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.

CatStronauts Are Go!

CatStronauts Book 1: Mission Moon by Drew Brockington. Little Brown, 2017. 9780316307475. 160pp.

CatStronauts Book 2: Race to Mars by Drew Brockington. Little Brown, 2017. 9780316307482. 184pp.

These two graphic novels for young kids were just released simultaneously. I have amazing advanced copies that are a black and white, but from what I see online it looks like the actual books are being printed in color.

In Book 1, the world is facing an energy crisis. To save the day, four cat astronauts (Blanket, Pom Pom, Waffles, and Major Meowser) must set up a solar power plant on the lunar surface. Blanket wants to bring his experimental cat-stro-bot along (and does so against orders). Waffles brings way too many snacks. The Major has to keep them on track and training (none of them likes getting wet during a water landing) while the cats at mission control focus on constructing a new rocket.

In Book 2, the Cosmocats, the first cats in space resent the accolades being heaped upon the CatStronauts and want to reclaim their place in history. From SOCKS (Society of Cosmic Kitten Services) they begin planning a mission to Mars. Two other space programs, MEOW and COOKIE have also joined the race to be the first to set paws on the red planet, along with the CatStronauts. There’s a potential disaster en route, though, and only cooperation can save the day.

These aren’t full of science lessons or anything, but they’re fun stories and move right along. I know that if I’d read them as a kid they would have sent me out to find more info on both the Moon and Mars, at the very least.

Wow: Dave Engledow is the World’s Best Father

Confessions of The World’s Best Father by Dave Engledow. Gotham, 2014. 9781592408894.

Sarah: This is Confessions of the World’s Best Father by Dave Engledow
Gene: Who’s Dave Engledow?
S: He’s a photographer and a photojournalist who started taking these pictures of himself with his daughter. Each picture has him, his daughter, and his World’s Best Father Mug.
G: (laughs) On the cover he’s arm-wrestling her on a box.
S: On a crate of hand grenades.
G: Oh! I didn’t see that. And his daughter has a barbed wire tattoo on her bicep.
S: He does some Photoshop on the pictures. He arranges the pictures in the book by how old his daughter is.
G: “Day 240” (laughs) They’re playing X-Box together!
S: I don’t know if you can see the games…
G: I see Resident Evil, Grand Theft Auto… and Call of Duty! I was talking to Bill Barnes, he was asking how early I played video games with my daughter. I couldn’t remember! She was always watching me play, so she wanted to play. I think we started with Katamari Damacy.
S: Oh, yeah, that’s a really good kid game.
Continue reading “Wow: Dave Engledow is the World’s Best Father”

Apatowmattox

Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy by Judd Apatow. Random House, 2016. 9780812987287. 576pp.

I love Apatow’s films (The 40 Year Old Virgin, This is 40, Trainwreck), TV shows (Freaks and Geeks), and have enjoyed listening to him talk with Terry Gross, but he’s at his best talking to other comedians (Amy Schumer and Jerry Seinfeld). I say “other” because he gave stand up a try a long time back, before he became a comedy writer / producer / director, and is currently giving it another shot. About half of the interviews in this book were conducted when he was a comedy-obsessed high schooler who used shaky press credentials to get interviews with some of the best comedians of that era (and ours). What’s amazing is not only Apatow’s naked need to try to understand how they do what they do, right down to asking how they write jokes, but the comedians’ patience with his questions. (I’m not going to list who he interviews because this is a who’s who of greatness. If you like funny people read this book.) In the more recent interviews he talks to other comedians at the height of his own career, and he still can’t fully hide his wonder at getting to chat with them. (There are some non-comedians interviewed as well, including a few musicians and more than a few film folks.) In addition to discussing performing and writing comedy, there’s a lot of talk about creativity, parenting, marriage, and fame, and having been a serious nerd. It’s all pretty great.

Recommended if you enjoy Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Paul Provenza’s Satiristas or The Green Room, and listening to comedians discuss their work on podcasts — Marc Maron’s WTF and Jesse Thorn’s Bullseye are two of my favorites.