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 . . . . :

books from this year

1, 2, 4, 5, 6

001) The Sun Has Burned My Skin: a modest paraphrase of solomon's song of songs by Adam S. Miller, finished January 3
002) You're a Pal, Snoopy by Charles M. Schulz, finished January 4
004) Served edited by Theric Jepson, finished January 9
005) Served edited by Theric Jepson, finished January 17
006) Shem in Zarahemla by Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood, finished January 19

7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 3

007) iPlates: Zerin's Sacrifice by Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood, finished January 21
008) iPlates: Alma in the Wilderness by Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood, finished January 24
009) Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard, finished January 27
010) Served edited by Theric Jepson, finished February 4
011) The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, finished February 4
003) Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, finished January 6

12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

012) Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, finished February 5
013) My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, finished February 15
014) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, finished February 16
015) Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, finished February 18
016) A Desolating Sickness: Stories of Pandemic edited by D.J. Butler, finished February 21
017) Nothing Very Important and other stories by Béla Petsco, finished February 22

18, 19, 20, 21, 22

018) Muppets Present "The Great Gatsby" by Ben Crew, finished February 24
 Uncanny Avengers: Counter-Evolutionary by Rick Remender and Daniel Acuna, finished February 28
 Guts by Raina Telgemeier, finished March 2
 The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by D. Manus Pinkwater, finished March 4
022) Ghosts by Raina Telgemeieir, finished March 5

23, 24, 25, 26, 27

023) Consent (for Kids!): Boundaries, Respect, and Being in Charge of You by Rachel Brian, finished March 11
 Memoirs of an Invisible Man by H.F. Saint, finished March 12
 Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh, finished March 20
 The Invisible Saint by Curtis Taylor, finished March 25
 Black Orchid by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, finished March 25

28, 29, 30

028) Scrap Mettle by Scott Morse, finished March 26
029) Dugout: The Zombie Steals Home by Scott Morse, finished April 1
030) The Barefoot Serpent by Scott Morse, finished April 1

31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36

031) Is Sex Necessary? Or, Why You Feel the Way You Do by James Thurber and E. B. White, finished April 1
032) Boys Who Became Prophets by Lynda Cory Hardy, finished April 11
033) George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends by James Marshall, finished April 12
034) Stuart Little by E.B. White, finished April 14
035) Achilles by Elizabeth Cook, finished April 15
036) Have It Your Way, Charlie Brown by Charles M. Schulz, finished April 15

37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42

037) The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne, finished April 21
038) The Mystery of the Dinosaur Graveyard by Mary Adrian, finished April 22
039) The Garden of Enid—Volume One by Scott Hales, finished May 2
040) Tiny Writings by Danny Nelson, finished May 5
041) Whispering Death! by R.A. Christmas, finished May 6
042) Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, finished May 9

43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48

043) T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton, finished May 14
044) Sweet Tooth – Volume 1: Out of the Deep Woods by Jeff Lemire, finished May 22
045) Sweet Tooth – Volume 2: In Captivity by Jeff Lemire, finished May 22
046) Sweet Tooth – Volume 3: Animal Armies by Jeff Lemire, finished May 22
047) Sweet Tooth Deluxe Edition – Volume 2 by Jeff Lemire, finished May 22
048) Sweet Tooth Deluxe Edition – Volume 3 by Jeff Lemire, finished May 23

49, 50, 51

049) A Book of Lamentations by James Goldberg, finished on May 23
050) How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, finished on May 25
051) We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, finished on May 26

52, 53, 54, 55, 56

052) Vertigo CMYK, finished on June 5
053) Plutona by Jeff Lemire and Eme Lenox and friends, finished on January 5
054) The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael edited by Sanford Schwartz, finished on June 9
055) Pastwatch: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card, finished on June 11
056) American Cult edited by Robyn Chapman, finished on June 12

57, 58, 59, 60, 62, 63

057) Messages on the Water by Merrijane Rice, finished on June 14
058) Words on Fire by Jennifer A. Nielsen, finished on June 16
059) There There by Tommy Orange, finished on June 19
060) The Shakespeare Stories by Andrew Matthews and illustrated by Tony Ross, finished on June 19
062) The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl, Part Two by Scott Hales, finished on June 20
063) Do the Movies Have a Future? by David Denby, finished on July 14

61, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69

061) World War Z (abridged audiobook) by Max Brooks, finished June 23
064) The Child Buyer by John Hersey, finished on July 14
065) Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, finished on July 15
066) Dani and Ramen: A Nomad's Tale, volume one by Jake Morrison, finished on July 17
067) Dani and Ramen: A Nomad's Tale, volume two by Jake Morrison, finished on July 17
068) The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, finished on July 23
069) Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier, finished on July 23

70, 71, 72, 73, 74

070) It's a Magical World by Bill Watterson, finished on July 29
071) Future Day Saints: The Gnolaumite Crystal by Matt Page, finished on August 1
072) Dutch House by Ann Patchett, finished on August 5
073) Long Walk to Valhalla by Adam Smith and Matthew Fox, finished on August 7
074) House of Women by Sophie Goldstein, finished on August 10
075) Through the Woods by Emily Carroll, finished on August 10

final posts in this series from

2007 = 2008 = 2009 = 2010 = 2011 = 2012
2013 = 2014 = 2015 = 2016 = 2017 = 2018 = 2019 = 2020


the most recent post in the books-read series *

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