Fiction Review: An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris

An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris. Saga, 2018. 9781481494922. 306pp. http://amzn.to/2WGtaWS

Cover blurbs from Lee Child, Seanan McGuire, and Anne Bishop? I picked this up out of curiosity, never having read a book by Harris, and then couldn’t put it down.

Lizbeth Rose is a small, deadly young woman in Texoma, where she works as a gunnie on a crew guiding/guarding others. Her part of the fractured, alternative version of the US feels more like the old west than not, though there are some modern conveniences, including weapons and vehicles, plus: magic. Gunnie Rose is the kind of quiet western hero who always does what she says she’s going to, whether that means killing, risking her life to get people to safety, or guarding wizards into Mexico to locate a descendant of Grigori Rasputin. The latter journey takes up most of the book, and an open secret of Gunnie Rose’s seems destined to set her at odds with said wizards (though it seems likely they’ll be killed before that’s an issue).

All in all a fun novel featuring just the right level of violence and a character I could root for, that came into my hands at just the right moment and saved me from a more boring book that I continue to work my way through. Seems destined to be a movie or TV show, especially in the era of Westworld, The Man in the High Castle, and the Road Warrior movies.

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Graphic Novel Review: Off Season by James Sturm

Off Season by James Sturm. Drawn & Quarterly, 2018. 9781770463318. 213pp. http://amzn.to/2FGeKiq

I fear there’s no pitch I can make for this book that will show how much I enjoyed it, but here goes: A marriage disintegrates during/with the help of the 2016 Presidential election. A dad struggles with work and the custody schedule while thinking about his estranged wife and his feelings for her. The most heartbreaking moment: when they take their kids trick-or-treating together. I remember the misery and awkwardness of those nights when I was little, and my divorced parents tried to hang out together in order to act like a family for a bit just for the sake of us kids.

Sturm paces the story perfectly within it’s constraint — there are two panels of equal size on each page. Highly recommended.

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Graphic Novel Review: Skybourne by Frank Cho

Skybourne by Frank Cho with Marcio Menyz (colors). BOOM! Studios, 2018. 9781608869862. Contains #1 – #5 plus a gallery of some covers, including variants by other artists.

Lazarus’ kids were “blessed with superhuman strength, impenetrable skin, and immortality. This is their story.” Thomas is off the map — he’s tired of being alive. Grace works for the Mountain Top Foundation, out to improve mankind’s lot through science and magic. On a mission to retrieve a magic sword, things go wrong. The Foundation talks Thomas into coming back with a promise and they’ll help him end his life. Cue magical calamities involving a famous wizard and many, many dragons.

It’s all really light and amusing. No one draws beautiful super people doing dangerous stuff better than Cho, and it’s fun to see their super punches knocking jaws and heads apart. It all reminds me a bit of Invincible in the best way. (If that kind super heroic violence is not part of your definition of fun, this book isn’t for you — it has more beheadings than the original Highlander movie.)

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Graphic Novel Review: Emma G. Wildford

Emma G. Wildford by Zidrou & Edith. Translated by Marc Bourbon-Cook. Statix Press / Titan Comics, 2018. 9781785869280. 104pp.

Emma, an English poetess, tired of waiting for news of her fiancé, defies the stuffed shirts at the Royal Geographic Society and sets out to find him. She picks up the trail of his expedition in Tromso, Norway, and heads to the shores of Finland’s Lake Inari with a guide. Things don’t go well, and while it was occasionally bruised, she never loses that free spirit. My favorite moments in this were unexpected like when Emma puts her brother-in-law in his place, and when she plays rugby in the snow with her guide.

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The Texas Library Association’s Annual Conference #txla2019

I’m about to head to my favorite library show of the year.  If you’re planning to be at TXLA 2019 in Austin, too, please stop by Library Comic’s booth (#1956). I’m also part of two programs this year:

— Library Comic Storyfest
(Monday 4/15, 10pm, part of TXLA After Dark).  Room 16AB lvl 4.
I’ll be swapping library stories with the (somewhat inebriated?) audience and turning one into a script. (See me type!) There will probably be prizes.

— Comics You Should Read
(Wednesday 4/17, 1:30pm, part of TXLA’s first Comic Book Day!) Room 18 AB  Level 4.
Come listen to my rant about pages / scenes from graphic novels I love. Chime in if you’d like. No spitting, please.

Hope to see you there!

-Gene

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Graphic Novel Review: Grand Theft Horse

Grand Theft Horse: A Graphic Novel by G. Neri, illustrated by Corban Wilkin. Tu Books, 2018. 9781620148556. 230pp including photos of and an afterward by Gail Ruffu.

Neri (Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty) recounts the story of his cousin Gail Ruffu, who told him the story of how and why she stole a thoroughbred on Christmas Eve in 2004. She was trainer and part owner of Urgent Envoy, and hoped to use his love of running to turn him into a champion racehorse. When the other investors urged her to start racing him earlier than she wanted, Urgent Envoy was injured and needed time to recuperate. No one but Ruffu had the horse’s best interests at heart — they were willing to re-injure and drug him to try to make back their investment quickly. So she took UE, hid him, and ended up in a bunch of trouble, legal and otherwise. (I’ve never been to the track, and now I’m never going.) Also included: flashbacks to Ruffu’s childhood that show her lifelong fascination with and dedication to learning about horses.

Horses terrify me, but my dad loved them, and I have a few friends who do, too. This book took me as close as I’ve ever come to feeling that love. And the brown ink throughout reminded me of the smell of the barn, which I’ve never gotten used to.

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Biography Review: Confessions of an Igloo Dweller

Confessions of an Igloo Dweller: The Story of the Man Who Brought Inuit Art to the Outside World by James Houston. McClelland & Stewart, 1995. 0771042728. 322pp with numerous illustrations by Houston.

My buddy Mac tells a lot of stories about working in Alaska, and after I gave him Michel Hellman’s graphic novel Nunavik (about his trip there from Montreal), Mac started trying to push his collection of James Houston books on me. I resisted because I don’t read many biographies. I shouldn’t have.

Houston lived in the Arctic from 1948 to 1962, working as an art buyer seeking to create a market for Inuit sculpture and an agent of the Canadian government. It sounds like the jobs were just an excuse — Houston was drawn to what is now Nunavut and its people, and I think he would have done anything to live there as a young man. His tales are roughly chronological, and include adventures he lived (the most harrowing of which was when his young wife had a problem with her appendix, and had to be taken by dogsled to get medical help that was days away) as well as traditional tales he was told. He makes life in the far north sound incredibly difficult, but his delight at living there with his family and friends is always clear. Bonus: Houston was an artist, and when called for, his spot illustrations clarify whatever he’s explaining to those of us not lucky enough to share his experiences.

Houston wrote other books about life in the arctic, many of them novels for young people. At the risk of creating a long wait for myself, many of his books can be borrowed for free from the Internet Archive if you set up a free account. 

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Graphic Novel Review: Sing No Evil

Sing No Evil by JP Ahonen & KP Alare. Translated from Finnish by JP Ahonen. Abrams ComicArts, 2014. 9781419713590. 181pp.

Aksel is the singer and lead guitarist for the avant-garde metal band Perkeros. After a terrible review of his singing and a decent review of the band’s music, Lily (keyboards) brings in Aydin, who she found working at Kebab Muftak. His voice is magical. As the band practices with its new member, Aksel touches the reality bending Universal Melody. The older dude in the band, Kervinin (bass) warns him about trying to control it. Lily comes to the conclusion that Aksel is holding the band back. Bear (drums) growls a lot and shows his teeth. (Yeah, a bear plays drums.) As Aksel tries to again find the magic he touched, it becomes clear that other musicians are already its power for evil, and that Lily is in danger.

The musical sequences are kinetic and richly colored. The writing and the rest of the art is superb too. The two creators are friends who met in elementary school in Finland, and their long friendship and experience with music really comes through.

Other graphic novels that feature music: The Complete Phonogram by Kieron Gillen and Jamie Mckelvie (music as magic), and Zviane’s For As Long As It Rains (amazing visual representations of music).

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Graphic Novel Review: One Dirty Tree

One Dirty Tree by Noah Van Sciver. Uncivilized Books, 2018. 9781941250273. 116pp.

This is cartoonist Van Sciver’s graphic memoir about growing up poor, the eighth of nine kids, in a house with a twisted dead oak tree in the front yard. His family’s Mormon household seems to have centered around religion and comics. His older siblings took time to torture him a bit (ghost stories!), and his father’s struggles with bipolar disorder affected everyone. Half of the book takes place in present day, contrasting Van Sciver’s early life with his current girlfriend, a woman who is clearly not cut out to date a working cartoonist. My favorite parts are the unexpected appearances of non-comic art, both the bits Van Sciver drew as a kid and two beautiful, more realistic drawings of his girlfriend that really made me feel his love for her.

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Graphic Novel Review: bad friends

bad friends by ancco. Translation by Janet Hong. Drawn & Quarterly, 2018 9781770463295. 173pp.

I always suspect there are great, gritty Korean comics out there, but too much of the time the only manwha I can find on the shelves in US bookstores look like standard anime. When I taught in South Korea I had almost no contact with the “bad” kids. Instead I was locked in a cycle of teaching academically oriented students and adults trying to improve their English. The only time I seemed to be able to talk to anyone whose life didn’t revolve at least partially around extracurricular tutoring was during shared taxi rides, and then only if they weren’t too shy to chat. On both counts it was great to read this beautifully rendered, dark graphic novel about less-than-successful high school students.

It opens with a flashback, to the narrator being beaten and thrown out of the house by her father. It’s a brutal, realistic scene, and violence seems to be an integral part of life at school and at home in the lives of the characters. Everything seems destined to get worse for the narrator and her friend after they run away from home and start working in a bar despite being underage. But it’s realistic and compelling, and evidences a high level of craft and artistry. You can see an excerpt at http://pen.org/bad-friends/

If you like the sound of this, I also highly recommend Kang Doha’s The Great Catsby, which is available in English and was the basis for a Korean drama. It’s not quite as dark as bad friends, but on the plus side the characters are cats.

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