Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Finals Time

There won't be much to see here for the next week or so. I'm fully immeshed in studying for finals and finishing up my final papers. Thursday I'm attending a workshop, so I may post about that. Or I may not. Regular posts should resume by May 2.

Can't wait until the term is over. I want to spend my couple weeks off from classes hiking and (finally) reading the newest Thomas Pynchon novel. I'm thinking about blogging that monster chapter-by-chapter. We'll see.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Eisners Announced

Nominations for the Eisner Awards, one of the big awards in comics, were just announced. This year they seemed to include more manga, more stuff by women, although a few less indie titles. Marvel came in really strong this year, which I think shows how much they are really try to improve (despite the Cival War fiasco). There are already cries of outrage from fans yelling "But what about (insert favorite here)". I will say they picked a really broad range of stuff and really tried to present a cross section of the best of each type of comic. Some of my favorites were skipped over as well, but I don't have any issues with anything they did pick. I'll be curious to see what actually wins.

On a somewhat personal note, two people I really admire were on the panel this year: editor/author Jeff Vandermeer and librarian/critic Robin Brenner, who runs the great website No Flying/No Tights that reviews graphic novels and hosts a good number of essays touting their merits.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007


I wasn't going to post anything about the horrible events V-Tech, but I've gotten a few emails and messages through myspace asking me about it. I really don't know anything other than what's been on the news. I am in Virginia, but I'm several hours away from Blacksburg. My next door neighbor has a son there in the engineering program and he is (thankfully) ok, but that' s really my only connection to the school.

I haven't been sleeping well the last few days, so I've been listening to a lot of late night talk radio. When something like this happens all the crazies pop out of the woodwork to try to explain how and why it happened. Over the last two nights I've heard everything from "if students we're allowed to have guns, that nut wouldn't of had a chance" to "the chinese planted a microchip in that guy's brain". I even heard someone blaming creative writing programs, now that Smoking Gun and some other sites have put some of Seung-Hui's writing online. I'm more than a little angry at the way the the media has been exploring and taking advantage of this tragedy for the sole reason of ratings and not to explore ways to heal the community.

So please keep your personal and political crusades out of this. The families who lost loved ones and the entire V-tech community needs time to grieve. Please give it to them.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Lit Links

A somewhat random assortment of lit-oriented links I've stumbled and tumbled across the last week or so. Enjoy.

In celebration of National Poetry Writing Month, Sandra Beasley is blogging drafts of a new poem. The old drafts go away when the new ones go up, but it's fun to watch her process as the poem gets honed.

Thanks to some participatory help from Kim Roberts and Richard Peabody, Madam Mayo is putting together a pretty comprehensive list of all the women authors who live or have lived or have a strong connection to the DC area. We often don't get thought of as a literary town, but we really are.

Special congrats to issue 51 of Gargoyle. Word around town is that Nik Houser's story "First Kisses From Beyond the Grave" has been picked up for the upcoming edition of Best American Fantasyr. In the very same issue, Angela Threatt's story "Bela Lugosi's Dead" will appear in pages of the new edition of Best New Stories from the South. Congrats to both of the writers and to Gargoyle.

The Wild River Review has an interesting interview with Neil Gaiman, where he talks about freedom of speech, his creative process, and the differences between writing for comics and writing for books.

Bat Segundo features a fun interview with one of my favs, China MiƩville.

PW offers up a Hot Books For Summer list. At first glance, I'm really only drawn to the upcoming books from DeLillo and Gibson. But then I'll read anything anyone puts in my hand (eventually).

Interesting thoughts on teaching creative writing by Daniel Green at The Reading Experience.

Elizabeth Bear has a good column on rejection from editors.

Short article on the band Harry and the Potters.

Artomatic's Back

You either love it or hate, but either way Artomatic is back in the DC area.

For the uninitated, Artomatic is a large scale event that puts an unjuried art show in an unused building. I've seen it's various incarnations in old hardware stores, office buildings and factories all across the city. Some, particular the critics at the Washington Post, feel that it's a waste of time, effort and space since each work is not a piece of heart-wrenching genius.

But that's not the point. The point is to get a bunch of work by artists all together in one space. Many of them are artists who don't show regularly, so yes the quality can be uneven. But the dialog between the pieces and the overall atmosphere is great fun.

Here's the info:

April 13–May 20, 2007
2121 Crystal Drive, Arlington, Va.
Metro stop: Crystal City
Free admission. Donations accepted
Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday: Noon–10 p.m.
Thursday: Noon–11 p.m.
Friday, Saturday: Noon–1 a.m.
Closed Mondays


Thursday, April 12, 2007

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

I walked into work today, completely unaware of what had happened. Instead of spending the morning listening to the radio like I normally do, I was working on my projects for school and listening to music. When I got to library I was given the task of touring the shelves and pulling off titles for our current display on Shakespeare (his birthday is sometime this month). So when I saw a new display tucked away to the side of the checkout desk I had no idea what happened. Seeing familiar titles like Cat's Cradle and Bagumbo Snuffbox, I smiled. I haven't really been happy with the types of displays we've had lately, so I've made some suggestions for some. A display of Vonnegut being one them, I thought someone had finally taken my suggestion to heart.

But then I looked over and saw the sign next to the books. There was a black and white photo of Vonnegut's familiar whizened face. Below the photo it said, in plain black letters, "Kurt Vonnegut, jr. 1922-2007".

I dropped the Shakespeare books on the floor. I looked down at the books I dropped, then up at the display, then back down at the books, and then up again. I couldn't believe my eyes in either case. I walked up to the information desk, just leaving the Shakespeare books scattered on the floor.

"What happened?" I asked in a tone that was probably a little stronger than it should have been.

The librarians working the desk just looked at me, not knowing what I was talking about.

"The Vonnegut display. Is he really..."

I couldn't bring myself to say the word dead.

"He died," one of them said. "I heard it on the radio this morning. Something to do with injuries related to a fall he had a few weeks ago."

I nodded, then went back and picked up the books I had dropped on the floor. I spent the rest of day reading snippets out of his books and looking up odd quotes from him online, each one making me smile and tear up a little at the same time. Every once in awhile I'd see a patron look at the Vonnegut display, but the only person to express anything to me was a woman who had him confused with Ray Bradbury.

So it goes.


What Kilgore Trout wanted on his tombstone, from chapter three of Breakfast of Champions

In comparison to a lot of other people, I came to Vonnegut late in life. Not until after college. Not that I hadn't heard of him or had other people suggest him to me. Tracy---this crazy-mad art girl I had a big crush on in high school----was always telling me to read him my Junior and Senior year in high school. My friend Rusty at JMU never understood how I could enjoy satirical nuts like James Morrow and not worship Vonnegut. But at that point in my life I still had it in my head that I couldn't read anything by choice that was shelved outside the sci fi section.

When I finally did get to him after college, he blew my mind. First with Cat's Cradle, then with Slaughterhouse Five, Breakfast of Champions and beyond. It was still sci-fi, but it was also something else. Something beyond. Along with Philip K. Dick and one or two others writers, Vonnegut became my bridge off the island of sci fi to the world of experimental lit. He's one of those rare writers who danced between popular, genre, experimental and mainstream fiction, each claiming him but not ever really belonging to any of them.

When I started writing I wanted to be Vonnegut. My first published piece of fiction was an introduction to an imaginary novel that was heavily inspired by Vonnegut's intro to Slaughterhouse Five. It amazed me that he was able to get away with essentially telling his whole story in the intro. Later, Breakfast of Champions cracked my head open to meta-fiction and to mixing pieces of your own life into your work. I'm still dealing with all of that garbage. Vonnegut made it all look so easy, and the more I write the more I realize how nearly impossible it is to do that.

Vonnegut made us laugh. He made us cry. And, most importantly, he made us stop and think. I can't imagine an author trying to do anything more important.

Lots of other great tributes out there to him. My favorites thus far are at And I Am Not Lying For Real, Mumpsimus and the online chat Michael Dirda did via The Washington Post.


Review: Lucifer: Evensong

Bill Willingham's series Fables gets a lot of credit for carrying on the audience that devoured Sandman 15 years ago. They certainly share a lot of common threads: mixture of fastasy, myth and "real life" all rolled into one big postmodern stew. In reality, though, Mike Carey's series Lucifer is much more in the tradition of Sandman. Lucifer started as a spin-off from Gaiman’s iconic series Sandman when Carey took the idea of Lucifer as a hero and turned it into a darkly philosophical story.


The new trade Evensong collects issues 70-75 of Carey’s series Lucifer, bringing the series to a final conclusion (oddly, the original Sandman series also ran for 75 issues). The Christian God Yahweh has left the universe and turned its management over to the hands of Elaine Belloc, a young woman with a mystical and mythical past. Elaine’s story of recreating the afterlife encompasses a large part of the book, and it works as an oddly fascinating form of world-building. Like Yahweh, Lucifer left his realm of hell, releasing all the tortured souls out into the rest of the universe. Lucifer visits old friends and enemies, closing plot threads and making final amends to those few he feels emotional ties with.



Once Lucifer leaves the known universe he meets the one entity he wants to avoid more than any other: Yahweh. With comics you often expect a battle royale. Something like Lucifer pulling a giant flaming sword out of nowhere and Yahweh knocking him around with his bare hands. But instead the two argue like people who once loved each other but were driven apart through circumstances and choices they made. The two enter into a debate arguing points of destiny versus free will that echoes both Milton’s Paradise Lost and the C.S. Lewis classic The Screwtape Letters. Overall, it’s a very fitting end to a series that works better than a lot of fantasy fiction being published today in novels and short stories.


Done by a different artist for each issue, the series doesn’t have an overall visual style. The issues featuring Elaine are simpler, working in a more direct comic book style while those featuring Lucifer hold a grittier feel. Evensong also includes a 48 page stand-alone story titled Nirvana that’s brilliantly illustrated by the dark and disturbing watercolors of Jon J. Muth.

I've only read a smattering of issues of Lucifer over the past few years. It was one of those titles I thought I'd start picking up when I had more money. But now reading the ending and seeing how well things close out, it's making me want to crack open my paypal account and start picking up the earlier trades so I can see how it all developed.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Comics Links

A random selection of posts and articles related to comics I've stumbled across over the past week.

Rabbi Harry Manhoff speaks on the crossover between Jewish culture and comics. Not sure how he missed classics like Eisner's New York series, but glad he's finally catching up.

After Ellen offers up an interesting column on the growth of comics exploring lesbian themes. Again, nothing new to the genre, but glad they're catching up.

Graphic Novel Review gives a very thorough review of Megan Kelso's collection Squirrel Mother, which I reviewed way back here. It's damn good....I'm glad to see it's finally getting noticed. Also a follow up post tracking the other reviews online.

Hoo-ray! Top Shelf puts everything on sale to celebrate their ten-year anniversary. Time for me to load up on all the James Kochalka I'm missing.

Jog reviews the newest issue of Mome, arguably the best mag out there promoting new literary comics.

Library Links

A somewhat random collection of library-related stories I've run across over the past week.

The Beat reports on the Library of Congress purchasing the original artwork for the early----and highly pollitical----graphic novel Flood! by Eric Drooker.

The Shifted Librarian writes on the growing use of Video Messaging by library reference desks.

An interesting perspective on Twitter, the supposed next big thing in social networking sites that combines aspects of myspace, email and your cell phone into one package. Not sure I see the point, but then there are times I don't want people to get ahold of me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What, Me Worry? (or it's Term Paper Time)

Photo just below is stack #1 and stack #2 of books I have to go through for my reader's advisory essay on graphic novel/comic book criticism. Stack #3 and Stack #4 are still in my car, and I have probably another 10 more on my bookshelf that I already own and have read over the past couple of years. The paper's due Monday April 16 at 6:50 pm. I'm also doing a presentation on collection development the same day.


It's actually not as bad as it might look. A lot of the books are encyclopedias, subject guides and bibliographies, so I don't have to actually read every page of those. About ten or so are books of criticism or cultural/historical studies of comics that I will need to read all of between now and Monday. So I've got a lot ahead of me, but it's not too bad. Especially since they are books like Completely Mad: A History of the Comic Book and Magazine and The Art of the Funnies: An Aesthetic History. If I had known this is what I'd be doing in library school, I would have signed up years ago.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Libraries in Iraq

Another Wash Post article, this time a focus piece on Saad Eskander, a librarian in Iraq fighting every day to keep sacred and rare books safe. When the biggest problem we have at work today is no heat (it snowed here in DC this morning), it kind of puts things in perspective. He's a true champion of their culture, and when this is all over I hope they thank him for it.

Eskander also keeps an online journal, which is both eerie and fascinating.


Harry Potter and Libraries

This article in the Wash Post looks at some of the crazy rules libraries are forced to deal with to get the new Harry Potter book. It's actually not new....when the last one came out, I'm told libraries had to sign a contract that the crates of books wouldn't be opened prior to the official release date of the novel. I know one person who reviewed the book for School Library Journal, and in order to get a copy she had to sign a contract stating that she wouldn't talk about it with anyone until after the official release.

It's a bit crazy, but in it's own way a brilliant marketing scheme.


Friday, April 06, 2007

Too Old to Rock

Singer/songwriter/composer/general lunatic Mike Patton is in town tonight, touring with his most recent project Peeping Tom. A few years ago I would have bought tickets as soon as I heard about it, and at 4:55 pm I'd probably already be at the venue, or at least at a bar down the street. But not this time. Since early college, I've seen Patton in every incarnation that came through the DC/Baltimore area: Faith No More (3 times), Mr. Bungle (once), Fantomas (twice), and Tomahawk (once). But not this time.

It's not so much anything against Peeping Tom. I mean it is probably the Patton project I've been least enthused with, but I think it's more to do with the idea of a rock club. Standing around, trying not to get bowled over by some guy three times my size insisting on moshing right next to me. Slipping in puddles of cheap beer. Maybe I'm just getting too old for it all.

So instead Miss L and I are going to the Creative Alliance at the Patterson tonight, to take in part of their silent sounds series. They're playing The Adventures of Prince Achmed, one of if not the first feature-length animated film ever created. Baltimore band Yeveto will be providing the musical soundtrack by playing some of the tracks from their newest album, Stars and Atoms. If you don't know Yeveto, they're kind of Baltmore's answer to God Speed You Black Emperor, blending elements of jazz, folk and eastern music into some pretty unique indie-rock instrumentals. Check out their website for samples of what I mean.

The whole thing just appeals to me more. Getting to sit down and watch a film while a talented band adds their music to the experience. All the best parts are there, with none of the bad. Plus I get to support local musicians.

But as I drove up to Baltimore from Va. this afternoon, my Ipod decided to taunt me. It went through not one, not two, but six different tracks all related to Patton. The first one was cute, the second odd, and then it was just bizarre. It was almost 40 minutes straight of nothing but Patton. It was almost like Patton himself tried to send me a little message through my Ipod, to give me a last chance to get my ass in gear and rock. I feel a little bad about missing the show, but not that bad. Sorry, Mike.


Thursday, April 05, 2007


I'm sure every library----and probably every business----has them. Those patrons who come in day after day and complain about the same thing.

We have this one guy who comes in practically every day. He's built like a walrus---wide, squat and moves with an odd shuffle across the floor. The best description I've heard of him came from my co-worker John, who says he looks like Nathan Furst, the actor who played Flounder in the movie Animal House. Only heavier, 30 years older, and a whole lot angrier.

Angry Flounder only comes in to use the internet . As soon he walks in he cusses and curses under his breath about kids using the internet to "play their f***ing video games when adults need it to do real business". Of course, he most often comes in between 3-4 pm, right about the same time all the school kids start coming to the library. Sometimes he complains directly to the reference librarians, but most often he just mutters his angry manifestos as he shambles between the front door and the internet terminals. As a big of a jerk as he is, I do feel for him. It can be frustrating when you need to do something you feel is important and it's slowed down by people doing leisure activities. But a public library is there for all those purposes, so I usually just try to ignore him.

Well, last night I had my first real interaction with this fine fellow. I was at the returns desk, checking in materials, and he walked up fuming.

"I was using the computer," he said, "and the monitor just went out."

Now we're supposed to send people with computer issues to the reference desk, but there was a line several people long waiting for help. I knew Angry Flounder would pitch a fit if I sent him anywhere else, so I walked over with him to take a look.

It was simple fix. Either he or whoever used the terminal just before him must have tried to adjust things, because the cable between the monitor and the CPU detached. I plugged it in and the monitor popped back on right away. It was then that I saw what the Angry Flounder's important business is: updating his myspace profile.