Author: Andrew Wheeler

Andrew Wheeler spent 16 years as a book club editor, most notably for the Science Fiction Book Club, and has been a judge for the 2005 World Fantasy Awards and the 2009 Eisner Awards. He is now Marketing Manager for John Wiley & Sons.
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When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

As far as I know, this book hasn’t been banned. Rather the opposite, so far: it was nominated for a National Book Award, and has won some other, more specific awards. But the week I read it acclaimed graphic-novelist-for-kids Jerry Craft was banned from a Dallas-area school for “critical race theory” [1], so I’m calling it now: the Usual Suspects will be protesting this book, too, since it makes their little Kaydens and Buddies either “get lib’rul ideas” or whine that their teachers are being mean to them, depending on how stupid and/or indoctrinated any individual Kayden or Buddy is.

That may seem to have nothing to do with the book, but it’s not. Culture wars have no boundaries: they range through all of culture. Culture is what we live in. And the white supremacists are waging a very clear cultural war, with loud “will not replace us” messaging on national TV, aimed at people exactly like the co-author of this book.

When Stars Are Scattered is a book every Kayden and Buddy should read. As young as possible: maybe when they’re about seven, like Omar is at the beginning of this book. They should think about how they would live if they were refugees in a foreign country, with one parent dead and the other possibly lost forever. They should think about other kids: in their classes, in other parts of America, around the world. They should wonder what those kids are going through.

(To quote a song I’ve been listening to a lot lately, “if you think you’re at your limit, just remember what some folks survive .”)

This is a true story, more or less. From the afterwords by Omar Mohamed (who lived it, and shaped it into a story) and Victoria Jamieson (who turned the story into a script and the script into drawn pages), I think some characters are composites or somewhat fictional. But Omar is real. His brother Hassan, who can only say the word “Hooyo,” is real. The refugee camp Dadaab in Kenya, where hundreds of thousands have lived for up to three decades now, is real. And the civil war in Somalia, which is still going on, is real.

Omar was about four and his brother just a baby when they left Somalia. What happened that day isn’t revealed until late in this graphic novel, but I will tell you it opens three years later, with the two boys taking every chance they can get to look at new arrivals, hoping they will see their mother.

Scattered is mostly about life in the camp, and how Omar grows up there. It’s a grinding life: not enough food, very little to do, no clear possible escape. The dream of every refugee is to get out – some, like Omar, dream of going back to their lives before the war, but we get the sense that’s mostly children. Adults know that can never happen. The other dream is to get out: to be allowed to settle in some faraway country, Canada or America or somewhere in Europe. Only a few can get one of those slots: it’s a long process, full of paperwork and interviews, and there’s an element of competition to it.

And is your family situation worse than the others around you? Have you suffered more than them? Are you more worthy of being resettled somewhere overseas because of what you’ve been through?

And what does it do to a person and a society to have to think like that, to tell your story through that lens to UN interviewers?

Omar makes it through that world. This is a book for children; it has a happy ending. Omar is telling us this story, because he did make it out to America, and made the life he wanted. More than that, his adult life is devoted to helping other refugees, both the ones who made it to America and the ones back in Dadaab. It’s a good life, a life worth celebrating and spotlighting. I’m glad he and Jamieson were able to tell his story so cleanly and clearly, to an audience that needs to hear it.

And so, again, I want to see When Stars Are Scattered in every elementary school across the country. Especially the ones without people named “Omar,” or people who look like Omar Mohamed. That’s the way compassion and honesty wins the cultural wars: through true stories of different people, presented to an audience young enough to learn lessons of compassion and honesty.

[1] In case you don’t know, actual CRT is a graduate-level discipline, originated in law schools and also taught at the graduate level, to graduate students, in graduate schools of other kinds. It aims to untangle racial biases in things like historical criminal sentences.

It is in no way identical to “teaching white kids that kids of other races are also real people who you need to respect.” The latter should be base-level standard, but it’s what “conservative” parents are actually protesting, as seen in a telling quote from Connecticut, also this week: “helping kids of color to feel they belong has a negative effect on white, Christian, or conservative kids .”

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

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Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams by Michael Allred, Steve Horton, and Laura Allred

“Rayguns?” That’s important enough to make the title? Stardust, sure, though more in the Ziggy sense than the “we are all” sense. And Moonage Daydreams, why of course. But why rayguns?

If I had been the editor of this book, I would have asked, “Why not “Starmen?” Or maybe “Pretty Things.” Even “Space Oddities,” though that would be a bit on-the-nose.

(Note: I am pretty sure my willingness to ask dumb questions was not instrumental in being cast out of the world of Sfnal Editorial work. Pretty sure. Yeah.)

But that’s the title we have, even though (he said, hitting the tedious point for the last time, he promises) there are no rayguns in this book. Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams . A biographical graphic novel about the chap born David Jones, but better known under his stage name. Primarily focused on the creation of and tour following the The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars record from 1972.

(And, frankly, I’m pretty sure someone, at some time during the creation of this book, lamented that the perfect title had already been taken, by that album. And maybe someone toyed with the idea of re-using the title.)

It’s drawn by Michael Allred and colored by Laura Allred. The script seems to be, from M. Allred’s afterword, mostly by Steve Horton, working from an Allred outline and list of important story beats, and then extensively worked over by both of them. (Horton did a lot of work, definitely, even if the art is all Allred and the words are at least somewhat Allred.)

It opens on the last night of the Ziggy tour, in 1973, in London. That’s our frame: it leaps back to show Bowie’s early career up to that point, in at least sketchy form. Unlike a lot of biographical stories, it doesn’t get into childhood at all: there’s a montage of David Jones At Various Youthful Ages on the first page, but that’s literally it. Instead, it’s all career: what he recorded when, who he worked with, who he knew and bounced off in London in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Horton and Allred get a bit name-dropp-y with that, frankly, as they try to show that Bowie was the center of everything and influential on everyone and the best musician of any kind ever. I mean, I get that they love Bowie and especially this period: you don’t spend months or years on a project like this without that level of love. But a bit of context goes a long way, and a bit of idol-worship is more than enough.

It’s also all more than a little compressed: Horton and Allred are huge fans, so they’re trying to get every last moment and idea in that they can, and the book comes across a bit staccato because of that. If you are a huge Bowie fan, that will be great: you don’t need context, and it gives you more recognizable moments and ideas. For those of us who are more vaguely Bowie-positive, it’s a flood of panels, many of which seems to be heading off in different directions to tell us something else.

Allred also drops into phantasmagoria a few times, in what may be meant to be chapter breaks and an extended visual overview of Bowie’s later career at the end. These are wordless pages, crammed with images, most but not quite all of them images of Bowie in various guises and stages of his career. They are gorgeous and impressive and stunning, but not really comics, since they deliberately don’t tell any story.

All in all, this is a book that is better the more of a Bowie fan you are. Not a fan at all: you will be bored and confused. Enjoy his music: it will be pleasant and enjoyable, though maybe a little much. Huge Ziggy-era stan: you will love it, though probably also find things to nitpick, because stans must always stan.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

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Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen: Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? by Matt Fraction, Steve Lieber, and Nathan Fairbairn

I have generally not been in favor of Big Two superhero comics going “realistic.” That’s mostly because what counts as realism in superhero comics looks more like cynicism or nihilism from any other point of view, and because superhero comics are inherently one of the very most artificial artforms ever devised by the hand of man.

So I’m happy to point out that Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? is very artificial, and revels in it. The only other series I’ve seen that has as many introducing-this-character-with-their-fantastic-logo! boxes is Paul Grist’s deeply quirky Jack Staff. But this book does that trick one better: the person being introduced every single time is Mr. James Olsen himself, our hero and main character, in an unending sequence of sillier and sillier locutions about Superman’s wingman.

(I’m pretty sure I remember “Superman’s wingman” somewhere in the middle there. Nearly every way you could think to describe the Olsen boy are already in this book.)

Perhaps I should back up slightly.

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen was a famous Silver Age title, from the era where comics were flagrantly artificial and their audiences were assumed to be entirely made up of children who would age out within a year or three. It ran for twenty years, and regularly turns up in random internet “have you ever seen this insane thing?” collections. (Two words: Goody Rickles.)

And Jimmy, as a character, is closely associated with that era. He doesn’t get the full-force opprobrium directed at some kid sidekicks, since he was intermittently depicted as an actual adult (if a juvenile, silly, easily-distracted one) and had an actual job that made sense in the context of the comics. But he was often comic relief in core Superman stories, and his own title was, to use a technical term, regularly batshit crazy (in the best possible way).

So Mr. Jimmy Olson comes with some baggage. And the 2019 series about him – by writer Matt Fraction, artist Steve Lieber, and colorist Nathan Fairbairn; collected as Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olson: Who Killed  Jimmy Olsen?  – leans heavily into the silliness, providing not just a goofy Jimmy, but a very weird take on Batman, an extended Olsen family with shocking connections to Lex Luthor (who also gets an extended family), the aforementioned massive number of story-introducing boxes, and a lot of just plain goofiness.

For example: the book opens with a story from some piece of product entitled Superman: Leviathan Rising Special #1, which I gather from context was some kind of crossover event thingy. (“Crossover event thingy” is a technical term in corporate comics.) In that story, Olson wakes up in Gorilla City, surprisingly married to an interdimensional jewel thief after a long night of drinking gorilla-strength champagne, and ends up in the possession of a cat that vomits astoundingly large and sustained streams of blood. Complications quickly ensue.

This all seems like random goofiness. Nearly all of it will become very important to the overall plot of Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? Note: I am not saying any of it becomes any less goofy.

The actual plot of the main story takes a while to coalesce, and is told out of chronological order. My sense is the playing-with-time stuff isn’t to be daring or stylistically inventive; it’s just another way to be randomly goofy and confusing. I liked and appreciated all of it; those who like more straightforward superhero stories may be annoyed or bored.

So we get Jimmy causing trouble, having to flee Metropolis for Gotham City, having his Life Model Decoy (named something slightly different I don’t want to dig through all the pages to find) “murdered,” and hiding out as an oddball “modern” version of himself (Timmy Olson, cringe YouTube sensation!). We also see Jimmy’s fabulously wealthy family (stuck-up brother, boho playwright sister), Jimmy’s deep family history (return to the frontier days of New Obsterstad with the feud of the Olsson and Alexander families!), Lex Luthor lurking around the edges of the story doing that I-am-such-a-villain hand-wringing gesture, Jimmy’s landlord/lawyer, a very silly very minor villain, an interdimensional would-be conqueror, and a rapidly-increasing death count of people close to Jimmy.

Again, we don’t get any of that in order: we get bits and pieces of all of it, smash-cutting from one Jimmy Olson story intro to another, and it all coalesces about halfway through this twelve-issue miniseries.

To my mind, if you’re going to do a superhero story, or even a story set in a superhero world (this is more of the latter; Jimmy is always central, and most of the important characters don’t have powers), you need to be at least halfway lighthearted. We all know every ending will be happy, all deaths are temporary, and all drama is momentary. And Who Killed gets that tone right: it doesn’t make fun of its own story too much, but it doesn’t try to pretend this is about the fate of the world, either.

To my mind, this is what good comics in a superhero milieu looks like: fun, with consequences to actions but not overly invested in them, full of random oddities and an overall sense of possibility.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

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Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Part I by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, (and in smaller letters) Dave Stewart and Todd Klein

Hey! Shit actually happens in this book! And those things largely validate my “get off the pot and actually say XYZ” grumblings from the previous books, which also makes me happy. [1] Once again, I’m not claiming any great powers of reasoning or insight: this is a pastiche superhero comic, and the plot beats are thuddingly obvious. They were just massively delayed for reasons that I tend to believe owed more to “I want to tell some only vaguely related stories first” than “this Other Stuff is actually important.”

This book follows the first two Black Hammer books (one and two ) and the very much sidebar (and baroquely-titled) books about Sherlock Frankenstein and Doctor Star Doctor Andromeda (my post will go live in three days as I type this; let’s see if I remember to add the link!). And it leads pretty directly, I expect – with the caveat this this series has been all about the fakeouts leading to extensive unrelated flashbacks up to this point – into the next volume, which is titled Age of Doom, Part II.

(There’s no third volume of Age of Doom, which could be ominous, but there are seven more volumes after that. They could all be flashbacks – Black Hammer ’45 pretty obviously is, for one – but I choose to believe that even this series will move forward in time once it exhausts all other options.)

Anyway, this is called Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Part I  but, as I just pointed out in tedious detail, it’s not actually “Part 1” of anything. It’s either part three (of the linear story) or part five (of all previous volumes). Like the rest of the main series to this point, it’s written by Jeff Lemire and drawn by Dean Ormston, assisted by colorist Dave Stewart and letterer Todd Klein.

And it’s still stuck on the moment at the end of the first volume, when the new spunky female Black Hammer arrived on “The Farm” from Spiral City, discovering the five or six superheroes living there (do we count Talky Walky? I do) after The Event and we the audience saw one of those supposed heroes, the witchy Madame Dragonfly, immediately steal Hammer’s memories for what we have to assume are nefarious purposes.

(Note that we get a different flashback version of that scene in this volume, following the big “everything you know is wrong” moment, and the new version means that the old version could not have possibly happened that way…which is really annoyingly lazy storytelling.)

So we open  this book with another return to the moment where Hammer announcing she’s remembered everything and is going to have a reckoning, and she of course immediately disappears. (Gotta keep the tension up somehow!) From there, we get a couple issues of Hammer in various weird worlds (first a transparent ripoff of the bar between worlds from the end of Sandman, then not-DC Hell and a couple of other mystical places, just in case any of the slower readers aren’t convinced Dragonfly is behind it), while the main cast decide to figure this out and get sidetracked by their various inamorata deciding that, yeah, OK, we can have sex now.

Again, Lemire is making it clear, even to the slower kids in the back, that the two reality-warping characters are…what’s that again? oh, yeah, warping reality.

Eventually, in time for the last of the five issues collected here, we finally get to see Everything We Know Is Wrong. (Well, Everything We Know about the Farm. I bet we know some wrong things about the death of the previous Hammer, and maybe the Anti-God, too.) And we get a big cliffhanger moment on the very last page, as we must when a Part I is going to lead directly to a Part II.

As before, I can appreciate the storytelling and character work – both Lemire and Ormston do good panel-by-panel and page-by-page work here, making engaging people, moving them around convincingly, and making them all interesting – while still finding the overall structure silly and ungainly and massively derivative and entirely airless. I still think Black Hammer is a very well-done version of a thing I would be hard-pressed to say is worth doing.

[1] Trust me, this is me happy. At least as happy as I get about manipulative third-hand superhero tales.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

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Fangs by Sarah Andersen

I did not intend this to turn into Sarah Andersen Week here at Antick Musings, but why not? She’s funny, and the two books I read nearly back-to-back are funny in very similar ways, which could potentially be interesting.

Fangs  is a small unjacketed hardcover, stylish and blood-red. I believe it was Andersen’s fourth solo book, following three collections of her “Sarah’s Scribbles” strip (and the graphic novel Cheshire Crossing, with novelist Andy Weir). There is a goth-y young woman on the cover, as you can see. Readers will generally assume she is a vampire, and assume that this is her story.

That’s correct: she’s Elsie. On the first page, she’s in a bar for monsters, meeting a new young man (Jimmy). They quickly start a relationship, and we quickly learn this is not a book that will tell us a story – like Sarah’s Scribbles, these are funny comics about a situation, and this situation is “what if a 300-year-old vampire goth girl fell in love with a vaguely hipster werewolf?”

So Fangs is a lot like a collection of a gag-a-day strip (not all that surprising, since Sarah’s Scribbles has run as a daily strip off and on, and this project originally appeared on Tapas in a similar format) – every page is a separate strip about Elsie & Jimmy, with some kind of vampire or werewolf-themed joke.

Humor is always subjective, but I thought Fangs was clever and funny – as funny as Sarah’s Scribbles, and a bit more clever, as Andersen clearly was having a lot of fun assembling these jokes from the intersection of relationship-humor and horror-humor. There’s also an underlying sweetness to it: you get the sense that these two people haven’t really connected with anyone else in a long time, and having each other, in all of their quirky oddities (supernatural and personal) to be with is a wonderful thing.

This is a short book, but who knows? Maybe Andersen will come back and give us more comics about Elsie and Jimmy. There’s no reason this couldn’t keep going for a long time, or come back for somewhat longer stories. (What would a vacation look like for them? Do either of them have families the other one gets to meet?) And, even if she never does, this is a fun, sweet package as it is.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

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Girl in Dior by Annie Goetzinger

Sometimes you read a book because it’s there and you’ve heard of it. Maybe you don’t remember exactly what you heard about it, or why, or in what context, but it’s been in your head and you’re pretty sure it was for positive reasons. The world is full of books: you need to stretch sometimes and that’s an easy way to do it.

That’s more or less how I came to Girl in Dior , a graphic novel by Annie Goetzinger originally published in France in 2013 and translated into English for this 2015 NBM publication by Joe Johnson. It’s available in Hoopla – is there a reason why every Internet-era business needs to have a stupid and infantilizing name? – an app my library system uses to provide various digital things (TV shows, movies, comics, audiobooks, even ‘real’ books) – and I started reading it after realizing How to Read Nancy was far too dense to dive into on a Saturday afternoon. (And don’t get me started on its aggressively hostile introduction, by some academic who was at pains to be clear he hated comics, modernity, 90% of all artists ever, the concept of sequential art, and anything else the reader might possibly love or respect.)

Girl in Dior, I learned after reading it, is a fictionalized account of the first ten years of Christian Dior’s high-fashion house, founded in 1947 in Paris. It centers on a young woman, Clara Nohant, who is the primary piece of fiction: she is a minor reporter for the launch, later becomes a model for Dior, and ends by marrying a rich client. (Thus encompassing most of the potential dream-jobs for the book’s audience.) I think she’s just there as an audience-insert character, and to have a gamine, Audrey Hepburn-esque face to provide a through-line, but it does make me wonder why the book couldn’t or didn’t focus on Dior himself (surely the more interesting figure) or, considering the audience is primarily women who care about dresses, instead digging into one or more of the large group of women who worked for and with Dior to do all of this – one of his major designers, or models, or seamstresses, or several of the above.

Instead, Girl in Dior is lighter, more of a travelogue – Clara thinks Dior’s work is wonderful, but she’s not deeply invested. Her story is light, her crises few and easily solved, her endings entirely happy. The book has a lot of detail and color: Goetzinger is particularly good at both drawing the dresses to be very particular and using color to make them pop off the page, in a comics version of the sensation they caused on runways in the late ’40s.

I think I wanted more about the real people and less of “look at this gorgeous dress,” which is on me. Girl in Dior is very much a “look at this gorgeous dress” book, and my sense is that it’s deeply researched and carefully assembled to show specific, distinct gorgeous dresses from those first few Dior collections. There’s extensive backmatter to detail chronology, the sources (year and season) of the dresses shown in the book, quick biographical sketches of the historical people who appear (from Dior to Lauren Bacall), lists of potential careers in fashion and types of fabric and accessories, and, finally, a bibliography. This book was clearly very heavily researched, and I have no doubt that everything in it (except Clara) is as close to true as it’s possible to be seventy years later.

And it is gorgeous, full of sumptuous expensive formalwear for rich, thin, young, connected women  [1] ready to be elegant and sophisticated (and maybe just a bit useless) after the war years. I always want more context and cultural criticism; I always want more why and less “remember this thing?” Again, that’s entirely on me: Girl in Dior is a lovely evocation of a time and place – I haven’t even gotten into Goetzinger’s faces, which are magnificent, deeply specific, and much less pretty-pretty than the dresses she draws. If any of that sounds appealing, check it out.

[1] Pick at least two.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

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Portugal by Pedrosa

I don’t know if Cyril Pedrosa – who mostly goes by just his last name on his comics, in the European manner – really just does one big book every few years. That’s been my experience of his career: Three Shadows over a decade ago, Equinoxes  a few years back, and now Portugal (from 2017).

And it seems to be the life of his main character here, a Portuguese-French cartoonist named Simon Muchat: Simon had a reasonably successful career making “books,” as his agent and girlfriend call them, but is in a slump as Portugal opens. He’s teaching art in schools, doing some advertising freelance work, but feels completely unmotivated. About anything at all.

And that leads to the obligatory question of how much of Pedrosa is in Simon. The question is obligatory; the answer, though, is unknowable to any of us on this side of the paper. Pedrosa’s grandfather immigrated from Portugal to France in the 1930s and stayed; so did Simon’s. Portugal is largely the story of that family history – or, rather, how a chance trip to Portugal started Simon to re-engage with life, and led him to start trying to track back that family history. The focus is on Simon, and Pedrosa never drops into flashback to tell the stories of earlier generations: we see everyone and everything through Simon’s eyes in the present day.

Portugal is loosely organized into three large sections, after a short prologue with Simon in the mid-70s, a young boy on his only previous trip to Portugal. Each of the three is named after a man in the family: first  “According to Simon” himself, then his father, then his grandfather. But that’s not “according to” as in that’s who is telling us the story, it’s more of a sense of how far back in time Simon has gotten at that point.

That all makes it sound very deliberate: it’s not. Simon is aimless when Portugal begins, and only slowly gathers any aim as the book goes on. He’s still drifting until very deep into the book, still just going along with whatever happens, and only shows some interest in family stories and the details of life in Portugal. So this is the story of a reawakening, in a way: one connected to history and heritage in a very personal way.

Pedrosa tells this story at a distance, though small talk and background voices, with gorgeous watercolor panels that lend a slow, deliberate rhythm to this fairly long book. It took Simon a long time to climb out of his ennui; we’ll see it happen slowly, and learn with him. This is a lovely book, with a quiet personal story told quietly and well – it may not be for all readers but those who can engage with it will find a lot to love.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

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I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation by Natalie Nourigat

The ecosystem of graphic novels is still proliferating – it might not have quite as many niches as pure-prose books do, but it’s getting there. We may see a day where any kind of book that exists in prose also exists in graphic form.

I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation  is a great example: I don’t think a book like this would have existed twenty years ago, and definitely not thirty. The title explains it perfectly: Natalie Nourigat [1] was a freelance artist and cartoonist in Portland (Oregon), and wanted a more stable career that used her art skills. So she researched the animation world, set her sights on a story artist job, eventually got one in LA, and created this book a few years later to describe the whole deal – job, move, career, LA, industry.

Books like that have been around in prose for a hundred years or more – some are personal, like Nourigat’s, and some are more general (How You Can Get a Job in Insurance in Hartford!). Nourigat is writing about an art career and speaking to other artists, though, so the graphic form works very well: she can convey not just the facts, but how she feels about LA and the animation industry through the body language and expressions of her avatar in the book, and her audience can see her examples of what storyboards look like and how they differ from comics.

This is a fairly dense book: it’s just under a hundred pages, but Nourigat uses a heavily captioned style to get in a lot of details and explanations. She has an upbeat, positive tone throughout, though she does also talk honestly about the downsides of LA life (heat, car culture, expense, a spread-out landscape that makes it more difficult to connect with people). The book mixes her personal story with more general information, though it’s almost all based in her personal experience – she did interview a group of other artists, though, and includes their thoughts, each as a separate three-page section, at the end.

Moved to LA is broken up into many shorter chapters on different aspects of her story and life in LA: perks, the moving itself, the job hunt, pros and cons of LA life, tips on getting a job, general questions – and she has running titles on her pages (I don’t think I’ve ever seen in this in a graphic novel before) to show which section you’re in, so it’s useful to leaf through and find specific advice.

I, personally, can’t draw. I’m also one of the Olds, deeply into a second non-art career, and firmly stuck on the other side of the country. So I can take no advice from this book myself – but I did enjoy Nourigat’s look at what her journey was like, and what it could be like for others who want to do something similar. It’s exciting to see that kind of energy and enthusiasm, especially when it’s aimed at making good stories and art.

So I recommend this primarily to people who might want to work in animation and/or move to LA. And maybe secondarily to people in other art-related fields, as a reality check about how their industries and locations work and compare.

[1] She does not present any credentials for her expertise other than the obvious “I got a job doing this, and I have kept that job and love it” one. She does talk about the differences between movie and TV animation (and that she’s on the movie side), but never says what studios she does or has worked for. But I see from her website that she’s not just an individual-contributor storyboard artist, but currently Head of Story on an upcoming movie and her whole career to date has been at Walt Disney Features Animation – which is kind of a big deal, and a major “take this person seriously” credential.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

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The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 7 by Herge

This is the end. Well, sort of: there’s an unfinished last book called Tintin and Alph-Art, which is available in what I think is the form Herge left it (rather than completed by other hands). But this is definitely the last Tintin stories actually completed and published.

The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 7  collects books that cover almost two decades: The Castafiore Emerald (serialized 1961-62), Flight 714 to Sydney (66-67) and Tintin and the Picaros (75-76). Herge was clearly not devoting as much time to writing and drawing new albums in his fifties and sixties as he was as a younger man, but I suspect he was doing just as much “Tintin stuff,” only related to running a business empire: approving toy designs, meeting with movie people, arranging sublicenses, and all of the other things that are definitely work but don’t deliver any new material from a creative person.

Anyway, the three books are quite separate here, as you might guess from that sixteen-year span. So I guess I should treat them separately.

The Castafiore Emerald stands out as different from the rest of the series: it’s entirely set at Marlinspike, Captain Haddock’s ancestral pile, and it’s a mystery/farce rather than the series’ more usual adventure plot. I found the humor was not quite as juvenile as Herge sometimes gets – it’s still most based on how horrible Bianca Castafiore is and how much Haddock can’t stand her (and, secondarily, on how much of a blustery klutz he is), but that’s the story here, rather than random interjections. The story sees Haddock injure his foot, so he’s stuck in a wheelchair, right as Castafiore invites herself (and the inevitable accompanying media frenzy) to Marlinspike, leading first to worries about theft and then what seems to be an actual theft. It’s also got some good don’t-judge-people material, suitable for its young audience, though that thread is mostly background.

Flight 714 to Sydney is a more typical adventure story: Tintin and Haddock and Calculus are off to some international aviation symposium in Australia, get sidetracked by an eccentric rich guy, and then a villain strikes. There’s a lot of running around with guns after that, mostly serious, and a weird fantastic element that struck me as outside the usual style of the series and that largely serves to set up a deus ex machina ending in a book that didn’t need one. That one element aside, though, the adventure stuff is strong, and the comic relief mostly well-integrated into the actual story.

And then the last finished Tintin book, the one I could have read as a child of the appropriate age if Tintin was a thing in the USA in the mid-70s (it wasn’t), is Tintin and the Picaros, something of a greatest-hits compilation of the series. The fictional Latin American country of San Theodoros from The Broken Ear provides a venue and a big chunk of cast, one secondary villain returns from The Calculus Affair, and of course there’s the usual suspects of Tintin, Haddock, Castafiore, and the Thom(p)son twins. It has an odd anti-violence message from Tintin as part of his revolutionary plot, and that plot is fairly thin and mostly on rails.

I still think these omnibuses are a rotten way to present the Tintin books: they’re too physically small to read easily and the books are long and dense enough that they’d work better as individual albums. I expect the next big repackaging of Tintin will be back to the album format; every series gets packaged into omnibuses for a while and then broken back out again. If you have the inclination to read this series, I’d either wait for that switch or look for actual albums. (If you’re reading in a language other than English, the latter should be easier.)

As for me, I’m happy I read the series: it was a big hole in my comics cultural literacy. I didn’t love the Tintin books, but I didn’t expect to: they were made for European boys starting several decades before I was born, and I didn’t read them until I was middle-aged. But I can appreciate what they do well – I don’t think I’ve even mentioned Herge’s lovely line in any of these posts (maybe because of the horrible small size of these omnibuses, which does not display his art well at all) – and indulge the things they do to keep that young audience happy and engaged. I still don’t think I’d agree with the Tintin maximalists, but this is pretty good stuff. (See my posts on the earlier books for more.)

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

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Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg

We all live in the worlds we build for ourselves. For most of us, that’s deeply metaphorical. For people who tell stories for a living, well, it can be more complicated.

Take the Bronte family: the three sisters who lived into adulthood (Charlotte, Emily, Anne) all wrote novels, important books that are still read and studied today. Their brother, Branwell, was supposed to be the great genius of the family but never produced anything substantial – I’ve never studied the matter but I always got the sense that the expectations for Branwell were entirely because of his gender, and not due to any specific ability. But all four of them wrote, and they wrote together, or maybe just in and around each other’s stories, when they were children. They invented worlds, and peopled them, and squabbled over the people in those worlds, causing schisms and an inevitable split, with two of the four packing up their stories and heading off to a separate continent.

All this while they actually lived in that famous remote parsonage in Haworth: the four children, their parson father, a housekeeper. Probably seeing people from the village all the time, but the story of isolation avoids mentioning that. Definitely remote, definitely separated, definitely just with each other almost all the time.

So they lived in their invented world as much as the real one: it was as important – more important.

Isabel Greenberg’s third graphic novel Glass Town  – her first to be set in the real world, not her invented Early Earth – tells that story, in a fictionalized form. Charlotte is at the center, and she usually is in tellings like this: she was the one who survived the longest, after all. (She died at the age of 38: in most contexts, that wouldn’t count as very long at all.)

It opens with Charlotte in a field in 1849: she’s the last of the four left alive. And she’s met by one of her own characters, to tell her what has become of Glass Town, the city the four of them made, and of Angria, the country Glass Town sits in. (And to say nothing is known of Gondal, the land Emily and Anne created without the other two.) This is our frame story: he asks her to tell him the story they both know. And of course she does.

Greenberg says up front that this is a fictionalization – well, we know that as soon as a fictional character appears on the moors to talk to Charlotte – but that also means that any specific detail may be invented, or altered, or just never recorded in real history. So much of this could be true, or false, or somewhere in between. That’s not important, though: the story is important.

The story is mostly about the Glass Town characters, and their complicated grand-opera affairs: the dashing rogue Zamorna, his colorless wife and her scheming evil father, Zamorna’s real brother the gossip-merchant and foster brother the Black true king of this colonized land, and a few others. They’re all tied up in a knot, and their story is bound to end with violent conflict and death.

I don’t know if any of the Brontes ever wrote that ending. I don’t know if they wrote competing endings, but I suspect they at least talked about it. I don’t know if any of those potential endings exist. All I know is what Greenberg tells me here, in this version of their lives – how they battled over how the stories should go, with Charlotte and Branwell more warlike and Emily and Anne more domestic. That led to the split, as Greenberg tells it. But we now know basically nothing of Gondal, because none of those writings, except a few scraps of poetry, survived. So all we have is Glass Town, and the men maneuvering to kill each other over it.

It’s difficult to tell a completely happy story about someone who died young a hundred and fifty years ago – not when you’re covering a lot of her life, anyway. Glass Town is a book about creation and destruction, about living in the real world vs. living in invented ones…but it tends to come down on the side of destruction and invented worlds, as one should probably expect from a creator of fiction.

As in her previous books, Greenberg has an almost faux-naif art style, full of stiff figures with simple features, just expressive enough for her purpose. (If they look a bit like cutout dolls, or perhaps more specifically lead soldiers, that’s not an accident.) It’s a style that may be off-putting to people who read a lot of traditional comics – superhero, manga or YA – since it comes from a more deliberate artistic tradition, one that is not aiming to render things the way they look to the viewer.

Glass Town, because of that hundred and fifty years, because of Greenberg’s art style and other choices, and because of the nature of Glass Town itself, is a bit chilly and detached – it’s not a warm, welcoming story, and never would have been. Any reader will need to be aware of that, before they make the trip: the people of Glass Town have their own concerns, and will have little time for you.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.