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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Secret Path (Historial Fiction) (Graphic Novel)

by Gord Downie (writer) & Jeff Lemire (Illustrator) 

Publisher: Simon and Schuster (October 18, 2018)

Softcover, 96 pages

Probably one of the most depressing graphic novels I have ever read, and also one of the most unique. It is an oversized edition - 12 X 12, while most graphic novels are 6.5 X 10.5, and it is supposed to be read accompanied by music. Tucked away in the back of the graphic novel is a download code for the album by Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip. The lyrics to the album are written on pages in the novel, so you will know which one to play during the various section. Of course it might run short or fast depending on your reading time, but the lack of words in the novel generally means the average reader can get through it at a decent clip.
Each code has a onetime only use apparently so if you're buying a used copy make sure the slip of paper bound at the end hasn't been torn open. Also, apparently the Kindle version of the book doesn't have include a download code at all.
The whole of this books is a mass of bleak emotions. Almost wordless, except for music lyrics and the line “Goodbye” it is showered in a blue daze of depression, with a few bright spots to make you really feel the depression afterwards.
Thing is, to truly grasp what is transpiring in this story you do have to read the notes on the back cover. Otherwise, it just seems like the story of a boy who ran away from an orphanage and was trying to find his way home.

I am including the back cover notes verbatim, “Chanie, misnamed Charlie by his teachers, was a young boy who died on October 22, 1966, walking the railroad tracks, trying to escape from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School to return home. Chanie’s home was 400 miles away. He didn’t know that. He didn’t know where it was, nor how to find it, but, like so many kids—more than anyone will be able to imagine—he tried.
Chanie’s story is Canada’s story. We are not the country we thought we were. History will be re-written. We are all accountable. Secret Path acknowledges a dark part of Canada’s history—the long suppressed mistreatment of Indigenous children and families by the residential school system—with the hope of starting our country on a road to reconciliation. Every year as we remember Chanie Wenjack, the hope for Secret Path is that it educates all Canadians young and old on this omitted part of our history, urging our entire nation to play an active role in the preservation of Indigenous lives and culture in Canada.”
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Psychotic Interlude (Horror)

by Toneye Eyenot

Published: Independent (February 28, 2018). 

 Softcover, 120 pages

“But to protect themselves from being exposed, these secretive demons who pull our strings divert our attention from their nefarious doings and cast it onto others like yourself. Your hatred, your anger, your fucking furious rage, if combined with the rage of seven billion others, would bring those ivory towers crashing to the ground faster than the World Trade Centre. Divide and conquer; that’s the age-old game they play.
“While you get shuffled around on the game board of life, obeying your invisible masters - teachers, the judicial system, law enforcement… fuckin’ God- you have been taught to hate people you don’t even know, based on nothing more than a label. Religion, social status, political persuasion, you name it; they are nothing more than systems of control designed to keep you docile while you stuff your face on toxic garbage packaged as food, and cheer for your favorite, grossly overpaid football team on the idiot box.”
This is a collection of horror short stories by Toneye Eyenot. Except for the final installation, the stories are of the incredibly disturbing in the fact that they are based in reality. Each of them could actually happen, which (in my opinion) makes it all the creepier. A lack of supernatural elements brings the fear closer to home. Like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, I had to keep asking myself what would I do in such a situation. Unlike Henry though, the protagonists of these tales are not the villains- which does not make the action any less painful to read.
Author Toneye Eyenot

The first story, “An Experiment in Fear”, is different in that it uses the rare 2nd person point of view (which utilizes the pronoun “you”) and describes a brutal torture of yourself in intricate detail. I honestly have never read a story like it and is almost worth the price of the book in itself. The second story, of which there is an excerpt above, is also done in the 2nd person, but in this case you take the form of the aggressor rather than the victim. “Don’t Be a Cunt” is an indictment to the world at large and, in my opinion is the high point of the collection. Third is “Petty Pleasantries”, now being told in 1st person perspective, we have a handyman with a hair-trigger being harassed by a bitch housewife. Hilarity ensues. Next, we are presented with “What’s in a Name” the most disturbing story of the lot. Without giving too much away, it deals with a man seeking revenge for his wife and child. This story could’ve been more, even expanded into a novel length, but it is satisfying enough for now. The last story is the one which breaks the pattern of realistic horror. “Sanity Korpse” is a tongue-in-cheek story about Santa Claus eating some acid laced cookies and ensuing on a planet wide killing spree.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A World I Never Made (Drama) (Fiction)

by James T. Farrell (Writer) Charles Fanning (Introduction) 

Publisher: University of Illinois Press; revised ed. edition (March, 2007)

Softcover, 440 pages. 

            “He watched the lady, swayed. Well, wasn’t that something to put in your pipe and smoke! What the hell was he, a bluebeard, or a Blackhand? Why, goddamn her. She was probably the wife of some rich dude and she named her kids Percy. It kind of made him wish that some guy would grab her, drag her across the street in the prairie and give her five or six inches of what her dude husband probably didn’t have to give her.”
This somewhat hyperbolic title ushers in the first novel in Farrell's quintilogy on the O'Neil - O'Flaherty families in Chicago. Specifically, it follows Danny O'Neil who rises up from the Irish slums to become a successful lawyer.
Some have criticized Farrell’s writing style, claiming that it's repetitive, and too dependent on dialogue, while being short in action. It's true most of the scenes are dialogues between characters and in their speech we discover what has happened in-between the previous speech. However, that doesn’t diminish the skill of the writing. It enhances it if anything. He keeps the drama in-house and demonstrates the world through the family's eyes.
As for repetitious, his style becomes lyrical and lilting as it continues on. The back-and-forth between characters becomes a lullaby that drifts the characters through life. The gift of gab was part of the lifeblood of the old Irish tradition and it flows deep here.
Author, James T. Farrell

Set in 1911, the story captures the feel and smell of the Irish families as they claw to survive and prosper. It's fascinating to read of their problems. Often they are the same problems we face today. Money, sex, properly raising children, etc. Even the political debates between Democrats and Republicans, while removing the specific names (Taft was in the White House at this time), could happen today. The Republicans are said to be in the pockets of big business and the Democrats are said to be idealistic talkers, incapable of getting things done, relying on symbolic gestures.
The two families represent the split of the Irish in the race’s journey through America. The O'Flaherty are the Lace Curtain Irish who use the resources of this new land to educate the next generation so they can be better off and rise above the poverty impressed on them by the English in their native land. While the O'Neils are Shanty Irish, poorly educated, too many children, slovenly in their ways, poor hygiene. They are incapable, or unwilling, to better themselves and will eventually become known as “white trash”.
Danny O'Neil, here seen only as a child, is a product of both worlds. Born into the poor family, he is taken in by his upwardly mobile relations due to his parent’s appalling poverty. Eventually, he will rise above it all. Danny O'Neil is the protagonist foil to the author's other great work, Studs Lonigan. Studs is a dumb Irish brute born to a decent middle class family, whose fortunes spin downwards into an eventual early grave.
Original cover of the 1st edition. 

Farrell wished this series of books to have a more upbeat end. His work (along with Jim Tully's) centralized the Irish-American Catholic experience in the forefront of the drama, rather than them being a minor part or just comic relief. It started a trend of Irish centered novels and films which proliferated the 40s and 50s.
But let me give those who are interested a warning. Farrell showed the ways of the old school Irish as he knew it, warts and all. There's plenty in here that might be considered politically incorrect. Racial slurs against all abound and the characters almost uniformly show a dislike for all who weren't Irish and Catholic. Well, that was the old ways. Entire countries run on a small town mentality.
For your general information, the term “dude” used above in the excerpt is an insult, rather than just a common type of expression like it is now. Back in the day it meant a man who spent an unmanly amount of time primping himself up, worrying about his clothes and so forth.  It originated in 1883 and used in reference to the devotees of the "aesthetic" craze. Later on it was applied to all city slickers, especially Easterners vacationing in the West.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Realm Vols. 1-4 (Fantasy) (Graphic Novel)

by Ralph Griffith (Writer), & Guy Davis (Illustrator)

Publisher: Caliber Comics (Feb. 14th, 2017).

Softcover, 156 pages each.

The reason I'm combing four volumes together into one entry is that they are part of one long continuous story. And as The Realm is an obscure title from an effectively defunct publisher, the chances of anyone being interested in two entries is rather slim.
The Realm was one of two series taken from Arrow Press (the other being DeadWorld- the original zombie apocalypse comic). Similar in format to the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, it follows the exploits of four humans from our world who are sucked into a fantasy world of magic and mayhem.
This world is heavily influenced by Dungeons & Dragons with all sorts of familiar monster races - orcs and goblins- and friendly orcs- dwarves and elves. What sets it apart is that obviously the writers had a plan as they wrote this. The Realm is a twenty issue long epic, with a sister comic Legendlore that lasted just as long. There is a long standing Arc and several nearly overpowering enemies to deal with. Or sidestep, as the group's main goal is to get back to Earth.
The criticism is that the comic is in black and white. If you don't like non-colored books that's fine. The art (done by a young Guy Davis who went on to do Baker Street, The Marquis, and BPRD) is somewhat rough, but has a lot of promise. The artist is just coming into his own. There is a, sometimes pointless, action scene tossed into every issue-but hey that's just like the game, right?
But overall the story is above average and a fun, inexpensive romp.

 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Yvain: Knight of the Lion (Fantasy) (Graphic Novel)

By Chrétien de Troyes (original), Adapted by M. T. Anderson (writer), & Andrea Offermann (Illustrator)

Publisher: Candlewick (March 14, 2017)

Hardcover, 144 pages

This is a graphic novel based on the Arthurian story by Chrétien de Troyes, a 12th century French poet. He is one of the few, along with Marie de France, who popularized the second round (or revival) of Arthurian literature in Medieval Europe. Before this revival, legends of Arthur and his men centered around the normal legendary themes of them coming across some great monster or supernatural force and then beating it up. 
      The second round created the themes (Christian or not) of courtly love, chivalry, heroes protecting the weak - rather than just being strong enough to crush everyone else- which defines our ideas of the Arthurian legends today. The notion that Camelot was the center of some golden age did not exist before then. De Troyes himself created the character of Lancelot, named Arthur’s court  Camelot, and the Fisher King and the Holy Grail. That’s right, the holy grail is a piece of fiction and always has been. 

      While Yvain, our hero, was at his most popular in de Troyes’ Lancelot-Grail cycle of literature, he is actually derived from a historical figure from the 6th century, Owain mab Urien, a warlord who fought against the Anglo-Saxon invasion. He had many (obviously false) legends in the early Welsh triads and always present in the Vulgate cycle of Arthurian legends. However, Chrétien de Troyes creates an almost new character with this romantic poem. 
When I say romance, I don’t mean it’s something along the lines of Danielle Steele. There is plenty of action where-in the titular character slays giants, demons, and all manner of evil men, but essentially it’s heart remains a romance between Yvain and Laudine- his true love, who seems to passionately hate him. But then this is both a simple and complex tale.  

It is simple in that it is a coming-of-age story for Yvain who, by the end of the story, matures so that he will not take his love for granted as he did in the past. Complex in that it seems his lady love has actually outgrown him, but is tricked by oath and honor to taking him back as her husband. This is how De Troyes originally wrote it and the translators kept faithful to his vision. The text is translated into modern argot and pictures, but essentially the authors perfectly captured the spirit and action of the original text.  
Yvain is an odd mixture of the old and new hero. He champions the weak and upholds the chivalric idea of the right, as per the new Christian ideals of heroism, but retains the problems of the old epic hero. That is, he is powerful enough to knock down all of the enemies the world can throw at him, but he’s not that bright and incapable of solving a problem that doesn’t require violence. In fact, at the end he seems completely oblivious to his tricked love’s utter contempt for him. And for that reason, the story is worth reading. 
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Walter Keonig's Things to Come (Science Fiction) (Graphic Novel)

by Walter Koenig (author) & Juan Baez (illustrator) 

Publisher: Bluewater Productions (October 20, 2012)

Softcover, 96 pages

Yes, the Walter Koenig here is the famous one who played Chekov on the original Star Trek and (my favorite) Bester on Babylon Five. If the people who produced this thought that because he was in so many science fiction tales (the bulk of his work actually) that meant he would be able to write a good one, then they gambled wrong. If they thought his fame would result in good sales, they were wronger still - I know it's not a word, I’m using it anyway.
Two storylines entwine in this post-apocalyptic tale. One dealing with vampires stalking the land in a world trying to restore civilization, the second is about a group of human who had to retreat underground due to the air outside becoming too poisonous and now, after three generations below, they must escape back to the world. The two storylines eventually join in a confusing and uninteresting manner. By the time all the dots were connected, I really didn’t give a damn. I was just pushing on to the end of the story.

While pacing and character development are a problem in this tale- it jumps in a haphazard and jarring fashion and you often don’t learn much about a character beyond their name- the real problem is the art. It is muddy and indistinct and often you have difficulty distinguishing one character from another. And while it looks beautiful at first, the style is not pleasant for long-term viewing.
There seems as if there was a lot of unstated backstory in this tale, which was badly hinted at along the way. The problem, similar to many new writers, is that he’s trying to be subtle and understated, but only succeeds in telling half a story. Many characters, which may be important, come across as inconsequential and results in a large muddled mess of a story.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

G. I Joe Vol. 20: Dawn of the Arashikage (War) (Graphic Novel)

by Larry Hama (Writer) & Netho Diaz

Publisher: IDW Publishing (June 26, 2018)

Softcover, 128 pages

       As some people know, I veer more towards the independent or off-beaten path in my reading (especially comic readings), but I still have my fanboy moments. And the greatest of them all is G. I. Joe: A Real American Hero (At least the one where Larry Hama is writing- everyone else can go suck it). I’ve been reading it since I got my first paper route, so I could buy comics, and have collected every single issue. Hell, I quit comics shortly after G.I. Joe’s series was canceled at issue #155 during its initial run. 
       Or I should say that I quit mainstream comics around this time. They had also just kicked Chris Claremont off of X-Men and that to me signaled the death-nell for the second golden age of comics (at least for Marvel). So, I focused on other literature. However, when IDW announced they were picked the original series backup with the writer who had made the series great, I jumped all over it. And here I am greedily wolfing down every stinking morsel pumped out. 

        Or I should say that I quit mainstream comics around this time. They had also just kicked Chris Claremont off of X-Men and that to me signaled the death-nell for the second golden age of comics (at least for Marvel). So, I focused on other literature. However, when IDW announced they were picked the original series backup with the writer who had made the series great, I jumped all over it. And here I am greedily wolfing down every stinking morsel pumped out. 
         This issue clears up a lot of background details and problems I had with the ninja factions and the Arashikage clan in the universe of G. I. Joe. Namely that the one clan seems to be the only one in existence. Even their “rivals” the Red Ninjas were outcasts from the Arashikage. The explanations given here were satisfactory. A brief history of the ninja clans and the Arashikage clan is given. And it seems all the surviving ones into the 19th Century, except the Arashikage, was absorbed into the Japanese Secret Service to act as spies, saboteurs, and assassins. 
A lot of old history is brought up here from the ninja storylines- the assassination of the Hard master, the death of the Soft Master, Zartan being the killer, and a final confrontation with Snake Eyes in Dawn’s body against the leader of the Red Ninjas - The Faceless Master- aka Firefly. An equilibrium is reached and, going forward, there are now two Snake Eyes.  
Snake Eyes is dead. Long live Snake Eyes.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Herbie Archives Vol. 2 (Humor) (Superhero) (Graphic Novel)

by Shane O'Shea (Writer) & Ogden Whitney (Illustrator)

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (December 23, 2008)

Hardcover, 256 pages

Herbie is perhaps the most surreal comic of all time. Technically listed as a humor comic, it is eschews the typical 1960s humor of manic characters and stupid puns, and delves into the psychological bizarreness of a young boy who secretly is great at everything, but his family cannot see the truth. Many contemporary (to the 1960s) and historical personages appear and call him by name, adding to the oddness.

Herbie Popnecker is a short rotund boy with thick glasses whose one passion in life is the consumption of lollipops. He seemingly can do anything. He walks on air, talks with animals, is well known throughout time and space (he calls in a favor from J. Edgar Hoover in one episode), and when he “bops you with his lollipop” you won’t be getting up. He talks in a terse, stilted style, leaving out superfluous words. It is rumored that Alan Moore mimicked the character Rorschach’s, from Watchman, speech patterns after Herbie.

His father, on the other hand, looks like the model of a 1960s junior executive. Well dressed and handsome, but is really an arrogant braggart and complete idiot. He routinely puts his son down for not conforming to the athletic norm (calling him a “fat little nothing”), while blowing all of the family's money on get-rich-quick schemes and bad stocks.

It is almost impossible to describe the oddness of these stories, so I will simply give you a synopsis of one. From Herbie # 6, the story “A Caveman Named Herbie”. Our titular hero argues with his teachers over how smart cavemen were. He is then offered the ultimatum to prove his theory that cavemen were intelligent or apologize to her. At home, Herbie’s father has a new job selling lumber and plans on selling a lot of it to a Hollywood studio. He takes Herbie along as an educational journey. As they enter, Ava Gardner comes up and asks for Herbie’s autograph. While Father is talking to the studio head, Gregory Peck comes up and asks Herbie to stand in for him in a scene. His gorgeous starlet, kisses Herbie on camera and passes out in ecstasy. Herbie’s father is successful in the sale, and the studio head shows Herbie a lot where a new caveman movie is being filmed. Herbie insults the lead, claiming the man doesn’t look like a caveman and the star then refuses to act anymore.

The sale now in jeopardy, Herbie decides to prove his point. He takes a time lollipop, climbs into a grandfather clock, and travels back to the past. There he meets a cavemen and his sister, who is Herbie’s female duplicate and falls in love with him. Then a group of dinosaurs (wearing helmets to protect them from the cavemen’s rocks) attack. Herbie grabs them by the tail and throws them across the planet. The cavemen accept Herbie and his female counterpart, Ticklepuss, smashes a giant club over his head and drags him off by his hair. Herbie flies away and heads back to the grandfather clock, only to find Ticklepuss’s brother waiting for him. He takes the caveman back to 1965 and shows him off to the studio head. Delighted, the man doubles his order. Father then brags what a great salesman he is. Herbie then brings the caveman to see his teacher. After the caveman answers some historical questions accurately, the teacher falls in love with him and is dragged off by her hair to his new cave.

As you can see, completely insane. But what adds to the surrealness of the story and sets it apart from other “funny” comics at the time, is the art of Ogden Whitney- the sole artist on the series. A veteran of the golden age of comics, Whitney's style at this point was more commercial realistic than fantastic, so everything is drawn as realistically as possible. Thus when an odd event occurs, such as Herbie air walking away, it becomes all the weirder.

This volume collects issues 6-14 of the series, originally published by American Comics Group (ACG). ACG was a large publisher of low-rent and forgettable comics. Their range included all stripes Western, Mystery, Horror, Adventure, Science Fiction, War, Romance, and Humor. WHaat’s missing from that line up? That’s right, no superheroes.

Our costumed heroes had been out of fashion (with the exception of Superman, Batman, & Wonder Woman) since the comics collapse of the 1940s. But an upstart company, Marvel, had recently scored several hits with Fantastic Four and Spiderman, so management sent down the word. Make a few superheros. The results were mixed. They created Magicman, a magic based superhero, with a green turban- ala Zatarra, and Nemesis, a man who returned from the dead with superpowers, to right wrongs- ala Deadman.

But then they gave the superhero treatment to Herbie and in issue 8, after flunking out of Superhero School, he dons some red flannel long johns, makes a mask out of a burlap sack, sticks on plunger on his head, and becomes The Fat Fury. Obviously Forbush Man ripped him off slightly.  For some reason Herbie is clumsier as The Fat Fury and reminds me of the protagonist from The Greatest American Hero. He actually does a team up with Nemesis and Magicman in the last issue of this volume. It is only notable in that fact that two literally come out of their respective comics and then are ushered back in. It is easily the weakest story in the bunch.

Actually all of the Fat Fury stories are lesser-than when compared to the regular stories. Probably because editor-in-chief and writer for the series, Shane O’Shea (a pseudonym for Leo Rosenbaum) disliked superheroes and felt the genre has been played out. Luckily the Fat Fury only appears for one story (there were two per issue) every other issue.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Palookaville Twenty (Graphic Novel)

by Seth

Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly (October 12, 2010).

Hardcover, 88 pages  

Normally I don’t review single issues of a series, but with issue 20 of Palookavile the format of the comic changed. Moving from a bi-annual (more or less) standard comic format of 25 some odd pages and a glossy cover to an expanded hardbacked semi-annual edition of over one hundred pages. For me, that qualifies it for a review.
The comic is the playground of Canadian cartoonist Seth, the alter-ego of Gregory Gallant. It’s won awards for this and that and is loads of fun if you like off-beat stories of people suffering from depression and loneliness, and protagonists who can never quite fit in with society- an illustrated Kafka if you like. All of these are some of my favorite themes.
Of course, this might not the best time to jump into the series as the primary story is part 11 of his Clyde Fans series. It is the ongoing story of two brothers (one an introvert, the other an extrovert) as they watch their electric fan business go under in the face of competition from the air conditioning industry. Strange as that sounds, it is a compelling and very human look at the failure of life and how people emotionally deal with it.
Along with this is one of his confessional auto-biographical pieces where he explores his Kafkaesque journey through life, not understanding how others fit in so well and hating those that do. It is a commonplace piece among his fellow Canadian cartoonists Chester Brown and Joe Matt. Like most of his work, it is well drawn and expertly paced, and certainly made me feel better about how I relate to society.
Added to it, maybe in order to pad up the length, are a number of faces and names from his sketch book and an expose of model city (called Dominion City) he constructed and has been on display in various art galleries. In his essay, he explains that the city was originally intended as the backdrop for a story, but he grew to be more interested in the city and its development than the characters. Eventually the people were dropped, pages and pages of material on the city was produced and Seth began making models to go along with it, just so he had a sense of proportion as he kept adding to it. Somewhere along the way, he states, it moved from hobby to artistic endeavor.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.