Thursday, June 03, 2010

Farmers fear unkindly May

Funnily enough, June's line would have suited May better, as it's just rained and never stopped.

It may appear to the untrained eye that I've read more books this past month, but don't be fooled! All I've really done is read a bunch of comic books instead of one novel. Once again, Project X and blogging about Who have taken up the spare time I would otherwise put aside for reading. For the record, these are all library books.

Flight, vols 2, 4 & 5, edited by Kazu Kibuishi
A graphic anthology series that I discovered purely by chance in Borders. Lots of superhero-free alternative comic book goodies from artists I hadn't heard of before. Not so surprising as it's hard to find much of their work outside these volumes. Graham Annable is one whose work is quite easy to find (see below). Scott Campbell isn't, but I really love his “Tree-head and Igloo-head” pieces. Kibuishi himself has at least one graphic novel in the Lower Hutt library, which is out on loan at time of writing, so stay tuned. One of these volumes even includes a piece by Doug TenNapel, whose name has appeared before on this blog, and again now:

Earthboy Jacobus, Doug TenNapel
A kind of sci-fi adventure retelling of the legend of Jonah and the whale. A retired police chief finds a young boy inside a whale-like creature on the road one night, and adopts him as his own. It emerges that the boy, Jacobus, has come from one of a series of parallel Earths that have been ravaged by a race of gigantic, devouring, living fortresses. World-saving escapades ensue. A little heavy on the Christian symbolism in places, but nice.

Jack of Fables, vols 2 & 3, Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges
The Fables spin-off has produced at least six volumes, which are variously available at the library at any given time. We already own volume 1, in which Jack, the hero of several fairy tales, is forced out of the Fables' enclave, kidnapped in the normal world by a secret organisation devoted to removing Fables (and other motive forces of storytelling) from popular consciousness, and finally escapes.
In these two volumes, the series takes a couple of long diversions while Jack and his fellow escapees get to know each other on the road. Volume 2 relates the time when Jack, dallying with the Snow Queen, became Jack Frost, while volume 3 explains the true origins of Jack and another escaped Fable who claims to share some of his memories. Fun, but inconsequential (or seemingly so). Volume 4 looks like it might advance the story somewhat.

The Divine Comedy, Cantica III: Paradise, Dante (trans Dorothy L Sayers & Barbara Reynolds)
Hooray, that's one and a half major reading ambitions taken care of in a year! (The half being the time I almost so nearly persevered through an entire volume of Darwin.) Having being handed over from Virgil to Beatrice, his old flame, after his journey through Hell and Purgatory, Dante now ascends through the nesting crystal spheres that comprised the medieval cosmos. On each planet (including the Sun) he meets souls who exemplify the qualities traditionally attributed to those planets. He also spends a surprising amount of time gazing into Beatrice's eyes.
I think on balance I like this volume best of the three. Hell's almost like a straight travelogue, with too much ground to cover and the souls Dante talks to not communicative enough to offer much opportunity for waxing lyrical; Purgatory has some similar elements, and the philosophical dialogues it mixes in are frankly a bit trying. Here the balance shifts from philosophy to science (not such a leap in those days), and inevitably (with me doing the reading) there are overtones of ye olde pre-SF science fiction. It's also just very beautiful, Dante conveying a great sense of baffling, ethereal wonder as he flits between the planets. Finally, as he is allowed to look God directly in the eye, Dante spends pretty much his entire final canto explaining to us that it made perfect sense to him at the time, but there's really no way he could hope to describe it to us. This is both cheeky and legitimate, and the way he writes it, it's still a fantastically uplifting ending.
As an interesting footnote, after Dante's death the last thirteen cantos of Paradise couldn't be found with the rest of the manuscript, and after a sleepless night his sons were very glad to find the stray pages stuffed away in a nook in his home. At least, that's Dorothy L Sayers' story. By a remarkable coincidence, Sayers died before she could translate the last thirteen cantos of Paradise. Barbara Reynolds stepped in to finish the job and provide the introduction and commentary; although she's much less strident than Sayers, she also has a tendency towards the banal and the obvious that made me skip the notes quite a bit more than in the previous two volumes. But her translation of the final verses is a good fit for the rest of the trilogy, so thumbs up there.

Strange Maps, ed Frank Jacobs
A kind of sampler of fringe cartography. The contents include some of the more outre old world maps, various concepts illustrated in the Harry Beck style (including a lovely meta-Underground map that links all the cities in the world that have metro transit systems), and those quite well-known maps that depict countries as animals or people. The map chosen for the front cover is an amusing piece that inverts the world's water and land masses. Fun and informative. Just out from the library and making an appearance in next month's book blog is another item in a similar vein, The Atlas of Legendary Lands. There'll have to be a comparison of the two.

Stickleback and Further Grickle, Graham Annable; Hickee, ed Graham Annable
Following on from Annable's contributions to the Flight series. On reflection, I think he's better as a hit-and-run artist. Stickleback is a single long story, and Further Grickle is a mixture of pieces. They'd all be in keeping with Flight, but the short ones tend to have more of a punch to them. Hickee, on the other hand, is almost entirely juvenile humour, mainly fart gags, although there are a couple of jolly Scott Campbell pieces in there.

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