Really real friend friends

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham. First Second, 2017. 9781626724167. 224pp.

I feel like I’m seeing Pham’s name and artwork everywhere. I loved The Bear Who Wasn’t There (am I imagining the scene with a giraffe on a toilet?) and I’ve got Isabella for Real near the top of my to-read pile. And she also drew a full length graphic novel with Shannon Hale (Princess in Black, Rapunzel’s Revenge (I know she’s written a lot of other cool books, but those are my favs))?!? When does she sleep?

First, the art: fantastic. Pham captures the red-headed Shannon’s everyday antics and really brings her imagined games to life, too. She’s right up there with Raina Telgemeier. Wow.

The story: This is Shannon Hale’s story, based on her memories of elementary school friendships. (There are awkwardly beautiful pictures of Hale at the back for comparison with the character’s look, along with an author’s note about the story.) Shannon loves her friend Adrienne so much! But in second grade, others want her attention, too, and then Adrienne moves away. Shannon makes another friend, Tammy, who clearly wants Shannon’s friendship while all Shannon wants is for Adrienne to come back. And then she comes back. It’s painful to to read, and it only gets worse as girls form grade school cliques and Shannon moves in and out of them — lots of social anxiety, lots of stomach cramps. It’s saved from a didactic after school special vibe and comes alive because Shannon doesn’t always do the nicest thing, and like in real life it’s often not clear what she should do. (I’m leaving this where my high school aged daughter can find it.)

Take a Powder

Promise of Blood (The Powder Mage Trilogy) by Brian McClellan. Orbit, 2014. 608pp. 9780316219044.

My friend Eric has been telling me about this series for years. Every time I heard “Powder Mage” all that came to mind was “take a powder” or “baby powder” and I didn’t pick it up. Huge mistake.

The series’ eponymous powder mages have an affinity with gunpowder: they can snort it for super strength, speed, and stamina, cause it to explode from a distance, and use its explosive power to hurl bullets with and without guns. All of which is good, because they’re hated by members of the royal cabals, the more traditional magic users who are valued and kept close by their rulers.

The book opens with a coup by a general who is also a powder mage, who leads soldiers against a corrupt king who is bankrupting his country and abusing its citizens. There are a lot of beheadings and violence. He has to fight off royalists and try to control the city. He hires an investigator to figure out the cabal members’ cryptic last words. And he sends his son (also a powder mage) to kill his son’s best friend (the only surviving member of the royal cabal) at a remote mountain outpost. Nothing goes as planned. A neighboring country is about to invade. A popular master chef claims to be a god. Oh, and some version of Armageddon is coming. At the center of most of it is my favorite character, a mute young woman who uses some kind of “primitive” uncivilized magic no one understands, and who clearly kicks ass. (Eric assures me she figures into the later books, so I can’t wait to read them.)

Brandon Sanderson apparently mentored/taught McClellan, and their books share a level of craft and just sheer entertainment value that I rarely find elsewhere. If you liked Sanderson’s Mistborn series I think you’ll love this book.

Wow: Stick Man

Stickwork by Patrick Dougherty. Princeton Architectural Press, 2010. 9781568989761. 208pp.

Gene: Patrick Dougherty is a sculptor who works with sticks. (opens book)
Sarah: Oh wow!
G: I know.
S: Are those elephant butts or faces?
G: He works onsite at museums and gardens and parks. When he goes in (he needs a bunch of volunteers to help) he has to figure out what kind of sticks will work with the site. Sometimes the site is trees or a building or the inside of a building. And then he has to find a source of sticks nearby. The intro says that because of urban expansion, trees are often cleared from lots, and small sticks will grow there. Before a lot is cleared again for final construction, there are enough sticks for him to harvest. Dougherty works in different layers, and the first phase is anchoring bigger sticks in the ground to act as structure. Then he weaves in smaller sticks, and keep weaving them in until shapes appear.
This book includes not just photos of freestanding structures but big swirly shapes, some look like they’re windblown or organic…
S: Like they’re put together by birds.
G: And others look like big houses. It’s a look at his career up until the publication date.  (looking at another photo) This is a giant swirly pattern in a room. It’s not quite as full as some of the other sculptures. It really looks like if you sketched the wind.
S: It’s cool that he uses local sticks. That makes it more environmental, right?
G: It’s renewable, and the sticks would be removed anyway…
This is one of my favorites, Holy Rope.
S: Twining through a tree…oh, you can go inside it!
G: It was in Chiba, Japan. It’s a swirl of a treehouse, and there’s a photo of two people inside looking out at us.
This is Little Big Man and it was in Denmark. It’s a weird guy who looks like he’s made of wind. He’s just above a pond or marsh.
S: Spooky.
G: Creepy as hell.
Continue reading “Wow: Stick Man”

The Incredible Flatness of Being

shapes by John. J. Reiss. Little Simon, 2016. 9781481476454. 34pp.

colors by John J. Reiss. Little Simon, 2016. 9781481476430. 34pp.

Two classic picture books from the late 60s and early 70s featuring what I think of as flat art — bold, uniform colors, no shadows, gradients, or textures. (The board book format’s cardboard pages makes the art feel even flatter.) I’ve got no idea how art like this was colored before the age of Photoshop but it’s simply wonderful to look at. In shapes a gray fox and his friend, a mole, show where colorful basic shapes like triangles and circles appear in things like sails and thumbtacks, and how they can be combined to make more complex shapes like pyramids and spheres. There are even pentagons and hexagons and more. In colors Reiss shows the variety of what we might refer to as “blue,” “yellow,” and other colors by showing differently colored things — cornflowers, blueberries, the sea / baby chicks, bees, squash — that are not all the same color as each other. Like the fish on the cover, the entire design emphasizes that things we can group as the same aren’t the same. And his section on green includes gooseberries, which kids need to know about so that stores will continue to stock gooseberry jam, which I love.

On The Wings Of Lots Of Dead Birds

Audubon: On the Wings of the World by Fabien Grolleau & Jérémie Royer. Nobrow, 2016. 9781910620151.

I’m not someone who longs for walks in primeval wilderness, I don’t read history books, and most biographies leave me cold, but this beautifully drawn and colored graphic novel was amazing. Audubon was obsessed with painting the birds of America. He left his family behind to undertake dangerous trips into the unsettled wilderness to paint the birds he found there. Two moments that stand out to me: Audubon climbing into a hollow sycamore tree to investigate the thousands of swallows nesting inside, and shooting at a flock of pigeons in which birds may have numbered over a billion. (The most shocking thing about the book was the cavalier way he killed so many birds so that he could pose them in lifelike ways to paint. He’d sometimes be so captivated by them that he let them live, but those exceptions were few and far between. It was more like: “Look at that beautiful bird!” Pow!) The scientific community in the U.S. wasn’t supportive of Audubon’s work — they saw him as an artist, not a naturalist — so he eventually had to travel to England to find support for his famous book.

I often say that the key to pursuing one’s artistic goals is a supportive spouse or partner, and Audubon’s wife goes above and beyond in terms the number of years she spends without him, raising all their children. (I’d love to read a graphic novel about her life next.)

Pair this with Nick Bertozzi’s epic Lewis & Clark to try to give the comic readers in your life a love of nature and history. It’s too late for me, but I’m sure that could work for someone with fewer plant allergies.

Totally Killer

The Killer Volume 1 by Matz and Luc Jacamon. Archaia, 2009. 9781932386448. 128pp.

The Killer Volume 2 by Matz and Luc Jacamon. Archaia, 2009. 9781932386561.  176pp.

Gene: The Killer Volumes 1 and 2, my pic for our book club!
Sarah: Do you want my first reaction?
G: Yes!
S: I went to an exhibit on Martin Scorcesse and there was a little thing in there about a film he directed for Roger Corman. (Many great directors directed a film for Corman because he would hire you before you were well known.) And apparently Corman said “You can rewrite the script however you want as long as there’s nudity every 15 minutes.” So I felt like this was one of those movies.
G: Ow!
S: There was murder, there was darkness, and there was nudity every 15 minutes.
G: Well it’s about a killer for hire, he’s French.
S: The whole book is so French! They translated the words in the word balloons but not the sound effects.
G: The book was originally published in French. It’s very hard to translate sound effects because they’re part of the image — changing them would require the art to be redrawn. It’s easier to change the letters in the balloons because they’re isolated. That’s why in manga you usually see sound effects in Japanese.
S: Good to know!
G: I love the coloring of these graphic novels so much. It’s subtle and amazing. It’s from the mid 1990s so I’m not sure whether it was done digitally, but probably not.
The story starts with the killer waiting to shoot a doctor from an apartment where he’s holed up. The guy doesn’t show up, doesn’t show up, doesn’t show up, so the killer reminisces about other jobs he’s done. He thinks about a job he had three months earlier, another rich guy who he killed next to his swimming pool. There’s a picture of the guy sitting next to the pool with his hand on a drink and you don’t realize until you flip the page that the guy is dead already. Loved that.
Continue reading “Totally Killer”

One More Year Of Drug-Addled Sadness And Hilarity

One More Year by Simon Hanselmann. Fantagraphics, 2017. 9781606999974. 200pp.

I last wrote about my love for Hanselmann’s comics years ago, and I can assure you that his tales of Megg (a young, green witch), Mogg (her boyfriend, a cat), Owl (yeah, an owl) and the other folks they know are only getting better. (In this case that means sad and gross.)  Megg can only deal with her emotional problems by getting high, which she does often, leading to a lot of puking. Mogg isn’t really there for her, though he’s usually right next to her on the couch. They’re both freeloading off of Owl, who seems determined to work hard and escape the black hole of bad decisions that his “friends” pull him into. Owl’s attraction to Megg and his lack of a non-stoner social circle keeps him circling the drain that their lives are destined to be sucked into. At the end of the last book, Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam, there were hints that Megg was on the verge of trying to change her life. And that hint is still somewhere in this book, too, if it’s not just me hoping for that on her behalf.

Wow, that sounds a bit depressing. This book and the others are also riotously funny, especially if you can laugh at the grossest of lowbrow humor and giggle at sadness. My favorite bits in this one were Owl trying to treat his friends to a fancy French dinner for his own birthday (horrible choice), when Owl briefly works with Megg and Mogg’s boss at Hot Outdoors (they turn it into a nightclub), and the high school flashback episode (Owl made me soooo sad). And of course Werewolf Jones, the world’s worst father, is disgusting. He’s super pathetic when he turns back into a human.

When I saw Hanselman at the Fantagraphics booth at last year’s Short Run Comix Fest I didn’t know what to say. “I love your work!” seemed too generic. “I love it when Werewolf Jones and his kids poop on Owl’s bed!” seemed overly specific (and I didn’t really want anyone to overhear me saying that). I chose silence. I think it’s just too weird for a non-stoner in his mid-40s to talk about his love for these books, except in a short review like this.