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Interview: Jerome Charyn on J.D. Salinger, History and Heartbreak

Jerome and Henry discuss writing, history, and J.D. Salinger.

Just about any reader has an opinion about J.D. Salinger. In his latest novel, Sergeant Salinger, Jerome Charyn takes that most celebrated and enigmatic of writers and crafts a story about history and heartbreak. It is about history nearly lost. It is about history relived. It is about heartbreak of the most sorrowful. In the end, this is a dazzling work that will take you on trip that will give you a more vivid sense of World War II and the journey that led J.D. Salinger right to the precipice. Was J.D. Salinger a great writer. Yes, he had that magic touch, that artistic vision. What does Jerome Charyn do with this story? As Jerome was adamant to tell me, this is not a story seeking to find out who J.D. Salinger was in any conventional sense. This is, after all, a work of art, a work of fiction.

Slapton Sands was a debacle that was almost covered up and lost to history.

For me, I just want to share with you a marvelous novel. There’s so much to enjoy in the way of masterful writing. I cite one example here where J.D. Salinger finds himself levitating up and flying over Central Park on his way to Belvedere Castle. He is transformed back into a boy along with his sister, Doris, becoming a young girl again. They confront a sinister figure, a witch, who is actually Salinger’s estranged wife, Sylvia. Doris is puzzled when the witch invites Doris to a lesson she can’t learn in any school. What could that be? asks Doris. “What can you teach me?” The witch looks at Doris and replies, “How not to exist.” I know this is out of context but I trust you feel a chill from this.

J.D. Salinger was there for D-Day on Utah Beach.

Another reason you may enjoy my conversation with Jerome Charyn is the historic ground that we cover. We do talk some about literary theory and such. But, I think, a lot of you will find more than just interesting a brief overview of World War II. Yeah, in short order, we end up covering a lot of ground. But it couldn’t be helped. J.D. Salinger covered an enormous amount of ground during his service in the war. Salinger witnessed more combat than some of our most celebrated writers on World War II. Salinger was there to observe the calamitous Exercise Tiger, the D-Day landing at Utah Beach, and the liberation of the first Nazi concentration camp. Salinger saw so much, too much. And it sort of broke him. But not so much as to keep him from going on the complete a small but significant body of work, which includes, of course, The Catcher in the Rye.

J.D. Salinger was also there for Hitler’s last stand at the Battle of the Bulge.

Given our conversation, and my continuous searching to understand, Charyn summed it up nicely towards the end of our talk. “As for meaning, I don’t know what the ‘meaning’ is. I know what the music is. The music becomes the meaning. I’m not a philosopher.” Yeah! Kick-ass writing without apologies. For Jerome, the war, J.D. Salinger, New York City from a certain era, all of this Jerome lived and breathed himself. So, creating fiction from it came easy to him. “History is a very strange kiss that lands on you and invigorates and destroys. It is the past that I’m most interested in. It is the past that I try to summon up in my own way.” J.D. Salinger wasn’t a person to dissect and create a profile from. For Jerome Charyn, J.D. Salinger was a haunted house which he moved into and built some solid fiction from. Bring your A-game reading to this one!

And J.D. Salinger was among the first Americans to witness the liberation of the first Nazi concentration camp, Dachau.

Be sure to view is conversation. I kid you not, you’ll be glad to did. And, if you have a moment, your comments are always welcome.

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Book Review: SERGEANT SALINGER by Jerome Charyn

Sergeant Salinger by Jerome Charyn

Sergeant Salinger. by Jerome Charyn. Bellevue Literary Press. 2021, 286 pp. $28.99

Early in this latest Jerome Charyn novel there’s quite an evocative scene of a bohemian living room which includes a framed print of Paul Robeson. It is a telling detail that gives a taste of how a character lives and breathes in their world. In this case, we’re being made privy to the inner world of the estranged wife of playwright Eugene O’Neill. As a creature of the theater, and as a free thinker, it makes sense that she’d enjoy a portrait of a trailblazer of racial equality. All the more so given this was one of her husband’s greatest plays! It’s just a quick little reference but a tick of information that the reader makes note of. It is these ticks of information that accumulate and bring a picture into focus. It is these ticks of information that add up in this novel to give us an in depth look at one of our most celebrated of writers, J.D. Salinger, one who preferred not to be looked at in any close measure.

Oona O’Neill

But Charyn dares to make “Sonny” Salinger the prime focus. To start with, Charyn brings the reader front and center into Salinger’s relationship with Oona O’Neill, the infamous daughter of Eugene O’Neil. Oona was only 18 years-old when she married Charlie Chaplin, who was 53. Truth being stranger than fiction, Salinger and Oona did actually date for a while. Charyn gives us a charming look into what that might have been like: more a frenzied exchange of hormonal excess than raw passion but, something to write home about, nonetheless. The whole affair is capped off by a masterful scene which involves Sonny and Oona obligingly having dinner with Walter Winchell as he holds court at his reserved table at the Stork Club. There’s much talk about Winchell’s chicken burgers. Mostly, there’s much talk about what’s the talk of the town, given Winchell’s prized roost as the leading gossip monger and media kingmaker. Winchell has everyone eating practically right out of his hand, except for the most stubborn like Ernest Hemingway, who makes a delicious cameo at Winchell’s table.

Utah Beach, D-Day Normandy Landings, June 6, 1944.

In keeping with the novel’s title, much of the action sees young J.D. Salinger doing his duty as an American WWII draftee assigned to the Counter Intelligence Corps, a band of secret soldiers who trained with the British. If that sounds complex and full of intrigue, well, it is. We find Salinger is witness to the whole Slapton Sands debacle where American soldiers, training for the D-Day Normandy invasion, become human targets, shot by British “friendly fire.” While that is being covered up, nearly lost to history in every real sense, Salinger moves on to the real thing and lands with a second wave on Utah Beach on D-Day all the way to Paris. There, he meets Ernest Hemingway who encouraged his writing. All the while, Salinger goes from one incident after another interrogating Nazis and collaborators. Ultimately, Sonny Salinger witnesses firsthand the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps, where corpses are piled high one upon the other.

J.D. Salinger

No one can blame J.D. Salinger for going through one existential crisis after another. Talk about someone too close to a subject to be able to get some perspective and see the full picture! Here is a man who made his wildest dreams come true and then went on to live a life of the deepest regret. What if Sonny Salinger had managed to convince Oona O’Neill to run off with him and somehow he’d also found a way to avoid the draft? That was never going to happen! Each of them had stars in their eyes and were in mad pursuit of something greater than themselves. And Salinger would never have avoided the draft, it just wasn’t an option. It was definitely not a foregone conclusion that The Catcher in the Rye would ever be published either. But so it was. J.D. Salinger did not invent the contemporary teenager but his book caught on like wildfire as an emblematic work about quirky, neurotic, youthful rebellion. There it was–and still is. The great American novel at its most popular! Since it publication in 1951, it remains a bestseller at astronomically high numbers for book sales. Since it was first published in 1951, more than 65 million copies of The Catcher in the Rye have been sold. Around 250,000 copies of the book are sold each year, almost 685 per day. This is not what Salinger wanted. And yet it was profits from just this one book alone that allowed him to brood in seclusion for decades. The book that should never have been published–but was. To this, Charyn has an answer.

The Catcher in the Rye

If there is one thing that makes a case for the inevitable nature of Salinger’s celebrated novel it is his war experiences. This makes up the bulk of Charyn’s novel which places Salinger in numerous trials and challenges. Charyn is a master at creating haunting moments. He lays one upon the other and deftly makes his case. In so doing here, Charyn answers the question of how it was meant to be for Salinger to write that novel that unwittingly summoned the world. One such moment finds Sonny confronting a special Nazi bicycle brigade. One night, he spots one of these killers, in his rain cape and in his hunter’s cap. The reader can’t help but picture that strange image of a young man wandering the city in a hunter’s cap in Salinger’s novel. That same image is on the original paperback version of The Catcher in the Rye. Sonny witnesses the killer in his hunter’s cap shoot two of his friends at close range, execution style. Sonny, more an interrogator than a marksman, immediately responds and shoots the killer dead.

Back on Park Avenue…

Ultimately, Sonny Salinger must return to civilian life, to where he left off before going off to war in the first place. It means creating some distance to all things related to war, except for the greater truths that make sense for his version of the great American novel. At least that seemed to be what mattered most for a time and he would see it through. Sonny would pick himself up. He was back on Park Avenue, back on track to pursue his literary dreams, at least for a while. And so Charyn brings the reader up to this point. Sonny now has time to observe something other than horror. Sonny now can ponder, with his sister, Doris, the mysteries of a basement floor walker at Bloomingdale’s. Sonny now can ponder the mysteries of bananafish. And, in time, as if inevitable in more ways than one, Sonny can preside upon the unleashing of a literary and pop culture phenomenon, the story of a troubled teenager in a hunter’s cap.

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Review: TEDDY by Laurence Luckinbill and Eryck Tait

TEDDY

Teddy. written by Laurence Luckinbill.  illustrated by Eryck Tait. Dead Reckoning. 176 pp. 2021. $24.95

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) is ranked among the top U.S. presidents. Reasons for this include decisiveness, activism, and leadership. For even a casual observer, many people will easily recognize the hearty Teddy cheerful command: “Bully!” For me, as a precocious kid interested in history and politics, I instantly gravitated to the Roosevelts, and the two iconic presidents, FDR and TR. Only a handful presidents become so ingrained in the public mind to be known by their initials! FDR, even today, cannot be ignored, given his fundamental influence in steering the country through the Great Depression; introducing such landmark programs as Social Security and the Securities and Exchange Commission; and, of course, being a world leader in determining the outcome of World War II. FDR aimed to follow his cousin TR’s lead. Theodore Roosevelt did not preside over a war or an economic collapse but, nonetheless, TR was a most consequential president. TR’s presidency (1901-1909) was about grand progressive accomplishments like creating the Food and Drug Administration and the National Forest and Park Service. With that said, with Presidents Day upon us, it is a pleasure to share with you this recent graphic biography of Teddy Roosevelt.

Page excerpt from Teddy

This graphic novel originates from the author’s one-man stage show, Teddy Tonight. Laurence Luckinbill is a stage actor and writer known for his one-man shows of Teddy Roosevelt, as well as Ernest Hemingway, Clarence Darrow and Lyndon Johnson. Luckinbill’s script for this book adapts his stage show in words while Eryck Tait further condenses with his artwork. By anyone’s standards, this is a remarkable book, and while this is quite suitable for high school students, it can certainly be enjoyed by fans of history, theater and graphic novels in general. From the examples on view here, you can see that Eryck Tait has done an admirable job of following Luckinbill’s script. It’s a highly economical and functional style, clear and crisp. You don’t need any additional flourishes for a book like this. You are better served to stay concise and practical.

Page excerpt from Teddy

Given that this is coming from a one-man show, we have TR addressing a theater. He is now a former president there to review his life and times and comment on the news of the day. It is July of 1918, Woodrow Wilson is in the White House, and World War I is still raging. TR has received word that his son Quentin’s plane has been shot down in a dogfight over France. Ask any playwright or dedicated theater-goer and they will tell you that there are no limits to what can be done on the stage. It is as limitless as one’s imagination. Ask any cartoonist or comics fan and they will tell you that there are no limits to what can be done in a graphic novel. So, given that this book is a byproduct of the theater and of comics, you say can you’re getting the best of both worlds. Comics, by its very nature, is a creature of concise language, so you get a steady roll out of time and place, which is most fitting for a book focusing on history. And you also get the nicely composed scenes needed to tell a personal story as this is as much biography as history.

Page excerpt from Teddy

Teddy Roosevelt, creator of the  modern American presidency and the bully pulpit, is a source of endless fascination. No one book will tell the whole story and that only seems right for such a larger-than-life character as TR. Theodore Roosevelt himself wrote nearly 50 books, from lengthy accounts on The Naval War of 1812, published in 1882; to four volumes on The Winning of the West, published in 1896; to his final book, Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children, published in 1919. So, how about a “picture book,” as he might have called it, about his life and times, based on a stage production, published in 2021? Well, Teddy would probably find that very agreeable and give it a hearty, “Bully!”

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Review: FUTURE STATE: THE NEXT BATMAN #1 by John Ridley

Batman to thugs: “Get a life!”

Future State: The Next Batman #1. DC Comics. Written by John Ridley. Art by Nick Derington. Colors by Tamra Bunvillain. January 6, 2021. $7.99

Batman, at his best, is always good as a sign of the times, right? Here is a Batman from the not-too-distant future and pointedly familiar to the immediate present. Gotham, like other big cities, has fallen under, as this comic book states, “a cloud of tyranny and disinformation.” Okay, unpack that for a little while and let me know what you get. There are so many camps people can fall into these days but, no matter the lens seen through, it seems we can all at least agree we are living through some troubled times. Note the fateful date of publication of this comic book: January 6, 2021. Coincidences can be very spooky.

Future State: The Next Batman #1

This comic book has a perfect premise: in the future, it’s legal to shoot to kill anyone wearing a mask. Are we heading towards that level of insanity? This story begs the question, Aren’t we pretty much already there? Once we have the plot in place, hey, this highly provocative Batman story has legs and can basically comment on today’s headlines, albeit in an artful indirect sort of way, thinly-veiled as it is. You don’t need to worry too much about the actual story about the mysterious Magistrate now being in charge after the “A-Day” incident. What we’re mostly after here is a mood and feeling, a certain texture. And this comic definitely has that going on.

Cities riddled with chaos from “hype soldiers.”

The Future State series won’t be around for too long so seek it out now while it’s hot. It’s an opportunity to mix things up and avoid whatever restrictions need to be respected within DC Universe canon and whatnot. There are two more stories, separate from the main story, included in this comic book and, despite the air of creative freedom, these two seem loaded down a bit from keeping track of various superhero identities and protocols. They seem just fine but may put off the more casual reader.

Wear a mask and be somebody!

All in all, it’s clear that writer John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) knows exactly what he’s doing and is having a good time with this alternate Batman feature. It’s a chance for Batman to punch out one of the urban offenders and yell out for him to get a life. It’s a chance to do a little calling out in general and state that our politics has gotten toxic and has resulted in toxic protest and honest rank and file police are all too often caught in the middle of it all. Is that too controversial to say out loud in public on social media? Maybe just enough–or a lot–but certainly reasonable too for a lot of folks. Ridley isn’t out to just push buttons as much as to do some intelligent, and balanced, shouting out from the rooftops in hopes that Batman has any good ideas. And that should work since he usually does.

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Review: MANIFESTO ITEMS #10 by David Lasky

Manifesto Items #10 by David Lasky

Manifesto Items #10. by David Lasky. self-published. Seattle, 2020. 60pp. $10.

When I find a worthy subject, I’ll add a dash or two of me into the mix. In this case, I present to you an ongoing series by cartoonist David Lasky. What I like about it is that I see some of my own passions. I guess, off and on, I’ve been following Lasky’s work for over twenty years. He’s a dedicated guy and he’s created some wonderful moments in comics through his various comic books and mini-comics. Where Lasky has trodded, so have I. The indie landscape is a very rocky road where you keep on truckin’ and, maybe with a little help from your friends, see what you can get.

Paul Gauguin used to ask, “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” These are the sort of big questions that pepper a lot of indie comics and done well a la Lasky. The Lasky universe is one that nibbles at a vast array of mystery and wonder and then finds a spot or two to feast upon and then dutifully report back to the hive. It’s a groovy gentle world of observations, hearty calls to action, and melancholic ruminations. Of course, we want to see more of this in comics but maybe some readers don’t even know what they’re missing until they stumble upon a Lasky gem. Well, with all that said, this latest Lasky work collects a bunch of quirky and offbeat content, as I’ve just suggested.

We begin with, well, it’s a little hard to say. It’s more like one little thing happens that leads to another slightly bigger little thing: a collage poem starts off with Bela Logosi and then gives way to a homage to comics and a tribute to the late great Tom Spurgeon; one exquisite corpse bends to another; tributes to cats lead to tributes to The Beatles; and, as we move along, some diehard fans might spot items that have appeared elsewhere like a page from an anthology about the US border patrol or comics from a workshop at Seattle’s Hugo House.

Walt Whitman a la Lasky

And then we’re hit with something special, like Lasky’s ode to Walt Whitman. Some of Lasky’s favorite, and best, work is literary adaption. For this collection, he provides a generous stretch of comics from Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”

A saucer in search of a cup.

Taken in as a whole, the slow rhythm of alternating images, the searching quality of it all, disparate items, enigmatic and uncanny,  it all adds up to a David Lasky experience. It’s like mashing up sleepy Garrison Keillor with a touch of sly David Lynch. Case in point: A Lasky comic that depicts someone looking amused upon seeing flying saucers but actually more disturbed when they beam up her cup of coffee. I suspect that Lasky was zoning into a stream-of-consciousness experiment–his mind zeroed in on saucers and couldn’t resist matching it up with a cup. I’ll have to ask David about it the next chance I get or he is more than welcome to leave an answer in the comments section. Your observations are also most welcome.

So, as I say, this is weird art for art’s sake, good ole fashioned unapologetically offbeat stuff. The humor is so dry that a slight wind could knock it over. But that’s what makes it so distinctive. That is what I am attracted to since my humor can veer off into very dry territory. Maybe David and I have that in common. We’re both rather sensitive souls I’ll have you know. Maybe it’s something in the Pacific Northwest air that we’ve been breathing into our lungs all of these overcast years. Something about it that compels a cartoonist to match a flying saucer with a cup of coffee.

Visit David Lasky right here.

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Interview: Julia Wald and the Art of the Interview

The Suspension of Disbelief by Julia Wald

I ask that you keep going on this journey with me. I have been carving this niche for years and I feel like I’ve got it at quite a cozy level with just the right content and pacing. That said, it’s time for another thoughtful interview. For my video interviews, I add here a few notes and observations. Traditional journalism, like hard news reportage, will take an interview and create a concise summation. Some magazines are known for their long sprawling interviews where everything is transcribed. Of course, we also have a long tradition of various talk show formats, some thoughtful and some that are so casual as to blur right in with a dance segment on Tik Tok. Hey, I have nothing against fun and entertainment and I’ll engage in that when it makes sense. But, for interviews, I take them seriously, prepare for them, take off my Joe Cool hat and don’t engage in any dancing. Although, in a metaphorical sense, a good interview is sort of like a dance. The person conducting the interview leads while the person who is the subject of the interview goes about picking up one cue after another and making something out of it.

A bus driver finds solace through the suspension of disbelief.

Anyway, I say all this because it’s particularly relevant to this interview. Essentially, this is an interview about interviews: how to conduct one, what it means, what you attempt to get out of it. I interviewed Julia Wald about her new book, The Suspension of Disbelief (review), an illustrated collection of interviews she conducted about life and work during Covid-19. In the course of the interview, we ended up talking about what it means when you’re working at a restaurant during a world-wide pandemic and suddenly it’s like all the lights are out and then, just as suddenly, you are out of a job, your source of income. We discuss who might have stepped in to help and who didn’t.

A disadvantaged man finds hope through knowledge.

And, finally, once an artistic and talented person is inspired to create a book about Covid-19, what responsibility, if any, does she have to the vulnerable people she has interviewed? Well, part of the answer goes back to the dance. If the dance partners have established a sense of trust, then there’s a very good chance that something worthwhile will result that everyone can be proud of. We focus in a bit on American journalist Studs Terkel (1912-2008), the icon of what came to be known as “literary journalism.” Terkel was most active from the 1950s to 1990s, creating his seminal collection of interviews, Working, in 1974. He was part of that old-fashioned gumshoe journalist/creative tradition: loyal to his readers and listeners, to his Chicago, and to the art and craft of journalism. Julia says that Terkel inspired her on her Covid-19 project and it shows and, ultimately, it demonstrates that she did right by all who she interviewed. Julia did it the right way, the old-fashioned way that involves hard work and integrity. It’s the best way. And it’s what inspires me to keep going on this journey.

Visit Julia Wald right here.

The Suspension of Disbelief is available at Push/Pull.

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Interview: MONGREL by Sayra Begum | Comics | Knockabout

Mongrel is a significant debut graphic novel by Sayra Begum. This is among the best works of 2020 as I look back on the year. You can read my review here. And, now, you can enjoy something more. Check out my interview with Sayra Begum by just clicking the link below:

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Review: ‘Suspension of Disbelief’ by Julia Wald

Suspension of Disbelief by Julia Wald

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

Suspension of Disbelief: Covid-19 Stories. By Julia Wald. Seattle. Available at Push/Pull. 77pp, $23.

Exercising a “suspension of disbelief.”

Oral history has itself a brief but interesting history in comics. As a former teacher and field worker in the field, as co-editor of an adaptation of Studs Terkel’s totemic Working, and as a collaborator of the late Harvey Pekar, himself a Studs Terkel type, I hope to claim a little authority on this matter.

But not too much.  Oral history is born and reborn regularly, as the voices are heard and  recorded, archived and used. Every interviewee and every interviewer has a unique experience. When the then-new field of oral history passed from the 1950s recording the lives of famous white men lacking memoirs to the civil rights and peace movements recorded by fellow participants, something changed in the nature of the field. Oral history eventually gained  a shaky presence in academia. Its participants are, as they had already become a few generations ago, a peaceful army of under-appreciated activist-scholars, some in the classroom, more of them outside.

We can hope for a better future.

Comics, the adaptation of oral history as comics, has added a new dimension. Stan Mack, in the Village Voice of the 1960s-70s, captured the language and ideas of random people on the street, and opened up a path to a popular audience. One could call Art Spiegelman’s Maus, his father’s harrowing story, the comic that raised the level of respect and even made comics an accepted “art.” Individual artists have  found human subjects and explored them through oral histories, disguised as fiction. Still, the straight story-telling mode, minus fiction, remains an art undeveloped.

Julia Wald, a young artist from Buffalo and a  graduate of degrees in art and chemistry there, moved to Seattle to become an artist and….works a day job, as nearly all young artists do and must. She responded instinctively, then determinedly, to the coming of the Virus. The men and women her age, working in restaurants and such, were suddenly underemployed if not unemployed, she wanted to tell their stories.

Thus Suspension of Disbelief. It is well drawn and extremely charming. Her subjects are young and youngish people,  a little more than half of them Latinx. They are working the kind of jobs, living the kind of lives that they would have chosen in the post-2000 world of the deteriorated middle class, except that the life they chose has become very difficult for rent, food and other necessities, not to mention the threat of Covid close at hand.

Grateful for the stability you have.

They are depressed but not totally depressed. “I hope that maybe this will change the way we look at capitalism and we will realize that certain social programs are important especially for fellow artists. As artists having the freedom to create work without the pressure of having to make a living from art could be a way of looking at the world.” That is, “it’s never going to be  like it used to be—so letting go is important.” So says Marcy, a videographer with a lot of charm, and no matter that her restaurant job and video gigs are gone. “Now we are all in this together.,” Or drag queen Butylene O’Kipple, “Do I have enough? how much do I need? What even are my actual needs What have I been brainwashed into thinking I couldn’t live without? What can I let go of?”

And many more, waitresses to sex workers, filmmakers to bus drivers. Each has a unique story to tell, and each fits into the mosaic of today’s Seattle scene.

Julia Wald’s first comic outing is a small triumph. I hope it will be widely seen.

Paul Buhle is the rare leftwing scholar of comics. He is coeditor of the Paul Robeson comic, out this year, and drawn by Sharon Rudahl.

Editor’s Note: Be sure to visit Exterminator City (Dec 10-13) where you can purchase Suspension of Disbelief as well as other notable works. And you can always visit Pull/Pull anytime!

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Filed under Comics, Comics Journalism, Comics Reviews, COVID-19, Julia Wald, Paul Buhle, Seattle

Review: MONGREL by Sayra Begum, published by Knockabout Comics

Mongrel by Sayra Begum

Mongrel. by Sayra Begum. Knockabout Comics. London. 2020, 264pp, $21.99

In Mongrel, Sayra Begum presents the reader an honest and in-depth look at a Muslim family from Bangladesh. Begum takes a very straightforward, blunt, and fresh approach to issues of race, gender, class, and religion. At the heart of her story is the conflict that the protagonist must navigate as she straddles two worlds coming from her mixed-heritage background: Bengal Muslim on her mother’s side; British-Anglo on her father’s side. In Islam, it is understood that a Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman. However, it is forbidden for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man. And yet this is exactly what happens in Begum’s story. Shuna is the daughter of such a forbidden union. When history is set to repeat itself with Shuna determined to marry David, a non-Muslim man, it is Shuna’s mother who is at the center of the conflict, making unfair and impossible demands upon her daughter.

Drawn is a style that evokes a dream-like sketchbook come to life, the reader is swept up into the immersive world of Mongrel. What strikes me about this graphic novel, what makes it remarkable, is its authenticity, commitment, and vision. It is not often that we, as general readers, have an opportunity to become privy to the everyday life of a Muslim family in such an accessible format as a graphic novel–even though there are well over a billion followers of Islam. With all the heated talk about diversity and inclusion on the table, it’s ironic. That said, we can all be grateful for this insightful work.

Now, let’s allow the book to speak for itself with some samples and quotes from the pages of Mongrel

“The front door of Shuna’s family home acted as a gateway to Bangladesh. Nothing haram passed through this door, this was a devout house. When Shuna walked through this door, she switched her rebellious face to her pious face, which eagerly absorbed the teaching of the Prophet, striving to be a good Muslim girl. The switching between these two faces became increasingly difficult as they grew further and further apart.”

“‘Yes, yes, yes I’ll marry you!’ I said to David. Although, after the celestial shock wore off and dull reality set in, I realised there was a slight problem. I would have to tell my very traditional parents that I was going to marry a non-Muslim and confess my secret life.”

“It’s my wedding day. My parents are absent.  I’m not surprised. Why would my parents want to celebrate their daughter being damned to an eternity in hell fire?”

Ultimately, Begum keeps it real. People are not saints. They can be very contradictory and self-destructive. They can also find a way out and to a healthy place for self-reflection. We are embarking upon a new cycle of calling out authority and demanding all sorts of change. What we mustn’t forget is to dig deeper and calmly remove the obstacles that lead to someone being seen as the Other or as the mongrel. Sayra Begum’s graphic novel is a step in the right direction. As I stated earlier, we don’t often have such a window specifically into the Muslim world. But you can also say that these kind of gems only come around every so often. I think of such landmark works as Blankets, by Craig Thompson, which dissects a Christian upbringing; and I think of Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, the last great work to take an idiosyncratic look at any religion in a significant graphic format. These gems take time and they come along it their due time. Now is a perfect time for Mongrel.

A note, especially to readers in the United States: you can find Mongrel at Amazon right here.

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Comics Grinder Holiday Gift Guide 2020: The First Top Ten List

From Black Friday to Cyber Monday and Beyond!

Comics Grinder has always got you covered for interesting tidbits, insights, and suggestions regarding comics, pop culture, and culture in general. Here are some quick suggestions for discerning Comics Grinder followers:

I’m going to keep this simple and jump right in with 10 items for your consideration beginning with Wes Anderson: The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work, by Ian Nathan, an “unofficial and unauthorised” yet stunning tribute to the beloved filmmaker. 176-page hardcover with deluxe slipcase, fully illustrated. $35. From White Lion Publishers, an imprint of The Quarto Group.

Next up will please any fan of D&D, especially younger players or anyone who enjoys a trading card style description of characters. This is Beasts & Behemoths, the fifth and latest installment in the Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guide series. It is by Jim Zub, Stacy King, and Andrew Wheeler. 112 pages, full-color illustrations. $12.99. From Ten Speed Press and Penguin Random House.

Moving right along, this book will need to be in your kitchen and bar as soon as possible, whether you’re a D&D fan or not yet. Welcome to Heroes’ Feast: The Official D&D Cookbook. Yes, now you can eat and drink like a hero. There are recipes here for everything from Honey-Drizzled Cream Puffs to Sembian Honey-Glazed Rothe Ribs to Bytopian Shepherd’s Bread to Roll Rum! Seriously, this is an impressive cookbook with lavish illustrations alongside charming and meticulous D&D factoids and insights. If you’ve been looking for a way to hook yourself into the world of D&D, then seek out this cookbook. Fully illustrated. 240 pages. $35. From Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Quite honestly, this is the best gift for 2020 on so many levels.

If you are a fan of Critical Role, then you are in very good company as this is one of the most popular role-playing game communities ever. Now, you can join in on all the fun and get all you’ve ever wanted to know about this fantasy RPG livestream phenomena in one deluxe book, The World of Critical Role: The History Behind the Epic Fantasy, by Liz Marsham and the Cast of Critical Role. Just like the name suggests, go deep into this world with up-close and personal features on all the talent involved. Critical Role was established in 2015 by a group of friends with a passion for storytelling and has evolved into a multi-platform media company with a variety of shows, comic books, graphic novels, animation, podcasts and more. Its epic adventures and memorable characters attract millions of viewers live every week. Yes, this is a big deal and, if you’re new to it, then all the more reason to get this book. This is a 320-page fully-illustrated hardcover, $35. From Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Let’s shift over to the Star Wars universe and a most compelling book indeed. For anyone who cares about quality storytelling, and enjoys Star Wars lore, this is a perfect gift. From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back is an anthology celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back with forty acclaimed science fiction writers. You will find such gems as Hank Green chronicling the life of a naturalist caring for tauntauns on the frozen world of Hoth. Or about Charles Yu’s quirky look at what it’s like to be in Darth Vader’s death grip? So much to enjoy here. So kick back with a Roll Rum and get into some serious Star Wars storytelling. This is a 564-page hardcover, $35. From Del Rey, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

It’s impossible not to like the hilarious work by Yehuda Devir and Maya Devir with their comics adaptation of their everyday lives. It all began as a fun spoof on young married life. Yehuda would draw. Maya would art direct. Next thing you know, these candid illustrations went viral on social media. Welcome to One of Those Days, a collection of these funny and touching illustrations that just about anyone can relate to. This is a 272-page full color hardcover, $30. From Penguin Random House.

Dbury@50 Celebrates 50 Years of Doonesbury

Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury has been around for fifty years and it’s time to celebrate. Enter, Dbury@50: The Complete Digital Doonesbury, from Andrews McMeel Publishing, priced at $125. This includes a 224-page “user manual,” a poster, and a thumb drive which includes what looks like a little website presenting all the comic strips on a per week basis. The fifty-year milestone celebratory package takes readers through each year of the strip, providing historical context and featuring key storylines, and proves to be a valuable first step in preserving a significant comic strip for future generations.

Another huge property is anything and everything to do with Frank Herbert’s monumental novel, Dune. Was it ever really meant to be more than a novel? Well, how about a graphic novel? The answer is yes and no. Apparently, it takes more than one graphic novel to properly attempt to cover the novel. Enter, Frank Herbert’s Dune: The Graphic Novel, Book 1. It offers a good mix of the cinematic and more cerebral that should satisfy true believers and newcomers alike. This is a 176-page hardcover, $24.99. From Abrams ComicArts.

If anyone tells you that they’ve finished reading XX, the new mammoth novel by Rian Hughes, they are lying to you. This work clocks in at 992 pages. It actually weighs in at almost 3 pounds. Isn’t that close to the weight of a newborn baby? No, the average weight is around 7 pounds. Okay, I don’t want to overstate this. What I do want to say is that the book is huge and sometimes big books come with a lot of hype. In this case, we have an art house book with a lot of type, as in fancy footwork with various fonts. This is supposed to be a glorious melding of the literary arts with the graphic arts from a master designer. I’m not sure that I’m buying all that. If you are looking for something really compelling and unusual that is playing with the literary and the visual arts, you may still need to go back to 2000 and House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. That said, I’m still working on this mountain of a book and the basic story hasn’t really hooked me in yet. I’d love to know what you think if you have indeed made it to the end. This is a hardcover, $26.43. From Abrams.

How much do you like Batman? I love me a good Batman story, but I mean something really good. Well, a lot of good things came from Batman: The Animated Series. The higher-ups at the Big Two Publishers can be a mysterious bunch but, when they prioritize, they can achieve remarkable results. Look, iconic characters like Batman are only as good as the creative team behind a certain project. What made Batman: The Animated Series work out so well was the creative team led by Bruce Timm back in the early ’90s. It seems that Timm set the gold standard and it has been honored ever since. I have yet to see a subpar DC Comics/Warner Bros. animated feature. The book, Batman: The Animated Series, honors all that hard work and dedication with stellar artwork. Enjoy. This is a 144-page hardcover, $60. From Insight Editions.

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