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 Shadowsover 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.
Throughout the day, DC FanDome has been whetting appetites and tickling fancies for all ages. Below are some of the film and television announcements and teasers.
Perhaps the biggest release to date has been the first look at next July’s Black Adam film. Star Dwayne Johnson hosted the behind-the-scenes look at the eagerly-anticipated feature. Johnson was first attached to the project way back in 2007 and has been its champion through numerous changes of studio personnel.
In addition to Johnson, the film will feature Aldis Hodge as Hawkman; Noah Centineo as Atom Smasher; Quintessa Swindell as Cyclone, and Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate.
Over at the CW, Grant Gustin will finally sport comics-accurate yellow boots in the eighth, and possibly final, season.
HBO Max unveiled the news that both Titans and Doom Partrol have been renewed for fourth seasons. The third season of Titans is almost complete and the DP is about halfway through its run. And coming January 13, the ten-part Peacemaker series, spinning out of The Suicide Squad will make its debut.
Young Justice: Phantoms, the fourth season of the animated series, dropped episodes one and two today. New episodes will follow every Thursday beginning this week. The series is produced by Warner Bros. Animation. Greg Weisman, Brandon Vietti and Sam Register serve as executive producers
Among the first direct-to-HBO Max films, Blue Beetle, had some key art unveiled.
Pennyworth, the Epix series looking at a possible background to Batman’s faithful butler, has been renewed for a third season and will move to HBO Max, consolidating their DC offerings.
The Netflix adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman released its first look at Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer.
Catwoman receives her first animated feature Catwoman: Hunted with Elizabeth Gillies voicing Selena Kyle/Catwoman. The additional voice cast includes Jonathan Banks as Black Mask, Steve Blum as Solomon Grundy, Keith David as Tobias Whale, Lauren Cohan as Julia Pennyworth, Zehra Fazal as Talia al Ghul and Nosferata, Jonathan Frakes as King Faraday and Boss Moxie, Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Barbara Minerva/Cheetah, Kelly Hu as Cheshire, Andrew Kishino as Mr. Yakuza and Domino 6, Eric Lopez as Domino 1, Jacqueline Obradors as La Dama, and Ron Yuan as Doctor Tzin.
The adventure follows her attempt to steal a priceless jewel. The heist puts her squarely in the crosshairs of both a powerful consortium of villains and the ever-resourceful Interpol as well as Batwoman (Brooklyn 99’s Stephanie Beatriz). Shinsuke Terasawa directs from a script by former DC assistant editor Greg Weisman.
The film arrives February 8 followed in 2022 by Constantine: House of Mystery!, Teen Titans Go!, DC Superhero Girls: Mayhem in the Multiverse, Green Lantern: Beware my Power, and Battle of the Supersons, the studio’s first CG-animated film. Fans can also get Batman: The Long Halloween – Deluxe Edition.
Finally, after years of delays, the first teaser for The Flash was unveiled, hinting at Michael Keaton’s Batman, one of many caped crusaders to appear in the film which is based on the controversial Flashpoint miniseries. In a striking bit of convergence, this film introduces the DCEU’s version of the multiverse several months after Marvel’s third Spider-Man feature does the same thing.
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  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.
 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.
For about a thousand years, people have been writing, in effect, King Arthur fanfic, merging characters, rewriting events, introducing characters, reimagining them in different times and places. As far as historians can tell, there really was an Arthur and as his story was told, it got embellished. And embellished.
As a result, it’s hard to say if writer/director David Lowery did a better or worse job with his vision of the classic tales than anyone else. What I do know is that after teaching Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, his version comes up way short in my expectations.
The film, out on disc and streaming now from Lionsgate Home Entertainment, takes the 14th century epic poem, written by anonymous, and undercuts its themes and message in favor of new themes and messages, none of which I found interesting. The visually compelling film really isn’t very good on storytelling or characterization, other than the title character, which is a shame.
Gawain was Arthur’s nephew, youngest of the knights at the Round Table, his mother is, to most storytellers, Arthur’s half-sister Morgause. To serve as a knight suggests he was already proven a brave, noble knight, a faithful upholder of the code of Chivalry. Therefore, his willingness to take up the Green Knight’s challenge makes perfect sense.
Instead, here, Lowery depicts Gawain (Dev Patel) as a callow youth, a wastrel who drinks and beds his beloved Essel (Alicia Vikander), and shows no aspect of heroism. This, therefore, is a coming of age story, a hero’s journey in the making of man.
The Green Knight (Ralph Ineson), likely an aspect of the pagan Green Man, representing nature (think Swamp Thing), arrives to challenge Arthur (Sean Harris) to the beheading game, a popular trope in the fiction of the day. After Gawain lops off his head, the Knight scoops up the piece, and invites him to his Green Chapel in a year and a day so he may return the favor.
The poem is vague as to what occurs on the ride from Camelot to the Chapel, but it’s certainly more than the six days’ ride Lowery suggests. He uses this interlude to heap misery on Gawain, effectively stripping everything away from him so he can be remade and ready for the confrontation. Along the way he sees giants and is accompanied by a fox, new to the tale.
The bulk of the poem is devoted to the three days he spends with Lord (Joel Edgerton) and Lady Bertilak (Vikander) at a castle in the days before his appointment. Here, Bertilak offers him a deal that he will hunt each day and given to Gawain whatever he finds. In exchange. Gawain must give the same to his host.
And over the course of the three days, Lady Bertilak tries to seduce Gawain in more provocative ways, involving less clothing, and each time his chivalry holds out, so he accepts kisses, which he chastely bestows on Bertilak.
The film version warps the timing and growing size of the stakes as there are more kisses and larger game each day. On the final day, in addition to the kisses is the gift of the green girdle for protection, which he does not give to his host.
And despite the gift, he flinches the first time the Green Knight swings his axe. The second blow merely cuts his neck and then the game is revealed. Bertilak is the Knight. He and his lady were working for Morgan Le Fay (Sarita Choudhury), who wanted to undermine the Round Table by showing how even the noblest knight can falter. He returns home in shame, but is forgiven by all, and they adopt green wraps of their own as a reminder of their faith.
Not so in the film where Le Fay is his mother and she gives him the girdle only for him to lose it before the lady returns it to him. Then there’s a weird fever dream that suggests he will gain the throne but everything will fall.
The message here is muddied, the making of a man a flawed process.
Lowery clearly loves his subject matter and gives us a plausible looking England with a heady mix of magic. If only the writing and characterization so interesting.
Thankfully, the film, in a 4D Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and Digital HD combo pack lets the visuals shine. The 2160p transfer in 1.85:1 is stunning, nicely capturing the colors and shadows. In some cases, the 2160 is only marginally better than the 1080p but here it is markedly improved. Not that the Blu-ray is bad, just the 4K is better.
In both cases, the Dolby Atmos audio track is a lovely complement to the discs.
The film’s special features are so-so which is a shame considering the rich source material that could have been mined. Among the features are Boldest of Blood & Wildest of Heart: Making The Green Knight (35:23); Practitioners of Magic: Visual Effects (14:39); Illuminating Technique: Title Design (17:53), which is interesting given the chapter breaks we get; and the Theatrical Trailer (2:28).
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.)
The Dr. Seuss Enterprises lawsuit against us is finally over.
In August 2016, we put up a Kickstarter for Oh, The Places You’ll Boldly Go!, a mash-up of Star Trek and Dr. Seuss to be written by David Gerrold, drawn by Ty Templeton, edited by Glenn Hauman, and published by ComicMix LLC later that year. DSE sent us a cease and desist letter on September 27, 2016. (Yes, the legal wrangling lasted longer than the Enterprise’s original five-year mission.) DSE filed a DMCA motion to take down the Kickstarter campaign on October 7, and filed suit against us on November 10, 2016, alleging copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and unfair competition.
And yet, today we’re announcing that we and DSE submitted a proposed consent judgment for the suit, and that the Honorable Judge Janis L. Sammartino granted it on Friday, October 8, 2021 and closed the case.
Why? The simple truth is— we ran out of time.
This past year, Ty was diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer. This has required him to undergo months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, just to prepare him for the needed surgery—which will then require weeks of recuperation until he recovers enough to go through six MORE months of chemo and radiation, and then MORE surgery after that. This has affected his ability to work, to draw, and to do any of the things an immunocompromised person shouldn’t do, especially in the middle of a global pandemic.
And the trial schedule would have been smack in the middle of all of that. After five years of sometimes ridiculous litigation and with the pre-trial deadlines looming, as Ty’s collaborators and friends, we refused to put him through any additional stress that could in any way impinge on his health and recovery. To the credit of the people at DSE, they didn’t want to put Ty through that either. So we joined in a motion to end the suit the day before Ty’s surgery, in order to alleviate the less serious pain in his ass so he can deal with the far more lethal and literal pain in his ass.
In the consent judgment, DSE concedes some of our defenses and we concede some of their claims. Unfortunately, the terms stipulate that even though the book is complete, we won’t be able to present Oh, The Places You’ll Boldly Go! to you for another forty years, when the Dr. Seuss copyrights are set to expire and his books enter the public domain. (We can start taking preorders in January 2062, so set your calendar reminders now.)
We still passionately believe in and stand for creators’ rights, including fair use, and we still maintain that Boldly is a fair use that could not have harmed DSE in any way, now, five years ago, or in forty years. Unfortunately, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’s view of fair use makes it very difficult to overcome a well-heeled copyright holding corporation if it wants to stand in the way (anyone who thinks “corporations are people” has never seen a corporation in a cancer ward) and they decided that the book was over the line. We’re looking forward to the day when you can finally see the full book for yourself and make your own determination about it—until then, it’s like writing a book report by just looking at the cover, never seeing what’s inside.
It has been a long five-year mission filled with many absurdities. At one point, Universal Pictures asked us to help promote “The Grinch” DVD release, so DSE could make more money to bash over our heads. At another point, DSE paid an “expert witness” who got an artist to redraw our book in the most dreadful way imaginable, and then did a trademark survey asking shopping mall customers to compare Ty’s artful mix of Seuss and Trek with that hack job. We’re still wondering how our book referencing a single illustration from How The Grinch Stole Christmas could have taken “the heart of the work,” as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals thought, when the illustration in question shows neither the Grinch, Christmas, or anything being stolen. And less than thirty-six hours after the Ninth Circuit reversed the fair use ruling, we got to watch Saturday Night Live air a sketch about the Grinch in a Whoville three-way, with nary a peep from DSE.
We’re also grimly amused about how we had to fight a fair use case while DSE’s own publisher, Penguin Random House, put out their own unauthorized parody, Oh, The Meetings You’ll Go To! (Although there is some question as to whether or not Meetings is officially sanctioned by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, as the copyright page of Meetings makes no mention of a DSE license, yet this since deleted tweet from Eric Nelson on August 4th, 2020 says otherwise…)
But when we were sued two days after Election Day 2016, we knew that letting anyone with lots of money, name recognition, and power have the ability to shut down even the gentlest of parodies and mildest of commentaries about them unchallenged was an extremely bad precedent to set for the future—if for no other reason that we make up for one another’s biases by being able to criticize each other, whether we are children’s book authors or circuit court judges.
We can take satisfaction in many of the victories and precedents this case has set, including:
The Ninth Circuit made it explicit that mash-ups can be fair use. (Just not, apparently, ours.)
The District Court’s summary judgment ruling held that there are no exclusive trademark rights in an artistic style, or a distinctive font or typeface.
In fact, the trademark infringement and unfair competition claims wound up a total rout. They were dismissed based on nominative fair use in 2017. DSE renewed them, and we won judgment on the pleadings over its claims about the book’s title based on the Rogers/First Amendment test in 2018. We won the “that’s not even a thing” issue over the Seussian art style and typeface in 2019. And in 2020 the Ninth Circuit affirmed everything under Rogers and the First Amendment.
While we’re not entirely pleased with the case’s outcome, we remember the words of historian Richard Hofstadter, who observed that sometimes people must “endure error in the interest of social peace.” If we were ultimately unable to persuade the Ninth Circuit to reduce the amount of error involved in determining fair use for creators, we’ve done what we can to forge a path for future fair use activists.
There are many people we’d like to thank for helping us go boldly, as we believe that, as our book says, no one goes forward alone. First and foremost: our lead attorney Dan Booth of Dan Booth Law, who fought the good fight with the strength of a hundred lawyers against a firm with four thousand lawyers. We also give thanks to Michael Licari, now in-house counsel at Veteran Benefits Guide, Dan Halimi, now at Halimi Law Firm, T.C. Johnston at Internet Law, Joanna Ardalan of OneLLP, who appealed our case to the Supreme Court, and Ken White of Brown White & Osborn LLP, who sent up the Popehat signal that brought us much needed assistance in the first place. And we thank Dr. Joshua Gans, our expert witness, who generously donated his time and testimony and worked under ridiculous constraints.
We’d also like to thank the people who filed amici briefs taking our side:
Francesca Coppa, Stacey L. Dogan, Deborah R. Gerhardt, Leah Chan Grinvald, Michael Grynberg, Mark A. Lemley, Jessica Litman, Lydia Loren, David Mack, William McGeveran, Mark P. McKenna, Lisa P. Ramsey, Pamela Samuelson, Jessica Silbey, Rebecca Tushnet, Magdalene Visaggio, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Organization For Transformative Works, Public Knowledge, and their counsel Chris Bavitz, Mason Kortz, Phillip R. Malone, Meredith Rose, Eric Stallman, and Kit Walsh.
And we’d like to also thank Mike Gold, Martha Thomases, Brandy Hauman, Keiren Smith, Pam Hauman, Shann Dornhecker, Mark Treitel, Joshua Masur, Katherine Trendacosta, Heidi Tandy, Meredith Rose, Brian Jay Jones, Mike Godwin, Margot Atwell, Camilla Zhang, Oriana Leckert, Allison Adler, Michael C. Donaldson, Film Independent, the International Documentary Association, and Steve Saffel.
We’d very much like to thank United States District Judge Janis L. Sammartino, who presided over our case with patience, fairness, wisdom, and thoughtfulness, and all of the staff that supported her.
And finally, we’d like to thank all of the Kickstarter backers who wanted to make this book a reality, all the supporters who helped cover (the start of) our legal expenses, and all of the journalists and scholars who followed and reported on our case. We are grateful for your generosity and faith, and are very disappointed that we can’t show you what you’ve been waiting years to see. At least not yet.
For those interested, the case is Dr. Seuss Enterprises LP v. ComicMix LLC et al.,; case number 3:16-cv-02779 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, and case number 19-55348, in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
P.S.: There’s two more last minute “thank yous.” The proposed consent judgment was submitted this past Tuesday, October 5. On Wednesday, October 6, Ty had his surgery, which went well. And on Thursday, October 7, two guys joined David and Glenn in sending get-well notes to Ty—a Mr. Shatner and a Mr. Takei.
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 EarlyEarth
– 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.
The personal is political. It always was, and always will be. When someone’s identity is a reason to suppress or attack them, from “will not replace us” to bathroom bills, it’s never just personal.
There’s a meme I’ve seen a number of times, about what is political – that arguments about taxes and land development and budgets are, but arguments about whether someone should be allowed to live are not. I want to agree with that, but, in the real world, arguments about people’s lives and existence are aligned with partisan politics. The people trying to de-humanize huge swaths of humanity know what they’re doing, and aren’t going to stop because the other side makes clever memes.
Nate Powell understands all of that. (Better than I do, I expect.) His 2021 book Save It For Later is explicitly about confronting the rising tide of fascism, authoritarianism, leader-principle, and white nationalism in the USA, placing those concerns in a parenting context: how do you talk to your children about fascists? How do you think about fascists to focus on what you can do, especially as one family in a deep-red state? And how do you survive when you’re surrounded by horrible, mean, vindictive people? (Who may not actually be fascists themselves, but are perfectly happy in their smug self-satisfaction to sign up for every last fascist ideal.)
My children were much older at the 2016 election: eighteen and fifteen. I was lucky: I didn’t need to explain that this was bad, that, as Powell put it, “the bad guy won.” Powell seems to have two kids like I do, but they were much younger – I think the older one was five on that horrible night. So the parenting piece was much larger for him.
He’d also just come off a big non-fiction graphic novel series with Congressman John Lewis, explicitly about protest and fighting against white supremacy. It’s called March: you may have heard of it. So this was important to Powell, and central to how he saw his life and work, in a way that it isn’t for most Americans.
Save It For Later collects seven essays in comics form, all on that same cluster of topics, created during 2019 and 2020. I’ve seen at least one of them before – I think on The Nib – so it’s possible they all appeared elsewhere first. But they clearly were designed to work together; they circle the same concerns and thoughts in a consistent way.
I’ve always loved Powell’s work, since I first saw his magisterial fiction graphic novel Swallow Me Whole. He particularly has a knack for black-background pages, with hand-lettered white type and splashes of light color for vignettes of activity. His comics pages often seem to be on the verge of apocalypse, personal or societal – that darkness sweeping in and inundating the pages, his energetic lettering, especially on sound effects, the tone of concern and fear and distress.
This is a book for an immediate moment. I hope it will seem strident or ridiculous in five years. (I bet Powell would, too.) It probably won’t, though: fascism doesn’t go away that quickly or that easily, and the “will not replace us” crowd is loud and central and has captured most of one of America’s major parties. What any one person can do during that moment is small and feels inadequate: vote, speak up, model good behavior, deflect as much anger from more vulnerable people as you can. And, most of all, think about those vulnerable people first: who are the fascists trying to hurt? How can you help to foil or counter or even just slow down those efforts?
Because the fascists are always out there. And they’re always focused on hurting people.
Sometimes you get into something it’s hard to get out of – now that sounds ominous, doesn’t it?
But all of life is a sequence of things you get into and can’t easily get out of: relationships, jobs, places to live, family. And fiction, especially fantasy fiction, can be metaphorical about those things, and not need to be tied down to dull reality.
So when I say that Kat Leyh’s graphic novel Thirsty Mermaids is about three young people who do something fairly dumb on short notice and without thinking it through, and end up deeply stuck in a place they don’t understand at all, you can see how that could go in a million different ways. In this case, it is fantasy. The title is not a metaphor: they are mermaids.
Or, actually, they were. That was the fairly dumb thing: transforming to human so they could get more booze in some unnamed tourist-y seaside town. (It’s hard to find alcoholic beverages underwater!) They know nothing about human society, as is traditional, so they’re in for some shocks both immediate (humans need to wear clothes!) and longer-term (capitalism! money! rent! jobs!).
So, anyway, Tooth, Pearl, and Eez had that awesome idea — they could get a lot more booze if they went on land, where the humans are, and then they could come back afterward to their regular awesome lives under the sea. And the night of drinking went well: they did find some clothing, which came with a card they used to buy drinks the whole night at a bar amusingly named the Thirsty Mermaid.
Sure, they ended up passed out in an alleyway, but that’s a thing that could easily happen to humans, too.
But then Eez, their witch, realized she had no magic as a human – which means she can’t turn them back.
Luckily, the bartender they drank with the previous night, Vivi de la Vega, is a soft touch. They end up crashing with her – the narrative wisely stays silent on whether she actually believes their drunken story about being mermaids – as Pearl and Tooth learn about human life and jobs, and Eez spends her days investigating human magic and figuring out how to get things back to normal.
Leyh isn’t emphasizing the drama here: their situation is serious, but only desperate for Eez, for reasons that the characters, and Leyh, will explicate as we get deeper into the book. Tooth and Pearl could fit in reasonably well on land: they’re loud and goofy and still deeply ignorant of human ways, but they have skills and their human bodies, if weird, work and are comfortable. Eez, on the other hand, finds human skin and the open air strange and disconcerting all the time, and it’s not going to get better.
So Leyh’s plot first throws them into possibly the most fish-out-of-water moment ever, then ambles around having them do fun clueless-about-human-life activities in this town that I keep wanting to say is Santa Barbara cosplaying as Key West, and then makes it clear that return is important.
Do they make it back? I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the ending.
Thirsty Mermaids was published by S&S’s Gallery 13 imprint, meaning that it was basically aimed at adults, unlike Leyh’s previous book Snapdragon. What that means is that there’s some incidental nudity – mermaids don’t wear clothes, remember! – that focus on alcohol as the source of and solution to all of life’s problems, and perhaps a quieter, more naturalistic story structure and a cast that have complicated depths like real adults. But it’s clearly another book by the same creator, with a lot of the same concerns and the same energy. So if you are a young reader who loved Snapdragon, or if you are in the business of getting reading materials to a young person who loved Snapdragon, I hope you are not shocked by a few cartoon boobs and, well, three very thirsty mermaids. This is a lovely, bright book full of fun moments, wonderful characters, and a deep concern for friendship and belonging.