roadrunnertwice: Yoshimori from Kekkaishi, with his beverage of choice. (Coffee milk (Kekkaishi))
Haven't thrown up any book reviews in a while, may as well shovel out the back of the queue a bit. Here's some stuff from 2013.

René Daumal - Mount Analogue

July 2013

"It isn't easy to explain-- there's a book called Mount Analogue by René Daumal that tells all about it. Just take my word for it."

I always did just take the Chicken Man's word for it, but it looks like I didn't have to, because Mount Analogue turns out to be completely real. (Shout out to [personal profile] rushthatspeaks for the tip.)

The book is unfinished, which is frustrating and which also makes it somehow eternal.

There's a fragment from the endmatter that gets stuck in my head from time to time. "There at the summit sharper than the sharpest needle, alone stands he who fills all space." And when it starts echoing back and forth in there, I'm like: Ah. I get it. I think I see what you're saying about mountains.

Paul Krugman - End This Depression Now

Nov. 24, 2013

I read this because econ's a longstanding hole in my education, and I wanted to know more about Krugman's economics than can come across in a column.

Mission accomplished! Learned a lot. Forgot a bunch of it. Could probably stand to flip back through.

Kazu Kibuishi - Amulet, vols. 1 thru 5

Comics. Nov. 2013

This series is excellent. I read book 1 ages ago and promptly lost track of Kibuishi, but he's been plugging away on this transdimensional fantasy story ever since. (And a bunch of other things, including covers for a Harry Potter re-release.)

Kibuishi works at a very fluid and cinematic pace, and the five books (so far—oh, wait, hold on, looks like #6 just came out this year) go by in a flash. (All the better to re-read and absorb more of the atmosphere.) Also, WOW his art is delicious. Expressive faces, powerful sense of motion, great color sense.

Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil - Bad Houses

Comics. Nov. 25, 2013

Well, it's been a while and my neighbor is borrowing it, but I remember this being a pointy little story about several different ways of being stuck. Claustrophobic and itchy all the way through. (A good thing, since it's what the book sets out to do.)

I also remember the omniscient narration, which is an unusual thing to see in a comic and which added some interesting texture.

Richard Rhodes - Hedy's Folly

August 11, 2013

The material was hella interesting. (Thanks for the wifi, Hedy Lamarr!) The writing was pretty forgettable.

Re-entry

Mar. 19th, 2014 12:31 am
roadrunnertwice: Yoshimori from Kekkaishi, with his beverage of choice. (Coffee milk (Kekkaishi))

Wow, I haven’t posted anything good here in a WHILE. I kind of assume everyone is reading my Twitter anyway, so I guess I’ll just… skip the life update and go straight for some book posts.

Things I read in the first part of this year! (Will eventually catch up with last year’s; a bunch of them are written already anyhow.)

Scientist-adventurers, Bill Gibson, comics anthologies, backlogged Pinkwater )
roadrunnertwice: Yoshimori from Kekkaishi, with his beverage of choice. (Coffee milk (Kekkaishi))

Hiromu Arakawa – Silver Spoon, chapters 1-82 (in scanlation)

August 4

(Readable here.)

This is kind of great. It’s a slice-of life series about a bunch of kids at an agricultural high school out in the boondocks of Hokkaidō, and it’s really charming and clever and humane. And hilarious! And if nothing else, it’s probably the only boarding school hijinks story you’ll read this year where someone has to butcher a roadkill deer.

The setup is that the main character, Yugo Hachiken, burnt out really hard at the end of middle school and begged his counselor to find him a low-pressure high school with dorms somewhere far away from his overbearing asshole dad. Thus, agricultural school. Which of course kicks his ass immediately, but at least it’s kicking his ass in new and different ways that don’t isolate him and pit him against all his classmates, and he gradually starts making some friends.

SIDENOTE: Something that resonated a lot with Past Nick is that Hachiken doesn’t really have any hopes or dreams. He’s spent so long treating school and high-stakes testing as an end in themselves that he has no idea what lies past that horizon, and on the first day of class, he finds out that literally every one of his classmates has some concept of What They Want To Do. I won’t lie, that hit me where I used to live: when I read that page I physically felt that exact same crushing weight on my guts, the one I used to feel whenever our high school counselors said something inane about “career” planning.

With Hachiken, that dizzy feeling about the future is largely from the pressure his dad put on him; me, I think I did it to myself. Performing well academically was an easy way to get praise and recognition, and up through a big chunk of college, I tied too much of my identity to it instead of doing the hard work of figuring out what I really valued and who I wanted to be. (If any teenagers are reading this, here’s the best advice I have: get good at thinking, but don’t ever become “smart.” “Smart” is not a valid identity. If they try to tag you “not-smart,” same deal.) Relevant to ongoing thoughts about etc. etc. etc.

Anyway, Hachiken wrestles a lot with that exact same shit, and I love him for it. It’s refreshing to see a story engage with that kind of identity struggle in a way that seems authentic to me.

But don’t get me wrong here, this isn’t a heavy comic! There is a dog named “Vice President” who carries a tip jar around his neck. There is Men’s Bath Yogurt (NURTURED BY THE HEAT OF A DOZEN SWEATY BROS). There is a cheese-obsessed equestrian club teacher who looks like a Buddha for no particularly good reason. That one horse has Kronar-the-Barbarian-face. It’s great. Also, I read that Arakawa went to an ag high school herself, and the experience comes through — it’s a really rich setting, and she has a lot of love for all the characters, even (especially?) the ones who would be one-note jokes in a lesser comic.

Oh, and shout-out for a good job to the scanlation team “Red Hawk Neo,” who apparently have actual good writers on deck (and researchers for double-checking the occasional animal husbandry technobabble). I’ve mentioned before that there are two main cohorts of scanlators: the “disposables” who do fast and shitty jobs on series that will probably be (or already are) licensed for official release, and the “permanents” who try for high-quality translations of niche titles that would otherwise stay in Japan. Silver Spoon might actually get picked up, since it’s by the cartoonist who did Fullmetal Alchemist, but RHN are working like they expect it to stay online for a while.

roadrunnertwice: A mermaid singing an unenchanting song. (Doop doop (Kate Beaton))

Katsuhiro Otomo – Akira, vols. 1 thru 6 (2011-ish reissue)

June 19, July 9, July 21

“Oh, you’re reading Akira?” asked Schwern, spotting the books in my room. “How is it as a comic?”

“Coherent!” I said.

Yeah anyway, this isn’t like the movie at all. If you’re as interested in adaptation failure as I am: mandatory read. (I use the term “failure” loosely, as the movie was obvs a triumph on any number of aesthetic axes, but those axes did not include “making any damn sense,” “engaging the small matter of Akira coming back to life and ruling a psychic empire,” “keeping faith with the story’s core themes [as opposed to its superficial themes],” “treating the female characters better than dogs in the street,” etc.)

Also, the cartooning is fucking incredible.

As for the story, it was engaging and frustrating in equal measure. I’ll say this about it: it added up to a novel-length whole that was actually worth getting annoyed at, whereas the only argument the movie was worthy of was a mute button.

Sidenote: It was actually the Bartkira project that got me re-interested in reading this — a bunch of folk on Tumblr rigged up this project to re-draw every page of Akira with Simpsons characters, five pages at a time, and the results were much more interesting to me than I thought they’d be. Since they were redrawing it panel-for-panel, you could see dozens of different minds trying to figure out what Otomo was doing with his layouts and compositions, and it added up to this decomposed cubist consideration-in-toto of what Akira’s cartooning did right. And the layers of meta were fascinating too, since it essentially turned the cast of the Simpsons into actors putting on a play of Akira, and I kind of loved that. I dunno if you heard about that scheme a while back to do a live-action Hollywood Akira cast with white people and set in New York (it died on the vine and good riddance), but some Tumblr commentator referenced it and said that Bartkira was actually the Akira adaptation America deserved, and I think I agree: this is a story built around the very specifically Japanese neuroses of the last century, and a summer-theater tribute performance is much better and more respectful than trying to tear out its skeleton and tell a story about something completely unrelated. (Supposedly a downloadable compilation of Bartkira will eventually show up; I’ll post a link when and if I see one.)

There was this other effect too, which was that I came at the series understanding the characters as icons and archetypes rather than engaging with them entirely as they were. Dunno what exactly to say about that.

T.A. Pratt – Dead Reign

Feb/Mar/Apr ???

I forgot what I was going to say about this, but I quite enjoyed it. This was the one with the New Death causing problems everywhere.

Martha Wells – The Death of the Necromancer (re-read)

May ?

Wells gets huge points for running with gaspunk and steampunk ideas years before anyone else was in the game (originally published: 1998), and bonus points for handing protagonist duties to a stylish Moriarty-esque crime lord.

This is a bit more scattershot and wandering than I remember it, but still a real fun book. I consider the Fall of Ile Rien series (which follows the daughter of DotN’s protagonist, among others) vastly superior, but my brother disagrees with me and thinks this is the tour-de-force of her pre-Raksura ouvre. YMMV.

Wells has reprinted all her reverted out-of-print stuff as $3 ebooks, and you will almost definitely get more than $3 of enjoyment from this one. Kobo link, Kindle link.

roadrunnertwice: Ray pulling his head off. Dialogue: "DO YOU WANT SOME FRITTATA?" (FRITTATA (Achewood))

Alison Bechdel – Are You My Mother?

March 5

What a weird-ass comic book.

At the time, back in oh-seven, I thought Fun Home was an aggressively and compellingly off-balance and anxious and self-distrusting memoir, with its weird epicyclic structure and infinite combinations of artifice and rawness. I had not seen nothin yet. This second book of Bechdel’s diptych about her parents kicks off and wastes ZERO SECONDS in crawling into its own navel.

In case this gets obscured as I try to talk about it, I loved this book. Bechdel is trying to honestly write about how baffling and frustrating her relationship with her mother was, and her way to do that is to baffle and frustrate the reader, and it’s kind of brilliant. She spends or nearly spends more time talking about the history of psychoanalysis and her transference-fraught relationships with her therapists than she does about her mother. It’s peppered with dream recollections that share with Freud’s case studies a certain implausible vividness and coherence and on-the-nose obviousness that makes them immediately and wholly suspect. At every step of the way, the book does its damnedest to rebuff any attempt to sink into a narrative — it rejects emotional readings and demands intellectual ones. But she’s not just trolling, and there’s some really vulnerable and uncomfortable shit in here; it’s just that she’s pushing you to experience it the way she does. It’s super engaging, although it kind of felt like someone had dropped a Mento (The Fresh-Maker™) into the Diet Coke of my brain. Plus she made psychoanalysis interesting to me, and that is no mean damn feat.

This had actually been sitting on my to-read shelf for years, at this point; I’d bought it when it was new and left it for Future Nick. What prompted this reading was that I found a nearly mint (bar unremovable orange sticker) $1.50 copy of it at the Title Wave and figured I would definitely find somebody to give it to. The very next day (I think, he wrote, Bechdelishly), I was having coffee with a close friend who had just gotten back from a really frustrating visit with her mother, and I suggested blah blah etc. you get the pic, and I was immediately curious about what I’d gotten her into and started reading along. We both found it enlightening. (“Existentially useful if your mother is difficult” is a million-seller of a pitch, I dunno why that wasn’t right there in 72pt on the front cover.)

This is the part at the end where I say these two books were so fascinating at least in part because they’re so opposite what I experienced with my own parents, whom I realize more and more as I age just how thoroughly I lucked out on (esp. given the generational shit they were dealing with). Hi Mom!

Hmm, and I just now realize I’ve said nothing about the cartooning. Well, it’s excellent and calmly bizarre. (Get a load of the freehand reproductions of page after page of printed text, Jesus H.) Bechdel’s art is what it always is, and I happen to always like it a lot. Bonus points this outing for Young Alison’s perpetual intense creepy stare. There we go, I think we’ve finally covered this one.

Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain – Fantômas: The Exploits of Juve

April ???

(public domain link, although the PDF is bizarrely huge and you’ll want to run it through a shrinker of some kind if you’re thinking of putting it on your phone or tablet.)

Fantômas! You know, like the Mike Patton band?

OBVIOUSLY THIS WAS WEIRD AS HELL. I’m not convinced I didn’t dream the whole thing. It’s certainly dream-logic that drives it. Disguises come on and off, names change, houses have duplicate rooms, Fantômas is always lurking around the next corner. SNAKES. The thing this most reminded me of was The Man Who Was Thursday, though it drives the same effect toward an opposite destination.

Kind of curious to read more of these. This was the second out of god only knows how many, and it gives the impression that it constitutes a brief period of becoming before Fantômas and Juve ascend to some permanent apotheosis of unreality, becoming a sort of murderous Krazy and Ignatz on whom the changes can be rung ad infinitum. I don’t know if that’s actually what happens with the later books, but I hope it is.

roadrunnertwice: Dialogue: "I have caught many hapless creatures in my own inter-net." (Hapless creatures (Activities For Rainy)

Ryan North et. al. – Adventure Time, vol. 1

???

This is where I admit to not having watched Adventure Time yet. Although I saw the pitch-short before it even got picked up! Surely that’s worth something! (I’ll watch it eventually, everything I’ve seen of it is awesome.)

ANYWAY. This comic is the shit.

Richard Stark – The Outfit and The Hunter

Darwyn Cooke – Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit and Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score

Feb 9, 27, and ?

Prompted by this excellent review of Donald Westlake’s ouvre (which I think came to me via [personal profile] kate_nepveu), I decided to look into his Richard Stark books. And I thought it was interesting that Darwyn Cooke had gotten to do comic book adaptations of the earlier ones! Like, that’s weird and cool.

Actually, what I first decided to do was take a peek at the Cooke adaptations and maybe grab one as a birthday present for a friend of mine, since the combination of the Grantland review and the few images I found online made them sound incredibly stylish and badass, which are two things my friend appreciates in a birthday gift.

Anyway. Original Recipe Stark went down in a single sitting, smooth as you please. There is no good place to pause, and there’s a really good reason why you see the word “efficient” thrown around a lot when people discuss these books. Like the review implies, these are totally amoral stories with the usual 1960s grab bag of bad ’isms thrown in for party favors, so be ready for some Crime Fiction, but I definitely recommend checking these out.

(Especially if you yourself are a writer, because craftwise there’s a lot to think about it here. Very little to straight-up emulate, but a LOT to think about. People at parties during this period were asking me why I was so fascinated by these books, and I said something to the effect that most people find that you can’t learn how to Write Books, only how to Write This Book, but in the meantime the arc of Westlake’s career presents the illusion [is it an illusion? It must be, right?] that he somehow did the impossible and learned how to Write Books. Good ones, fast, and not just the same one over again.)

Here’s a thing that was interesting about the Darwyn Cooke adaptations: they’re actually much more detailed and rambling than the prose novels. This may be why Westlake is renowned as a prose stylist, is because he can actually beat out comics for concision and velocity.

And partly it’s just because they are, after all, products of very different eras. The comics have an almost Wallace-ian hypertextual quality, with wholesale shifts of style and form scattered about and marching alongside the original’s shifts of perspective. And the visual format makes the shifts of perspective constant, rather than measured — we can always tell how much of an asshole someone thinks Parker is, even if he chooses not to care.

As for the art, it’s legit perfect for the milieu, and there’s not much more to say about that.

Leigh Bracket – “Star Wars Sequel”

Jan/Feb/Mar ???

I was at the Title Wave one day, and there was this book on the display space of the paperback SF/F shelf: “The Sword of Rhiannon, originally published in 1953 as Sea Kings of Mars, by the author of The Empire Strikes Back.” No, I haven’t read it yet; yes, of course I fucking bought it; yes, my first thought was in fact “one of these things is not like the others.”

So the story is, George Lucas goes to Leigh Brackett; it’s the late ’70s. He’s like, we’re looking for a screenwriter for a Star Wars sequel; have you ever worked in film before? And she’s like, bitch I wrote The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. And he’s like WHOA you’re THAT Leigh Brackett and she’s like WHY ARE YOU EVEN HERE? and he’s like ‘cause you were writing stuff called Sea Kings of Mars back in the ’50s.

She died shortly after turning in a first draft, and Lawrence Kasdan did the version of the script that got filmed. Wikipedia says:

Brackett’s screenplay has never been officially or legally published. According to Stephen Haffner, it can be read at one of two locations: the Jack Williamson Special Collections library at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, New Mexico (but may not be copied or checked out); and the archives at Lucasfilm, Ltd. in California.

And I’m like “yeah right.” I poked around a bit, heard it supposedly leaked to the internet in 2010, and was pretty sure I could turn up a copy.

All of which is to say that the provenance of this script was about as sketchy as it gets, and I can’t 100% prove I read what I think I read. I’m pretty convinced, though, mostly because I don’t think any uncompensated forger would bother to do both the work of faking the mess a ’50s pulp writer makes on a typewriter and the work of writing a perfectly serviceable original screenplay that isn’t quite The Empire Strikes Back.

Anyway. This was a fascinating read. It’s definitely a first draft, and it would have needed some love before it’d be ready for Luke and Han et al as played by Hamill and Ford et al. Some of the scenarios are wildly different. But in broad shape, it’s recognizable as the Empire we know and love. The Luke and Yoda (“Minch,” lol) dynamic is there, Luke gets brought down much lower before heading off to get trained, the assault on what we know as Hoth was a much more brutal rout than it was in Empire, all the names are different, Bespin has this whole other 50s pulp dynamic I don’t even want to get into, everything was weird and both familiar and not. Highly recommended if you get into that history of Star Wars business.

Lucasfilm got bought by Disney sometime after I got my hands on this, so obviously I am not posting any links on the public web. But maybe DM me if you want a look at some weird first draft action.

roadrunnertwice: Yrs truly surrounded by trees. (PRESS (Octopus Pie))

Reminder: I have a poll running over here about pen names and gender, and would love your input, especially if you came here from Twitter or Facebook (in which case just leave an anon comment).

Anyway! More of last year’s reviews: Two books and a 5-volume comic series.

Mitsuru Adachi – Itsumo Misora (in scanlation)

Nov. 24

Years and years ago, I actually bought all five volumes of this in Japanese just because I liked the art, and was able to follow the story up through most of vol. 4. But then I hit the wall when it suddenly changed from a psychic kids sports comic into a pop-stars-and-actors/apocalypse-prevention-squad comic.

That’s still a weird transition, and it didn’t really work for me. I get the feeling this isn’t Adachi’s best work; it certainly wasn’t as good as the stuff in Short Program, and the volume of Cross Game I was poking at was vastly more coherent and engrossing. I think the art was pulling a lot of weight that should have been spread out among the dialogue, plotting, and pace. And I’d forgotten how jarring Adachi’s random (and often creepily underage) cheesecake can get.

Still, though, some fantastic cartooning in there. Wish it’d been attached to a story that worked better. (Yes, okay, fine, I’ll read Cross Game.)

Nora Ephron – Wallflower at the Orgy

Nov. 30

Some of these were really quite wonderful essays, notwithstanding the author’s comments about her former self in the more recent of the two forwards. (She refers to past-Nora as “dippy,” lol. I definitely need to start using that word.) The pieces are… of their time, let’s say, but they remain interesting.

In particular, the Helen Gurley Brown piece is — I don’t even have words for it. (…“mouseburger???”) And it was super weird to read a profile of Ayn Rand from back before her creepy-ass followers took over the government and demolished the economy.

T.A. Pratt – Blood Engines

Dec. 24

I read the prequel to this one back in 2009 and still feel that it was basically useless. But then [personal profile] rushthatspeaks gave the whole series a really glowing review, and since they have generally fantastic taste, I decided to eventually give the series another chance.

Thus, when I went digging through my old files* and discovered an old promo copy of Marla Mason: book one, I went ahead and started reading.

Lo and behold, it totally didn’t suck!

Mind you, it was trashy and infodumpy. And the characters all kind of talk the same. But it had a fully functional plot that surprised me at least once! And it embraced the fact that Cool Badass protagonists are generally murderous asshole criminals and ran with it, without making Marla totally unlikable. And it kept the level of destruction high enough to actually justify everyone’s OMG WE’RE SO HOSED attitude about the proceedings. And things didn’t all turn out inappropriately OK. There were non-traditional solutions. It was fun.

I’m still not convinced we need more than a handful of folk writing this kind of urban fantasy, but this was a decent argument for why Pratt may as well be one of that handful, so ok, cool. Rush claims the second book is an order of magnitude better; I have it showing up at Powell’s in a few days,** and plan to read it someday when I’m brain-fried and want to watch some things go boom.

_____

* Spurred by discovering that someone had finally made device on which it wasn’t painful to read a PDF. That’s what, only 15 years or so after the format became fucking inescapable? Great job, team.

** This post is laggy; I actually already read it.

roadrunnertwice: Yoshimori from Kekkaishi, with his beverage of choice. (Coffee milk (Kekkaishi))
Since it turned out I had a lot to say about this, I'm moving it ahead of the rest of the queue and putting it in its own entry.

Yellow Tanabe - _Kekkaishi_ vol. 35-and-final



Dec. 21

THE END! So okay, here's my verdict: Although it suffers from the wobbles and vicissitudes of serialization, and not all of the plot threads move at the right pace or reinforce each other as much as they should have (and many of them fizzled, with characters just drifting off into nowhere), and I suspect Tanabe had maybe a quarter to a third of the story (tops) in his head when he started, this is very much worth reading. It's a genuinely excellent specimen of the shōnen fight comic genre, but much more thoughtful and humane than its peers, and it strikes a very solid balance between explosive inventiveness and metaphysical consistency and moral heft.

Cut for some ending spoilers )

Okay, I think that’s most of what I’ve got. Who else has read this thing?
roadrunnertwice: Yrs truly surrounded by trees. (PRESS (Octopus Pie))

Oh hey, it’s a long-belated bookpost. Featuring:

  • Bryan Lee O’Malley – Lost at Sea
  • Jen Van Meter and Bryan Lee O’Malley – Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero
  • Kate Griffin – A Madness of Angels
  • Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber – Underground
  • Victor Pelevin – The Helmet of Horror
  • Maureen Waller – 1700: Scenes from London Life
  • Leonard Richardson – Constellation Games
  • Martha Wells – City of Bones
  • Bonus Level: Christine Love – Analogue: A Hate Story
  • Bonus Level: Christine Love – don’t take it personally babe, it just ain’t your story
  • S. Bear Bergman – The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby

Cool, let's get to it. )

roadrunnertwice: Yoshimori from Kekkaishi, with his beverage of choice. (Coffee milk (Kekkaishi))

Yeah, I’m gonna split this up into like three posts and present it all out of order. Here’s the mostly comics edition:

Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata – Death Note vol. 1

February 6

Yeah, everyone’s heard of this one, right? Bright young psychopath finds magical artifact that lets him kill anyone, decides to cleanse the world, then finds himself in a duel of wits with a nameless detective who may or may not be smarter than him but is certainly crafty as hell; meanwhile, the second-string grim reaper who “lost” the killer notebook eggs said young psychopath on.

I’m really enjoying this, and I think I’ll grab the rest from the library. The bargain one strikes, if one wants to run a story where nearly everyone in the world is a redshirt, is that the cat-and-mouse has to be legitimately fascinating, and so far this series looks startlingly able to cash that check.

Terry Pratchett – Witches Abroad

“Hey, do we already have this one?” I asked Schwern. He paused and blinked. “It’s 35¢. Who cares.” The Title Wave on 55% off day, everybody.

Anyway, this is an upper-mid-tier Discworld book, and that is about all needs saying about it, other than that it’s a witches book and I’ve been jonesing for some Granny Weatherwax.

I have this thought about how Weatherwax and Sam Vimes are the twin moral cores of Discworld and how it’s their integrity that lets them accomplish the impossible, but Vimes has tended to dominate lately because Pratchett has doubled down on the irreversible societal and technological changes in the latter-day books. And while Vimes’s morality is firm and unyielding on the street level, his inability to really process the big picture at speed means that he can be wielded as a tool by someone who wants to change the world and is clever enough to run him along a track where his interests don’t collide with their own. (Which is pretty much only Vetinari, on this planet. None of the various people who have been almost as smart as Vetinari have really understood how to completely suborn someone whose morality is the opposite of their own. Which is why Vetinari always wins.) Whereas Weatherwax can’t participate in that kind of book, both because she grasps the big picture with a sort of horrid fluency and thus just can’t be used like that, and also because she’s fundamentally opposed to title-case Changing the World, which is the purpose Vimes often seems to find himself being used for.

It’s not a very complete thought, though. Probably got some holes in it.

Yellow Tanabe – Kekkaishi vols. 30 and 31

(???)

Wow, Yoshimori’s mom is scary. She’s clearly modeled on Ranma’s mom, but takes the archetype in a bit of a different direction. That thing with the shikigami was a seriously cold move, though.

I’m not sure how I feel about the whole ethics question of sealing away REDACTED. He’s really creepy, though. “I know you like war, right?”

The shadow organization betrays a really grim view of what it means to be special-but-not-quite-special-enough. All the way from the rank and file up to the top.

Takeshi Konomi – Prince of Tennis, vol. 1

(???)

A perfectly well done genre-lockstep sports manga, which… come to think of it, I don’t know why I thought I might like this. I won’t read any more of it, but I choose to believe that the cast later has to play the Enfield Tennis Academy over the course of like twenty volumes and Michael Pemulis doses what’s-his-face with LSD, and that one girl accidentally watches five of James Orin Incandenza’s movies in the break room and gets scarred for life.

Emi Lenox – Emitown, vol. 1

(???)

Easy to read even in a scattered mental state. This is a good diary comic! By not aiming for a strip-worthy moment from each day, it avoids glibness; by summarizing liberally and generally avoiding capturing other peoples’ voices, it avoids a sense of story, which leaves it feeling more honest than many of its ilk. The anti-story rhythm establishes a sense of time really effectively. And the coy abstractions (army cats, Ocean Girl, whiteheart/blackheart) actually work for me really well, as a way to put emotional state on the page while maintaining a certain distance. And of course the art is fantastic.

C. Spike Trotman and Diana Nock – Poorcraft: The Funnybook Fundamentals of Living Well on Less

June 19

Of Kickstarter fame. This was exactly what it says it is! It’s quite well done, and I think most of the advice is good. But to be honest, this isn’t the point in my life when it would have had the most value, and I already knew most of this by now.

But like I said, it’s well done. I may find myself passing this on the next time I get invited to someone’s graduation.

Yellow Tanabe – Kekkaishi vol. 32

June 24

Ah, now it comes out. Karasumori spoilers omitted.

Y’know, I’m still not 100% sure I get the Shadow Organization plot. Like, I know what’s going on, to the extent that one can, but I’m not sure I get why that’s supposed to be a good story. The motivations of the main players are so vague, and so are the things everyone meant the Organization to DO for them. Like, the Night Troops are the only part that really makes sense to me; other than that, it’s like, why does your project exist, dudes? What the hell are you doing?

Often, that whole plot seems to’ve come from a different story entirely. The themes it’s dealing with just aren’t very relevant to the core cast, and neither are the pressures that are making it warp and collapse. I dunno, I have a loose theory that it wasn’t meant to go quite like this, and got out of hand when Tanabe needed an external antagonist after the Kokuboro was dealt with. Perils of serialization, and all that.

roadrunnertwice: A mermaid singing an unenchanting song. (Doop doop (Kate Beaton))

One


I don't know how interested you are in strangers' reproduction, but entomologist Ainsley [twitter.com profile] americanbeetles Seago is journalcomicking her pregnancy over at her Livejournal, and her usual wry scientist-adventurer charm is turned up to maximum.

Two


Can we take a second to call out the album cover of the year? Ladies and gentlemen, Fort Wilson Riot's Generation Complex EP.

A man's head and shoulders. His eyes are closed is what looks like ecstasy, his mouth is stuffed with white roses, and his neck is stretched out in that characteristic glitchy mode of a scanner whose motor is on the fritz.

Also, it's a pretty wicked record in its own right. "For All the Little Things" is the standout track, for me; an '80s-ish ballad that gets devoured from the inside out by this crawling iterative melodiphagous glitch infection. So good. Go ahead and stream the thing. (And then click around to catch up on Predator/Prey and Idigaragua, if you never did.)
roadrunnertwice: DTWOF's Lois in drag. Dialogue: "Dude, just rub a little Castrol 30 weight into it. Works for me." (Castrol (Lois))

There was a shitload of #womenincomics hashchatter happening on Twitter this week, and I was like, hey, it’s probably time for that comics census again. And then I apparently wanted to avoid writing or something, so I’m actually linking everything this time.

Cut for ginormous lists )

roadrunnertwice: A mermaid singing an unenchanting song. (Doop doop (Kate Beaton))

It’s time for one of THOSE posts! The ones where I cuss at you and then recommend awesome comics. Cut for images, one of which contains non-graphic dick. )

roadrunnertwice: Scott fends off Matthew Patel's attack. (Reversal! (Scott Pilgrim))
Okay, let's post a pair of essaylets tonight! This one's been simmering for a while, and it just came up again in a conversation with [livejournal.com profile] roler, so I'll get it out for public comment:




The ending of the Scott Pilgrim movie kind of sucks, and that actually doesn't really bother me. Which might surprise those who've heard, for example, my insufferable Howl's Moving Castle spiel. In short, I think the way the movie engages with video game grammar and video game logic allows multiple endings to harmoniously co-exist in a way not possible when those methods of story aren't invoked. (Wayne's World notwithstanding, because Wayne's World is special that way, and besides, it doesn't work quite the way I'm talking about here.)

Which is to say, video games are a narrative form where multiple endings are equal peers in an integrated whole. Sure, there's usually a "best" ending, but if you do a perfect playthrough to the good ending and then never touch the game again, you actually haven't experienced the whole game. Multiple passes, some of them "failed," are expected and accepted on the road to completion.

This lets the Scott Pilgrim movie diverge radically without becoming an "alternate" take on the story; it remains an integrated part of a single work. Without importing the concepts of branching paths and multi-pass completionism from video games, any ending to a story is necessarily the only ending, which polarizes readers and viewers and forces adaptations to exist in private worlds apart from their sources.

Anyway, the ending of Scott Pilgrim: The Movie is the perfectly legitimate ending that happens if you don't do any of the sidequests* and don't manage to keep Crash and the Boys alive through the fight with Patel. Yeah, it sucks; play better next time! (i.e. read the comics.)




* Ramona's fights at the library and Lee's Palace, learning how to fight girls, meeting Lisa at the mall (necessary for moving in with Ramona at the end of the Roxy chapter), helping Kim move house, the recording sidequest, facing Nega Scott early enough that you can unlock the Power of Understanding once you get to Gideon, getting a fucking job**, etc.

** Zvi, who hadn't read the comic at the time, pointed this one out: "I do think it's interesting that this is the only movie I can think of where the hero's sole reward at the end of the film is romantic fulfillment. He doesn't have a job, he doesn't have a place to live, he doesn't have a calling: all he's got going forward is Ramona. On the one hand, I disapprove of that as a conclusion for anyone, but, on the other hand, if that sort of thing is going to say with us, I think it should be an ending for boys, too."
roadrunnertwice: Dialogue: "I have caught many hapless creatures in my own inter-net." (Hapless creatures (Activities For Rainy)
Welcome to the new year. Read more fucking comics!
  • If you're not reading MSPA: Homestuck yet, the joke's on you. 'Nuff said.
  • Spacetrawler — a kickin' sci-fi ensmble rampage that combines everything Baldwin learned from his years doing Bruno, Little Dee, Bad Mile, and those MAD Magazine pieces, plus a few new tricks.
  • Modern Fried Snake — I'm still trying to figure out what I think about this one, but it would be a shame for it to fly under the radar.
  • Liz Fuckin' Prince is on the internet! If I haven't subjected you to Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed yet, you are missing out.
  • The Meek is one of the most technically astonishing serials I've seen in a while. Go and see.
  • Buttercup Festival has been back for a while and deserves more love. (It's mostly the more contemplative subspecies these days, but it still occasionally lapses into old-skool absurdity.)
  • You've got about a semester left to get with the program on Bobwhite.
  • If anyone links you to Oglaf and you happen to be at work, DON'T CLICK.
  • The improbably-back-from-the-dead award goes to Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life, which I was surprised to find myself still rather fond of.
  • Forming is completely insane. I guarantee you are not ready for it.
And all the usual suspects, including Family Man and Dicebox, both of which recently turned one book old.
roadrunnertwice: Young Marcie Grosvenor from Finder, asleep in a ward drawn from Finder trails. (Wardings (Finder))

I just read Jason Shiga's Meanwhile today (so did my brother, so I had some warning), and it put me in one fuck of a Mood.

Don't get me wrong, it's amazing and a very very worthy read. At first glance, it resembles an old Choose Your Own Adventure book, but it uses the narrative strategies and stripped-down aesthetic of modern competition-grade interactive fiction* like Shade and Everybody Dies, which is not a thing I've seen in print before and which lines up beautifully with Shiga's natural economy of visual style and flair for absurdism. (Actually, when you get down to it, it is a piece of modern IF implemented on glossy paper; "You two are talking about this the way you talk about video games," said Katie, which, yes. We even found ourselves modeling its state machine in our heads [anyone else find the one big state-dropping glitch?], and the kick of satisfaction when you finally isolate the main stable loop and get your bearings for the next stage of the campaign is a heck of a thing.)

But orthogonal to all those virtues: it goes to a place that made me very desperate to get the hell out of the house and think about something else; if you've read it, you know exactly what I'm talking about. (Incidentally, I'm a little gobsmacked by the online reviews from people who got the book for their kids. Really? I know kids generally handle the macabre well, but that's some pretty stiff existential revulsion waiting for you at the "good" ending.)

So anyway, then I called a friend and we went down to the Laurelhurst to watch Unstoppable, which was precisely as fun as Mike says it is. Denzel Washington and New Kirk are ON A TRAIN, BITCH, is pretty much all you need to know on that one. Precise and economical plotting! Action scenes that aren't bullshit! Occasional lulz! ("Some shots were fired," plus anything involving Ned.)

And then somewhere in there I lost my phone, so I'll see if I can find that tomorrow.


* i.e. what we used to call "text adventures." After they went obsolete, lone enthusiasts picked up the slack and they kept evolving; they don't tend to act much like Zork anymore.

roadrunnertwice: Young Marcie Grosvenor from Finder, asleep in a ward drawn from Finder trails. (Wardings (Finder))
I've been really enjoying Adam Koford's The Laugh Out Loud Cats these days. What started as an extended BoingBoing-bait meta-joke about lolcats and antique comic strip reissue projects has turned into a different thing entirely, and it's a thing I don't think I've been getting anywhere else lately.

Especially this recent castaway series.

Laugh-Out-Loud Cats #1404

Laugh-Out-Loud Cats #1405

Laugh-Out-Loud Cats #1465
roadrunnertwice: Dialogue: "I have caught many hapless creatures in my own inter-net." (Hapless creatures (Activities For Rainy)

Oh shit, I'm behind on my interminable fucking ramblings about pop culture! >:O

ITEM ONE: Read More Chris Baldwin Comics

Little Dee (which should have been your favorite strip in the morning paper except that's not really how things shook out) just braked to its graceful end, and Chris Baldwin's got a new thing going on called Spacetrawler. It's an ensemble-cast SF adventure comedy, with classy art and some wonderfully dark laughs. You should absolutely be reading it. That's pretty much all there is to say on the matter.

Seventeen percent Bed in the lounge Our headache medicine is highly advanced

ITEM TWO: Why the Hell Isn't Everybody I Know Reading Homestuck?

I usually vent my raging geek-love for it on Twitter, so let's get this down in somewhat more detail: For my money, MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck is the most exciting thing happening on the internet right now. Yeah, you heard me.

I'm enthusiastic about it because it's funny as hell and extremely cool. The reason I'm rabid about it is, uh, a little bit abstract. Okay, so you're familiar with webcomics, right? And you're familiar with the weird narrative conventions established by the genre of second-person text adventure video games? And with the ontology of the FMV cutscene? And if you're even reading this, you're probably intimately familiar with the various stages of IM/forum friendship. How about improvisational storytelling? Crowdsourcing? ARGs and network-metastasizing exonarratives?

Okay, mash all that bullshit together and imagine it actually forming into a coherent and impressive whole. I dare you.

Anyway, my point is, if you care about where the limits of the webcomics form are and how far they can be pushed before they break, you need to be along for the ride on this one. Start from the beginning, hold out until at least the end of the first act while you get your bearings with the weird narrative conventions, and enjoy.

ITEM THREE: Stumptown Comics Fest

Was pretty awesome.

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