March by John Lewis

marchtrilogy960x510

March, books 1, 2, and 3
written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
illustrated by Nate Powell
2013, 2015, 2016

John Lewis is a g**d*** hero and every school child should learn his story and every adult should know it. That’s my take away from these books. I am embarrassed at how much of these events I didn’t previously know.

These books were both heart-wrenching and inspirational, made all the more so by the starkness of the story telling. Lewis is not specifically trying to be heart-wrenching or inspirational, he’s just telling the story. And the story is intrinsically heart-wrenching and inspirational.

John Lewis felt, feels, so strongly about achieving what is right that he knowingly walked into situations where he could be killed, refusing to physically fight back, and instead demanding that the world be better than it was through acts of faith and friendship in the face of hatred and anger. That takes levels of courage that I can’t really comprehend and yet want so much. He wanted to live and yet was willing to risk his life to accomplish something because, live or die, succeed or fail, just the attempt would be worth it.

That is a freaking hero.

These books are autobiographical and nonfiction. They give the reader a look at a specific part of history that often gets glossed over in the textbooks. But it’s important history, in part because it’s still ongoing. These events were only some fifty years ago and John Lewis is still alive and working today. And the issues he dealt with are still being dealt with today as well. These books make you think. They don’t necessarily tell you what to think, but they show you events that require thought.

So read them.

Read them now.

Something that gets to me about modern politics is how scared people are. Trump’s supporters want to cower behind a wall, protected from anyone and everything different from them. Trump’s detractors are terrified that he’s going to either kill them outright for being different or force them into a poor homogenous society cowering behind a wall. (I’m over simplifying, but I stand by the summary.)

John Lewis’s life is a testament against that level of fear. He could face fear and not let his warp who he was or change him into someone he didn’t want to be. Everyone should learn that lesson.

Another thing that struck me in these books was how evil some of the white people were. It’s generally not covered in text books, but it’s still historical fact—and not even all that historical. But there were just ordinary citizens who were also monsters and they raised their kids to be monsters. They went out of their way to kill, spread misery and spew anger.

It has occurred to me before that there is a level of cognitive dissonance in this type of violent racism, that clearly shows that the racists know themselves to be in the wrong and lying to themselves. True-believer racists go the white-man’s-burden route. But by violently trying to create a society that they consider to be natural, they demonstrate just how unnatural it really is.

These books also got me thinking about how methods change and evolve in every war as both sides learn how best to attack and defend. In the 1960s, the civil rights leaders made being jailed work for them by overfilling the jails and refusing to pay bail, forcing the cities to take the expense.

Unfortunately, racists have evolved since then and have turned the jail system into a for-profit venture and they benefit off the number of black bodies they imprison.

I’m reminded of the story of Jesus turning the other cheek. It’s often seen as purely an act of humility, but that’s because not many people know the cultural implications of Jesus story. Left and right hands were seen very differently, as were open handed slaps and backhanded slaps. Jesus wasn’t merely submitting to being slapped again, he was changing the situation so that the person slapping him faced a very different set of options.

I’m not sure what the modern version should be, but I do know that it needs to change with the times.

And a final thought:

One of the things that I find difficult with any civil rights movement is that I can never do enough, and so I become paralyzed and wind up doing nothing. But Lewis makes the point with this story, the story of his life and the lives the people he worked with, that no one person can do everything and that’s okay. Because you do what you can, don’t do what you can’t, and rely on others to do what they can. Civil rights, all politics for that matter, isn’t a single sprint: it’s a marathon and a relay. You work together and you go for the long run, and you pass the baton back and forth. You have some wins and you have some devastating losses, but hopefully over the course of years and decades you wind up with more achievements than setbacks. And that is a message that is always important, but especially important in today’s political scene.

Gods’ Man by Lynd Ward

Lynd_Ward_(1929)_Gods'_Man_coverGods’ Man: A Novel in Woodcuts
by Lynd Ward
1929

I ran across a reference recently to the wordless novel as a genre that flourished in the 1920s and 1930s. Somehow, I had never run across this before (although I have a couple of picture books that are completely wordless and are awesome) so I decided I needed to check it out. According to Wikipedia, Gods’ Man is one of the preeminent examples of the genre, and I can absolutely see why.

The illustrations really are gorgeous. Some examples are:

Gods_Man_sun_image and Lynd_Ward_(1929)_Gods'_Man_-_surrounded_by_wineglasses

lw_gm025 and lyndwardwife

Just really gorgeous.

The story line is… very 1920s-1930s. A young man, an artist, comes from over the seas to the big city. He’s a kind soul who the fat cats of the city toast and celebrate. He falls in love, but she loves only money! He is distraught and sinks into despair, and is finally chased out of the city, barely making his escape. In the countryside he finds a wonderful woman who nurses him back to health and is all that is wonderful. They are very happy together, except there is no escaping the evil of the big city and all things must end (in a very melodramatic way).

I highly recommend it.

I also think it’s particularly funny that the only words in the entire book (aside from the various title pages), is the name of the inn where our protagonist stays when he first arrives in the city. The sign is legible and reads: “Slink Inn Eat” (Hahahaha!)

I think I like the genre overall. The other wordless books I have are Zoom by Istvan Banyai, which is bright and modern and surreal, and Christmas! and Rain, both by Peter Spier, which are sweet and adorable and heartwarming. I love them all.

Preacher

By Garth Ennis

PreacherI’ve been looking forward to the tv show “Preacher” for a while before it premiered last month on AMC. I’d never read the comic book, but I think Dominic Cooper is extremely handsome and just needs to be in more shows and movies in general.

The first episode was a fun, over-the-top mishmash of a western, gritty noir, religious horror, and violent comic book action, all of which are things I like. Dominic Cooper, playing the titular preacher Jesse Custer, was as attractive as expected. Ruth Negga plays Jesse’s ex-girlfriend Tulip, and is so witty and lovely that she steals every scene she’s in. The plot was fairly disjointed, but that’s not terribly unusual for a pilot episode, and the second episode had smoother pacing as well more Tulip, which will always be a good thing.

Preacher2For people unfamiliar with the basic premise, Jesse Custer is a preacher in a small Texas town with a dwindling faith and congregation. In the middle of a lackluster sermon, he gets struck by a supernatural entity, which bestows on him the Voice of God, allowing him to command absolute obedience. Any person’s use of this power is clearly problematic, and sets Jesse up as a pretty classic anti-hero. Rebecca pointed out that this is the precise power abused by the terrifying villain Kilgrave in “Jessica Jones.”

Anyway, I was enjoying the show enough that I decided to go back and read the comic books, written by Garth Ennis. Now, I’m a big fan of Ennis, who wrote Hitman, one of my favorite comic series, which I’ll need to review some other time, but I have not been impressed with the Preacher comic series. In the written series, Jesse is not only an anti-hero, but just an all-around dick. He has a really annoying stereotypical masculinity that is a real pain in the ass to read about. To complement this, Tulip is a whiny pushover who I have trouble even understanding, let alone empathizing.

I was complaining about this to the coworker who had lent me his Preacher comics to read, and he had an interesting theory about it. He said that he figured that Ennis was satirizing Texas good-ole-boy culture. The only problem with that is that Northern-Irish Ennis has no idea what he’s talking about. While Texas misogyny can be a real problem, it is also a lot more nuanced that Ennis shows here. But I don’t want to get bogged down in a dissertation on gender roles in Texas culture, and anyway Rebecca can speak to this much better than I can, having lived in Texas for twice as long.

The tv show also gets Texas culture wrong, though not quite as offensively, and I’m willing to overlook it in favor of the improvements in both Jesse and Tulip. However, by the fourth episode, the plot is floundering a little, and I wish they’d pick up comic’s pacing at the very least.

—Anna

Captain American and Black Panther

Captain America: Civil War

Marvel-Civil-WarAll three of us blog writers went to go see the third Captain America movie together, and I have thoughts. Actually, I had thoughts (concerns) before we even went. I didn’t follow the Civil War event in the comic books, but I knew the basic gist is that there is a growing political movement for putting superheroes under some kind of government control, and the Avengers become split between Iron Man supporting that movement, and Captain America against it.

I think it is a nice touch to make the most outwardly patriotic character still have concerns about political overreach, but I simply couldn’t wrap my mind around how Tony Stark, who wasn’t even willing to register his mechanical suit with the government in the first Iron Man movie, would take a pro-registration stance. In fact, I’d always thought Tony Stark sort of represented the classic Republican stance of financial independence, corporate freedom, and small government. It made me wonder if this movie would actually be a bit of a commentary on how the Republican Party itself has shifted in ideology.

And, then I saw the movie, and I’m even more confused. I wish I could have taken notes in the theater because I vehemently disagreed with basically everything that any of the characters said, and now I can’t actually remember any of the arguments. However, when trying to write this up, I tracked down some of the transcribed argument, and reading it didn’t make any more sense. It felt a little like when I was reading Atlas Shrugged, and the supposed ‘liberal’ characters made bizarre straw men arguments that I’d never heard an actual liberal make.

After much discussion with Rebecca, I think I have a basic grasp on the two sides, boiled way down and largely guesstimated from some very overwrought dialogue (clearly, this includes spoilers, but only for the most stupid and boring parts of the movie): Continue reading

Comic Book Catch-Up

Sigh, another long hiatus from a busy spring and a lazy reading schedule. I’ve been finally getting around to checking out a couple of comic book series that Tumblr has overall just completely fanned out over.

Rat Queens

Rat_QueensSo, I could absolutely see why this is Tumblr’s cup of tea – it is feminist, queer, violent, and bawdy – but it just wasn’t quite my thing. I think I’m a bit old for it, honestly. The titular Rat Queens are a diverse group of mercenary women, and what the comic does especially well is highlighting the distinct personalities and backgrounds of each of the four women, and their varying relationships with each other. In the collected first volume, they and several other mercenary groups are offered a quest as an alternative to jail time for a bar brawl that got out of hand.

It is clever and funny, and I can’t quite put my finger on why I don’t really like it. It is pretty juvenile humor (though not in subject matter or artwork), but I’m usually all about juvenile humor. I asked Rebecca whether she’d read it, and she couldn’t actually remember whether she had or not, so I guess that corroborates my own lack of enthusiasm.

Saga

SagaSaga, on the other hand, was immediately engrossing. It opens with an extremely rustic birth scene, and unfolds from there, moving forward with the gripping plot and filling in the backstory as it goes. Our two new parents are such a hopeful, almost innocent Romeo and Juliet pair, though with much more personal agency than the Shakespeare couple, that I was immediately rooting for them.

They are from different planets, one of winged people and one of horned people, that have been pitted in a seemingly never-ending intergalactic battle incorporating many other planets as well. Winged Alana and horned Marko are opposing soldiers that fell in love and abandoned their posts in order to start a family together, and thus just about everyone wants them dead, including an aristocratic tv-faced robotic person, and two different feuding mercenaries, one a beautiful spider woman and the other a strictly-human-seeming man that travels with a giant lie-detecting cat. Can you see why I loved this so much?

In addition to just all the oddness, the motivations and emotions behind the characters still feel so real. Also, the art is perhaps the best that I have ever seen in a graphic novel – it is really spectacular. When I went to track down volume 2, I discovered that Saga is written by the same author as Runaways, which Rebecca raved about a while ago.

—Anna

Ms. Marvel Volume One: No Normal

I have a complicated relationship with graphic novels and comic books. Short version: I don’t like them. I want to like them, I’ve tried to like them, I completely believe that they are a valid art form and that these artists and writers are on the forefront of innovations in storytelling. It’s just, whenever I try to read one, I get distracted and eventually give up. I end up annoyed that I have to skip around the page to look at things and find information, and inevitably wind up thinking that all those pictures take up SO MUCH SPACE and things move SO SLOWLY. Wouldn’t the plot move so much faster if they just wrote it out in words? I like TV and movies and paintings and other visual arts, but there’s something about sitting down with a book that makes my brain expect narrative text. I mean, I’ve read Maus and Fun Home like a responsible citizen and those were fine, but I couldn’t help thinking that I’d have rather just read traditional books about those stories. So at some point I just accepted that graphic novels and comic books weren’t for me.

But recently some things happened that made me decide to give graphic novels another shot:

  1. I mentioned in my last post that I was recently on vacation in France, where I visited approximately one thousand four hundred old churches. In one of them (the cathedral at Rouen, to be precise) we had an awesome young tour guide who spent a lot of time talking about how the stained glass windows would have been like comic books for medieval churchgoers. She said that while these peasants may not have been able to read, they understood how to approach the windows as a story, and how to interpret certain visual cues (like a woman in blue, or a man with a key) as concrete characters and plot points. I love stained glass (Jane Brocket is a longtime favorite blogger of mine who has been on a stained glass roll lately) and the idea of viewing comic books or graphic novels as modern-day church windows is very appealing to me.
  2. On that same vacation, I had a long conversation with a woman about audiobooks, another thing I long ago decided was just not for me. She talked about how she had initially hated audiobooks too, but that she spent time actively practicing listening to audio fiction and came to really love it. She said that it became clear to her that listening to a story was a different sort of attention, and that she had to get used to it, but she was so happy that she had. I figured this might be the same with graphic novels–in order to fully enjoy them, I would need to learn and practice a new way of reading.
  3. The folks on Pop Culture Happy Hour, who have been the source of so many things I love, spent an episode raving about Ms. Marvel, a series about Kamala Khan, a teenage Muslim girl living in Jersey City who develops superpowers.

A modern-day teenage girl’s coming of age story with supernatural elements? it’s everything I love! I decided to give it a shot, and got the first volume of collected issues from the library. And . . . I liked it! I found the characters surprisingly nuanced, especially Kamala’s family. As I started reading, it seemed pretty clear that her parents would be the conservative force she had to push against and her older brother was portrayed as a fairly radical Islamic scholar. But they all became more real and complicated as the story went along. The high school dynamics felt real, and there was even the early set up for a future love story. I also tried to really pay attention to the pictures. Instead of just reading through all the text, one panel after another (my first instinct), I stopped and tried to really look at the drawings and all the details. And I did like the style of illustration–I don’t have enough comic book vocabulary to accurately describe it, but it seemed more straightforward and less . . . floofy than some graphic novels I’ve tried to read in the past.

I’m not sure I’m 100% converted. Things still moved awfully slowly and it didn’t feel like all that much had happened by the end of Volume 1. I suspect that this is largely because I am thinking of the physical Volume 1 as a book and I have certain expectations of a book–I want some things to happen and some resolution of some sort. It’s probably more accurate to see a volume as a few episodes of TV, with an on-going storyline. But also, this volume consisted of five issues and it took me about an hour to read. As much as I enjoyed looking at the pictures, it doesn’t feel like something I would read over and over. I’m lucky that I live in an area with a great library system that has the three available volumes in its collection. But if I had to buy these, they would cost me around $10-$15 each. Which feels like a big outlay for limited reading material? Finally, I came into this story at a point where there already were three complete volumes out, so I imagine that I’ll be able to cover quite a bit of ground right away. But it looks like individual issues (one fifth of a volume) are released monthly, and I cannot imagine I would ever have the patience to read a story at that pace. Maybe you have to be raised on comic books to able to handle that?

I’m definitely going to get the next couple of volumes to find out how Kamala balances her new power and her high school life and her family. But I’m still not sure if I am enjoying reading this graphic novel, or if I’m enjoying this story despite the fact it’s a graphic novel. I will report back.

Darths & Droids

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 7.16.08 PMDarths & Droids
by The Comic Irregulars (Andrew Coker, Andrew Shellshear, David Karlov, David McLeish, David Morgan-Mar, Steven Irrgang, Ian Boreham and Loki Patrick)
and, of course, Lucas Films
2007 – present (and ongoing)

So, I’m currently reading book 3 of this series, while the authors are still regularly updating book 6. And, with the soon-to-be released Star Wars episode 7, I’m sure hoping the authors continue to write a book 7.

Because this is a graphic novel parody re-telling of the Star Wars movies and it is hilarious!

I actually blasted my way through Books 1 and 2 and am now laughing my way through Episode 3, even as I also go back to Episodes 1 and 2 to laugh at that over Anna’s shoulder as she reads it.

The great thing about this is that it doesn’t actually deviate from the plot (as best as I can tell, although I admittedly don’t really remember the movies all that well) – it uses screen captures for the illustrations. The parody aspect comes with the fact that it’s told as the adventures of a Dungeons & Dragons style role playing game and has the dialogue of the players, both in and out of character, overlaying the events. And let me tell you: all the things that make no sense in the movies, suddenly make all sorts of perfect (and perfectly hilarious) sense when you see the motivations of the players making the decisions.

I have no real interest in role playing games, but this almost tempts me to try because it’s so funny, except that then I remember that I find them kind of tedious. It doesn’t matter, though: this makes it look fun and awesome! And the author’s comments below each page are also hilarious bits of commentary either on making that particular update or on the joys/frustrations of role playing games.

Plus, I had not thought it possible to be absolutely charmed by Jar Jar Binks, but apparently I can be. And I really want to tell you all about the hilarious things that happen (Shmi! Sally! “Summon bigger fish”!) but once I started, there’d be no end and you really just need to go start reading it yourself.

Go forth and read Darths & Droids: here!

I’m also going to include a couple of other somewhat related links, which are well worth exploring too:

DM of the Rings: Darths & Droids was originally inspired by DM of the Rings, another webcomic parody with the same premise of role playing gamers being the Lord of the Rings characters. It’s also hilarious, although I think Darths & Droids does it even better, in part at least because the Star Wars movies are active/ludicrous enough to support going through it scene by scene, while DM of the Rings necessarily skips over large sections.

Star Wars: Before The Force Awakens (original Korean: “스타워즈: 깨어난 포스 그 이전의 이야기”) by Hong Jacga is actually a fully licensed and approved addition to Star Wars that is also a free online webcomic being regularly updated. It’s also beautifully illustrated and adds scenes of Luke Skywalker’s early life even as it retells much of the story of the original trilogy.