Book Review: How I Resist

Book Review: How I Resist edited by Tim Federle & Maureen Johnson

Disclaimer:  I received this advance uncorrected proof through a Goodreads giveaway for the purpose of writing this review.  No other compensation was offered or requested.  As an uncorrected proof, there will be significant changes between this and the final product.

How I Resist

As I write these words, yet another school shooting has sparked an upsurge in student activism.  Thus the appearance in my mailbox of this collection of essays and interviews on activism and hope aimed at the young adult market was timely.  The selection of authors and artists includes such popular figures as Jodi Picoult and Javier Muñoz, plus a wide variety of folks I have never heard of but younger Americans may be more conversant with.

The first essay in the book is “Could We Please Give the Police Departments to the Grandmothers?” by Junauda Petrus which waxes lyrical about solving crime problems with stern looks and good food.  Very Afrofuturism.  Last is Karuna Riazi with “Refilling the Well”, which is about her emotional self-care while trying to change the world for the better.

One of the hazards of reading such an early proof of the book is that none of the interior illustrations are present, including the ones that are a contributor’s entire entry.  Also, there’s a comics trivia error in Maya Rupert’s essay about imagining a black Wonder Woman that I can’t tell if it’s the author’s or a typesetter glitch.  (Have I mentioned that I’m an annoying nerd about comics trivia?)

I do, however, like the cover with all the author bio pictures.  It does a good job of giving faces to the people writing and drawing these pieces.

This is a collection curated through a strong political lens for a particular type of young person.  If you are the sort of young adult who thinks the right person won in 2016 (Hillary’s loss hit several of the contributors hard); that America’s problems are caused by uppity women, dark-skinned people and “weirdos” being allowed to have a say; and that protests are only acceptable when you don’t have to see them, hear about them or be influenced by them in any way…this book will not go well with you.

Most of the contributions are interesting or thought-provoking–I’m a bit disappointed by Rosie O’Donnell going with a glorified tweet.  The editors have an introduction, mid-word and afterword, which is a bit much, and they come off as trying too hard to be “woke” and “down with the young people.”

There’s a list of suggested reading in the back, ranging from 1984 to We Should All Be Feminists.

Consider this one as a gift for a teenager or college student who’s into political or social activism.  Older readers might want to pick it up if you are a fan of one of the contributors.

Comic Book Review: The Building

Comic Book Review: The Building by Will Eisner

This is a ghost story.   In New York City, a brand new building has risen where another one stood for eighty years.  But not all remnants of the old building’s history are gone.  Today, four people from the past appear, their tales entwined with this site.

The Building

Will Eisner (1917-2005) was one of the first creators to produce original material for comic books, which had started out as reprint magazines for newspaper comic strips.  His best known creation was The Spirit, who ran from 1940 to 1952.  The strip was known for its innovative layouts and strong writing (even if done by “ghosts” during most of World War Two.)

He kept busy with various projects, including training manuals for the military, and a monthly preventive maintenance magazine with comic book elements.  In the late 1970s, he returned to fiction with A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories, which popularized the term “graphic novel” for long-form comics storytelling in a single volume.  Mr. Eisner’s work in this line continued, and was so influential that a major comic book award was named after him.

In this story, we learn about the four ghosts.  Monroe Mensh was a shoe salesman who minded his own business until the day a child was gunned down in front of him.  Anguished by the thought that he could have done something to prevent this tragedy, Monroe dedicated his life to charity, trying to save children without a great deal of success.

Gilda Green, a pretty dental assistant, loved penniless poet Benny, but married her successful employer for economic stability.  She couldn’t commit fully to either relationship, which resulted in heartbreak for everyone.

Antonio Tonatti loved to play the violin, but he wasn’t quite good enough to make a living at it.  So he got a decent-paying construction job and only played for special occasions.  That is, until an accident left him disabled.  His pension being good enough to keep him housed and fed, Antonio returned to his first love, and became a street musician near the building.

P.J. Hammond was the son of a real estate magnate, who followed his father into the business.  At first, he had some idealistic notions about the social responsibilities of landlords, but exposure to what it really took to get ahead in the business hardened his heart.  As part of a huge development deal he put together, P.J. was adamant on repurchasing the first building his father had owned.

But the new owners refused to sell, and P.J. became obsessed.  He finally resorted to the most underhanded methods that were still marginally legal that he could think of–but it was a Pyrrhic victory that eventually bankrupted him.  P.J. was finally forced to sell out this last remaining building, which was razed, and the Hammond Building put in its place.

Today, these four ghosts appear, and each in their way intervenes in events.   The new building is now free to collect its own stories, and its own ghosts.

This is great stuff, pictures and words working together to tell a story that would not work without either.   The long-story format allows for many single-panel pages focused on the tall buildings that are the setting, but also multiple-panel pages showing changes over time.

We get to know the characters, their flaws and failings as well as their good intentions.  There is much sadness here, but also hope.

Highly recommended as an example of what the comics medium can be used for, and an excellent story.

Manga Review: Vinland Saga Book Eight

Manga Review: Vinland Saga Book Eight by Makoto Yukimura

Warning:  This review contains spoilers for earlier volumes in the series.  If you have not read those, you may want to refer to my earlier reviews instead.

Vinland Saga Book Eight

Thorfinn Thorsson has finally arrived back in Iceland after more than a decade away.  His sister, now a wife and mother herself, tells Thorfinn that he’s of an age when he should get married and settle down.  Snoggi the fisherman has five lovely granddaughters of the right age, and is looking for an heir.  Thorfinn admits that the life of a fisherman is not a bad one, but he has other plans.

Thorfinn has seen much bloodshed and suffering–and caused some himself.  With his new pacifist ideals, the young man wants to mount an expedition to Vinland, to build a community without war or slavery.  The problem is, that expedition will need a lot of front money, and where will he get the funding?

Thus this epic tale of the Viking age enters another phase.  It has changed considerably from its initial plotline of vengeance seeking, though as we will see, that theme has not entirely vanished.

The only fellow around with deep enough pockets is Halfdan the Chainer, who has built up a fortune by lending money to small holders, then making them his thralls if they do not pay up.  He is not without his own form of honor, but is a hard man.  Halfdan also has his own concerns.  His not quite as bright son Sigurd is soon to be married to Leif’s sister-in-law Gudrid.

Gudrid was a child bride, and widowed before the marriage could be consummated.  That was something of a relief to her, as Gudrid has always resented the gender roles of her society.  She wants to be a sailor, exploring the wide world, not a wife to stay home and tend the household.  But now Leif’s family is entering an alliance with Halfdan, so she’s being forced into this arranged marriage.

When Thorfinn approaches Halfdan with the proposal for the Vinland expedition, Halfdan tries his favorite game of breaking men’s  pride.  But Thorfinn has no pride to break.   So Halfdan decides on a new game.  He gives Thorfinn a cargo of narwhal horns, of minimal value in Iceland, but priceless in far-off Greece.  If Thorfinn can survive the journey and return with a good profit, Halfdan will support the expedition.

As Thorfinn, Einar, Thorfinn Bug-Eyes, and Leif prepare to cast off for the journey, they are joined by Gudrid.  The wedding night…did not go well, and she needs to leave pronto.  With great reluctance, she is allowed to board.    Her not actually dead husband Sigurd soon figures out what happens, and sets out in pursuit.

The vengeance theme comes back as the travelers stumble across Karli, an orphaned infant that none of the locals will take in lest the killers of Karli’s family target them as well.  After all, when Karli is grown, he will be honor bound to kill the killers.  There’s some comedy when it turns out that none of the group know how to take care of a baby, even Gudrid.  She has to explain basic female anatomy to Thorfinn, who had never gotten around to learning before.

And then there’s a cliffhanger, as Thorfinn faces vengeance from his own murderous past.

The art and characterization continue to be top notch, the humorous moments working well to offset the dramatic themes.

There’s less violence than in the previous volume, but it’s just as intense and horrifying when it does occur.  Gudrid’s wedding night is borderline; Sigurd doesn’t want to rape Gudrid, but he doesn’t think to check how she feels about having sex.  (It doesn’t get further than him opening her outer clothing before she reacts badly.)

Period sexism is pivotal in Gudrid’s plotline.  (It’s not mentioned in-story, but her mannish taste in clothing would have been grounds for divorce if she kept wearing such after the wedding.)  But we also see the point of view of women who fit better into Icelandic society.

By changing up the story direction every few volumes, this series remains fresh and interesting.  Highly recommended.

Let’s have a Viking video!

Book Review: Greek Myths: A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys

Book Review: Greek Myths: A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Tanglewood is a large country house out in the Berkshires which is owned by the Pringle family. They have a great many relatives with young children who often come visiting, and it frequently falls to their sole teenage relative, Eustace Bright, to entertain the younglings. It’s a good thing that young Mr. Bright knows many fascinating stories, and delights in the telling of them! Through the year, he regales his audience with tales of Greek mythology.

Greek Mythology: A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys

Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of the great American writers, creating The Scarlet Letter among other fine books, and was part of the Romantic and Gothic movements in literature. As seen in the introduction to this volume, he was also a firm believer in the right of writers to adapt and modernize stories in the public domain to match the needs of a new audience.

So it is that Eustace Bright feels free to switch details up, omit large sections and invent new plot points or characterization as he tells six stories from the Greek myth cycles. Covered in this volume are: Perseus & Medusa (which was also covered in The Blue Fairy Book which I have previously reviewed); King Midas and the Golden Touch; Pandora’s Box (lots of liberties taken here); Hercules and the Three Golden Apples; Philemon & Baucis; and Bellerophon & Pegasus. Introductions and postludes detail how each story comes to be told and the children’s reactions.

Mr. Hawthorne has some fun with his characters–Eustace has the sympathy of the narrator, but we are reminded from time to time that he is, after all, just a very bright teenager. The words “sophomoric erudition” are used, and Eustace has a fourth wall-breaking speech in which he admits that Hawthorne could in fact rewrite him and all his relatives at will. The member of the child audience who gets the most development is Primrose, a saucy thirteen year old lass who pokes fun at her older cousin’s self-importance even as she clamors for more of his stories.

The writing is lively and often humorous, but the “modernization” of the Greek myths ironically makes the telling seem old-fashioned. On the other hand, modern children might find the sections set in “the present day” more alien than the familiar stories of myth. There are also many fine illustrations by Walter Crane, including several color plates–sensitive parents should know that there’s some artistic nudity. And though some of the ickier aspects of Greek mythology are glossed over or omitted, there’s still plenty of violence.

The edition I have is a Barnes & Noble reprint; unlike The Blue Fairy Book it seems not to have been shortened. It’s a handsome book that should withstand being read by children.

Recommended for parents who want to introduce their children to relatively child-safe tellings of Greek mythology. I would suggest reading it with your children the first go-round to explain the setting of the frame story and help with some archaic words.

Comic Book Review: Vertigo CYMK

Comic Book Review: Vertigo CYMK edited by Scott Nybakken

Disclaimer:  I received this volume from a Goodreads giveaway for the purpose of writing this review.  No other compensation was offered or requested.

Vertigo CMYK

I don’t talk a lot about colorists.  In most comics, they’re not noticed unless they really screw up, or there’s a particularly striking image.  But they are an essential part of the color comics creation process.  It’s the colorist who makes sure that the characters have the same color clothing and hair from panel to panel and page to page.  The colorist has to choose appropriate background colors that will complement the foreground without hurting the eyes, and create mood with appropriate shades for the circumstances.  It’s a difficult job and one that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

The reason I bring this up is because this anthology comic book is all about color.  It’s named after Cyan/Magenta/Yellow/blacK, the four inks used in tiny dots to create all the colors in the “four color” printing process that allowed color to work on cheap newsprint paper.  For many years it was used both for the Sunday comics and comic books.  The latter are printed on fancier paper now, allowing for more shades and variations, but “four-color” is a history that all comics creators know.  This was originally a four-issue series with each color getting a focus.

The Cyan section leads off with “Serial Artist” by Shaun Simon (writer), Tony Akins (artist) and Andrew Dalhouse (colorist.)  A struggling musician falls in love with a girl he finds “tagging” a building.  When he inherited a funeral parlor, he feels obligated to make a go of that instead.  His girlfriend has an idea for bringing in some business…he really should have asked more questions about that building she was putting graffiti on.

Many of the pieces aren’t full stories, but mood pieces or story fragments.

One of my favorites is “Adrift” by Jody Houser (writer)  and Nathan Fox (artist who did his own colors.)   A bereaved girl has a conversation with her little sister’s “Barbara Jean” doll while they wait for her grandmother’s funeral.  The doll’s garish magenta clashes with the gray tones around her in a way that emphasizes she’s not of this world.

The Black section tends towards…well, darker pieces, but a couple of them play against this expectation.  “Super Blackout” by Gene Luen Yang (writer) and Sonny Liew (art & colors) is about an app that allows you to erase photos on your smartphone–but that’s not its true purpose.  There’s some effective use of app icons to carry the story with a minimum of dialogue.

Each section ends with a story by Fabio Moon, who does all the chores himself.  They form a connected narrative about a vase artisan and his friend who lose one gallery and go in search of another.  The artisan is able to see this loss as an opportunity and sees hope in the future.

While some of the pieces are weaker than others, it’s a beautiful assortment.  I should mention that this is a Vertigo “mature readers” title, so there is some violence and nudity, as well as rough language.  There are stories that involve suicide and rape, both off-page.  (It doesn’t wallow in it like some other Vertigo series have, however.)

I’d recommend this book especially to art students to see how different colorists work with artists and writers to enhance the stories.

Book Review: The Overcoming Life

Book Review: The Overcoming Life by D.L. Moody

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

The Overcoming Life

Dwight Lyman Moody (1837-1899) was one of the great evangelists of the Nineteenth Century.  Although of limited education himself, he strongly supported higher learning and founded the Chicago Bible Institute (renamed after him after his death).  He was a big believer in missionary work as well and sent many people to China to spread the good word.

This book was originally published in 1896, towards the end of Mr. Moody’s career.  It is, essentially, a sermon in book form on the subject of living a life that continues to overcome the old sinful nature.

It comes with a new introduction by J. Paul Nyquist, and a short biography of Mr. Moody.   You might want to skip the former until after reading the book, as it’s a bit redundant and a teensy “here’s how you should read this book.”

Once into the main text, Mr. Moody demonstrates his preaching skills.  He might have started barely able to read the Bible himself, but by this late date he had plumbed its depths and could call up needed verses with a natural flow.  He’s also full of stories, both those he experienced himself and ones he was told by others or read, that illustrate points.  The language is a bit antiquated in parts, but nothing that a strong reader won’t be able to parse.

He has messages for both the saved Christian and those who are unsaved.  It is not necessary to come to Jesus already cleansed of sin, Mr. Moody states, you come to Him as you are, even with the chains of wrongdoing and worldly urges still upon you.

But once you are saved, and salvation is free for the asking, it is up to you to continue working on overcoming the old nature within you.  “It is like this:  when a man enters the army, he is a member of the army the moment he enlists; he is just a much a member as a man who has been in the army ten or twenty years.  But enlisting is one thing and participating in a battle another.”

Some Christians become discouraged because they face temptation even stronger than when they were unsaved, and God seems to have left them alone on the road.  Mr. Moody points to the many great men of the Bible who failed at some point or another, yet God did not desert them.  He also speaks of his own struggles with the sins of pride and anger, often having to mend fences with those he has sinned against.

He speaks of the enemies that Christians face, both within and without.  He’s especially hard on the problem of alcohol–Mr. Moody was a forerunner of the Prohibition movement.  he also speaks of the virtues that Christians can use to overcome these enemies; temperance, humility and kindness.

A large portion of the book is given to the matter of Noah, and it is here that I must regretfully disagree with Mr. Moody.   He believes that if the story of Noah is not literally true exactly as it is set down, then the whole Bible falls apart.  There has been a century or more since of advances in scientific knowledge and Biblical scholarship since Mr. Moody’s day, and the literal story of Noah just doesn’t stand up.

If given a choice between the Bible sometimes using metaphor and greatly simplified stories to tell a greater truth, and God deliberately making the stars and stones and genetic material such that they would contradict His own Word, then I’m going to go with the former.

That said, he tells a rip-roaring version of what it might have been like to live in the days of Noah, before the Flood.

The sermon ends with “Seven ‘I Wills’ of Christ”, detailing Jesus’ promises to those who come to HIm for salvation and persevere despite the hardships.

Afterwards are several passages of Scripture, and the words to some great old hymns.

This is a work of invitation, of admonishment and encouragement; if you feel the call, come and read.

Let;s end with a hymn, written by one of D.L. Moody’s friends–“It is Well with My Soul.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8_EfDqF7YI

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