- Posted by Johanna on June 30, 2014 at 8:16 am
- Category: Digital and Webcomics
Jim Ottaviani, known for his scientist biographies Feynman, Primates, and Dignifying Science, among others, is back with a new one. The Imitation Game is the story of Alan Turing, the “father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence”. Best of all, right now, you can read it for free at Tor.com. As Ottaviani describes it,
Flying at the head of Churchill’s flock was Alan Turing, the mathematician who cracked the German Enigma code. That alone would be enough to secure his place in history, but before the war he launched modern computer science via his creation of the Universal Turing Machine, and after the war he created what is now known as the Turing Test, a benchmark for artificial intelligence. He called his test ‘The Imitation Game’.
He was also openly gay in a time and place where gays were treated criminally. And not just metaphorically — he killed himself with a cyanide-tainted apple after being convicted of homosexuality and forced to undergo estrogen treatment.
Our world is one of computers and secure communications, and Turing’s work is at the heart of both. He was an eccentric genius, an Olympic-class runner, a witty and clear communicator about complicated ideas, and open and honest to a fault. The secret he kept to safeguard his country could have saved him; the secret he refused to keep to save himself meant his destruction at the hands of that same country.
As with Suspended in Language, the story of Niels Bohr, this one is illustrated by Leland Purvis. I thought the story was strongest if you already knew some of the details of Turing’s life, since Ottaviani’s story can err on the side of subtlety — although maybe I just miss seeing the endnotes that usually are included in his books. Perhaps for the print version, whenever it appears. Regardless, Ottaviani does an excellent job bringing out the emotions and character of those engaged in scientific advancement.
- Posted by Johanna on August 6, 2013 at 8:22 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: edited by Matt Dembicki
- PUBLISHER: Fulcrum Publishing; $24.95 US
This anthology, edited by Matt Dembicki (Mr. Big), is accurately subtitled “An Unconventional History of Washington, DC”. District Comics is a collection of comic stories telling fact-based tales of little-known history of the area. Even beyond the subject matter, most pieces also have at least one creator living in DC.
This is a book full of fascinating discoveries, true stories you’ve never heard before. Some cover expected subjects, given the area, such as wars, politics, and baseball:
- The human toll of the Civil War, as shown through excerpts from Walt Whitman’s journal, illustrated by Max Ink.
- The Washington Nationals baseball team, on a travel tour, by Jason Rodriguez and Charles Fetherolf.
- An attempted Presidential assassination by Art Haupt and Rafer Roberts (whose unique style oddly makes Truman and the other characters look like munchkins).
- A spy meeting in a bar by Joe Carabeo and Carolyn Belefski.
- Peter S. Conrad’s story of a wrongly accused mole is disturbing, all the more so because it doesn’t really end.
- The pandas! Steve Loya draws cute bears.
Gregory Robison and Brooke A. Allen start the book off right with the story of Washington’s first newspaper, a wonderfully illustrated piece that also manages to capture the confusion of building a new city and the business scams and jockeying that go along with it.
I was also glad to see Chad Lambert and Kevin Czapiewski’s early take on Benjamin Banneker, a talented genius who recreated the city’s plans after L’Enfant departed with them. That he was a free black man in 1792 emphasizes that this book is going to depart from the usual histories by focusing on stories we don’t usually hear in the approved, school-taught versions.
Several of the stories left me wanting more. The tale of Stephen Decatur (by Kevin Rawlings and Dale Rawlings), for example, the naval commissioner who ultimately died in a duel with his former mentor, could have been a graphic novel on its own. Decatur couldn’t let go of an argument. He couldn’t let someone else rant without worry for his own reputation, an attitude I immediately understood from seeing the same thing happen on the internet — only without the deadly ending.
I was thrilled to learn about Lavinia “Vinnie” Ream, an eighteen-year-old who created the Capitol’s sculpture of Abraham Lincoln and was the first woman to be government-commissioned for such a project, as told by Tabitha Whissemore and Mike Freiheit with moody painted art. I’d also never heard of the Bonus Army, a group of veterans trying to collect on the government’s promises of support, although Michael Cowgill and Rand Arrington can’t provide a happy ending to an event that concluded in such fashion.
Rebecca Goldfield and Paul W. Zdepski’s piece on Keith Clark, the bugler who played “Taps” at John F. Kennedy’s funeral, illustrates how the stories we tell ourselves, revising history to meet our expectations of how things should work, can be more powerful than the reality, a collection of mistakes and bureaucratic bungles that don’t allow an artist to stand up for himself.
The story connecting the design of the DC subway with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial by Jim Ottaviani and Nick Sousanis was touching and unexpected. It’s a great piece that does some really creative work with the comic medium, showing designs arising around the characters, as well as elegantly capturing the story behind an essential piece of the city, its Metro. My favorite in the book.
There are editorial notes on each story that help put them in context and provide more background information that I found helpful and informative. District Comics is a wonderful journey through a uniquely American area. (The publisher provided a review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on May 1, 2013 at 10:32 pm
- Category: Shopping Guide
Two great books out today, both creatively inspiring in very different ways.
|Will & Whit||Feynman (now in paperback)|
|by Laura Lee Gulledge||by Jim Ottaviani & Leland Myrick|
|Amulet Books, $12.95||First Second, $19.99|
Notes on a few other releases: If you’re a Twilight fan, you’ll likely want to see the next chapter told as a graphic novel. Yen Press has released New Moon: The Graphic Novel ($19.99), part one, as a hardcover. If you’re not already a fan, there’s no need to start with this part of the bigger story, and the art is serviceable, not outstanding.
Archaia is tackling an odd cross-cultural project — in July, they’re releasing a Cyborg 009 graphic novel, a retelling of Shotaro Ishinomori’s manga written by F.J. DeSanto and Bradley Cramp. As a sneak peek, today they’re putting out the first 17 pages as “Chapter 000″, a one-shot for a dollar. It’s not all that satisfying on its own, but it’s intended to simply be a teaser, introducing you to the (somewhat familiar) elements of a guy enhanced into a powered cyborg fighter by a mysterious group. He then teams up with others like him to fight back. The art, by Marcus To, is attractive, more superhero than manga. There’s too many characters to get a sense of any of them, but the background material, interviewing DeSanto and providing some history of the property, is informative. I was intrigued enough to consider reading the full story when the whole book is available, drawn by the art.
- Posted by Johanna on April 28, 2013 at 5:49 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: written by Jim Ottaviani; art by Leland Myrick
- PUBLISHER: First Second; $29.99 US
Even though I had heard many of the incidents in the life of physicist Richard Feynman, I found this graphic novel biography by true-science comic writer Jim Ottaviani and accomplished cartoonist Leland Myrick surprisingly affecting, particularly when it came to the story of his wife Arline.
Much of the material will be familiar to readers of Feynman’s biographies, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?, but seeing the incidents play out visually gives them new life. If you aren’t familiar, Feynman will be particularly inspiring, as it demonstrates how marvelous the universe is, particularly with the right attitude. Reading through it made me wish I’d stayed in the sciences, especially physics, because Feynman makes it all look fascinating and fulfilling. He got successful enough that he could concentrate on what he found fun, making discoveries along the way. Not a bad way to go about things!
Feynman had amazing accomplishments — he participated in the Manhattan Project in New Mexico, lectured in front of Einstein, graduated MIT and Princeton, won the Nobel Prize, investigated the Challenger disaster — but also impressive is his attitude, demonstrated from a young age, of curiosity and an unwillingness to be cowed by authority and the inclination to question almost everything. I also loved his devotion to teaching (an area many universities tolerate at best) and his insistence that science needed to be able to be explained to lay people.
Ottaviani excerpts many of Feynman’s public speeches and writings, so the book has plausibility and authenticity. It also has heart, as Feynman struggles first to marry Arline and then to live with her in spirt of his work and her sickness. That part made me cry, so I was glad for the sillier stories about safecracking and learning art and hanging out at the beach.
- Posted by Johanna on April 2, 2013 at 10:34 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: written by Jim Ottaviani; art by Maris Wicks
- PUBLISHER: First Second; $19.99 US
This science biography about three anthropologists who lived with primates is astounding. I’ve heard of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey before, but I didn’t realize just what they accomplished. This story brings their discoveries to life.
In 1960, Goodall lived in Africa for a long-term observation of chimpanzees. It’s a good thing that she didn’t mind spending a lot of time alone, doing nothing but watching animals, because she discovered them using tools. That was a revelation, since until that time, it was thought only humans could do so. In 1971, Biruté Galdikas was the first to closely observe wild orangutans. Dian Fossey wanted to see mountain gorillas, and her writing allowed her to get to Rwanda, where she also fought poachers, ultimately leading to her death.
Maris Wicks’ art is nicely simple. It makes me happy to read about these people and monkeys; they’re cute, but their experiences are also clear and inspiring. I’ve only read one of her comics before (Yes, Let’s), but I’ll be on the lookout for anything else she does in future. She does great work with the various apes and their behaviors, so important to a book about observing them.
Jim Ottaviani, on the other hand, has been writing about scientists for years, but his clear explanations bring historical figures to life as people. He’s very good at picking out telling moments that are often quite funny, as when the mentor of all three, Louis Leakey, grades his own exam in college. From the portrayal here, he was quite the impulsive man, selecting women without classic training because he thought they’d do better and be more patient. I’m curious to read more of his story sometime.
That’s not the only way that this book is a starting point. To make it okay for younger readers (I suspect), some of the details (like what happened to Fossey at the end of her life or the malady Galdikas suffered) are handwaved or glossed over. But then, to talk about the lives of three women and their accomplishments in under 140 pages must have been a struggle in itself. Still, what’s here is inspiring.
Primates can be ordered from your comic shop with Diamond code APR13 1147. It’s due out in early June. There are preview pages at the publisher’s website, and their blog has a great book walkthrough. (The publisher provided a review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on September 29, 2009 at 8:06 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: written by Mark Schultz; illustrated by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon
- PUBLISHER: Hill and Wang; $14.95 US
When I saw The Stuff of Life: A graphic guide to genetics and DNA, I thought it would be another great book in the genre. Heck, it was both blurbed by Hosler and illustrated by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon, who previously worked with Ottaviani on two books, T-Minus: The Race to the Moon and Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards. Unfortunately, I was severely disappointed.
First, I found the premise silly. The framing sequence has an alien named Bloort 183 reporting on human genetics to the king, Floorsh 727. Aliens with goofy names? Ok, maybe they wanted something visually interesting, since this is a comic. Nope. The aliens are stalks with a flower on top with an eye in the middle. They’re lumpy and boring.
They feature in a very text-heavy, yawn-inducing introduction. Why does a book on genetics start with the formation of the planet Earth? I thought I was in the wrong volume. The overwritten text doesn’t work well as comics — the pictures illustrate the words instead of integrating with them. The art is quite good, actually; it’s a shame that the small size of the book and the copious amounts of text don’t show it off better.
By the time they start the genetics information, they’re throwing concepts, facts, and specialized terms at the reader rapidly. The alien nattering becomes a distraction instead of a way into the pile of jargon.
I’m not sure who the audience for this is. Younger readers will be put off by the relatively advanced vocabulary. Older readers (college level, for example) will likely find the comedy aliens too silly. I only made it 25 pages into the 150-page book before I gave up — it was making me sleepy. I will say, flipping through the rest, it seems very thorough and in-depth in covering its subject, but I was too bored to continue. There’s an excerpt at the publisher’s website if you want to see more.
- Posted by Johanna on June 21, 2009 at 4:10 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
This benefit anthology (proceeds go to RS Eden, a substance abuse treatment facility in Minneapolis) is loosely themed, keeping with the title. The ghost approach was reinforced by the first piece, an odd wordless thing with small pen-and-ink drawings by someone called Hob featuring the ghost of a brontosaurus (or whatever they’re calling long-necked dinosaurs these days). It sets things off with a good tone. Other stories are less connected, being only about memories, or losing a loved one.
Pieces that stood out to me: Maris Wicks draws cute little formless ghosts in a short series of funny strips about living in a haunted house. (Turns out she’s illustrating Jim Ottaviani’s upcoming book from First Second about women who worked with monkeys, which means I’m now looking forward to it even more.) Lucy Knisley contributes a story about going to an outlet mall and passing by the boarding school she once attended, but I’d already read it in one of her books. Jessica McLeod‘s story, featuring the ghosts of dead tomato plants, was adorable.
Some of the stories are little more than doodles, with the kind of scratchy naive art I’ve given up reading. Others appear intended for somewhere else (the Japanese folktale, the knight slaying a beast). The editor’s piece, about music-driven memories, also appears in Side B (see below).
A practical note: the table of contents lists only the artists’ names. The stories themselves may have a title or may have nothing at all. All entries in an anthology should have the story title and author’s name clearly listed in the same format whenever the stories change, and so should the table of contents. Since so many contributors to these kinds of projects may not be well-known to the readers, full identification should be used in all cases. Without it, I had to flip back and forth between story and table of contents to see who’d drawn what I was reading.
edited by Jeff Yang, Parry Shen, Keith Chow, and Jerry Ma
New Press, 200 black-and-white pages, $21.95 US
This Asian American Superhero Anthology has an admirable purpose — to address under-representation of Asians in comics and demonstrate the abilities of Asian American creators — but the results are too often uneven.
Some of the characters are utterly generic, heroes that have nothing to recommend them beyond their ethnicity. Other stories were barely a prologue, just establishing a premise or introducing cast members when they ended. (The best of this bunch is The Citizen, by Greg Pak and Bernard Chang, which features President Obama activating an Asian American hero to kill Nazis. It’s of a distinctly more professional level in both art and writing than some of the other pieces.) Instead of a showcase, sometimes this seemed like a pitch book, a try-out for getting more work.
The history-influenced section, “War and Remembrance”, is the longest in the book and the best. Some stories focused on downturns of oppression, especially during the section set during the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. I don’t dispute those feelings, but it’s a bit weird to see stories that demonstrate no hope, no view for a better future, especially those set in the past. I would think that the existence of this book serves as a small counter-argument for that view.
It seemed to me that some of the heavily shaded entries were designed for color reproduction, and the result when printed without was dark, muddy, and hard to read. There is a short color section, but it’s used for character profiles, a kind of who’s who of ideas for other comics.
I liked the revisionist take on the Green Hornet by Gene Yang and Sonny Liew called “The Blue Scorpion and Chung”. It’s got a drunken racist crimefighter and his hard-working chauffeur, and it’s really about the despair of sacrifice.
There’s one section dedicated to “Girl Power”, either female creators or characters or both. Lynn Chen and Paul Wei tell a folklorish story dealing with body image that was a pleasant change of pace while still keeping with the theme. “Sampler”, by Jimmy Aquino and Erwin Haya, is an odd piece about superpowered costumes with a distinct look that suits its fashion focus. The rest of the book is as typically male-dominated as other superhero comic projects and companies, with women showing up as girlfriends or scantily clad superheroines when they appear at all.
The strips I enjoyed most were those that directly addressed the problem of representation and spoke to individual experience. For instance, Tak Toyoshima’s one-pager where his character Secret Asian Man talks with Larry Hama. Or the page where Greg Pak talks about his goals, art by A.L. Baroza. (The writer is credited as Keith Chow; there are two more of these short interview pages in the book, talking with Gene Yang & Michael Kang and Greg Larocque.) I wish there had been a lot more of this kind of material, but that would have been a different book, one about the work of Asian American creators, without the superhero hook.
Side B: The Music Lover’s Comic Anthology
edited by Rachel Dukes
Poseur Ink, 232 black-and-white pages, $22.99 US
As with Ghost Stories, I would have liked to have seen a design element introducing each story with a title and author, but at least here, most of the stories do that themselves. The theme, comics about music, is a great one, as well as immensely challenging. You can’t convey sound through a silent paper medium, so the artists must instead cover the emotions raised.
I was generally impressed by the high quality of the work here. Even with the pieces where I didn’t care for their chosen style, I could see skill underneath (as opposed to the “I drew better than this in 4th grade” feeling I sometimes get in these cases).
Brian Butler had an interesting collage-like piece about life as an indie band. Dominique Ferland’s two-pager about meeting in a club says it all in a short space. Joshua Rosen starts out talking about having to come up with an idea for a comic music anthology (boo! to too much self-referentiality) but it turns into a piece about how music matters differently to us as we age. Elizabeth Gearhart’s accomplished lines and toning illustrate the story of an opera singer’s ghost and a cat told in verse! Impressive and cute!
Many of the pieces are semi-autobiographical, or seem that way. I liked the approach, since made the book feel like hanging out chatting with friends. Lucy Knisley ponders technology changing our musical memories (and this one I hadn’t read before). Katie Shanahan talks about having tastes outside of the usual, open-mindedness, and acceptance. Cindy Hui and Joe Laquinte share family memories in an imaginative piece that uses comic symbolism to capture emotion. Andy Jewett remembers home taping from the radio; it brought back strong memories for me, and the urge to find my old homemade cassettes. Jamie Campbell has two pages on music in soundtracks, combining with visuals. Megan Rose Gedris’ piece on muses helped me understand why some young comic makers are also into other arts.
Other contributors you might recognize are Jeffrey Brown, Todd Webb, Jim Mahfood, and Ryan Kelly. There’s music as proposal, music as elegy, music as lifesaver. Several of the pieces, as expected, are about favorite songs, bands, or albums. Only two mention downloading in any way, which surprised me. (One’s about the Rock Band video game, which was cool.) Then again, many of the stories are about memory, and online music is still relatively new. With stories about record shops, mixtapes, and listening to entire albums, the book is almost a time capsule of how things used to be. Lawrence Gullo’s “Summer 1968″ sums it up: music is about freedom.
So far, the best anthology I’ve read this year. Get a copy and see for yourself.
- Posted by Johanna on June 10, 2009 at 7:47 am
- Category: Comic News
This year, I went to the MoCCA Art Festival in New York City for the first time. (So, of course, this was the show everyone was complaining about. It was always better before.) Overall, it was a great experience, even though I was an idiot for flying up, going to the show, and flying back all in one day. (I’m too old to be awake from 4 AM through 1:30 AM the next day.)
A Slow Start and Other Problems
The show opened over an hour late. Explanations varied: cash registers weren’t there, badges weren’t there, publishers’ books weren’t there. The organizers extended closing time an hour, but that didn’t help people, like me, who had evening appointments they couldn’t miss. It totally bollixed up the programming schedule, too. I heard someone saying that the experienced show folks left the sponsoring museum organization last year, so the organizers may have had to re-learn some skills.
I had had breakfast beforehand with Ed, Rivkah, and her friend Matt Bernier, also an artist. (His minicomic Out of Water, the story of a boy and a dolphin based on a Greek myth, reminded me of Craig Thompson’s Goodbye Chunky Rice. He’s also contributed to Flight 5.) That was good, because I was fortified for the delay, and they were wonderful to talk with as we waited. I’m eagerly awaiting Rivkah’s next book, a huge autobiographical tale about coming to recognize when a relationship is bad for you and how to escape.
And who should appear in line behind us but Douglas Wolk! We’ve both contributed to the same two websites, but I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him before. Later, I also met Rick Marshall while chatting with Gary Tyrrell during a much-needed rest break. Otherwise, the show was big enough that I didn’t find anyone I hoped to bump into. It was definitely a place to make arrangements and phone calls instead of relying on chance.
Once we got in, the show was much warmer than I expected, which meant that promotional postcards came in very handy as substitute fans. There was no air conditioning in one big barn-like room, although I’m told that it was much improved over last year’s upstairs sweatbox.
I was also disappointed by the lack of identifying table numbers. Many of the artists I was interested in finding had been diligent about posting where they’d be, and I noted down the numbers… but digits were nowhere to be seen on the tables themselves, and it was very hard to see where one table stopped and another started, so counting was impossible.
Oh, and because I kept tiring myself out, I didn’t check out any programming, although Ed did. He’ll have a post later.
Some of the books I was most looking forward to buying were by Lucy Knisley. I have fallen in love with her art. Pretty Little Book is, like Radiator Days, a collection of journal comics, but in color this time! (Which means it’s the same price for fewer pages, but oh so pretty. And funny.) I also got Heart Seed Snow Circuit, her graduate school application project, a large-format comic with a talking apple, snowman, and refrigerator who discuss hunger, passion, and creation, all with food undertones (as I’ve come to expect in Knisley’s work). Thought-provoking and inspirational. Although an essay in comic form, the unusual characters are well-cartooned and keep the reader interested.
Probably my favorite is Drawn to You, a collaborative comic by Lucy with Erika Moen. They each drew themselves, sending pages back and forth online. It’s like reading a combination interview and letter series. They discuss why they do autobiographical comics, gender distinctions, sexuality, and compliment each other. It’s fascinating, in part because it stays so interesting even though it’s just two representations talking.
I also picked up these great-looking titles, which I haven’t had a chance to read yet:
- Johnny Hiro, collecting the three previous issues with a lot more
- Lamar Abrams’ Remake, which looks like silly action fun
- Side B, a music-themed anthology
- Ghost Comics, a benefit anthology out of Minnesota
- Undertow, a story about not fitting in the 1950s. Author Ellen Lindner now lives in England, which I found fascinating.
Top of my list for minicomics were new issues of Jumbly Junkery by L. Nichols. I was complaining about non-descript covers on earlier issues, so I was tickled to see the day-glo pink skeleton on yellow background on the new #7. That’s certainly not going to be overlooked!
The longest story in #6 really touched me, too. It’s about scientists inventing a time machine, and in the future, the traveler discovers that souls can be measured by quantum physics and as a result, science and religion have become one. As someone else who gave up the hard stuff for creative functions, I could really identify.
Cathy Leamy (Geraniums and Bacon) put out “Greenblooded: An Introduction to Eco-Friendly Feminine Hygiene”, which I had to have just because of the unique subject matter. She’s right, no one talks about this stuff. I learned a lot. Not willing to give up traditional products for the alternatives, but it’s good to know they’re out there.
Tim Kelly caught my eye because he had a puppet named Max the Meanie. He draws comics about it. He also has done diary comics about his daughter, who has autism, so we talked about the manga With the Light, which covers the same subject.
(I have a lot more to talk about, but that will have to be a second post, since I’m over 1500 words here already.)
Raina Telgemeier had postcards promoting the collection of Smile, due out in February. The cover takes a minimal approach, featuring a smiley face wearing braces. I can’t wait to read the whole story!
Hope Larson’s new book, Mercury, will also be out in 2010. I know nothing about it except for the intriguing postcard image she had, but it’s by her, so I’ll buy it.
Matt Loux, who looked younger than I expected (but then so did everyone), told me the third volume of his Salt Water Taffy series, The Truth About Dr. True, is due out a little later than expected, probably September.
I missed saying hi to Neil Kleid, although NBM had promo booklets for his upcoming book The Big Kahn. It’s a nice presentation with a substantial chunk of story, and it worked — I want to read more.
I closed the visit with a very nice sushi dinner at Japonica with my brother and sister-in-law. I like coming back to family after comic shows, because it grounds me.
On the way back to the airport, I wound up sitting next to a young woman who leaned over and gave me information about a subway stop. I asked her, “how could you tell I was a tourist?” She replied, “You smiled at me.”
My very deepest thanks to Jim Ottaviani, for giving me a place to sit when I really needed it.
Reading other people’s reports, I feel like there was so much I missed. Heck, Ed and I came away with almost totally different stacks of reading material. (Time to swap and share!) I don’t mind — I’d rather leave wanting more than feel burned out early — but I wish the environment had been more conducive to browsing (lower temperature, places to sit down, easier table navigation).
The biggest problem I saw at the show was that of pricing. Minicomics are more often $5 than $1, and books start about $15. Which means it’s a lot harder to sample widely (unless people pay attention to the press badge, which is the only reason I came back with as much as I did). I spent $60 right off the bat on must-haves (six books), which made me pickier afterwards. With news that table fees are increasing to $400 next year, I fear for what that means — artists will have to have higher-priced items just to have a chance to make a profit. For a normal visitor paying a $10-15 entry fee just to have a chance to shop, this becomes a pricey weekend.
The biggest hope I saw was that there is no reason to fear for the future of comics. All these young creative people were almost too much for one huge room. It’s astounding, what’s being done out there, and even though I exhausted myself physically, I feel energized by it all.