Posted by: tuulenhaiven | February 24, 2015

Girl Power! (even more of it) Pt. 2

I picked up Ellen Linder‘s The Black Feather Falls Book One at Copacetic Comics in January because the cover was soooo pretty.

The insides of the comic were pretty too, and the series’ strength so far is definitely the glowing colors, strong lines, and detailed settings of the artwork. The Black Feather Falls is a 1920s murder mystery, set mostly in London and starring American Tina Swift. She’s a shop girl, trying to create a life for herself beyond the reaches of her family and a past that haunts her. One morning she witnesses the murder of a homeless war veteran on the street outside her shop. After seeing how little the police care about solving the murder, she takes it upon herself to get to the bottom of it.

She seeks out a newspaper editor whom she vaguely knows, but discovers that he has disappeared without a trace. His secretary, Ms. McInteer (a proud Scottish spinster), is persuaded that something is afoot, and joins Tina in investigating the death of the vet and the disappearance of her boss, which seem to be connected. The ladies continue to team up in Books Two and Three of the series, and their adventures take them from a remote Scottish island to the London docks and the lair of a famous crook. 

The plot could be tighter, but via the artwork 1920s London comes to vibrant life, and so far I’m finding the series to be quite fun. There’s good commentary on the dismal way that the non-officer vets of WWI were treated, too.

I just figured out that the series is available as a web comic at act-i-vate, so I’ll be catching up on Book Four there, as well as checking out the other comics that are being published on that site. Good discovery!

After reading Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics I made a list of all the artists who contributed and added a selection of their work to my TBR list. Almost immediately, but by accident, I found Luke Pearson‘s debut comic Hildafolk at Copacetic Comics. This store has piles and piles of independent and small press comics, and I find such randomly awesome stuff there that I rarely go in with a mission. It’s better to just let the comic I want find me. Hildafolk was buried at the back of a stack of other similarly sized/shaped comics, but the cool geometric borders caught my eye and then Hilda’s face caught my heart.

How could I not take that sweet, blue-haired gal home? Hilda lives in a slightly magical Scandinavian valley with her mother, a little antlered fox-like creature, and the mysterious Wood Man who drifts into their cabin on a regular basis. She goes hiking and draws and investigates troll rocks. She’s delightful, and I think we’re going to be fast friends. Thank goodness there are plenty more books about her!

I thoroughly enjoyed the artwork. The windy meadows and snowy woods are fanciful but familiar, and the balance of mythic and no nonsense adventuring is perfect. I loved when Hilda went camping in the rain on purpose, and the random encounter with a giant (who was lost – those frames make brilliant use of the comic book format!)

I’m excited to read the longer Hilda stories, and whatever else Luke Pearson chooses to scribble and doodle about.

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | February 23, 2015

Girl Power! (like, so much of it) Pt. 1

I came across this post by Memory (who writes In The Forest Of Stories) on ladybusiness last week. It’s about her picks for the Best Graphic Story category at the Hugo Awards, with good details about what qualifies and how you can nominate things. It added about 9 more comics to my TBR pile…

I’ve knocked two of those off already, and can concur with what Memory said regarding Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch (“It’s the secondary world fantasy comic I never quite dared to want.”)

Nimona is a web comic by one of the creators of Lumberjanes, and although it will be released as a graphic novel in May, it’s still available online for you to read for free. So you should go do that. Now. Here’s the link again: Chapter 1 Page 1.

It’s about a shapeshifter who thinks she’d be the perfect sidekick for Ballister Blackheart. He’s a former hero turned evil scientist who is determined to bring down The Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics and get revenge on his arch-nemesis Ambrosius Goldenloin.

Nimona quickly proves her worth to the initially reluctant Ballister, and a cautious friendship forms (in the midst of explosions, fierce battles, and the sudden appearance of sharks and dragons). Things start to escalate, and as the stakes get higher old secrets test friends and foes alike. The conclusion is incredible and heartbreaking and if at times the comic seems merely funny and entertaining, the ending rams home the fact that it is so much more.

Nimona is a complex character, a teenager with a lot of trauma in her past who is not very good at being loved. She is spunky and hilarious and passionate, and her relationship with Ballister is unusual, defying so many tropes that I can’t even… That relationship is the heart of the story – it’s non-romantic, a friendship where both characters support and challenge each other, while kicking ass and taking names and ordering pizza.

I loved this comic sooooooo much. It made me laugh (a lot) and cheer and cry a bit and then whoop for joy. I haven’t read a web comic from start to finish before, or in nearly one sitting, so that was a fun aspect. Noelle Stevenson’s little comments at the bottom of each update were a huge part of the fun, and the comments from other readers were great too. I felt bad for them, left hanging on the edge of their chairs week upon week!

Memory wrote another guest post for ladybusiness all about Nimona and what makes her such a well written and important character, and why the comic as a whole is fantastic, and it is totally worth the read and the consideration of the thoughts it will inspire. (There are mild spoilers, but if anything they’ll make you want to read the comic more.) After reading her post I want to read Nimona again, and I know that when it comes out in book form I will be buying a copy or two and passing them out with grim determination to everyone I know.

Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch pales in comparison, but only slightly. It is about a troop of lady mercenaries who brawl and party their way through the Middle-Earth style world they inhabit, leaving a bloody trail of wreckage and laughter behind them.

Betty is a Smidgen (Hobbit-like), and a tiny badass thief, while Violet is a sword-slinging dwarf (who looks even hotter with a beard, she claims). Hannah is a saucy elven spellcaster, and Dee is a human who used to be part of an octopus-worshiping cult (her healing tricks make me question if she still believes in the octo-god).

In Vol. 1 the Queens avoid an assassination attempt, try to solve a local mystery, and take on an army of trolls, all while drinking hard, doing mushrooms, getting badly injured, and trying to stay on top of their romantic entanglements. They accomplish all these things with plenty of swearing, high spirits, friendship (to the max!), and heart. And they look incredible doing it.

The plot is a little loose and loopy, but the artwork is so on fleek that I found myself dropping delighted expletives of my own as I turned the pages. The Queens are each gorgeous in their own way, with so much personality tangled up in a single frame that I was a little bit in love with all of them by page 2. Upchurch’s ability to capture expressions is kind of incredible, from quirking eyebrows to clenched teeth, to the crushing disappointment a pair of shoulders can display when grand hopes are squelched.

The action is fierce and gory, the hangovers are something to see, and the friendship between the Queens is worth being jealous of. (Seriously, the quiet moments between episodes of “large wholesale slaughter” are just lovely sometimes.) With the cliff-hanger ending to Vol. 1 (which captures issues #1-5) everyone knows that I’ll be hitting up my comic book store asap and digging out #6-11!

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | February 21, 2015

Frozen

It’s been very cold in Pittsburgh the last few weeks, although we have nowhere near as much snow as places further north. I’ve taken advantage of my host site being closed for snow days by tucking myself into my house and reading and drawing and watching episodes of Vikings and Arrow.

After making the somewhat rash decision to sign up for a longsword fighting course yesterday, however, I kicked myself out of the house and went for a long wander down by the river.

It had warmed up to 7 degrees and was brutally sunny, and I’d remembered to bring gloves for once, so I had a great time taking pictures. I found a lot of new graffiti and artwork in hidden places, and trekked about on top of the icy Allegheny for awhile. Standing beneath the 40th Street Bridge is something one can rarely do!

Feb. 20th 2015

40th Street Bridge, Feb. 20th 2015

40th Street Bridge, Feb. 20th 2015

Allegheny River, Feb. 20th 2015

40th Street Bridge, Feb. 20th 2015

Further down the river, the riverside trail dries up and the more adventurous soul can hike down under the railroad (below), in a maze of trestles.

Railroad tracks in Lawrenceville, Feb. 20th 2015

Under the railroad trestles - Feb. 20th 2015

There is usually artwork tucked here and there, some of it more permanent than others, and all of it collaborative. I hadn’t seen the stuff pictured above before, but it looks like it’s been there quite awhile.

Fort Wayne Railroad Bridge - Feb. 20th 2015

I love seeing the shadow of the Fort Wayne Railroad Bridge on the ice!

Feb. 20th 2015

Fort Wayne Railroad Bridge - Feb. 20th 2015

Feb. 20th 2015

31st Street Bridge - Feb. 20th 2015

The ice on the river starts to open up right about here (pic taken from the boat ramp beneath the Fort Wayne Bridge). There were glittering patches of open water in the middle, probably where the Allegheny starts to mingle it’s waters with the Ohio.

Today it is snowing and 19 degrees, so I don’t think the ice is really going anywhere yet. There are a few weeks of winter left… I’ve spent the majority of it indoors, but I’m awfully glad I poked my nose outside yesterday to see what my bridges and river were up to!

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | February 20, 2015

Sally Bone on my mind

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Here’s the thing, folks – I am going to make a comic about Sally Bone for REAL this year. Something that’s longer than a page. Something with a plot. Something tangible.

I’ve been obsessed with comic books lately because they’re cool and important, but also because I am researching and exploring and teaching myself more about the format. I have been trailing artists and writers around the web via Tumblr and Twitter, and have been hanging out with other comic makers in Pittsburgh – picking their brains and peeking over their shoulders to see what they’re making. These are exciting times.

I need to sit down, compose myself, and actually write a script for this thing though. My ideas are too vague to be executed right now. I enjoyed reading one of Neil Gaiman’s scripts for The Sandman the other day, and was blown away by how similar it was to a film script. I don’t know that it’s absolutely necessary to write something so detailed if I’m doing my own artwork, but it would be a fun exercise. And I really want to do some mock-ups of characters. I believe I’ll need to set some more definitive goals, in order to keep myself on track…

I have been practicing my drawing skills a bit, when I can squeeze a little time and energy out of my hectic life. (I know I could be drawing instead of reading comics, but let’s not get into that struggle right now…) I even drew two proper comics, on un-Sally-Bone-related topics, in January:

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(Yes, if I can draw skeletons I will draw skeletons…!)

Today I finally sat down and did something I’ve been meaning to do, as a practice-for-Sally-Bone exercise. I love Pittsburgher Chancelor Humphrey’s street style photography, and was pleasantly surprised when he took a picture of me downtown last October. I redrew it as a Sally Bone piece (observe, at the top of this post) and I have been meaning to go on drawing skeletonized versions of his pictures. His website (#KeepPittsburghDope) is full of fun material to draw.

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Such good practice for clothing details, hair, body language, and of course getting that skull right – which I didn’t on that bottom right gal I’m realizing. She’s missing part of her jaw bone, poor thing! I do like the knitting on her scarf however – it’s a process…! I very much like how this guy came out:

Chancelor Humphrey - #KeepPittsburghDope

#KeepPittsburghDope

It’s so bitterly cold here that school was canceled yesterday and today. I have a lovely long weekend to do all of the things! And that’ll include plenty of drawing.

Stay tuned for a proper Sally Bone adventure, coming Spring 2015. (Whoops, I made a deadline…now I have to keep it!)

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | February 19, 2015

“The main thing in life is to know your own mind.”

Nailed it again, Snufkin!

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I’ve been hanging out with the Moomins pretty frequently this year, partially because I’ve been dealing with a lot of feels and the Moomins all feel so much, so honestly. And partially because they’re just great fun!

I began with the first volume of the complete collected comic strip, which contains the adventures Moomin and the Brigands, Moomin and Family Life, Moomin on the Riviera, and Moomin’s Desert Island. Half the fun of the novels are the quirky and charming illustrations scattered throughout, so of course the stories work wonderfully well as comic strips. As in the novels, the Moomins make friends and get up to mischief and casually drop profound bits of wisdom about how to live well in a weird world.

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This is one of my favorite strips, and I love how it pokes quiet fun at the ‘vanity and vacuity of the modern art world’, as Alisia Grace Chase writes in her little essay at the end of Moomin Vol. 1. Tove Jansson truly wrote what she knew, drawing inspiration from her own seaside upbringing in an eccentric household, where relishing the moment was forged into a life-long philosophy.

I relate so hard to the Moomins that it hurts sometimes. In Moominsummer Madness (trans. Thomas Warburton) Snufkin meets Little My for the first time and tells her “You’re a strange child” (which is rich coming from him!) and Little My replies, “You’re dead right there, pal!” I have been the Little My in this same conversation as recently as two weeks ago. It is increasingly rare for people to truly know their own mind…

As I read Jansson’s books I’m often startled by the way she captures the things that I feel that seem indescribable. For instance:

Later in the evening Misabel went for a solitary stroll by the sea. She saw the moon rise and start his lonesome journey through the night.

“He’s exactly like me,” Misabel thought sadly. “So plump and lonely.”

At this thought she felt so forsaken and mild that she had to cry a little.

“What are you crying for?” asked Whomper nearby.

“I don’t know, but it feels nice,” replied Misabel.

“But people cry because they feel sorry, don’t they?” objected Whomper.

“Well, yes – the moon,” Misabel replied vaguely and blew her nose. “The moon and the night and all the sadness there is…”

“Oh, yes,” said Whomper.

– p. 48 Moominsummer Madness

Ugh, yes…this.

I’ve just begun Moominpappa at Sea and it is already full of such passages, as Moominpappa struggles with the unease and restlessness of August, unexplainable melancholy, and the desire to be busy but the lack of gumption to get anything done. Been there. I’ve been here too:

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Heh. I love Moominpappa almost as much as I love Snufkin (who didn’t feature as much in these books as he did in the last couple I read.)

The most appropriate book I read recently was Moominland Midwinter (trans. Thomas Warburton), which features lots of snow and cold and all the pleasures and pains of wintertime. The Moomins usually sleep through it, but Moomintroll wakes from the deep winter nap for some reason and has to survive through the long dark cold while the rest of his family snoozes. At first he is frightened and very lonely, for the valley looks entirely unfamiliar in it’s blanket of snow, and someone mysterious is living under the stove, and his beloved sun is gone – perhaps forever!

The silence and stillness of the wood were complete. Only now and then a large sheaf of snow came thumping down from a tree. The branch from which it had fallen rocked awhile, and then all was lifeless again.

“The world’s asleep,” Moomintroll thought. “It’s only I who am awake and sleepless. It’s only I who have to wander and wander, day after day, and week upon week, until I, too, become a snowdrift that no one will know about.”

– p. 20 Moominland Midwinter

Even when Little My also wakes up, Moomintroll isn’t much comforted. He remains disconcerted, while she takes to winter like a fish to water, immediately embracing all of the snow sports and befriending the other winter wakers. But gradually, with the help of Too-ticky, who lives in the Moomin’s bathhouse during the cold months, Moomintroll starts to warm up to winter and with his usual resilience he finds things to admire and adventures to embrace.

There are such lovely passages in this book about a time of year that I struggle to enjoy myself, sometimes, and as per usual, many insights into the mystery of being alive.

“What song is that?” asked Moomintroll.

“It’s a song of myself… A song of Too-ticky…but the refrain is about wholly other things.”

“I see,” Moomintroll said and seated himself in the snow.

“No, you don’t,” replied Too-ticky genially… “Because the refrain is about the things one can’t understand. I’m thinking about the aurora borealis. You can’t tell if it really does exist or if it just looks like existing. All things are so very uncertain, and that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured.”

– p. 22 Moominland Midwinter

Too-ticky rubbed her nose and thought. “Well, it’s like this,” she said. “There are such a lot of things that have no place in summer and autumn and spring. Everything that’s a little shy and a little rum. Some kinds of night animals and people that don’t fit in with others and that nobody really believes in. They keep out of the way all the year. And then when everything’s quiet and white and the nights are long and most people are asleep – then they appear.”

– p. 46 Moominland Midwinter

And characters like Moominmama and anyone else who provides the tea and sandwiches, and makes sure people go to bed on time and keep their feet warm – the ones who keep watch at the window, and light the night lanterns – get a shout out:

Moomintroll was already on his way out to her rescue. Too-ticky stood looking on for awhile, and then she went inside the bathing-house and put a kettle of water on the stove. “Quite, quite,” she thought with a little sigh. “It’s always like this in their adventures. To save and be saved. I wish somebody would write a story about the people who warm up the heroes afterwards.”

– p. 141 Moominland Midwinter

Oh Moomins, kind, brave souls who are as comforting and funny and inspiring as my family and closest friends… What a pleasure it is to hang out with them.

I really want to read some of Jansson’s novels written for adults, and her memoir. I feel that whatever she has to share, it will teach me something new about how to get along in life, and relate to people, and be at peace with myself (and enjoy the whiskey again, in a week!)

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | February 17, 2015

Intersect #1-3

by Ray Fawkes

There is a comic book store in the neighborhood of Oakland that is more-or-less the halfway point in my commute to work via bus – in fact I change buses there, with usually about 25 minutes to spare. During these cold winter months I’d rather not languish at a bus stop in the evening, so I often end up in Phantom of the Attic. (This has been somewhat problematic re: the state of my wallet.)

I’ve mostly picked up things I went in looking for, such as Saga and Lumberjanes and Ms. Marvel, but with hundreds of other comics to look at, of course I eventually discovered something on my own.

And Ray FawkesIntersect is something marvelous. The 3rd issue was on the rack and I was drawn to the artwork instantly. Messy, chaotic watercolors careened across the pages, contained by only the hint of panels. The action looked intense, haunted. The “story so far” blurb sent me running to dig up the first issue.

In the city of Tetrid, a horrifying metamorphosis has taken hold of the people and place. Jason and Ali, once lovers, now share a body, in painful flux from one person to the other. Their friend “the Kid” is emerging backwards from the body of a comatose man. The phenomenon that has swept through the city effects each person differently, turning some into animals or morphing them into inanimate objects. The Kid and Ali are intent on fleeing, but Jason, when he inhabits the body, is pulled to investigate what is happening and why. Meanwhile they are being hunted by a ravenous creature called Lucky, and it’s howls pursue them across the pages.

Issue #1 spits you right into the middle of it all, and you are left scrambling to comprehend what is happening, just like the characters themselves. The artwork is incredibly effective in establishing the mood and setting of the story. They seem like reflections or mirror-caught things, and they tumble and jumble, unsettling, fascinating.

Issues #2 and 3 carry on the strange plummet into the unknown. Ali/Jason and the Kid race through the city, struggling to adapt to whatever is happening to their bodies at the moment, acting on impulses that don’t seem to be their own, hunted by Lucky, and all the time another voice interjects – something that they don’t seem to hear, a part of the narrative that is for the reader and yet is tangled into the phenomenon that is consuming the city. Intersect is kind of a horrible ride, a dizzying, chilling, psychological drama that left me staggering and confused and totally down for more torture. Bring on Issue #4!

(Ray Fawkes has written for Constantine and Batman: Eternal, but I’m much more interested in checking out his other solo projects, such as One Soul and The Spectral Engine.)

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | February 16, 2015

The Forgotten Beats

The last book I read in 2014 was The Beats: A Graphic History written by Harvey Pekar, mostly, and drawn by Ed Piskor, mostly. The first two thirds of the book is their straightforward detailing of the lives of the big players – Kerouac, Ginsburg, Burroughs – and it is entertaining and appalling by turns. These are not my favorite writers, and I’ve always felt hard pressed to care about their wacky ways. I was pleased to learn about some of the poets who set the stage for them, or existed in their shadows, however. Folks like Kenneth Patchen and Gary Snyder wound up on my TBR list.

The last third of the book featured stories and artwork from a few other people, and Joyce Brabner and Summer McClinton‘s piece – Beatnik Chicks – was my favorite bit. Most of the famous Beat personalities were kind of terrible guys, so it was a welcome relief to hear from the women – the wives, daughters, and fellow poets/artists – who were a vibrant and powerful, but often ignored, part of the Beat movement.

I sought out Diane di Prima’s work and found her Revolutionary Letters to be quite good. She lived life every bit as wildly as her male Beat contemporaries, and like them she was in love with the idea of freedom and denounced anything that might hinder it – government, decorum, any kind of conformity. The poems are from the 60s through the early 2000s, and they are ringing odes to living life radically. She demands activism, offers tips on how to protest, dreams of a Utopian future, lives the revolution day by day.

Reading her words now, knowing that when she started writing them she believed things could change, is somewhat disheartening. I writhe with the same discontent, the same horror of our capitalist society, that she did 50 years ago. Her tips and tricks have been used over and over, but so often to no avail. We’re treading water here.

Still, I found her words inspiring, felt them stir in me as though they were coming from a seasoned warrior, as though de Prima was telling me with fierce certainty to keep fighting, don’t give up, we can do this. Somehow. Someday.

From Revolutionary Letter #1:

I have just realized that the stakes are myself

 

From #2:

get up, put on your shoes, get

started, someone will finish

 

From #8:

NO ONE WAY WORKS, it will take all of us

shoving at the thing from all sides

to bring it down.

 

From #20:

I will not rest…

till all can seek, unhindered

the shape of their thought

 

From #69:

‘All artists 

are warriors’

sez my son & he

age eight

is sure.

 

From #71:

can we

condense fury till it is

flame

can we use this fuel

to move us out of here

 

I plan to spend more time with this lady, and some of the other forgotten Beat poets, this year. I’m currently reading Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island, and I perused ruth weiss’ Can’t Stop the Beatwhich was pretty interesting. Who’s your favorite lesser known Beatnik?

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | February 15, 2015

Poem Strip

Including An Explanation of The Afterlife

by Dino Buzzati (1969) – trans. Marina Harss (NYRB – 2009)

Here’s one of those random discoveries I mentioned in my last post. I don’t know why I noticed it, or why I was skimming through the B’s in the fiction stacks at the library in the first place. This “pathbreaking graphic novel from the 1960s” by an Italian author, in it’s pretty NYRB packaging, was definitely coming home with me though.

It’s such a weird book, folks. I like how the reviewer at The A.V. Club put it back in 2009 when the book was finally released in English – “Comics have been described as movies on paper, and this one reads like a rock ’n’ roll-sexploitation-fantasy-occult midnight cult favorite.” Truth.

It is Buzzati’s impression of the Orpheus and Eurudice story, set in a skewy version of 1960s Milan. A singer watches his girlfriend disappear into the mysterious house across the street, then learns the next day that she has died. Unconvinced, he ventures into the house where he last saw her, and begins a bizarre journey, guided by a demon who is…well, an empty jacket…and helped and hindered by a slew of mostly naked women.

Parts of the story are very disturbing (sexuality is one thing, sexual torture is another entirely) and the objectification of women throughout bothered me. Balancing that though was my delight in Buzzati’s images. I like his line work, and the lyrical combination of text and trippy visuals fascinated me.

Some of it is quite beautiful, and the part where the dead gather to hear Orfi sing about the life they’ve left behind is haunting. As I’m flipping through the book again I feel compelled to reread it, despite the fact that my initial perusal left me with a puzzled face and a shrugging “Well, that’s something, anyway” reaction.

The piece is connected to so many other things, influenced by myth, and the music, art, and films of the time. It is a rich thing, if a strange one. This review from PopMatters does a decent job of delving into the book and it’s maze. Anyone with an interest in the history and development of comics and the graphic novel form should find something in Buzzati’s Poem Strip to intrigue.

I’m interested in reading Buzzati’s most famous book, The Tartar Steppe, and want to find his book for children as well – The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily – the English version of which has an intro by Lemony Snicket. Curiouser and curiouser!

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | February 14, 2015

One Love

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Picture me at 6, a rather tiny girl with two long braids wearing a Mother-made flower-print dress (ah la Little House on the Prairie) carrying a stack of books that tucks precariously under my chin, trotting down the library steps.

Now picture me at 28, still pretty tiny with a DIY Star Trek-inspired haircut (only partially by accident…) carrying an even larger stack of books (longer arms, hurray!) that tucks pretty expertly under my chin, trotting down the library steps.

Some loves are forever, folks!

I’ve been reading a lot so far in 2015, despite being amazingly busy – or perhaps because of being busy. Instead of sinking my teeth into a 1,000 page tome as I often do midwinter, I’ve been sticking to short books. Adventures that last an evening or a couple of days at most are more my speed this year. There have been a lot of new people and passions popping up in my life lately, and my reading reflects that. I’m confident that some of these people and adventures will be more than brief encounters, both on the streets and on the page.

For instance, I started reading Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series at last, and tumbled into Brian K. Vaughan’s and Fiona Staples’ SagaSaga is by far the best comic I’ve read in ages, which is saying a lot since I mentioned The Sandman in the same breath. The two can’t be compared, I just happened to read them at the same time and I am entranced by Saga and…intrigued by The Sandman.

Saga is a space drama about a family struggling to survive in the midst of a galaxy-wide war. The parents are soldiers from opposing sides of the multi-generation-spanning battle, so their love is outlawed and their child is considered an abomination. They live on the run, making friends and unlikely allies along the way. Not super unusual, as story-lines go, but Brian K. Vaughan seems to be following no rules when it comes to world-building (SO MANY different alien species, crazy tech, magic, helpful ghosts, robot princes…)

Anytime the story runs the risk of flying out of control the narration of the child, Hazel, draws everything back in with such amazing, often amusing deftness, that I was left with my jaw hanging more often than not. Fiona Staples’ artwork is gorgeous, and it more-or-less floored me on every page. Her colors glow, her characters are beautiful (or beautifully grotesque) and the worlds she makes are lavishly, ridiculously detailed. The character development, the diversity, the sunburst of imaginative storytelling that is contained in this series…!

I have been pretty literally pushing this into my friends’ hands, and have begun the torturous journey of actually buying a comic issue by issue… Bah! It’s even worse than watching a weekly TV show! If you somehow haven’t read Saga yet and need more convincing, read this article by Hannah Means-Shannon, who manages to be much more coherent about what makes the comic great, and even important.

While I wait for more Saga to come out, at least I can read The Sandman. The insensible gush that I am reduced to spewing when I talk about Saga is exactly how I remember my friend Leila (who writes Bookshelves of Doom) talking about The Sandman years ago… I’m reading Vol. 5 now, and I’m enjoying it overall. I generally dig anthropomorphic personifications, and the central character of the series is Dream (one of my favorite pastimes, incidentally), so I would be hard pressed to dislike it. Something isn’t quite jiving yet for me though – the stories aren’t getting under my skin the way I expected them to. I like the gritty, urban fantasy setting, and I do love the perky, wise, female character Death, but I’m not gripped. Gaiman is a masterful storyteller, and the myth and mystery of the world of The Sandman is admirable. The artwork is intense and brooding, no matter who is drawing it. I’ll continue following Dream down his dark road, but only out of curiosity right now, not compulsion. We’ll see what the next dream holds.

I’ve actually read 22 comic books so far this year (out of 27 books in total, heh) which has been great fun. I checked out the new Ms. Marvel series by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona which is delightful on so many levels. It is a huge win for female comic writers and diversity in lit, as it features the first superhero who is a young Muslim gal. SO AWESOME! I like the artwork and I just want to coo over Kamala Khan, who has enough awkward spunk to make me love her, regardless of her many other fabulous qualities. This comic is so important and charming and I can’t wait for more. (Ana at ‘things mean a lot’ reviewed the first volume of Ms. Marvel as well as a whole handful of other female-written comics that I need to go read asap!)

Another terrific comic is Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke Allen. It is about five friends who have mad-capped adventures at a summer camp for the more scrappy sort of gal. They fight off yetis and three-eyed foxes, go over waterfalls in canoes, make it out of a booby-trapped cave, put up their dukes against a pair of squabbling gods, and take friendship to the max! This is another comic that has me up on a chair cheering. I heart it so hard. I am reading it issue by issue and I’m antsy for a new one!

I read lots of stand-alone comics as well, such as Julie Maroh’s pretty Skandalon (didn’t care for the story much,) and Hannah Berry’s devilish Britten and Brülightly (I’ll certainly read more of her work). I liked Rutu Modan’s Jamilti and other stories well enough, and enjoyed the second volume of Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrer. I was striving to read as many graphic novels/comics by female authors as I could, although all the Sandman and Saga among other things still kept my male/female author stats about even for the year so far.

I love the random discoveries that I make, totally independent of blog reviews or friends’ recommendations, or my never ending “threads” – the books that just tumble into my life while I’m poking through the library stacks for something else entirely. Gast by Carol Swain found me recently. It tells the tale of Helen, a young bird watcher and amateur naturalist who has recently moved to rural Wales. She reminds me so much of myself at that age, and I imagine I would have acted similarly to her – wandering solemnly across the countryside, solving mysteries, talking to animals – if I hadn’t had a hoard of sisters to keep me company. Helen learns about a “rare bird” that has recently died on the nearby farm, and she investigates slowly and thoroughly. She comes to a gradual understanding of her former neighbor Emrys, who kept sheep and liked to wear makeup, and ended his lonely, misunderstood life one afternoon while his dogs kept watch.

The story is told in black and white, nine panel pages, with minimal speech and no narration beyond the notes you can read over Helen’s shoulder. Carol Swain’s use of silence is wondrous. Helen watches, and thinks about things, and feels things, and you can think and feel along with her, feel the breeze wafting across the Welsh hills, and hear the gentle baaing of the sheep. Gast (which means “girl” in Welsh) caught me entirely off guard and proved once again why the graphic novel format is so unique and special. Highly recommended.

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics edited by Chris Duffy was another excellent random discovery. I hadn’t heard of the Trench Poets before, so this collection of their poems, adapted by some of the best cartoonist working today, was a good introduction and a pretty amazing concept. The poems are haunting, painful, full of the agony and horror and dark humor of war as penned by the likes of Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke, Isaac Rosenberg, and 10 others – many of whom died before their words were ever heard. The reproduction of the poems as visual things was carefully, respectfully, and brilliantly done by each artist. They’re brutal, beautiful renditions, a duet of writer and artist the illuminates and compliments both aspects. Each piece tears at my heart, but I found Luke Pearson’s adaptation of Channel Firing by Thomas Hardy, S. Harkham’s riff on War by Francis Edward Ledwidge, and Isabel Greenberg’s take on Therefore Is the Name of it Called Babel by Osbert Sitwell especially effective/affecting. James Lloyd’s vision of Repression of War Experience by Siegfried Sassoon was also incredible, bringing to life the reality of living with “shell shock”, so misunderstood at the time and still horribly relevant. Ugh, this book, you guys. It’s a hard one, but it’s so good.

And I’ll leave you with that for now. I have other books I want to spread love for, but I need to consume more than just black tea today and also walk my housemate’s dog and look at the snow and go listen to some music tonight, which means getting dressed… I hope you’re enjoying your winter reads as much as I have been. Let me know if you find anything super good!

Peace.

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | January 24, 2015

Finding Myself

Sunrise Light

I looked for myself
in the wide open spaces
between sunset colored sandstone.

I looked for myself
beneath a sage bush
where a rattlesnake had shed
last year’s skin.

Guarding the Arroyo

I looked for myself
in a summer dry arroyo
beneath a hard turquoise sky.

I looked for myself
in the shadows between boxes
in the back of a moving van.

I looked for myself
in the curl and the crash
of an ocean wave.

Sentinel 2

I looked for myself
in the flecks of mica
on a rosy granite cliff.

I looked for myself
in the sifted sunlight spilling
through tree boughs and pine needles.

I looked for myself
in the heart of a man.

DSC03128

I looked for myself
in the road spun to black silk
on the wheels of my car.

I looked for myself
in the sand and the shells
shifted and sucked
by another sea.

I looked for myself
in high silent snowy peaks
and in low silent lava tubes.

Cascade Peaks, weird tower, lava flows, and other things seen at the top of McKinsey Pass - Sept. 4th 2013

I looked for myself
in the heart of a man.

I looked for myself
in the dragon’s roar
of a train in the night.

I looked for myself
in the graceful dance of iron
back and forth across three rivers.

Oct. 5th 2013

I looked for myself
in the heart of a man.

I looked for myself
in the maze of an old steel mill
where a wistful wind wandered.

I looked for myself
beneath a bridge
where a gallery of graffiti hid.

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

I looked for myself
in the middle of a crowd,
in the puff of breaths in cold air,
in feet marching toward a cause.

I looked, and I looked,
and I looked for myself until
myself grew tired of waiting
for myself.

And myself tapped myself
on the shoulder and said
“Quit trying to find me,
I’ve been here all along!”

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