Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Satiation of Words

Have you ever noticed that reading is generally considered a hobby? I suppose it certainly could fall into that category, but I think the idea of reading as purely the pursuit of a hobbyist greatly overlooks and trivializes our relationship with words.

For example, consider this question: What is your favorite place to read?

I have no statistics to back me up, but I would be willing to bet that people's answers would invariably be quite similar: in a library, on the couch, under a tree, in a hammock, beside a babbling brook, in bed, etc. And why wouldn't they be? Comfortable, peaceful, quiet; ideal spots that invite you to fill them in with other worlds or times or ideas. And yet they are the answers of a hobbyist, no? They are places you go to for the intention of reading.

But here is a more compelling answer: on the bus.

I've heard it said that in the world of food the best spice is hunger. And the same thing could be said about reading. Sure, an exquisitely prepared 5-star meal will taste better than a slap-dash PB&J, but if you're hungry and you've got a slapdash PB&J in your bag then that sandwich is going to look amazing. Because it won't be the taste that really matters, it will be the sustenance. And a peaceful spot by a babbling brook may be a perfect location to read, but it doesn't fill that inner void in the same way a spot such as the bus does.

There are times when you are hungry for entertainment. You are hungry for stories, or facts, or adventure, or any number of things. Because you're human and because it's crowded and noisy and the sights out the window are the same ones you see every single day. That's when you want some escapism. That's when you need some escapism.

And that's the kind of reading we tend to forget, isn't it? We remember the times we sat down in a quiet spot to read that fantastic new book by our favorite author, but we often gloss over the times some random book has saved us from a boring gathering. Let alone the multitude of other times some well placed words rescued our minds from boredom. Not to mention the times where some words might not have pulled you out of the water, but at least threw you a life preserver (the backs of cereal boxes or the emergency procedure instructions in vehicles for example). Our lives are filled with times words have turned the tedious into the dynamic, if even for a little while.

And it is those times that reading shows its true colors, don't you think? Those times when it sates our hunger and revitalizes the mundane. Those times when it fills up a little part of us that was empty.

And, to jump the rails of this subject a bit, it's always struck me as odd when people describe someone as a person who "likes to read." Everyone who can read likes to read. You will never meet any literate person who wishes they couldn't read. Because if you couldn't read you would be fundamentally disconnected from everyone around you. Heck, you'd be disconnected from the world around you. Street signs, headlines, maps, warnings, bumper stickers, menus, instructions, labels, do I really need to go on?

Reading is more than just books. Reading is a part of who we are as a culture. We read to escape, we read for fun, we read to understand, we read to communicate. If reading is a hobby then we are all hobbyists.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Book List 2012: Part 12

* = reread
[GN] = Graphic Novel / Comic Anthology

 [GN] 129. [GN]
The Nobody
by. Jeff Lemire

A retelling of The Invisible Man set in small-town Canada.

I'm not really sure this story needed to be told. With the original and the great 1933 film I think this story has already been handled pretty well. Which isn't to say there's not some merit in taking an old story in a new direction, but I'm just not sure this one adds anything significant to the tale.

However, that is not to say that it's by any means bad. Jeff Lemire is a fantastic comic-er. The art is all very good. And I have to admit the idea of setting it in a small town really was quite clever. The idea in The Invisible Man of "Why won't people just leave me alone?" fits perfectly with a small town setting.

I guess, when it comes down to it, my biggest problem is that it wasn't longer (which says something about it's quality). The thing I love about Jeff Lemire's work is that he's so good at creating such evocative characters, but I just didn't get that this time around. And yet I feel that if the story was longer he'd have had the space needed to flesh out the characters more.

As it is, it's a great retelling of The Invisible Man, but it's more of him telling the original story than it is a reinterpretation of the story.

I was sixteen years old in 1994...the year that John Griffin walked into Large Mouth.

When I think back on it now, it seems unreal, like a dream, or an old movie. But I know it was real. I know he was real.

If I knew then what I know now, I wonder if I'd do anything differently? I don't know...

...All I know for sure is that after he came here, everything changed forever.

Chasing the Moon
by. A. Lee Martinez

When a young woman finds the perfect apartment it must be too good to be true. And it is. Because now she can't leave the apartment unless she releases the monster that is imprisoned in her closet. But if she opens the closet the monster will eat her. She knows this because it may be a being of endless hunger, but it's an honest being of endless hunger.

I have a hard time explaining just what A. Lee Martinez's style is like. Imagine a hurricane of imaginative ideas packed into a small space. Sometimes it's powerfully interesting and other times it's just swirling chaos that knocks over all your papers and spills your drink.

And because of this I tend to group his novels into 3 categories:
1. Brilliantly Imaginative and Fun
2. Intriguing and humorous but Chaotic
3. Chaotic borefest

I'd say this one is a pretty solid 2. It doesn't have the strength of plot that something like Gil's All Fright Diner had, but it's good enough to keep things fresh. The real thing that moves you through a Martinez 2 isn't the plot, but the humor. The book sometimes appears to be an excuse to feature all sorts of random vignettes, which are (occasionally) distracting from the story, but interesting in their own right. And yet it's full of wonderful jokes and imaginative ideas. In a perfect world the plot would be just as good as the humor and ideas, but what can you do. It's an easy read, it made me laugh quite a bit, it has a number of memorable moments. What more can I really ask of something.

“Let's go over the ground rules, guys,” she said.

“Again?" asked Vom. “How many times do we have to do this?

“As many times as it takes for me to convince myself that this isn't a terrible mistake that is going to go horribly awry. So give it to me.

“When in doubt, don't eat it,” said Vom with mechanical indifference.

“If you absolutely have to spawn,” said Smorgaz, “excuse yourself to go to the bathroom.

Diana nodded. “Good. And...

“Try not to talk but be polite," intoned Vom and Smorgaz in unison. “If anyone asks, we're old college friends in town for the week, and we have to go back to Stockholm to complete a research paper on soil samples.

“No, not Stockholm,” she said.

Vom sighed. “But you said—

“I know what I said, but Stockholm is too exotic. It invites questions. We need someplace less interesting. Sacramento. Or maybe Denver.


“Can I say that we used to date?” asked Smorgaz.


“Not even if someone asks? Like maybe it just comes up randomly in the table conversation?

“When is something like that going to come up?

“You never know. A lively conversation can be unpredictable.

“You're a guy who studies dirt,” she said. “That's it.

“Can I be gay?” asked Smorgaz.

She covered her face and ground her teeth.

“Okay. You can be gay.

“That's no fair. Why does he get to be gay?” said Vom.

“You can be gay too,” she replied.

“Wait,” said Smorgaz. “We can't both be gay. Then it won't be special.

She said, “Maybe we should just forget the whole thing.

“No. It's fine. We can both be gay. But since I thought of it, I'll be flamboyantly gay and you will just have to be ordinary gay.

“I can live with that,” said Vom.

“Just don't be a stereotype,” added Diana.

Smorgaz snapped his fingers. “You got it, girlfriend.
pages 116-118

 [GN] 131 & 132 [GN]
Avatar: The Last Airbender
"The Promise" (Parts 1 & 2)

A comic a picks up the storyline from where the Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon left things off.

I happened to find out about this one by accident and I immediately had to have it. I'm a huge Avatar: The Last Airbender fan, and after the shitstorm that is Korra, I was so very excited for more of the Avatar I love.

And this comic did not disappoint. The writing matches the original show perfectly and it takes the development of the characters in a very interesting direction.

If you loved the show I strongly recommend you check this one out. If you haven't seen the show...well, you probably won't really get all that's going on in this...also you should do yourself a favor and go watch that show.

 [GN] 133. [GN]
Team Cul-de-Sac:
Cartoonists Draw the Line at Parkinson's
edited by. Chris Sparks

A collection of Cul-de-Sac fanart put together to raise money for Parkinson's research.

As I've mentioned before, I'm a pretty big fan of Richard Thompson's comic strip Cul-de-Sac. So when I heard that some of the biggest names in comic strips were donating Cul-de-Sac fanart, and that all the proceeds would go to help fight Parkinson's disease? Well, you know I was all over that.

There really are some amazing pieces in this one. Bill Watterson's and Danielle Corsetto's were particularly amazing. Sure there were some really dumb ones in there too, but overall they were all very good.

The really surprising thing was that a lot of the comic strips I don't read did much better pieces than the creators of the ones I do read. I mean Beetle Bailey and B.C. and Garfield had vastly better submissions than Wondermark and Foxtrot. Which served as a reminder that even though I'm not a big fan of those old strips, that doesn't mean the artists behind them aren't exceptionally talented.

Not Just the Levees Broke:
My Story During and After Hurricane Katrina
by. Phyllis Montana-Leblanc

A Hurricane Katrina survivor shares her story of the disaster.

How did I come across this book? Well, you might remember that earlier in the year I read the book Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by. Melissa Harris-Perry (2012 BL#86). In that book the author mentions Phyllis Montana-Leblanc and her prominent role in Spike Lee's documentary about Hurricane Katrina. Well, hearing about the documentary intrigued me so I borrowed it from the library. The documentary was very interesting and Ms. Montana-Leblanc's role in it was very interesting as well. So when I learned that she had written a book about her experiences, and I was intrigued to see what else she had to say.

The really interesting thing about this book is that it isn't written by a scholar or a history professor or a scientist or anything like that. It doesn't try to broadly described the events of Hurricane Katrina like most things do. It gives you a close look at what it was like to be a person during the disaster. And not just during the disaster, but before and after it as well.

Overall a very interesting read that gives a very personal account of what it was like to be involved in that terrible event.

We notice fewer and fewer cars on the street, and people gone. The sky looks weird. The clouds are dark gray, light gray, white, almost black. And they aren't all together at this point in time. They're all separated, as if they know that once they connect all hell will break loose. Looking at them, they seem to go through my eyes and down into my soul. There is the most horrible feeling of fear, and at the same time I feel a strange beauty in it. What come to my mind are two words: ominous and ethereal. It reminds me of a really handsome man who is gorgeous to look at but evil behind his face. As much as I enjoy looking at it, I feel something bad behind it, like this is going to be really, really bad—like the end of the world or something. Street after street is empty. The stores are closed and houses boarded up and there is silence in the city. The only thing we need now is for tumbleweed to roll across the street and that would do me in, for real.
page 10

Looking For Calvin & Hobbes:
The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip
by. Nevin Martell

A rather incompetent look into the history of Calvin and Hobbes.

Have you ever wondered what a music journalist/Calvin & Hobbes fanboy has to say about the legendary comic strip? No? Well, I certainly can't blame you.

Nevin Martell doesn't have a background in art/art history/comics/history/anything even moderately relevant, and thus isn't able to provide any interesting insight into Watterson's work as it pertains to the history of the medium, its impact, or into the essence of his art style. He wasn't able to actually interview Watterson, so all of his information is either just rehashing other people's interviews or gathered anecdotes. His writing is sloppy and it reads like something he wrote for a class assignment. He often uses the same quotes multiple times throughout and insists on constantly talking about his personal stories/opinions.

And if all that wasn't enough, he writes extensively about how Watterson wants to be left alone, and yet insists on rooting around in the man's business. Talk about rude and clueless.

If you want to learn more about Bill Watterson you'd be much better off just reading old interviews with him. That's pretty much all this guy did. If nothing else it'd save spare you from having to read any of Nevin Martell's boring personal stories/observations.

“There is no quote because there is quite literally nothing in this book worth quoting.
-Jesse Heiman

 [GN] 136. [GN]
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man:
Death of Spider-Man
written by. Brian Michael Bendis
pencils by. Mark Bagley

 The collection of the Ultimate Spider-man comics that ends with the death of Spider-man.

It was some big news story that Spider-Man had died and was being replaced by a new one. Even though the news didn't seem to realize that Spider-Man hadn't died, Ultimate Spider-Man had died. The Ultimate line of comics is an offshoot world that Marvel created to put a twist on some of their classic series. So Peter Parker Prime is just fine.

Anyways, I was curious about this new Spider-Man and figured I'd check it out. But I couldn't  just start with the new stuff, I had to see what lead to the new stuff. Plus any time a big name hero dies I'm curious as to how it went down, even if it was just an alternate universe version. Personally I was never a big fan of Ultimate Spider-Man. When it started it had this art style that was so bad it was horribly distracting and I really just couldn't get into it. However, the art in this one is quite good so apparently the artist on the first issues isn't around anymore.

Anyways, I've gotta say this was pretty darn great. I was not expecting it to be so good. Brian Michael Bendis really did a fantastic job. I mean, this really was a pretty amazing death. It was so poignant and well done that it makes me wish that people would kill off more of their classic heroes so they can get equally good deaths. I was even tearing up a little bit. If you're a Spider-man fan I would recommend you check this one out. There's a couple little things that won't make perfect sense just because you haven't read all the comics in the series, but if you're a fan of comics it won't be a very big deal.

“I'm so sorry, Aunt May.

“What are you apologizing for?

“I know this...this isn't the life you...wanted.

“You crazy boy.



 [GN] 137 & 154. [GN]
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man
Volumes 1 & 2
written by. Brian Michael Bendis

The first two volumes of the new post-Parker Ultimate Spider-man.

And the death of Spider-Man, of course brings, us to the new Spider-Man. I don't really have much to say about this one. The story behind how this kid gets his powers is pretty stupid and contrived. But he's an interesting character. My biggest problem with the Superhero genre is that everyone is too afraid to kill off or retire these big heroes. So they just keep on trucking along and it all just becomes more and more ridiculous. Oh, Batman is fighting the Joker...again...for the 11 millionth no one else concerned about the apparent incompetence of these prisons?

But this series killed off its big gun, and has revitalized the property with some new blood. Plus not every one is white! You gotta love that. The stories seem to be your pretty typical super hero fare, but I've gotta admit that they are much more ingrained in today's world. I think kids could definitely relate to these stories more than they could with other super hero stories, even if the themes and ideas are all old hat. Plus they actually changed up the powers a little bit too, which was a pretty interesting twist to the franchise.

“What I am about to say and show you can never be talked about outside this room.

“What happened?

“I need you to promise me that what I'm about to say and show you will never be talked about outside this room.

“I don't what we're talking about.

“Promise me.

“Tell me what we're talking about.

“Promise me.

“Dude. Have I ever, ever screwed you over? You're the only person I talk to.
Who am I going to tell whatever you're about to say?

“Okay, I want you to watch this.


“Prepare to be freaked out like you've never been freaked out before.

“Please don't take off your pants.

“Just watch.

 [GN] 138. [GN]
Batman, vol 1:
The Court of Owls
written by. Scott Snyder
pencils by. Greg Capullo

Batman finds himself in a mess of danger when he discovers that a group he had dismissed as an urban legend might be real. A group that is said to control Gotham City from the shadows. A group known as The Court of Owls.

This encompasses the first story arc of DC's New 52 line. I figured that it'd be a good place to get back into the Batman game considering I haven't read a Batman story sense...I think since the Hush story arc.

This was a kind of strange one. I kept going back and forth between loving it and hating it. Overall it's really excellent, but there are just a couple things which are just so weird. For instance, this artist can't draw people to save his life. His costumed heroes? They look fantastic. Really great. Stylish and iconic and a great balance between realistic and cartoon. But his normal human faces? Dear Lord. They all look like freakish human-ish dolls. You'll have to take a look yourself to see what I mean, but for example his Bruce Wayne is sometimes drawn with his forehead being further out from his face than his nose. Or at least the same distance. Not even joking...I mean,'s kind of important in a profession like this.

Also, there's a part where the Court of Owls pulls the classic Evil Villain move of capturing the hero and then fucking around with them instead of just killing them and it's all extremely weird.

Okay. So putting aside the freakish face of Bruce Wayne (and other humans) and the one part where Batman is locked in an underground labyrinth and taunted instead of just killed; this was a pretty great Batman story. The Court of Owls are a pretty great villain. They're extremely well connected and powerful, and thus they provide a real challenge. As we all know the best villains are better than the heroes because the bigger the foe the more impressive the victory.

The story is dark and mysterious and I really enjoyed it. There might be a couple of things that would confuse someone who hasn't been keeping their ear to the ground about the world of Batman (for instance some people might not know that Bruce Wayne has a son), but I don't think there's anything that'll really prevent anyone from enjoying the story.

“Huh...take a look.

Same emblem on the throwing knives used to kill him.

“It's an Athenian Owl. It appeared on coins in ancient Greece. It was a symbol of wealth and power.

“'Beware the court of owls, that watches all the time, ruling Gotham from a shadowed perch, behind granite and lime. They watch you at your hearth, they watch you in your bed, speak not a whispered word of them them, or--'

“'They'll send the talon for your head.'

I know the nursery rhyme, Jim. But the court of owls is just a legend.

“To be blunt, so were you for a while.

“They don't exist.

“And you know that because...

“I just know.

“Well, whoever the killer is, he wants us to believe the ghost story.

 [GN] 139. [GN]
Dear Creature
by. Jonathan Case

An atomic sea monster with a penchant for Shakespeare and iambic pentameter tries to woo the woman of his dreams. And unlike the other women, this time he's not going to kill and eat her...hopefully.

Forgive the gap between my form and speech.
Howe'er it burdens me, 'tis still a worse
ambassador to thy regard...yet sleep

Perchance I'll nest my purpose in thy dream;
in thy blood swam this tongue before us both,
and such is how I must be satisfied

Not in thy blood

—But in thy kindred mind!

 I've been waiting for this book for a number of years. I first learned of this comic when I came across Jonathan Case's stand at Portland's Stumptown comic convention one year. I still have my copy of his self-printed Vol 1 of the story. But recently I learned that he had gotten in published and I could finally read the rest of it.

It's a really fun comic. The combination of Radioactive monster and Shakespeare is just as much fun as it sounds. But what really makes this comic great is the art. The art is just fantastic. Which is all the more impressive when you take a look of its style. It's all black and white, with no grey. And in case you didn't know, you have to be pretty good to pull that off. It requires a person be very skillful with their layouts. I mean, the writing is very good as well, but damn...the art.

The art is so good, you guys.

“Well 'Howdy-Do,' fair organism!

Rest easy maid; thy mate quite satisfied my pangs, and though I might persuade myself, I'm stuffed beyond desire for dessert.


I had ya there though, did I not? (I find a little levity is key—)



Scratch 'Levity' from off my best five traits.