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MFA in Comics from California College of the Arts, 2015.
BFA in Studio Art from Dominican University of California, 2011.
Based in Northern California.
Current Residence: the Library
Favourite genre of music: Classic Rock, Celtic Rock
Favourite style of art: Medieval manuscripts, Pre-Raphaelites, Comics, Illustration
Personal Quote: "I desired dragons with a profound desire." ~JRR Tolkien
I read over a hundred books in 2015, of which the definite majority (more than sixty) were comic books. Here are reviews of my favorites.
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel opens in Toronto at a theater performance of King Lear. The middle-aged actor playing Lear collapses of a heart attack; a paramedic student from the audience leaps up to perform CPR and an eight year old actress watches her idol die on stage. Within a few hours the killer flu that has been making its way across the globe reaches Toronto and within the next few months it kills off nine of every ten people on Earth. Twenty years later the young actress, Kristen, is now part of a Shakespeare Company which travels in horse-drawn carts between the scattered remains of civilization. The following story weaves in and out of flashback of the lives of the characters before the flu and the reality of life after the end of the world. If I had to choose only one book to recommend from my 2015 list it would be this one. But keep looking down the list- all these others were marvelous as well.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell was a gorgeous but punishing read. Erring much more on the side of fiction than science, this novel is set in the near future when a transmission of eerie music is picked up from Alpha Centauri. While the nations of Earth debate the meaning of this fragment of song the Jesuit Church quietly funds a manned expedition to travel through space to the music’s source and bring the word of God to this new world. The crew consists of eight people- eight wonderful human beings, some of the best and brightest, most compassionate, loving, funny and wise individuals that humanity has to offer. Only one of them makes it back to Earth, and by the time he is rescued he wishes he was dead.
I have not seen the movie version of The Martian but the novel by Andy Weir was one of the best sci-fi books I’ve read in years. Heavily researched and based on a lot of real science, this is the story of Mark Watney who, through a serious of impossible to predict circumstances, is left behind on Mars. Luckily he has a fully functional Hab research/living space, two rovers, six space suits, a bag of potatoes and a very good sense of humor. Mark tackles the challenge of surviving on Mars with a can-do attitude and huge amount of ingenuity.
Rogues edited by GRR Martin and Gardner Dozois is a collection of 21 original stories from well known authors of many genres. I mostly picked up it for Patrick Rothfuss, Neil Gaiman and Connie Willis but I was very impressed by the anthology as a whole. Of the whole batch there were only 2 or 3 I didn’t outright enjoy which is pretty damn good for a story collection. There are fantasies, westerns, crime dramas and more and each story features an excellent rogue.
The Magicians, The Magician’s King, and The Magician’s Land trilogy by Lev Grossman had been described to me as “Harry Potter with college age kids” but a slightly better description might be Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series mixed with Narnia. The set up is very familiar: a teen boy with powers is offered a place at a mysterious magician’s boarding school. But Grossman pushes the magic school genre into new and darker places. Drugs, post-college ennui, hookups, poor choices and heartless gods all destroy the illusion of magic as a path to happiness. I really enjoyed these books but don’t start them expecting the well-loved stairways of Hogwarts.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell is a story out of a story: in Rowell’s earlier novel,Fangirl, the title character writes volumes and volumes of fanfiction of a Harry Potter-like series and Carry On, Simon is the name of her best known fic. Carry On was pitched as “the story that Cath wrote in Fangirl” but it grew from this meta-book idea into it’s own solid and highly enjoyable novel. Also set in a magical English boarding school the cast of this book faces the threat of a bizarre enemy who is eating power and leaving gaping dead zones in the magical atmosphere. Two boys, long-time enemies (poised on the delicious edge of either killing or kissing each other) have to find a way to work together long enough to solve an eighteen year old murder and save the World of Mages.
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney is set in Canada in the 1860s in an isolated fur-trapping settlement that is shocked by a bloody murder. The 17 year old son of a local family has disappeared and is considered the main suspect- his mother sets out on his tracks into the tundra determined to bring him back, either innocent or guilty. The tone of this book is deeply influenced by the harsh and barren landscape which tends to bring out the worst and best in people. Extremely well written.
A Burnable Book and The Invention of Fire by Bruce Holsinger are a set of mysteries set in London in the 1380s. The main character is John Gower, a poet, a buyer and seller of secrets and a good friend of Geoffrey Chaucer. In each book he faces a crime that threatens to throw his carefully balanced city into chaos and violence. These books capture the feeling of daily life in a medieval setting better than anything I’ve ever read in the era.
A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper is one of the best young adult books I have read in a long time. Beginning in 1937, this book is written as a first-person journal narration from the point of view of a romantic but practical girl named Sophie who lives in a crumbling castle with her sister, her cousin, a mad uncle and a few others on a tiny fictional island in the Bay of Biscay. Her uncle happens to be the King of Montmaray, but the island has been all but abandoned after the first World War and the second War is now threatening to destroy all that is left.
Possession by AS Byatt is a story of two modern academics, Roland and Maud, both of whom are researching fictional Victorian Poets, Randolph Ash and Christabel La Motte respectively. The discovery of a scrap of a letter from Ash to La Motte leads to a fateful meeting between the two scholars which sends them on a suspenseful whirlwind search for the true relationship between the poets. This book is a mystery, a romance, a thriller and also contains a set of extremely beautiful poems seemingly written by very different poets but in actuality all written by the same author. I was incredibly impressed by the scope of the writing and was completely drawn in by the addictive plot.
Tale of Sand by Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, Ramon Perez, Chris Robinson and Stephan Christy is a comic book based on a scrip by Jim Henson which was (to the the best of my knowledge) never filmed. It is also a tour de force of a comic book, which page layouts and pacing unlike anything I have ever seen. The visual humor and gorgeous style are well worth it, and the story is a fascinating inside-out puzzle of a narrative.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson has won many awards and it deserves them. Originally serialized as a webcomic, this is an astonishingly moving story of a super villain and his side-kick, the shape-shifting title character, who must save a city from a villainy much worse than their own.
Fantasy Sports by Sam Bosma was an absolute treat. It’s not a very long book, less than 60 pages, but each page is beautiful and well-written. The story follows a pair of ill-matched mages who must face down an evil undead wizard in a game of high-stakes fantasy basketball.
Supermutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki is a cuttingly funny examination of human nature through the lens of a loose group of magical high school misfits. There are friends, enemies, crushes, boring homework assignments, riffs on relationships with technology, nature and (most terrifyingly) other people.
Beyond: the Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy Anthology edited by Sfe Monster is the gorgeous result of a very successful kickstarter project. A whole bunch of stories from 26 different contributors show queer characters in space, on earth and in fantasy in a range of beautiful styles.
What can I even say about Sandman Overture? Written by Neil Gaiman, drawn by JH Williams III, colored by Dave Stewart, lettered by Todd Klein and with variant covers by Dave McKean- this is a dream of a book made by the dream team. It is mostly a prequel to the Sandman series except that it is also an epilogue. I can’t even say anything about the plot but I will say that it’s books like this that reconfirm my desire to draw comics for the rest of my life.
The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer was one of the first books I read in 2015 and pretty much my first experience of Palmer’s work. I love reading books about creative people because I’m fascinated by how many different ways there are to live a life that includes making art. Palmer’s version includes a lot of bravery, and also a lot of hope.
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran was hilarious. Moran was an odd duckling growing up in England in the 1980s who stumbled in the music journalism scene in the 1990s just in time to be the only woman at nearly every job she landed. Chapters in this book range all over the place (periods, siblings, riot grrl, dating, marriage, abortion, birth, fashion, work, sexism, porn) and some were more to my fancy than others. But this is the kind of book that makes me laugh in public and then read bits out loud to the people around me so that they can laugh out loud too.
Gender Outlaw: The Next Generation edited by Kate Bornstein and S Bear Bergman is a collection of essays by gender outlaws of every type. Sad, funny, stirring, factual- it’s quite a grab bag but always an enjoyable one.
Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice by Ivan Brunetti was one of the two books I read for a Comics Pedagogy class in my MFA program over the summer. It took me a while to get into Brunetti’s sometimes unnecessarily familiar tone but it’s a very good outline for a 15 week comics class and by the conclusion it’s downright inspirational.
Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth was dazzling. The story takes place on St George’s Day and is set entirely in and around a trailer illegally and permanently parked in an English wood outside of a small rural town. The town council wants to evict Johnny “Rooster” Byron but can you evict a local legend? Rooster hosts parties that last for days, spinning music and tall tales to the local teenagers who haunt his half-enchanted forest. He claims that the blood of giants runs through his veins and that he can call a curse down on the town. His encampment provides a place for the local youth to experience mystery and magic for the first time. He may also have kidnapped a runaway local girl and is constantly providing illegal substances to minors. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to watch this play live- just reading it had me both laughing and shivering. The ultimate verdict on the Rooster is left entirely to the audience.