31 Jan

Well Qualified Graphic Novels

This is as good a place as any to catalog what I think are the best graphic novels I’ve read to date (there’s that qualifier), some more comic-book in format, other’s more literary. All of them tell good stories first, even when the focus is more on the art. And, where art failed, the story kept me reading.

Some favorites

The Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa
A beautiful story about a father running ahead of 3 shadows who mean to take his son. Heartbreaking and redemptive.

Girl Genius series (ongoing) by Phil and Kaja Foglio
A powder keg barrel of fun, with rich, crazy art that I would have longed for as a kid, if I’d known where to find it, and a complicated zany story. The boys are schmart, but the Girl Genius has–or is–the Spark. Best experienced in print, in the separate volumes (not the B&W omnibus versions), but also available completely online (with a new page added every MWF). It’s been running for several years, with 10 volumes in print.

Super Spy by Matt Kindt
Interwoven short stories about spies set during WW2. Many are civilians pressed into “service.” There aren’t many happy endings, but the stories are rich and thoughtful and feel true, and the title character provides a little comic relief.

The Essex County Trilogy by Jeff Lemire
The lives of two brothers in Ontario, Canada. Sparse, beautiful, about what we want and settle for, out of circumstance and acceptance. One panel often tells more than several pages in most novels. Read them in order.

  1. Tales From the Farm
  2. Ghost Stories
  3. The Country Nurse

The Nobody by Jeff Lemire
Where the Invisible Man really went and what happened to him afterward.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Told without words, a story of immigration, through the immigrants eyes.

Others you might appreciate (I did)

Duncan the Wonder Dog by Adam Hines

Beautiful, elusive. It turns out that if we could talk like the animals, we’d be more thoughtful on a regular basis. No less criminal, though.

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation by Michael Keller and Nicolle Rager Fuller

I would put this in my list of favorites for the art alone, but it gets a bit dry and light at times. I don’t blame the author–there’s a lot to cover, weaving story and discovery and aspects of evolution in one go. It’s not Evolution for Dummies, though. Not for rubes who believe that the Earth is 40k years old and that dinosaurs were the ants at human picnics.

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch
An adolescent Jewish girl does what everyone says is for boys only, only her way. It’s set in a remote orthodox community away in the woods.

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger
Lovely and sad and full of books, hiding a lot of story under the surface.

Mouse Guard series by David Petersen
It’s an epic and brave story across slight but beautiful volumes. Don’t confuse it with Redwall.

Fables series by Bill Willingham
13+ comic-style books telling the real adult story about fairy and folk tale creatures and how they came to be in our reality. They aren’t from our universe and it’s complicated. Warning: Anyone who harbors warm feelings for Pinocchio’s Geppetto should turn away.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series by Alan Moore
This is not the guilty pleasure movie with Sean Connery. It’s weirder and more interesting.

The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman
Probably one of the most famous graphic novel series. The writing and overall plot make up for the sometimes flat art. It’s an expose on immortal family politics and a pretty darn good story.

32 Stories : The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics by Adrian Tomine
Tomine’s character’s may drive you crazy, but he knows how to say alot with a few gestures. His followups do more of the same, perhaps better. But 32 Stories (his earliest, I think) is riskier and I liked it best.

Bone, a series by Jeff Smith
Imagine Pogo (if that rings an old tarnished bell) set in a world of wizards and warriors.  If you like this, you might like the adventures of Cerebus the smart ass mercenary aardvark chronicled in many fat volumes from 1977 to 2004. Or vice versa.

Persepolis 1 and 2 by Marjane Satrapi
This one’s famous and was made into an animated film. If nothing else, read it to learn more about life in Iran through the eyes of a girl as she grows up during the transition from swing town capitalism to fundamentalism and the war with Iraq.

Epileptic by David B.
How a boy grows up and learns to learn from his older epileptic brother and his parents’ constant search for lifestyle choices (often around diet) that will help the older brother, usually at the expense of the younger. It’s a fat and rich and worth reading.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
More dysfunction worth reading.

Hard Boiled, sometimes crazed, often Over the Top Rough Stuff

Transmetropolitan and Planetary series (among others) by Warren Ellis

Tumor by Joshua Fialkov

Sleeper and Incognito by Ed Brubaker

    31 Jan

    Cuff Links

    His wife showed him silver cuff links the size of coins. He asked why. She pushed them into the cuffs of the white dress up shirt he’d slipped on. “They’re for Thursday,” she said. “You want to look your best.”

    He asked what was special about Thursday–it being only Tuesday, he worried that he’d forgotten an engagement.

    “Your memorial service,” she said. “Now hold still,” and she fastened the links. “There.”

    He wasn’t shaken by her words. He wondered if that meant he was going to die on Thursday or, the service being planned, he was already dead and that she was simply doing what she always did, helping him get ready in advance.

    Note: I had this dream on a Tuesday–it went almost just like the description. I woke up feeling apprehensive about Thursday until Friday morning. And then, I patted myself. That was last week. I’m sure it wasn’t meant to be a premonition for any Thursday. Although this Thursday I’m going to the dentist.

    17 Jan

    Things break

    Entropy’s the theme lately, I guess. The thermostat’s clicking away again like a set of chattering teeth–only payday stands between it and its successor. The vacuum died. I could write a column about vacuums and planned obsolesence. I grew up with one of the old school Kirby’s that looked like it was made from melted down military grade weaponry and, short of the occasional replacement of motor brushes or roller, just roared and ran. Heavy on the roar–its job was to strike fear in the dust before it fed.* That same machine is about $1k now. Maybe I should adopt a former mentor’s model for replacing his toaster ovens–buy my vacuums cheap at garage sales or, now, on Craig’s List, that great garage sale in the ether.

    The main bathroom is in severe need of a remodel–it’s in bandage mode, daily requesting a new countertop/cabinet, sink, paint job, fan, tub faucet, shower retiling, and tub re-enameling. (It’s an old steel tub, much cheaper and easier to re-enamel then tear out and replace.) Hopefully I can respond this year.

    The ground under the house really needs a more thorough covering of plastic–the former homeowner, our real estate agent, employed a handy man who did a lot of great work before we bought the place, but none of it in areas where it wasn’t fun to do that work. I don’t mind crawling under houses, although with the furnace ducts, our’s is a bit of a maze.

    We have some big trim on the front porch roof and around the garage that was designed to collect water and rot. I discovered it while painting the house this summer and patched it with Bondo, a solution that underscored its temporary nature by cracking and shedding paint. At least it’ll keep things together till this summer, even if it does make my suburban neighbors avert their gaze.

    Our back deck and balcony off our bedroom are old and soft and splintery and ready for a tear down. I can replace the deck with stepping stones, but without the balcony, there’s no place other than the peak of our roof for a telescope–I hope to extend it a bit to give us a 360 degree instead of the current (estimated) 220 degree view (N, W, and partial S exposures).

    It’s the old Tennesee Ernie Ford lament, owing my soul to the building supply store. And, maybe, IKEA.

    * Vacuum as predator is the wrong metaphor. When I was a kid the Kirby, with its sleek motor housing and rectangular ramscoop head, reminded me more of a Golden Age rocket. As a little kid a couple of years into Science Fiction and Optimism, I would imagine it turning into something I could easily ride into the wild blue and never return on–at least not till dinner time. (Transformers are not remotely a new idea. That’s why kids love them so much–they connect with the primitive techno mage in all of us.) Perhaps we lament the absence of the future because we’ve stopped designing for it. The future, or at least the romance of the far future, was all around us in the 60’s and 70’s, in the lines of our machines (including cars) and many of our buildings. They were cruder or larger than many of today’s subtler designs, but they also had lines that our eyes and brains could trace and associate with fantastic promise. Today, most vacuums look more like the old Transparent Man and Lady science exhibits–see that HEPA filter, that’s exactly where the spleen would be on a person. And when the stomach fills up, you just pop it out and empty it in the trash. And in a year or so, just like PKD’s replicants, you toss the whole vacuum. That’s a different kind of future, stressing entropy over optimism.

    16 Jan

    Sorry about the header text color

    I changed my theme, added a clipped photo of Noah and Sophie from our visit last summer to the Octopus Tree and light house at Cape Mears, and then, not being a graphic artist, used the WordPress and theme options for overlaying header text. Not so happy with the textual results and will find a better solution. Unfortunately, this theme doesn’t come with a readymade semi-opaque pane to slip between the header title and image.

    09 Jan

    The Color of Entropy

    For Christmas my mother gave me a leather bound empty journal with an old buffalo nickel snap clasp that she had also once given to my grandfather late in his life. He was a compulsive chronicler who never used it, telling her it was too nice. I decided it was a good place to stash memories from my life, because my memories are like a random pile of view-master discs, and I’m frightened and disgusted by people who remember everything, till I recall that every memory is a recreation (in any way you pronounce the word), at best only true in spirit, and that people with good memories are simply better storytellers or reconstructionists (liars) than me. So I decided to use that journal to get with the lying and, by the end of  the first page, discovered why my grandpa didn’t use it–because writing in perfect bound books is a pain in the ass. At the age of 80, when he received it, he would have found it more difficult than I to use. His journals were almost all spiral or ring bound books that lay flat. So I’m going to cut out the few pages I’ve filled, get myself a flat-out journal, slide it behind the buffalo nickel, and paste in the representative pages from the old journal. Then give the old book with its pages turned the color of baked meringue–which, for paper, must be the color of entropy–to young Sophie to fill up with art and observations if she wishes.

    09 Jan

    A Quickie While I’m Away

    Stephen King’s On Writing is delightful and my favorite Stephen King book. Even when I don’t care for his work, I respect his ability to tell a story and make a lot of money, and make many people uncomfortably happy. But the parts actually about writing, minus the whining about critics and the heavy handed “you must do this” bits, are hard to argue with and fun to read. After reading several good authors who started as high school English teachers, I’m beginning to wish I could rewind to college, go down that route till I was disenchanted, then take the Publishing World By Storm! The best parts of the book are the Writing Tools and the recounting of the roadside accident where someone who could have been a character from one of his novels almost kills him. There’s also a lengthy memoir section that has good moments.

    (Parenthetical editorial note–the more I write, the more I appreciate pragmatic advice and the less time I have for advice on getting in touch with one’s writerly feelings–which, I think stops most people in the land of the informal essay and meta-discussions about writing. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft is another favorite–she’s very disciplined and the exercises are difficult and helpful.)

    Formidable CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner series has become another fiction favorite. Over the holiday break, I gave in to the insistence of an old friend, read the first two and have the third in the background (they are currently a 12 book series about the same main character, in four connected trilogies. So far, it seems almost as good as Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin series I’m so damned fond of, although his human characters were easier to like out of the box. (Were they all human, aside from flora and fauna samples–maybe.)

    I am avoiding reading anything that will also steer me off course with this current writing work on Balrogs and the derivative short pieces that I’m currently focused on, which I hope to pass on to second draft review friends soon. (Thankfully, Cherryh, for all her superpowers, did not distract.) With a tsumani-like post-Christmas nasal congestion flooding my head this past weekend, I spent most of my time reading another rec (my reading picks often rely on the kindness of friends), Sandman Slim, a hardboiled neo noir urban fantasy about a guy who comes back alive from Hell (after 11 years as a human gladiator) to play a little pickup ball with the heads of the Circle who sent him there. I love good hardboiled work that knows how to use the language and tell a story well, even if most of it feels familiar. Slim is like Charlie Huston’s gritty Already Dead, only, I think, grittier and a bit more high flying (read, show-offy) in its language and perhaps not as smooth in plotting. William Gibson called it a sweet dirty-ass masterpiece. Exactly my kind of downtime reading. There are inconsistencies–there are also inconsistencies and disappearing characters in Raymond Chandler’s beautiful work, but that doesn’t stop me from staying on the main road and enjoying the story.

    05 Jan

    Parapraxis (or a long dash into parentheses)

    Parapraxis is a word invented to translate the German, “fehlleistung,” the famous Freudian Slip (or, literally, the failed or mistaken performance or achievement). Describes most of my life. Possibly the right name for this blog.

    Now I’m wondering if there’s also a term for compulsive use of parentheticals in speech and writing. I’ve given thought to an entry titled The Cave of My Parentheses, wherein lurks asides, nudges, afterthoughts inserted midstream, brief internal conversations with myself at the expense of the reader, and textual (not text-based)-emotes.  And occasionally, midstream clarifications added to avoid editing the stream of thought. It’s also used as a cheap way to insert a clause without using commas, and sibling to the long or em-dash (biggest of the three Dash sisters, Em, En, and Hyphen).

    The more I write, the more conscious I become of writing habits used to satisfy only myself. Not self-conscious, just trying to be aware as I write or correspond to weed them out or apply them with more discipline.

    Revealing a little self-analysis, I think I do this because 1) my father loved to talk and wasn’t interested in listening, so I became good at getting my voice out fast, whether my thoughts were well formed or not, just to be heard; and 2) the persistent notion that people who respond quickly are the most intelligent in the room, a notion held and often reinforced by smart people who respond quickly; and 3) it usually takes me a long time to form complete original thoughts and I’m often too impatient or worried to let them form. I also have a habit of thinking and speaking the same way I write, which usually involves several rounds of edits, the initial goal just being to get it on the page.

    Which leads us back to parentheticals.

    Is there a word that means “fear of parapraxis?”