Hark! A Vagrant - Kate Beaton

Admittedly, I know little about Canadian history or Nancy Drew books, but these cutely drawn comics that often use history and literature (including comics) as subject matter are rather delightful, even if it gets a little overwhelming sitting down to read an entire collection at once. I would say they should be more popular, but many of the references are just too obscure. Hark! A Vagrant  

Not sure why this first collection is being published here about three weeks after the sequel, but that's how I role (I guess).

Neil Simon's Murder by Death

I've seen this movie as a kid but only in part and, being a kid, did not know who the characters were supposed to be and couldn't really enjoy it (interestingly, I did remember a good deal of it including the fact that the DVD that was lent to me of it had one missing scene, and it wasn't even included on the special features!). It is a cute little story about thinly veiled great detectives of fiction put to the test to solve a murder. Still, probably cause it is dated, it isn't hysterically funny, and the mystery involved isn't clever enough for those who read enough mysteries to find the meta-contextual commentary particularly interesting. Not bad, but certainly not good enough to fully recommend.   

The Count of Monte Cristo - adapted by R. Jay Nudds

Ok, you know I had to read a comic version of the story after I read the original. This adaptation isn't bad, and gives a relatively good summary of the events. However, there are many characters and a reader can lose track of them not having spent fifty pages on any one of them and instead simply remembering who is who by their illustration. Additionally, the power and depth of Edmund's revenge plans and the feeling of empathy for him (and even the "victims") are difficult, again due to the necessary shortness of the comic version. 

The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

How long has it been since I reviewed an actual book? It seems all I do is read academic essays for work and comics for fun. And yet it is pure fun to engage in this classic novel of betrayal, intrigue, revenge, and romance(!). Edmond Dantes's life looks like it is going to be awesome. Still a teenager and he is captain of a boat and marries his beautiful love. Naturally all his "friends" betray him and he is sent to the dungeons of France during the restoration of the monarchy (it helps to know a little about Napoleon in French history). There he meets the seemingly insane Abbe Faria who tells him of an incredible treasure they could share should they escape. All Edmond can think about is how he would use the fortune to manipulate events to horrifically punish those who have stabbed him in the back. What a great story, but a long one and I'm not sure those who would be most thrilled by the tale have the patience to get through it all.

Thoreau at Walden - John Porcellino

Using the words of Henry David Thoreau, Porcellino provides extremely simple (and very elegant and appropriate) art, to tell some of the highlights of Walden Pond. I have to say that I am NOT a fan of Thoreau, but I am a fan of comics and this series by the Center for Cartoon Studies has had some great stuff. I'm not going to claim that this work has sold me on HDT, but I don't think I've ever been as interested in his work as this comic has made me. Much better to use this as an intro to the author than anything my high school did, but then again, my high school English teacher failed every exam I took, possibly because I brought up that Thoreau used to send his laundry home for his mom to clean (something also left out here).

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics - edited by Chris Duffy

It's been over 100 years since the start of the First World War, the war for civilization, the war to end all wars, the Great War, and I think it is important to keep the memory alive. This comic adaptation of (mostly) poetry based on World War I is a good start. Sadly, I did not enjoy this as much as I had hoped for, not that this is particularly a topic of enjoyment, but collected work such as these, despite attempts of unification, often fall short of unified feeling and look. I also have to say that I don't care much for poetry (I know that makes me a bad person), so I was already starting at a loss. Still, this is a ok way to introduce people, most likely younger people, to the horrors and tragedies of the so-called great war, despite that it leaves off any real context for the war itself.   

The Ambivalent Memoirist: Obsessions, Digressions, Epiphanies - Sandra Hurtes

This memoir recounts, as of course all memoirs do, moments in the authors life and times. Hurtes focuses on her strained relationship with her parents, their clinginess versus her desires to be independent, and a perhaps more strained relationship between her work life and her desire to be a famous writer. Incredibly well-written with very short chapters of quick snapshots throughout her adult life, the story provides both hope in achieving the life you want as well as stern warning as we recognize her sometimes self-sabotaging through an obstinance to rebel while at the same time wallow in regret over it. The writers life is not a glamorous one, nor an easy one, revolving around short-term writing assignments and slave labor teaching jobs. The work is a must read for those struggling with the adjunct lifestyle, and those interested in (or needing dissuasion from) becoming writers. It is also a powerful piece for independent minded women struggling to find their own voice, as well as poignant reflections for those that grew up in the shadow of Holocaust survivors, this book being part of the last generation that will be able to recount such events. Filled with clever and often hysterical turns of phrases (“hipsters take note – I had Brooklyn first!”), and painfully vivid memories of lost parents, my criticism is one of the author is probably already aware of, that despite the honesty of the work there are gaps to a larger story. It is in these gaps I believe a true novel awaits, yearning to break free of self-imposed restraints and self-criticism and doubt, so that the fuller story can be told. Perhaps one of the funnier(?) ironies to the tale is that the author, so eager to break away from family that wants to simply assist her in becoming herself and to show her love the only way they knew how: through random if obtrusive displays of assistance which she found stifling, and yet what has the author herself become, but someone whose writing is a gateway for others to find their own voice, and whose job it is to assist those who care nothing for writing, with all it formalities of grammar, and see no purpose in it, in order to help them become better people and to give them the skills, knowledge, and assistance they may not want, know they need, and/or certainly never asked for, simply so they can focus on their other more pressing pursuits.

Because the tale(s) jumps in time, in both the historical record and the more contemporary musings, it can be a bit jarring for the casual reader meandering through a short chapter here and there (I couldn't put it down, but others might not be reading it on vacation), especially in instances where she writes that Halfway Home is going to be referred to at HH from this point on, only to be spelt out at least four more times. Writers, pessimists (the latters aren't always the formers even if the reverse is usually true), and the perpetually envious like myself, will enjoy her constant begrudging of others' success, but I question if Hurtes actually recognizes that the success stories of others who took the roads she didn't are minuscule and far between, rather than just being a device to illustrate her mentality. Check her out at sandrahurtes.blogspot.com and/or @SHurtes

 

Testament - Douglas Rushkoff

I read vol 1-3 (actually I read the first one twice) and it is a fascinating idea mixing Biblical stories with reinterpretations of them in a futuristic setting, all the while explaining a divine war between opposing theological beliefs. The problem, however, does not come from my occasional religious interpretive or depiction disputes (blond hair and blue eyed Hebrew Joseph, who is in chains in an Egyptian prison when it is clearly stated that he runs the joint?), but from the lackluster characterization of the main, mortal, players (and I mean much more so than the mostly naked depictions of an underage girl with an impossible body) who bore me to tears. I want to like this series but find it so hard to do so; I'm much more interested in Rushkoff's explanations and thoughts on his creative process that the second and third volume have. 

Frankenstein: The Real Story

Of course when the History channel says real, they mean historical influences etc. I liked this small collection of a few documentaries on the history of and the influenced by Mary Shelly's Frankenstein story--a story I happen to really enjoy. The author was very young when she wrote the work and its influence has been incredible, much more than you might guess, although when you think about it: isn't Frankenstein a household name? However, if you don't care anything for the original (or even the classic Young Frankenstein) than this isn't for you... so why are you still here? 

Penny Dreadful

This is quite the fun idea in the vein of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, with various literary characters (or more to the point characters related to literary characters) from the turn of the 20th century plus a couple of actual historical references. Characters are attempting to solve various mysteries and fight the forces of evil, plus engage in their own interests be them scientific or more personal. I have to say that what holds the show back is its incredibly slow pacing. Yes, the show is attempting to set up a certain ambiance, but that needs to be balanced with a degree of action if it really wishes to engage.

Unwritten - Mike Carey, art: Peter Gross

Cej first mentions this title in a general review, but the series certainly  deserves a larger mention. Take Harry Potter (make it real), add your Master's in Literature, a Dan Brown-esq conspiracy, and plenty of murder and intrigue and vola! As of this writting there are seven volumes (Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity, Inside Man, Dead Man's Knock, Leviathan, On to Genesis, Tommy Taylor and the War of Words, and The Wound) although I've only read the first five--get on the ball Cej and get me the rest! What, you expect me to buy my own comics?! Tommy Taylor is a famous children's story character, or is he just the son of the author? Or is he not the author's son at all? And is Tommy really the character in the story and are the stories real?! In any event, why do so many people want to capture or kill Tom? What is his link to a cabal and can they actually shape reality through the control of stories? So many questions and I'm enjoying all of them. Carey delves into ideas like the collective unconscious, the power of myth, censorship, childhood celebraties, and lots and lots on literature. Well done!

 

Nevermore: A Graphic Adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's Short Stories

The problem with this work is that the adaptations fall significantly short of the originals. In the poem, "The Raven," all that occurs is some illustrations to go along with the plot, which isn't very innovative. It gets worse as the remainders just destroy the magic and power of Poe's stories (as if these various writers could ever compare with him). The only one that is close to an exception is Jamie Delano and Steve Pugh's (although I'm not thrilled with his art) version of "The Pit and The Pendulum." Here they relate the story to prisoners in the war on terror(ism), which is a powerful statement. Sadly, they cut the story down so it loses some impact. 

Shakespeare in the Park: Love's Labour's Lost

I managed to get tickets to the Shakespeare in the Park performance of Loves Labour's Lost the musical, which merged the bard's comedy with hilarious musical numbers. I never actually saw one of these summer shows (I'm not one to camp out in central park for tickets) and so I was all over this. There was concern that it might rain and so the show started a little late in order to make sure all would be well. As it turned out, despite an early drizzle, the night was lovely and made for a wonderful environment for the event. The show was very impressive, keeping the original Shakespeare and only jumping in on occasions to provide clever musical numbers that enhanced rather than distracted from the overall performance. I really feel it is a shame that such events are presented to larger audiences as it is these type of adaptations that can really awaken NYC's student population to the pleasures of theater in general and Shakespeare specifically. As a point of reference, there seemed to be very few people under twenty-five and the number of blacks could be counted on one hand (and that might include cast members). Since you are not allowed to take pictures of the show:  After the show I walked through the park and, conveniently after thinking how good my spacial recognition skills were, I in the wrong direction, but at least I got this nice picture out of it: 

Back in the right direction I mentioned to the person I was walking with how I saw a bat during the show and how nice it was to see fireflies. I then brought up the fact that I never saw a raccoon in the park, although I knew there were around. Naturally, we came across not one, not two, not three, but SEVEN raccoons!  Now while seeing so many little raccoons is really neat, it also crossed my mind that--since they were on the small side (yes, I AM an expert on raccoon sizes, thank you very much)--they might be babies and that an over protective and violent mom might be just around the corner. Considering that the original couple of raccoons were joined by others climbing down from the trees I started to get an uneasy feeling about being surrounded and heavily outnumbered. While I realize that others wouldn't expect me to jump in the way of danger, throwing myself in the jaws of a rabid raccoon attack to defend them, I don't want others to realize that I stood ready to throw them in the way of the feral onslaught while I made a run for it.  

The Metamorphosis - adapted by Peter Kuper

I usually don't care for Kuper's work, but I feel he did a fine job turning the classic short story of Franz Kafka's into a short comic. Kuper's stark B/W and bold lines lent themselves well to this stark and bizarre tale. Great summary for those wishing to supplement their reading of the work.

City Gates – Elias Khoury

I am certainly grateful that Mark Beta gave me this short book about a stranger who comes to a city where everyone is gone, dead, or a weeping woman. It's very strange and surreal, but, unfortunately, not anything I cared for. Surely it was better in Arabic.

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

The second novel from the Afghan author is not as strong as the first, which might be due to the character focus. The story deals with two women, Mariam, who is raised ignorant and illegitimate, and Laila, who had all the potential to be an influential and developed westerner, trapped in a marriage to a sadistic monster. I felt the book relied too heavily on the brutality inflicted on Afghan women at the expense of a more developed plot.

Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

Both the movie and the book are powerful looks at pre and post Soviet and of Taliban Afghanistan. The tale revolves around Amir, a Pashtun boy of privilege, and his strained relationship with his father, his best friend/servant, and the upheaval caused by the ceaseless turmoil in his homeland. My problem with the book is that it strains the suspension of disbelief. Without giving too much away, Amir is guilted into returning to Afghanistan on a mission of honor when it would have been better for all involved if only a professional smuggler was involved, and the situation is made worse when, after a lengthy explanation of how the Taliban are in control of everything, Amir absconds to Pakistan despite the Taliban being after him.  The movie also makes the wiser choice of ending soon after this part while the book, more realistically but to lesser affect, continues on.