lydamorehouse: (ichigo hot)
Shawn's favorite OB/GYN moved into private practice in Burnsville, so we drove down to the new clinic this morning. I'm waiting in the waiting room, so I thought I'd catch y'all up on the exciting news of my life.

Since many of you may be hoping for some fannish bits and bobs, I will lead with a new review I did for Mangakast. Last night, I was bored and so I did the thing I do sometimes when I'm looking for a new manga to read. I have the categories/tags page bookmarked on Baka-Updates (which is a great site that is kind of like a catalogue of all manga published and bits of information about them, though it's NOT a place to read manga.) and I will pick a subject I'm interested in, like "pen pals."  I'll hunt down the list until I find one that looks interesting and has been scanlated.

Yesterday, I found Omamorishimasu, Dokomademo which briefly mentions pen pals, in a cute way, but is mostly a mob family drama with a little bit of m/m romance. If you can't tell, I was 'meh' about it.  The mangaka, Junko (not my fannish persona, alas), is one that I enjoy, as she wrote Kiss Him, Not Me, a reverse harem that an otaku girl gains when she loses a ton of weight after her anime 'husbando' dies on the show and she goes into depressive mourning (which sounds TERRIBLE when I describe it that way, but it's actually done with a lot of love.)

The link takes you to my review, so feel free to read that and explore my other reviews, as you like.

Otherwise, Sunday was about decorating the Solstice tree.

blurry shot of Christmas tree

Mason's D&D group ended up cancelling, but he wasn't much help since he fell asleep on the couch.  Shawn spent the day fighting off a migraine, so I did most of the actual decorating. This year, I could NOT get the lights right. For some reason I ended up plugging a "male" plug into a dual plug and got to the end of the string only to discover that I had the wrong kind of plug. It should have just been a quick matter of finding the plug and flipping things around, but somehow, even though I was testing each string, I ended up with a bunch that weren't working. I must have done this rigmarole a half-dozen times. BUT, I finally got everything working and plugged in properly.

We bought our tree from the Y's Men, who set up across University Avenue from us.

We buy our tree there every year and do our traditional mad dash across University Avenue (which is a four-lane busy street with a set of light rail tracks running down the center of it, as well.)  We decided this year that the light rail actually makes the running with the Christmas tree hoisted between Mason and I a little easier, because it acts like a safety island (there's a pedestrian pass or we'd NEVER be able to do this.)  I'm sure we look ridiculous scurrying across all the traffic with a giant tree between us.

But it's part of our ritual, so you know.

Driving would be weirder, since University is now set up as a series of one way turns from our house, so it's actually several blocks LONGER to drive across the street, than it is to walk.

The picture of the tree is blurry because I have a new smartphone and am learning out to focus it.  Many apologies. You get the general idea of the thing, at any rate. Big tree. Many lights and shinny bobs on it.

Since my family left me in charge, there are a lot more birds on our tree. Being pagan, I like to make sure there are a lot of bird ornaments and such on the tree. Sun symbols and spiders and deer also abound.  I will talk more about what we do for Solstice as the time approaches, but, since both Shawn and I grew up with Christmas, we kind of celebrate both Solstice and Christmas. We exchange our meaningful, family gifts on Solstice and have a bonfire--though it's actually just a fire in our chiminea outside, and then exchange another small set of gifts on Christmas eve, mostly just to mark the day.

What about you? What are your holiday traditions?
lydamorehouse: (??!!)
I... wow, I really have been crappy at keeping up with my reading. I didn't finish a single book, though I've read several hundred pages on a non-fiction book about teenage depression. (Don't worry, Mason is FINE. I just happen to have a number of friends whose kids seem to be going through this and I wanted to read up.) The rest of what I've been reading is manga, which I will enumerate below.

Lupin Sensei / Lupin III by Monkey Punch (vols. 1-4)
Kabeana Money Hole by Nakawaga Riina
Kabeana Heaven Hole by Nakawaga Riina
Ojii-sama to Neko / The Gentleman and the Cat by Sakurai Umi
Judge by Tonogai Yoshiki (vol. 1)
Our House Love Trouble by Owaru

Of these, probably the best (and, sadly shortest,) is Ojii-sama to Neko, which is ADORABLE and, for all intents and purposes, is the manga version of Mr. Putter & Tabby, a children's series I adored by Cynthia Rylant, which might be the root of my adoration of slice-of-life/no-drama-really-happens types of stories.

Speaking of MangaKast, (which we weren't, but I did review all of these at that site), I saw a funky sudden uptick in views a couple of days ago. The only thing I can attribute it to is that a link to my review site appears under my bio as Guest of Honor on the MiniCON page. It was listed as a place to sample my "work"... hahahahaha. More like SEE WHAT KIND OF PORN I'M READING!  

I... really hope that no one got a shock when they clicked through, if, indeed, that's where this significant bump in readership came from.  

Honestly, I was just chatting with another manga/anime WordPress blogger today about all this, and I really have no idea what drives people to--or away from--my manga blog. I've always just reviewed whatever the hell I'm reading (so long as it is manga-related), and YET, despite my haphazardness, I actually get fairly significant traffic to that site--if the statistics are to be believed. If I'm reading this right, I get about 300 visitors, on average, per day.  Maybe that's actually nothing, but that seems like a lot to me, especially given that I am writing about something very niche, and very random. And I have made no real attempts to connect to the manga/anime community. At best, I send off a link to my Twitter account. I don't even tap Tumblr unless I'm reviewing Bleach (dead now) or Blue Exorcist.

So, I don't know what to make of that.

The real question is: what are YOU reading? Anything good?

lydamorehouse: (Default)
What am I reading? What have I read?

I've been very slowly making my way through Scarlett still, which I think I mentioned last week. Part of my problem with things that I can't finish in one sitting these days is that, if I set the book down at all, some fresh horror will hit the news cycle and I lose days before I get back to it properly. I did manage to read two volumes of Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma as well as various yaoi titles (Warehouse, a Korean manhwa, and Ai ga Matteru by Abe Akane) though, which is a marked improvement over the last several weeks.

I've got a ton of stuff in my TBR pile, actually, so I might want to hop to--including a graphic novel that I backed the kickstarter for called As the Crow Files. The actual print copies showed up on the door, so that's a huge yay.  

Otherwise, yeah, it's November, folks. In 17 days, I will turn 50.
lydamorehouse: (cap and flag)
 I didn't post yesterday, because I don't think I finished reading anything and that sucks.  

I'm in the middle of reading Scarlett, a YA that's the sequel to Cinder by Marissa Meyer. I listened to and reviewed the audiobook of Cinder WAY back in 2012.  The review still exists out there, much to my surprise:  So, if you want to know what I thought of the first book, feel free to check it out.  

I apparently managed three reviews for Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys:  Cinder's audiobook, Pacific Rim (the movie), and one comic book called Haven.  I have no idea why that gig stopped (possibly I just stopped? Maybe I expected to receive more things and didn't pursue my own?), but it appears the blog hasn't been updated since 2014. So, it was only a couple of years later they stopped all together.

Review sites probably don't garner very many click-throughs to be worth the effort.  For myself, I just keep MangaKast rolling because I like to keep track of the manga I've read. (I haven't updated that in almost a month, I don't think). I can't imagine doing MangaKast as a for-profit thing or even doing it intentionally, regularly--anything other than for fun, I mean. 

I don't remember if I got paid for my work at ODDysseys or not. I think that was volunteer, actually, much like my work for Twin Cities Geeks. Paying review gigs are super hard to come by and they don't seem to last, at least not for me.  Maybe my longest run was reviewing movies for focusPOINT?  I think I did that for a whole year... probably the interviews I did for Science Fiction Chronicle were the longest running paid gig I had, though, unlike focusPOINT, that was very much a 'whenever you can swing a good one' kind of publication schedule.  My earliest review ever, anywhere was for Tangent Online, back in November of 1999. Amazingly, that one also still exists:  I think it was the only review I managed for them, though.  I apparently suck at follow-through.

Speaking of review gigs that randomly dried up, I just emailed my editor at Bitter Empire, because they stopped publishing my reviews and never really told me why.  I assumed it was because they're very focused on lawyer-y things and my odd little science fiction book reviews weren't exactly a perfect fit. I was more baffled than anything and obviously just moved on to Twin Cities Geeks when I saw the opportunity.  The only bummer, of course, is that Bitter Empire paid, and paid fairly well, at that. (I would not at all be upset if the reason they stopped publishing me was because they could no longer afford to pay me.  I totally get that.  I'm just finally curious enough to ask, I guess.  Also? I don't really want to have left there with bad feelings and I suspect just not talking about it, while very Minnesotan, could lead bad feelings later maybe?)

I dunno.  

In other news, though I have to skipped my writers' group because I have to work at the library tonight, I got a royalty check, which makes me feel like a writer (even if I haven't been able to write much of ANYTHING this past month or so.)
lydamorehouse: (nic & coffee)
I finally got around to reading Lumberjanes written by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis / art by Brooke Allen


Here is a picture of the cover of volume one which you might not be able to see. It features the five main characters: Ripley, April, Jo, Molly, and Mal (in Stevenson style, which is hard to explain so go look at the cover of Nimona). Lumberjanes are a kind of Girl Scouts on steroids estrogen, plus these five particular girls keep running into monsters that are far from the average. Each issue collected starts with a little excerpt from the the Lumberjanes handbook, done in a tongue-in-cheek "Miss Manners" style, about how proper young ladies should behave when confronted with the Wilderness. Each one starts out sounding like something horrible from the 1950s, but ends with implications of bad-assery, ala, "A young lady should be well versed in how to cook. After all, her knife skills may come in handy when confronting a mutated grizzly." (That's my example. Stevenson and Ellis are cleverer than I. Unfortunately, I already returned the volumes or I'd give you something actually from the text. But they're very much in that vein.)

At times, for me, the characters were trying a bit too hard to be... hip? I dunno, I guess I mean whatever you kids are calling 'cool' these days... or clever. Mostly, however, I liked them. Jo was, of course, my favorite even before Read more... ) Likewise, Mal and Molly, the lesbian (or at least in love with each other) couple were runners-up.  Of them, though I liked Molly a little better, if only because she seemed nerdy in a way I could relate.  Mal, though, at least, physically looked like me--in college--but, in college, I used to complain that the butchest lesbian we ever saw on TV was Willow from "Buffy," and that wasn't saying much. So, it's really nice to see the butch, punk girls not only being represented but also allowed to secretly/not-so secretly be very NOT butch when it comes to being brave, etc.

The stories themselves impressed me less than the characters.  If you're really hoping for something whiz-bang in terms of storytelling, I'd say go read (or re-read) Nimona. But, if, instead, as one of the Lumberjanes slogans goes "Friendship to the Max" is more your thing, then you will enjoy the heck out of Lumberjanes.

I will say that, in this current political climate, Lumberjanes was exactly what I needed. I got through many nights by pouring myself a hot bath and settling into soak for a good long time while reading Lumberjanes. I used Lumberjanes the way I used "Free! Iwatobi Swim Club" and "Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories" ... which is to say, I turned to them when my brain needed something vaguely mindless, but ultimately happy/satisfying.
lydamorehouse: (Bazz-B)
 The revolution will long and hard, my comrades, so I have followed the advice of every columnist out there and have chosen Thursday as my "Aggressive Self-Care Day."

What this means is that, for the most part, I try to stay away from political news.  I say "for the most part," because it's fairly impossible to miss all of it and I don't actively stop listening to the radio shows that give me comfort like "The Stephanie Miller Show" (because humorous) and "Democracy Now" (because solid, steady.)  Both of those are highly political, but neither of them TEND to stress me out.  What tends to stress me out is the all-caps frenzy of social media.  

Basically, I take a day where I stay away from Twitter and Facebook, and where I actively consider doing things that refresh me: reading, writing, drawing, practicing Japanese, and watching shows. Downtime things.  The fun downtime thing I've been enjoying lately is watching "Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories" on Netflix.  

Do you ever have things that get recommended to you on various venues? "Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories" was one of those things for me.  Sometimes, it works out badly (see my review of Tokyo Ghoul on MangaKast,) but this time I've been really enjoying That Thing That Got Rec'd a Bunch. As I told another friend, the simple, sweet stories are a perfect antidote for this political climate.  The only drawback? Every episode makes me hungry. Basically, the set up is that somewhere in Tokyo there's a small, one-man show diner that opens at midnight and stays open until 7 am.  Our proprietor has a simple menu, but he'll make anything his customers request, so long as he has the ingredients for it. Each episode is named for a customer's custom order and the food, in some way, features in the story.  As I say above, the stories are simple and mostly end happily... certainly with the promise of happiness. Then in a typically Japanese way, there's a weird, short omake at the end where everyone kind of breaks character/doesn't quite break character and silliness (and probably puns I don't understand) ensue.  The episodes are anime length--about 30 minutes each.  PERFECT for washing dishes.

Also there are several food ordering, food related vocabulary words that come up a lot, so I can pretend I'm also practicing Japanese while watching.  

Today, I was supposed to be at Shoreview again, but Mason woke up with a stomach flu type thing. I bailed in favor of taking care of him.

How's you?
lydamorehouse: (ichigo being adorbs)
 It's been a long time since I reviewed a comic book here.  But, when I was working at Shoreview today, I saw that they had the first collected volume of FAITH.

Don't know if the picture thing is going to work, so I will describe the cover: Faith is a plus-sized white woman with blond hair. She's featured on the cover sitting on a telephone wire surrounded by confused-looking pigeons while she types something on her thinly-disguised Mac Book (the actual Apple logo is not there, but there's a perfectly round bit of light where it should be). She is dressed in a white outfit with a flowing train. Her cheerful face is illuminated by the blue computer light in the twilight. Her name, Faith, is in bright yellow almost comic sans font.  The comic is produced by the independent publisher, Valiant.

faith comic book cover

What I like about Faith is not her size.  It is refreshing to see a woman of substance doing the superhero-ing for once. It's even more refreshing that there's not a single lick of fat-shaming to be found in the title.  The worst that happens in that vein is that Faith's ex's new girlfriend mutters, "You sure traded up." 

What I ended up liking about FAITH, though, is that it starts to struggle with real-world issues of being a hero.  As any of you who have read this blog for any amount of time (or who have heard me speak on comic book/graphic novel-related comic books) knows, I'm a big fan of this kind of thing.

I really like it when the concept of hero-ing is taken seriously.  

In the second issue of FAITH, we see this dealt with in terms of collateral damage.  Faith has gone to investigate a missing person report and the bad guy minion she encounters in the abandoned house has rigged the place to explode. Faith is protected because she has a kind of telekinetic shield, but the houses on either side of the abandoned house ALSO CATCH FIRE.  I can't say you never see this sort of thing in comics because the Marvel Universe (both in the comic books and the MCU) have been very cognizant of the idea that superheroes are actually fairly hazardous to civilians, but I never get tired of seeing writers taking on this particular issue. Francis Portela does a great job showing the pain on Faith's faith in the aftermath.  Generally, I should say that as much as I like Jody Houser's writing, it is very much highlighted by Portela's art style.  (There also also funny imagined/day-dreamed asides/omake drawn by Marguerite Sauvage that were in a very distinct style that I also liked a lot.) 

Also, FAITH fits a new trend in female comic lead characters. Like Kamala Khan, Faith is a fangirl.  The dialogue is chock full of geek insider references. Faith even swears in "Firefly" Chinese, at one point. As a day job, Faith works for some kind of web content place, like io9 or Mental Floss (though with a more celebrity gossip bent, since this takes place in LA). Her colleagues are all pop culture nerds, and they have no idea she's a superhero in disguise.  Did I like this or did it feel like it was trying too hard to appeal to the base?  I'm not sure.  Goodness knows, I appreciate any fan fic references.

The other issue FAITH addresses is the extent to which having a secret identity is socially isolating.  I'm not sure how often that idea has been touched on before, but I found it very compelling here.  

The last thing to know is that Zephyr/Faith has a history as a Valiant superhero.  I'm not a big Valiant reader so I have to trust Wikipedia on this one, but apparently she was part of a superhero group (referenced in this reboot).  Apparently, she was a walking fat joke (she was known as Zeppelin--she's dressed all in white and can fly) in a group called Harbingers (or maybe that was the title and her team was the Renegades?) At any rate, some of that bleeds through into this issue, but I can attest from experience (or perhaps LACK of experience) that it's not necessary to have read any of her previous appearances to appreciate this reboot.   

I give is 3.5 out of 5 stars.  My hesitations mostly hinge on the fact that I'm not sure I really needed all the nerd-sassy references, and that some of the issues touched on could have gone deeper, IMHO.
lydamorehouse: (crazy eyed Renji)
Because political news right now? Today has been an emotional roller coaster for me. I've been listening to AM950 in the mornings because I couldn't take NPR's normalizing. AM950 has a new show on, the Bradcast. On it, they played clips of the judiciary committee's interview with Senator Sessions. I had to be impressed with both Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. They asked questions no one else did--although they were both much more polite about it than I could have been. I considered calling their office to thank them, but I ended up being lazy and tweeting my thanks. (Amy Klobuchar saw it, because she followed me back.)

Then I watched Obama's farewell address and cried a lot.

Then social media gave me tidbits of Trump's press conference and I cried in a totally different way.

So, Sherlock... a much safer topic! Read more... )
lydamorehouse: (crazy eyed Renji)
This morning started out rough.

We have a cat who has bathroom issues. I came down stairs to start a breakfast for Mason (normally, he just grabs himself a bowl of cereal, but today is his first day of swimming practice and so I thought I'd start him off right with eggs and bacon!), and I saw Inky, the problem cat, crouched very suspiciously over a paper grocery bag we'd left out. Sure, enough, he was doing his business.

I blame myself. Inky has pills that he takes to help with this problem, but I keep forgetting to pill him. Plus, I slacked a bit this last week on the boxes. But, so not only did I have to do emergency clean up and pilling, but I also decided I'd better get off my butt and change a few boxes.

All this before my morning cup of coffee.

Plus, it's just gray outside. Gray with rainy gray highlights.

The only silver lining in all this gray is that I still have some birthday cash leftover so I stopped by my favorite coffee shop, Claddaugh, to get a fancy latte. I chatted up a guy there who was playing Pokemon Go. I don't play myself, but I think it's fascinating, but a bunch of my friends play and I'm familiar enough with the DS Pokemon that I can have a passably intelligent conversation when I see other people playing. Anyway, I asked him what he was catching in downtown and he said "Mostly Pidgeys." (I'd known from another friend that downtown St. Paul is pretty much Pidgey territory.) But he wasn't too bummed by it, because they'd released Ditto and rumor had it that Dittos were hiding among the Pidgeys. So I wished him luck Ditto hunting.

Once here at home, I had a ton of yesterday's dishes waiting for me. Last night was our traditional, post-Thanksgiving making of the knoephla with the leftover mashed potatoes. They're basically homemade potato noodles so there's a lot of pots involved, especially since Shawn's family traditionally eats them fried in bacon grease.

I decided to watch another episode of "Yuri on Ice," to help lighten the load. If you're looking for an respite from the current political climate, you really can't go wrong with an competitive ice-skating sports anime with SUPER GAY subtext.

Speaking of TV, Shawn and I binge watched the new "Gilmore Girls." We were fans back in the early 2000s and so we thought it'd be fun to catch up. I had mixed feelings, but I think it was a perfect echo of the earlier show. This sequel just reminded me of all the issues I had with the original. (Rest of my opinions have been removed for the moment, pending an article for Bitter Empire on the same theme.... because Rory Gilmore can SUCK IT. Seize the day, Motherf*cker~!)
lydamorehouse: (Default)
I don't know if you've been keeping up with the latest in the science fiction/fantasy community, but there's a very big discussion going on right now about the author who has been outted as the "Requires Hate" blogger.  For a full, insightful rundown on all the things regarding this, I point you to Laura J. Mixon's post on the subject: A Report on Damage Done by One Individual Under Several Names.  

I've mostly stayed out of this one, as I do most of them, because for the most part I've been fortunate enough to never REALLY be a target of "Requires Hate" under any of her pseudonyms.  Now, she did "review" Archangel Protocol in her usual style. I wrote about my reaction to finding it skewered there in my post: Nerves of Aluminum.  It was painful to read, but, in my case, what she wrote was no more than what any writer who publishes professionally can expect (to some degree.)  Which is to say, she kept her reactions within the context of her personal reaction to my writing.  She was gleeful to discover I was out of print, which is a little more personal, but again, nothing I can't just shrug off (with my nerves of aluminum, by which I mean, easy to say now, but yeah, it stung at the time.)

I, however, was not harassed or internet stalked or... worse.

So, I can't really complain about a review, except to say that for my part, I believe in this model:  "It Costs Nothing to Encourage An Artist."  

This does NOT mean that I excuse her harassment of anyone. Anywhere. Ever. Full stop. 

But, I write this after reading Jim C. Hines's post: "Only a Sith Deals in Absolutes."  Some books should be taken to the mat and CONSTRUCTIVE criticism makes us all better readers, writers, and people.  Similarly, there should be a place for snark and snide comments and humor with an edge. And, if you go back and read my post, I actually considered her complaints of my work with some seriousness, because, you know, that's part of the dialogue between reader and writer.

You can do this, however, with minimum douchbaggery.  

That is all.


lydamorehouse: (Default)

Because my friend Naomi is made of awesome, she loaned me the most recent Ms. Marvel (#8)

As I said in my previous post, I was a little leery of the introduction of this big guy, Lockjaw. But, I have to say, I thought he was handled deftly (insomuch as anyone can "handle" Lockjaw, as it were.)  In this issue, Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel is still searching for clues about her arch-enemy "The Inventor."  Things that I can say that are non-spoilery are that Kamala seems to be settling into the sort of regular business of superhero-ing.  There isn't much about her family or her ethnicity or her religion in this one, and that's just fine with me.  I think it would be a mistake if this were a title all about those things all the time. Kamala is starting, IMHO, to feel like Peter Parker--which is to say a person doing living and superhero-ing in that way a lot of Marvel character do it (by which, I mean messily, which reads as very 'real life'/plausible.)

I'm also really digging her guy pal (Bruno?) who works at the corner mart.  He has some really funny lines in this one, including what I can only assume is a dig at all the dudes feeling left out of girl-centric comic books.  (At one point when he's stuck taking out the garbage at the corner mart and Kamala and Lockjaw teleport out to do superhero stuff, he mutters, "Not feeling emasculated or anything, nope.")

Which made me smile, in a wicked sort of way.  Here, he just wants "a refund on life."  Weirdly, he's the guy I relate to the most, even though he was kind of a jerk in the first few issues Read more... )

lydamorehouse: (Default)
By chance, Mason and I missed the publication of the new Ao no Exorcist/Blue Exorcist by ONE DAY.  So, I wrote up my review of it, which you can read on MangaKast, here:

Yesterday, at our usual women of Wyrdsmiths' gathering, Naomi loaned me the first eight issues of the new Ms. Marvel, which I powered through today while at the laundromat while washing some of our rag rugs. The hero of Ms. Marvel is a teenage girl living in New Jersey named Kamala Khan who happens to be Muslim.  She is the American-born daughter of a fairly recent Pakastani immigrant family.  One day a weird green fog takes over her town and she appears to develop superpowers and the ability to look like Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel.

The things I like:  this is a comic book about a woman, written by a woman.  This is also a comic book about Muslims by someone who has AT LEAST spent some time living in a Muslim country, specifically Egypt.  So, while I can't say whether or not this is a fair portrayal of All the Things, there are some moments that give me hope that this is an honest try...

Read more... slightly spoilerific...  )

The other fun thing about this character is that she's a real teenager, living TODAY.  She writes Avengers fan fic.

Yes, things are that self-referrential now.  Look, I've been telling you, when Marvel decided to place their heroes in real neighborhoods in the Real World, they MEANT IT. That means, if it makes sense for a teenager to have seen the Marvel Movies (or, as it happens, live in the world they occupy) then it means they'd do the things people really do, like write fan fic.

This, however, is why I love Marvel.

This is especially awesome when there's an honest-to-canon scene in which Wolverine is confronted by the fact that the fic she wrote starring him came in second to one featuring Scott Summers/Cyclops and Emma Frost/White Witch (a crack ship if ever there was one)... 

Things I'm not sure of:

Read more... very spoilerific... read only at risk )

But, that's a wait-and-see game.

Even with that caveat, I would have to agree with a lot of the hype.  I'm liking this.  I'm hoping the title continues a long time.

lydamorehouse: (Default)
Okay, after getting some wonderful suggestions for improvement, here's what I came up with for a second draft of my review of the art book that caused me to FREAK OUT about my art skills.

Every time I pick up a book about drawing, I end up learning more about myself than I do art.

I ordered Foundations in Comic Book Art: Fundamental Tools and Techniques for Sequential Artists by John Paul Lowe from Blogging for Books this month because I’m a frustrated artist.

As the title suggests, this is a book aimed at teaching fundamentals to beginners. It is a book chock full of exercises aimed at improving basic skills, from learning to draw straight lines to understanding the specialized needs of visual storytelling. The example art throughout is magnificent, and for every lesson there’s a written and visual example. The tone of the book is fairly serious. It is aimed squarely at someone like myself, who is desperately looking a way to ‘level up,’ and gain the extra skill sets needed to become a comic book artist/graphic novelist.

Lowe’s book should have been perfect for me, but after reading through it several times and trying some of the examples, I ended up instead with a visceral emotional response which can be summed up in two words: I suck.

The forward and introduction to Lowe’s book suggest this is the very last feeling that I should’ve come away with. Lowe is very much of the belief (as am I) that art, like any skill, can be learned by anyone regardless of innate talent given enough time and energy.

I’m not sure what it is about this book that left me with that feeling. As I’ve said, this is a textbook aimed at teaching basics. Yet I left it feeling like there was no way I could ever master any of it (despite being far from a novice artist,) and it was all too overwhelming.

I wonder if it wasn’t because all the art shown was so good? This is one of those art textbooks where I’m already green with envy just looking at the instruction images that are supposed to be teaching me to see basic shapes in every day items, and instead of seeing the circles and squares, I’m thinking: damn, look at that cool apple! How come I can’t draw an apple like that??

There are a few playful images in the textbook, but even those examples showcase tremendous skill in background drawing. There were no examples that made me feel: oh, hey, I can do that.

There were no suggestions for work-arounds. Like, for instance, in my own comic book art, I have been known to cheat. I’ll take original photographs and use them as background images:


 The other thing that was missing from this book that’s been tremendously helpful for me, as someone who has considered coming into graphic novel writing from the other side is, a script. There’s a very specific kind of writing format that comic book WRITERS use that I’ve been privileged to see thanks to a friend of mine who works for Marvel and DC. What looking at those taught me was how important it is for the writer of comic books (if they’re not the artist) to think visually as well and consider how much text/dialogue can reasonably fit in a panel.

So, while I think this is probably an awesome textbook to go with a class, I’m not entirely sure how well it works for me. There are two huge chapters at the end of this book that are specific to digital programs that I’m not using. I would have preferred that space be used to talk more about the business of comic book writing.

Your mileage may vary.

As I said, my strong emotional reaction to what is essentially a textbook surprised me.

lydamorehouse: (Default)
 As I mentioned in an earlier post, I asked for a textbook about comic book art as part of my Bloggin' for Books deal.  I ended up having a strange emotional reaction to the book.  

My initial thoughts were these:


Every time I pick up a book about drawing, I end up learning more about myself than I do art. 

I ordered Foundations in Comic Book Art: Fundamental Tools and Techniques for Sequential Artists by John Paul Lowe from Blogging for Books this month because I’m a frustrated artist. 

I love comic books.  I love drawing.  From the moment I could pick up a pencil, I’ve been doodling, sketching, and drawing comic book characters.  During high school, I would easily spend an entire Saturday at my drawing board—(and yes, I mean that literally.  Eight hours.  Plus, I was so into art that my parents bought me an actual, honest-to-god drawing board.) 

In college, I don’t know, something happened.

I think it was time. 

I suddenly had so much less of it between classes, work, and a budding social life that I lost the opportunity for what Lowe calls “daily practice.”  Sure, I took art classes.  I even went to a co-op art studio from time to time and paid my fee to sketch nude figures in a swanky part of downtown north Minneapolis.  By a weird twist of fate, after graduating with an English and history degree, I ended up teaching an afterschool/summer cartooning class to very young kids on and off… for probably close to a decade.

Technically, I guess, that made me a professional artist.  I mean I got paid for my art skills (though it may have been more for my patience with six to ten year olds); I even sold some of my art as greeting cards and at craft fairs.  That’s pretty okay in the great scheme of things, right? 

Yet, despite all that, I never felt like a real artist.  I’m crap at perspective.  Backgrounds?  No, just… no.  Foreshortening?  What even is? 

Eventually, I decided that I’m an awesome copier.  Show me something—a real person, a still life, a photograph, another artist’s work, my own foot—and I can give you a fairly recognizable rendition of it.   Sometimes it even turns out pretty awesome, frame-able, even. 

But… I still can’t get the pictures in my head to come out right.  All the science fiction ones, the fantasy ones, and all the ones that require something I just don’t seem to have.  I can visualize an awesome space battle or a Gorgon queen, but what comes out isn’t at all like I want. I know I need something to push me to the next level.

I need a power-up.

This book isn’t going to be it, but not because of some failing of Lowe’s. 

In fact, I can tell by the way this book is written that it would be tremendously valuable to take a class from this man.  Plus, from the sound of his forward, he’s an awesome teacher who teaches for the love of it and because he believes, like I do, that talent is overrated and that anyone can learn to draw if they have the drive and the discipline.

The problem, you see, is me.

I’ve thought about this a lot.  Because, if you knew me when I was fifteen, you’d say: that girl is going to grow-up to be an artist of some kind, probably of those comic books she’s so into, but clearly art is going to be the center of her life.  Yet, I went off in an entirely different direction.  I ended up in a similarly creative career that also requires me to be self-disciplined and focused.  So, it can’t be that I lack the two “D”s Lowe talks about (Desire and Discipline).   I think, for me, comes down to time… and probably one letter up, “C” for confidence.  You see, I could see myself getting better at writing faster, and, possibly more critical to my success, I was able to make teachers out of my peers.  I could talk to people about writing every day.  I could bring my writing to the bi-monthly critique session, read work, critique it, and come out stronger, because my ‘daily practice’ was super-energized when I had someone to bounce off.  One thing I learned about myself is that I’m the sort of person who needs a teacher… or an audience.

If I could learn from books, I think this book could work from me.

But I can’t.

Believe me, I’ve tried.

Lowe talks very wisely about ‘daily practice’ and gives real, practical exercises that I know I should do.  I might even try them for a week or two.  The truth is, any time there’s a book that talks about the importance of working through the chapters in sequential order (and especially any that have a lot of exercises,) I end up stalling out somewhere.  What happens is, even with the very best intentions, I’ll hit one exercise or project that I can’t find the time to do or find somewhat difficult, and there the bookmark will stay.  Forever.

It’s funny, because I have the opposite problem with books about writing. I still rarely finish the book, but I’ll get a chapter into it, hit something interesting, and go off and write.  I’ve read Elements of Style fifteen times.  I swear I learn something new every time. 

Maybe the difference is that, like I said above, I found away to make teachers out of my colleagues.  If I could do that with art, I might be on to something.

In the meantime, this book will sit on my shelf with all the others that I picked up hoping to find the key to leveling up.  Sadly, I think the key isn’t in the books.  I think it’s in me, and it’s already unlocked something else.

Something I devoted all my “D”s to. I’m plum out of capital “D”s.  Maybe I’ll have to content myself with the other “d,” the lowercase one, for dabbler.


Which is a lovely confessional/whine about my art skills, but I'm not sure it says enough about the book.  I mean, I suppose I could go on and say WHY the book crushed me so intensely... if I knew what that was.  It might be the art. The pictures used as examples are like already twenty times more awesome than anything I could do.  Plus, they have those ones where, you know, they start with a circle and the next picture is a fully rendered apple and you think... what?  HOW???

(Actually, to be perfectly fair, that particular example in the book was meant to show how everything is made up of fundamental shapes, but STILL.)

The point is, I think the review still needs something.  Thoughts?  What would you want to know about a book like this?

lydamorehouse: (more renji art)
Because our podcast will be on hiatus next week, I've written up my reviews of Shingeki no Kyojin (aka Attack on Titan) #60 and Ao no Exorcist (aka Blue Exorcist) #59 for you and posted them on our MangaKast blog site:
lydamorehouse: (more renji art)
Marvel is giving Deadpool: The Gauntlet Infinite Comic #1 (Duggan & Posehn/Brown) away for free, along with #2.

I'll be perfectly honest, my Deadpool fandom goes like this:  Vague memory of Deadpool from X-men.... [scrolling through Tumblr] Ha!  Funny Cosplayer in Deadpool outfit!  [more scrolling] HA! Someone reprinted one of his more outrageous lines from a comic book. [/close Tumblr].

Given that in-depth (not!) experience with the character, I can't say that I'm any kind of expert on whether or not "The Gauntlet Infinite" stands up to the usual Deadpool fare.  But, it seems patently obvious that Deadpool is meant to be funny and scampy and more than a little off color, and these two comics totally fit that bill.  Plus, there are... vampires.  How can you go wrong?

Similarly, I really like Reilly Brown's art.  It's old school in a style that appeals to me and the way that the Marvel Comics Reader app-thingy works means you get almost an animated-but-still-flat experience.  It's really nifty the way that the art shifts through the action and the dialogue.  Despite being a comics fan forever, I'd never before tried digital comics and if this is the usual experience, I'm all in.  It was really cool.  The opening part of The Gauntlet Infinite had a kind of James Bond film opening vibe to it that was both really beautiful, while being still very Deadpool (which is to say sort of silly).

As part of this free package, they're also giving away an Iron Man: Fatal Frontier Infinite #1 (and #2) as well as Wolverine: Japan's Most Wanted Infinite #1 (and #2).

I will read them all, because: why not?  They're free.
lydamorehouse: (more renji art)
So, I think I posted here that I got an e-mail inviting me to try out "Blogging for Books," which, when I went to check it out, appears to be a Random House thing where you get free books if you post a review about them somewhere. Free books is never a bad deal for me and they had a graphic novel check-box, so I thought, okay, what the heck, and had them send me "The Harlem Hellfighters" Max Brooks/Caanan White.

So, here are my thoughts:

The Harlem Hellfighters follows an all-black regiment in WWI and showcases the racism they dealt with and their astounding bravery in spite of it. This is typically the kind of tale that I never get tired of, the against-all-odds heroes who go above and beyond duty—all while being spit on (and worse) by their fellow soldiers. This story gets an extra boost because the regiment is real and many of the characters that appear in the pages come straight out of history.

The author, Max Brooks, is best known for his World War Z comic book, which, admittedly, I haven’t read yet. And, while I enjoyed The Harlem Hellfighters, I’m not sure that this book would make me seek out his other work. I feel that maybe because Brooks was trying to hit all the history, he missed out on a stronger narrative opportunity or two. The Harlem Hellfighters would make a great addition to a junior high/high school library because it’s really more a ‘fun’ way to read about history than a graphic novel for comic book fans, you know? I didn’t leave this graphic novel thinking, “Wow, this was a great story! I loved Edge’s character!” so much as, “Wow, I learned a lot.”

Which surprised me, because there are some amazingly moving scenes and we, for the most part, follow a single character. I can’t quite put my finger on why I was never able to sink my teeth into this. It might be the skipping through history; it might also be the art.

Like a lot of graphic novel/comic book fans, I need to have both working for me to get the ultimate experience. I can enjoy a book where the art is better than the story, and visa versa, but it’s a far better ride for me when both are hitting the same notes. I wonder if I’d have felt differently if it were an affordable option to print all the pages in color. Regardless, at this point it comes down to preference and stylistic bents… and, thus, to each their own. My experience with the art might be completely different than yours.

So, I guess, ultimately, I’d give The Harlem Hellfighters a recommendation to anyone interested in World War 1 history, African American experiences, or the history of racism in America (and Europe.) For comic book/graphic novel fans, it could be hit and miss. I would still say check it out if this sounds like your kind of thing.
lydamorehouse: (more renji art)
At the library yesterday, I gravitated toward my usual favorite section to shelve: teen (because they have all the manga and the comic books.) So, I came across this:


Black Widow: The Name of the Rose (Margorie Liu/Daniel Acuña). According to the back cover copy, "collecting Black Widow 1-5, plus some material from Heroic Age #1."

When I started it, I was a little afraid it was going to make me feel old again, like the new Hawkeye title did. The art is similar, but deeper:


But, for some reason, I really enjoyed the heck out of this title. I think maybe it's partly the fact that Black Widow is super-competient. She also gets beaten up, being mostly human, like Clint, but... she's just so much smarter and independent. Looking back to Hawkeye at the scene where Clint can't figure out how to untangle his cords for his entertainment system and calls Iron Man/Tony Stark, it's hard not to compare it to the time Stark is called in here... to find out that the reason Black Widow was attack was because she was secretly carrying a recording device, collecting spy information on EVERYONE (ally and enemy alike). Clint comes off as a moron; Natasha kicked your butt and you didn't even know it.

There are also a couple of scene that made me hyper-aware of Black Widow's sexuality. Guess what, guys, she has boobs. But, what SHOULD feel like gratuitous fan service never entirely did--even the scene where she's tied up, naked. I think the reason was because she comes off so completely unfazed by it. Like, 'ho-hum' bad guys are trying to make me feel vulnerable using my gender. Ah, well, I guess I'll just have to escape and KICK THEIR A$$ES WHILE COMPLETELY NUDE.

It's weirdly awesome.

I recommend it.
lydamorehouse: (Default)
Some time ago, a friend and I had been IMing and she'd asked me about where to start with comic books as an Avenger movie fan.  I'd told her about several of the collected volumes I enjoyed, and particularly mentioned that, as a Marvel movie fan she might want to check out the four volumes of Ed Brubaker's CAPTAIN AMERICA: Winter Solider and Strazynski's re-boot of THOR, since clearly elements of those had appeared in the movies.  Being polite and not raised by wolves, I asked, "So, what are you reading?"

She recommended the new HAWKEYE (by Matt Fraction).  So, I checked it out. I read both of the volumes that the library had: HAWKEYE: My Life as a Weapon and HAWKEYE: Little Shots.

I've decided that maybe I'm too old for this title.  The main artist is someone called David Aja and his art is very... what's the word I want?  Kind of "indy"?  I'm not sure.  Here's what it looks like:


I can't say I dislike the art, but it has a flat, slick feeling.  The stories follow Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) in his life in New York City.  This is one of the things I tend to really adore about Marvel, in general, which is that a lot of the story is about what a screwed up life Clint has made for himself and how much it honestly sucks to be nothing more than a sharp-shooting archer in a team full of super-soldiers and gods.  Clint gets banged-up.  A lot.  Actually, you kind of start to wonder if Hawkeye's real superpower is the ability to get fairly seriously wounded and still live, despite not having a mutant healing factor. They also do some fun things with his stupid-a$$ arrow collection (because, seriously?  How dumb is that?).  At one point during the story he decides what he really needs to is organize everything and you know, maybe mark them with tape or something, so he doesn't accidentally reach for the smoke-bomb when he needs the exploding tip.  The trip to the hardware store to get tape becomes it's own adventure, of course, in the way of such things, and he ends up randomly using whatever comes to hand, as it were.  That's just funny.

But Clint really isn't that interesting on his own.  Frankly, he never has been.  When my cousin Laun and I used to play pretend Avengers, I would often be Hawkeye because... well, back in the 70s, it was clear Hawkeye was the hip friend to Captain America.  And he was handsome, clever, and charming.  (I always liked playing the hot guys.  Charisma 18+ FTW).   But, kind of an empty slate, really.  At least from my reading, which admittedly wasn't terribly deep.  Laun was always the bigger Avengers fan.

I'm not sure the reboot does Clint any favors.  He's constantly upstaged by more interesting cameos, including one by his adoptive dog, Arrow (shown above.) HAWKEYE: Little Shot has a series of misadventures with the women in Clint's life, complete with Romance Comics style covers, in between each section.

But, a lot of people called each other 'bro,' and a lot of the action was kind of disjointed in a way that made me feel... tired, and too old for this title.  Also?  Who prints this stuff so small?  I needed my reading glasses!

Yet, I'm glad I read it.  There was a tiny little throw-away scene that kind of fascinated me.  It showed PowerMan (aka Luke Cage) and Spider-Man (Peter Parker, 'natch) sitting around Avengers/Stark Tower playing video games.  Peter was in his Spidey suit, like he often is, hanging upside down with his legs crossed, like he does, and apparently getting his ass kicked by Cage.  It occurred to me that I bet Spider-Man sucks at video games.  I bet he sucks because a big part of his ability is his Spidey Sense.  I bet he spends a lot of time getting blind-sided by stuff that seems, from his perspective, to come out of nowhere.

Also, can we talk, Peter?  You were the only guy in "uniform" at the mansion/tower.  What's that about?  (Truth? I suspect it's because Parker is actually intentionally nondescript.)

Well, so I guess my recommendation:  Go ahead, give a try, with a caveat--it's very... arty, maybe 'modern' even.  I don't even know if that's a bug or a feature.  Milage will vary.

And, in other news, there *is* video from Wednesday night:

It's a lot of reading, but if you want to hear my squee about Anime and random things, skip to the last five minutes or so.
lydamorehouse: (more renji art)
Little Red Reviewer gave my short story "God Box," which appears in KING DAVID AND THE SPIDERS OF MARS, a really awesome review.  The full review is here: but the take away?  The very best compliment anyone has ever given me about my writing, "Shit just got real."

To which I say?  Shit just got awesome.

The reviewer also said that it felt like the main character had walked out of a novel or a space opera series and showed us a slice of her life.  That's high praise, indeed.  Especially since for me, as a reader, that's the feeling I like to get when I'm reading a short story, too.

So yay!

In other news, I forgot to mention in my previous con report--I'll have more tomorrow, but I'm exhausted and still processing--that one of the cutest moments of the con came after the Anime party, when Mason and I went looking for food in the con suite and we ended sitting next to two women who were probably twice Mason's age (which is to say about 20.) They had been at the Anime party and had announced that they were going to be hosting a panel at Detour called, "Name that Anime Tune."  So, Mason sang them a good portion of the Toriko opening them (in Japanese, mind), they countered with my least favorite Bleach opener, then the three of us sang the second Bleach opener... all this goofy singing would be cool enough, but then the three of them sang the Free! ending them COMPLETE WITH DANCE MOVES.

It was pretty darling.

Mason has found his people.

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