Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Story of My Tits

I have had this book on my shelf for a long time now, and I finally got to it after listening to a brief interview with its author on The Comics Alternative podcast. The Story of My Tits may have a provocative title, but it is a book full of heart, humor, and humanity. As you may guess from the title, the book is focused on particular body parts and how they inform a person's life across a lifespan. At first the narrator spends much of her childhood/adolescence pining for large breasts, as she is skinny and feels somewhat inadequate. As she gets older and in college, she finally starts developing larger ones, which changes how she is perceived by herself and others.
But this book is so much more than the story of her biological and sexual development. It is centered on her various relationships, with her parents (whose marriage is strained, although she does not notice that for a while), her siblings, and with her eventual husband and his family members. There is much to relate to in these depictions, and I loved how she does not sugar-coat the rough parts of their interactions and also how she captures funny, idiosyncratic scenes from their lives. She really captures the not-neatness of relationships as well as how they organically develop, often in surprising ways.

Things also take a few dark turns, such as when her mother develops breast cancer and has to have a mastectomy. Also, she and her husband also reel from his parents' separate bouts with cancer and other health issues. I have read a number of books about people dealing with grave illnesses, and what makes this book exceptional is how much space it spends showing the mundane, human sides of the various characters. When the main character eventually develops breast cancer and has to cope with a double mastectomy, we have had so much insight into her life and family dynamics that really pay off because so much of this book is involved with giving everything context.
In the end, I have to say I loved this book. It was moving, beautiful, raunchy in parts, and gorgeously expressive.

This book garnered acclaim for its creator Jennifer Hayden. It was nominated for an Eisner Award and was named on many end of year best-of lists. It was her second graphic novel, following the collection Underwire. She speaks about her work on The Story of My Tits in this interview with The Comics Alternative.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been very positive. Rob Clough called it "a funny, bawdy and poignant memoir about body image, relationships, family and loss." In a starred review, Publishers Weekly concluded, "Hayden has created a heartfelt and often hilarious tribute to her life—and to the resilience of women everywhere." BookDragon wrote, "Hayden’s lively memoir-thus-far is such an affirmation of love and life – albeit without any rose-colored glasses, thank you very much! – that you’re going to need to set aside some solid time to just bask in her accomplishment."

The Story of My Tits was published by Top Shelf, and they have more info about it here.

This book features adult content, some nudity, and profanity, so it is suggested for readers mature enough to handle those things.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

One Dirty Tree

One Dirty Tree is a graphic memoir written by Noah Van Sciver, the Ignatz Award winning author of the graphic novels The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln, Saint Cole, and Fante Bukowski. It explores a good number of uncomfortable situations. For the most part it looks backward to his childhood in New Jersey where the Mormon family of ten lived in a dilapidated house. The house is a sort of a metaphor for familial difficulty with its crumbling walls, splintery floors, and bathtub full of dirty dishes. Dealing with poverty and his father's unstable mental state are two major obstacles for the family, and NVS also delves pretty deeply into sibling dynamics as well as how he tried to build social connections with friends. These sections of the book also often left me emotionally raw and troubled, even though they feature elements of humor. I think my point is illustrated by this excerpt showing an unconventional bath time routine.
It's horrible and funny!
In addition to the (often dark) humor, there is also a wonderful sort of nostalgia about the early 1990s throughout, which I enjoyed reading (velociraptors and Ralph Snart!). A good portion of the book also shows contemporary Noah, who is trying to deal with his past and also his present realities. He is striving to make and publish comics, which involves him taking service jobs in order to pay the bills. Also, he is dating a woman who does not seem to fully understand or support what he is trying to accomplish with his career. Thus, he is frequently frustrated by his current plight and comes off as a latter-day, grown-up version of Charlie Brown. He just cannot catch a break, it seems.

If you have not caught on from reading this blog yet, I am a big fan of Noah Van Sciver, and I have read lots of his work. I feel that One Dirty Tree is one of his best books, as it is very personal, revelatory, funny, and relatable in the most embarrassing ways. Each page could almost be a self-contained tale, as they are individually packed with poignant, pointed observations. Thematically, I find it similar to a memoir like The Glass Castle, although I should note that the voice and circumstances here are uniquely his. Overall, I tend to think of NVS's works as beautiful, slow-motion train wrecks, and this one is especially compelling.

In addition to his numerous graphic novels, Van Sciver is also known for his many mini-comics (some collected here) and the series Blammo. He has a Tumblr page where posts many of his works in progress. He speaks about his career and work on One Dirty Tree in this interview with Caitlin McGurk at The Comics Journal.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Robin Enrico wrote that with it Van Sciver "further cements his status as one of the foremost cartoonists working today." Publishers Weekly called it "moving" and elaborated, "While affectionate in many memories, Van Sciver also powerfully illustrates the scars raked across an adult life by a chaotic upbringing."

One Dirty Tree was published by uncivilized books, and they offer a preview and more information about it here.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Spill Zone, Book 1

I must admit part of why I read this book is because it is set in Poughkeepsie, New York, which is right across the river from where I grew up. There is a part of me that is fascinated to see a place I know be ravaged by a destructive force and made into a wasteland. Spill Zone is a compelling work of science fiction that features quite a bit of mystery and intrigue. The set-up of the plot is that three years ago, something strange happened that transformed this city into something hazardous to humans, where the living things are mutated and beyond dangerous. There are places that turn living things into two dimensional figures, places where people are animated as "meat puppets" that float around with glowing eyes, places populated with cats who constantly cry out in what sounds like the word "wrong." And the rats, don't even let me tell you about them.

Just outside of this town lives a young woman named Addison, whose parents were in the city when things went down. Now she lives in isolation with her little sister Lexa. She ventures out from time to time, illegally, in order to explore the city and take pictures.
Not that she is just some civilian documentarian, she is selling the photos on an art black market. Her trips into the city bring her into contact with many dangers, and in the course of the book we are also privy to a great many mysteries. Such as, what happened in North Korea at the exact same time as the incident? Why doesn't Lexa ever talk? What's up with Lexa's weird doll Vespertine? And biggest of all, what was the cause of the incident? All of these questions drive a well plotted introduction to this world, and happily (for those wanting a sequel) almost none of them are resolved.

This book is a fantastic introduction to this fictional world. The artwork, as you can see from the preview, is appropriately energetic and creepy. The characters are well defined, and what we do learn is just enough to want me to keep reading on. I loved the level of action and plot twists here, and I cannot wait to get my hands on Book 2.

This book is a collaboration between author Scott Westerfeld and artist Alex Puvilland. Westerfeld is an accomplished novelist with multiple credits for adults and younger adults, with The Uglies series being his most notable works. Puvilland is an animator and illustrator who has worked on feature films like Shrek 2 and Boss Baby as well as illustrating a graphic novel version of Prince of Persia. Both creators discuss their work on this series in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been glowing. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called it "fascinating and hard to forget." Kirkus Reviews wrote that "readers will be demanding the next installment as they close this one," and summed it up, "A necessary start, with intriguing hints at action and weirdness to come." In another starred review in School Library Journal Matisse Mozer wrote, "This unnerving, gripping title—Westerfeld’s first original graphic novel—is bound to entice older comics fans, especially those interested in darker sci-fi and nuanced characterization."

Spill Zone was published by First Second, and they have a preview and more available here. The second volume is available now, and you can read a preview of it here.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Coyote Doggirl

Coyote Doggirl is a fantastic graphic novel, full of heart and humor while not skimping on the drama. It is deceptively simple in appearance, a sparse tale of a female coyote/dog hybrid who just wants to live a quiet life on her own terms. Mostly, she just wants to tend to her modest piece of land and incredibly fast horse named Red.

When the book begins, for reasons I will not spoil, she is being pursued by a band of cowboys who want revenge on her. As she tries to elude their grasp, she gets shot with multiple arrows and the stories begins to take one of multiple plot twists.

Coyote Doggirl's plight is relatable and she is very easy to root for. She meets and gets to know a band of indigenous folks, who take her in and teach her about their ways and herself. One of the most enjoyable parts of this book for me was how deftly its plot is woven, in ways that both pay homage to traditional western stories while also critiquing them and turning them on their ears. The ending of this book seems to me to be open-ended, and I would love to see the adventures continue.

I loved reading this book. It is relative short and brisk to read, but it is filled with much detail and nuance. The title character has an idiosyncratic personality and is a terrific fashion designer to boot. The dialogue is snappy and terse, and the artwork is delightfully composed and paced. The character designs in particular are very strong, and the coloring is both vibrant and pleasing.

This book's creator Lisa Hanawalt is an illustrator and animator who is best known for her production and design work on the Netflix series BoJack Horseman. Although this book is her first graphic novel, she also has published a couple of comics collections named Hot Dog Taste Test and My Dirty Dumb Eyes. She speaks about her work on Coyote Doggirl in this interview.

All the reviews I have read of this book have been very positive. Mel Schuit wrote, "Coyote Doggirl might share a lot of the same tropes as a traditional Western, but it’s peppered with quick wit, cute clothing, and lots of ass-kicking, making it a modern day Western classic." AJ Frost described it as "an unabashed western with a contemporary twist as well an imaginative take on the genre that feels more mature and grounded." Lenika Cruz elaborated, "Hanawalt’s book sheds the self-seriousness of the genre, but it also retains another sort of poignancy—one anchored by the heroine’s free spirit and stubborn sense of wonder in spite of the constant dangers she has to navigate."

Coyote Doggirl was published by Drawn & Quarterly, and they offer a preview and more here. Because it features profanity, some sexual violence, and mature themes I recommend this book for mature readers.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini

Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini collects the four-issue comic book series in a gorgeously illustrated and lustrous hardcover. It is a delightful piece of historical fiction, a detective tale set in the early 20th century, where Harry Houdini is engaged in both amazing escapes while also lecturing to debunk fraud being perpetrated by so called mediums at staged seances. The latter enterprise brings him into conflict with famed author Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes), which is based in historical fact. Here, the enterprise also drives at least one party to attempt to murder the famed magician/escapist.

Enter into this situation the crafty and resourceful Minky Woodcock, the daughter of an investigator who seeks her own life of intrigue. She ends up traveling with the Houdinis and investigates the suspicious happenings. Minky poses as Houdini's assistant, and she proves quite an asset to his act and also his debunking charlatans. She also gets deeply involved with the couple in personal ways, which creates its own set of complications. The rest of the plot unfolds in a combination of historical fact and fantasy, spinning an engaging and titillating mystery tale.

The highlight of this book for me was the luxurious artwork by Cynthia von Buhler, a Renaissance woman who acts, paints, sculpts, and creates in many ways. Here, the artwork properly evokes a sense of history with its stylized layouts and character designs. Not only are the main characters strong and sensual, the whole book also pops in terms of linework and coloring. She speaks more about her work on Minky Woodcock in this interview. Also, this book will be adapted into an off-Broadway production, which seems very cool.

I was not able to locate many reviews about this collection, but the ones I found were positive. Ryan C. Bradley called it "a love letter to noir" and "a Houdini pastiche that offers a new theory about his death." Kristel Yeager summed up, "Amazing art and unique storyline."

Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini was published by Hard Case Crime/Titan Comics, and they provide more info and a preview here. This book features some profanity, nudity, and sexual situations, so I recommend it for mature readers.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Ideal Copy

The Ideal Copy is the third book in the Double+ universe I have read, and it is truly amazing to me how Ben Sears manages to create phenomenal all ages comics. In this book, our heroes Plus Man and his robot pal Hank lose their jobs as treasure hunters because they refuse to raid the house of a dead man. Left with little other prospects, the duo eventually take jobs as caterers. Because they are hardworking, they do well serving food and washing dishes. However, at a ritzy hotel gala for a fraternity of weird, obnoxious guys who all have the same haircut and wear the same clothes, they suspect some foul play.

After some snooping around, Plus Man uncovers a nefarious counterfeiting scheme that gets further complicated when a blizzard traps everyone at the hotel. There is a growing cast of characters who get embroiled in this situation, including a little child actor named Mickey who is surprisingly resourceful, and Gene, a grizzled, ex-treasure hunter who sports an eye-patch. Together, this motley bunch takes on the plot with surprising results. There are captures, thrills, and more than enough hi-jinx to keep them and the reader occupied.

As I hope you can see from this short excerpt, The Ideal Copy is a book of beautiful rhythms. The dialogue is snappy and clever. The artwork is gorgeously detailed and geometrical. The colors are vibrant and pop. The characters are complicated and wonderfully unpredictable. Ben Sears is a virtuoso who weaves all these elements together into a sumptuous visual symphony. I loved the derring-do, caper aspects of the plot, and I am very happy to read the note at the end that this duo's adventures will continue. This third book is the best of the bunch, in my opinion, and I am thrilled for more.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Rob Clough had much praise for the book and declared it "the best of the three volumes." Tom Baker called it "rip-roaring rib-tickling romp." Ryan Carey opined, "Ben Sears is a cartoonist who intrinsically understands what younger readers want in a story, but the tent he’s hosting his party in a big one, and there’s plenty of room in it for us old-timers, too." Mel Schuit was more lukewarm and wrote, "All in all, fans looking for more of the trademarked Plus-Man-and-Hank antics we saw in the first two books in the series might find The Ideal Copy slightly lacking, but it’s a nice effort on Sears’ part to flesh out his human characters further and begin to hint at events further down the line in the series."

And in case you are interested, my reviews of the past Double+ books are here and here.

The Ideal Copy was published by Koyama Press, and they offer more information and a preview here.

I saw Sears this year at HeroesCon, where I bought this book from him, and he was nice enough to sign it and also draw a sketch. He's a great guy!