Lil Comic Review: The Poet and the Flea by GE Gallas

I was suggested to check out a fun project by GE Gallas called The Poet and the Fleaan online graphic novel about William Blake. Now, I remember studying Blake back in Plymouth (ages ago, it seems like) and aside from writing a paper on Songs of Innocence and Experience, I can’t recall much about him or his work. This is rather to my own detriment as I sit here realizing that one of the courses I’m taking next year is all about Blake – time to bust out the history of English lit texts, I guess.

But I digress. Here’s how the writer/illustrator describes her work:

The Poet and the Flea is a reimagining of the life of the poet-painter William Blake. Set in 1790, at the onset of The Industrial Revolution, William suffers from the death of his beloved younger brother, Robert. Catherine (Kate) Blake attempts to comfort her husband, but cannot dispel his grief. During this spell of anxiety, William is visited by an ominous creature: The Ghost of a Flea. The Flea reveals a vested interest in William’s spiritual well-being — the result of an unorthodox wager. Will William triumph over The Flea’s sinister meddling? Or will he fall victim to The Flea’s corruption?”

Is that not compelling enough for y’all? I love a good ominous creature. Not so much a fan of the heavy Lovecraftian stuff, but I’m not concerned with that for this work. Okay, let’s see what notes I took while reading it.

It reads like a zine, which I both appreciate and enjoy. The art is abstract but somehow nostalgic, which I think is from a combination of Gallas’ vision and DIY approach to putting this comic out there. The incorporation of poetry with visuals hearkens back to my own past attempts to reconcile favourite writings with a modern media (I had a thing for Poe’s Ligeia), a project that clearly bore no fruit for me, but here it has worked well. There’s only 30 pages of the work online at present, which feels disappointingly short, but updates suggest that she’s still actively working on the project, even if it’s not available for consumption just yet.

There’s a strikingly lovely sense of the macabre throughout the work, very textural in a well-chosen greyscale. To be perfectly honest, and I say this after revisiting his poems to be certain, I never really saw Blake through this particular lens – that is, his poetry read to me in a much more light and rose-tinted lens, as it were. I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t studied him in depth. The Poet and the Flea is making me reconsider my stance on his work. I’m very interested to see where this goes, particularly in conjunction with the course I’m taking.

If you want to check out the available pages then swing on over to The Poet and the Flea and have a look. If you dig it like I do, share it around and spread the good word. You all know how much I love indie comics! And if you do check it out, let me know what you think. Leave me a comment, tweet, you know the drill. I’m interested in more recs as well. xo

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Book Review: Castle Waiting (Volumes 1 & 2)

I’ve been on a bit of a bender lately reading comic books and I’ve got a handful of them I’d like to write some reviews for on here. First up is Castle Waiting, a 2-volume anthology of booklet comics by Linda Medley. Tcastlewaitinghe first volume was released way,way back in 2006 (and I have faint memories of reading it at the library while I was in high school) and the second volume came out in 2010. I got my hands on both and gave them a thorough read, happy to find a comic that took more than half an hour to get through (I am a very fast reader, after all).

What you might hear being consistently praised about the Castle Waiting series is the strong and diverse cast of female characters. They come from all walks of life, varied appearances, interesting backstories, hobbies and interests. I think the most powerful thing about this is that it feels absolutely effortless; IMG_2822never do you think “wow, look at all these women” but rather “wow, what a compelling story”. That being said, the story is enjoyable but not overly complex, sort of a fairy-tale slice-of-life genre rather than an epic saga. I think this is the reason that the humour and dialogue is very human and readable. It’s rather hard to describe so you’ll have to experience that yourself.

Though it took a few chapters to get situated in my eyes, I think that the world is pretty well-drawn and the background for the story is established, certainly by the end of the first volume. The everyday details of the story make the comic seem set in our own world, yet the fairy-tale narratives and fantastic creatures remind us that it is not. Quite a thing to accomplish I think.

From what I can gather, Medley began work on a spin-off called 12 Witches that was last mentioned back in 2013. I can’t seem to find anything newer about it. I’d love to see more of her work and will look forward to revisiting Castle Waiting again sometime in the future – I think it has great re-readability.

The first volume is currently on Amazon for about $23.50 CAD, and the second for $34.50 CAD. I’d suspect that it is in quite a few library systems though, so take a look if it’s somewhere near you and definitely give it a read! If what I’ve described above appeals to you, you will not regret it.

Book Review: The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer

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I read this book over the course of a day of travel. I was early to the airport, had a flight delay, and then a 1.5 hour flight to get some serious reading done – and I’m a pretty fast reader, so I got through all of The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer. It’s a lesbian retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth, casting Hades as a goddess rather than a god. It’s a pretty easy read and enjoyable. I’m a big fan of revisionist mythologies so this was sort of my wheelhouse. I found this retelling was a fresh take on the premise.11672159

There are two things that I took away from the story: first was the manipulation of the mythological narrative and second was the effect of writing from the 1st person POV of Persephone. I think that the mythological aspects were really well executed. There’s always the question of how to deal with the more obscene elements of mythology in a more updated retelling – particularly the rape and coercion by the gods and Zeus in particular. Diemer effectively turned the king of the gods into a villain which I see as a really valid interpretation. It worked well.

Writing in 1st person gave an interesting perspective on the story, but as I saw some other reviewers had mentioned on goodreads, there was a little tendency to wax poetic about how lovely and flawless Hades was. I didn’t find this detracted from the story but I can see how other readers might feel that way about it. I think that as we are reading from the perspective of (essentially) a teenage girl, this kind of flowery romantic imagery is understandable – I mean, just think about Persephone’s character. She is the youngest of the gods and in a relatively unique situation, and though Hades is not her first love you can see the immaturity and young-love motif come through in these sections. Additionally I thought the more steamy scenes were well handled and rather abstract, which suited both the naivety of the character and the myth aesthetic.

Overall a great read. My Kobo did something strange with the numbering so I thought I was drawing near the close of the book, but I suddenly entered into a second numbering section when I reached it. I think I’m just a bit new to the device still. I picked the book up on the Kobo marketplace but it is also available on Amazon.

But First, They Must Catch You

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I’ve spent this snowy Saturday at home, rather under the weather. I spent an unfortunate amount of time out in the damp yesterday and after picking up my new Kobo, arrived home to discover that I was coming down with a cold. So this morning I stayed in bed and read the entirety of Watership Down by Richard Adams. I had a peculiar idea that I had read this book before, but having completed it now I definitely had not. Perhaps I was confusing it with The Wind in the Willows.

It was a great reading experience and the story stuck me as particularly thoughtful. This was perhaps furthered by reading after the fact that Adams came up with the story to entertain his daughters in the car, and didn’t create it with any particular message or lesson to be learned from it. It’s an easy story to try and mine instruction from, but I love that this is not due to a particular amount of labour on the part of the author. That would give it so much more artificial a feel.

I enjoyed how it mimicked the epic journey of Classical fiction. The quotations that preceded each chapter (which I must assume are universal, and not just part of my edition, but if I am wrong please let me know) were so precise in capturing the essence of what was to come, I found myself thinking on them often. The reference to the lotus-eaters in the chapter about the warren of the snares was fantastic. What great storytelling.

I will admit that I went into it thinking that this was a children’s book. I’m not sure if it’s actually marketed that way or not. I think I would have found the story dull and a little over my head were I to have read it when I was younger, despite the talking animals and adventure. That is not to say that children shouldn’t try and read it. There’s nothing quite so educational as a book that is above one’s level. I don’t particularly have any problem with the sorts of violence portrayed, as it is all part of the animal kingdom and therefore rather objective, though I do wonder at letting a story with such clear gender roles serve as a formative reading experience. As an adult I can take it with a grain of salt, but I wouldn’t want to let a child think of this kind of language as normative (I’m referring to the explicit description by the male rabbits of the female rabbits as ‘breeding machines’). I don’t think this detracts from the story if you read it critically.

Anyways, that’s another novel closer to my yearly reading goal. I didn’t realize how long it was when I started but it helped me get through what would have otherwise been a dull morning of convalescence. I’m hoping to get through another couple of Diana Wynne Jones books soon, and I have a list of other books from childhood that I want to go through again. Being sick is a wonderful excuse to do nothing but read!

Book Review: Rat Queens (Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery)

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I had been hearing things for some time about this comic, Rat Queens, and more importantly I had been promised at every turn that I would absolutely love it after the first compiled volume came out last March. A few weeks ago I finally bought it and after one of the slowest shipping experiences possible (I blame my remote city, not Amazon), it arrived. Couldn’t have been a better day, as I was wiped out after a day of thesis writing and needed something to cheer me up. I am delighted to report that it did the job admirably.

The first volume of the comic, whose story is written by Kurtis J. Wiebe and art is done by Roc Upchurch, is a compilation of the first five issues of the series. It chronicles the badass antics of the titular squad of mercenaries, andrat-queens-vol-01-releases from the first page you know the characters are trouble. It takes place in a world familiar to D&D and fantasy fans, but infused with the gritty lady combat of Sucker Punch and an imaginary Joan Jett soundtrack (or was that just in my head?) But it’s not right to compare the series with other franchises, really. It brings enough to the party on its own.

The characters are great and we get a tantalizing look at everyone’s backstories in this volume. The dialogue is so, so important in comics with their limited space, and not only does Rat Queens do a great job of establishing a unique voice for each character, but the pacing works extremely well and the story doesn’t stagnate. Did I also mention it’s funny? And filled with amazing women? Yeah, I kind of have a book crush.

Volume 2 is coming out at the end of April, but if you can’t wait that long then the individual issues are available here, or at your local comic book store, if they know what’s good for them. Let me know what you think if you give the series a try. I’m already looking forward to giving it another read.

Book Review: Beyond the Farthest Star

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Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs
Title: Beyond the Farthest Star
Year: Written 1941, Published 1964

This book is actually two short novellas written by ER Burroughs way back in 1941. They are both about Tangor, a human soldier that somehow has been transported to a very distant planet (which will sound very familiar to fans of the Princess of Mars series). Now on Poloda, Tangor integrates with the society there and takes a side in the war that has embroiled this planet for generations.

Though short (I read this is one evening) this book includes two of my favourite features of Burroughs’ writing. He is able to move the plot along at a rapid pace without the reader taking notice of it, something I really admire and try to emulate in my own fictional writing. Long periods of time can lapse in his plot without us losing momentum in the least. Despite the short length of the book we therefore get a lot of action and pivotal scenes, without any filler that might bulk out a novella into a longer novel.

We also get a look at Burroughs’ amazing world building abilities in a very condensed model. Not only does he establish the history of the planet and people that Tangor now lives among, but describes their industry, their culture, agriculture, work and leisure activities, technology, you name it. The reasoning for their way of life is explained in the sort of straightforward dialogue that you usually find in pulpy sci-fi novels, but it’s not taken to a patronizing level. Instead it just makes the backstory simple and treated in an unremarkable manner, again benefitting from Burroughs’ excellent pacing.941784

The themes of the novel are pretty obvious, with the war against Germany not-so-subtly represented in the war between Unis and Kapar. Burroughs was not shy about parodying the famous regimes of his day. I have to admit that I did keep expecting Tangor to eventually discover another side to the Kapar people, some sympathetic element that would give him a moral conflict, but that definitely did not happen. I went into it with too much of a modern-lit mindset, I think. There was no moral dilemma whatsoever, once Tangor had chosen to fight for the people of Unis. (We also got another great John-Carter-esque superman moment in Tangor’s piloting abilities, apparently easily transferred from the planes of Earth to the ones invented on Poloda).

So what are my conclusions? I definitely like the story and think that it is a quick and easy read, a satisfying enough ending (considering he didn’t continue the series) and enough suspense to make it compelling. On the other hand I think it is a great work for studying the historical context of sci-fi; you can really see the impact that war propaganda had on Burroughs, and i’m sure there’s much to be taken from his depiction of the society of Unis (I’m thinking of his interesting homogenized female characters). It’s also worth noting that he enlisted in the army the year after writing this story. Maybe he felt that his characters were living more exciting lives than he was, with all their interplanetary warmongering. But I’ve read that he was classified as Infantry and not an Officer, and then succumbed to depression and was discharged. I wonder if his disappointment in not becoming a superman like his characters in any way impacted his disillusion with the military.