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New review today for Hot Comb by Ebony Flowers. If nothing else here’s hoping all these graphic novel reviews are giving you some ideas for library books…
This is really her first book? Really? Well, consider the bar raised, everybody else who’s putting out their first graphic novel! This is a collection of stories about growing up and just generally living while black. Starting things off is the title piece, which deals with Ebony convincing her mother to let her get a perm as a kid, and exactly what goes into it. White people who have never considered such a thing, it’s excruciating, and she goes into detail here. Other stories are about dealing with a crazy lady on the train, the flood of memories that hits her at the funeral for an elderly relative (and her conversation with another relative that caused the older lady no end of grief), a particularly odd reaction to her hair from a child, her little sister and how her relationship to her softball team changed her life (her hair changed when she went into the pool, which caused her to become a sort of “good luck” symbol for the team, which is not something she wanted, to put it mildly), her playing with ducks and the utter lack of patience from her mother when she was playing, and (maybe the highlight of the book, although it’s tough to choose) a long conversation with three friends that goes over several locations. It’s difficult to describe why it was riveting without going into minute detail, which would ruin your reading experience, so just trust me on this one, OK? Bottom line, it’s a pile of great stories from an author I’m assuming we’re going to be hearing a lot from going forward, so get in on the ground floor before she takes over the world! $21.95
New review today for Good Talk by Mira Jacob, and yes, I’m obviously still reading “best of” books a lot more than mini comics right now. I’ll get back to them, don’t you fret.
Hey, who wants another debate about what exactly makes a book into a comic? Nobody? Yeah, me neither, but since this is mostly a collection of still drawings over real backgrounds, I’m sure somebody has brought it up by now. So instead let’s just call it a book and talk about how incredible it is, OK? This is, as it says right there on the cover, a memoir in conversations. Mira is an Indian who was born in America, which becomes relevant quickly or I wouldn’t mention it, and since this is the America of 2020 at the moment, there are entirely too many assholes out there who are concerned with such things. Stories in here include her parents’ arranged marriage (how it came about, how they both always championed it as a concept despite their not being in love, and how for a while there they hoped for something similar for Mira), how Mira was seen differently in her own family because her skin was the darkest of the bunch, her adventures in dating while constantly worrying about whether or not she was thought of as a fetish object, and her reactions to the 9/11 attacks while living in Brooklyn. And yes, the realization that anybody with brownish skin would have a tough time of it afterwards hit her very quickly. The most powerful story that runs throughout the book is her conversations with her son (around 6 when they started) and how that all paralleled with the rise of that dickhead in the White House. It’s a horror story where we all know the ending, and she naturally made promises to her son that the country wasn’t awful enough to elect the man. Whoops! She also married a white Jewish man along the way, meaning their kid was mixed race, meaning the news that her white stepparents supported the racist was devastating to her and to her whole family. This was a conversation that played out thousands of times over the course of the campaign, but it doesn’t make it any less depressing to see again. They knew he said racist things, of course, but they didn’t think he meant it. And besides, that Hilary woman sure was awful, wasn’t she? Mira tried repeatedly to convey the pain they were putting them through, their son tried to convey the damage it was doing to their connection (which was very strong up until then; Mira had started called her stepmother “Mom” pretty much right away), even talking about how it was affecting their son didn’t change their minds. The book ends on a hopeful (ish) note, as they’re all on a flight in early 2017 to go visit the stepparents, with Mira unsure what to expect and all of them a little nervous about it. I’m obviously curious about what happened next, but that’s left to the imagination. Maybe they came around? Maybe they’re still making excuses for the racism even today, as so many are? Regardless, this book is chock full of fascinating stories (I’m only mentioning maybe half of them, this book is hefty), and very much worth checking out. $30
New review for The Empress Cixtisis by Anne Simon. And if I could toot my own horn just a little, this book is now available in the Columbus library system because I noticed it wasn’t there, so if you’re in the area, check it out so they know to get more of this type of thing! Also if you live in the area they’re very responsive to requests like this, so check to see if they’re missing your favorites. Probably not, because they have a lot of comics, but still…
Watch out, this is a sequel to The Song of Aglaia! Which isn’t that big of a deal, as this stands alone quite nicely, just a public service announcement. This one is going to be difficult to sum up, despite being a lot more linear than a lot of comics that befuddle me. Cixtisis and Aglaia each rule their respective kingdoms, but Cixtisis has a much larger army, so she can more or less have her way with them. The book starts off with Cixtisis on a very long journey for negotiations with Aglaia, as Cixtisis has kidnapped most of her male population. Cixtisis seems to be an absolute monster in every other way, but it’s still shocking when she announces that the men that she kidnapped have all been castrated. Which is maybe a bit of a spoiler, but it happens early, and “I’VE CASTRATED THEM ALL” is in large letters on the back cover. Anyway, negotiations obviously take a turn for the worse at this point, but she had noticed that there was a pregnant woman at court, which is confusing since she thought they had all the males. A brief search later, the hideout is found, and the rest of the book is dealing with the fallout/preparing for war. With the hopes of convincing an army of french fries to help them. Yeah, you thought it all seemed normal enough before that, right? This book is also relentlessly funny, although often in a grim sort of way. I’m going to go back and read the first book immediately, and there’s a sequel coming called Boris the Potato Child, and good luck keeping me from reading that one. As for this book, yes you should read it, of course you should. $16.99
New review today for The Hard Tomorrow by Eleanor Davis, and apparently I’ve turned January into “reviews from books I found out about through ‘best of’ lists” month. Months maybe? Still more coming from the library!
I really have to fix this shanty town of a website. Thought I’d check to see exactly how long I’ve been reviewing Eleanor’s comics, but unfortunately it just lists the date and not the year. And that’s not even getting into when I lost a bunch of review dates with a site rebuild. Holy crap do you have no interest in any of that, so how about we talk about maybe Eleanor’s best book yet? My guess is since roughly 2004 for the reviews, by the way. One thing a book, movie, show, whatever needs to be engaging, at least for me, is to have characters that come to life even off the page/screen. Sure, it’s not going anywhere if they’re boring on the page, but to have something really feel lived in, I need to be wondering what these characters are doing when they’re not the focus. Everybody has seen shows where it looks like characters are just waiting for the scene to start, and you can’t picture any of them engaging in small talk. I had questions about damned near everybody in this, and that’s a hard feat to pull off. What’s it about, you ask, several sentences into perhaps even more rambling than usual? It’s the story of Hannah and Johnny, a couple who’s living off the grid, trying to make a baby while fighting back against the ways that the world is turning awful however they can. There’s also Hannah’s job and her best friend Gabby, Johnny’s paranoid friend, the marches, and the one good cop in the world (which comes back into play later). Hannah’s getting a lot of grief from her friends about trying to have a baby with the world the way it is, which coincides with Eleanor having a recent baby of her own. It’s a good question, and it’s something I struggle with. But I have the luxury of struggling hypothetically, which she does not. There are so many good scenes here, but I’m not going to spoil any more of them. If you’re even mildly liberal and wonder why we fight against the relentlessly terrible news these days, this book will speak directly to you. Like I said, I think it might be her best, so obviously you’d be cuckoo bananas not to get it. $24.95
New review for Commute by Erin Williams, and yes, I am using the library for a lot of reviews at the moment. Send me your comic and maybe I’ll review your stuff instead!
Two things are true about this book: it’s going to make you uncomfortable at some point, and you should really read it. Yes, that includes the dudes. This is as open and raw a memoir as I’ve ever seen, and since I’m in year 19 of reviewing comics on this website, it’s safe to say that I’ve seen a whole lot of them. It’s also so packed with stories that I have no idea where to begin. The beginning, you say? Sure, let’s get literal. Things start off small, with a story about her daily routine before work, including the 16 step makeup process that’s supposed to make her look like she’s not wearing makeup. The next story is also fairly mundane, about walking her dog and the various things she sees along the way (for what it’s worth, I agree with her: she probably saw a meth lab). With the next story, though, everything gets weird, and it stays various degrees of weird the rest of the way. It starts off with a listing of the 6 other people on her daily bus ride, but when a new person gets on who reminds her of a fling, we get more details of that awkward mess. Which leads to a story of another mess, and we’re off to the races. Subjects in here include her method for telling if she had sex the night before (while she was an alcoholic; she’s since recovered), SO many observed creepy male gazes (either directed at her or others), trying to decide while on a train late at night which one of the two dudes on the train would try to rape her and which one would help her, the three Jims and what they taught her about men, the first dick she ever saw, the sliding scale of what constitutes sexual assault, talking about Freud with somebody who still believes in his bullshit, how half naked ladies are trying to sell her something everywhere she goes (mostly in billboards and ads), and how much was taken from her piece by piece. That last one is daily interactions with men, how thoughtless they can be at times (if not mostly), and how few of them really stop to think about what kind of effect their actions have on others. It’s an incredible book, and yet another example of my trying to save money by using the library ending up backfiring because I’m definitely going to get my own copy of this book very soon. Any woman who reads this will sadly find a whole lot that’s familiar, but maybe they’ll find some useful tips on how to help get through it. Any man who reads this… take it to heart. Even the “good ones” have room for improvement. $24.99
New review today for Around the Neighborhood by Rachel Scheer, and thanks to the wonders of technology I’ll be at the dentist while you’re reading this. I’m sure it’s going swimmingly!
Comic strips! Since the newspapers seem to be shutting down one by one (and the comics section is always the first to go, way before they actually shut down), you don’t see them as much in the local alternative papers. And the ones in the regular papers are the same strips from 50 years ago, so where can you get indie comic strips? Seems to be just down to mini comics at this point. Yep, you guessed it: this is a collection of Rachel’s comics, mostly single page strips with a few longer ones thrown in. She’s a relatively recent transplant to Seattle, so most of these deal in one way or another with her new surroundings. Subjects include the various thought bubbles going around while somebody else is singing karaoke, too many totes, some people who stopped by the yard sale, the joy of not getting hit on at the bar, the reactions she got from friends and family when she moved to a different side of the country, hats, what she did on her snow day, how to tell if the local sports team has won without watching the game, quick excuses when you want to avoid a conversation, baby’s first eclipse, getting back to the “good” air quality, and tales of bad haircuts. Plus more stories, but I’m obviously going to leave some as a surprise. Rachel’s pretty great with the observational humor, and since strips are as compact as stories can get, this is a more dense book than you might think. Check it out, and you can’t really go wrong just ordering a few books from her while you’re at it… $4
New review today for Becoming Unbecoming by Una. Another book from years ago, but hey, maybe you missed it.
There are times when I’d rather let the synopsis or a blurb speak to my thoughts on a book, and it’s tempting to leave it at that blurb on the front cover. But that’s cheating, so I’ll look straight at the horror depicted in this book instead and try to give you some coherent thoughts about it. On the surface, this is a memoir of Una’s childhood and how it intersected with the string of murders committed by the Yorkshire Ripper in the 70’s. The cops were completely out of their depth and focused on the wrong things; since they assumed he was targeting prostitutes, in a way they “deserved” it, right? And when other victims came forward that didn’t fit the profile, well, the killer must have messed up that time. It was a hell of a way to grow up, with visible evidence that adults didn’t value women. They certainly didn’t believe their stories. Una’s story is also grim, but the way she approaches her trauma almost makes it… there’s not an English word that would fit here. It comes at you in waves. She’ll mention a boy she met when she was younger, and then an older man, but it’s vague enough where you can hope that nothing horrible happened. Then she’ll come back to it and mention a couple more details, but you can still convince yourself that she escaped the worst of it. Then finally she describes the incident, and as the reader you have nowhere left to hide. Still, growing up in this environment left her with nobody to talk to, and since she had technically been involved in the acts, she got a reputation at school. Or, as she put it, she lost her reputation, before she ever really got a good look at it. The rest of the book details her environment with these killings going on; how she dealt with childhood, life, her family and her fellow students. It also offers advice to women reading it now, some scientific theories for how people could be that way, how there’s nothing that really separates men who rape from men who don’t in terms of upbringing or a “cause.” And the ending, with images of the lives these women might have led, and her own questions about how her life could have gone without these traumas… it’s devastating stuff. If you’ve ever dealt with trauma yourself, this book could do you some real good. If you’re just an average person (whatever that means), this will help you see certain aspects of reality in a new light. In other words, it’s very much worth a look. $23.95
New review for Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, which is roughly 7 years old. Why yes, I have been checking out some “best of the decade” lists, why do you ask?
You’ve seen Allie’s work. Go ahead, take one look at that cover and tell me you haven’t seen a meme with that artwork, or part of a story, or maybe even a whole story if you’re lucky. I was all set to write a review that basically badgered people into buying her book and giving her money, seeing as how the world has seen her work for free for years, but then I did some research into Allie. That website, for example? Seems to be dead, or at least full of viruses (according to my malware detector, anyway). She apparently went to reddit for a but, but ended up leaving that too. Basically she’s been “off the grid” (meaning internet; here’s hoping her actual life is going swell) since 2015 or so. Maybe if there’s a sudden surge of sales of her 2013 book she’ll return and give us all more stories? Hey, it’s worth a shot! If you’re one of the few people who haven’t seen her work, welcome to the internet! Thanks for somehow ending up on my website and this review before anything else. This book is a collection of stories from her website, with several that are entirely new. “Makes you laugh, makes you cry” is a cliche, sure, but that’s literally what happened here. There were several stories where I literally had to put the book down because I was laughing too hard to read it, and there were a few especially grim bits too. More funny than anything, if I had to put them on a weird story scale, but they cover damned near anything. I feel like I know her dogs (simple dog and helper dog), and I’ve rarely seen the quizzical doggie head turn done better. And she’s painfully open and raw in her discussions of depression, which to her ended up as a complete absence of emotions. Other stories deal with her discovering a time capsule from child Allie to her adult self (and the advice that she would give to several iterations of her younger self), how she tricks herself to get motivated, an epic quest to eat a cake after discovering sugar, how her mother got her lost in the woods when she was little, how she moved across country and how it affected her dogs, living a lie as a hot sauce fan, how a goose terrorized her house, the terrible parrot toy, and about a half dozen more that I’ll leave as a surprise. I checked this out of the library, but this is one of those books that I’m going to buy sooner than later, as I already want to revisit a few of these stories and/or show them to friends. And since her website is down, we have to go back to paper. Buy her book! There is absolutely no way you’ll be disappointed. Yes, I’m that sure! $17.99
New review today for The Audra Show #2 by Audra Stang. Place your bets for the first time I forget and put 2019 in the year! I’m guessing I don’t make it through the month…
The Audra Show #2
For those of you who read the last issue and/or review, you might notice that the entire cast is different from the first issue. My theory is that Audra is setting up one of those vast interconnected universes like the Marvel movies and that she’s going to cash in in a few years with the Audra-verse. Until then, I’ll just confine myself to talking about her comics, OK? Well, like I said, there doesn’t appear to be an obvious connection to the last issue, but I’m guessing they’re both in the same town. Or it told me that they were both in the same town and I managed to forget in the three months between reviews. Oof, here’s hoping it’s not that, my memory is terrible enough as it is. This issue starts off with Adelaide throwing rocks at what appears to be an abandoned food truck. Bryson joins her and starts throwing rocks too. They then decide to abandon this pursuit for their ice ray gun, but since it hasn’t been perfected yet, they end up firing a sparkler gun. This goes into the truck and starts a fire, and when she tries to put it out she discovers that Oliver Chance (famous lead singer for Sunset October) is stuck in the truck. Once they pull him out, they discover that he has too many limbs. Roughly eight too many, which might help you narrow down what happened to him. No more spoilers from here on out, but Adelaide has an excellent reason for why she doesn’t just flee from Oliver in terror. It’s another solid issue, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the next issue connects to these too. $4
First review of the new year, and it’s for a 2020 book, In Spite of Ourselves by Natalie Dupille. You don’t get that kind of service from most comics review websites! What’s that? Most review sites deal exclusively with only the newest and freshest books? Um, happy new year!
It’s the first review of 2020 and it’s for a book with a listed publication date of January 2020. This website has never been more current! Enjoy it for this one comic, because that’s not going to last. This is listed as a graphic novella; there was a time when I remembered the cutoff point between a novel and novella, but that information has since flown out of my brain. Anyway, this is a autobiographical tale of an Oregon bike ride with Natalie and her partner Allie. They have a clear plan for how they’d like things to go, events on the ground force them to change their plan very quickly, and they soon settle on a second plan. The comic does a nice job of bouncing back and forth between things that happen on the road (good and bad) and the tension that comes in any relationship when you’re on a trip together, particularly a trip where one half of the duo feels constantly less than their partner because one of them is the more accomplished cyclist. The people you meet along the way are always half the fun of road trips (or, if they’re not fun, great fodder for stories once you get back), and Natalie put more than a few memorable characters into this one. If you’re a fan of the comics travelogue format, this one is a welcome addition to the genre. Or if you’re just a fan of autobio, there’s enough drama and uncertainty to keep you happy. If, however, you’re a fan of robots, you’ll have to find another comic. I realize I could say that for almost any comic, so I’m not sure why I mentioned it here. Give it a shot, is my point. $15