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.

Lawnbot

Mechaboys by James Kochalka. Top Shelf, 2018. 9781603094238. 188pp.

The key to success on prom night? Wearing the right suit.” (from the back of the book)

Gene: This is about a robot suit made from an old power mower. It’s about two guys in a garage, one is Jamie — a blond-haired, gentle soul — the other likes to be called Zeus — he’s a bag of dicks.
Sarah: He has a wispy little high school mustache.
G: They’re seniors. They build the suit in Jamie’s garage from his dad’s old mower. There’s a lot to love in here and there’s some to hate, which makes me love it a little more. It’s not kid safe.
My favorite Kochalka graphic novel of all time is Peanutbutter & Jeremy, which is about a crow and a cat. And this is black and white and it looks like that. It’s not in color like the Dragon Puncher books or the Glorkian Warrior books, which I did enjoy. (My second favorite Kochalka book is probably Super F*ckers — it’s a hilarious take/send up of Legion of the Super Heroes. So good.)
S: I gave my niece Peanutbutter & Jeremy, and I forgot there’s a scene in it where they find a gun.
G: There’s always something.
S: She was fine with it but I was like, sorry mom & dad…
G: What was the one everybody loved? Monkey vs. Robot. I really liked American Elf. Kochalka is great. He takes chances. His art looks like he draws in a fluid, fun, natural way. But I like this one because it’s an awkward teenage story. It’s very YA with a “don’t grab this if you have a bunch of censors in your town” vibe.
S: I like those stories that combine the kind of thing that boys read with the life they’re actually living.
G: In this book, there are two bullies at school, Truck and Duck. They start making fun of Zeus. “Are you LGBTQ for my ELBOW?” I know that’s terrible, but it’s supposed to be.
S: (laughs)
G: And look at what Zeus does. (laughing) Isn’t that a great response?
Then they have to do the rope climb in gym, when our “heroes” are invited to a party by a girl. They take the robot suit out for a test drive and it ends up in an accident.
Zeus is an a-hole. The girls think Jamie is cute. Here’s three girls talking about how stupid prom is, and they form a group called The Fat Bitches and decide to go to prom together.
The gym teacher is fired for a reason he should be fired for, one that censors are going to love. And he’s on the trail of the boys building the giant robot. Then Kochalka sets Zeus up as the villain — he’s down on the comics Jamie loves, and they burn them in a barrel.
They go to the party. Zeus won’t let Jamie wear the suit, but it has a pull starter like an old gas mower. There’s a giant bear. There’s a speech where Zeus goes full evil. And then a chaotic rumble at the prom.
(both laugh, Gene ruins the end for Sarah)
S: This is exactly my speed.
G: It just cruises along.
S: You think some of that is in response to Shirtless Bear Fighter?
G: Doubtful, despite the bear.
S: I’m putting it on hold right now!

Pretty Busy

Bees: A Honeyed History by Piotr Socha. Abrams, 2017. 9781419726156. 80pp.

Gene: This book was originally published in Polish —
Sarah: Endpapers!
G: I bought this for my daughter, whose name is shortened to B.B. And yeah, those endpapers, looks like the inside of a perfectly laid out beehive, which is nifty, and the illustrations are just expletively great.
Apparently Poland produces great picture books, because there’s that imprint, Big Picture Press, that publishes so many in English. (Welcome to Mamoko is one of my favorites. They also published Under Water, Under Earth.) But I was wowed by this book so had to buy it for her.
S: It’s cartoony and cute!
G: Kinda. But there’s no black lines around the images, it’s more the style of pieces of color being used to create the pictures.
S: It looks like Mary Blair‘s work.
G: (It does.) Honeybees have been around for millions of years — they coexisted with the dinosaurs. This two-page spread describes what they were like, apparently they were more like wasps, before they started getting food from plants, and at that point they got hairier so it was easier to transport pollen.
(turning page) This is a huge and beautiful picture of a honeybee.
S: That is so great.
G: Queen, drone, and worker, in scale. Honeybees have four wings, which I hadn’t realized. And very gruesome looking horror mouth parts.
The basic layout of this book is there are two-page spreads with, across the bottom 1/10th, some bit of text about the images above. On the anatomy page there’s some content about that, including that their wings beat 230 times per second and that they can reach a speed of about 20 mph.
S: That’s pretty fast.
G: And why you can’t run away from a determined bee.
Here are pictures of the hive, doing different things in there, and how the workers raise a queen. And then a honeybee mating picture — they do it in the air, as the queen is trying to fly off to establish a new hive!
S: Wow.
G: Most of the eggs are fertilized during this mating flight, and those become workers, or new queens if they’re fed royal jelly. Unfertilized eggs hatch in to drones.
S: Weird.
G: There’s a little bit about the waggle dance, swarms — the image is so complicated and layered I can’t imagine anyone creating it without a computer, but I’m probably wrong — there’s a complexity to some of these images that reminds me of medical illustrations.

St. Ambrose

There’s some info on biomimicry, pollination (including other pals that pollinate, like the death’s head moth), small bees, cave people, ancient Egypt (where they kept bees in nifty, stackable clay vessels), the diet of the Greek gods, and then here’s dead Alexander the Great, who was transported home in a huge pot of honey after he died (to preserve him). There’s a lot on Slavic cultures, and more on the Polish culture than I’d normally expect to see in a book on bees, because of the book’s origin. St. Ambrose is the patron saint of bees! And Napoleon and Josephine changed the fleur de lis to a golden bee design, to wipe away all traces of the kings who’d ruled France before him. Here is a fake newspaper broadside with miscellaneous bee facts.
S: Way more text on that page.
G: Some bits on domestication, and then beekeeping through the ages. Weird Polish history note: beekeepers were held in high regard, and in medieval Poland they had a lot of power, including being able to sentence people to death, which was the punishment for anyone who stole bees.

Beekeepers may be your next cosplay.

S: The medieval beekeeper uniforms are fantastic!
G: Bee hives people make (including old styles from other cultures), beekeeping equipment which is fascinating if you’ve never seen it, and then the crazy thing — people make beehive sculptures (in Poland!).
S: I see Jesus.
G: … and St. Francis, Adam and Eve, demons, soldiers…the list goes on. This is my favorite page in the book. I need to see if my friend Dave, who keeps bees, can build something like this.

07734

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence. Flatiron Books, 2017. 9781250106490.

Sarah: Each chapter of this is about a book or a genre. Each is only two or three pages long, and starts with a fake catalog entry — the subject headings are sometimes serious and sometimes hilarious. Each chapter is written like a letter. The first one starts “Dear The Goldfinch,” the book by Donna Tartt.
Gene: Have you read The Goldfinch?
S: No, but I feel like I needed post-it flags or a highlighter to mark all the books in here I want to read now. She writes love letters to the books that changed her life and why she loved them, how they came into her life at the right time…
G: So it’s as much about her as about the books?
S: Is is SO much about her, it’s this great autobiography through books. And she works in a library, so she also writes breakup letters to books she has to weed from the collection!
G: It’s not just love letters?
S: Not just love letters! Breakup letters, hate letters…
G: Hate letters!
S: Here’s one to a book, the subject headings she puts at the top are “Calculators” and “Old as Shit.” It’s to the book The Calculating Book: Fun and Games with Your Pocket Calculator. (laughs)
G: That one’s a breakup letter.
S: “We never go out anymore. To be more specific: you. You are REALLY not getting out much these days. It’s not that recreational mathematics isn’t a thing anymore. I guess it’s just that — how do I say this? Remember how on your book cover you ask if we have ever wanted to greet a friend electronically? People have kind of figured out how to do that without turning their calculators upside down to spell ‘Hello.'”
G: (laughs) Nice!
S: It covers all the relationships you can have with books. She’s got the one she reads every year, that she fell in love with in college…
G: Which one is that?
S: The Virgin Suicides. She’s got another one she fell in love with unexpectedly, and other books that came along at exactly the right time. She writes an angry letter to The Giving Tree for being a piece of shit.
G: (laughs) People love to hate on that book now.
S: Well, it’s a real weird story. I cracked this book open in Browser’s Bookshop in Olympia, to this page… well, I looked at the table of contents and had to flip to it…
G: Did you buy this? Do you own this?
S: Yeah.
G: (admiring) Well, look at you!
S: I opened it to Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian. She starts he letter with “Whhhhyyyyy do people keep asking me if I’ve read you? Aren’t you the same book as the last one of you I said I didn’t want to read?” Towards the end of the letter she says, “You made me say ‘erotica’ to an old lady, Grey! I’m going to hate you forever for that.”
G: (laughs)
S: And this line, here, “It makes me want to shake readers and scream: YOU’RE SURROUNDED BY GREAT LITERATURE AND THIS SHIT ISN’T EVEN THAT DIRTY!” (laughs)
I was laughing out loud at these letters, I was touched, and she really has a handle on the kind of relationship I have with books. I mean, her life is different from mine, she has a kid and talks about the books she reads with her kid…
G: Does she write letters to them, too?
S: Uh-huh. Here’s one to My Truck Book, which her kid wants her to read out loud one million times! She has this great chapter, it’s not to any book in particular, but it’s her at a party, too shy to talk to anyone, getting progressively drunker, talking to the host’s bookshelf. (laughs)
She writes this one, “Dear Books I Imagine My Upstairs Neighbor Reads,” as a way of complaining about his horrible behavior.
She has a great section at the end that lists her recommendations by topic. One of the categories is Recovery Reads, “the books to turn to when you’re on the mend from a book that gave you nightmares or left you in a dark headspace and you need some lighter fare (but don’t want to give up quality).”
G: AKA The Zero by Jess Walter. (both laugh) What does she recommend?
S: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris, Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business by Dolly Parton… she really likes celebrity tell-alls, she’s got a couple letters to them… Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo, 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter…
G: Nobody’s Fool, I’ve meant to read that a couple times, and maybe this will push me towards it again.
S: She’s got other quick lists, “All Time Top Bios and Memoirs,” “Books About Girls and Romance that Don’t Make Me Wince Like Twilight.”
G: What’s on that one?
S: Just One Day by Gayle Forman, The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson, Like No Other by Una LaMarche, Dumplin by Julie Murphy. Plus some nonfiction ones.
G: That’s great! How fun! And not previously published on the web?
S: No, it’s an actual book! And worthy of being a book, worthy of being purchased, worthy of being a gift to your friends. Though I did have a coworker I recommended it to and she said it was hard for her to take because there were so many things about bad library interactions. (She read it all in one sitting and I read it over the course of several months, which I think made it more pleasant for me.)

Oof!

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2016. 9780393245448.

Sarah: Mary Roach is awesome at writing books on a topic and giving you all of the cool things you want to know about and not any of the dumb stuff you don’t want to know about.
Gene: Science-ey topics.
S: Yes, she’s a science writer. She wrote one about what happens to your body after you die, called Stiff.
G: I listened to that while driving to North Dakota last year.
S: They’re great on audio. That one had everything you might want to know about donating your body to science. There’s one about the digestive system, the alimentary canal.
G: That’s called Gulp.
S: And Packing for Mars, which is the only one with a long title. I still talk about things I learned from that book, it’s great in conversation.
G: That one’s about the science needed to go to Mars, and how it’s being developed?
S: Yeah. One of my favorite things from that to bring up in conversation, which is why you should invite me to parties, is that there’s a science behind pet food, dog food especially, to minimize the amount of shit that it creates.
G: Really?
S: They want to make really efficiently digested foods so there’s less poo. You need that if you’re on a spaceship because you don’t want to generate a huge amount of waste.
G: But this book is not about shit?
S: The subtitle to this is The Curious Science of Humans at War. Picking it up, I wasn’t sure this was a good topic for Roach, but she always picks the absolute best topics. She’s not talking about missiles, or about being a spy, or any of the stuff that’s been covered elsewhere. She’s got a chapter on the U.S. military’s fabric and fashion designers, she talks about the kind of fabrics you need if people are going to shoot at you. How they’ve changed some of things about the fabric because of IEDs, how they’ve changed some things because of the way fires start in tanks.

Continue reading “Oof!”

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?”

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.