Reading comics under the old oak tree



076) The House by Paco Roca, finished on August 11

This is a wonderfully adult comic. Three siblings, now grown, working on their father's beloved vacation home, after his death. Roca's incredible sense of anatomy and gesture and body language is the perfect synecdoche of everything he does well. I assume this is in translation so part of the execution is thanks to the English-language team, but character and dialogue and detail all come together to make us part of this family, if only for a hundred or two pages.

One fascinating page—the family tree, you'll know it when you see it— directs the eye in directions I'm not sure I've ever seen before. If you're interested in panel construction, this page alone is worth getting the book!

three days

077) Are Comic Books Real? by Alex Nall, finished on August 13

These slice-of-life stories from an actual teacher are some of the best stuff I've read on being inside the classroom. I can fit on a cozy shelf with Up the Down Staircase.

He works with elementary-aged kids, doing things like comics class and digital-art class and moviemaking class. Only a sliver of my career was spent with kids these age, but he captures my memories precisely.

It's hilarious at times, too. If that's what you're into.

an evening

078) Top Ten by Alan Moore and Gene Ha, finished on August 16

Here's the basic set-up. So many superheros show up in the 20th century that eventually there are just two much of them. To solve the problem, they go live in their own city. (Which, naturally, is connected to like cities in other universes and dimensions.) Because it's a city of supers, all the parts of a city are also filled with supers. Cab drivers, prostitutes, delinquent kids, insurance salesmen, and, most importantly for this story, cops.

This books is supposed to be, basically, a police procedural. One of the things it inadvertently emphasizes is how much we accept state-sanctioned violence. Most of these cops are pretty awful, at least sometimes. It's supposed to be a buddy-buddy precinct ala the Nine-Nine but the characters are less interesting as people and we can no longer ignore the quasifascist horrors they proudly represent.

Moore is a good late-twentieth century manly-man scifi liberal (the stories in this issue were published 1999 – 2001) much like what I'm seeing in Frederik Pohl's Jem (1980). They each imagine a world in which diversity is broad and accepted—perhaps even celebrated—on the surface. Below the surface, everyone is still the same: sexist, homophobic, racist, nationalist, etc. The main difference is the lesbians get to be as womanizing as the men; if you think all [insert slur here] are [insert stereotype here], you can say so to their face; and one person's awful thinking won't prevent the people they think awfully about from loving them (and vice versa).

I suppose we used to think this was a realistic view of how liberalism would succeed? Now it just seems pretty unimaginative.

Anyway, the greatest thing about this book is probably this: having an entire city of superheros means you get to invent a ton of superheros. All kinds of character designs and new powers, etc etc. And the Moore/Ha team wasn't shy to insert tons of puns and jokes into building signage and such. The landscape is much more fun than the main characters or what they're up to.

Check out this young robot and his super dog:

Tell me that ain't delightful.

about six days

079) Baby-sitters Little Sister: Karen's Roller Skates by Katy Farina, finished on August 17

Charming. Simple. Professionally executed. Just as fun to read aloud.

Would read more!

one bedtime

080) Lulu Anew by Étienne Davodeau, finished on August 17

I suspect this will be the best comic I read this year. It's a quiet story, beginning with friends talking about their friend who disappeared. The bits of story are shared by one and another until the story arrives at the point the story began. That's a structural gimmick I'm usually annoyed by, but it's so appropriate to the theme here, I turned right back to page one and continued in round. I may have read the entire thing again were it not already so late and I have work together.

Davodeau feels no need to make anyone beautiful. But we can see family resemblances and so much is told through the holding of a shoulder or the turn of a head. And the muted colors and the deliberate pacing and the absolute mystery, moment to moment. Every bit of foreshadowing is ambiguous in ways that, in most stories, would feel deceptive. And although nothing really resolved, I am so satisfied.

Probably part of that is all the little parallels embedded in the story. Some are deliberate, but some—like the daughter's coming of age alongside her mother's adventure—are much more important and never scream to be noticed.

And certainly the morality of her journey is never decided upon. This is a work that asks plenty of questions, but never so clearly that you can guess at the answers.

An impressive work of art.

Incidentally, the French title was Lulu femme nue. I love how well the English title captures both that sound and meaning.

two nights

081) The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees by Douglas W. Tallamy, finished on August 24

I love oak trees. I'm not sure if Tehachapi made that so or if it predates my time there, but I love oak trees. They have personality and nobility.

And, as it ends up, they are the core to life in North America.

And even were they not vital to restoring our native animals etc this book demonstrates that they are home to thrilling dramas for all sizes of life—particularly the very small.

Tallamy's book attempts hard to cover the whole continent, but he can't overcome his east-coast bias. I forgive him though because he really does make the effort.

The main conceit is following a tree he planted through one year of its young maturity, September to September. In its branches are birds and caterpillars and wasps too tiny to notice, each engaged in the struggle to survive.

Tallamy's not a great stylist or anything but I was thrilled throughout this book. Read it, then plant a couple oaks of your own. 

two weeks or more

082) Thor: The Goddess of Thunder by Aaron/Dauterman/Molina, finished on August 24

I don't remember the impulse that got me to put this on hold. I've been aware of this storyline since it came out (although I've never known much about it; and what I did now is a spoiler for a later volume). It was reasonably entertaining and I enjoyed it well enough but I was not really, shall we say, thrilled. It was fine.

how long goes here

083) Pashima by Nidhi Chanani, finished on August 25

The blurbs from Gene Luen Yang and Victoria Jamieson let you know where First Second's intentions were with this book. And I think it probably works fine for the target audience. But me, I found it too ambiguous for my taste.

This is not me opposing ambiguity. Ambiguity's great. But it needs to have purpose and a lot of the contradictions in this text didn't hold together for me.

two nights

Previously . . . . :


Irreantum on Kickstarter!


The latest issue of Irreantum is (unofficially) live (it will be official tomorrow when a] it's the 177th anniversary of the key text and b], hopefully, the ebook is there for download) and we're trying something new:

Paying people.

Where will the money come from?


Please click on the photo and check it out! I collected a lot of serious feathers from Middle Harbor Shoreline Park so I'm ready to go!


Five comics (and novel makes six)


070) It's a Magical World by Bill Watterson, finished on July 29

Someone picked this book from a free pile last week and today it is already loved into a pretty rough shape. But the kids love it, young and old, delighted to read some Calvin and Hobbes strips they had not before read (let alone dozens of times).

I finally got my hands on it. As I assumed from the collection's title, this takes us into the final stretch of Calvin and Hobbes, ending with the final strip. But there are hints throughout that Watterson is done. Take this from the final week:

But this isn't to suggest that he was coasting. Not at all. The art is still spectacular, the writing still clever and wise.

It's a generous close to his decade-long run and I hope we're all still grateful.

how long goes here

071) Future Day Saints: The Gnolaumite Crystal by Matt Page, finished on August 1

Some where (can't find it now) Matt wrote about feeling a bit sheepish he was shortlisted for the AML Award for comics with the first volume of this series. And really, just sheepish with how much buzz and talk as comics that book received. So resolved to make volume two include more comics.

Which made me glad as, frankly, I felt rather the same. And I am very pleased to say that this book is everything—as comics—that the first book was merely almost.

This book engages more deeply with the capabilities of graphic storytelling. Plus, it's just more interesting! The explanation of Triple Combination's past is nothing I've ever seen before and I'm excited to see where Matt goes next.

The noncomics bits (eg, the advertisements for the Future Day Saints vhs tapes) are as delightful as ever and take up the appropriate amount of space, imho. The bad guys got more interesting and the rules of this world were muddied—not in a Matt-doesn't-know-what-the-heck-he's-doing sort of way, but in a there's-a-lot-here-yet-to-be-explored sort of way.

Volume two came out much much faster than I anticipated. Here's to hoping volume three has just as speedy an arrival!

one day

072) Dutch House by Ann Patchett, finished on August 5

Lady Steed and I read and loved Bel Canto simultaneously. Since then, she has read several more of Patchett's books. I have not until now, with The Dutch House.

I read an article over Lady Steed's shoulder—an interview with Patchett about the novel and about its painting and about the audiobook narrated by her friend Tom Hanks. Lady Steed had already read the book and was almost finished with the audiobook, but we had a long drive ahead of us and she was happy to start over. So I listened to the first fifty pages via Tom Hanks's (excellent) narration (and, later, another twenty or thirty pages in the middle) while reading the rest myself.

Anyway, so it's about this house. Not really, obviously, but also, it is. It's about unique miseries and unique privileges and, specifically, the people these things happen to. The characters never stay one-dimensional, even when other characters try to make them so. The plot unfolds almost invisibly even though this is a novel that provides surprise after surprise.

In the end, it is another work of beauty and honesty. And it makes you wonder why we all haven't read more Ann Patchett.

Anyway, as I type, I realize I'm loathe to give anything away even though I think nothing I might give away could negatively impact your experience.

Your potential experience is simply to wonderful for me to put my grubby little hands upon.

maybe eight days

073) Long Walk to Valhalla by Adam Smith and Matthew Fox, finished on August 7

I wish I liked this book more than I did. Visually, it seemed to be taking some (less exagerrated cues) from Jeff Lemire. It's trying to tie into a curious mix of Norse and Christian mythologies. It mixes realism and fantasy. It's fun monochrome. It's a lot of stuff I like!

But . . . I never quite understood what it was all about. And I'm not convinced the creators do either.

I could (and would if this were a paid review) reread it a couple times and see if it comes together. But I'm not going to. I have three more library comics to read!

over midnight

Weirdly, however, these next two comics from the library, are NOT among the three I mentioned. It's fun to have long lunches across the street from a library!
074) House of Women by Sophie Goldstein, finished on August 10

The black-and-while style ranges from modern European comics to old medieval European art to art nouveau to, most deliberately, Japanese woodcuts.

It's a story in the far future. A group of colonialist nuns are sent by the Empire to see if the native population of this island can be civilized. What follows is a wealth of yonic images and an exploration of sex, violence, and cultural collision. It's a fascinating book.

Plus, props for one of the finest author bios I've seen.

at lunch

075) Through the Woods by Emily Carroll, finished on August 10

I had read one of the stories from this anthology before—online, I believe—but can't remember where. I remember how great it was, however. And every one of the little horror stories in the collection is at least good and some are much more than that. The library has it in the YA schedule and I guess so. I'm checking it out to share with my 12yrold. But oooooooo, be careful.

(This image is from the story I had previously read, but I found it somewhere else. Click it to get your second witness!)

at lunch

Previously . . . . :


Prayer as a Creative Act (the intro svithe)



Last time I shared the multiversal version of this presentation. But the first half was more or less the same each time I did it. It’s also available with my notes (it’s “z Outline v2”), but maybe this version (shorter, cleaner) will be an easier format to share.


We are children of God, children of creators, children of Heavenly Parents.

Before we get to my main point, let me remind you of two obvious things that maybe almost two years of Zoom have made fuzzy:

1.    Class works best when people talk

a.     Fifty brains are better than one. Even when that one is mine.

b.    Turn to your neighbor and tell them how many masks you own.

2.    Tangents are wonderful things

3.    The real goal is to think new thoughts.

a.     It doesn’t matter as much that we agree.

b.    Let the Spirit in through the unfamiliar or the weird.

4.    So speak, interrupt, propose.

At this point, I asked someone to grab the chalk and write on the board people’s favorite scripture stories. After they shared what they (you?) liked about that story, I did the same, with a focus on what makes that prayer unique in my mind. Some really fun examples came up, including Enos’s all-nighter, Hezekiah’s plea to live, the Lamanite king’s desire to know God, an alternate version of the First Vision, Nephi’s desire to see his father’s vision, Jesus’s prayers on the cross and in Gethesemane, and more more more. It’s a fun exercise. I recommend it.

I teach high-school English and one thing I have to do is cure people of the five-paragraph essay. Today, we’re going to dismiss the 5p-essay of prayer and discuss how to make the prayer take the shape of whatever is in our heart.

I suppose the 5p-essay of Latter-day Saint prayer is the four-part prayer we learned in primary or from the missionaries.

This not me knocking the primary prayer. Just questioning whether it’s really the right form for every prayer you ever say.

(Then we considered how well the prayers on the chalkboard matched the primary prayer.)

Great. Now let’s skip from English class to math class for a second.

Welcome to geometry class. (Not really, but the idea of sacred geometries is a pretty great thing to research if you get serious about more creative prayers.)

Let’s talk about Euclid, the father of geometry, dead lo these 2300 years.

His geometry relied on five axioms—ideas that seemed safe to assume and, having assumed them, on which the rest of geometry can be built. Euclid wasn’t sure that last one was true, but he felt he needed it in order to father geometry.

Now we have non-Euclidean geometry which presents a new way of understanding the world by rejecting Euclid’s axiom #5.

There are a lot of axioms in religion. I started us today with this one:

We are children of God, children of creators, children of Heavenly Parents.

Here are a couple others:

Bible dictionary bit

Abraham prays for Sodom and Gomorrah (I forgot this in both presentations!)

This aligning of wills isn’t so simple as just lying down and saying thy will be done in every single circumstance.

            Isaiah 1: “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord

Prayer is remembering to pray

            Adam Miller, Letters to a Young Mormon

            Remembering to speak AND remembering to listen

Pray always and not faint

D&C 88 126 Pray always, that ye may not faint, until I come. Behold, and lo, I will come quickly, and receive you unto myself. Amen.

D&C 75 11 Praying always that they faint not; and inasmuch as they do this, I will be with them even unto the end.

from Middlemarch:

Mr Bulstrode is a man who has lived most of his life trying to be as good as possible, donating money and being ostentatiously religious, etc. But his fortune is built on another man’s crimes and Mr Bulstrode did some shady stuff himself in order for it to fall to him.

Early in the morning—about six—Mr. Bulstrode rose and spent some time in prayer. Does any one suppose that private prayer is necessarily candid—necessarily goes to the roots of action? Private prayer is inaudible speech, and speech is representative: who can represent himself just as he is, even in his own reflections?

While we will speak mostly of words, words have their limitations. Prayer can and must, at least at times, be more.

But even more importantly, prayer cannot be more honest than we are with ourselves.

So our axioms are:

1.    We are children of Heavenly parents

a.     They are interested in us

b.    We are creators like them

2.    Prayer is an aligning of wills between us and deity

3.    Prayer is remember to pray

a.     Pray always and not faint

4.    We pray as ourselves.

a.     We thus must be honest in order to pray honestly.

(Note: because of directions the conversation took, sometimes these axioms had been slightly altered by this point.)

I’m proposing these as axioms but we’re all limited by what we can see. Perhaps one of these is like parallel lines.

And here’s something axiomatic about creativity:

            Sometimes creativity is doing something new.

            Sometimes it’s doing something old in a new way.

But even the most traditional of prayers can be creative—can be the right prayer at times.

The Lord’s Prayer (specifically, an anecdote about a woman in my growing-up ward who, giving the closing prayer at Church, who said this was an appropriate moment to pray via classic.)

Then I handed out the English version of Gabriel González Núñez fascinating experiment with the Lord’s Prayer (eng, esp) and we spent a moment with it, trying to hear these familiar words for the first time.

Now we will do something similar. Just as there are plenty of ways we can read the Lord’s prayer, there are plenty of ways we can finish this hour. I have multiple options for us. We’ll do one from each category until we run out of time.

And that’s when we did the voting!

(On which you can learn more by clicking on the poll. I only wish more people had followed the link and the voting, thus, would have been more fierce. Ah well.)

previous svithe


Prayer as a Creative Act (a svithe)



I was asked to present at an LDS singles conference on the topic of prayer and meditation. I decided to pick Prayer as a Creative Act as my theme. I also assembled my presentation in such a way that it was impossible to cover everything I had in mind to cover. This was inspired in part by a poem (if we can call it that) by Gabriel González Núñez (eng, esp) and in part by a sense that, rather than just the impression of chaos, my presentation should, because of its theme, actually embrace chaos.

I promised to post a fuller sense of the possibilities here.

After my introduction (I’ll put that in a separate email/post in a couple days) I had them vote on where we would go next. This is what the second group chose:

We had time to cover Praying in song, Other faith traditions, and The Evolving Metaphor of the Tree. The first group, incidentally, also discussed those three, albeit not in the same order. Guess you 18- – 30-year-olds have consistent taste!

I won’t put everything here—just a bit—sometimes the links are enough—but if you want to hear more about what I was hoping for, leave a comment here on Thutopia, over at Thubstack, or hit me up on Thwitter.

(Incidentally, if you don’t mind things being idiosyncratically arranged, you can see my actual [and fuller] files here.)

What the groups voted to talk about it is in bold and italic below. As you will quickly notice, we didn’t have time for that much. Which is great! because it means we had actual discussion which is more valuable than me blabbing anyway.

🛐 Bless this [our daily] bread

  • Why do we bless the food? (This a socratic pickle my brother likes posing and the lack of a good answer has made me rethink much about the way I pray.)

  • Rewriting the sacrament prayer

🛐 Poetry

🛐 Fiction (click over to the files to see the excerpts under discussion)

🛐 Location (I had minimal plans for any of these; I fully expected to pose a question and then turn it over to them.)

  • Church

  • Home

  • Mountain

  • Wilderness

🛐 The Evolving Metaphor of the Tree (lots of exciting news on trees the last few years but most of what I talked about came from this recent book review; for this I mentioned the history of tree symbolism [including Mother God and rugged individualism], then just gave some fun facts and asked them to create new religious metaphors using trees)

  • Canopy in the sky

  • Canopy in the soil

🛐 Praying in Song

🛐 Paintings of the First Vision (this link goes to the raw materials I used for my presentation last year and what I planned to pull up for this presentation this year; this link goes to the notes for that presentation; and this link goes to that presentation itself)

🛐 More on not fainting

🛐 Other faith traditions (ALL of these are much more complete in my notes; look for the file Other faith traditions in the folder xx and check out the relevant images in the top folder)

  • The four forms of prayer in Catholicism (I’ve also see it as three or five forms, but it’s the same basic list.)

  • St Teresa on (not) praying bashfully (St. Teresa of Avila has a LOT to say on prayer, but I thought this was particularly great—hit up my files to read the excerpt)

  • A tidbit from the Quran (“Resort to patience and Prayer for help. Truly Prayer is burdensome for all except the devout, who realize that ultimately they will have to meet their Lord and that to Him they are destined to return.“—I also wanted to set this next to the Parable of the Talents to see what would happen.)

  • The Buddha on prayer (although I had several sources, this is probably the most succinct)

  • Sacrifice of animals (I had no plan for this one. Just looking to see where we might go.)

  • Ohlone Prayer in the Four Directions (I was really hoping for this one, but Mormons love their Buddhism.)

🛐 The Old Testament (I had ideas for defamiliarizing prayer using each of these; reach out and we can talk about them!)


Anyway, that’s all that makes sense to put into the world in this format. I’ll post the intro in a few days, but do talk back about anything you want me to clarify or explain or debate.

previous svithe