Tag Archives: Books

Review: ADVENTURES ON A DESERT ISLAND, published by Centrala

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Greetings from Central Europe. Did you know that some of the most intriguing comics are made in this region? Consider Polish cartoonist Maciej Sieńczyk and his latest graphic novel, “Adventures on a Desert Island,” published by Centrala. It brings to mind The Beatles’ 1968 animation masterpiece, “Yellow Submarine.” This is quite an oddball journey spiked with cerebral whimsy.

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Maciej Sieńczyk offers us an average man, frayed around the edges. We don’t know much about him other than he’s middle-aged, with thinning hair, decidedly unathletic, and timid. We never learn his name. We spend most of our time inside his head. He’s supposed to be on a desert island for most of the story but it’s the internal monologue he is having with himself that is the main attraction.

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Our main character is a stranger in a strange land. The strangeness comes to us from various sources including actual Polish history, folk tales, and local stories. There are, for instance, observations made on obscure Poish devices like a primitive military ferry that proved inefficient or an awkward farming implement that proved obsolete. In Sieńczyk’s hands, with his cockeyed ethereal drawings, the familiar and mundane become fanciful things more suited to a dreamy Neverland.

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One strange story blends into another with jarring jolts along the way. For instance, there’s the tale of two men who fancied a drink of pine sap. One faired well. The other found his throat sealing up from the sticky sap. In the throes of his last gasps for air, he was miraculously saved by an old village woman who promptly sat on his face and peed into his mouth thus breaking the deadly pine sap seal.

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This is also a story about life at middle age. You may still feel young. You may even still look relatively young. But Death is already nipping at your heels. Oh, it’s only little nips. But those nips weren’t there in younger days. Now, life seems more urgent and a greater attempt is made to grasp it in all its complexity and absurdity. That’s what our main character has been up to. He’s realized life for what it is, a bunch of adventures on a desert island.

Originally published in Poland by Lampa in 2012, “Adventures on a Desert Island” is now available from Centrala. Visit our friends at Centrala right here.

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Filed under Centrala, Comics, European Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Maciej Sienczyk

Book Review: ‘To Marry Medusa’ by Theodore Sturgeon

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“To Marry Medusa” takes us further into the ideas explored in Theodore Sturgeon’s landmark novel from 1953, “More Than Human.” I reviewed that recently and you can read that here. Five years later, in 1958, “To Marry Medusa” finds us with one unconventional character, Dan Gurlick, instead of an ensemble of damaged misfits. The main idea is that we all have worth. Even Gurlick who, as his very name suggests, is quite an unsavory figure. This is a completely different and separate story from “More Than Human” but carries on that same humanist spirit.

Gurlick is as far down the heap as you can go: a illiterate homeless alcoholic with the thinnest grasp on reality. But, as Sturgeon would be happy to point out, he is still a member of the human race. Yes, …but. He’s human but he behaves more like an animal and pushes to the limits anyone’s tolerance for him.

And when an extraterrestrial being emerges, in pursuit of a human host, it is Gurlick who it stumbles upon and places the fate of humanity in his hands. As far as this entity, “the Medusa,” is concerned, Gurlick is as good as any other human to achieve its goals. Without a second thought, Medusa simply needs to plug into Gurlick and use him to plug into the rest of the humans and take over Earth. It really should be as simple as that, once a few details are carried out.

Medusa is a hive mind and has always been able to conquer other beings, once converted into hive minds. Why would humans be any different? The first mistake Medusa makes is attaching itself to Gurlick. In turn, Medusa finds humans to be a most unpredictable species. They are smarter than given credit for. They are more resilient than first believed to be. And they are more capable of fighting back than ever expected.

In a beautiful fable-like story, Sturgeon evokes human activity across the globe with vignettes of various characters. We see them at a bit of distance, never get too close to them other than to get a sense of their dreams and struggles. For a good part of the novel, we alternate between a profile from somewhere on Earth, whether it’s within an African tribe, or an Italian village, to the latest phase in the odd pairing between Medusa and Gurlick.

Sturgeon has such a seemingly effortless style. Every description and dialogue follows what appears a seamless path. Highly readable, Sturgeon’s work grapples with incredibly complex notions. He clearly loves his characters and it’s Gurlick who he loves the most. The guy can barely form a thought. He’s so limited and primitive as to be more suitable to another place and time other than a contemporary American city. When he’s out attempting to do Medusa’s bidding, he sounds insane, more so than usual. Medusa and Gurlick, no doubt, make for a delicious coupling of high an low.

We are given every indication that humanity will survive. However, it may not be as planned. For one thing, the hive mind perspective proves to be enlightening beyond measure. In fact, humans find that they can accomplish far more as a group than they ever could as individuals. Does that sound familiar? Well, sure, it’s us today on the Web, isn’t it? As Gurlick demonstrates, maybe we’ll always only be as strong as our weakest link. And Sturgeon never even once mentions a computer.

You can find “To Marry Medusa” over at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Hive Mind, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Theodore Sturgeon

Seattle Focus: Emerald City Comicon (March 27-29, 2015) Embarks on First Year with ReedPOP

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There has been a lot of buzz lately over Emerald City Comicon’s acquisition by pop culture events organization ReedPOP, a subsidiary of Reed Exhibitions. You can read Paul Constant’s report at The Stranger right here. Constant deems ECCC as “just the right size and not too super-intense. The comics professionals at the show always enjoy themselves, and so their interactions with the fans tend to be looser and more fun.” Now, there is no truly accurate basis for this but anyone can appreciate the enthusiasm behind such a remark. New York is New York. Seattle is Seattle. And so on. Each convention, large or small, offers its own unique dynamic. And, certainly, ECCC has its vibe.

According to The Stranger’s article on the sale of ECCC, its owner and staff will be retained by ReedPOP to act as consultants for all its comics conventions around the world. ReedPOP already runs such prestigious conventions like New York Comic Con. ReedPOP is, without a doubt, huge but they say they want to listen to any feedback. In April of 2014, it had to deal with controversy leading up to the first annual BookCon in New York which ReedPOP was responsible for. There was a panel of writers entitled, “Blockbuster Reads: Meet the Kids Authors That Dazzle” which touted an “unprecedented, power-packed panel” of the “world’s biggest children’s authors.” The panel of writers: Daniel Handler, Jeff Kinney, James Patterson, and Rick Riordan. All middle-aged upscale white guys. Moments after the news hit, the backlash ensued with leaders in the book industry crying foul on social media over the lack of diversity. And ReedPOP did indeed listen and responded with a panel on diversity.

For ECCC, it should be calm and steady waters ahead. Seattle is such a great location as we love our high and low culture from movies and television, to books, to games, and, of course, comics. We have more comic shops than some larger cities. We have more comics creators than some larger cities. ECCC definitely has an ideal location.

Talent headlining ECCC for 2015: Amanda Tapping. John Wesley Shipp. Dante Basco. Karen Allen. Clark Gregg. Anthony Mackie. Kevin Eastman. Gina Torres. LeVar Burton. Grant Imahara. Stan Lee. Emerald City Comicon is being held at the Washington State Convention Center on March 27-29, 2015. For more information, visit ECCC right here.

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Filed under Bookcon, Books, Comics, Emerald City Comicon, New York City, New York Comic Con, Paul Constant, ReedPOP, Seattle, The Stranger

Le Cagibi and L.B. Cole at Fantagraphics Bookstore in Seattle, January 10, 2015

"Black Light: The World of L.B. Cole," published by Fantagraphics Books

“Black Light: The World of L.B. Cole,” published by Fantagraphics Books

If you are in Seattle this weekend, get yourself over to Georgetown and the monthly Art Attack. Then go right over to the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery. This Saturday, you have two special treats at Fantagraphics. You can enjoy a slide show lecture on L.B. Cole, the all-time great artist of proto-psychedelic comic book covers. And, there will be a workshop conducted by visiting artists from Le Cagibi, an engraving studio in Lilli, France. This all takes place on January 10, from 6 to 9 pm. Visit our friends at Fantagraphics right here. More details follow:

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Filed under Comics, Fantagraphics Books, Georgetown Art Attack, Seattle

Review: ‘Here’ by Richard McGuire

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What if that snarky comment that you thought was so clever was preserved forever, and not on some server, but in the very room that you first gave thought to it? What if every thought, every act, everything, in that room, were saved forever, beyond deletion? That is what this graphic novel is about. “Here,” by Richard McGuire, invites you to observe one particular spot through hundreds of thousands of years. Often, we see that spot as a room, a living room, in a house. But, at other times, it’s wide open to the forces of nature, both in the past and in the future.

Considering that all of time is fair game for this story, with all the vast possibilities, we do spend a considerable amount of time, a relatively brief speck of time, in a room. It’s that space, when it once was a room, that would seem to be significant. We relate to a room best, especially one in or around our own time. The ability to dwell, just dwell, in a room is the cornerstone of civilization. And the last one hundred years or so have been a golden age for room dwellers. That’s the lifespan of our main character, a living room. It helps to anchor us, being in a relatively familiar room. In this narrative, we observe a cast of characters also anchored, biding their time, wasting their time, anchored by conformity, domesticity, and convenience. What is anyone really doing? They’re dwelling.

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It’s the little things that count, we are told. But it’s the big things that really get our attention, once a myriad of little things have taken place. Little. Big. Lives are made up of both. As McGuire observes, there sure are a lot of little moments. Even the big moments aren’t so big. We see a lot of accidents take place among the characters. Accidental moments that go off with a bang. A man slips from his chair. Another man falls from a ladder. The biggest incident seems to be a man struggling to breathe, perhaps having a stroke. In all that time, that space has one noteworthy moment, a visit from Benjamin Franklin. And that, my friend, is life, in a random little space, and is par for the course.

McGuire finds the compelling within what seems quite the opposite. A random little space, what does it really matter? Ah, well, humans have loved and lost and lived over many generations upon this stage. And, if you observe the flickering images long enough, you find patterns and you find something of a story, a universal struggle. McGuire’s style is wonderfully lean, low-key, and pared down. It has as much to do with comics and it does with painting, easily evoking the world of Alex Katz, peopled with lost souls floating along in the suburbs. In the end, though, it’s all about comics as the interplay among panels heats up and we learn all sorts of things all from the vantage point of one spot somewhere in New England.

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What is impressive about this book is that McGuire took a clever concept and fully followed through. As you open up the first pages, you know what may follow. Will he pull it off? I mean, look, he’s set up a premise, a room with a year in the caption box above. Is he going to really take us for a ride and have the years change in interesting ways and have us see that space in interesting ways? Yes! That is what McGuire accomplishes. And, if that’s not enough for you, then you’re one cold snarky so-and-so. The premise is ambitious and the vision is sincere. These are not things to take lightly.

The idea is that McGuire has taken us on a new kind of ride. That was the goal when this graphic novel was first just a six-page work of comics in 1989, in “Raw” magazine, volume 2, number 1. That was certainly a postmodernist shot in the arm for comics. “Here” articulated an intriguing storytelling tool with how it arranged a number of panels on a page all taking place at different times. Of course, it’s not completely new. Comics, after all, by its very nature, involves panels playing with the notion of time. Still, McGuire was introducing something new into the comics landscape. He was offering up some original ideas on points of view. He was also playing with tempo. And, he was most certainly fascinated with the quotidian, an almost morbid fascination with the minutiae of life. It was something new and in step with a rising sensibility to celebrate the mundane and everyday. His particular take on things would be taken into other directions by Chris Ware.

“Here” is a beautiful realization of an intriguing concept. It is a pleasure to read.

“Here” is a 304-page full-color hardcover, published by Pantheon Books, an imprint of Random House. You can purchase it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Chris Ware, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Pantheon Books, Random House, Richard McGuire, Time Travel

Book Review: ‘More Than Human’ by Theodore Sturgeon

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Perhaps when we think about science fiction, in general, we may still get lost. Even today, there are well-regarded writers in that genre, of great literary stature, who are due for a wider audience. In the case of Theodore Sturgeon, I am certain that, once a follower of his work, there is no turning back. What “More Than Human” achieves is nothing less than to inspire the reader. Its very purpose is to do just that.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Hive Mind, science fiction, Theodore Sturgeon

Interview: Miss Lasko-Gross and HENNI

Miss Lasko-Gross, photo credit: © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons

Miss Lasko-Gross, photo credit: © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons

Miss Lasko-Gross has been creating comics since high school. A collection celebrating 20 years of her work, “Miss Lasko-Gross: Some Short Stories 1994-2014,” is available on comiXology. She has been published by Fantagraphics Books, A MESS OF EVERYTHING and the YALSA nominated ESCAPE FROM “SPECIAL.” Now, Lasko-Gross embarks on another storytelling adventure, HENNI, published by Z2 Comics, a new series of stories about rebellion.

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HENNI is a young female in a fanciful world. She is an anthropomorphic character, a cat-like creature. In the same spirit as Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, and Jim Woodring, this is a strange, yet familiar world that Lasko-Gross has created. It’s a place that demands obedience and will not tolerate any questions. Well, Henni has a lot of questions to ask. She tries to maintain a low profile but she also knows that there’s a whole other world beyond her homeland’s gates and she is going to venture out. She does. And so Henni’s adventure begins.

It was a pleasure to get to chat with Lasko-Gross. We begin with thoughts on how her past work flows into her current work. We discuss the process of making comics. We talk about what it’s like to work alongside a spouse who is also an accomplished cartoonist, her husband, Kevin Colden (FISHTOWN; I RULE THE NIGHT). We also talk about her inclusion in the traveling exhibit, “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women.” And we talk about working with the boutique graphic novel publisher, Z2.

Listen to the podcast interview right here:

“Henni” is a 168-page graphic novel and will be available in comic shops on January 6, 2015 and in bookstores on January 20. For more details, you’ll definitely want to visit Z2 Comics right here. Formerly known as Zip Comics, the newly launched Z2 Comics is run by Josh Frankel and is the place to find some of the most exciting comics available, including the work of Paul Pope and Dean Haspiel.

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Filed under Comics, Comixology, Fantagraphics Books, graphic novels, Interviews, Miss Lasko-Gross, Z2 Comics

Review: HENNI by Miss Lasko-Gross

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With characters and settings removed from everyday reality, Miss Lasko-Gross has set out with “Henni,” published by Z2 Comics, to tell a fable about faith in a most stripped down manner. Henni, our main character, like all the rest of the characters, is some sort of feline creature. She lives in something like a grim version of a Dr. Seuss world. The rules of society are cut and dry: obey and don’t ask questions. And, by all means, especially if you’re a female, follow orders. Your eye is directed to a graphic novel with a distinctive focus in a pared down surreal landscape.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Miss Lasko-Gross, Z2 Comics

Review: ‘Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences’ by Matthew Christopher

Abandoned-America-Matthew-Christopher

The immediate impact of these photographs is undeniable: Outrageous oblivion. Everything torn apart, inside and out. Nothing spared. Nothing redeemed. You quickly draw your own conclusions despite what your more sober thoughts might tell you. This is a book about total destruction, along with numerous more measured considerations. “Abandoned America” takes you on a most unusual journey with this collection of photography by Matthew Christopher, published by JonGlez Publishing.

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Filed under Art, Art books, JonGlez Publishing, Photography

Retro Movie Review: François Truffaut’s FAHRENHEIT 451

Oskar Werner as Guy Montag in François Truffaut's "Fahrenheit 451"

Oskar Werner as Guy Montag in François Truffaut’s “Fahrenheit 451″

François Truffaut, the champion of children and misfits, was the perfect writer/director to lead the way in bringing Ray Bradbury’s classic, “Fahrenheit 451,” to the screen. If Bradbury had tapped into the anxiety and conformity attached to the dawn of the television age with the publication of his novel in 1951, then by 1966, Truffaut was making the case with all the more evidence. To make the point in a fresh way, for the time, we begin with various close-ups of TV aerial antennas superimposed upon brash colors.

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Filed under François Truffaut, Movie Reviews, movies, Ray Bradbury, Sci-Fi, science fiction