On The Road

On The Camino by Jason. Fantagraphics, 2017. 9781683960218. 186pp.

To mark his 50th birthday, Norwegian cartoonist Jason walked the Camino de Santiago from St. Jean Pied de Porte in France to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Along the way he stays at hostels, meets fellow pilgrims, and washes his socks and underwear quite a bit (it looks like he packed light). There’s lots of time for him to think and walk, and there’s also ridiculous moments, like a nice conversation in a restaurant suddenly interrupted by a cover of “Hotel California” played at full volume.

This graphic novel is done in Jason’s usual deadpan style. Every page is a 2 x 2 panel grid featuring people drawn as anthropomorphic animals. I love that it’s black and white — his drawings are marvelous, and somehow the lack of color makes me enjoy them more. And the story makes me feel closer to him — on trips alone, I’m notorious (at least in my own mind) for not talking much with other people and just walking from one place to the next.

Did this make me want to walk the Camino? No. Or at least, if I ever do, I won’t stay in hostels because of the bedbugs. When Jason mentioned them I shuddered.

Cricket Bat Girl

Motor Crush Volume 1 by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr. Image, 2017. 9781534301894. Publisher’s Rating: Teen Plus / T+. Contains Motor Crush #1 – #5.

Short pitch: Slick, colorful, LGBTQ-friendly futuristic motorcycle racing story by the creative team behind the best Batgirl series ever.

Motorcycle racer Domino Swift has a big World Grand Prix race coming up. She’s being hounded for interviews by a floating robot/camera that looks like a cat. Competitors who want an extra edge put an illegal chemical called Crush in their tanks to make their bikes go faster. If they’re caught they’re thrown out of the league. Domino secretly competes in violent illegal street races to win a supply of Crush. (Her weapon of choice: a nail-studded cricket bat.) But Domino doesn’t need the Crush for her bike, she needs it for her inhaler.

After her stash of Crush goes missing, Domino tries to steal what she needs, leading to a spectacular chase (one of many). Her bike is wrecked, so she turns to her pink-haired former girlfriend and ace mechanic, Lola. Lola has problems, though — when she left racing, she took out a loan that she can’t pay back, and now she’s in trouble with all the wrong people. To make everything right Domino bets the only thing she has on her next race: herself.

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!”

Yeah, no kidding, a giant flying bear.

Borne by Jeff Vandermeer. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017. 9780374115241. 336pp.

Vandermeer’s books and stories are, in all senses of the word, weird. They’re also well written, pleasing on a sentence-to-sentence level, and they have a depth that pulls me in. But I’m not sure I could justify any of that in a coherent, English major way without rereading his books >7 times and talking about them for a quarter in a literature class, which is the only way I ever felt like I “got” a play by Shakespeare. (Don’t ask me which. I won’t tell you.) Anyway, Vandermeer’s books are high quality shit, dude.

This one takes place in a city  ruined by biotech produced by the Company. A lot of it has gone feral, including some terrifying creatures that were once children and a giant flying bear called Mord, the boss monster. Rachel is a scavenger, operating from a secret base with her biotech-building lover/partner Wick. One day she finds an anemone/squid-like thing, brings it home, and names it Borne. It starts to eat everything and grow and eventually (I don’t think this is much of a spoiler) to talk. She loves and raises it like a mother, but it learns and grows at a terrifying rate. The whole situation is spooky and strange and then starts to feel dangerous, though throughout it seems like Borne loves Rachel back.

It is the most vivid post-apocalyptic world I’ve read about in a long while. All of the praise on the cover of my galley copy is very vague, and I’m afraid I have to be, too. A more detailed description of what plot there is or the setting or the atmosphere would ruin the book for you. I’m already afraid I’ve said too much.

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!).

No secret: I love books about sandwiches

The Sandwich Thief by André Marois, illustrated by Patrick Doyon. Chronicle Books, 2016. 9781452146591.

Marin’s parents are foodies and cooking maniacs. After being made fun of in the school cafeteria, Marin convinced them to only make him simple lunches, so his parents pick out delicious ingredients for his plain-looking sandwiches. Marin’s mom even makes her own mayonnaise. But now someone is stealing his sandwiches and leaving him hungry. Marin quickly makes a list of suspects and begins an investigation.

The book is a great combination of a humorous, realistic school story (Marin is horrified by the overworked principal’s lunch — a limp store-bought burrito he keeps in his desk drawer) and kid-style exaggeration (Marin’s mom buys special bread at a secret bakery run by kung fu monks). The illustrations are drawn with shapes and lines that show motion and character really well. They’re sometimes regular illustrations of the text and are sometimes mixed with the text like a comic. All give depth to a simple story showing a school that’s falling apart, students with big personalities, and a hundred other tiny details of Marin’s world.