Thursday, June 14, 2012

Library pickup/dropoff

At this point the majority of the graphic novels & comics I'm reading come from the Seattle Public Library. I've been trying to balance my list of holds and suspended holds so I don't get overwhelmed by a ton of books at once, but I don't always do the best job. This week I returned a few books and picked up a few more!

Back to the library:
Buffy Omnibus vol. 3 - Not all that fabulous actually, I'm just a sucker for anything Buffy-related.
The Impostor's Daughter - A great read by Laurie Sandell, this book tells the story of her troubled relationship with her untruthful father and with herself.
Fables 9: Sons of Empire - This series will definitely be getting its own post soon. SO GOOD!! I'm still working my way through Fables, and I'm trying to space it out a bit so I don't devour the stories all at once.
The Last Temptation - This weird little comic is a collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Alice Cooper. I'm a big Gaiman fan, in fact his Sandman was the first comic series I ever owned, and this book sounded interesting. It was intriguing and quite short, very creepy and odd, but nothing special. I think I'd like to explore his other works though.

Picked up at the library:
How I Made it to Eighteen (Tracy White)
Stitches (David Small)
Palestine (Joe Sacco)
a + e 4ever (Ilike Merey)
Epileptic (David B.)

Every time I walk into the library and see a big stack of new comics waiting for me on the shelf I feel like a kid in a candy shop. Fortunately my girlfriend is out of town right now so I have plenty of time to read.

Ready, set... GO!!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Palomar, my Palomar

For the last month I've been working my way through this massive tome:

At 522 pages, Palomar: the Heartbreak Soup Stories is heavy enough that it's impossible to carry on the Metro bus or to work for me to enjoy during my lunch hour. So it's taken me several weeks to get through the stories contained within those pages, but oh man was it worth it!

If you walk into any comic shop, you cannot fail to come across at least one of the many many books written by Gilbert, Jaime and Mario, collectively known as Los Bros. Hernandez. Probably their most well-known work is Love and Rockets, which Jaime and Gilbert started self-publishing back in 1981. The comic series features an assortment of one-offs and a couple of ongoing serial narratives, one of which portrays the (fictional) small Latin American town of Palomar and its inhabitants.

Since the comics in this collected volume originally appeared scattered throughout the Love and Rockets series, they don't exactly form one continuous, ongoing storyline. Instead the stories–some as short as one page and others several dozen pages long, some with interwoven plots and others seemingly unconnected to much else besides a common location–together present a unique and complex portrait of life in Palomar.

We meet a remarkable array of characters in Palomar. I wouldn't be the first person to point out that Los Bros. Hernandez draw more realistic and varied portrayals of women than you are likely to find in most comics (to learn about how women are more often portrayed in the comics world, I highly recommend you check out Ladydrawers' awesome and info-full comic on the subject). In Palomar, women come in all shapes and sizes and make up what I estimate to be a majority of central characters in the stories. Although damn, Luba's got some big boobs.

I'm also really impressed with Gilbert Hernandez's inclusion of multiple queer, bisexual and trans characters. There is Maricela, who sneaks around with her girlfriend and eventually skips town to hide her lesbianism. There's Israel, the handsome tough guy with a sweet streak who is kind of a playboy with both genders but seems to make his relationships with men.

And then there's J├ęsus, who (mild spoiler) spends some time in prison towards the beginning of the collection, where he meets a sympathetic trans character who appears throughout the series. All of the queer characters are represented as whole people, with their queerness being only a small part of what makes them who they are; a part that is neither ignored nor constantly the focus of their stories. Palomar is a small town but its people are not small-minded.

Similarly, Hernandez draws unusually whole portrayals of people with disabilites in Palomar as well. Vicente is a good-natured guy born with a significant facial disfigurement that is (again!) not the major focal point of his character. And aside from the mere fact that there are multiple people with disabilities in the series (unusual in itself), I like how the characters talk about their disabilities rather than pretending they're not there.

The stories in Palomar jog back and forth in time so that you meet its central characters at many different stages of their lives, including their own childhoods and often those of their children. Some  of these tales are sad, some are funny, some deep, scary, sexy (this book is not for children) or just plain weird. Stories are offered from multiple characters' perspectives as well, which allows you to get to know each person intimately. As I wrote in a recent post for the Seattle Globalist, all of this has the effect of "making you feel as if you are living in Palomar for an extended stay." (P.S. sorry if it's rude to quote yourself.)

Which is probably why I felt so sad when I finished this book. It was hard to say goodbye to the people of Palomar, whom I'd gotten to know so well. Fortunately, I just learned that there is a next chapter to the tale for at least some of the towns inhabitants. Plus, I have tons more in the oeuvre of Los Bros. Hernandez to explore. I'm so lucky to have it all ahead of me.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Wonder Woman Weekend

I haven't really gotten into many superhero comics yet (the exception to the rule being X-Men, which for some reason I've read a lot of), but I've always felt like I have missed out on a major cultural touchstone by not knowing anything about Wonder Woman. Okay I did have a Wonder Woman bathing suit that I LOVED when I was 5 (I'll have to ask my mom if I can dig up a photo of me in that suit sometime), but other than that... nothing.

Prompted by this weekend's screening of Wonder Women: the Untold Story of American Superheroines (which happens to feature my organization, Reel Grrls) at the Seattle International Film Festival (where it happens to be preceded by my latest short film), I decided it was time to educate myself about the preeminent American female superhero. So I got a collection of Wonder Women comics out of the library and have been having a great time getting educated this week.

preview for the Wonder Women documentary at SIFF this weekend

Origin story time (in case you were as clueless as I was about WW): There is an ancient race of Amazon warriors that now live on Paradise Island. Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, was granted the power by Aphrodite to create a living daughter of Earth, which she did. That daughter, Diana, grew up to be the princess of the Amazons, and eventually left Paradise Island to live among the world of men and be their champion as Wonder Woman.

As origin stories go I find it to be a pretty weird one, but I guess it's not any more strange than many of the others out there. Her Amazonian upbringing does allow her to have all sorts of random powers too: she's super fast and super strong, can fly (or sometimes just ride on the wind currents), has bracelets that deflect bullets and fingernails that can cut through steel, plus she has a silent transparent plane and a magic lasso that can do all sorts of near things. Did I mention she also has the (culturally-coded female) powers of compassion and truth, and is compelled by Amazonian code to never kill a human being if she can help it?

Especially when you consider the era in which she was created, Wonder Woman is a pretty amazing character. If you watched the preview of the documentary embedded above, you can see that her character changed a lot over the years, unfortunately becoming much less radical. But in the early comics featured in my collection, she is constantly saving her boyfriend, Steve Trevor. He keeps asking her to marry him but she keeps saying no because her career (as, y'know, a superhero) comes first. Rad.

I find all the references to Greek mythology in her comics to be pretty awesomely odd too: Wonder Woman is always saying stuff like "suffering Sappho" (as in the top panel below). I've gotta bring that one into my daily conversation. You'll also notice from this page the tendency in these early comics for Wonder Woman to fight villains who are also women, though she can totally beat up men when the occasion calls for it.

Basically, all this is making me want to read a lot more Wonder Women comic books, not to mention that I'm dying to see that documentary! Hope you can come and join me there this weekend:
Sunday May 27 at 4pm at the Egyptian
Monday May 28 at 6pm at the Harvard Exit

Monday, May 21, 2012

A starter list

In the future, I hope to write about new (to me) comics and graphic novels as I go. But since I'm just getting started with this blog, below is a partial list of some of the ones I've read and liked in my last year of exploration (that were not mentioned in my first blog post). Also, be sure to check out a list of 5 more international graphic novels that I got from the library, published over at The Seattle Globalist.

This series was recommended to me by a friend of a friend who I met at last year's GeekGirlCon. She described it as a bit like a soap opera, which it kind of is. The main story revolves around two young women who are best friends and one of them has the hots for the other one. A mysterious, crime-ridden backstory factors in as well. The series is collected into 6 "pocket books" (all available from the Seattle Public Library) and the story goes back and forth a lot. Some of the books are better than others but I found the whole series very satisfying and a ton of fun. I was pretty impressed with (male) author Terry Moore's ability to write interesting and compelling female characters, not to mention draw women with different body types than what we normally see in mainstream media.

I'd been seeing a lot of comics by Los Bros Hernandez around but hadn't read any before I saw this on sale one day at the comic shop. It's a scifi story about a world in which robots struggle for human rights and can be indistinguishable from human beings. It's nice to see latino characters at the helm of the story and have it be NBD. The book is a fun little read but felt kind of unfinished to me, like part of a larger whole that doesn't actually exist. I'm in the middle of another book by Los Bros Hernandez that I'm enjoying a lot and I'll post about in the coming weeks.

A fantasy adventure comic that is funny, gripping and surprisingly deep. There are dragons, princesses, mysteries and a complexly balanced dreamworld. Thanks for the recommendation, Mathew!

A (fictionalized) memoir about a white gay man growing up in the South in the 1960s. Though the book's main characters experience a lot of sadness and hardship, I was absolutely taken with the unique glimpse it offered into gay bars and mixed race parties of the era, and the hope, love and happiness experienced there as well. I was also impressed with the complexity of the characters, especially the mix of shame, confusion and understanding experienced by the narrator.

The story of a cynical, hipsterish Asian-American guy living with his girlfriend in Berkeley. Though the protagonist is vocal in his attempts to be nonpolitical, the story speaks about race and society in some pretty interesting ways.

Taking place in Seattle in the 1970s, this dark story tells the tale of a sexually-transmitted disease that infects teenagers with varied physical mutations. The book does a great job of creating the particular mood and feel of the era, and the isolation and confusion of adolescence.

I haven't yet gotten into the world of Manga comics (though I'm open to suggestions on where to start... hint hint), but I had to check this one out after it was mentioned in a youth-made film (by Reel Grrls students) about queer and transgender identities. The book's main character, Ranma, has an unusual issue: when he is splashed with cold water he turns into a girl, and when splashed again with hot water he turns back into a boy. I've only read the first book in what is a long series, but it's an interesting enough premise that I'm looking forward to continuing.

You've probably heard of this series because of the recent film based on it and starring Michael Cera. The books feature a cast of young Canadian hipster musicians and draws heavily on video games and nostalgia from the 1980s. It's a very light read and I enjoyed it immensely.

A beautiful, simple story of childhood, religion and first love. There was quite a waiting list at the library for this one but it was worth it! Looking forward to author Craig Thompson's latest, Habibi.

That's it for now. More to come!

Sunday, May 20, 2012


I loved comics as a kid, but within a very limited scope. My sister and I both collected Archie comics (I still have a couple shelves full in my living room), and I had a subscription to Mad Magazine for many years (before William Gaines died and it started to go downhill). Then of course there were the comic strips I'd eagerly read in the paper each day and later collect in book form, especially Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side.

My love for Archie and Mad came from the large classic collections of both found at my grandparent's place in Quebec, home to our annual family reunion. It was home also to many other beloved comics of my childhood: Tintin and Asterix were the favorites among our entire extended family, regardless of age. The bookshelves also contained other random ancient treasures, mostly collected by my older cousins, like Little Lulu, Sgt. Rock, Tales from the Crypt and a smattering of superhero comics. I ate them all up, and continued to read them each summer at the reunion into my adulthood, but for some reason I never went beyond that narrow sphere... until quite recently.

Several years ago I was lucky enough to have a roommate who worked at a bookstore and had a small library in her bedroom (thanks Polly!). She got me into Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series, and also introduced me to Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For. I loved them, but again I didn't push myself to make further inroads into the world of comics. I guess what finally nudged me over the edge was when Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a TV series I loved and had been sad to see end after 7 seasons, put out season 8 in comic book form. I had to get in on this! After devouring this series, I began to think maybe it was time to reread some other old comic favorites. So last year for my birthday I asked my mom to get me a gift certificate to a comics shop. My plan was merely to start my own complete collection of the Sandman, since I remembered loving it enough that I wanted to own it.

Even though I'm a longtime techy and music geek, as a woman I'd always felt a bit intimidated by comic book shops and the whole comics world culture. In fact, when I went to my local comic store to buy the first few Sandman books it was the first time I'd ever spent any real time in a comic shop. I wandered around, soaking it all in, and picked out a few other things that looked interesting to me. It helped that there was a woman working behind the counter and she offered some advice. I came back a few times, slowly building the whole Sandman collection series, but also slowly expanding my repertoire. I started to grill all my comics-loving friends, and even acquaintances and friends-of-friends, for advice.

Eventually my girlfriend helpfully suggested that I could read a lot more comics if I wasn't trying to buy all of them as I went, so I turned to my local library. I was pleased to learn that the Seattle Public Library has a pretty substantial collection of comic books and graphic novels. I could read as many as I wanted for free, as long as I was willing to hunt them down and wait for holds. This also meant I could become a more conscious comics collector: now I don't own a comic until I decide I really liked it enough to want it in my permanent collection.

Ever since then there has been no turning back. I've got a perpetual waiting list at the library and a permanent stack of comics standing by on my living room shelves. Coming home from a long day at work and sitting on my back porch with a comic book, or relaxing on a weekend morning with a graphic novel in bed, have become some of my very favorite things to do.

I'm still very new to this genre but I'm exploring it voraciously, and I have so many thoughts about all the new comic worlds I'm wandering through that I decided I really needed a place to share them. I hope you'll come back to read about my explorations, leave me lots of comments with new ideas for where to go next, and join me in this grand(ish) experiment.