Reading Journal Entry: So, You Wanna Be a Comic Book Artist? by Philip Amara and Pop Mhan

So You Wanna Be a Comic Book Artist? How To Break Into Comics: The Ultimate Guide For Kids is pretty much exactly what it promises. This guide eschews basic drawing instructions, focusing on information on set-up, story, layout, character creation, self-promotion, and tips on getting noticed. It's peppered with interviews of kid comic creators and young professionals. Heavy on the encouragement. Contains no unique information but the presentation and tone is very appropriate to the intended audience.

Reading Journal Entry: Lunar Activity by Elizabeth Moon

A collection of short stories by Elizabeth Moon. I like Moon's stuff - she's a workmanlike writer who infuses her military and personal experience into her writing for a gritty, realistic feel. But this is not such a good collection. It has the feel of a bunch of leftovers thrown together instead of a proper meal. There was no stand-out; it just sort of plodded along. Her books are really much, much better. She's not really successful at characterization in these shorter works.

In addition, all the stories in this book were re-issued in another collection of her work, Phases, so Lunar Activity is a total waste of time.

Gimme money!

I'm riding 60 miles for MS this weekend.

I have never ridden that far in one day in my life. This should be interesting. It's across the Tappan Zee Bridge and up to Bear Mountain, so the scenery I won't be enjoying due to exhaustion will be very nice.

If you donate, I'll be your best friend.

Reading Journal Entry: Writers on Comics Scriptwriting

This is a compilation of interviews and work samples from some of the top writers in the comic book industry: Neil Gaiman, Peter David, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Frank Miller, etc., etc. There are some interesting bits on the philosophy of writing and the process at the major houses. I found the samples of actual scripts and preparation documents most useful.

Grant Morrison is either a total wacko or he has a fantastic sense of humor.

Highly recommended for those interested in the craft.

By the way, I've figured out why Marvel books suck (those that suck. This obviously does not apply to te fancy writers like J. Michael Strazinsky and Joss Whedon who can whatever they want).

The way Marvel works, the writers cook up a plot and send THAT to the artist. A 400 word blur that looks like it came off a book jacket. The artist then draws an entire 22-page comic from said blurb without any direction on how the panels should be laid out, where the page breaks should be, how many pages to devote to which plot points, no idea as to what the dialogue will be, etc. The pencilled art goes back to the writer who writes dialogue for it and maybe sends it back to be changed a bit if he doesn't like it.

Talk about subordinating writing to art! I've found a discussion of the 'words per panel' issue where several writers talk about writing 'around' the art. It depends how much room is left over for those unimportant words. It's bizarre to me that anything decent at all gets produced via this method. Surely it totally precludes any kind of subtlety or depth in the writing.

My husband thinks that the reason Marvel comics suck is the lack of editorial control, but that's a whole 'nother topic.

My sister recommends:

Reading Journal Entry: How to Create Action, Fantasy and Adventure Comics by Tom Alvarez

A book intended mainly for aspiring comic artists, as opposed to writers or both. A good run-down of the basic skills necessary, including details like equipment. Also includes exercises and specific advice on practicing to develop your art. With a 1996 pub date this looks a little dated but it's better than some.

The career advice section has some good tips but is also a little odd. The advice is to specialize; pick one thing at which you are skilled and develop it, whether it's lettering, inking, etc. This is a good way to break into the industry but it's not exactly the kind of artistic fulfillment and 'creation' that the title promises. A section on writing includes a stern admonition: "There is no jumping back and forth from writing to art back to writing." Ha. Little did they know how many writers/artists would soon be on the scene proving them wrong.

Fun-squishing aside,this how-to book actually could teach someone how-to.

Reading Journal Entry: Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman did a reading at the Union Square B&N and I got meeself a lovely little signed first edition. He held about 400 people in the palm of his hand for an hour. He obviously has a lot of practice as he was very good. No-one flashed him that I know of - I was a bit disappointed.
Anansi Boys is a humorous fantasy story about the son of Mr. Nancy (a god) and what happens when his dad dies and his long-lost brother shows up. Alert readers will remember Mr. Nancy from Gaiman's huge hit American Gods. This is not a sequel, Mr. Gaiman informs us, rather Mr. Nancy was making a special guest appearance.
Mr. Nancy, based on the tricksy spider Anansi, is black, and it's amazing how much more successful Gaiman was at this whole 'modern urban fantasy written about characters of a different race' than Orson Scott Card was in Magic Street. Card's story has a self-conscious air of self-congratulation and study about it. Gaiman just went ahead and did it. Moreover, Gaiman bases the fantasy elements on indigenous African mythology rather than shoe-horning Shakespeare into downtown LA.
But enough about that. Anansi Boys is a lot of fun and a complete success. Buy it.

Reading Journal Entry: Archy and Mehitabel, by Don Marquis

I feel an enormous amount of affection for Archy, not the least because I've recently discovered he lives in Westchester like I do. Dobbs Ferry, to be specific. Many years ago Archy took advantage of a piece of paper left in a typewriter overnight to exercise his poetic art; he climbed up to the top of the typewriter and jumped down onto each key in turn. He had some difficulty depressing the 'shift' key, so his works are free from punctuation and capitalization. The first of his poems appeared in 1916. Since he's a cockroach, he's probably crawling around here somewhere still.

Archy was not a simple cockroach; a victim of transmigration, he was once a vers libre poet. He shares social commentary and tells stories about the lives of his underworld friends; Freddy the Rat, Mehitabel the cat, and other colorful characters. It's bitingly funny and so modern in sensibility it could have been written last year. Although it occasionally descends into doggerel it more often achieves genius.

The audio version I listened to was very well done, with an excellent performance by Barry Kraft (Books of the Road) who manages to sound like a cross between Leonard Nimoy and John Delancie. But the charm of the original typography is lost when it's read. I recommend people read this instead of listening to it as a first introduction to the work.

And now, a word from Archy:

Pete the Parrot and Shakespeare

i got acquainted with
a parrot named pete recently
who is an interesting bird
pete says he used
to belong to the fellow
that ran the mermaid tavern
in london then i said
you must have known
shakespeare know him said pete
poor mutt i knew him well
he called me pete and i called him
bill but why do you say poor mutt
well said pete bill was a
disappointed man and was always
boring his friends about what
he might have been and done
if he only had a fair break

Full text:

Reading Journal Entry: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Two young boys grow up in Kabul in the golden age of Afghanistan's monarchy. Amir is the son of a rich man; Hassan the son of the faithful house servant. They aren't friends, exactly, just constant companions, sidekicks, playmates, rivals. Amir has a difficult relationship with his father and resents the favor he shows to Hassan. Hassan is so loyal and good that he comes to symbolize Amir's own feelings of guilt and inadequacy, and eventually their relationship is split apart by Amir's actions.

Amir emigrates to the US at the age of 12. Years later, after the death of his father, he is called back to Pakistan by an old family friend and given a chance to redeem his childhood sin.

Hosseini revels in Amir's burden of guilt; a moment of inaction becomes the defining moment of his life. Simultaneously, he provides a sad portrait of Afghanistan's deterioration and oppression under the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. The atrocities Amir witnesses as an adult are eerily similar to those he witnesses as a child, and it leaves me wondering whether Hosseini means to give moral equivalency to the oppression of economic inequality and the political, violent oppression offered by religious dictatorships.

Reading Journal Entry: The Stories of Ray Bradbury, read by the author

Ray Bradbury is a classic science fiction author, but most of these shorts come from other genres. He has a real gift for language that, unfortunately, does not extend to the spoken word. He can do an Irish accent pretty well, but he reads with a breathless speed that doesn't do justice to the text. I'm sure this would be of interest to fans, but it's not his best work, so I'm going to give this one a 'pass'.

Reading Journal Entry: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

I finally decided to explore this incredibly popular mystery series about a (duh) a ladies detective agency in Bostwana. The premise is unusual and the execution equally so; there's no big 'case' and no murderer. It's more of an introduction to the main character, Precious Ramotswe, (Botswana's first and only lady private detective), her country, her city, and her friends, as she starts her business and take son her first few cases. It's an enjoyable, meandering portrait of Africa. Ma Ramotswe is an irresistable character - fat, happy, and self-sufficient.

Alexander McCall Smith chose, perhaps to enhance the book's attractiveness to the women who make up the majority of the mystery-buying market, to express a surprising of misandry in this work. Musings on the eternal nature of Africa and the insignificance of human existence are matched by musings how men just keep messing everything up. Very odd.

Fun, but I won't seek out other books in the series.

Lisette Lecat is an excellent reader - she has a perfect round, full voice and really caresses the words. An excellent audio production.

Things we don't do at Book of the Day:

Talk like a pirate.
Calculate what percentage Geek/Nerd combo we are
Participate in all or any blog 'memes'

Reading Journal Entry: Sleepwalk and other stories, by Adian Tomine

Sleepwalk collects the first four issues of Optic Nerve. There's no unified story; it's a collection of vignettes, shorts, and character sketches. Tomine's art is more stylized than photorealistic, almost minimalist in its enjoyment of shadows and lines. Lonely people trying to connect; mysterious moments; regret. Not a feel good experience, not the traditional story arc. Tomine brings the reader right up to the brink, then abandons exposition in favor of suspense.

A surprisingly mature work, considering Tomine began self-publishing it at 16. Recommended.

Good gifts

Here are some of the books I've reviewed that would make excellent gifts.

For aspiring authors:

Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderon

For engineers:
The World's Stupidest Inventions

For kids:

The Adventures of Riley: Mission to Madagascar

For pet owners:

Animals in Translation

For your mom:
Phenomonal Woman

For Star Trek fans:

The Nimoy and Delancey audio productions of The First Men in the Moon and The Lost World and hey, the rest of them.

Candide, by Voltaire

Voltaire's classic send-up of the philosophy of optimism is both hilarious and deeply depressing. Candide is a frank young German lad whose tutor, Dr. Pangloss, believes that we live in 'the best of all possible worlds'; that is, the reason there is a evil in the world is because there is no other way it could be. Of course Candide encounters all kinds of extravagent evils; he is conscripted involuntarily; his love Cunaganda is disemboweled, raped, forced into being the mistress of various extravagently evil men, Pangloss is hanged, etc., etc., etc. At every turn Candide wavers between despair and ecstasy, attempting to hold to his tutor's belief that this world is the best of all possible worlds. The second older man who befriends him, Martin, is just an emphatic as Pangloss in his belief that everyone in the world is miserable and unlucky. Candide travels three continents, and the coincidences come fast and furious as everyone he's ever known shows up with horror stories.

Neither philosophy allows the possibility of hope; so neither works. Ultimately the only happy person Candide and his companions encounter is someone who 'cultivates his own garden'. Sounds like an injunction to mind your own business.

Reading Journal Entry: They Just Don't Get It! by Leslie Yerkes and Randy Martin


I hate the business self-help books that are written on the level of a third-grader. This heavily illustrated volume purports to help you 'change resistance into understanding' when 'They Just Don't Get It!'. Of course, it turns out that the reason they don't get it is because you're wrong. So predictable. But they don't come out and tell you that you're wrong - they cloak it in a bunch of crap about 'listening' and 'drawing people out', but at the end of the day, it's that you're wrong.

Best book cover ever

Reading Journal Entry: Flight Volume 1

Since I enjoyed Vol. 2 so much - and I got it for free (and signed! I love the BEA!) - I felt obliged to shell out for Vol. 1. I enjoyed it very much. Several of the explorations felt more sincere than entries in the second volume. I'll have more specific comments later tonight. Because I Now Have Internet Access at home! Life is beautiful. Google is at my fingerprints. Tips. Whatever.

Reading Journal Entry: The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham is allegedly 'one of our best new writers'. But this book was also allegedly supposed to have a 'surprising' twist at the end, so I don't put too much stock in the introduction.
The Hours of the title refer to the long and agonizing hours of the day which all the characters in this book have to get through. Three stories are intertwined; Virginia Woolf starts off by killing herself, then we jump back 15 years and she's having a bad day. Housewife Laura Brown is having a bad day in 1949 while making a birthday cake. And modern-day Clarissa is buying flowers for her crazy poet friend.

Cunningham makes one feel guilty for not being aware, like his characters, of how unbearable life is. The writing is delicate and beautiful, but it's not enough to drag this depressing muddle out of the muck. A high concept novel; wasn't worth my time.

Another complaint: I listened to an audio version narrated by Alexander Adams. I don't know WHAT they were thinking giving this to a man to read. All the POV characters are female! And Adam's style is much too forceful.

Reading Journal Entry: Lunar Park, by Bret Easton Ellis

Lunar Park, by Bret Easton Ellis

Bret Easton Ellis mocks the memoir by writing a horror novel in which he is the central character. Oddly enough, I found the first half of the book, in which he rehashes his 'rise' as a famous novelist and subsequent descent into booze, coke, starlets, etc. the more scary part.

I'm a judgmental type of gal. Either all that stuff is true, and he's a worthless asshole, or in some sick, twisted way he wants it to have been true - see above. Yeah, yeah, it's an ironic commentary. Whatever.

Plus, the ending did NOT explain everything. A big fat lack of explanation.

Not recommended. I'm glad I didn't pay for it. I resent the time I spent reading it instead of worthwhile material.

Rant ps: Why is this guy important again?

Bonus post: reading this weekend

This weekend we're reading:

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith - charming

Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis, apparently the biggest asshole in the world

The Hours by Michael Cunningham - not as boring as A Home at the End of the World.

Mont Saint Michel and Chartres by Henry Adams who did NOT mention in his autobiography that his wife committed suicide. Or that he was ever married.

The Scar by my favorite anti-Semite China Mieville.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

The last bit of Eyre I reviewed was the first part of two. I was unable to find the second part, so instead I went with another audio production, read by Flo Henderson. I don't recommend it. Flo Henderson makes Jane Eyre sound like a prim 55 year old instead of a vital and passionate eighteen year old.

The production aside, I loved hearing the story again. The love story between Jane and Mr. Rochester must be the most romantic in the history of literature. It's imbued with the sensibility of the original Romantics, the poetic and lonely souls who swooned over waterfalls and craggy hills and consumed Shelley and Byron.

Poor little Jane, who never had a family, resists her feelings for Mr. Rochester until he provokes her into a display of jealousy by pretending to plan a marriage with a beautiful young woman. "Your bride stands between us" she tells him when he asks her to marry him. And of course, it's true, because he's got a crazy wife locked up in the attic that she doesn't know about.

After Jane runs away from Thornfield, she finds refuge as the schoolmistress of a village school for working-class girls. Eventually she is liberated from her post by an inheritance. It is in these passages that there is the biggest difference from modern attitudes. Jane admits to feeling 'degraded' by her position, and must remind herself "that these coarsely-clad little peasants are of flesh and blood as good as the scions of gentlest genealogy; and that the germs of native excellence, refinement, intelligence, kind feeling, are as likely to exist in their hearts as in those of the best-born." (Here's where Flo starts sounding especially insufferable).

But I can forgive Jane anything as long as she resists the dubious charms of Mr. St. John, who wants to whisk her off to India. It's all about one of the best one-liners in the English language: "Reader, I married him."

ps - in the original text, Rhett Butler's parting words are "My dear, I don't give a damn." No 'Frankly'.

Becket, by Jean Anouilh

The famous conflict between Thomas a Becket and Henry II is the subject of Jean Anouilh's play Becket, or The Honor of God. The play opens with the king, naked, having himself flogged on Becket's tomb as a token of repentence. Yeah, they went in for the drama in those days. It makes for a good play.

Reading Journal Entry: Flight, Vol. 2

Flight, Vol.2 is a graphic collection issued by Image and edited by Kazu Kibuishi. It contains 33 short comic stories from various artists. Many are exceptional, but some I just don't 'get'. I was charmed by 'The Robot and The Sparrow' by Jake Parker and 'Ghost Trolley' by Rad Sechrist. The art of 'Monster Slayers' by Khang Lee is filled with wry details. 'Tendergrass' by Matthew Woodson was merely impenetrable; 'A Test for Cenri' by Amy Kim Ganter and 'La Sonadora' by Joana Carneiro seemed frankly mediocre.

There is a great well of silence in this book; multiple selections contain no text, only images. This seems pretentious to me; I like words with my pictures.

I don't know if this deserves your hard-earned money, but it deserves a flip-through in the bookstore/comic book store (and that's a debate for another time....)

Reading Journal Entry: Time Off For Good Behavior, by Lani Diane Rich

Read this chick lit romance on the recommendation of another blog. It's cute - the most impressive thing about it is that it's a NaNoNovel. The literary equivalent of cotton candy.

Reading Journal Entry: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark
Haddon, is one of the best books I've read all year. And god-damn it,
I'm reading five books a week, so that should mean something.

Fifteen year-old Christopher Boone is a high-functioning autistic kid.
He likes planes, rockets, Sherlock Holmes. Red is good. Yellow and
brown are bad. He'd like to be an astronaut when he grows up.

One night he finds his neighbor's poodle, Wellington, dead. Wellington
has been murdered with a garden fork. Christopher decides to
investigate Wellington's murder (inspired by Sherlock Holmes), and
writes a book about his detective efforts. The result is
Curious - charming and insightful. Christopher is a kind of
autistic Adrian Mole. His narrative is a wonderful exposition of the
autistic mind and of Christopher's wonderful individualities. It's
also full of contradictions; Christopher is constantly testing his
limits. He's emotionally disassociated, but there's a big emotional
payoff at the end; he hates talking to people and doing new things,
but he forces himself to talk to the neighbours in the name of
detecting; he doesn't know how to tell jokes, and claims 'this will not
be a funny book' – that was a lie! Christopher's narrative is funny,
fascinating, and poignant.

Highly recommended.

ps - this book has been very successful. The paperback is on the NY Times best-seller list this week.

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Reading Journal Entry: The Hallowed Hunt, by Lois McMaster Bujold

I enjoy Bujold's science fiction very much, but her fantasy leaves me cold. It's OK, but....

Updated favorite books list:

Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers
Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Yesterday's review: Forty Signs of Rain, by Kim Stanley Robinson

This not having internet access thing sucks.

I swear, when I started reading this, I did not know there was a huge flood scene in it. It was very strange reading this yesterday and then looking at the coverage about New Orleans.

Forty Signs of Rain is a novel about science pretending to be a science fiction novel about global warming. Through several science and environmentally oriented people, Robinson examines a new-future scenario where signs of global warming are increasing dramatically, yet the US government is reluctant to do anything about it.

It's strongly reminiscent of Cryptonomicon; the near future setting, the pages of seeming off-topic digressions, hints of unresolved mysticism and the lack of a strong ending.

I enjoyed it because I enjoyed the characters. Robinson is a very charismatic writer. Hey, sometimes I too get caught up in musings about how primates act in elevators. But I can't say that much happened or there was much of a plot.

Top Ten lists

I'm working on some top ten lists..... and I must put them in print now or I'll forget what I've got.

Top four most important books I've read (not in order):
"A Problem From Hell" by Samantha Powers
Guns, Germs, & Steel, by Jared Diamond
Why People Believe Strange Things by Michael Shermer
The Naked Man by Desmond Morris

Best book ever - the only work of fiction I want to put on my empty top ten list right now:

Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers