Weekend reading, viewing

December 14, 2009

A quick overview of some of the entertainment consumed over the weekend:

The Graveyard Book, written by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Dave McKean, HarperCollins: I don’t know why I tend to forget that Gaiman is a very successful prose author in addition to a lionized comics creator. I’ve read some of his novels and liked them very much. Maybe I just have a fixed impression of him as a comics creator, or maybe I just don’t read that much prose fantasy. The Graveyard Book is about a human boy whose family is murdered and who’s subsequently raised by the denizens of a rustic local resting place. Nobody Owens, as his ghostly guardians name him, has a childhood populated with vampires, werewolves, ghouls, witches and malevolent human forces, though it feels perfectly normal to him. That’s the key to the book’s appeal for me; “Bod” doesn’t know how weird his life is, so he tends not to overreact. The plot feels casual, almost lazy, which fits right in with the novel’s undemanding charm. It’s a great choice for a rainy afternoon.

Julie and Julia, directed by Nora Ephron, based on a book by Julie Powell, Sony Pictures: I have an abiding fondness for Julia Child. As a result, I have an abiding dislike of much of what passes for food television these days. So any opportunity to celebrate this culinary icon is welcome, even if Meryl Streep’s performance seems more like an impersonation than the creation of a character. It’s a good impersonation, capturing Child’s fluty charm and imposing sturdiness. As I suspected, I could have been perfectly happy skipping over the parts of Julie Powell, who kept a blog about her attempts to cook every recipe in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Powell’s blog turned into a book, which turned into this movie, though not without a great deal of mewling self-pity, apparently. I couldn’t make it through more than a third of Powell’s book, and I strongly suspect Ephron and company didn’t care for it much more than I did. Amy Adams, who is a fine and versatile actress, has been criticized for not holding up her end of the film, and that strikes me as unfair. She’s playing Powell as a selfish, immature opportunist, which can’t be accidental, and she’s doing it well. How entertaining could such accuracy possibly be?

Only One Wish, written and illustrated by Mia Ikumi, Del Rey: If you’re absolutely manic about episodic comics that suggest you be careful what you wish for, then perhaps completism will demand that you give this bland outing a whirl. Completism has its costs, though, and subjecting yourself to dull manga may be one of them. Anyway, there’s this complicated urban legend about text-messaging and getting your wish, and teen-agers here do a number of predictable things with their good fortune. Absolutely nothing unexpected happens, though Ikumi seems convinced that her twists and turns will startle. Maybe I’ve read too much manga of this kind and my startle threshold is higher. I must give thumbs up to the great design on the wish-granting witch, though. (Review based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)

I am speechless

October 19, 2009

So today’s mail included a review copy of Christopher Hart’s Superheroes and Beyond: How to Draw the Leading and Supporting Characters of Today’s Comics (Watson-Guptill), which isn’t really my demographic, but you know… I flipped through it and found this:

“The Athletic Female Figure

“Always show a thin waistline with wide hips, which give her sex appeal and also make her physique powerful. Small, boyish hips are no good on female characters. Comic book action heroines don’t promote the unhealthy thinner-is-always-better images so prevalent in other media. The legs are always full and shapely but without the harsh, articulated muscles seen on male superheroes. The interior muscles on women’s legs are mostly left undefined.”

Credits report

September 23, 2009

Yesterday, Dirk Deppey featured a quote from Andrew Wheeler that was critical of the packaging of The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks from Three Rivers Press. Specifically, the publisher highlighted the author of the graphic novel while pretty much burying the artist’s name. Ibraim Roberson doesn’t actually have a cover credit for the book on the preview proof, though there’s a small signature next to the leftmost zombie. He doesn’t even get a credit on the publisher’s online listing for the book. He does seem to be credited on what’s likely the final cover for the book, shown below. Still, the initial cover credits were an undeniably bad choice, since Roberson’s gory, energetic contributions are pretty much essential. I’ve read about half of a preview copy of the book, and it’s a neat idea – a sort of anthropological, archeological look at zombie attacks throughout history. It’s not exactly rich in text, and Roberson does all of the heavy lifting. But anyway, here’s the cover that seems to likely to actually arrive in bookstores:


It did make me wonder how other publishers and publisher imprints have handled this sort of thing, since graphic-novel adaptations of popular prose have made such headway lately.


Del Rey doesn’t credit Queenie Chan on their web site, but she fares better on the cover of In Odd We Trust, her collaborative adaptation with Dean Koontz. She gets a co-writer credit with Koontz and a separate illustrator credit. It’s sensible to me that Koontz’s name is big and bold up at the top, since he’s the main attraction for casual readers or newcomers to graphic novels.


Darwyn Cooke actually comes out ahead of Richard Stark on IDW’s page for Cooke’s adaptation of The Hunter. The cover credits seem to strike an okay balance between the creator of the property being adapted and the adaptor.


Graphix takes a similar approach with Raina Telgemeier’s credits on the cover of her adaptations of Ann M. Martin’s Baby-Sitters Club books. The placement and proportion of Telgemeier’s credit is roughly similar, though her name is preceded by “A Graphic Novel By…” which I like.


NaRae Lee’s credit on the cover of Maximum Ride (Yen Press), based on a popular property by James Patterson, is fairly dinky. It’s there, but it’s dinky. His prose collaborators seem to get better placement.

I can’t quite bring myself to delve into Marvel’s adaptations of books by people like Laurell K. Hamilton, Stephen King, and others. I know that they’re out there, and a glance at some of the covers indicates that their modus operandi follows the pattern of “big credit for name author, standard credits for comic writers and artists.”

Update: At The Beat, Heidi MacDonald notes that Amazon doesn’t seem inclined to credit illustrators.

More vacation reading

June 4, 2009

A few more items from my recent travels that didn’t quite fit into the Flipped purview:

ppzPride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, Chronicle Books. As the blurb claims, “Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you’d actually want to read.” I’m not sure if Jane Austen really benefits from the addition of zombies to her prose (unless they’re mall zombies), but zombie stories sure benefit from the presence of Miss Bennett and Mister Darcy. The insertion of “the unmentionables” is definitely good for a few fresh chuckles, and the fusion is surprisingly fluid. It’s also great airplane reading; I’m the kind of person who likes to unnerve my seatmates with intermittent giggling. The joke doesn’t get stale by book’s end, but if Grahame-Smith envisions a franchise, he should probably pace himself.

borderlineBorderline, by Nevada Barr, Penguin Group. Perhaps it’s morbid of me or reflects some unflattering impulse towards vicarious violence, but I think any trip to a national park benefits from bringing along a murder mystery set in a national park. Barr’s intrepid heroine, law enforcement ranger Anna Pigeon, is actually visiting Big Bend National Park in Texas as a tourist. Her last adventure has left her on the verge of post-traumatic stress disorder (and on administrative leave), so her kindly husband decides a rafting trip would be an ideal distraction. The trip turns disastrous and deadly in short order, and Anna must face a hostile environment, untangle political complications, and confront her never-before-in-evidence maternal side (unless wolf pups count). As usual, the details of the story are much less important than Barr’s gift for communicating glorious settings. Equally important is her portrayal of Anna, almost as antisocial and sometimes as feral as the predators who roam the far corners of her beloved parks. She’s more than a match for the human predators who sully those parks with greed and violence. Aside from the settings, I think the thing I like best about this series is that Anna’s career as a ranger is the second act of her life, not a from-birth calling; there’s something deeply satisfying about a character finding that satisfaction later than you might expect, but still basking in it.

eternalsmileThe Eternal Smile, by Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim, First Second. For me, this perfectly pleasant collection of thematically linked short stories suffered in the shadow of high expectations. Yang’s American Born Chinese and Kim’s Same Difference and Other Stories are terrific, terrific graphic novels, so the prospect of a collaboration between their creators left me anticipating a result that could heal minor ailments and spin gold from straw. The actual result offers three tales exploring fantasy’s shortcomings as an alternative to the real world. There’s nothing bad about any of them, though they feel a bit pat and maybe even a bit preachy at times. It’s a distinct pleasure seeing Kim demonstrate his versatility as an illustrator, though.

Pulitzer winner hearts Shogakukan winner

July 10, 2008

I spotted this via Christopher Butcher, and I wanted to mention it for a couple of reasons. One, it’s nice to see a Pulitzer Prize winner, Junot Diaz, speak so highly about a comic I really like, Naoki Urasawa’s Monster (Viz), at Time’s web site. (It’s not really surprising, because his book, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, is as stepped in geek culture as it is in the political history of the Dominican Republic. I mean, he compares Rafael Trujillo to Darkseid.)

The other reason is that it gives me another chance to say how fabulously entertaining Diaz’s book is. Don’t let the Pulitzer trick you into thinking its some impenetrable tome; it’s brilliantly funny and accessible and great and you should read it.

More geek cred

April 8, 2008

In another example of nerds making good, Junot Díaz has won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead Books). It’s a really superb book, almost miraculously so since it’s primarily about an undersexed, comic-loving geek. (Seriously, that’s a category of fiction that’s closing in on hip novels about twenty-somethings trying to break into the publishing industry.)

Publish and/or perish

April 4, 2008

Writing for The Star-Ledger, Beth Fitzgerald takes a look at the precarious state of Borders. What makes this piece particularly interesting to me is the initial emphasis on customer reaction to the prospect of losing their chain of choice.

Writing for The New York Times, Motoko Rich reports on an effort by HarperCollins to trim the fat. Launching a new imprint, they hope to trade big advances for profit sharing and (even more interesting for people who follow the ins and outs of the Direct Market) eliminating returnability of unsold product:

“Under standard practices, booksellers can return unsold books, saddling publishers with the high costs of shipping and pulping copies. Mr. [Robert S.] Miller [former founding publisher of Hyperion and new HarperColins hire] said the publishers could share with authors any savings from eliminating returns. A spokeswoman for Barnes & Noble declined to comment on HarperCollins’ plans.”

Your ad here

February 19, 2008

One more and I’ll stop for the day, I promise. I was sipping some Starbucks Italian Roast from my Thermos travel mug when I read this article in The New York Times about product placement in fiction aimed at girls aged 8 and up. I feel like I should find this trend more disturbing than I do, but it seems more like a formalization of something that’s always been around anyways.

Of course, if an author radically reframes his or her narrative – undermining a critical plot twist or sidestepping a central theme, say — to get a mention of a specific brand into it, that’s bad. And if the story itself is just a crappy vehicle to squeeze advertisers, I suspect that the audience in question is smart enough to spot that and opt out of something that doesn’t offer any entertainment value.

I guess I just assume that kids are smart enough to know when they’re being sold to, which is pretty much constantly, so I consequently assume that they can make value judgments on what the proper ratio of content to pitch is.

Getting the milk for free

February 11, 2008

Apparently, HarperCollins is of the opinion that letting consumers enjoy content for free on the web will actually help sales. According to this piece in The New York Times, the publisher will be following in comics’ footsteps:

“‘It’s like taking the shrink wrap off a book,’ said Jane Friedman, chief executive of HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide. ‘The best way to sell books is to have the consumer be able to read some of that content.’”

They’ve picked five very different books to launch the initiative, including fiction for adults and kids, a cookbook, an election guide, and a book about sports. The freebies will be downloadable for a month at a time.

Neil Gaiman is playing along, and a certain comics hybrid is being cited as evidence in favor of the project’s aims:

“‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid,’ a children’s novel illustrated with cartoons, was published online three years ago at Funbrain.com, an educational Web site. But the physical book has spent 42 weeks on the New York Times Children’s Chapter Books best-seller list.”

Literacy and calluses

January 22, 2008

I’m still one of those strange geezers who relegate cell phone use to emergency road service and ordering pizzas, so I’m always a little puzzled by new and exciting uses for these items. The latest I’ve seen is covered in this piece from The New York Times on the increasing popularity of novels written specifically to be read on a cell phone. These digital, on-the-fly novels are apparently making the transition to print in Japan, and they’re making lots and lots of money in the process.

“Of last year’s 10 best-selling novels, five were originally cellphone novels, mostly love stories written in the short sentences characteristic of text messaging but containing little of the plotting or character development found in traditional novels. What is more, the top three spots were occupied by first-time cellphone novelists, touching off debates in the news media and blogosphere.

“‘Will cellphone novels kill “the author”?’ a famous literary journal, Bungaku-kai, asked on the cover of its January issue. Fans praised the novels as a new literary genre created and consumed by a generation whose reading habits had consisted mostly of manga, or comic books. Critics said the dominance of cellphone novels, with their poor literary quality, would hasten the decline of Japanese literature.”

I mean, I can’t even add spaces and punctuation when I try to compose a text message.