I also like the Kaiju swears

Kaijumax Season Two: The Seamy Underbelly by Zander Cannon. Oni Press, 2017. 9781620103968.

I had to quit watching Orange is the New Black after a season and a half — I decided I was too sensitive to watch a prison drama. I was constantly worried about what would happen to the characters. It turns out that I needed the inmates to be the giant city-stomping monsters of Kaijumax Season One instead of human women to really enjoy it. Season two of Kaijumax means I don’t have to watch The Wire: Electrogor escapes and goes on the lam, hiding out with other criminal monsters, trying to get back to his kids.

Cannon writes in the afterword that he didn’t start out intending to write social satire. He’s careful to keep the real-life parallels vague so he can write an homage to monster, prison, and crime films (and be thought-provoking, too) without comparing a particular group of people to Godzilla. It’s a delicate balance and he pulls it off. I’m already looking forward to season three.

(And if you already like Kaijumax, check out the Anne Hathaway movie Colossal. It’s really good.)

Grit Palace

Sand Castle by Frederik Peeters and Pierre Oscar Lévy. SelfMadeHero, 2011. 9781906838386.

I just finished the fourth and final volume of Frederik Peeters’ science fiction graphic novel series, aama. Here’s a link to my review of the first two volumes.  All I can say about the fourth book without spoilers is: 1) Wow! and 2) it reminded me of the best and weirdest dream sequences written by Grant Morrison and of the Prophet graphic novels by Graham and Roy. If that means nothing to you, ignore me — I’m just saying I highly recommend the series and it’s pretty weird. After finishing this book, I put a hold on everything written by Peeters in the Seattle Public Library’s collection.

This black and white standalone graphic novel was drawn but not written by Peeters. The action centers on a beach where a young woman drowned. The only person who saw her was an Arab man sleeping rough, and as families arrive for a day in the sun, he doesn’t want to say anything lest he be blamed. (He is, anyway.) After the woman’s body is discovered, things get weird. Phones don’t work. No one can leave the area. And everyone starts aging very rapidly, including the two children. It’s like a terribly strange, dark, very adult, and completely unrelenting episode of The Outer Limits. (You probably thought I was going to reference The Twilight Zone. I remember Outer Limits episodes were always a a bit longer, and this feels more like that than a short Twilight Zone episode.) Peeters art is amazing in the way he shows emotions, maintains the creepiness, and keeps the characters identifiable even as they age.

Spies Like Thus

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9780553535204. 304pp.

(Note from Gene: I’ve known Kelly since we were both YA librarians back in the early 2000s, I meet her to write a few times a month, and I loved her first book.)

Gene: So your book, your fantastic book. Give me your pitch for it.
Kelly: It’s about a girl, Annis, whose father is murdered and instead of becoming a governess she’d much rather become a spy. Unfortunately the War Office doesn’t see eye to eye with her.
G: Don’t you have to pitch it as a Regency first though?
K: I don’t, actually. I typically don’t. When I’m talking to elementary school kids about what I’m writing next, I say this happened 200 years ago and then I give that pitch. This one kid was like It’s exactly like Maximum Ride!  And I was like, um
G: I haven’t read that. But what about the Alex Rider series. This is if Alex Rider wore a dress and he could sew.
K: Yes. That is exactly not what it is like.
G: No.
K: It’s a Regency but it’s not a romance.
G: She doesn’t find for a while that her dad is murdered. She’s kind of cast out of her life because she and her aunt suddenly don’t have any money — all of her dad’s money goes missing. And she goes to the War Office in a very haughty moment, after she knows she has magical talent, and tries to convince them to hire her as a spy. She goes about it in completely the wrong way.
K: I think that is basically her approach to pretty much everything for most of the book, if not the entire book. She has her idea of how things should be done and nobody else ever agrees with her.
Continue reading “Spies Like Thus”

Childhood Memories

When I Was A Kid: Childhood Stories by Boey. Last Gasp, 2013. 9780867197583.

Each of the one or two page stories of Cheeming Boey’s childhood in Malaysia in this comic collection is drawn from his blog and starts with “when I was a kid.” While Boey is an accomplished artist, he uses simple shapes to depict himself and his family. I was amazed at how expressive he could make a drawing of himself with only a line or two for eyebrows. The stories are funny, not sentimental or saccharine (he remembers being more upset that his mom put their dead dog in the trash can than that it had died). They convey a sense of place down to how crunchy snacks were (not very, it was pretty humid). (In fact he was astonished at how crunchy chips were when he moved to San Francisco.) The stories might not be as polished as the greats (Kampung Boy, The Greatest of Marlys) but they are just as evocative of childhood.

Clones In Space

    

Prophet Volume 1: Remission by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis, Marian Churchland, Emma Rios. Image, 2012. 9781607066118. Contains Prophet #21 – 26.

Prophet Volume 2: Brothers by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis, Fil Barlow, Helen Maier, Boo Cook. Image, 2013. 9781607067498. Contains Prophet #27 – #31.

Prophet Volume 3: Empire by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Giannis Milonogiannis, Malachi Ward, Matt Sheean, Zarchary Baldus, Aaron Conley, Fil Barlow, Jim Rugg, Bayard Baudoin. Image, 2014. 9781607068587. Contains Prophet #32, #34 – #38.

Prophet Volume 4: Joining by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Ron Wimberly, Giannis Milonogiannis, Dave Taylor, Ron Wimberly, Matt Sheehan, Malachi Ward, Farel Dalrmple, Bayard Baudoin, Joseph Bergin III, James Stokoe, Aaron Conley, Lando, Grim Wilkins, Sandra Lanz, Onta, Ron Ackins, Tom Parkinson-Morgan, Gael Bertrand, Rob Liefield, Addison Duke, Ludroe, Xurxo G Penalta, Amy Claire. Image, 2015. 9781632152541. Contains Prophet #39 – #45 & Prophet: Strikefile #1 – #2.

Prophet Volume 5: Earth War by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Giannis Milonogiannis, Ron Ackins, Grim Wilkins, Sandra Lanz. Image, 2017. 9781632158369. Contains Prophet Earth War #1 – #6.

This is a 5-part graphic novel science fiction epic that doesn’t stop to explain its strangeness (much). This series was part of a relaunch / reimagining of comics characters created by Rob Leifeld in the 1990s, but that’s largely irrelevant to this series. There are some appearances by characters from his other books. If you were a comics geek back then like I was, when collectors bought as many copies of every first issue as we could afford, your knowledge may enrich the experience (if you read the books instead of just sealing them in your bunker), but it’s not really necessary. Graham and Roy and the other artists create a richly weird world that is complete in itself and really worth visiting.

10,000 years in the future, the remnants of the Earth Empire stir. Clones of the superhero John Prophet awake in creches across the stars, and on a much changed Earth. They are adapted to their environments and purposes, and sometimes unrecognizable as part of the same genetic line: warriors (tailed and not), brutes, giants, pleasure models, and more. Rising from his own hibernation to once again stop the Empire is Great Grandfather John Prophet, a cloned warrior who once found freedom and love only to have it snatched away from him. This John goes in search of his allies: a robot, a cyborg, and a vegetable being that he calls friends. And then they race to stop a fallen brain mother of the Empire (think a psychic old woman with a giant brain and atrophied body) intent on spreading both her control and her brand of red misery across the stars once more. It all comes down to a forgotten satellite circling a much changed Earth, and a fight over whether our universe should continue or not.

This future is full of technology that would weird out David Cronenberg: organic starships and environmental suits; ambulatory, intelligent plants; ancient robots and other rotting military tech; human meat farms, gods the size of dwarf planets, hints at vast solar system-wide ecosystems, crystal beings, hives, and jellies that can do almost anything. But the best weapon is one that’s reliable, the knife / cleaver that the Prophet clones favor.

The art is simply fantastic. Different artists tell different characters’ stories, adding their own strange twists but making the clone narratives easy to follow. And the end of each book features a visual “script” by Graham, done in thumbnails with notes for dialogue / words — a fascinating look into a comics writing process completely unlike mine. Of the characters, my favorite is probably Grandfather Prophet’s friend Diehard. Its story starts as its pieces are gathered from across the stars (they call out to each other, and provide a reason for the other characters to tour this weird cosmos). It was once a cyborg, but is now a machine trying to regain a bit of its lost humanity by re-installing organs (including a heart) in itself. There’s a chapter in the middle that is mostly flashbacks to Diehard’s 10,000+ year life, which includes when he had a family, it’s beautifully done.

Hi, How Are You

The Incantations of Daniel Johnston by Ricardo Cavolo and Scott McClanahan. Two Dollar Radio, 2016. 9781937512453.

Underneath the copyright information, this book starts with a disclaimer: while it draws from a real life, it should be considered a creative work of fiction. The text starts with a warning: “Beware: I don’t think you should read this. I’m warning you.” followed by “There are devils inside.”

The life it draws from is Daniel Johnston’s, a tremendously influential musician and artist shaped by his struggle with bipolar disorder. In this story, Daniel starts making art to counter the demons who tell him that he’s a piece of shit and make his thoughts race and his arms tingle. “He believed he could save himself by making things, but he was wrong. He was really wrong.” His periods of intense creativity are interrupted by breakdowns and recoveries with the help of family and friends.

The illustrations are in Cavolo’s stye: vivid pictures filled with angels, demons, flames, and eyes reflecting intense creativity and intense suffering. Cavolo includes some of common subjects of Johnston’s own paper-and-marker and watercolor art like frogs, comic book heroes, and a man with the top of his head missing. The story is simply told, almost like a picture book, and doesn’t romanticize Johnston’s life: “But then one night Daniel physically assaulted his manager with a lead pipe. So if you think this story is a cute mixture of mental illness and art — then imagine Daniel beating your ass with a lead pipe.”

The artist and writer have, like a lot of people*, fallen under Johnston’s spell. If you listen to his music (there’s lots on hoopla if your library has a subscription) and watch the documentary about his life, it’s hard not to. This book will hook you the same way, but it’s open about the fact that there isn’t a happy ending to his story, just like there isn’t a happy ending to any real story, and after reading it you’ll have a part of this amazing person inside your head.

*Yes, I am also under his spell. I started with a Dead Milkmen cover of Rocket Ship, then on to Kathy McCarty’s wonderful album of covers, then the documentary, then Johnston’s music.

Teenage Rebellion Is Fun

Joyride Volume 1: Ignition by Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly, Marcus To, Irma Kniivila. BOOM! 2016. 9781608869510. 112pp. Contains Joyride #1 – #4

In the future, Earth is ruled by a controlling Triumvirate that speaks of the evil that “lurks in the darkness of space.” They’ve built a shell around the planet to keep humans safe (or is it just to keep them under control)?

Uma and Dewydd have a daring escape plan. During their flight across the dark side of the moon to hitch a ride with a passing alien, a young soldier (Catrin) tries to stop them, but gets pulled into the alien starship as well. (Minor spoilers ahead). The villainous alien plans to make them slaves, but that doesn’t work out for him, and by the end of the first chapter the teens have their own spaceship and the freedom to head for the stars. Their only problems: Uma is a little crazy, Dewydd and Catrin both have secrets, and the Triumvirate sends its best soldiers (including Dewydd’s brother) after them.

Marcus To’s art is always upbeat, and here it seems to feed on the joy of teen rebellion. It reminds me of Mark Waid’s run on Legion of the Super Heroes, and that it’s time to dig up the issues of Joe Casey’s uncollected teenage superhero masterpiece The Intimates from my longboxes.