This week in…

reading.

You know what I needed after finally finishing Game of Thrones? Graphic Novels/Comics February! There is nothing like reading comics to boost your numbers self-esteem. It’s also just nice to give into the medium. I’ve two very long, involved fantasy novels the last two months and comics are the perfect change of pace. It’s also hard not to devour them. I try to savor each panel and make sure that I’m really paying attention. So far, my favorite comic has been Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks and Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

Fair warning: don’t read Saga on a crowded subway train. People always read over your shoulder when you read comics, and occasionally remark on said comics, and that would have been an interesting conversation. I am going to do a full review of Saga, but I really loved it. I can’t wait until July for the next full installment. Anyone know where I can buy the monthly installments?

television


Starting sometime in the middle of 2012, I decided to start watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I didn’t really get into it, but would watch an episode here and there. Then something happened about halfway through season one (just like you said it would) and suddenly I was head-over-heels in love. Now I am halfway through season four and still so happy with the show. I just watched one of the best episodes, and possibly one of my favorite hours of television, “Hush” (S4, E10). The episode is almost completely silent, except for some excellent, atmospheric music, because the monster of the week has taken everyone’s voices. It’s perfect and funny and genuinely creepy. It’s an episode that I can see myself rewatching.

food.

It’s the superbowl! But not I’m not even sure I could tell you who is playing. (The Ravens? Right? But I couldn’t tell you who the other team is. I looked it up on Wikipedia and promptly forgot.) Superbowl Sunday is, for me, an eating holiday. I don’t watch the game and right now don’t host or attend any parties, but Michael and I cook yummy finger foods to snack on all day. On the menu for tomorrow? Homemade chex mix, which made our apartment smell like Christmas all day, How Sweet Eats blue cheese potato skins, and spinach artichoke dip.

family.

My sister is in town for the Fun. concert. I’m pretty jealous! We are getting lunch today before she heads home and I’m pretty excited about that! We’re trying a new restaurant near my office, which will hopefully be a possible new lunch place.

misc.

I feel like this week was really busy, but I can’t remember what I did. I worked for 6 days straight, but other than that, I can’t really remember what I did in the evenings. I guess it wasn’t very memorable! I have had a bad flair up of migraines lately, so I think I did a lot of going to bed early and relaxing, waiting for them to pass. I get aura migraines, which make it hard to see much of anything. They’re very inconvenient.

I’m excited to get home this afternoon and relax with a comic, a beer, and some delicious Superbowl food. It’s going to be a perfect afternoon, I can feel it. Enjoy your Sunday!

GNF 1 – Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

9781770460607I started off Graphic Novels February, also known as Comics February, by reading Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton in January. I had checked out all these great comics in preparation for February and I just couldn’t wait.

I’ve been reading Beaton’s webcomic on and off for a few years now, but not necessarily consistently. It’s always good when I need a laugh combined with a literary or historical reference. I loved that Hark! A Vagrant included explanations for the comics, because they can be a little specific and if you’re not familiar with what the comic is referencing, the joke will be lost on you. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, because that just means that I have new things to explore. I did appreciate it, though, when Beaton gave a little bit of context.

I’ll admit, my favorite comic by Kate Beaton isn’t even one in this book or on her full site. She took a picture of it and uploaded it here, to her Tumblr. It’s one of those things where just thinking about it will send me into a fit of hysterics. I was hoping to find another comic like that in Hark! A Vagrant, and while there were quite a few that made me laugh out loud, there were none that I loved quite as much as Tolstoy’s poop shelf.

Fortunately for me, Beaton’s sense of humor and mine line up pretty well. I find immature and silly jokes to be very funny. I love the low brow combined with the high brow. Beaton delivers in spades and I can’t wait to keep reading her comics.

Comics February is Here!

So, when Debi posted that she was going to be reading comics and graphic novels all February, I Just thought that that sounded like a fabulous idea. Every year I mean to read more and more comics and I read a few, but I don’t make it a consistent thing. This year, I really want to read more and dedicating an entire month to the medium sounds perfect. It is February 1 (well, I suppose technically 2nd at this point, because it is after midnight) and I have already read three! I’m doing so well!

I’ve also decided to try and post every day again in February. The thing is, I didn’t post every day in January, but I sure did post a lot more last month than I have on this blog in a long time and it felt good. This month I’m definitely going to be focusing on the comics that I’m reading, but there might be a few other posts thrown in, depending on how much I’ve been reading.

My first review, up tomorrow, will be of Hark, A Vagrant! Another goal for February is to keep up my Sunday “This week in…” posts. I like them, they’re chatty, and they’re a good way to bring in a little bit of a personal touch to the blog.

So that’s the plan for February! I think January went really well, though I started to run out of things to do towards the end of the month and, consequently, didn’t post as much. It’s funny because the post I had planned all month, the whole reason I started the project even, never happened. Maybe another day?

Comic-A-Week: Apr 24-30 – Refresh, Refresh

Refresh, Refresh is the comic that completely derailed the Comic-A-Week project. It’s not the only reason I had to take a break. It was April, after all. Life is always so busy in April, between holidays, exams, and working out summer plans, but you would think that would mean I would be reading more comics, not less. The last comic I read though was Refresh, Refresh and I’m so conflicted about it, I have been letting it stew for a few weeks before writing about it or reading any other comics.

Refresh, Refresh is about a group of boys who all have fathers in the military. The stories take place in the years after September 11th when the US was at war with Afghanistan and Iraq. The town the boys live in is small and there aren’t a lot of opportunities, so many of the young men are off at war. Some don’t come back, others return injured.

The comic begins when the boys are seniors in high school and they start a fight club. But the fight club is really only the beginning of the violence in this comic. There is nothing hopeful, beautiful or good about this story. What I’m truly grappling with is if there should have been.

I saw on Goodreads someone claiming that they didn’t like this comic because it glorifies the military. I think it does the exact opposite. The military is the driving force actively destroying the lives of these boys and their families. I should rephrase that: it’s not the military, it’s war. It’s the violence that’s such an intrinsic and natural part of their life that is destroying everything beautiful in their world.

If you can’t tell, I had a strong, visceral reaction to this comic. It made me sick to my stomach, quite literally. But… I was reading a review at books i done read of The Things They Carried, one of my favorite books of all time, and I was reminded of this:

A true war story is never moral.  It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done.  If a story seems moral, do not believe it.  If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie.

You will probably have a strong, visceral and negative reaction, like I did, to Refresh, Refresh. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a true war story. Thanks Raych and Mr. O’Brien for that reminder. I also didn’t realize that this was originally a text-only short story. That makes a lot of sense, but I think this works well as a comic, too.

Reading Rants also has a post about the comic Refresh, Refresh. Do you? Include your link in the comments and I’ll add it here.

Comic-A-Week March 27-April 2 – Hereville by Barry Deutsch

Hereville: How Mirka Got her Sword was, in one word, charming. It’s a sweet comic described as “Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl” and if that doesn’t make you smile, well, I don’t know what will.

Mirka, obsessed with fighting dragons, one day finds a mysterious home in her small, orthodox community that she has never seen before. This fact alone makes it unusual, but most unusual of all is the fact that there is a pig in the front yard. Mirka and her siblings don’t even know what a pig is, since, of course, they practice orthodox Judaism. I don’t want to give away anything, but eventually something to do with this pig means that Mirka gets a wish. What does she wish for? To fight a troll. But you and I have read fairy tales and we know it’s never quite that simple.

There are a lot of things to love about Mirka and her story. I loved the integration of orthodox customs and the Yiddish words that were sprinkled throughout the text. I LOVED the unexpected role of Mirka’s step-mother in the plot. Most of all, I loved Mirka herself. She is 11. She can be selfish, she can be stubborn, she can be kind, she can be wild.

As for the art, I think I really do like black and white work better, but the subdued tones of Mirka’s world were subtle and lovely. The panels are fun and meaningful and Deutsch included at the end a series of panels that show the way he drew all the different designs for the troll. I love extras like this in comics!

So go read this!:  now| tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

things mean a lot, 1330V, The Boston Bibliophile, Beth Fish Reads, Welcome to my Tweendom, Bart’s Bookshelves, Madigan Reads and Great Kid Books all have posts on Hereville. Do you? Link to it in the comments and I’ll add your post here.

 

Comic-A-Week March 20-26 – Mercury by Hope Larson

I picked this one up on a whim from my library and I’m glad I did. Mercury is a charming story, filled with the real sadness, embarrassments and joys of adolescence, but with tragic undertones that hint at the “real world” that is right around the corner for most teens. It has a strong sense of place, specifically Nova Scotia, with common slang and locations explained, which honestly made the experience of reading Mercury that much more enjoyable.

While comics have been around for a long time, this is still a medium that is young. I love to see comics artists make innovative and interesting decisions. For example, this comic follows two storylines, Tara in current time and Josey in 1859; Tara’s storyline is on a white background while Josey’s is on black. In a comic meant for younger readers, this is a perfect way to mark the change. It’s simple and subtle, but one that most readers will pick up on.

Not only does Larson carefully combine the present and the past, but she also combines fantasy and reality. This was not quite as seamless as the the changing timeline. I could definitely get behind some of the more “traditional” magic, such as premonitions, but there was one part at the end that seemed particularly far-fetched. It’s not even necessarily that the fantasy itself was far-fetched (it’s a comic after all – anything can happen!), but that we were supposedly dealing with normal high school students. What happened did not freak them out and, unfortunately, that seemed odd and out-of-character to me.

Overall though, Mercury is a successful mix of humor, tragedy and everything in between. My problems with it are minimal and wouldn’t deter me from recommending it to a comic-lover of any age.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve read everything else

Reading Rants!, Mama Librarian, The Boston Bibliophile, Stuff As Dreams Are Made On, Buried in Print, Sophisticated Dorkiness and The Zen Leaf all have posts about Mercury by Hope Larson. Do you? Link to your post in the comments and I’ll add it here.

Comic-A-Week March 13-19: Essex County by Jeff Lemire

I’ve been hearing good things about Essex County for a long time, so finally reading it almost felt like coming home to something I’d been missing. I can think of so many adjectives to describe Essex County: haunting, epic, real, beautiful, authentic. There are so many, and all of them good. It’s a sweeping family drama that starts at the end and slowly winds itself to the beginning and back again.

I don’t know that I really want to go into the specifics of this comic, because watching the history of this family unfold is what is so beautiful about it. You don’t really know how things are connected until the very end and I loved that about it. You can guess, but all of the intricacies and twists of the family trees play out slowly throughout the course of the stories. This is a collection of shorter comics and each one focuses on a different person in Essex County. Geography initially seems to be the only thing connecting them, but it is much more.

I was recently listening to the Bookrageous podcast about taboo topics in literature and the topic of comics was brought up. Bookrageous contributor Josh was talking about graphic novels and comics when he said something that really expressed how I feel about the medium: the ability to express emptiness. He goes on to say that a blank page can be extremely powerful in a graphic novel and I couldn’t agree more. Essex County is filled with moments like this, of not necessarily blank pages, but nearly blank pages. The beginning chapter takes place on a farm, and every scene involving the corn and its progression were perfect in expressing a character’s loneliness, along with the passage of time. Or when another character returns to the farm, all lines denoting where the image ends and begins are abandoned and the landscape of the farm takes over completely, accompanied by a long, lonely shadow. Or more still, when the pane focuses solely on the ice. How do you draw ice in black and white? Lemire does it.

Another favorite part of Essex County? When one young character loves drawing comics and we get to see the comics he draws. They are amazing. As someone who has zero talent for drawing, I wonder what it was like to go back and draw in the style of a child. I love it when a comic pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a comic. It is such an open medium – why not include photographs? Why not include multiple styles?  Why not draw part of the comic as if you were 12? I also love a comic that has such a strong sense of place. See my review of Local. Essex County is so completely relates what it is like to live in rural Canada that I feel as though I have been there. Even though I have never stepped foot in a place more north than Rhode Island, I can feel the cold, I can feel the vast, openness of it.

I always find these comics after they have been collected into an omnibus. Where are the comics now that will be collected together in a few years? Can anyone point me in that direction? I want to be on top of this. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. In the mean time, get out there and read Essex County. You won’t be disappointed.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve read everything else

An Adventure in Reading (Vol 1 & 2), So Many Books, So Little Time (Vol 1, 2 & 3), Monniblog, Buried in Print, all have posts about Essex County. Do you? Link to it in the comments and I’ll add it here.

Comic-A-Week March 6-12 – Owly: The Way Home and The Bittersweet Summer

Listen, there is a time and place for me to be concerned with the state of comics and what makes a great one, a good one and an okay one. There is a time when I can hem and haw about how I felt about something, writing post after post about how my expectations just weren’t met, or about how my expectations were met and, possibly, exceeded. There are times when I can be as objective as possible and leave my emotions at the door.

This, my friends, is not one of them. Seriously, Owly is the kind of book you read when you are having a bad day and you need remember just how cute life can be. Look, I’m biased. I have a very fashionable affinity for owls. Even these creepy ones. Call it a throwback to Harry Potter. Blame it on this video. Blame it on this blog. Whatever the reason, Owly was probably written for me.

It’s about an owl. Who rescues a worm. Then they go on adventures together. If there ever was a definition squee, this would probably be it.

Andy Runton probably draws the cutest comics I could imagine. He doesn’t use many words, instead relies on his images and onomatopoeic words to tell Owly’s story. Some comics would suffer from this, but not Owly. Because you know what a lack of words does for this comic? Angry eyes! The cutest angry eyes I have ever seen. That’s the whole reason I chose the picture on the right. This isn’t even from The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer, but it was the best illustration of angry eyes I could find.

I will be reading this entire series, saving them for when life gets me down and I need a happy reminder that there are things in this world that are so adorable you audibly squeal with glee. (Wait, is that what squee is actually defined as? Because I just figured that out. Whoa! I just thought it was that sound everyone made when things were cute.)

In an interview with Connect Savannah (quoted at Largehearted Boy, the original article seems to be gone), Andy Runton said this:

Connect Savannah: Why do you think people relate to Owly?

Andy Runton: People relate to Owly because he’s this predator by nature, but he chooses to be kind and nice and make the world a better place. That’s rare these days. For me he’s sort of based on all the stuff I loved as a kid, wrapped it up into this little owl.

Another reason people like it is they can sense I enjoy it. There’s a certain amount of purity that comes with that. Other than that I really have no idea. He’s just a little owl and it’s just me.

Yup, that pretty much sums it up.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve read everything else

Book Dads and The Book Vault have posts about Owly. Do you? Link to it in the comments and I’ll add your post here.

Comic-A-Week – Jan 9-15 – Mother, Come Home

After Thomas’s mother dies, his father suffers from survivor guilt and depression.  He is hospitalized and this comic tells that story from Thomas’s eyes as a child.  I’ve read a lot of comics like this lately and I haven’t reviewed any of them because I so often find myself at a loss of words to describe anything about them.  Not how they made me feel or if I enjoyed reading them.

Honestly, I sometimes feel myself close off to comics like this.  The structure was so strange, it never allowed me to get involved in the story.  I wanted to care about Thomas and his father’s story, but I couldn’t. Overall, I thought the art here suited the mood perfectly, but the story was sometimes confusing, perhaps intentionally to illustrate grief and depression.  And the ending?  The ending was just strange when you compared it to the rest of the book, to be honest.

Though I didn’t want to talk about this because it’s unfair to compare, it’s really hard to ignore Chris Ware’s influences on Mother,  Come Home.  I just like Ware’s work much more.  They are different beasts in terms of storytelling – Ware’s most famous graphic novel, Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid on Earth is huge and this is a slim book that covers a tenth of that space.  All the same, if you are interested in the art, I’d recommend Chris Ware over this one.

In any case, if you are an avid reader of comics, Mother, Come  Home should be on your list to read.  But be prepared, it’s a difficult one and one that doesn’t ultimately live up to its promises.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Jenny’s Books also has a post about Mother, Come Home. Do you?  Leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it to this list.