Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Things You Should Know: A Collection of Stories by A.M. Holmes

In this book of eleven stories, I liked one, the last in the collection. I’ll choose to tell you about that one, “The Former First Lady and the Football Hero,” a sad and inventive tale about Nancy Reagan and the aging of a marriage.

I always wondered why an actress would give it all up to be married. Of course Ronald Reagan became governor of California and later President, giving Nancy plenty of places to get dressed up and put on a false face, but I think her sacrifice for his image only really became clear after his Alzheimer’s was publicly announced and with him, she retreated from public life. “‘Removed from public view”— that’s how they describe him on his Web site. He was removed from public view in 1988, like a statue or a painting. She will not allow him to be embarrassed, humiliated. She will not allow even the closest of their friends to see him like this. They should remember him not as he is, but as he was. Meanwhile, the two of them are in exile, self-imposed, self-preserving.”

Many, many of the sentences use repetition, which is such a great way to evoke what life with an Alzheimer’s sufferer is like, both because of the routines used to keep the person anchored in time and the mantra of the partner, the reasons to stay, the reasons you still love the person who doesn’t recognize you. In “The Former First Lady and the Football Hero” Nancy deals with her exile with shopping trips, exercise and multiple Internet personalities. Although this last coping mechanism provides some of the story’s excesses, overall, Homes uses Nancy’s web activities to give depth to the character, in the form of fear: fear of her husband’s disease and fear of disappearing herself.

Even though this is a story that peeks behind the “Hollywood magic,” it is still conscious enough of the theatrics of their lives to appeal to readers not feeling so charitable towards the duo. Probably most vicious is the vision of the pompadoured ex-president dressed up like a clown, led by his nurse to shake hands with children in a mall parking lot because “he still gets great pleasure from shaking hands, pressing the flesh.” Or is it the sundown, impromptu minstrel show he decides to provide the nurse and his housekeeper (from “the islands”), covered in shoe polish and lipstick, blabbering on, oblivious to the audience’s shock?

As for the rest of the stories in Things You Should Know, I couldn’t muster a single feeling for any of the characters. It’s too bad. I was prepared to be blown away. Maybe I read the wrong thing by A.M. Homes?


Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Because They Wanted To by Mary Gaitskill
Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill
The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf by Kathryn Davis
What is This Thing Called Sex? edited by Roz Warren
The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories by John Kessel
Roadstrips edited by Pete Friedrich
Matilda by Mary Shelley
Ananthem by Neal Stephenson
Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville
Budda, Vol. II by Osamu Tezuka
Budda, Vol. I by Osamu Tezuka
The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman
The Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso
Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape by Sarah Manguso
A Journey Around My Skull by Frigyes Karinthy
The King's Last Song by Geoff Ryman
Escape from "Special" by Miss Lasko-Gross
Things You Should Know: a collection of stories by A.M. Homes
The Goddess of War by Lauren Weinstein
I Killed Adolph Hitler by Jason
Snake Oil by Chuck Mc Buck
The Keep by Jennifer Egan
You Ain't No Dancer, vols. 1 & 2
Sundays 2 by various artists
Et Tu, Babe by Mark Leyner
Wall City by Alex Kim
Freddie & Me by Mike Dawson
Indelible: A Collection Brought to You by Women of CCS
High on a Hill by Sarah Oleksyk
No One Tells Everything by Rae Meadows
The Melancholy of Anatomy by Shelley Jackson
American Genius, A Comedy by Lynne Tillman
The Killer by Jacamon & Matz
The Seas by Samantha Hunt
The Brief History of the Dead: a novel by Kevin Brockmeier
pistolwhip by Jason Hall and Matt Kindt
Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand
Lone Racer by Nicholas Mahler
Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Signifcance edited by Joshua Glenn & Carol Hayes
House of Splendid Isolation by Edna O'Brien
Micrographica by Renee French
The Ticking by Renee French
Dori Stories: the complete Dori Seda
Famous Fathers and Other Stories by Pia Z. Ehrhardt
Sounds of Your Name by Nate Powell

Sunday, December 21, 2008

mystery sounds

Yesterday, on the way back to NYC, exhausted and weary, I spent a few minutes browsing in the chain bookstore in Union Station. I was feeling sad, as well as tired, and didn't feel like reading the feminist fable I'd brought along for the trip. A good mystery would maybe solve my problem. I decided on Fingersmith by Sarah Waters after scanning row after row of rather-gouge-my-eyes out fiction. Promptly upon getting comfortable in my antiseptic-smelling seat, I entered ye olde pool of drool land, instead of Waters' world. I guess I'll save the award-nominated lesbionic historical mystery fiction for another dank day. Have you read it?


Today I felt barely better. The drizzly day and oversleep left me craving a good story, preferably one set in a land far away. Luckily I subscribe to Escapepod. After an only ok jaunt into space and mirror worlds, I decided to listen to a story by Michael Swanwick, a Philly writer that lives in my parents' neighborhood. In high school, we read some of his work in a seminar class on science fiction. Public school can be awesome, friends. Anyway, while I admired the inventiveness of his work, I was annoyed by the recurrence of what I found to be cliched sexual moments clothed in scifi duds and the recurrence of an idealized male character that dies tragically, only to be reborn somehow. Boys, boys, boys, so important! Ugh. In fact, when he visited our class, I asked him about it. I don't remember his answer. (Not all of his work is like this, at least, not that I remember).

It has been years since I've read any of his work. So when I saw his story, described as a ghost story or a locked room mystery or maybe detective fiction, I was intrigued. If it was bad, at least I'd have something else to brood about besides my own funk. Since audio fiction is really made by the reading, I was wondering how Swanwick's slang-ridden prose would translate off-page. I needn't have worried-- the reading by Cheyenne Wright was an example of how finding the perfect reader can elevate hearing a story into a fully absorbing entertainment.

So do you need a little engaging distraction from your rainy-day woes? Maybe a little sleuthing? Maybe some ogres? A Small Room in Koboldtown is the fantasy story for you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

wearing black

I won't be updating for a few days because I will be traveling to D.C. for my grandmother's funeral. She was an easy woman to be impressed by, an easy woman to admire, but a hard woman to love. Now that she is dead she will be reunited with her only love, my grandfather. In fact, she will be buried right on top of him, which is almost overwhelmingly metaphorical. She will be in the ground like so many of her friends, so many people better and worse than her. The most positive lesson I can squeeze from my memories of her is that old age doesn't have to be ugly or boring, especially if you are committed to always learning something new.

I didn't cry when my father called me to tell me that she had died, angry and doped-up, but I did when I saw my address in her writing on an envelope, my name in her hand.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I'd rather be walking

Last night I finished a monster book that I have spent the last many nights enjoying before bed. Around midnight I hurried to finish brushing this and soaking that so I could dive into my covers and then into its.

Now I'm awake and contemplating the lesser of 2008's reads, thinking about how I am going to review so many book by 2009. Blahggle!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf by Kathryn Davis

Because of a long ago suggestion from Amy Ambulette, I decided to pick up a book by Kathryn Davis. One aborted library loan and seven dollars later I had a compact hardcover from the Strand in my hands. I was facing a diner alone after I bought it and it ended up to be a very good thing because once I read the first page I was unfit for company.

The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf manages to successfully be four books in one:
a) an exploration of small town life that is entirely without cliché
b) a mystery involving an unfinished manuscript that keeps you on the edge throughout the dense narrative
c) a character study of a wild woman grown old, Helen Ten Brix, that manages to not descend into caricature and provides a ton of material for reflection
d) an exercise in POV that manages to make dizzying time and place shifts seem seamless and effortless, all with a first person narrative

Here is a quote from early in the book that accidentally got me where the getting is good because it describes a feeling I have been trying to describe for a long time:
“I was wretched, heartsick, inconsolable. I cried and cried as you sometime do for the whole sorry universe, for the inexplicable machinery that set it in motion and then kept chugging away without regard for all of the tender shoots, as forlorn as these [aforementioned] green onion sprouts that lived and died in it.”

I loved this book and it made me wish I knew something about music since the narrative is obviously structured in a form that likely jumps out to those in the musical know. When you read it, and you really, really, should, you may feel that the moment that the story unravels from is a little too grand, a little crazy, but I feel that it fits perfectly as an action of Brix, a woman who spends her whole life trying to create another world and then finds that she can’t really escape it, even for true emotion.

I love how dense and delicious the book is. It certainly merits a reread in a cold month.


Both projects on DonorsChoose that I decided to support have been fully funded, partially by try harder readers.


What Is This Thing Called Sex edited by Roz Warren

“Do you think cake is better than sex?”
“What kind of cake?”
This painful joke screams from the internal organ-pink cover of What Is this Thing Called Sex: Cartoons by Women, an anthology from 1993, and yes, I bought it anyway. Because despite the unfortunate cover, this book is filled with great work from the ladies of the eighties/nineties, an obsession of mine. I was hoping that the visual horror of the book would cause a steep drop in the cover price, but those Strand folks are too clever. Collections like this one are a great way to find work by artists who didn’t quite make it through to today’s comics boom. In WITTCS’s case, though Nicole Hollander’s work graces many a limp Shoebox card these days, seeing Kris Kovick’s wickedly smart work (RIP. I only found out about her after her death, thanks to WITTCS contributor Alison Bechdel.) and Shari Flennigan’s bizarre take on old-timey comics was totally worth the cringe-inducing wait in the check out line.

Much of the work isn’t all that pretty—no sleek lines here. But, as In Andrea Natalie’s hilarious one-pagers, there is a raw sensibility at work that keeps these old cartoons feeling fresh and vibrant, even if some of them feature Ronald Reagan.

Beyond offering a few chuckles, WITTCS offers a window into the complicated lives of 80s/90s women, especially lesbians, and when examining lesbian life, the book leaves behind much of the kinda boring stereotypes about sexually unfulfilling men that bog down a few of the cartoons. (“Sex: A Dyke’s Dilemma” by Wendy Eastwood pretty much sums it up). S&M is a large concern, as is PCness and AIDS. Post-feminisism is warily acknowledged. It seems like many of these women found themselves in an On Our Backs world after fighting for an Off Our Backs life. A theme not entirely absent from the less-fraught aughts.

I liked this book. It made me think about sex and power. Potent!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The New York Center for Independent Publishing Independent & Small Press Fair 08

I wish I could offer an exhaustive report on this annual, awesome book fair. Instead I only managed to make it today and missed every single panel. I have a good reason, its B's birthday weekend, but even so, I wish I had carved out a bit more time for the fair. Besides being held in a dream-like library locale, the range of publishers is well worth the trip to Midtown.

What I did end up doing was visiting the Small Beer Press table and having a great chat with author and publisher Kelly Link and a newbie New Yorker who will hopefully leave a comment here and tell me his name. I picked up Endless Things (which sadly is the last of a series. Looks like I'll have some catch up to do before I can dive into this pretty volume) and Link offered me Carmen Dog, the book that inspired the James Triptree Jr. award.

Right next to the Small Beer table was Two Dollar Radio. I had never heard of them until I was googling around last night and a few of the books on their site sounded really good. I talked with the table guy there and bought two books (The Drop Edge of Yonder, which I think I'll either really like or absolutely hate, and 1940, a book to continue my recent interest in historical fiction).

Next over was a table with beautiful, but expensive books. A quarter of the table was taken by a letterpress stationary creator who made beautiful cards. I bought some with a simple, elegant design. Get ready, penpals!

At this point, it's getting very close to five, the close of the fair. Even so, I got to see my buddy Goodloe Byron who was surprisingly ebullient on three hours' sleep.

Talking with Kelly Link made me realize how many of the books I read this year are still unreviewed. Only a few more weeks to go before the year is out. How did that happen?

(Please excuse the crappy photo quality. You can see exactly what these books look like if you click on the links, know what I'm saying?)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

In the course of my work...

I find awesome things. It almost makes up for the various minuses of my work life.


A blog about ampersands makes my heart happy. Also, my eyes.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Do you like games?

Wow. Look at that pretzel in the bottomish right. Then try not to look at everything else on this awesome site.

(via BibliOddessy)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


While googling around, trying to figure out what year I graduated from college, I found this.

Please enjoy and no, I will never give you your two dollars.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Better late than

I've got a new review over at inkstuds: Liz Baillie's Freewheel: Chapter One.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Next customer please

“Hello sir—uh, ma’am.”
“Hi! Sir, ma’am—whatever it’s ok. I have a turkey club and salt n’ vinegar chips.”
“No. It’s not ok.”
(Little laugh)
“Yeah it is. Whatever!”
“No. It isn’t.”
“Aw. Don’t you think I’d make a dashing man?”

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Interview: Chuck McBuck [Forsman]

Ignatz award winner and CCS graduate Chuck McBuck generously took some time out of his busy schedule to talk with me about being a cartoonist.

C: How old are you and where do you live?
C: I just turned 26 in September and I live in White River Junction, VT.

C: Where'd "Mc Buck" come from? Do you ever regret choosing it as your pen name?
C: Oh gosh. The name. The Story as I remember is that, in high school, I signed a drawing that I did in art class with that name because I thought it sounded funny. Anyway, it got put up in one of those display cases they have in the hallways and my friends saw it and started calling me by McBuck. It's such a silly thing to have stuck with me for so long. I guess I do use it though, so I am sure to blame for its continued existence. I never really thought of it as a pen name but I guess I have signed a lot of stuff with it. Just for the record I like my real name just fine and am not ashamed of it in anyway. Even though the name makes my eyes roll sometimes I don't regret it because I think people tend to remember it more than they would my real name.

C: How's Snake Oil 3 coming along? How sick are you of that question?
C: Oh it's coming along. I'm a little sick of it but not from people asking me. I find it awesome that people want to read the next one. I am more sick asking myself that question. Not to make excuses but I expect my life to get a little less busy after I graduated in the spring but it seemed that the opposite has happened. Anyway, I'm drawing it. It's moving right along all of a sudden. It is on track for December. I'm really excited about it!

C: Do you have the plot line already sketched out in your mind? How important is plot to you in your own work?
C: So with this book, I find that every time I start thinking ahead planning it out, I end up throwing those pages away. For some reason I have to do this book with the idea that I don't know what's happening next. Just a couple pages at a time. It started as just an exercise just to get myself producing work because I was in a rut at the time. I realize that this may sound disappointing to some but I honestly believe that it's what makes Snake Oil what it is. Plot is important to me but I guess I work in a more feeling my way through the dark then actually mapping out a plot and thinking when the tension needs to go up or where the climax is. I studied a lot of that stuff at school and I think it sunk in but for whatever reason I can't think about that stuff too much as I am drawing. I am working on another book (another reason Snake Oil 3 isn't done) right now that I actually wrote out and did a big draft of. So the way I do Snake Oil isn't the only way I work I guess. Boy I hope that answered those questions.

C: Another book, eh? Is there anything you can tell me about that?
C: Yes, This summer I did a draft of a story that I didn't expect to happen. I sat down to do a small story for another project and the thing just got out of hand so I went with it and ended up with a draft around 80-90 pages. I am really excited about. I'm not sure what form it will take when it's done. I don't to talk about the story because it's still very fragile. It's not ready to be talked about yet. Too much could change.

C: I know you chose to stay in White River Junction after graduating from CCS. How has that decision affected your work?
C: Staying in Vermont was the best idea ever. The whole time I was in school I was dreaming about where to go after I graduated. Should I move to New York? Should I go back to LA? Should I go back to Pennsylvania? And eventually I realized that going to a place like New York, I would just be trying to recreate what I already had in Vermont: an amazing community of artists and friends. Oh, and it's a lot cheaper. CCS also sweetened the deal by starting up what they are calling the CCS Inkubator. It's still in its infancy but right now it's basically providing a studio space for alumni to work. There are other plans for it though. AAAAAAAAAnd getting to your actual question. The only way it has affected my work is that I am supporting myself now so I am working a lot more. It's slowed my output considerably. I was just thinking today how fast I did Snake Oil 1 and 2. It was crazy. But I was under the pressure of the end of the school year then.

C: Snake Oil really showcases your ability to create and maintain a tense atmosphere. I first encountered this in your work when I read Drunks. Alcoholism is a well-plumbed depth; what made you want to make that book in the way you did?
C: I was pretty proud of at the time. Alcoholism is something that seems to keep popping up in my life. Well, not just my life but everywhere. It's something that stirs a lot of emotion up in me. I really wanted to try to do a "serious" story at the time and it was my way of exploring my feelings on drunks and me experimenting with writing. I'm really glad I did the book because it was a great stepping-stone for me. I learned a lot about my abilities from doing it.

C: Have you thought about returning to Drunks? For some reason I thought it might end up being a series.
C: You are right about it being a series. My plan was to do 3 books, each showcasing a different type of alcoholic. I probably won't end of ever doing the other two unless I go back and redraw all of the first one. I was really struggling with figuring out how I draw when I made Drunks and to me, it looks like it was drawn with a different hand.

C: What themes would you like to tackle in your work in the future?
C: As far as themes go, I really don't consciously think about them much. I know they are there in everything I do. But I usually don't recognize it until after the fact. I discovered that I prefer to be more spontaneous when writing comics. It hard for me to sit down and say, Ok, I am going to write this kind of story and this is how it's going to start and end. I really enjoy the act of writing in comics. It's the most pleasurable part for me. Snake Oil is really the ultimate tribute to this part of me because I am literally writing it right there on the page.

C: What’s your day job?
C: I work for the CCS Schulz Library and I work in the deli at the Co-op food store here in White River. I love both of my jobs. I'm glad neither of them involves drawing.

C: Charles Schultz Library, huh? Sounds awesome. What do you do there and how could it not affect your work?
C: Well, I guess I am the librarian there. I feel sort of like I am not qualified to call myself that but I guess that's my job title. I pretty much run the place 6 days a week with much guidance from Robyn Chapman. There is a lot of processing of book donations and re-shelving and organizing and figuring out where all these books are going to go. The school is blessed with a lot of donations and we have a pretty amazing collection. I guess it's a pretty unique library since the majority of it is comics. I think we have around 6000 books or so and we have cataloged most if on which anyone can look at and search through our collection. Our name on there is cartoonstudies in case anyone is interested in seeing the books we have. It's really one of the best jobs ever. I am surrounded by an amazing room full of comics and I get to recommend books to students and help them find what they are looking for. It's the best parts of retail without the selling and angry customers.

C: Is there anybody you want to give a shout out to?
C: I'd like to say "meep!" to Melissa and "Hi" to my mom!

Friday, November 14, 2008


Even with no hot water, I managed to make it through the GRE today. I did better than I thought, causing my father to unleash a sports metaphor on me, nearly causing me to fall down flat in front of the Port Authority.

Now the hard part begins.

Any suggestions on rocking grad school applications would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Mailbox Mayhem

I've been thinking about writing letters again. My thoughts tend to turn toward quiet days and focused storytelling when I don't have any time. So instead, I'll wait until next month. You know, you guys can always drop me a line if you have the time. Here's some things to check out in the meantime.

Here's an excellent story about letters that you can enjoy while your hands and eyes do something else:
Fourteen Experiments In Postal Delivery by By John Schoffstall

Here's a nifty site that Amanda Well-Tailored let me on to:
Letter Writer Alliance
It's filled with ideas, news and interesting stories about the practice of letter writing. Wow, that sounds really boring. I promise that it isn't.

The next letter I am going to write is to a summer-friend from a few years ago. She made a zine that touched on a few questions I thought about over the years- about phases of friendship, foul weather buds and whether there is ever a right time for anything. I wonder if she will remember my face.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Hey all, I have a new review over at inkstuds, Milk Teeth by Kate Allen.

Friday, October 31, 2008


Studs Terkel died today.

He was 96, but that doesn't make my heart hurt less. His autobiography Talking to Myself changed my life. Everything I know about listening I learned from him, the original rockstar with a tape recorder.

Here's a long obit.

Safe travels, friend.

(Tribune photo by Charles Osgood / May 16, 2007)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


As you can see by on the widget to the left one of the projects I'm supporting over at Donors Choose has been funded! All you cool kids that helped out please pat yourself on the back and await your tax deduction.

Everybody else, please drop a few bucks for some microscopes for these awesome middle schoolers. When donating, please click through the link at the top of this post so I can see whose donating through try harder.

From the teacher whose classroom we helped:
Dear Carrie Tryharder [and all of you--ed.],

All I can say is WOW! I am so excited about the new materials our class will be getting. You just don't know how much I appreciate your generosity and I know when I tell the students about our new materials they will be overjoyed. You have my promise that the materials will be used to build curiosity and excitement about science. So many inner city children don't get an opportunity to explore science in depth and these materials are a step in that direction. Again, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Sincerely, Kim


Hop on over and check out my new reviewing gig at Inkstuds. The dilemma about reviewing single issues has be solved!

Though my first post has already been seen here, please check back for new reviews soon.


Dag, Frankenstein is good.


Write me some letters!
Send me some review copies!

Carrie Try Harder
New York, NY

RoadStrips: A Graphic Journey Across America Edited by Pete Friedrich

This anthology by Chronicle Books had been peering out at me from the Strand’s shelves for a few years. Mostly I was drawn to seeing new work (work made for the anthology) from Mary Fleener, Jessica Abel, Carol Tyler, Phoebe Gloeckner and Roberta Gregory. I also hoped the promise of anthologies, to see great work by artists you’ve never picked up before, would be fulfilled by this book on such a juicy subject--American identity.

The book is divided into five sections: Pacific Northwest, East Coast, West Coast, Midwest and The South. The East Coast, West Coast and The South sections are opened by essays that supposedly say something about the region and comics, separately or combined. All three feel misplaced. “New York: Newsprint City” by Dan Nadel is on an interesting enough subject, 19-century media and its place in making comics popular, but it doesn’t address either the theme of the anthology or the comics that follow. “Oh Ye Sovereign Organism” by Jack Boulware is a rather straightforward introduction to the comics that follow with some annoying commentary about being a Californian thrown in. Chris Offut’s essay, “Why I Love Comic Books,” is about exactly that- theme be damned.

But, ok, ok, to the comics. Though a few were fun to read and great examples of the artist’s talent, the collection did not do the theme justice. The best were meditations on place, like John Porcellino’s quiet meditation on cities “Chicagoan,” the dust n’ sleaze of “Nevada” by Phoebe Gloeckner and “The Landed Immigrant Song,” on the complexities of California, by Mary Fleener. The other winners contained depictions of a certain time that said something very specific about being an American, like the very personal “The Day After” by Martin Cendreda, a story of a Cold War childhood that reflects today’s American’s everyday fear and easy forgetting and “Kid Games” by Pete Friedrich which shows America’s unique relationship with good guys, bad guys, and the price of war. Like “The Landed Immigrant Song” many of the stories featured tales of going somewhere else and coming back to the U.S. (or having a foreigner visit), all of which were pretty standard omg-fish-out-of-water things. Post-9-11 pondering of the U.S.’s place in the world and/or hating on Bush is another commonality between a few of the stories, both of which can be fertile (but unsurprising) topics, which made the collection feel dated and mired in angry reaction. (Which may go a long way toward creating the “time capsule of alternative perspectives that define us in this moment” that the editor was looking for, but doesn’t do much to make a good anthology).

Overall the anthology presents two sides of American identity: feelings of anger, frustration and self-deprecation and “just be yourself and anybody who doesn’t like it can go fuck themselves” (Gilbert Hernandez’s “I’m Proud to Be an American Where At Least I Know I’m Free”) sentiment. With these contributors, I expected something a little more unexpected.

Next time I’ll just read some Studs Terkel.

Monday, October 27, 2008

not dead!

Just busy.

Sorry to leave you all staring at my disapproving face, but my head is stuffed with math and html code and spreadsheet columns and other pressing, but unbooky, stuff.

Some things I have been doing:
1) Studying for the GRE
2) Trying to launch a website at work
3) Getting a PO Box
4) Writing some stuff for [redacted] which will be up soon. When everything is ready for my newest venture, I'll send you [redacted]'s way.
5) Discovering that scientists that study the medical sphere are, on the whole, freaky looking. However, immunologists are the exception to the rule.
6) Reading Frankenstein. Well, that is book-related, but a lady must have a respite, no?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

try harder to try harder


Donor's Choose update:

After a strong first day (see my introductory post here), tryharderland's denizens seemed to have given up giving to the projects I'm supporting over at Donors Choose.


We have only a few months left to get those kids their bugs and microscopes! Please head over to try harder's "giving page" (gag) and drop a few bucks for the Philly kids. No amount is too small and your donations are tax deductible.

We may be no Tomato Nation, but we can still drop the science, right?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Snake Oil 1 & 2 by Chuck McBuck [Forsman]

Last year I met Chuck McBuck at SPX. He was such a nice guy, and when he said he made comics and had some inside, I got a little nervous. What if his work was really bad or embarrassing? What if his work had giant balloon tits or ninjas in it? He led me over to the CCS table he was helming with Alex Kim and handed me a stack of comics made with creamy papers and stinky inks. I needn’t have been worried.

In April of this year Snake Oil 1 appeared in my mailbox. SO1 is number one of the two parts that make up McBuck’s CCS thesis. It begins with two trash men in a diner. Tim is heartbroken (and looks familiar…) and Bob is hungry. Soon Tim will feel much worse.

Later, we meet nice-guy Bob’s goth son Darryl and Darryl’s angry, lustful friend Kim. They are bored and decide to smoke some weed out of a pipe Darryl finds in his house. Kim starts without him and will soon feel much worse.

All the story threads end up as cliffhangers in SO1. Normally this would be incredibly annoying, but the differing landscapes that Mc Buck creates keep the plot from being an overwhelming element and keep your eyes on the pages exploring the art. The black and white pen drawings render policemen and buffalo thugs equally well.

The little touches in SO1 (endpapers that include elements from the stories strewn in a mysterious weed-filled lot, beautifully done title panels, the melancholy back-up story and the cover’s graphic eye-tease) made me excited for number 2 and called for a reread in between the issues, a must for a series where issues come out sporadically.

Both cover colors of SO2 are striking, but the blue called out to me. The plot pushes the characters further into distress and one of the mysterious characters is revealed. My favorite chapter (?) is a one-pager called simply “Darryl” that, in four panels, shows us more about the character than pages of dialogue could. Besides a few standout panels, such as the chorus of meows in “Pretty Kitty” and Bob and his wife waiting at the door in “Slow Down,” the art in this issue was less innovative. While I liked the writing in the back up story, I didn’t really enjoy looking at it.

Overall, Snake Oil reflects McBuck’s keen eye for creepy detail and a knack for pacing that much older artists should be envious of. I am really looking forward to see what he does next.

Happy Ignatz(s)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Pitts

Couch-sleeping weekend with the Prog Lady.

Sunny nature (not mine of course). Look at the gigantic web! It was somehow spared annihilation by roving cats. My sinuses were not.

Dang, Steve.

No trip to anywhere is complete without checking out the anarchist bookstore. the big idea's zine collection made me miss the bus. I enjoyed each of these:
Class Project, edited by Susan Ledgerwood: Found pictures with captions by various folks. this is always something I enjoy. Too bad the content can only be as good as the submissions the editor gets.
Skeleton Balls by Nils Balls: psychedelic comics, bitching about the state of things. Nothing really new here, but the art was compelling. I especially liked the anthropomorphic utensils.
Sugar Needle #32 by Phlox Icona & Corina Fastwolf: Candies from all over the world are tasted and teased by the above ladies and their friends. I got it for the interview with Dishwasher Pete, my zine crush forever. I wonder if I still have those notes from him somewhere.
Ker-Bloom! 66 by Artnoose: One of many issues of this pretty little handset zine. I wanted to see if my experience with all Aarons being assholes was upheld by "The Aaron Issue." Too bad the stories about him were so vague. I wanted to see this Aaron not read one sentence anecdotes about him! Oh well.

I miss you already, Prog Lady.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville

Well, well, well, classics, we meet again. Luckily, this time it’s on my terms!

My edition of Bartleby the Scrivener is by Melville Publishing, published as part of their “Art of the Novella” series to bring this in-between form some recognition. As you may have surmised from my Brooklyn Book Fest entry, each book has a different color cover—arranged just so they look like modern art objects and the feel of the covers is as creamy and pleasing as the toteable size.

I’ve had an interest in reading Melville for a while now but plunging into Moby Dick just seemed unwise. This handsome volume was my chance to sample more than a short story, perhaps dashed off in financially dire times, and less than an epic. Bartleby delivers.

The story is told by the last employer of the titular character, “a rather elderly man.” Bartelby, a scrivener (a copier of legal documents) appears on his doorstep “pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn.” The boss decides that he fits in well with the other three in the office, Turkey and Nipper, two dipsos with complementary alcho-clocks and Ginger Nut, a gopher. Melville uses these characters to add humor to the book in a predicable but delightful way. If you are a fan of Dickensian fools, you’ll love these guys.

Bartelby makes little impression on the mind’s eye, but this story is really less about him than about the effect of one man’s curious attitudes on another. He’s a ghost, perhaps of the boss’s lost rebelliousness—an old man; he is comfortable with the rhythms of law, industry and respectability. For, you see, Bartleby’s great distinction from the masses of pale, sickly dudes is that he “prefers not to” do most things. Melville’s choice of this phrase for Bartleby’s character is genius. Fear not, you will be flashed by that genius many times in this short work.

I was hoping to get a larger picture of 19th century New York City from the book, but though a few names, Broadway, Canal and Wall Sts. are bandied about, you really don’t get a feeling of the geography or character of the city.

I predict more Melville in the near future.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


1) I went to public school in Philadelphia.
2) Even at my "good" public schools, supplies were scarce.
3) I can't imagine what it was like elsewhere.
4) People like Miss Alison (hello, lady) shouldn't have to spend a significant portion of their already shitty salary making a classroom hospitable for kids.
5) Science has been the delight of my recent years and taught me to be inquisitive about, surprised by and respectful of this mysterious world, even during awful and painful times.
6) Kids should get the chance to feel that too, if even they aren't lucky enough to go to a "good" school.
7) I want to give something to my hometown, because, hey, I turned out ok.

are the projects I am sponsoring through DonorsChoose. You tryharderlanders have been so generous with your time, praise, thoughts and links. If you could extend that to your wallets, I would be ever so grateful.

Edited to Add: Please leave a comment here if you donate!

Monday, September 29, 2008

A dinner for 28

1) sangria with oranges, grapes and apples
2) Moxie
3) Bacon-wrapped prunes
4) Robbiola, goat gouda and tallegio
5) Bread, bread, bread
6) Bratwurst
7) Grilled cauliflower
8) Red beets, yellow beets
9) Potatoes n’ garlic
10) Grilled fennel
11) Grilled onion
12) Grilled mushrooms
13) Cherry pie
14) Fruit
15) Delicious sleep

Maybe we'll see you next year?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Moody Fruit

From the CSA:

Gift fruit:

Interview: Alex Kim

Alex Kim is a Xeric award-winning cartoonist and an all around good guy. He submitted to my email questions with grace and fleet typing fingers.

C: How old are you?
A: 29

C: Where are you from?
A: I grew up around New York and New Jersey. Right now I'm living in Brooklyn, NY.

C: What's your first memory of comics? How did the form strike you?
A: The first time I can really remember being totally comics was when I was in the 7th or 8th grade (I think). My friend and I discovered Jim Lee's new X-Men at the local bodega (which had a comics rack). I thought it was the most awesome thing I had ever seen. Alternate covers! Cyclops! Wolverine! Omega Red! Rogue! Though my investment in that run was relatively short lived. I think my mom couldn't give me a ride to my friends house for a couple of weeks and I missed an issue. I guess I gave up after that.

C: Did you draw comics when you were a kid?
A: I didn't. I drew a lot, but not comics. I may or may not have drawn some super heroes but there was never any story involved.

C: You tackle a superhero story of sorts in The Bird and the Bear. What about the genre did you think worked well for a story of a worn-out relationship?
A: I thought it would be interesting to contrast the closeness, communication, dependence, intensity (and all that other good stuff) needed in a superhero duo with how much of that can be lost in a worn-out, dying relationship. I find it interesting how people can be on completely differently ends of the emotional scale with each other depending on what they're doing, especially when they're in a relationship. It was all about the immensity of emotion people can feel when together and I thought somehow that being in a life/death situation would be a good match. That and the whole 'team' idea in fighting crime seemed similar to being a 'team' in living life together. I also wanted to draw some fight scenes.

C: Wall City also features a freezer-burnt hull of a romance. What about that state of affairs attracts you?
A: I'm not sure so much that I'm attracted to it (though I guess I am... in fact, you're right, I am). I think it might be more that I feel like it's a very painful experience to go through and that there's a lot of emotional... I don't know... emotional 'ore' that can be 'mined'. There's just a lot there and a lot of stories to tell about it. It also interests me to see what characters will do when they're pushed to their emotional / psychological limits - some people freak out, some cave in, some shut off and I bet almost everyone has done all of those things.

C: The first thing I ever read by you was a split mini with Chuck McBuck called Hey, Guy. It was a great way to be introduced to each of your writing skills and art, since, as I remember, you swapped duties. I imagine that kind of experiment and interest in your peers' work is encouraged at the school you just graduated from. Am I right? What was the best and worst thing about going to CCS?
A: Totally encouraged. One of our assignments the first year in James Sturm's class was to do that almost that exact thing. The only thing difference being the person who received your script wasn't the person who gave you their's. It was a classwide swap and a lot of fun. Some really fantastic comics came out of it. Really fantastic stuff. Also, an interest in classmates' work was encouraged and came very easily. It was a rare opportunity to be in an environment where comics could be talked about seriously and critiqued/deconstucted. I mean, seriously, it's not something you can find just anywhere. There's such an extraordinary sense of community at the school. I think that might be the best thing about CCS - the people, the community - from the students to the faculty to the staff. It really was an amazing place and an amazing two years and I can't say enough about it. I made some life long friends with some of the most inspiring people whose work I admire a lot and who I admire great deal as people in general. The worst thing about it would be the lack of sunlight. It's great to be able to draw all day (really - so great), but it's hard to step outside into the bitter, bitter cold at 4PM and see the sun going down.

C: Hey, Guy is also where I first saw the rumply-sweatshirt style that you use in Wall City. How did you develop that? Was it a conscious effort to visually separate yourself from your classmates?
A: Well, one of the critiques I received (and took to heart) for The Bird and The Bear was that the human characters weren't interesting enough to look at (this was after it was done and I agree - I have grand plans to redraw and maybe expand the whole damn thing). The thing I worked on right after was album art for a friend's band, which I think I still like but was never printed, where I tried to make the people look more interesting by making their clothes textured... and they were underwater so I thought it made sense. From there it just sort of took off and I found myself drawing characters like that in Medusa, a poetry comic with poet (and CCS office whiz and all around lovely person) Jess Abston and with Mr. Mcbuck (classmate and studio mate (who, along with our other classmate Sean Ford, had to listen to me talk more than any person should ever have to our last year - they have the patience of a saints, I swear... or maybe they just got really good at tuning me out)) in Hey Guy.

Once I started drawing Wall City, I sort of couldn't help myself. I also thought it made sense as a sign of all the characters', like, inner struggle. I'm not sure it'll continue, and even though I have my own personal issues with it, I still like it in Wall City. So, errr, no, it wasn't really a conscious effort to visually separate myself from others, but a mostly misguided effort to make my characters more interesting to look at that I ended up liking maybe more than I should have - but hey, what the heck, you only live once. I got into it and went with it and didn't look back until after it was finished.

Am I rambling? Are these answers too long? I sometimes tend to ramble.

C: Ha, ha. Don't worry! The thing about a book blog is that my readers have surprisingly long attention spans.
A: Thank GOD for book blogs. Seriously.

C: All the folks in your work look white. Are they?
A: Ha! Um, well, no. They're not. I really try and draw people as simply as possible (their clothes being another story) and try to stay away from drawing a particular ethnicity. I'd like to think people are more easily able to engage the characters if they can decide things like that for themselves.

It's funny, for a while I thought I would color all of Wall City. I only got half way before I decided not too - but while coloring I would make all the characters a different shade of blue. Their face, hands, clothes, all the same color. I like to do this, I like to color characters with a non-skin tone. And if I were really pushed I would say that, since I like to (and since it's unavoidable) put a little of myself in all my characters, that, if anything, they're all a little of me... and I'm not white. But, again, I want people to decide that for themselves.

C: In an earlier email, you told me that you are having a hard time finding time to draw. What's your day job? How are you trying to work drawing in?
A: I work at an architecture firm... I'm not registered or anything, so I can't legally call myself an architect. I think I'm called an architectural designer. But the short answer is I'm an architect. That's what I studied in undergrad and what I worked in for several years before heading off to CCS. I love architecture and think it's a very meaningful and important profession and endeavor... but working and trying to draw on my free time is something I have a very difficult time with... I haven't found a balance yet. I try and draw after work and on the weekends, but that hasn't been going all to well. I believe, though, that, with the end of summer, I'll be able to draw much more. Also, there was that period after school where I was just trying to deal with moving back to New York and working full time again. It was a tremendous shock to go from CCS, where I was able to draw everyday, to being a working stiff. It's getting better and I've been much more motivated to get back to comics. I'm surprisingly optimistic about this. Or maybe I'm in denial. But I'm okay with that.

C: Do you think your work in architecture affects your comics at all?
A: I think it does. I guess the most visible way is how I'm comfortable perceiving (and so drawing) space. A lot of the angled overhead shots I like to draw are from architecture. Also, less visibly, the way I think of a comics page comes from it. It's sort of hard to explain, but the space / depth / composition of how I like to draw (and maybe I should say how I would like to draw) has to do with architecture. It's a hard thing to get away from, not that I would really want to... I think I'll always, in one way or another, think of myself as an architect over anything else. Going to school for it and working in it has just ingrained certain things in my mind that will always be there. I know that's pretty vague - you should know that it's not entirely clear for me either. It's something that I'm still trying to figure out and understand.

C: What are you working on now? What would you like to be working on?
A: Well, I was awarded the Xeric grant (THANK YOU XERIC FOUNDATION!) for Wall City this past summer so have been working on getting that together for printing. Or I just finished getting it together this week and sent it off to the printer. The next big thing I want to work on is a story about addiction... not so much being addicted to substances... but about being addicted to people and having to realize what we want from certain people isn't what we're going to get... and about giving that up. I know that's not very clear and I know it sounds like it can be really bad, but I'm excited about it. It's also not very clear cause I'm still writing it and it's changing as I go. I don't know how long it'll be - I had wanted to work on something smaller, like 8 pages, after Wall City, but this story keeps growing. I have to stop adding things and just really get to the important stuff. And I think the main characters are going to be wearing ponchos. I like ponchos.

I also have the opportunity to work on a poster for a craft fair in Brooklyn this winter. I love silk screening posters but haven't had a chance to do one in a while so am totally excited about this. If it goes well, I'd like to try and see if I can find more poster work. Who knows what will happen, though. Not with the poster, but with after that.

C: What would be your perfect project?
A: Oh man, that's a tough one. I don't know. I'm excited about that next story I want to work on... and being excited counts for a lot, but I don't know if that's the perfect project. I don't know if I could choose just one, Carrie! How do I choose?

Okay, well I don't know if this would be perfect, but there is something I've been wanting to do for a while now. I'd love to work on an entire comic and work with big (and I don't mean to say unsubtle... subtle is big) visual aspects of poster design and with the narrative time aspects of comics and silkscreen the entire damn thing. I mean, I would LOVE that. Not being able to print anything is really getting to me. I need to find a way to work on it. Anyhow, I keep toying with this idea, but I don't know if I've come up with the right story yet. Hopefully it'll happen someday. One day.

C: And, finally, is there anyone you want to give a shout out to?
A: I owe a lot to a lot of people. I tend to run my mouth sometimes about nothing and, to my surprise, there are friends out there who are totally willing to listen. I appreciate that a lot. So: THANKS Y'ALL. You know who you are. Also, I need to give a huge thank you to mama (MAMA!) for not getting me the oven mitts. I would have been disappointed come Christmas time.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Brooklyn Book Fest '08

At the fest I met some people I know only from the internets. Now they know that my skin glistens pink like a piglet on a spit, my hand shake is wet and desultory and that I may be a little slow. Thanks 90% humidity! Even SEC, my stalwart companion on this excursion, who looked unaffected by the heat, had to go home and lie down after a few hours.

As you can see from above, I didn't get much. The three copies of Mothers & Other Monsters are parts of an evil plan, The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories was given a thumbs up from Joel, a man who knows his sci-fi stuff, the Monstrosities booklet caught my eye, Ugly Duckling Presse gets me all hot with their design but I am afraid of poetry and the Melville House novellas were irresistible. Look at those paint chip colors! Not pictured are an issue of One Story by Katherine Karlin, a trial subscription to the same and a tote bag from Word books. It was the sturdiest tote for the price, my friends. Also, after sweatily bugging Goodloe Byron for a good hour, I picked up a copy of the new edition of his free book The Abstract.

The best of the evening was after the fest--an Austrian meet and great complete with comics talk, delicious food and cool folk courtesy of looka and eva. Thanks guys!
If you are in need of a little non-fiction magic, please check out grrlscientist's series on visiting Charles Darwin's house. The photographs are beautiful. I wish I had a greenhouse appended to the back of my apartment.

above:A bumblebee, Bombus spp., on a flower in the gardens behind Darwin's Down House, near Bromley, England. Image: GrrlScientist 31 August 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008


Yesterday, on my short but emotionally stultifying walk home from work I saw two teenage girls walking and reading real novels. I smiled at them and they were properly dismissive.

I just finished a great book. I hope to be writing about it for somewhere else. I'll give you a clue: It is a novel by a Canadian author about Cambodia by one of my favorite publishers.


Around the same time I started the first volume of the Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) diaries. After the many, many introductory notes, most of which I actually read, Pepys journal begins with an account of his wife's period going missing for several weeks, Royal Navy news and the perplexing complaint of a nose swollen by the cold. He kept the diaries for 9 years.

B gave me the first three volumes of the newest translation (and supposedly best) for my birthday last year. I am glad I finally started it.

I became interested in the diaries after reading the first book of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, Quicksilver. In the novel Pepys is a kindly and compelling character, already established as a man of knowledge by the time the main character, Daniel Waterhouse, encounters him. He also eventually cuts Waterhouse's nuts open. Because he was a prolific writer, and, by all accounts a man who liked to have a good time, I am hoping that the diaries include some gossip about other (still existing) Royal Society, its members (such as Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, Issac Newton, Christopher Wren, etc.) and their wacky experiments. So far, it is mostly about the Navy.

Have you seen the Thunder Lodge Guestbook? It's a must-read for those stuck at home.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Something I didn't mention about my last trip to Rocketship:

They had one copy of Rebecca Kraatz's excellent collection of strips House of Sugar. I wrote about it here, but the actual review has gone the way of many start-up web magazines. You can read some of it here for free, but if you do buy the Rocketship copy, send me a picture!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Morning Glory

I feel blurry, but pretty good.

The garden isn't too glorious right now. A summer full of work and traveling can do that.

Escape from “Special” by Miss Lasko-Gross

On a recent trip to Rocketship I looked over the self-published shelf and saw many of the same books I saw during Lauren Weinstein’s reading. I don’t know if the ‘ship isn’t taking consignments or if the screen n staple crowd is taking the summer off but the selection tried the got-to-see-something-new (and buy) stance I have when I enter that store. Boo.

Sooooooo, I decided to check out the graphic novels. On the table a bunch of new titles I was interested in got a page-through (like Eddie Campbell’s Monsieur Leotard and Alex Robinson’s Too Cool to be Forgotten). Bill checked out Julie Doucet’s My New York Diary while J & L enjoyed the Jason spinner rack. Being indecisive often causes me to end up making mediocre choices. Choosing books by their covers, as it were.

And yes, Escape from "Special" has a great cover. There is something sad and beautiful about the curled posture of the doodling girl and the muted colors add to the feeling that this is a picture of a memory. The back cover blurbs describe a story that I really wanted to be good: a smart, weird girl, comics, horror movies and overcoming. The description of the art is this: “Drawn in a muted full-color palette, Lasko-Gross’s art, with its detailed backgrounds and expressive, clean-line character drawing, exquisitely conveys the volatile mix of…” I was thinking of pages that looked like the cover and when I flipped through all I saw was sepia-tone. Instead of the feeling of being gently nudged through time, I felt like I was trapped in a muddy pit with the main character Melissa. That feeling was only reinforced by the fact that Melissa looks very, very much the same throughout the book even as she ages, and yet a bit different each time she appears.

Melissa’s story is told through short anecdotes, many of which involve Melissa being persecuted by clues and/or mean adults for being herself—that is, truthful, precocious and weird in a cool little-kid way. She switches schools a lot and when she does finally make some friends, her idea of fun, like a game involving licking another girl’s tongue to guess what they ate that day or making her own horror movie charmingly called “Mommy Killed Daddy”, tends to end them. Her parents’ are portrayed as well meaning but flaky to the point of idiocy. No single event really stood out, even though Lasko-Gross includes some heavy stuff (the memory of her mother’s serious illness, her outrage at being sent to a therapist by her parents when she knows her mother was raped by a therapist, her middle school suicidal thoughts). Even Melissa, who is in every story, doesn’t feel like a real person by the end because the episodes of humiliation and epiphany are too numerous to have impact. Having gone through many of the same things as a preteen, this book should have been getting me where the getting is good. Fantagraphics editors, where are you?

Towards the end of the book a comic called “Cartoonists. How Do They Do it?” offers glimpse into Lasko-Gross’s development as a cartoonist. Her middle school self is in awe of how the professionals make the characters look exactly the same each week and control their stories for maximum effect. While her big Fantagraphics release should have been her entrance as a professional, it seems Lasko-Gross should still be asking herself the questions posed by her semi-autobiographical younger self. I hope she works it out before her next release, A Mess of Everything, which, despite the disappointment I felt about Escape from “Special,” I am looking forward to.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

5 days

There are five days left in the contest on Amy Ambulette's other site.

To win, you email Amy with your best worst motel experience, real or imagined.

The prize is a limited edition, handmade chapbook containing a story about Frankie, one of the characters in her new book. Twenty people can get that prize, so get to it!

Wall City by Alex Kim

I am slowly working my way through the great books I got at MoCCA this summer. When I went to the fest I had a few things on my list: Tear Stained Make-Up, Black Mane, the new Meathaus (which I didn’t get), and the new Sundays anthology of which Kim is a contributor. Though I knew all graduating members of the CCS class of 2008 had to turn in a thesis, and I have really enjoyed his other comics like Bird & Bear, Kim’s wasn’t really on my radar. Stupid broken radar.

Kim’s characters’ clothing often looks like it has been beset by parasites, which, though the squiggliness may be in part his attempt to develop his own style, works very well in this comic of suppressed emotion. These characters are crawling with internal turmoil, but it is somehow just the way of the world.

Wall City tells the story of a worn out EMT named Minty and his chance encounter with another lost soul in a hoody. She has a dead sister and he has a dead dad, both suicides. Minty hasn’t really processed his father’s death, causing not only his inertia, but hallucinations where his father questions Minty’s inability to get over his somewhat mysterious death. Because of these cues and others, I though Wall City was going to be an unraveling of Minty’s father’s death, where Minty finds his purpose in being a detective of sorts. Instead, Wall City is a beautiful, weird story about grief.

Kim really gets to the weird internal freeze of grieving with his story’s cold and stark atmosphere. The emotional grunt work it takes to move through a death is the central metaphor of the book but instead of lots of crying and being crazy these two build a wall. The wall is both obvious and perfect—a huge feat for such a young creator. The fleeting and often practical nature of relationships forged in grief is shown in the context of the relationship between Minty and hoody girl. Lives are marked differently by the loss of important people in our lives. Some people are swallowed by it. Others are set adrift. The epilogue is a testament to living through it.

Wall City was a great surprise. Please check it out.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Passing recipes back vegetarian
The Sweeney
Tomato staking
Dusty, busted ghost stories make good dreams
Station to station

Time to read China Mountain Zhang, I guess
Amanda's hotel comment card
Guten nacht Hallo Berlin

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

For color

I wish there had been more summer nights like this.

You Ain't No Dancer, vols. 1 & 2, edited by Ed Brisson

I first heard of these anthologies during an Inkstuds binge late one work night. The editor of New Reliable Press was talking about how publishing comics makes you broke and he sounded all depressed, but something about the conversation made me want to check out the books. So I did, and after seeing the contributors list, I ordered the two volumes available. When a tiny packet arrived from Canada a few weeks later, I was a bit surprised. Both have the dimensions of a postcard book.

Volume one has a cover illustration by Dave Cooper, Canadian super-cartoonist, featuring his pale, fleshy women/monsters. The volume features a wide range of styles in black and white. My favorite three stories were “The Curse of Kauai” by Dorothy Gambrel, a funny (and surprisingly affecting) meditation on your 20s for straight women (and selling out for everyone else) done in a more detailed cat and girl style, “Did You Know?” by Dean Trippe, a story about the wreckage a parent wreaks when they abandon a child and the missing parts that child will grow up to notice and “Flood” by Lili Carre, a simple and beautiful take on a relationship affected by Alzheimer’s, where what is merely a rainy night to a lame son is a flood to his sick mother. In fact, this volume had a flood theme—three comics in the collection are about floods, including two very sad and eerie ones by Hope Larson and Drew Weing.

Volume two is themed “youth” which made me shudder a little. I expected many comics about nerdy boys being victimized by peers and society. Luckily my arrogant assumptions didn’t stop me from digging into the collection. The colorful cover by Jeffery Brown looks painted, which was new to me, and I love it. His story, “Chimney Preference” gave me a laugh—it was so sweet and silly. “Indian princesses” by Colleen Mac Issac captures that moment where you and your childhood best friend are suddenly not on the same planet, “Of Course, Of Course, Of Course,” is a story about a nerd boy but K. Thor Jensen’s art is so perfect for the story of a kid trying to develop superpowers, that I forgive him the cliché. “Litter,” by Grant Reynolds is the only story to really show the dark side of the theme, and his does it beautifully and devastatingly and completely word-free.

I hear that volume three will be out in September and I will be sure to pick it up.

Also heard through the internets—love object Kate Beaton was asked to appear in an unspecified issue of YAND, sadly it was a surprise.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


"Like the Magical Negro, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype is largely defined by secondary status and lack of an inner life. She's on hand to lift a gloomy male protagonist out of the doldrums, not to pursue her own happiness. In the late '60s and early '70s, MPDGs often took the comely form of spacey hippie chicks burdened with getting grim establishment types to kick back and smell the flowers."

I find that the older I get, the less I care to see relationships with wacky, supposedly artistic, yet so uninspiringly flat, ladies be the turning point for mopey male characters. Those guys are so tortured-- I should care about them because-- wait, why? Wouldn't it be better if all these guys started a flirtation with extreme sports or meth instead? That would be just as realistic, don't you think? It's not that these characters fall in love with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, they just use her to come to some kind of understanding of themselves. After all the sexin' and/or adventures stop, so does the relationship.


Can movie makers please stop thinking the mopey-man-flowers is interesting at all? It is so insulting to any creative woman with a brain and a real life. Sadly female actors and audiences aren't the only ones stiffed by this lameitude, the guy characters in these films end up being merely a more charming bag of tics in the end.

The worst is how many men, especially ones who indulge in lots of media, think that the Magical Pixie Dream Girl exists, and if you are artsy, you could be her. If you don't do your job to shake that artsy boy loose, you'll find out just how disposable you are.

Worse than the MPDG is, of course, the Unbearably Sexy Crazy Lady. USCLs are darker and show more tit. Rather than just flitting away like the MPDG, USCLs get to succumb to drug addiction, suicide or mental illness. Sexy, no? Well, as long as she's out of the way so the protagonist can live his new life...


Monday, August 11, 2008

Black Mane by Michael V. LaRiccia

[This review is by B. I pointed him towards this comic at MoCCA. I have been really busy, so he kindly wrote this review to keep it fresh in tryharderland. Enjoy. And, if you were wondering, I feel pretty much the same as he did about the book.]

Just two pages into Black Mane I felt like Michael LaRiccia was calling me out. Within those first couple of pages, a Boston townie motorist-cum-monster apparently mistakes Mike, Black Mane’s protagonist, for someone of Middle Eastern descent. And throughout the book, many others seem to assume Mike is Indian, Latino, or some other “other.” Embarrassingly enough, these moments in the book reminded me of my own surprise when the swarthy guy who sold me the book at MOCCA Fest—who, I admit, had registered as, most likely, Latino in my mind’s eye—revealed that he was, in fact, the (Italian-American) author. Having read his book, I have to wonder now whether he could actually see the thought bubble above my head asking, perplexedly, “Italian?”

This is the sort of often-cringeworthy confusion that Black Mane so effectively captures. Mike constantly questions where he fits in in a world that, in varying degrees of subtlety, shows itself to have serious, serious issues with race and, predominantly, gender. Yes, much like the real world, though I suspect most people experience it in a more coded, less jarring way than Mike does--sometimes the brutality of certain episodes in the book detracts from LaRiccia’s generally incisive observations. But this is probably largely because the art is so damn good at capturing the violence that runs throughout the narrative. Rage, frustration, righteous anger—they all cause the male characters experiencing them to metamorphosize over the course of two, three, four panels into truly disturbing beasts. A guy who thinks his girlfriend is cheating on him turns quasi-demonic, eyes bulging and teeth sharpening, while he scrabbles at her car window. A dude being ejected from a nightclub snarls and salivates, his skin all craggy and reptilian as he resists the bouncers and screams (yes, misguided) racial slurs at Mike. But don’t fret, Mike himself has an alter ego—a creature that seems about equal parts lion, bear, and man topped off with the titular wild black mane of hair. Kind of like the meanest, scariest troll doll you could conjure up on your darkest, evilest bad trip.

As a Boston-born, Italian-American, sensitive guy-type myself, I saw a lot that looked familiar in Black Mane. And I suspect the book speaks particularly well, though certainly not exclusively, to other guys who think a certain way about the world and, probably as a result, have a certain amount of righteous indignation, but who realize, like Mike, that they are just “not a fighter.” And hey, that works. As the book suggests, plenty of fucked-up situations can be remedied without going all Black Mane and beating the shit out of the bad guy. Sometimes all you need to do is be smart enough to tell someone who’s bigger than him.