Travels of a Brooklyn Boy

Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg: One Comedian’s Tour of Not-Quite-the-Biggest Cities in the World by Todd Barry. Gallery Books, 2017. 9781501117428.

Sarah: I recently read The Not-Quite States of America, too, so this is my year for “Not Quite” books. Todd Barry is a working comedian, really well established. I wouldn’t say he can work wherever he wants, but he does mention several times in the book that he opened for Louie CK at Madison Square Garden.
G: Right. He’s not super famous, but he’s been in a lot of movies.
S: People know him.
G: You would recognize him instantly. But it feels like he’s a comedian’s comedian.
S: I can see that.
G: One of the things people kept saying to him that he interpreted as “this show may not go well” was, “I’m a little worried you’re too smart for this audience.”
S: Yes. And he might be a little to smart for any audience. This is about his year of going to secondary markets, as he calls them. Not the big towns, but the next ones down or the college towns, partly because he likes playing those venues but also because he likes finding indie coffee shops…
G: Coffee shops that make him feel like he’s still in Brooklyn.
S: Yes! Which is kind of hilarious. He lives in Brooklyn and tries to have the same experience everywhere. Continue reading “Travels of a Brooklyn Boy”

Wyld Boys Always Shine!

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames. Orbit, 2017. 9780316362474. 544pp.

The last fantasy novel that made me laugh this hard was Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself with its aging barbarian, Logan Ninefingers. This book has more swearing, weird tech and magic, and references the entire AD&D Monster Manual. It’s also got great characters and a whole lot of heart.

The adventurers formerly known as Saga, aka the Kings of the Wyld (a deep dark wilderness where everything will try to kill you), are legendary. They’re also retired. Gabriel’s daughter has become a successful badass adventurer in her own right, but she’s trapped with thousands of others in a city besieged by a horde of monsters. So Gabriel decides to put his old band back together and go rescue her. His first stop is to find his buddy “Slowhand” Clay Cooper, a man with an unbreakable shield who has settled down, has a daughter of his own, and helps guard his city. Clay initially says no to his friend and feels terrible, but where the hell would the book be if he stuck to that? So he goes off, leaving his wife and kid, determined to help Gabriel and return to his family. (As motivation, this works.) They get Gabriel’s sword out of hock from the man who stole his wife, and who also used to be their agent. Then they find their buddies: a wizard marketing his cure for erectile dysfunction, a knife fighter who’s a sedentary cuckold, and the greatest warrior among them who is currently turned to stone.

The violence is offhanded and often hilarious. The destruction is rampant. It’s the characters you’ll come back for again and again. My favorite among them is the immortal, undead bard who, I have a sense, refused to die when Eames planned. Oh, and if all of that isn’t strange enough, the story’s Big Bad has bunny ears. And somehow it all works wonderfully.

Choose Wisely

Romeo And/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North. Riverhead Books, 2016. 9781101983300.

I would have read an adaptation of Shakespeare’s work by Ryan North anyway (I’m a big fan of Dinosaur Comics, his Squirrel Girl reboot, and his page-by-page analysis of the novelization of Back to The Future). But getting to read a version of this story where I could help Juliet not make bizarre life choices was the best. There were symbols on the choices so I could follow Shakespeare’s (even if they were crazy) and some entertaining editorializing in the wording. If you end up picking the same path as Shakespeare, you can unlock a secret character! And there were some great running jokes about what they were doing when they were not in the play. If you like this one, be sure to pick up North’s choosable-path version of Hamlet, To Be or Not To Be, which is also available as a video game.

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!”

Franglais Lessons

Let’s Parler Franglais! by Miles Kington, illustrations by Merrily Harpur. Penguin Books, 1981. 0140056254.

The Franglais Lieutenant’s Woman by Miles Kington. Penguin Books, 1987. 014010142X.

Sarah: I know that you speak some French.
Gene: Very little.
S: Probably more than me, since you’re able to get through some graphic novels.
G: That’s not speaking, though, that’s reading. It’s very different.
S: That’s good. If you read a little French, but not much, this is the book for you. “Let’s Parler Franglais” was a column in Punch magazine. It’s a combination of French and English in very funny dialogues, in the style you would get in a French textbook. It’s funnier than it would be just in French or English. It’s a great combination.
G: Who illustrated this?
S: Merrily Harpur.
G: Her style reminds me Tomi Ungerer’s and Shel Silverstein’s.
S: If you get a chance to look at her work, do. It’s really good.
G: There are two books?
S: There’s more, but these are the two that I have.
G: The Franglais Lieutenant’s Woman! (laughs)
S: That one is full of short literary parodies. Kington was a cool guy, he was a writer, a musician, and a jazz reviewer for The Times of London
G: (flipping through a book) Can you understand this?
Continue reading “Franglais Lessons”

They Might Be Giant Days

Giant Days, Vol. 1 by John Allison and illustrated by Lissa Treiman. Boom Box, 2015. 9781608867899. (Contains Giant Days 1-4)

Three college students, Daisy (an optimistic and naive former homeschooler), Esther (a disaster and drama prone goth) and Susan (the practical one) have ordinary(ish) college adventures: Esther accidentally causes disaster in the dining hall, Daisy takes drugs for the first time and then has to eat breakfast with her granny, Susan makes a zine against guys because she’s mad at a particular guy and it goes viral among young teens. When everyone catches a cold, Susan goes through terrible nicotine withdrawal because she’s too sick to smoke, Esther crashes what she believes a Santeria ceremony and is healed (it later turns out to have just been a wine-and-cheese party), and Daisy takes an imported Polish cold medicine that makes her so loopy that she makes friends with a pigeon.

The stories are hilarious and have a sweet friendship at their core. This feels like my favorite kind of sitcom, funny and kind but not too treacly. The faces and body language are delightfully expressive and compliment the tone of the stories. I recommend this to anyone who liked Lucky Penny.

One More Year Of Drug-Addled Sadness And Hilarity

One More Year by Simon Hanselmann. Fantagraphics, 2017. 9781606999974. 200pp.

I last wrote about my love for Hanselmann’s comics years ago, and I can assure you that his tales of Megg (a young, green witch), Mogg (her boyfriend, a cat), Owl (yeah, an owl) and the other folks they know are only getting better. (In this case that means sad and gross.)  Megg can only deal with her emotional problems by getting high, which she does often, leading to a lot of puking. Mogg isn’t really there for her, though he’s usually right next to her on the couch. They’re both freeloading off of Owl, who seems determined to work hard and escape the black hole of bad decisions that his “friends” pull him into. Owl’s attraction to Megg and his lack of a non-stoner social circle keeps him circling the drain that their lives are destined to be sucked into. At the end of the last book, Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam, there were hints that Megg was on the verge of trying to change her life. And that hint is still somewhere in this book, too, if it’s not just me hoping for that on her behalf.

Wow, that sounds a bit depressing. This book and the others are also riotously funny, especially if you can laugh at the grossest of lowbrow humor and giggle at sadness. My favorite bits in this one were Owl trying to treat his friends to a fancy French dinner for his own birthday (horrible choice), when Owl briefly works with Megg and Mogg’s boss at Hot Outdoors (they turn it into a nightclub), and the high school flashback episode (Owl made me soooo sad). And of course Werewolf Jones, the world’s worst father, is disgusting. He’s super pathetic when he turns back into a human.

When I saw Hanselman at the Fantagraphics booth at last year’s Short Run Comix Fest I didn’t know what to say. “I love your work!” seemed too generic. “I love it when Werewolf Jones and his kids poop on Owl’s bed!” seemed overly specific (and I didn’t really want anyone to overhear me saying that). I chose silence. I think it’s just too weird for a non-stoner in his mid-40s to talk about his love for these books, except in a short review like this.