Comic Review: Mister Invincible

MISTER INVINCIBLE, by Pascal Jousselin – Magnetic Press LLC

I didn’t what to expect about this collection of Mister Invincible, by Pascal Jousselin, but … well … wow … very cool. Playing with and pushing against all of the visual constraints of a comic on a page, this hero of Jousselin’s imagination breaks every convention of comics (such as the solid panel as wall and separation of time), and does so with hilarious results.

Mr Invincible – Magnetic Press

http://www.magnetic-press.com/mr-invincible/

Sometimes, Mister Invincible literally reaches or sees across the next page of the comic, taking action in ways that had me wondering: how in the world did Jousselin even conceptualize the joke, or the events? The amount of planning, and trial/error that must have gone into each of these short pieces (the book collection is a series of one-pagers and smaller multi-page stories) staggers my brain, which works with logic — a concept that is not always on display here, in a good way.

As a character, Mister Invincible is rather nonchalant about nearly everything — taking care of complicated problems with an effortless reach across the next panel, or a twist of time sequence, or cutting a hole in the next page, in order to leap to the page just beyond.

Mr Invincible – Magnetic Press

http://www.magnetic-press.com/mr-invincible/

There are other recurring character, such as the teenager who becomes TooDee, because he uses the flat elements of the printed page to save the day or cause inadvertent mischief, even as the reader and the other characters believe they are in a three-dimensional world. Another character, an old grump, uses “words have power” to his advantage, using word bubbles to attack enemies and more.

I am always happy when writer play with conventions, and with Mister Invincible, no panel is safe from being broken open. Or reached into. Or breached.

Peace (beyond the panel),
Kevin

 

Book Review: Where We Walk (100 Illustrated Maps of Wonderful Walks from Around the World)

I can’t remember now how I stumbled upon the They Draw And Travel website, which is home to some wonderful artwork and map illustrations of places. This book — Where We Walk — pulls together 100 submissions to a local call in Winter 2021 for Walking Maps put out by the website’s curators (two sibling artists) and the maps in the collection are just wonderful.

The maps, all hand-drawn and from all parts of the world, range from small in scale (one was of pacing the rooms of an apartment in the Pandemic) to expansive (one showed the crossing from Europe into Turkey and back again), and everything in-between. Each artist took a different approach (although walking dogs seems like a very common artistic motif) and each page contains two different maps.

You realize how evocative maps can be to capture a sense of place, and how an artist depiction of those maps of those places draws you in, to imagine what it would be like to wander around and walk the trails set forth by the maps.

It also makes you think: what would I include in my map of this place, where I am, and what would that look like? (if you do that, the site collects and shares submissions)

Peace (along the coordinates of art),
Kevin

Book Review: City of Ghosts/Tunnel of Bones

The first two books in the Cassidy Blake series, which features the young protagonist as a seeker of ghosts, are fast-paced and character-rich and full of ghosts. City of Ghosts is the first in the series by Victoria Schwab, and Tunnel of Bones is the second.

I found the series at my library, and I was initially attracted by the cover of City of Bones, with a girl and a cat in the mist of a city. It was only halfway through the book that I realized that I have read this author’s adult series, Shades of Magic, with great interest and found them to be wonderful stories of imagination.

Here, in this new series, Cassidy is finding her way forward after nearly dying but being saved by a ghost, Jacob, who becomes her friend and companion. Her parents are filming a television series about haunted places, which means that Cassidy and Jacob get to explore Scotland in the first book and then Paris, in the second, learning more about the “Veil” — where Cassidy has the power to see ghosts still wandering their last memories. Another character with similar powers has told Cassidy that she must use this ability to send ghosts on, to help them cross from the world of the Veil.

In the first story, Cassidy is nearly destroyed by a ghost eager to steal Cassidy’s life and in the second, she must help the ghost of a young boy who was killed in the Catacombs of Paris, although the young poltergeist amps up the mayhem and puts Cassidy in danger.

The writing is strong, with a solid pace, and the slow unraveling of Jacob’s back story unfolds nicely, as is the friendship between human girl and ghost boy, whom Cassidy should send back across the Veil with her powers but refuses to do so. These books are a perfect fit for middle school readers who like a good ghost story with strong characters.

NOTE: I am now reading the third installment in the series.

Peace (in the Veil),
Kevin

Book Review: The Silver Arrow

I always enjoyed Lev Grossman’s technology column’s in Time magazine, but never got into the flow of his Magicians book series. His latest young adult novel — The Silver Arrow — is a lovely ride, designed for read-aloud and packed with adventure.

I read it alone, and not as a read-aloud, and wished it were otherwise, as Grossman kicks of the story with his protagonist, Katie, getting a train – The Silver Arrow – from her eccentric uncle and then, before you know it, Katie and her younger brother, Tom, as off on the tracks, learning to be conductors from the train itself and picking up animals at different stations.

Why, becomes clear, as the novel barrels along, as Grossman has centered his story of the train with the rescue of animals from the world of humans. The prospects of climate change and development means the animals needs to go elsewhere, and that’s where Katie, Tom and The Silver Arrow are going, with plenty of magic along the way.

Grossman is careful with how he develops this theme, though, and he comes to the story with a light touch, centering on the adventure and introspection of Katie more than hitting the reader over the head with a message. One sequence in a forest of trees, where Katie and Tom are transformed, is written with beauty and compassion.

The strongest moment is when a polar bear, who barely made it to the train because its station — made of ice, now melted — leans in to Katie before departing the train, and says: “If you humans let us die, you will never, ever forgive yourselves.”

Which is true.

The stage is set for a sequel, too. If not this train, then perhaps we can catch the next.

Peace (on the tracks),
Kevin

PS

Book Review: Horizon

I admit: I had never heard or run across writer Barry Lopez before (as far as I remember), and I only got my hands on Horizon because it was in the Little Free Library in our neighborhood. The title and cover art caught my eye. I took a chance. Once inside book of powerful, exploratory essays by Lopez, I was hooked.

Later, after listening to an NPR retrospective of Lopez, who died late last year, I realized how strong was the resonance of his writing over time for many readers and writers.

A previous book — Arctic Dreams — won many accolades and his writing for environmental and science publications is a long and admirable list. I read Horizon (at 512 dense pages of story) over many months (rare for me to take that long with any book and to stay with it, but I wanted Lopez’s journeys across the world and observations about the changing climate, to settle with me over time).

His journeys here take him from his home in Oregon to Skraeling Island to Africa, Australia and the Antarctic, and beyond. Each place is so different, even as Lopez weaves the story of humanity and discovery into each location.

I would not call Lopez a travel writer, although his writing comes from his travels. He’s more of a naturalist, an environmental writer who wonders about the world and then goes out, and finds ways to discover and share his insights. He embeds himself with scientists of all ilk, and his wanderings take him to tropical places to arctic places, and everywhere in between.

It seems to me that Lopez is most interested in our collective human footprints on the world, for good and for bad, and how we might make sense of change through what has come before, and maybe make some adjustments for what comes next. Horizon is not an collection overtly about Climate Change, but the changing planet and humans role in that change is a constant underlying echo of everything here, and the topic that worries Lopez on his journeys.

He ends Horizon on a poetic note, asking the reader to wonder “what is out there, just beyond the end of the road …?” and suggests our collective future “arrives as a cantus, tying the faraway place to the thing living deep inside us, a canticle that releases us from the painstaking assembly of the milagros, year after year, and from a faith only in miracles.” (Lopez, p. 512, in Horizon)

I’m still mulling over those lines — maybe among the last he wrote —  and what they meant for Lopez, an experienced observer, and what the words might mean for me, and maybe for all of us.

Peace (looking out on horizon),
Kevin

PS — Cantus is a song from African culture; Canticle is a Christian hymn; and milagros are Mexican folk charms. I had to look up each of those words, and am grateful I did, and happy to share.

Book Review: Daemon Voices (On Stories and Storytelling)

There’s something to be said about stepping into the thinking pages of a talented writer, particularly one who has strong views on the world and yet who also has an open curiosity to the mysteries of stories. This is what you get when you read the essays inside Daemon Voices (On Stories and Storytelling) by Philip Pullman.

Pullman made his name with the His Dark Materials trilogy (which begins with The Golden Compass), is rich with allegory and fantasy, and his most recent fiction trilogy — The Book of Dust — pushes the story even further (with great success, I would argue). He writes with a quick pace of story and with an understanding of how to build an imaginative world that makes sense for that story to be told and for characters to be challenged within that world. These tension points are what drive Pullman’s tales.

Daemon Voices (On Stories and Storytelling) collected a series of lectures and writings he has done over the years about the art of writing. While some of it felt a bit too erudite for my tastes (and his debates about religion didn’t do much for me, so I power-read a few of the later chapters), his explorations of stories and characters, and themes, is quite intriguing, and his defense of children’s books as a legitimate art form with depth and artistry is worth a read alone. As a former teacher, Pullman understands what short thrift children’s stories often get, and argues that the field of criticism and publishing does not do it justice. Readers become writers, and readers become thinkers, Pullman notes.

I always enjoy crawling into the mind of a writer, to see what they see of the world. Of course, this experience is limited (we only see what he wants us to see), yet Pullman’s exploration of where his stories emerge from — mostly, unformed when he begins, and he finds the themes as he moves along into the story — and the way he remains open to inspiration as he writes is worth noting for anyone who writes.

Pullman is an intellectual guide into the art of the imagination.

Peace (dreaming of daemons and bears),
Kevin

Morning Poems, Collected, from Late Migrations

I really enjoyed the essay collection called Late Migrations (A Natural History of Love and Loss), and was working on poems as I was diving in through the book about nature and the world and personal stories (see my review of Margaret Renkl’s book). Sometimes, I write poems in the morning as a response to what I am reading.


– inspired by a reference to the sounds of grasshoppers in Late Migrations (A Natural History of Love and Loss) by Margaret Renkl

What I miss most
about the field before the woods
— where houses have been built
on soil, bulldozed, and rocks,
ripped clean of sand and mud —
would be the way you wrapped my hand –
such small fingers, gripping so tight –
as we took each foot, unbearably light,
triggering a tumult of grasshoppers in flight,
every step exploding like spores –
your voice leaping in laugh –
it might as well have been math
as much as magic at play,
the air becoming a perfect thrumming
following us all the way home


“Sometimes, when I haven’t slept or the news of the world, already bad, suddenly becomes much worse, the weight of belonging here is a heaviness I can’t shake.”
— from Late Migrations (A Natural History of Love and Loss) by Margaret Renkl, page 67

If only we were birds –
you and I in this wide
open sky –

then we might fly
without anchors weighed
on these tired feet,
this detritus of daily life
and shadows we can’t speak

Perhaps we’d bid the earth goodbye
to find the point
where horizons meet


— First lines are referenced from Late Migrations (A Natural History of Love and Loss) by Margaret Renkl, page 128

‘Poems
instead of
papers’

we don’t live
in a world
that values
verse

instead,
to be a poet
contains a crazy
concept

or worse,
a curse

Reclining into recluse
of inked words
and paper
dreams

we’re always
digging in,
to root the hurt,
to mine the
seams


“He will keep on singing until someone accepts his song.”
— from Late Migrations (A Natural History of Love and Loss) by Margaret Renkl, page 132

All night, on it goes,
these notes
he throws,
his music into air

she listens
to love songs
he sings;
pretends not to care


“For months the land has been pulling away from the edges of the world.”
— from Late Migrations (A Natural History of Love and Loss) by Margaret Renkl, page 169

And our footing’s lost
and trembling, too,
for even as these days
sing longer towards night,
even as the earth pulls ever on
towards beckoning seas,
all we may do now is notice
where it is that we are
and then write our way
where it is we have been,
fill our hearts with hope
that collision isn’t calamity


Peace (and poems in flight),
Kevin

Book Review: Squirm

Squirm by Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiassen sure knows how to cook up a doozy of a young adult book. In Squirm, another in his series of books with environmental themes and young protagonist thwarting the evil greedies of the world, Hiassen spins a tale worth a read.

Billy, the hero here, lives in Florida with his sister and his mother, who moves whenever she needs to follow nesting Bald Eagles. Billy traps dangerous snakes. For fun. And for use in tormenting his tormentors. Billy’s father? Long gone, sending checks to support Billy’s family but little else.

Or not.

The story unfolds around a family unification theme of sorts, and with Billy traveling to Montana, where his long-lost father is doing something mysterious with drones in the wilderness, and where the tale suddenly veers into saving endangered species — the panther of the Florida Everglades — and a Grizzly Bear family in the wilds of the west. Billy also learns about his step-mother and step-sister, and their American Indian roots.

So, you know, typical Hiassen, and that’s not a bad thing. While I still think Flush is his best work in this genre (and I teach Flush as a class novel and kids just love it .. some are reading it right now, in fact), Squirm holds up just fine with humor, plot pacing and a story where looking out for the world continues to be the right thing to do.

Just ask Billy and his family.

Peace (in the wilds),
Kevin

 

Book Review: Stamped (Racism, Antiracism, and You)

Jason Reynolds reminds us again and again, This is not a history book. But it’s a book of our history, of our country’s racism and of how our country finds itself where it is, with huge divisions over race.

Stamped (Racism, Antiracism, and You) is Reynold’s ‘remix’ of Stamped From the Beginning (by Ibram X. Kendi), exploring how the construct of race continues to divide our nation. It arrived before all of the protests this past summer and fall, but it’s a book of that moment, too, of understanding the anger, and maybe, hopefully, providing a spark for change in the way we talk about race.

Reynolds, his narrative voice is loud and clear and  always very provocative, is a powerful guide in examining critically how slavery led to the place we’re at right now, today, and how institutional structures (and the people in power who don’t want to lose power) have long been designed to divide us as a nation. He advocates love but shines a light on injustice.

Reynolds divides people into three main categories:

  • Segregationist (who divides)
  • Assimilationist (who appeases)
  • Antiracist (who loves)

And while these divisions seemed a bit too simplistic, I think, they do capture some of the range of how people address, or don’t address, racism. The book — aimed at a young audience — seeks to frame each of these three categories through historical events and people, with Reynolds’ (and I suppose Kendi’s) critical lens on full display.

This book provided me, a white suburban teacher, another way to keep thinking about my own understanding of race. It is written primarily for a middle and high school audience and the book ends with a powerful call for change, for young people to be the generation that finally confronts race and forges a path forward.

“Perhaps they (the Black Lives Matter movement), the antiracist daughters of (Angela) Davis, should be held up at symbols of hope, for taking potential and turning it into power. More important, perhaps we should all do the same.” — from Stamped, by Jason Reynolds, page 243.

Maybe that’s what we were seeing in the streets all summer and beyond.

Peace (more necessary than ever),
Kevin

Book Review: Late Migrations (A Natural History of Love and Loss)

Someone here at my blog in a comment suggested this book by Margaret Renkl (a name I knew from the editorial pages of The New York Times) and it was just a lovely collection of short essays that thread the natural world to her family history. Thank you, Patricia, for the recommendation.

While each essay (some less than a page long, some two or three pages) could easily stand on its own as a piece of marvelous writing, the entire Late Migrations (A Natural History of Love and Loss) is best viewed from above, as she masterly weaves and threads her observations of the deep South (Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee) into the lore and stories of her own family’s roots in the same areas in the rural South.

I kept stopping and thinking, how did she do that? I heard echoes of Annie Dillard and others, for sure, but her voice is her own, and her observations of the birds and trees and roots and forests are full of insights of the world outside our doors. (It connects nicely to my last book ready, Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald, too.)

Reading this is a master class in the structuring of stories, and some of the sentences in this collection were so beautiful, so rich with imagery and insight, that I found myself reading them a few times just to let her words linger in my head (and inspire poems, which I will share another day).

A bonus is that her brother did the illustrations, and each one is an evocative work of art, tied to the writing and stories of Renkl, pulling visuals into the essay collection with perfect balance. The cover, for example, also could easily stand on its own, and the fact that it is her own brother just gives the artwork a little more magical power, I think.

Peace (outside in the world),
Kevin