Saturday, April 21, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #111: The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 1 by Herge

Other people's childhood adventure stories are rarely that impressive when you discover them as an adult. Now, where have I heard that before?

I've never read Tintin before. I gather the books were available in the US at some point -- I recall seeing albums in the library when my kids were young, and they may have been around when I was young -- but I never saw them then, and didn't come across them in the ordinary way of a voraciously reading kid. (I jumped over to the adult books really early, to hit the SF and mystery sections.)

But there's always time to read a book today, so I just got to the first of a seven-volume series that collects what I think is the whole series by Herge. This one is unsurprisingly titled The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 1, and contains the individual stories Tintin in America, Cigars of the Pharoah, and The Blue Lotus, originally serialized in the early 1930s, collected soon afterward, and reworked into these color versions ten to twenty years later.

(Doing a little research while writing this led me to Herge's Wikipedia page, where I learned that the books collected here were preceded by the tendentious Tintin in the Land of the Soviets and the racist Tintin in the Congo. Well, just yesterday I read the first omnibus of a bande desinee series that included the first two not-quite-right stories, so it's fitting that today I have a similar book that ignores its even more problematic first two books entirely.)

This is high adventure of the old school, with a boy hero to be more vulnerable and to be more of an identification figure to an audience of boys. Tintin is ostensibly a reporter, though we don't see him put pen to paper a single time in these three stories, and he has no visible means of support at all. Again, adventure story -- Tintin is a fantastic character in a fantastic world, free to engage in battling evil wherever he finds it and inevitably victorious in that fight because he's on the side of good. It's a comforting style of story for young men, who themselves have to live in a world where they do need means of support and where evil wins out probably half of the time.

I hadn't realized these stories were serialized when I read them, but it makes sense -- they have that one-damn-thing-after-another kind of plotting, with Tintin getting captured and escaping repeatedly, as he chases various nefarious criminals. I'm not going to get into the details of the three stories, because they're all the same sort of thing in different places, and each page has some kind of excitement.

This particular format is not great for the Tintin books -- it's a smallish hardcover, about 6" x 9", substantially smaller than the original album pages. Herge crams a lot of action and dialogue onto his pages, so people with eyes as old as mine with have to strain to see all of this -- I found myself peering under my glasses far too often. If you're getting Tintin for a young person with young eyes, this should be just fine.

I find this kind of story a little quaint these days, for reasons I got into more yesterday writing about Valerian. Tintin is obviously even more old-fashioned, by about forty years, and that shows in the plotting and style. It's all fun boys-own adventure, possibly the epitome of that style in comics form. But that mode is pretty artificial to begin with -- that's just something to deal with.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #110: Valerian: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1 by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres

Other people's childhood adventure stories are rarely that impressive when you discover them as an adult. That doesn't mean they're bad -- or any more so than your childhood adventure stories -- it just means that you should have read them at the right time, when you were ten or so and ready for anything.

I was forty-eight when I first read the adventures of Valerian and Laureline. It was just the other week, in Valerian: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1. That is much older than it should be, but I could argue that I'm not French, which made it hard to come across these books at the proper time. In any case, I read them now. So what?

Complete Collection Vol. 1 brings together the first three adventures of our space-and-time-hopping duo, written by Pierre Christin and drawn by Jean-Claude Mezieres. (And even the front matter agrees that the first two are a bit off-model for what the series eventually became -- a little thin, a little less interesting. So maybe it's not just me.) This particular volume looks to be a slightly rebranded version -- for the recent Luc Besson movie -- of the first in a standard collection of the whole series. And a big uniform set of books is the kind of thing that only happens, obviously, when something is really popular for a long time.

The omnibus aspect and the movie means there's more frontmatter here than usual for a graphic novel -- a three-way interview with Christin, Mezieres, and Besson (conducted by no one the book cares to mention); several very puffy "isn't this thing totally awesome" mini-essays; a claim that everything in filmed SF since about 1970 directly descends from Valerian; and a precis of the three stories reprinted here. All of that frontmatter is also copiously illustrated, with panels from the comics, photos of the creators and Besson, concept art from the movie, and related stuff.

First up is 1967's Bad Dreams, in which 28th century spatio-temporal agent Valerian is sent back from his leisure-society utopian future to the French Middle Ages in pursuit of a fugitive from his time who has discovered working magic and is going to use it to conquer the world. (The "magic that actually works" thing is strangely not a big deal, and looks like it never came up again.) Along the way, he meets a local girl, Laureline, and has to recruit her when she becomes a unicorn for a while learns about time travel and Valerian's organization.

Next was a big two-part epic from 1970, The City of Shifting Waters and Earth in Flames, in which the villain from Bad Dreams (Xombul) escapes and time-travels back to the obligatory late-20th-century apocalypse, landing in a 1986 New York inundated by rising seas in the very early days of an event that I have to assume will kill the majority of mankind. (As usual, this is just background -- what I tend to call "backswing fantasy" because it clears out space for the mighty hero to swing his sword.) Valerian and Laureline team up with a surprsingly-not-depicted-in-a-racist-way black crimelord (and, eventually, a Jerry-Lewis-as-the-Nutty-Professor scientist) to eventually defeat Xombul and keep the timeline clean.

"Keeping the timeline clean," of course, means "letting several billion people in the northern half of the world die horribly over the course of the next few months or years." But you can't make adventure stories without megadeaths, can you? And, anyway, our heroes do their job and get out -- hooray!

The omnibus ends with what they call the first real adventure of Valerian and Laureline, 1971's The Empire of a Thousand Planets. This is the one, I think, that was adapted into the Besson movie, though the story here doesn't bear much connection to what I saw in trailers. Our heroes are sent to another planet in their own time -- I have the vague sense the time-travel plots stopped entirely at this point, but I could be wrong -- Syrte, the seat of an empire that spans a thousand planets. (Earth, by comparison, is rich and powerful technologically, but does not seem to be an imperial power and is mostly hermetic, since the vast majority of its citizens spend all of their time in computer-controlled dreams.)

They are shockingly unprepared for this mission, in ways that are convenient to the plot and to create quick action, and learn that a group called the Enlightends has been slowly taking over Syrtean society and life. The Enlighteneds capture and shanghai our heroes, and the rest of the story is a series of escapes and recaptures, battles and confrontations, and learning about various plot-important things from sneaky overhearing and Talking Killers.

But, then again, it is an adventure story, so I just restated that in a roundabout way. Valerian and Laureline are in a somewhat old-fashioned style -- these stories are forty years old -- because they are still alive to be captured (and escape again) repeatedly. Somewhere along the line we realized that horrible villains would really just kill people, and our adventure stories changed tone.

These three stories are fun and zippy, full of action and incident, and they do definitely get better and more assured as they go along. (Bad Dreams isn't bad, but it's a little shaky, and the casual use of transformation magic in particular is far different from the rest of the material here.) They're still fine fare for ten-year-olds of all ages, and I enjoyed them quite a bit, even if I hadn't imprinted on them as a youth.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #109: As Naughty As She Wants to Be! by Roberta Gregory

I use the tag "The War Between Men and Women" here now and then, but I'm well aware that the war is mostly fought from one end -- the one that coined the term. (James Thurber, if you don't know.)

For once, I have a dispatch from the beleaguered rebels in that war, the outgunned and oppressed and overwhelmed majority of humanity. I'm probably not a very good reader for this book, but let me see what I can tell you about it.

Naughty Bits was, as far as I can tell, a late underground -- more like the comics of the '60s and '70s than like the burgeoning alternative-comics scene of the '80s and '90s whence it emerged. It was personal and vitriolic and full of multitudes and political in that way that was also entirely personal. It was all by Roberta Gregory, whose work I didn't really pay close attention to before I saw this book.

"This book" is the second Naughty Bits collection, As Naughty As She Wants To Be!, published in 1995 to collect the stories from Naughty Bits that had too much sex in them for the first collection. (Since this was the era where Fantagraphics, Naughty Bits' publisher, was going all-in on sex in comics through the Eros imprint, I'm not 100% sure why, but my educated guess involves the letters B and N and the word Borders.)

Leading off the book, and taking up a little more than half of the space, are stories featuring Gregory's major series character, Bitchy Bitch. BB is teetering on the edge of middle age and bitter about...well, basically everything in her life. She has a job she hates among people she hates, she doesn't have a boyfriend and hates all of the men she meets, she's horny a lot of the time and both being horny and satisfying her urges makes her feel bad, she wants to be a better person but keeps getting in her own way. She'd be a sad character if she weren't so ferociously obnoxious and pugnacious -- she's the female equivalent of that guy always getting drunk and into fights because he has nothing else to do.

Of course, the flip side of that is that BB is also all raging id, all of the feelings that women are told to repress and hold inside in modern society. She feels to me like the entirely female counterpart to some of R. Cumb's similarly id-obsessed characters, blazing a trail for women to be as crude and loud and demanding as men always are allowed to be. It's no surprise that she's been Gregory's most popular character.

Gregory draws the BB stories with a loose, angry line -- almost a scrawl -- to underscore BB's view of the world. The rest of the stories here are drawn in a less cartoony style, since they're about more real people in a more real world -- still as feminist, still as concerned with gender issues, but more nuanced. (Well, "Crazy Bitches" is explicitly her turnabout on Crumb, and so not nuanced at all -- but that's the point.)

This is probably an outlier for Gregory: she's done a lot of comics in a lot of modes over the years, and this was specifically a collection of her "sexy" comics, mostly drawn from the BB-centric Naughty Bits series, at a time and for a publisher that was doing a lot of sex comics. I expect she's this feminist most of the time -- I certainly hope so -- but my guess is that sex and men are much less important in her work, for the same reason.

But As Naughty As She Wants To Be! is a reminder of what underground comix can be, and a good example of how they're not necessarily sexist and misogynistic, even if that comes out far too often in the usual suspects.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #108: Jon Sable Freelance: Ashes of Eden by Mike Grell

I feel bad picking on Jon Sable. He's a favorite of the ComicMix team, and they've been very nice to me over the years. In fact, the book I have here is a limited edition for Baltimore Comic-Con 2008 -- number 96 of 100. [1] It makes me wish I liked it better.

But we can't choose to like things, can we? I've never been any good at that. (I read four Jon Sable collections two years ago, which I was not able to choose to like, and buried my thoughts about them in a belated round-up post.)

Jon Sable Freelance: Ashes of Eden was a new story about the ex-big-game-hunter turned freelance security expert and bestselling kids-book writer, appearing on the ComicMix site before being collected into book form a decade ago. (That was a model that had a lot of promise in those days. And people do buy books of comics that appear online first, it's just that they only seem to buy them if the books and comics can creditably claim to be self-published.)

Ashes of Eden has got some big-white-hunter stuff -- you have to expect that with Jon Sable Freelance; it's baked into his origin as deeply as possible -- but I didn't find it particularly racist, maybe because this story takes place mostly in the US. It's a bit sexist, but if we're going to complain about that in mainstream comics we'll be here all day.

Jon is hired to guard a fabulous diamond and a fabulous dame, both coming from South Africa to NYC for an auction. (The dame is going to MC the auction, more or less.) The diamond is massive, and is expected to be world-famous once it's cut. The dame is a fictional Iraqi version of Sharbat Gula, somewhere in her mid-20s and oozing sex and neediness the way such women always do in stories about tough gun-slinging men told by other men. There are, of course, nefarious forces that want to hijack the diamond, which is why it needs guarding. The dame -- I might as well give her her name: Bashira -- needs guarding because she's the kind of recovering addict who has no self-control but looks absolutely perfect at all times. (She's addicted to drugs, obviously. Grell also makes the obvious hints that she's addicted to sex and danger, as all such fictional women must be.)

Jon gets Bashira and what's eventually called The Maguffin Diamond to the auction, where of course further nefarious actions happen. Some of them are the obvious ones, and some of them are slightly less obvious. Jon's old nemesis/lover Maggie the Cat -- the obligatory gorgeous female cat burglar -- also becomes involved, hint hint nudge nudge.

And, yes, in the end Jon saves those worth saving and kills the rest. That's what he does. He has a confusing dream sequence along the way, in which the spirit of death (in the form of a sexy mostly naked African woman, of course) runs him through the kind of breakthroughs that usually costs a few thousand dollars and takes several years in therapy.

I find it difficult to take Jon Sable Freelance seriously; if he were anything like real, he would have been dead a hundred times by now. Luckily for those who enjoy reading his exploits, he is nothing like real. Grell tells a good adventure story in the standard style, and draws it equally well -- especially the many, many naked women who stalk and lounge around these pages.


[1] The cover at right is completely different from the book in front of me -- it even has different styles for the "Jon Sable Freelance" and "Ashes of Eden" logos. But the one shown here is the book you could find if you looked for it, and it's the one that exists online, so it's the picture you get.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #107: Strangehaven: Brotherhood by Gary Spencer Millidge

There are a lot of quirky comics out there -- and the point of quirkiness is that isn't not for everyone. Any particular quirk will only appear to a particular subset of readers. And even someone who, like me, thinks he's fond of quirk in general can find a particular instance just doesn't work.

I wanted to like Strangehaven: Brotherhood. I love the story behind it: how creator Gary Spencer Millidge did all the work himself, writing and drawing, and how it was deeply English and full of his influences and ideas. I appreciate the fact that it's exactly the comic he wanted to make, influenced most obviously by The Prisoner and Twin Peaks but to a lesser degree by a host of very specifically British works. I admire the fact that he worked on it for so long, telling just the story he wants to tell.

And the set-up is intriguing, too: Alex, a middle-aged Londoner with a broken marriage behind him, goes on a vacation in the West Country, has an ambiguously ghostly encounter, and ends up stuck in the small town of Strangehaven, full of colorful characters and odd secrets.

(Although, parenthetically, I would personally loathe every second of that -- being stuck somewhere I don't want to be, loads of chatty people who won't shut up, barely any mod cons, and the most exciting thing to do is walk around a bunch of grass and hills.)

Brotherhood is the second Strangehaven collection, but Millidge has a thoughtful introduction from Alex's point of view that brings the reader up to speed, and, even more importantly, explains who the characters are with pictures. (Another reason I wanted to like this: Millidge is doing it all right.)

But...you knew there was a "but," right?

I didn't much like Alex, and, as I said just above, my personal reaction to "stuck in a somewhat supernatural way in a small town of quirky people" would be to burn the whole fucking thing down with cleansing fire until the bastard town let me out. So I was not so much in sympathy with his point of view as I might have been.

This is a talky comic, and I found it a chore to read a lot of the time -- only a scene where Basil Fawlty talks, from the TV screen, directly to a character really sang for me. (That was laugh-out-loud funny, I'll admit. I expect more things here are equally funny to actual British people.) Millidge also has a very heavily photo-referenced art style, particularly for people, and that struck me as fussy.

I guess "fussy" is the one word that hits me about Strangehaven. It felt like one of those claustrophobic rooms where an old person has been collecting bric-a-brac for fifty years, and then the old bag decides to tell you about every last piece of it.

There are certainly American readers who will love -- or already have loved -- Strangehaven. You yourself may even be one of them. But it didn't work very well for me, which means I'm not nearly as much of an Anglophile as I think I am.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #106: King David by Kyle Baker

America is more Christian than a lot of the rest of the world realizes. It's not just a right-wing thing, either -- the King James Bible is as central to the language of the USA as our Constitution is, and the question of what church someone belongs to [1] is important in hard-to-describe ways across a lot of this country.

It shouldn't be a surprise: most of the founding myths of the USA boil down to "Those People wouldn't let us do our weird Christian sect the way we wanted to, so we got the hell out of there and started in a new land, where We could be the ones oppressing everyone else." That got baked in early, and deeply. It's not a Christian country, officially -- because, when it was founded, trying to pick a flavor of Christianity would have torn the nascent country apart -- but it's a country dominated by Christianity in a million flavors...though most of them these days are much more sure that a rich man will get into heaven than that a camel can pass through the eye of a needle.

Thus Gilbert Hernandez's bizarre biblical sex-fest Garden of the Flesh. Thus R. Crumb's textually rigorous Book of Genesis. And, more than a decade before either of them, Kyle Baker's 2002 graphic novel King David.

As is typical for major comics-makers turning to biblical matters, King David is weird. It's from that era where Baker was shifting from making comics that looked traditional -- ink on paper, in separate boxes drawn on a page, and then colored by someone else -- into a more painted look that I think was mostly done electronically, and looks like the images might have been created separately and later assembled into pages. (Baker, then and now, had tremendous chops, so it's not easy for my eye to be clear on what tools he used to do whichever particularly impressive thing. ) That's not particularly weird, though.

How about this? King David is presented in a format more like a picture book than a comic: large pieces of art arrayed on the page in loose layouts, with text floating around them (often in very large passages) in a fussy italic font. There are a lot of words to read here, and a text that does not make that easy.

OK, and what about the tone? King David bounces back-and-forth from a relatively respectful style that echoes some Jacobean language without trying to sound Olde Englishe to snippy, snappy dialogue that would be more at home in Baker's What I Hate About Saturn. That's pretty weird, too.

For those of us brought up at least nominally Christian in America, most of King David will be familiar -- it's telling us a story we know, with a uniquely Bakeresque twist. (I have no idea how any biblical story plays out to someone unfamiliar with it, but at least this part of the Bible is relatively light on random massacres, plagues, and general horrible Bronze Age morality.) We start out with David as a cute kid, and see him first soothe the crazed King Saul, and then battle Goliath. The wars with the Philistines go on, and David grows into a popular hero, which of course does not sit well with paranoid, still-crazy Saul. Eventually, David becomes King, and we see him fall himself at the very end, cause the death of Uriah the Hittite so that he can take Uriah's wife Bathsheba for his own.

Baker calls out some of the problematic material in that occasional snarky tone -- the ancient Israelites were much more fond of one rich guy having a lot of wives than we are, for example -- but the religion at the core of it is taken seriously. I don't know what Baker believes, or what he did believe in 2002, but this is a book about faith in God and doing the right thing. None of the showy miracles come in, so it's all people talking about faith in God and doing the right thing, but they firmly believe it, and Baker presents that belief honestly.

Again, this is a biblical comic by a serious comic-maker, which means it's weird: it's neither a proselytizing work nor one that mocks religion, but nods in both directions alternately, and occasionally simultaneously. It may be the quirkiest work in Baker's career, which is saying something about the creator of Special Forces.


[1] Or, in the case of the lapsed or strayed, would have belonged to or used to belong to. Cultural markers aren't removed that easily.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/14/18

Hello again! This is the weekly post where I write about any new books I've gotten, in whatever ways. This time out, I got a big box from the fine folks at Edward R. Hamilton, a great source for remainders and other random books for people like me who want 'em by the yard. And I got three books from the library, the last pieces of a massive number of holds I put in at the end of March. I'll run through them in that order, starting with books I now own and which may or may not have little red dots on the page-edge somewhere or other.

It Just Slipped Out... is a collection of double entendres, arranged alphabetically by Russell Ash. It appears to be quite British, which should be interesting -- I'll have to see how often I have no idea about either side of the entendre.

I Only Read It For the Cartoons is a book of profiles of New Yorker cartoonists by Richard Gehr -- focusing on current cartoonists, as far as I can see, and including Lorenz, Gross, Chast, Booth, Koren, Barsotti, Levin, Roberts, Wilson, Ziegler, Kanin, and Makoff.

Severed, by Frances Larson, is a history of heads, once they've been separated from their bodies. I saw a good review of it a while back, and have been vaguely looking for it since, so now I guess I need to read it.

How to Talk Minnesotan by Howard Mohr -- I'm spending more time there, given my company's home office is just outside the Twin Cities, and I'm on calls with large numbers of Minnesotans for several hours a day. So you betcha I want to know how to talk to 'em.

My Father, the Pornographer is Chris Offutt's memoir of his father Andy Offutt. I read Andy's books, off and on -- he was one of the best writers of Thieves' World, and I had a vague plan to read all of his softcore SF "Spaceways" series at one point -- so I've been wanting to get this for a while. Chris is apparently a respected literary writer, with a better career than his old man had, and, from media reports, this is mostly about Andy Offutt the horrible person and writer of really bottom-drawer porn.

Will Not Attend is by Adam Resnick, a TV writer who hates being with people. This is a collection of essays and stories about that feeling, which I can definitely sympathize with.

That's Not Funny, That's Sick is a history of National Lampoon by Ellin Stein, one of those interesting clusters of funny people of the late 20th century that was intensely influential on everything that came after it. I'm also intrigued because Stein is both female and British, and NatLamp was aggressively masculine (juvenile masculine, to be clearer) and American, so that should be a different perspective.

Over Seventy is something like an autobiography by P.G. Wodehouse, written late in his life, but apparently mostly (very deliberate) digressions from answering specific questions. And Wodehouse is always fun.

Twilight is some kind of SF comic by Howard Chaykin and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, which I think uses a bunch of old DC space-hero characters in new gritty forms. It's from 1990, so I suspect it was originally aimed to be the Watchmen of Space DC -- but that could still be good. I don't think I've ever read it, and I'm surprised to see it's that old.

Jonah Hex: Shadows West collects the three stories about the old DC Western character written by Joe Lansdale and drawn by Tim Truman in the '90s -- I'm not sure I ever read the third one. Lansdale does weird western as well as anyone, and Truman is a great comics creator who I wish got a lot more work and attention.

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat!, Vol. 1: Hooked on a Feline by Kate Leth, Brittney L. Williams and Natasha Allegri -- I generally try to get "superheroes done right" comics like this from the library, but this was cheap, and it sounded interesting. I suspect the way Marvel collapses seventy years of real-world history and changing social mores into the lives of characters they insist are still in their twenties or thirties will be annoying, but I'll see.

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is adapted from the Lovecraft novella by I.N.J. Culbard. I liked all of Culbard's other Lovecraft adaptions, and I hope he keeps doing them for as long as he wants to and there are more Lovecraft stories out there.

The Last Dragon is some kind of fairy-tale-esque graphic novel written by Jane Yolen and drawn by Rebecca Guay. I haven't read as much Yolen as I should, and this was cheap -- so I grabbed it even though I'd never heard of it before.

And then there are the three books I got from libraries:

The two paperbacks reprinting the recent run of The Vision written by Tom King and drawn mostly by Gabriel Hernandez Walta -- first is Little Worse Than a Man and second is Little Better Than a Beast. I'm hopeful about these, since it got in and out in a dozen issues, so I have hopes that was the plan. But "good superhero comics" have been dashing my hopes for thirty years now.

And last is Guerillas, Vol. 2 by Brahm Revel, some kind of fantastic war comic about chimpanzee soldiers in Vietnam. I was slightly annoyed when the library delivered it, since I didn't realize this was a multi-part story, and they gave me number two. But I vaguely remembered it, and it turns out I have the first volume sitting, moldering, in a random book-reading app, since I got it as a review copy far too long ago. So it looks like I'll be reading two volumes of this.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #105: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard

I am not in the habit of reading play-scripts. I mean, is anyone? Except for actual theatrical directors and actors, obviously. It's not a format that Joe Reader grabs. Is it?

But I read Tom Stoppard's famous first play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead way back in my mis-spent youth -- I think in high school, probably as an adjunct to studying Hamlet, since I was just that kind of weird kid -- and loved it then. So I saw a copy cheaply recently, and grabbed it. And, since I'm doing Book-A-Day, I'm gravitating to all of the weird short books that are on my shelves.

So I read it again, for the first time in probably thirty years. (I did see, and write about, the movie version in the early days of this blog.)

I should not have been surprised that a play from the mid-60s was very stagy and mannered -- as much about the idea of being a play as it was actually a real play that people would enjoy -- but I was, a bit. It's also as much of a riff on Waiting for Godot as it is a riff on Hamlet: if you were pitching it to Hollywood, the log line would be "The Waiting for Godot guys are Hamlet's old school friends!"

Which is to say: reading Rosencrantz can be a lot of work. It's not a play that opens itself up to the reader; it circles, tightly, around Hamlet and the concept of free will, in dialogue that we would have called very Stoppardian if he'd had enough work out by 1967 to let us make the comparison. And the play itself is deliberately chilly, the story of two men whom the title declares to be dead.

Of course, reading any play is an inferior experience to seeing it produced. A play-script is a blueprint: the actual work happens in time, on a stage, to particular people in a particular moment. And Rosencrantz is a brilliant script, a blueprint for a magnificent work. You don't need me to tell you that, but I will, just in case -- I'll join in on the chorus, because the chorus is correct in this case.

See it performed if you can, preferably on a stage. The 1991 movie is a decent alternative if you can't. You do need to know Hamlet and Godot first, obviously. But you should know them anyway, the way you know which hand is left and which is right.