Friday, December 29, 2017

Comic reviews

Just found this post in my drafts. May as well publish it!

Supergirl - Being Super 1
This has the most accurate teenage girl dialogue I have heard in a long time. It's vulgar and brash and loving.  It sounds like the teen girls conversations I hear on the street.  I don't know how this comic came about but it seems to be about a Kara who doesn't know her origins, and I don't recognise her parents' names either.  I'm not sure I've read any Kara story like this before, so I am quietly pleased I found it.  Includes a queer best friend too.

Supersons 1
This hasn't quite the carmarderie of Superman/Batman titles but give it time and the creators could get there.  I might try a few more issues.

Klaus and the Witch of Winter one-shot
A lovely myffic story about Father Christmas and his role in winter, with a lovely bit about how winter turns into spring, which felt very apt as this week the trees have turned to blossom and it's possible to go outside without thick winter wear on.

Books and comics

Recently I have read a few more books - the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and two Tiffany Aching Discworld books (spoilers for the final Discworld book - A Shepherd's Crown).  I have also read a few comics.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Girlhood by Cat Clarke

This has a bright pink cover and I thought it would be some sort of feminist call to arms. It's not. It's a boarding school story. It's about friendship (female friendship), finding yourself, grief, the impact of anorexia on the family, grief and loss. And guilt. I expect with grief there is always guilt.

I didn't enjoy this as much as I thought I would. I was deeply suspicious that it would turn out to be a tacky slasher killer book. It wasn't. It was warm, and tender, but I felt like I had to search for those feelings. Because I was concerned where it would go I couldn't fully sink into it. If I read it again I think I'd appreciate it much more.

I wasn't impressed enough to seek out other Cat Clarke books, but if I see another in a charity shop I'd give it a whirl. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Power by Naomi Alderman

I had high hopes for this book and I was sorely dissapointed.

The premise is that women one day develop this electric power. It starts in teenage girls then is passed to older women. This overturns the status quo of all societies and in the end there is a cataclysm.

The book starts with letters between a male author and a fenale editor (or possibly friend) discussing his manuscript. This is 5000 years in the future, post cataclysm when there is very little historical evidence of life before the cataclysm. The manuscript is the novel and it attempts to explain how women got the power and how the events that led to world wide disaster unfolded.  The book ends with further letters discussing the merits and plausability of the novel.

My issue with the book is I don't see the point of it. It's themes are that power corrupts and that the female gender are just as capable of violence as the male gender.

To me, this is an obvious point and it doesn't need a full book to make it.  The letters between author and editor/friend are enough to make this point.  It would have been a far more effective book if it was just letters between the author and editor/friend.

A few scenes in the book were difficult to read - these were mostly those that showed how power went to the women's heads and the structural inequalities that developed year on year.  I think the reason these were hard to read was the feeling of futility that these scenes created.  It's such an utterly miserable view of the future.

Recently I have been banging on about why the Wonder Woman film is so good, and its because the theme in that is that love conquers all and love is worthy. It's so positive, even throughout the scenes of horror, like the no man's land scene. Humanity does awful things to each other but if we believe in love we can make things better.

There isn't any positivity in this book. I compare it to Malorie (?) Blackman's Noughts and Crosses which made black people the dominant race and white folks the oppressed. Noughts and Crosses showed us the horrors of racism but there was positivity from the characters, someone to root for. The characters recognised the shitness of the system and fought against it.

No one really fights against the system in The Power. Everyone is self interested.  Vengeful.  Power corrupts all.

Admittedly in Noughts and Crosses the racebent nature of the world highlighted the privilege and systemic racism I as a white person benefit from. Whereas in the genderbent world of The Power I am well aware that what the men suffer women suffer everyday, in this world. Maybe this book would be a kick up the arse to men who read it.

However I just don't like reading such negative stuff. I want my books to make me feel lifted, to give me stories of endurance and generosity, of strength of will and companionship, of love and trust. Of good things for even a small amount of people. The Power does not give me that. It brings me down and just reminds me what a shit unfair deal women have. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Further adventures in reading (or reading about adventures)

I had a think about what comics I'm buying and what I'm getting from them and I decided to cancel Bombshells.  The last 6 or 8 issues have been truly hard work. Typically, I cancel it, then get home and read #29 where Supergirl and Lois meet and it's love at first sight, and Superman is introduced in a 1930s strong man suit:

What a fabulous design!  However I must remind myself that queering Kara and Lois and redesigning Supes is not enough to keep me reading, and spending money.  I think I have 4 issues left to pick up and then I'm done with this.

My pull list is now
Wonder Woman
Bitch Planet
Black Magick

The DC titles aren't doing much for me so are likely to get cancelled.  Bitch Planet, Black Magick and Princeless come out sporadically.  I think I'd like to read standalone mini series, or non superhero stuff.  I think I'd also like to read more independent stuff.  I know I want to catch up on Clockwork Watch, Jennie Gyllblad's other work and Magic of Myths.  I think the Cinebook titles would be good to revisit too.  I know I am not interested in reading Saga or any Image stuff that was hyped up and popular about 4 years ago.  Right now I can't remember any other publishing houses.

Please give me your recommendations.  I think superheros are off the menu for now, I've read far too many superhero stories and it's the same things over and over and over.  I need a break from them.

I have been reading more books recently.  The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Society was great fun. Whimiscal and humourous with a good insight into Nazi occupied Guernsey.  I didn't know the Germans took over Guernsey.  It was awful.  The protagonist was immensely likeable and the book felt filled with affection and love.  I liked that.

I also read Beauty Queens by Libba Bray,  It's a female Lord of the Flies.  Where Lord of the Flies is an examination of toxic masculinity, and therefore a book for and about boys as women really do not need to be told about how shit masculinity is, Beauty Queens is about femininity and the patriarchy and how women are constrained in society.  It turns out very differently to Lord of the Flies, because women and men are different and society shapes them differently.  There are different pressures and expectations and when men are taken out from the rest of society they continue to live by the rules that benefit them, but when women are taken out from society they break free of the rules that constrain them and can grow in themselves.  It's bloody brilliant.  And it examines the kyriarchy and it's intersectional.  If Lord of the Flies is still a required text in schools then Beauty Queens should be too.  I had no interest in Lord of the Flies when I was meant to read it, because it was obviously so unrelated to me and my daily life.  Beauty Queens would have been perfect for me to read.

I have also read the Uglies series by Scott Westerfield.  It's a future dystopia where all citizens undergo extensive surgery at age 16 to become pretty, so that no one suffers from being less attractive than anyone else and life becomes fairer and more pleasurable for anyone.  There's 4 books in the series.  Uglies deals with the teenagers pre-surgery and those who reject the surgery and choose to run away from the city.  Pretties is about the recently turned pretty teens and their fight to break through the programming to make them docile and compliant.  Specials is about the secret police force with enhanced skills and the final book, Extras, is post the revolution when the the government systems have broken down and no one need undergo the surgery anymore.  The series looks at environmentalism, the destruction of the planet that we are doing now, the need to connect with nature and what how nature gives us healthy minds, social media and our dependence on it, self esteem, free will, and of course the morality around aspiring to beauty.  I think this should be recommended reading for teenagers too.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

How have I got here and where do I go

I used to read superhero comics.  I used to live for each Wednesday when the new ones came out and I devoured them. I read them quickly and with passion and excitement and an eye for continuity and character development and then I wrote about them and reviewed them and discussed them online and in person, if I could find anyone who would listen.

Then my son died.  He died unexpectedly with no warning (that I could recognise) and my life as it was ended.  Everything for me stopped.  My basic bodily demands of eating, sleeping and toileting continued but my mind and my soul felt like it had been destroyed.  Life was divided into a before and after and comics became something that was in the before.

Starting to read them, going back to buying them, left me numb.  It felt like a betrayal, and I felt empty.  I didn't want to give up my relationship with the comic shop, I didn't want to drop everything I had loved before, but I felt numb and powerless and on automatic when I bought them - doing so because that is what I had done for years.  I would buy them and they would sit ignored on my shelf for 2 months at a time.  I would halfheartedly pick them up and start to read them because I felt like I should, because I'd spent money on them and that is what was expected of me.

Reading them was at first an eerie experience.  I found some glimmers of enjoyment in some of them.  Others were flat and I could see the poor writing and plotting and bad art and I had no interest in them.  Slowly I began to enjoy more and more of them. Yet still they sit unread for a month or so, but now, when I pick them up, some made my heart soar.  I felt thrills at the stories of adventure, derring-do and heroism and friendship that these stories depicted.  This is what I used to feel and now I was feeling those feelings again..

Yet it still felt like a betrayal.

I would pick up a Superman or Supergirl story.  And it would often tell their origins.  And it felt like my heart was being ripped in two.  I felt the anguish of the parents like I was there, like it was my child I was sending away.  My son has a Superman themed name.  I always, always knew that if I had a boy he would have this name somewhere, and when we found out we were expecting a boy my partner didn't even try to suggest anything else, he smiled at me and said of course, because he knows how important the Super family is to me.

So now I read a story with that name, and I can feel the anguish of these fictional parents, I can feel their pain and I am insanely jealous of them, because I would have done the same.  If I was given the choice to keep my boy and let him die or to send him away somewhere to strangers, to people I judged to be kind but who were oh so different to him, then I would do it in a heartbeat.  Because bringing up kids isn't about what is best for the parent, it is about what is best for the child, and in the fictional world of the DCU, when your planet explodes and you can send your child somewhere safe, choosing life is best for the child.  In my world, if I had been told that my son would only live if I had to give him up, I would do that.  His life is more important than my sorrow.

For a while, in-between pregnancies, I still blogged.  I felt I had to do something, I had to carry out the daily activities of life, even though life to me was a facsimile.  We were just going through the motions, not even trying to survive, but trying to cope, to not break down every minute of the day.  So I posted pictures, and wrote inane things, and commented on inane things.  And it felt cheap and hollow but it was repetitive and it meant I was doing something.  But I no longer had the energy, inclination or ideas to write a proper post.  Then I fell pregnant again and blogged the pregnancy, and that helped stop me from screaming every day.

Then my second son was born, and I didn't have the time, energy or hands to be able to read.  So I watched telly.  Lots of telly, constantly for 6 months and prolly close to a year.  And after that I watched telly in the evenings, not in the day, but it was always telly over reading.  And it was general sci-fi rather than superhero telly.  And where it was superhero telly it was Marvel, not DC.  Telly is easier to take in than reading, it requires less active participation. I experienced some unexpected trigger points, two Star Trek Voyager episodes were particularly painful.

Writing still felt like it was part of before.  This post is the longest thing I have written since my second was born and it has taken me months to pluck up the courage to write it.  I still needed something creative and public facing to do.  I use twitter and facebook differently now - another change between the before and after. I have an instagram account. I started doing Outfit of the Day posts.  I started taking an interest in clothes, as something new, as a way to work out what I liked after 2-3 years in maternity and breastfeeding clothes.  I started crochet - I love it, it gives me something positive to do, it keeps me busy (I've never been good with not being busy), I get to learn new things and I get to make things.  I started drawing too.  I don't care that I have little technical skill, I enjoy doing it and I enjoy learning how to improve.  Some of my pieces I am genuinely proud of.  All this stuff goes on my instagram, not here, because here is part of before.

I have started reading prose book again.  They allow me to get lost in another world, to explore new perspectives and enjoy the well constructed prose.  They allow me to enthuse about things, to recommend them to others, to make me feel human again.

I still feel cheated.  I feel cheated out of my first year with my rainbow baby as I spent it trying to negotiate grief and the conviction he would die.  I feel cheated out of everything I should have had with my first.  I feel cheated out of my love of comics and certain fictional series,where the associations are just too strong to ever go back to.  I feel cheated out of being able to introduce my family calmly and without sadness and without navigating other people's shock and pity.

I'm not sure how I will be able to write comic reviews again.  I feel pressured to write on here and on New readers..., but I cannot get motivated enough to write about comics.  I don't know what I have to say about them, beyond what will fit in a tweet.  I don't think I'm enjoying reading individual issues, I'm thinking about cancelling a lot of my standing orders and just buying the trades instead.  Maybe that is a way to enjoy them once more, to make it manageable.  I don't think I'm very good at piecemeal reading any more, I think I need large chunks of story to read, to lose myself in.  And I frigging hate adverts in the middle of my comic.

So where do I got from here?  The idea of promoting what I write, or other things I do, makes me feel uneasy.  I'm not sure where my place in the online world is anymore.  I've become more private, yet I still feel like I need a connection with the outside world, hence my instagram account.  This piece feels important, but writing about comics themselves, that is not something I am interested in right now.  Which makes me sad as I used to be so passionate about it.  Oddly, I'm feeling a lot more positive (in general) than I probably sound.  I've come a long way in 3 years, but even so sometimes life still feels like a struggle, each day I feel bruised and fragile.  Writing this, I feel focused.  I miss writing, but I don't know what to write about.  Maybe something will come to me.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Reading books and loving them.

This week I started and finished! reading Naomi Novik's Uprooted.  It's really really good.  It's so good I stayed up till ten past midnight finishing it.  I haven't stayed up late reading in literally years. I'd guess at in over 3 years.  I had been told Uprooted is a YA novel.  Not from my reading it's not.  It's got a 17 year old protagonist/heroine, but that's because it's a fantasy book and certain types of fantasy books follow strict structures, it doesn't make it a YA book.  This book does follow fantasy tropes, but it doesn't come across as repeating a hundred other stories.

It is wonderfully written, the prose isn't clever or complex, or basic, but it flows and it engages and it got it's hooks into me and I just wanted to keep on and keep on reading it.  I'm aware this is a pretty terrible review and I'm uttering blithe praise, but that's because it's been ages since I wrote about something, and tbh, I enjoyed it too much to sit and analyse it.

I hear it's being turned into a film.  Reading it, I realised why I won't like film adaptations.  They cannot replicate the prose and the pleasure of reading.  The story is great, sure, it will probably look very epic and magical on screen, but they will lose the sense of character and homeliness and everydayness that the book gives you, through the writing.  Books give you so much more a film ever can.  I won't see it, but I will press the book on everyone I think might enjoy it.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Ash by Malinda Lo

I accidentally found this really good book 2 weeks ago.  I like it when that happens.  It is called Ash, by Malinda Lo. It's a young adult book and I picked it because it had an LGBT sticker on the spine, and it said it was about fairies (the magical sort, not the gay sort).

It turns out to be a fairy tale, about fairy tales, a version of Cinderalla, about love and what it can do for us, and about the fairy world and human world interwtining.  It's a young adult book, which when I'm feeling run down is my favourite sort of book.  It was really really enjoyable.  It's been months and months since I last read, enjoyed and had the patience to read a book and it feels good.

Next up is Dhalgreen by Samuel R Delany.  Also chosen for it's LGBT sticker.  Let's hope it's as easy a read.  if it's not, I just won't finish it.

They had stickers on because they are library books. Support your local libraries people.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Interview with Peter In Peril creator Helen Bate

This has taken me a shamedfacedly long taken to publish.  the publisher gave me a copy of Peter in Peril - Courage and Hope in World War Two back in October or November last year.  I read it pretty quickly and thoroughly enjoyed it and was asked if I would like to do an interview with the author.  Of course I said yes, and then it took me a few weeks to send questions, then another few weeks to send follow up questions and now a few months later I am actually publishing this.

I reviewed Peter in Peril over on New readers.... It's about a Jewish boy living in Budapest in the 1930s and it covers his life before and during the war.  It's told from the point of view of Peter and is suitable for ages 8 up.I found parts of it very affecting and I think it's a good addition to WW2 literature.  So, I asked the creator, Helen Bate, a few questions. Here we go.

Q1.  I understand that Peter in Peril is your first book and that you used to be an architect.  How did you get into comics and did being an architect have any influence on how you approached constructing the comic pages?
I gave up my architectural career after 10 years to do a degree in illustration and I initially illustrated some children’s books for Frances Lincoln and Harper Collins. The Peter story was done as a student project initially but in a very different form. I was thrilled when I got the opportunity to work with Janetta Otter-Barry to produce it in a way that would suit 8-10 year old children and the graphic story form seemed to be the one that best suited the complexity of the subject and the age range. I used more text than other graphic stories, as I wanted to allow the book to be read to a child. I also felt it was important with the subject matter to adequately explain to children what was happening in more detail.

I think my architectural background has quite an influence on my drawing style - drawing with a black line is a very big part of architectural drawing and I always tend to gravitate to that way of drawing… even though I’d quite like to have a looser style … but drawing is pretty much like your handwriting - it’s very personal to the individual. 

Q2. Describing artistic styles in comics is one of my weak points, so for the benefit of readers can you describe your art style and how you came to illustrate the way you do?
I don’t think my artistic style fits into any particular category. The drawings are very much graphic and line based because that’s the way I work - and I use layering and watercolour to add depth and mood… Because I also do picture books for younger children, my style is influenced by that too.

Q3. I read that Peter is a member of your family.  Creating this book must have been quite emotional.  Can you tell us about the process of developing it and how you ensured the story stayed true to life?
Peter is my brother-in-law and his story has always been one that I have felt was an important one to pass on to future generations, especially within our own family. Because he and his parents and his cousin Eva all survived, it has a more positive outcome than the story of Anne Frank and others like it; Because of this it’s more suitable for younger and more sensitive children. And in this age of world problems, when intolerance and persecution are becoming more prevalent again, I feel it’s a really topical theme and much needed.

My sister and my brother-in-law wrote down his story in as much detail as he could remember some years ago, so we have a family book that I was able to use to get the details. I then showed Peter at every stage of the development to ensure he was happy with the simplification and the depiction of his childhood experiences. He and his cousin Eva have been amazed by the reaction of people to their story.. they genuinely didn’t think anyone would be interested. 

Q4.  Have you read many other comics dealing with World War Two?  Can you recommend any?
There are a couple of comic style books or graphic stories that I have read about WW2 (both holocaust stories involving children) and that I’ve found really interesting because of the different ways they are portrayed - but they are aimed at older children or adults … 

Q5. Was it Otter-Barry that asked you to do a children's book or did the idea come from you?
It was my idea for the book and Janetta Otter-Barry really liked the idea. 

Q6. Presumably you think comics are good for children, do you feel they improve literacy or that they offer more (or different things?) than prose books do? How so?  What do you think is important about them?
I think the graphic novel style of picture book or comic style - whichever you want to call it, makes reading more accessible for those children who may be less happy reading straight forward prose with some illustrations. So if reluctant readers can be encouraged to read by providing them with comic style stories on more serious themes done well, then that’s a great contribution to literacy.

Although I love reading fiction, I am also a very visual person, so I love mixing the two. I know my 11 year old grand daughter and my 8 year old grandson are big comic or graphic novel fans, and although they read prose fiction too, I see comics as offering them something very different that helps them to see storytelling and fiction in a different, and more visual way. Providing them with a good cross section of styles helps with their visual literacy and develops their aesthetic judgement.

I think comic style stories can also be a great stepping stone to understanding film making and theatre, and I think that is a big plus.

Doing Peter in a comic strip form helped to make a difficult subject more accessible - and although I did use a lot of prose in it, that was to ensure that the complexities of the subject were explained more fully. My next comic style story, although also a difficult subject, is set today so needs less explanation and will be more visual.
There we go.  Many thanks to Helen for answering my questions and for being patient regarding my delays.  You can read more about Peter in Peril on the Otter-Barry website.  Please please check it out.

I have also published this interview on my other blog,  Just in case you came across it twice and thought I stole it.