This Column Has Seven Days #041 // Boys in Sicktime Want to Write

What a day it has been, what a rare mood I’m in; why it’s almost like I have been recovering from a chest cold. That’s right, earlier in the week I had some kind of weird chest thing which made me hack and cough so much that one of my co-workers told me my voice sounded “sexy like Vin Diesel.” I of course ruined that by immediately saying “I am Groot,” which none of my other co-workers understood, but at least I was pleased by it. Here’s what else I was pleased by this week.

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This Column Has Seven Days #040 // Get Low

This past week has been one of the busiest I’ve had in a long time. It’s all good things, I assure you, and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself, but it has wreaked havoc on my ability to sit still and dive deep into my to-read or to-watch lists. Still, I did manage to find a few hours to read and digest things, and it was time well spent because not only did I manage to check a few things off those lists, but one comic book in particular made me sit up — literally, while I was lounging on the couch — and take notice.

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This Column Has Seven Days #039 // Post-Break Wrap-Up

Hello and welcome back to the column! My vacation was quite the amazing experience, I have to admit, with an especially invigorating ski vacation and spending a lot of time with some of my favourite people. And I even managed to squeeze in a few choice pop culture morsels in the bargain. Here’s what I thought was particularly noteworthy since the last column.

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.

This Column Has Seven Days #035 // Don’t Blame Me, Blame The Superheroes

This week marks the end of November, which also means it’s the end of National Novel Writing Month. That may not mean much to the average reader, but to me it means I can no longer ignore the fact that I have over 10,000 words left to write by the end of Sunday. Because I have strange priorities. Some of my priorities are also reading awesome books, comics or not, and I have three such books to talk about this week.

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This Column Has Seven Days #034 // Indie Lunch Hour

This week started off a little slow on the pop culture front; I watched and read a few things that were “kind of” good but nothing that really set me on fire. By the end of the week, though, I had read a couple self-published comic books that made me sit up and take notice.

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Deadhorse Book One – Dead Birds

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I found Deadhorse Book One – Dead Birds to be a comic that took a little time to warm up. It’s a quirky mystery comic involving a widowed recluse, a teenage kleptomaniac, a deserted Alaskan settlement, a mysterious key, an evil industrialist with a dark secret, an exuberant science fiction fan, and a masked bounty hunter who calls himself Sasquatch. And that’s not even half of it.

(In retrospect, perhaps it wasn’t that the book needed some time to warm up; perhaps it was me.)

This Column Has Seven Days #033 // Houseguest Adventures

Hey everybody. I have been very fortunate to have my best friend in the whole world, the handsome and intelligent Kim Stolz, staying with me since last Friday. He is great and we are spending a lot of time getting some good pop culture in — he’s reading my Avengers comics and we’re watching True Detective (still good, for those of you who are wondering), and he has finally convinced me to watch the first two episodes of each of my Ultraman and Torchwood box sets (both so good so far, in very different ways). This week’s pop culture outings have been a little grazing at the smorgasbord — a few episodes of this, a few issues of that, a few chapters of the other. Still, I managed to dig deep into a few things that I thought were particularly noteworthy.

This Column Has Seven Days #032 – From A Remote Southern Outpost

Sometimes, one travels out of town for work. And sometimes, when one travels out of town for work, like say, to Calgary for a two-day conference, he leaves behind the comics he was planning on writing about for an article. When that happens, one can always be happy that he has experienced a few other fantastic things during the week, and can always revisit those entertaining comics at a later date.