Wednesday, 6 May 2015

So I Read Through The Woods

Or a 250 word (or less) review of Through The Woods
by Emily Carroll; McElderly Books

Through The Woods is an anthology comics of short horror stories by Emily Carroll. The stories are presented in kind of a fairytale, storybook style and share a common theme of lurking horror. They are also just wonderfully creepy as hell. Carroll is a master at drawing out that moment of yawning dread and has designed a series of comics to just viscerally capitalize on it. If you like to be unsettled this is an excellent comic to choose. Through The Woods is also just really smart, really interesting comics. Carroll does some fantastic, experimental things with the use of colour and blank space and lettering and just about every formative element of comics. I often notice one or two things in a comic that I want to examine and show everyone, in Through The Woods there are comics that I just want to pick apart in their entirety on this blog. If you are the kind of person who likes cerebral, virtuosic comics, Through The Woods is a comic you have to read. It's just unreal and you have to see it for yourself.

Word count: 185

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Peripheral Is A Good Book

Or Why You Should Read The Peripheral
by William Gibson

Flynne's brother Burton, a disabled veteran of the US Advanced Haptic Recon force, needs a favour. He needs her to fill in for him at his off the books job and pilot a security drone in a game set in a futuristic London. Which was fine, even when the woman she was guarding is brutally murdered. It's a shock, but it's only a game. Except, it turns out, Burton's job wasn't a game and Flynne is now the witness to an actual, inexplicable murder. And now a man named Wilf Netherton is contacting her and claiming to be from the future. 

The Peripheral is a time travel story designed to explain our bizarre, fractured present. The novel oozes futurism, weaving central concepts with snappy one-off ideas into this granular, dense polymer of potential. This is a novel that is absolutely crammed full of material to ponder over. It's also a novel with a central premise that I cannot get over: the Sci-fi conceit of The Peripheral is time travel as a metaphor for inequality which I find endlessly fascinating. The novel portrays two different futures, years apart, one in the far future populated by a small number of insanely wealthy people enjoying the amazing fruits of technological achievement, and another, more contemporary future filled with poor, rural veterans struggling to get by. It perfectly captures the growing divide between the wealthy and the poor and the almost temporally different worlds they already inhabit. It's deeply insightful. Of course, this is all explored in a story filled with mystery, suspense, and humour; The Peripheral is far from a dry Sci-fi textbook. It's smart, but also very readable. I really enjoyed this book.

I would recommend The Peripheral to a pretty wide reading audience. Anyone interested in Science Fiction will absolutely enjoy this book: it's a mainline of futurism built around a brilliant high concept. But The Peripheral is also a suspenseful mystery novel filled with memorable, fun characters and deals with some pressing contemporary issues in an entertaining way. The Peripheral is also very well written. This is a novel that anyone who just likes good, engrossing books will probably enjoy. So, I would say that The Peripheral is a must read for any Sci-fi fan and a book worth looking into for anyone else looking something to read. It's good stuff.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Stuff I Like: Webcomics

Or here are some webcomics you might enjoy.

Before I was reading print comics I really enjoyed web comics of the joke-a-day variety. As an internet savvy undergad I enjoyed how accessible the comics were and how free to read they all were. Three panel strips about lulz video games and angsty heart ache where a fun way to kill five minutes before a class started on my brand new, first ever laptop, or something to ease myself into a study session on the pretty brutal library PCs before that. All of these webcomics were fun at the time, and I will forever hold the time spent reading them with a special nostalgia.

As time has gone by, I've fallen out of love with most of what I was reading. I stopped giving craps about video games or realized that the sort of edgy sexy comedy comic is actually wildly problematic. I saw comics I like end as the creators moved on to new, better paying projects. I saw comics get mired in bland repetition, or slow to an update schedule that was unforgivable, or just fade away. In one case I watched a creator clearly experience a break with reality. In another I watched with grim fascination as the geeks became business men who became just kind of total assholes. And in some cases my tastes just changed.

But there are still a few stalwart, regularly updating strip-style webcomics that I still absolutely love and think you might really enjoy. So, here are some Webcomics I can recommend without reservations:

Scary Go Round by John Allison: At the moment, I think the enterprise is called Bad Machinery, or maybe it's Bobbins (the new Bobbins, not the original one). It was just Expecting To Fly. It is sometimes Murder She Wrote and Giant Days, except now Giant Days is an ongoing from Boom Studios. For me, though, it will always be Scary Go Round. Or maybe more accurately, the amazing comics of John Allison. Because really all of the stories are at least loosely connected with each other and span, wow, probably at least a decade of storytelling. The Scary Go Round comics show a pretty impressive range of stories and characters but generally centre around the fictional northern English town of Tackleford and often involve some sort of Sci-fi or supernatural MacGuffin to drive the plots. (A favourite chapter for instance features The Boy (Le Garcon!) on a French exchange where he must resist his extra-relationship feelings for a cute French girl and expose the new French Easter Bunny as a Wendigo in disguise). Scary Go Round (etc) is just filled with fun, uncouth stories filled with wonderfully developed characters and a weird and inane sense of humour coupled to some of my favourite cartoon art in the world. It is endlessly fun and I cannot recommend it enough. Updates Mon-Fri and sometimes more.

Jumping on points: 
Recent continuity free Scary Go Round story: Expecting to Fly
Fairly recent reboot focusing on new characters: Bad Machinery
Favourite older Scary Go Round stories: Giant Days and The Bell

Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran: Remember those earnest television cartoons from our Millennial Youths? Those fun, but really dramatic cartoons that followed young teens as they learned about life largely by making mistakes? Well Octopus Pie is like the adult equivalent of these deeply important cultural artifacts. It stars a pair of 20-something women and their friends living in Brooklyn and trying to figure out life. But not in like, a super precious way: Octopus Pie has a certain self-deprecating charm that stops it from being obnoxiously twee. While Octopus Pie starts as a Nerds-vs-Stoners odd couple story, it grows and evolves into a story about really well developed young adults struggling with under-employment, being cash-strapped, relationship angst, and just generally being emotional dummies. I find the comic relatable, funny, and just filled with first-world tragedy and cathartic mini-triumphs. It's great. Updates once or twice a weekly usually.

Jumping on points:
The current storyline is mostly easy to pick up and is in colour: Go HERE.
A classic story that serves as a good intro to the world: Couch Sitter
A personal favourite of mine: Skate or Don't

Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell: Not all strip comics have to be humour focused. Gunnerkrigg Court is a strip based, serialized comic about two girls at a weird boarding school filled with magic and mad science and mystery. The plot centres around the two girls, Antimony Carver and Katerina Donlan, as they grow up, discover their aptitudes, and become embroiled in the complicated and contentious relationship of the structured Court and the surrounding magical denizens of the Forest. Gunnerkrigg Court is all ages in the best ways and is filled with humour, wonder, and discovery. The art is quite nice and is constantly evolving and growing along with the characters and writing. It's fantastic. Updates M-W-F.

Jumping on points:
Honestly, as much as the comic improves as it runs, I think you need to start this one at the beginning: Go HERE.

The Perry Bible Fellowship by Nicholas Gurewitch: This comic barely updates anymore, but for me it will always be, like, the ideal of gag strips. The comic features beautiful artwork and a warped, transgressive sense of humour. PBF also is maybe the best comic I've read at quickly establishing premises and delivering unexpected, clever punchlines. Every joke is different and worth at least looking at. Updates "wheneverly" and rarely.

Jumping on points:
Every joke stands alone so go to the home page (HERE) and just mash the "random" button and enjoy.

Post by Michael Bround

Stuff I Like: Podcasts

Friday, 1 May 2015

Marvelling At Captain Marvel #10-14

Or a roundup of cool features from recent issues of Captain Marvel
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Warren Ellis, David Lopez, Marcio Takara, Laura Braga, Lee Loughridge, Nick Filardi, and Joe Caramagna; Marvel Comics

Captain Marvel is another comic I can count on to always be good. It's also a comic that is frequently pretty seamless: it features amazing dialogue, fantastic acting artwork, and clear functional storytelling. It's a comic that does all of its constituent jobs well, but often in a way that is quietly great. Less elaborate flourish, more solid workmanship. Which makes writing about the comic a little difficult sometimes. 

That said, Captain Marvel does feature some pretty clever choices, so I've rounded up some of my favourite comics moments recently in Captain Marvel here.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Captain Marvel #10, #11, and #12 specifically

Captain Marvel #10 makes good use of infringing on comic gutters for fun storytelling effects. The more obvious of these choices is for emphasis: we see Spider-Woman break panel borders with her body and see her energy blasts surge over boundaries and seemingly out of the page. This makes her the focal and emotional centre of the page and makes her blasts seem especially powerful and important. It's a straightforward approach but it makes this page exciting and interesting. 

Captain Marvel #10 has more adept and interesting games to play with the gutter spaces between panels. The story of the issue has amoral (or maybe outright evil) genius Grace Valentine launch a quest of vengeance against Captain Marvel and her allies by mind controlling a horde of New York rats. So much of the story revolves around hundreds and hundreds of rats (a ratatouille of rats?) overrunning New York and invading the subleased Statue of Liberty apartment of Carol Danvers. In a really clever and adorable bit of comics, many of the gutters feature little rats peaking out from between the panels. On the one hand this is just kind of fun, but on another it really emphasizes the feeling of being infested with rodents. There are so many rats in Captain Marvel #10 that they are even appearing in the parts of the comic that it should be impossible for them to be in. It's a really effective and fun choice.

Captain Marvel #11 has a great two page sequence that does some interesting, comics rule breaking things. The sequence, which sees Carol Danvers drugged unconscious by the Toxic Doxy and then regain consciousness captive is delivered in a very effective way. After Carol is dosed with the drug, there is a break between the normal structure of the comic, which functions as a sort of visual shorthand for reality, and Carol herself. We see the background panels become repetitive and strrreettcchhhh as the moment drags out, while meanwhile Carol falls, along with some collapsing panels, out of the plane of the page and faints into a white, roiling zone perpendicular to the normal structure of the comic. Then we get a well placed page turn, giving a clear break between events, before returning to Carol as, golden coloured and still surrounded by the panels of fainting, she oozes back into the page and reality. Which on a purely visual level is pretty interesting.

It is also super evocative of the experience of being sedated to the loss of consciousness. I've only done local anaesthesia once in my life, but I can remember the way time stretched, growing dim and fuzzy, before suddenly I was thrown from reality and rendered oblivious before, even fuzzier, I slowly swam back to reality. The way this sequence dilates time, literally casts Carol out of the universe of the page, and then gives a clear, quick feeling discontinuity between story sections wonderfully encapsulates that experience. It's a really smart stretch of comics.

This double page spread from Captain Marvel #12 is also pretty cool. Obviously it has a giant Space Tardigrade, aka Space Water Bear, which is totally rad. More things in life should feature Water Bears, particularly giant Water Bears. It's also a cool spread because it quietly does a lot of smart comics things to make a pretty dense composition work really well. The page is double page spread which immediately imparts a sense of size and majesty to the Tardigrade and puts the rest of the events in relation to this noble space monster. The rest of the key storytelling items are arranged on the page in a long continuous curve starting at the Space Water Bear's eye catching mouth and sweeping across the page. This allows readers to quickly parse the story elements and experience them in a fast feeling order. This sweeping arc of smaller panels is also interesting in how it plays with panel position and size to impart motion and proximity in a clear way. While swinging across the page we see Carol's spacecraft start big and "close" and shrink as it travels "further away" while the space between panel moments increase as the ship accelerates. Conversely we see the HUD display of the enemy base/refinery grow larger as the ship dwindles, signifying that the spaceship and the story are approaching the base. It all comes off as a tremendously smooth and organic page, but when you break it down this sequence introduces a cool new setting, a new situation, and some stage direction very clearly. And, you know, giant Space Water Bear.

Captain Marvel is another absolute horse of a comic that does its normal comics business very well and sometimes also manages to make some really clever comics.

Post by Michael Bround

Marvelling at Captain Marvel #9: a rhyme map of a rock and roll space opera
Marvelling at Captain Marvel #4: Joyous collaboration.
Marvelling at Captain Marvel #3: When joke and story telling collide
Marvelling at Captain Marvel 17: A meta-fandom salute
Marvelling at Captain Marvel 15-16: On tie ins
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #13-14: On The Enemy Within
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #12: Demarcating reality and fantasy
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #10: A dramatic contract
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #9: How your brain tells time
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #7: Saving a reporter in distress... AND ITS A MAN!
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #1: An alternate reading order that I liked more

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

So I Read The Unwritten: The Unwritten Fables

Or a 250 word (or less) review of The Unwritten Vol. 9
by Mike Carey, Bill Willingham, Peter Gross, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leiahola, Inaki Miranda, Russ Braun, Dean Ormston, Chris Chuckry, Todd Klein; Vertigo Comics

This review is on part of an ongoing series. For a *SPOILER* free review of the first issues go here. But, this comic has like, nothing to do with the series proper, so you should be fine to read the review.

Once upon a time I read a pretty big chunk of Fables, something like the first 7 trade paperbacks. I found them endlessly charming, filled with adventure and romance and just enough tragedy. I remember this time fondly and have always meant to get back to the series. But, man, judging from The Unwritten Fables, Fables proper has gotten fucking bonkers. The Unwritten Fables is a crossover comic between The Unwritten and Fables, two comics that have no real overlap. In the comic, Tom Taylor, the maybe-a-fictional-boy-wizard hero of The Unwritten is waylaid by the fables of Fables and drafted into their war against Mister Dark, AKA the Bogeyman. Tom Taylor is transformed into his boy-wizard-self and, along with the desperate surviving Fables, mounts a last, cataclysmic stand against their all-powerful foe. And this comic sucked. If you read this blog, you know I try to be nuanced in my criticism, but this comic is a creative failure.  It fails as an Unwritten story since the story doesn’t advance the series plot. It better have failed as a Fables story, or been a what-if for that series, because it's fucking bonkers. It fails as a crossover because the comic lacks all the smart nuance of the Unwritten and the charm of Fables. I cannot imagine picking this comic up, as a fan of either series, and being tempted to try the other title. The art was frequently terrible and rushed.  This chapter feels like a betrayal of long-term Unwritten readers.

Word count: 250

Post by Michael Bround

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Light Is A Good Book

Or why you should read Light,
by M John Harrison

The synopsis on the back of Light sets up a mystery about a human skeleton,  a pair of bone dice, and abandoned spacecraft on an asteroid beneath the Kefahuchi Tract and suggests the novel will explain what these objects are doing there. Light itself, though, really functions as three distinct and largely separate stories about broken horrible people that eventually culminate in the scenario described. The first story is about Michael Kearney, a computer scientist trying to produce the first quantum computer who also happens to compulsively murder women in a bid to escape The Shrander. The second story follows Seria Mau Genlicher, a young K-ship captain and rogue on a quest to open a package belonging to a mysterious Dr. Haends. The final story is about Ed Chianese, a tank addicted twink out of money, time, and luck who is on the run from the Cray Sisters and the enigmatic Sandra Shen. The three stories, despite being set in radically different times and spaces, thematically weave together a larger story about the depths and lengths people will go to when haunted by their demons.

Light is a fractured thing, functioning at once as a horror story set in contemporary London, a space opera set in the farthest reaches of the Kefahuchi Tract, and a cyberpunk noir set in the squalor of the slums of New Venusport. It is a rich and eclectic mix of genres that at once feels daring, intellectual, and schizophrenic. Which is really a feeling that permeates the novel: the various protagonists of Light are all bold, compelling, and horribly flawed people. Michael Kearney is clearly brilliant and charismatic but also dangerously insane while Seria Mau is a cold blooded murderer who is also a traumatized girl suffering from profound dysmorphia and Ed Chianese is a compassionate junkie with the amorality of someone with nothing left to live for. It is a cast that is at once charming, despicable, and pathetic. Which is really what Light was for me: a very winning novel that was intellectually challenging and soul-soilingly dark. 

But damn if it wasn't compelling to read.

I would recommend Light to any mature reader looking for something bizarre and genre. Light  plays with a lot of familiar genre elements in really deft and creative ways and creates an interesting and original world. Even as a stalwart Sci-fi reader this book felt fresh and new. But it was also a dark and twisted read filled with horrible people doing dubious and down right awful things. This is not a feel good story or one suited to young readers. It's worth reading, but get ready to want a soul shower at the end of it.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Deep Sequencing: Zero Atlas

Or a geographic plot map of Zero Vol. 1-2
by Ales Kot, Michael Walsh, Tradd Moore, Mateus Santolouco, Morgan Jeske, Will Tempest, Vanesa R Del Rey, Matt Taylor, Jorge Coelho, Tonci Zonjic, Michael Gaydos, Jordie Bellaire, and Clayton Cowles; Image Comics

One of my favourite comic things is when a comic rigorously annotates time, date, and location. I think it adds a level of reality to the narrative that makes the comic feel much more authentic. It also means I can take the times, dates, and locations and make annotated plot maps! Zero is a globe trotting Sci-fi espionage comic that lends itself to making a plot-atlas. 

I guess there are kind of *SPOILERS* in it.

This version includes events in Zero Vol. 1 and 2. Click on the image for a larger version of the Zero plot-atlas. 

So I Read Zero: Vol. 1
So I Read Zero: Vol. 2

Deep Sequencing: Brutal Action
Deep Sequencing: Gun fight!