Monday, August 29, 2005


I recently checked out of the library and read Walt and Skeezix, which collects the daily "Gasoline Alley" strips from 1921 and 1922 (the first years where Skeezix appeared), and which will be the first volume in a complete reprinting of Frank King's daily strips. Presumably Drawn and Quarterly, the publisher, hopes to duplicate the success of Fantagraphics' Complete Peanuts, which rescued that company from perpetual financial jeopardy. I wish D & Q well, but I don't think that's likely to happen.

Up until mid-1922, when Mrs. Blossom, Walt's love interest, arrives, the volume is frankly boring, consisting mainly of endless gags about automobiles and about a bachelor crazy about automobiles trying to raise a baby on his own. Once Mrs. Blossom (there apparently is no Mr. Blossom) shows up -- well, it's still pretty dull, though the contrast with the first half makes it seem more interesting than it is. At the end of the volume, though Walt has been the primary focus of two years' worth of strips, there is as yet little more to his character than a nice guy who dotes on Skeezix; and the other characters are even less characterized. While Jeet Heer's introduction lauds King's depiction of Walt's gradually falling in love with Mrs. Blossom as showing King's "unique combination of comic delicacy and psychological realism" (26), it struck me as thoroughly conventional, even cliched. And it may be sacrilege to say this, but I don't think King's art in this volume is good, though a couple of strips foreshadow the formal experimentation of the later Sunday strips.

Should this review attract anyone's notice, no doubt the strip's fans will respond (once they stop sputtering) that it gets better later on. I'm sure it does. In fact, given its status as a classic, I'd be shocked if it didn't. However, it's the 1921-22 strips that are on offer now; and at a hefty price, too. If you can't read the book for free, as I did, I'd at least recommend sampling it in the bookstore before buying it.

For some much more favorable opinions of the book, along with links to various reviews, see this thread on the TCJ message board. (Again, this thread won't be around forever.)

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Friday, August 26, 2005


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince redone in the form and style of "The Waste Land." They do the whole poem, but here’s a sample:

What are the plot-threads that clutch, what subplots grow
Out of this pulpy rubbish? Son of James,         20
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
Your third-person limited perspective, where your adverbs breed,
And the caps lock gives no shelter, the chapter no relief,
And the seventh book no sign of surcease. Only
There is a horcrux inside this dark cave,         25
(Come into the waters of this dark cave),
And I will show you something different from either
Your battles fought previous where someone did help you
Or your battles to come which you must face alone;
I will show you fear in a cupful of juice.         30
                Frisch weht der Plot
                Der Bookshelves zu.
                Mein Chosen Kind,
                Wo whinest du?
"You gave me the prophecy first a year ago;         35
They called me the Chosen One."
—Yet when we came back, late, from the TriWizard Tournament,
Your wand out, and your eyes wild, I could not
Speak, and my spells failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,         40
Looking into the champion of Light, the silence.
Oed' und leer das Seer.

(via Making Light)

On The TCJ Message Board, Benjamin D. Brucke posts a story from a 1970s Creepy with absolutely amazing, very European-looking black-and-white art by Carmine Infantino and Alex Toth. (Note: this thread really won’t be around forever.)

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Sunday, August 21, 2005


In the original version of the post below, I said that my Wallflower review in TCJ #269 was no longer online. Dirk Deppey informed me by email that it's still online, just no longer on TCJ’s home page. So is Dirk’s editorial (though not his review-essay on Chobits and Love Hina), as well as several other items from that issue. Note also that TCJ has a selection of articles from the past five years archived, in whole or part, on its site, something well worth checking out.

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Saturday, August 20, 2005


A month-old post on Crooked Timber praises highly Paul Park's new fantasy novel (actually the first in a series) A Princess of Roumania, and this reminded me of The Queen of Roumania's Fairy Book. I had purchased this book used a number of years ago for twenty dollars, simply because it was so odd. It's a red hardcover published in London in 1925, containing eleven fantasy stories set in Romania, and with no author's or editor's name to be found anywhere. When I bought it, I assumed that it was a collection of stories somehow dedicated to the Queen of Romania. But in fact it's by Queen Marie of Romania herself, who was an Englishwoman and a writer (and seems to have quite a few fans on the web, judging by the links page on the site I just linked to). What I've read of the book struck me as fairly conventional "Victorian" fantasy (even though it was published many years after the Victorian Era had ended), and not particularly memorable.

None of which has anything to do with Park's book, except that this Queen was the "Marie of Roumania" of Dorothy Parker's famous poem, which is both the epigraph to Park's book and quoted several times by one of the characters.

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Then He Ate My Boy Entrancers by Louise Rennison, the latest book in the Georgia Nicolson series, is a return to form after Away Laughing on a Fast Camel, the previous book, which I found disappointing. The pages set in the U.S. (specifically, Memphis) seem to reflect Rennison's viewpoint as much as Georgia's, but that's okay because they're funny: the description of a Laura Schlesinger-like daytime TV advice-giver, in particular, is priceless.

A couple of jokes turn on the difference between the British and American
meanings of the word "fanny," which is not explained in the glossary. Since children may be reading this post, I'll be euphemistic: in Britain, "fanny" refers to a girl's or woman's "front bottom," as Georgia elsewhere puts it. (I'm not being discriminatory against British readers; the context makes clear what the American meaning is.)

Incidentally, the "tell-all CD" promised on the dust jacket is a three-inch CD with a four-minute interview with Louise Rennison, in which the interviewer mainly asks questions like "Cats or dogs?" and "Thong or knickers?" Amusing but not essential, though we do get a couple of anecdotes about snogging which Rennison used in the books.

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About a month ago, I received my contributor's copy of TCJ #269. That's right: I had a short review of The Wallflower vols. 1-3 in it. But my piece is almost the least of the goodies for manga fans. In fact, pretty much the whole issue is devoted to shoujo manga, except for the news section (and even that has a couple of manga-related stories) and Kenneth Smith's column. There's even a sample of the thing itself, in the form of a thoughtful sixteen-page story by Moto Hagio which demonstrates that shoujo is more than just romance and flower petals. Dirk Deppey's editorial -- on the success of shoujo manga in appealing to American girls, in contrast to the dismal failure of mainstream comics to do the same -- has already attracted a great deal of notice. But I want to also call attention to Dirk's thirteen-page review of Chobits and Love Hina, which is lengthy and thoughtful enough to qualify as a critical essay rather than a mere review. And if you're put off by TCJ's reputation for elitism, don't be. Most of the coverage in this issue is quite positive. And while there are a few negative reviews (the one of Princess Ai is a doozy), they criticize the manga for failing on their own terms, rather than for not being Jimmy Corrigan (with the exception, perhaps, of John Carnahan's review). I plan to post at more length on my reactions to this issue eventually, but for now I just wanted to give a heads-up. (Which would have been more timely had I posted this shortly after I received the issue, as I'd intended to.)

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