Senior picnic


Went to the senior picnic today. Shared food with fellow teachers and many students. Good stuff. Made the last out in the faculty's 8-5 win over the students (I scored both times I was up and now have grass stains all over my last pair of jeans).

But all that oil and running mean now, at the end of the day, I feel nigh unto death.

Oh, the joys of growing older.

I actually started feeling it acutely yesterday, when Randall told me that The Little Mermaid came out closer to the first moon landing than the present day.

Soon we shall die.


The Ambiguity of Excellence: Kazu Kibuishi's Daisy Kutter


As promised, here is the second review no longer available at the Fantasy Magazine website. 


The first Daisy Kutter book, The Last Train, was pressed into my wife's hands by a good friend and I finally read it yesterday. I knew very little about the book before reading it other than the gushing praise it has inspired For example, on AICN, Superhero described this book as "perfect representation of sequential art . . . . the pinnacle of characterization, storytelling and art" (cite). 

So I liked it. Yes. How could I not? I love Kibuishi's art, I love Daisy --- she's beautiful and spunky and wry. I love steampunk and these are some nice robots. In terms of timeline, it's more future-set Cowboy Bebop than steampunk-retro Wild Wild West(1999), but tonewise it is very near classic westerns--only with robots. The first page is a deliberate nod to one of the greatest old cowboy films,  High Noon. But when the clock hits noon, the eponymous hero is not engaged in battle; instead she sighs.

Daisy Kutter
She's a gunfighter--one of the great train robbers--and she is retired.

The Last Train is the story of how she gets back into the game. 

Daisy's old boyfriend and partner-in-crime is now the sheriff, and he keeps offering her a deputy position to supplement her storekeeper's income, but that's one step to far into respectability. But being stuck in the middle is not a comfortable location for Daisy and when an offer comes to rob a train, then comes again, well, she can only say no so many times. Especially when the man offering the job owns the train. And especially after he wins her store from her in a game of Texas Hold 'em. Preserved integrity and desperation --- hard to fight that.

Daisy's world is peopled with goofy robots and threatening mechs and men in small round glasses and dusty saloons and giant shotguns and steam locomotives. And though Daisy can dodge bullets as well as James Bond, her compatriots are not so lucky. And as the nefarious plot behind the job comes clear, she will have to rely not only on her own stellar skills, but also upon those she cares for, leading her not only to a satisfactory conclusion to the job, but an emotional reconnection to other people as well.

But wherefore all the gushing over The Last Train? Don't get me wrong: I liked this book and I would be happy to read more about Daisy Kutter, but what are people finding in this story that makes them rank it among the greatest comics ever written? I don't see it, can't find it, don't know.
Where is the line between good and great? Is excellence ultimately a matter of personal taste only? Or can it be something more than that? Is there an objective standard to excellence somewhere? When a book like The Last Train garners as much praise as this one has, I feel there must be such a standard, but having finally read the book, from where I stand, the sands of excellence seem purely subjective.

Let's consider other universally praised comics, comics such as Maus or Watchmen

Maus I can't quibble with. I find it to be a pure example of comics potential as an artform. Watchmen, however --- I'm back on the fence.

With the release of the movie earlier this year, I reread Watchmen and found it better than my memory regarded it. And it's clear to me why we find it excellent.

Although comics are not a new artform, serious consideration of comics is new. And so we take our standards from the most similar art we see --- that other paper-and-glue art, literature. And Watchmen looks very much like what we want literature to look like.

When Time Magazine selected Watchmen as one of their top 100 novels, the reviewer, Lev Grossman, said this:

Watchmen is a graphic novel—a book-length comic book with ambitions above its station—starring a ragbag of bizarre, damaged, retired superheroes: the paunchy, melancholic Nite Owl; the raving doomsayer Rorschach; the blue, glowing, near-omnipotent, no-longer-human Doctor Manhattan. Though their heyday is past, these former crime-fighters are drawn back into action by the murder of a former teammate, The Comedian, which turns out to be the leading edge of a much wider, more disturbing conspiracy. Told with ruthless psychological realism, in fugal, overlapping plotlines and gorgeous, cinematic panels rich with repeating motifs, Watchmen is a heart-pounding, heartbreaking read and a watershed in the evolution of a young medium.

Ignoring the snide remark "ambitions above its station," note the traits of a great novel --- "ruthless psychological realism . . . overlapping plotlines . . . repeating motifs" --- then take a glance at the other 99 books on the list to see that what Watchmen did right was to taste like Orwell and Heller and Woolf. And, come to think of it, so does Maus. And so does Jimmy Corrigan. And, now that we can step back and look at it as a whole, so does Peanuts.

But the people singing the praises of The Last Train aren't the same people who spend the rest of their time debating whether Lolita or Infinite Jest is the greatest novel ever, then congratulating themselves for letting a four-color superhero comic into their club.

The people who love The Last Train are people who have developed a reply to What Makes Great Comics based on their reading of comics.

Now I love comics, but I must be honest and admit that I'm trained to assign worth in storytelling according to the centuries-long traditions developed in literature.

But maybe that's a mistake. Maybe comics deserves its own set of standards to be judged by. We don't judge Picasso in comparison to Beethoven; why should we judge Kibuishi by the standards of Hemingway?

Maybe it's time we, I, stop.


The cessation of reading (not yet)


031) Batman: Year 100 by Paul Pope, finished April 18

I've been wanting read this since about the time I started wanting to read Joker; this book, I'm happy to report, was not disappointing. Linda Barry wanted to excerpt this book in Best American Comics, but DC wouldn't let her (?!?). A shame. It was good.

Batman in a future dystopia.

And let me tell you, when Chris Nolan finishes his run, I hope they consider adapting this to film. It runs a bit like an origin story, but still works with the character's past. Perfect for the next film.

Think about it, Warner. Just think about it.

The rest of you can read it now.

an afternoon


030) The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby, finished April 9

I've never read Nick Hornby before. I own two of his books (1 and 2) but haven't read either. I thought the movie of High Fidelity was pretty good, while About a Boy is one of my all-time favorite flicks. And yet somehow I had never read him.

But then McSweeney's had a promotion where I could get this book for free and so I did and I read it with great joy. The book is a collection of columns for The Believer and absolute fun to read. Hornby documents the books he buys vs the books he reads --- plus clips from some of his favorites such as David Copperfield.

There's an excellent chance this free book will lead to me subscribing to The Belieiver. So well played, McSweeney's. Well played.

In the meantime, I'm considering the temptation of picking up the remaining volumes of collected columns.

not enough weeks


029) iZombie: Dead to the World by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred, finished April 2

I love this new take on zombies and vampires and ghosts and so forth. An interesting set of rules, likable characters (sort of like the Scooby-Doo gang, only the heroes are also the monsters in this case). I like Allred's art in any case, but this is a particularly good use of his mad skillz. Like many Volume Ones, I can't really say for sure how this will pan out, but at present it's good and you should give it a shot. Volume Two's expected in September and since I'll be there, you may as well be too.

one day


028) A Sense of Order and Other Stories by Jack Harrell, finished April 1

Jack's book won an AML Award and I can't say I'm surprised. He's a dandy writer and this is a great book. But not as great as I wanted it to be. I'll say more in my pending AMV review.

maybe three weeks


027) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard, finished March 30

I've not read this since discovering Stoppard while in high school. Since then all I've done is watched the movie several times. How does it hold up? Well enough, though I'm kind of over the whole genre. These days I would rather see the flick (or performed live? I've never had the pleasure) than read it, I'm afraid.

three days


Previously in 2011 . . . . :

026) The Black Dogs by Ian McEwan, finished March 21

025) Stitches by David Small, finished March 20
024) Arkham Asylum: Madness by Sam Kieth, finished January 19 or 20
023) Hamlet by William Shakespeare, finished March 18

022) Red Rocket 7 by Mike Allred, finished March 10
021) Missile Mouse: Rescue on Tankium3 by Jake Parker, finished March 10

020) The Hotel Cat by Esther Averill, finished February 28

019) Wonderland by Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew, finished February 21
018) Redcoat by Kohl Glass (MS POLICY), finished February 18

017) Best American Comics 2010 edited by Neil Gaiman, finished February 12
016) Little Bee by Chris Cleave, finished February 10
015) Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, finished February 2
014) Cursed Pirate Girl: The Collected Edition Vol. I by Jeremy Bastian, finished January 31

013) Sweet Tooth: In Captivity by Jeff Lemire, finished January 30
012) Sweet Tooth: Out of the Woods by Jeff Lemire, finished January 30
011) Essex County: The Country Nurse by Jeff Lemire, finished January 30
010) Essex County: Ghost Stories by Jeff Lemire, finished January 29
009) Essex County: Tales from the Farm by Jeff Lemire, finished January 29

008) Magdalene by Morah Jovan, finished January 27

007) Knightfall Part Two: Who Rules the Night by a slew of DC folk, finished January 23
006) Bayou by Jeremy Love, finished January 17

005) Mr. Monster by Dan Wells, finished January 10
004) The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, finished January 6
003) The Mystery of the Dinosaur Graveyard by Mary Adrian, finished January 5
002) Batman - Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham by John Wagner and Alan Grant and Simon Bisley, with lettering by the famous Todd Klein; finished January 4
001) Batman: Venom by Dennis O'Neil et al, finished January 2


Ancillary happenstance


I have and I shall and then when I'm done I'll do it again.

Opening doors and pushing drafts and closing the windows too late.

Standing and stretching and stewing.

Fantastic followers in threatening configurations.

Open stance and high holds.

Arguments fall like rain and I started the day already wet.

Typing makes these things happen.


The A's starters are off to a great start, but they're still losing almost everything.
(In other news, I've been a Pirates fan waaay too long to take their strong start at all seriously.)


My boys are incredible baseball nuts (A's fans, to be specific). We don't have tv so I bought an antennae for my laptop and now we get about 50 stations mostly in HD, but you know what? They don't broadcast baseball. Maybe one game a week and those are just the game selected for national play. So maybe two A's games all year. The only way to watch the A's is on Comcast. Which angers me to no small degree. I am burning effigies of Bud Selig nightly.

I figure (since progeny notwithstanding I am not a particularly sporty guy) that there are people within view of this post who may know a hack or other Alternate Path to Baseball.

If so, I beg you to share your wisdom.



Proud Papa


The Big O played his first Single A game this weekend. This is the level where kids get to start pitching. How it works is the kid pitcher pitches until a) he throws four balls (at which time a coach takes over --- no walks at this level), b) he throws three strikes (at which time the batter is out), or c) he hits the batter (at which point the batter gets to go to first).

Since it was the first game of the season, coaches pitched the first two innings anyway. Then the Big O pitched the third inning (and only the third inning --- the kids rotate to a new position every inning).

The Big O posted some remarkable numbers in his first inning as a pitcher:
    0.00 ER
    Three strikeouts with three batters
    The only little league pitcher of the game never to require the coach taking over
    I wasn't counting but probably only about 12 or 15 pitches

The other number are obvious, I suppose. Striking out every batter you face means 0 H, 0 HRA etc etc etc.

Let's just say his pNERD is high, shall we?


Out for GC weekend (maybe)


It's a good thing I went and saw Questions of the Heart on opening night as I just found out I'll be away from my computer over the weekend. Lady Steed and I will be in Salt Lake of all places (would've rather gone last week to get MY AML AWARD, but so it goes). It being Utah I imagine I'll still be able to catch conference (the person I'm meeting with has to be there anyway, so I'm sure we'll be free and catch it on KSL or something), but my Svithetacular! notes will almost certainly not go up on time this Conference. (But that will be the first time since 2005 that I did not post immediately so I think I've earned some karma on this point. Back off.)

See you next week!