et cetera

The Zero by Jess Walter. Harper Perennial, 2006. 9780061189432.

Gene: OK, Sarah, you made me read this book by Jess Walter, your favorite writer. Go!

Sarah: Yeah, and I’ve been sort of rationing his books out because a novelist can only write so fast and I was reluctant to run out of them. Reading this, I realize I need to stop being reluctant and just gobble the rest of them up.

G: What was your favorite? The one where you were in love with the protagonist?

S: Citizen Vince. I was in love with Vince. The Zero is really… I’m going to say it’s different plot-wise, but the stuff that I love about Jess Walter is that he writes the kinds of sentences that make you stop and just appreciate how good they are.

G: Yeah.

S: So I feel like I don’t care what genre he writes in, I don’t care what the plot is, I just want to read his writing. But I am glad that I went into this book without reading the back of it, I didn’t know anything about it except I thought it was a mystery. And it does use bits of the genre — elements of noir and of mystery — but it’s not really in it.

G: You think it was noir? It didn’t feel very noir to me. It was kind of a detective book though. Give me the pitch.

S: The first page, a guy opens his eyes, he sees an empty bottle of booze on its side, and the carpet looks like the treeline of a forest. He starts with this description of what this guy on the floor is seeing and the guy eventually gets that his head hurts and he’s bleeding. He figures out that he shot himself. Possibly on purpose, possibly not. He left a note for himself that said, “et cetera.” This sets the tone of the book. This guy is losing chunks of time.

G: Right, he’s unstuck in his life, like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five.

Continue reading “et cetera”

The Better To Eat You With, Ma Dear.

Scales & Scoundrels Volume 1: Into The Dragon’s Maw by Sebastian Girner and Galaad. Image, 2018. 9781534304826. Originally published in Scales & Scoundrels #1-#5. Publisher’s Rating: Rated E / Everyone.

This lighthearted, all-ages fantasy graphic novel reminded me of the fun moments in Scott Chantler’s Three Thieves series and the humor in Eric Colossal’s Rutabaga the Adventure Chef books. Galaad’s art and his bright colors in particular add to the tone. And it pretty much had to be fun — Girner also wrote the epic Shirtless Bear Fighter last year, which is the funniest bit of superhero(ish) nonsense I’ve read in a long time. (Bears are attacking civilization and the world needs a hero who’s got both an amazing backstory and a bearskin-covered jet (and whose junk is pixelated when he’s also pantsless, so the book is safe for kids to read). Had me in tears.)

Scales & Scoundrels starts out when a treasure hunter named Luvander is in trouble for cheating at cards. Her escape hints that she may be an urden (dragon). Then she helps out three folks who become her traveling companions: a prince, his shadow, and their dwarven guide. Soon they’re all heading underground into the Dened Lewen in search of treasure. What they find there is stranger and freakier than they expect (and is fodder for a lot more great art).

Struggling comic artist seeks a sense of home

Portugal by Cyril Pedrosa. Color by Pedrosa and Ruby. Translation by Montana Kane. NBM, 2017. 9781681121475. 261pp. Oversized hardcover as the gods of French comics intended.

This autobiographic-ish graphic novel from the creator of the excellent Three Shadows (First Second, 2008) and the more recent Equinoxes (NBM, 2016) is an amazingly colored, somewhat loosely drawn story told in three parts.

(What do I mean by “loosely drawn?” I’m asking myself that. Some of the panels are very sketchy, and much of the rest looks like Pedrosa’s pen or brush was flying along, putting thoughts and impressions directly on the page. There’s energy in the drawings, except in the quiet moments of the story where shading and lines suddenly and subtly create stillness.)

The pitch: Cartoonist Simon is struggling: to buy a house, to teach kids art classes, to get work done. He feels like it’s all a bit pointless. He and his wife want different things, and he doesn’t really feel at home anywhere. Submerging himself in the pool offers him his only moments of peace. Exhibiting at a small comics convention in Portugal, he returns there for the first time in 20 years and enjoys it. He returns home, his wife leaves, and he returns to Portugal with his father for a cousin’s wedding and then stays longer.

This is in some ways a quiet story, but it’s so full of conversations and people that that description doesn’t sit right with me. The second part, “According to Jean” is probably my favorite — I’m a fan of Simon’s dad (he’s afraid to invite his younger girlfriend to the wedding) and all of Simon’s glorious relatives. What a great party! And what a beautiful country — Pedrosa has sold me on visiting the Portuguese countryside. (He’s also published a notebook of sketches of Portugal, and I may need to buy myself a copy next time I order graphic novels from Europe.)

Doug, right?

The Collected Doug Wright: Volume One: Canada’s Master Cartoonist by Doug Wright. Introduction by Lynn Johnston (For Better or For Worse). Drawn & Quarterly, 2009. 9781897299524. Beautifully designed by Seth. 240 wonderfully oversized 240pp.

Gene: Do you know who Doug Wright was?
Sarah: No.
G: He was kind of…
S: Is he that Canadian guy?
G: He’s that Canadian who the Doug Wright Awards are named after.
S: Oh yeah.
G: I was going to say he’s kind of like the Charles Schulz of Canada? His comics don’t look much like Peanuts, but they were beloved. They ran for a long time in Canadian newspapers. His most famous was Little Nipper or Nipper, which became Doug Wright’s family.
What I really like is that this is an oversized book that has blown up some of his drawings, especially from the beginning of his career, and it shows you how amazing his comics were. They were mostly, I think, black and white and red, so black and red ink plus white space on the page. They’re all about a little boy, Nipper, and his family.
There’s a huge biographical essay in the book about Wright’s life, which I didn’t read much of. But there are some pieces of his art that are very cool. It’s supposed to cover 1949 – 1962, so it’s before this smaller format Nipper collection which I also have, which covers 1963 – 1964.
Look, his early comics were so old school.
S: Lots of detail!
Continue reading “Doug, right?”

kids are animals, librarians are birds

Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke. Scholastic Graphix, 2018. 9781338047691. 160pp.

I think I first bought one of Steinke’s self-published minicomics 7 or 8 years ago, back when the Stumptown Comics Fest was still its own thing in Portland. His comics then and since have a genuine good-natured quality, and I really admire how upbeat they are. This is no exception.

Mr. Wolf is a new teacher at his elementary school, and none of his 17 students (each a different species of anthropomorphized animal) is more excited than Margot (a rabbit), who just moved to the neighborhood. On the bus she meets a little slug guy. Sampson (a frog) gets a slightly nasty note and then in trouble for running (to go to the bathroom). There’s some discussions of palindromes brought on by Aziza’s name (she’s a duck who wears a headscarf). And they take a trip to the library where the librarian, Mrs. Bird, checks out books while wearing her fancy red cowboy boots. After a student decides to take a nap in a box, there’s a bit of excitement when everyone searches for her. There’s a brain in a jar, and sharing. By the end of the book it’s clear they’re all pretty good kids, and that they’re in good hands.

The only llama in the sea climbs an umbrella tree

When Your Llama Needs A Haircut by Susanna Leonard Hill, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman. Little Simon, 2018. 9781534405639. Board book, for kids who might chew on it. Very few pages.

It’s picture day and your llama needs a haircut. But of course your llama thinks its hair looks fine. What do you do? (Warning: your llama will not look good in a bowl cut. But the drawing of it in the book is hilarious.)




The Only Fish In The Sea by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Roaring Brook, 2017. 978626722828. Picture book.

Sherman tells Sadie about Amy Scott, who got a goldfish for her birthday, then walked to the end of the dock and threw it into the sea. It must be lonely, and may be in grave danger. Sadie starts calling the goldfish Ellsworth, and with the help of six monkeys she mounts a rescue operation. (The art in this is also fun. Very sketchy. And the monkeys are a hoot.)

Another Way to Climb a Tree by Liz Garton Scanlon, pictures by Hadley Hooper. 9781626723528. Roaring Brook, 2017. Picture book.

Lulu climbs all the trees, even the ones other kids fall out of. Then she’s sick and stuck inside for a day and has to find a way to use her imagination to climb trees. That’s my adult explanation that’s not as fun as the book, which also looks wonderfully colorful and textured and somehow retro.




The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates, cowritten with Juniper Bates (her 7th grade daughter). Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 9781534406582. Picture book.

A smiling, friendly umbrella loves to help, and it’s kind of magic so it gets bigger and bigger as more people gather underneath it to hide from the rain (no matter how tall or large they are). This is a great picture book idea that’s beautifully executed and destined to be a bestseller forever in a place like Seattle.

Shitty Art

Leonardo Was Right by Roland Topor. Translated by Barbara Wright. John Calder, 1978. Playscript 83. 0714536717.

Sarah: Leonardo Was Right by Roland Topor…This is a play.
G: Oh my god, this is the smallest book we’ve talked about so far… just a 25 page tome.
S: Right, it’s a fast read.
G: Translated from what?
S: From French, oui oui. One of the reasons I’m hesitant to talk about this on Bookthreat is that it’s out of print and wildly overpriced online in both French and English.
G: Our friends in the library world have this thing called interlibrary loan, so don’t worry about it.
S: This was a book that Tom loaned me that he thought I’d find funny because it’s a play that’s entirely about shit. (laughs)
G: I’m picking the book back up!
S: He said I might want to recommend it to you! It’s about this couple who visits another couple in the country and, as the play opens, we discover that their toilet’s backed up and they’re having problems unplugging it. So every time someone has to go to the bathroom they have to go to the neighbor’s house! Then, at dinner that evening, there’s a turd in the center of the table. They need to find out who the phantom shitter is.
G: Oh my god.
S: And both of the men in the couples are policemen, high up, and they start to gather all the clues to find out who did it. One of them ends up interrogating his son, dunking his head in water… it’s ridiculous. But it’s really quite funny, even aside from the poop aspect.
G: And it’s French?
S: It’s French, and the whole time I read it, I was trying to imagine someone putting on this production, imagining it on the stage. What kind of prop poo do you use? Do you use one of those rubber dog-doo things from the joke shop?
G: That’s your whole pitch?
S: Yes. I didn’t like the ending, but other than that it was quite entertaining.
G: Obviously, poop is very funny, Sarah, because you’re laughing, and I’m laughing. My favorite episode of TV ever is from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Who Pooped the Bed? (Editor: Season 4, Episode 7)
S: I think you showed that episode at your birthday party.
G: It sounds like they took the idea right from this. Is the author well-known?
S: Yes, he was a political cartoonist, a playwright, a novelist, and he wrote a bunch of pop songs, including some performed by a Japanese-French chanteuse famous for her unusual hats…
G: (laughs) I don’t know why, but that’s perfect.
S: You should listen to his song about an ambulance… or the disco version.