Friday, December 31, 2021

Quote of the Week: Summer's Lease

It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves at the back of my neck constrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay my finger on the moment it ended, can never cut through the ambiguities and second starts and broken resolves to the exact place on the page where the heroine is no longer as optimistic as she once was. When I first saw New York I was twenty, and it was summertime, and I got off a DC-7 at the old Idlewild temporary terminal, and the warm air smelled of mildew and some instinct, programmed by all the movies I had ever seen and all the songs I had ever heard sung and all the stories I had ever read about New York, informed me that it would never be quite the same again. In fact it never was. Some time later there was a song on all the jukeboxes on the upper East Side that went "but where is the schoolgirl who used to be me," and if it was late enough at night I used to wonder that. I know now that almost everyone wonders something like that, sooner or later and no matter what he or she is doing, but one of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before.

 - Joan Didion, "Goodbye to All That," in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, p.168

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Sex Criminals, Vol. 6: Six Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

So I'm a year late here: I was going to point out that this series took longer to complete than I expected, and so I was not as invested in this book as I could have been. But one whole year of the delay is on me, so mentioning that a comic that started in September 2013 and only ran thirty-one issues probably shouldn't have taken seven years might not come across well.

Or maybe I'll passive-aggressively say I'm not going to do that. Pointless passive-aggression is pretty on-brand for a discussion of Sex Criminals, right?

Anyway, Six Criminals is the sixth and last collection of the comic: it includes the final story arc (well, the five issues in which the story ends; it was all one "arc," basically) and the fantabulous extra issue #69, in which two minor characters have a destination wedding a few years later and all of the surviving characters show up to celebrate and bounce off each other one last time in a vastly lower-stakes way. Like the rest of the series, it was written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Chip Zdarsky. (See my post for volume five, or drop back to the first one if you have no idea about the series.)

(Consumer Note: references to this book say it contains issues #26-69, which is technically true but deeply misleading. They mean issues #26-30 and #69. There is nothing in between.)

My reaction to it was pretty muted, and I'm trying to figure out why. Maybe I waited too long, and the previous volumes had gotten fuzzy in memory. Maybe I was secretly hoping for the Big Ending to go a different way - though I think it works just fine, is constructed well, entirely fits the characters as we know them, and is satisfying. Maybe it's just me.

This book does fulfill the promises of the previous collection, where all of the sex-powered people we'd met join forces and start talking about taking down the big bad, a probably borderline-sociopathic business magnate who, we learn in this book, has been stealing all of Our Heroes' precious bodily fluids (well, energy) in order to power what he hopes is a time machine. Yes, that's very weird: Sex Criminals has kept digging new levels of weird from the initial some-people-freeze-time-when-they-come premise, as it finds new possibilities for sex-based superpowers.

(Sidebar: Say, do you think Sex Criminals was originally pitched as "Chew, but about fucking"? If not, why not?)

There is a reasonably happy ending for the world in general, if not for Suze and Jon's relationship, which has looked intermittently doomed the entire length of the series. (Jon in particular has never been the most stable of people.) In the end, it's still basically Suze's story, as it started out, though focus wanders around among the rest of the cast, as it must when you have that many people. That part is very realistic, and I appreciated it: so many stories, in comics and out of it, slam the two main characters together at the end even if that's an inherently bad idea.

I bet this all reads better if you run through it all relatively quickly; I read the first volume back in 2014 and have never re-read older issues before hitting new ones. It's all good stuff, and adult in both the under-the-counter (it's about sex! you see nudity and sexual stuff on the page!) and the grown-up (people have relationships that grow and change! those relationships are often weird or nonstandard!) ways. It's definitely worth reading, if you are old enough to do so legally in your jurisdiction.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Saturday and Sunday, Vol. 1: Rock Heaven by Fabien Vehlmann & Gwen De Donneval

I don't want to be reductive here. (Well, maybe I do.) But it certainly seems to be that the central theme of European comics for younger readers is "what it the point of life, and how can you find the right path?" while the central theme of US comics for young readers is either (Big Two) "hitting people is how you solve problems" or (the YA world) "you are a unique special snowflake, and will have to overcome whatever horrible thing happened to you that you had no control over."

And the European version just feels more appealing and positive.

Is it just me? Maybe it's just me.

That popped into my head while reading Saturday and Sunday, Vol. 1: Rock Heaven, which collects the first fifty pages, more or less, of a series of stories from younger readers by the French creators Fabien Vehlmann and Gwen De Bonneval.

Saturday and Sunday are two little lizard guys, who live on a beach somewhere, part of an atoll. They're fishing one day when Saturday starts wondering why they're there, and how they got there. Turns out their memories are vague, so they're not entirely sure. So they decide to explore the atoll and see if they can figure out where they came from and what they should do next.

That's what I mean: this book is explicitly about "what is the aim of life?" Somewhat in the general, philosophical sense, but even more in the concrete, what should these guys do sense. And since this is a book for younger readers, they do find things to do along the way, and you might guess where all of their journeying takes them in the end.

It's not dumbed-down; the language is relatively sophisticated though the concepts are pretty much Ontology 101, the stuff that every bright person either discovers early or independently re-invents. That's exactly right for a book like this, which will be the introduction of these concepts to most of its readers. Why are we here? What should we be doing? What comes after this? All of those are explicitly part of the conversation here.

That may sound like spinach, but it's not: these are just two guys wandering about, talking to people, learning new things, and trying to figure out where they came from and what they should do. They find things to do everywhere: some positive, some that they need to get away from quickly. And they're fun characters to follow on that journey, like a European Frog and Toad.

The last time I read a book by Vehlman and De Bonneval (who is male, by the way: I don't hit his work often enough not to be surprised by that every time) it was the also somewhat philosophical but more clearly adult Last Days of an Immortal, seven years ago. It should probably be more often than that, but in my defense Euro-comics are published in odd and quirky ways these days, digital-only a lot of the time.

But there are more Saturday and Sunday books; I'll have to check those out.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

A Shining Beacon by James Albon

In some world that is not precisely our own - maybe the near future, maybe an alternate present - an island nation has an autocratic, near-fascist government. There is, of course, a revolutionary group aiming to overthrow that regime, which includes violent activities.

It is not the UK, exactly. But it is very much like the UK, more than it's like any other nation on earth.

The regime is building a major public-works project in the capital: a large sports facility with a huge swimming pool at its center. And the Department of Culture needs to find an artist to paint a giant mural over that pool. The mural must be uplifting but not political, lovely but not challenging, colorful but not incorporating any imagery or ideas from the rebels or anyone else hostile to the regime, artistically powerful but without any deep or hidden messages, and entirely approved by various top ministers.

This is of course impossible. It's also demanded, and must happen.

Functionaries at the Department of Culture, after several metropolitan candidates are rejected, settle on Francesca Saxon, a youngish woman from the North of the country, an artist with a relatively provincial career so far and no hint of the wrong politics. She is summoned to the capital and set up in a luxury hotel to create that mural. She never applied for the job, or really had a moment to decline it.

She might perhaps have preferred to return home and work in her own studio, but those are not the regime's plans. And the whole point of autocracy is that it demands everything conforms to its plans, even if those plans change instantly.

Francesca's mural, or perhaps the sports centre in general, is meant to be A Shining Beacon for the entire nation; that phrase repeats throughout the graphic novel, and clearly was originated by some very high power in the autocracy.

We don't know who that was; we don't get names for most of the characters and we never see or understand the top level of this government. Instead, people are known by their function - minster of this, secretary of that - or seen doing what they do. If there is a dictator or politburo over it all, we know nothing of that.

The rebels place someone close to Francesca; she doesn't realize this for a long time. The rebels perhaps have a strong case against the regime - it is brutal and repressive and murderous - but they are no better themselves, and it's not clear that this nation would be any better if they were to seize power.

Francesca struggles to make the mural the government demands, as their demands shift almost daily and every one of her sketches is found deficient in some new way. Rebel imagery crops up in some of those sketches as Francesca becomes more frustrated by her gilded cage, and she evades her armed government minder more and more often. She also comes to know that minder better on a personal level along the way; her frustration in being guarded by him is mirrored by his frustration in how she makes his work harder by sneaking away. And this regime is not kind to people who fail it, whether that failure is related to making art or guarding artists.

It all ends in violence and destruction, as always happens in a repressive regime: violence is the tool those regimes know best, and the best tool their enemies have against them.

James Albon tells this story calmly, straightforwardly, in watercolors highlighted by bright, almost day-glo colors on darker backgrounds - Francesca's blonde hair in particular pops in every panel she appears. His lettering is organic, the slightest bit rough, an unexpected touch for a book so driven by dialogue. His camera flies in and out from panel to panel, to share focus between the architecture and the people: both are equally important here.

It comes across something like a historical document: A Shining Beacon reads a bit like the chronicles of something that happened, not that long ago, in a nation not far away from our own. There is an inevitability to all of its plot twists; this is how it all had to happen, and how it would always happen.

It is both not a political book and deeply a political book. It makes no specific points, and never names the ideology of the regime. But then, regimes like this have the same core ideology anyway, no matter what their public statements say. It's all about holding onto power, nothing more. Albon, I think, would not characterize it as a warning about anything: that's not what A Shining Beacon does. It is a story, about one person in an impossible situation, and how she tries to navigate it and eventually sees how impossible it always was.

It does that very well. It may have lessons for those who engage deeply with it. And it may have warnings to those of us who see aspects of Albon's fictional regime in our own nations.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/25/21

For Christmas, I got some books I've already mentioned (not all of those: just the ones that were basically new). I also got a box this week that did not get wrapped up, because there was already enough stuff for me under the tree.

But these are things I bought from the Fantagraphics sale around Thanksgiving (I forget if it was officially a "Black Friday" or "Cyber Monday" sale), expecting that they would be Xmas presents for myself, before those other books lapped them in between.

No One Else - a new short graphic novel from R. Kikuo Johnson, author of Night Fisher. That book was from 2005, and I think this is Johnson's first since then.

Good Night, Hem - the new graphic novel from the Norwegian cartoonist who goes by "Jason," making his work nearly un-Googleable. This looks to be a historical story about Hemingway in Paris in the 1920s, though, knowing Jason, there could also be aliens or time-travel or just a lot of punching.

Patience - Daniel Clowes's last big GN, which is a few years old at this point. I like Clowes's stuff without loving it, and that may be why it's taken me this long to get what is a pretty big (expensive) book.

Monsters - this is from Barry Windsor-Smith, and apparently he's been working on it, on-and-off, for three decades. That is not necessarily a recipe for a better book, but the reports have been good so far, and BWS's art looks lovely as usual. (Well, "lovely" may be the wrong word for a book called Monsters that seems to be filled with ugly faces. But you know what I mean.)

And last is Farewell, Brindavoine - this is by Jacques Tardi, and I understand it's pretty early in his career. Maybe his first big success? Maybe his first solo book? Something relatively early and important, I think. And recently republished in a new American edition, probably with a new translation.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

What Fresh Hell Is This?

So, right now, as I'm trying to find a book-cover image for the post I'm writing, I discovered that Google image search, within the Chrome contextual menu, has been replaced by something called Google Lens.

Google image search is a useful tool, that lets a user find similar images to a reference - larger, smaller, sometimes in foreign languages, and so on. It does something specific and does it well.

Google Lens....I have no idea what it's trying to do. It seems to be some vaguely AI-driven tool that finds "similar" things. Maybe similar art styles? Maybe something with similar metatagging? I do know that it fails at finding "this same image, but larger," which is what I was trying to do. Lens seems to be a phone thing, so it's not terribly useful in Chrome on a desktop to begin with.

Google: I've come to accept that you will murder useful functionality all of the time, and sunset all of the tools that are actually of value to me. But can you at least not directly replace those things with a horrible parody of the same thing?

Friday, December 24, 2021

Quote of the Week: Aftermath

The three men rode out of the mission later that day, on three horses that didn't have names. Before they left, they set the church on fire. It wasn't much, but it was something.

The Kid and the Conjurer still looked a little woozy. They swayed in the saddles, this way and that. But it would pass, the Stranger thought. Most things did, sooner or later.

 - Lavie Tidhar, The Escapement, p.192

Thursday, December 23, 2021

It Will All Hurt by Farel Dalrymple

We expect books to be linear: to start from Point A and get us to Point Z, hitting the other letters in between. Not all books do that, obviously: some start on Y and flash back extensively, some start at both A and N to tell two-track stories, some start at Z and run in reverse gear towards A.

Farel Dalrymple's It Will All Hurt starts at about Q and runs through Xi and Alef, among other less-definable places, ending with Omega. Now, that's largely because it's told in a near-sketchbook fashion: many of the pages here are laid out in a conventional way, but some of them just barely so, and there's a lot of "here's the characters, with bullet-point notes to myself about who they are and what's important," and transitions are either lamp-shaded by captions ("Howdy, I'm your narrator: a talking cat!") or smash-cuts between completely different scenes. [1] It has a large cast, all of whom seem to have a lot of background and details that are clear in Dalrymple's head but which never makes it near the page - thus the jumping around different alphabets, as if we're getting pieces of a dozen stories focused on the one event where they all cross.

Even the cover makes it look like a random Moleskine; Dalrymple clearly knows this is how the book is coming across and wants to make that clear.

And I don't quite get the title: it's a bit too grad-school-novel for this story of kid heroes ganging up to defeat the evil Red Wizard in what seems to be the post-apocalyptic world Dalrymple first created for The Wrenchies. Their opponent is pure evil, as the book keeps telling us: he does have a fiendish monologue, admittedly, but we don't see him do much, and the kids are largely problematic murder-hoboes themselves. So that sentiment is either a facile "fighting evil is tough, and be careful lest ye not become monsters yadda yadda" or a second-hand "life is pain, princess; anyone who says otherwise is selling something." Either way, it doesn't feel earned by the material.

Anyway, there's a whole bunch of these kids, who slowly gather. Robot Tod, Leon Fireglove, Hawk Daughter, Bee 3000, Blam Dabit, Gato Gris (our cat narrator), a few more. An alien astronaut, who as an adult isn't really part of the gang and doesn't get a name. Their leader, or the central character at least, is a girl from our world - referred to that way here, not "the world before the apocalypse" or "the past" - named Clementine Almendra. They all have weird powers, and Dalrymple shows those powers in action and occasionally has those little bullet-points on a sketchy page to explain, for example, what's the deal with Leon. (He's cursed, for one thing, but he seems to have about five other deals on top of that.)

Their scenes are separate, but they do start to gather in clumps. They have quick adventures, fighting things and traveling across this broken landscape. Meanwhile, the Red Wizard has scenes in which he also fights things, and we're told he's the villain. He doesn't start monologuing until he meets the kids; he doesn't seem any worse than anyone else in the book when Dalrymple tells us he's the baddie.

There is a big fight. It ends as we expect it will, and the gang breaks up again. There's a weird underlying feeling that It Will All Hurt is a Dalrymple-verse version of a big comics event crossover; as if they all had their own books and return to them after spending this time with the Beyonder or the Anti-Monitor or whatever.

I liked all of the pages of It Will All Hurt without engaging deeply with it at any point. It does feel like the pieces that could be turned into a story more than that actual final story, but I think that was the way Dalrymple wanted to do it: open, free-form, loose-limbed, expansive rather than closed off. It is successful at what it aims to do, but what it aims to do is quirky and likely not that popular.

The Wrenchies was quirky; this ramps that up a couple of orders of magnitude. I think Dalrymple has done more conventional comics as well recently - this was originally serialized on the web, and a couple of references to "new panels" makes clear who it was conceived and perceived - so maybe I'll take a look at those. Dalrymple's art is interesting; he's particularly good at empty space on a page. His characters are specific people, even when we only get partial views of them, as here. I can't quite recommend this except to people who really like experimental comics, but I can recommend Dalrymple in general: he does odd, quirky stuff and is someone to keep an eye on.


[1] There's also a lot of ancillary matter in this book, which all seems to be sketchbook pages: the story ends almost thirty pages before the end of the book, and there's at least a half-dozen similar pages at the beginning of each of the individual issues collected here. Extracting just the story pages could cut It Will All Hurt down to about half its length.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Celebrated Summer by Charles Forsman

I didn't plan to read Charles Forsman's comics backwards.

I found I Am Not Okay With This a few years back, and was really impressed by it. Later that year, I read his The End of the Fucking World, at the time his most famous book. There's been TV series of both of those since then, so I'm not sure which is the zingier in the Zeitgeist.

He might have had new work since then, but it's not reflected on Wikipedia, and everything I haven't seen yet is self-published, which means it's more of a pain to find. Don't get the idea I'm against creators taking control of the means of production! But if the only way I can get a book is to go to the guy's table at Comic Arts West Bumfuck and pay cash, I am much less likely to ever see it.

The digital system my library uses does have Forsman's 2014 book Celebrated Summer available, which I think was created before TEOTFW but broadly published later. So I read that.

It's another book about restless, disaffected teenagers: I expect Forsman will need to find another set of protagonists eventually (he's turning 40 next year; that might be the time), but he's good at it, and it clearly comes for a place of real knowledge. Celebrated Summer might even be non-fiction, or close to it: it's about two boys, one of whom either is the young Forsman or modeled so closely on him as to make no difference. That's "Wolf," the larger, lumbering one of the duo - the whippier, more talkative guy is Mike.

This is not the story of a summer. It's not the story of their whole lives. It takes place within about twenty-four hours, mostly on one day off during the summer: both of them are about 17-18, I guess: Wolf has just graduated highschool and Mike apparently has not. They're both still stuck in that mode of life. They decide to drop a couple of tabs of acid each, and wander around and talk while waiting for it to hit them...and then afterward.

(They do take a long drive in the car while under the effects of the LSD, which I suppose I'm expected to condemn as a responsible adult. OK.)

It's a book about the cadence of their conversation, about what two teen boys deep in Pennsylvania (Forsman grew up in Mechanicsburg, in the southwest distribution-center belt of the state [1]) do when they don't have anything to do, and, maybe, don't really want to do much of anything.

I don't know if all of us were once kids like that. There are probably some grinds out there who knew exactly what they wanted from the time the obstetrician smacked their asses, and were working in that direction every second afterward. I was like this, at least some of the time: less drugs, more aimless wandering. But not that different.

Forsman is good at the rhythms of the conversation of people like that, about that time of life. His line is clean, mostly thin, with some crosshatching for dark areas but a lot of white space. His people have big cartoony faces with dot eyes, especially Wolf.

This is a quiet book, without the genre elements of his larger, later serialized works. No one here has psychic powers or goes on a cross-country murder spree. They're just two young guys, like any other two young guys anywhere in the US, trying to get through a day and find something interesting to do. That's enough. Real life, when depicted closely and clearly, will always be enough


[1] When I worked in publishing, my company's big warehouse was in Mechanicsburg, and I was always not quite qualified for the big annual trip out there to see the facilities. Later, we merged with a company that had a warehouse in the neighboring town of Camp Hill. I never got to that one, either.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash by Dave McKean

You know what's weird? Reading a book about an artist with no examples of that artist's work - but pages filled with art by somebody else. It might be inherent in the form - a graphic novel about an artist who's been dead about seventy years - but it's still weird.

It would be fine if the artist the book was about was someone world-famous - someone's whose style was instant recognizable, and could be called to mind by any of us. Oh, it would still be at least a little weird to have a book all about an artist with art by someone else, but it would be the kind of weird that happens every day.

Paul Nash, though, is not world-famous. He was a British gallery painter in the first half of the 20th century, formed strongly by his fighting in the Great War, and noted as a surrealist for the rest of his life. Art historians know him, devotees know him, probably a lot of museum-goers do - but he's no Picasso or Monet or even Turner, to live in the minds of millions every day.

All that hit me, as I got to the end of Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash, a 2016 graphic novel by Dave McKean. I realized I really didn't know what Paul Nash's art looked like. I now knew how McKean drew Nash, and how McKean interpreted Nash's life, but not what an actual Nash painting looked like. If you're in a similar situation, the Tate (I assume the London museum) has a Paul Nash page with some of his art, a potted bio, and other details.

Unsurprisingly, he looks to my post-Black Dog eye a lot like a Dave McKean precursor, angular figures (very occasionally) in muted landscapes filled with heaped objects. His work, from the little I've seen now, is awfully quiet and still for what I'm told is a war artist: Nash's stuff looks almost frozen to me, pictures in which usually nothing is moving and often it looks like nothing will ever move.

I have no idea what Dave McKean sees in Nash's work: I assume entirely different things, since that's how art works.

Black Dog is a biographical story: it doesn't tell Nash's whole life, or even the whole of his service in the war. Instead, it focuses on a recurring series of dreams he had, about a black dog, starting in childhood and ending around the end of the war. This is a book about the war, but mostly elliptically: not the flow of lives in the war, or the mass deaths, or stories of fighting, or troop movements, but individual, small moments, mostly as remembered afterward. The thoughts of someone who survived the war. But then all stories are from those who survived their wars.

I wanted to read this because I'm a fan of McKean. I missed it for five years because I suspected it was mostly for people who already knew Nash, or at least more about the Great War art scene in the UK. I was not wrong: this book was commissioned by a festival and by a project to commemorate the war a century later; it's a book by one person for his own reasons, but it's also a work of public art for a public purpose, made as part of public commemorations.

Many of McKean's characters are ciphers; Nash is another one of them. We do get some answers, but much of what we see in his dreams is strange and inexplicable because they are dreams. So the more you know about Nash, and the war, and the UK at the time going in to this book, the better.

This is a fine thing to exist, but it is a bit chilly and a bit official, like so much public art is. It can't shake the fact that it was commissioned, that it has a place in the world because of arts bureaucracy and a rollover of the calendar. If, like me, you knew nothing about Paul Nash going into this book, you won't get all that much out of it.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Reading Into the Past: Week of 12/20/99

Some weeks, I get new books, and write about them here for a Monday morning. When I don't have anything new to mention, I write about old books instead, digging into my reading notebooks to see what I was reading "this week" sometime during the stretch when I was keeping track of books read but not cataloging those books in this blog. (That's roughly 1991 to 2007.)

This week, it's Option Two, and the year I'm heading back to is 1999:

Gregory Benford, Eater (bound galleys, 12/12)

I read this for work (I was Senior Editor at the SF Book Club at the time), and I'm pretty sure I bought it for work. I feel like I've only read Benford's more straightforward books - not the wide-scale, galaxy-spanning crazy-hair stuff, just the more near-future, serious-science books. (And I wonder how that happened, since my personal inclination is very much the other way.) This one is about a wandering black hole that comes into the solar system and turns out to be intelligent, or inhabited, or something like that -- I forget the exact details twenty years later. I think there was a lot of "political leaders argue about what to do," which is the failure mode for a lot of Hard SF: that's what would happen in most Hard SF situations, but it's deadly boring to read about.

Frankly, I have more memory of the packaging of this book than the story. Avon was experimenting with what I thought of as "non-SF" look for a lot of their books: usually small-format hardcovers, design-y covers without SFnal art. It wasn't trying to look like literary fiction, which is the usual thing - it was, I think, trying to make an entirely different visual identity for a certain kind of SF. I don't think it worked, in the end, but it was really interesting to watch them try.

James Lee Burke, Heartswood (12/14)

I thought this was a Dave Robicheaux book, since I read all of them up to about this point, but I'm wrong: this is from another, loosely related series about Billy Bob Holland, a defense attorney in Texas (not a on-and-off police detective in Louisiana like Robicheaux). I remember absolutely nothing about Billy Bob, not even that I read any books about him. I do have vague memories of Dave: he was an alcoholic, and some of the books about him walked the line between delirium tremens and magic realism in a really exciting way. (I want to say In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead is the high point there, but my memory is not reliable.)

Billy Bob's books, as far as I can see, are more conventional than Dave's; that may be why I read fewer of them, as I slowed radically down on reading mysteries. The Dave books came closer to the borders of the kinds of genres I was still reading a lot of, so they stayed in the mix longer.

Linda Barnes, Flashpoint (12/16)

The title makes me think of the DC Comics crossover (which I never read), and that doesn't help bring this book to mind. This was a mystery novel, in a series about Boston PI (and cab driver, I think) Carlotta Carlyle, and I don't remember the details of this story. It was fairly new at the time; I probably got it through work.

Fred R. Shapiro, Stumpers! (12/17)

Stumpers-L was an internet group, made up of mostly reference librarians, that answered weird and hard-to-research questions for each other. Basically, some patron would ask how much German potato salad would be needed to fill Death Valley to sea level, or what was the name of Genghis Khan's third-favorite horse's sire, or something equally random, and it would get posted to that list, and someone would be able to give an answer.

The group became a book, as all things on the Internet - especially the early Internet - turned into books. This is that book; it was published in 1998 and covered queries from the previous six years.

It's sad and amusing to look back at what the Internet was and could have been before social media and commerce colonized it for all of the worst impulses of  mankind: this was the kind of thing we thought there would be a lot more of. Sadly, more people want to have their prejudices validated and to buy junk than to learn the truth about anything.

The Stumpers-L site now gives a "could not be found" error. Of course.  

James Frenkel, ed., Technohorror (12/18)

I'm pretty sure this was a reprint anthology of SFnal horror stories (or horrifying SF stories, depending on how you want to spin it). I read a lot of random anthologies in those days, because, although we said then that anthologies didn't sell, they sold better then than they do now. (Though less well than they had a decade before, and so on back to the early days of SF.)

According to ISFDB, it has 16 stories, including "Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes," "The Veldt," "That Hell-Bound Train," and "Descending." Looking at the TOC there, it's pretty much exactly the horror SF anthology you'd create in about 1999 if you had the budget and a bend towards the classic. It's more of a '60s-'70s-'80s anthology than something really current at publication date, but it looks really solid for that era even now.

Cathy Fenner and Arnie Fenner, eds., Spectrum 6 (12/19)

I definitely can't remember which pieces of art were in this one. I eagerly grabbed each of these annuals for nearly twenty years - for a few years after I left the SFBC, since I had a vain hope for a while that I could get back into the SF field. (You can never get back. Once out, there's no way back in.) I'm sure this was an awesome book: all of them were. This was a series of the best fantastic art across a wide variety of areas: advertising art, books, movies, and so on. They might still be awesome books; I'm not sure if they're still coming out. 

Friday, December 17, 2021

Quote of the Week: They Were All in Love with Dyin'

Long story short: I was secretly looking forward to the gun range experience. One of the big drawbacks with being left wing is that you aren't supposed to want to blow shit up, which is purely unnatural in any full-blooded Texas male. My feeling is, if you're a James Taylor/Simon and Garfunkel liberal, you definitely aren't allowed to pick up a gun, but those of us in the Sex Pistols/Butthole Surfers crowd get a little more leeway for random acts of violence.

 - Sean Stewart, Perfect Circle, p.86

Thursday, December 16, 2021

No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant

Comics memoirs don't have to be about something life-shattering that happened when you were younger. It just seems that way sometimes. And, to be honest, any book should be about something important: one old piece of fiction-writing advice is that a story should be about the most important thing that ever happened to that person. [1]

Of course, not everyone has a father who survived the Holocaust, or fled their birth country when very young because of upheavals, or was unable to speak for months at a time, or had a major intestinal condition as a middle-schooler, or...so on. But everyone's life was changed, at least once. So everyone has at least that one story to tell.

Hazel Newlevant is a relatively young cartoonist, about a decade into their career. No Ivy League was their new graphic novel for 2019; my sense is this was a bigger book, maybe more of a breakout book, than Newlevant's previous work. I could easily be wrong: but the "Comics" page on Newlevant's site seems to mostly have shorter pieces. My sense is that cartoonists list all of their work until the list gets too long, and then prune down to book-length works and either just "Shorter Stories" or a couple of categories of those shorter pieces.

This is a story about a seventeen-year-old named Hazel. From the afterword, it's based on Newlevant's real life, with details changed for everyone else (like so many memoirs). Now, I want to apologize if I screw up pronouns from here on: Newlevant's site describes theirself as transmaculine and uses they/them pronouns, but the Hazel in the book presents as female and uses she/her. This is not a transition story: it's a story about a person who later transitioned, and I'm going to try to be precise in talking about Hazel (the seventeen-year-old character in the memoir) and Newlevant (the decade-older person who made the story).

Hazel is a high-achieving homeschooled kid in Portland, Oregon. She seems to be an only child, the kind whose parents poured everything they ever wanted into her upbringing, and that's the kind of homeschooling she had: the regular-schools-aren't-good-enough-for-my-awesome-child kind, not the keep-my-brood-away-from-secular-temptations kind. She has a small group of other homeschooled kids she hangs and works with regularly; they're making videos for a national contest to promote homeschooling with the hope of using that money to go on a road trip the coming fall to see the band Guster in concert.

Another making-money scheme is a summer job: Hazel gets hired into No Ivy League, a youth group that will spend the summer removing invasive ivy from Forest Park, a gigantic semi-wild area in the city. There she's thrown in with a large group of other kids her age for what may be the first time in a long time: certainly the most mixed group that she's ben part of, in race and background and outlook and life experience.

The bulk of the book is about Hazel's time with that group, for good and bad. She learns to play ultimate frisbee and gets sexually harassed; she works hard and has to deal with people very unlike those she's used to. There's no one lesson, no one big thing - she does get sexually harassed, but just once, briefly, and she reports it. The aftermath is messier, since it leads to her harasser being kicked out of the program, and everyone knows it was because of her.

(This is also mildly parallel to a very inappropriate flirting that Hazel carries on - one-sidedly, only from her - with one of the adult leaders. She says things to that leader arguably as bad as what was said to her, and does it over a longer period of time.)

The biggest piece of the experience is Hazel realizing how insulated homeschooling has made her, and how it's intertwined with her privilege. Like the grind she is, she tries to fix the situation by reading a bunch of books and learning better. (It's not the worst reaction, certainly! Frankly, it might be about the best possible one.)

No Ivy League is not about A Problem in the way so many memoirs are - or, if it is, the "problem" is vastly larger and ubiquitous. Hazel can't solve the problem, and it's not her problem the way it usually is in comics memoirs. She can learn more, and understand better, but all of her vegan living and good intentions won't change that most of No Ivy League is made up of "at-risk youth," and all of the ways that's coded, and all of the ways all of those kids have not been set up to succeed a tenth of the way she has.

Hazel does learn; she does do better. And one hopes the reader learns alongside her. I'm pretty sure that's why Newlevant chose this story to tell: it's a story about a young person learning more, and doing better. My sense is that No Ivy League is aimed at people like Hazel - young, well-meaning, probably more privileged than they realize, and in need of something to make them pop their heads up and look around.

Newlevant tells that story in a mostly quiet, naturalistic way. Their lettering is softly rounded, the art is watercolor but mostly in shades of greenish gray, the people are a little bit cartoony but their surroundings are precise and real. This is not a story that will hit you over the head; it will creep around the sides until you're right in the middle of it without realizing. Even if you're not a privileged seventeen-year-old, No Ivy League has a lot to offer.


[1] It's not perfect advice, obviously - what about series characters? But it's good new-creator advice, to focus on stories that really matter to your characters. And "your characters" are "you" for the autobio cartoonist.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Alternate Routes by Tim Powers

I missed this one, somehow. I've been a big Tim Powers fan - Stress of Her Regard was the first book I read new, I think, so I probably discovered him in the mid-'80s, highschool or college days - but I'm out of the loop this decade and his most recent books are coming out from Baen, of all places.

So I happened to notice recently that he had a two-book series - Alternate Routes, from 2018, and last year's Forced Perspectives - that seemed to be contemporary fantasy novels about cops in LA. (That's not exactly right, though the two main characters were, or maybe still are, in law enforcement, in odd Powersian ways.) They were shorter books than his usual, and came out more quickly than he usually does, which sound like good things from a reader's point of view.

Alternate Routes is a Tim Powers novel, with all of the expected ingredients: regret, broken lives, Catholicism, fantasy elements that are grounded and often unpleasant, something going badly wrong and a few damaged people who are in a position to fix it. I tend to think his historical books are weightier than his contemporaries: maybe it's that they take that much more out of him, in research and construction to make all of the tiny bits of history line up with his inventions. This is a contemporary novel, like its predecessor Medusa's Web and his '90s novels; like those, it's set in Los Angeles.

Sebastian Vickery was an LA cop turned Secret Service agent, until he accidentally heard something he shouldn't have and a secretive government agency tried to kill him. That was a few years ago; he's been hiding, off the grid, since then. He works as a driver for a woman with a collection of businesses that seem to be mostly technically legal but also largely caught up in the secrets of the ghosts generated by deaths on freeways.

Ingrid Castine works for the same agency that nearly killed Vickery, the Transportation Utility Agency (TUA), headed locally by a brilliant scholar who renamed himself Terracotta. Terracotta is clearly both just barely sane and intensely searching for some transformation/exaltation that is not exactly the goal of the larger TUA. Much of Castine's work is interrogating "deleted persons" (the TUA calls them that; others call them ghosts).

The book opens with the TUA finding Vickery, and trying to kill him again. Castine does not go along with it; she ends up on the run with Vickery. At first, the goal is to get her connected back to whatever of her old life she can continue; then, to help her make a new life off the grid. In the end, they have to save the world, from Terracotta and from the supernatural entity that has subsumed Terracotta. There's a lot of running around LA before then, a number of other interesting characters and quirky Powersian fantastic ideas, and more than one visit to the Labyrinth: the other side, the place where deleted persons live, what you might call Hell or Sheol or Purgatory or the land of shades.

It's all Powersian, but in a lighter way than usual. It almost reads like a treatment for a movie, or TV series, that would be "like Tim Powers, but not as weird." That's a criticism, I suppose: what's best about Powers is his depth and specificity and quirk and detail, and the thriller hugger-mugger of Alternate Routes, combined with its relative brevity, leave less room for that, and less room for detailed character development. Vickery is a damaged middle-aged Catholic man, as a Powers hero inevitably will be, but he's mostly a cipher otherwise, those bits of damage serving to be his personality. Castine is even less specific: a spunky, tough female cop who really needs a few more details to make her a fully rounded person.

So this is a bit disappointing. It has a Powers flavor, but more superficially than Powers fans want. I'll probably come back for the second book about these two, to see if there's some more depth there. But Powers embarking explicitly on a series does not seem, to my mind, to work to his strengths, so I'm not holding high hopes.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Asadora!, Vol. 1 by Naoki Urasawa

Manga have different paces than Western comics. The traditional take is that they're slower, but that's not always true - manga, in my experience, tend to start slower, and tend to have more pages available for any given story, but they can run at a breakneck pace once you're deep enough into the story and everything is set up.

So I try not to use the same criteria for manga as for superhero comics (or this-bad-thing-happened autobio stories, or YA dramas, or any of the other semi-discrete genres of American comics). Of course that begs the question: what criteria do I use for manga? Do I have enough knowledge of manga, and of specific manga-ka, to do that well?

Probably not. Let me stick a pin in that up top here. My reading in manga has been scattered and random, especially recently: I haven't read most of the big famous series (except Naruto, which I got through most of) and my interests tend to the quirky independent artists on that side of the world just as much as on this one.

And, for right now: I've read the first volume of Naoki Urasawa's Pluto twice, several years apart, and the second volume once, and I think a batch of Pineapple Army back in the '80s in the first manga boom. But that's about it.

Well, and now the first volume of Asadora!, which I gather is his still-current project. This first volume was published in Japan in 2019 (following serialization somewhere, I assume, but the book doesn't say so) and this English translation (by John Werry) came out at the beginning of this year. Five volumes have been published so far, and it doesn't seem to be done.

My sense is that it's going to be episodic: the story will cover several periods in one woman's life. My guess is that each of those episodes will be about a crisis, or an at least local apocalypse.

The evidence for that: the opening pages of this book show a city in flames, with the usual people fleeing in terror. Over that scene is the tonally distinct gigantic caption "This is the story of a nameless girl...and the fearless, graceful life she led...from the postwar years...to the present day." (Which sounds like a weird Jackie O biopic, or maybe an arch Givenchy ad.) And the second storyline seems to mostly be set during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

This book, though, is set in 1959, when a typhoon hit Nagoya. The girl on the cover is Asa - just Asa, in the book; I have no idea if "Asadora" is a longer version of her name here, something she will take up later, a diminutive, or something else - and she's twelve, the forgotten sibling in a big family of nine. (Nine as of shortly into the this book: her mother is in labor as the action starts.)

She is a spunky girl, of the type known throughout all kinds of fiction around the world: loud and pushy but lovable about it, honest and straightforward and entirely devoted to doing the right thing.

And the story is almost entirely about her: first she talks with a boy about her age, who is being groomed by his obnoxious family to compete as a runner in the aforementioned Olympics, and then Asa is mildly kidnapped for identity-confusion reasons. But most of the book is about her teaming up with the erstwhile kidnapper to help people in the aftermath of that typhoon, in ways that I expect will resonate and extend into those further episodes. (Airplanes. I'm expecting airplanes will be important to all of Asadora! Also, there is some kind of bull-horned Godzilla-sized thing that we will eventually see more clearly. Those are my predictions.)

As is often the case with manga first volumes, this is mostly set-up. Even this episode is not done yet, and there's a big cliffhanger at the end. We know Asa will live to "the present day" and have other adventures, but we wonder how SFnal this will get - so far it's just hints, but they're hints about something pretty darn gigantic and destructive.

So what we have is the character work and Urasawa's crisp art - which work well together; he defines characters well through their facial expressions and their body language. Urasawa's art is less "manga" than the image some readers may have: you do have to read Asadora! "backwards," but other than that, the panel-to-panel transitions and drawing conventions aren't obtrusive and should be easy to follow for Western readers.

Again, this is all beginning. But it's an interesting, promising beginning.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/11/21

For this palindromic date (well, Saturday was, and that's how I date these posts), I have a big bunch of graphic novels that I got from a big sale from one of those big Internet comics shops. I think the sale was Cyber Monday-themed; it was around that time.

Anyway, some or all of these will get wrapped up to be Christmas presents, because that's how it works when you get to my age: you buy the stuff you want and then get other people to wrap it up for you.

Little Nothings, Vol. 2: The Prisoner Syndrome by Lewis Trondheim - the second (of four that I've seen in English) collection of his autobiographical comics. I wrote about it back the first time I read it.

Little Nothings, Vol. 3: Uneasy Happiness by Lewis Trondheim - same as the above, but immediately afterward. I also wrote about this one about a decade ago.

Skyscrapers of the Midwest by Joshua W. Cotter - I remember thinking this was great, but I haven't re-read it in a long time and I don't think I've seen anything else by Cotter since. (I might not have been looking, though.) I wrote about this one as well.

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness by Peter Kuper - This is a graphic adaptation of the Conrad novel by Kuper, which is why there's a weird title.  (Rod Torfulson's Armada featuring Herman Menderchuck!) I'm not sure if that's weirder than the alternative: crediting the book equally to Conrad and Kuper, who lived a century apart and never met. There's also the "script by Shakespeare, additional dialogue by Sam Taylor" style, which is goofy in its own ways. Adaptations just lead to odd credits, I guess.

Alias the Cat! by Kim Deitch - One of his better books, as I remember it, filled with oddball old media and modern-day stories. I read it back in 2007, but just noted that in the very early days of this blog; I've never written about it at any length.


Steeple, Vol. 2
 by John Allison - I still have not read the first book, which I still need to find a copy of. But now I have the second one - I think as the third story is just finishing up in the webcomic, which I haven't read until I can get caught up. I've loved everything else Allison has done, especially in this universe, so I'm not worried about catching up.

Skreemer by Peter Milligan, Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon - I haven't read this in over twenty years, but I remember it being really impressive, from the era where Milligan was still a crazy icon-smashing Brit import rather than a relatively normal writer of Big Two comics. As I remember, it's a SF gangster epic with some literary ambition: isn't it loosely based on Finnegans Wake or something? Anyway, I'm planning to re-read it soon, now that I have a copy again.


Discipline
 by Dash Shaw - this is his new graphic novel, and I don't know a lot more about it than that. I feel like Shaw made a big splash about a decade ago, with Bottomless Belly Button, BodyWorld, and the pseudo-collection The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D. in quick succession, but has been quieter since then. Last thing I remember seeing from him was Cosplayers, which was pretty small. 

Return to Romance! is a collection of Ogden Whitney comics from the '50s and '60s (I think) edited by Dan Nadel and Frank Santoro. I know Whitney's work from the Herbie comic, which he only drew - I think this collection is comics he both wrote and drew. (Or maybe not: I'll find out.)

One Line by Ray Fawkes - I gather this is another in the line of his One Soul and The People Inside, somewhat formalist takes on using comics to tell multiple interlocking stories simultaneously. I was really impressed by the earlier two books - and, not for nothing, his Possessions series is also a hell of a lot of fun - so I'm back to see him do it again.

In by Will McPhail - a new graphic novel by a New Yorker cartoonist whose single-panel work I've liked. I don't know a lot about it: I gather it's contemporary, and probably some kind of comedy of manners.

A Treasury of Victorian Murder, Vol. 1 by Rick Geary - the original collection of short strips that grew into most of Geary's career for the last three decades. I notice that I wrote about this book just three years ago, so I suspect I may already have a copy of it. (I'm still all discombobulated from my 2011 flood: I'm never quite sure what I used to own and got destroyed, what I used to own and have bought again, what I bought since then, and what I never owned but read another way.)

Mr. Punch by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean - One of the great books of this generation, but, again, I see I wrote about it in 2016, so I might already have a copy of it lurking about somewhere.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Quote of the Week: It's Definitely You

Each of my relationships ended a little more quickly than the one before it. This pattern reached full bloom in July, when I cleaned out my apartment on West Fifty-Eighth Street, Manhattan, sold or gave away almost everything I had left after the divorce, and crammed everything that remained into a Ford station wagon that was in no better shape than I was. I drove to Buffalo, where I was to move in with a blameless young woman with whom I'd been keeping company.

When I pulled into her driveway, she came out to meet me, a mask of concern on her face. "I don't think this is going to work," she said.

"Now you tell me," I said.

 - Afterthoughts, Version 2.0, "Ariel," p.12

Thursday, December 09, 2021

Sports Is Hell by Ben Passmore

Somewhere there is a Super Bowl, between the Birds and Big White. Those seem to be the actual team names, not nicknames - this is a world where everything is a little more obvious, more extreme.

This is also a world where the Super Bowl is apparently played at the home team's stadium, because we see both the stadium with the game and the fans pouring out of it to riot in the streets, as of course sports fans must do when their teams win or lose.

At the same time -- on the evening of the Super Bowl? in the same town? -- there is also a big BLM protest, where at least some participants are looking forward to violence and burning down as much of the city as possible.

(I should say, before I go much farther, that I'm the wrong audience for this book in several ways: I don't care that much about sports, and my political leanings are not that close to creator Ben Passmore's burn-everything-down stance.)

The game ends, apparently with a win for the Birds, whose fans, at least as we see them here, are mostly Black. But there was a flag on that final play, and a blackout immediately hits this city - it's not clear why, but here are a couple of pages of big BOOM!s all around the neighborhood, so I'm going to guess some combination of incompetency on the part of authorities and bloodthirstiness on the part of random revolutionaries. (Both of those things are always fair bets in Passmore's work.)

And of course there's a riot, which we see raging across this business/sports district. (The action of Sports Is Hell doesn't take place in residential areas, except at the beginning to set up characters.)

All of this is narrated, off and on, by two sports announcers, presumably the guys broadcasting the game and who then just segued into doing the same for the ensuing battles of more-or-less organized militias and other armed groups of murderous thugs who claim to be sports fans. They have a lot of death and destruction to talk through, in best play-by-play fashion. They do not explicitly call it a race war, but Passmore possibly would: an awful lot of those militias, maybe even all of them, are aligned by race.

We follow a bunch of different people, all of whom are horrible in one way or another: clueless white would-be-protestors, a Black protestor devoted to nonviolence (which in Passmore's world is the sign of an idiot), a couple of Black anarchists, and a more organized and better armed Black militia group. Many of them die horribly over the course of the book, as do dozens of others - from the narration, it's pretty clear at least hundreds and possible thousands or tens of thousands are getting killed, mostly by gunfire from these various militias, over the course of this night. 

I don't think Sports Is Hell is meant to be a nihilistic book, but that's what I took away from it: that people are horrible and evil, only one minor moment away from mass murder, every last one of them. I do think Passmore intended to connect the violence in the streets with the violence of a football game, but it didn't really click for me. The game happens almost entirely off-page; the story is about non-athletes, who mostly seem to want to kill each other. The sports feels arbitrary and unnecessary: these people would kill each other for less, or nothing.

So, yeah, maybe sports is hell. But in Passmore's comics, as far as I've seen, everything is hell, so I'm not quite clear on the distinction here.

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ko Hyung-Ju, and Ryan Estrada

This is the story of Kim Hyung Sook.

No, not the same Kim Hyung Sook as the author.

Well, sort of. It's complicated.

South Korea in 1983 was under a military dictatorship that ruthlessly suppressed speech but was still generally popular - at least with older Koreans - because it and the previous regime had been successfully driving development of the country for a generation, and a good economy makes everything else less urgent. That year, a young woman named Kim Hyung Sook went off to college, and got caught up in the growing protest movement against that government, a movement almost entirely run by college students and painted by the regime as foreign and communist and evil...all of the usual slanders used by a deeply illegitimate regime to hold onto power as it realizes it will eventually lose.

That much is true of both reality and Banned Book Club. The book, though, takes some liberties with other people's lives: their stories are not Kim's to tell, so she (and her writing collaborator Ryan Estrada) have combined stories, obscured specific details, and set the whole thing at the fictional Anjeon University. Some of the people in this story are abducted by the police and beaten repeatedly over the course of days; the reader assumes the same, or worse, happened in real life. (I wouldn't be surprised at all if at least one person "disappeared" entirely; military dictatorships love to do that.)

So this is the story of a young woman: Hyung Sook are her given names. She goes to college to study literature in English, joins the banned book club thinking it will mean reading Fahrenheit 451 and The Scarlet Letter but learns they are reading really banned books: Che Guevara, Noam Chomsky, Betty Friedan, Paulo Freire, North Korean writers, global writers about revolution and oppression and what makes a government legitimate.

No one tells her that the personal is political. No one has to. She at first wanted to avoid being political in college, but all roads lead to protest: the regime is so corrupt, so oppressive, that the student population is largely unified in opposition. And so Hyung Sook learns the secrets of protesting in a regime that tortures and prosecutes and imprisons young people almost without bothering to choose them: dead drops, cell-based structures, masks for protests, the importance of having a member or two in every group who never engage in violent activities.

She does not topple the regime. She does make it through, as the real-world Kim did. And the book tells us how that regime fell, and how the survivors of the fictional group the fictional Kim joined met again, decades later, for another protest against another corrupt regime. (Lots of regimes are corrupt, as any American who lived through 2016-2021 knows well.)

So this is not just a good book, but a useful one: it tells readers what they can do, should they find themselves in an oppressive regime, and what they may have to face. And it, I hope, can give them the courage to face up to smaller-scale oppressive regimes: voting barriers and trans bans and "stand your ground" laws carefully crafted so they are always applied in favor of white people killing Black ones. Even if your President is not as deeply corrupt - well, this year - as President Park (either one) was, your governor may be, your school board may be, your town council may be. And it's good to remember that.

I've neglected to mention Banned Book Club's artist, Ko Hyung-Ju, up to this point. Ko's work is strong here, with lots of inky blacks and a good eye to differentiating the faces of a large cast. Korean comics creators often interestingly walk the frontier between American style and Japanese style, and Banned Book Club also sits well within that frontier, with some clear influences from both sides.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Book by They Might Be Giants, Brian Karlsson, and Paul Sahre

So this is named "Book," but, frankly, it's not really a "book" in the normal sense. It's not sold all by itself, it's not available at all through the usual book outlets, and the point of it is to be an extension of something else.

Book is the new record (album? what do we call a specific, organized collection of music by one artist in a mostly-digital world, when all of the old words are about the format?) by the band They Might Be Giants. It's available in various forms. The most baroque, complicated form is the one I have: a big red hardcover book, with the CD in a sleeve inside the front cover.

The book is the larger physical object, but it's really there to accompany the CD. It exists because of the CD.

What's in the book are the lyrics for that CD, plus other stuff. So, yes, it is a really overgrown lyrics booklet. I don't know if this is the biggest lyrics booklet - the world is wide and full of crazy people doing crazy things, and I bet some other band has had their lyrics engraved on titanium plates in an edition limited to ten and sold at ten thousand dollars a pop - but it's got to be in the top ten.

Actually, it has lyrics not just for Book but for two previous records: I Like Fun and My Murdered Remains. Does that disqualify it as a lyrics booklet for Book?

Those lyrics are not printed normally, since this is as much an art object as it is a useful thing. Actually, strike that: it's much more an art object than a useful thing; that's the point. The lyrics were typed out, on an IBM Selectric, in various design-y ways, by Paul Sahre, who is credited with book design here. And that's how he designed this book: he picked a font, popped the ball into a typewriter, lined up the paper, and typed stuff - over and over again, often overlapping and generally laid out on the page in quirky and not-exactly-designed-to-be-read-clearly ways.

Also in the book: photographs by Brian Karlsson, who is of the wandering-about-and-snapping-random-things school of photography. (As opposed to the hours-making-a-complicated-set-up-in-the-studio school, or the trying-to-get-candid-photos-of-celebrities school, or even the put-on-your-nice-clothes-and-go-to-the-mall school. Come to think of it, there are a lot of schools.) They are mostly quiet and arty, and I suspect they would work better on a gallery wall in isolation rather than juxtaposed with random lyrics in hard-to-read layouts. The photos do not seem to be chosen to illustrate specific songs, or even to comment on them: the photos seem to be a separate kind of art embedded in this one.

This is clearly a self-indulgent project: gigantic hardcover lyrics book by mid-rank rock bands can't be anything else. But it's a fun self-indulgent project, that is quirky and weird in a very Brooklyn way, and that's deeply appropriate for TMBG. I don't think I'm a huge enough fan of the band to have wanted to buy this all by itself, but as part of the huge secret package they did for this whole year, it's just swell.


Note: I wrote this on October 25, right after I read Book and almost three weeks before the album is due to be released. It will post on December 7th, and I suspect the big fancy red-book edition of Book will have sold out by then. But I really doubt anyone reading this will want to buy the thing; if you did want to buy the thing, you would have known about it already.

Monday, December 06, 2021

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/4/21

I got some stuff from the library this week, so I might as well tell you folks about those books, right? Here's what I have on hand right now:

Asadora!, Vol. 2 by Naoki Urasawa - I've read the first volume, and written a post about it. (Nearly a month ago, in fact.) But that hasn't gone live yet: you'll see it in another ten days or so. This book has absolutely no descriptive copy about the story at all; the flaps natter on at length about Urasawa, but that's it. From a quick glance, it seems to follow immediately from the first volume, though the first chapter seems to have a completely new viewpoint character. My understanding is still that the series as a whole covers a few discrete moments in this girl's life, so there will be big time-jumps....but I think that won't be until after the end of this book at the earliest.

Black Hammer: The Quantum Age by Jeff Lemire and Wilfredo Torres - But, Andy! you say: I'm pretty sure you haven't really liked any of the Black Hammer books you've read so far. Why are you keeping on with the series?

Well, it's a good question. The library has the books, they're in a specific order, and I don't hate them, I suppose: the series annoys me in ways that make me think about modern superhero comics, and has the bonus of doing that without having to read or buy anything owned by a giant multinational corporation. So I'm not anticipating exactly a hate-read: I try to be emotionally healthier than that. But there will be elements to hate, I'm pretty sure.

This also is the "Marvel 2099" of the series, which promises even more opportunities for me to dunk on silly concepts, so...how could I resist?

The Adventures of Tintin, Reporter for "Le Petit Vingeieme," in the Land of the Soviets by Herge - It's the first book in the boys-adventure series, and I've read all of the non-suppressed books at this point. This one is much longer, at nearly 150 pages. The art is much simpler - I might say "cruder," but I think a lot of the difference is that this book was drawn to reproduce in a newspaper. And I'm given to understand that it's much more right-wing propaganda than the later books, which I'm interested in examining. But there also seem to be lots of pages of our boy reporter running around, in grave danger, pursued by various nefarious personages. So I'm interested to see how this is different from the mature Tintin books, and just how lousy it actually is.

(The second Tintin book, Tintin in the Congo, is the racist one: it seems to be basically unavailable in any form right now.)