Sunday, July 04, 2010

June just rains and never stops

Feeling deliciously smug today, having picked up the New Who episode Turn Left on DVD for the pittance of ten bucks. That's definitely less than it would have cost me to buy in the UK, never mind to get it shipped out here, so thanks very much, The Warehouse. Weekly Who blog to follow - here's the monthly book write-up.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, Guy Delisle
Autobiographical comic book about the time Delisle spent working with an outsourced animation studio in North Korea. Apparently it's an even scarier place than you might imagine. Some interesting insights and even a laugh or two to be had.

Black Hole, Charles Burns
Set in a parallel '70s America, this graphic novel follows a number of teenagers whose lives are affected by an STD that causes unpredictable physical mutations. Sort of a grungy, non-superhero version of the X-Men, if you will. It's not a bad story, but the style of the artwork is such that it's not easy to tell certain characters apart, to the point that it makes it an effort to follow the story.

The Atlas of Legendary Lands, Judyth A McLeod
Disappointing. This is more of a conventional history of exploration and cartography than the promised atlas of legendary lands, and it's much less lavishly illustrated than one might imagine. It contains surprisingly few maps – at a guess, more than half of the illos are non-cartographic paintings that (sometimes only tangentially) relate to the lands being discussed. The book's problems are several, but the biggest are: illustrations printed dozens of pages away from the text that refers to them; captions for illustrations inconsistently given on preceding or following pages; and two-page textual digressions that turn up right in the middle of the main text, usually in mid-sentence, and sometimes more than one at a time. It's also just a bit of a dull read. Come back, Strange Maps.

Flight, vol 6, ed Kazu Kibuishi
Yes, that's another good one. Now if only the library would get on with repairing their copy of volume 3 so that I can read that one too.

Daisy Kutter: The Last Train, Kazu Kibuishi
Steampunk cowboy graphic by the editor of Flight. Generally good stuff.

Billy Hazelnuts, Sock Monkey vols 3 & 4, Tony Millionaire
There's not much I can say about these comic books except that they're the work of a madman. Billy Hazelnuts concerns a battle of golems between child scientists, and includes the entertaining concept of a landfill for broken planets. Sock Monkey looks like it was probably based on the author's children's toys, but it surely can't have been intended for said children – in this collected double volume, Sock Monkey kills himself and subsequently goes on an armed rampage. Sadly the local libraries don't seem to have any more of Tony Millionaire's work.

Hicksville, Dylan Horrocks
I'm tempted to call this the Great Kiwi Graphic Novel, but that's just because it's the only Kiwi graphic novel that I'm aware of. The artistic style is rough, but the story is intelligent and layered. In essence, it champions the comics medium as a form of communication and expression while criticising the never-ending, mass-produced superhero comics that tend to treat the medium more as a business concern. In that sense, it reminds me of Warren Ellis' Planetary, which I think had similar sensibilities, but which addressed them by being a superhero comic itself. Hicksville is smaller and more personal, and I rather like it.

The Vesuvius Club (Graphic Edition), Mark Gatiss & Ian Bass
I don't think it would be too crass to describe this story as James Bond re-imagined by the League of Gentlemen. Contains a dandyish secret agent, missing scientists, zombies, transvestitism and a villainous plot involving a volcano. It's a passably entertaining way to spend an afternoon.

Never the Bride, Something Borrowed, Hell's Belles, Paul Magrs
Actual novels, gasp! Books 1, 2 and 4 in a series revolving around the supernatural adventures of Brenda, formerly the Bride of Frankenstein, who now runs a guest house in Whitby. Never the Bride doesn't mention this on the cover, although there's no big shock reveal of Brenda's identity, which we're allowed to figure out ourselves from the overt references scattered throughout. I find this strange – I'd probably have given the series a try a lot sooner if I'd known what the premise actually was. By book 4 the marketing department have wised up and put it right on the front cover.
So, these are the adventures of Brenda and her antique shop owning neighbour Effie, pensionable defenders of Whitby against the marauding forces of darkness. It's like Buffy, but with a pair of gossipy old women. I actually started with book 2, Something Borrowed (library book), found book 1 second hand and reserved book 4 (library book) while I was about it. It seems that no bugger has book 3. The first two are both narrated in the first person by Brenda (barring a couple of jarring third person moments in book 1) and both quite episodic, but book 2 holds together an overall plot as well and feels a more complete book. Book 1 just kind of drifts between events. The genre references (again, pretty overt) are a large part of the fun in these two volumes.
Book 4, Hell's Belles, sees a complete change in format. Typical chapter length is down from 60 pages to 5 while the total page count has doubled, there's a single plot to last the whole book, and a variety of third person viewpoint characters instead of a narrator. There's also a significant influx of new characters (from Magrs' other books, as I understand). The chatty Northern idiom is still in evidence but it's no longer presented in the context of Brenda's voice, which means that when all manner of extra-Whitbians speak in the same way, it can no longer be put down to Brenda's narrative influence and must instead be pinned squarely on the author.
I think book 2 is the best of them, although there may be an element of diminishing returns in it. I don't rule out reading book 3, if the library or the second hand bookshop should ever get hold of it, but I'm in no hurry.

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