Monday, March 26, 2018

The Shape of Ideas (Grant Snider)

The Shape of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity
Grant Snider
Abrams Comicarts
Nonfiction, Creativity/Comics/Collection
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: In this collection, the creator of Incidental Comics presents numerous takes on the creative process, its joys and sorrows, successes and disappointments, and journeys unexpected.

REVIEW: I've seen Snider's works online now and again, and generally relate to them more often than not. Even those I don't connect with, I can appreciate the creativity and message. Walking an alligator, pushing a stubborn tapir up a hill, flocks of dragonflies and crows as ideas made manifest, he gives shape to abstract concepts and passing whims with almost poetic words and pictures. Now and again it bordered on repetitive, but it's still a good source of inspiration and reassurance that, however our own creative endeavors are (or aren't) going, none of us are in it alone.

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How to Avoid Making Art (or Anything Else You Enjoy) (Julia Cameron) - My Review
The Most Magnificent Thing (Ashley Spires) - My Review
What Do You Do With An Idea? (Kobi Yamada) - My Review

The Mercenary, Volume 1: The Cult of the Sacred Fire (Vicente Segrelles)

The Mercenary, Volume 1: The Cult of the Sacred Fire
The Mercenary series
Vicente Segrelles
NBM Publishing
Fiction, Fantasy/Graphic Novel
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: In a realm above the clouds, the nameless Mercenary pulls off a daring rescue, only to be betrayed by the woman. Plunging into the world below, he finds a land he never knew existed, and a new mission and mystery.
This anniversary edition includes notes from the author/artist on the creation of this groundbreaking graphic novel series.

REVIEW: As one might guess from the description and cover art, the storyline is a throwback to Conanesque pulp tropes: wildly imaginative settings, stock characters like the stoic and honorable Mercenary and treacherous queen and lecherous sultan, etc. Those aspects of the tale don't age well (particularly how even the most empowered women in the piece are still untrustworthy and defined by their sex appeal), but the artwork - all in oils, apparently one of the first such graphic novels produced, every image as detailed as a cover piece - remains impressive. The appendix sections by the creator explain how his circuitous route to graphic novels, via technical drawing and advertising, ultimately gave him the skills that make The Mercenary a classic work of art... and how the timing of this piece, just as Spain emerged from dictatorship and almost giddily cast off oppressive censorship laws, helped shape a story Segrelles more or less made up on the fly. I don't know if I'll read on - the plot itself is a bit dated for my tastes, plus, being a straight female, the promise of more nude and largely powerless women holds little appeal - but if I do it'll be largely to admire the artwork and undoubtedly keen imagination at work. (Plus, it would have to be free on Hoopla, as I found this one.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Phoenix on the Sword (Robert E. Howard) - My Review
Swords and Deviltry (Fritz Leiber) - My Review
Castle in the Sky - Amazon DVD link

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Tea Dragon Society (Katie O'Neill)

The Tea Dragon Society
Katie O'Neill
Oni Press
Fiction, CH Fantasy/Graphic Novel
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Greta, part-goblin daughter of a local healer and blacksmith, never knew what a tea dragon was until she rescued little Jasmine from hungry dogs. The dragon belongs to a reclusive shopkeeper outside of town, one of the last dedicated to keeping the peculiar creatures. As Greta learns more of the tea dragons, who grow memory-infused tea leaves and flowers on their horns, she makes unexpected friends and learns the true value of traditions in a changing world.

REVIEW: This charming little graphic novel tells a warm-hearted tale with shades of unexpected depth and meaning. As an apprentice blacksmith, Greta finds herself forging swords that are almost never used anymore, making her wonder at the value of a fading art - a value she only truly appreciates as she learns from tea master Hesekeil, his wheelchair-bound friend Erik, and the strangely flighty faun-girl Minette... not to mention the little tea dragons themselves and their special brews. The illustrations are simple yet endearing, and if the story's a little soft and limited in conflict, well, it is essentially a picture book in graphic novel form. It edges close to my too-cutesy line, but my tolerance admittedly increases in the presence of dragons. An appendix offers more information on the tea dragons, sure to be a plus for young dragon-lovers - and older dragon-lovers who retain a soft spot for the cutesier draconic specimens.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Dragon (Jody Bergsma) - My Review
How to Raise and Keep a Dragon (John Topsell) - My Review
Dragon Girl: The Secret Valley (Jeff Weigel) - My Review

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Churn (James S. A. Corey)

The Churn
An Expanse novella
James S. A. Corey
Fiction, Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: In a Baltimore half-submerged by rising seas, jobs are hard to come by, and hope nearly extinct. Those who cannot find legitimate work must subsist on basic income... but many are denied even that much, scraping life from the dark corners and crumbling alleys as the desperate always have since the beginning of civilization, trading in drugs or sex or contraband. Born into this harsh and loveless world, the unregistered boy Timmy seemed destined to be just another street thug, a role he seems well-suited for with his complete detachment from his own emotions and penchant for violent solutions to everyday problems. But a citywide crackdown creates a churn of changing fortunes, and those who survive may find themselves on trajectories they'd never imagined...
This novella takes place in the same universe as the Expanse series, by the same authors.

REVIEW: The Churn presents the backstory of one of the more enigmatic characters in the Expanse series, the possibly-sociopathic Amos Burton. Even without knowing the fate of one of the central characters, there's a certain predictability about the story arc, a few almost-too-obvious Chekhov's Guns prominently displayed in the early parts that must inevitably fire by the end. There's also an odd feel overall to the story, much of which is told in a distant overview/omniscient "telling" style; it almost feels like this was a rough draft that could've been fleshed out into a longer work, but was rushed out as-is to feed the franchise market. That's not to say it's poorly written, though - it creates a decent sense of atmosphere, an overpopulated, exhausted Earth where optimism and freedom are only visible in the vanishing boosters of spacebound rockets, a world of complicated and largely unhealthy relationships where only the harshest, most desperate hope or love can take root, and then more as weeds than flowers. The wrap-up felt a trifle forced, with a minor skip in logic that I can't elaborate on without spoilers. Overall, it's a decent addition to the Expanse canon, even if it may not stand up well on its own.

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Leviathan Wakes (James S. A. Corey) - My Review
Among the Hidden (Margaret Peterson Haddix) - My Review
The Expanse: Season 1- Amazon DVD link

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Descender Volume 5: Rise of the Robots (Jeff Lemire)

Descender Volume 5: Rise of the Robots
The Descender series, Issues 22 - 26
Jeff Lemire, illustrations by Dustin Nguyen
Image Comics
Fiction, Graphic Novel/Sci-Fi
***** (Great)

DESCRIPTION: The ocean planet Mata has long been disregarded, a world without significant land mass or intelligent life - yet it is here that every path seems to lead. It is here where the last surviving ancient robot and Guon's former teacher have found sanctuary... and here where the mystery of the Harvesters might be solved.
It is also here that the forces of Hardwire, the UGC battle fleet, and Andy's ragtag crew will confront each other, even as Hardwire unleashes their fleet of battle robots and wakens sleeper agents across the Megacosm.
At the heart of the conflict remains the childlike companion robot Tim-21, who may be the key to galactic salvation - or destruction.

REVIEW: I get a feeling that the next volume will probably be the last. Appropriately, this one raises the stakes to galaxy-shaking levels, moving all the pieces into place for the upcoming climax and (presumed) grand finale. Many questions remain, but I'm confident that answers will be forthcoming... and can hardly wait for Volume 6 to arrive on Hoopla.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Kiln People (David Brin) - My Review
Cinder (Marissa Meyer) - My Review
The Iron Giant (Special Edition)- Amazon DVD link

Descender Volume 4: Orbital Mechanics (Jeff Lemire)

Descender Volume 4: Orbital Mechanics
The Descender series, Issues 17 - 21
Jeff Lemire, illustrations by Dustin Nguyen
Image Comics
Fiction, Graphic Novel/Sci-Fi
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: After being captured by the terrorist robot group Hardwire, Tim-21, his inventor Guon, and UGC operative Telsa manage to escape - or so they believe. Psius, the Hardwire leader, and his "son" Tim-22 have a nasty surprise in store for them as they track down the origins of Guon's inventions, the ancient robot race whose tech he stole.
Meanwhile, ruthless scrapper Andy and his former lover, the half-cyborg Effie, use the robot dog Bandit to track Tim-21 down... only to find themselves in more trouble than they anticipated, complicated when Driller makes a confession about his past and sets out on his own journey of redemption.

REVIEW: The series maintains a fast pace, though I admit I was a little spoiled by the previous deluxe volume; this one seems short by comparison, ending on another cliffhanger with even higher stakes. I'm still enjoying the characters, who are growing in their own directions and all have extra dimensions.

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Sky Coyote (Kage Baker) - My Review
The Wild Robot (Peter Brown) - My Review