SLC Comic Con Fan X


In between visiting relations, I will spend this weekend's Saturday afternoon speaking on three topics:
Representations of Mormons and Utah in Comics

Monsters & Mormons

Sherlock Holmes in the 21st Century
It will be a crowded madhouse. You won't want to miss being one of the 800ish people I tell jokes to this weekend.


What he’s finished reading of late


028) Road to Bountiful by Donald S. Smurthwaite, finished April 7

See review at AMV.

A couple complaints that didn't fit there:

1. What's with the title? Jeez. Really? Road to Bountiful? Geesh.

2. Why did he shred the check? It should be a powerfully symbolic gesture, but as far as I can tell it doesn't mean anything. If it was supposed to mean something, the set-up failed. As it is, shredding the check actually goes against some of the lessons Levi supposedly learned.

3. Why the few paragraphs scattered through the end that bust apart the present tense and turn this into a story from Levi's past?

In the end, it's a good book if seriously flawed. Like the other Whitney finalist listed today, I'm worried if these really are the five best books we've got going. . . .
about three weeks


027) Atlas of Prejudice: Mapping Stereotypes, Vol. 1 by Yanko Tsvetkov, finished April 6

I had to skim half of two of the essays (and skip a couple of the European maps) in order to finish on time, but as best I can tell, Tsvetkov's nailed it. He even understands Americans. Get a glimpse.

a bit of afternoon


026) Thelwell Country by Norman Thelwell, finished April 6

Cartoons that mostly maintain their humor after half a century and whose eye for detail has grown only more compelling.

a bit of afternoon


025) The House at Rose Creek by Jenny Proctor, finished March 31

See review at AMV.
about three weeks


024) Barnaby, Volume One by Crockett Johnson, finished March 17

Today I was recounting how I had read "A Modest Proposal" in my "bad Irish accent" and the boys asked me to demonstrate. So I recited "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and the recognized the voice and cried out, Mr O'Malley! The four-year-old ran to the shelf and pulled off our first volume of Fantagraphics's Barnaby reprints and after dinner we reread some favorite moments.

We actually finished the comics months ago, but I hadn't finished reading the afterstuff until tonight. I wish, rather, that similar endnotes were included in the Peanuts volumes.

Another difference between our Barnaby and our Peanuts is that the manufacture of Barnaby's a bit crappy. Maybe we blame this on its heaviness and wideness, but it should be able to sit on a shelf, don't you think, without falling apart?

Sigh. Let's hope it's just my copy. It was obviously weakly bound from the time it arrived in the mail.

Anyway, it's easy to see why everyone was gaga over Barnaby back in the day. It's also easy to understand why Johnson didn't have the stamina to stick with it for fifty bleeding years. (Schulz was something unique in the annals of comicsdom.)

Barnaby's unique aesthetic---clean lines, Futura-set text, lots and lots of words, contemporary sensibility, historical and literary references---keeps it both everlastingly fresh and wholly of its time.


023) A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver, finished March 17

This is to writing poetry what I found Stephen King's On Writing to be on writing prose: just as good a guide to reading it. i can't think of a better way to teach poetry than to hand one of these out to each student and say read this---read as she says, write as she says---repeat repeat repeat---now you know poetry.

I'm seriously considering ordering these for my classes.
a month or so


022) Irene #3 edited by dw, Andy Warner, Dakota McFadzean; finished March 15

I read this comic somewhere online and, on the strength of it, bought this comic. Although "Dance Yourself to Death" was the best of the bunch, it's pretty indicative of the overall quality.

It's a bit weird though, for one comic to clearly be by and old guy, and then to read the bios and learn he only has a year on me.

Anyway, check out the artists:

! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! *

I haven't checked out all these yet, but most of what I have checked out has been great.
two or three days

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Feature-length films of 2014, quarter one


In theaters:

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013): Unquestionably a well made movie. I don't get the point of the bookending and I don't know how the Coens expected me to react to the ending, but I had a similar reaction to A Serious Man. Music was pretty great though. That seems like something we can all agree about. One thing though: I don't understand why everyone's going on and on about what a terrible person Llewyn is. He doesn't seem that awful to me. Does that make me a misanthropist?

The LEGO Movie (2014): Notwithstanding the great cast and hilarious trailers, the trailers also make it clear that this story is a clichefest---prophecies, regular-guy hero, dangerous romantic interest, evil businessman. You know where it's going. But it doesn't matter because the ride is so much fun. And with a story like this, it's all about the journey, less about the destination. Only, with this film, the destination isn't quite what you expect. At first it just seems a tad self-consciously postmodern, but then it uses that to break out of the movie you think it is into the movie it really is---without giving up on the promises originally made. Pretty brilliant, really. I don't know that I need to see it again, but it's the best 100-minute commercial I've ever seen. It's given our family a ton of catchphrases, and deserves positive comparisons to Idiocracy, The Matrix, and Toy Story.

The Wind Rises (2013): The best war movie I've ever seen. (Which says a lot about what I want from a war movie.) I found every aspect of this movie wonderful. We saw the dubbed version and it might be the best dub I've ever seen too. The visuals are elegant and alive and the characters are carefully drawn from small moments. The earthquake was the best I've seen on film. And so many choices to ponder, such as the use of human voice for sound effects such as fire and airplanes. Miyazaki has melded realism and magic here utterly perfectly. I love this movie.

At home:

The Conversation (1974): What a great movie for the modern surveillance age! Sure, Seventies tech seems both hopelessly outdated and terrifyingly invasive (they shot at a REAL convention). Add to that the unsettling lack of finality. Or, in other words, the smalless. This is a film that recognizes it is a short story, not a novel, and uses its smallness to full effect. One last note: The Seventies seem to have had an usually high number of movies stars with unexpected looks. Of course, we've always had them from Humphrey Bogart to Michael Cera, but the Seventies!

Moon (2009): So great. And Sam Rockwell? No wonder people were scandalized he didn't get an Oscar nom. He IS this movie in ways actors seldom get to me. The twists come midway which is a nice switch. Good stuff.

Cedar Rapids (2011): Although a comedy, this film is structured so much like a tragedy that I had a hard time seeing how it would pull out. (Ended up that was an overly simple solution.) But Ed Helms did a good job playing the naif who spirals and Anne Heche did a good job not being recognizable in a new hair color.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011): If I had paid closer attention to the punctuation in the title, I might have been interested in this movie sooner. Since, you know, the exciting cast and good reviews failed to win me over. I suppose this is an American version of, say, Love Actually, but that coincidence-ridden overpopulated mess failed to win me over. This cast is a bit smaller which, if anything, requires more coincidences, but they all work. Sure, the Big Moment at the end is a bit derdeedum silly, but I'm willing to forgive it because pretty much ever other moment in the movie landed. This is a movie which, ten years ago, we would have bought and watched every few months.

Knuckleball! (2012): I was expecting a nice little documentary, but instead I got a pretty terrific movie that both me and my boys were glued too. (Note if you have younguns: out of nowhere comes a single f-bomb in the middle of the movie.) I think knowing that in the following season Dickey won the Cy Young makes it even sweeter. What a great flick. What a great use of all the tools a filmmaker has to make a documentary so much fun to watch.

Warm Bodies (2013): Lotta holes in the plot, worldbuilding and, especially, the geography, but this was fun and sweet and good for a date.

Pitch Perfect (2012): First, Rebel Wilson is a treasure. Beyond that, Pitch Perfect exceeded my usual expectations for the genre but failed to transcend the genre, as I had hoped it might. It had a lot of the same errors/flaws/tropes one would expect (examples: the pointless riff-off, groups forgotten by the plot, age-politics crap) but the film was good enough those things didn't matter too much. Like classic Hollywood---no one cares if Groucho or Bing are a tad unrealistic. This movie earns that same sort of forbearance of detail. Just roll with it.

Source Code (2011): First, terrific, terrific movie. Second? Even better than Moon. (I know!) Third, several earned endings, each better than the last. Impressive. Fourth, even though the ultimate happy ending was clear from a distance and arguably too pat, it was absolutely earned and I would have been upset had I been denied it. Fine work all around.

Chronicle (2012): Two lessons I got from this. First: do not give teenaged boys superpowers. Second: we seriously need to fix our healthcare system. (Good movie.)

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010): I wasn't watching this superclosely, but I saw bits of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and some stuff with aerial battles that Ender's Game might have tried. Surprisingly dark. Stereotyped characters not as stereotyped as at first they seemed. But not enough to overcome the stereotype. But again: I wasn't watching superclosely. It might be much better or worse than I'm implying. The Big O has strong opinions though. (He loves the books.)

Mahlzeiten (1967): I hear of this film here, but it's not an easy thing to find. I'm not joking when I say I had to find an expert in German film and send him to Berlin to find a copy after months of occasional looking. And the film relies mightily on language (at times, the narration and dialogue are simultaneous) so it's an impossible film to judge if you don't have any German skills (nope, no subtitles). I'm pretty sure I heard a long list of colors once and I figured out the leads' names (Elisabeth and Rolf)---and I could tell the Mormon missionaries had American accents---but basically I could only view the film visually. And there was a lot to see. But difficult to contextualize. [Update: now available in English under a racier title.]

En Kongelig Affære (2012) A Royal Affair is a beautifully shot and well acted look at a bit of history I knew nothing about. It's the time of the American Revolution and Denmark is waffling between the old ways and the Enlightenment. Enter an English princess, marry her to your mad king, insert a dashing thinker---and you have the ingredients for a terrific period piece.

Le Ballon Rouge (1956) (It's over half an hour. It counts as a feature.) I probably haven't seen the movie in thirty years. (And, in the meantime, I've probably seen "Billy's Balloon" once for each of those years.) But based on the reaction of this class of seventeen-year-olds, it still holds it power.

The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984): This charming little film is better than I remembered. And while Paul Williams remains the greatest songwriter in Muppets history, "Saying Goodbye" is no slouch. Also, nice synergy, Henson. That baby Muppets scene in a movie released the same year Muppet Babies hit television? Although, incidentally, why hasn't Skeeter ever made it to live action? They could use another strong female character. Anyway, nice movie. Easy to rewatch.


SlamNation (1998): For my freshman, this movie is as old as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest would have been to me. Which is to say, not as fresh as I'd hoped. Good personalities. Difficult watch with the crowd I was with.

The Book of Mormon Movie, Volume 1: The Journey (2003): I missed more than an hour out of the middle (meaning I missed the only twenty seconds I liked the first time I saw this), but I feel qualified to say this movie is still terrible. Those poor brighteyed fools. . . . With the right company though, you can laugh at this movie. I did not think it was possible, but it is. Thank you, Zelophehad's Daughters.