Thursday at Comic-Con: Part 1

Last night, we were way too tired to show up for preview night at San Diego Comic Con, so we chilled out, drank beer, and watched Billy the Exterminator. Two of those were good choices. Anyway, we eventually woke up this morning and headed down to the Con, and spent a couple of hours standing in line to have a "Scott Pilgrim Experience," which was not very much like a Hendrix Experience, in that there were no drugs available, as far as I could tell. There were free t-shirts, though, and that's cool.

Well, that being said, I know that people like to see pics from the Con, so here are a butt-load of them.'

Kafka - By Crumb and Mairowitz

Having been a Kafka fan since I was merely a brilliant teenager, and a little bit of a Crumb fan as well, I was excited to see this cool title at the comic shop. From a quick glance through the pages, I could see instantly that the art was great, but close inspection revealed that, in some ways, this book diverged from the markedly exaggerated style that Crumb fans might expect. Just as importantly, Mairowitz's contribution to Kafka Studies is both entertaining and important.

Readers may be surprised at just how deep the analysis of Kafka and his work goes in this fairly slim volume. More than just another biased academic work bent on shoehorning Prague's finest into some category or genre, this Kafka simply tries to show him as the man he was.

From close readings of his work, interviews with people who knew him, and evaluation of his letters to friends and family, Mairowitz paints a full picture of a man, warts and all. In all of its humor, sadness, intrigue, and general bizarreness, this well-written book tries to take us into the mind of Franz Kafka, a man who was many different things to many people, and frequently nothing to himself. Rather than make a hypothesis which they then try to prove through art and prose, the two creators of this must-read graphic literary biography simply present the important facts surrounding the life of a man who defied understanding, and ask us to make our own decisions about what his works really mean.

The stark world of early 1900s Prague, a place just as inhospitable to Czechs as it was to Jews, is revealed in careful detail by Crumb at his moodiest, who thoroughly engrosses us in the life of Austria-Hungary's most influential Jewish Czech. In his sometimes-funny, sometimes-agonizing depictions of Kafka's life and work, with wild detours into period art styles and frequent forays into realistic art, we perhaps see the hand of a kindred spirit.

(Note: The version pictured uses an exceptional binding method -- signature sewing through the saddle, then perfect-bound. A very tough binding that will easily withstand perhaps hundreds of readings. Normally, when you get such a thick perfect-bound graphic novel, particularly one that uses a thick paper, it's just a matter of time before the pages start to fall out. This version is basically immune to this problem.)


Just wanted to write this word down before I forget it: Metamerism is the matching of colors under different types of light. Metameric failure is when objects appear to be the same color under one light source, but are different colors under different light sources.

Two people problems that interest me

Somehow, in all my surfings, I never came across either of these ideas until the last few days. And, since they are very interesting, and I'll eventually forget about them, I'm going to note them right here.

The first concept is called the "Peter Principle," based on a somewhat humourous book by Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull in the 60s. It was famously summed up by saying that in an organization "everyone rises to their level of incompetence," and is often laughed about as the precursor to the modern view of the idiocy of management that we see in shows like "The Office" or the comic strip Dilbert.

Here's how it works in theory, and some would say in practice. When you get a job and you do well at it, you get noticed by the upper management, and if you continue to shine, they will promote you. At the next position, the same thing happens, and, some years down the road, you find yourself with a nice income and a great team working beneath you. However, one day, you get noticed once again, and placed into a job that is above your current level, and for which you have no experience or expertise. Essentially, you have been promoted until you are no longer useful in the job you have. Perhaps you go from managing a thriving shop full of manual laborers to suddenly managing a division, complete with salespeople, a transportation department, etc.

The second phenomenon that I recently read about is called the Dunning-Kruger effect, and it is another common problem among humans, but one you should at least try to avoid. In a nutshell, David Dunning and Justin Kruger showed that incompetent people routinely overestimate their competence in a given task, while highly competent people tend to underestimate their own.

This can result in the bizarre paradox where people who have no business doing a job can be quite certain they can do it, while someone who is more than qualified may easily feel that they cannot. It's a strange world, and people are the strangest part of it, I guess.

Most of these people are completely mis-ranked.

Please - Fiction inspired by the Smiths

Please - Fiction Inspired by The SmithsI suppose that anyone who knows me also knows that I love The Smiths like a fat kid loves cake. (I also love cake, as fate would have it.) So, Peter Wild's "Please - Fiction inspired by The Smiths" was an easy and obvious birthday present from my sister-in-law type person. Despite being no lover of short story comps, I had been excited about the book since I first heard about it several months ago, so it was a very welcome surprise when I received it.

The book consists of 24 stories that take a Smiths song title as their jumping-off point. With only one exception, the Sweet and Tender Hooligan chapter, the collected works avoid a too-literal interpretation and instead use the songs as simply idea-kindling, or tools to create a mood.

It would take far too long to go into much detail about so many stories, but I will say that they are of extremely varied styles and genres. Personally, I most enjoyed the humor in the pieces by Mike Gayle (regarding a fledgling author who sells out his friends for a successful book), Matt Beaumont (regarding an invitation to participate in a new Duran Duran-themed collection of short stories), and the editor, Peter Wild (which details the amazing changes brought about by a new political paradigm).

There was also some genuinely unique, haunting work by Helen Walsh, in her chapter on There is a Light, and Catherine O'Flynn's weird, difficult take on You've Got Everything Now. Jeremy Sheldon's Nowhere Fast was also a great read, beginning in a sort of dark humor about the gap between generations, and descending into an examination of how we fall victim to the strangest desires and weaknesses.

All in all, I found the collection to be quite well-done, overlooking a few overly worded, aimless pieces that will go unmentioned. One need not have any outside information about The Smiths to get something from the prose within, but if reading a story collection can get you interested in these Manchester lads, it will not be time wasted.

Chew Review - It's true.

Cover of Chew v1I'm terrible about managing my singles. I used to do the subscription thing, but it gets out of control, and eventually they always cancel me. Plus, when you're on subscriptions, you start to see that you're making the shop owner's car payment.

As a result, I am constantly picking up ish Ones and ish Twos, falling in love and completely forgetting what I'm collecting and where I am the next time I hit Meltdown. Luckily, so many titles are coming out in trade/graphic novel format as soon as they hit ish Five that I have some small chance of staying kind of current.

A recent acquisition, thanks to the help from my well-connected and much-more-talented better half, allowed me to find out what happened with Tony Chu, whom I last remembered eating a decaying finger several months ago. Fresh out in trade paperback, issues one through five of Chew, by John Layman and Rob Guillory, are now available for your perusal and enjoyment.

I can't be adequately adulatory concerning Layman's creativity. He's taken the CSI genre to new heights (maybe depths is a better word here) by inventing an entirely new superpower: Cibopathy - The ability to tell everything about a food's history just by tasting it. Set in an alternate America, where the FDA has banned poultry, and the war on Foul has made them the most powerful government agency, Chew is not only a satire of the conspiracy genre, it's also a clever send-up of the crime drama and the supernatural hero.

Guillory is definitely a name to watch, as well. His artwork is vivid, original, and absolutely perfect for this project. It rests on the knife's edge separating comedy from drama, and in one frame can show violence, fear, slapstick and the visions of a psychedelic freakout all at once. His exaggerated proportions, mixed with deft draftsmanship and impeccable motion work create a very strong pairing with Layman's imaginative scenario. The book simply wouldn't work without Guillory's inventive viewpoint.

In short, Chew is an essential graphic novel purchase for 2010, and belongs on your short list next time you hit the comic shop. It's funny, disgusting, exciting, and completely unpredictable.

Grandville review

Bryan Talbot's Grandville is the kind of comic I end up liking despite myself. Based in a weird Steampunk world where animals are in charge, humans are a recent hairless ape mutation, and Napoleon retired undefeated, this crazy graphic novel is full of things I hate, but still I loved it.

Having spent a good deal of time talking to Cutey Bunny creator Josh Quagmire about the "funny animals" genre in the not-too-distant past, I guess my head is always in the gutter when it comes to anthropomorphism. I get a little weirded out by critters acting like people, and it's particularly difficult to snap out of it when they're doing something more than just being cute.

And there's nothing cute about Grandville! The central storyline is a gritty Sherlock-Holmes-meets-Philip-Marlowe detective story featuring the ass-kicking Detective Inspector Archie LeBrock of Scotland Yard, a certified bad-ass badger who looks suspiciously like Robert Irvine, the impossibly buff chef from Dinner Impossible.

In an action-packed thriller of a book, he follows the clues to the upper echelons of the French government, and with his rattish Watson, Roderick, makes a last-ditch effort to prevent an international conflict.

The graphic novel features top-notch art and compelling, exciting storytelling that really creates a genre all of its own. Talbot's genius is in creating a narrative that is completely unpredictable, never relying on animal stereotypes to push forward, and somehow pulling us into a world that at first seems completely preposterous but which eventually feels as normal as anything. One of the coolest books I've read in a while, and I'm really hoping that he creates a sequel.

Solomon's Thieves

Based on the strong recommendation of my personal reader's advisor, big-mouth librarian, and graphic novel maven, I took the time today to read Solomon's Thieves, by Mechner, Pham and Puvilland, a truly engrossing and beautifully illustrated title that gives a new variation on the story of the last days of the Knights Templar.

History is rich with stories of the persecution, deserved or not, of the Templars, but this short graphic novel, told from the point of view one honest man of the Order, gives new life to the legend and shows modern audiences that theirs was a tale worth telling.

Solomon's Thieves is the story of Martin of Troyes, who, after returning from his duty protecting the Holy Land, finds himself in a bad situation. Regional leaders in both France and England have turned on the order of the Templars, imprisoning them, taking their property, and eventually torturing and exterminating them. He is left with the dregs of a once-proud brotherhood, the desire to right a wrong, and vengeful-yet-pious need to protect the treasure of the Templars.

Written as an exciting three-part historical fiction, with strong characters and plenty of action, Solomon's Thieves is more than worthy of the attention that it is getting. And the detailed art style is both vibrant and moody. I highly recommend it.

List of Unusual Words

One of my friends hipped me to this page, which contains a number of strange words to help you become simultaneously more and less articulate. I am suddenly reminded that I need to go do a little emunction.

I like the idea of having a lot of useless vocabulary. It's like having a code-language that nobody understands but you. You can be your own creepy twin.

It all reminds me of a language paradox that I learned about in college, which goes a little like this. Free Choco-Pie to the first person who tells me who identified the conundrum.

1) Language is always an abstraction, because words are clearly not the things they represent.* "Table" is not the same thing as an actual table.

2) In order to represent specific things, we tend to use more words. "Table" becomes "The red table in the corner, with a vase on it, and a coffee stain."

3) The paradox is this: how can piling abstraction on top of abstraction create specificity?

Something to ponder, I suppose.

* There are a few self-referential words that actually are what they represent. Some examples are: "word," "polysyllabic," and "fifteen-lettered."

This robot movie looks pretty cool, doesn't it?

Just got this snippet from the Rogue Pictures website, about a movie project that has little more going for it that a treatment and a teaser trailer. It's tentatively called "Gaiking" and it's based on an anime by Toei studios in Japan.

That's right. There's no script, no production schedule, no nothing. In fact, all we know is that it's about some massive robots made by some kinda mecha genius to help Earthlings kill space aliens. Watch the video or regret it your whole life.

So, I really don't give a crap about the story, now. The visuals look amazing, and there are some movies that you watch knowing that the plot isn't going to be that great.