Far Away Besides The Crystal Fountains

Rock Candy Mountain Volume 1 by Kyle Starks, colored by Chris Schweizer. Image, 2017. 9781534303171. Contains #1 – #4 of the series.

Starks’ hilariously violent graphic novel homage to 80s action films, Sexcastle, was one of my favorite books of 2014, and his follow-up was in the same vein and just as fun. His third creator-owned project is just as great.

It opens in 1948, with the Devil tearing up a hobo camp and all the men living there. (Starks has a real talent for making gruesome moments somehow fun, and Schweizer’s colors really add to that tone.) The Devil is looking for Jackson, who is elsewhere, jumping a train and helping out a young man returning to Kentucky after a run of bad luck in California. The pair soon run afoul of the hobo mafia’s boss, and Jackson has to show how good he is in a fight: “He’s got punch diarrhea and their faces are the toilet bowl.” Foul-mouthed government types are after him, too. Jackson’s motivation: he’s trying to get to Rock Candy Mountain. His secret: he traded his soul to the Devil. Complications abound, and so do hilarious and unexpected bits of dialogue.

Volume 2, which was just published, concludes the series.

Imperfect Little Parents

Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson. Ecco, 2017. 9780062450340. 352 pp.

Gene: I read Wilson’s The Family Fang and I loved it. It’s also about an unusual family.
Sarah: I hadn’t heard of it. Then I mentioned this book to Tom and he said they’d made a movie out of The Family Fang.
G: No!
S: It came out in 2016. It has Jason Bateman in it.
G: (Adding it to his watchlist) It’s about a family that does public performance art pieces that people don’t know are performance art, some of which involve their kids. Very funny. You should read it. And that made me want to read this, not even knowing what it was about.
S: I wanted to introduce this by saying that when I was in elementary school and we had reading time in our class, we had to read stories from a big stupid textbook. It had stories and parts of books, but not the good parts. And one of the comprehension questions was always: “Why do you think the author wrote this story?” We were clueless kids. “To get paid!” I think it was an easy way to ask us about the theme of a book. (Now, as an adult, I’m like, it wasn’t to get paid.)
That was on my mind when I was reading this because I wasn’t sure what the theme was until I was most of the way through. I liked it, but I wasn’t sure what it was about.
G: There were moments in the middle where I was really enjoying it and I didn’t feel like there was a huge conflict. I just liked Izzy so much.
S: So, the premise.
Continue reading “Imperfect Little Parents”

You probably need to stretch, too.

Draw Stronger: Self Care for Cartoonists and Visual Artists by Kriota Willberg. Uncivilized Books, 2018. 9781941250235. 144p.

Most cartoonists I’ve worked with have experienced some kind of cartooning-related injury. Turns out drawing for hours on end, whether on a computer or desk or whatever, isn’t great for the body. This nonfiction graphic novel isn’t trying to replace a qualified healthcare provider for illustrators, but it does give a lot of useful advice for those who draw a lot (or, like me, spend all day hunched over a computer) and want to avoid pain and injury. After a discussion about not ignoring pain (a devious looking lightning bolt with evil eyebrows) and indications that it’s time to see a doctor (if your neck is tied in an actual knot, just call 9-1-1) there’s an explanation of repetitive stress injuries with an anatomy lesson. (Great, except that even thinking about my spine and how it moves always makes me queasy.) I desperately need to reread10 the section on posture, and I think we’d all be better off thinking and training like we’re athletes — changing how we work, getting enough rest, stretching, etc.

This is one of the more useful and approachable nonfiction comics I’ve read, and it’s right up there with Ellen Forney’s Rock Steady (which offers advice on living with bipolar, based on experience) in terms of its approach.

 

WWDD?

What Would Dolly Do? By Lauren Marino, Grand Central Publishing, 2018.  9781538713006. 234 pp.

Dolly Parton is probably the one person in this world who, if I ever get to meet her, would render me speechless. When Gene let me know that a new biography about my favorite celebrity was coming out, I had to read it. This is an inspiring book that will make you believe in yourself and help you reach your potential.

Dolly Rebecca Parton was the fourth of twelve children born in a tiny shack in 1946 in Locust Ridge, a dirt-poor town outside of Sevierville, Tennessee. She had to support her giant family when she was just a teenager, but had no regrets about doing so. She realized a lot of people might think she was just a country bumpkin or even a stereotypically dumb blonde who could easily be taken advantage of. Little did they know that Dolly’s father, Lee, taught her at a young age that she shouldn’t trust anyone with her money. But she’s always been generous with friends and family and, in fact, Carl Dean, her husband of 52 years, once told her he “could take all the money she spent on family and be richer than Donald Trump.”

Marino’s biography is full of anecdotes and what she calls “Dollyisms,” bits of Parton’s down-home wisdom and advice. One I have always loved is from when she played Truvy in the movie Steel Magnolias and said to her beauty salon customers, “It takes a lot of work to look this cheap.” I think when I am feeling especially overwhelmed with work, family, my other obligations and everything else, I remember my favorite: “Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to have a life.”

Being from Tennessee myself, I have always felt a connection to this self-proclaimed “trashy girl.” She made a career out of looking cheap and artificial, but her heart is as real and genuine as they come. My admiration grew into professional respect when I began volunteering for Parton’s Imagination Library, a now nationwide, non-profit organization that gives free books to kids. I am proud to say my hometown of Shelby County has the largest enrollment in the country.

Guest review by Murphy’s Mom.

Slowed Trip

The Dangerous Journey by Tove Jansson. Drawn & Quarterly, 2018. 9781770463202.  32pp.
I’ve been working my way through the enormous and wonderful Moomin: The Deluxe Anniversary Edition for years. Jansson’s black and white comic strips are delightful, and so is this reprinted, retranslated full-color picture book, which is also set in Moominvalley.
Susanna wakes up, complains to her cat, and declares that she’s wild and crazy before wishing for a bit of craziness on the landscape. She gets her wish, which sends her lazy cat spitting into the sky. The forest where she plays is suddenly a swamp. Her reflection is…off. And the sky is red hot. This isn’t the sort of adventure she was looking for, but don’t worry, she soon meets some kind strangers, and everyone ends up fine in the end (even the cat).
Painted pictures tell the story, along with rhyming text underneath. Jansson’s characters are the star of the story, but her painting of an erupting volcano was particularly spectacular. No idea how faithful the translation is to the original text, but I found it delightful in the way it expressed Susanna’s character, and I even enjoyed its rhymes.

Dreamtime

In Between: Poetry Comics (Visual Poetry Series) by Mita Mahalo. Pleaides Press, 2017. 9780807167786. 80pp.

Gene: You know how it’s every librarian’s dream to discover an author no one knows about that’s totally f’ing awesome?
Sarah: My dream is people leaving the library at closing time.
G:  …no masturbating at the computers…
S: …no needles in the bathroom…
G: I share those dreams with you. This is the book dream, the dream where you know about a book that’s so good everyone else needs to know about it. And you get to tell them.
Mita — I started buying her minicomics at Short Run years ago. She makes collage comics out of cut paper, and she’s an associate professor of English at the University of Puget Sound. She’s also the friend of a friend of ours. So I see her at local comics shows, I have two pieces of commissioned original art by her hanging in my house — one of animals that represent my family, one of a scene at the end of the first Highlander movie.  But I digress. This book was put out by the University of Central Missouri Press, and they saw poetry in Mita’s comics. I’d never really considered them poetry, but it’s a label that fits, it seems obvious now.
In addition to the short comics she’s published before, the book contains a story taking place between them, about a girl with antlers growing out of her back. Mita uses newspaper for her skin.
The first comic of hers I ever saw was “Unidentified Feeling Object,” which is about a little spaceship, and it’s here in the book, too.
S: There’s little heart on the end!
G: The spaceship is made of newspaper too.
S: She uses the panel borders, too. That’s great.
G: The paper she cuts out breaks the borders sometimes. And it’s clearly photographs of paper — there are shadows under them because they’re at different heights. I remember seeing this for the first time and just going, “Wow!” I think she looked at me like I was insane because I was so giddy. I’d found something amazing! And I’ve been a fan of her work ever since.
I’m going to show you two other poems in here, to show you Mita’s range. This is called “Patterns.” It’s much more of a classic collage made from magazine images but it has cut paper elements, and it’s on an old clothing pattern. Captain Kirk makes an appearance, and there are lots of animal heads.
S: It’s beautiful.
G: I love how she uses cut paper to create the idea of water.
S: And there are different dress patterns on every page, everyone is wearing a dress.
G: I didn’t notice that because I’m not smart.
Then this is a one page called “Caws,” about crows in a tree.
S: This is the first time I’ve been excited about a poetry book from a university press.
G: Shame!
Look at a little more of the story of the girl between the poems, with the girl with the antlers on her back. I think it was made for this, at at least I’ve never seen it. I’m not sure what it means.
S: Are they antlers? Maybe they’re branches.
G: She’s breaking them.
S: Look at the words that fell here.
G: It’s just a suggestion of what’s happening. And then she gives away the branches.
S: The words on her hands are playing into it as well.
G: Every time I look at anything Mita has created I notice something new. Sometimes it’s just a texture, or the way the space seems to work, or a word.