Sunday, December 21, 2014

What It Is – week ending 21 December [2014]

With apologies to Dave the Thune (as well as Mike Baron & Steve Rude).

Every day.  1000 words.  That’s the goal.

So, things are a bit slow in the writing department at this time of year.  We celebrate a purely secular Christmas here in the heart of Maine and there are presents to be wrapped, decorations to be hung (finally got the final bits up this week), and specials to watch.  This cuts into my writing, but I did manage to get some work done this week, padding out the 300K words for the year, which is going to make it difficult to equalize next year.  Sure, there’s some wiggle room, but not a lot, especially when one has a full-time job and a family that deserves one’s attention.  Plus there are all those good books and comics to read.  You need to feed the beast if you want to do this.  It’s good to have a bar to reach for, though. 

But, enough lamenting.  Here’s to the magic of Christmas!  When you can believe a man in a red suit can fly all around the world in one night to bring happiness to children at every corner of the Earth. 

The Wrenchies, by Farel Dalrymple, published by First Second Books.

I’d seen lots of headlines touting the wonder of Dalrymple’s book, and I am a fan of his art, so I figured I needed to check it out.  Sadly disappointed is how I might best sum up my reaction to this.  The settings and scenarios, the art and the color palette especially, the ideas surrounding a lot of this dystopian alternate-reality story are great.  But it was a slog to read, for me.  I don’t know.  It felt, a lot of times, like this should have been a novel.  Other than visualizing this dreary, sad world full of monsters and shadows, there’s no good reason why this was a comic.  Much of the dialogue revolves around explaining the history of the world or the scene on the page.  It’s full of expositional bits that could have been better realized through wordless pages of wonderful illustrations (if explanations were needed at all).  Writers like Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman can make text-heavy comics sing in a way few can, and Dalrymple is not one of those creators you come to for his deft hand with prose.  Maybe I missed the entire point of the book, and that’s wholly possible, but I did not enjoy this at all.  If not for the wonderful art, I probably would have returned it to the library without finishing it.

FRONTIER #6, “Ann by the Bed,” by Emily Carroll, published by Youth in Decline. 

Frontier is a quarterly series of art comics featuring a different artist with each new issue.  This most recent one, from Emily Carroll (whose Through the Woods has been getting much-deserved rave reviews), was amazing.  One of the best comics of the year.  In 32 pages, Carroll managed to infuse this short tale with enough atmosphere and dread that when I turned to the final page – which was one hell of an exclamation point – I worried, sans hyperbole, that I would be having nightmares about the main character of this short narrative.  Carroll builds the tension gradually and inventively throughout the course of this short comic and manages to tie it all up in a way that is chilling and brilliant.  Highest recommendation. 

Also jumped back into my pile of classic G.I. Joe comics.  I read issues 51-56 plus Yearbook #3.  These stories take place after the big anniversary issue, number 50, where the Joes attacked Springfield, home to Cobra, and were repelled by Cobra’s newest soldier, a composite from the DNA of the ten most acclaimed soldiers in history, Serpentor.  In these seven issues we see G.I. Joe disbanded, a full-out assault on the Pit by Serpentor, along with Cobra Commander, Destro, the Baroness, et al. that results in the decimation of the Joes’ secret headquarters, the reinstatement of the G.I. Joe team as a nimble, mobile unit with no set headquarter to help avoid future issues like this, Destro and Cobra Commander forced to work together to escape from beneath the rubble that is the Pit, and these two eventually discovering that Cobra Commander’s son, Billy, is not dead but in a coma, which causes CC to reevaluate his life, while back on Cobra Island Serpentor starts up a new plan to sell their Terror-Drome assault bases to third world, Communist countries like Sierra Gordo, in order to help finance Cobra’s plans and lead them to becoming a more above-ground and legal group, which comes with the new Cobra consulate building in Manhattan.  (*phew* … take a breath)  With the revelation of the new Terror-Drome, a disguised Snake-Eyes (in the guise of Flint) is dropped into Sierra Gordo with the plan of being captured so that he might infiltrate the base and learn more about it, which is followed by a rescue mission, led by Stalker, that goes wrong, leading to Scarlett seeking out Storm Shadow (who dropped into the Pit in one of these first issues and got the key to Snake-Eyes’s mountain cabin so that he could get away and contemplate his recent death and resurrection) for an infiltration of the consulate building to finally rescue Snake-Eyes from Cobra – a silent issue redux from Yearbook #3 that also introduced my favorite Joe artist, Ron Wagner, who will go on to draw most of the issues between #57 and 89.

These were some fun comics.  I continue to be impressed at how well they stand up, with thirty years of hindsight.  Larry Hama writes some exciting narratives and rushes through myriad plot point, churning through story in a way that would be unfathomable today, while also managing to include the exposition in a manner that does not bog down the story too much.  And his artistic collaborators in these issues, Rod Whigham and then Ron Wagner, with Andy Mushynsky doing most of the inks, provide imagery that is clear and well-delineated without being too flashy.  An all-around enjoyable experience.

Continuing with The Americans.  It’s still pretty great and well worth checking out if you’re a fan of exciting action/dramas or Cold War narratives.  Fun stuff.

If you’ve not checked out the ITDMODcast (the podcast from In The Mouth Of Dorkness), and you are a lover of movies, you are missing out.  These guys talk intelligently about all types of film, and it’s just like all those conversations you had with your friends while hanging out in the parking lot, or when you all got together at someone’s house.  It’s a blast, and if you don’t watch out you might end up learning something.  The latest one I listened to was their Christmas special focusing on Die Hard (oh, and those other die hard movies; yes, lower case is intentional).  I haven’t seen this film since it first hit theaters.  Like Matt (@TheOmegaDork), I was not a fan of Bruce Willis and having him in the movie turned me off a bit to it, and I never did go back.  But after listening to these guys, I now realize I definitely have to watch this again – if, for nothing else, the way it is structured as a story.  Sounds like there are a large number of lessons I can take away from Die Hard for my own writing. 

And, as always, check out Brad& Matt – mentioned above – and Don McMillan for their own weekly recaps on things comic-y and geeky, and we'll see what's what in seven.  


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