WWDD?

What Would Dolly Do? By Lauren Marino, Grand Central Publishing, 2018.  9781538713006. 234 pp.

Dolly Parton is probably the one person in this world who, if I ever get to meet her, would render me speechless. When Gene let me know that a new biography about my favorite celebrity was coming out, I had to read it. This is an inspiring book that will make you believe in yourself and help you reach your potential.

Dolly Rebecca Parton was the fourth of twelve children born in a tiny shack in 1946 in Locust Ridge, a dirt-poor town outside of Sevierville, Tennessee. She had to support her giant family when she was just a teenager, but had no regrets about doing so. She realized a lot of people might think she was just a country bumpkin or even a stereotypically dumb blonde who could easily be taken advantage of. Little did they know that Dolly’s father, Lee, taught her at a young age that she shouldn’t trust anyone with her money. But she’s always been generous with friends and family and, in fact, Carl Dean, her husband of 52 years, once told her he “could take all the money she spent on family and be richer than Donald Trump.”

Marino’s biography is full of anecdotes and what she calls “Dollyisms,” bits of Parton’s down-home wisdom and advice. One I have always loved is from when she played Truvy in the movie Steel Magnolias and said to her beauty salon customers, “It takes a lot of work to look this cheap.” I think when I am feeling especially overwhelmed with work, family, my other obligations and everything else, I remember my favorite: “Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to have a life.”

Being from Tennessee myself, I have always felt a connection to this self-proclaimed “trashy girl.” She made a career out of looking cheap and artificial, but her heart is as real and genuine as they come. My admiration grew into professional respect when I began volunteering for Parton’s Imagination Library, a now nationwide, non-profit organization that gives free books to kids. I am proud to say my hometown of Shelby County has the largest enrollment in the country.

Guest review by Murphy’s Mom.

Mo’ Money

Monet: Itinerant of Light by Salva Rubio (writer) and Richard Efa (art). English translation by Montana Kane. NBM, 2017. 9781681121390. 112pp.

I’m not an art expert and I don’t read many biographies — I’m a guy who races through museums, often giggling with my daughter, to find the few works that catch my attention and make me stare at them. I’ve been caught up by a few of Monet’s huge, bright paintings but know little of him or the Impressionist movement — it’s worth noting that Efa’s art and design pays homage to many of his works — but I was still surprised how much I enjoyed this beautiful graphic novel.

The book opens late in the painter’s life, in 1923, with Monet reluctantly getting much-needed cataract surgery, fearing for his vision, and then reflecting on his life. Art was the only thing that took young Monet out of his grief over his mother’s death, and his first mentor was Boudin, who helped him see nature and taught him to paint it outside. Soon Monet dropped out of school, against his father’s wishes, and moved to Paris. But the school he attended there didn’t help him realize his vision, and through many struggles (financial, emotional, internal) he had to find his way to success and acceptance in the art world. He wasn’t always the nicest guy to his family, but his single-mindedness really made me admire him.

As Rubio notes opposite the last page, this is not a history book — a lot of license was used to develop characters, and the works are not always presented in the order they were created. But it gave me a great sense of the artist and his time.

For librarians and art lovers: At the end are 16 pages of reproduced art works (not all by Monet) and the panels in the book they inspired. (If I were going to read this for the first time, I’d probably start with his section, but only because I’m unfamiliar with so many of the paintings that are referenced. But discovering it at the end of my read had me flipping back through the book and enjoying it again, which was fun, too.)

Shyguys

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story by Debbie Tung. Andrews McMeel, 2017. 180pp. 9781449486068.

Tung is a web cartoonist and illustrator who publishes comics about books and being an introvert and more on her Tumblr. Her illustrations are somewhat loosely drawn but realistic, and the grays she uses really helps emphasize the quiet moments she loves. I’ve never had much of a problem asking questions in class or hanging out with groups of people, but I connected with Tung on page 12, when she looks at another young woman’s bookshelf and determines that they’re gong to be friends. Books also helped me understand how she could fall in love with a guy who isn’t an introvert — when she’s trying to decide between two books in a store, he buys them both for her. (That’s love.) Overall this is a great story, told in page-length comic strips, about a young woman figuring out how to deal with a world that’s not quite set up to welcome her (her job has an open office where everyone chats!), who moves toward doing what she loves with someone she loves.

I bought this for my daughter, who says she’s something of an introvert, for Christmas last year. I’ve never seen the book again, which is a good sign, though she seemed vaguely annoyed that I’d gotten the same book from the library and told her how much I enjoyed it. (But then she always seems annoyed with me these days (vaguely and otherwise). She’s just about to turn 16.)

Inhumanoids, Inhumanoids…

I subscribe to other review newsletters, I get notified every time my local library system buys a graphic novel, I haunt comic shops, and still it’s hard to get a handle on what great European graphic novels Humanoids is publishing in the U.S. Here are two that you’ll probably never come across unless you’re looking:

The Retreat by Pierre Wazem & Tom Tirabosco. Translated by Mark Bence. Humanoids, 2017. 9781594656156. 112pp.

Two friends, Serge and Igor, take a melancholy trip to the country to stay at their friend Matt’s family cabin in the woods (in Bordeaux, France, I think). It’s the last place they spent time with Matt before he died, and it’s the story of both trips and the conversations they had.

Serving this simple, touching, straightforward story, Tirabosco’s art feels thick and creamy, like he used mostly white crayons or pencils or the like on black paper. The color and texture of the paper, as well as the light application of white and some very strategic erasing seems to have played a role in really making the blacks pop off the page. Or maybe I’m totally wrong, I’m just guessing — but I’ve never seen anything that looks quite like this.

Adrift by Gregory Mardon. Translated by Mark Bence. Humanoids, 2017. 9781594658396. 116pp.

Adrift takes place mostly in the past as Mardon tells the life story of his grandfather, Adlophe “Dodo” Hérault. In 1937, at age 16, determined not to spend his life as a butcher’s boy in Douai, France, he joined the navy…where he immediately started working as a butcher. He got to see the world, though his crazy shenanigans often landed him in the brig. (One of my favorite scenes is of a bar fight he starts somewhere near Hong Kong. The crazy stuff he did is best discovered on your own, some of it quite funny.) When WWII breaks out and France is invaded, the tone of his story gets much less goofy, and he never does quite forgive the British for shelling the French naval vessel he was on. (The Brits feared the French would surrender to the Axis.) His love for the woman who would become Mardon’s grandmother is amazing, as is their life in northern Africa until they’re forced to relocate to France. His gruff exterior and his grandson’s love for him make the very end of his life that much harder and more touching.

This book reminds me of Guibert’s Alan’s War and How The World Was, rememberances of the life of his friend Alan Cope, an American who settled in France after WWII. Though I have to say, this also reminds me of my own gruff-seeming and entirely loving grandfather, especially of watching him shave.

The book is black and white and looks as if it was inked. The blacks and grays have a beautiful texture, particularly the shadows, that I’ve got no idea how Mardon achieved — it’s stunning.

Blow Your Own Bubble

Gumballs by Erin Nations. Top Shelf, 2018. 9781603094313. 160pp.
Reprints Gumballs #1 – #4 plus some additional material.

Nations’ mostly autobiographical comics vary in length from a single, page-sized panel to multipage vignettes. His square-jawed characters (and he himself) are at their best when expressing their awkwardness. If you’ve heard anything about this book, it’s probably that Nations is transgender, and it’s worth noting (because it’s at the heart of his story), but so is the fact that he’s a triplet. This isn’t a one-note After School Special of a book —  it has so much more to relate to, like “The Indecisive Cat,” “Things That Scared the Shit Out Of Me When I Was A Kid” (including both Max Headroom and Carol Anne in the original Poltergeist movie), and the awkward personal ads scattered throughout (Candace, I’m ready to hang out and play board games). The comics are great, particularly the colors and pacing, and they did make me reflect a little more on my own social awkwardness and, of course, all of the things I don’t have to worry about as a cisgender, heterosexual white dude.

I hope some of those extra pages include more personal ads!

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?”

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.