Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Hellboy: Strange Places

There are a lot of people who won't go near any story about superheroes. These are the kinds of people, though, that Hellboy finds unexpected fans in. If you haven't heard of him, you're not alone. Hellboy's a minor demon, brought to our world during World War II and raised by American researchers. He spends his time fighting paranormal malfeasance and snacking on pancakes. For a demon, he's a pretty likeable guy, despite his mysterious stone right hand.
The thing about the series is that the writing isn't typical of the superhero genre. It can be esoteric and suprisingly literary. As for the artwork, it's also unusual. It's stark, and tends more toward the abstract than most. In all, it's a good series that has found a fiercely loyal fanbase among graphic novelists.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Case of Madeline Smith

Artist Richard Geary has made a grim career of illustrating the careers of historic killers. Killers like Herman Mudgett and Jack the Ripper are his bread and butter. The trick is, the books are actually well-researched and surprisingly tasteful. Geary’s artwork tends toward the spare, all pen and ink without even graytones. It’s a combination that has served him well in the past, and continues to do so in this story of a mid-19th century Scottish poisoner. This story is a little different from that of the typical murderer – the young woman at fault seems almost as much a victim of the strict social customs of the era as of her own perdition.

You Suck

The title of this book pretty much conveys its overall tone. This tongue-in-cheek vampire tale by Christopher Moore is the sequel to Bloodsucking Fiends, which I reviewed last week. The sequel, the continuing story of vampire lovers Tommy and Jody, begins only hours after the latter book ends, yet the first book is set in the mid-nineties, and this one is set squarely in 2006, based on cultural references. I didn't find the book as "deep" as the first one, and I was a bit disappointed when the plot didn't wrap up as nicely as it could have (although there were some great moments, and the addition of an "emo" teenage character added a new dimension). I'm hoping there will be another one in the series, although I don't want to wait another ten years for it!

In Cold Blood

Frankly, I don’t know why I picked up this Truman Capote classic, since I generally dislike true crime stuff. I needed something to listen to in the car, though, and, after all, this is a classic. As it turns out, this one really hooked me. It’s a very sensitive and humanizing tale, considering it’s about an absolutely horrific murder that shattered a small Kansas town. Capote did a great job of picking out the minute details that make even the killers seem remarkably sympathetic. Actor Scott Brick helped things along with an admirable job of the reading.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker

Is there anyone who reads The New Yorker just for the articles? The magazine is famous for its cartoons. Most of the time, they’re pithy and erudite, the kind of thing you can pass around for laughs in a board room or a living room. But then there are those other cartoons…

This book (not sanctioned by The New Yorker) is filled with the work of artists whose work is found the pages of the magazine. For any of a variety of reasons, though, these cartoons didn’t get published. Usually the reason was one of taste. There are fart jokes, vomit gags, lewd remarks and general perversity – in short, it’s good stuff. It’s also a kick seeing the brief biographies of the artists we usually recognize only by their drawing style.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Born on a Blue Day

This memoir by Daniel Tammet is a fascinating look at the inner life of a savant. Savants are people who have highly focused abilities in a certain area; in Tammet's case, he is a genius with numbers and can calculate large sums in his head. Tammet also has synethesia, which means that his senses cross over each other, so he sees numbers in his head as shapes. However, these gifts come with a price--Tammet has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, which means that he does not relate well socially to others. Indeed, the overall tone of the book is detached, as if Tammet doesn't know how to convey his emotions to the reader. Still, it's a beautifully written book, and I hope that Tammet will continue writing and sharing his world with us.

Friday, February 16, 2007


I listened to this one by Jane Green on a long drive. The first three discs, which I listened to on the first leg of my trip, dragged a little. Green's books are usually pretty character-driven, and she usually hammers out the back story for each character. But once I got to the fourth disc, the book moved along swimmingly. Green did something I didn't expect: she wrote each portion of the book, three portions total, from the point of view of a different character. Since the characters' lives are intertwined, you find out what happens to the others through the eyes of the current point of view character. This may sound a little confusing, but trust me, it worked. The narration by Kate Reading was very good as well.

Bloodsucking Fiends

Christopher Moore has a new book, You Suck, but it's a sequel. So I had to go back and read the first one, Bloodsucking Fiends. I got into Moore's books a couple years back, but I had never gotten the chance to go back and read his earlier ones. He is hilarious--his books have kind of a dark humor, and this one is no exception. The main character is Jody, a young woman who has just been turned into a vampire. The story follows her experiences as she figures out how to be a vampire, and how she falls in love with a young human named Tommy. I really liked it, and now I'm off to start the sequel.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Dark Horse Book of Monsters

Horror stories make up a large proportion of graphic novel offerings. This isn’t particularly surprising; monsters are, after all, fun to draw. It does mean, though, that horror tales can often seem a little overplayed. This book features a collection of four graphic-novel horror stories. Thankfully, each is high quality, with engaging writing and artwork. It also features work from some of the most prominent names in the genre.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Facing Tyson

Sports journalist Ted Kluck tracked down 15 fighters who faced off against Mike Tyson to ask about their thoughts and experiences. These days Tyson, still fighting though well past his prime, is known more for his criminal record, misdeeds and general eccentricity than for his boxing prowess. There was a time, though, when he was a cultural icon; a seemingly unstoppable fighter who broke his opponents with his sublime ferocity.
Among the men whose stories Kluck tells were those fighters who succumbed to Tyson mere seconds after the opening bell. It’s a compelling read not so much for its focus on Tyson, who Kluck concedes may well have been overrated (most of those people the evening news showed knocked silly in the first round were unknown and clearly overmatched), as for what it says about the boxing community. It’s brutal, of course. But more than that, it’s hype, larger than life, and fully capable of consuming its participants. Many of Tyson’s opponents lead quiet, low-key, even drab lives these days, with only the scars as a reminder of the world they formerly inhabited.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Wall of the Sky, The Wall of the Eye

I've read a book of Jonathan Lethem's short stories, as well as his novel As She Climbed Across the Table. He has a couple other highly lauded novels, but I haven't been able to get into them. I like his short stories because they're weird and evocative, but since they're short, it doesn't hurt me too much if I get lost. I can always go back and re-read. I did really enjoy this one. All the stories had a sci-fi element, although Lethem is not strictly a sci-fi writer. In fact, his work focuses on the human aspects of the characters rather than gimmicks in the plot. I absolutely loved the first story in this collection, "The Happy Man," although it was scary, and my second favorite was the one that has a swear word in the title. I recommend this one to readers who are looking for something very different.