Sunday, August 01, 2004

July Book Round-Up

LEGENDS II, edited by Robert Silverberg; specifically "The Monarch of the Glen," by Neil Gaiman. The LEGENDS series collects short stories and novellas from fantasy series and novels like Gaiman's AMERICAN GODS, George R.R. Martin's A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, etc. "Monarch" features Shadow from AMERICAN GODS and it starts off strong, with Shadow on a walk across the globe. As is his way, Shadow runs into creatures from myth and legend--but it doesn't come across as satisfying in the end. Shadow does a lot of walking and a lot of thinking, but not much interacting with the most interesting characters. The waitress who isn't really a waitress for example--maybe Gaiman is being more sophisticated than I realize and recalling myths that I'm simply not aware of, and to the end it still feels like the story Gaiman wants to tell, so I can't fault him for that--it just wasn't the story I wanted to read.

FEAR AND LOATHING: ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL '72, by Hunter S. Thompson. It's incredible and eerie and scary how much the election in 1972 feels like the election in 2004. From pages 55-56: "And how many more of these stinking, double-downer sideshows will we have to go through before we can get ourselves straight enough to put together some kind of national election that will give me and the at least 20 million people I tend to agree with a chance to vote *for* somthing, instead of always being faced with that old familiar choice between the lesser of two evils?" The Democratic Party seems more organized than in '72, but more than anything this book, along with continuing to read Clinton's MY LIFE, makes me wish for two things: Bobby Kennedy hadn't died in 1968, and Howard DEAN hadn't lost the primaries. I'm a politics nerd, and this is the perfect book to read in an election year.

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN: IRRESPONSIBLE, by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley. Um, wow. I saw Spider-Man 2, along with the rest of the universe, last month and I wanted to dip back into some Spider-Man comics. He was always my favorite superhero, as far as superheroes go, but this book is just awful. If you need any more proof that "decompressed storytelling" isn't always a good idea, here's the book for you. The book seems to exist to get things back in place--by the end of the last volume Peter Parker and Mary Jane had broken up, so over the course of this one they of course have to get back together. The only villain in sight for Spidey to face is a teen-ager named "Geldoff" that can blow up cars. Some of the X-Men guest star, but they come across as just as whiney as Spider-Man himself. This one was a huge let-down after the cinematic nerdgasm of Raimi's Spider-Man 2.

AMERICAN ELF, by James Kochalka. I picked this one up at a signing James and Craig Thompson did at Chicago Comics. AMERICAN ELF collects five years worth of Kochalka's sketchbook diaries, which appear daily at It's hilarious, sublime, brilliant, and sometimes a little too cute--I think it's excellent and that James is one of the best cartoonists working in graphic novels today, but American Elf isn't for everyone. A lot of the friends I've pointed to the website haven't enjoyed it, but that's because the depth of the strip is most easily seen when looking at a bunch at a time, which this collection provides. Four of the five years included in this volume have been printed seperately as THE SKETCHBOOK DIARIES, volumes 1-4, but I for one happily added this bulky collection to my bookshelf.

CARNET DE VOYAGE, by Craig Thompson. Also picked up at the signing, this is a three-month travel diary written and drawn by Craig while travelling through Europe. Craig is one of the nicest cats I've ever met, but if you're waiting for the follow-up to his killer BLANKETS, this isnt' quite it. That's coming next year, and part of Craig's trip was to do research for it. But it's still interesting to see the inner-workings of the artist's brain. It's awfully self-involved, but hey, it's a diary--it's supposed to be. Craig falls in love easily, but the fact that he's so open in what he reports in his diary is nice to see. I once heard Ira Glass say that when they look for writers to put on THIS AMERICAN LIFE they look for the people who are willing to embarrass themselves at parties, saying the things that no one else would be willing to say. Craig does that here, and he does it really well.

CONVERSATION #1, by James Kochalka and Craig Thompson. It's the book they were touring for--James started a panel and sent it to Craig who finished it and started the next. It's really neat seeing their two styles blend together and conflict. If you're interested in either, this is a neat insight into their process.

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