages in the same book: Janine Johnston, Steve Lieber, Vince Locke, and Jeff Parker all drawn substantial sections, with Bernie Mirault providing interstitial material, Jeffrey Jones a cover, and Chris Kemple a few pages in one section.

I'm not exactly complaining that Fallout is too long: it's less than 250 pages. The problem is that there's too much crammed on too many of those pages -- those long memos reprinted in full here, when they don't need to be. And that it tries to do too much and loses focus because of that. Fallout isn't quite a really good comics history of the Manhattan Project, but it does contain pieces of about three different really good comics histories of the Manhattan Project. For readers who want a deep dive, or are impressed by ambition, that could be enough.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #351: The Love and Rockets Companion edited by Marc Sobel and Kristy Valenti

Any fictional world that runs long enough and has enough fans will eventually develop ancillary materials. It may be fan-made maps of a long-running fantasy series, or scholarly treatises on the families of Yoknapatawpha County, or K/S stories in some obscure internet archive. But the urge to understand, to systematize, and to make the loved thing exactly the way you want it will come out in the end.

Publishers know this, of course, and harness that force when they can. Those books of maps of fantasy worlds, or encyclopedias of Middle-Earth, or sharecropped novels by "the Killer Bs" were all official, all really licensed, all putting coin back in the pockets of the original copyright holder. And big anniversaries provide almost irresistible opportunities for those kind of ancillaries...even in these latter days, when the best guide to an on-going fictional world is a website or wiki that will get updated when the next set of stories comes out.

That brings me to The Love and Rockets Companion, published in 2012 to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the first Fantagraphics issue of Love and Rockets. (Which was a year after the first self-published issue, but anniversaries can be of any thing you want, to make them work.) It was edited by Marc Sobel and Kristy Valenti, two critics and writers-about-comics, and it's pretty miscellaneous. It also, since Love and Rockets keeps being published, becomes a little more outdated every time there's a new issue -- and there have been three or four of the New Stories volumes plus six issues of the latest series since this book came out.

There's no attempt at criticism in this Companion: it starts off by reprinting two long interviews with the Hernandez Brothers from The Comics Journal (owned by Fantagraphics, publisher of Love and Rockets and this book, and so probably free) from 1989 and 1995, and then adds a new interview by Sobel done for this book. That takes up nearly two-thirds of the book, and the rest is the kind of thing that a wiki would definitely do better: timelines of both Locas and Palomar, character guides for both worlds, and a checklist of all Love and Rockets stories by all three brothers, followed by what I think is meant to be a comprehensive list of their non-L&R work as well. (In the middle there is a small section titled "Letter Column Highlights/Bros.' Favorite Comics," which is cute but pretty fanzine-ish.)

The book is paperback, roughly the trim size of the older Love and Rockets collections, with a heavy dust jacket that folds out. On the outside is a jam piece by both Gilbert and Jaime (or maybe something assembled by others from their artwork from various places) with what looks like all of their major characters. On the inside are charts of the relationships of both worlds, family and friends and more complicated connections.

This is obviously a book only for huge Love and Rockets fans, preferably in 2012, so they can get it when it's new and shiny and up to date. It would have been a useful thing for me to have when I started "I Love (And Rockets) Mondays," but I only got it towards the end, and I'm not planning to double-check the list of stories against the published books and see if I can ferret out anything missing. I found it faintly disappointing: I'd like some kind of critical assessment, or even just a more journalistic listing and examination of the storylines over the years. As it is, this Companion is much more like something from the publisher of Amazing Heroes than the publisher of The Comics Journal.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/15/18

Hey! It's another one of those no-new-books weeks. So I'm posting here to say that, because I find it difficult to just not do something, even when doing that thing is pointless.

Have a good week; see you next time. (And I don't expect I'll have anything to mention then, either, but who knows what will happen?)

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #350: Amazing Facts and Beyond with Leon Beyond by Dan Zettwoch and Kevin Huizenga

Sometimes fake facts are the best facts. As long as we're all clear that they are fake, reading about the modern infestation of dragons or the scholarly history of the USM and CNA can be glorious fun.

And there's no reason that comics can't get into the act, too -- Ripley's Believe It Or Not! is just sitting out there as an attractive model for goofy fake-factsness in illustrated form.

Well, it isn't "sitting out there," actually, because somebody already did that. Two somebodies: cartoonists Dan Zettwoch and Kevin Huizenga did a fake-trivia comics feature for the St. Louis alternative paper Riverfront Times from 2008 to 2012 under the title Amazing Facts & Beyond with Leon Beyond. All the strips were collected into a book of the same name in 2013, which I finally finished reading recently. (I'd had a bookmark in it for several years -- books of miscellaneous strips are great to pick up, read a couple, and put back down again.)

It's all seen through the lens of the "Leon Beyond" character, a trivia-obsessed St. Louisite who has the usual nerdly foibles and who has his own half-serious backstory. (Including a fictional long shelf of similar books, since he's been doing this for a while.)

Each strip is a full page in this book, and was probably a quarter or fifth of a page in the Riverfront Times. Each one has a loose theme, and this book gathers similar themes into sections, from "Did You Know?" to "Travel" to "Saint Louis" to "Fascinating Esoterica" to "Animals" to "Furthermore, Did You Also Know?" to "Chainsaws." They are not organized here in order of publication; it seems like some of them, at least, were vaguely timely and related to things going on in St. Louis at the time.

And, of course, each strip is full of fake facts, with some actual facts salted in here and there for maximum amusement and/or confusion. Please, do not rely on anything you learn from this book in any way in your life!

Amazing Facts & Beyond is amusing, and also pretty dense: the Ripley-esque format packs a lot of words to the page, so it takes a while to read, even if you try to go straight through it. It's probably funnier if you are from St. Louis, or know more about Missouri than I do, but it's goofy fun even if you have no idea if "the Big Stink of 2010" was a real thing or not.