Every so often life reminds me that I’ve been meaning to reread all of Shirley Jackson’s work, especially since I mostly read her stuff way back in high school. She holds a unique place in the literary world for a variety of reasons, and it seems like a character flaw on my part that I’m not more familiar with all of her work. Sure, I know The Lottery and The Haunting of Hill House (and the first movie adaption of it, The Haunting), but other than that I’ve just read a few scattered short stories. Well, if you’re a better person than me and are already familiar with her works, this book is for you. And if you’re like me and are a bit lacking in your Shirley Jackson knowledge, this book is also for you. If you’re an incurious dullard on this subject, you’re off the hook, I guess. So! Like the title implies, this is an anthology with various artists writing adaptations of her works, with a few of them showing various times of her actual life. Annie Murphy starts things off by showing various quotes from Shirley about her life and her beliefs. Colleen Frakes then has a tale about her own childhood and how her experiences with critics resembles the reaction Shirley got when The Lottery first came out (if you haven’t read any Shirley Jackson stories at all, at least read that one). Oh, and I almost forget to mention the introduction by Robert Kirby, which is especially helpful to people with only a passing familiarity to her work (like me). In other words there’s a lot to like here, and I don’t want to go through it piece by piece (because of my undying belief that being surprised by the stories is half the fun of anthologies), but highlights include Asher & Lillie Craw’s examination of places and food in her stories, the various Shirley Jackson archetypes by Robert Kirby and Michael Fahy, W. Woods with an adaption of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Ivan Velez Jr. with his experiences with oddities and real life and how they connected to his experiences with Shirley’s work, Eric Orner’s tale of the death of a friend and how it related to the Shirley Jackson book he was reading at the time, Rob Kirby with a story of how Shirley once freaked herself out when a red liquid started dripping from the cabinet, and Dan Mazur’s combo adaption of a few of her stories starring Shirley as the witch. So yeah, there are a whole lot of great stories in here, and that’s with me only having a passing knowledge of her work. Imagine how much more you could get out of this is you already knew and loved her! $16.95
Full disclosure time: I think astrology is nonsense. Relatively harmless nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless. It’s fortune telling but made for everybody who was born within the listed month, as if every human in every 12 month period shares the same characteristics, but told in such a way that it could apply to just about anybody regardless. I have occasionally given a sign other than my own to somebody who asked me (at a party or bar, usually) and have delighted in their going on and on about my various characteristics that fit me perfectly while belonging to a completely different astrological sign. I just wanted to make that perfectly clear before I started discussing this book, which is edited by a person who does get a lot of enjoyment out of astrology. 12 cartoonists also offer their takes on their signs, with only a few of them being even slightly skeptical. I could have used more of that, but it’s already pretty clear that I’m biased, so I’ll move on. Rob starts in the introduction with his own history with astrology and what it’s meant to him over the years, but he’s also clear that he doesn’t expect everybody to buy into it and encourages opposing viewpoints. He also provides a detailed description of the various signs and some of the other qualities associated with them, in case you were curious and/or needed context. So now that that’s out of the way, how about the stories? The highlights for me included Whit Taylor’s tale of the struggles of being a Gemini, Tyler Cohen eventually coming around on being a Cancer, Cara Bean (with my favorite piece) of Aslan coming down from the heavens to explain being a Leo to her, Rob Kirby going into specifics about being a Virgo and his experiences both with it and discussing astrology with other people, Rick Worley as one of the few skeptics in regards to being a Libra, Aron Nels Steinke on leaving a movie early (and also how his being an Aquarrius mixed with his wife being an Aires) and Marnie Galloway on being a Pisces (and the most righteously skeptical of the bunch). If you are interested in astrology, even a little bit, there’s a lot to love about this book. If you’re not even a little interested in it, like me, there’s still some great artwork, a few skeptics and an insightful peek into the minds of people who take all this seriously. And if you’re short on money, at least you get an awful lot of comic for $10.95.
Damn, now that’s how you put together a fantastic anthology. The stories in here are of various lengths, but it gets going with a 20 page story by Eric Orner dealing with his coming to terms with his sexuality, dating a woman in college, having a right wing nut of a father and generally not having much of a source to educate himself about being gay. The social progress this country has gone through in the last five years on this front has been staggering (it’s like the majority of the country realized all at once that they were being homophobic assholes and all decided to stop and pretend like it never happened), but it’s stories like Eric’s that remind the youngsters that there were very few options when you were growing up gay in the 70’s and 80’s. The closet was a lifesaver back in those days. Anyway, I’m rambling, and I haven’t even gotten to the other 32 (!) creators in here. Highlights include (and I don’t think there’s a single actively bad story in here, for the record) Annie Murphy’s story about her elderly closeted relatives and wondering what their lives were like, Marinaomi’s first time being an awkward threesome, Ed Nuce and the rules of survival at death metal shows, Dylan Edwards and his childhood friend who referred to his Transformers toys with headlights in robot form as women to try to even out the gender imbalance, Justin Hall’s story about dating a man with (unbeknownst to him) serious mental issues while Justin just thought the guy was trying to work out his life, Jennifer Camper’s hardboiled detective story, Terrance Griep’s most painful wrestling injury, Edie Fake’s hilarious two pages of jokes told by somebody trying to pay to get into a sex show, Steve MacIsaac’s coming face to face with his childhood bully and the unlikely way the conversation ended up going, Andy Hartzell’s story of Pvt. Manning (in his own words) talking about his potential gender reassignment surgery on top of trying to come to terms with his conscience about all of the awful things he knew that the U.S. was doing around the world, Carrie McNinch’s first summer love, and Sasha Steinberg’s triumphant tale of a drag queen buying panty hose. That’s right, I somehow didn’t mention Howard Cruse (who’s been at this for decades and who at least partially started gay comics in general), Craig Bostick, L. Nichols or Rob Kirby, all favorites of mine. So that should tell you the level of quality you’re going to be getting here, right? Oh, and since I’ve been cranky about it in past anthologies, I should mention that Rob does everything right in editing this thing. Creator names at the top of every page? Brilliant! Check it out and enjoy, but set aside an afternoon for it, as this here is a hefty pile of stories. $29.99
Watch out homophobes, it’s an entire anthology full of the dreaded “gay stuff!” I like to think that such people don’t read my site, but it’s always fun to scare off the hypothetical haters regardless. This anthology runs the gamut from fantastic stuff to pretty damned good stuff to stuff that’s just OK with maybe a bad piece here or there, which makes this exactly like every comics anthology that’s ever existed. My favorite piece was the one sampled below by Annie Murphy, which hey wait a minute she’s the editor too! This one tells the story of Babe Bean, a mysterious figure from the late 1800’s who dressed like a man, but this person was tiny and refused (or was unable to) speak, so nobody could tell her gender. Tales of gay folks of any stripe from the 1800’s rarely ended well, which makes this one even more of a delight (um, spoiler alert, no violence to be found here). Annie used newspaper accounts for most of her narration, as Babe captured the imagination of the area for a good chunk of time and the papers were constantly speculating about her origins. But the important parts of this story were the areas where Babe broke through the previously impenetrable gender wall to gain access to exclusively male clubs and events. This is listed as a “Part 1” even though it’s not listed in the back of the book as something that is ongoing, which is a shame. I’d love to read about the missing years between the start of the story and the end of it, even if the newspapers moved on and there would be a lot of speculation involved. Other stories in here include tributes to a couple of different deceased friends (by Matt Runkle and Ellery Russian respectively, as they both regret losing access to these people at such a young age), LeRoi Newbold’s story of thinking she got AIDS from a female friend after they had “fake sex” when they were 9 and how she figured out who she was in her early teens (complete with terrible spelling/grammar that makes perfect sense in the context of this story, told from the perspective of a confused kid), the various tales of different butches from Elisha Lim, Clio Reese Sady with her story of the first FTM transgender gathering in 1986 (it’s fascinating to see these people struggling just to come up with terms to describe what they were going through, as they were literally making it up as they went along) and Samantha Jane Dorset with her entreaty for marines to quit the service (with a nice story about one who did and who later became a mentor for other confused marines). You can see from the various tags that there are plenty of other stories in this anthology, but what fun is it if I go through them one by one? You already know that Edie Fake is a consistent delight, and the format of this book allows full color when appropriate, so a good chunk of these stories really stand out visually. It’s worth a look, even for you jaded folks who think you already know all about any possible stories in here. Believe you me, you almost certainly don’t know everything in here. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the many different definitions of genius in the back, many of which I’ve never heard before. $20