Novel Review – “Tales from Outer Suburbia” by Shaun Tan

Not really for children, but for adults who remember what it was like to be a child in suburbia.

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“Tales from Outer Suburbia” by Shaun Tan

Hardcover
96 pages
Published October 28th, 2008 by McClelland & Stewart (first published 2008)
Original Title: Tales from Outer Suburbia
ISBN:0771084021 (ISBN13: 9780771084027)
Awards
  • World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Collection (2009)
  • New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award Nominee for Patricia Wrightson Prize (2009)
  • Ditmar Award for Best Artwork (2009)
  • Western Australian Premier’s Book Award for Young Adult (2008)
  • Children’s Book Council of Australia Award for Older Readers Book of the Year (2009)
  • Aurealis Award for Illustrated Book / Graphic Novel (2008)
  • Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis for Bilderbuch (2009)
  • Tähtifantasia Award (2016)
  • Australian Independent Booksellers Indie Book Award for Children’s (2009)
  • The Inky Awards Nominee for Gold Inky (2008)
  • Adelaide Festival Award for Children’s Literature (2010)
  • Australian Book Industry Award (ABIA) for Illustrated Book (2009)
  • Literaturpreis der Jury der Jungen Leser for Sonderpreis (2009)
  • The Inky Awards Shortlist for Gold Inky (2008)

About

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‘water buffaloes are like that; they hate talking.’

From the publisher, “Breathtakingly illustrated and hauntingly written, Tales from Outer Suburbia is by turns hilarious and poignant, perceptive and goofy. Through a series of captivating and sophisticated illustrated stories, Tan explores the precious strangeness of our existence. He gives us a portrait of modern suburban existence filtered through a wickedly Monty Pythonesque lens. Whether it’s discovering that the world really does stop at the end of the city’s map book, or a family’s lesson in tolerance through an alien cultural exchange student, Tan’s deft, sweet social satire brings us face-to-face with the humor and absurdity of modern life.”

My Thoughts

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‘He was saying the same sentence over and over, ending with “tasoo-ke-te, tasoo ke-te.”‘

This review may come off as a bit biased because I love “The Arrival.” Honestly, it isn’t so much as an “apple to oranges” kind of comparison between the two books, but maybe a comparison of two of the most glorious pieces of fruit one can eat. Each is wonderful in their own ways.

Both of these novels are excellent, but they are different in a slight, albeit essential way. There are words in “Tales From Outer Suburbia”… The experience of Shaun Tan’s illustrations is a bit more on the nose.

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‘It opened into another room altogether… an impossible room somewhere between the others.’

“Tales From Outer Suburbia” is a collection of fifteen nuanced short stories. All are threaded together with an exploration of the vapidness, bewilderment, joy, sorrow, and enlightenment of living in the suburbs; specifically the suburbs of eastern Australia. Each of the stories is captivating and a hell of a lot deeper than the two or three pages devoted to each. For example “Stick Figures,” is a story about wooden stick figures that are part of a suburban landscape. They move unimaginably slow, and their purpose is not precisely known. However, if you think about suburbia and the little bits of nature that come through the manicured lawns and the shopping malls, nature could very much seem like an unknowable creature that exists, but we have no idea the purpose of. As someone who has spent much of their life living in the suburbs and had to travel to visit nature, I get what he is trying to say. Nature can become the unknowable.

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‘How great it must have been long ago, when the world was still unknown.’

Another glorious story was “No Other Country.” This story explores what it means to be a person of two ideals. The unexplored model of what a place should be as one ideal and the current situation you live in as the other.

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‘The fire burned with astonishing intensity.’

What if you could escape to the ideal place at your leisure? Would that change how you felt about your current living situation? Again this taps into a lot of what Shaun Tan writes about in “The Arrival.” The idealized world and the reality. Would you appreciate your reality if you could escape it once in a while? It is a powerful short story, and absolutely worth the read.

I feel like reading a Shaun Tan book is meditative. They are never boring, beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated. However, his work is saturated with a calmness and purposefulness. His words and images are impactful without being jarring. You don’t see that often in any type of literary work. It speaks to a mastery of craft that I as a reader feel privileged to partake in. As you can probably tell, I am a fan and recommend his work. However, it isn’t for everyone. It is fanciful and calm and deep. Sometimes, that is not what one needs in their books. So my suggestion is that if you are feeling self-reflective or full of ennui, give one of his novels a try. I doubt that you would regret the experience.

Review of “I Killed Adolf Hitler” by Jason

“I got to get rid of the body”

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About 1

Jason. I Killed Adolph Hitler. Fantagraphics, 2007. Print.

Awards

2008: Eisner Award, Best U.S. Edition of International Material, for I Killed Adolf Hitler 

#62 on CBH Greatest Graphic Novels of all Time

Book Summary

From the publisher, “In this full-color graphic novel, Jason posits a strange, violent world in which contract killers can be hired to rub out pests, be they dysfunctional relatives, abusive co-workers, loud neighbors, or just annoyances in general — and as you might imagine, their services are in heavy demand. One such killer is given the unique job of traveling back in time to kill Adolf Hitler in 1939… but things go spectacularly wrong. Hitler overpowers the would-be assassin and sends himself to the present, leaving the killer stranded in the past. The killer eventually finds his way back to the present by simply waiting the decades out as he ages, and teams up with his now much-younger girlfriend to track down the missing fascist dictator… at which point the book veers further into Jason territory, as the cartoonist’s minimalist, wickedly dry sense of humor slows down the story to a crawl: for long patches absolutely nothing happens, but nobody can make nothing happening as riotously entertaining as Jason does… and finally, when the reader isn’t paying attention, he brings it together with a shocking, perfectly logical and yet completely unexpected climax which also solves a mystery from the very beginning of the book the reader had forgotten about. As always, I Killed Adolf Hitler is rendered in Jason’s crisp deadpan neo-clear-line style, once again augmented by lovely, understated coloring.”

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Courtesy of goodreads.com

My Thoughts

Spoiler alert, Adolph Hitler dies… Big shocker I know.  The title is very much in the writing style of the novel: minimalist, terse, and concise. No need for grand allusions or literary whatnot; Jason writes very well and does not need to be wordy. The writing could almost come off as cold, but it isn’t really. It is just succinct. Why write a paragraph, when one word will work. Using this terse writing style, he explores themes of love, loss, moving on, and assassination and morality in equal measures throughout the book.

You would think that with a plot like the assassination of Adolph Hitler through time travel via a for-hire assassin, it would be difficult to add in a romance element to it. But Jason makes it work rather well. Again the romance is bare bones, but the emotions are subtle, raw, and very thoughtful.

His protagonist is an interesting choice for the story. He set him as an assassin who kills without qualms on a daily basis without the worry of legal or moral ramifications. However, throughout the novel, he shows morality, and empathy and even longing in other areas of his life. The leads the reader to think of him as a walking, talking, killing contradiction. How can the reader have compassion for his plights and cheer him on in his quest to assassinate Adolph Hitler at the same time? It is a conundrum, but it happens very quickly. Although, calling him a likable character would do him a disservice. You do kinda like him. He has a very macabre sense of humor that we get little wisps of throughout the story. Even with his sparse lines, he says much in the “in-between” panels.

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Kill Hitler. http://www.goodreads.com

What humor there is very macabre and very dry, skimming the line of the ironic. In one scene the assassin is working in his office, that looks very much like a doctors office. He has a line of customers (patients) waiting patiently to see him. The whole scene is bathed in irony and macabre humor.

Graphically, again the panels are very spare. A limited color palette is used, as well as a very sparse, very flat linework. The main characters are humans, with cartoonish animal heads. You can tell that Jason was very much influenced by the Ligne Clair comic style, à la “Adventures of Tin Tin.” “(Ligne Claire) Uses clear, strong lines all of the same width and no hatching, while contrast is downplayed as well. Cast shadows are often illuminated. Additionally, the style often features strong colors and a combination of cartoonish characters against a realistic background. All these elements together can result in giving comics drawn this way a flat aspect. (wikipedia.com)” Jason nailed this style.

Conclusion

Read it, it will take you an hour at most. Jason comics are among the best graphic novels have to offer right now. They are profound without being egotistical and pompous. Jason gets you thinking about things without it clouding over your day. They are perfect.

“Ligne Claire.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 June 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ligne_claire.

2019 Reading Goals

I am going to have a busy year!

I am going to attempt to the Book Riot reading challenge. It will be an enjoyable challenge and broaden my reading horizons. Crazy I know. But, I think I can do it. It has been forever since I read a romance book #16 and I don’t think I have ever read a cozy mystery #14. Hell, I am not even sure what a cozy mystery is? (I am taking advice from my fellow lovely cozy mystery bloggers)

  1. An epistolary novel or collection of letters
  2. An alternate history novel
  3. A book by a woman and/or AOC (Author of Color) that won a literary award in 2018
  4. A humor book
  5. A book by a journalist or about journalism
  6. A book by an AOC set in or about space
  7. An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America
  8. An #ownvoices book set in Oceania
  9. A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads
  10. A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman
  11. A book of manga
  12. A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character
  13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse
  14. A cozy mystery
  15. A book of mythology or folklore
  16. A historical romance by an AOC
  17. A business book
  18. A novel by a trans or nonbinary author
  19. A book of nonviolent true crime
  20. A book written in prison
  21. A comic by an LGBTQIA creator
  22. A children’s or middle-grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009
  23. A self-published book
  24. A collection of poetry published since 2014

I am also going to read 100 books this year. This is my standard reading challenge every year. I have been pretty good and accomplishing it except for when I had pregnancy brain. If I don’t hit it, that is ok. It is all about the content of what I am reading.


Additionally, I will be setting up a personal challenge regarding graphic novels. I will be reading one graphic novel/comic from every decade since 1900. There are so many wonderful and beautiful works out there to discover. Lots of fun and discovery in all the beautiful works out there to check out. Let me know if you want to do it with me!

So thats the long and short of it. It looks like it is going to be a remarkable and wonderful year. Cheers to 2019!

Graphic Novel Review of “American Gods Volume 1: Shadows (Neil Gaiman’s American Gods: The Shadows #1-9)”

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Russell, P. Craig et al. American Gods.

Stats

4 out of 5 Stars
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published March 13th 2018 by Dark Horse Books
Original Title American Gods, Volume 1: Shadows
ISBN 1506703860 (ISBN13: 9781506703862)
Edition Language English

Summary

“What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.”

― Neil GaimanAmerican Gods

30430From the publisher, “Shadow Moon gets out of jail only to discover his wife is dead. Defeated, broke, and uncertain where to go from here, he meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who employs him to serve as his bodyguard–thrusting Shadow into a deadly world where ghosts of the past come back from the dead, and a god war is imminent.

Collecting the first nine issues of the American Gods comic book series, along with art process features, high res scans of original art, layouts, character designs, and variant covers by BECKY CLOONAN, SKOTTIE YOUNG, FABIO MOON, DAVE MCKEAN, and MORE!”

My Thoughts

“Hey,” said Shadow. “Huginn or Muninn, or whoever you are.”

The bird turned, head tipped, suspiciously, on one side, and it stared at him with bright eyes.

“Say ‘Nevermore,'” said Shadow.

“Fuck you,” said the raven.”

― Neil GaimanAmerican Gods

6050678-07Reading “American Gods Volume 1” was a challenge for me. It wasn’t due to the source material or anything like that. It is hard for me to remove my personal bias towards anything that is not the book. I have a similar difficulty with movies where I love the book. American Gods is a brilliant bit of urban fantasy. I mean it is Gaiman, so of course it is. Everything the man touches is fantastic.  The man could write a jingle for a used car salesman, and it would be magic.

This graphic novel was able to add magic to an already magical and well-done story. Since the prose is pretty much word for word of the source material, the magic was in the form of the stupendous graphics that were done by Scott Hampton and many others.

Much like a cinematographer, Hampton added atmosphere and aura to the words and gravitas of the scenes. He used a combination color palette of muted colors and psychedelic hues.  Some scenes, depending upon the action going on took a somber tone that matched the narrative. Other scenes, when the magic was buzzing, the images blaze off the page like a kaleidoscope of otherworldly colors. The whole story seems like a fever dream in a lot of ways. It is beautifully done and effective.

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Other illustrators took a hand in this volume, and they read like a who’s who in current famous comic illustrators and designers. They drew various vignettes and variant covers in their respective styles. Becky Cloonan from “Gotham Academy” fame and Fabio Moon who designed one of my favorite graphic novels of late, “Daytripper, ” among others.  The story lends itself well to many design interpretations, and this was demonstrated well here.

Conclusion

“All your questions can be answered if that is what you want. But once you learn your answers, you can never unlearn them.”

― Neil GaimanAmerican Gods

Volume 1 is grandly done. If you are a fan of the book or TV show, it can only add to your personal experience, and that is saying something. Most of the time, movies, and graphic interpretations screw it up. “American Gods Volume 1” is thankfully not one of those instances.

Graphic Novel Review – Flood!: A Novel in Pictures by Eric Drooker, Allen Ginsberg (Introduction)

The rise and the fall of the city.

Stats

  • 4 out of 5 Stars
  • Paperback, 138 pages
  • Published October 1st, 1992 by Four Walls Eight Windows (first published 1992)
  • Original Title Flood!: A Novel in Pictures
  • ISBN0941423794 (ISBN 13: 9780941423793)
  • Edition Language – English

Awards

American Book Award (1994)

#612 on The 1001 Comics to Read Before You Die


About

From the publisher, “An American Book Award winner and an Editor’s Choice of the New York Times, Flood! is the powerful first graphic novel by Eric Drooker, frequent cover artist for the New Yorker. Flood! is a modern novel written in the ancient language of pictures, with an expressionist, film noir edge. This “definitive edition” of Flood! is a unique record of our country’s turbulent past – and corporate present – and a must-read for students of graphic storytelling. This third edition also features a new cover by Drooker and a complete re-design. Flood! A Novel in Pictures was followed by Drooker’s acclaimed book, Blood Song: A Silent Ballad.”


My Thoughts

First, let me say right off the bat that this is a pure graphic novel. It is graphic storytelling in its unadulterated form as there are little to no words. Drooker tells his tale almost entirely with panels. This style of work is a throwback to the depression era and the 1930’s woodcut and printmaking art of Lynd Ward and Otto Nuckel. When pairing Drooker and Ward’s work together you can immediately tell that Drooker was heavily influenced by this era of artwork and of silent movie filmmaking. 

Drooker is a politically impassioned artist and who, while being a long-standing fixture in the East Village art scene in New York, has been drawing art and comics for the New Yorker for years and worked with Allen Ginsberg on an animated version of Howl. Ginsberg did the introduction to “Flood!”. 

The overall story is told in two parts. The parts are small short stories all around a common theme, “The City”. In the story “The City” is not identified as New York City, but anyone familiar with common sights knows that this is where the story takes place. ‘The City” has a sense of place. It has an aura around it that the author evoked throughout the book.

We first meet our protagonist in his dreary life. He dreams of things he is not doing and instead watches TV. There are multiple panels of him traversing the city and wanting to become apart of it, but he has to stand aside. Drooker drew the city panels as more than just background fluff. They have a looming and almost omniscient presence on the pages. This goes back to the sense of place that Drooker is diligently trying to create. “The City” itself has a personality. We later see the protagonist lose his job and his purpose. He wanders aimlessly amongst the city rabble almost losing himself on the streets, something that he has always wanted. “The City”, once drawn grand in scope has been reduced to a microcosm of itself. We see our protagonist start living his life the way he always wanted to, he drinks and meets women and subsequently having sex. However, all of this leaves him feeling more alone than ever.

The next part of our story is called, Flood. This section makes me think of the old adage of a frog in a pot of boiling water. Our protagonist goes about his daily activities. The viewer has an almost voyeuristic view of his life all the while, the rain falls. The protagonist is trudging through knee-deep water, but is unable to bring himself to leave “The City.” It is almost as if he believes “The City” will save him. He sets to drawing at his drafting table. The images he draws are almost prophetic in nature detailing the rise of the water and the fall of “The City.” Water, in the beginning, is shown to have cleaning and cleansing powers but now it has become destructive. A great aside from all this is the protagonist’s cat. He is seen in many of the panels, almost wondering “what the hell is he doing?” This plays out in the end in a great way.  

This book was not a fun book to read, I say “read,” but maybe pour over is the correct word usage. However, this book makes the reader question and think in each panel and it is an evocative read and at the same time, it is beautiful. The images are gorgeously and painstakingly rendered and it is worth the trouble looking at the images Drooker has created. It is a book that takes itself really seriously, maybe too serious. Almost to the point of being a parody. If you have read this, let me know what you think.

Classic Comic Review – “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend” by Winsor McCay (1906)

Surrealism and your darkest desires brought to light

Stats

#13 on 1001 Comics to Read Before You Die


Author(s)
Winsor McCay
Launch dateSeptember 10, 1904
End datec. 1925
Alternate name(s)The Dream of a Lobster FiendMidsummer Day DreamsIt Was Only a DreamRarebit Reveries
Publisher(s)New York Herald

Statistical information taken from wikipedia.org


About

From Wikipedia, “”Dream of the Rarebit Fiend” is a newspaper comic strip by American cartoonist Winsor McCay, begun September 10, 1904. It was McCay’s second successful strip, after Little Sammy Sneeze secured him a position on the cartoon staff of the New York HeraldRarebit Fiend appeared in the Evening Telegram, a newspaper published by the Herald. For contractual reasons, McCay signed the strip with the pen name “Silas”.

The strip had no continuity or recurring characters, but a recurring theme: a character has a nightmare or other bizarre dream, usually after eating a Welsh rarebit—a cheese-on-toast dish. The character awakens in the closing panel and regrets having eaten the rarebit. The dreams often reveal unflattering sides of the dreamers’ psyches—their phobias, hypocrisies, discomforts, and dark fantasies. This was in great contrast to the colorful fantasy dreams in McCay’s signature strip Little Nemo, which he began in 1905. Whereas children were Nemo‘s target audience, McCay aimed Rarebit Fiend at adults.”

My Thoughts

“Rarebit Fiend” is a piece of comic history. Winsor Mccay, who also wrote, “Little Nemo,” created this comic bit series as a response to the prevalent comedic strips of the time. It was a variety of the “serious but not funny” type. 

Each comic has a recurring theme, eating of Welsh Rarebit before bed, and the resulting nightmare it caused. None of the comics have any continuity or recurring characters. Each of the nightmares it “often reveal unflattering sides of the dreamers’ psyches—their phobias, hypocrisies, discomforts, and dark fantasies. (“Dream of the Rarebit Fiend,” 2018) Also, I find it highly amusing the McCay used rarebit as the plot device in his comics. “The rarebit is a dish typically made with rich cheese thinned with ale and served melted on toast with cayenne and mustard mixed in. McCay used it despite its innocuousness—cultural theorist Scott Bukatman states rarebit was not the sort of dish a person would associate with having nightmares. (“Dream of the Rarebit Fiend,” 2018)”

This is a worthwhile comic to note in history due to the use of political or social topics as a means of dealing with daily life. The comic spanned most class types finding something dark and worthwhile to talk about in the pauper or the playboy. In McCay’s mind, we all dream and we all have a darker self that can be rendered into a dream. 

“Dream of the Rarebit Fiend” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Apr. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dream_of_the_Rarebit_Fiend.

Graphic Novel Review – Revival, Vol. 1: You’re Among Friends (Revival #1) by Tim Seeley

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Stats

4 out of 5 stars
Paperback, 128 pages
Published December 12th, 2012 by Image Comics (first published November 1st, 2012)
ISBN 1607066599 (ISBN13: 9781607066590)
Edition Language English
Series Revival #1
Setting  Wausau, Wisconsin (United States) 

Awards

Harvey Awards Nominee for Best Artist (for Mike Norton)

Best Writer (for Tim Seeley)

Best Cover Artist (for Jenny Frison) (2013)

About

“Subtitle to the book is “A rural noir by Tim Seeley + Mike Norton”

For one day in rural central Wisconsin, the dead came back to life. Now it’s up to Officer Dana Cypress to deal with the media scrutiny, religious zealots, and government quarantine that has come with them. In a town where the living have to learn to deal with those who are supposed to be dead, Officer Cypress must solve a brutal murder, and everyone, alive or undead, is a suspect. The sell-out hit series created by NYT Bestselling author TIM SEELEY and Eisner winning artist MIKE NORTON is collected with bonus material!”

My Thoughts

Revival is one of those odd little gems that you accidentally discover while searching for something to read. I started it on a whim and knew absolutely nothing about it.

It is gorgeous.

It calls itself a “rural noir” whatever that means, and has tinges of the supernatural. But really, it is a story about people put into unusual circumstances. Zombies sound trite. Shuffling dead people who want to eat your braaaaaains.  Zombies seem very overdone as a literary device, but this story puts some excellent twists on things and turns the genre on its head a bit.

“We stood up on two legs
And raised our heads above golden grass
He was there

We sharpened stone and steel
Used tools to harvest grass, beast and brother
He was there

We clustered together
In brick and mud swarming with rats and plague
He was there

We built nations and mistrust
Our fingers hovered over the red button
He smiled

Still we build
To rise above the golden grass
Away from the reach of his scythe

When he will harvest no more”
― Tim Seeley, Revival, Vol. 1: You’re Among Friends

The story is also slightly of the horror genre, slightly urban fantasy. Definite chills and shivers here in there.

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Shudder-inducing panel.

Check it out if you love deep characters and a little supernatural spice in your reading. Fair warning, this is a very adult, very very graphic novel where lack of blood and splayed organs are not an issue.