book review: dialogue

At some point I’m pretty sure I read Robert McKee’s Story. I imagine it was at a time when I still thought writing would be the thing I’d do (as opposed to whatever it is I do now). Last week while I was on our main floor desk I was faced with McKee’s 2016 book Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen on our “Interesting Nonfiction” display and I took it home.

It’s fine. I enjoyed the breakdowns of dialogue in screenplays, scripts and prose. There was good stuff about the way scenes build through speech, and the construction that goes into building a satisfying scene. I was also reminded of Adaptation and how these forms can make crap as easily as they can make art.

book review: norse mythology

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology translation is a fine little basic sampler book of tales about Thor and Loki and Freya and all that lot. I realized reading it how much the Marvel Comics versions of Asgard have warped my brain around this mythos, but yeah. They’re fine stories. There are bits where the Gaimanish language pokes through more than others, which I liked even if it felt a little anachronistic. This felt more like Fortunately the Milk… Neil Gaiman rather than American Gods Neil Gaiman, if that makes a difference to you.

If I had a lot of Norse myth stuff I might have stronger opinions on which stories were included and which weren’t but like I said, most of my knowledge comes via Kirby so I’m no expert. I didn’t have a book of Norse myths on my shelf before and now I do. eems like a win.

book review: towards a new manifesto

Towards a New Manifesto is a dialogue about Marxist philosophy between Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. They are important in Marxist critical theory and are the kinds of theoreticians I did not read enough of in my undergrad and then took “professional” graduate degrees that fled even the notion of critically examining the ways our professions think about what we do. Or I just slacked off in those classes.

I don’t have a lot to say about this book. It was a very fragmented dialogue that I felt I was missing a lot of context for. I did not feel very smart while reading it, but if bits of it got lodged in my brain somewhere for the next Marxist theory book I read, then I think it’s succeeded.

book review: ocean

Ocean is a great little scifi story about a UN weapons inspector who heads out to Jupiter’s moon Europa because a scientific team there found a shitload of billion-year-old alien coffins. There’s another corporation out in orbit of Europa too and they’re interested in the weapon potential of these alien devices.

The book is full of good Warren Ellis dialogue between bitter cranky people trying to save the world. The evil corporation guys have all had personality replacements for the length of their contracts so they’re full on corporate drones, while the heroic real people make terrible food and talk about sex a lot. There are some cool ideas about weapons in space, a great fight sequence using manipulation of the space station’s gravity, and Ellis’ old-school rocket fixation (transferred to the main character) helps to save the day.

I really enjoyed the book and it’d make a great movie.

book review: pax romana

I loved the concept behind Jonathan Hickman’s Pax Romana, but the execution was kind of lacking.

The idea is that in the future a couple of scientists figure out a way to make time travel work, but their research has been paid for by the Vatican who use it to make history better. They send a team back to Constantine’s time to get the Holy Roman Empire set up correctly, with enough advanced technology and wealth and foreknowledge of the future and science to ensure some form of success.

It’s a great idea for a book, and the characters who are sent back in time are excellent, in theory. The way the book is done though, really distances you from any of the characters. That’s part of the point (the story is being told as a history lesson to a new emperor in a space ship) but it feels like they left out a lot of the bits that would make it an insanely cool story. You see characters doing very little. Each chapter has two page dialogue scenes that have a small picture of the people involved, and that’s where the majority of the interesting stuff happens. Everything else is interesting layouts and use of whitespace, but not a lot of storytelling.

Jonathan Hickman used infographics really well in The Nightly News, but by the time you get to the end of the book and see the cool timelines of how history went between the timescales of the story, I was disappointed that those events weren’t told as dense little one page comics instead of sentences on a line.

The story we got was good enough and the pages were laid out prettily, but everything was so sparse it became a little frustrating to look at everything left untold.

book review: lost at sea

Bryan Lee O’Malley (best known for Scott Pilgrim) drew and wrote a high school road-trip book called Lost at Sea, and it’s fucking excellent.

The story is about four young people heading back to Canada from northern California. The viewpoint character is a quiet girl who doesn’t quite fit in, and she narrates how the difference is that she has no soul. I loved the inconsequential and the really important dialogue, the out-of-the-blue things that happen that follow the kind of road trip logic you abandon yourself to. It’s a different feel from Scott Pilgrim, much more realistic. And I love that the story ends before the road-trip is over. It just ends when the important stuff is over, and all the rest is what turns into road-trip inside jokes.

I think the thing I really appreciate about this is how so many road stories seem to be about guys going off to find something in themselves, but girl road-trips seem a bit rarer. In any case, this is a definite YA recommendation.

book review: goldfish

I completely thought Brian Michael Bendis’ Goldfish was a true crime book (like Torso). I was reading it all amazed at how cinematic this real-life escapade had turned out. And then I realized that similar covers don’t mean identical format. Selah.

So Goldfish is about a grifter who comes back to town after ten years with revenge on his mind. It’s nice and twisty and violent. I had a slight problem telling a couple of characters apart, design-wise but that was more than compensated for by the great panel design. No simple grids going on here, especially in the biggish action sequences. And there’s a huge conversation in the middle that pretty brilliantly deals with the Talking Head problem in comics by doing the conversation as straight prose dialogue with a couple of illustrations to keep us up on the visible emotions. I liked it a lot.

I bought this copy at a used bookstore here in Vancouver (I just moved here so I’m trying to scout out the good ones.) and at the counter the owner of the store was all “Why are these things so expensive?” I said something about drawing being a lot of work, and she said “But your time to dollar ratio as a reader here isn’t very good.” I don’t know why she was denigrating her product and prices but I compared the value to that of a movie and it mollified her somewhat. “I guess it’s better than spending it at Starbucks,” she said.