Celeste

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I reviewed Dark Ages earlier this summer. It was a new Image book from Abnett and Culbard, which were names I recognized from Vertigo’s New Deadwardians. I was caught off guard by the quality of the art which was simultaneously awkwardly stylized and brilliantly laid out. I got over the sculptured facial features and eventually came down on side of, yeah Culbard is a really solid visual storyteller and I want more.

Fortunately, Culbard made a stand-alone solo graphic novel this year, published by the London based company Self Made Hero. I had been planning to eventually order a copy, but trusted that I would forget and never read the thing. Best of intentions, right? Then I ran across a copy of the book at Small Press Expo, and the man with an accent wanted my money even though I wasn’t wearing the coolest clothes from the 80s, so I bought the thing…

Celeste

My copy of Celeste is a beautiful hardcover volume with smooth matte interiors on paper I want to rub all over my face. It comprises about 2 trade paperbacks worth of story, about an hour of reading, although owing to Culbard’s easy to read art you can easily move faster. I can’t stress enough that amount of story and the physical quality of this book is more than I expect at the $25 price point. No actually, it’s what I want at that price, but I’m usually stuck with two Deadpool trades and a free flyer about a crossover event. What I’m saying is, Self Made Hero, thank you for your professionalism and for living up to my meager standards.

So who else would enjoy reading Celeste? Overall, I’d describe the book as maybe magical realism? Or maybe more like surrealism? There are elements of psychological horror, romance, fantasy, and crime drama genres, but not enough of anything in particular to classify the book in that manner, or to bring in other fans of those styles.

The book follows three individuals, an all business middle aged white man in California, a young albino woman in London, and a suicidal artist in Japan. Suddenly, all three find themselves alone, or maybe almost alone, or maybe just alone with themselves. This means something different to each person.

The man in California finds a kidnapping victim with amnesia in a car trunk, and begins to unravel the mystery around what he and the stranger have in common. The albino girl in London goes on a spontaneous date with a punk rock red headed babe from the tube station. The man in Japan falls down into a rabbit hole of bizarre nightmares. Eventually each person realizes that they are all more alone, but also possibly more in control of their experiences than originally expected.

Final interpretation is left open to the reader. For me, this was an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be left alone with myself. It’s one of my biggest fears because I can be so bad to myself sometimes. I also believe that we’re always turning around on ourselves and chewing ourselves up, that it makes us better and worse to sacrifice who we were. It’s an important idea to me, but one that I’m not good at articulating yet. Culbard gets close in this book.

Such a huge amount of Celeste was visual only, with limited dialogue even when characters were interacting with  each other. It was easy to follow with the images just jumping into your brain effortlessly. With the story so easy to consume, you have the extra energy available for important reflection.

The story is well paced as well; starting slowly with large scale splashes and small details, with an ending that accelerates and leaves you a little breathless, just wanting to sit and finish digesting the ideas. It was an enjoyable read for me, but  a little intimate and definitely not for everyone.

Own for Sharing, Buy Ongoing, Trade Wait, Borrow, Ignore

Small Press Expo

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So I went to Small Press Expo down in Bethesda last month. This seemed like a great idea at the time. I mean, I love reading comic books that aren’t published by the big guys. I love meeting creators and hearing about how passionate they feel for their projects. Really, I just love the ‘Artist’s Alley’ section of the comic book convention. That’s sort of what I was expecting at SPX, a chance to talk, in person, to all the kids trying to kick-start their comic books. I was so wrong.

Small Press isn’t a modifier which describes something that is missing (support from a mainstream publishing house and traditional distribution channels), but rather a positive description of a genre. It is a genre defined by absurdity, mustaches, cats, a particular slightly pastel palette, and ill fitting flannel shirts. It was like a million Adventure Time knock offs locked into a middle school gymnasium for a weekend. It smelled that way too.

I have never felt more like a football playing jock in my entire life, than the afternoon we spent at Small Press Expo. Everything looked completely homogeneous and everyone spoke a slightly different language than me, and I couldn’t help but feel like there was something wrong with all of them instead of me.

I stopped to ask some questions typical of what I ask other comic book fans and creators: what are your influences? what other movies or books do you find exciting right now? what inspired you to create a  comic book, and why this medium instead of something else like a novel? why did you choose that style of art? GIBBERISH answers from almost every table where I stopped.

Oh? You feel like your work defies comparison and it’s just sort of about your life? Well, that’s great, and also maybe the reason you have to self publish. Huh? You think that Hollywood movies are destroying individuality and you don’t want to be associated with the sheeple who watch them? No that’s okay, I was just trying to start a conversation, I will go somewhere else and not buy anything from you. Oh yeah, the people here are totally so much friendlier than at the big conventions, I’m having a great time.

Punchline: I don’t care if your book is charmingly whimsical if it isn’t also either exquisitely beautiful or efficiently telling a story with a point.


Disclaimer: I was super bitchy for no reason the day we went to SPX this year. I will definitely go again next year, with modified expectations, possibly with a larger group, and while not wearing clean denim purchased at a department store.

Coupon Archeology

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So life goes in cycles where sometimes you feel like you’re on top of things, and where sometimes you feel like you’re entirely overwhelmed just by laundry. If you’re anything like me, as you start to climb back out from the bottom of the ditch there comes a point where you need to sort through the pile of vaguely important stuff you’ve just kept on the side. Like envelopes after you’ve paid the bills, and receipts with surveys for free cookies at subway, and flyers for farmer’s markets you totally wanted to check out the next time you woke up before noon on a Sunday.

This time there was an envelope of coupons. First, it’s hilarious that at any time in the last year, I was actually using coupons regularly. Meaning, I had the coupons in a place where I could easily find them, I remembered to bring them to the store, I planned menus around what featured on the coupons, and then remembered to give them up at the end of the trip. Oh that’s so much effort for saving like $2 on a grocery trip.

Now forgetting for a moment the absurdity of my ever using coupons, now I have a to face the bleak reality of finding them in my pile of junk. To be clear I have an envelope with a snapshot of a day when my life was in order, with dates and everything. I can see the healthy, delicious food I was planning to eat, on specific days. It’s like digging up a dead body with photographs of the murder and there are time stamps and fingerprints on everything.

Honestly, it feels like a different person put that junk aside. I’m rediscovering who she is by digging through her garbage. I’m like a creepy stalker reading deeply into the tiniest detail. Oh!! Looks like she went to subway every Tuesday, I wonder if she was meeting someone there, or maybe there are no leftovers. Oh! After getting a latte every Thursday she suddenly got tea instead, I wonder what happened?!

Nothing happened. Life changes. Maybe in a few months I’ll start using coupons again.

The Field

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I met Ed Brisson at NYCC this year. He threw this book at me while I was dressed as a Prophet clone. That doesn’t really have anything to do with the quality of the book, but it was an awesome moment.

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The Field is definitely a book to own. It is a really fun read. There is just enough mature content like swear words and violence to forget you’re reading a comic book. The mature content is also thematically justified which keeps this book distinctly out of the gore porn genre. It’s also a story contained perfectly in a single volume. When someone stops by my house, looks at my bookshelf and wistfully sighs that he wishes he read more comic books, this is one that I can reach for as a loaner. Take this book, it’s a great example of what can be done in modern graphic novels.

The Field is maybe a little genre defiant in general. There is a bit of a mystery, with a science fiction explanation underneath. But I would never sell this book to someone as a sci-fi story. Generally, Grant wakes up in the middle of a field and then crazy shit happens involving a cell phone receiving anonymous texts, a Bible Salesman, a biker gang, and self righteous cosplayers in Star Trek uniforms. Everyone is on their worst behavior. To say any more would be to ruin the small puzzle of the book. That’s also not to say that the mystery is so mind blowing or original either, but it’s done well and not drawn on so long. This might sound crazy, but reading the ending gave me the warm fuzzies like I had finished reading an Issac Asimov story. That same sort of ‘this is the right ending’ kind of feel.

Technically, the book comes together really well. Brisson does dialogue lettering, leaving the sound effects in the art work. It’s a shame that the best thing I can say about comic book lettering is that it disappears from conscious thought, and helps convey a sense of timing in the dialogue. I suspect that Brisson had a significant role in setting the layouts as well.

Simon Roy does illustrations with Simon Gough providing colors. I’ll have to look up who else I’ve seen color Roy’s work, but I definitely like what I saw in this book. Roy does these thoughtful, detailed backgrounds which make a book feel grounded, no matter how outlandish. It’s like his attention makes the place real. I would compare this to the one Geoff Darrow book I read (Shaolin Cowboy?) where even the crushed beer can in the corner of the page was lavishly penciled, but there is no comparison. That book was indulgent and pointless. In contrast, Roy moves a narrative along, using layouts that strike a balance between confusingly complicated and printed storyboards, saving the less conventional layouts for the action sequences in between a variety of more standard panel progressions. Roy activates just enough of the reader’s brain to get us trapped in the artwork and the story. We have to participate to get through, and then the story become ours too.

It’s not work though, it’s still a nearly effortless read, and something I would point to as a positive of example of what I what in modern comic books.

Own for Sharing, Buy Ongoing, Trade Wait, Borrow, Ignore

The Giver

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When media isn’t 100% good or bad, sometimes you need distance to really form an opinion. I remember enjoying reading Lowis Lowry’s novella in elementary school. I remember enjoying watching a few specific parts of the movie, the parts with Jeff Bridges that were closest to the original book. However, I also remember being quite bored, confused, and frustrated by the majority of what I saw. At the end, we were happy that we had gone to the cheap, second run movie theater instead of paying full price when it opened.

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Katie Holmes with a terminal case of resting bitch face.

And yet somehow… Katie Holmes with her resting bitch-face snapping “precision of language” every chance she gets has seeped into my daily life. She is my hero. That is my jam, as the kids say these days. Honestly, thriving in a dystopia built on rules and order and rationality would be a dream come true for me. I would be so content under such circumstances that I’d happily become the villain as soon as some inspired humanist starts to liberate mankind. Plug me in. I want to be assimilated.

So sometime a film changes your life without being extremely good or bad. Maybe it just takes one outstanding moment and the right mindset to be open to suggestion. I can think of another obvious example of this phenomenon in my life. Again, for a mediocre adaptation of a science fiction book I loved when I was in elementary school. Oh wait, that describes at least half the movies I’ve ever watched, so it’s not particularly helpful to add that observation as a segue. Anyways, Contact is a decidedly mediocre offering from the late nineties. It features Jodi Foster as a plausible lady scientist who hilariously shouts “okay to go” while her space ship is shaking. Over and over. Quite dramatically. Until the words lose meaning even. I wasn’t the first person to notice this, but it’s part of my life now too. It’s a good way to remember an old friend.

Versus the Dolphin movie? I would re-watch The Giver depending on mood.

Versus the Dolphin movie? I would re-watch Contact depending on mood.

Dracula Untold

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After a solid week of looking forward to a movie date of some kind, my boyfriend was sweet enough to up the stakes (ha ha) and bring me out to experience the newest offering in the vampire genre. Few things make me happier than the chance to complain about the exploitation of the vampire in pop culture, possibly because I liked vampires before it was cool. This is one of my personal hipster-isms. 

Luke Evans did a good enough job as Vlad the Impaler. Although my judgement might be shot because I’ve had a bad crush on the guy since he was Zeus in Tarsem’s Immortals. I even saw him as the detective in that nearly direct to video Sherlock Holmes rip-off where John Cusack played Edgar Allen Poe. Charles Dance was also notable as the father vampire demon spawn monster. Honestly, I would have loved more interaction between Evans and Dance, even a predictable boss fight at the end of the movie.

Which brings me to a general observation about movies; they are starting to feel like concatenated video game cut scenes. I’m not sure if this is good or bad, but I feel like I’m becoming more aware of that narrative style. I supposed there’s a real name for it, but I don’t particularly care for precision of language right now.

A particularly frustrating part of this movie was the inconsistent size of the Transylvania kingdom. Several times, the Turks demand protection money and (exactly?) 1000 boys to train as soldiers. Yet, there appear to be about 300 people total under Vlad’s protection. There are maybe 15 guards in the castle, or about one third the number of monks living at that secluded monastery. Monks with a suspiciously detailed knowledge of how vampires work, but who never warn Vlad (what the hell you guys? what so we keep you around for?). Where does all the wealth come from? These seem to be dirt farmers, we see no implication of any productivity. Are there actually 1000 men total to possibly send to the Turks, let alone male children?

I will acknowledge that not every imaginary world needs detailed world building, but the background activities of the extras, the costumes, the weapons, should not directly contradict the dialogue and the plot. It would be nice to pretend that everyone working on the movie had seen a copy of the same script.

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Versus the Dolphin movie? I would re-watch Dracula Untold.

Anti-Procrastination Techniques

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I blame most of my lack of discipline on being a spoiled only child. I almost always mean the spoiled part more seriously than other people receive the idea, but then in the grand scheme of things I have more subtly in social situations than some other ‘onlies’ I’ve met recently. All that I mean to say is that I’m a professional at indulging myself and rationalizing my lack of will power. I’m sure that most adults reach a point where it’s like, gosh it was a hell of a lot easier to keep my room clean when my Mom was on my case all the time. It was also a lot easier to keep your room clean when it was, well a room and not an entire house. I suppose I would have got more cleaning experience at home if my mother weren’t so particular about everything while I was growing up. I was exempted from washing the dishes after dinner because my Mom said I did it wrong. I didn’t even unload the dishwasher efficiently enough so I was excused from that chore too. Again, spoiled, right? I manged to pick up her peculiarities through osmosis though, so it all comes out in the wash.

A few years ago I asked my Mom how she was able to stay on top of everything, to have always been carrying around an envelope with a to-do list of half scratched off items. “Oh sweetie, the envelope in my purse?” She said something about secretly seeding her list with tasks she had already completed, to get some momentum going. Brilliant.

So some strategies for self motivation that I’ve tried with varying degrees of success?

  1. Seeding the to-do list with items that have already been completed. Meh, moderate impact on my inertial sofa sitting. Mom can keep that trick.
  2. Focus on a Ta-Da list instead, only write down things you’ve finished doing, sometimes with a note of how long it took. This works when I’m dragging my feet because I’m think it will take 30 minutes to clean the litter box. That’s crap, and my brain knows it only takes like 1 minute max, 2 if I sweep up the floor too. This is actually about adjusting established schematic thinking, but I don’t use it enough.
  3. Work in intervals. I set the kitchen timer for 15 or 20 minutes and tell myself that I only have to do whatever it is for one ‘set’ and then I can switch to something else even if I’m not done. The problem with this strategy is that invariably one of the intervals involves taking a break by browsing on reddit, and I’m very very good at snoozing. I also have an odd fixation with starting my sets on even numbers, so if it’s 2:31, I have to wait until 2:40 to start doing anything, right?
  4. I try to establish better habits to make the work effortless, and then track my momentum, using something like a calendar. But building habits sometimes requires a reminder and having a reminder is like having an alarm and having an alarm means you can hit the snooze button.
  5. Hyperbole and a Half style, I sometimes lay the self-deprecation and guilt on until it’s oppressively heavy. Triggering a bout of existential depression is a bad long term strategy for getting the dishes done.
  6. Personification of non-living things. Yeah, this might be the best strategy I’ve found and yet the one I forget to use. I have a vivid imagination and I let it run wild. I’m not washing the dishes, I’m cleaning the little pot people and reuniting families of tupperwear in the caves below the counter-top meadows. This can get cloyingly saccharine though and I don’t want to put my reputation on the line.

That’s a lot of different ways to fail. I’m glad that I’ve learned through countless examples that nothing bad happens when you don’t get everything done or that the world doesn’t explode when things aren’t done the ‘right way.’