Two women, in comics form


Two fascinating women who crash into classic tales and remake them in their own image. "Beauty and the Beast" becomes a sculptor and a shadow, and Supergirl gets to be Rooster Cogburn in a scifi retelling of True Grit.

They are both every bit as good as I hope that sounds.


085) Beast by Marian Churchland, finished July 24

Fantastic Comics has been having this crazy blowout sale on older graphic novels they need to unload, so the boys and I stopped by Saturday and picked up a dozen books for fifty bucks, including this one.

This is a fresh take on Beauty and the Beast and it is, in fact, actually fresh. It's roughly the modern day (I'm estimating 2000) and our hero is a young sculptor who is hired to attack a large piece of marble. Her benefactor goes by Beast and seems to be made of shadows, but she doesn't run and she does sculpt.

The art is beautiful and melancholy. I'm not 100% sure about the ending (a second reading might help) but the book as a whole is a clear victory.

an hour maybe

086) Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow by King/Evely/Lopes, finished date

By the time something comes into the library and I read it, I've often forgotten why I wanted to read it in the first place. Luckily, I trust past me and so even with a stack of comics I'm excited about (see above) I picked this up to read first.

I didn't realize until I sat down to write this review that it was written by the same author of a Superman story I wished to compare it to. Reading that review it's clear I liked the story, but the memory I'm left with most clearly is how deeply it expected you to know the DC Universe and all its fiddly details. This story too sends a supersomebody around the universe in service of a young girl but it avoids all the minor stumbling that got in Superman's way. And it's even more successful at managing the levels of storytelling and the cuts back and forth and the voice-forward narrator. In other words, it much the same but Supergirl is superior on every level. Except demanding of the reader a knowledge of minutia. And who wants to win in that category?

Part of what works particularly well in this volume is the model its following. If Tom King were to tell me Woman of Tomorrow was not based on True Grit I would call him a liar. The basic plot and the lead (nonsuper) protagonist are straight from the pages of that great American novel. This is not a knock. Everything's a remix and the trick is to steal well and understand the value of what you're lifting. As Eliot put it, "good poets make [what is stolen] into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn." That's what happens here. Because the differences between True Grit and Woman of Tomorrow are legion, but their souls remain in deep conversation. If someone wants to make an excellent Supergirl "television event," this should be their source material.

It's not just King's writing of course that makes this work. We're talking about comics, after all. While he may have introduced the restraints and the structure, it would not live without the astonishing and beautiful work of Bilquis Evely (colored with aplomb by Matheus Lopes).

One of the problems Lady Steed has with action movies is the action. It's cool and everything but it just goes on and on and on. She's not wrong. And while the ballet of violence provides its own beauty and done well can marvel and amaze, can reveal character and theme, can matter—it can also, not matter how excellent, drag a story to a dead stop. This story is about decades of violence, but the violence rarely if even holds center stage by itself, and some of the largest and most impressive fight scenes occurred between issues and were left unseen.

Incidentally, I disagree with the ending of Woman of Tomorrow, but exactly why what happened is what happened is open to debate and criticism and analysis. In other words, it is literary. I'm not making any claims that Woman of Tomorrow is perfect or anything, but it certainly does rise to the level of literature.

how long goes here


Previously . . . . :


Do not watch Oppenheimer on IMAX


Nothing against IMAX—it's still the best place to view space or to fall into the Grand Canyon—but Oppenheimer is mostly talking heads and it's just not necessary. In fact, it gets in the way of the story because there are times where it is difficult to see all the conversation that is being show as it is being shown. Plus, if you're going to shoot that big, you might want to consider a faster frame rate. I know that this film has maxed out what is possible in terms of the amount of film an IMAX projector can hold, but when the camera panned over Los Alamos it just fuzzed away. That might not have happened on a smaller screen.

Plus—and keep in mind I haven't watched a film on IMAX since The Dark Knight—the sound was awful. It's not supposed to be, right? IMAX is also supposed to have great sound? But this film is mostly talking and yet maybe 30% of the dialogue was unintelligible. I think that was a problem with the way the sound was being played by the theater. I have an email into IMAX's how'd-it-go line. If they respond with useful info, I'll throw it in a comment.

Also, I seem to remember this happening on IMAX before but perhaps I'm wrong, the lint on the projector lens! So much lint! Moving around, causing problems. A couple of them might have been actual moths!

Look: I liked the movie. You can read about the movie itself when the month ends. But I think Chris Nolan is wrong—this is not best seen on IMAX. Get a nice big screen. But not that big.


From prehumanity to eternal destiny


We'll be travelling with humanity all through time this go-round, from before we'd evolved to our current species to leaving the planet for the first time to leaving the planet for good. In between, we'll get some reasonable advice about building a career with words, and living with families, both good and terrible. We'll also visit one of my dearest friends from childhood, Roald Dahl, and a fellow who's movies I liked except they freaked me out, one Don Bluth.

Join me?


077) Tuki: Fight for Fire by Jeff Smith, finished June 28
078) Tuki: Fight for Family by Jeff Smith, finished June 29

So I told you after I first read volume one that this was a two-volume set. Ah ha. Ah ha ha ha. There will be six. But I'm committed now.

This is Jeff Smith doing what Jeff Smith does best, weaving tales and crafting a world. It's just as beautiful and compelling as you'd expect. Here at the end of act one, our ragtag multispecies group has come together through danger as a true family, their leader has accomplished his quest, but we really have no idea what might come next. And when you consider that we haven't yet met every brand of human from two million b.c., I guess we do have some story let to tell.

Honestly, I'm glad it's not over.

two days

079) The Writer's Hustle by Joey Franklin, finished July 8

I liked a lot of things about this book, I did. I liked Joey's helpful attitude, for instance. And his attempts to see lots of different ways for things to work out as you craft your own creative life. But he has a couple blind spots— Or maybe a better way to say it is that he feels the things that matter most to him matter most. Which is natural. We all feel that way. And I actually thinking his preaching the gospel of humility is really helpful. And when it comes to trying to teach at a university's creative-writing program, humility and an expectation of failure is the only rational path forward.

And honestly, I think a lot of the thinks that did rub me weird he's probably right about. I just don't want to hear them.

Simultaneously, I did feel called to repentence as well. I really oughtta be more involved with the local writing community, for instance. It's true.

My recommendation is to read the chapters you need and set it aside. Other chapters might matter later. Some may never matter at all. But he's a wise guide to the things that matter to you now.

maybe a couple weeks

080) Future Day Saints: The New Arrivals by Matt Page, finished July 16

Another triumph from Matt Page. His weird mix of woke Mormon satirical preachily storytelling-slash-advertizing is like nothing else anyone is doing and it should not be missed. (Click to buy.)

If you're not seeing him with frequency on Facebook, you might have missed the announcement. (I'm not on Facebook so I'm not sure how I knew to preorder. A miracle, I presume.) But volume three is here and a must-read. In my opinion, this volume best strikes the balance between standalone story, overarching events and themes, and all the itchily ironic/capitalistic fake (and real) ads. I felt this had the most purely felt moment of the three books and the highest frequency of laughs.

Anyway. I recommend leaving them around the house. They will attract kids and give them some vocabulary that Primary sometimes just misses.

Plus, they're just fun for everyone.

an afternoon

081) Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, finished July 18

I'm on the hunt for a very specific work of Afrofuturism; I'm not sure exactly what I'm looking for, but this isn't it. This novella has some interesting ideas and a scene near the end that really sings, but ultimately it's the perfect example for those who say being neither a short story nor a novel is an error.

The story's main ideas and set pieces are woefully underdeveloped, making it a bad novel. And it's symbolic conceits are stretched thin, making it a bad short story. Okorafor went on to write more stories, making a novel-length trilogy (three novellas and a short story), and maybe things come together at that length, but I think if I read her again, I'll aim at one of her true novels. She has a strong command of sentences and paragraphs, and her reputation is too broad and deep for me to think my complaints would hold across her oeuvre.

maybe four days

082) Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary, finished July 19

Beverly Cleary is a great writer. These books are pleasant for me to read, fun for my 6yrold, and the family is growing and changing and dealing with realistic problems book by book, all filtered realistically through the point of view of a growing child.

Really, what's not to love?

a small number of weeks

083) Just One More by Annette Lyon, finished July 20


Tell me not, friar, that thou hear'st of this,
Unless thou tell me how I may prevent it:
If, in thy wisdom, thou canst give no help,
Do thou but call my resolution wise,
And with this knife I'll help it presently....
Give me some present counsel, or, behold,
'Twixt my extremes and me this bloody knife
Shall play the umpire, arbitrating that
Which the commission of thy years and art
Could to no issue of true honour bring...
Hold, daughter: I do spy a kind of hope,
Which craves as desperate an execution.
As that is desperate which we would prevent.
If, rather than to marry County Paris,
Thou hast the strength of will to slay thyself,
Then is it likely thou wilt undertake
A thing like death to chide away this shame,
That copest with death himself to scape from it:
And, if thou darest, I'll give thee remedy.


O, bid me leap...
From off the battlements of yonder tower;
...or bid me lurk
Where serpents are; chain me with roaring bears;
Or shut me nightly in a charnel-house,
O'er-cover'd quite with dead men's rattling bones,
With reeky shanks and yellow chapless skulls;
Or bid me go into a new-made grave
And hide me with a dead man in his shroud;
Things that, to hear them told, have made me tremble;
And I will do it without fear or doubt,
To live [a mother] to my sweet love.

= = = = =

I adapted the above ever so slightly to make a point about my biggest issue with this novel. And as it regards the The Big Twist, continue reading my review at your own risk.

I appreciate the artistic chutzpah of getting one of your heroes to commit suicide as a way to accomplish some great good, but I can think of a dozen things she could have done instead. Crash her car, for instance.

The novel has alternating chapters, which switch between the two pov characters and time (the victim's are before her murder; the friend's after). It's a solid enough structure although sometimes it feels the structure forced the plot into unnatural behaviors. But one thing the structure does is place readers into circumstances where the novel feels obliged to tell us stuff rather than let us see it. The most egregious is our victim's personality. I get she's an abused woman and that's sapped a lot of her personal valor, but that she ever had any is largely asserted without evidence. And that she gets her mojo back in order to strategically suicide herself ain't exactly convincing.


I didn't want to get all negative in this review. I really wanted to like it. Annette's been waiting to dive into suspense her entire career and I think this book will meet its audience's needs, but I just really wanted it to be something other than what it was.

a couple weeks or so

084) The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More by Roald Dahl, finished July 22

"The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar" is the Dahl tale I've been counting my favorite for over thirty years. I haven't read it since I was a teenager, but it's wonder and power have stuck with me. The idea of seeing without my eyes is now a baseline daily fantasy and Henry's journey from rich cad to selfless hero just by following a path of intense study has become a core archetype in my understanding of human possibility.

So I was delighted when one of my favorite filmmakers announced he would be making it into a film starring an admired actor. Of course, this also meant it was finally time to reread at least the story and perhaps its entire collection.

I've actually been meaning to do this for years, but my copy which I've had since my tween years has refused to uncover itself. I'm convinced I still have it, but the occasional Saturday looking through boxes has never revealed it. And, now that there was a deadline, I had to compromise my standards and, gulp, read some other copy.

My own county library doesn't have a copy, so I interlibraried it. It has the wrong cover etc etc, but hey—that's how it goes, I guess.

Anyway, I started at the beginning and read through. The only other story I was certain was in the book was "The Hitchhiker," which I also remembered fondly and think of whenever I interact with police. But the other stories also came back quickly as we read. The strange modern fairy tale of "The Boy Who Talked with Animals" certainly hits different now. And "The Swan," one of the most horrifying stories I encountered as a child, is still horrifying but in different ways. And the ending makes more sense than it did before.

The book also includes a spattering of nonfiction—perhaps all Dahl's nonfiction until the release of Boy, which I received as a present circa age thirteen. And which has also stuck with me, though I considered it then the least of Dahl's writings. In "Lucky Break" (in this volume) he admits as much, that he is not a writer of nonfiction. He does so in the remarkable recounting of how he became a writer. There are very few universes in which it happened. And so how lucky are we? He also includes that first bit of writing in which he recounts being shot down in WWII. At the time, the first part of the story was great and the hallucinogenic last-half was absurd. From my position here in my 40s, it too makes much more sense. Though the entire marketing of this book as "for kids" seems . . . peculiar. I imagine his kids books sold better than his adult collection and while you can't sell "Switch Bitch" to kids, you can sell "The Swan" and "A Piece of Cake"—even if it'll never do Willy Wonka numbers.

And "Henry Sugar"? It takes up 72 of the book 225 pages. I still see the magic of the story and I enjoyed reading it though it didn't quite sweep me away. In part because I was reading as a writer and picking some holes in its worldbuilding and narrative choices, and because I was trying to adapt it to film as I read, curious about the choices Wes Anderson is making.

Although the story doesn't work as well for me all these decades later, I'm glad it did then. I'm grateful I reread and reread it.

I know we're reevaluating Dahl the man now and there are hints of his failings even here, but also there is evidence that complicated people can bring beauty and goodness into the world. Let us give ourselves permission to do so.

a small number of weeks

085) Somewhere Out There: My Animated Life by Don Bluth, finished July 22

I heard of this book through editing an essay by Randy Astle. My library didn't have it and so I requested they get a copy; they got four. One of which I have now read.

And I must say: What an intensely charming book! He is a delightful companion through his life. He's so wonderful to hang with and be regaled by that little details slide by unnoticed. After stories about teenage crushes, we have no idea he has a son until the acknowledgments. Where did he come from? And while he doesn't seem to have axes left to grind, some Hollywood folks (Spielberg, for instance) don't exactly come off shingingly.

Through it all, his passion for hand-drawn animation rules the day. You also get a good sense as to why some of the movies failed commercially and critically. But in the end, I want to go back and watch the ones I haven't seen. Which, if you include those I haven't seen as an adult, is all of them.

Between Astle's analysis and Bluth's love, they all seem worthy of attention.

A sidenote in keeping with my latest complaints about editing. There are some funky errors in this book. Not a lot. But more than you would expect. And I suspect BenBella (whom I've called out before) has processes that are to blame. I mean—at one point, an entire line of text was absent. I suspect it was underneath the whitespace surrounding an illustration, but I'll never know for sure! That sorta thing just shouldn't happen.

coupla weeks


Previously . . . . :


Hey hey hey! It's ADG7!



Today is Lady Steed’s and my anniversary. Because of family reasons, a getaway weekend wasn’t possible, but we weren’t locked into the house at night even though we had no specific plans. So on a whim I checked Freight & Salvage’s website—perhaps because we’re planning on going there Monday for Bobby McFerrin’s Circlesongs—and holy smokes but what is this?

Well, I was instantly converted but I didn’t see how I could drag my beloved to a Korean show on our anniversary, but I put on the Tiny Desk Concert all the same:


This, I need not tell you if you just spent the last seventeen minutes watching it, is amazing. And Lady Steed didn’t hate it, so off we went.

And it was even better live.

What you see in the video was the first chunk of the show, then there was an instrumental bit, then the singers came back in 80sish attire to close it out. Just as campy as the opening in traditional clothes and the lead singer in drag and yet totally different.

The whole show was awesome both generally (everyone had fun at Freight & Salvage tonight) but also specifically to me. I love Korean folk music (if you have never been on a Korean college campus and run into thirty percussionists doing laps in a concert hall you haven’t lived; sorry, but it’s true) and basically what ADG7 does (buy their albums) is do to Korean music what we saw done with Western folk music in the 90s, from Loreena McKennit to Dead Can Dance. I honestly cannot imagine what could be better than that. This is a combination I have consciously asked the universe for many times and now it is here.

They said this was their first concert in the U.S. this tour, but, best I can tell, after tomorrow in Grass Valley, their next date is twelve days from now in Germany. Don’t know if that’s accurate, but check your local cool venue and look for ADG7 (악단광칠). Believe me: you will have an excellent time.

Also, if you’re in to that sort of thing, members of the band came out and chatted with people afterward.


Phorbe on Titan(s)


I was at a bowling alley last week and not bowling because I had come to write—but I had forgotten the first half and outline of the story I was working on. I borrowed a pen from the front-desk guy and "borrowed" a bunch of summer-league applications and sat at the (unopened) bar and wrote two paragraphs before I realized I was going to botch the whole thing. So instead I wrote a bunch of poems over the two or three hours I was there.

This is one. When I wrote it, I knew we'd know if the sub people were rescued or not before it could possibly be published. (We now know they were already unrescuable.)

Thus, in a way, this phorbe was born in the past. And it only becomes more unpublishable as time goes on so I'm posting it here.

At least we haven't placed a man on that moon yet.

Here it is, in its never-to-be-fully-rewritten glory:


Phorbe on Titan(s)


We don’t yet know
don’t have any idea,
yet, really, what there is to
know about Titan.

Titan the moon with
the inscrutable surface, the
moon with the unknown oceans,
with the chance of life, and

Titan the sub with
the fiberglass hull, the
sub you can only be let out from
with tools only outsiders can bear.

Both Titans may be
Titans holding life,
may reveal great wonders,stories to
be told for ages hence.

Wet, cold depths are
cold, for starters, and
depths are natively mysterious,
are hidden—and hide.

The Titanic itself took
titanic amounts of time and money to find;
itself it buried, which burial
took only hours.

Hours are what they
are allotted in breath, assuming
what happened wasn’t a sudden fiberglass failure—
they happen, you know. Catastrophically.

Makes you wonder if
you, I , we should just stay off Titan’s
wonders, whatever they might be.
If life lives, let it live.

But we must know,
we must get to the ocean’s floor,
must see if skeletons remain,
know whether the hull is solid, twain, shattered.

Oh, Titan! Titan! Titan!
Titan lost,
Titan sought,
Titanic turned to money-making myth.

We want to know.

We want to know,
want to remove enough mystery
to make the bardo plain and thus
know our own unknowable passage—now.