Ordinary Heroes

Something Terrible by Dean Trippe. Iron Circus Comics, 2016. 9780989020756. 32pp.

Trippe tells the story of something terrible that happened to him in his childhood in crisp and expressive four-panel pages that are nearly wordless. The sexual abuse he suffered is indicated in only two frames: in one showing him and his abuser as shadows, and in another with his underwear on the floor, the threats he heard written underneath — “If you tell anyone, I’ll kill your family.” He goes to the police and endures a court case, but his true turning point is watching a Batman movie that shows the hero’s origins in a terrible childhood loss. Trippe sees that he can turn his pain into a way to become a hero. He still struggles as an adult, especially with the fear (constantly reinforced by TV police dramas) that he’ll end up abusing someone, which he depicts as holding an imaginary gun to his head. He eventually finds a way to live his life as his own sort of hero, including an epilogue on how hard it was to have to repeat his story so many times after its initial publication. The story is brief and tremendously powerful. Trippe wrote it primarily for people who had been abused, but I think his message about the power of fiction will speak to others as well.

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.
Continue reading “Food 101”

Philosophy-a-Day

Zen Speaks: Shouts of Nothingness by Tsai Chih Chung, translated by Brian Bruya. Anchor Books, 1994. 0385472579.

Sarah: I picked this book up originally because I was interested in Zen. This is by a Taiwanese author who took the great works of Zen and translated them into vernacular language, into modern Chinese, and made them into comics. And the comics are just great.
Gene: Oh, man! This is a very Asian cartooning style.
S: Yes, it seems very Chinese.
G: Did you ever see that book by Lat that First Second published?
S: Yeah!
G: It looks like this, a little bit. Lat’s from Indonesia. And there’s a certain style of Korean and Japanese comics that this reminds me of, too.
Continue reading “Philosophy-a-Day”

Wait, where’d I leave my heart?

Meanwhile in San Francisco: The City in Its Own Words by Wendy MacNaughton. Chronicle Books, 2014. 9781452113890.

Gene: This is Meanwhile in San Francisco: A City in Its Own Words.
Sarah: Oh, the cover’s cool.
G: I’ve had this book for years — I love it. (There’s one like it on New York as well that’s called Hello New York.) This is by Wendy MacNaughton. She wandered around San Francisco, drawing the city. It reminded me of a book of drawings we both liked, Tokyo on Foot. MacNaughton records people’s own words, sometimes by overhearing them, sometimes by talking to them. It’s very fun. There’s a giant fold-out map inside the dust jacket…
S: …that show San Francisco at the center of the solar system.
G: Floating around it are Oakland, New York, LA and the Sun. That’s how San Francisco sees the universe. Isn’t that brilliant?
S: Yes.
G: Here’s the table of contents, done as a map, with arrows pointing to different areas of the city (with corresponding page numbers).
Here are some pages about the MUNI. They don’t seem to be watercolors, they look more like marker drawings?
S: The MUNI driver says, “We get paid about $30/hr. $1 to drive, $29 to deal with people.” That’s like a thing I used to have hanging over my desk.
G: The librarian version of that?
Continue reading “Wait, where’d I leave my heart?”

Finding Your Way, Finding Your Way Home

You & a Bike & a Road by Eleanor Davis. Koyama Press, 2017. 9781927668405.

Eleanor Davis started biking from her parents’ home in Tucson back to her home in Athens, Georgia, carrying only a tent, a sleeping bag, her clothes, and enough food to get to her next stop. When people asked her why she was doing this, she told them either, “My husband & I want a baby, so I figure I either do this now or wait 20 years.” or “My dad built this bike & I hate boxing and shipping bikes so I decided to just ride it home!” She didn’t tell them that she was having trouble with not wanting to be alive, but that she felt good when she was bicycling — that was true, too. She recorded her journey in black and white pencil drawings as she traveled.

Throughout the trip she pushed her body, biking up to 50 miles a day even though her knees really hurt. (She iced them when she could.) She saw amazing natural beauty, passing through farmland, desert, cities, and ghost towns. She explored a lot of our border with Mexico and witnessed the harsh treatment of people trying to cross it. She biked her way through both depression and euphoria. All along her journey she met kind people who fed her and inspired her to keep going. (The people she met in Alpine, Texas, were particularly amazing.) As she said early on in her trip, “I’ll push myself really hard until I get very strong. This has always been my only plan.”

Renaissance Woman

Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story by Peter Bagge. Drawn & Quarterly, 2017. 9781770462694.

Bagge’s first biographical comic, Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story, was the kind of history-is-stranger-than-fiction book I love, so I was pretty excited that he’d written another one. And it’s about Zora Neale Hurston: writer, folklorist, and star of the Harlem Renaissance. It doesn’t disappoint: it’s full of the same kind of outrageous behavior, headstrong self-confidence, and perseverance in doing what needed to get done. Her life had family troubles! Literary feuds! Scrapes with death in rural Florida while collecting folklore! (There was a woman with a knife in a turpentine camp who felt Hurston had been putting the moves on her man!) And lots and lots of romantic relationships! (See also the previous parenthetical!)

There is a but coming: Hurston’s very full life, complex political beliefs, friendships and sometimes enemyships with a list of influential people as long as your arm means that you get plunged into the middle of  her life without a lot of lead up or context… until the notes section at the back. The notes, arranged in order by the page they explain, have the same tone as the comics with lots more detail. I just wish the information from each section could be combined better with the notes. I’ll be first in line for any future biographies by Bagge, but now I’ll be sure to flip back to the notes section as I read them.

Childhood Memories

When I Was A Kid: Childhood Stories by Boey. Last Gasp, 2013. 9780867197583.

Each of the one or two page stories of Cheeming Boey’s childhood in Malaysia in this comic collection is drawn from his blog and starts with “when I was a kid.” While Boey is an accomplished artist, he uses simple shapes to depict himself and his family. I was amazed at how expressive he could make a drawing of himself with only a line or two for eyebrows. The stories are funny, not sentimental or saccharine (he remembers being more upset that his mom put their dead dog in the trash can than that it had died). They convey a sense of place down to how crunchy snacks were (not very, it was pretty humid). (In fact he was astonished at how crunchy chips were when he moved to San Francisco.) The stories might not be as polished as the greats (Kampung Boy, The Greatest of Marlys) but they are just as evocative of childhood.