The Value of a Dime

A reblog for Mike, partly because I am still finishing the review of his novel The Singularity Wheel, and partly because his posts are a really good read.


In both The Eye-Dancers and The Singularity Wheel, Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski can’t help but notice how inexpensive things are in the variant town of Colbyville.  In The Singularity Wheel, in fact, Ryan manages to secure a room in an inn for just $5 a night.  Prices like that make the boys think of period-piece movies, Beaver Cleaver, black-and-white still lifes from a bygone era, speckled with cobwebs.

Indeed, I once worked with a woman who, every year, upon receiving her annual “cost-of’-living” raise, would grouse, “Well, three percent of nothing is still nothing!”  Many of the other employees would nod their heads in agreement.  We all notice the increase in prices ($4.49 for that box of cereal?  $10 for a standard book of twenty stamps?) and are caught in the current of escalation as it continues along on its…

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Leaf – Daishu Ma

LeafHow much power does a single man, let alone a single leaf, have in the industrial world? In this wordless, all-ages graphic novel, our protagonist discovers a leaf that radiates a vibrant light. He returns to a detailed metropolis – depicted in somber grays and blues – and searches for answers. During his quest, he stumbles upon a man who knows what’s really happening in the city’s labyrinthine ducts; a woman who spends her life studying and classifying obsolete flora; and the truth about the ever-dwindling environment. Leaf is a graphically stunning story that unfolds with a dream-like pace.  Shaded in pencil and punctuated by spot colors, drawn in a delicate but concretely realized tonal approach reminiscent of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival and Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji, Chinese cartoonist Daishu Ma’s first foray onto American shelves is ultimately a hopeful vision of the coexistence of the urban and natural worlds. Full-color illustrations throughout.

Wandering around Page 45 – Nottingham’s best comic book shop – I came across this intriguing effort and typically curiosity got the better of me and my wallet.  The best bit about this cover (unless you have a foliage fetish) is that there is a leaf-shaped hole allowing us to see the title on the page behind.  I mention this because it made me feel like a kid again being fascinated by a hole in the cover and on the strength of that and my natural curiosity like the man in the book, the sale was already a done deal.

Stories with no words are always thought-provoking beasts, body and facial expressions become more of an art than just an accompanying depiction to underline words.  Whether subtle or blatant each person will, according to their own experiences and thoughts open the story up to unique interpretations of the nuances within the main framework of the tale.

The pencil drawings are wonderfully realised, mixing different sizes and detailing throughout its pages.  The limited use of colour really brings out the features in each illustration and creates a vivid feel of something magical that is taken for granted in real life.  The imagined world is both grounded in reality but also has a distinct fantastical influence so the reader is both familiar but also intrigued by the setting. Continue reading “Leaf – Daishu Ma”

My alternative education through 2000AD

In the formative years of my life I had no idea of the stealth education that this comic gave me but through Alistair’s words you can see how kids of yesteryear were being encouraged to think about big ideas so early on in their/our lives.

Alastair Savage

Under the radar, quietly reading in the corner, the kids of 1980s Britain were absorbing a different message from the ones we got from our educators and the media. While politicians ranted and many people looked back to a bygone age of triumph, we were clutching tales of science-fiction adventure that seemed harmless to disinterested adult eyes.

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The 1970s and 1980s were the golden age of 2000AD, Britain’s sci-fi comic. Then, as now, it came out weekly. Printed on shabby paper and sold for small change, it didn’t look at all like the sort of thing that would have an effect on anyone, but for me, it was another sort of education entirely.

2000AD featured four or five continuing stories every week, in black and white with one colour spread. Judge Dredd, the 21st century’s fascistic lawman was almost always on the centre pages. Rather than being an out-and-out attack…

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The Complete Maus – Art Spiegelman

MauzCombined for the first time here are Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale and Maus II – the complete story of Vladek Spiegelman and his wife, living and surviving in Hitler’s Europe. By addressing the horror of the Holocaust through cartoons, the author captures the everyday reality of fear and is able to explore the guilt, relief and extraordinary sensation of survival – and how the children of survivors are in their own way affected by the trials of their parents. A contemporary classic of immeasurable significance.

it’s easy to get lost in the horrifying statistics of the Holocaust but this personal account makes for a powerful and poignant view on one of histories most tragic events. Hindsight of the inevitable makes this book doubly sad, reading of those incomprehensible actions of past that can only be relived with a sense of helplessness and inevitability.

Presented in black and white, the art fits in with the footage and photos from that time, an almost unreal, colourless world which makes it easier to digest than most literature concerning the Holocaust. Characters are represented as animals and the inevitable questions are raised over what exactly these animals say about each race, naturally simplistic generalisations are easy to fall into but there is surprising depth to be pondered upon.

Spiegelman opts to introduce us to the events through the tried and tested story within a story approach, which works well up to a point, its strength lies in allowing the reader to form an understanding of how events in World war II have affected and irrevocably changed Vladek Speigelman.  Viewing his idiosyncracies with this hindsight makes for more depth of character which is a welcome aside from the obvious barbarism.

The family dynamic is fascinating, with hardship running through the past and guilt issues in the present, it is understandable how the family is like they are.  I didn’t expect to find them irritating but the foibles are repetitive and not in the least endearing, there is even a mention of racism which is interesting after the experiences of war.  Perhaps the author being of a younger generation struggles to understand the atrocities and concepts in the US now at (relative) peace. Continue reading “The Complete Maus – Art Spiegelman”

The Red Tree – Shaun Tan

redtreeSo the day began with nothing to look forward to.

Shaun Tan is a wonderfully evocative author and artist who never fails to make you feel with his books.  Here he captures the melancholy sensation that we all have from time to time, of confusion in our lives and the inevitability of less than good things happening.

Life is a bind and we all know it but this idea is vividly realised through the combination of words and art in this perfectly formed book.  its elegant look at an everyday life is something I found myself nodding along to throughout.

The story is of a girl in the thrall of these often inexplicably wistful emotions, the message is about not being alone in feeling this way, you are never alone in your isolation…how many of us go through the day like this, shut off in our own heads when to be human is to experience these things and as such perhaps it is best to embrace the feelings and turn it into something wonderful like Tan has masterfully done.

The artwork makes the bizarre seem commonplace.  This imagined world is a strange, weird and scary place, a cold corner like our world, but one of wonder mirroring that which we don’t see for we are so wrapped up in our own worries.  It’s a clever idea, perhaps our viewpoints should always be to look at the beauty and the wonderful things – even the mundane is fantastic sometimes – and experience everything anew everyday and really believe life is bigger than we are. Continue reading “The Red Tree – Shaun Tan”

Charley’s War – Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun

CharleysWarOneLargeGraphic novels/comic books are an underrated medium but one stand out comic series has been re-released in the last few years makes everything all right with the world again. Bringing together as it does an important anti-war message as well as a compelling storyline.

War serials in comics – the British comics at least – have a rich history stories which usually featured one hero running through a hail of bullets whilst everyone was being cut down and saving the day.

Charley’s War though is refreshingly different, not only bringing the insanity and horrors of war to the fore but also framing a moving and action packed story in the world of static trench warfare.

Appearing in Battle Picture Weekly, the story follows Charley Bourne a 16 year old who lied to get into the army and subsequently arrives at the trenches not long before the Battle of the Somme is due to start, what follows is a powerfully poignant tale of growing up, of life, death, friendship, bitterness and questions of why?

Although the subject matter is no doubt grim, it is offset not only with the legendary camaraderie of the troops abut also with some clever and  wonderfully moving plot devices to stop you warying from the inhumanity of the conflict.  One of which are the letters exchanged between Charley and his family, which start out all care free like he is on an adventure and having fun. Later when the realities of war kick in and he changes and grows harder to the carnage around him, we see the frivolities of family life back home and how the letters from the front keep the upbeat tone as the world goes to hell around him, it’s an admirable and touching thing he does, adding a lot of depth to his character. Continue reading “Charley’s War – Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun”

The Moon’s Revenge – Joan Aiken

51tnwBEXynL._SL500_On what has mine eye been caughtest this week? Well for one, this little treasure and at 20 pence, it is probably the best bargain I got since The Dream of Geronticus which I managed to get for free.

I had never heard of Joan Aiken until I checked her bibliography then it turned out I have heard of (but never read) her after all, sometimes I despair of my memory.

Alan Lee, most famous these days for his Tolkien illustrations amongst other things does the art so quality is assured on both words and pictures.

Set in an English seaside town circa 1500 AD, a young chap Seppy wants to learn to be the best fiddler in the world. After a mysterious encounter he learns that the moon will grant his wish, however there is a price to pay for his gift.

The story itself is classic kids fare, with magic, curses, bits of repetition and not being particularly complex.  Having said that though, it is inventive and fun and does draw you in from the first page. Continue reading “The Moon’s Revenge – Joan Aiken”

The Arrival – Shaun Tan

Christmas is indeed a time of year and it has nothing to do with this book whatsoever, except for being a really good present for everyone, even non readers, due to the universally accessible nature of there being no words at all.

What drives so many of us to leave everything behind and journey alone to a mysterious country, a place without family or friends, where everything is nameless and the future is unknown.  

This then is a story, told from the point of view of a man leaving his family, to find and start a better life for them in foreign parts. Here we follow the struggles and confusions, worries and hopes of refugees and immigrants in their plight.

Being presented in the style of a sepia tinted silent film, gives the book a very displaced sense of time which coupled with the sense of location disorientation fits in neatly with the perplexed feelings of the character and immediately opens you up to the fantastical sights that frequently pop up.

Each panel has something to say, from the small and intimate to the drawings that have an epic feel. The lack of any accompanying text really allows your mind to delve into this world and experience all the emotions that these characters feel and convey many other ideas and stories that have nothing to do with the plot but help you flesh out these people in your own mind. A lot of thought gone into crafting each image and I suspect each person will take some new thoughts, ideas or perspectives away each time they come back to this. Continue reading “The Arrival – Shaun Tan”

Gentleman Jim – Raymond Briggs

Raymond Briggs, the author of the perennial christmas tradition that is The Snowman which has become an intrinsic part of Christmas for young people for generations, as traditional as the turkey and the nativity is criminally less known for his other works, one being Gentleman Jim.

There’s not much opportunity for self-advancement in toilets

Jim is a toilet cleaner who understandably is looking for something more in life, happily Jim has an imagination, a love of TV and books and a wife who is willing to indulge his life fantasies for him but also to make her life more interesting too.

Both characters are really affable, it is difficult not to be drawn into their comfortable world with their set ways and the endearing way in which they attempt to make sense of a  bewildering and fast paced modern world.

This is a story of an unlikely hero Jim, who gets into scrapes with a faceless world, all for his well meaning if unconventional attempts to make life a little better for himself and others only to discover that it’s a lot more complicated than he imagined.

His love of various mediums of entertainment and his willingness to lose himself in the excitement is coupled with his inability to translate his ideas into the real world, which sounds like a criticism now that I write it but it really makes Jim guy to root for.  It’s the Jim’s of this world that are the heroes we should sympathise with, with their shambling, innocent or perhaps just a little naive ways.   Continue reading “Gentleman Jim – Raymond Briggs”

Pride of Baghdad – Brian K Vaughn

‘In April 2003, a pride of starving lions escaped from the Baghdad zoo during the American bombing of Iraq’

Mooching through the graphic novel section, this excitingly orange cover caught my eye and attracted me to this particular true story.

Following the lions on their quest for escape and safety, we find them meeting other animals and reading some fairly clever takes on how humans do things from an animals perspective.

While the art work is bright and detailed the story lacks any sort of emotional punch. The duration of the story is too short to develop characters or more importantly the sense of a war not understood by animals. The book is fairly thick having said but the art does take precedence over storyline.

What we do get is a pretty shallow, short story which tends to be a bit to preachy about the environment and attitudes towards animals. All very noble but overdone for such a small work, Continue reading “Pride of Baghdad – Brian K Vaughn”