Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Next Line of Dialogue Theater Presents...

Today's Funky Winkerbean:
"...what if there were a database of movies somewhere on the Internet that we could use to look Clifford Anger up? Wouldn't that be a great idea?!"

Cartoonists are as prone to inadvertently assuming their audiences are morons as any other storytellers, I suppose.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 3/26

I'm writing this on Easter morning with a bad head cold, so I'm doubly distracted -- frantic preparations for the afternoon festivities (Easter is, in this family, an opportunity to have a big family meal and pretty much nothing else) are going on over head, and my own state is substantially less than it should be. [1] So apologies if this seems even more slapdash and lousy than usual.

As usual, below is an annotated list of books that arrived on my doorstep over the past week, sent by the hardworking publicists of the US publishing industry who think my feeble blog is worth the effort. (This is the point where I should promise that I'll go back into high-content mode any minute now, but the cold is tamping down all of that optimism and energy.) So: these are books, and you may like them. I'll try to tell you things about them that would make you like them, though I haven't actually read any of these yet, and may not read any particular one of them ever.

I'll lead off with the new book by Harry Turtledove, who is really prolific and generates interesting ideas like other people have hot dinners. His new novel, The House of Daniel, is a historical fantasy (or maybe magical realism) -- set in a Depression saturated with magic but still economically broken. And one young roughneck out of Enid, Oklahoma stumbles his way onto a traveling minor-league baseball team, which just might be his ticket out of town right at the moment he most needs it. Fantasy baseball novels are a small but highly respected category, and I'm hoping Turtledove does as well here as my personal favorite, Michael Bishop's Brittle Innings. House of Daniel is a Tor hardcover, available April 19th.

Also from Tor is Marie Brennan's In the Labyrinth of Drakes, the fourth in the "Memoirs of Lady Trent" series about a alternate-Victorian naturalist and the very large draconic fauns that she investigates. (I keep thinking that I should read this series -- I like conceits like that -- but Brennan is putting them out too quickly for my current lassitude in reading SFF.) If you haven't picked up the series before, the first one is A Natural History of Dragons, and, if you have been better than me at keeping up, this one will be a new hardcover on April 5th.

Whitley Strieber was a major horror/thriller/SFF writer in the '70s and '80s (The Hunger, Wolfen), then took a detour into non-fiction when he started claiming his his stories about alien abduction we totally real and happened to him -- which caused a fair portion of the field to look at him askance -- but seems to have come out the other end of that phase into focusing on fiction again. His "Alien Hunters" series of books -- about one tough American battling the evil minds from space who want to conquer the world, naturally -- has turned into a TV series for Syfy, which is prominently displayed on the covers of the two related Strieber books I have here. The new hardcover is Alien Hunter: The White House, in which Striber's series hero must thwart a diabolical plot to control the mind of the President, as aliens generally want to do. That one is a hardcover from Tor, hitting April 5th.

And the first book in the series, now titled Hunters to match the TV series, is coming out in a tie-in paperback edition, telling the story of how that strong-thewed hero learned about the evil alien plot to pollute our precious bodily fluids and joined the super-secret police force that protects All of Humanity. This one came out in March, so you should be able to find it everywhere.

Now we come to the manga portion of this week's list, with two recently published paperbacks from Yen Press. First of those is Akame ga KILL!, Vol. 6, from Takahiro and Tetsuya Tashiro. It aparrently about girls in really short skirts fighting "Danger Beasts."

The other Yen manga this week is from Reki Kawahara and Koutarou Yamada: Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet, Vol. 2. Following the earlier books, this is another "our hero investigates when things go very wrong in a VR MMORPG online game" -- and yet those games still exist, in a world where they routinely kill and maim people. Seems slightly unlikely.

Last up for this week is a cluster of light novels -- half the fat and calories as a regular novel, but all the fun! Reki Kawahara has the seventh book in the Sword Art Online saga (see immediately above), Mother's Rosary. This time, the players don't seem to be trapped in the game or under threat of death, which is nice for them -- but there is a mysterious player who beats all of our heroes, which they're not happy with.

Isauna Hasekua finishes up the Spice & Wolf series with a seventeenth volume explicitly titled Epilogue. (Has anyone ever named a novel that before? I bet there's some Oulipo guy or something like that, but I can't bring anything to mind.) This seems to be the story of some minor characters trying to find out to what happened to the series characters (a traveling merchant and his ex-fertility goddess/wolfgirl girlfriend), without promising that it will actually do so.

Black Bullet 3: The Destruction of the World by Fire is the cheery title of the new book by Shiden Kanzaki, set in  a world where most humans have been killed by "the monstrous Gastrea" and only a few stalwarts protect the last redoubt, Tokyo Area (naturally -- in a manga, if there are people anywhere in the world, it will be in Tokyo). This one is about yet another threat to the few people who are still alive, of course.

And last is a book that's first in its own series: The Irregular at Magic High School, Vol. 1, by Tsutomu Sato. (It also says it's "Enrollment Arc 1," which implies we may be in for a lot of books in this series, if just enrolling will take more than one volume.) A brother and sister enter the most prestigious magical high school in Japan, but while the kid sister is a braniac grind and lands in the top academic track, her older brother is not so focused and has more remedial course. Apparently, this is Really Bad, for no specified reason.

[1] My new office seems prone to a lot of germs; we've all gotten sick a lot this winter. I don't know if it's the building itself, or the fact that we're crammed in on top of each other like a beehive, but I'm ready to stop being sick all of the time now, please.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 3/19

As usual, here are some books -- a lot of books, actually. And, since I need to get away from the computer for some frivolity this afternoon (my older son just turned 18, which is wonderful for him but makes me feel old), so this may be a speed round.

As always: these just came in the mail, and I haven't read any of them. This time: all but one  (which will take the anchor position at the rear) came form the fine folks at Yen Press, and are translated from the Japanese. Several are "light novels" (less fat! more pictures!), but most are manga, and I'll run through each category alphabetically. If I don't say otherwise, they're all available now or on trucks taking them to your favorite purveyor of readable entertainment.

Akame ga KILL! ZERO, Vol. 1 has the rare middle exclamation point in its title, presumably because it's a prequel to the series Akame ga KILL!. It's from Takahiro (story) and Kei Toru (art), and is about the killing-machine in a short skirt on the cover before she did the things she did in the other series. (Can you tell I haven't read any of this?)

Black Bullet, Vol. 3 comes from Morinohon (art), Shiden Kanzaki ("original story," a giveaway that this was adapted from another medium), and Saki Ukai (character design, because he drew the illustrations for the original light novel). I believe this is the series where the world has been devatated by plagues, and a few people live in Tokyo, battling the nasty bioengineered creatures. But the back cover just talks about Kagetane Hiruko and Rentaro, who apparently had a battle in the last volume. There's also something about "the inheritance of the seven stars" and "promoters," so you've got that as well.

Bloody Cross, Vol. 10 is a series I did read for a while -- see my review of Vol. 3, which links back to the first two -- but I've been out of the loop for a couple of thousand pages at this point. So I'll just say this is more of the story about god candidates battling it out for the throne of Yahweh -- yes, really -- using God's spellbooks and other plot tokens that pop up conveniently for these demons and angels and mixed things in-between to fight over. It's by Shiwo Komeyama.

Chaika: The Coffin Princess, Vol. 4 is another adaptation, credited to Ichirou Sakaki (original story), Shinta Sakayama (art), and the enigmatic Namaniku Atk (Nitroplus), which designed the characters and may or may not be a post-human software construct. This is, I venture to guess, yet another cute-little-girl-kills-a-lot-of-evil-things story.

Kaori Yuki's back with Demon From Afar, Vol. 6, one of Yen's rare hardcovers. I believe this one is a moody supernatural story set in two different time periods, with the same characters reincarnated both times. Oh, and I think they're tormented. Always pretty safe to bet on tormented.

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan, Vol. 9 continues a side-story from author Nagaru Tanigawa's Haruhi Suzumiya series, though I don't know all of the details of how this is different for the main story. (Maybe someone is not-dead here? Or not-evil? Something like that. A major plot point in an early book went differently.) This has art by Puyo, and the characters were designed quite some time ago by Noizi Ito.

He's My Only Vampire, sigh all of the teenage girls, who have plenty of werewolves and zombies but keep shelling out for those rare chase cards and/or blind-boxed Amiibos. (I could perhaps be slightly wrong.) The manga series of the same name has hit Vol. 6, and is, as always, by Aya Shouoto, who works hard enough that I should make fun of her work. To be less flippant, I believe this is one of those boring-normal-teen-bonded-to-a-supernatural-being-so-hijinks-and-luurve-ensue stories.

The Honor Student at Magic High School. Vol. 2 has one of those titles that absolutely places it, even more so when you learn that it's actually a spin-off from a light novel series about the Irregular at MHS. (Oh, MHS, home of my youth! In your hallowed halls did I spend my halcyon days! I could sing your song forever, but I won't.) This has art by Tu Mori, and is from the story by Tsutomu Sato -- whether Sato wrote this volume, or if Mori riffs directly of the light novel events, I can't say.

Karneval, Vol. 4 is by Touya Mikanagi, and is one of that enigmatic books that refuses to have any descriptive copy on the cover at all. So: it's a book, it's about to be published, and presumably Yen figures that you'll know what it is if you want to buy it. (I personally would not market a book that way, but it's not my line.)

Oh, hey, lookie here! It's No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!, Vol. 8. I really liked the first few volumes of Nico Tanigawa's series about a sex-obsessed oddball girl who doesn't fit into her high school, no matter what she does. But the last couple of books got a little too Japanese-culture-specific for me; I didn't connect with them as well. See my review (in a round-up) of those last two, and then follow the links further back, if you're interested.

Possibly the very most pretentious title of a manga I've ever seen: Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi, Vol. 2. It's also credited to nanao (art, and, yes, all lower-case) and HaccaWorks* (story, and yes, no spaces and a star at the end). I have trouble thinking anything could live up to that, but the story seems to be about three boys in a weird provincial town investigating those local weirdnesses.

Pandora Hearts, Vol. 24 is the finale of Jun Mochizuki's manga series, which means this is no place to start reading. I think this one of the many twisted manga retellings of Alice in Wonderland that proliferated for no apparent reason about three years ago.

Prison School, Vol. 3 raises a huff from a million cynical highshoolers -- "how is that different from any other school?" they slyly ask. Well, Akira Hiramoto's series is about an all-girls school that just started accepting boys, leading to the Shadow Student Council leading an Expel the Boys operation...which doesn't sound hugely prison-like to me. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding.

Rose Guns Days, Season 1, Vol. 3 comes to us from Ryukishi07 (story) and Soichiro (art), and the description on the back cover is just about people fighting, without explaining who they are or what they're fighting about. (I think it's more sneaky-plans fighting than stab-the-demon fighting, but those things often blur in manga.)

A series that I've enjoyed quite a bit, despite feeling like I'm missing important context, returns: Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro, Vol. 5. It's about this girl, walking through a fantasy landscape with several odd companions and a coffin on her back -- her coffin, to be precise. See my review of Vol. 3; I think I still have #4 around her somewhere, so I should read both of them.

Yet another series adapted from a light novel: Spice & Wolf, Vol. 12, by Isuna Hasekura (story), Keito Koume (art) and Jyuu Akakura (character design). He's a itinerant merchant! She's a retired harvest goddess! They fight crime! Well, they don't fight crime, exactly, but they do wander around, having adventures and engaging in profitable trade.

Sword Art Online: Mother's Rosary, Vol. 1 begins a new arc in this story of virtual-reality online games (which amazingly still exist, despite the fact that the first arc was about one of them trapping people in the game world and killing large numbers of them, which would usually be a Bad Thing for any new industry). Art is by Tsubasa Haduki, story by Reki Kawahara, and the characters were designed by the entity called abec.

And the last manga is another piece of the Sword Art Online saga: Sword Art Online Progressive, Vol. 4 (Somewhat threateningly styled as "004" on the cover). This bit is also written by Kawahara, and has art by Kieski Himura. I believe this one is the first (most popular) story retold from the POV of the female main character.

Starting off light novels is Accel World, Vol. 6: Shrine Maiden of the Sacred Fire by the seemingly ubiquitous Reki Kawahara, with "illustration" (I checked the book; there's definitely more than one) by Hima. This is a different story about virtual-reality games; it's the one where the fat loser in the real world is a powerful dude in VR, which is not at all condescending to the expected target audience, no sir.

The next book appears to be called DRRR!!, Vol. 3, but any searches online for that will not help you: the series is really called Durarara!!, which is on the cover in the tiniest possible type. Again, the marketer in me wonders if it is a really good idea to make a book that difficult to find, but it's not my property. This is written by Ryohgo Narita, and the series is about a loose sheaf of vaguely intersecting plotlines in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district.

And then we have the interestingly titled Log Horizon, Vol. 4: Game's End [Part 2], from Mamare Touno with illustrations (credited as "illustration" here as well, though there's more than one of 'em) by Kazuhiro Hara. This one is another "people trapped in VR" story, and I'd be very surprised if this really was the last volume.

The last light novel is No Game No Life, Vol. 4, by Yuu Kamiya. This one is about games you play in real life -- like canasta and cribbage -- which of course are the sole culture and obsession of the world Disboard. (It's not clear if it's "world" as in space travel or "world" as in connect to a different server.) A brother and sister team arrived there, bent on beating everyone at their own games, and we all know how well that usually works out.

Last up, I have a book that isn't from Yen, isn't by a Japanese person, and isn't manga. It's not even SFF! Hap and Leonard collects all of the short stories to date about the eponymous duo -- also the heroes of about a dozen novels -- by Joe R. Lansdale. It's coming out at the same time as a TV series about the duo, for which I've been seeing a bunch of ads in the subway. So it collects six old stories (including one co-written with Andrew Vachss), one brand-new story, an "interview" conducted by Lansdale with Hap and Leonard, and an afterword by Lansdale about the series. How could you want more than that? It's a trade paperback from Tachyon, available right now.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 3/12

{self-indulgent blathering deleted}

This week, I have one book that arrived by surprise in the mail -- just as I was thinking I should see if the library had it, or maybe even pay money for it. (That's the most wonderful moment for a blogger -- getting something you really wanted unexpectedly.) I also have three books I paid for, which I'll throw in here, because what the hell. So all four of these are books I want to read and am happy to see; I hope some of you will say the same.

The book sent to me by an actual publicist was the new graphic novel by Faith Erin Hicks, The Nameless City. Hicks has done a lot of books over the past decade or so, mostly with fantasy tropes, from Zombies Calling to The War at Ellsmere, and has also worked with other writers, as with Prudence Shen on Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong. I've always liked her stuff, but the last big book I saw of hers -- the eventually Eisner-winning The Adventures of Superhero Girl -- was even better and truer than her previous work, a real gem of a webcomic turned into a great book. So I'm happy to see new work from her: this is the story of two teens in a mysterious often-conquered city somewhere unspecified but vaguely Chinese. Apparently, they're going to save that city, because that's what happens in YA fiction, but I have faith (little pun there) that Hicks can tell that story without lapsing into cliche. This is a trade paperback from First Second, coming in April.

And then for the books I paid for myself, while getting presents from that hegemonic internet store for my older son's (gulp!) eighteenth birthday later this week. The first two are books I've tried to buy from my usual comic shop several times, but they've been repeatedly "coming soon" even when they had been published for months. I'm willing to support small businesses, but there are limits.

Guy Delisle seems to find a groove and do several books in it -- he had a bunch of travelogues (for example, Jerusalem and Shenzhen), and two odd wordless books of stories about men and women (Albert and the Others and Aline and the Others), and now he's on his third book of amusingly badly parenting advice -- the first one was A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting. All of those various things have been interesting and thoughtful, and Delisle's animation-influenced line is a joy to read as well. So I'm back for this one. (Which, I realize, I should actually name -- it's The Owner's Manual to Terrible Parenting.)

Rick Geary is a busy cartoonist; besides the book he Kickstarted last year and his regular yearly graphic novel about some old interesting murder, he also brought out a quirkier book last year: Louise Brooks, Detective. It's a made-up story -- we in the biz call that "fiction" -- about the once-popular movie actress returning to her childhood home in Wichita (a place Geary also has a long history with) to solve a murder.

And then there's Giant Days, Vol. 1, the third story of that name by John Allison, who is so good that we'll forgive him for confusing us. This iteration is, I think, not connected with his solo webcomics and the fictional town of Tackleford, though I suppose it could be tucked away in another bit of the same universe. Giant Days is an ongoing floppy comic book, and it's drawn by Lissa Treiman, whose work I haven't seen before. Like a lot of Allison's work, it focuses on a group of young women -- in this case, three first-year students at what I assume is a British university.

That's the pile of books I had next to me -- what's up with you folks?

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Yuuge, I Tell You! Yuuuuge!

"Just as email scammers intentionally salt their messages with typos in order to weed out anyone educated enough to see through their swindle, allowing them to focus on the most gullible, Trump seems to consciously repel anyone possessed of a brain. When he says he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and not lose any support, or that he appeals to 'the poorly educated,' he is broadcasting his contempt for his supporters."
 - Jonathan Chait, for New York magazine

Monday, March 07, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 3/5

Books are good things. Oh, wait -- look! I have two new books right here in front of me to tell you about!

These arrived in my mail over the past few days, and I blush to admit I haven't read either of them. But here's what looks good about 'em.

Ken Liu, one of the most recent winderkinder to crop up in the SFF field, has won pretty much all of the major awards in the field for his short fiction. But you know what he hasn't had? A collection of that short fiction. But the fine folks at Saga Press are correcting that, with the publication of The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories on March 8th. It's a classy hardcover with fifteen stories in it, and the front matter even details where they all originally appeared, which warms the cockles of my heart.

And then there's An Unattractive Vampire by Jim McDoniel, in which a thousand-year-old creature of the night wakes up after being entombed for three hundred years to find that vampires are now sparkly and pretty and nice. (Apparently, he woke up about a decade ago.) This is McDoniel's first novel, in a satiric vein, and will be of great interest to all those people grousing online about the wrong kind of vampires moving into their towns and lowering the property values and so forth. This one is published by Sword & Laser -- or maybe by Inkshares, Ink.; the former is on the cover but the latter is named as the publishing entity on the copyright page -- and is available in trade paperback as of the 15th of this month.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Read in February

Um, this is awkward, but I'm writing in late May because I realized I haven't kept up with these monthly posts. It's part of the general collapse of my book-reviewing apparatus, obviously, but I used to be able to handle simple record-keeping.

So I may be writing quick list-posts for February, March, April and May this morning. (It's Memorial Day, 7:55 AM, as I type this.) And I'm declaring review bankruptcy again -- I did it a year ago, just after starting my current job, but it clearly didn't stick. [1] The same factors are in play: very long working/commuting hours plus a deep and abiding sense of pointlessness; I've now been out of the SF world for eight years and seem to be drifting career-wise away even from a tenuous connection to book publishing. I do like writing about books, but spending hours on things that maybe a hundred people will read is quixotic at best, and I'm trying to get less soft-headed as I get older.

So this is what I read in February:

Charles Rodrigues, "Gag On This" (2/1)

A companion volume to the earlier Ray and Joe (which collected Rodrigues's longer continuity strips from National Lampoon), with a whole lot of single-panel gag cartoons of varying degrees of scabrousness. Actually, those degrees vary from "quite" to "unpublishable," so adjust your scabrousness detector accordingly. Rodrigues was as cruel and heartless and vicious in creating jokes as S. Gross or John Callahan -- more so, even, I'd say -- so keep that in mind. If nothing in this book offends you, there's probably nothing in the world that could.

Alexandra Lydon and Laura Kindred, eds., Worst Laid Plans (2/3)

This is the physical manifestation of a live show created by the Upright Citizens Brigade -- or, more accurately, an extension of that show into the print medium. Each contributor writes up the worst sex story that happened to him or (mostly) her, for humorous effect.

It is mostly funny rather than sexy, because bad sex is not generally arousing to most people. It could make a bathroom book in a household that doesn't have teenage boys in it -- it wasn't in my house, for that reason -- or a quick read some day you need to realize viscerally that other people have it worse than you do.

Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts, 1993 to 1994 (2/9)

Two more years of late-period Schulz, with all of the strengths and weaknesses thereof. (I've already written about most of these collections -- 1957-1958, 1959-1960, 1961-1962, 1963-1964, 1965-1966, 1967-1968, 1969-1970, 1971-1972, 1973-1974, 1975-1976, 1977-1978, 1979-1980, 1981-1982, 1983-1984, 1985-1986, 1987-1988, 1989-1990 -- and so I find myself without anything particularly new to say at this point. I might rouse myself when we hit the very end, or the promised extra volume after the end that will collect odds and ends and L'il Folks. [2] We'll see then, I suppose.

P.G. Wodehouse, Performing Flea (2/10)

Wodehouse -- author of the Jeeves & Wooster trifles, the Blandings Castle stories, the tales of Uncle Fred, the exploits of Psmith, and many other things -- never wrote a formal autobiography. But his old school chum William Townend, who was also a novelist, collected letters Wodehouse wrote to him over a 30-plus year span and collected them in this book, published in 1953. It covers the height of Wodehouse's career from the beginning of the twenties -- when he'd been a working writer for twenty years already, mind you -- and runs to the year before publication (thus leaving out the last twenty years of Wodehouse's life; he had a very long and busy career). It also has Wodehouse's diary of his internment during WWII, which turned out badly for him after he made a couple of humorous broadcasts from Berlin. This is for the more devoted Wodehouse fan, obviously, but it's a nice life, or partial life, in letters.

Kyle Baker, Why I Hate Saturn (2/11)

A great, great book I used to have before the flood. I can't do any better than quote what I wrote about it here in 2006:
I can't tell you what an effect this had on my friends and I when it came out in 1990. Sure, there had been "good comics" before, like Maus and Watchmen, but those were generally serialized beforehand. And most of them were extensions of the usual comic-booky ideas (even Maus, with its sly Mickey-Mouseness). Why I Hate Saturn appeared simply as a book, and it was clearly a graphic novel -- a single story, told in comics form -- that had nothing to do with the usual four-color world. It was funny, it was touching, it was real. There are damn few great pure graphic novels out there, and this is the first one I found. I don't know if it will strike readers today the way it did me, but I can't doubt that it's still a wonderful story, told just the right way by a master.

Jason Shiga, Bookhunter (2/12)

Another book I re-bought, and re-read, in the wake of the 2011 flood. I guess having most of your books destroyed is a good excuse to buy and read some of your favorites again? Not the way I would have preferred to do it, though.

See my review from the first time around.

Shannon Wheeler, I Don't Get It (2/16)

Wheeler is most famous as the creator of Too Much Coffee Man, and, not incidentally, is in possession of the single greatest last name possible. (I won't allow any argument on this point.) So I want to follow his stuff when I remember, though I remember not nearly as often as I should.

Wheeler has been working as a New Yorker style single-panel gag cartoonist -- yes, just exactly as that market is contracting to the New Yorker and almost nothing else in the world; we Wheelers are famously quixotic -- and I think he's pretty darn good at it. Of course, he would be, being a Wheeler. This is a small-format collection of a hundred or so of those cartoons. It's divided into the traditional stages of grief -- Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance -- which I literally realized only now while typing this. So this Wheeler is a sneaky one -- keep your eye on him. (And the best way to do that is to buy his books.)

Peter Bagge, Bat Boy (2/17)

One of the biggest potential dangers of working at home out of your own head all of the time is becoming a crank from lack of interaction with normal people on a regular basis. Plenty of cartoonists fall somewhere on that spectrum, particular the more auteur types -- Dave Sim is the type specimen. Peter Bagge isn't that far along, but he definitely has tendencies in that direction and hobbyhorses that he will ride off into the sunset at the slightest provocation.

So it's great to see him doing work that's not out of his own head, that forces him to engage with outside ideas and turn them into fiction. Even if those ideas are bizarre and stupid, frankly.

Which brings us to Bat Boy, which is nutty and manic in the style of Hate-era Bagge -- maybe because it's from 2004 and '05, closer to the Hate era than now, or maybe because it's from the Weekly World News, the nuttiest, most manic newspaper imaginable. It's set in the world that WWN reported on, which is only very vaguely like our own, though it's ostensibly real. And the main character, obviously, is their mascot, Bat Boy, a boy who is a bat. He gets into all kinds of international and domestic intrigue, in weekly installments, along with a bewildering cast of oddballs, politicians, celebrities, and nuts. This isn't Bagge trying to be serious in any way, and is wonderful precisely because of that.

Jessica Mitford, Hons and Rebels (2/17)

The famous memoir by the fifth of the six famous Mitford sisters of the interwar years -- she was the Communist, as opposed to her sister Unity the Nazi and her sister Nancy the satiric novelist -- about her childhood. Jessica was thirteen years younger than Nancy (and ten younger than Pamela, the #2 sibling), so she writes of a time when their famously choleric father had settled down somewhat.

And, actually, this is more the story of young woman Jessica Mitford than about the crazy Mitford house in her childhood; she grows herself up fairly quickly and spends most of the book on the few years before the war and how she met and married her first husband (also her cousin, in that very aristocratic British way). So Hons and Rebels is really the story of the young woman who ran off to America, turned Communist, and eventually wrote The American Way of Death. I don't believe there is a better first-hand account of the fascinating childhoods of the Mitford sisters -- the best book on that is probably a collection of letters or group biography. (And I may try to figure out what that best book is, someday.)

Marc Hempel, A Gregory Treasury, Vol. 1 (2/18)

See immediately below.

Marc Hempel, A Gregory Treasury, Vol. 2 (2/22)

The original four large-format graphic novels from the late, lamented Piranha Press line -- seriously, was there anything under that imprint that wasn't wonderful in some way? were collected a decade later in two mass-market-paperback sized volumes, maybe to cash in on the manga craze or maybe just because that format seemed like a good idea at the time. (It's a nice portable format, I'll give it that, but "portable" is often at odds to "readable" when it comes to comics paperbacks -- luckily, this is fine, though I would have preferred the original larger size.)

Gregory is a small person -- maybe a child, maybe a grown man who is just very short -- who lives in what is obviously an insane asylum and who is timid, uncommunicative, manic, pensive, and scared in nearly equal measure. Oh, and there's a talking rat who's his best friend, in between getting killed. The Gregory books were the second-best Piranha titles about philosophy, after only Epicurus the Sage, and they might have been first if they were really about philosophy. They're funny and thoughtful and quirky and wonderful -- and I wish Hempel had had more opportunity to do similar things since. (His TUG & buster was in a similar vein, I guess, but that ended before the '90s did, and I don't think he's had a chance to work in that same vein this century.)

Rick Geary, Murder at the Hollywood Hotel (2/24)

Geary's most recent Kickstarted book is slightly out of his usual style -- it's presented like a storybook or coloring book, with large images on each page and a line or two of narration below. But it's a story of murder a hundred years ago, which is as Geary as you can get.

A young man leaves Kansas -- it's nearly always Kansas, with Geary, since he came from there himself -- to make his fortune in Hollywood in 1915, and settles into a hotel full of other wanna-bes and also-ises. Then there's a murder, of course.

I love Geary's lovely just-this-side-of-naif narration, and his gorgeous precise lines, and this book showcases both of those very well.

Rick Geary, The Lampoon Years: 1979-1992 (2/25)

Oh, I'll roll this in with the next one.

Rick Geary's Book of Murder (2/26)

That Kickstarter had a reward tier that included these two books that Geary published himself, so I plunked down my shekels. (I like current Geary, but I also like the Geary of the '80s, all surreal short stories and inexplicable occurrences and whimsy tinged with nastiness.)

Book of Murder collects stories from 1977 through 2008, some of which appeared in Geary's first two, long-out-of-print collections and many of which are newer than those books. And, obviously, these are all about various murders -- though often obliquely, as in the four portraits that make up the first story, "Wichita Murder Houses" -- in one way or another, like so much of Geary's work.

Lampoon Years is mostly or entirely single-page strips, in that surreal early Geary style, which all originally appeared in the National Lampoon during the years on the cover. Geary was too young to work for NatLamp during its heyday, but he was one of the best things in the dwindling and dying NatLamp of the '80s. These strips might be a bit weird for fans of Geary the straightforward chronicler of historical murder, but I miss the whimsical Geary, so it was great to wallow in that world again for a while.

Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III, The Sandman: Overture (2/29)

When an author goes back to one of his most famous works for a 25th Anniversary story, no one actually expects it will be good. We're all hoping for "not embarrassing," particularly when the original story ended, with great finality, almost twenty years before. So it's a bit difficult to express just how impressive Sandman Overture is.

It not only lives up to the original run of Sandman, but extends and amplifies that story (or those stories, if you prefer), providing a new frame to an existing work of art that throws the things we thought we knew into a different relief and casts pools of light in directions we didn't realize were there.

I'm not going to actually review this book; it's too late to do that. But I will say I was hugely impressed by it, and very happy to know that the late sequel can be something new and wonderful.

Endnote: I'm typing these words about a week later, on June 4th. (My birthday -- whoopie.) I make no promises, but I think I can keep up this pace -- clearing out an old month in a week or two -- and be "caught up" by sometime in July, when I can see if there's anything I particularly want to do with this blog. (Probably not: I've never been one to plan deeply, except for "let's read something every day for a set amount of time.")

[1] I am in danger into turning into the book-review Donald J. Trump, frankly.

[2] There was a blog post on that site the other Andrew Wheeler runs that called the 1999-2000 volume "penultimate," saying there would be one more book after that with the odds & sods. But there's now a description of 1999-2000 online -- it was published a few weeks ago, but I haven't seen it in person -- that says that book includes L'il Folks. So I'm not sure if the fabled extra volume will actually exist, or what might be in it if it does.