You sank my battleshit!

The Song of Roland by Michel Rabagliati. BDANG, 2012. 9781894994613. 192pp.

Gene: Rabagliati is a Canadian cartoonist. This is part of a graphic novel series about a young man named Paul who grows up in Quebec and raises a family there. They are (I think) semi-autobiographical.
These books are beautiful because of Rabagliati’s cartooning and his style — his storytelling craft. And this (of the ones I’ve read so far) is the best of them, and it’s probably the most well known.
It begins in 1999, when Paul and his wife, Lucy, are on their way to see her parents and family. Her parents recently moved from Montreal to a place called Saint Nicholas, near Quebec City, where they used to have a summer cottage. And all of Lucy’s sisters are there, too. It’s a crazy, chaotic scene. Lucy’s dad calls his girls “rabbits” so his grandkids are all “little rabbits.”
Sarah: The art sort of reminds me of one of the cartoonists in Mad who drew in a really classic style. (I think I’m thinking of Dave Berg.)
G: It’s classically cartoony but somehow it’s way beyond that, too.
Continue reading “You sank my battleshit!”

Browsing Reference

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable Centenary Edition, Revised by Ivor H. Evans. Harper & Row, 1981. 0060149035.

Brewer’s Dictionary of 20th Century Phrase and Fable. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991. 0395616492.

Sarah: There was a small bookcase in the dining room when I grew up…
Gene: This is another of those “when Sarah was growing up” books?
S: Uh huh. One of the things my dad would do when my brother and I asked kid questions during mealtimes is he’d say, “Let’s find out!” and grab a book off a shelf. And we’d look up the answer. We had the compact Oxford English Dictionary and this. I’m sure there were other books, but those are the two I remember. That’s a really happy memory for me, approaching questions like that. I hope I can pay that forward.
G: That’s nice.
S: Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is one of those things for when you read a phrase or hear a phrase and need to know what it means and where it’s from. Later in life I learned that some people look down their nose at Brewer’s idea of phrase origins, so maybe it isn’t super-reliable? I have two editions, one is the one I grew up with and the other is more modern, called 20th Century Phrase and Fable. The old one leans more towards classical stuff.
G: So what do you look up in this?
S: Someone says, “That’s like the Sword of Damocles,” and you look it up to find up what it means.
G: (reading) “impending evil or danger”
S: And then it tells you the story of Damocles so you get the meaning and the context. This is good when you’re a kid and don’t know what anything means. (laughs) Because this is not individual words, you can’t get this from a dictionary. There might be an entry based on a word sometimes, though, like here’s a section on “deaf:” deaf as an adder, deaf as a beetle, deaf as a post, deaf as a white cat, none so deaf as those who won’t hear.
G: So they have phrases with the word deaf, and fables.
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Meanwhile, back in Mosul…

Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim. Translated by Helge Dascher. Drawn and Quarterly, 2017. 9781770462939. 120pp.

Gene: This graphic novel is by Brigitte Findakly and drawn by her husband, Lewis Trondheim, who is my favorite cartoonist. (She’s his colorist, and apparently does some coloring for other cartoonists as well.)

It’s the story of her growing up in Iraq. Her mom is French, her dad is an Iraqi dentist. Her mom moved to Iraq after they married — she met Findakly’s dad when he was in dental school in France. And they lived in Mosul, which has been in news for all of the wrong reasons lately. So this is her story about growing up Christian in Mosul, half Iraqi, French-speaking at home…
Sarah: Oh yeah.
G: …going to Arab schools. It’s written so that a kid can get it, but there’s some adult level weirdness, too. It tells the history of Iraq, it has photos of her family, and it has cultural tidbits about Iraq that were a bit surprising.
What struck me were a few parallels between Korea (where I lived for a few years) and Iraq. Here’s a moment  where all of the kids are out running behind a truck spraying a fog of DDT to kill mosquitos. I saw this in Korea in the early 1990s (and my wife Silver remembers it in her neighborhood farther back than that), though there the kids breathed it in and out as they pretended to smoke.
S: I remember a similar story from the U.S. in Frank Zappa’s autobiography.
G: This can’t be safe. I hope they’re not still doing it. Or if they are that they’re using some safer chemical.
Another moment that reminded me of Korea is when Findakly says that if a family has a whole bunch of kids, but a married sibling doesn’t have any, they’ll just give a kid to the couple. Silver’s mother was actually given to one of her aunts for a time. (She lived in Manchuria for a bit in the 1930s until that aunt lost her fortune and returned Silver’s mom to her birth family.) I’ve heard this is done in India, too…
It really gives fascinating day-to-day details, too. Here’s a bit about Findakly’s mothers’ magazines from France. Iraqi customs officials would cut out any photos of Jewish people.
And this is my favorite cultural tidbit, a two page sequence that ends with this: “In Iraq, before a wedding, the future husband is asked if he wants his fiancée’s pubic hair completely removed or left as is.” (laughing) The groom said, “Completely,” so the bride is crying. Relatives carry the message between them.
S: Oooooh!
G: Here are some nicely done pages about the history of Mosul, and some really old photos of Findakly’s ancestors and relatives.
Here her parents are on the phone, speaking French, while her father was in Baghdad. The government officials listening in interrupt and tell them not to speak French because they can’t understand.
Here’s a bit about Iraqi manners. Findakly’s mom never got the hang of the fact that people were supposed to refuse second helpings even if they wanted more, so she’d just put her amazing French desserts away. (Their guests eventually adapted and started taking seconds.)
S: Nice.
G: Overall it’s a kids-eye view of the country. At one point people were angry at Christians and they were being killed but in Findakly’s experience, she wasn’t really alarmed. Her father was a dentist for the army, and that protected them a bit, even from looting by soldiers.
(minor spoiler) Her parents are still alive. And so the narrative not only moves between all of what I’ve mentioned before, it also moves between the past and the present. They’re in their late 80s or early 90s and live across the street from her. Sometimes when she needs to clarify something for the book she goes and talks to her mom.
S: I’m glad there’s another book that reminds me of Persepolis.
G: Yeah, they’re both great, and neither of them ever comes across like an after school special.
And just one more point, after the family eventually moves to France, it becomes a bit of an immigration story. Her father can’t work as a dentist, and she’s told she can’t be Arab because she’s Christian. (She walks away from the kid who said that, calling him an idiot. Findakly seems to feel like Iraq is home, and even goes back to visit a few times.)

Thanks to my friend Dawn who got me a signed copy at Comic-Con in July. Trondheim and Findakly even drew this in my book!

Chickentime

Time Shifters by Chris Grine. Scholastic Graphix, 2017. 9780545926577. 272pp.

Gene: One of my favorite graphic novels ever is Chickenhare by Chris Grine. You ever seen it?
Sarah: No.
G: It’s about a half chicken half rabbit who is captured by a guy who collects really strange animals. There’s a bearded turtle and other weird things. Grine hasn’t done a new graphic novel for a while. Chickenhare was originally published by Dark Horse in black and white in 2006, and it was republished in color by Scholastic in 2013. I’ve been hoping that another Chris Grine graphic novel was on the way since then. And then this arrived, his new book.
I had no idea what it was going to be about, but I cleared my schedule and grabbed a beer and read it straight through. And it is fan-tastic. If I’d read it first maybe I’d love it more than Chickenhare
It opens with a very sad bit, two brothers, Kyle and Luke, being forced to jump off a cliff into a very shallow pond. Luke is fine but Kyle hits his head and dies. Luke, a week later, when his mom is trying to comfort him, he sees a crazy lightning storm in the woods near his house. (Aren’t the colors beautiful?)
S: They are!
G: He goes to investigate and runs into — dun dun dun! — a skeleton in a spacesuit, a mummy, and vampire Napoleon. (He just wants to be known as “Napoleon.”) They lose a device which allows them to move through dimensions, and they end up with Luke’s flashlight instead. Luke puts the device on his arm and then they’re after him. They’re working for some big bad boss. And they’re about to grab him when suddenly from out of nowhere appears —
S: This dinosaur chicken with a button on his head?
G: (laughing) This is very hard to explain. It’s a dinosaur from an alternate dimension where they were even more birdlike (so this one has a beak). It’s name is Zinc. There’s a ghost girl, Artemis. A scientist whose name I cannot remember. And robot Abe Lincoln. They are trying to keep the multiverse safe I guess…they grab Luke and take him to another universe in an amazing burst of color.
S: Oh yeah, that’s gorgeous.
G: And they land in a world that’s the old west but populated by bugs. Lots of spiders driving stagecoaches and wagons. Luke finally snaps and tries to run off and then passes out. (laughing)
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Belgium!

Welcome to Marwencol by Mark Hogancamp and Chris Shellen. Princeton Architectural Press, 2016. 9781616894153. 278pp

Gene: Did you ever see a documentary called Marwencol?
Sarah: The name sounds familiar but I don’t think I did.
G: It’s about Mark Hogancamp. He’s had kind of a sad life. He was married, he was in the army. After he got out his wife divorced him and he became an alcoholic living in, I think, rural New York. He went out with some friends one night a while back and got totally plowed — his blood alcohol level was 3.0 or so after this incident. He was drinking boilermakers — whiskey and beer, whiskey and beer. And he admitted to some guys that he’s a cross dresser. After the bar closed down, these guys beat him so badly he was in a coma, unconscious, for 9 days. Lots of brain damage. It knocked him back decades. He had been an artist, he drew a lot, but when he woke up he had to relearn how to walk and talk and it was awful.
And so — I want to admit I’m doing a piss-poor job of summarizing his life, you should see the documentary — he got these 1/6 scale action figures and started taking photos of them. Outside the trailer where he lives he created a World War II era Belgian village he calls Marwencol. There’s a character that’s him, Hogey. There are Nazi SS characters who are stand-ins for the guys who beat him up. There’s a bar, Hogancamp always wanted to own a bar.
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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.
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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!”