Thursday, December 31, 2020

Shade the Changing Girl, Vol. 2 by Cecil Castellucci, Marley Zarcone & others

First, about that "others" in the post title: Marguerite Sauvage drew one of the six issues collected here, Ande Parks inked the pages set on Meta, Kelly Fitzpatrick colored all of it, and several other artists contributed to the back-up stories. Including all of them would make it look like a law firm.

But Cecil Castellucci wrote all of it and Marley Zarcone drew all but the first issue in Shade the Changing Girl, Vol. 2: Little Runaway, so it's reasonably fair to attribute it to the two of them. And it is, as you might guess, the immediate sequel to Vol. 1: Earth Girl Made Easy, by the same team, and concludes the initial arc of this comic. (It dove into a Young Animal crossover that had something to do with milk immediately afterward, and then reappeared, briefly, as Shade the Changing Woman.)

I thought this Shade was going to be focused on the alien-in-high-school thing, but I was wrong: the first issue here blows that up to send Loma Shade (current possessor of the M-vest, traverser of the strange interdimensional Madness between her planet Meta and Earth, minor criminal, college dropout, refugee and all-around flighty person) off on her own journey across America, in the mode of the Milligan/Bachalo Changing Man series of the '90s.

Loma intends her journeys will go farther than that -- she has a bucket list covering the whole Earth, including several things either mythological or eons-gone (like meeting dinosaurs) -- but her journey turns into a quick stop in Gotham City (here entirely a stand-in for NYC, with no notable Gotham characters even appearing) and another in Los Alamos (somewhat muted; I seem to remember Milligan/Bachalo did something more pointed in their run, but I may be misremembering) on the way to Hollywood. Loma is an obsessive, and all of her love for Earth has been filtered through the '50s TV show Life With Honey, which was a minor fad on Meta when its TV signals arrived, fifty years after it was broadcast on earth and about ten years before this story takes place.

(As a sidebar, Castellucci slyly makes it clear that Life with Honey was never a big deal for anyone but Loma. The marketing copy for the Shade books tends to take Loma's point of view -- this is the biggest hit in the galaxy! -- but that very much seems not to be actually true. Loma is not a reliable narrator of anything.)

So the arc of Changing Girl turns out to be entirely about Loma chasing down the heroine of an old TV show, for her own obsessive reasons, and ending with a character reset -- not unlike the multiple times that happened in the Milligan/Bachalo run, but maybe a bit more quickly. (Milligan/Bachalo ran seventy issues, with about three resets during that time.) I'm not complaining: I like seeing supposedly superhero comics focusing on obsessive, damaged people who never do anything remotely heroic or even punch anyone. I'd have liked to see Loma's journeys have more time and space, but everything in comics these days needs to wrap up in a couple of arcs for the TPs and to make room for the next crossover, so this is probably all we ever were going to get.

Oh, and the "villains" on the Meta end do chase Loma, in a way that seems like it will be the usual mad-scientist thing, trying to Conquer The World! or something like that. It goes an entirely different way, which is amusing and welcome, but that all ends slightly rushed and uneventfully.

The art is still excellent: Sauvage's issue in particular is a delight, in a much more comics-realistic style than Zarcone and making me think she would be awesome for a new Millie the Model or some other high-fashion book, centering on attractive women wearing attractive clothes and doing something interesting. Zarcone still works in what looks to me like a modern version of Bachalo's Shade look from the '90s, a nice bit of visual continuity. And Fitzpatrick's colors are still vibrant and eye-catching, essential in a book all about "the Madness" and what it does to people.

This didn't go as far as I hoped it would, but it has a great tone and style, and a central concern unusual in Big Two comics: about people and their connections, and (without being obvious about it) something of that what-is-the-right-thing-to-do idea that's always so central to superhero comics.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

By Night, Vols. 2 & 3 by John Allison, Christine Larsen, and Sarah Stern

This is the remaining two-thirds of John Allison's attempt to see if he could reconfigure the essential Britishness of his writing and port Tackleford wholesale to its American equivalent: Spectrum, South Dakota.

(No, I don't quite see it, either. I'm thinking some old mill town in western Massachusetts would be better, or somewhere in coastal Maine, but I am an East Coaster to begin with.)

In case that's confusing: John Allison writes sprightly, fun stories with various levels of fantasy elements, set mostly in the English Midlands, often centering around the quirky town of Tackleford, first as a series of webcomics (Bobbins, Scarygoround, Bad Machinery, and see these posts of mine) and increasingly as floppy comics that people actually pay money for (most famously Giant Days). A couple of years ago, he launched a series called By Night, with many Tacklefordian flourishes, set in, as I said, the distant town of Spectrum. The comic was drawn by Christine Larsen and colored by Sarah Stern, who also provided variant covers.

I covered the first collection here back in May, and now I have the rest of the story: Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 collect the rest of this twelve-issue series. So far, it doesn't seem to have spawned a sequel.

And I still find it basically the same kind of thing as the first volume: fun, but subtly off and not quite as enjoyable as Allison's stories set in a greener and more pleasant land. The dialogue often falls somewhere between Allisonly snappy and actually colloquial American, as if he were trying to stretch to speak in a foreign tongue and not consistently succeeding. Nothing is actually wrong here: it's a fine adventure comic, with snappy dialogue, quirky characters, and a plot that bounces around and makes things happen. It just feels like someone trying to "do John Allison in the USA" and subtly missing the point.

So: former friends Jane and Heather have discovered a portal into a fantasy world, and of course intend to monetize making a documentary film about it. (Allison is always quirky, even when he's trying to be American about it.) This is slightly hampered, first, by their being driven out of the fantasy world by the authorities there, and, secondarily, by the increasingly heavy-handed tactics from authorities here related to the corporation that built the portal and then went bankrupt, pauperizing the town.

These two volumes feature a lot of running about, and an array of colorful characters, from drug dealers to a small green troll-like fantasy-world person, from aged (and possibly insane) scientists to salt-of-the-earth vermin-extermination working men. There are nefarious plots from both ends of the portal, surprising revelations, applied mad science, semi-random murder, and pulse-pounding board meetings.

All of the ingredients are fine, and By Night could seem really awesome to someone not familiar with Allison's other work. (Or to someone violently allergic to anything non-American, I suppose: goodness know we do have those.) It's not one of his best works, but that is a very minor quibble on my part -- this is a better run of comics than nearly anything cover-featuring a person wearing a mask and published in the last eighty years.

I still think most readers would be better served as an introduction to Allison by diving into Bad Machinery or Giant Days (depending on their preferences), but what do I know?

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Arab of the Future 3 & 4 by Riad Sattouf

I had vague hopes that I was going to cover the end of the Arab of the Future story in this post, but I'm wrong: there is at least one more volume. (The end of Vol. 4 would be a horrible cliffhanger to end on, anyway, even given that this is a memoir.)

Riad Sattouf is a Syrian/French comics creator, associated with the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine, who has published several series of graphic novels in France, most of which seem to have semi-autobiographical elements. But his Arab of the Future series, the most explicitly autobiographical, was the first to be translated into English and published in the US, starting with the first volume in 2015, only a year after its French publication. There have been five volumes to date, with the fifth Arab of the Future book published in France earlier this year -- that one brings Riad up to the age of sixteen, so it may be the end. (But maybe not.)

I saw Volume One back in early 2016 and Volume Two later that year; Three was published in France in 2016 and the US in 2018, and then Four had its first French edition in 2018 and American in 2019. So my guess is that we'll see Five on this side of the pond in mid-to-late 2021, and will know for ourselves then if Sattouf has finished up the story of his younger days.

These two books see young Riad finally getting to an age where he's not just a witness -- Three covers about two years, starting at age 7, and the more episodic Four covers five more years after that, getting Riad up to his early teens. Three is split almost in half: Riad and his family start out still living in the village of Ter Maaleh, Syria, but his father is increasingly distant, working as a professor first in a nearby city and eventually in Saudi Arabia. Riad's mother takes him and his younger brother back to France with her after about another year, for the birth of her third son there...and does not return to Syria, since she's fighting more and more with her husband and he's in Saudi Arabia almost all the time, anyway.

And then Four is mostly set in France, with two long trips back to Syria to punctuate it.

Sattouf presents all this cleanly, mostly from the point of view of the kid he was then, and seems to be honest about his parents. His mother comes off better, since she's Western to begin with and wants the life for her family that the vast majority of readers would want. Ter Maaleh is dirty, full of horrible people, and Syria is corrupt to its core in a way that seems to taint nearly everyone -- plus the local strain of Islam is cruel and punitive, focused entirely on evil and obligation.

Both books see Riad struggling: he's in between these two cultures, but not entirely part of either one. Ter Maaleh is full of cruelty and superstition, and Riad will never fit in there unless he becomes a "good Muslim" -- which even his father, a relatively modern, educated Arab man with a doctorate from the Sorbonne, struggled with into middle age. But Riad is an academic star there, in his elementary years, which pleases his father and gives him a certain position -- even if the other students hate and scorn him at the time, and even more so on his returns, where they take him for an Israeli Jew (likely because they have no other concept of foreigners: they live in a world of good Arabs and evil Jews, and nothing else).

France is more complex and sophisticated, but Riad doesn't fit in well there, either. His voice is soft and high, so he's teased for being "a girl." His work is not as advanced in France, particularly with the disruptions of years back and forth between France and Syria. He turns to drawing as a way to make friends, and that works...for a while, at least. But he's odd and different, and Four in particular covers the tween years, where being different is the worst possible thing in the world.

Sattouf avoids making explicit value judgements: he's telling the story of his life, not specifically making points against people. But the tone and angle is pretty clear: Syria was a horrible place, in ways most Syrians wouldn't even realize. And some part of the horribleness is down to their particular strain of Islam: cruel, medieval, authoritarian, inflexible, punishing. France, on the other hand, was mostly a nice place where young Riad didn't fit in -- cleaner, prettier, with more opportunities...but just as many horrible, cruel people who took just as much joy in tormenting people weaker than themselves. Religion was not a factor as Sattouf describes France, nor was it even really racism against Riad: his schoolmates didn't shun him because he was an Arab, they didn't think he was an Arab and shunned him because he was weird for a French kid. (They were racist against Arabs, to be clear: Sattouf shows this. But they were mean to him for entirely different reasons.)

Not that makes any of it better, obviously. But in France, the torments were mostly psychological. In Syria, Riad had rocks thrown at his head. If you have to choose one, pick the one where you're less likely to be killed.

Again, Sattouf is not giving explicit value judgements: just telling his story, cleanly and clearly. He also makes it clear that he was a pretty self-centered kid without a whole lot of emotional intelligence at that age: he didn't even know what he could do differently to make people like him. Everyone comes across warts and all in Arab of the Future: Riad is a little pill a lot of the time, his mother spends much of her time complaining, and his father is a mix of distracted academic and would-be sharpie political expert, with a sideline in loudmouth horrible opinions. It's a compelling view of a world full of a lot of nastiness and cruelty: you can easily see why someone coming from there would end up creating satire.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/26/20

Nothing actually in the mail this week, but I do have three books that I bought myself got as Christmas presents bought myself and got as Christmas presents! (At my stage of life, if you want the right presents, you need to buy them yourself.)

The Iron Dragon's Mother by Michael Swanwick -- I'm a year late for this one, but I've read all of Swanwick's novels (and most of his short fiction, too), and didn't want to miss the third novel in the world of Iron Dragon's Daughter and Dragons of Babel. I wouldn't call this a trilogy, though I bet the publisher does: my understanding is that they're three separate novels (the first two definitely were) written years apart, about different people in different parts of this world.

Swanwick has been one of my favorite writers since probably Vacuum Flowers (I think I read that before In the Drift, and it's a more pyrotechnic, instantly lovable novel), and I acquired a bunch of his books for the book clubs for a decade or so. (In fact, there's one Swanwick book, Jack Faust, that I acquired there even though at the time and afterward I wondered if the book wouldn't have been better served if it were offered by The Other Folks. But I couldn't have made that happen; you can never make other people do things. All you can do are the things in front of you.)

So: fantasy novel set in an industrialized, dystopic world of traditional folklore. By one of our best writers. I can't recommend it until I actually read it, but I bet it's well worth reading.

Dead Lies Dreaming by Charles Stross -- The author says that this is not actually part of the main "Laundry Files" series -- the protagonists do not belong to that UK government organization, not that the same organization even exists as it did before The Delirium Brief -- but his publishers know the lure of a series title, so it's badged that way so his fans can find it. It is set in the same world, and that's Stross's most popular world, which is good for we readers and (we all hope) similarly good for the bank accounts of Stross and the publishers.

(I also get the sense that Stross has traditionally been a writer who finds himself cramped and shoehorned by his previous choices when writing sequels, so long series may annoy him more than some writers. If sidebars and new sub-series like this allow him to create a series more like Discworld than like Foundation, that's good for all of us.)

So this is a caper novel, set in a world on the precipice of a Lovecraftian apocalypse -- well, of one particular Lovecraftian apocalypse, with several others bubbling along at various levels as well. The UK, for example, is now ruled personally by Nyarlathotep in one of his slightly more personable and reasonable forms. My traditional answer, when someone asks if the Laundry books are SF, fantasy, or horror, is to say "Yes. Yes, they are. But 'and' rather than 'or.'"

Paul at Home by Michel Rabagliati -- This is the most recent book in a sequence of semi-autobiographical graphic novels by a French Canadian (it's translated from French by Helge Dascher and Rob Aspinall), following Paul Up North, Paul Joins the Scouts, Paul Has a Summer Job, and several others -- not all of which have "Paul" in the title, actually. The main character is "Paul Riforati" rather than "Michel Rabagliati," but, otherwise, Rabagliati seems to have stuck very close to the details of his own life, fictionalizing only as much as any other memoirist does, to protect others or just because memory is always faulty.

Most of the Paul books have covered "Riforati's" younger years -- childhood, schooling, meeting the woman who became his wife, some of his early career in the printing business. But Paul at Home has a middle-aged Riforati, divorced and with his single daughter now grown and moved out. This Riforati, for what I think is the first time, is a published and popular author -- the previous books were all about a Riforati who had not yet created his world's equivalent of the Paul books. (And I wonder how metafictional Rabagliati will get here? It would amuse me, if maybe no one else, if Paul's fictional alter-ego was named Michel.)

So this may be a tougher book, emotionally, than most of the ones about a young Paul venturing out into the wide world -- maybe closer to The Song of Roland or even more death-haunted than that. Rabagliati knows this character well, and I'd like to see how he handles bringing the character closer to his present-day life.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Quote of the Week: Take Me to Your Leader

There is a shrine to Ogko in most places nowadays. Though Ogko did not approve of shrines. He was the most cantankerous of deities, a reluctant messiah, If you subscribe to the Alien Theory of Spiritual Beings, which was briefly popular around the time of the Shangri-La Affair, Ogko would be considered, alongside Jesus, Mohammed, Uri Geller, and L. Ron Hubbard, as an alien entity. It was the answer to Fermi's famous paradox. The reason we don't see aliens out there, reasoned the proponents of the AToSB, is because they're here. They walk -- and preach -- among us.

 - Lavie Tidhar, Central Station, p.72

Thursday, December 24, 2020

H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness by Gou Tanabe (2 vols)

Adapting a book is always a tricky thing, especially in a format where you're turning words into pictures. (Radio dramas, I suppose, have somewhat different issues.) And when the author you're adapting, shall we say overly fond of long, ornate, elaborate words in general and detailed descriptions in particular, getting those pictures to resemble the mental images from those words gets even tougher.

And that's just for just the adaptor -- every reader will interpret "partly squamous, partly rugose" a little differently, so how will they take your pictorial description?

All of that is to say that adapting H.P. Lovecraft into a visual medium is a tricky thing. There have been some movies, a few of which have been more-or-less successful. He's been a bit better served in comics, which is much more of an auteur medium to begin with -- for example, I.N.J. Culbard adapted four long Lovecraft stories into graphic novels about a decade ago, each in its own style, and all successfully. (Well, successfully to my eye, since that's the point I just made.)

Not long afterward, the manga-ka Gou Tanabe embarked on a longer adaptation of Lovecraft's novella "At the Mountains of Madness" in 2016-17, in twenty-three chapters (plus prologue and epilogue) and over six hundred pages. That was published as two volumes in English translation last year: The First Volume and The Second Volume. I'm not clear on what the original Japanese publication schedule was, but my guess it was the usual: the chapters appeared individually in some magazine or other (weekly or monthly), and then objects closely resembling these two books came out as tankobon.

This is a very faithful adaptation -- Tanabe uses a lot of chunks of Lovecraft prose, both to set up chapters and as narration over his pages, and the length allows him to get all of the events of the novella into his adaptation. He also keeps the 1931 setting and all of the technical details the same, which other Lovecraft adaptations don't always do. So, if you're familiar with the Lovecraft story -- and that's the audience for this book, obviously -- Tanabe's version won't surprise you in the storytelling.

The art, though, might surprise you, particularly if you have an outdated view of what "manga art" looks like. Tanabe uses a very detailed style here, with lots of blacks and washes, and he clearly draws the fantastic elements of Lovecraft's story while often keeping them in shadow to suit the dark caves and cyclopean ruins the characters wander through. For Western readers, getting used to manga-style "reading backward" might be an issue to begin with, but Tanabe's panel flow is clear and he sticks to boxy, square panels with occasional splash pages -- there's nothing here to throw off people who aren't regular comics readers.

As for the story itself: it's that Lovecraft staple, the man of science describing events that led him (always him, always a very particular kind of him) to learn Things That Man Was Not Meant to Know and putting them down on paper in hopes that everyone else will listen and never go back there again. In this particular case, it's an Antarctic expedition, out of Lovecraft's fictional Miskatonic University [1] in Arkham, Massachusetts, with specialists in a variety of disciplines (geology, biology, and so on) planning to explore, collect samples, and do some basic science.

But instead they find calamity and an escalating series of discoveries: bodies of a totally unknown type leading to a giant previously unknown mountain chain leading to a vast ancient city beyond those mountains where two of the team will find....well, that would be telling.

The thrills and joys of Lovecraft are in those moments of discovery, where the veil is lifted, bit by bit, on visions of deep time and unexpected creatures. Tanabe is good at translating that feeling into comics, and his page count and the generally unhurried pace of manga pages serves him well here -- there's enough space and time to go step-by-step with Lovecraft through all of the stages of disbelief and dawning understanding.

So this is a good adaptation. "Mountains" is one of Lovecraft's less-problematic major stories, and Tanabe silently eliminates any vaguely racist stuff about the swarthy crewmen of the expedition's ships. (I don't remember anything specifically, but Lovecraft was vaguely racist all the time, so I'm assuming there's at least a few sentences to make a modern reader wince in "Mountains.") And Tanabe's art style is a great fit for Lovecraft: he's detailed in a dark, horror-tinged way, and can make the ancient architecture and alien creatures creepy and menacing rather than just funny-looking.

I understand Tanabe did one book of shorter Lovecraft adaptations before this, and has been adapting other Lovecraft stories since then, so, odds are, if this sounds appealing, you'll have more than just this story to enjoy.

[1] Go, Pods!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden

This book makes we want to get Hegelian, but I have to immediately insist that it's not the book's fault -- I'll overanalyze anything given half a chance, and this just happened to wander into my sights.

So, with that caveatAre You Listening? feels like a synthesis. Tillie Walden started her comics career with shorter books and stories -- which I still haven't seen, and which may, for those who know them well, utterly shatter this idea I have -- and then moved on into big books with first Spinning, then On a Sunbeam, and then Listening.

Spinning is the thesis: a memoir about Walden's own life, growing up mostly in Texas, a girl realizing she's queer, beginning to think about what she wants and doesn't want in her life, focused through the lens of her decade-plus as a competitive skater.

On a Sunbeam is the antithesis: a SFnal story, set in an entirely imagined universe (one with no male gender at all, as far as the story showed, though there was, oddly, one "non-binary" person), with strange and quirky rules, and a story of first love thwarted by the universe and (more prosaically) by the fact that first loves tend to end anyway.

Last year Walden came back with Are You Listening?, a graphic novel set in real-world Texas but featuring fictional characters, about two young queer women who are not going to have any quote-unquote "relationship" with each other, a road trip on a smaller scale than Sunbeam but featuring eruptions of fantasy unlike Spinning. So: synthesis.

Walden is already an interesting and subtle graphic novelist, even this early in her career, so I don't want to try to pigeonhole her, but I think this could be a signpost. What I hope to see from her over the next years or decades is more books like Listening: based in a realistic world but with fantasy elements, about young women (probably getting older as Walden does herself) navigating things other than just first love and coming out, who are more and more at home in their own lives as time goes on.

(We'll see if that's the case: Walden is clearly smart and talented enough to go an entirely different way, somewhere along the line.)

So Listening is the story of these two women and this one trip. Bea is in her late teens, and is clearly running away from her small-town home, for reasons we won't learn for a while but are clearly powerful. Lou is almost a decade older, a small-town mechanic making a trip to visit family -- but it also quickly becomes clear that she's also running away, in the quieter way of a more settled, slightly older person who has gotten deeply unhappy with some of the major things in her life.

Along the way, they find a cat, and try to take it back to its home. Lou teaches Bea how to drive. They open up to each other, at least somewhat. And they are pursued by the mysterious, unexplained Office of Road Inquiry as they drive further and further into West Texas.

As far as I can see, that Office has nothing to do with Bea's secrets or Lou's restlessness. They do have an interest in the cat, though: maybe it's the cat that ties everything together. Listening is not a story in which everything is tied up in a bow at the end -- it's the story of a few days in Bea's and Lou's lives. Important days, transformational days. Days where they change each other and move on in their own directions with more purpose, but just a few days.

Like Walden's previous books, Listening is about people and their relationships. There are other things going on in her books, but the people are central and their emotions are the drivers of her books. Listening feels like it has a tighter focus than Spinning, which covered whole years and all of young Walden's concerns, or Sunbeam, with its larger, complex cast and richly imagined universe. Walden here is bouncing two characters off each other -- both of them feel like getting out, of different things for different reasons, and then throwing other complications at them to see how they react and what kind of people they are when they come out the other end.

It's a surprisingly quiet book for a road-trip story about two women pursued by potentially-supernatural and definitely threatening entities, but surprising is par for the course for Walden so far. And surprising is a wonderful and amazing thing for any creator -- even more so for someone who can put out lovely, deep books like these this often.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Handbook to Lazy Parenting by Guy Delisle

This is the fourth and last of Guy Delisle's "Bad Dad" books, following A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting, Even More Bad Parenting Advice, and The Owner's Manual to Terrible Parenting. Like the others, it's a small book of comics, just a bit bigger than a mass-market paperback and about two hundred pages long.

Generally, with a book like The Handbook to Lazy Parenting -- collections of short strips with the same premise and no real internal continuity -- you can start with any of them and hit them in any order. That's still the case for the first three books, but Handbook is clearly the end of this string; there's a more touching story at the end, where Delisle basically turns around and notices his kids are growing up: Alice and Louis are no longer the early-elementary kids he's been drawing them as, but eleven and fourteen. So don't start here: pick one of the other books first.

It's entirely possible to do funny comics about families with teenage kids, and I have hopes Delisle will try that: he's very funny and not shy of making himself the butt of his jokes. But any further books won't be like these books: his kids have outgrown the age where they believe everything "Dad" says and rely on his judgement, knowledge, and experience implicitly. Delisle clearly knows that, and underlines that at the end here.

But, before that, we do get a hundred and fifty-plus pages of more Bad Dad hijinks, all focused on Delisle as a world-class slacker dad. The kids are cute and fun, but Delisle is the draw: I'm sure he was never quite this self-centered and forgetful, but it's funnier like this, and Delisle know how to make it funny.

I do think this stuff is better and more resonant if you've had kids, because you've been the lazy parent. (Well, I suppose there may be some people either superhuman enough or forgetful enough to not remember any lazy/self-centered moments with their kids, but those people are tedious bores anyway.) Looking back myself, I spent years encouraging my boys to learn how to pump their legs on swings so I didn't have to push them as much...and I now have to wonder why I cared. But it was effort, and sometimes just a little bit more effort dealing with the energy of a five-year-old is Way Too Much.

That's the vibe of the Bad Dad books: knowing that you love your kids, of course, but also wishing they would make your life easier for once rather than more complicated, hoping that whatever this new demand on your time is (homework, errands, feeding & clothing them, all of that stuff) won't take too much effort, and wanting more of that uncomplicated unalloyed little-kid admiration that disappears so quickly. Delisle does it all really well in all four of these books.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/19/20

I actually have one book in the mail this week, which is surprising: partially because of the time of year, partially because of the well-documented (and, not to get political, deliberate) problems with mail delivery this year, and partially because I wouldn't send me review copies if I were a publisher. But new books are a wonderful thing, particularly so when unexpected.

And this week I have one from Dancing Lemur Press, coming as a trade paperback and ebook on July 6th of 2021.

Blood Red Sand is Damien Larkin's second novel, after Big Red. And I think this is a sequel -- both books are military alt-histories launching out of WWII, apparently both with German super-science making the war go in a different direction, both have British soldiers fighting Nazis on Mars.

So it's possible that this is a different alt-hist about fighting Nazis in the 1950s on Mars, but my guess is that it's not. And it's coming in the middle of next year, so you'd have plenty of time to get to Big Red ahead of it, to have the maximum amount of Nazi-fighting in your 2021 diet.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Quote of the Week: Splunge

I reversed out of the parking lot and drove down into the town square, past Howell Harris and the lorry still stuck fast on the bridge. Toccata stared at me the whole time, then reached out a hand and tweaked my bony forearm.
'You're very skinny,' she said. 'Did you do any dreaming on your four-week sojourn to the dark side?'
'No, ma'am.'
'Good,' she said. 'The only thing I loathe more than winsomniacs is dreamers. Feet on the ground, head out of the clouds. Agree?'
'Yes, ma'am.'
'I don't like subordinates always agreeing.' she said. 'Sycophants have no place in my department. You're to speak your mind when the opportunity calls for it.'
'How will I know when that is?'
'I shall inform you. Park over there.'
 - Jasper Fforde, Early Riser, pp.216-217

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Love and Other Weird Things by Rich Sparks

I don't want to say the blurb from Roz Chast is the best thing about this book: it's a great book, collecting lots of neat scratchy, funny cartoons by a unique talent, a book that made me giggle and titter and guffaw and maybe even laugh out loud at least once. Let me say that first.

But I love the cover quote, which also says a lot about cartoonist Rich Sparks' sensibility that he thought it was a great idea to prominently feature it.

You probably can't read it clearly from the bookshot. So I'll type it in here as well, to show you what cartooning genius Chast wrote when Sparks asked her to do a blurb for his then-upcoming book:

I'm actually trying to get out of the 'blurb game.' Unless it's for my kids, or someone I owe a ton of money to.

If just seeing that on the cover of a book makes you smile, Rich Sparks' cartoons, and the book Love and Other Weird Things, is right up your alley.

These are all single-panel cartoons, each presented on a wider-than-it's-tall page (like a Garfield book, or one of the millions of similar collections of newspaper daily strips from the past eight decades or so). From the copyright page, I think at least some of them appeared in American Bystander and Weekly Humorist, which I still insist are the fake names for fictional magazines in some Hallmark romantic comedy.

I don't know that I've seen much of Sparks' work before, but he's awesome and unique -- he's not like Gahan Wilson or S. Gross, but he's equally unique, if you know what I mean. A Sparks cartoon is its own thing, from a different viewpoint, and no one else could have thought up any of them.

He's also got a nice matter-of-fact drawing style that works well with his lumpy tighty-whitey-wearing characters and quirky situations.

It's hard to write about cartoons with spoiling some of the jokes, but I'll limit myself to one line of dialogue in one cartoon, which I think will give you the flavor of full Sparks: "I'm not the kind of rabbit who usually picks up hitch-hikers but you look like someone I could easily take in a knife fight so just keep that in mind."

This is funny stuff, by a distinctive talent. Anyone who likes single-panel cartoons should check Sparks out, and keep an eye out for more of his work.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

I assembled an omnibus, under the title The Compleat Dying Earth, back in the late '90s for my then-employer, the Science Fiction Book Club. My awesome art director -- I think it was Toby Schwartz at that point, but we were gifted with a series of wonderful artistic collaborators -- commissioned a neat, atmospheric cover by Brom and designed a nice package for that art. The book itself included the four "Dying Earth" novels. It may have been the first time all four appeared in one volume together: I don't want to claim that if it isn't true, but it's my memory.

(In those days, if there was a previous omnibus, we'd just buy that one, because it was vastly easier to use someone else's files than to set the whole damn thing ourselves.)

Anyway, that was the last time I read the Dying Earth books.

That edition is now out of print, and the copy I had of it went beneath the waves in my 2011 flood, like so many other things. Some years later -- the book itself is silent as to when it was published -- Tor borrowed or bought the files for Compleat from whatever entity owned the book clubs at that point and published the same collection of words as Tales of the Dying Earth, under a lovely but really inappropriate John Berkey cover that I have to wonder if it was just hanging around the art department and needed to be used by a specific date.

I have a copy of the Tor edition now. And I thought this was as good a time as ever to re-read some Vance. So I read the first book, the original The Dying Earth, assembled by Vance as his first book in 1950 from stories originally published in magazines over the previous year or two.

If you've never read Vance or the Dying Earth stories, they might read as oddly familiar these days: huge swaths of later fantasy (most obviously, the first iteration or three of Dungeons & Dragons, but plenty of prose writers as well) borrowed, adopted or stole ideas from these books, and it might not be clear that Vance was there first. The protagonists are mostly users of magic at this point, each knowing a few powerful spells and owning a few puissant devices to protect themselves from each other and the other myriad dangers of this last dark age of the world. And they're mostly adventuring to get something: knowledge (in the form of more spells, or more broadly), some other lusted-for object or person, or just power. 

Vance's style was also solidly in place even at this point: the long sonorous sentences, filled with slightly obscure words that are exactly correct, the slightly artificial, sprightly dialogue, the casual cruelty of his worlds and many of his people. I was thrilled and happy to be reminded that Vance was Vance from the beginning.

Dying Earth contains six stories of varying length, with overlapping characters and action. Each one tells its own story, but some characters will pop up again, particularly as the title protagonist of a later piece. Some of the protagonists are heroic, some much less than that. Dying Earth came out of the pulps, so the endings tend to fit the accepted morality there: the good end well and the evil end badly -- but Vance's tone always makes it clear that is not usually the way of the world, and is never to be assumed.

I'm reading slowly these days, so I didn't dive right into The Eyes of the Overworld (the second Dying Earth book, from the mid-60s) afterward. But I was tempted. And I may need to get to Eyes before too long: Vance is wonderful and magnificent, and I haven't read any of his books in far too long.

I do have to admit that Vance is probably not a writer for everyone. If fine writing repels you and you just want to get into a story, he's not a good fit for you. You need to enjoy words and wordplay and subtlety to get the most out of Vance, and many people don't. But, frankly, I have to admit that, for my money, the kind of readers who like Vance are the best kind of readers, and hope that the rest of you will someday level up and realize that. Come join us! It's awesome here: we have Jack Vance!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Department of Mind-Blowing Theories by Tom Gauld

Some books you don't review so much as point at, to show that they exist. You might talk a bit about why you enjoy them, but that's about all. For me, books of cartoons -- especially themed collections of funny cartoons -- are squarely in that category.

Once you say "he's a fat cat, and he hates Mondays! It's hilarious!" what else is there to say?

So I'm here today to point at Tom Gauld's new book of cartoons, Department of Mind-Blowing Theories. It contains 152 cartoons, each presented in color on a separate page, all originally appearing in New Scientist, all on the subject of science, all funny and inventive.

You might know Gauld from his previous books Baking with Kafka (cartoons from The Guardian's book section) and You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack (all over the place, with a general tropism towards SF and mad science). Those books are also about the same length, in the same format, and are full of funny and inventive stuff.

At this point it's usually typical for a reviewer to spoil a few of the jokes, in order to make it clear he really has read the book. (Like, duh. It's a short book of funny cartoons; it's harder not to read it once it's in front of you.) So let me say: cut-price science park, out-of-universe messages, #alchemists, classic fiction in binary.

Gauld is fond of doing variations on a theme, often starting with a common phrase like "fount of all knowledge" and extending the metaphor. He also gets a lot of mileage out of mad science, horrors from between the angles of normal space, robots, and of course the usual furniture of scientists' lives: papers, research, theories, experiments.

Again: I think this is very funny, very inventive. I like smart humor, and Gauld is one of the best at smart humor today. If you do as well, this is a book for you. If just might be a redneck.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/12/20

This week's list is a lie. The first three books -- two from the library and one from the mail -- arrived late last Saturday, after I'd written up the previous week's post and set the publish time.

But if we can't manage our obsessions to suit ourselves, what can we do?

So I held those three books for this week, thinking I probably wouldn't have anything else to mention. (Spoiler: as I type this, there are two more books on hold for me at the library. Further Spoiler: two more came in the day after that. See the end of the list for the non-lie titles.)

Publicity Copies in the Mail:

Allergic is a new graphic novel from the powerhouse program at Scholastic, written by Megan Wagner Lloyd and drawn by Michelle Mee Nutter. (As far as I can tell, this is their first work together, and their first major work of comics, though Lloyd has written a number of picture books, which are not a million miles away from comics.)

It is somewhat in the tradition of Raina Telgemeier, though Scholastic is (smartly) not playing that up: the story of a pre-teen girl with an unexpected medical issue, somewhat based on the author's life, and how that plays out for her and her family. This time, as the cover implies, it's about young Maggie, who really wanted a dog but realized as soon as she got one that she's allergic to animal fur.

Allergic publishes on March 2nd in both hardcover and paperback formats.

The Mighty Emmanuel Einstein Free Public Library:

Piranesi is the new novel by Susanna Clarke, author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

(I almost want to leave it at that.)

I was one of the many people who read and loved JS&MR back in 2004. My memories are hazy, but I'm pretty sure it came in to the "mainstream" clubs first, rather than the SFBC -- since it was Classy and Serious and from a non-SF publisher (Bloomsbury). I did get to it before publication, as I recall, though I have no memory if I (or the SFBC in general) was any part of the decision to offer it in the clubs. Anyway, it was a great book, and then it was a Big Book: bestseller, Hugo winner, et cetera.

And then Clarke went quiet. There was a small book of stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, two years later, collecting mostly work she'd published in magazines and anthologies during the decade-long writing of JS&MN, some of which were loosely related to that book. But that was it.

Then, earlier this year, there was news: Clarke had finished a new novel, which was not the rumored loose sequel to JS&MN, set among much lower-class English folk. Instead, Piranesi was short where the earlier novel was long, with a small cast, set in a Gormenghastly structure that may be the entire world and where only two people live.

And of course I have to read it.

Clyde Fans took even longer than Piranesi to emerge, though we knew it was in progress, and sections have been published separately over the past twenty years. It was supposed to be the "second book" by Canadian cartoonist Seth (just Seth, born Gregory Gallant, and you'd think up a new name too if that was your original name), after the sublime It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, but...well, he's been working on it since 1997, and some other things have leapfrogged over it during that time, most notably the lighter George Sprott.

But it's finally complete: the bug-crushing slipcased edition was published late last year, and (somewhat more recently) I realized a copy was in a library system I had access to, so I didn't have to actually pay the full price for a bug-crushing slipcased edition. (When you lose five thousand books at once, as I did in 2011, you lose something of your enthusiasm to spend lots of money on books forevermore afterward.)

Further Books from Emmanuel Einstein's Hallowed Halls

This is going to be difficult on desktop; I got four more books in series where I already have one at home, so I've just written about all of these, in exactly this context, only a week ago. And, as I have been complaining about recently, on the desktop version of this blog, there's an ugly gap of whitespace if the text about a book doesn't run longer than the image of that book's cover.

On mobile, the image shows up full-width, so the issue doesn't apply. I suspect this is a responsive-design thing -- the old Blogger editor used to wrap text fully around images on desktop, which was a cleaner look there but may not have worked as well on mobile. (I like the idea of responsive design, but in practice it seems to be an exercise in deciding where most of the readers are and making giant sweeping design decisions based on that, so that the minority platform of the time gets the crappy look.)

So, anyway, I don't have a lot to say, and those of you reading on desktop would suffer visually because of that. So, instead, all of you get to suffer from me vamping -- isn't that better?!

H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, The Second Volume concludes Gou Tanabe's adaptation of the Lovecraft novella of the title. I've already read the first book, and now (I hope) I can read this one and write one post about the thing as a whole.

The Arab of the Future, Vol.4 is the latest in the series by Riad Sattouf about his childhood, which has been mostly in Libya and Syria up to this point, though I gather much of this volume sees him living in France. Sattouf's father was Syrian and his mother French, which created a certain amount of tension in that childhood -- that's underlying all of the books. (See my posts on one and two.) Again, I've already read #3, and I believe this one is the end -- it covers five years and gets Sattouf to about the age of fourteen, so it will stop being a "childhood" somewhere in the middle there. And we know Sattouf ended up in France as an adult, making comics and directing movies.

Giant Days, Vol. 9 is another book collecting the great comics series written by John Allison, about three women at a fictional British university and some of the other people surrounding them. This time out the credits are slightly different -- Liz Fleming is still credited as inker, but there's "with" credits for Jenna Ayoub (issue 35) and penciller Max Sarin (issue 36). I don't know if that means Fleming got behind and needed some support, or if there are specific sequences in those issues that needed a different artistic look. I guess I will find out when I read it -- once more, I read #8 a few days ago and am hoping to hit more than one in one review. (Well, I'd love to get all the way to the end at Vol. 14 in one big post, but I doubt the library will get me all of them in time or let me hold onto them long enough to do that. As usual, we navigate between what we want and what we can get.)

Last up this time out is By Night, Vol. 3, written by the same John Allison I mentioned mere moments ago. This one is drawn by Christine Larsen and colored by Sarah Stern, and it concludes the series. At the danger of being a broken record -- here's my post on book one, and I have already read the middle one.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Quote of the Week: Heraclitean Rivers

Miriam looked at this man, Boris, this stranger who had been someone that the someone that she had been had once loved.

Lavie Tidhar, Central Station, p.18

Thursday, December 10, 2020

the bus 2 by Paul Kirchner

The title is in lowercase on the book, so I did the same on my post. Sure, it's pretentious, but this book was published in France, so it comes by its pretension honestly.

No seriously: the text, where it exists, is in English, but the book was published by Tanabis Editions of "19, rue Francis Chirat 69100 Villeurbanne, France." (My assumption is that Villeurbanne is the name of the town, but it could be a district or arrondissement or something else for all I know.) As proof I also offer that the spine reads up rather than down.

Anyway, it's the bus 2, the sequel to the original the bus, published in 1987 and collecting a bunch of surrealist strips about a guy and a bus by Paul Kirchner. I never read the original, as far as I can remember, but they did run in Heavy Metal in the late '70s and early '80s, so it's likely I saw at least one of them.

This one opens with an arch comics-format preface, talking about how "the studio that produced 'the bus' was forced to shut down" many years ago, but a surge in interest brought it back in 2002 with the son of the original "commuter" stepping into his father's shoes. The truth? I have no idea -- my best guesses are either Kirchner suddenly had new bus ideas, or some paying editor popped up and mentioned loudly loving the old strips and wishing he could publish some new ones. However it happened, either in 2002 or somewhat later (since this 58-page book came out in 2015, collecting nearly fifty single-page strips and a couple of related illustrations), Kirchner did a new batch of the same kind of thing he'd done thirty years before.

Most of the strips are wordless, though a few have captions. All are pantomime -- the commuter, the bus driver, and various other characters never speak on-panel. And they're all surreal: bus seats as ski-lifts, a Busby Berkley commuter extravaganza, plays on size and shape and direction, and so on.

Kirchner draws it all with a clean, precise illustrative line, almost like advertising art: his buses are solid and specific (General Motors "New Look") and his people are a bit more generic, especially the balding commuter.

It's amusing rather than laugh-out-loud funny, but that's what it's supposed to be: various weird things happening, one per page, to a generic commuter on a generic bus. Someday, maybe, there will be a massive (by which I mean: more than a hundred pages) the complete bus with everything, and that will be even better. But this is just fine for what it is right now.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Diversity is not one thing. Books can be diverse in authors, in characters, in style, and in ideas. Preferably, the world of books would be diverse in all of those things, plus others I'm not thinking of right now, and individual books slot in interestingly into multiple diverse categories simultaneously.

Sometimes it feels to me like the current diversity drive in SFF is entirely around authors and characters -- so the Chosen One defeating the Big Bad to Save The World can be someone different, and their author can be someone different as well. That's a great step forward, but I don't want to read stories about any Chosen One, no matter what kind of person they are or who's writing about them. I don't become more interested in your book about dragons just because you're Chinese rather than Welsh.

Diversity in ideas was the killer app for SFF from the beginning, so that's just table stakes. If you can't bring that to the party, this isn't the party for you to begin with.

That leaves me with diversity in style, as you might expect from a self-declared literary guy. (Hey, I got an English degree from a fancy liberal-arts school, and I don't get a lot of opportunity to use it in everyday life.) So I tend to gravitate to books that do interesting literary things -- told in quirky ways, incorporating techniques from literary fiction, or just telling different kinds of stories.

I liked Lavie Tidhar's The Violent Century when I read it last year. More importantly, I was deeply impressed by it: it was a taut, smash-cut race through a hundred years of alternate history. From that, and what I've heard about the rest of his books, he sounds like my kind of writer: always doing something different, as influenced by literary traditions as by SFnal ones. And as I get older, I appreciate writers who do interesting books more than the ones who do the same thing over and over, even if I loved that thing. 

So I wanted more Tidhar. I had several of his books on my shelf: this is what happens if you keep acquiring books but aren't reading them as quickly. Central Station looked enticing: a linked collection, or maybe a fix-up, of stories set in an indefinite future, around the beanpole spaceport of the title, right on the border between an Israel and Palestine that are at least somewhat less hostile to each other than the current versions.

The quotes mentioned Naguib Mahfouz rather than A.E. Van Vogt, which was a good sign to me -- not that I've read Mahfouz (to my shame), but I've definitely read too much Van Vogtian stuff already.

And Central Station is quieter and more personal than most SFF. Its cast is large and diverse; several loosely related families of mostly the descendants of people from all over the world who came to help build the beanpole and who then put down roots in the neighborhood. Each story is about one or three or five of those people; they interlock and appear in each other's stories. But there's no overall plot -- Central Station is about these people and this neighborhood and their relationships. There are no Big Bads to be defeated, no Chosen Ones -- just people.

Some of those people are robotniks, transformed into mechanical bodies an unknown time ago to fight in now-forgotten wars. Some are Others, or paired with Others, the purely AI consciousnesses that live in a system-wide shared mental space called the Conversation. Some are physically unable to access the Conversation at all. Some have been off-planet, and come back inherently changed -- some have never been here before, and were also changed, against their will.

All of them are good people, more or less, the way we like to think we and our families are good people, more or less. All have basically good intentions, though some are more destructive than others, and some of them, as Tidhar puts it dryly in his list of characters at the end, "tend to meddle."

All of their stories are personal ones, which is not the same thing as small ones. All the best stories are personal.

This is a wonderful book, full of life and nuance. Each story is a separate gem, but together they combine to show a more complete picture of this world and these people. Tidhar never says how far in the future this is, though some hints imply "centuries" is the low bound. And he's never quite clear on how long these people can or do live -- though, in at least some cases, centuries would also be a low bound. Tidhar's cast is large and interesting, and their world is equally so: this is the kind of book that implies vastly more than it says, and lives in your head for a long time afterward.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

I Know What I Am by Gina Siciliano

I know I've said this before, but a book can be impressive and magisterial and a wonderful achievement, but still be a chore to read. (Some people might say those things are always correlated; I wouldn't go that far.) Today's book is a case in point.

Scholarly books have extensive footnotes and lists of references; they show clearly the author's reasoning and defend how the author arrived at specific, potentially controversial, points. They are often dense: they have a lot of detail to cover, and only a limited number of pages. Art books show great works of art and architecture with similar apparatus, giving context variously historical, site-specific, personal, and cultural.

I Know What I Am: The Life and Times of Artemisia Gentileschi is something like 75% of the way to being a scholarly monograph on the 17th century painter of the title in comics form, which is hugely impressive but still makes I Know What I Am a bit of a slog to work through.

Gina Siciliano letters most of it in an all-capitals format, which is a bit tiring, particularly since she has massive captions in nearly every panel. It's all entirely reasonable: she has a huge cast with complicated connections to each other and is covering nearly sixty years of one of the most tumultuous times and places in history on one hand, and specifically uses sentence case to show where she's directly quoting from source documents [1], which is a great use of the comics form in service of clear scholarship.

But it does leave her with over two hundred pages of comics -- oversized pages, occasionally falling into something like a 9-panel grid, but often breaking out of that -- filled with long explanatory captions in all capitals, and another fifty-plus pages of two-column text backmatter to accommodate the copious notes and a long list of referenced works. So this is a dense book -- even if the reader just reads through the comics (and I'm enough of a purist that I followed along with the notes as I went), it's a long, slow read.

Siciliano works in what looks almost like pencil, light and expressive with lots of shading and crosshatching. Her faces are excellent, and I never had trouble distinguishing between characters. (Remembering who they all were and why they were important...maybe, but that's on me.) She draws a lot of major architecture in her backgrounds, and talks about getting it just right in her notes -- I didn't find this really obvious in the work, though, since the people and their concerns are always central in her layouts.

I'm not an art history scholar, so I'm not qualified to comment on the liberties Siciliano may or may not have taken here with the life of Artemisia Gentileschi, the most famous and successful female painter before modern times. (Some would argue for Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, whose work I know a bit more and like a lot.) It was a tumultuous life, even more so than her male contemporaries, which is saying a lot. For example: Caravaggio was a pimp, they all lived through the Black Death, and several served in various wars of the era. Artemisia's just being a woman meant she had Ginger Rogers Syndrome in everything she touched: just having the career and life she had was only just barely this side of impossible to begin with.

 I Know What I Am is an inherently feminist book; I'd like to think any telling of Arteminia's life would have to be. One of the central events of her life was a trial of her rapist Agestino Tassi, and Siciliano does not shirk from describing just how biased and horrible the justice system was in that time and place. (For just one thing, rape was not illegal. Deflowering a virgin could be, if the culprit didn't marry her afterward and/or didn't have other extenuating circumstances.) This is the kind of book that will make any reader with the slightest bit of compassion a bit more feminist than he went into it.

So I was deeply impressed with I Know What I Am, and I'm glad I read it, but it's not a happy book -- biographies often aren't, since their subjects always die at the end anyway -- and it's harder work than most of us expect from comics. It is worth it, though: it shows a world and a life that most of us will know very little about.

[1] Well, translations of source documents -- Siciliano is American and is working in English; Gentileschi and the people around her were mostly Italian and spoke Italian most of the time.

Monday, December 07, 2020

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/5/20

This is the week where a nice librarian called the house and The Wife thought she said "none of the books Andy reserved are available." And that confused her momentarily, since why bother to call? [1] But the real number was nine, and here are those nine library books (all of which I hope to read by the end of the year, and maybe even get posts up for many of them by then):

H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, The First Volume by Gou Tanabe -- As far as I can tell, I've never read any of the manga created by Tanabe. But I do have an interest in Lovecraftian stories, and reviewed one book-length comics adaptation of Mountains of Madness (by I.N.J. Culbard) a few years back. This particular adaptation is longer than one volume -- one more is already published, and I'm not sure if that's the end to begin with.

It also looks like Manga Alan Moore is staring out of the cover at the upper right, daring me to read this, and who am I to gainsay Manga Alan Moore?

Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden -- Walden burst out a couple of years ago with a really strong memoir, Spinning, about her childhood as a competitive skater (among other things; that was the big through-line). She had a couple of shorter books before that which I haven't managed to track down yet, and followed it up with On a Sunbeam, an idiosyncratic and deep SFnal story originally published on the web. This book, if I have the sequence right, was the official follow-up to Spinning: Walden's next big book conceived and produced as a book, set in the modern world.

But that may be me still talking like a publishing person: for actual readers, creators make books and we read them. Some of the books might be exactly what we want, some not quite, and some much too far away -- I imagine Sunbeam's SF might have been too much for some readers who wanted more real queer girls in a real queer world. (Though the world of Sunbeam is very queer, in several overlapping senses of the word.) Listening is clearly that follow-up, about two young women -- I think upper teens, maybe not -- who meet each other on the run in what mostly seems to be our America.

The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 4 by Herge -- I have to admit, once again, that I never read Tintin as a kid. The books were available in the US, and I'm pretty sure I saw them here and there, but I wasn't really a comics reader as a kid to begin with. I wanted real books, with lots of words, and in particular I wanted the ones on the other side of the library, in the adult section. (Admittedly, mostly the Mystery and SF sections, for those who deduct points for genre, but sucks to those people anyway.)

So comics for kids were not on the radar after the age of, oh I don't know, seven or eight?

I started Herge's famous series a few years back, and plan to read the official omnibus reprints and then hit the two semi-expunged scandalous books (due to racism or tedious didacticism) last. We'll see if that actually happens, but I have already hit omnibuses one, two, and three. And now I'm up to the fourth one, with stories from the end of WWII and soon afterward.

The Arab of the Future, Vol. 3 by Riad Sattouf -- On the one hand, I do think there should be a limit as to how much any one person can string out retelling his own childhood for profit. But on the other, I have to admire someone so devoted to building a career entirely out of telling the story of his own life in smaller and smaller chunks for each book. (See the first volume, covering Sattouf's life to age six, and the second, covering roughly his first year of school.)

I say this in part because I know there already is an Arab of the Future 4 lurking out there, and in part because I know enough about publishing to assume that 5 is either in process or the subject of intense discussions among Sattouf, his agents, and his publishers.

And in part so I can quote myself about the second book:

one can hope that he's not going full A la Recherche du Temps Perdu on us here, with successive books of memoir covering every-shorter periods of time in his ever-more scrutinized childhood.

On the other hand, maybe that would be pretty cool. So we might be in for The Arab of the Future 25, covering the hours from noon to seven PM of May 23, 1991, around 2040 or so.

Giant Days, Vol. 8 by John Allison, Max Sarin, Liz Fleming & Whitney Cogar -- Now here we see my biggest problem with the current Blogger format (and it's not the crazy line-spacing, although that is both horrible and apparently completely uncontrollable within the laughingly named WYSIWYG editor). Realistically, what I have to say here is "coming back to this series, which I love," and probably tossing in links to the earlier books, since I'm compulsive like that.

But that will leave a big chunk of white space, which is even worse than the horribly crazy line-spacing, and I just cannot deal with both of those things going wrong in one post. (And moving to Wordpress at this stage in the life of blogs, particularly this blog, would be utterly stupid. I mean, I haven't even bothered to tweak the template or clean up the ridiculously outdated blogroll for more than a decade, and I'm going to migrate the whole thing? Please. I know me better than that.)

So, anyway, instead I'll just rant about something I'm getting free on the Internet, since that's what we do in the 21st century. Thanks for your time. Here's some stuff I wrote before about Giant Days.

By Night, Vol. 2 by John Allison, Christine Larsen, & Sarah Stern -- And here's the same problem, but even more so. I like Allison's work, and I realized the library has the second and third volumes collecting this series. Since I enjoyed the first book but didn't love it, buying the others was lower on my priority list -- but now I can still read them relatively quickly and maybe change my mind about the series.

And that's all I had to say.

But that will leave that horrible white gap. And I actually can do something about the white gap, as I cannot about the line-spacing. (Which, honestly, bothers me even more, particularly since there's nothing I can do to fix it.)

So I have inserted the image, and I am typing here until I fill up the space with lines of text. It's not the point of blogging, but does blogging even have a point in 2020? (all work and no play makes johnny a dull boy allworkandnoplaymakesjohnnyadullboy) That should just about do it. Maybe one more line just to be sure, as a vamp to fill up space with things that look like meaning. My apologies to those who are actually reading this.

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye, Vol. 1 by Jon Rivera, Gerard Way, Michael Avon Oeming, & Nick Filardi -- I am a cynical old man, so I didn't really read any of the "Young Animal" books as they were coming out. (Well, also, I stopped reading floppy comics around a decade ago -- had mostly stopped to begin with, and when my 2011 flood destroyed every last comic I'd ever bought, I took that as a clear end.) In fact, I'm pretty sure the imprint petered out, but I'm not totally sure it's not running now, or "not officially dead," even if nothing is currently being published.

But I am also old enough to be vaguely interested in "DC dusts off a stupid old character and lets new creators do crazy stuff with him," since that worked really well for the proto-Vertigo books in the '80s and a lot of Vertigo in the '90s. (And I am, as noted, old enough to remember that.)

So: I have no personal interest in Cave Carson, or Gerard Way, who I keep wanting to define as "in some sort of Pop Band" as if I were several decades older than I actually am. But I'm willing to check out crazy pseudo-Vertigo stuff on occasion, and I guess this counts as an occasion.

Shade the Changing Girl, Vol. 2 by Cecil Castellucci, Marley Zarcone, Ande Parks, Marguerite Sauvage, & Kelly Fitzpatrick -- More Animals Which Are Young! I read the first collection of this series a couple of years ago, since I was doing a Book-A-Day run, and that always gets me diving into odder and less likely things. (Which, you might realize, is one of the reasons I do it.)

The Castellucci Shade is a reboot of the '90s Shade, mostly written by Peter Milligan and drawn by Chris Bachalo (and which I also re-read part of two years ago), which was itself a comprehensive reboot of the original series from the '60s by Steve Ditko (which I have never read, and which I doubt anyone younger than me has read for pleasure any time in the past forty years).

That's a lot of boots up the ass of a comic about a wacky guy in a silly costume fighting crime, but, hey, corporate comics, amirite? If you own an asset, you want to leverage that asset every last chance you can get. And so as long as there's a thing called DC Comics -- and don't think I'm claiming that's necessarily all that much longer; I can read tea-leaves as well as anyone -- they will keep pumping out books like this, in hopes some old crap they own will make them some new money.

And it may be good, who knows! I liked a lot of things about the first volume of the Castellucci Shade.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 7 by Ryan North, Erica Henderson, & Rico Renzi -- And last for this week is a series that ran a long time, and has finally ended, and which I enjoyed but read substantially after publication. So I'm still somewhere in the middle -- I think there are fourteen volumes, so maybe exactly in the middle -- but maybe this renewed burst of reading will see me through to the end of the stories about Doreen Green and her furry pals.

If not, not.

Anyway, here's what I wrote about the earlier books: one, two, three, four, five, six, and the obligatory OGN. (And I keep wanting to turn "OGN" into some early-90s rap thing, but I am far too white and suburban to even make a decent joke in that direction.)

[1] It was also the week where The Wife accidentally applied for a job at Chic-Fil-A and then thought the manager was from "Triple A" when he called, so it's more than normally sitcom-wacky in my household the past few days.

No, seriously: both of those are things that happened in the last few days right in front of me. If I start hearing a laugh track, it won't even surprise me.