Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday diversions: fun is for assholes

You'll see what that means in a minute. It's actually a good thing.

I am mentioned...
--First, my book Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page was mentioned in very kind post at the Brain Pickings blog of Maria Popova. She also writes for Wired UK, The Atlantic and Design Observer among others. My book made the list of 5 Art and Design Projects Inspired by Literary Classics. I am at number two, and the rest of that list is filled with some incredible work by other artists. I believe this piece also ran on The Atlantic's web site, which is quite cool.

--Next, my art is mentioned in this awesome post at the blog Fun Is For Assholes, written by someone named flameboy. I really REALLY liked this post because it goes beyond my Moby-Dick art and covers bits and pieces of everything else I've done too. That meant a lot to me because while I am still immensely proud of the Moby-Dick art and that is a big part of why nearly all of you visit this blog, I've made so much more art than that and to me they are all important pieces of a greater whole.

--Next, my book gets an intriguing and positive review at the web site of the Commack Public Library in Commack, New York. Being a librarian myself, you can see why this excites me. The review was very straightforward as well, which I respect a lot, indicating that "This is an art book, and it really comes down to whether you enjoy Kish’s artwork or not." Very true, and very fair.

--Finally, a brief mention of my book down near the bottom of this piece, at the web site of The Herald in Everett, Washington. It's an interesting post which jumping off from a mention of the gray whales of Puget Sound and transitioning to a survey of whale and Moby-Dick related book offerings from the last year or so. My book is mentioned as having won "the prize for greatest whale-related obsession" and for having art that is "quirkily low-tech" which made me smile.

European comics rule
--This is old news by now, but last May Fantagraphics announced that they had acquired the rights to reprinting Belgian artist Guy Peellaert's stunning graphic novels The Adventures of Jodelle and Pravda the Overdriver. Both works are essential parts of the societal upheaval that led to the cultural revolution of 1968 in France. Fantagraphics has a much more thorough blog post announcing the publications here. I am giddy with excitement about this, and these books look absolutely gorgeous. Sadly, it looks like they are running a bit behind schedule as The Adventures of Jodelle was originally slotted for a May release but has now been pushed back to August or later. The wait will be frustrating, yes, but these books will be well worth it once they finally arrive. Take a look at the art and you'll see what I mean. First, here is what I think was the first cover to the English edition of The Adventures of Jodelle...

Here is the cover to Fantagraphics' new edition...

Here is a page of Peellaert's art from the original, in French. Which I, sadly, cannot read but still love to look at, and eagerly await in English...

Also here is a selection of pages from what I am fairly certain is Pravda the Overdriver and not The Adventures of Jodelle (in spite of being labeled as such). Oddly, these appear to be in Italian rather than French. In any case, they are amazing...

I truly hope and dream that these books will kick off a wave of beautiful English language reprints of European comic classics. That's probably a fool's hope, but little would make me happier. Here in the States, there is a dearth of anything other than American superhero comics and manga, and while there are some gems in both of those, they were never easier to find and are becoming rarer still. One book I'd almost kill to see translated and reprinted is Kris Kool by French artist Caza. I am fortunate enough to own one art book, Kronozone, by Caza...

...but as you can tell from the cover, it focuses primarily on his later, science fiction work. Kris Kool on the other hand is from 1970 and, well, why don't you just take a look for yourself...

All of that art was taken from this post on the amazing 50 Watts web site and there is even more at the link so take a look. Also, you should probably visit 50 Watts daily because it is a seemingly inexhaustible source of incredible art, design, and book-related ephemera. One of the best things on the internet, easily.

And please, someone, anyone, please reprint Kris Kool!

About them Hunger Games
--Did you read The Hunger Games? I have not, nor have I seen the movie. Neither appeals much to me, and I am trying to figure out just why.

The same is true of the Twilight series and the Harry Potter books as well, although I have seen most of the Potter movies. The Hunger Games seems to be a polarizing title though, as is evidenced by "Adults Should Read Adult Books" by Joel Stein at The New York Times and the long and passionate thread of comments that follows. There is a lot of backing and forthing, from Stein and from the commenters, but I would be dishonest if I did not admit that I find the breathless level of hype and adoration for these books, particularly when this comes from adults, a bit mystifying. Then again, I just went on at length about French science fiction comics full of bare breasts for several paragraphs, so I am certainly not the best judge. But I'm curious...what do you think of Hunger Games, Twilight, Potter and so on?

Calling Australia
--Finally, is anyone reading this from Australia?

I have a rather silly yet desperate request for a book that seems to only be available in Australia, from an Australian publisher, that can only be sold to Australians (or maybe New Zealanders too? I don't know) so if you can help, please email me at mattkish87 [at] gmail. I'd be more than happy to pay in full, or to trade art, or both.


  1. I've read the first book of The Hunger Games and find it to be a great book. While true it's a young adult series, I did find it to be a good light read with no really special ideas happening, but I think that if young people can relate with the strong female lead in The Hunger Games more than they can relate to the female lead in Twilight then that is an absolute win.

    Regarding the movie, I found it wonderful. While the cinematography was a mixed bag, the type used for the titles and the costume designs were spectacular.

    The guards in the movie were especially endearing.

    While clearly inspired by classic movies such as THX:

    I still think the homage and inspiration from past works regarding the visuals and the setting of The Hunger Games is tasteful and well placed in a contemporary and youthful mindset.

    Either way, I dug it - and I was entertained. Is the movie and story forgettable? Probably - but for now I'm glad they exist. Especially in our current political and civil rights challenging nation.

  2. Hi Matt,
    thanks for pointing me towards books, art, and comics I would otherwise never hear about. I really like being offered these tasty morsels, especially since I really never understood what this Graphic Novel stuff was all about... until I read some. :-) (One Sandman, so far, and two more classics: the League of thingummy gentlemen, and from Hell. See, it's usually movies that bring me to these books, so I like hearing about the appeal of the Visual Art that inspired the movie in the first place...)
    However. About those other books for Young Adults.
    I certainly do NOT believe that ANYBODY should or should not read ANYTHING because of an alleged genre or age group. Either it is a good story - or it is not. Either it is well written - or it is not. If it is a good story - read it. If it is a well written story - read it. In the rare cases where you find a good story that is well written - who cares if it is sci-fi or non fiction or for children?
    Plus: many people look down on children's /YA literature as something second class. Why? Should not our standards be that much higher for younger, less experienced and more easily influenced readers? Won't they carry those stories around with them forever and ever?
    The problem, of course, is that so many authors do not RESPECT young readers as much as they should: taking them seriously as intelligent readers eager for plot and quite open for the nuances of language, even willing to expand their vocabulary in order to understand a gripping story. (Kids learn new words all the time. It is usually adults who keep kids stupid by not allowing them to grow. If a kid is too young to cope with a book's content they will put it to the side anyway. Otherwise: make sure you know what it is they read so that you can answer any question)

    Having said this, I read all the Harry Potter books (more than once) and quite liked them. Despite their obvious flaws (whenever wizard world and muggle world meet). I suspect I shall like the Hunger Games too. (the trick is/seems to be: complex characters you can (and want to) identify with, being candid with readers about BAD things in life and how to cope with them in a mature way.)

    I equally suspect I should hate the Twilight series - what a stupid girl!

    Sorry for writing that much - but the topic is dear to me.
    Congrats to your ongoing success - enjoy it - you worked hard for it!

  3. Kyle, I tend to agree with most of what you've written. I have no issues with a "good light read" and I don't think that every book, movie, or piece of music has to be an enduring classic that will challenge the mind and last through the ages. Additionally, as you wrote, I do think that by and large it is a very good thing that there is exciting writing being created for teen readers, and that they seem to be responding to this.

    However, what I responded to the most in terms of Stein's article was the somewhat breathless adulation and praise being heaped on the book "The Hunger Games" by so many adult readers who ought to, at the very least, be capable of reading, understanding, and getting excited about literature that is more complex and more challenging.

    Again, I don't have a problem with readers of any age reading and enjoying material like "The Hunger Games." But if you are an adult and your literary consumption consists EXCLUSIVELY of teen titles like Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter and so on, I have some real concerns.

  4. I mean, yes, I read an enormous amount of comics, graphic novels and comic strips. And I enjoy them a great deal. And I enjoy them for what they are which is, for the most part, cheap and disposable entertainment that is easily forgettable. But I also enjoy novels like, well, "Moby-Dick" and "The Book of the New Sun" by Gene Wolfe and "As I Lay Dying" by William Faulkner and so on. I don't think that makes me smarter than anyone else, or better, or something absurd and elitist and judgmental like that. But I do think it marks me as an adult reader.

  5. Hello Projektmanagerin, and no apologies are necessary. I LIKE long comments, and I really enjoy the conversations that ensue.

    Graphic novels are like every other medium (film, writing, etc.) in that there are some truly incredible works and generally a lot of really forgettable and sometimes awful ones. I think the biggest mistakes most people make are in either assuming that graphic novels and comics are for kids and teenagers only, or that graphic novels and comics are always about superheroes. Neither of those things are true, and graphic novels are simply a different kind of way to tell a story.

    You've already some of the very best that the medium has to offer ("Sandman," "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and "From Hell") so I feel pretty certain you have a firm idea of how good a graphic novel can be. As long as you stay far away from the endlessly rehashed regurgitations that Marvel and DC are puking out these days you should continue to enjoy them.

  6. Now about these teen books. While I do agree with you that one should not pick and choose books (or movies, or art, etc.) based strictly on how they are labeled or marketed or necessarily on who the intended audience is (kids, teenagers, etc.) I do think that there are some marked differences between teen fiction and adult fiction. For example, I absolutely love children's picture books, and I often think that the best picture books contain some of the most amazing illustration I have ever seen. In general, I would prefer to spend my art-gazing time in a library full of picture books and illustrated books than in a fine art museum full of oil paintings and sculpture. But a picture book is almost always intended for a juvenile reader, and while the illustrations may be delightful, they will always be very direct, straightforward and lack subtlety or ambiguity. Again, that's not a judgment of quality, it's an appraisal of content and aesthetic.

    There is, as you very rightfully say, no reason NOT to read a good story. But is a good story for a 15 year old always going to be the same as a good story for a 55 year old? I don't know. I'm not the best judge of this since I haven't read "The Hunger Games" but I have found myself revisiting some of the novels I really loved when I was in high school (specifically Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion books, with Elric, Hawkmoon and Corum) and found myself slightly disappointed after finishing. Believe me, I'm still trying to sort this out and figure out why that is.

    I think there is an important place for teen literature and I don't think it should be relegated to some kind of library or bookstore ghetto where we shunt off the undesirables to lurk. But as I mentioned in my comment to Kyle above, I get confused when I run into an adult who reads nothing BUT teen literature.

    I think you're absolutely right in saying that teen literature today is far more complex, far more challenging, and far more substantial than it has ever been and that parallels the experience of being a teen in today's world which is full of technology and connectedness and 24 hours news cycles and wars and recessions and so on. All of that is good. But these are the foundations, the building blocks for the more complex ideas and issues we grapple with as adults. I guess, to me, it's more a question of content than strictly vocabulary.

    Ultimately, I believe that as always, it comes down to balance. As much as I love comics and graphic novels, my mind would certainly atrophy if I read NOTHING but comics. Every medium has its strengths and weaknesses, and every age group has its challenges and filler. There is nothing wrong with reading anything at all! Adults can and should read picture books and teen books and comics and graphic novels and great classics of literature and speculative contemporary fiction and People magazine and on and on and on. I worry about those who eschew one or more of those for an exclusive diet of nothing but easy, quick to read good stories. I guess I run into a lot of them in my life.

  7. Dear Matt,
    thanks for your thoughts - and, again, my apologies for coming back to the conversation so late (gotta finish a dissertation).
    I think we are actually quite agreed. My issues are both with the way the book industry wants/needs to label everything into neat little boxes, and especially the way our culture puts values onto these boxes.
    Of course there is a difference between kids/YA literature and "normal"/adult books (or romances/sci-fi/mystery) (Yet some of the world's greatest literature is fantasy cum romance. Ask Homer...)
    And of course all of these boxes contain gold and rubbish in equal measure - nay, probably more rubbish than gold. Yet I still believe that reading rubbish is better than reading nothing at all, because you always learn something, even if it's only how NOT to describe a situation, treat a character, write a dialogue etc.

    I think it is important to remember that reading is a skill. And I'm not talking letters and spelling, but indeed, like you said, being able to deal with content, subtext, context - growing complexities. These reading skills can and have to be honed and trained and constantly worked at, because just like weight lifting, if you stop doing it (e.g. after graduating from college) you'll lose some of the effortless ease you once had when working with and through complex texts on a more regular basis.

    I do not know if you ever read Alan Bennett's beautiful little book "The Uncommon Reader" which describes the process of a reader's "growth" with such love and attention... ?

    So, I agree, nothing wrong with some light fiction/non-fiction every now and then, as long as you (I) keep reading the other stuff too. (Whenever I write "you", I am really talking about myself. Selfish little me)

    Interesting, by the way, how many books that are labeled children/YA today (usually in abridged or otherwise "simplyfied" forms) were never aimed at children. Gulliver's Travels, Treasure Island, some would even count Moby Dick ...

  8. Thanks a lot for the love. I continue to enjoy your blog; many wonderful discoveries. Best wishes.

  9. Absolutely any time flameboy. It was an honor.


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