Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve and I'm back!

So, as I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, I’ve been having a lot of trouble staying cheerful and happy this year. It just feels like we’re in the middle—or, worse, just at the beginning—of a period where people are feeling way too comfortable being nasty to each other and treating the world like crap. So I haven’t had the energy to blog about the things I enjoy, For that matter, I’ve been having trouble feeling that enjoyment from things that would usually make me happy, because the darkness of the world is overwhelming all my joy.

I want to change that. I want to find ways to feel happier and more optimistic. Part of that is doing what I can to make the world a better place, which, admittedly isn’t that much. But if all I can do is call my congresspeople and tell them I want them to stop passing laws that hurt people, because even that stresses me out, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Another thing I can do is make a conscious effort to let things make me happy. Tomorrow is Christmas. After tomorrow, Doctor Who will be played by a woman, and that’s exciting. This time next month, I will have gone to Disneyland to celebrate my wife’s birthday, and that’s exciting. Six months from now, if all goes according to plan, I will have driven a real train, and that’s exciting. So many positive things I have to look forward to, and I need to embrace them.

I’m going to try to get back in the habit of blogging weekly again, too. I don’t know how successful that will be; maybe biweekly is a more realistic goal. I think I stopped enjoying it because I was putting too much pressure on myself. For example, I still really want to promote the Catalyst Prime line of comics, because they’re great, and a fantastic example of diversity in a world that seems to loudly wish it was all white male. But I was having trouble finding the time to write about their new comics every week, and so it started feeling like a burden and a failure rather than a joy. I need to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

I’m going to try to start things off with a bang. Starting tomorrow, I’m hoping to post 12 shorter blogs in a row, for the 12 Days of Christmas. (Yes, the 12 days start on Christmas and end on the Epiphany. Look it up.) I’m going to write about things that make me happy during this holiday season. They’re almost all Christmas-related, which I suppose isn’t very inclusive. However, none of them are particularly Christian, which reflects the way my wife and I view Christmas. We are Strict Decorationists. 


Please check out my blog starting tomorrow, to find out about some of my holiday favorites!

Friday, January 22, 2016

I'm back!

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged regularly, but I’m hoping to get back in the saddle again. I’ve been inspired by my wife, who regularly posts to her makeup blog

I’ve also been inspired by what often feels like overwhelming negativity on the part of the Internet. I go looking for blogs or other Internet articles about things that I like, only to find people just bitching about them. I get that writing snark is more fun than writing praise or enthusiasm, but it’s not always fun to read. Especially when it’s just kind of silly. Like when I go looking for someone writing about comics I enjoyed in the 1980s, and all I find are people talking  about how they read like they were published in the 1980s. You think? It’s like complaining about the lack of CGI in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

So I’m going to focus on writing almost exclusively about things that I like. For those who know me, it’ll mostly be about comics, TV shows, books, and movies. Hopefully, my enthusiasm will show through, and those of you who read my post here will be inspired to check out the things that I love.

One thing I want to state clearly: I will not be writing reviews. I will be writing about my reactions and responses to the things I enjoy, but I’m not going to be analyzing them in detail. This may occasionally come across as if I am overlooking the flaws in things; more accurately, I am probably just not writing about them. 


I will try to post something at least once a week, so I encourage you to please follow me and let me know what you think. And feel free to share the things that you love in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

Friday, January 03, 2014

The Guardians: The Sandman and the War of Dreams and Masks

So here are my quick thoughts on the books i read the last couple of days:

The Sandman and the War of Dreams by William Joyce

I love William Joyce’s Guardians of Childhood series. The picture books, the novels, the movie… they’re all a lot of fun. I’m sad that the movie—which is really good—didn’t seem to get much attention, and I’m sad that it appears that the next novel looks like it’s the last one. Still, they’re all quick enough reads that I can go back and read them all over again.

This latest novel brings the character of Sanderson Mansnoozie, the Sandman (geddit?) into the fray, after having had his origin told in a picture book. While each book in the series builds from the last, this one is very much an installment in a serialized tale. Following the capture of young Katherine in the previous volume, the Guardians search for their friend. Along the way, we learn more about the evil Pitch, his daughter, Mother Nature, and we see the Guardians begin to set things up for what may be the final battle.

As with previous books in the series, I really enjoy the mythology Joyce is building. It’s an epic adventure featuring Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and Mother Goose, but it neither feels silly nor overly serious. The books have the tone of an oral folktale, one that has been told again and again over generations. And yet, they also feel focused and detailed. While this time around, we don’t get too much insight into most of the characters, we do learn a great deal about Pitch, Sandman, and Nightlight.

Unfortunately, it felt as if this volume had fewer illustrations than previous ones. I really enjoy Joyce’s artwork, so that was a shame. Also, this feels less like a complete installment than setup for what will come next. Having said that, the background information this book provides more than makes up for that. And since I am totally enjoying the series as a whole, I’m okay with installments that expect me to read what came before and what will come next.

Masks by Chris Roberson, Alex Ross and Dennis Calero

I also read Masks, the collection of the Dynamite comics series bringing together a ton of pulp heroes, including the Shadow, the Green Hornet, the Spider, Miss Fury, the Black Terror, and many others. The story, by Chris Roberson, gives us the state of New York under the grip of the fascist Justice Party. This is a corrupt political party, essentially run by gangsters, meting out terror and oppression under the name of the law. The notion that a state government could be so easily subverted, and the streets of New York start being patrolled by an army of masked, armored thugs feels very pulpy, in the spirit of the characters it teams up.

Unfortunately, the story ultimately feels so busy and crowded that nobody really gets much of a chance to do anything. The Shadow gets his best lines, with his “Why don’t you all quit screwing around,” attitude. Others, like Miss Fury and the Green Lama, end up making token appearances. We get the origins of the Black Bat and a new Zorro, but ultimately, their roles could have been played by anybody, and that makes the story feel kind of pointless.

For that matter, the revelation of the villain behind everything, and his motivation, seems very perfunctory and rushed. It’s a character we’re supposed to know, but we never see him out of the context of being a villain. He ascribes more complex motivations for his plan than we see on the surface, but it’s difficult to believe him when we only ever see him doing anything besides masterminding this fascist organization. Also, things get wrapped up so easily it’s hard to imagine how they got so bad in the first place.

Fortunately, it’s got great art by Alex Ross on the first chapter, and Dennis Calero through the rest of the book. While I hadn’t thought of Calero’s pen-and-ink work with its heavy use of shadow as particularly similar to Alex Ross’s painted pages, they share a lot in terms of layout and character acting. So the whole thing feels like a cohesive whole, despite what, on the surface, are two very similar styles.

As a huge fan of the Shadow, it’s hard for me to pass up any story featuring him. And this is a very pretty one, but also very slight.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Books read the week of Christmas

Thanks to having Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, I managed to get a couple of graphic novels read. (No covers this time; I haven't had the time to figure out how to really work with pictures in Blogsy.)

My Little Pony: Pony Tales volume 1

Collecting the first six micro-series issues, each one focusing on one of the "Mane Six" lead characters from the popular TV series and toy line, this was a lot of fun. While all very much in keeping with the tone and style of the show, each story--written and drawn by different creative teams--had its own distinctive voice and feel. Similarly, each character had a story appropriate to their personalities, giving us a range of tales from action-adventure (Rainbow Dash), character drama (Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, and Applejack), and humor (Pinkie Pie and, arguably, Fluttershy). IDW and Hasbro get points from me for allowing so much individual expression to show through a licensed comic, and not forcing creators into a cookie-cutter house style. Lots of fun for folks already familiar with the series.

Doomsday.1

John Byrne was one of my favorite creators back in the 80s, and it's great to see him still active in comics. Doomsday.1 is a revival/reimagining of one of his earliest series, Doomsday+1. Not having read that series, I can't say how this compares. As a piece of post-apocalyptic fiction, featuring a group of survivors from a space station returning to an Earth devastated by solar flares, it's pretty stark and grim. While some of the situations feel like familiar tropes of the genre--prisoners taking over a prison, for example--he still creates a palpable sense of danger for his characters, and follows through by not always having everyone come out okay. Byrne's art also effectively communicates the horrors of the ravaged world. Unfortunately for the reader, this appears to just be the first part of a longer story; here's hoping that the Doomsday.2 he promises on the final page comes out sooner rather than later.

Mister X: Eviction

I've written about Dean Motter's Mister X before, and I think there's a much longer piece about it and its impact on me as a comics reader percolating in my brain. This book is the second volume in his rebooted series, and it continues to be great, seeing Motter in complete control of the series. (In previous iterations, he would write and design the series, but this new version is the first extended time we've seen him both writing and drawing.) This collection of stories completely embraces the character and the setting, giving us stories that really wouldn't fit anywhere else. We see the enigmatic Mister X working with the specific problems caused by the warped psychetecture of Radiant City, where the structure of the city is literally driving its citizens crazy. While completely steeped in a retro stew of noir and classic science fiction, this is very much more than the sum of its parts and influences, and is instead very much its own thing. It's a weird noir mystery, but one that could not be told in any other setting or with any other characters. And the art is fantastic.

Bandette

Telling the story of a young, female Parisian thief, Bandette oozes charm from every page, every panel, every line. It's like if Catwoman had been created by the creators of Amelie. She rides around on a Vespa, has exciting fights and capers, and proclaims that she possesses the power of Presto! The art, by Colleen Coover, feels very strongly European without slavishly imitating any single creator. It's bright and entertaining and funny without feeling like a parody of something. It's the kind of story where a costumed supervillain can ride a bus or subway to a fight, and it feels perfectly natural. I love Bandette, and I love this collection of stories, including a number of short strips by guest artists fleshing out the supporting cast. In terms of book design, in terms of writing, in terms of art, in terms of tone, Bandette is a thing of charm and beauty, and reading it will make your day seem that little bit brighter.

 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney's Dream by Sam Gennawey

Disneyland is one of my favorite places, and I've been visiting it for years. I know a lot about the park, but I haven't been obsessive about how things have changed and developed over the years. I also don't know that much about its history, beyond what I've seen in various TV specials, at the park, and at the Walt Disney Family Museum. I recently decided I wanted to learn more about Disneyland, but found there weren't a whole lot of comprehensive histories of the park. Fortunately, one was due to come out, and I purchased it as soon as it was released: The Disneyland Story, by Sam Gennawey.

 

Gennawey tells the entire history of Disneyland, from its earliest conception in the mind of Walt Disney, all the way up to 2012. The book shows the obsession to detail of a true fan, but Gennawey presents his history objectively, without judgment. This doesn't read like an Internet obsessive's guide to the good old days followed by where things went wrong. Instead, we get a true sense of how the park has always been a growing, evolving thing. There were attractions that Walt Disney championed at opening day that failed to catch the public's imagination. There are more recent additions, created long after Walt's passing, that because hugely popular. Gennawey treats all those stories equally.

 

While he doesn't seem to have an ax to grind as far as favoring nostalgia over innovation and change, he doesn't shy away from problems, either. This is particularly evident in the details of the park's ongoing negotiations with the City of Anaheim and its residents, trying to work out the best deal for a business that has tremendous impact on the community around it. As a Disney fan, I was more interested in the history of the park, but Gennawey keeps the politics to a minimum, getting the important information across without getting caught up in dry minutae.

 

Overall, this sums up the approach to the book: we get a timeline for new attractions opening, and details about them as they open, but things are kept brief enough that the story keeps moving along. If the book is lacking in anything, it is in illustrations, presumably due to this being an unofficial publication. However, Gennawey creates enough images through his prose that we can almost see the park in the eyes of our minds.

 

Fans looking for a guidebook to Disneyland will be better off with other publications, as will fans looking for an opinionated document written to advance a specific point of view. What readers will find here is an interesting recounting of the development of what has become, for many visitors, a magical place. He doesn't skimp on the park's successes, and it's fascinating to see how a place that means so much to so many people developed the way most businesses do, driven by ordinary men. A definite must-read for people who want to see the evolution of Disneyland over the decades.

 

The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya by Jane Kelley

 

Thanks to the little Senegal parrot living in our house, I've become a big parrot fan. So this story, about Zeno, an African Grey parrot who loses his owner--not that he'd ever admit to being owned--and Alya, a young girl suffering from leukemia, caught my attention. I didn't expect it to be a happy story, and indeed, I found myself in tears over and over again. But I still loved it.

More than anything else, this is a story of frustration, and Jane Kelley communicates that very well. Zeno, like all African Grey parrots, is highly intelligent, but he isn't a human. His concerns are those of a bird, and while he has a highly developed English vocabulary, he finds himself alternately unable to communicate what he really wants to the humans, or finds humans unable to understand that he is really trying to speak to them, raither than just imitate sounds.

Alya, on the other hand, is frustrated with her declining condition. She can no longer do the things she took for granted, and she feels like she is losing her friends and family as a result. They're still there, but they treat her differently. Kelley effectively shows how both Zeno and Alya perceive this loss of control, and how it upsets their lives.

This isn't a typical kid-animal bonding story, and it lacks a lot of the heartwarming moments you'd expect from that sentimental genre. It's tough and hard-edged, and there are a lot of harrowing sequences. I found myself particularly upset at one character, a woman who takes Zeno home, but is more interested in how he fits into the decor of her house than his well-being as a living, thinking creature. I know that there are far too many people like that out there, who don't understand the responsibilities of bringing an animal into their home. There's too great a perception that because animals don't speak a language that we recognize, they are somehow inferior to humans. As if the ability to smoke and kill each other over religion is an indication of superiority.

Ultimately, this is a tough book for me to pigeonhole (pun intended). It's so well written, and so tugs at the heartstrings, that I recommend it for its sheer quality. But it's also very upsetting through most of it, so definitely not a light distraction. I loved it, but I don't think I need to revisit it again for a while.