life is good

It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken: A Picture Novella by Seth. Drawn & Quarterly, 1996. 1896597068. (Yeah, that’s right, it’s an old book with an actual 10-digit ISBN.) Originally serialized in Palooka-ville #4 – #9.

In this “autobiographical” graphic novella, Seth’s fascination with old New Yorker cartoonists leads him to start tracking down work by a fictional cartoonist (Kalo) who he really admires, who cartoonist Chester Brown (a friend of Seth’s who appears throughout the book) notes draws a lot like Seth. Through the course of the book Seth finds more cartoons and finally tracks down some info about Kalo, finding out he was also from just outside Toronto, and more. (I don’t want to spoil it.) Throughout there’s a great sense of the way Seth feels about the world, how people annoy him, what he loves about his family (who also annoy him), and just generally how he moves through his days. And it’s all got Seth’s great sense of style and design, which he’s brought to numerous books, notably The Complete Peanuts collections from Fantagraphics and The Collected Doug Wright from D&Q.

Seth’s drawings throughout are amazing, and he gives a great sense of Toronto decades before I had a chance to visit. (In fact I’m sure Michael Cho must have drawn some inspiration from this for his Torontoscapes in the very pink Shoplifter.) Next time I’m in Tornoto I’m going to see if the weather tower is still there — and I’m not looking it up online ahead of time, so don’t tell me.

Just a note: if your eyes are aging like mine, be sure to have your reading glasses on hand. Some of the white on black lettering was hard on my eyes, but easy to read at 2.5x magnification.

Go West, Young Reader

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West. Hachette Books, 2016. 9780316348409.

Sarah: You sound reluctant to talk about this.
Gene: I’m so nervous! I think I told you when I was reading it that I didn’t realize how much of Lindy West’s work I had read and admired over the years. And she’s been appearing on the local KUOW radio show The Record, which I listen to regularly.
S: I’ve read her stuff in The Stranger, her stuff gets published in The New York Times
G: I used to read her movie reviews regularly, too. I remember when she exploded at Dan Savage for his treatment of overweight people in his Savage Love columns.
S: I’m sort of sorry I didn’t read that at the time. I read The Stranger on and off, but knowing Dan Savage’s personality, if he’s your boss, standing up to him — the MOST opinionated person, the most sure of himself — wow. That’s huge.
G: It was amazing. I remember reading about her engagement. About her then-fiance asking her to marry him publicly because she’d said that fat girls never get the big proposal.
S: The big, romantic gesture.
G: Yeah. That’s in the book, too. Plus I remember the story about her taking on and then meeting one of her internet trolls.
S: Yeah, it was on This American Life.
G: It’s all in here. It’s full of incredibly well-written, very funny personal essays, that start with her life as the basis for something broader.
Continue reading “Go West, Young Reader”

John “Two Sheds” Hodgman

Vacationland: True Stories From Painful Beaches by John Hodgman, narrated by the author. Penguin Audio, 2017. 9780525497691.

Hodgman’s previous books, a trilogy of compendiums of fake facts, had elements of his life woven in, from love to family to mortality. Vacationland has more of a narrative arc: he tells stories of the vacation home he grew up visiting and then owning after the death of his mother, then shifts to his new family’s vacations in Maine, where his wife grew up vacationing. He weaves funny anecdotes into the way he comes to terms with his place in the world: making stacks of river stones with a friend while high, how he ended up with his own apartment in high school, the oddness of the Maine dialect humor industry, and the by turns funny and horrifying story of getting an iron hook through his hand and going to the hospital. As he points out himself, a story of having two vacation homes is not likely to be relatable to most readers, but his voice (both literal and literary) made this audiobook tremendously enjoyable.

My Neighbor Igort

Japanese Notebooks: A Journey To The Empire Of Signs by Igort. Translated by Jamie Richards. Chronicle Books, 2017. 9781452158709.

Italian comics creator Igort is a bit obsessed with Japan and its culture. The book opens with drawings of Astro Boy and comics and masks and action figures and ingredients before he shows us the Tokyo neighborhood he lived while making comics for a Japanese publisher, Kodansha, in the 1990s. He describes how Japan seemed like a treasure chest filled with amazing things (but especially its old prints) that called to him. The book moves back and forth between Igort’s experiences there (the most harrowing of which is mid-book, when he is being put to the test by his publisher) and the subjects that interest him most: Mishima, manga artists like Jiro Taniguchi, the B-movies of Seijun Suzuki, Menko cards, chrysanthemums, Tanizaki, iki, Sada Abe, and more. His story of spending a day with Hayao Miyazaki made me totally jealous.

A lot of the sense of peace he had being in Japan comes through as he writes about it, and it’s clear that he’s writing about the country and its culture as part of an effort to understand it. The art is soft and beautiful, supplemented by prints and photographs where appropriate. It’s a bit adult in places, so I wouldn’t recommend it for school libraries, but I believe it will find a ready audience with adults interested in traveling to Japan, or the country’s art and literature.

He was real

Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman by Box Brown. First Second, 2017. 9781626723160.

(This conversation started with me talking about a British documentary show on Netflix called Embarrassing Bodies. Gene sends his daughter screenshots from it. You should watch it.)
Gene: I’m a recovering pro wrestling fan.
Sarah: Coming into this, I was like, he’s this comedian…
G: Did you like him?
S: Not my favorite but I respected his funny meta-comedy, practical joke sense of humor, but it wasn’t something I tuned in for.
G: I remember watching SNL when I was really little, I used to stay up all night watching TV. (This and letting me read anything I wanted are what I owe my parents for.) I watched the first season when it aired when I was 7. I remember seeing him do the Mighty Mouse thing. It was crazy.
S: I saw an HBO special he did that was all the hits, so I saw all of his famous bits compressed into like an hour.
G: I saw him on Taxi, too. I remember seeing him wrestle women. I remember seeing him apologize to his parents on Letterman.
S: I saw some of those too.
G: Weird, right?
S: Not as weird as Crispin Glover, but weird.
G: Glover never really seems to be having a good time. Andy Kaufman seemed to be having fun.
S: We start in Kaufman’s childhood, and it was funny to see so many of his later bits reflected in his childhood. Obsessed with Elvis, watching Mighty Mouse…and it didn’t feel artificial, it felt like we were finding out this was the kind of kid he was.
Continue reading “He was real”

The Sheer Joy of Colors

This Beautiful Day by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Suzy Lee. Caitlyn Dloughy / Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481441391.

Lee’s black and white and oh-so-blue Wave was so beautiful that, after finding it in a bookstore, I read it three times before I made it to the counter. This one also has a lot of that wonderfully blue water as three kids enjoy a rainy day. And then even more color explodes on the pages as more happy kids with umbrellas join them, the sky clears, and the gray goes away.



Little Red Riding Sheep by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Cale Atkinson. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481457484.

I can’t think of a folk tale where color is more important. Retellings don’t usually do much for me, but this one features a Heidschnucke sheep named Arnold who refuses to be in a traditional version tale and talks back to the writer/narrator, bringing more light into the forest, casting his friends in key roles, and finally just changes the story to altogether. My favorite picture is of his friend Einer, a muskrat, making his scary face.

Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney artist extraordinaire. Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, illustrated by Brigette Barrager. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481461313.

After two colorful picture books, round things out with a bit of nonfiction about artist Mary Blair, who collected colors wherever she went. She was one of the first women to be hired by Walt Disney Studios, but the men there rejected her colors as too vivid and wild. After she left and became a successful illustrator on her own, Walt Disney himself invited her back to use her colors to design the It’s A Small World ride.

Right Round Round Round

Spinning by Tillie Walden. First Second, 2017. 9781626729407. 345pp

This is the best graphic novel I’ve read in a long time. Everyone once in a while a comic is so innovative or well executed it gives goosebumps. This is one of those.

The level of craft is as amazing as the art. It will be a crime if this doesn’t win a bunch of major YA and graphic novel awards.  I don’t really want to say anything more about it than GO READ IT!

But here’s a little more: I read a lot of high fantasy, more superhero comics than I’m comfortable admitting (I only tell you about the best), plus a bit of science fiction, crime, and literary stuff. Before this I had read one graphic novel biography about ballet (Mark and Siena Cherson Siegel’s To Dance) and zero books about ice skating. I never planned on reading a book about ice skating, and would have bet anyone money against my ever finishing one. But this autobiographical graphic novel showed me that ice skating is fascinating (there’s a taste of the diagrams skaters use to plan programs on the back cover). And as much as this is about ice skating (my high school English teachers just rolled over in their graves at my word repetition), it’s also about growing up: Tillie struggles to fit in, find people who love her, figure out if skating is worth the time and effort, and how to tell everyone who she is. (It most reminds me of another amazing YA graphic novel, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s This One Summer, which is also just so good.)