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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Random fact and fiction

Some stuff I've read lately, in lieu of horseback riding, either books I bought or library copies, recounting events both real and imagined from through time and space.

EMBROIDERIES by Marjane Satrapi - I'd been hearing a lot of praise for Satrapi's work, so I picked this up when I saw it in the library. It's a fairly straight-forward story about a group of Iranian women of several generations exchanging stories and gossip about sex and marriage. It's an interesting read, with a look at an aspect of the culture of the region that doesn't get a lot of exposure. I wasn't overwhelmed, the art was kind of loose (though sometimes clever) and found the story a bit tedious towards the end as it became clear that it was just a series of anecdotes without a unifying point, but I will probably try her PERSEPOLIS volumes, which I gather are much more detailed in both art and plot.

300 by Frank Miller is a quick telling of the story of Spartan King Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae, told in big drawings (the original serialized version was composed of all double page spreads, which are each printed as a single page in this double-wide format). I'm not a huge fan of the stuff Miller writes and draws himself, my favourites of his stuff have always been the David Mazzucchelli illustrated stories and a few early stories he drew but didn't write. This didn't change my mind, but I did think the artwork was a lot better than stuff like SIN CITY or DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN. Especially DKSA. It's pretty clear that he was into the story and it suits his art. Unfortunately the story was terribly light, a quick read without giving any real details of the story (I had to consult a few independent sources to find out what he was actually trying to tell us) and full of lots of stupid macho bravado disguised as characterization. Worth the time reading, but I'm glad I got it from the library.

The latest volume of Osamu Tezuka fanciful history of Siddhartha is BUDDHA v5 - DEER PARK (Budda Dai Gokan Rokuyaon). Still one of Tezuka's oddest work, with a lot of his odd sense of humour, anachronisms and extreme situations. The first half of this book deals with a lot of the characters we had met in previous volumes suddenly finding their paths interacting, as Tatta getting involved in Devadatta's schemes. Later on the focus goes back to Siddhartha, now known as Buddha (the Enlightened One), as he begins preaching the philosophy of life to deer. Boy, I see why they need that note in every issue about having characters and events not from the historical record. I always enjoy the wackiness, but I do wonder how Tezuka will tie it all in for the ending (three more volumes to go, all of which should be out by the end of the year).

More Tezuka, this time returning to the future with his loosely linked Phoenix saga in PHOENIX v5 - RESURRECTION, a pretty complicated story about a man in the 25th century who falls out of an air-car and is saved by a new medical procedure that makes him partly a robot and affects his perceptions, so he sees living beings as abstract shapes and a robot as human. And it gets weirder from there. Jumps back and forth in time and has a few characters who appear in the earlier volumes set further in the future, so I'll have to re-read those with that in mind. I've been preferring the PHOENIX stuff set in the past to those in the future, but there's always some thoughtful and delightful stuff in every volume. I mean, come on, a robot zipping around on its butt?

THE R. CRUMB HANDBOOK by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski is a nice thick 400+ page, compact sampler of Crumb's work from through his life, along with various auto-biographical notes from Crumb and a lot of photos. I've never been a huge fan of Crumb, but I find some of his stuff interesting, and it's nice to have a single book with a survey of his career, with bits from sketchbooks, commercial work, gallery shows and early work in addition to the comics. I was a bit sorry that it didn't include "Meatball", probably my favourite Crumb story, and of course a lot of the stuff included does go into the uncomfortable sides of Crumb's attitudes (without getting into the discussion of whether his work actually shows him to be racist and sexist or just comments on racism and sexism). I could have done with fewer photos and such and more comics, but it's a good intro to Crumb for the price. Also includes a CD of Crumb playing music, but I haven't listened to that.

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