Book Review: Narrative Structure in Comics: Making Sense of Fragments

Book Review: Narrative Structure in Comics: Making Sense of Fragments by Barbara Postema

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Narrative Structure in Comics

This is a scholarly work on the subject of “Comics” which here includes comic books, comic strips, graphic novels and sundry related items.  The emphasis is on the formal elements of comics, the structure which is used to create narrative.  Definition of terms and the historical development of comics as an art form are relegated to appendices.

Ms. Postema’s thesis is focused on the concept of “gaps”, which allow and require the implied reader to fill in those gaps and create the narrative.  The combination of pictures and gaps and often words creates an intertextuality that makes the reader a part of the creative process.

There are numerous illustrations in both color and black & white, while other examples are merely described and the student will have to look them up for themselves.   The fragments on the cover are from  Shutterbug Follies by Jason Little, which is also discussed in some detail (including spoilers!) in the text.  By a happy coincidence, this work is being reprinted on GoComics for free.  http://www.gocomics.com/shutterbug-follies/2014/01/06#.UtQkGZ5dWa8

There’s a considerable bibliography of both scholarly works and fine comics, and a helpful index.    This is, as stated before, a scholarly work that would most likely be used in college courses dealing with comics.  Bright high school students with an interest in the deeper aspects of comics should be able to handle it.  Id’d also recommend it to comics fans who enjoy examining formal narrative structure.

Movie Review: Kill Devil

Movie Review: Kill Devil (2004)

A teenager wakes up on a deserted beach, sometime in autumn.  He doesn’t remember who he is or how he got there, but the blanket he was under indicates he wasn’t on that beach by accident.  He’s wearing a strange metal wristband with the name “Shougo” on it, so that’s what people call him.

Kill Devil

Shougo soon meets other amnesiac teens, some reasonably friendly, and others lethally unfriendly, especially “the scythe man.”  Shougo and the others stumble around the island looking for the reason they’re there, and someplace safe.

Then about fifteen minutes in, we’re told exactly what is happening, not in dialogue, but a straight-up voice-over.  It seems that Japanese scientists have isolated the “murder gene” that causes some people to flip out and casually kill others.  Sixteen teenagers who carry the gene were brought to this island, and had their memories wiped as part of an experiment code-named “Kill the Devil.”  (We never learn the precise goal of the experiment.)

This 2004 Japanese film is transparently following in the footsteps of Battle Royale with the young people being coerced into killing each other for the benefit/entertainment of adults.  It’s not nearly as good; the amnesia gimmick means that we learn little to nothing about any given character before they die, and most of them do.

There’s also a samurai sword duel in the middle of the movie that has nothing to do with anything else.

If you liked Battle Royale or The Hunger Games, but thought there was too much plot and character development, this might suit your needs.  The US DVD release comes with a trailer and alternate ending; don’t watch either before the main feature as the trailer spoils one of the few actual surprises, and the alternate ending won’t make sense at all (not that it does much anyway) without seeing the rest of the movie first.

In addition to R-level violence, there’s some side-on male nudity.

After this point, I will be discussing SPOILERS for Kill Devil.

SPOILERS!

It’s a bit difficult to say what the theme of the movie is, beyond “grownups suck.”  Perhaps the futility of trying to overcome your genetic destiny; or a warning against being so invested in a certain outcome of your scientific research that you rig the experiment until you get the outcome you want.

The ending of the film is a downer, with all the teenagers dead, and most of the adults getting away with their actions.  And then there’s a stinger at the end of the credits that’s foreshadowed in one line in the rest of the movie, involving a character we’ve never seen before and leaves you asking “why?”  Perhaps it was meant to be a sequel hook.

The alternate ending is just like the regular ending except that the last teen killed suddenly rises, goes into a dance routine, and then several of the other teen characters join him for a big dance number.  Then the others vanish, the last teen lies down dead, and fade to black.  (Same stinger after the credits.)  Given that several members of the cast were members of the Diamond*Dogs dance troupe, this may have been the original intended ending.

Both the ending credits and the trailer show a still of what is apparently a scene deleted in the US release in which two of the characters do a rap.    I am mildly grateful that this was not included.  The trailer also gives away the stinger.

END SPOILERS

Again, not particularly recommended, unless perhaps you are a fan of the Diamond*Dogs dance troupe, or one of the actors in the cast list.

Book Review: Christians at the Border

Book Review: Christians at the Border by M. Daniel Carroll R.

Disclosure:  I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Christians at the Border

Daniel Carroll is a professor of Old Testament at Denver,  whose mother was Guatemalan, and who has divided his time between the U.S. and Guatemala since he was young.    As such, he has ties to both mainstream American and Latino culture.  In this updated edition (first version published in 2008) he speaks to the issue of immigration from a Biblical perspective.

He covers the history of immigration, primarily Hispanic, into the U.S. starting in 1848, and its ebbs and flows.   There’s a look at the question of  cultural identity and the economic impact of illegal immigration.  Unlike many articles on the subject, he also writes about the effect on the countries the immigrants are from.

Then he really warms to the theme of the Christian dimension of Hispanic immigration, citing its invigorating effects on American religious life, and an understanding of the “sojourner” theme in the Bible.   He refers to several different experiences in the Old Testament of immigration, including the stories of Ruth and Esther.

The book also looks at the Old Testament laws regarding “the stranger and the foreigner in your midst.”   Mr. Carroll claims this is different from similar law codes of the same time period in the Middle East because those others do not have laws to deal with immigration, and because they are influenced by the Hebrew people’s own experience in Egypt.

But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.  Leviticus 19:34

Turning to the New Testament, Mr. Carroll admits Jesus didn’t say anything about the specific topic of immigration, but he did spend time reaching out to the despised and those outside Judean society.  The parable of the Good Samaritan indicates that tribal identification is less important than a person’s behavior to determine who is a “neighbor” to be loved.

!st Peter extends a metaphor of all Christians as sojourners in strange lands.  And last, Mr. Carroll examines Romans 13, which is often used as a “clobber text” against undocumented immigrants.  If they are here illegally, they are breaking the law, and we need give them no further consideration, end of discussion.  But he feels this text should be examined in the context of Romans 12; discerning submission, rather than blind obedience.

The book wraps up with a call to Christians to make their decisions on how to treat immigrants, legal or otherwise, with a view to what the Bible teaches and the example of Jesus.

The text is clear and in understandable language, with a logical progression of thought.  The introduction by Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference is a bit more jargon-laden.  There’s also an afterword by Ronald J Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action.

For further study, there’s an appendix of resources including websites, both pro- and anti-immigration.  There are extensive endnotes and a small index.

This book will be of most interest to Christians, particularly of the evangelical persuasion, searching for perspective on the issue of immigration.   People interested in the immigration issue who are not Christian might also find it helpful to understand the Biblical perspective.

To quote again, May the Lord illumine us and grant us understanding.

Open Thread: 2013 Roundup

Haven’t finished reading the next book in my pile yet, so let’s have a generic year’s roundup post!

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

People from around the globe have looked at this blog. The top ten countries for 2013 are: United States (way out in front, no surprise there), Canada, United Kingdom, France, Australia, Phillipines, Germany, Spain, Brazil and India. Only one visitor from Jamaica though. Can anyone recommend some good Jamaican books?

The top ten posts were:

  1. Anime Review: Magi – Labyrinth of Magic (Aided by the series getting a sequel in Falll 2013, still running and fairly popular.)
  2. Book Review: Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right (This autobiography of a daughter of John Birch Society stalwarts aroused a lot of interest.)
  3. Manga Review: Vagabond Volume 1 (The story of Japanese culture hero Miyamoto Musashi by the artist of Slam Dunk.)
  4. Manga Review: Ayako (A “mature readers” story by the legendary Osamu Tezuka–It’s good, but I have to wonder how many people clicked on it because of the naked lady on the cover.)
  5. Book Review: Ghosts in the Yew (This fantasy novel got almost all its clicks in one day when the author mentioned the review on his blog. He needs more fans.)
  6. Comic Strip Review: Dick Tracy (A review of the ongoing strip, still very good.)
  7. Manga Review: A*Tomcat (Another by Osamu Tezuka, this one a children’s story about an adorable kitten.)
  8. Comic Book Review: 47 Ronin (The classic Japanese based on a true story tale, illustrated by Stan Sakai. I also reviewed a book and 1962 film version, but not the 2013 film.)
  9. Manga Review: Triage X (A medical-themed vigilante tale by the artist but not the writer of Highschool of the Dead.)
  10. Comic Strip Review: Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, Volume 13 1950-1951 (One of the fine collected volumes of the strip’s original run.)

Other posts did not fare so well, with only a single click so far:

  • Book Review: Waco’s Debt (Part of J.T. Edson’s Western cycle.)
  • Book Review: Blood Lance (A medieval murder mystery with a guest appearance by the Spear of Victory.)
  • Book Review: Who Died in Here? (Short stories about death involving the restroom.)
  • Book Review: Torsten (The very first gay historical paranormal romance novel I’ve ever read.)
  • Book Review: Dead But Still Ticking (Humorous murder mysterry set in Columbus, Ohio.)
  • Book Review: Journeyman Wizard (YA fantasy/mystery set in a cold land.)
  • Book Review: The Devil – With Wings (Aviation pulp action set in 1930s China.)

Please consider sharing some love with these.

I’m looking forward to reading more books and writing reviews of them in 2014! Tell me what books you enjoyed reading in 2013, and what you’re looking forward to in 2014.

Happy New Year!
SKJAM!

Book Review: Glitter & Mayhem

Book Review: Glitter & Mayhem edited by John Klima, Lynne M Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas

Disclaimer:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Glitter & Mayhem

This volume is an anthology of speculative fiction short stories,  themed around dance clubs, loud parties, roller skates, sparkly light and glitter.  They’re full of sex, drugs and disco music.  I’ve never been much of a party person myself, not being fond of noisy crowds, deafening music or flashing lights.  So I can’t speak to the authenticity of the party scenes.

That said, there’s a fair mixture here of fantasy, SF and horror; as well as a couple of less genre-specific pieces.  The characters are a diverse lot, men, women and less defined genders, of multiple sexualities and races.

The stories I liked best were two straight-up roller derby tales: “Apex Jump” by David J. Schwartz, about a small town derby team that gets invited to an away game that’s out of this world;  and “Bad Dream Girl” by Seanan McGuire, which ties into her InCryptid series (which I have not read, but this story makes look promising.)

The introduction by Amber Benson comes off as overly pompous, and is quite skippable.  There are a number of interesting tidbits in the author bios in the back, which should help you if a story makes you want to read more of a particular writer.  This book, by the way, was a Kickstarter project, and the sponsors get their own thank you pages.  I am pleased to say that some of that money seems to have gone to competent proofreading and book design.

Trigger Warning:  The protagonist of “Subterraneans” commits rape by deception, and is not one whit repentant.

Overall:  There are a couple of standout stories, several quite decent ones, and a handful of clunkers.   If you’re much more into the dance party scene than I am, or are a big Kickstarter fan, you’ll probably enjoy this one enough to pay full price.  Everyone else should consider getting it from the library

Movie Review: Chushingura (The 47 Loyal Ronin)

Movie Review: Chushingura (The 47 Loyal Ronin) (1962)

As mentioned in my previous reviews of book and comic book versions, the tale of the forty-seven ronin is one of Japan’s great stories, based on true events.  Briefly, in 1701, Lord Kira provokes Lord Asano into breaking the rules of the Shogun’s court, a crime that can only be expiated by ritual suicide.  Asano’s samurai followers are immediately made ronin (masterless), and forbidden to avenge their master’s honor.

Chushingura

Several of the ronin decide to defy the shogunate decree, but Lord Kira is well aware of the danger, and his powerful relatives have supplied him with bodyguards to protect against retaliation.  Oishi, leader of the ronin, comes up with a plan to put Kira off his guard, but it will take over a year to complete…

The 1962 film version is in color, and big-budget by Japanese standards.   The early part of the story goes more into Lord Kira’s motivations; while he has a high rank, his holdings are small and impoverished.  Asano is prosperous thanks partially due to his province’s salt farms.  Kira tried to convince Asano to provide salt farming advice, but Asano refused on the grounds that the secret of their success was a proprietary family process.

In addition, Kira is fully invested in the quid pro quo method of doing business in the shogunate.  You give expensive gifts to people or do them favors, and in exchange they do things for you.   Lord Kira is guided by his principles of greed and lust, money and women are the most important things in his life.  At one point, he even hints that his wife should offer herself to the Shogun to earn him political favor.  (She is clearly not impressed.)

By contrast,  Lord Asano hates the bribery system and the corruption it engenders, and points out that laws have been passed against such behavior, that he intends to follow.  While he is aware that he needs Lord Kira to instruct him in court etiquette lest he offend the Emperor’s envoys, Asano refuses to compromise his principles, even though this angers Kira.

You might compare it to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and the conflict between Jimmy Stewart’s young, idealistic senator and the corrupt senior senator.

After Asano’s death, the story turns to the ronin, and how each of them copes with issues of honor, sacrifice and their conflicting emotions.  Meanwhile, Kira shows cowardice and openly mocks the traditional samurai virtues.

This is a long movie, clocking in at just under three and a half hours.  Thankfully, there’s a clearly marked stopping point between “Blossoms” and “Snow” that home viewers can use as a good time for intermission.  While the pacing is deliberate, there are no wasted moments.

This movie has a strong cast, the most familiar to Western audiences is probably Toshiro Mifune, who has an extended cameo as one ronin’s drinking buddy.  He seems to have been added just for the box office; compare to how Keanu Reeves was written to take over the whole film in the 2013 version.

Content warnings:  Although none of the suicides in the film is shown directly on camera, the plotline does revolve around the use of suicide as a way of maintaining or redeeming one’s honor, and several people die in combat, particularly in the climatic battle.  (One old woman is also accidentally killed in a subplot.)

Lord Kira peeps at a woman’s bare back and creepily embraces one of his maidservants, he’s clearly forcing himself on them by his own admission.  Oishi does a convincing job of pretending to enjoy himself in the red light district.  No on-screen sex or nudity, though.  Oh, and several men are seen in period-appropriate skimpy loincloths, going about their work.

Overall, this is a classic film and well worth looking up.  See my review of a comic book version here: http://www.skjam.com/2013/09/30/comic-book-review-47-ronin/  and a literary version here: http://www.skjam.com/2013/07/02/book-review-the-47-ronin/

Manga Review: Vinland Saga Book One

Manga Review: Vinland Saga Book One by Makoto Yukimura

It is the Eleventh Century C.E., and Europe trembles in fear of the raiders from the north, who we would call Vikings.  This is the story of one such Viking, the youth Thorfinn Thorssen.

Vinland Saga

This thick volume opens with a battle in the Frankish Kingdoms (later France) as Askeladd’s band of mercenaries offer their services to Lord Jabbath.  Among the raiders is Thorfinn, who is far deadlier than any beardless boy has a right to be.   But Thorfinn serves Askeladd for one reason only, to someday be allowed to kill his father’s murderer in a fair duel.

We then flash back to Thorfinn’s childhood in Iceland, and how it was that his father, the mighty Thors,  was treacherously slain.   But we also learn of old Erik and his tales of a land beyond the sea, without slavery or war.   This “Vinland” remains a place that Thorfinn cannot bring himself to search for until he has had his vengeance, reckless of the cost.

The art is excellent, and the creator has done his research (no horned helmets here!)   On the other hand, he does take some liberties with history (this will become more apparent in later volumes.)    This is an exciting tale of vengeance and violence, although it should be acknowledged that most of the people in the story just aren’t good people.  The one truly heroic person in this volume is the reluctant warrior Thors,  who believes that a true warrior should not need a blade to lead a good life.

Note:  While there is no rape in this volume, given the subject matter, I would not be surprised if it came up later in the series.  As is, there’s plenty of blood spilled and heads flying off;  it’s rated 16+, and I’d advise parents to stick to that.

I recommend this volume to fans of Viking tales and lovers of violent action stories.

Book Review: Why Do We Say It?

Book Review: Why Do We Say It? by unknown

As the subtitle on the cover suggest, this book is about words and phrases used in English, and where they came from.  It’s primarily in alphabetical order, except for some quizzes with answers at the back.  While many of the entries are amusing or interesting, a few are just “we borrowed it from French, but pronounced or spelled a little differently.”  Some of the word derivations are also a bit suspect,

Why Do We Say It?

This edition is put out by Castle Books, and was published in 1985.  There’s no author listed, no sources cited, no index; your college professor is not going to accept this as a source for your research paper.  From the typography, the writing style, the date of phrases not included, and some dated cultural assumptions, I believe this book is a reprint of one from the mid-1940s  (Some of the catchier phrases haven’t been in common use since the 1920s!)

Overall, a fun book, but the serious student of etymology will need a better-cited volume; for entertainment purposes only.

While we’re at it, here’s five questions from the book.  Can you answer them all?

  1. Why is some cloth called “broadcloth”?
  2. How did an unruly lock of hair come to be called a “cowlick”?
  3. What is the origin of the expression “fair-weather friends”?
  4. Why is a lively person said to be full of “ginger”?
  5. Why do we call a celebrity a “bigwig”?

Book Review: JFK in the Senate: Pathway to the Presidency

Book Review: JFK in the Senate: Pathway to the Presidency by John T. Shaw

Disclaimer:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

JFK in the Senate

As someone born after John F. Kennedy was elected president, and about two years old when he died, I don’t really remember him in the same way as the generation just a bit before mine.  I learned about his PT boat exploits in World War Two, and about the events of his presidency, and especially about his assassination.  But he didn’t come out of nowhere as a young president.

In the later 1940s and the 1950s, JFK served Massachusetts first as a member of the House of Representatives, and then as a senator.  This volume concentrates on those years, tracing Kennedy’s development from a callow new representative to a successful presidential candidate.  For me, this is pretty interesting reading, shining some light into the political processes of the time, and Kennedy’s learning process.

However, this is very much a volume about John F. Kennedy the politician, not JFK the person.  We read little about his personal life and how it might have affected him.  Rather than a strict chronological retelling, the book focuses on various policy areas that Kennedy worked on during his senatorial years; domestic issues, foreign policy and his special committee to choose five senators to honor with portraits.

Thus, not only do we not learn anything about how Jackie Kennedy might have influenced his personality or politics, but there is no mention of when JFK married her.  Just a note at one point of a magazine calling Kennedy a “bachelor” and at another of Jackie attending the club for wives of senators.  Similarly, nothing of his children save brief acknowledgment that they existed.

Therefore, this work would best be supplemented by a fuller biography for most readers.  But for the Kennedy scholar wanting a closer look at his early political career, this will be a big help.  There are some black and white photos at the center, one of which is mentioned as being staged.  As well, there are end notes, a bibliography and index.

Check it out from your college or public library if the subject matter appeals to you.

Comic Book Review: The Thrilling Adventure Hour

Comic Book Review: The Thrilling Adventure Hour by Ben Acker & Ben Blacker

The Thrilling Adventure Hour, it turns out, is a continuing theatrical performance and podcast in the style of old-time radio.  As such, it’s full of action, comedy and thrilling adventure.  This is their first illustrated tie-in graphic novel.

The Thrilling Adventure Hour

The contents range from straight-up science fiction (Tales of the USSA) through superhero action (Captain Laserbeam) to space western (Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars.)  My personal favorite was “Down in Moonshine Holler”, about a millionaire undercover as a hobo seeking his true love; in this chapter he and his fellow hobos arrive in Jacksonville during their annual lottery, but something seems off…..

The art is nice, featuring a variety of webcomics and small press comics artists.    Between the stories there are fake ads for the show’s sponsors, Workjuice Coffee and Patriot Brand Cigarettes.  The latter, and the feature “Beyond Belief” about perpetually drunk paranormal detectives, means that parents might not want to give this to small children.

This is rollicking good fun, and recommended to fans of anthology comics and old-time radio.

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