Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #45: Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Legends-of-Zita-the-SpacegirlI came across this graphic novel while just perusing the new graphic novel selections at my local library. The art style and colors were fun, and I’m a fan of any books that feature a plucky, strong, female heroine. Judging by the cover, with Zita in a black and white space costume with a big “Z” emblazoned on the front and a green patchwork cloak, and surrounded by various adorable and evil creatures, I’d say this book was right up my alley. The only thing I wished I’d known going in was that it was technically the second in a (so far) three part series about Zita. But while the book did make mention of Zita’s previous adventures, I don’t think reading the first book was necessary because this one stands pretty well on its own.

The story is basically about an Earth girl named Zita who somehow (I guess that was probably covered in book one) became a super hero spacegirl for saving a planet called Scriptorius. On a triumphant space tour, a sad, broken little clonebot called an Imprint-o-tron, does some doppleganger robot magic to look like Zita. The Real Zita welcomes this so she can sneak off and be normal for a little bit. So while she sends FakeZita to take her place at a meet n greet, RealZita mysteriously gets tickets to the circus which she attends with her giant mouse friend named Mouse. There she sees the awesomeness that is Lady Madrigal. However, nearby, the imprint-o-tronZita is beginning to get her own ideas and wants to stay Zita, so she manages to boot the RealZita from her ship as it leaves the current planet and take her place on the tour. RealZita, a reluctant heroine, knows that she has to get back to her ship if she has any hope of getting home eventually.

Add to this that these stick figure Cousin It creatures have asked FakeZita to save their planet, and that RealZita’s guardian Piper and some of her travelling companions can kind of tell they’re not dealing with the right Zita, and that the space government is after RealZita because she stole a ship to go after her real ship and you’ve got one helluva madcap space adventure!

I love the way it’s drawn, the assorted fantastical robot and space creatures, but my favorites are Zita, Madrigal, and Piper. I very much want to read more about this whole crew. In the end, FakeZita sacrifices herself to help the stick figure Cousin It clan’s planet by defending it from being attacked by these…evil hearts? Yeah, that happened. And it was adorable.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #44: Bone #5 – Rock Jaw: Master of the Eastern Border by Jeff Smith

Bone_Rock_JawThis installment of Bone begins with Smiley and Fone Bone on their trek to bring the baby rat creature to the mountains to reunite him with his clan of stupid, stupid rat creatures. Which I hate, because I want them to keep the rat cub because they could raise him to be awesome instead of the aforementioned stupid, stupid. (I’m not fond of the phrase, per se; it’s a “thing” in the book that the rat creatures make some really questionable choices and get called “stupid, stupid rat creatures” on occasion.) But it makes sense that they should probably get him back to his own people (I guess) and Jeff Smith thinks so, too, so we begin the book there. Also, Phoney has named him Bartleby. Because adorable.

So the boys are running out of food on the trail to the mountains and while taking a nap (well, Smiley and Bartleby take a nap while Fone is reading his favorite book, Moby Dick, because of course.) the two quiche lovin’ rat creatures ambush them. While running from them, they run right into Roque Ja, the mountain lion Master of the Eastern Border. For the first few pages, I thought his mannerisms and speech made him seem remarkably similar in flavor to the dragon. Dry, sly, witty. But it quickly turns out that Roque Ja (or Rock Jaw, as the Bones start calling him) is not on their side. He’s on his side.

Meanwhile, elsewhere the possum kids are joined by the orphan menagerie (as I like to call ’em) Roderick and some forest animal kids whose parents were eaten by rat creatures. Sad. They try to help the Bones and Bartleby get away from Rock Jaw and wind up in a cave that turns out to be an old rat creature temple. Weird. They get ambushed again by the two rat creatures who then all get ambushed by Kingdok, and a chase ensues. However, we learn more about the magic of these parts (read: they’re on a ghost circle) and Kingdok may’ve been a locust hallucination. Y’know, like you do.

Once this all resolves, the rat creatures seem to be making nice and travelling with this madcap little brigade of travellers. They agree, for the sake of working together, to call a temporary halt to eating small mammals like the band of animal kids that make up a good 50% of their group. You know this can’t last long, but it’s heart warming to see. One of my favorite parts was when they decide to start moving again and Smiley sticks his head in one of the rat creature’s mouths saying, “Checking for small mammals. Anybody in there?” Made me giggle.

But danger isn’t far behind, this time in the form of Rock Jaw again. But then danger gets even more dangier when Kingdok shows up again. It’s unclear whether he’s real or a locust hallucination, but it seems he’s real because he and Rock Jaw are talking like Rock Jaw was planning to turn over the group to Kingdok. I’m sure he was thinking there’d be a reward, but turns out when you deal dirty with crooks you gets crooked. Kingdok lunges at Rock Jaw, the merry band of misfits tries to make a run for it…but they’re two short because the rat creatures have reverted back to their true nature and turned on them. Ruh roh. End scene. Er, book.

While there were some amusing parts, and I really love Bartleby and the orphan menagerie, I missed Thorn and the Red Dragon in this one. I kept wondering what was going on with them. I’m sure we’ll get back to them in the 6th book, but being an entire book without them felt weird. However, I loved seeing the rat creatures working with instead of against the main characters for once. I don’t know why, but I keep thinking they’d make good allies. Maybe it’ll go that way eventually. I look forward to finding out.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #43: Bone #4 – The Dragonslayer by Jeff Smith

Bone_The_DragonslayerIn this book of Bone, we find Thorn, Gran’ma Ben, and Fone Bone travelling to Barrelhaven, and speaking the Inn, the regulars there are slowly changing sides from Lucius to Phoney Bone. On the way to the Inn, Gran’ma gets a bad gitchy (it’s like a paralyzing bad feeling on overdrive…complete with cartoon head bubbles) and they get attached by rat creatures and Kingdok. Kingdok puts a hurt on Gran’ma, which upsets the hell out of Thorn, so she grabs a sword and goes all ninja warrior on him and cuts off one of his arms. GO Thorn! After the battle, Thorn learns more about who she is and what’s happening regarding an uprising with the rat creatures to free the Locust. Thorn gets a bit upset by all this. Understandable. First she finds out she’s a princess, that dragons are real, and now the Locust King’s might be freed…in a ritual that Thorn might be courted for to make happen. She takes off on her own with Fone Bone hot on her heels. They make it to the Inn…after getting through the barricade Phoney had the townspeople had put up.

See, Phoney has now managed to convince the townspeople that dragons are real…and that he’s a dragonslayer. He plays this against their fears, which means they give him lots of stuff to “protect” them. His logic is that since dragons are peaceful, he’ll have an incredibly easy time protecting them and is simply raking in the dough. (Literally in some cases, since the town uses a barter system that includes livestock and food as currency.) Somehow, a random toddler rat creature finds its way into town and Fone and Smiley adopt him (and name him Bartleby…adorable!). They know that rat creatures (no matter how adorable) and people don’t mix, so they come up with a plan to return the baby rat creature to the mountain to his “people.” Meanwhile, the townspeople have decided they want some actual results (re: dead dragon) from the “dragonslayer” they’ve been paying. When Lucius tries to talk sense into them and expose Phoney as living up to his name, the way Phoney turns it back on him is a frustrating yet effective exercise in shaming and manipulation. Phoney concocts a scheme to get out of town an also bring all his new riches with him by saying he’ll go out and slay a dragon, all the while planning to make a break for it and return to Boneville.

Because it’s Phoney, this plan doesn’t go…well, as planned. Things happen, like a dragon showing up and the townspeople urging Phoney to kill him, rat creatures coming to thank Phoney for delivering the red dragon right into their hands (and tied up, to boot!), Thorn getting near her Turning (I’m guessing a coming of age thing where she comes into her powers) and coming to help fight off the rat creatures…and then everybody sees that it looks like the town is one fire because the town is under siege. Oy.

This was a good installment in the Bone series. I loved seeing Kingdok’s arm getting cut off cause i can’t stand kingdok. Meeting the baby rat creature was a definite highlight. I’m glad to see he’s in book 5. Phoney’s infuriating, as usual, and I can’t wait to see him get his comeuppance because he just has to. Seriously. Also, the appearances of the red dragon were quite humorous. I love his snarky, classy aloofness. I picture him being voiced by James Earl Jones were a Bone movie ever to be made. Jeff Smith’s art style continues to amuse and intrigue me and I look forward to the next installment of this wonderful series.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #42: Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap and Mari Araki

Tinas-Mouth-Keshni-Kashyap“Please leave your name, number, the time of your call, and a brief justification for the ontological necessity of modern man’s existential dilemma and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Thanks and have a great day!” This was, and currently again is, my voice mail message. (Points if you can name the movie reference.)  What’s funny is that most people hear that message and try to tell me what modern man’s existential dilemma is, not what the ontological necessity of it is.  These are the things I thought when I picked up Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary, which is a really cool book that’s the result of the main character, Tina, choosing it as the class project for her English Honors elective in existential philosophy.

Tina is a sophmore in pretentious California high school academy and according to her teacher, Mr. Moosewood (“AKA Moose – who supposedly smokes pot, which makes him the most popular teacher at school”) they are to turn in the diary, sealed, at the end of the semester.  He apparently won’t read the diaries, but will mail them back to their owners after three years.  Seems pretty cool.  I was hooked from the first two sentences of the book:

Dear Mr. Jean-Paul Sartre,

I know that you are dead and old and also a philosopher.  So, on an obvious level, you and I do not have a lot in common.

The diary covers many typical high school things like growing apart from friend’s, balancing your culture against just wanting to be a “normal” teen (Tina is Indian), falling in love, kooky and awesome family, having your heart broken, parties, and school plays (they do Rashomon, which, holy shit for a high school.) Now, apparently, the school is known for it’s “ambitious productions” since past plays include Proof and Equus.  I don’t know you get permission to do Equus in a high school, but okay.

There seems to be a synergistic thing going on, too, because a few days before I started reading this, a friend of mine mentioned Rashomon when talking about how there is often more than one side to things. It also came up in a movie I had randomly flipped to on TV the other night.  So Moose talks Tina into auditioning for the school play and she gets as the lead.  Her leading man is a geek’s geek in school, whom Tina winds up having her first kiss with because the script calls for it.  It’s a gross first kiss, unfortunately, both because she didn’t want to kiss him and because he was a jerk about it.  But she bumpily works through it and the play goes up to great acclaim.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when Tina is talking with her favorite auntie, Urvashi, who is getting drunker and drunker as the conversation goes on.  But she makes sure to tell Tina that she has a “heavenly and mysterious expanse” inside her.  If anyone has seen the movie The Secret Garden from the 90’s with Kate Maberly, you’ll remember the story she her cousin about the Indian prince who had a whole universe inside him.  It was the same parable, and Auntie Urvashi wanted to make sure Tina knew that she had a universe in her, too.  She passed out shortly after telling her this (not before also imparting such wisdom as “marry a European!”) but in the morning, Tina awoke to find a note on her bed.  Her Auntie Urvashi expands on the story:

This story illustrates what I meant yesterday, though mostly it is interpreted by total idiots.  My interpretation goes as follows and it is the best one.

  1. People will tell you all sorts of things.
  2. Don’t listen to them.
  3. Do as you please, but on one condition.
  4. Know that there is a universe inside yourself.
  5. And examine it.

This may seem complicated, but really it is not. Come visit me here in Bombay darling, but don’t call it Mumbai as that name was given to the city by a bunch of raving mad right -wing lunatics.

Red Hot Kisses,

Your fond,

Auntie Urvashi

I love Auntie Urvashi.  And really, I loved this whole book.  The illustrations (by Mari Araki) were fantastic and the whole story was a great read.  This is a great addition to the coming of age ya fic, in awesome graphic novel style.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #41: Tyranny by Lesley Fairfield

tyrannyAs someone who’s dealt with various eating disorders throughout her life, Tyranny grabbed my attention right away. To the best of my knowledge, there aren’t many (if any) graphic novels out there about eating disorders and this one brings the disorder itself to “life” in the form of a manic doodle being named, appropriately, Tyranny.

While I’ve never had the body dismorphia, anorexia, bulimia, and tremendous pull to be thin that the author battled, she shows us how pervasive messages about being thing are in our culture, in our families, in our workplace, in our friendships. It’s a slim, quick read, but it packs a punch through a hip, engaging drawing style (and garishly frightening style when it comes to the Tyranny illustrations) and a stark, brave depiction of the author’s battle under the anorexic and bulimic regime of Tyranny.

One part that hit me harder than I expected was when the author makes friends with a model named Cynthia, who is so pressured to be thinner that she winds up dying from complications of bulimia. In a particularly heart-wrenching set of panels, Cynthia tells Fairfield how her hair is falling out, her teeth are eroding, and she can’t stop throwing up even when she doesn’t want to. This was roughly a week or so before Cynthia wound up going into the hospital and then dying.

Throughout the book, Tyranny, a squiggle-drawn, demeaning creature keeps telling Lesley that she’s no good, she’s too fat, she shouldn’t eat, and other dangerous thoughts. It’s fascinating to see one person’s embodiment of that negative voice in their head and I’d have to say that Tyranny sure lives up to his/her name. The best part of the book, though, was when the author sought treatment for her disorders in an attempt to reclaim her life. The last three pages, when Tyranny is told that their reign is over and they need to go away, is fantastic. Watching Tyranny unravel is a beautiful thing.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #40: Redemption Song by Bertice Berry

RedemptionSong-BerticeBerryFor as long as I can remember loving to read, I’ve had an affinity for black fiction. It might’ve been rebelling against my dad’s bigoted ways when I was growing up (I’m white, just so’s you know) or my third grade teacher reading every chapter of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry to us and me absolutely falling in love with it to the point where it’s still in my Top 10 list of favorite books. It could also be that as a fat kid growing up, I identified in a very visceral way the harshness of being judged solely by the way I looked. No, I’ve never been a slave. But I also didn’t have my parents taken away from me by an evil wizard when I was a baby. Yet I can still empathize with Harry Potter and the loneliness he felt and the choices he faced between being a good and a bad person. You don’t have to go through exactly what someone has gone through to empathize. Though it definitely does help to have gone through your own adversity.

For a relatively short read (178 pages) Redemption Song packed an emotional wallop. It tells the story of adversity: it is written partly in first person by a black slave woman named Iona who has many special gifts (talking to the stars, medicine, cooking, future sight) including the ability to spontaneously write without ever having been taught. She tells her own story, that of her and her love Joe, through the book Children of Grace. The other part of the book is Miss Cozy, the bookshop owner who brings together Fina and Ross. Ross and Fina originally show up at Black Images bookstore (which, incidentally, is a real bookstore in Texas that I now so want to go to someday) to buy the book but Miss Cozy ain’t selling. She, too, has the gift of future sight as well as reading people’s mind’s. She knows she’s supposed to bring these two present day people together via Children of Grace for a very special reason.

I loved all the characters and found myself wishing I could be their friend, the way I usually wind up doing when I read a book I love. I especially loved the element of Fina and how she liked to wear her boyfriend’s shirts. There’s something so sexy about a woman wearing a men’s button down dress shirt. That aspect is woven into the story in surprising ways and I appreciated the hell out of it.

However, there were some places where it seemed like they wouldn’t want to be my friend because I was white. That felt unfair and like reverse racism, but then I had to remind myself a) before I get my knickers in a twist, I was reading a book not dealing with real people, and b) the character were reflective of real people who had gone through a lot at the hands of some very specific people. Very specific people who look like me. If I’d been put down, enslaved, and brutalized only by a certain race of people, I might develop an understandable aversion to them, as well. However, passages like:

From Manny he learned that the most radical thing that he or any other black man could do was to love a black woman, to care for her and restore her to her rightful position in life. To erase the psychological scars of abuse left by slavery, to tenderly wipe away the disappointment from men who said that they’d be there but couldn’t. Black men needed to love black women and their children and raise strong families.

and:

“Yeah, but give a black man a Brooks Brothers suit and a white woman and he will sell his mama,” Fina commented angrily.

“Alright, Ms. Ndegeocello!” Ross said, referring to the singer Fina had quoted.

were hard to take, especially being a woman who married a mixed race man. He’s told me some of the struggle he’s gone through, and it just reaffirms to me that we need to look at each other as people. Not black, white, yellow, pink, grey, whatever….but people. Thankfully, the book does touch on the sad fact that black is not always synonymous with good and white does not always mean evil. It talked about the black folks who turned against their own by selling fellow men into slavery and snitching on people who were trying to escape and also of the white people who helped fight to end slavery and in general treat people like people. And by the end of the book, Iona says as much and instructs her readers that Everybody who looks like you is not on your side. And everybody who don’t is not against you.” Ross and Fina admit this is hard, but are willing to take on the misson that Iona gives them: Learn to love, strive to love, cause we ain’t got time for nothing else.

That love emanates from this book, which was awesome. It’s a love story that spans decades, challenges both the reader and the characters, and teaches us ways to love and open up in the process.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #39: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson

lets-pretend-this-never-happenedThis review is bittersweet for me. Some have said that they like hearing the back story about how one came to read a particular book, so here goes. This book is the last gift my ex-husband and ex-wife ever gave me. We were in a poly marriage where I was legally married to him for four out of the close to thirteen years he and I were together. We were with our wife for the latter ten years of those thirteen and had a private, (non legally binding) wedding ceremony (yes. it was a wedding ceremony. I don’t care who the hell disagrees with me) for the three of us. They essentially left me for each other. Our relationship had been having trouble for years and it was and is clear that they were much better suited for each other than the three of us were for each other. There were some very difficult times throughout our relationship, but we had all said that we wanted to stay friends after the separation and divorce last year. And for the most part, we tried. Last Christmas, I bought and sent them Christmas presents and sent them out and they also sent me Christmas presents, this book being one of them. Let’s review the title again, shall we? Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. Some would consider it cruel, but I unwrapped it and laughed. It was exactly the dark humor we all shared. When something was painful, laughing at it as soon as possible made everything better. And it was on my wishlist, so it’s not that it just came out of left field. All things considered, it was an incredibly thoughtful gift on many levels…that took me nearly a year to read, though, both because I had a hard time with the origin of the book and if you’ve never read Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess), let’s just say she has both a very distinctive voice and opinions that some people love and some hate (another fun fact: my ex-husband is in the latter camp).

So that’s how it came to be mine. And a few weeks ago, I finally was in a place where I could appreciate her unapologetically irreverent and brash awesomeness. Holy hell, I’m so glad I did! From the amusing and slightly horrified recounting of various family members’ body parts stuck up inside both living and dead animals (her dad’s a taxidermist…which only partially explains it) to the endearing (yet kinda crazy…in the best possible way) portrait of her marriage and family, this book was unlike any I’d ever read. (Save for Freak Show by James St. James…and that’s not to say it was like that, but that’s the only other book I’ve ever read that was wholly unlike any other. And actually, the Bloggess and the narrator of Freak Show do have a similar hyperbolic voice on occasion…but that’s where the similarities end between a woman raised in Texas with an offbeat taxidermy-laden childhood and a teenage drag queen trying to navigate the world of a private high school in Florida end.)

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened starts with Lawson talking about she was a three year old arsonist (kinda) and the next chapter highlights exactly how her childhood is probably way different than most people’s:

1. Most people have never stood inside a dead animal.
2. Most people don’t have poisonous tap water in their house.
3. Most people have running water.
4. Most people don’t have a cistern or even know what a cistern is.
5. Most people don’t have live raccoons in the house.

I can definitely say that I fall into the category of “most people” in all five instances and the story behind all of them are awesome. Of course, I didn’t have to live it…I think the only story in the book that I have actually lived through was the debate over whether Jesus is a zombie or not. Well, it wasn’t much of a debate. To the best of my memory, my exes agreed that Jesus is definitely a zombie.

The most hysterical story in the book is called “And That’s Why You Should Learn To Pick Your Battles” and starts with an argument between Lawson and her husband about not buying new bath towels. This, of course, led to her buying a six foot metal chicken named Beyonce. True story. Also a true story: that story was the first real introduction I had to The Bloggess, from her blog, before the book came out. So once, when driving through Kentucky last year, my ex-girlfriend and I came across a distillery and winery that also sold giant metal chickens. I remember screaming “Beyonce!” and then laughing hysterically until I cried. We stopped and had apple pie moonshine samples and a very good time. If I could’ve afforded a Beyonce of my very own, I totally would’ve. It was not in the cards (or my wallet, however.)

On the flip side, one of the sweetest and my favorite parts of the book, was when she and her husband went back to her childhood home for a visit. She was feeling nostalgic for the past:

I just wanted to go back to my life from my childhood, just to visit it, and to touch it, and to convince myself that yes, it had been real. Victor could tell I was upset, but I couldn’t find a way to describe it without sounding ridiculous. ”It’s nothing,” I said. ”It’s just that…Have you ever been homesick for someplace that doesn’t actually exist anymore? Someplace that exists only in your mind?”

He rocked with me on the front porch in silence, not knowing how to answer, and eventually he put his arm around me and told me everything would be alright, and then he went inside to get some sleep. He found me the next morning, still outside in the same rocking chair, and stared at me worriedly. He asked me gently, “Are you gonna be ready to go home this morning?”

I rocked in silence, and realized for the first time that “home” wasn’t this place anymore. It was where Victor was. It was both a terrifying and an enlightening realization, and I took a deep breath and thought carefully before answering.

“Yes. I’m ready to go home.”

It’s weird. Sometimes I get homesick for the family that I…we’d spent so long creating. But that’s not my home anymore. I have a new home in my new husband and they have a new home in each other. I miss them a lot, but they’ve made it clear that they don’t want to be friends, so I can’t make them. Which means I doubt I’ll be getting any other awesomely macabre gifts from them but I’m incredibly grateful for all the gifts I’ve been given, such as this fantastic book.