Book Review: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

I resisted reading Alison Bechdel’s “tragicomic”, Fun Homefor a number of years, not because I thought it wouldn’t like it, but because of the people who recommended it–all white professors who dissuaded me from continuing my study of rape. But now that I’ve rejected academia I’m suddenly finding all sorts of things accessible that felt like chores before. I have to admit that I am glad that I waited to read this. I am thankful that I read Fun Home for the pure enjoyment of reading, because, boy, is it enjoyable.

Bechdel’s artistic and narrative style won’t be anything new to those familiar with independent comic artists like Harvey Kietel & R. Crumb or Art Spiegleman, but her story is unique in its politicization. Bechdel intertwines her story with her parents’ individual and collective stories, and roots them all in history without compromising read-/relateability. She humanizes political struggles while making the case for bookishness and autodidacticism. The only thing I found lacking in this book was the dearth of diversity. However, given the autobiographical nature of this story, perhaps that is less a commentary on Bechdel herself, as much as it is an indicator of the generally segregated state of our country.

So, read Fun Home. Buy it for the politically conscious and the comics-lovers alike, but whatever you do, please enjoy it for the well-crafted art it is.

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Book Review: Killing & Dying by Adrian Tomine

I have a soft spot in my heart for Adrian Tomine. C says he finds Tomine’s work depressing, but he’ll read Killing & Dying because his style is that good. This latest book by Tomine is spectacular. 

As always, the stories are funny and bittersweet. I’d like to tell you which was my favorite, but they all served unique purposes that made the book itself seem whole. The art was clean and tight while feeling stylistically multilingual. I took it to bed with the intention of reading one of the six stories, but ended up reading three because each story satiated different needs and represented different perspectives. 

Tomine is not for everyone. His work is thick with nuance and brimming with characters who need love but often lack self-acceptance. His stories are not traditionally happy, but they feel real. More importantly, they contain truth.

As a physical thing, Killing & Dying is a beautiful book. The paper is both heavy and soft. The binding makes for easy reading, and the transparent jacket is beautifully minimalist. 

Truly, Killing & Dying is a work of art.

Book Review: Bitch Planet Book One: Extraordinary Machine

If I’m being totally honest here I have to admit that for the past year I’ve been trying to stay away from comics. During undergrad I was an avid comics fan–making weekly trips to pick up my pull, spending Saturdays bagging and boarding, and acquiring short boxes at a stress-inducing pace. But unlike my wise comic-loving friends, I was a DC fan. Now do you understand why I, an Asian-American, female, gender studies major with previously entrenched trust issues, decided to pursue other non-comic-related hobbies? When those aforementioned sensible comic-loving friends told me I had to check out Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet, I knew it had to be something special.

Bitch Planet is absolutely everything I love about comics. It is campy, dystopian, and allegorical while remaining fun, sharp, and most important of all, humanizing. DeConnick writes a solid script, which is totally enhanced by the the way the art just fits. I’d try to sum up Bitch Planet here, but why bother when you can read this excellent article on what Bitch Planet is and means to people all over? 

As for me, now that I’ve gotten my hands on this book, I’m planning on buying all the issues again electronically and subscribing to the series.

Buy Bitch Planet here and feel grateful comics exist again.

Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye

It’s difficult to write about J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. There’s so much that’s already been said about it, I think it’s far too easy to come across as trite or sentimental. The first time I read The Catcher in the Rye was in high school. I was on a banned books tear, and ended up reading several books (all written by white men, of course) that I find myself returning to from time to time. This most recent reading of Salinger’s best-known book will be my fourth (or fifth?) read through.
I had expected to read this book through the lens of my inward and awkward 14-year-old self. At the same time I also knew that all of those years as a young woman of color and the difficult truths that sometimes come with that social location can rear up, casting a strong line between who I was and who I am. But here I am, having just finished this book again.
I still love it.
Unlike other books I’ve read, this one still retains a quality of being unknowable. Reading this book felt like riding on an airplane. It was an experience that was crafted to be felt a certain way, and most of the time it feels like that—most of the time it feels like flying through the sky sitting in a small chair and eating a tiny bag of even tinier pretzels. But every once in a while you begin to feel all the machinery working all around you to keep you alive and that calls to mind all the people doing all the invisible work that makes it possible for you to get from one place to another. All you can do is marvel at it and feel incredibly lucky to be a witness.
But I digress.
Even though it’s been 16 years since I first read The Catcher in the Rye, I’d say that the biggest difference in that intervening time strictly in terms of reading this book was that I read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. I kept thinking back to The Bell Jar. Isn’t that inevitable in a way? Both books explore white, teenage, middle-/upper-class mental health and both rely on narrators who have been institutionalized. It’s interesting to think about how desperation is manifested differently in separate places and times. I was desperate when I first picked up The Catcher in the Rye, and reading about some rich boy in the 1940’s having the same feelings and thoughts I had made me feel both infinitely more alone and more connected. Reading it now, reading it older, some of those feelings were still there, but mostly they’ve been replaced by a kind of tenderness for Holden’s hurt and misunderstanding.
The Catcher in the Rye reminded me that hurt is hurt and that often the best gift is our ability to listen.

Book Review: Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments

Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments by Kent M. Keith

This lovely inspiration book would make a great gift in nearly any situation. In it are Keith’s “Paradoxical Commandments” that promise to help the reader find meaning. They are basically calls to empathy and ways to help the reader interact more compassionately with others while staying true to who they are. Keith provides personal examples, and there is absolutely nothing objectionable or even outside of what major world religions teach.

Personally, I picked this book up in an attempt to find some answers to interpersonal rough spots I’ve been having recently. This book did not provide any specific answers, but I wasn’t expecting it to. Rather, I was expecting gentle reminders and ways of understanding situations I found frustrating. In that sense, this book fulfilled my expectations.

 

Bottom line: I would highly recommend this book. It is short, light, and generous—a truly remarkable tome.

Book Review: Doc Unknown Vol. 1

I’ve almost always found value in savoring good experiences. As Emmanuel Levinas, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and countless others have expressed more thoroughly and more eloquently than I ever could, it’s these small instances of sensory enjoyment that feed and sustain us as we move through life. The need for something to look forward to is the sole reason it took me three weeks to finish reading Fabian Rangel Jr. & Ryan Cody’s Doc Unknown Vol. 1: The Secret of Gate City.

April was just shy of being completely soul sucking for me. There was some bad news, and just a bunch of weird, petty stuff happened and continued to happen. I needed a palate-cleanser for my life—something that would help restore my faith in right and wrong and remind me of the amazing things people can be capable of. Enter Doc Unknown. And after a week of white knuckling it, I turned to the first page and could not help but smile.

Doc Unknown is comics at its best. It’s noir. It’s conspiracy theories. It’s mysticism. It’s gangsters and martial arts. It’s a great story with compelling characters portrayed in a bold, cohesive style. And, it accomplishes all of this while being totally independent.

Generally at this point in the review, I’d write about representation. So here it is: Absolutely do not rule this book out because of the way the protagonist looks. Doc Unknown is special because it does what so few books do successfully—it suspends all belief. Rangel Jr. and Cody have crafted a world that entices the reader into to rolling with the fantastic, and the payoff is enormous.

Doc Unknown is special—the first panel of the first issue makes that apparent. I purposely put off reading the last issue in this volume so that I would have it when I truly needed it. And now that I’m done? Now that it looks like things in my life are beginning to turn around? Well, now I have Doc Unknown Vol. 2: Winter of the Damned and Other Tales and Boss Snake: Cold Blood, Cold Streets to enjoy.

 

Bottom line: Do you like good things, want to support independent comics, and have $4? Doc Unknown Vol. 1: The Secret of Gate City could be yours right now.

Book Review: Captain Marvel Volume 1

Captain Marvel Volume 1: In Pursuit of Flight written by Kelly Sue DeConnick with art by Dexter Soy.

Authors like Kelly Sue DeConnick and artists like Dexter Soy and Emma Rios are why I started reading superhero comics. DeConnick’s Captain Marvel has everything: friendship, the struggle to find and define self, WWII-era fights with spaceships, time travel, a heist, underdogs overcoming, and so much more. What’s more, Captain Marvel is totally relatable while simultaneously remaining aspirational. She’s smart and strong, but she struggles with the past. DeConnick’s storytelling abilities would still be impressive regardless of artist, but in the hands of Soy and Rios (respectively), Captain Marvel becomes outstanding. Both Soy and Rios have very different styles, and changing artists can be jarring if one artist is weaker than the other. Happily, that is not the case here. Soy and Rios both bring their own interpretations and thus their own energy into this series, so the differences in style are refreshing.

Bottom line: Buy this book. It’s fun, compelling, and thoughtful—a unique trio to be sure. And, resist pigeonholing it because it’s a superhero book. You won’t be doing yourself any favors if you pass this one up.