This Column Has Seven Days #038 // Three Hundred Words of Raw Power

The past seven days have been just full in my area of the world: some pretty dingy lows and some incredible highs. My brain is so ready for my upcoming two-week holiday I spent two hours napping instead of doing anything actually productive, like, say, writing a column. Never one to completely shirk responsibility, I have put together 100-word summaries of three of my favourite pop culture offerings from the past week.

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250px-Seaguy_coverComics: When Grant Morrison & Cameron Stewart’s Seaguy came out, my first impression was that it was incomprehensible but beautiful. It still looks fantastic; Stewart’s art is action-packed and gorgeously illustrated, with panels that feel like subtle homages to artists like Darick Robertson and Dave Stevens. As I’ve gained a little more perspective, though, the story has become clearer, and I was surprised how much sense it made underneath the Morrison “wackiness,” especially in issue two. The book knocked me to my knees on a second read, and I now have a greater appreciation for Seaguy’s inevitable struggle. A must-read book.

Comics: Another comic that is even better with a little distance is Warren Ellis & Colleen Doran’s Orbiter, a love letter to space exploration. In a dystopian future where no one goes to space anymore, a lost space shuttle returns to earth after 10 years, covered in what looks like skin and with only one crew member on board. Yeah, it’s Warren Ellis all right, but there’s a desperate love and yearning here that makes it more than just a “cool experiment.” Doran’s amazing touch with facial expressions give the characters depth and gravity, and Dave Stewart’s colours add a huge punch.

81en7XG7BDL._SL1425_Music: Neko Case’s The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, which is 19 words right there, is a complete powerhouse of an album. The first track “Wild Creatures,” an echoing rocker with lyrics that cut me to the quick, sets up the listener for a deep and soulful listening experience. “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” is another standout; an a cappella track that captures both crushing defeat and powerful affirmation of life. It’s bombastic and brutal, an embarrassment of riches, and eminently re-listenable. In my eyes it’s the highlight of Case’s amazing catalogue.

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I honestly think it was harder to limit myself to exactly 100 words than to have no limits, but that was a fun exercise in brevity (for a change). I’m taking the next two weeks off for Christmas and a skiing trip so until next time, have a freaking blast, everyone. I’ll see you in 21 days.

This Column Has Seven Days #037 // A Piece of Cake

Earlier this week, my a cappella group did our Christmas show and raised money for the Canadian Mental Health Association. It was pretty fun, and pretty disorganized, which probably describes this column fairly well too. At least the disorganized part. I was also on this week’s episode of Doctor Whooch, which was a blast (thanks Danica and Brandon!). It’s been a busy seven days, that’s for sure. Despite a whirlwind week of getting things whipped into shape, I managed a few fun things in my downtime, including re-reading a favourite children’s book with old, jaded eyes.

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The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More

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If my memory serves me — and it probably doesn’t, as I have an absolutely atrocious memory — I probably read Roald Dahl’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More at least three times before the age of 10. It was one of my favourite Roald Dahl books — one of my favourite books period, as a matter of fact. It’s seven short stories that vary in length and topic, and I would always read it from cover to cover in a single day, instead of letting each story sit on its own. I hadn’t read it in over 20 years until this past weekend, but there was something that was calling me to it last week. (Maybe it had a little something to do with the fact that I set myself a challenge of reading 225 books in 2014 and I’m currently at 160.)

When I was only 10 pages in, I thought to myself, “Good lord, I read these stories way too young.” Dahl’s not Kafka, but I feel the best of his stories are the ones that are tinged with his trademark bittersweet despair, and there are definitely layers to these stories that I missed on those first few readthroughs as a kid. These stories would still be fantastic for a 14-year-old, as many of them draw from those senses of not really belonging anywhere or discovering something new inside of yourself that’s terrifying in its power; two things that were defining characteristics of my own adolescence. Reading the stories as an adult, though, they still ring true, even if some of the writing is a little less complicated than the ideas the writer is trying to express.

“The Boy Who Loved Animals” and “The Swan” are two of the most heartbreaking stories in the collection, and the ones that are probably the most loved by the people who love them and despised by everyone else. These are really bleak stories of young boys who are tortured by the actions of people around them, intentionally or not. “The Swan” in particular is a story that is absolutely horrifying: a young boy is bullied beyond belief by two older, bigger boys, and it ends ambiguously enough that present-day Devin felt a chill in his gut. Add that to “A Piece of Cake,” a purportedly true story of Dahl’s time as an airman in World War II that is full of violence, pain, and morphine dreams, and the casual reader could be forgiven for assuming that Dahl’s work on Henry Sugar is basically Hubert Selby, Jr. with training wheels.

There are moments of pure brilliant light, though. “The Hitchhiker” doesn’t really go anywhere but is well-told and a nice light breather in the collection, about a man who picks up a hitchhiker with a very particular skill, who also manages to explain the secret of life (or one of them, anyhow). And of course there is “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar,” the crowning jewel of the book; a story about a selfish aristocrat who accidentally discovers another one of those secrets of life. I have held on to that story in my heart and soul for years, and I was absolutely delighted to find that not only does it hold up, it’s better as an adult.

I know there are people who only know Roald Dahl through that awful adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or the one that Tim Burton did later, which was also awful but not as awful. Dahl’s catalogue is vast and varied, though, and even though it’s technically a children’s book, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More is a great sampling of the man’s talent.

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I managed to do more than simply revisit a bleakly beautiful childhood classic this week, though. Here are a couple other things that grabbed my attention.

Television: I thought that after their third season, AMC’s Western series Hell on Wheels had completely lost its way. That season felt like it was just a long, slow setup getting rid of plots and characters from the second season that didn’t work, and I had lost nearly all the affection and goodwill that I’d had for the series. I finished up the fourth season this weekend and all that place-setting paid off in spades — the show was exciting, with real urgency to the stories and challenging a status quo that was becoming a little stale. New characters were introduced to shake up old dynamics that were getting a little tired, while established characters were put through their paces, transformed, and in some cases, dispatched as the story demanded it. There were times where the dialogue got a little creaky but even with some rough scripts, all the actors put in some of the best work of the series. It’s not a season that one could just jump into and hit the ground running, but for a viewer who had been wondering whether or not the series would ever live up to the potential of the first season, it was a real punch to the gut. In a good way.

Comics: This past week I finished 20th Century Boys Vols. 8 and 9, and even after a long-ish self-imposed break after the seventh issue, the story continues to excite. 20th Century Boys is a manga series that starts off by telling the story of a group of Japanese boys in 1969, hanging out in their secret base, reading comics and stolen porno magazines and listening to rock and roll. They come up with a symbol to represent their group, as well as a fantastical story set in the year 2000 where the boys have to stop a coming global superpocalypse. Then, in the late 1990s, a group calling themselves The Friends appears, using the symbol that the boys created in 1969, plus certain things from their made-up story start happening in real life. That may seem like I just spoiled a great deal of the plot, but that’s actually just the tip of the iceberg. The story expands outwards as it folds in on itself; events that happen in the “future” are immediately juxtaposed with flashbacks to the “past” and each enlightens the other. The art is fantastic, and creator Naoki Urasawa is a master of the almost-reveal, where the reader thinks they are about to get a crucial piece of information but then quickly that reveal is interrupted or shelved, and the story moves on down a different alleyway. I can count the number of manga series I unabashedly love on one hand, and this is one of them. Every time I think it hits a new high, it manages to outdo itself. It’s rock and roll and dystopia and mystery and friendship and that’s quite enough to keep me satisfied.

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And that’ll do it for me this week. Until next time, do whatever you want to do. I’m not your boss. See you in seven days.

Doctor Whooch // Episode 044 // Wooden Octopus (Rockin’ All Night)

In which Brandon drinks to forget.

This week’s episode features special guest Devin R. Bruce (from Scotch and Comics, The Listmakers, This Week Has Seven Days, and Apocalypse Kow!) and a lot of alcohol! Listen as Danica and Brandon talk with Devin after he watches Matt Smith’s first episodes for the first time! Marvel as… something else happens that Brandon doesn’t remember! Swoon as Devin speaks with that sensuous booming voice!

Outro music is “(Rockin’) All Night Long” by Taylor Swift & Bad Lip Reading.

Podcast picture is by GIRL NAMED SHIRL PHOTOGRAPHY

Podcast! The Comics, Episode 148 – Norman Mailer is Dead

Contains Christmas specials!

This episode is brought to you by Wizard’s Comics, home of the best deal on comics in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  Check out their website for a list of the week’s new releases and information on upcoming Magic, The Gathering tournaments, and watch their Twitter account for news and announcements about the shop and its stuff.  You can even use their website to buy digital comics!

Incoming // New Releases Shipping December 10th, 2014

The following titles are scheduled to ship on December 10th, 2014. As always, not all books will get into all stores, and depending on the region you’re in, certain books might have come in a week earlier, or will come in a week later. For reasons, I guess.

This list is pulled from the good folks at Wizard’s Comics and Collectibles – as such, it only features the books they ordered. Head over there where you can see me telling people what to do and how before my last day on December 31st. Also, you can buy comics there, I guess.

Um, Actually // They Can’t All Be Winners

Welcome, “dear” readers, to our newly regular letter column; a series of missives from and to the internet, delivered by a series of tubes. We welcome your comments and questions about anything. We’ll answer you, and at least one of us will take things seriously. Maybe.  Or maybe not!  Who knows.  It’s not like we need you.  We’re doing fine without you, DAD.  We’ve never been better since you left.  No, YOU have a drinking problem.  Let’s see if Brandon actually reads these.

Thank you, internet.

The Weekly Pull // Sex, Dreams and Exploitation

What follows is a look at what I’m actually bringing home with me this week. It’s not an indictment of any comics, so much as it’s a refined focus on the things that bring me joy specifically. To the side, you’ll see the full list of what I’m buying. Below, I’ll be taking a look at a few things in specific detail.

Now, this isn’t (just) an excersize in self-importance – we want to hear what YOU’RE most anticipated reads are this week. Click here for the complete list, and either write a comment there, here or hit us up at Twitter @blogaboutcomics or @variantedmonton!

Can’t Wait for STAR WARS? Try SAGA.

Hey you.

How’s it going?  Maybe you’re new to this site.  Maybe you’re here because you saw Brandon on the local news last Monday  [Ed Note: and if not, catch it here!] and there was this giant, super sexy logo behind him.  And realistically, you probably tried to google that name and discovered it’s the least SEO-friendly name in the world.  I want you to remember that, because it’s going to come up a lot here.

Best of the Week // A Fear of Penises

The Best

by Kurt Busiek, Ben Dewey and Jordie Bellaire
by Kurt Busiek, Ben Dewey and Jordie Bellaire

The presence of a penis in a comic will tell you a lot about a man’s maturity level. For some, it’s just another image, another fact of life. For others, the reaction varies from the shocked to the slightly uncomfortable to the blatantly homophobic and beyond. What I’m saying is, a lot of men react to cartoon penises differently, and that’s a strange thing to know. Such is the life of a comic shop manager.

Best of the Week // Pulling the Trigger

Award 02

Men of Wrath #3
by Jason Aaron and Ron Garney

While Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips diligently populate the industry with crime comics influenced by pulp novels and old Hollywood, Jason Aaron’s been putting together a solid string of tales himself in a slightly different arena. When you hear Aaron talk about his influences, you can sense a certain amount of cowboy in them. I’m not just talking southern influence (though clearly, that is there), I’m talking about tough-as-nails stoic protagonists and tension ratcheting silent stand-offs.

Men of Wrath approaches this type of crime from a decidedly wrong side of the law. It concerns the Rath family, and the seeming fact that the family has just gotten meaner over the years. Aaron and series co-creator Ron Garney take great pains to depict a generational souring that culminates in a confrontation between Ira Rath and his son, who put himself in a bad position by making the right choice at the wrong time. The tension in the comic not only comes from the situation that’s currently unfolding, but from the history of shocking actions the various generations of Raths. You’ve already been shown depictions of men doing the unthinkable, and so you’re left waiting for that trigger to get pulled. In equal measure, you’re wondering what this inherent meanness means for Ira’s son, and if that part of his family history will take root in him in order to survive. A hard crime story about being caught between a choice to be good vs. a history of evil. This series has earned itself our Crime Me A River Award for this week, as I eagerly await the final two parts to get into my hands.

Soon.