Tagged: comics

The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag
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The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag

Morgan Kwon knows exactly how her life is going to go. She’s going to get through highschool, being exactly the person she seems to be now, with exactly the same friends, and then she is going to get off Wilneff Island forever, go to some big city, and begin her real life as the person she really is. All she has to do is keep everything packed up in the right boxes until then, and everything will be fine.

Narrator: everything will not be fine

Morgan is at the center of Molly Knox Ostertag’s mid-grade graphic novel The Girl from the Sea , and I think every reader – even those on the young and thoughtless end of that age-band – will sense that Morgan protests too much, that she can’t keep all of the boxes separate. Her parents have already separated when the story starts, so that’s one box broken up…and that, of course, is the point: she’s trying to control the things she thinks she can control, because something so central to her life was just totally uncontrolled.

In the opening pages of Girl from the Sea, Morgan slips on some rocks and nearly drowns. She’s saved by what she thinks is a cute girl, Keltie. And, if we readers are paying attention, we notice one very big box that she’s trying to keep separate and closed: that she likes girls. She thinks that’s got to stay hidden until she gets away, that it can only be a piece of her eventual adult life.

But Keltie is not just a cute girl: she’s something more special, and already loves Morgan. She’s loud and pushy and wants things and can show Morgan different ways of viewing and living her life.

Some of that is a metaphor for coming out. But a lot of it is literal: Keltie is a selkie, transformed from seal to girl, and with a lot of the traditional folkloric issues. (Ostertag plays a bit with reader expectations for some of these, I think, especially Keltie’s skin, but she’s not retelling any specific story or doing the usual folkloric stuff here.)

So: this is a story about whether Morgan will let herself unbend, if she will let herself break through her own boxes and be the person she actually is right now. And what will happen along the way: do her friends and family react the way she fears they will?

Oh, and Keltie has something pretty important she needs to do, too – she’s not in human form for nothing. Oh, sure, she’s crazy about Morgan, too – that definitely is part of it – but she has a mission for her people as well, and that’s not optional.

I liked Girl from the Sea better than Ostertag’s Witch Boy  books – those were fine, but had a slight whiff of formula about them, a sense that they were Teaching Lessons and Being Good Models and all that. Girl from the Sea feels more personal and specific, tied to a specific place Ostertag knows well and centered in a deep but new relationship. I also like the way it implies conflicts that never happen – there are things that are huge in Morgan’s head but don’t really exist in the real world. It’s still very much a book for younger readers, so people even more cynical and world-weary than me might find it too too, but it’s the kind of book I love to see for young readers, the kind that tells them they can be exactly the people they really are and that they have good, loving places in the world that they just need to find or make.

That may not always be true, in the actual real world. But it’s an important story, and it needs to be said as often as possible.

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

Paris by Andi Watson & Simon Gane
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Paris by Andi Watson & Simon Gane

I read this for almost entirely extraneous reasons, if that matters.

I’d seen the original edition of Paris  when it was first published, and wrote about it for ComicMix. (Be careful with that link; much of ComicMix’s back catalog seems to have been infested with hijackers, and there may be malware lurking about.) I vaguely knew that there was a newer, slightly longer edition, and had a perhaps even more vague idea of reading it, eventually, since I’ve been re-reading Andi Watson’s books over the last few years.

This is written by Watson, by the way, but the art is by Simon Gane. It’s the only time they’ve collaborated so far; Watson usually draws his own books. (Though they do have a new book together, Sunburn, coming up this fall.)

None of that is why I read Paris. And, looking back, it’s completely random that I did read it, only five days after this new edition was released.

I was browsing through Hoopla, the app my library uses, trying to find something to read that day. I’d just come back from a movie The Wife dragged me to. Now, it was not a bad movie, in any sense, but it was predictable and obvious and thuddingly normalizing in all sorts of ways: a well-executed thing that I didn’t mind watching but cared almost exactly nothing about. So I wanted something of a palate cleanser: something like that in superficial outlines, but more subtle, with better storytelling, and maybe something subversive about it. To be blunt, something with a bit of romance, maybe set in Paris in the 1950s, maybe without a moral of “common people are magical beings who make everyone’s lives better with their cheeky clear-headedness”.

Thus Paris. My original review covers the story (assuming you can navigate the “click Allow now!” pop-ups to read it): young American painter Juliet is in Paris, studying at the Academie de Stael in genteel poverty. Young British heiress Deborah is also in Paris, chaperoned by her horrible Aunt Chapman and having the most boring time possible in that city.

Juliet is hired to paint Deborah; they have a spark. Circumstances intervene to snuff out that spark, possibly before many readers have realized it is a spark, and not just a friendship. Will they meet again, and re-connect?

That’s the story. There’s some additional complications, such as Juliet’s lusty roommate Paulette and Deborah’s swishy brother Billy, but it’s a story about these two women, and whether they can manage to get together despite everything.

Gane has a very detailed style, that, to my eye, is influenced by both mid-century illustration and the lanky grace of high fashion. I don’t know if he always draws like this, but it’s a lovely choice for this story, making the City of Light a place of glamor and bustling life, real in its own way but idealized, the perfect vision of a romantic city of the past.

Like most of Watson’s work, the story here is low-key; you need to pay attention. It also helps to know a little French, since some phrases are untranslated until a set of notes at the end. But they’re all clear in context to readers who do pay attention.

The first time around, I thought of Paris as minor Watson, but I’ve revised that estimation upwards this time around. Gane’s art adds something unique and wonderful, and Watson is at his most subtle and allusive here, trusting his readers to see this story and not need to be told everything. You may need to read Paris twice to properly love it, but you don’t need to wait fifteen years between readings as I did.

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

Girl by Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo
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Girl by Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo

There’s all kinds of ways to build a creative program, but the two big ones are to follow a specific editorial plan (superhero comics, TV shows for teens & twentysomethings, R&B music) or to work with a curated group of popular creators and let them do their thing.

The first is most common; you tend to see the second in more highbrow media areas, like prestige publishing imprints and classical music…and, maybe, that means they’re already in a sub-genre, but just don’t like to think of themselves that way.

In the ’90s, DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint was undergoing a slow-motion transformation. It formed out of a cluster of very popular comics that were mostly Type One (superhero comics taken seriously!) but were often presented to the public as Type Two (all British writers! all the time!). But the core superhero universe was on its own path to take itself seriously, in a very different and much more tedious way (pouches! grimdark! no captions!), and the premise of Vertigo was being undermined by that, and by the relentless demand for ever-more-complex and ever-more-consistent continuity everywhere.

I don’t know if Vertigo was consciously looking for a new Type One structure, but they eventually found it in High Concepts, SF and fantastic premises (Fables, Ex Machina, Preacher, Y: The Last Man) that were roughly Classy Television in comics form, typically owned by their creators rather than being sharecropped superheroes, and featuring enough FX that they wouldn’t have been feasible in a filmed medium. It took a while to get there, though, so the ’90s are an interesting period for Vertigo, full of quirky sub-imprints (Vertigo Visions! Vertigo Voices! Vertigo Verite! V2K! Vertigo Pop!), as the editorial team tried to figure out what their remit was and what kind of books they could do that would also be hugely successful.

Girl  was in the middle of that searching: part of the Vertigo Verite burst, it was a three-issue miniseries from 1996 that I don’t think actually got collected until this 2020 edition. Written by Peter Milligan, one of the core Vertigo writers (launch title Shade and a bunch of shorter-run things) and drawn by Duncan Fegredo, the same team from the three-years-earlier Enigma .

It’s not a superhero comic. It’s not fantasy or SF, either: pure realistic drama. And, despite the first issue feinting hard in the direction of “I’ll tell you something crazy, and then tell you what was really going on,” it settles down quickly to a more-reliable narrator, maybe because Milligan realized he only had seventy-two pages or so to tell the whole story. Or maybe not: there are some things here that are “real” at the time but retroactively not, or maybe vice versa.

Simone Cundy is a fifteen-year-old British girl, living in a crappy town (neighborhood? city?) she calls Bollockstown. She’s one of those smart, prematurely cynical kids, and was born into a lower-class family happy to live up to all of the stereotypes. She, though, wants to Change the World, or at least Get Out. Or maybe just Do Something.

She’s fifteen, living in an urban hellhole (at least: that’s how she sees it. Everything here is how she sees it). So it makes sense.

Girl is the story of some stuff that happens to her. It’s psychological realistic, though not necessarily realistic in the pure, kitchen-sink sense. It’s pretty weird, I mean: not weird in the Weird Tales sense, but weird in the “weird kid” sense. Simone is a weird kid – I should say a weird young woman, since her story is largely about sex and death, as such stories often are.

I’m not convinced her story is entirely successful: there seem to be several warring story-structures that pop in and out of place as we go along, and it sprawls an awful lot for something less than eighty pages long. Also, Simone is very much a type, and that type was all over the place in that era: the depressed semi-Goth girl was as common as salt-water taffy for about a decade and a half.

And I’m not going to be any more descriptive about the things that happen to her, or that she causes: if you read this, you should discover them as you go.

Simone has a fun voice, even if it’s a very familiar voice of the era. And this is a short book. So you might as well read it, if any of the above sounds intriguing: the Vertigo transition, the Goth-chick vibe, the weird story structures, the heavily-captioned style that was quickly going away by 1996.

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

Black Hammer/Justice League: Hammer of Justice! by Jeff Lemire, Michael Walsh & Nate Piekos
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Black Hammer/Justice League: Hammer of Justice! by Jeff Lemire, Michael Walsh & Nate Piekos

In the life of every licensed superhero comic, there will come an especially blessed day: Baby’s First Crossover.

This, my dear hearts and gentle people, is that blessed event for the unnamed super-team of Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer comics. [1] (See here for the previous volume and here for the first volume, if you’re unfamiliar.) Oh, you may quibble that they have already met quite a lot of other superheroes and villains, fighting and teaming up and generating a lot of Licensable Content. But all of those previous encounters were from Lemire’s universe as well; those calls were all coming from inside the house.

For the first time here, someone else deigned to have a play-date with Black Hammer, to let their toys play with the Black Hammer toys, to touch the dolls’ faces together to make them kiss. Those heroes are the current Justice League, the someone is DC Comics, and it is a bit like Barbie and GI Joe in the hands of an hyperactive eight-year-old.

The story is Black Hammer/Justice League: Hammer of Justice!, possibly the laziest possible title for this story. (The exclamation point might have taken a moment of thought; thus the “possibly.”) It’s written by Lemire with art by Michael Walsh and colors by Nate Piekos; I imagine someone on the DC side kibitzed editorially to keep the JL on-brand as well.

Amusingly to me, the Black Hammer gang are still their core ’80s incarnations while the JL is the current (I think) modern incarnations. Sure, separate universes don’t need to line up their timelines exactly, but wouldn’t it be more fun if Lemire had used the contemporaneous bwa-ha-ha era League? Or, possibly even better, the Detroit League? Ah, well.

In any case, the plot is the usual: a Mysterious Someone appears to both teams in their normal milieu (the BH gang grumping on the farm; the JL punching Starro) and swaps their places for making-mischief reasons. In a twist that is never explained, the JL immediately believe they’ve been on the farm for ten years, and mope about that, but the BH gang are aware of actual reality and spend most of their time squabbling with other Justice Leaguers.

The plot from there is…well, there’s that squabbling and moping, which takes up a lot of pages, then the inevitable Reveal of the Mysterious Someone, which is played up big but is one of the few obvious candidates and doesn’t really lead to anything, then, finally, as the play-date is ending, all of the dolls need to go back into their respective boxes separately, so they can stay in mint condition for the collector’s market. Lemire does throw out what may be a hook for another story, but it would need to be another DC Crossover, so let’s hope he gets good grades in school and does all his chores, so maybe there will be another play-date.

At the end of the book, we get what seems to be thirty pages of variant covers for the five issues of this miniseries, and I have nothing coherent to say about that.

I cannot take a single thing about Black Hammer seriously for a second, even while reading it. It is so deeply pastiche that there’s nothing substantial about it. If you are less cynical about superhero comics than I am, you may enjoy this on a more normal level. But it’s well-done – the characters talk like human beings and are drawn in a solid modern style – so it amusing on whatever level you can connect to it on. Black Hammer is not bad; it’s never been bad. It’s just deeply pointless and creepily incestuous.

[1] Black Hammer was a guy; he’s dead now. His daughter later becomes the new Black Hammer, and another woman who looks very much like her becomes another version a hundred years later. And I think there was one before the main guy, but Lemire hasn’t told any stories with the old dead one yet. This is superhero comics; names are just trademarks, and trademarks have to be used or they will be lost.

The team, on the other hand, has no trademark, no identity, since they’re drafting on the Black Hammer name and it’s far too late to create something new now, ten books in.

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

Bionic by Koren Shadmi
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Bionic by Koren Shadmi

Victor is a geeky teenager, mildly bullied by the jockish types at his high school – but also smart and skilled enough to be rebuilding old game consoles to make a serious side income. He’s obsessed with Patricia (Patty), who is gorgeous and rich and blonde, in the way of a million boys before him, and has about as much chance as they do.

Maybe less of a chance, since I’d estimate nearly 5% of the panels of Koren Shadmi’s graphic novel Bionic  are of Victor looking at something, usually Patty, and if he’s not gaping open-mouthed and frozen every time, well, he’s close to it. This is very much a book from the point of view of a tentative young man who doesn’t know what to do, what to say, or even what he actually wants. It’s full of moments of Victor’s confusion and indecision and longing and desire: those moments are the core of the book.

There’s more to Bionic than that, of course, as the title and cover imply. Victor and Patty have an almost-relationship: they sit together for at least one class (this isn’t clear) and he adopts a pet from the shop where she works. That’s probably where it would have stayed, with Victor whining to his friend Gus about his crush and Patty getting deeper into her relationship with probably-not-as-much-of-an-asshole-as-he-seems Brian.

But then something happens.

Patty’s father is CEO of a tech company, and…you see that cover? That’s Patty, after the something that happens. Hence the title. She’s suddenly not as popular as she was: Brian isn’t interested in a half-robot girl, and her former BFF is now a queen bee angling for him and being casually cruel to Patty. But, then: these are all teenagers. They are casually cruel in any case, all of them, almost all of the time. Maybe they will outgrow it eventually, some of them.

There are other layers, but that’s the core: cruel teenagers, body transformation, sexual desire, with a bit of technological and capitalist paranoia lurking around the edges. Victor and Patty are both difficult people to like: Victor is horribly passive and whiny; Patty is oblivious before her change and horribly moody afterward. This could have been the story of how two imperfect people helped each other, but that’s not the story Shadmi wants to tell here: it’s much more conventional than that, with Patty as the figure of lust (in spite of her bionics? or, for Victor, even more so because of her bionics?) and Victor as the perpetually yearning horny teen boy.

There are a lot of conventional elements here, I have to admit. I haven’t even mentioned Patty’s relationship with her father, which checks off a couple of clichés by itself. The SF elements are equally as shopworn as the teen-crush plot, though both are handled subtly and well. But if you think you’ve seen this story before, you probably have – it’s that kind of story.

Shadmi has a soft art style, mostly mid-range colors (maybe with colored pencils?) over mostly thin, not overly dark lines. His people are a bit cartoony: the boys, especially the geeky boys, more so than the girls. Or maybe I mean the attractive people are less cartoony.

I don’t think Bionic is as new or different or interesting as perhaps it wanted to be, or thought it is. But it’s a solid story, set in the intersection of teen-drama and SF, that uses its familiar elements solidly and has a lot to admire.

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

Little Nothings, Vol. 3: Uneasy Happiness by Lewis Trondheim
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Little Nothings, Vol. 3: Uneasy Happiness by Lewis Trondheim

If I wanted to be dismissive, I’d describe this book as collecting daily watercolor comics pages about French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim’s vacations in 2007.

And that’s not untrue, but it misses the point. The whole Little Nothings series, as far as I can tell, is about quotidian life: small moments in a day that are interesting or evocative or representative. Trondheim didn’t seem to do this diary comic every day, and I haven’t seen any explanation of when he did do it. My guess is that he did it when he wasn’t working on something else: in between other projects, on vacations or trips to comics festivals or just random days at home. Maybe because he did these in small notebooks, so they traveled more easily than his usual art setup; maybe for entirely different reasons.

In any case, he stopped doing these a good decade ago – again, for a reason I don’t know. There were seven books of the series in French, as Les petits riens, and four of them were translated into English. This here is the third one, Uneasy Happiness . I read all four back around the time they were published, lost them all in my 2011 flood, and recently went back to get new copies of The Curse of the Umbrella  and The Prisoner Syndrome .

There’s not a lot to say about the substance of diary comics: each page is a moment in a particular day. Trondheim does regularly construct sequences, especially when he’s somewhere warm on a holiday, but those are 2-5 pages at most, loosely linked with the same concerns, each one again a specific moment or interaction on a different day. It’s like anyone’s life: some things recur, or make us remember what happened yesterday, or we see the same things and have the same thoughts again and again.

Trondheim’s art is quick but assured: I get the sense he did these without fussing about them, and he mostly doesn’t go in for serious page layouts – just individual vignette panels, unbordered, almost scattered across the page, with lines that are never quite straight (I don’t think Trondheim has ever used straightedges or cared about being precise and level) and colors built on top of them.

In this book, Trondheim travels to Italy, Portugal, Reunion Island, and Fiji (including what seems to be some other islands in the same region of the Pacific), as well as Paris and some other destinations within France. He rarely explains why he’s going anywhere – the Angouleme festival each year is obvious, but mostly he’s just off somewhere with someone, and sometimes he shows himself at a signing (so it must be a comics festival) and sometimes he doesn’t (so it might or might not be) and sometimes he shows himself with his family (so it’s clearly a vacation).

The Fiji trip in particular is in company with another cartoonist, who I think is named Emile from some postcards on the last page of the book. Trondheim draws him as a panda, and never explains who he is or why the two are traveling together: was this another festival? did they just both want to go to Fiji and their families didn’t? were they working on a project together and could call this “research” for tax purposes? We don’t know, as we rarely know the details of other people’s lives. We just see some moments, react to it however we do, and then move on.

I found Trondheim a great diary cartoonist, and I wish both that he did more of it and the rest of his diary comics that do exist were published in English. But the things I wish for only very rarely come true. At least we have four books of Little Nothings: they may be little, but that’s not nothing.

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

Blackwood by Evan Dorkin, Veronica Fish, and Andy Fish
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Blackwood by Evan Dorkin, Veronica Fish, and Andy Fish

All the most interesting people have the least-likely careers. (Says the man who started out as a SF editor and somehow ended up doing content marketing for corporate lawyers.) Evan Dorkin was a fiery young cartoonist in the ’80s and 90s when I discovered his work, writing and drawing id-fueled scrawls like Milk & Cheese  and The Eltingville Club . But somehow, along the way, his modern comics career is mostly about writing vaguely Lovecraftian-flavored fantasy/horror adventure stories for other artists to draw.

Like Beasts of Burden  or Calla Cthulhu  – or like this book: Blackwood , written by Dorkin with art by wife-and-husband team Veronica and Andy Fish.

Blackwood College seems to be just another mid-rank private learning institution, though it seems like all of their fields of study are specialized cases of anthropology with various cultural, occult, or religious bends. It’s not that simple, of course: Blackwood has Deep Secrets.

And four brand-new first year students, who have all been recruited to the secret college-within-a-college at Blackwood, are going to find out about those secrets the hard way.

Blackwood collects a four-issue series, so it gets going quickly – with some old guy who just did something magically dangerous and is now dictating his last words while Something happens to him – and keeps at a blistering pace throughout. There’s not a lot of room for the lore of this place to be explained, so the reader (and those four main characters) pick it up in bits and pieces as Dorkin tosses it out.

The last issue hits all of those Deep Secrets, some of which the reader will have guessed and some of which seem to come out of left field. (I wonder if this was originally planned to be longer – maybe six issues? and it got shortened somewhere in the process.) It all runs just a hair too fast and is a hair too generically Creeping Horrors for me, but it is fun and zippy throughout, and the Fishes make good artistic choices: they do grotesquerie well and Veronica’s chapter-break art is particularly atmospheric and spooky.

All in all, I wanted a little more How This World Works and a little less “ahh! the bugs are going to kill us!” but this is largely a Teenagers in Danger movie done as a comic, so what I wanted is somewhat outside the bounds of the genre. This is just fine for what it is, and sets up a world where there could be plenty of other stories – I know there’s at least one more already.

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

Fowl Language: Winging It by Brian Gordon
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Fowl Language: Winging It by Brian Gordon

If there’s only three books of something, and you read the first two and enjoy them, you’re gonna come back and hit the third one. It’s just one of those things.

I may not have anything new to say about Winging It , the third book collecting Brian Gordon’s online comic strip Fowl Language, since I’ve already written about Welcome to Parenting  and The Struggle Is Real  since March.

Gordon’s been doing this strip about a decade, and it’s entirely about his family life: he draws a family of ducks (viewpoint father, mother, older boy and younger girl) who match, as far as the reader can tell, his actual family, although the ducks have (very sporadically) had their own names, which don’t match Gordon’s family’s names. By the point of the strips in this 2019 book, the two kids were tweens: the obnoxious, demanding, argumentative years. (They’re all obnoxious years, as parents come to learn – it’s just different kinds of obnoxious as you go along.)

This one is more structured than the first two were, organized into a dozen thematic chapters, each one of which has a short intro by Gordon, laid out in a font that looks like the lettering in the strip so it’s “handwritten.” Those chapters loosely follow the kid-development timeline – at least as far as Gordon’s own kids have gotten – starting with “Babies” and running through things like “Food” and “School” on the way to “Growing Up Too Fast.” The intros are pretty close to the standard American “kids are wonderful and horrible” line of discussion, and don’t really add much: I’m sure Gordon means all of it and is being sincere and honest, but we’ve all seen this a million times before. His strips are more distinctive and original, since they have to be quick and precise and funny.

As someone who has assembled books and planned out publication schedules, I have suspicions about this book. In particular, I would bet a medium-sized sum of money that it includes all of the usable early strips that didn’t make it into the first two books, as a semi-housecleaning measure, along with some then-newer material. It was the “we have just enough for a third book, so we’re making a third book” kind of third book, is what I think. And the intros were partially an effort to hit the sentimentalist sweet spot of the market and partially a way to generate new content for the book fairly quickly. (I would not be surprised if Gordon knocked them all out over a weekend.)

So this is the least of the three books to date, but it’s still fun and funny. If you find it next to a cashwrap, or in a pop-up in your favorite online store, as your own kids are squabbling in the background, you will likely enjoy it only incrementally less than the first two. And that’s just fine.

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

Billionaires by Darryl Cunningham
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Billionaires by Darryl Cunningham

Billionaires  is a long, detailed book, with many more words than you’d expect for a graphic novel, and a long list of sources at the end – a well-researched and carefully-organized work of non-fiction. So my post here may be less detailed; any questions raised by the book will be best answered by the book.

Darryl Cunningham makes non-fiction comics, I think – the book I’ve previously seen by him was titled How To Fake a Moon Landing  in the US (and less puckishly in his native UK), and his bio in this book lists several other similar titles. From what I’ve seen, he’s not entirely serious – there’s a thread of humor here, mostly in commentary about events, or in how he draws things – but his purpose is essentially serious, and, in this book, mostly a warning.

This is a book, broadly, about how massive concentrations of wealth tend to degrade and destroy both democratic institutions and human lives, and, more specifically, about four very very rich men and how they have demonstrably made the world worse while they also accumulated massive amounts of money for themselves.

The four are Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul and owner of Fox News; Charles and David Koch, the oil & gas magnates, libertarian nutbars and founders/funders of most of the most corrosive institutions of the American right wing; and Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and the single most destructive influence on the American working life of the past generation.

They’re all horrible in their own ways, though I tend to think Cunningham has arranged them in order of decreasing horribleness. Murdoch is a nasty old bastard whose creation was central in the near-coup that is still resonating in American life, and which has been proven, repeatedly, to make its habitual viewers stupider, worse informed, and more prone to radical violence. The Kochs have an even longer-term corrosive effect, made worse by the intellectual sheen they put on the brute selfishness of their libertarianism, and have been important for decades in climate-change denial that may well lead directly to the deaths of millions of people worldwide. Bezos, by comparison, is just a normal unpleasant tycoon: driven, obnoxious, with stupid manias (space travel!) and the usual mix of arguable benefits to the world (get things in a day from one retailer anywhere!) that come with obvious unpleasant side effects (horrible working conditions for both white and blue-collar workers! destruction of myriad competitors who provided jobs and careers and ownership for huge numbers of people! low-key demands for government handouts for new offices!).

Cunningham also says, near the end, that he could have done a similar book about lefty billionaires, which I think is at least partially disingenuous. That book might be clearer on how any billionaires, even ones who try to support charity as they get older and mellower (see: Bill Gates) are bad for democracy and everyone poorer than they are, but it would not have the frisson of these four very horrible people doing their very horrible things. Evil billionaires make a better case than vaguely neutral ones, or even inadvertently-destructive ones. And at least three of these four are very much evil billionaires.

This book may make you want to sharpen your guillotine and start gathering cobblestones for barricades, which is no bad thing.

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

Celestia by Manuele Fior
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Celestia by Manuele Fior

Some books tell you their background in exquisite detail, laying out all of the world-building carefully and clearly, so the reader knows exactly what has happened.

I generally prefer the other kind. I’m a grown-up; I don’t need someone to hold my hand.

Manuele Fior, I think, does entirely stories of the other kind – 5,000 km per second was a great story about people, told sideways and indirectly, and the shorter pieces in Blackbird Days  were also non-obvious. His new graphic novel Celestia  is also one of the other kind: a modern story with no thought bubbles or long explanatory speeches, set in a nearish future world that was utterly transformed by something that I doubt anyone left in the world understands.

Here’s all the background we get, before the first page of comics:

The great invasion came by sea. It spread north, up the mainland. Many fled. Others took refuge on a small island. An island of stone, built in the water over a thousand years ago. Its name is Celestia.

We never know who or what invaded. I tend to doubt it was anything human, but it never gets any clearer than that. What happened to those who “fled” is also unclear. Unless they fled the planet somehow, though, they don’t seem to be there anymore. Take that as as you wish.

I suppose it’s possible that this was relatively local: maybe just this continent, this land. But that’s not the sense I get.

Celestia, a generation later, must be self-sufficient by definition. It has no contact with the rest of the world, if there is a rest of the world. A new, post-invasion generation has grown up: this story follows two of them, Dora and Pierrot, the two characters on the cover. They both have telepathic powers, not entirely under control – and I would say that is not uncommon for this new generation. Maybe even more so as time goes on.

This is a story about humanity transformed, but that story is mostly in the background. The Great Invasion perhaps had something to do with the transformation: in the best possible scenario, it was some kind of Childhood’s End thing. The worst possible scenario? Whatever your biggest fear is. Whatever is the most horrible thing you can think of.

Pierrot’s father, Dr. Vivaldi, is one of the leaders of Celestia. At least, he has followers, so he’s leading them – it’s not clear if there’s any real government on Celestia, and the back cover describes it as “an outpost for criminals and other outcasts.” (As I’ve said before: if you’re the only people left, there’s no other government and you are not criminals, by definition.) Vivaldi has some kind of plans; I’m pretty sure they have to do with self-aggrandizement and power and likely some underlying theory of the outside world.

Pierrot is privileged, respected. He can reject his father and still come and go in his father’s circles as he pleases. And his telepathy is mostly a positive thing in his life.

Dora, on the other hand, is being chased. She’s in hiding, her telepathy lighting up unexpectedly, her mind only half her own. Vivaldi’s group wants her, for something that the reader may suspect will not be good for her.

Before long, Pierrot and Dora flee Celestia, with the threat of violence behind them. They are the first to do so, we think, though Vivaldi talks about exploring the larger world, all the time.

Pierrot and Dora find people outside Celestia. But very few. And most of them are from the new generation: even younger, and even more different than their elders than Dora and Pierrot. (More Childhood’s End, with maybe a touch of Midwich Cuckoos or creepier stories about transformed children.)

As they must, Dora and Pierrot visit a few places on the mainland, and will eventually return to Celestia for a confrontation with the people chasing them. We still don’t quite know why they are in conflict, what the factions in Vivalid’s group are, and why some of them would dare to threaten their leader’s only son. But we come to the end, even without that knowledge.

Fior tells this story mostly quietly, in soft colors on large pages. Even the scenes of violence seem frozen; his panels are each a moment in time, inherently still. He will not tell you how to think about this; will not tell you everything that you want to know. If you only like the kind of story in which everything is explained five times, with captions including everyone’s code names, this is not a book for you. But I hope more of you are grown-ups than that.

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