Monday, April 30, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #120: The Abominable Mr. Seabrook by Joe Ollmann

We can't choose our obsessions. (What would the world be like, if we could?)

Joe Ollmann couldn't -- that's why he's been collecting, reading, and thinking about minor interwar travel writer William Buehler Seabrook for the past decade. And Seabrook couldn't: Ollmann's retelling of his life shows clearly how he was engulfed by his alcoholism and sexual kinks, in an era where he couldn't be helped definitively for the one and couldn't openly enjoy the latter.

Their obsessions came together in Ollmann's 2017 book The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, an exhaustive, obsessively-researched portrait of a deeply obsessive man. It's three hundred pages of dense nine-panel grid comics, crammed full of words and Ollmann's very human (and very lumpy) people, all washed in blue tone.

Ollmann points out early that the historical verdict on Seabrook comes down to four words -- cannibal, sadist, alcoholic, suicide -- and his book explains the stories behind those words but admits they are what defines Seabrook. Sure, he was only a cannibal once, but it was in pursuit of verisimilitude for his third book Jungle Ways, where he was trying to follow the pattern of his first two books and really get into the society he was investigating. And, obviously, suicide only happens once.

But the other two words defined him for his entire adult life. He was an alcoholic, even after a "cure" that left him thinking (as so many do) that he could go back to drinking in moderation. And his particular kink, around women in chains, would have been vastly more manageable and reasonable two generations later. As it was, drinking was something men did, and he couldn't stop. His sexual desires were "perverted" and finding women who actually shared them -- as opposed to the succession of "research assistants" of his later years, who were willing to go along, for a little while, for pay -- was almost impossible. (There is one woman Seabrook met early on who Ollmann shows as being a good match for him sexually -- but her real name isn't known to posterity and she seems to have disappeared from his life entirely after not too long.)

Seabrook was also tormented as a writer: he was the kind who at first wrote fairly easily, and then found it got harder and harder to write prose at the level he wanted -- particularly as he drank more and more. And so the work is worse from the drinking, which leads to more drinking, which leads to slower and worse work, and so on.

Seabrook managed to produce nearly a dozen books from 1927 through 1944, the years Ollmann most focuses on. (Seabrook was born in 1884 and died by an overdose in 1944.) It sounds like even the best of them are minor, but all readers have huge enthusiasms for "minor" writers. I'm glad Ollmann's huge enthusiasm got him a major book out of it himself.

Ollmann's Seabrook is a sweaty, jowly, blubbery mess of a man, lurching through his own life uncontrolled, with momentary highs and years-long lows. He's a cautionary tale, a "but for the grace of God" figure, a bad example, an icon of despair -- but never a joke. He lived his own life, pretty badly as it turned out, but he did what he could where he was, given all he'd been saddled with, and got ten books, three wives, a decent living for a long time, and occasional happiness out of it. Ollmann shows us that's not all that bad, even for a cannibal sadist alcoholic suicide.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/28/18

Howdy! This week I have two books -- one that I bought, and one that came in the mail from its publisher. Since the latter is what this weekly post was originally designed to showcase, it gets to go first.

New from our friends at Tachyon is Nancy Springer's fantasy novel The Oddling Prince, newly published in trade paperback. She's written a lot of interesting books across several genres during her long career -- I remember Larque on the Wing, her Tiptree-winner from 1994, and I think I've read several other of her books as well -- and this seems to be her first novel in about five years, after "retiring." (Do authors ever really retire? Or, rather, does it stick?) This looks to be a historical (or maybe ahistorical) fantasy, set in the Scottish kingdom of Calidon, with a cursed dying king and two very different brothers.

And the book I bought is another short graphic novel from German cartoonist Mawil: We Can Still Be Friends. It looks to be another slice-of-life semi-autobiographical story, like his Home and Away, which I read at the beginning of the year. Mawil has a great, very distinctive cartoony style, and makes funny comics in that style -- I need to keep digging up his stuff.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #119: Tenements, Towers & Trash by Julia Wertz

Everyone living in a big city has a different experience of that city -- and the longer you live in one place, the more particular and idiosyncratic your version of it gets. (Some places are too small to be seen that differently: I've lived for twenty-five years in the same small NJ town of less than 10k people, and all my mental efforts have left it as boring as ever.) Julia Wertz lived in New York -- Brooklyn, actually; NYC is big enough that you need to specify at least that much, and most people would think you need a neighborhood as well -- for a decade, from 2006 to 2016, and she didn't leave by her own choice.

Tenements, Towers & Trash is her very idiosyncratic history and/or record of the city she lived in for ten years. How idiosyncratic? A large portion of this book is made up of paired drawings of a particular streetscape -- in some past year and the last time Wertz saw it. That idiosyncratic.

And that's entirely a good thing: there are a million boring histories of big famous places like NYC already. We could use a few more deeply quirky, oddball histories of them instead.

In between the random looks at Mott Street in 1935 and 2012 (note: this is my characterization of the content; I don't recall if she actually drew Mott Street in any year), there are short comics stories about interesting bits of NYC history and Wertz's life there. Wertz isn't interested in tourist stuff, and she isn't interested in fancy rich-people stuff, either -- she's more about infrastructure (subways, street cleaning), colorful mostly-forgotten women (Typhoid Mary, Nellie Bly, Lizzie Halliday, Madame Restell), only-in-NYC stories (the "Hess Spite Triangle," Kim's Video, Ray's Pizza, the odd drink called an egg cream) and offshoots of her urban exploring, like examinations of that haven of trash and detritus, Bottle Beach, and its much more famous older sibling Fresh Kills.

Wertz also likes making pages of pictures of various related things: old hotel-room keys, hidden bars of NYC, historic subway entrances, some independent bookstores, holdout buildings. Sometimes that merges with the "then and now" impulse as well: she has pages of past-and-present pictures of bakeries, apothecaries, snack carts, bakeries, subway etiquette signs, the theaters of Staten Island and Brooklyn, several neighborhoods (Times Square, three bits of the Village, Greenpoint, Bed-Stuy, Carroll Gardens, Williamsburg), and the vaguer "neighborhood shopping and dining."

So Tenements has a lot of stuff in it: it's as much the visual record of what one cartoonist noticed in a big, teeming, busy city over the course of a decade as it is anything else. Any general, overview book will be influenced by what the author notices and cares about, obviously, but most writers try to hide that under a facade of impartiality and authority. Wertz is particular and unashamed about it: this is her NYC.

It's a big book: physically oversized (which heft and implied seriousness intersects interestingly with Wertz's deliberately simple drawing style) and around three hundred thick pages. And it contains a lot of stuff. It's not a definitive look at NYC: no book is. But it's a record of what one particular observer noticed and cared about and wanted to save, which is even better.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #118: Voices in the Dark by Marcel Beyer and Ulli Lust

There once was a novel called Flughunde: written by Marcel Beyer in German, published in Germany in 1995. John Brownjohn -- I feel so sorry for someone saddled with that name all his life -- translated it into English, and The Karnau Tapes was published in the UK in 1997.

Almost twenty years later, German cartoonist Ulli Lust adapted Flughunde into comics form -- it was published in 2013 as by Beyer and Lust. And, finally, in 2017, the comics version of Flughunde was reunited with the Brownjohn English translation -- somewhat adapted by Nika Knight to work as comics -- and published under a third title, Voices in the Dark.

(By the way, Flughunde means "Flying Foxes," for an important thematic element of the story -- it's a literary-novel title, and this is a literary "graphic novel." I have no idea why none of the English translations were willing to translate the title.)

That's what this is, but what's it about?

Hermann Karnau is a German sound engineer in WWII. Helga is the eldest of the six children of Joseph Goebbels. He is fictional; she is not -- and, if you might possibly read this book, do not google her first. Trust me.

If you go into Voices in the Dark thinking it's Hermann's story -- and it does appear to be his story; he gets most of the page-time, and the narrative goes deeply into his thinking for long periods -- you'll expect something like The Conversation mixed with Hannah Arendt's famous comment about the banality of evil. Hermann is neurotic and obsessive, and it's not clear for a while quite how twisted those obsessions have made him, until that Nazi machine gives him unexpected opportunities. He records speeches in public, Goebbels in private, sounds of battle on the Eastern front, and then is part of less definable, less sane experiments before being called back to record the last days of the man the narrative only calls "him."

But this is not Hermann's story. It is Helga's, even though she is young and her life constrained. Even though she gets less time on the page, and we don't know as much of her thoughts. Even though we don't meet here until we've seen a lot of Hermann. She's more important -- Hermann is essentially an observer.

I won't talk about the events of Voices in the Dark. It takes place in Germany, during WWII, mostly towards the end, with short scenes set before and after. You can guess at what that could include: you may be right.

Lust tells this story in mostly small, cramped panels -- the white gutters between panels disappear entirely for some scenes, making them that much more intrusive and claustrophobic. Her colors are earth-tones, mostly monochromatic on a single spread -- there are reddish scenes and brown scenes and grey scenes, some oranges and dull greens. And the panels themselves are close-ups more often than expected -- again, tightly focused on this story, as obsessive a viewer as Hermann is a listener, close and constrained and inescapable. It's very appropriate, and I only noticed it in retrospect.

This is not a happy book, or an uplifting one; stories about Nazi Germany rarely are. It is based on a literary novel, and it's pretty literary itself -- concerned with people's deep emotions, and with investigating the extreme things they do, without standing up and making explanations or excuses for them. It's a strong book: I expect it was a strong novel, and Lust has adapted it into a powerful comic.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #117: Around the World in 80 Cliches by Laura Lee

There is no frigate like a book. (I don't think that one's in here, but I could have missed it.) And one of the places I like to go in books is deep into the words themselves -- what they mean, who uses them, where they came from, what's different in different places.

So I was reading Laura Lee's Around the World in 80 Cliches [1] in the smallest room of the house for a few months recently, a page or three at a time. It's a great book for that, full of little snippets on this phrase or that one, organized into thematic chapters, so you could read it straight through if you wanted or dip into it as you have time.

There are indeed eighty chapters here, from "Beginnings" to "The End" -- though the ones in between don't follow any obvious structure. Each one starts off with some common English phrases, with a quick explanation of what they mean and sometimes what's known of their origins.  Most cliche origins  are lost to the depths of time; they're riverstones that have been handled so much they have no trace of anything original. And Lee is an honest writer: she's willing to note where the charming story that perfectly explains something has no evidence at all -- which is most of the time.

After the phrases that will be familiar to most English speakers, she throws in things from further afield -- similar idioms from other languages, quick quizzes about what a particular foreign phrase might mean, and longer sidebars on related topics. So each chapter is a few pages long, and made up of snippets -- this is a great book to read a bit of at a time.

I found Lee an interesting, fun writer with great insight into language and a refreshing honesty to cut through the usual bullshit about phrase origins. This is a silly little book, I guess, but it's useful and true, and I'm entirely in favor of things that give people more colorful ways to express themselves. (The saying I'm planning to start using more extensively myself is "Not my circus. Not my monkeys." which is apparently originally from the Polish.)

[1] Yes, that was also the subtitle of S.J. Perelman's Westward Ha! a long time ago. I don't know if Lee knew that, and I'd forgotten it myself until googling the Lee book just now -- even though I read the Perelman sometime in the '90s, during my Perelman phase. Note that this footnote is mostly a way to give me an excuse to type "Perelman" a few more times, because that's fun. Perelman Perelman Perelman.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #116: Astro City: The Dark Age, Vol. 1: Brothers & Other Strangers by Kurt Busiek and Brent Eric Anderson

I did this before.

Halfway through this book, it started to feel awfully familiar, and so I committed the sin we all do these days: I googled myself.

And so I found that I covered this book with a mouthful of a title, Astro City: The Dark Age, Vol. 1: Brothers & Other Strangers, in my Book-a-Day run back in 2010, where I was not entirely positive.

I'll try to say different things about this superheroes-done-right comic this time out, though I find that I'm less and less in sympathy with the idea of doing superheroes right every year. Kurt Busiek is a skillful writer who knows superhero universes inside and out, and Brent Eric Anderson is a great artist with superb page layouts and great action. But why do they waste those obvious talents on this third-hand tripe?

Now, it's reductive and wrong to turn Astro City into a game of who-is-this-really? -- The First Family is not actually the Fantastic Four, the Apollo Eleven are only vaguely X-Men-ish, and the Honor Guard are neither the JLA nor the Avengers -- but they're all generic and dull in their own ways, all standard superhero furniture under new names and with costumes designed with far too much care to look authentic to the era Busiek and Anderson want to religiously recreate.

The whole point of Astro City is to validate and nurture the nostalgic identification far too many comics fans have with the childish entertainments of their youth (or, even more these days, other people's youth), by creating a unified, not-as-embarrassing version of those stories to be loved. If it didn't rhyme with the real comic-book 1970s -- if it didn't make comic readers want to play this "who is this really" game -- then it would have failed at what it set out to do. Even worse, this is explicitly the story about the era when "normal people" lost faith in superheroes -- which they were totally wrong to do, since superheroes are by definition better and smarter than normal people, and thus the natural lords of all creation -- and how mopey they were for a while until they just let the Ubermenschen do whatever they want again. (This is barely subtext: it's right there on the surface.)

I've never read the second half of the Dark Age story: I probably never will. But, from the hints here, I think there's some Reaganite bullshit "morning in America" where we all let superheroes be awesome and perfect again coming for the climax of that story. I'm sure Busiek and Anderson made it plausible. I don't want to know.

Everything I said eight years ago is still true: this is a world ostensibly about normal people, but where only superheroes matter. Only what superheroes does affect anything. Only superheroes change the world. Everything important has a super-person behind it, every time. Everyone else are just sheep, usually with a wrong-headed view of things and always three steps behind.

There are no Astro City stories about Joe Schlabotnik, who helped foil the Counter-Earth invasion of the Solarians. Katie Random did not give vital aid to the Superior Heroes when Lord Evilocity brought hell to earth. Astro City is about what being a mere human is like in a world where mere humans don't matter. All human beings do is run away, hide, and get in the way. Oh, and get killed -- probably in vast numbers. Let's not forget that.

If real superbeings actually existed in our world, we would all be on the side of whatever draconian Registration Act was proposed: they're violent, uncontrolled, compulsive law-breakers who destroy nearly everything they touch. Their only positive feature is that the "villains" are even worse. All superhero universes are crapsack universes; we just like to ignore that because we focus on the aristocrats. Astro City pretends otherwise, but it really shows how horrible a life in such a universe must be.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #115: Free Country by more people than I can list here

Look, I don't think I can describe it better than I did a couple of weeks ago when this book entered my house, so let me quote myself:

Twenty years or so ago, everything in corporate comics had to be an event. (Not all that different from now, then!) The Vertigo "line" at DC was actually a bunch of entirely separate comics with a rough shared audience and stance, but they had to have a big Event in their annuals (which they also had to have) in 1993. It was called The Children's Crusade, and there were bookend standalone comics that the various individual comics' annuals slotted in between, more or less. It was not the most successful experiment. After a couple of decades, though, someone at DC realized they had a couple of issues written or co-written by [Neil] Gaiman that were sitting uncollected and not making them any money. So they commissioned a new team (Toby Litt and Peter Gross) to create a new middle, and then put out the end product as a book with a new Gaiman introduction. I can't imagine it all comes together well, but I'm fascinated to see just how jury-rigged and bizarre it is.

This book is the result. It starts out with The Children's Crusade #1, a comic written by Neil Gaiman, pencilled by Chris Bachalo, inked by Mike Barreiro, and colored by Daniel Vozzo in 1993. The middle was created in about 2014-15, and was written by Toby Litt (and, in smaller letters for no stated reason, Rachel Pollack), drawn by Peter Gross (and, in smaller letters, Al Davidson), and colored by Jeanne McGee. The end is 1994's second issue of The Children's Crusade, possibly somewhat altered to appear here, written by Gaiman, Alisa Kwitney, Jamie Delano and Toby Litt; drawn by Peter Snejberg and Peter Gross; and colored by Daniel Vozzo and Jeanne McGee. Explaining all of the above, in a more positive and optimistic light, is a new introduction by Gaiman

OK. The good news is that Vozzo and McGee colored the whole thing between the two of them, giving it some visual consistency that way. The third section, though, does see-saw back and forth between the Snejberg pages and the Gross pages, which look very different. And that third section does contain rather more plot and action -- as Gaiman notes in that introduction -- than it's really able to hold together.

First it was an interesting idea that didn't quite come together. Then it was an opportunity to salvage that idea into a book that could continue to make money for DC Comics, and, maybe, for the contributors. That got us Free Country: A Tale of the Children's Crusade in 2015.

(And the cynic in me wonders if this came to being then largely because Karen Berger left DC and Vertigo in 2013, leaving the Powers That Be to cast around for easy ways to keep exploiting the properties she'd midwifed over a long career there.)

Someone noticed that all of the Vertigo comics of that era had child characters -- Tefe, the daughter of Swamp Thing; Maxine, the then-budding goddess and daughter of Animal Man; Dorothy Spinner, an actual full member of Doom Patrol; Suzy, the young Black Orchid; Tim Hunter, whose series Books of Magic had not actually gotten started yet; and, representing Sandman, the two Dead Boy Detectives, Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine.

Well, I say "all." Gaiman said "all" in his introduction. I trusted him, but then I checked.

That list of Vertigo titles ignores Hellblazer, then Vertigo's second-biggest seller. And Shade the Changing Man, another strong title that was subsumed into the Vertigo launch earlier in 1993. And Kid Eternity, one of the initial launch titles. I'll ignore the 1993 and 1994 Vertigo mini-series like Enigma and Sebastian O, since those wouldn't make sense in a crossover. And Sandman Mystery Theater was set fifty-plus years earlier...but it crossed over with other titles at the time and later.

So not so much "all" as "all of the creators DC could cajole or demand to do it."

Anyway, the story was that first all of the children from one small English village disappeared, and then, at an increasing rate, children all over the world. We the readers quickly learn that they were spirited away to an other-dimensional land called Free Country, ruled by a cabal that seem like they should all be familiar from other stories but aren't, quite. There, the children will live forever in childlike splendor, never to grow up. We are given to believe that this may not entirely be a good thing, and that there may be sinister hidden reasons behind this plot.

The Dead Boy Detectives were hired to investigate the initial disappearance, and the other five main characters (Tefe, Maxine, Dorothy, Suzy, and Tim) were the special super children who had to be lured to the place the other kids went to make the secret plot -- for there always much be a secret plot -- work. The first issue sets it all up and sends the DBDs out looking, the middle replaces all of those issues where the individual kids made their ways to Free Country (and, in some cases, left again), and the last issue gets the DBDs to Free Country to finish up everything eventually after many more very plotty pages.

It's still pretty much a mess here, even with all of the extraneous middle from all of the other annuals left out. And it's annoying that most of the "special" kids are girls, but that none of the girls are allowed to be active or particularly heroic. Instead, the boys save them, as always -- how boring.

Free Country has some nice bits, and it's a fun time capsule of the very early days of Vertigo, when it was the oddball corner of the DC Universe. But it does not hold together all that well as a story, lurching around almost randomly among the too many things it's trying to keep track of. But it made some money for DC at the time and then again in 2015, which I have to imagine was the whole point of the thing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #114: Borderline by Lawrence Block

I don't think the purpose of pulp fiction is to enforce public morality, exactly. That implies an official stature and teleology that is completely unjustified. But damn if pulp fiction doesn't enforce the public morality of its day really strongly -- and the way those stories tend to end quickly and violently makes the action of "fate" that much more obvious.

Borderline is a pulp novel from 1962 by Lawrence Block, here reprinted for the first time in about fifty years along with three stories of a similar vintage (two very short stories with kicker endings from '58 and '59, then a novelette from 1963 with more nuance in it). And boy howdy does it enforce the public morality of 1962, even if it seems for a long time that it might not.

It's one of those random-lives-intersecting plots, introducing four people in El Paso, Texas -- right on the border with Juarez, and, in those days, the border was a line you could walk across as long as there wasn't anything too obviously wrong. The action of the novel moves back and forth between the two cities, with Juarez the wild site, full of whores and gambling and live sex shows, and El Paso the boring spinster sister, clean but dull.

The four people are:
  • Marty, a professional gambler, living in El Paso for the last several years but mostly "working" over the border.
  • Meg, a young divorcee who stopped off on her way back to Chicago when she realized she had no reason at all to go back to Chicago. Recently freed from an old, dull husband, she's ready to live on her own terms.
  • Lily, a teenage runaway from Denver, most recently living in San Francisco. Her "boyfriend" whored her out to a nasty john and fled. leaving her broke and looking for somewhere to rest.
  • Weaver, the obligatory murderous madman, to remind us this is a pulp novel, and that nasty things have to happen to people looking for pleasure and normal life.
Marty and Meg meet and fall into bed; Lily finds herself an amenable group of locals and a way to make some money with serious downsides. Weaver lurks about to add tension, and kills some minor characters to show he means it.

They do all come together in the end, as they have to. It does not end particularly well for any of them. And conventional 1962 morality is strongly enforced, particularly on women who might want something other than a white picket fence and a pipe-smoking husband.

This is early Block, when he was still writing for a market. He was an excellent writer structurally even then -- this book is full of fine sentences and paragraphs and scenes -- but his characters are more surface than they would be starting later in the '60s.

But, even this far back, Block stories are full of characters doing things they don't expect to and trying to find reasons afterward: sometimes horrified, sometimes thrilled, sometimes both at once. It may just be me, but that's what I treasure the most in his work: the sense that people are confusing and unknowable and contradictory, and that you are "people" too.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #113: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 4: I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

I've stopped reading the letter columns entirely at this point. Sorry, Ryan and Erica, but they don't make much sense in a collection to begin with, and I don't really care to see lots of stories about your young fans, cute though they may be. For what it's worth, I do glance at the pictures to see various people's cute daughters dressed up in homemade Squirrel Girl costumes, and I love that that is a thing that happens in the world.

But I'm here for the stories, so I'll focus on that. I hope you understand.

Here in the fourth volume -- under the run-on title The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 4: I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It -- I started to realize that this is more obviously an all-ages comic than I'd pigeonholed it as. (Marvel has been running so hard in the opposite direction for so long -- making everything grimmer and grittier and darker and so much more the kind of "adult" that appeals to grumpy twentysomething men -- that I assume they've entirely forgotten that children, and particularly girls, even exist.) But writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson have snuck a girl-positive, female-centric comic into a quirky little corner of the Marvel Universe, and hooray to them for that.

(See my posts on the first three volumes, if you care -- one and two and three.)

I realized that because this is the collection of stories all about the love life of Doreen Green, our titular Squirrel Girl. No, she doesn't meet someone who she falls in love with -- though the reverse is true, mostly because she's polite and pleasant in ways that person is not used to -- but she does decide to start dating in the middle of this run of issues, mostly because she's never done it before and thinks dating is something a college girl should do at least a little.

Her love life is shown in an entirely all-ages-appropriate way, pitched in a tone even those elementary school girls in hand-made costumes will understand and enjoy. She has the obligatory montage of bad dates, which is amusing but much like every other obligatory montage of bad dates. And there's the aforementioned person who falls in love with her because she apologizes for things and doesn't immediately turn to punching as a solution to conflict, unlike every other human being in the Marvel Universe. (Which provides a lesson to those girls, who may have similar people in their lives who need to be told firmly that she is not interested in them.)

Doreen does somewhat damage her series title in this volume, taking a dive in a fight. I admit, it's for a very good reason, but, still, it tends to make "unbeatable" less true. On the other hand, the whole point of this version of Squirrel Girl is that she's Unbeatable because she's not someone who turns to fighting as a first resort. Sure, her motto is "eat nuts and kick butts," and every costumed person in the MU is quite fond of punching, but she's about as pacifist as it's possible for a human being in a costume in Marvel NYC, always looking for another solution to every problem.

North and Henderson also continue to teach random computer-science concepts to their audience, which, again, makes more sense the more you realize that audience is largely young girls.

Kissed a Squirrel is really just a specific case of the general rule: everything becomes more like itself as it goes on, focusing down on the central, intrinsic elements and pushing aside the less important stuff. I suspect at some point Unbeatable Squirrel Girl will speciate enough that I'm not longer a good reader for it, and I'll stop reading it then. But we're not to that point yet: this may be mostly for smart girls and their parents, but there's still room for the rest of us. I hope it stays that way for a good long time.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/21/18

It's Monday, so here comes a list of new books -- well new to me, in that I just got them. They're not necessarily "new" in any other sense of the word.

This week, I got one book from the library and bought five -- so I'll lead with the library book.

Tank Girl Two collects the second series of stories about the punk heroine by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, from 1990-1993, and sees the series move into color semi-consistently. As I recall, "semi" was still about as consistent as anything got at this point -- each Tank Girl story was still it's own separate thing, and continuity was for wankers. (I think that changed at some point: there seem to be Tank Girl comics with DC-looking splash pages and character development and multi-issue plots these days, which offends and appalls me.)

Now, to the books I've bought -- all of them expected to be relatively quick to read, showing their role as Book-A-Day fodder:

Baboon Metaphysics and Other Implausible Titled Books, which is not credited to any author at all, is the second collection of nominated titles from the world's greatest literary award: The Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year. (I suspect Horace Bent has something to do with this -- speaking of things that are implausibly titled -- but he's not credited anywhere.) This was the "sequel" to How To Avoid Huge Ships.

Stories from a Theme Park Insider by Robert Niles -- Niles runs the similarly-titled Theme Park Insider blog/website, which has the most diverse and active community around that topic I've found yet. And this was his book of war stories, from when he worked (as a young man, almost thirty years ago) at Walt Disney World. I'm planning an anniversary trip there with The Wife, later this year, so I'm getting into the mood.

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault is a brand-new novel by James Alan Gardner after far, far too long. (He wrote Expendable and about a half-dozen follow-up novels starting about twenty years ago, and seems to have dropped off the publishing radar when that series stopped, for whatever reason.) I'm slightly worried about this one, since it seems to be a superhero novel in which science-based characters are all Good Guys and magic-based characters are all Bad Guys, which sets off my essentialism detector. Also, y'know, my well-documented problems with superheroes to begin with. But, on the plus side, Gardner's back!

Luba and Her Family by Gilbert Hernandez -- I think this is the last of the Love & Rockets uniform paperbacks (current set) that I needed to get, since I do plan to read through the whole thing later this year. (I still need to sit down with a bibliography and make sure I have it all and figure out what order to read it.) I suspect this was hard to find because of a misprint -- the spine says Jaime Hernandez. Oops.

And last is a big fat twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Dave McKean's Cages. If I remember right, I read this in floppy form as it came out, and haven't been back to it since. So it's about time.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #112: Tank Girl, Vol. 1 by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin

Punk is one of the greatest impulses of humanity: that "oh, fuck it" sense of just getting out there and doing the thing even if you don't know how. Making noise or art or both, getting out there in public and maybe making a fool of yourself and definitely not caring.

(Maybe I admire it since it's so opposite to who I am, but that's a different point.)

Tank Girl is one of the great punk comics -- probably the greatest. (I'm trying to think of other examples -- early Flaming Carrot is the other major one for me, but Tank Girl mainlined punk attitude in the story as well as embodying it in the style.)

Jamie Hewlett wanted to make some comics. He had a chance to get them published. And he had a random character -- well, really, just a name -- that amused him. So he drew some damn comics, and dragged his friend in Alan Martin to do the lettering and (eventually) most of the writing. That is punk.

Tank Girl, Vol. 1 reprints that first burst of stories, which originally appeared mostly in Deadline magazine in the late '80s and turned into a book around 1990. This particular edition is from Titan Books, from 2002, so it has historical introductions from both Hewlett and Martin -- but it has been, in its turn, superseded by a newer "remastered" edition from 2009.

These stories have very little continuity: each one is what Hewlett (or, maybe, later on, Martin) wanted to do that particular month, and, from their accounts, the stories were mostly started and completed at great speed right at deadline time. So they start from the same point, with a heroine who is a loud, raucous, hard-drinking soldier (??) in a mildly apocalyptic version of the Australian outback, and then head off in whatever direction for the five or eight or twelve pages they had that issue at high speed, only to crash at the end. Details accumulate, like Tank Girl's sapient kangaroo boyfriend Booga and her counterparts/friends Jet Girl and Sub Girl, but stories don't lead from one to the next or connect directly.

Tank Girl is punk. Each story is a separate three-minute single. You're not getting some prog-rock arty-farty rock opera here. If you're not comfortable with that, Tank Girl is not the comic for you.

I love the energy and enthusiasm and raw power of these early stories, even if I have to squint to read some of the lettering before Martin took over. (And even if the first few stories tend to flail around semi-randomly before stopping at the end of their page count.) I see that various folks including either Hewlett or Martin kept doing Tank Girl stories after I stopped paying attention -- I think I drifted away around the time of the horrifically bad movie -- so I might have to catch up, to see what punk did when it grew up this time.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #111: The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 1 by Herge

Other people's childhood adventure stories are rarely that impressive when you discover them as an adult. Now, where have I heard that before?

I've never read Tintin before. I gather the books were available in the US at some point -- I recall seeing albums in the library when my kids were young, and they may have been around when I was young -- but I never saw them then, and didn't come across them in the ordinary way of a voraciously reading kid. (I jumped over to the adult books really early, to hit the SF and mystery sections.)

But there's always time to read a book today, so I just got to the first of a seven-volume series that collects what I think is the whole series by Herge. This one is unsurprisingly titled The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 1, and contains the individual stories Tintin in America, Cigars of the Pharoah, and The Blue Lotus, originally serialized in the early 1930s, collected soon afterward, and reworked into these color versions ten to twenty years later.

(Doing a little research while writing this led me to Herge's Wikipedia page, where I learned that the books collected here were preceded by the tendentious Tintin in the Land of the Soviets and the racist Tintin in the Congo. Well, just yesterday I read the first omnibus of a bande desinee series that included the first two not-quite-right stories, so it's fitting that today I have a similar book that ignores its even more problematic first two books entirely.)

This is high adventure of the old school, with a boy hero to be more vulnerable and to be more of an identification figure to an audience of boys. Tintin is ostensibly a reporter, though we don't see him put pen to paper a single time in these three stories, and he has no visible means of support at all. Again, adventure story -- Tintin is a fantastic character in a fantastic world, free to engage in battling evil wherever he finds it and inevitably victorious in that fight because he's on the side of good. It's a comforting style of story for young men, who themselves have to live in a world where they do need means of support and where evil wins out probably half of the time.

I hadn't realized these stories were serialized when I read them, but it makes sense -- they have that one-damn-thing-after-another kind of plotting, with Tintin getting captured and escaping repeatedly, as he chases various nefarious criminals. I'm not going to get into the details of the three stories, because they're all the same sort of thing in different places, and each page has some kind of excitement.

This particular format is not great for the Tintin books -- it's a smallish hardcover, about 6" x 9", substantially smaller than the original album pages. Herge crams a lot of action and dialogue onto his pages, so people with eyes as old as mine with have to strain to see all of this -- I found myself peering under my glasses far too often. If you're getting Tintin for a young person with young eyes, this should be just fine.

I find this kind of story a little quaint these days, for reasons I got into more yesterday writing about Valerian. Tintin is obviously even more old-fashioned, by about forty years, and that shows in the plotting and style. It's all fun boys-own adventure, possibly the epitome of that style in comics form. But that mode is pretty artificial to begin with -- that's just something to deal with.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #110: Valerian: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1 by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres

Other people's childhood adventure stories are rarely that impressive when you discover them as an adult. That doesn't mean they're bad -- or any more so than your childhood adventure stories -- it just means that you should have read them at the right time, when you were ten or so and ready for anything.

I was forty-eight when I first read the adventures of Valerian and Laureline. It was just the other week, in Valerian: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1. That is much older than it should be, but I could argue that I'm not French, which made it hard to come across these books at the proper time. In any case, I read them now. So what?

Complete Collection Vol. 1 brings together the first three adventures of our space-and-time-hopping duo, written by Pierre Christin and drawn by Jean-Claude Mezieres. (And even the front matter agrees that the first two are a bit off-model for what the series eventually became -- a little thin, a little less interesting. So maybe it's not just me.) This particular volume looks to be a slightly rebranded version -- for the recent Luc Besson movie -- of the first in a standard collection of the whole series. And a big uniform set of books is the kind of thing that only happens, obviously, when something is really popular for a long time.

The omnibus aspect and the movie means there's more frontmatter here than usual for a graphic novel -- a three-way interview with Christin, Mezieres, and Besson (conducted by no one the book cares to mention); several very puffy "isn't this thing totally awesome" mini-essays; a claim that everything in filmed SF since about 1970 directly descends from Valerian; and a precis of the three stories reprinted here. All of that frontmatter is also copiously illustrated, with panels from the comics, photos of the creators and Besson, concept art from the movie, and related stuff.

First up is 1967's Bad Dreams, in which 28th century spatio-temporal agent Valerian is sent back from his leisure-society utopian future to the French Middle Ages in pursuit of a fugitive from his time who has discovered working magic and is going to use it to conquer the world. (The "magic that actually works" thing is strangely not a big deal, and looks like it never came up again.) Along the way, he meets a local girl, Laureline, and has to recruit her when she becomes a unicorn for a while learns about time travel and Valerian's organization.

Next was a big two-part epic from 1970, The City of Shifting Waters and Earth in Flames, in which the villain from Bad Dreams (Xombul) escapes and time-travels back to the obligatory late-20th-century apocalypse, landing in a 1986 New York inundated by rising seas in the very early days of an event that I have to assume will kill the majority of mankind. (As usual, this is just background -- what I tend to call "backswing fantasy" because it clears out space for the mighty hero to swing his sword.) Valerian and Laureline team up with a surprsingly-not-depicted-in-a-racist-way black crimelord (and, eventually, a Jerry-Lewis-as-the-Nutty-Professor scientist) to eventually defeat Xombul and keep the timeline clean.

"Keeping the timeline clean," of course, means "letting several billion people in the northern half of the world die horribly over the course of the next few months or years." But you can't make adventure stories without megadeaths, can you? And, anyway, our heroes do their job and get out -- hooray!

The omnibus ends with what they call the first real adventure of Valerian and Laureline, 1971's The Empire of a Thousand Planets. This is the one, I think, that was adapted into the Besson movie, though the story here doesn't bear much connection to what I saw in trailers. Our heroes are sent to another planet in their own time -- I have the vague sense the time-travel plots stopped entirely at this point, but I could be wrong -- Syrte, the seat of an empire that spans a thousand planets. (Earth, by comparison, is rich and powerful technologically, but does not seem to be an imperial power and is mostly hermetic, since the vast majority of its citizens spend all of their time in computer-controlled dreams.)

They are shockingly unprepared for this mission, in ways that are convenient to the plot and to create quick action, and learn that a group called the Enlightends has been slowly taking over Syrtean society and life. The Enlighteneds capture and shanghai our heroes, and the rest of the story is a series of escapes and recaptures, battles and confrontations, and learning about various plot-important things from sneaky overhearing and Talking Killers.

But, then again, it is an adventure story, so I just restated that in a roundabout way. Valerian and Laureline are in a somewhat old-fashioned style -- these stories are forty years old -- because they are still alive to be captured (and escape again) repeatedly. Somewhere along the line we realized that horrible villains would really just kill people, and our adventure stories changed tone.

These three stories are fun and zippy, full of action and incident, and they do definitely get better and more assured as they go along. (Bad Dreams isn't bad, but it's a little shaky, and the casual use of transformation magic in particular is far different from the rest of the material here.) They're still fine fare for ten-year-olds of all ages, and I enjoyed them quite a bit, even if I hadn't imprinted on them as a youth.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #109: As Naughty As She Wants to Be! by Roberta Gregory

I use the tag "The War Between Men and Women" here now and then, but I'm well aware that the war is mostly fought from one end -- the one that coined the term. (James Thurber, if you don't know.)

For once, I have a dispatch from the beleaguered rebels in that war, the outgunned and oppressed and overwhelmed majority of humanity. I'm probably not a very good reader for this book, but let me see what I can tell you about it.

Naughty Bits was, as far as I can tell, a late underground -- more like the comics of the '60s and '70s than like the burgeoning alternative-comics scene of the '80s and '90s whence it emerged. It was personal and vitriolic and full of multitudes and political in that way that was also entirely personal. It was all by Roberta Gregory, whose work I didn't really pay close attention to before I saw this book.

"This book" is the second Naughty Bits collection, As Naughty As She Wants To Be!, published in 1995 to collect the stories from Naughty Bits that had too much sex in them for the first collection. (Since this was the era where Fantagraphics, Naughty Bits' publisher, was going all-in on sex in comics through the Eros imprint, I'm not 100% sure why, but my educated guess involves the letters B and N and the word Borders.)

Leading off the book, and taking up a little more than half of the space, are stories featuring Gregory's major series character, Bitchy Bitch. BB is teetering on the edge of middle age and bitter about...well, basically everything in her life. She has a job she hates among people she hates, she doesn't have a boyfriend and hates all of the men she meets, she's horny a lot of the time and both being horny and satisfying her urges makes her feel bad, she wants to be a better person but keeps getting in her own way. She'd be a sad character if she weren't so ferociously obnoxious and pugnacious -- she's the female equivalent of that guy always getting drunk and into fights because he has nothing else to do.

Of course, the flip side of that is that BB is also all raging id, all of the feelings that women are told to repress and hold inside in modern society. She feels to me like the entirely female counterpart to some of R. Cumb's similarly id-obsessed characters, blazing a trail for women to be as crude and loud and demanding as men always are allowed to be. It's no surprise that she's been Gregory's most popular character.

Gregory draws the BB stories with a loose, angry line -- almost a scrawl -- to underscore BB's view of the world. The rest of the stories here are drawn in a less cartoony style, since they're about more real people in a more real world -- still as feminist, still as concerned with gender issues, but more nuanced. (Well, "Crazy Bitches" is explicitly her turnabout on Crumb, and so not nuanced at all -- but that's the point.)

This is probably an outlier for Gregory: she's done a lot of comics in a lot of modes over the years, and this was specifically a collection of her "sexy" comics, mostly drawn from the BB-centric Naughty Bits series, at a time and for a publisher that was doing a lot of sex comics. I expect she's this feminist most of the time -- I certainly hope so -- but my guess is that sex and men are much less important in her work, for the same reason.

But As Naughty As She Wants To Be! is a reminder of what underground comix can be, and a good example of how they're not necessarily sexist and misogynistic, even if that comes out far too often in the usual suspects.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #108: Jon Sable Freelance: Ashes of Eden by Mike Grell

I feel bad picking on Jon Sable. He's a favorite of the ComicMix team, and they've been very nice to me over the years. In fact, the book I have here is a limited edition for Baltimore Comic-Con 2008 -- number 96 of 100. [1] It makes me wish I liked it better.

But we can't choose to like things, can we? I've never been any good at that. (I read four Jon Sable collections two years ago, which I was not able to choose to like, and buried my thoughts about them in a belated round-up post.)

Jon Sable Freelance: Ashes of Eden was a new story about the ex-big-game-hunter turned freelance security expert and bestselling kids-book writer, appearing on the ComicMix site before being collected into book form a decade ago. (That was a model that had a lot of promise in those days. And people do buy books of comics that appear online first, it's just that they only seem to buy them if the books and comics can creditably claim to be self-published.)

Ashes of Eden has got some big-white-hunter stuff -- you have to expect that with Jon Sable Freelance; it's baked into his origin as deeply as possible -- but I didn't find it particularly racist, maybe because this story takes place mostly in the US. It's a bit sexist, but if we're going to complain about that in mainstream comics we'll be here all day.

Jon is hired to guard a fabulous diamond and a fabulous dame, both coming from South Africa to NYC for an auction. (The dame is going to MC the auction, more or less.) The diamond is massive, and is expected to be world-famous once it's cut. The dame is a fictional Iraqi version of Sharbat Gula, somewhere in her mid-20s and oozing sex and neediness the way such women always do in stories about tough gun-slinging men told by other men. There are, of course, nefarious forces that want to hijack the diamond, which is why it needs guarding. The dame -- I might as well give her her name: Bashira -- needs guarding because she's the kind of recovering addict who has no self-control but looks absolutely perfect at all times. (She's addicted to drugs, obviously. Grell also makes the obvious hints that she's addicted to sex and danger, as all such fictional women must be.)

Jon gets Bashira and what's eventually called The Maguffin Diamond to the auction, where of course further nefarious actions happen. Some of them are the obvious ones, and some of them are slightly less obvious. Jon's old nemesis/lover Maggie the Cat -- the obligatory gorgeous female cat burglar -- also becomes involved, hint hint nudge nudge.

And, yes, in the end Jon saves those worth saving and kills the rest. That's what he does. He has a confusing dream sequence along the way, in which the spirit of death (in the form of a sexy mostly naked African woman, of course) runs him through the kind of breakthroughs that usually costs a few thousand dollars and takes several years in therapy.

I find it difficult to take Jon Sable Freelance seriously; if he were anything like real, he would have been dead a hundred times by now. Luckily for those who enjoy reading his exploits, he is nothing like real. Grell tells a good adventure story in the standard style, and draws it equally well -- especially the many, many naked women who stalk and lounge around these pages.

[1] The cover at right is completely different from the book in front of me -- it even has different styles for the "Jon Sable Freelance" and "Ashes of Eden" logos. But the one shown here is the book you could find if you looked for it, and it's the one that exists online, so it's the picture you get.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #107: Strangehaven: Brotherhood by Gary Spencer Millidge

There are a lot of quirky comics out there -- and the point of quirkiness is that isn't not for everyone. Any particular quirk will only appear to a particular subset of readers. And even someone who, like me, thinks he's fond of quirk in general can find a particular instance just doesn't work.

I wanted to like Strangehaven: Brotherhood. I love the story behind it: how creator Gary Spencer Millidge did all the work himself, writing and drawing, and how it was deeply English and full of his influences and ideas. I appreciate the fact that it's exactly the comic he wanted to make, influenced most obviously by The Prisoner and Twin Peaks but to a lesser degree by a host of very specifically British works. I admire the fact that he worked on it for so long, telling just the story he wants to tell.

And the set-up is intriguing, too: Alex, a middle-aged Londoner with a broken marriage behind him, goes on a vacation in the West Country, has an ambiguously ghostly encounter, and ends up stuck in the small town of Strangehaven, full of colorful characters and odd secrets.

(Although, parenthetically, I would personally loathe every second of that -- being stuck somewhere I don't want to be, loads of chatty people who won't shut up, barely any mod cons, and the most exciting thing to do is walk around a bunch of grass and hills.)

Brotherhood is the second Strangehaven collection, but Millidge has a thoughtful introduction from Alex's point of view that brings the reader up to speed, and, even more importantly, explains who the characters are with pictures. (Another reason I wanted to like this: Millidge is doing it all right.) knew there was a "but," right?

I didn't much like Alex, and, as I said just above, my personal reaction to "stuck in a somewhat supernatural way in a small town of quirky people" would be to burn the whole fucking thing down with cleansing fire until the bastard town let me out. So I was not so much in sympathy with his point of view as I might have been.

This is a talky comic, and I found it a chore to read a lot of the time -- only a scene where Basil Fawlty talks, from the TV screen, directly to a character really sang for me. (That was laugh-out-loud funny, I'll admit. I expect more things here are equally funny to actual British people.) Millidge also has a very heavily photo-referenced art style, particularly for people, and that struck me as fussy.

I guess "fussy" is the one word that hits me about Strangehaven. It felt like one of those claustrophobic rooms where an old person has been collecting bric-a-brac for fifty years, and then the old bag decides to tell you about every last piece of it.

There are certainly American readers who will love -- or already have loved -- Strangehaven. You yourself may even be one of them. But it didn't work very well for me, which means I'm not nearly as much of an Anglophile as I think I am.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #106: King David by Kyle Baker

America is more Christian than a lot of the rest of the world realizes. It's not just a right-wing thing, either -- the King James Bible is as central to the language of the USA as our Constitution is, and the question of what church someone belongs to [1] is important in hard-to-describe ways across a lot of this country.

It shouldn't be a surprise: most of the founding myths of the USA boil down to "Those People wouldn't let us do our weird Christian sect the way we wanted to, so we got the hell out of there and started in a new land, where We could be the ones oppressing everyone else." That got baked in early, and deeply. It's not a Christian country, officially -- because, when it was founded, trying to pick a flavor of Christianity would have torn the nascent country apart -- but it's a country dominated by Christianity in a million flavors...though most of them these days are much more sure that a rich man will get into heaven than that a camel can pass through the eye of a needle.

Thus Gilbert Hernandez's bizarre biblical sex-fest Garden of the Flesh. Thus R. Crumb's textually rigorous Book of Genesis. And, more than a decade before either of them, Kyle Baker's 2002 graphic novel King David.

As is typical for major comics-makers turning to biblical matters, King David is weird. It's from that era where Baker was shifting from making comics that looked traditional -- ink on paper, in separate boxes drawn on a page, and then colored by someone else -- into a more painted look that I think was mostly done electronically, and looks like the images might have been created separately and later assembled into pages. (Baker, then and now, had tremendous chops, so it's not easy for my eye to be clear on what tools he used to do whichever particularly impressive thing. ) That's not particularly weird, though.

How about this? King David is presented in a format more like a picture book than a comic: large pieces of art arrayed on the page in loose layouts, with text floating around them (often in very large passages) in a fussy italic font. There are a lot of words to read here, and a text that does not make that easy.

OK, and what about the tone? King David bounces back-and-forth from a relatively respectful style that echoes some Jacobean language without trying to sound Olde Englishe to snippy, snappy dialogue that would be more at home in Baker's What I Hate About Saturn. That's pretty weird, too.

For those of us brought up at least nominally Christian in America, most of King David will be familiar -- it's telling us a story we know, with a uniquely Bakeresque twist. (I have no idea how any biblical story plays out to someone unfamiliar with it, but at least this part of the Bible is relatively light on random massacres, plagues, and general horrible Bronze Age morality.) We start out with David as a cute kid, and see him first soothe the crazed King Saul, and then battle Goliath. The wars with the Philistines go on, and David grows into a popular hero, which of course does not sit well with paranoid, still-crazy Saul. Eventually, David becomes King, and we see him fall himself at the very end, cause the death of Uriah the Hittite so that he can take Uriah's wife Bathsheba for his own.

Baker calls out some of the problematic material in that occasional snarky tone -- the ancient Israelites were much more fond of one rich guy having a lot of wives than we are, for example -- but the religion at the core of it is taken seriously. I don't know what Baker believes, or what he did believe in 2002, but this is a book about faith in God and doing the right thing. None of the showy miracles come in, so it's all people talking about faith in God and doing the right thing, but they firmly believe it, and Baker presents that belief honestly.

Again, this is a biblical comic by a serious comic-maker, which means it's weird: it's neither a proselytizing work nor one that mocks religion, but nods in both directions alternately, and occasionally simultaneously. It may be the quirkiest work in Baker's career, which is saying something about the creator of Special Forces.

[1] Or, in the case of the lapsed or strayed, would have belonged to or used to belong to. Cultural markers aren't removed that easily.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/14/18

Hello again! This is the weekly post where I write about any new books I've gotten, in whatever ways. This time out, I got a big box from the fine folks at Edward R. Hamilton, a great source for remainders and other random books for people like me who want 'em by the yard. And I got three books from the library, the last pieces of a massive number of holds I put in at the end of March. I'll run through them in that order, starting with books I now own and which may or may not have little red dots on the page-edge somewhere or other.

It Just Slipped Out... is a collection of double entendres, arranged alphabetically by Russell Ash. It appears to be quite British, which should be interesting -- I'll have to see how often I have no idea about either side of the entendre.

I Only Read It For the Cartoons is a book of profiles of New Yorker cartoonists by Richard Gehr -- focusing on current cartoonists, as far as I can see, and including Lorenz, Gross, Chast, Booth, Koren, Barsotti, Levin, Roberts, Wilson, Ziegler, Kanin, and Makoff.

Severed, by Frances Larson, is a history of heads, once they've been separated from their bodies. I saw a good review of it a while back, and have been vaguely looking for it since, so now I guess I need to read it.

How to Talk Minnesotan by Howard Mohr -- I'm spending more time there, given my company's home office is just outside the Twin Cities, and I'm on calls with large numbers of Minnesotans for several hours a day. So you betcha I want to know how to talk to 'em.

My Father, the Pornographer is Chris Offutt's memoir of his father Andy Offutt. I read Andy's books, off and on -- he was one of the best writers of Thieves' World, and I had a vague plan to read all of his softcore SF "Spaceways" series at one point -- so I've been wanting to get this for a while. Chris is apparently a respected literary writer, with a better career than his old man had, and, from media reports, this is mostly about Andy Offutt the horrible person and writer of really bottom-drawer porn.

Will Not Attend is by Adam Resnick, a TV writer who hates being with people. This is a collection of essays and stories about that feeling, which I can definitely sympathize with.

That's Not Funny, That's Sick is a history of National Lampoon by Ellin Stein, one of those interesting clusters of funny people of the late 20th century that was intensely influential on everything that came after it. I'm also intrigued because Stein is both female and British, and NatLamp was aggressively masculine (juvenile masculine, to be clearer) and American, so that should be a different perspective.

Over Seventy is something like an autobiography by P.G. Wodehouse, written late in his life, but apparently mostly (very deliberate) digressions from answering specific questions. And Wodehouse is always fun.

Twilight is some kind of SF comic by Howard Chaykin and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, which I think uses a bunch of old DC space-hero characters in new gritty forms. It's from 1990, so I suspect it was originally aimed to be the Watchmen of Space DC -- but that could still be good. I don't think I've ever read it, and I'm surprised to see it's that old.

Jonah Hex: Shadows West collects the three stories about the old DC Western character written by Joe Lansdale and drawn by Tim Truman in the '90s -- I'm not sure I ever read the third one. Lansdale does weird western as well as anyone, and Truman is a great comics creator who I wish got a lot more work and attention.

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat!, Vol. 1: Hooked on a Feline by Kate Leth, Brittney L. Williams and Natasha Allegri -- I generally try to get "superheroes done right" comics like this from the library, but this was cheap, and it sounded interesting. I suspect the way Marvel collapses seventy years of real-world history and changing social mores into the lives of characters they insist are still in their twenties or thirties will be annoying, but I'll see.

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is adapted from the Lovecraft novella by I.N.J. Culbard. I liked all of Culbard's other Lovecraft adaptions, and I hope he keeps doing them for as long as he wants to and there are more Lovecraft stories out there.

The Last Dragon is some kind of fairy-tale-esque graphic novel written by Jane Yolen and drawn by Rebecca Guay. I haven't read as much Yolen as I should, and this was cheap -- so I grabbed it even though I'd never heard of it before.

And then there are the three books I got from libraries:

The two paperbacks reprinting the recent run of The Vision written by Tom King and drawn mostly by Gabriel Hernandez Walta -- first is Little Worse Than a Man and second is Little Better Than a Beast. I'm hopeful about these, since it got in and out in a dozen issues, so I have hopes that was the plan. But "good superhero comics" have been dashing my hopes for thirty years now.

And last is Guerillas, Vol. 2 by Brahm Revel, some kind of fantastic war comic about chimpanzee soldiers in Vietnam. I was slightly annoyed when the library delivered it, since I didn't realize this was a multi-part story, and they gave me number two. But I vaguely remembered it, and it turns out I have the first volume sitting, moldering, in a random book-reading app, since I got it as a review copy far too long ago. So it looks like I'll be reading two volumes of this.