Welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading. JK Parkin is off having fun at WonderCon, so it falls to me to handle this week’s column. Our special guest this week is New Zealand cartoonist Dylan Horrocks, who some of you might know as the author of the seminal graphic novel Hicksville, which was just re-released by Drawn & Quarterly.
To see what Dylan and the rest of us are reading hit the link below. Hard. Then let us know what you yourself are perusing in the comments section.
Tom Bondurant: Hey, I am traveling and I still found time for comics! (Isotope and Comix Experience helped). Thought Blackest Night #8 was pretty satisfying, but that might be due to its relative predictability. My expectations were met, is what I’m saying. Also got a charge out of Wonder Woman #42, because it set up a nice, dire situation in the context of some unexpected old business. Same goes for JLA #43, but why is Evil Lightray Southern? Oh, and I read all of the Demon Omnibus on the plane — which surprised both me and my wife. Moved on to Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol. 1, an absolute delight; and now Action Philosophers Vol. 2. So, y’know, keeping busy.
Chris Mautner: I spent most of this week reading Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Invaded the US by Roland Kelts. Published in 2006, it’s one of those “let me explain why your kids are nuts for all those crazy cartoons and comics with the kids with the big eyes” type of books.
Overall it’s a pretty good book though it has it’s flaws. Whenever Kelts talks about the business of anime and manga he’s on pretty solid ground. He talks repeatedly, for example, about how the anime and manga industries are flailing about these days and how flummoxed they are about Western interest in their intellectual properties and how they can best exploit it.
He’s on shakier ground when he talks about the cultural resonance of this material. He oversells it a little too much. Yes, anime and manga deal with more adult and complex themes than most Western animation, but they also capitulate to just as many genre cliches and formulas as we do (not to mention being just as given to over the top melodrama). And I think he lets the hentai stuff off a little too easily. No, I don’t think that reading tentacle porn is going to turn someone into a serial rapist, but what do the way women are portrayed in these comics and films say about gender relations in Japan? Does the constant submissive portrayal of women in these works encourage a sexist mindset? It’s a question he should have asked.
Plus, he makes a few errors — minor stuff (Robert Crumb’s Fritz the Cat stuff was written and drawn before he started Zap. And his more autobiographical material came years after the hippie era.) but frequent enough to set my back teeth on edge. And I really wish he had stopped the 9/11 allusions about 1/3 of the way through. Still, as these kind of “newbie’s guide to j-pop” type books go, it’s not a bad
read and marked with some occasional sharp insight.
Brigid Alverson: Spell Checkers is the bad-girl answer to all those cute high school witch stories. The three antiheroines of Jamie S. Rich’s graphic novel, due out from Oni in two weeks, basically mugged a witch for her spell book and have been using it ever since to ensure they are top dogs at home and at school. With basically no controls, they smoke in school, cheat on their homework, skip out of gym, and slag on each other constantly. They are terrible role models but a lot of fun to watch. Joelle Jones, whose work I really admired in Token, designed the characters and draws the flashback sequences, while Nicholas Hitori De handles the rest of the artwork, using a manga-influenced style that’s a bit heavy on the screentones for my taste. The story is great, though, and it’s a lot of fun watching the main characters be as bad as they can be.
A Home for Mr. Easter is your basic chase story. Tesana, a large, misunderstood girl who spends a lot of time in a fantasy world of her own accidentally comes across an Easter bunny — a rabbit that lays Easter eggs. She decides she will bring him home, and she ends up with half the town — cheerleaders, animal-rights protesters, the avaricious pet-shop owner, and her mother — on her tail. I feel that the story is a
bit weak — it’s hard to make a premise like that work — but the artist, Brooke Allen, does a great job of bringing it to life. You really feel Tesana’s anger and her desperation, and the side characters are lively
and expertly drawn.
Finally, I picked up Tokyopop’s Alice in the Country of Hearts because a lot of other reviewers have liked it, and I also liked the cover designs. It’s Alice in Wonderland redone with handsome young men in all the main parts — the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, and a few others thrown in for good measure. I’m not too far into it yet, but it doesn’t seem to be following the story very closely — more like using it as a set of ingredients for a new one. Alice falls asleep and in her dream she is thrust into a new country, one that is filled with perils and smiling young men. The rules aren’t entirely clear, but basically she is trying to get back home. The art is nice and clean and the character designs are interesting. I’m not entirely sold on it yet, but I’ll keep reading for now.
Tim O’Shea: I’m really afraid that my role on WAYR is fast deteriorating into Schrödinger’s cat monitor (see WAYR from two weeks ago). I scooped up Amazing Spider-Man 627, totally enthused at the prospect of the Roger Stern/Lee Weeks creative combo. And then I got to the second page of the tale and–you guessed it–Pete internally monologues: “She’s (Cassie) understanding, and she’s as science-geeky as I am, I can make a joke about Schrödinger’s cat, and she gets it.” Added points to letterer Joe Caramagna for putting the phrase in red letters, giving it a “He killed Uncle Ben” level of importance. I exaggerate, but it did crack me up that the words were highlighted in such a manner.
I frequently bash editorial decisions made in comics, but long-time WAYR readers will not be surprised to see me praise Marvel editorial for hiring Stern to write an arc. Getting Weeks on art is sheer gravy. Stern’s history with Marvel is rich, in fact I had forgotten that Stern once wrote Doctor Strange and was only reminded of it when Wong has a brief cameo in the issue. I know Marvel just had the Waid miniseries wrap up, and I was already begging to see Waid do more with Strange, but in case Mark’s too busy — can there be a consideration for Stern and Paul Smith to do a Doctor Strange miniseries? Please? (God I am a fanboy aren’t I?)
Rucka’s announced departure from DC makes me appreciate his final issue (Detective Comics 863) with Jock even more. But I hope Rucka is right and that anyone can step in and continue with Batwoman. I never was that keen on Rucka’s Superman work, but he definitely connected with me on Batwoman.
I’m still appreciating the tributes and acknowledgments of Dick Giordano’s passing. Two pieces that I heartily recommend: — my friend KC Carlson’s thorough examination of Giordano’s editorial
work (and its impact on Carlson) — The three-part 1980 Gary Groth interview with Giordano (one, two and three).
Dylan Horrocks: I usually read nonfiction, and currently in my reading pile are:
A Reenchanted World: The Quest for a New Kinship with Nature by James William Gibson
Satan in America: The Devil We Know by W. Scott Poole (whose recent review of Hicksville for PopMatters made my day!)
But recently I got a touch-screen mobile, which sent me on a little journey through the wonderful world of free public domain ebooks, and I ended up reading the first Sherlock Holmes story (A Study in Scarlett by Arthur Conan Doyle) and Riders of the Purple Sage, a 1907 western by Zane Grey. Both were fascinating to read, and both featured Mormons as villains, in what I suppose was a late 19th century adventure-story cliche. The Zane Grey was also interesting as a kind of ‘Mills & Boon romance’ for men. There’s a particularly creepy but romantic subplot involving a cowboy falling in love with a girl he first shoots and then nurses back to health. I suspect that story touches some peculiarly masculine emotional and erotic nerve which is probably rather unhealthy, but potent nonetheless…
I’m also halfway through reading the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook (2nd edition). I play a lot of role-playing games, but recently I’ve found myself indulging in some old-school nostalgia for the games we were playing twenty or thirty years ago. Of course if I were being really old school, I’d be reading 1st edition (the one Gary Gygax wrote), or maybe even “Original” D&D (the boxed set from 1974). Maybe that will be the next step in my descent to senile grognardia…