book review: the hourman and the python (sandman mystery theatre vol. 6)

The Hourman and the Python is another pair of Sandman Mystery Theatre stories. In these ones, Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont have become romantically involved and one of the things I loved about this book is all the unmarried sex they have. It’s not something I’m used to in stories about that time.

Another interesting thing is that Dian knows Wesley is the Sandman and they actually have a somewhat realistic relationship along with the vigilantism. The difficulties of that kind of life are dealt with in a thoughtful way, which I appreciated.

The Hourman is also introduced in this book. He’s another DC superhero, who uses drugs to give himself amazing strength but only for an hour at a time. There’s some interesting comparison between how he and the Sandman operate, but it does throw some of the noirish tone off a bit. I do appreciate how the Hourman’s meddling causes a lot of problems that punching something can’t solve.

book review: the face and the brute (sandman mystery theater vol. 2)

I have a friend who loves the Sandman Mystery Theater series. He’s the one who first told me about the excellent crime stories Matt Wagner was making with these books. I read one volume, liked it and then never really followed up till last week. The Face and the Brute is volume two, and has two stories about Wesley Dodds, the wealthy detective who dresses up in a gasmask to follow up on the dreams he has about crimes.

The comic is most interesting in how it deals with its setting, New York in the 1930s. The racism against Asians is front and centre (not in Wesley, but in the secondary characters). Dian Belmont is dating an Asian man and grisly murders are happening in Chinatown. Everyone is scared for her safety and encourages her to leave that terrible foreign world alone. But she won’t. The dealing with class issues is done very well, in that the issues actually show up in the writing.

They’re good stories, but I’m not a huge fan of the artwork. It’s all just a bit garish for what I like in my noir comics.

Scott McCloud at Agnes Scott College September 16, 2008

scott mccloud’s talk at graphic 2011

Scott McCloud at Agnes Scott College September 16, 2008The Graphic Storytelling Festival made a bunch of headlines in the last week or so because of the Sydney Telegraph scaring off Robert Crumb. (Fuck You Sydney Telegraph.) But Crumb wasn’t the only draw. Scott McCloud made te intercontinental trek to give a talk called Understanding Comics, and I bought tickets for myself and Holly.

I figured this would be a good event for her, because she’s been reading a few more comics recently (Persepolis and the first Absolute volume of Sandman), but the only person blathering at her about how significant and important they are is me. And I get very scattered and distracted and haven’t been doing this since 1993. So having so good a blatherer about comics as Scott McCloud explaining the stuff I’m a lukewarm (but passionate) rehasher of, sounded perfect.

His presentation was less than an hour but packed with stuff about visual communication and its uses in education and the way we as humans live. He demonstrated the Grimace project which uses his facial expression diagrams from Making Comics. He showed sketches of the semiotics of comics and talked about how tragic it is that in school we’re taught about all the different ways writing can be used, but we restrict drawing to self-expression only, since it can do all sorts of amazing stuff. He said recently he was at a “second annual” Comics in Medicine convention, which was awesome and spoke to the educational nature of comics. He stressed how comics don’t reduce information, but concentrate it into easily remembered forms, like mnemonic devices.

McCloud showed loads of slides, but they were done really well in a way that was not a bunch of boring bulleted lists. He was using Keynote, not Prezi or anything fancy, just using the tools in a better way (lots of slides, little text) which helped highlight his points about visual communication, and how we should be approaching them as “tools of empowerment.”

That tied in well to his talking about libraries. In the Q&A I asked if he had any recommendations for libraries in dealing with comics. He had a few comments:

  • Libraries should put the comics-knowledgeable staff in charge of them, that that domain knowledge is really important to making a good comics section. Note that well, future employers of mine. This is what I was made to do.
  • Libraries just have to look at the circulation numbers to see if comics are a good idea. He gave the example of a great library in Alaska whose circulation numbers jumped by something like 800% when they committed to comics.
  • To work with comics in libraries we have to bypass the “at least they’re reading something” mentality. That wasn’t a terrible hook in years gone by, but treating comics as complex literature with many different layers, is better for comics as we go forward. Not everything is Watchmen, but in the prose section it’s not like libraries only have War & Peace either.

He also had some comments about creating better classification systems for comics in libraries. In his opinion people think in terms of form first, so it still makes sense to shelve the nonfiction Graphic Novels together rather than interfile them with the rest of the books on a subject. Oh! He also called graphic novels “a specific type, format and approach to comics,” which I appreciated. I’m one of those people who resists calling comics graphic novels just to confer some legitimacy on them through linguistic sleight-of-hand, so this fits my worldview and expands it a bit. Which is what you want out of a talk, right? That and an enthusiastic reading of his “really dumb” comic about MonkeyForces fighting zombies of MonkeyTown in an escalating to kaiju battle epic. (He said he was inspired to do something more performance-like by being in the Sydney Opera House.)

After it was over, Holly said she almost wished she was teaching so she could use some of that theory in her educational repertoire. It was a really good afternoon.

book review: absolute sandman volume 2

Last week I spent a goodly chunk of my paycheque on the second volume of The Absolute Sandman by Neil Gaiman (and artists). I did this for a few reasons. First, I don’t want Xmas presents this year (and am not buying them for anyone). These Absolute Sandman books are mainstays on the Xmas list, but now I could get it for myself. Second, for some reason it’s not available on at a reasonable cost right now so I noticed it at McNally Robinson. Third, I wanted to read something in a big-ass tome, to feel like I was plumbing the depths of arcanity and such. That this volume of Sandman tales involves the lord of dreams coming into possession of hell makes it a good fit for that “reading a tome” experience.

Sandman comics are things I’ve known about through my entire comic-reading life (which isn’t actually that long). I may have only started reading comics when the original run was ending. I remember the spines of the trade paperbacks in the comic shop. I remember flipping through issues and not really being dragged in. One time at Campaign we were given a trade paperback by one of our book suppliers. I read it (it had the Midsummer Night’s Dream story in it) and I didn’t mind it, but I had other things to spend my money on like Transmetropolitan. So yes, I wasn’t a long-time fan or anything.

And then I started learning how influential it was, beyond the coolness of Neil Gaiman himself. How this was sort of a gothy bible, an artifact of the 1990s that I missed out on. But now I’m reading it. In Absolute form. While I would love to own books like Absolute Watchmen or the giant volumes of Sin CIty or Hellboy, I’ve read those stories, in many cases I on those stories already. But Sandman is this pristine land I’m walking through on these massive pages with their beautiful colouring et al.

Reading this doesn’t bring back memories of the first time reading these stories because this is my first time. I don’t know if this is forming the same kinds of memories for when I reread them in the future. Of being wrapped up in a blanket on my couch in my underheated condo, sipping tea and shooing away a cat. It’s not the same as if I’d been 17. Damned fine stories though.

book review: odd and the frost giants

Odd & The Frost Giants is a Neil Gaiman kids book about Norse mythology. It’s about a boy named Odd with an infuriating smile who helps out some gods. It’s very short, but told in that Neil Gaiman way that makes it seem like the story’s always existed and he’s just putting it down in new words. The thing I found the most interesting about it is how Thor Loki and Odin are portrayed compared with how he wrote them back in Sandman. These are (as befitting the kids story nature of the book) muppet versions of the gods. In any case, it was a cute little read.