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
The kids are building a comics army. Don’t panic though, that’s a good thing. I have to admit, I haven’t thought a whole lot about what happens to all these people taking classes at places like the Center for Cartoon Studies after they graduate, but luckily for the rest of us it looks like they have it all figured out. That website listed above has about a dozen whippersnappers, freshly graduated and ready to make some comics, with plenty available from just about everybody listed. This is the first of 4 anthologies, done mostly to defray the cost of going to conventions, and it’s great to confirm that yes, it sure looks like this medium does have a promising future. First up is probably the highlight of the anthology, Mermaid Monster Blues by Caitlin Plovnick, a disturbing yet highly plausible retelling of the mermaid fable by Hans Christian Anderson. Next is Bluejay the Imitator by Colleen Frakes, based on a native story of the bluejay trying to find his place in the world. Next, well, I take it back: Monkey Bars by Mario Van Buren has to be the highlight, as it goes into detail about why it’s a bad idea to distract kids climbing on the monkey bars. Finally there’s Burn by Emily Wieja, the silent tale of a pyromaniac. While there will probably always be people just randomly putting out mini comics, it looks like in the future there will also be a substantial pile of people who are professionally trained putting out mini comics. Over the long run this should have the effect of raising the bar for everybody else, and three cheers for that. $6
In case anybody out there still had doubts that the Center for Cartoon Studies had a great program, capable of teaching the aspiring cartoonist all sorts of useful things, here’s one more piece of evidence in their favor.Â There’s already a pile of stuff accumulating, granted, but it seems to be getting more impressive by the week.Â This is Colleen’s first graphic novel, but she’s still putting out issues of the Tragic Relief comic on a regular basis (as least judging by her website).Â This is the silent tale of a young man who’s living with his mother and his tendency to find love in the oddest of places.Â A mermaid, a genie and a harpy (I may be completely off base on that last one) all play a part, as does the profoundly overprotective mother.Â One of the many impressive feats of this book is that I’m still not sure whether the mother was malicious or just cluelessly “lucky”, although that won’t make a bit of sense to anybody who hasn’t already read this.Â As for the art, few people have done so much with so little.Â There are no backgrounds to speak of, many of the images are deceptively simple, and yet damned near every one of them moves the story along, often with the subtlest of glances or shrugs.Â It’s obvious, after looking at the work coming out of graduates from the comic college, that the future for comics is brighter than it’s been in years.Â At least, it is in terms of the quality of the work being put out.Â Whether or not any of these poor kids are ever going to make a living at this remains to be seen.Â I should also point out that this hefty thing is a measly $7, as it’s on recycled paper.
Here’s another excellent graphic novel from Colleen, and it’s further evidence (as if any were needed) that the Center for Cartoon Studies is doing some excellent work with its students.Â This is the story of the uprising of the bears against society, as one bear in particular (the one on the cover missing an eye) smells some fish being cooked, wanders innocently into a camp to eat them, and it attacked for his troubles.Â He vows then and there to take back the forest, and soon runs into a little girl (age 3) who isn’t afraid of him.Â Taking this for a sign, he gives her armor and puts her in charge of the first attack against the humans.Â Obviously she doesn’t know a thing about fighting, but the bears prevail and decide that they need to take back all the forests in the world, which brings us to the rest of the book.Â It details her growing up with the bears, killing all the humans that they find, and it shows her general ambivalence… until she sees up close how humans live.Â I’ve said more than enough already, but this book really is remarkable.Â It somehow manages to be, at the same time, a story about growing up, about myth and animal society, about right and wrong, the use of force and when fighting for the sake of fighting leaves all rationality behind.Â Colleen deftly displays these contradictions by showing a good human who only wants to paint the quiet scenes between battles (and is killed for his troubles), a stag who only wants her to learn and a young boy who, if this were a Disney movie, would be an obvious love interest.Â She does an excellent job with the “love interest” by keeping the story going firmly where it should go, so kudos to her for that.Â It’s such a damned near perfect book that I feel compelled to at least complain about one thing: the missing eye of the lead bear.Â Not to get all technical on you, but if a character in your story loses an eye, the same eye should be missing for the whole story.Â The lead bear has his missing eye drift back and forth from the left side of his head to the right and back over and over again, to the point where it was an unnecessary distraction to the rest of the story.Â Not enough to ruin it, or even seriously damage it, just enough to get me to wonder how such an obvious mistake could have gotten through.Â Eh, after two excellent books I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she was going for the old timey cartoon look, where things like that would happen all the time.Â This graphic novel is also only $7, is still on recycled paper, and is still a real bargain.