"review" · concenter · juvenile lit · mystery · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · short story · Tales · Uncategorized

{comics} lost islands & found creators

Explorer: The Lost Islands 

edited by Kazu Kibuishi

Amulet Books (Abrams) 2013.

tradepaper, 128 pages, incl “about the creators.” Library Loan

The highly anticipated second volume to the critically acclaimed Explorer series, “The Lost Islands “is a collection of seven all-new stories written and illustrated by an award-winning roster of comics artists, with each story centered around the theme of hidden places. Edited by the “New York Times “bestselling comics creator Kazu Kibuishi, this graphic anthology includes well-written, beautifully illustrated stories by Kazu (the Amulet series), Jason Caffoe (the Flight series), Raina Telgemeier (“Drama “and “Smile”), Dave Roman (the Astronaut Academy series), Jake Parker (the Missile Mouse series), Michel Gagne (“The Saga of Rex”), Katie and Steven Shanahan (the Flight series), and up-and-coming new artist Chrystin Garland. –publisher’s comments

Can I begin a post about a Kazu Kibuishi affiliated anything without confessing what a fan-girl I am of his work? No. It is a goal of mine to not only own a collection of his work, but be able to gift some away. His Amulet series is an easy recommendation for instilling that comic book addiction in your young. But like his Flight anthologies for the older crowd, Explorer curates excellent talent in which to introduce the young to potential fan-girl and -boy obsessions with various industry creators. See my review of Explorer: Mystery Boxes here and lets take a look at this installment’s theme “hidden places.” [click creator name for link to their website. *=a favorite]

*”Rabbit Island” by Jake Parker (Missile Mouse, illus The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man) pp 4-19.

The rabbits have built a nice little utopia when one especially hard-working (and innovative) bunny salvages a robot and puts it to work alongside him.  Soon, it isn’t only the robot who becomes unrecognizable.

I really dig the color palette, it and the staining/wash and lettering bubbles reminds me of my worn out kids comics from well, ages ago when I was a kid. Not only does it work with the tale-quality of the comic, but it affords today’s youth the experience of their parent’s nostalgia with more contemporary sensibilities. In a way, it is like Will Eisner for kids, but with Jake Parker’s singular drawing arm. And may I say that I find the finish refreshingly absent of dramatic lighting–when I say ‘shiny!’ I want to employ the Whedon-esque meaning.

*”The Mask Dance” by Chrystin Garland pp 20-37 (d)

Nathaniel Hawthorne (minus the religious moral) meets one dancing princess in this mysterious and thrilling tale of a young lady’s night out.

The dark is just dark enough and the color dazzling into appropriately garish. The painterly quality helps animate and lend the light that artificial quality that tonally unsettles. An up-and-comer to watch.

“Carapace” by Jason Caffoe (lead production assistant for Amulet series, contributor for FlightExplorer) pp 38-55

You could easily create a moral from surviving and being nurtured by observing nature and finding a spirit guide, but “Carapace” is a story of friendship, of (im)moveable shelters. It is a nice twist on a deserted island story when the boy isn’t left completely abandoned nor is the island deserted.

Caffoe’s work with color is a stock & trade, but he tells a good story. There is a lot of text and a lot of setting, but there is also an eye for detail that draws the reader in. The island becomes less terrifying and more exotically beautiful, mimicking the camaraderie between boy and crab-ghost-from-the-shell.

{w/out text}

*”Desert Island Playlist” by Dave Roman (Astronaut AcademyTeen Boat!) & Raina Telgemeier (SmileDrama), colors by Braden Lamb (Adventure Time) pp 56-73. (d)

Wow, this one was creative with the playlist theme. The baby-toy is a stroke of genius and helps with the time-travel puzzle. I also appreciate that they aren’t willing to underestimate the youth-audience’s ability to get the “memory” pieces in juxtaposition to text and tale. This is a smart and beautiful story, but then it is Roman and Telgemeier.

The creators are good with movement and use the text with economy. They are as explicit with translating important visuals as is necessary, but engage the reader in creating meaning. The art is accessible, full of movement and just enough cartoon to lighten the tone.

“Loah” by Michel Gagne (The Saga of RexZED: A Cosmic Tale) pp 74-91.

Loah is a special creature, but what is even more remarkable is her friendship. She sees a way out of her crumbling world and she dreams for all of the others, and swears that her friendship helps her to do so.

The movement, like the story is sweeping, but the story itself small and deceptively simple. I am enjoying this thread of neither inhabiting nor leaving these hidden places alone. I’ve been impressed with the vibrant colors up to this point, but Gange’s piece is as magical as the tale he tells. 

“Radio Adrift” by Katie Shanahan (Womanthology: Heroic) & Steven Shanahan (sibling co-creators of Silly Kingdom), colors by Eric Kim & Selena Dizazzo pp. 92-109

Alright, so this one is just stinking cute. Mage-in-training, Wiya needs for her pixie egg to hatch and has attempted every sound possible. And then Radio Adrift drifts in for a limited time engagement. The focus turns outward, especially when Wiya recognizes that she has to refocus the conversation.

The style of artwork is fun, and I enjoy the light shift for the storytelling portion of the story told. This will be effortless in its candy colors, spunky characters and magical turn.

*”The Fishermen” by Kazu Kibuishi, colors by Jason Caffoe pp 110-27. (d)

The captain may have lost it (mentally and physically?), to the greed of a catch of a (literal) lifetime. The story uncovers hidden things both base and incredible, and with an old fisherman and his granddaughter at the helm it is a delightful short story.

Kibuishi is marvelous with scale as well as story. The characters are expressive. And the action sequences are fun, the illustrations managing a great deal of movement between steadying frames.

{images belong to respective artists. be sure to check out their sites, and of course, the book to enjoy more of their work!} {d=diversity in lit}

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · juvenile lit · poet-related · recommend · short story · Uncategorized

{book} open mic

Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices

edited by Mitali Perkins

Candlewick, 2013. (ages 12 & up)

hardcover, 127pages w/ “About the Contributors.” Library loan.

As Mitali Perkins observes in her “Introduction,” “humor has the power to break down barriers and cross borders. Once you’ve shared a laugh with someone, it’s almost impossible to see them as ‘other'” (x). Open Mic wants to tap into this power, employing ten gifted humorists to talk about growing up between cultures. There are prose and poems (x2) and a comic by Gene Luen Yang (ABC Chinese, Boxers & Saints), and even the comedic stylings vary so Perkins does a great job preparing for a broad readership–in other words, you can hand this to any middle-grader and they should find at least one out of the ten that will entertain.

Perkins does set down some rules, understanding that race can be a “tension-filled arena” (xi). It is a really good guide and includes a paragraph each in explication (which I obviously chose not to include below):

1. Good humor pokes fun at the powerful–not the weak.

2. Good humor builds affection for the “other.”

3. Good humor is usually self-deprecatory (note: not self-defecatory, although it can feel like that). (xi-xii)

A last bit from the “Introduction” on a hot topic in literature:

While I usually don’t like edicts about who can write about whom, in a post-9/11 North America, where segregation, slavery and even genocide aren’t too far back in history, funny multicultural stories work best when the author shares the protagonist’s race or culture. Funny is powerful, and that’s why in this case it does matter who tells a story. Writing that explores issues of race and ethnicity with a touch of humor must stay closer to memoir than other kinds of fiction on the spectrum of storytelling. (xii)

That said, none of the authors are White. Of the ten stories (a temperate number that hopefully hints at a series) Perkins includes herself and a brilliant variation of cultures w/ authors coming directly  (born in) or indirectly (generational) from roots in Mexico, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Palestine, India; Hispanic, African-American, or as G.Neri describes himself: “I’m Creole, Filipino, and Mexican–or as I like to call it, Crefilican. On top of that, my daughter is also German” (124). Many of the authors are well-traveled since childhood, and Debbie Rigaud is currently living in Bermuda.

What follows are brief remarks on the contents w/ links to author sites. One of reasons I love anthologies (on young and older shelves) is the opportunity to meet new voices and discover new reads. Many of these authors write Young Adult and, er, Not-Just-Young-Adult literature, like David Yoo who begins the collection with a good humor-setting tone, accessibility (read familiarity for anyone, including those of my western European ancestry), and insight the anthology is going for. The collection ends with some especially strong story-telling. (*=favorites)

“Becoming Henry Lee” by David Yoo (Choke ArtistThe Detention Club prose (1-13). 

This Korean-American protagonist is neither White nor Asian enough to abide by those (un)comfortable and ill-fitted cultural stereotypes. Besides dealing with public personas and private crises of identity (think school & parental aspirations), Yoo touches on festishization of culture, a step beyond mere appropriation. Big kid words, I know, but Yoo balances what even a young reader will understand as serious beneath that palatable guise of good humor.

“Why I Won’t Be Watching the Last Airbender Movie” by Gene Luen Yang. comic (16-9). *

first: Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference, The Eternal Smile, Good as Lily) makes an appearance. Of course, the two are friends and frequent collaborators, but they also share a similar stake in what the comic is about. White-washing happens in multiple forms, as does cultural ventriloquism. Speaking up against this is of import for multiple reasons, and Yang offers a unexpected point to the story’s ending. A point of contention offers an invitation to engage (if not instigate) a conversation; what if it offered an invitation in return?

“Talent Show” by Cherry Cheva (author; writer & exec. producer on Family Guy) prose (20-30). *

Two students, a Jewish male and Asian female, await their turn to audition for the school talent show. It is sweet and funny and I can’t say too much because it would just recalibrate expectations: which is some of what the piece is about.

“Voilà!” by Debbie Rigaud (Perfect Shot) prose (31-42).

“Yup–I’m fourteen now.” I nod, squeezing the last bit of polite from my reserves. “And yes–both my parents are from Haiti.” […] I shrug. People have assumed this before–that I’m only half Haitian. Or at least, those who can’t understand how a person with longer hair or lighter skin could come from Haiti” (32-33)

Above illustrates just one form of misidentification that Rigaud explores; language and other popular assumptions make appearances. Rigaud has fun with miscommunication up until the very end both lamenting and finding humor in people’s ignorance.

“Three Pointer” by Mitali Perkins (Bamboo People, Secret Keeper) prose (43-54).

Three Indian sisters, of whom the narrator is the youngest, play the “Guy Game,” yes, it has to do with dating–and no, their parents who were arranging marriages and degree programs were left unaware of their antics (44). The premise facilitates also sorts of topics on cultural and generational differences and similarities in ways that educate and certainly entertain.

“Like Me” by Varian Johnson (Saving Maddie, My Life as a Rhombus) prose (55-68). *

“With about thirty students per grade, Hobbs is the smallest boarding school in Vermont. Our demographics are just like the state’s. White, white, and white.

“I guess that’s not fair. Technically Rebecca is “one-eight German, three-eighths Sephardic-Jewish, and one-half Irish.” And Evan has enough Muskogee blood running through him to be a member of the Creek Nation. Still, I didn’t see anyone looking at them when we talked about the Holocaust or the Trail of Tears last year in World History. But let anyone mention Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Will Smith or even the slightly black-looking dude who trims Principal Greer’s prized rosebushes, and suddenly I’m the center of the attention.” (57)

Now twin girls have joined Hobbs and the questions of relationships begin to surface. Seeing and not seeing difference is handled deftly while calling out those awkward conversations on stereotype, in-group criticisms, the jokes people tell that aren’t all that funny.

“Confessions of a Black Geek” by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (8th Grade Super Zero) prose (69-78).

I found the pop culture references amusing and was interested in where black geek and white geek might diverge or intersect. The seriousness, how personal, had a diminishing effect on earlier comedic tones at the close. Do not expect the stories to end on punch-lines, many have a heartening declaration like this one.

“Under Berlin” G. Neri (YummyGhetto Cowboy) long poem (79-99) **

My dad is black,/in a real southern way./But Mom is a light-skinned Hispanic/from Puerto Rico,/so I’m as black as Obama, I guess,/which is only half./My bro rolls his eyes. “Sorry./I meant ‘mixed American;” (83).

I am not awarding this one extra points for mention of currywurst, but the story of a family on the subway (in the literal underbelly) of Berlin is one of my favorites. It is rich with personality, like many of the others, but easy and playful, tender and smart, despite that “tension-filled arena.”

“Brotherly Love” by Francisco X. Stork (Marcelo and the Real World, Irises) prose (100-13). **

Touching on machismo and religion, sweetly and deftly, Stork is unsurprisingly pitch-perfect with this story about Luis talking to his sister. Sometimes that life between cultures is experience within a community and between generations and gender. This one is so well-done.

“Lexicon” by Naomi Shihab Nye (Habibi) long poem (114-21) **

“Half-baked, mix of East and West,/balancing flavors” the narrator speaks lovingly about her Arab father, about the power of words and perspective. There are some truly lovely images and lines: “words like parks to sit in.” “My father’s tongue had no bitch/hiding under it.” “But dying, this lover of life said sadly,/My dilemma is large. 

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · Illustrator · recommend · young adult lit

{comics} womanthology: heroic, team suzannah

I was going to start at the beginning of the book, but since Thursday morning (my intended post date) turned into Friday afternoon, I am started by read-through of Womanthology: Hero with “Part Four” (pp 179-222). [see my plan for the read-through.]


The indie anthology of female-only generated comic goodness is divided into sections. These sections are teams of writers, pencillers, inkers, colorists, and letterers who share an editor. “Part Four” is “Team Suzannah,” as in editor Suzannah Rowntree of Westchester, NY.  We meet Suzannah on page 179 (and in this interview), learning that she is Features Editor for Life with Archie Magazine, Archie Comics, and as with every editor page, was asked “What does Womanthology mean to you?”

“When I was a kid, I felt a lot of the time like I was the only girl reading comic books. Boys were, but they totally didn’t want to talk to girls at that time, whether they were doing cool things like reading about Spider-Man or not! Projects like this really help to foster a sense of community, whether you’re an industry veteran or an up-and-comer still in school.”

Womanthology has created a global community, age and experience vary, and every Part runs the gamut in story and style and character coloring. My comments on each of the comics or pin-ups will be brief (probably) and I will link the talents’ on-line info to their name. {I had considered a “grade” per offering, but it became complicated so I ditched it.}


“Swimming” (180-3)

Writer: Ashley Avard (of PA), Artist: Dani Jones (of NH) {see image from sketch}, Letterer Rachel Deering.

“Swimming” opens with a girl studying the models pinned from ads and covers on her wall above her bed (where she no doubt dreams). There is a close-up of Olivia’s hand resting near an picture of a woman in a bathing suit–well, her slender thighs, hips and waist anyway. This panel is followed very neatly by an equally close frame of a plate of “processed food” set before Olivia at the kitchen table. Here we (and Olivia) observe the mother’s conversation on the phone openly criticizing her daughter’s weight and appearance, “she’s getting to that age where her pudge isn’t so cute.” Next page, she is teased at school, brought to rage and tears. And where she meets Sheila who has curves and has come to appreciate her differences. Down come the pin-ups, out comes the bathing suit without the t-shirt cover and up stands Olivia to her mother, assuring her “It’s okay. I don’t mind.”

The drawing and the coloring are pretty. The story, despite the after-school special feel to Olivia and Sheila’s interaction, is enjoyable, and obviously relevant as it hits on the major influences of both poor and positive self-image.

“The Nail” (184-7)…a favorite.

Script by Maura McHugh (of Ireland), Art by Star St. Germain (of SF, CA)

The line work, the brown cast, the scrawling letters, are all perfect for this dark historical piece about a real heroine who was imprisoned by People’s Republic of Hungary during the early 1950s. This excerpt from Dr. Edith Bone’s 7 year stint in solitary confinement is dated 1953. The story encourages the value of a strong and well-tended mind. That the female protagonist is isolated and kept beneath the watchful eye of a male guard is not lost on the reader either.


“Pink Elephants” (188-92)

by Ellen T. Crenshaw (of Boston, MA)

What wouldn’t you do for the sake of a good night’s sleep when the pink elephants come to call? I love the hero(es) here. It would be good for the young reader to understand the reference to pink elephants, but it isn’t necessary. Crenshaw creates very expressive frames for a story that relies on the visual as much, if not more, than the text. For these short comics in this anthology, you notice some do this much better than others–or perhaps, some are more accessible than others. And what of that last page? did the mother have the key all the while, just maybe not the confidence (yet)?


a page (193) artwork by Rachel Moir (of Ann Arbor, MI)

a fierce looking everyday woman armed with paint, defining her own self-image. Accusations washed over in read, her brush ‘whiting out’, on her palette in white paint: “You’re Wrong.” [according to her tumblr, she was a last minute addition with a one night deadline, not too shabby, eh?]

untitled (194-7)

Writer: Kayla Banks (of CT), Artist: Brenda Kirk (of Columbus, OH),

Colorist: Jordie Bellaire (of Brooklyn or Dublin), Letterer: Rachel Deering.

Even though Callie isn’t keen on the “do a good deed” assignment for class, she doesn’t want to fail the class. Hijinks ensue until she discovers one good deed that will not induce personal injury. Turns out a good deed can find a person rather unexpectedly and feel perfectly natural aka perfectly effortless–and it can even mean involving awkward human interaction. Light, fun and full of attitude, even if I wasn’t sold on the style.

“Meanwhile! on Tethys, orbiting Saturn…” (198-201)

Story by Lisa Fortuner (of Kaiserslautern, Germany), Art by Cathy Leamy (of Boston, MA), Letterer Rachel Deering.

I was not sure what to do with this one at first. It was not an immediate–ooh so pretty and smart. The style felt blobby college paper comic art. But it has the kind of bright coloring and ridiculous humor apt for critiquing classic superhero depictions. The social crit is there, as bold as the color and line and cheesy flavoring. I like the turn on compliance versus liberation, because the mask is both liberating and a hindrance for the super-space-hero. It is in-your-face and the kind of absurd that won me over and made me laugh.


untitled (202-5)

Writer: Kendra Pape-Green (of Ontario), Artist: Vanessa Satone (of Brooklyn),

Color by Kimberly Ann Black, Letter: Rachel Deering.

Highly accessible art, but I totally dig the textured (mixed-media) backgrounds in some of the panels. the story is a bit of an oddity as well, a bit of a “no good deed goes unpunished” sort of tale. A sitcom feel replete with the laugh track, this is a light comic read about a young modern witch who has very naughty house guests. {image from Satone’s DeviantArt gallery, “Fairies in the kitchen,” is the first page of the story minus textured walls and speech bubbles (obviously)}

“Seeing Eye Sheila” (206-9).

Writer: Kayla Cagan (of LA, CA), Artist: Joanne Ellen Hansen (of Ontario),

Colorist: Dawn Best (of Columbus, OH), Letterer: Rachel Deering.

A girl named Sheila volunteers at a pet retirement home and on her first day takes a seeing eye dog for a walk. The dog makes some sort of supernatural connection and now Sheila can hear him. They converse and as they walk the dog encourages her to see the world differently and become a more compassionate individual–to become a seeing eye helper. “You can teach the world to see differently and look deeper Sheila,” yeah, no hidden messages, no effort for subtly here. I really like how Sheila is illustrated though.


untitled (210-13)

Writer: Jenni Goodchild (of Oxford, UK), Artist: Sherri Rose (of FL), Inker: Nicole Goff (of VA),

Colorist: Dawn Best, Letterer: Rachel Deering.

Set in a mideval fantasy, a father tells his child about the sword on the mantel. he used to be the hero of the land, but he fell in love and wanted to settle down. So a new hero stepped forward and the world was re-written–her name is Caitlin the Brave and she reminds me of Zoe (from Firefly). I really really liked that it is a story where everyone could be whom they wanted. The father wanted to reside in a different role, and Caitlin steps up from the shadows where she’d been fighting at his side all the while. The art is not my cup of tea, but the story is.


“Down the Line” (214-7)

Writer: Georgie Lee (of NC), Artist: Beatriz Bravo (of NJ), Color: Dawn Best, Lettering: Rachel Deering

This one is pretty. Vibrant colors mark out the animated (or soon-to-be) from the blue wash of the rest of the landscape. This comic is sharing an idea, the idea of “pay it forward” where there are “plenty of opportunities to do something less impersonal and more influential than writing a check.” A “chain effect begins,” the comic says and will illustrate. “Fate is always watching,” a young figure in a black hoodie and skull and sickle tattoos, and it is suggested that a good action/person does not go unnoticed, and that these acts may not only save another, but your self as well. {image, sketches of her “main bohemian girl” from Bravo’s tumblr)

a page 218, artwork by Darla G. Ecklund (of Columbia Heights, MN).

A dog resting, the front and foreground w/ text in a celtic (?) type, “Meet the hero that rescues your heart without even trying…And when you didn’t even know it needed rescuing.” the coloring and delicate lines…

untitled (219) by Nicole Sixx (of LA, CA)

A mother (a queen) tells her daughter (a princess) a “Once upon at time” where there was a “great warrior.” The warrior who is “a giver of life, and, if need be, death” is “beauty,” “power,” “light” and “love” and when the warrior meets The Great Darkness it gives way saying, “The only thing I have ever feared is hurting you.” The warrior is a knight in black and rides a white unicorn with a purple mane and tail. Deceptively simple.


a page 220, artwork by Jennifer Mercer (of FL)

An athletic woman in a full body suit (urban ninja style) stands with a sword in front of her Wanted Poster, gesturing and smiling. a nice juxtaposition with page 221’s portrait of a heroic female. {I think the artist calls the picture “revenge,” found here.}

a page 221, artwork by Meng Tian Zhang (of Toronto)

Under “Skills” it reads “Painter” which we already know from this image above it (as seen here, the 5th image “Heroic” in the portfolio, a rapunzel-like figure)

“We Can be Heroes” by Rori (of St. Louis) (222)

A look at how women in comics (both writer and character) inspire young reader. A comic providing insight and inspiration. and I adore the purple and the personality. A gorgeous inclusion for this anthology.

womanthology banner

sprinkled throughout Womanthology: Heroic there are “Pro-Tips.” In “Part Four:”

“Self-Employed” by Devin Grayson (188). “Almost all comic creators are independent contractors […] you’re going to have to learn to market yourself and negotiate contracts…”

“Tools” by Renae De Liz (192). “It’s not the tool that makes the artist…” an encouraging tip on building a tool kit.

“Inking Portfolio” by Stacie Ponder (193). what every Inker should include.

“Dress” by Barbara Kaalberg (195). what to and not to wear to interviews; for instance cos-play may not be wise.

“Criticism” by Stacie Ponder (207). something we all should keep in mind.

“Kindness” by Renae De Liz (218). In a world where networking keeps people in work…

“Blah Blah Blah” by Annie Nocenti (219). “Talk back to your writer.” Comics are collaborative work…

“Editing” by Barbara Randall Kesel (220). “If you’re editing because you want to be a penciller or writer, remember that you’re not the penciller or writer. your job is to inspire, motivate, and enhance their work, not substitute your own.”

“Portfolio” by Nicole Falk (221). have a portfolio that shows a work you can be confident in.

“Ruts” by Kimberly De Liz (222), “Avoid ruts. Mix up your media and try new techniques.”

–there are plenty of samples of media and technique on Team Suzannah, more on the rest of Womanthology: Heroic next Thursday (or Friday)…

"review" · arc · comics/graphic novels · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · wondermous · young adult lit

{comics} womanthology: heroic

Womanthology is a large-scale anthology showcasing the works of women in comics. It is created entirely by over 140 women of all experience levels, from young girls who love to create comics all the way up to top industry professionals. All of the short stories will center around our theme for this volume; Heroic. There will also be features, such as Professional How-Tos, a Kids/Teens section showcasing their works and giving tips, as well as a section dedicated to some Iconic female comic creators of the past, such as Nell Brinkley, and much more. Profits of this book will go towards the Charities of GlobalGiving.org.” publisher [IDW publishing] comments.
I heard mention of Womanthology a while back, I believe it was on The Mary Sue; and they’ve since hosted a preview. Recently I encountered it on NetGalley, and w/ IDW’s permission I caught a glimpse of what is to come this month! I can’t wait to get a hold of the whole book. Womanthology has a blog, so check it out, they hosted a preview, here. Meanwhile, let me share my free and honest glimpse of this excellent collection of comics created by the females of the industry.
Super Less Hero : story by Kelly Thompson, Art by Stephanie Hans : p. 5-12.
This story is a gorgeous lead, all the way around. The art, color, lettering, the story is wonderful… It is waiting to be unseated as my favorite.
—–Each contribution shows its creators at the bottom of the page, where you are introduced and can then follow-up via their website information; a touch of loveliness there.
—–there are “Womanthology Statistics” here and there, balanced within & between comics, at bottoms of pages. p. 10: “Contributors come from over 11 countries; and range in age from under 10 to over 70.”–exciting, right?!
The Spinster : by Ming Doyle, pencil, ink, writer; & Jordie Bellaire, colorist : p. 29-31.
A classic and classy story that has you smirking at ridiculous social/gender expectations.
—–lest you mistakenly believe that all comics involve are a writer and an artist: you’ll meet those skilled in lettering, pencils, ink, color, editing. Plenty are skilled in multiple ways, like Kate Leth who is a writer, penciler, inker, and colorist. Womanthology: Heroic would show off the different facets of comic work and their collaborators.
——there are “Pro-tips” tucked in corners, laced along edges; they range in type, like drawing, editing, writing… p. 12:
“Don’t give up. Everyone who can draw beautifully now was a beginner once. And don’t get frustrated if your work doesn’t yet look the way you want it to. Perseverence is the most important skill you’ll need, and it’s one you can start using right now.” –Laura Morely.
——-check out the extended preview on the blog-site. You’ll note the range of style and story. All center around heroic and are female-centric. I adored Renae de Liz and Nei Ruffino’s contribution (of which I am unsure of the title, High School?) featuring a non-thin heroine called Lady Power Punch (the result of a last minute scramble for a name). She is an awesome figure in red and gets crap for not being empty-headed or Barbie-esque in proportion. It is a smart and beautiful comic that shows off positive girl values, great story-telling, and fantastic color. (p. 18-22)
——-there are How-Tos; Interviews; a section on “Women in the Past.” Womanthology proves itself to be an ambitious project, without being burdensome.
   Womanthology : Heroic is project worth spending time with, lover of comic or no. It isn’t only about informing us or contributing in support of the women in the comic realm, but to share a love of the comic arts–where it just so happens to have a place for women and their stories, too.
   So, I only had a taste (pages 9-34), and then the previews. It was enough to hook me and share it. The release says February 07, 2012–er, tomorrow. Keep your eyes out for this collection, make sure your Library is going to have this, and think about ways you can support them in any future projects, as I hope Heroic will not be the last we see of Womanthology.
Womanthology: Heroic ed. Barbara Kesel.
contributors credited: by Camilla D’ Errico, Ann Nocenti, Anya Martin, Barbara Kesel, Kimberly Komatsu, Gail Simone, Trina Robbins, Samantha Newark , Renae DeLiz,Ming Doyle, Colleen Doran, Fiona Staples, Stephanie Buscema, Bonnie Burton.
to be released Hardcover, 300 pages.
{cover & banner-work (1st/last images) by Renae de Liz. other images are attributed their creators, and can be found via womanthology.blogspot.com}
"review" · Lit · recommend · short story · Tales

Stories: All-New Tales (pt2)

this is part 2 of my post on Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio edited Stories: All-New Tales (2010, William Morrow). Part one is here. Part 2 involves my [brief] responses to each of the 27 stories collected, and the introduction.


As I was reading Stories I kept thinking how hard it must be to not consider Gaiman your audience while submitting a piece for his anthology because Gaiman comes to mind while reading most of the stories.  Many, but not all. And not that this harms the reading experience. It just spurred the contemplation of  audiences, playlists, and filter bubbles.

I didn’t read the stories in order of appearance, though I did start with the first one first and was glad because it really does whet the appetite (though I am not sure I should have phrased it in that way). I parceled out the reading based on time, or interest (in known author and/or title), and length. The writing was good, all of it; although Grammarians may have issue as commas appear to affect some Writer’s differently. I tried to write a brief note after every story I read and what follows are they (cleaned up a bit and in order of the stories appearance): I will put a # sign if I have ever read something by the author before:

If you have not read Stories and aren’t one to consult the chart in the box of assorted chocolates, you may want to stop here.

A–The Introduction by Neil Gaiman “Just Four Words.” (1-4) I actually read this first because I’ve been trained this way. Also, I didn’t really know how this anthology was intended, especially after noting the unusual company many of the authors were keeping. Sometimes the Introduction in collections and Forewords are entertaining in themselves—and Gaiman wrote it. I like what he had to say about stories: the reference to the oral tradition, the relationship of storyteller/audience/story, and how we’ve become constrained by fear/ignorance/marketing.

1–Blood – Roddy Doyle (5-14) A man experiences a mid-life crisis in “Dracula’s city.” “He was a normal man, slipping into middle age. […] His mind was fine, but something in him had been running amok. His biology, or something like that” (12). Blood was easily one of the most entertaining reads for me. The protagonist is humorous, self-deprecating, and the story has a brilliant ending. If you like Guy Ritchie films, you find some lovely similarities in rhythm, voice, and comedy.
2– Fossil-Figures – Joyce Carol Oates (15-28) “Why two when there should be one?” …This story is gorgeously written; a deliciously weird and creepy story about twin brothers; a demon brother and the younger. This tale is atmosphere and imagery all the way, and I’m sure there is meaning and symmetry, but I was really absorbed by the first few sections. If it were being read aloud, I would have told the storyteller these four words “…what was that again?”
3– Wildfire in Manhattan – Joanne Harris # (that is, I saw Chocolat) (29-45) This urban setting is home to some old god’s in different “Aspects,” and the protagonist is one, trying to be inconspicuous and yet still his self. The conversational first-person narrative wants to please and is comfortable in the languages of myth/lore, pop culture, and young adult fiction. I was mildly embarrassed to be reading it, actually.
4–The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains – Neil Gaiman (46-69) at the end I thought, this historically set, though at the beginning I couldn’t be sure, but I think it might be. It’s just that the Fey seem so relevant and the telling feels both old and new—I guess that would be summed up as “timeless.” The confusion is in regards to the “King across the water.” Anyway, I am sure there are references in this story to lore with which I am unfamiliar; which doesn’t affect the overall enjoyment of the story at all. It is a story of vengeance—you are told this right away. You have to learn everything else along the way, along the journey and through strange encounters and carefully placed conversation. Gaiman knows how to unfold a story, I like that he doesn’t worry over the details at the beginning, telling you things as you might want to know them, revealing so as to intrigue—a proper temptress—tempter? The little phrases to keep the reader interested in the mysteries is important in this story as the journey is long and the pacing may tire about the middle (which for me might be due to being tired physically and missing some references). The vengeance part isn’t as simple as it would seem, we suspect and then we learn things, and it becomes complicated—and then quite simple.
5–Unbelief – Michael Marshall Smith (70-76) This story felt as if it were trying too hard at Philosophical and Clever. A Hitman, an Almighty, and ta-da Belief. I was thinking Terry Pratchett during this one, and felt bad immediately; I was comparing, and Smith doesn’t measure. A dull read I was determined to finish. But it is among the shorter and I am sure there is an audience for this one, it just wasn’t me. (do recall I mentioned all the writing was good.)
6–The Stars are Falling – Joe R. Lansdale (77-103) I started this one and it is so lovely. The gravity in the descriptions of place, the transitions in time, in memory. The dialog was marvelous. The conditions a soldier returns from war in and to is of interest, and while the story is set in the past, it is no less relevant. Maybe it is safer set in the past as it is painful, the terms in which the protagonist is treated (in description and action) the things that have occurred and will occur. The story is an unhurried 26 pages, volatile, and looking to resonate. This piece is inarguably Lit.
7–Juvenal Nyx – Walter Mosley (103-131) This a story involving vampires; though it takes a few paragraphs to get to that part. I thought there might be political and racial implications, and there could well be but I wasn’t titillated enough to stick around for the end of the story. I excuse myself from vampire lore, but I did appreciate the return of sexual mesmerization to the conversation of necks and biting.  And as I skipped to read the last few paragraphs, there is nice return to the story opener.
8–The Knife – Richard Adams (132-134) the shortest story in the collection is about a boy taken with fantasies, a boy tormented by a bully, a knife, and a question. The form the narrative takes creates a reliability issue and complicates the first response the reader is likely to have to said question. A nice short tale that shows what only a couple of pages can do with a familiar story.
9–Weights and Measures – Jodi Picoult This one is not to be read without tissues. And if one has a daughter, it would be best if said daughter were not in another State, staying with a moron, and days from coming home. You’ll want to hug her—a few times.  I had not read anything of the esteemed Ms. Picoult before, and I think that I shall have to now. I was so impressed with the story, though I was made sad, was haunted by it, and tend to avoid stories of loss as much as possible. The story takes on a bit of magical realism as the narrative alternates in progression between husband and wife and an ending. The wife’s part was lovely but I really enjoyed reading the husband’s side. I love how the title comes to bear on the story. This one was a beautiful piece.
10–Goblin Lake – Michael Swanwick (150-161) one would think this was just a fairytale, but it isn’t just. It is about tales and characters and readers. Imagine you were a character in a story, that the world is a stage, that there is an Author/Creator who devised you… Which do you prefer: Fantasy or Reality (as much as Reality can be defined, and really who decides what is reality, anyway)? Yes, one of those.
 11–Mallon and Guru – Peter Straub (162-167) My first response to this tale was: “What?” Is he making fun of those who go to India for spiritual guidance; especially those who are looking to validate their own Guru status pre-manufactured back home? I think I sought meaning because I didn’t find this one particularly entertaining or inspiring (writing-wise).
12–Catch and Release – Lawrence Block (168-180) I don’t want to spoil this one if you are reading the notes and have yet to read the stories. Suffice it to say, I will never look at this fishing metaphor the same way again; and Block has spoiled Luke 5:5, as well. The voice is so matter-of-fact, the telling so disturbingly well-done. Well done, Block, well done!
13–Polka Dots and Moonbeams – Jeffrey Ford (181-193) Ford really brings his setting and characters to life, and so alarmingly quick (which is good of course, because the story is short). Still, what is going on is not all that clear, except for the desire to escape from something recursive in nature…but what? And do I care? I’m ready for the next spin.
14– Loser – Chuck Palahniuk # (194-201) I was thrilled to see Palahniuk was on the roster and he doesn’t disappoint. A group rushing for a fraternity licks a Hello Kitty stamp and goes on The Price is Right. Our narrator (a hopeful member of the fraternity) recalls watching the game show as a boy sick at home from school was horrified by it even then. It is the contestants, the host, the models, the prizes… But what are you going to do? This is part of our cultural rite of passage, isn’t it? (literally or metaphorically) You feel as trapped inside the protagonist as he does in his situation. It is fantastic!!
15–Samantha’s Diary – Diane Wynne Jones # (202-215) set in the future, a young spoiled fashion model is tormented by a suitor. The diary is one to be experienced; and somewhat suffered as well. Samantha is annoying, and her ex-boyfriend isn’t much better. But the torment part is amusing because it takes a bit to catch on as to what is actually going on. Love the imagination of this one.
16–Land of the Lost – Stewart O’Nan (216-220) at the end of this one Flannery O’Connor came to mind, but I am not all that sure why. The story is oddly compelling; and what to do with that ending? The title is thankfully appropriate and helps direct the story’s thoughts a bit: looking for the lost, some purpose/meaning, the need to be right…
17–Leif in the Wind – Gene Wolfe (221-232) after I diligently scrubbed my internal audio-file of “I’m a Leaf on the Wind” (thanks Serenity) I was eager to start this one, because I’ve heard of Wolf. Sean read his Books of the New Sun. The space venture was highly descriptive and the relationships between the crew were interesting, but the story was an odd experience. If the challenge was to transport a reader into completely foreign and possibly poetic climes while entrancing both the plot-and character-driven reader Wolf wins.
18–Unwell – Carolyn Parkhurst (233-242) I adored this story! Arlette and her younger-by-18-months-sister Yvonne are in their early 70s. Yvonne is getting married to a man the two had met on a cruise and Arlette is not pleased, nor is she well. This is a deliciously demented tale. I mean, just when you don’t think Arlette could get any worse…  Humorous and poignant.
19–A Life in Fictions – Kat Howard (243-247) I read this one before Goblin Lake. This, too, is a story where fiction and reality overlap and become ambiguous. A decision must be made; questions of identity and existence; and there is an incapacitation of the protagonist by a Writer/Creator–but the treatment of the ideas/themes differ dramatically in tone, delivery and invention. Many may prefer the contemporary, light, conversational tone of this story over the other, or they might find it a bit too quaint.

20–Let the Past Begin – Jonathan Carroll (248-259) The story begins with “Eamon Reilly was handsome and sloppy,” and continues on to talk about Eamon, though the story really isn’t about him. We are introduced to the questionably sane (but most certainly obnoxious) Ava but the story isn’t really about her either. I come to the conclusion that the story is about the unreliable narrator who is Ava’s current lover and friend of Eamon who was Ava’s previous lover. Neither Eamon or the narrator know who is the father of Ava’s baby, but only one of them cares. I feel like this story is inspired by the same true events as those which inspire daytime television. It is told in a bass-ackwards sort of way where the end is where you come down to it, and where perhaps the story should have begun, and where you would have just edited out most of the first part of the story you just told. I believe it to be up the Reader to find this Cute or Inspired; I chose the third option.
21–The Therapist – Jeffery Deaver (260-292) by the time I read this I had given myself permission not to finish a story, so I didn’t finish this one. The author would insert phrases to tantalize the reader into continuing on in spite of his protagonist’s self-important didactic ramblings which narrate his current pursuit of saving a young woman in danger of being destructive to others. I think it turns increasingly creepy, but I couldn’t get past my boredom. Mr. Kobel is evidently a psychopath, or is it sociopath, I am sure he could wax eloquent on the differences, but anticipating 32 pages in length I didn’t want to be driven mad myself. I skipped to the end. I skimmed over a court procedure (not sorry to miss that). The end hinted at some interesting twists, some manipulations to further entice the reader, but I wasn’t going to go back to where I left off.
22–Parallel Lines – Tim Powers (293-303) Here are another pair of sisters (aged 73), another story with twins, and one where siblings are still modeling a dominate and a submissive pairing. However, this story has a nice paranormal angle of one sister reaching out from the grave to possess the life of the other, not unlike how she did in life. The remaining sister decides to take control of her own last; and while it may seem late at age 73 to be doing so, I was still proud of her for doing so. Really, the alternative was just too awful to think about. I really enjoyed the two stories with the non-traditional stars.
23–The Cult of the Nose – Al Sarrantonio (304-312) If you are looking for an example (outside of politics) of how to take something absolutely absurd and make it serious, Sarrantonio will show you. “Here was a sect so arcane, nefarious and secret (a kind of truly devilish Freemasonry?) that no more than widely scattered references to it remained, or had ever existed” (307). The protagonist (1st person) is telling how he came to discover The Cult of the Nose and the evidence he uncovered in order to prove their existence and the crimes perpetrated. The academic tones descend into a present tense pursuit which has the Reader suspended completely—you really think the guy is a nutter, but he is so utterly amusing that your are fascinated—and I was turning the page. What in the world? The incredulity is the best part and the ending is awesome. You can see how mental illnesses can be so convincing here—while simultaneously admitting—absolutely not!
24–Human Intelligence – Kurt Anderson (313-329)This one is science fiction, espionage, and anthropological thriller (Indiana Jones) all in one—but not. The protagonist had me curious and I was sad when the young woman was introduced; she was hardly as interesting (however necessary). I like the angle of The alien’s perspective on becoming stranded and alone in the Universe. And I was amused by the idea of going to Murdoch with the story considering all that has been going on with spying/recording etc, in the news.
25–Stories – Michael Moorcock (330-350) another one where I was wondering “Who is this story About really?” Yes, I know the first line reads “This is the story of my friend Rex Fisch who….” Unfortunately it reads more like the kind of Eulogy a narcissist would tell. Names are dropped, Literature referenced, kinky sexcapades shared, and a secret homosexual relationship exposed—involving/revolving around an author Rex Fisch, of course. If only I could get past the narrator, even as I began to skim I couldn’t get over my repulsion of his voice.  And really, I was quickly bored. I can hardly get excited about the non-fiction memoir, the blatantly admission of a fictional one wasn’t any more favorable—although I can appreciate its honesty. I mean, there is that, at least.
26– The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon – Elizabeth Hand (351-398) this one is 47 pages so I thought I would save it for last, or at least, its own sitting. I quickly became bored with it. In part I was tired, and two, I just couldn’t get interested in the story. I didn’t care about the characters or what they were doing. There is a sense of someone trying to redeem themselves, maybe as a group the men can find a glorious moment in the son, and blah blah, I have no idea what I am saying. It is a story about relationships—I think I can say that. And the aviation parts are well described so even I can grasp the images, etc, but I forgave myself the disinterest. Tell me if I missed out and I will try again. I skipped to the end in case I found a guilt trip waiting, but I couldn’t find one. Another time.
27–The Devil on the Staircase – Joe Hill (399-423) This is one of the better ones and I kind of wish I had saved it for last. That the protagonist is given the last name of Calvino is fitting. The story is set in Italy (at the right time), plays with format, and is a bit of a fairytale. The story is a dark one, and don’t expect the end to have a shine other than one turned. I think Guillermo Del Toro could do a nice short with this one.

"review" · fiction · Lit · recommend · short story · Tales

Stories: All-New Tales (pt 1)

Stories: All-New Tales Edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

William Morrow & Company, 2010

Hardcover, 448 pages. 27 stories, introduction, and brief contributors’ bios.

“Talking to Al Sarrantino I realised that I was not alone in finding myself increasingly frustrated with the boundaries of genre: the idea that categories which existed only to guide people around bookshops now seemed to be dictating the kind of stories that were being written.” Neil Gaiman (Introduction to Stories: All-New Tales titled “Just Four Words.”)

If you are excited by the idea of an anthology ignoring genre classification, then Stories: All-New Tales will be a delight. For those fearful of the idea, you’ve a right to be nervous. Neil Gaiman and Sarrantonio put out a call for stories that would invoke “just four words:” “…and then what happened?” and “Writers rose to the challenge. We learned to expect only the unexpected” (3). Of course, they hoped for good writing and a “lightning flash of magic” (1), as well. They found it.

Stories is a collection of 27 tales by some of the best known, and few of the less familiar, authors publishing* today. And the tales are All-New so next to shedding genre constraints, they’re offering something that hasn’t been re-cycled or up-cycled from another publication. And Neil Gaiman is co-editor.

One of the complaints I’ve heard is that the anthology reads like the kind in University English Lit courses. Those who read from a variety of genres of short stories will understand the complaint. I am fairly new to this realm of possibility that there other kinds of shorts; like those often found  in Fantasy and Science Fiction, where apparently stories are tales, potential summaries of longer works, daydreams, where paring down images or honing symbols is not necessarily necessary, a sentence could be saying something individually or nothing at all. Not long ago I was reading some stories in an SF anthology and I was getting frustrated. “I need to explicate!” I’m sure I was sweating. Sean looked at me as if my horns were showing again and wondered, “Why?” Some of the stories were asking the same it seems, because they certainly weren’t demanding examination. (Yes, it seems there are very few times I can shut my brain off, and I’m sure you don’t care to hear about the occasions that phenomena occurs most often.) In Stories the stories do whisper to my desire to explicate. It may be in thinking the authors should be good for complexity and meaning even in their most effortless work; this observation could be unfair. I tested by not looking at the brief bios of the contributors at the back. Yes, I expected little from those I had never heard of before, and much from those I’ve heard the praises sung, or hummed a few bars myself. In short: The quality is such that one should be reminded of a University level Literature course textbook. That it would automatically demand the same rigor on the part of the Reader? Those not encoded with “Explicate!” are safe. They are stories, to be entertained by and live in for a short space of time, and perhaps be haunted by them a short while after. They can say something, or inquire after your opinion, or they mightn’t do either at all. Course, as the collection is determinedly without category you’ll not know which story you will get, or what kind of response it may wring from you. So don’t brace yourself, just be prepared.

Stories contains a story or two concerning outer space, two with elderly sisters in their 70s (strangely enough), there are a couple of serial killers, one with one who murdered only once (I think), there is grieving, there are fairytales, historical pieces, contemporary settings, the experience of a game show by a frat boy on acid, there are the paranormal—vampires eroticized in the way I think they were always meant, a lot of mental illnesses (though theirs or ours, I am not certain), some serious, some meta (and therefore take themselves seriously), many are all out bizarre. Stories that might find similarity in protagonists or theme or plot or trope are spread apart and if you dole the works out to yourself first to last and in portions than nothing should feel repetitious (and it might nip the desire to compare the two).

Gaiman and Sarrantonio were true to their word. Good writing, no genre-generated constraints, and the continual use of “just four words.” And not just “…and then what happened?” but “What’ll I read next?”** I believe Stories has something to entertain everyone; you can pick and choose, and ignore any desire to explicate or no.



*one exception: Life in Fictions is accounted Kat Howard’s first published story.

** a contraction of two words is still counted one word right?

Part two of this post is the ginormous part.. the part where I try to keep it brief in remarking upon each of the 27 stories and the one intro.