Tagged: literature

The Book Tour by Andi Watson

Any author would agree that a book tour has the potential for horror. It could be wonderful, of course — but what in human life is ever purely wonderful? There’s going to be something that goes bad. And there’s always the chance it could all go bad.

Which brings us to Andi Watson’s graphic novel The Book Tour , in which things go wrong, first very quietly and subtly then more and more obviously, for journeyman author G.H. Fretwell as he sets off on a tour for his new novel Without K [1] of what seem to be minor cities in some unnamed European country. It could be today, it could be the late 19th century. Fretwell takes steam trains, he stays in hotels – shabbier and shabbier, dodgier and dodgier as the tour goes on. And the tour does go on – that’s  one of the things that goes wrong, from Fretwell’s point of view.

He sets off with high hopes, a nice suit, and a suitcase full of books. He comes to the first stop on his tour, a cozy and quaint bookshop, sets up at a table in a corner with a stack of books and a good pen, and waits for readers.

It’s only the first of many bad experiences when he doesn’t sell a single book that day, or interact with a single person who cares about his work. The hotel that night is good, but things don’t go as well as he hopes. This is as good as its going to get for Fretwell.

There are shocking stories in the newspaper, which Fretwell does not read: he focuses only on the literary pages. There are dangers and surprises and troubles which he barely notices, even as they get closer and closer to him.

He meets with an editor: not his editor, who is unavoidably detained somewhere else. He is invited to a literary event verbally, but is unable to enter without a printed invitation. He finds the shops and hotels getting less appealing, and his itinerary getting longer and more onerous.

And then it gets much worse.

This is a different kind of book for Andi Watson: he’s spent most of the past decade and a half making fun, light adventure stories for younger readers, and close to a decade before that making resonant stories for adults that were not necessarily romances but centered on personal and family relationships. This is a more literary book, a book of quiet depths, where he implies much more than he shows, and shows vastly more than he tells.

The art is quicker-looking as well, with rough panel borders and lines that have a feeling of speed. Watson’s mid-century character designs – I always see a lot of UPA in his people’s faces – are precise and expressive while still being deeply caricatured, always in a style that fits the look of the book. The panels are tight, mostly in a grid – he does open up, here and there, but the overall feeling is tightness, closeness, with a lot of vertical lines for looming buildings and rain and grim functionaries and towering stacks of books and other ominous things.

The Book Tour can read quickly, but there’s a lot that happens in the gutters between panels and a lot that is implied by what people mention to Fretwell. So don’t read it quickly: this is a book to linger over, to think about, to enjoy the drawings and think about what may really be happening while poor Fretwell is distracted with his ever-worsening book tour.

[1] In-universe, this is a reference to Fretwell’s wife’s name, Rebecca (without a ‘k’). Doylistically, it could also be a subtle Kafka reference.

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

Slaughterhouse-Five: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Ryan North and Albert Monteys from Kurt Vonnegut

So this is how it goes: two years ago I had the urge to re-read Slaughterhouse-Five, possibly Kurt Vonnegut’s best novel [1]. And I did . It was still a great novel; it was still deeply sad about humanity. 

About a year later, a graphic novel adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five came out. It was adapted by Ryan North, creator of Dinosaur Comics and longtime writer of the current, popular version of Squirrel Girl. It was illustrated by Albert Monteys, a Spanish cartoonist who has worked mostly in satire. And now I’ve read that version, too.

So, this time, I need to talk about the pictures, and the transformation of Vonnegut’s words on a page into a visual format. I’ve already said what I had to say about the story itself, about poor Billy Pilgrim’s fate – many of the things I wrote here two years ago I thought again while reading this version; I still agree with all of that. My favorite line is still “Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future.”

I have the sense that North has fiddled a bit with the structure and timeline, but that’s a dangerous assumption to make: Vonnegut told the story sideways to begin with. Remember: Billy is unstuck in time. Slaughterhouse-Five, in any version, follows him that way, skipping from moment to moment across decades. It may well be that this is exactly the same structure as Vonnegut’s original. But I don’t think so.

I think North has tweaked things a bit to make better visual transitions: to turn Slaughterhouse-Five into something more purely comics, and not just prose poured into a new form and illustrated. He has to do that just to make Kurt Vonnegut a character in this version. Well, Vonnegut was a character in the novel: his voice was omnipresent, his viewpoint was consistent, his actions were mentioned more than once. But he was the omniscient authorial voice, without a name, mostly not taking human form. North isn’t pretending to be Vonnegut to tell this story – that’s another choice he could have made, or Vonnegut might have made if he’d adapted it himself  – but he wants to tell the same story, and include the Vonnegut bits. So we see Kurt on a plan flying back to German years later with an old buddy. We see him in the distance at the POW camp, at least twice. We see the famous scene where he admits all of the soldiers were babies and agrees to the subtitle of “The Children’s Crusade.” He’s there throughout.

He’s just not our point of view, the way he is in the novel. The graphic novel is less personal to Vonnegut, and maybe more for us: we are the ones watching Bill Pilgrim, directly. We’re not watching Vonnegut put him through his paces. He’s front and center, blinking, confused, trapped in amber. Unstuck.

Monteys has a lightly caricatured style: Pilgrim is probably the least “realistic” looking character, with a very long face and a gigantic nose. It’s an open face, one for showing details of emotion: it was a good choice. It works well. Monteys also varies his panel layouts a lot, dropping into a grid only rarely and breaking out splash pages and huge expanses of white multiple times. He and North have thoroughly turned Slaughterhouse-Five into a visual representation; this is not some Classic Comics template with all of the words shoehorned in.

Listen: I can’t tell you this is just as good as the original. I don’t know how to compare art works across formats like that. The original is a towering masterpiece of 20th century literature. It’s one of the great anti-war novels of all time. That’s a lot to live up to. But this version of Slaughterhouse-Five is beautiful and heartbreaking and sad and true and wonderful and magnificent and engrossing. There is no part of it that I can imagine changing to be better. It’s worth reading if you know the original. It’s maybe even more worth reading if you don’t. That’s what I can tell you.

[1] I haven’t re-read them in decades; my opinion is outdated. I want to read him again; maybe I will.

And I say I had the urge. Maybe I didn’t. Maybe I always was going to re-read it in 2019, and just got to that moment in my own personal mountain-range. Who can say?

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

Is This How You See Me? by Jaime Hernandez

Two years later, here’s a one-shot I Love (And Rockets) Monday — because the Brothers Hernandez have kept making comics, and those comics do make their way into books eventually, and even more eventually I will read them.

Is This How You See Me?  collects a Jaime story that ran from the end of the book-size annual New Stories into the beginning of the current magazine-sized Vol. IV comic. And I covered it, more or less, in the last post of the main run of I Love (And Rockets) Mondays.

The story? Maggie and Hopey, now pushing fifty (possibly from the other side) head back to Hoppers together for a punk reunion that neither one of them is all that enthusiastic about.

Well, Hopey is never enthusiastic in a positive way about anything: she was a ball of chaos in her youth, and has settled into a cynical sour middle age. Maggie is more mercurial, as usual, wanting to believe that things will be wonderful but continually remembering all of the other times she believed that things would be wonderful and they weren’t.

So they both know that you can’t go home again. And they don’t live that far from home to begin with: they didn’t get that far or do that much, all of their dreams of rock ‘n’ roll or prosolar mechanicdom to the contrary. We don’t know what their old friends do for a living, exactly, but we suspect they’re more successful: Terry has been making music all this time, at least successfully enough to have a career as a leader of various bands. And Daffy was never as punky as the rest, a girl from the nicer side of town who went off to college and seems to be solidly in the professional/managerial class. (Remembering that Maggie manages an apartment building and Hopey is a teacher’s aide — both jobs they fell into in mid-life when other things fell apart.)

None of that is text, but it’s definitely subtext. Punk was one of the regular youth-fueled screams of rage and rebellion, giving voice to people who felt like their lives had no good options. And they were not wrong.

But we all have to live our lives, not just protest them. Punk bravado burns out, or starts looking silly. Maggie and Hopey are long past the point where punk attitude was relevant to their lives, so this is like any other reunion: wondering who will be there, whether any of it will be worth it, whether it can provide any of those moments of clarity we live for.

This reunion is scripted by Jaime Hernandez. So there will be moment of clarity, for us as readers if not for his characters. I’m afraid Jaime’s central characters are cursed to never have clarity: that may the most central thing about Maggie and Hopey. They will never really understand themselves, or each other.

Well, I may be wrong. They’re getting older, and they’re getting better at seeing clearly.

This is the story of one weekend in about 2016, with flashbacks to 1979, when the two girls were young and fearless and something that passed for innocent and damaged in different ways than their middle-aged selves. I can’t say if it will be as heartbreaking for people who can’t remember 1979 — who haven’t lived fifty or so years themselves. I think so: I think Jaime is that good. But it has more punch the more of this connects with you personally, like any good art.

The more any of us live, the more regrets and what-ifs we accumulate. They can overwhelm us, I guess, if we let them. Is This How You See Me? is about wandering through those piles of regrets and what-ifs without actually talking about them, about seeing where you are this year and looking back in wonder and surprise and awe at who you were forty years ago.

It does not have the electric shock of The Love Bunglers. It’s a quieter book, a middle-aged book. But it’s just as strong, just as true, just as real. And Jaime Hernandez is still one of our best storytellers, working fearlessly in a form he’s made his own.

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

Book-A-Day 2016 #6: Baking With Kafka by Tom Gauld

Is Tom Gauld our most erudite cartoonist? From the evidence of his work, he well could be — there’s a parade of authors both classic (Shakespeare, Austen) and genre (Ballard, Gaiman) and modern literary (Franzen, Mantel), and a dazzling awareness of tropes and ideas and genre furniture in his work, and it’s hard to think of any other cartoonist who has worked so much with this material.

Naysayers might point out that all of this material originally appeared in the book section of the British newspaper The Guardian, and so one could thus expect that bookishness would be baked into the premise. That’s true, but, still Teh Grauniad asked Gauld to be their cartoonist in the first place for a reason, and it’s not because of his amazing facility at drawing likenesses of famous writers.

(Just in case: Gauld does not have an amazing facility for drawing likenesses of famous writers. At least, I’ve never seen such from him, and his minimalist style would tend to go in the opposite direction. But there I go explaining the jokes again.)

Baking With Kafka is a collection of Guardian cartoons. Some of them may have appeared elsewhere, before or instead of or also, because this book, like so many others, doesn’t explain where it’s contents appeared previously. (Cue my standard if-I-ruled-the-world complaint.) They are all about books, in some way or another, or, at least, about the kinds of things that bookish people care about.

It contains such awesome works as “The Four Undramatic Plot Structures” and “My Library” (with books color-coded as to whether or not they have or will be read), “The Nine Archetypal Heroines” and “How to Submit Your Spy Novel for Publication,” “Jonathan Franzen Says No” and “Niccolo Machiavelli’s Plans for the Summer.” All of those are a single page in size; no one must keep a thing in memory from page to page — except, perhaps, a sense of object permanence and the ability to read the English language.

Some people will hate this book. Perhaps they hate it because they hate literature, or books in general. Perhaps they hate it because Gauld’s style is too simple and illustrative for them. Perhaps they hate it because they are hateful people full of hate who live only to hate. There are many reasons, none of them, I insist, good ones.

All of the smart readers will love it. And you consider yourself a smart reader, don’t you? There you go.

(For those unsure as to how smart they are: the cartoons here are much like those in You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack . You might also want to consider Gauld’s recent full-length graphic novel Mooncop .)

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

7 Common Misconceptions About Science Fiction (and Comics) Publishing

7 Common Misconceptions About Science Fiction (and Comics) Publishing

Dennis O’Neil: Robber Barons, Then and Now

O'Neil Art 140102Where have you gone, Mr. Potter? Oh – I see. You’re over there with your chums Goldfinger, Scrooge and his pseudo-doppelganger, Scrooge McDuck and, oh look! It’s Uncle Pennybags, stepping away from the Monopoly board. And what’s causing that breeze?. Somebody left the portal between fiction and history open and look who’s coming through! People who at one time actually existed: John Jacob Astor, Andrew Carnegie, Jay Gould, John D. Rockefeller… on goes the list.

That last bunch, the ones who had birth certificates, are sometimes labeled “robber barons” and now you’ll allow me to quote from the invaluable Wikipedia: “In social criticism and economic literature, Robber barons became a derogatory term applied to… powerful 19th century businessmen,,, who used what were considered to be exploitative practices to amass their wealth. These practices included exerting control over national resources, accruing high levels of government influence, paying extremely low wages, squashing competition by acquiring competitors in order to create monopolies and eventually raise prices, and schemes to sell stock at inflated prices to unsuspecting investors in a manner which would eventually destroy the company for which the stock was issued and impoverish investors.”

But really. Were these guys actually so bad? Did they deserve to have writers of both fiction and non-fiction portray them as ruthless greed-heads? Is the stereotype justified?

I’m afraid so.

According research reported by psychologist Daniel Goleman “condescending or dismissive behavior… suggest, to a surprisingly accurate extent, the social distance between those with greater power and those with less — a distance that goes beyond the realm of interpersonal interactions and may exacerbate the soaring inequality in the United States… In 2008, social psychologists from the University of Amsterdam and the University of California, Berkeley, studied pairs of strangers telling one another about difficulties they had been through, like a divorce or death of a loved one. The researchers found that the differential expressed itself in the playing down of suffering. The more powerful were less compassionate toward the hardships described by the less powerful

In politics, readily dismissing inconvenient people can easily extend to dismissing inconvenient truths about them. The insistence by some House Republicans in Congress on cutting financing for food stamps and impeding the implementation of Obamacare, which would allow patients, including those with pre-existing health conditions, to obtain and pay for insurance coverage, may stem in part from the empathy gap. As political scientists have noted, redistricting and gerrymandering have led to the creation of more and more safe districts, in which elected officials dont even have to encounter many voters from the rival party, much less empathize with them.

So ol’ Captain Leftie is doing the Mother Teresa tap dance? Not guilty. Around these parts, all morality derives from the desired survival of the race. Huggy love is fine but in the end breathing is what’s important and the Old Ones who lived long enough to pass on genes learned the value of cooperation, a value that seems to be vanishing from our 21st. century grouches.

I didn’t build the house I’m sitting in and don’t even get me started about computers.

And no, I don’t believe the poor deserve their lot, especially not the children.

Something else… Oh yeah – happy new year.

FRIDAY MORNING: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY MORNING: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY MORNING: John Ostrander

 

THE WHITE ROCKET PODCAST REVIEWS JAMES CLAVELL’S ASIAN SAGA!

White Rocket 014: James Clavell’s Asian Saga!

This week author Rick Lai joins Van Allen Plexico to discuss one of the greatest achievements in both literature and television: James Clavell’s epic ASIAN SAGA– SHOGUN, NOBLE HOUSE, TAI-PAN, KING RAT, GAI JIN and WHIRLWHIND.  Climb aboard Struan & Co’s Lasting Cloud and try not to get shipwrecked in the Japans, you foreign devil, as Van and Rick explore the (gargantuan) novels and the TV miniseries and movies that were made from them!

Learn more at http://erthstationone.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/white-rocket-014-james-clavells-asian-saga/

Available as always on iTunes, or visit www.whiterocketbooks.com.

REVIEW: Eoin Colfer kicks off Doctor Who 50th anniversary with new 1st Doctor adventure

REVIEW: Eoin Colfer kicks off Doctor Who 50th anniversary with new 1st Doctor adventure

Some things we now know about the Doctor thanks to Eoin Colfer, writer of the Artemis Fowl books:

The Doctor hates Blakes 7.

The Doctor has lost a hand before.

The Doctor’s first stop on Earth was not 1963.

Colfer’s e-book, A Big Hand for the Doctor, is the first of eleven monthly releases, each featuring a different Doctor.  Eoin (“Owen”) chose the first Doctor, as played by William Hartnell, and takes advantage of that by doing an end-run around continuity and setting his adventure before the first adventure of the series.  In it, he is in Victorian London, recuperating from a battle with a band of organleggers who kidnap children from their bedrooms, wasting “not a molecule” of their biomass, resulting in their fearful moniker, the Soul Pirates.  The Doctor lost a hand in a sword fight with their leader, and while a new one is grown for him, a helpful alien surgeon fits him with a functional if unattractive metal claw.  His granddaughter Susan has disobeyed (of course) and set off after the Soul Pirates herself, only serving to get herself caught in their glittering tractor beam.  The Doctor must fight off the hordes of slow-witted pirates to save the children, as well as match wits with their leader, a young man who has chosen to wear The Doctor’s severed hand around his neck.

The short story (only about 5,000 words) is witty and charming, with wonderful tossaway details of still more adventures unseen and yet to come.  The story is laced with parallels to a certain classic of children’s literature, all tied up with a cameo by the author at the end, once again showing that even when he’s not aware of it, The Doctor can’t help but to help.

The authors of the rest of the anniversary adventures are a closely-guarded secret  Each will be revealed around the beginning of each month.  A number of names have been floated by numerous websites with little evidence or basis in fact, mainly to draw clicks to their pages.  The first book is available at many e-book dealers including Amazon.com.

TERRY CRONIN’S SKINVESTIGATOR VISITS THE DRUNKEN ODYSSEY PODCAST

Episode 32 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing, literature, and drinking, is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

On this week’s show, The Drunken Odyssey host John King interviews New Pulp Novelist Terry Cronin, author of The Skinvestigator series.

Learn more about The Skinvestigator here.

“Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes” wins Costa Book Awards biography of 2012

Dotter of her Father's EyesMary and Bryan Talbot’s Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes has won the Costa Book Awards biography of the year. They won the £5,000 biography prize for a book that interweaves the true and tragic story of James Joyce’s daughter Lucia with Mary’s own troubled relationship with her father, the eminent Joycean scholar James S. Atherton.

The Talbots have known of the win for several weeks. “It has been really hard keeping quiet about it,” said Mary. “We were astonished. Just being shortlisted was amazing and hearing we’d won the category was stunning. We’re delighted of course, both personally – it’s the first story I’ve had published – but also for the medium, I can’t believe a graphic novel has won.”

It is not the first graphic work to win a major literary prize – Art Spiegelman’s Maus won a Pulitzer in 1992 and Chris Ware won the Guardian first book prize in 2001 for Jimmy Corrigan: the Smartest Kid on Earth – but the Costa award is still a significant moment for the graphic medium.

“It is a good thing for graphic novels as a whole,” said Bryan Talbot whose prodigious output includes The Adventures of Luther Arkwright and Alice in Sunderland as well as strips for Judge Dredd and Batman. “Graphic novels are becoming increasingly accepted as a legitimate art form.”

The last graphic novel spike came about 25 years ago with the popularity of books such as The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen and Maus. The problem then, said Talbot, was that there were not enough books to feed this. “By the time you’d read a dozen or so of the best titles, there wasn’t enough left to keep this nascent interest going. Since then, there has been an increasing number of graphic novels published and now we have this whole canon of quality work.

“We are living in the golden age of graphic novels. There are more and better comics being drawn today than ever in the history of the medium and there’s such a range of styles of artwork, of genre and of subject matter.”

Judges called Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes “a beautifully crafted” work “which crosses the boundaries between literature and the graphic genre with extraordinary effect”.

via Costa awards 2012: graphic biography wins category prize | Books | The Guardian.

Congratulations to Mary and Bryan!