Sunday, November 19, 2017

A superabundance of bunny

So, as I related over on Epicurus, I got a couple of Usagi Yojimbo phonebooks on the occasion of my last birthday.

I could go on and on about this series - rightly called a saga in these collections. Whether we are speaking of art, or writing, or character designs, or historical accuracy, or ethical perspective, the Usagi stories are a treasure. Stan Sakai is masterful, and the consistent high quality of his work is nothing less than astonishing. I could read these every day; if you're looking for a way into graphic books, this epic story of a 16th century Japan populated by anthropomorphic animals is a lot more accessible than most of the current superhero stuff.

There's only one hurdle: Usagi has been around for so long, one wonders where to begin!

Getting these collections reminded me that I dd have some Usagi Yojimbo titles in my shortbox already:

  • I have a 2010 Number 1 from Dark Horse Publishing; it's actually a reprinting of the real Number 1 from 1995. I guess the #99 I have from 2006 is from that original series (apparently still going at #160 or so).
  • I also have a Number 1 from the color series by Mirage Publishing that began in 1993; actually, I go all the way to #9 (of 16) with that one.
  • I also have a 1992 Color Special (#3) from Fantagraphics. (This series ran to something like 40 issues.)

You see, Usagi has traveled from publisher to publisher, and starred in a few titles other than his own, and that makes collecting the oeuvre problematical  Since the slightly OCB completist in me really wants to start at the very beginning and read my way all the way through in one collection, this is an issue. The Saga phonebooks only compile the Dark Horse series; for the Fantagraphics works, I have to get a separate volume from 2005; and as far as I can tell, the Mirage stories have never been collected. What to do, what to do?

Well, I'll tell ya: just read 'em. Let go of the sequencing and drop in with whatever story you find - you can't go wrong.

Travel along with the rabbit ronin through an exquisitely realized landscape. Discover Japanese mythology and traditions; meet samurai and ninjas and constables and performers; learn about how swords were tested and soy sauce made. Enjoy out-of-canon stories like Space Usagi, a sci-fi extrapolation of the character, and Senso, the wonderful what-if-H.G.-Wells's-Martians-had-landed-in-a-16th-century-Japan-populated-by-anthropomorphic-animals story. Linger over the artwork, thrill to the battles, laugh a lot, and cry a little. It's good stuff. It's like Kurosawa. But with animals.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Conning it old school

 My new hero, the best Captain Marvel I have ever seen.
So, a couple of newlywed pals came up from Seattle and joined wonder Wife and I at the Bellingham Comic Con, which is actually held outside of town at the Ferndale Events Center, so go figure.

This was the ninth year for the con, but I really felt like I was going back in time twenty or thirty years. While the con has grown from a sub-300-person gathering in a motel conference room to a respectably crowded event in a decent hall, it was still a comic convention.

 These are comics
Nowhere to be seen were huge displays for upcoming movies or television shows, or flashing monitors displaying video games, or even racks of D&D stuff. This place was clearly about comics. There were other fandoms represented in the vendors and the costume contest, to be sure, but comic books, comics shops, back issue dealers, and Artist's Alley had pride of place for sure.

Not my picture - kiped from Instagram - but it captures the flavor

Another kiped photo - but we did buy something from this artist, Pri.

Since it's a small con, there wasn't much in the way of panels or presentations: a trivia contest  and the mid-afternoon costume contest, both held in a room adjoining the main hall, were the only big events. In that sense, too, it mirrored the early days of cons, which were less about showpiece panels and more about fans gathering to trade and complete collections. (They did open the second room up for board gaming after the costume contest, so I guess that counts as an event.)

The costume contest was by turns adorable and a hoot. About a third of the entrants were kids, even one babe in arms, and we got to witness all the enthusiasm (slightly-too-husky Wolverine having a ball) and some nascent skills (on-target Megara looking great) without that slickness and professionalism that for me takes some of the joy out of cosplay at the bigger cons.

My second-favorite cosplayer - 
young Jyn Erso, having completed her walk, watches the other contestants.

Wonder Wife's cosplay selection - Wonder Woman!

The low-key nature of the event made it much more accessible as well. The posted hours were 10 am to 5 pm; we ended our stay at about half-past two and were totally satisfied, having each gotten some prize loot and my having spent a sufficient amount of time poring (and pawing) through discount boxes. Wonder Wife was well pleased with the manageable nature of the excursion.

We'll be back next year, for sure. Maybe even in costume.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Yabba-dabba-do read this

So, as part of its series of adaptations of Hanna-Barbera properties, DC produced 12 issues of The Flintstones over the past two years; all 12 have been released in two trade paperbacks. I am not going to review this two-volume collection in detail, not even a 5 x 5; I am just going to say that you should read this. If you buy, read, or collect comics and graphic books, get these on your next trip to the local comic shop. If you don't, go to the library and borrow the collection or have them order it from another library. If you know me in RL, ask me to borrow it and I will lend it to you. It's just that good.

Here's one excerpt: Fred is directing a rescue mission for someone trapped in an accident at the Slate Quarry; Mr. Slate wants to call it off because it's costing him money.

 (Edited in format to better display the money quote.)

The series addresses materialism and consumer culture, politics and media, science and religion, gender roles and sexual preferences, and parenting and friendship, as well as hipsters and the ethics of using sentient creatures as appliances. The writing is smart and funny and the art is beautiful and clear. This is comics done well, but it's more than that: if you are human being alive in the 21st century in the USA, you should read this two-volume book.

Seriously. Just go find it and read it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

(Re) action figures

So, Wonder Wife and I were cruising the Value Village the other day, and I encountered two items that demanded some kind of response, so here they are.

The first was this little playset:

Okay, let's put aside the casual stereotyping and anime-style artwork for a second and look at a few details.

I long ago stopped expecting a toy like this to have much historical accuracy, but who in Sam Hill is this?

I'm not even sure what country this guy is from - he looks like a storybook prince or a Gilbert and Sullivan supernumerary.

And what's up with this?

I am pretty sure 16th century Native Americans in what is now Virginia did not wear Kaiser Bill mustaches.

And finally, the package trumpets these accoutrements:


I'm not sure how swords, an axe, a carbine, and a serrated machete are safety weapons. For that matter, what are safety weapons anyway?

A few paces down the aisle from this confusing collection, I came across this cellophaned woman:

I'm not sure what caught my eye, since she's a fairly mundane figure and I don't recognize the character, but a closer inspection of her right hand revealed this somewhat disturbing sight:

It seems a giantess is carrying this dude around, and he's digging it. I think I ran across that website once.

As they say, Value Village - Discover Your Treasures Today.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Science Fiction by Gaslight: Episode 4

Title: "The Tilting Island"
Author: Thomas J. Vivian and  Grena J. Bennett
Published in: Everybody's Magazine September 1909

Category: Catastrophes

Summary: A reporter and a professor traverse Manhattan during the island's destruction by a massive earthquake event.

Unlikely coincidence: A Geology professor who has made a fifteen-year study of Manhattan and the fault lines under it being on a streetcar at the scene of the first fissure.

Protagonists: "[A] stout, Teutonic gentleman - Heinrich Herman" and "Jimmie Dalton, Harlem Departments man for the Chronicle". Presumably both white male.

Casual racism?: Ethnic stereotypes abound; Irish cops speak with a thick brogue; a crowd is described as "A great Hun, charging... Russian and Pole and Italian tumbled after". Nothing pernicious, but a bit insensitive to modern ears. Oddly, though the story begins in Harlem, no black characters make appearance.

The Science: The 125th Street Fault, a real geological feature of Manhattan Island, which is thought to have been responsible for several small earthquakes in the recorded history of New York. The specific result of a major shift in the fault line described in the story - the tilting of the entire island into the sea - is highly speculative.

Reader's notes: This story provides the most compelling picture of humanity in the book so far;  even the minor characters seem to have sort of inner life or backstory. The protagonists make a nice odd-couple/buddy team, and although they take no direct action to affect the course of the catastrophe, they do have a strong connection to the eventual outcome and experience significant agency in their travel down the island from Harlem to Union Square.

In that aspect, the story is somewhat structurally similar to The Thames Valley Catastrophe, but unlike my experience reading that story, I was quite familiar with the geography and could easily make sense of the journey. Although the author made no admonition to do so, I once again made a map if the characters' route through the fires and chaos of tilting Manhattan:

The place names have changed just a bit, but the path was easy to plot; the characters take some detours at West 57th Street that I did not record, partly for ease and partly because the authors were a bit unclear or erroneous in that section. It was fun to move through The City again.

Grade: A-. With a little more personal conflict, this would make a nice TV movie.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Science Fiction by Gaslight: Episode 3

Title: "A Corner in Lightning"
Author: George Griffith
Published in: Pearson's Magazine March 1898

Category: Catastrophes

Summary: To get even richer, a wealthy businessman implements a scheme to control all electricity on Earth, with disastrous consequences.

Protagonist: White male, about thirty, who is "one of the richest men in London", with a wife and child.

The Science: Electric fluid, a real idea, now discounted. Early researchers into electricity (such as Benjamin Franklin) posited the existence of this substance, which made possible all discernible electrical phenomena, both natural and artificial. Like aether and phlogiston, it doesn't really exist; in the story, it does.

Reader's notes: The casual capitalism that drives the story forward is telling: the scientist who verifies the theory abrogates any ethical responsibility for his participation and even the protagonist's wife thinks that the idea is 'wicked". (All she does is threaten to move to Australia for the duration of the experiment, but only makes it to Nice.) None of this sow the project down in the slightest. The story lacks strong conflict; as the ill-considered industrial adventurism interferes not only with telegraph and power transmission, but also with the weather and human health, the circumstances just happen to people, with no opportunity for response or action. While it is an interesting exercise in the origination of disaster, it lacks the interpersonal dynamics that give the disaster epics their life.

Grade: C. There is a Dramatic Irony in the comeuppance.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Science Fiction by Gaslight: Episode 2

Title: "The Doom of London"
Author: Robert Barr
Published in: The Idler November 1892

Category: Catastrophes

Summary: A London office worker struggles to survive a lethal fog with the aid of an American inventor's new device.

Protagonist: White male "confidential clerk to the house of Fulton, Brixton, & Co".

The Science: Killer fog, a real thing. One killed 4,000 Londoners in 1952. Liquid oxygen breathing apparatus, another real thing. Current models for people with respiratory problems last on the order of 10 hours; the one in the story works even better.

Reader's notes: Not a very good story. Once again written from the perspective of the protagonist's old age as he recalls the even of many years before,  but there's no sense of engagement or investments. The eight-page story has seven section headings and much of it reads like a textbook rather than a narrative, especially but not exclusively when providing the scientific exposition. The protagonist succeeds more because of luck than wit or will.

Grade: D+. The plus comes from a passing evocation of Cratchit or Bartleby in the office scenes that was diverting in its juxtaposition.