Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Potter Hits the Road


Today I made a late morning trip out to the Chantilly Library in Fairfax County to catch the official Harry Potter tour bus, aka the Knight Bus, as it blasted through the area. If you've had your head under a rock the past year you may not know that the 7th volume in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, hits bookstores and libraries in the U.S. on July 21. The tour bus is making the rounds across the country to whip readers into an even more violent frenzy as the last days, hours, minutes and seconds count away until the final volume of Harry Potter comes out.


More than a purple bus with advertisements blazing on the sides, the inside of the vehicle features a small studio so readers can record a video message (sorry, they didn't allow photos inside the bus) giving readers the chance to tell whatever they like about our beloved Harry. Videos range from theories on what will happen in the last book to what they've all loved so much about the series since it first came out. To view the videos, you can visit the official site set up by Scholastic Books.


To the library's credit, they had things really organized. People had to register ahead of time and they told people not to come too much before their time. When the parking lot filled up they used the high school across the street as an overflow. For people who were there early, they had activities to pass the time. Fun stuff like making magic wands and Harry Potter glasses out of pipe cleaner. They also had a stack of other fantasy books fans of Potter might like, cool stuff by writers like Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper and John Bellairs. Oh yeah: there was also a live owl, kindly brought in by the Virginia Raptor Society.


I'm not a huge Harry Potter fan. I've read the first two books and enjoyed them. I've seen all the movies and liked them. But I don't get all crazed like some folks do---two people I work with are taking time off right after it comes out so they can do nothing but read it. The only way I understand it is to remember how I felt about Star Wars as kid. Particular between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Everyone....and I mean everyone...I knew had their theories about the cliffhanger ending when Vader claimed to be Luke's father. We all spent the years between talking, fighting and even making up plays to figure out the answer.


a Multi-generational group of fans

Even though I'm not a fan, I found myself getting caught up in it. With everyone in costume, both kids and adults, and everyone just generally having a good time talking about Harry it was hard not to succumb to the excitement. It's great to see a good group of people getting so worked up over a book. And a big book, too, if Rowling's past efforts are any indication.


Aside from hitting Chantilly, Va. the bus, or one like it, also made it to Arlington, Va Montgomery County, Md and Baltimore, Md. The bus will keep on rollin' up to the release date. For a list of all the stops, visit the official Knight Bus site.


Friday, June 15, 2007

A Fair(y) Use Tale

When librarians get bored, they watch stuff like this:

It's a wonderfully funny short film entitled A Fair(y) Use Tale put together by Eric Faden, professor of Bucknell University. Using various clips from Disney films, Faden explains some of the intricacies of U.S. copyright law. The last "chapter" explains why he chose to use Disney material to make his point. Very fun and very subversive.

Official Description:
Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University created this humorous, yet informative, review of copyright principles delivered through the words of the very folks we can thank for nearly endless copyright terms.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Review: Red Eye, Black Eye by K Thor Jensen

New Yorker K. Thor Jensen goes through a lot in the span of a few short days: the turmoil of 9/11, losing his apartment, getting dumped by his girlfriend and getting fired from his job. While any one of these would depress your average person Jensen takes it as an opportunity. After dubbing himself a professional hobo he buys an Ameripass---a ticket giving him unlimited bus travel for two months---and journeys from New York City to Seattle and back, making stops in just about every major city along the way.


He uses the internet to find people to stay with in each city, turning the bulk of Jensen’s graphic novel/memoir into a collection of vignettes as he retells the stories of the Gen X slackers he stays with. Jensen wisely shies away from idealizing anything or anyone, giving us fabulously odd anecdotes like the woman who keeps an aborted fetus on a necklace pendant and a deadhead who quits following his favorite band. Jensen goes through plenty of adventures of his own as he discovers the local color of each city by hanging out in bars, eating bbq in Kansas City and riding a flaming sofa as it's dragged behind a pick-up truck in Birmingham. Thematically he borrows a lot from Kerouac---always questioning the meaning behind his journey and hoping to discover some hidden truth about himself and the U.S. While it's a little obvious at times it's still an idea Jensen has a lot of fun with.

With its hard outlines and slightly cartoony faces the drawing style appears to have been drawn in the moment, adding to the spontaneous nature of Jensen's story. Jensen skillfully works subtle details into the background lending his adventure memoir an odd sense of realism. I would normally post some images of Jensen's work to illustrate, but his own website offers reproductions of the first 16 pages in much better quality than I can offer here.

The only negative criticism I can really offer is the price. For $19.95 readers might be expecting some over-arching plot line or deep message on the order of Craig Thompson's Blankets. It was originally published as an e-serial, and still reads that way. It's very anecdotal and while that didn't bother me, it might bother other people.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Sometimes Kids Listen

Yesterday I had my first official book talk experience. Giving a book talk, I mean.

About two weeks ago one of the head librarians asked me if I'd be willing to go with Connie, our Young Adult Librarian, to some area middle schools (7th and 8th grade) to book talk graphic novels and talk up some of the programs our library is hosting over the summer. I said I'd love to, and then was asked to prepare a little talk on two titles.

But Friday they said another middle school called, and they wanted us to come there as well. And they wanted us to fill an hour by talking about 5 books each. And they wanted us by Wednesday. So it goes. I picked three more titles, made posters for everything and figured out how I was going to talk about these books to these crazy kids. They specifically asked for a couple of manga titles but I wanted to work in some other things as well. I ended up picking these:

Runaways: Pride and Joy. Story by Vaughan, Brian K.
Leave it to Chance: Shaman's Rain. Story by Robinson, James.
The Prince of Tennis: Volume 1. Story by Konomi, Takeshi.
Full Metal Alchemist: Volume 1. Story by Arakawa, Hiromu.
Elfquest: Volume 1, The Grand Quest. Story by Pini, Wendy and Ricard Pini.


Poster I made to talk about Runaways

Connie and I went in expecting to talk to two groups of about 20 each. When we got there we were told the program was a hit. The first group would be 55 7th graders and the 2nd group would be 85 8th graders. Not quite the comfy little sit down conversation we had in mind, but we adapted.

The 7th graders were great. They listened. They raised their hands to ask questions. And afterwards they came up to us and looked at our handouts and asked more questions. The 8th graders, on the other hand, were there to have fun. They shouted out their questions. Made quips and jokes as we talked. It wasn't that they were bad....just different. All in all, a good time though.

I wasn't quite sure how much they were paying attention until we got a call at the library last night from another branch. A kid who was at the talk was asking about some of the titles we pitched but couldn't remember what they were. Sometimes, I guess, kids do listen.


Friday, June 01, 2007

New Samuel Delany

Author/critic Steven Shaviro has a review for the latest by Samuel Delany, a novel called Dark Reflections. It actually sounds like his best work in some time. I doubt the library I work for will get it, so I'll probably crack open my wallet for this one. Dalany's worth it, though. Even on a grad student's "salary".


Review: Chester Gould: A Daughter's Biography of the Creator of Dick Tracy

I have to admit, I know next to nothing about Chester Gould or his comic strip creation Dick Tracy. Most of what I do know comes from reading a collection my dad had when I was a little kid. And, of course, that wretched, almost unwatchable movie directed by Warren Beatty. But judged fairly, in his own time, Gould both pushed the limits of his art form and gave birth to one of the great icons of comics history.

This biography, based upon interviews conducted just prior to Gould’s death and lovingly written by his daughter and creator of the official Dick Tracy Museum, present the highlights of Gould’s personal and professional life. The book traces all the steps Gould made, tracking his humble beginnings in the rural town of Pawnee, Oklahoma to his early cartoons for college bulletin boards and all the way up to his most prestigious successes and awards.


Early in his career Gould worked hard in contract positions for a number of different papers, working fill-in jobs, political cartoons and even theatre reviews in comic strip form. But Gould’s dream was to write and draw his own strip for the Chicago Tribune. The editors of the Tribune paid him little attention until Gould came to them with the fresh idea of a comic strip illustrating the increasing battles between police and organized crime. This was the 1930’s when this was the sexy topic of the day, a topic that made headlines and launched a style of films that still lingers today. Through serious research, colorful characters and a keen sense of drama the fledgling strip grew into a mainstay of comics that at its height was carried by hundreds of newspapers across the world.

This bio includes dozens of photographs of Gould throughout his life, but the real gems of this book are the black and white reproductions of his artwork. From his childhood drawings to drafts of Dick Tracy strips we witness the evolution of Gould’s art as he continually improved his craft at drawing and storytelling. Serious readers will be disappointed that Gould-O’Connell misses several opportunities for real critical thought. But I don’t think that was her intent. This book was written for fans, and fans will find her unique insider view carries us to a delightful, albeit somewhat light, portrait of a man who succeeded through that rare combination of talent, innovation and hard work.