Comics and More (was Re: Best of 2001)

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Tue Jan 15 01:18:51 EST 2002


On Mon, 14 Jan 2002 21:28:33 +1100, Gross Family wrote:

>Melissa wrote:
>>So I thought, maybe I should keep a list or something.
>> Plus it would let me finally collect data on just how many books I
>>actually read in a year.  (I have a guess, but it's probably wrong.)
>
>For years now, I've been recording every book I read in a journal; sometimes
>I add a comment or two about the book, sometimes I just record the title and
>author. I even write down the names of books I couldn't finish. Apart from
>the year at the beginning of each section, I record them by month, which
>seems to be the most practical unit to use.

So far I'm just writing in the date I record the title (the date I finish
it).  Not really an accurate count of how long it took, but it's sort of
like a journal, so it makes me feel all noble, especially if I add the
comment thing.

>OK, I need to ask something about this that makes me feel exceedingly dumb.
>As a child and teenager, I used to passionately devour
>Superman/Superboy/Supergirl comics (this probably gives away my age!). Is
>this the kind of comic book you mean, or are there other kinds--and where on
>earth do you buy them, let alone *see* them? For example, I've heard people
>on the list talk about the Sandman comics, but I've never ever seen them,
>and wouldn't even know where to begin looking.

Heh.  Self-proclaimed comic book junkie here.  Yes, this is what I mean.
But I also mean Sandman and Girl Genius and PvP Online and Knights of the
Dinner Table (and I am so lucky a friend is subscribing to these because I
am BROKE).  When I was eleven or so I started borrowing comics from this guy
across the street, the older brother of a friend of mine: Teen Titans in
particular, a couple of other DC titles, and finally the 12-issue _Crisis on
Infinite Earths_ which was DC's attempt to corral their exploding multiverse
into something that people could actually *understand*.  (It sort of
worked.)  Then I got older and started reading as many X-Men titles as I
could find.  But I stopped because an hour's worth of comic book reading
meant I was reading a LOT of them at a time, and I would get this weird
mental indigestion thing that made reality fade just a little.

Then I became a grownup and got married to a man who later on was a coworker
of a woman whose husband LOVES the Sandman comics.  (How's that for
convoluted?)  Which is how I got into it again, because at that point comics
had undergone a revolution.  During the late '80s and all of the 1990s,
comics got dark and spooky and "realistic."  The market had increased
because it started gaining literary significance.  And what's more, this all
meant that suddenly comics weren't just available in single-issue flimsy
form; they were published as actual books, collections of story arcs, that
you could even buy at bookstores.  The guy who loaned us the Sandman books
owned all of them; I don't remember how many issues there were, but it's
about 80 or so, and they're in like 8 or 9 bound volumes.  Search Amazon.com
using "Sandman" or "Neil Gaiman" and you'll find the titles.

For finding comics in general:

**First way:  Find a local comics shop.  I actually don't like this way
because our local place isn't very user-friendly, and it's hard to browse
through.  But the owners may be able to steer you in certain directions.

**Second way: You can find a lot of really good stuff online.  I personally
like PvP (www.pvponline.com), which is about the staff of a computer gaming
magazine.  From a link on this site I discovered Girl Genius, written by
Phil and Katja Foglio (www.studiofoglio.com).  This isn't available online,
but it's really easy to order, and you can get a subscription even.  It's
set in the Victorian era, sort of H.G. Wellsian science and stuff, and the
main character is just this girl who has flashes of genius and doesn't
really know she's doing it.  It's setting up to become a really big story
arc, I think.  Most Internet comics artists are part of a loose community
that as far as I can tell looks a lot like the Internet itself: Person A has
links to Persons B, C, and D, and Person D likes B, F, G, and H...you can
find a LOT if you're not careful with your time.  Scott Kurtz, creator of
PvP, has his comics published physically by Dork Storm Press, who also do
the Dork Tower and Nodwick comics.  (Nodwick is pretty funny if you are a
fantasy RPGer, Dungeons and Dragons style--or if you passed through that
phase in your corrupt adolescence.)

**Third way: if you are very lucky, your library will carry the bound
editions of certain comic books/graphic novels.  I did an online library
search and located _The Dark Knight Returns_, about a very aged Batman that
addressed a lot of issues like, How sane is is REALLY to hang out in a
bat-infested cave and practice vigilantism on the populace?  And what would
such a person do for his retirement?  The library also carried _The League
of Extraordinary Gentlemen_, which was on the PROMOTIONAL SHELF.  Out on a
display for people to see and everything.  Wow.  But not all libraries do
this.

**Fourth way: most large bookstores in America (and I imagine all specialty
SF/F bookstores) have a graphic novel section somewhere.  This usually has a
bunch of bound volumes of popular titles, American and Japanese.  Not really
Japanese, I mean English-language versions of Oh My Goddess! and Silent
Mobius (my very favorite) and other stuff.  I have no idea how it is in
Australia.  It's worth looking into.

Thus ends the comic book rant.  Or graphic novel rant, if you want to sound
high-brow.  I'm old enough that I don't really care.

>> Best Book of the Year: This is usually a book that a) I was unable to stop
>> reading until it was finished and b) I could not stop talking about to
>other
>> people after I'd finished it and c) left me feeling physically and
>> emotionally wrung out.  This year it was _The Amazing Adventures of
>Kavalier
>> & Clay_ by Michael Chabon.

>So, where would I find these? (I live in Australia, by the way...) I haven't
>seen them in the main
>SF/F shop I go to here.

_Kavalier & Clay_ is a regular fiction book.  It's out in paperback here,
and it won the Pulitzer Prize (very big fat American deal) so I imagine you
should be able to find it.  But it won't likely be in the SF/F shop, though
it ought to be.  This is what it's about: In the 1930s, a Jewish family in
Europe manages to send their 17-year-old son to live in America with his
cousin's family.  The cousin, also about 17, loves comics.  The immigrant
boy was trained as an escapist (a la Harry Houdini).  In need of a job, and
surrounded by the burgeoning comic book industry, the two boys invent a
superhero named The Escapist.  The adventures they create for him are very
similar to the kind of storytelling Gaiman does in the Sandman series, and
are an outlet for their feelings about things happening in real life, both
their own personal lives and the larger issue of the Second World War.  More
than that, I can't explain; it's too complicated.  But there are parts where
it feels as though you are reading a comic book; one section, called
"Radioman," is actually structured like one, without pictures.  It's
wonderful.

>I've just come back from holiday, and found all these references to Megan
>Whalen Turner's books. Could you briefly give me an idea of what they're
>like?

Greek environment with a three-way political conflict.  That's the brief
version.  :)  The first novel, _The Thief_, is about a thief who's been
thrown in prison for theft, but is offered his freedom if he helps a very
important political figure find a very important religious artifact.  Things
are never what they seem (and I still maintain the author had to cheat to do
it) and the ending is a surprise.  The second book, _The Queen of Attolia_,
has many of the same characters, but the perspective is different, and I
can't explain any of it because I think it's just better you read it and
enjoy.  They're both different from each other; the first one is an
adventure novel cross-bred with an examination of storytelling and myth,
while the second is, I guess, more of a character study and EXTREMELY
disconcerting if you're expecting standard fantasy fare.  I love the
characters; I love the treatment of religion; I adore the setting.

>I'm really jealous, Melissa--it's been a long time since a book has affected
>me quite as deeply as you describe, though Connie Willis's _Passage_ came
>pretty close for me, I'd say.

It comes and goes.  I'm lucky if I find one a year.  The ones I remember
from the last ten years, since I started keeping count, are _Doomsday Book_
by Willis, _Bridge of Birds_ by Barry Hughart, _The Dragon Revenant_ by
Katharine Kerr (which no longer affects me this way, more's the pity), _A
Deepness in the Sky_ by Vernor Vinge, and _The Homeward Bounders_ by DWJ.
Dorothy Dunnett's _Pawn in Frankincense_ almost makes the cut, but didn't
have enough of an uplift to counter the wrenching agony--you have to read
the rest of the series to get to that point.

<more snippage because I think I'm being longwinded>

>Most Disappointing Book: _Eccentric Circles_ by Rebecca Lickiss. It *looked*
>like my kind of book, and the theme was interesting. But the characters
>failed to come alive for me, and I think it didn't work well for me because,
>basically, the writing was pretty pedestrian.

I'm about to give this one a try.  We'll see.  I have some very iffy books
on my bedside table right now.

>_A Red Heart of Memories_ by Nina Kiriki Hoffman.

Do you like these?  I do, and I have no idea why, because I can't tell where
she's going to end up half the time.  They seem like an extended rambling
rather than a coherent narrative.  Apparently this isn't a problem, but I
sort of assumed it would be.

>Book I'm Sure I Will Love When I Read It This Year: _The Tower at Stony
>Wood_ by Patricia McKillip--which didn't get read during 2001 by sheer luck.
>Next to be read, I think.

I am so out of the loop with her stuff, I didn't even know that her new book
is out already.  The title is _Ombria in Shadow_.  But I re-read _Fool's
Run_ this year on the airplane from Germany and remembered just how
beautiful a book it is.

I'm getting giddy with all this book discussion.  I have a reading group
meeting tomorrow, too.  We read _Transformation_ by Carol Berg.  I spent the
first half wishing it would start already, wishing the author had cut out
about a third of the lard, then I enjoyed the second half, more or less.
Not too bad, but not fantastic.  I've read a lot of books with this group
that I wouldn't have otherwise, I think.

Melissa Proffitt
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