In Between: Poetry Comics (Visual Poetry Series) by Mita Mahalo. Pleaides Press, 2017. 9780807167786. 80pp.
Gene: You know how it’s every librarian’s dream to discover an author no one knows about that’s totally f’ing awesome?
Sarah: My dream is people leaving the library at closing time.
G: …no masturbating at the computers…
S: …no needles in the bathroom…
G: I share those dreams with you. This is the book dream, the dream where you know about a book that’s so good everyone else needs to know about it. And you get to tell them.
Mita — I started buying her minicomics at Short Run years ago. She makes collage comics out of cut paper, and she’s an associate professor of English at the University of Puget Sound. She’s also the friend of a friend of ours. So I see her at local comics shows, I have two pieces of commissioned original art by her hanging in my house — one of animals that represent my family, one of a scene at the end of the first Highlander movie. But I digress. This book was put out by the University of Central Missouri Press, and they saw poetry in Mita’s comics. I’d never really considered them poetry, but it’s a label that fits, it seems obvious now.
In addition to the short comics she’s published before, the book contains a story taking place between them, about a girl with antlers growing out of her back. Mita uses newspaper for her skin.
The first comic of hers I ever saw was “Unidentified Feeling Object,” which is about a little spaceship, and it’s here in the book, too.
S: There’s little heart on the end!
G: The spaceship is made of newspaper too.
S: She uses the panel borders, too. That’s great.
G: The paper she cuts out breaks the borders sometimes. And it’s clearly photographs of paper — there are shadows under them because they’re at different heights. I remember seeing this for the first time and just going, “Wow!” I think she looked at me like I was insane because I was so giddy. I’d found something amazing! And I’ve been a fan of her work ever since.
I’m going to show you two other poems in here, to show you Mita’s range. This is called “Patterns.” It’s much more of a classic collage made from magazine images but it has cut paper elements, and it’s on an old clothing pattern. Captain Kirk makes an appearance, and there are lots of animal heads.
S: It’s beautiful.
G: I love how she uses cut paper to create the idea of water.
S: And there are different dress patterns on every page, everyone is wearing a dress.
G: I didn’t notice that because I’m not smart.
Then this is a one page called “Caws,” about crows in a tree.
S: This is the first time I’ve been excited about a poetry book from a university press.
Look at a little more of the story of the girl between the poems, with the girl with the antlers on her back. I think it was made for this, at at least I’ve never seen it. I’m not sure what it means.
S: Are they antlers? Maybe they’re branches.
G: She’s breaking them.
S: Look at the words that fell here.
G: It’s just a suggestion of what’s happening. And then she gives away the branches.
S: The words on her hands are playing into it as well.
G: Every time I look at anything Mita has created I notice something new. Sometimes it’s just a texture, or the way the space seems to work, or a word.
Poe: Stories and Poems: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Gareth Hinds. Candlewick, 2017. 9780763681128.
I’m a huge fan of Hinds’ graphic novel adaptations of classics (his version of The Odyssey is my favorite), but not of Poe’s fiction, yet Hinds’ amazing skill pulled me through. First there’s a legend at the beginning of the book, a list of recurring motifs in Poe’s work. Hinds then puts the appropriate symbols at the beginning of each story and poem to let readers know know which will contain thing like, for example, murder and rats, so that readers they can decide for themselves to keep reading a particular story or skip it.
My favorite adaptation, “The Mask of the Red Death” (contains Death, Disease, Scary Sounds), about a bunch of upper class folks who try to seal themselves away from a plague, features the creepiest masquerade costume I’ve ever seen — a disease personified. Don’t skip to the end of the story, it’s freaky. There’s a lot to love here: “The Cask of Amontillado,” “Annabel Lee,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Bells,” and of course “The Raven.” There’s also a lot to freak you out. The rats in “The Pit…” would send my wife screaming. And don’t miss the creepy details drawn into the feathers of Hinds’ raven, which include skulls and skeletal hands.
I fell in love with Jon Agee’s picture books when I read and reread and rereread…. Terrific to my daughter. It was one of her favorite picture books (probably because I loved doing the grumpy protagonist’s voice — he’s unhappy no matter how well things work out for him). It was his drawings that really got me — they’re absolutely brilliant cartooning. Not a line is wasted and they perfectly convey action and character. (Maybe it’s time for me to cosplay the old man in the brown overcoat.)
I was looking at Terrific and Nothing the other day, getting ready for a talk I’m going to give on picture books that use the tools of cartooning, and decided to order all of the Jon Agree books at the Seattle Public Library that I’d never read. These were my favorites.
Orangutan Tongs: Poems to Tangle Your Tongue by Jon Agee. Disney-Hyperion, 2009. 9781423103158.
Hands are hard to draw. Hands using chopsticks, even harder. The title page of this book features 10 orangutans using chopsticks. It’s a signal that Agree is going to show off throughout the book, both in terms of the funny poems and in the variety of things he draws: a newsstand, the Purple-Paper People Club’s meeting, two moose, embers, a carnival, three-toed tree toads tying shoes, two hotels, dodos, more orangutans, and a crowd scene on a New York City subway.
(If you guessed that the tongue twister “Two Tree Toads” is my favorite poem in the book, you were right. But it was a close race.)
Little Santa by Jon Agree. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2013. 9780803739062.
I’m as surprised as you that there’s a Christmas book on this list. Not my holiday. The last time I enjoyed anything overtly Christmasy was the Finnish horror film Rare Exports. Agree’s young Santa dresses in a red hooded onesie that makes him look like he’s trying to sneak into Gabbaland unnoticed. He lives with his family at the North Pole where they are all miserable (he’s the only one who loves it). They decide to relocate to Florida, but their house is buried in a snow drift. They send Santa up the chimney to get help leading to…Christmas. When his family is finally rescued, Santa stays behind, but you probably already knew that.