Ordinary Heroes

Something Terrible by Dean Trippe. Iron Circus Comics, 2016. 9780989020756. 32pp.

Trippe tells the story of something terrible that happened to him in his childhood in crisp and expressive four-panel pages that are nearly wordless. The sexual abuse he suffered is indicated in only two frames: in one showing him and his abuser as shadows, and in another with his underwear on the floor, the threats he heard written underneath — “If you tell anyone, I’ll kill your family.” He goes to the police and endures a court case, but his true turning point is watching a Batman movie that shows the hero’s origins in a terrible childhood loss. Trippe sees that he can turn his pain into a way to become a hero. He still struggles as an adult, especially with the fear (constantly reinforced by TV police dramas) that he’ll end up abusing someone, which he depicts as holding an imaginary gun to his head. He eventually finds a way to live his life as his own sort of hero, including an epilogue on how hard it was to have to repeat his story so many times after its initial publication. The story is brief and tremendously powerful. Trippe wrote it primarily for people who had been abused, but I think his message about the power of fiction will speak to others as well.

Sweet and Dandy

We Are Dandy: The Elegant Gentleman Around the World by Nathaniel Adams and Rose Callahan. Gestalten Verlag, 2016. 9783899556674.

Mix one part men’s suits, one part vintage shop, one part avant-garde fashion, one part time traveler, and a liberal splash of big personality and you have a dandy. I feel like any of these fellows could be a Time Lord. If they aren’t too cool to go to the public library, the staff definitely have given them nicknames. Everybody who lives on their streets knows them by sight. “Hey, it’s that guy!”

The photographs are really fun. I appreciate that the “around the world” in the title includes dandies from outside the usual fashion centers of London/Paris/Tokyo/New York. The dandies from Johannesburg are really cool: their looks are sleeker and more form-fitting, looking modern without being busy. The American and European dandies used more accessories and had more theatrical looks. The Japanese dandies combined suits with modern casual or traditional Japanese clothing. Some dandies were photographed in their homes. As you might expect, their home decorations are just as eye-catching as their clothing, though I’ll admit to looking askance at the guy with three shelves of books color-coordinated with his wall — buying books solely for the sake of interior decoration just seems wrong.

Food 101

Food Anatomy: The Curious Parts & Pieces of Our Edible World by Julia Rothman with help from Rachel Wharton. Storey Publishing, 2016. 9781612123394.

Gene: This is totally the book for you.
Sarah: (laughs)
G: There is so much in here about food and cooking — goodness and drawings and amazing stuff. The part in the beginning that I love so much is where Rothman is talking about how hungry working on the book made her.
S: Oh, yeah?
G: She had to go out and try food. She wants the book to inspire you to experiment with cooking and be more curious about what you’re eating. Chapter one is a timeline of food history that looks like a board game.
S: Oh, yeah.
G: 1700, the Earl of Sandwich, 1686, the croissant is born in Austria. Ice cream cone invented at the St. Louis World’s Fair, 1904. With nice little drawings of everything.
S: I think there were several foods that first appeared in the US at that Word’s Fair, because the fair is where people try out weird new food!
G: First sushi restaurant in America, 1966. In California!
S: Wow! I guess in Seattle back then there were Japanese restaurants, but it was only sukiyaki.
Continue reading “Food 101”

Medicine and Myth

Malignant Metaphor: Confronting Cancer Myths by Alanna Mitchell. ECW Press, 2015. 9781770412682. 208pp.

Alanna Mitchell’s brother-in-law was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. His extended family rallied around him and Mitchell, because of her background as a science writer, was put in charge of investigating his treatment options to determine whether they were helpful, did more harm than good, or were pure fantasy. In the process she found that people think about cancer in really odd ways.

People are afraid of cancer in ways that have little to do with the reality of the disease. They think it’s inescapable and happening more and more, but when rates are adjusted for a larger population and longer lifespans the rate of cancer is staying about the same and may even be dropping in the US and other western countries. Cancer is much more treatable than it used to be, and more people are surviving it. The general public thinks cancer is preventable, caused by lifestyle choices, diet, or maybe even one’s mood and outlook on life. Sometimes this idea drives people to try to live healthier lives, but other times it can be cruel: people blame those who get cancer or think that they somehow deserve it. Mitchell found that only a few things clearly cause cancer, like smoking, radiation, asbestos, benzene, and HPV. The majority of cancers are caused by some random cell mutation — we don’t yet understand the how or the why.

Mitchell writes clearly and compassionately about the history of these frightening and contradictory ideas and how they affect the ways we respond to the disease and the people who have it. She looks at it as a metaphor for how we feel about ourselves and our relationship to the natural world. And she explores how the war metaphor (battling cancer, winning against cancer) can be counter-productive.

Then her daughter is diagnosed with a completely treatable cancer and, even though Mitchell had read mountains of research dispelling the myths, she immediately panics and begins blaming herself. She spends the last portion of the book examining the emotional impact of cancer. It can feel safer to blame ourselves than to admit that the process is usually random and completely out of our control.

Hacks and Snacks

Edible Inventions: Cooking Hacks and Yummy Recipes You Can Build, Mix, Bake, and Grow by Kathy Ceceri. Maker Media, 2016. 9781680452051.

Like I said last time, maker books cover a lot of territory, from the sort of safe educational activities you used to learn about on PBS science shows to building a robot that spits fire. Edible Inventions spans a fun segment of the usual danger and futuristic-ness spectrums. You can build a hydraulic Lego 3D printer (a sort of food-based pen-plotter that can draw on a graham cracker with frosting), do your own molecular gastronomy by making gelatin dots and agar noodles, freeze a sorbet with dry ice, and make fancy fermented ketchup from scratch. There are also the projects I remember fondly from my own youth: solar ovens, homemade granola, home-fermented yogurt, and a tin-can cooker. Which is not to say that these golden oldies haven’t been updated! The section on that old standard, growing a tree from an avocado pit, also has instructions for growing new plants from the root ends of leeks, garlic, and romaine lettuce. There’s enough here to not only appeal to kids but to challenge them as well, plus chapter bibliographies in case they want to go further.

Thanks, mom!

The Thurber Carnival by James Thurber. Harper & Brothers, 1945.

Gene: Oh, I think I know about this book! When was this one published?
S: This one is from the forties so it was printed on this very soft, fuzzy paper. “This book is complete and unabridged in contents and is manufactured in strict conformity with government regulations for saving paper.”
G: (flipping through it) It doesn’t have as many illustrations as I thought.
S: My family are big readers, but we’re not big book-owners or book buyers. There were not many books that we owned, but there were always a ton of books around from the library. This is one of the few books my mom owned. At some point in my late elementary years, maybe junior high-ish, I picked it up.
Continue reading “Thanks, mom!”

Stay gold, Ponyboy

Midas Flesh Vol. 1 by Ryan North, illustrated by Shelly Paroline and Braden Lamb. Boom Box, 2014. 9781608864553.

In great speculative fiction, there are rules for magic and advanced science. Zombies infect you with a bite and are killed by destroying the brain. Vampires can’t survive sunlight. Don’t cross the streams. In Midas Flesh, the rules are about the Midas touch: King Midas wished that everything he touched turned to gold, so everything he touches and everything that is touching something he is touching turns to gold. Moments after his wish is granted, the entire Earth and everyone on it has turned to gold. Midas dies (the air in his lungs changes to flakes of gold) but his body is preserved: no bacteria can consume him.

An advanced spacefaring Federation finds our dead planet and determines that there’s no way to explore it without being turned to gold. The planet is erased from every map, and everyone with knowledge of it is sworn to secrecy. Generations later, two women and one small sentient dinosaur find speculation about this strange planet, then set out to find whatever advanced super-weapon destroyed it. (They want to use it to free their home planets from subjugation by the Federation.)

Ryan North’s dialogue is funny and snappy, the action is fast, the stakes are high, and the well-crafted rules create a fascinating world for characters that I liked immediately. I’m a big fan: I highly recommend his ongoing webcomic Dinosaur Comics, his reboot of Marvel’s Squirrel Girl, and his choose-your-own-adventure versions of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet (review coming soon!).