online comics / graphic novels

I never quite know what term to use for comic strips or comic books or graphic novels now that the medium has expanded so wildly beyond what those terms originally referred to. But I’ve got two online comic strips that I highly recommend because they’re charming and delightful and I just love the characters and the stories and the artwork.

First up:

WildelifeWilde Life
by Pascalle Lepas
2014 – ongoing

The plot is: “A graphic novel about a writer who rents a haunted house from Craigslist and makes not-friends with a werewolf.”

It’s essentially a series of short stories set in a rural town around the main guy who’s rented a house for a while to just get away from his previous life that’s mostly not mentioned. The illustrations are excellent (and just keep getting better) but the characters are where this really shines. Every character is so very much themselves and so very delightful. (And don’t forget to check for roll-over text comments from the author on later pages because they’re pretty darn funny too.)

The author has just finished the sixth chapter / plot arc, and it’s so incredibly delightful and I really hope she does another kickstarter so I can order hardcopy versions. In the meantime, you, gentle reader, should immediately go check this out: http://www.wildelifecomic.com/comic/1

Second up:

powerballadPower Ballad
by Molly Brooks
2017 – ongoing

This only has eight issues out so far but it’s scheduled to be updated weekly and those eight issues are an utter delight!

Meera is the personal assistant to international pop star / masked vigilante Carina. So while Carina does music videos and fights crime batman-style, Meera tries to make sure appointments are made and kept. And they both have adorable pining crushes on each other but neither have said anything (yet!) and it’s just too cute for words.

Also, the illustrations are amazing and doing some really interesting things, because first they’re working with the online medium by displaying each issue as a single page down which the reader scrolls rather than trying to mimic a hardcopy comic book (at some point I think it would be really interesting to see if hardcopy comics can be made on scrolls to mimic websites), and second, they’re illustrated with just a couple of colors in a handful of shades, which gives it a sort of quick-sketch first impression while still being amazingly effective and detailed.

So check it out here: http://www.webtoons.com/en/drama/power-ballad/list?title_no=987

 

BookBub

I’ve been sort of sulking over Kinsey suddenly discovering Dorothy Sayers and being able to read all of her books for the very first time, and wishing that I could discover some amazing new author like that, too. Then I ran across BookBub a few weeks ago, and while I’m not saying it is bringing me any Sayers-quality books, I’m having an enormous amount of fun with it!

BookBub is basically a site that lists the many, many free and discounted ebooks available through various venders. You can sign up to get daily emails with recommended deals, and I currently look forward each day to seeing what is on tap! Even if most of the books look terrible, I still love reading the little blurbs about them, and I’ve already downloaded five new books to try out, cost-free! Out of those, I’ve read two, and enjoyed both quite a bit, so I’m two-for-two, so far!

last_necromancerMy first free download was The Last Necromancer, by C. J. Archer. Set in Victorian London, Charlie is a young woman who has been living as a boy on the streets for the past five years after her vicar father threw her out after discovering she could raise the dead. She is kidnapped by a secret society trying to track down all necromancers for an unknown purpose. The secret society, of course, is headed by a handsome and fascinating man, who unfortunately turns out to be a very problematic love interest, the weakest part of the book. It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but I still got a kick out of it!

maids_of_misfortuneMaids of Misfortune, by M. Louisa Locke, is actually a good book, set in Victorian-era San Francisco, where Annie Fuller runs a boarding house and a small clairvoyance business out of it, in order to make ends meet. Right of the bat, it is charming, with wonderful details about both businesses and the various characters she meets through them. The characters are all so well written, with nuanced and realistic humanity, that it completely made up for the somewhat predictable mystery. It continually surprised me with little realistic details that most books brush right over, and which I appreciated a lot. I not only highly recommend it, I’m looking forward to continuing the series.

I excitedly told Rebecca about this, and she hasn’t had quite the positive experience I have. For one, she was lazier about setting up her account, so she wasn’t getting as interesting recommendations. She has also been not quite so fortunate in her downloads, though I’m ascribing at least some of that to a lack of discrimination. She downloaded thirteen, started five, finished three, and mildly enjoyed one. She’s sticking with it, though, for the love of browsing and then getting free books.

Honestly, the best thing about it is how completely risk-free it is: no cost and no clutter!

The Bible: Psalms

I had actually been really looking forward to Psalms because I thought there would be some good poetry here. I’m not a big poetry reader, not because I dislike it but because I am incredibly picky about it. But I like John Donne’s poetry, and Rita Dove’s poetry, and Ramprasad Sen’s poetry, and I’ve been getting a kick out of the “I lik the bred” poetry meme. As it turns out, I’m not a big fan of King David’s, King Solomon’s, or various other poets’ poetry that wound up in Psalms.

The introduction on the audio book version also raised expectations because apparently a lot of these are lyrics, intended to be set to music, and the original text includes instructions on the music. Cool!* If nothing else, I was going to amuse myself by trying to find Christian rock bands who had put the Psalms to music in a modern fashion. But the results are pretty rough. I mean, the music is fine, less rock and more spiritual/celtic maybe, which is disappointing, but the lyrics…

Just, wow, the Pslams are whiney. Either whiney or really blatantly hypocritical. Often, they’re both whiney and hypocritical. Just oof. I was disappointed. There’s just a lot of “these people are being mean to me, you need to beat them up” along with “you hate people who do violent things but love people who obey you, so let’s all do violent things to the people who don’t obey you.”

So just, nope.

Now, keep in mind that Psalms is broken into 5 sections and 150 poems, from a variety of poets discussing a variety of issues, so while I didn’t like the vast majority of it, that isn’t to say there aren’t a few exceptions.

There are some individual verses that ring out with power and touch the heart… but there’s always another verse that pretty much delivers the opposite message.

A couple of verses that spoke to me particularly strongly given the current political situation in the US are:

Psalm 94:20-21:

But you are opposed to dishonest lawmakers
Who gang up to murder innocent victims

Psalm 101:6-7 (by King David):

I will find trustworthy people to serve as my advisors
And only an honest person will serve as an official
No one who cheats or lies
Will have a position in my royal court

So, for a moment, it was a salve to my soul, a bit like watching West Wing.

But then there’s Psalm 106:34-35:

Our Lord, they disobeyed you
By refusing to destroy the nations.
Instead they were friendly
With those foreigners and followed their customers

So there really is something for everyone in these psalms, including the pro-genocide bigots. That is not a good thing.

But if you ever want to have a bible verse to support your position on any given issue, Psalms probably has you covered. You just have to decide to ignore all the context and hypocrisy.

Summary: A book of poetry that varies between emo whining and questionable historical accounts.

Moral: If you alternate between flattering and whining to a powerful being, they might be willing to act on your behalf.

* Especially cool since I have recently run across a lot of interesting discussions of how versatile hip-hop is, and how versatile Shakespeare is in much the same vein as hip-hop, and I just had high expectations.

Next Up: Proverbs

Podcasts and a Scrappy Little Broadway Show I Have High Hopes For

I wish I had some good books to recommend here, but I’ve been in an odd rut lately of reading things that weren’t bad,, but ended up being vaguely disappointing. (I’m looking at you, Bradstreet Gate, because if your whole plot is centered around a murder mystery, you need to TELL ME WHO COMMITTED THE MURDER.)

But that doesn’t mean I’m not consuming media, because my lengthy commute to work means that I listen to A LOT of podcasts. Sometimes I feel as thought half the things I say start with, “So I was listening to this podcast . . .” But I just hear so many interesting things on so many different topics, told in such a personal way–it feels like I have very smart friends riding along with me in my car as I negotiate the DC highways. I do listen to a few of the big, famous podcasts that I don’t feel the need to plug–the NerdistSerial, and Pop Culture Happy Hour are all great, but if you listen  to podcasts at all you probably knew that already. But there are some smaller podcasts that keep me sane and entertained:

Read it and Weep calls itself a good podcast about bad books, movies, and TV, and the general model is that three friends (plus rotating guests) read or watch something and then get together to make fun of it. It started when these guys decided to read the Twilight books so they could mock them in a knowledgeable way, but has expanded to them watching and reading the occasional good thing, or a childhood favorite, and they even take sponsorships/suggestions from listeners. Although the episodes where they review something bad are still the most fun–you’ve never heard anything as sad as these 20-something dudes trying to find something nice to say about Fifty Shades of Grey. I like it because the commentary is truly funny, but also smart–they’re good at breaking down what does or doesn’t work about a particular piece of media and they’re happy to admit when they actually enjoyed something. They are also quick to call out sexism or racism or other things that make them feel gross, so I can rely on them getting upset about the things that make me upset. But in a much more funny way.

Another favorite pop culture podcast is Extra Hot Great, a podcast about TV by the people who run previously.tv (and used to run Television Without Pity). This is another funny one, with smart criticism about TV. They do different features, including one I love called Is This Worse than Jazz, where they debate whether a particular pop culture item is worse than jazz (maybe this only works if you hate jazz). They also do a lengthy quiz each week, which allows me to shout answers out loud in my car.

I first found You Must Remember This through her series on Hollywood and the Manson murders, but I’ve found all of Karina Longworth’s podcasts about Hollywood history fascinating. She tends to do “seasons” that focus on a specific topic, such as Manson, the studio system, or the current series on the blacklist. One of the disappointing books that I read in recent weeks was about a scandalous Hollywood murder in the 1920s, and I think I didn’t like it because was drier and less sympathetic than Longworth’s calm, gentle storytelling. My other big take-away from this podcast is that almost everyone in Hollywood seems to have been a miserable depressive that drank themselves to death; I almost cried in my car listening to the story of Carole Lombard and Clark Gable.

I do occasionally branch out from pop culture and Hollywood, and Rex Factor is one of my favorite history podcasts. Two British guys (Graham and Ali) reviewed the history of every king and queen of England, ranked them on qualities such as scandal and “battle-iness,” and then held a bracket-style showdown to determine the ultimate monarch. They do a thorough job of reviewing the history, while also getting to the interesting trivia and being funny along the way (Ali is always so hilariously concerned when first cousins get married). I was a little worried that they would stop podcasting after they finished all the English rulers, but they’ve recently started up again with the kings and queens of Scotland. A word of warning–the early Saxon kings are a bit of a drag since they all have similar names and there’s not a lot of existing information, but things get more interesting as history moves along (there was definitely way more sex with nuns than I was expecting).

And finally, on a different note, I have talked here more than once about how I tend to recommend things that everyone already knows about. The Goldfinch?  The Martian? You didn’t really need me to tell you about those. But now I’m about to tip over into parody here: have you guys heard about Hamilton? I mean, seriously folks, it’s really good. I was lucky enough to see it on Broadway at the end of March (I bought my tickets back in September and then tried not to think about them too much since I was convinced a meteor would crash into the theater before I got to go) and it was AMAZING. But I can also wholeheartedly recommend the cast album. Because the whole show is sung–there’s really no spoken bits of the story–listening to the cast album really does let you hear the whole show and it’s just genius. It’s also awesome music to listen to in the gym. I think this Hamilton thing is really going to take off! (Hamilton also won a Pulitzer prize this week, and Lin-Manuel Miranda posted a hilarious picture on Twitter of the celebratory Pulitzer pies.)

 

Homeschool Sex Machine

By Matthew Pierce

Book Cover: Homeschool Sex MachineI don’t even remember what internet rabbit hole led me to Matthew Pierce’s blog, but the entries I read were funny enough that I decided it was worth $2.99 to get them compiled in his kindle book. The author was primarily homeschooled up to 10th grade, and he describes the experience, and that niche community, hilariously and self-deprecatingly. I kept expecting some anger or bitterness, but he writes respectfully, if briefly, about his religiously conservative parents, and ultimately affectionately about his upbringing.

I got a little grumpy about it, actually, and ended up having to face some personal bias against religious conservatism that I would have preferred to ignore in myself. Personal issues aside, though, it was a really interesting and entertaining look a childhood much, much different from my own. He has a sequel about attending a Christian college, which I look forward to reading just as soon as I work up some acceptance for Christian colleges.

In case this review has not already made my religious lack clear, I have tested as being damned to an inner circle of Dantes’ Hell. Rebecca found an online quiz that tells you where you belong in the 9 circles, and it was all fun and games as every other member of my family headed off to limbo to hang out with famous philosophers, and then I was consigned to burn in sepulchers with all the other heretics.

—Anna

The Dante’s Inferno Test has banished you to the Sixth Level of Hell – The City of Dis!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:

Level Score
Purgatory (Repending Believers) Very Low
Level 1 – Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers) Moderate
Level 2 (Lustful) Low
Level 3 (Gluttonous) High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious) Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy) Moderate
Level 6 – The City of Dis (Heretics) Very High
Level 7 (Violent) High
Level 8 – The Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers) Moderate
Level 9 – Cocytus (Treacherous) Moderate

Take the Dante’s Inferno Hell Test

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.

A Girl and Her Fed by K.B. Spangler

First: Happy American Independence Day!

Then we get to the part where I have various concerns regarding my country. I love it, but oof, there are some things that need to change. A Captain America: Winter Soldier fanvid that I particularly appreciate sums it up best by changing the chords of the Star Spangled Banner from major to minor. Just the music change, changes the connotations of the classic question from “does my country of freedom and bravery still exist?” to “is my country that exists still free and brave?” And given the recent prevalence of fear-mongering and preemptive actions, the second question is a timely one.

Anyway, on the same note but with a much cheerier tone: have an absolutely hilarious webcomic all about government surveillance, government conspiracies, non-government conspiracies, presidential ghosts, and some pretty raunchy jokes:

 

AGirlandHerFed_4574A Girl and Her Fed
by K.B. Spangler
2007 – present

This is awesome! It’s a webcomic, but that doesn’t really capture it, because it’s also a serial story and a graphic novel. While each update is quite awesome on its own, it’s very plot-driven and I highly recommend starting at the beginning and reading through to the end.

Of course, it’s not actually ended. Spangler is currently working her way through chapter 10 (updates twice a week!). However, the introduction thru Chapter 6 make up an entire plot arc. Chapter 7 starts with a quick montage of the next five years and then proceeds with the next plot arc, five years after the close of Chapter 6.

The premise (without any spoilers: this gets covered in the first 5 pages) is that a journalist who speaks to the ghost of Benjamin Franklin is on the terrorist watch list after an article on civil liberties. The fed in charge of monitoring her was part of a secret government experiment that implanted a cybernetic computer chip in his brain that includes an interface avatar that looks like George W. Bush.

And conspiracies abound!

Our two main characters have widely divergent political leanings but they’re both good intentioned. And our primary main character (the titular “Girl”) is incredibly outspoken and, while she has doubts about what to do, she is fearless in doing what she decides to do. Which is often incredibly dangerous and maybe she should be a bit more fearful, and yet, I love her because she is not.

There’s also a talking koala, Speedy. Speedy was the result of another government experiment, who is very smart and capable and yet remains very much a sexually-mature male koala (think tom-cat, except koala.) Speedy is largely the reason this story is PG-13 at minimum.

The whole thing is a joy to read and I love it. You should read it too!

You can read the author’s About the Story here (the webcomic equivalent of the back of the book.)

Or you can just dive in and start reading here.

Also, the art is lovely. I wouldn’t give a positive review of a graphic story if the graphic portion wasn’t good. Something to note is that Spangler developed a great deal artistically over time, and while she’s gone back and started redoing earlier pages to match up with the more mature art style, there’s a couple of chapters in the middle that are still significantly rougher than the rest. It’s not bad, by any means, but it is a bit jarring to hit that point where it starts to look like a rough draft to the final version rather than the final version.

But still: lovely!

Go read it!