The End Is Now

Hyperart: Thomasson by Akasegawa Genpei. Translated by Matthew Fargo. Kaya Press, 2010. 9781885030467. 416 pages.

Gene: The moment I heard this four years ago, I knew I had to tell you about it. I’m finally done with the book. And it’s yours, to celebrate the end of our time doing Book Threat.

(We listen to this episode of 99% Invisible, and you should, too — it’s one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite podcasts. It’s about vestigial parts of cities, architectural leftovers that are both maintained and useless. Think staircases to nowhere. Akasegawa thought these were a kind of art. He called them Thomassons, after Gary Thomasson, a great pro baseball player who was hired to play in Japan at the end of his career, where he didn’t live up to expectations (but collected a paycheck anyway). Akasegawa didn’t mean anything bad by naming these useless bits of architecture after him, apparently, but Gary Thomasson and his family aren’t happy with this eponym.))

Sarah: Roman Mars [the host of 99% Invisible] is obsessed with eponyms. He appears every year on the eponym episode of another podcast, The Allusionist, which the host does just for him.
Gene: Look at this book! I have tried to read it, but I have to confess I’m not able to read something like this cover to cover, I just kind of flip though it once in a while. These are the articles on Thomassons that Akasegawa published. Look at The Pointless Gate — it doesn’t go anywhere!
S: Think about the people who maintain it. They don’t want it to get ugly!
G: There’s a spigot in my basement that doesn’t do anything.
S: You can’t let that look like shit! I think about the houses in Levittown, post-war, the big symbol of suburban conformity. I saw a photo of one that had a big space under the stairs for a cabinet television and I thought about how quickly TVs changed shape and size. But that cabinet space is still there.
G: This is an awning above some hydrangea leaves. It looks like a shelf.
And here’s a triangle of space, with a handrail that separates part of the stairs from the rest of them and creates a space that there’s no good way into (unless you jump the railing). How did the building change to create that?
Every time I look through this book I find something I feel like I haven’t seen before.
S: A wooden telephone pole cut off at waist height.
G: It’s still got the metal band around it, and it’s next to the new concrete telephone pole.
S: There used to be an offramp to nowhere in Seattle.
G: I think the state finished it and it goes to where the stadiums are now, at the end of I-90. Stadiums? Stadia?
S: I had a water heater that had two emergency overflow valves because at some point someone must have said oh, this doesn’t have one. And they installed one but they just didn’t see the other, and now there are two.
G: Look, here’s my receipt for this book. I bought it in 2014 right after hearing the episode of the podcast.
S: That’s not too bad. I have older unread books than that.
G: But I read as much of it as I’ve read in about two weeks. I’ve been peeking at it now and then, and once in a while I even throw it in my bag and carry it around for a few days. But I can’t finish it. I don’t read nonfiction very much. And now it’s yours. It could be worth big bucks. It’s got a blurb from Yoko Ono on it. That is a book for you, a very 80s looking book, if you accept it.
S: I accept this book into my heart.
G: You don’t have to die with this book in your hands, though. I release you from having to hold onto it forever.

G: I’ve enjoyed our time reviewing books together.
S: I have, too.
G: I’m sure we’ll still talk about books, but privately now. And we’ll stop recording ourselves doing that…now. (click)


PS: Sarah is getting serious about a writing project, which is going to be awesome! Gene is going to keep reviewing books (mostly graphic novels), but he’ll be posting them on and to it’s social media feeds starting in November 2018. (If you want to make sure you see them, please sign up for Library Comic’s newsletter or you can follow just the reviews via this link.)
Thanks again for sticking with us!

-Gene and Sarah


Cows in Space, Share Your Underwear

Space Cows (Ready To Read Pre-Level One) by Eric Seltzer, illustrated by Tom Disbury. Simon Spotlight, 2018. 9781534428768.

Cows in colored space suits fly, sleep, play, and make lots of noise. There’s a rhyme scheme that goes across pages (and didn’t annoy me), and the illustrations are totally fun.



Here, George! by Sandra Boynton, pictures by (New Yorker cartoonist) George Booth. Little Simon, 2018. 9781534429642.

This new board book feels like a classic must-read that’s been around forever. George does not move, no matter what his owners say. But after they leave the house, wild music starts to play and George starts to dance. (And those drawings of the grumpy old dog twirling are silly enough to make adults laugh, even if they have to read the book to their kids over and over again.)

One Big Pair of Underwear by Laura Gehl and Tom Lichtenheld. Little Simon, 2018. 9781534420366.

I admit I picked this up because the somewhat kinky looking cover made me laugh. (I think I saw a large pair of oversized underwear for two at Archie McPhee’s once.) What follows is an entertaining board book book that combines counting, word repetition, repeated lessons about sharing (and being left out), along with unexpected illustrations of animals. Among them are an irritated cat pumping up air air mattress, happily cooking hippos, and a duck making a slap shot, along with a LOT of others.

We Are Music by Brandon Stosuy, illustrated by Nick Radford. Little Simon, 2018. 9781534409415.

This rhyming board book touches on the history of music, from early man beating on logs (who knew they had wiener dogs for pets?) to classical to blues to country. There’s also jazz and rap and a pop singer who looks like Beyoncé to me. (My teenage daughter strongly confirms my insight: “Kind of.”). I love it because it even has a two page spread on electronic music: “Synthesizers, drum machines, theremins, and more, computer-made music is a new kind of score.” Plus the page on punk features a stage diver — it’s never too early to introduce hyper children to the concept. The last page shows kids having a good time, playing with instruments. The illustrations are really fun, but they so perfectly recall sixties picture books that I thought this might be an old reprint, at least until I noticed the girl with the pink boom box on the cover.

The Hell With It

Judas by Jeff Loveness, illustrated by Jakub Rebelka. BOOM!, 2018. 9781684152216. Originally published as Judas #1-#4.

Judas is more than simply bummed out after betraying Christ. He is so distraught he hangs himself then wanders around hell. There are demons (see Ezekiel 1:4-8 for a description, though the drawings are freakier). Judas contemplates Christ’s power and the suffering in the world (in particular Judas’s own mother’s  death). The Devil appears in answer to Judas’ prayers, but doesn’t provide the answers Judas wants. As they walk together the Devil tells Judas that they’re trapped, were used and cast aside, and that they are both the villains the story needed. Then the Devil brings Jesus to hell.

I’ve read bits of the Bible and several comics versions. I enjoy the Lucifer character from Sandman and Mike Carey’s related series. The striking gold foil thorns on this book’s cover caught my attention, and the book’s balance between the imagery and words kept me moving through it. It was hard to look away from Rebelka’s gorgeous drawings, scenes that went from dark and moody to bloody, horrific suffering, from forgiveness all the way to rage.

Other Bible-related graphic novels I recommend: Tom Gauld’s deadpan Goliath.

Say Anything

Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018. 384p. 9780374300289
Sarah: So I read the original novel by Laurie Halse Anderson right after it came out, which I hadn’t realized was published so long ago.
Gene: (Did we just lose power in your apartment? I think we did.)
S: (You’re on battery though. We can do this in total blackout.)
G: I read the original about 2001. It was a huge novel.
S: A big deal. To some extent it reminded me…on Last Week Tonight there was something about the Me, Too movement, and how this is great, but at the same time there have been these movements over and over again over the past decades, and things don’t always change. That’s the first thing it reminded me of: Oh, yeah, we were all going to do things differently back in 2001 and then that didn’t necessarily happen. I want to put more pressure on people — How are we going to change this? How are we going to stop the silence?
G: This book is about the aftermath of a sexual assault, and it’s not really clear until the end if you’re a young teen, but if you’re an adult it’s super obvious early on when she’s not talking about the big secret.
S: Yeah. And that’s what the novel was like, too.
G: I remember the thing about the novel, which was out back when we both started as Teen Services Librarians, was that it was powerful and serious about a serious thing and told in a way that hadn’t been done before. It was the leading edge of what teen fiction was and could do.
S: Before, if sexual assault was mentioned in a book, it was in a “problem novel.” This was not a problem novel. This was a straight up great book that didn’t back down and talked about how much this had hurt her and how much she couldn’t speak and how much people weren’t going to believe her.
G: I was really worried, as I always am by graphic novel adaptations. Most of them are terrible even if they’re based on books I loved, or maybe especially since they’re based on books I loved. There’s always a thing about pacing where a novel can relax more than a graphic novel can, because it’s so much work to convert a book into a graphic novel, it takes a lot of room, maybe more pages than are easily drawn or printed or whatever. And so some graphic novel adaptations just try to cram as much as possible onto every page, and they don’t have the same pace, and it feels like craft goes out the window.
S: And there are things you can’t hide in a visual format.
G: I don’t think this book tries to “hide” what happened as much as the novel. It’s pretty obvious what happened…
S: It’s a book that was written 17 years later, so this was written post-Speak, and the original novel did change things.
G: Absolutely. And I just want to say Emily Carroll is great. Into the Woods is fantastic.
S: I saw it was her and I was like, This is going to be fine!
G: Black and white art was a beautiful choice. I love the way this book looks, the pacing, everything about it. Carroll, even when she puts a lot on a single page, she makes you sit with it somehow, which is what the book was like — you’re with this girl in a terrible…well, it’s not a moment, but the extended aftermath.
In the beginning when she feels alienated from everyone in school, when she’s sitting and looking at everyone else, and thinking about how awful she is, and about how they get to misbehave and still feel clean, and then some girl leans in and says, Oh you’re the one who called the cops on that party and got everyone busted. And then she’s alone in the stands in a spotlight, and everyone else is grayed out around her. It’s beautiful.
S: Perfect.  I think it doesn’t start until partway through, but the rabbit imagery, and then they start popping up as voices in her head: You need to be scared right now! You’re in danger right now! You need to get away right now!  That’s the panic she feels after this happened to her. She feels like prey, like she’s helpless. And then the rabbits become less afraid as she gains strength.  I think the rabbits tell her horrible fake friend to fuck off.
G: I don’t remember those rabbits from the novel itself.
S: I don’t either.
G: But it’s amazing how much a graphic novel brings some imagery to the front because you can see it even if it doesn’t resonate with you. It makes you remember it.
There are moments for me that remind me of some of the best Hellblazer comics, where she’s looking in the mirror and her face is melting off.  She’s looking in the mirror like it’s fogged over, and then it’s like the steam condenses over it like she has no face, which is exactly how she sees herself: no mouth, no eyes.
S: It’s effective.
G: And the drawings are able to make the boy look demonic when needed. It puts us right into her mind.
S: Everyone else sees him as this clean cut jock guy. And then when he starts to stalk her, he becomes this thing that looks like a demon, an animal.
G: When he’s dating her “friend,” she’s trying to figure out who to tell.
S: You finally see the events of that night. While she’s having fun at the party, you as the reader can see him lock onto her drinking a little too much, and not having friends around her. He follows her to a place no one can hear her scream. She is not seeing that.
G: And it’s not too graphic at that moment. I remember the book handled it in much the same way. But I still think people are going to start insisting this needs to be banned, and maybe the original, too. Maybe because it’s black and white censors won’t look at it quite as carefully.
S: I know! It can be hard to get across to people, especially those who enjoy banning things, that the rape isn’t about sex. It’s about violence, control. That really came across on the page. And I think as Anderson says in the introduction, so much of the character’s recovery is about art that it’s a great fit: being able to see Melinda trying to express herself.

Be vewy vewy quiet…

Usagi Yojimbo Book 32: Mysteries by Stan Sakai. Dark Horse, 2018. 9781506705842. Contains Usagi Yojimbo #159 – #165. 195pp.

This is my favorite new Usagi Yojimbo collection in years. The thing Stan Sakai does better than anyone is in drawing action scenes — Usagi’s sword fights are chaotic and carefully composed, and the frames are crowded but the action is easy to follow. They’re high stakes but really cartoony, too — perfect for adults but not too much for most kids. And it all takes place in an Edo era Japan drawn with classic shading techniques — I’m so happy these aren’t published in color!

This book is full of assassins and gangsters, and there are several thieves that are easy to love, among them recurring characters Kitsune and her sideckick Kiyoko plus the masked, Robin Hood-like Nezumi. Usagi saves a young girl, helps Inspector Ishida solve a few related murders, and has several epic fights. (In one of them Usagi even wields a fish along with his swords.) It’s a lot of fun and another classic that I’m adding to my permanent graphic novel collection.

You’re Awesome

Supergirl: Being Super by Mariko Tamaki and Joëlle Jones. 9781401268947. DC Comics, 2018. Contains #1 – #4 of the series.

I’ve enjoyed every graphic novel by Mariko Tamaki I’ve read: She-Hulk: Deconstructed and Luisa, This One Summer, and Skim. I didn’t expect this one to pull me in as easily as it did — I’m not much of a Supergirl fan, but between the conversations Kara Danvers (Zor-El) has with her her friends, the moments with her parents, and the way Tamaki folds Kara’s feelings about being a super powered alien into being a super alienated teen, I couldn’t put this book down. Joëlle Jones art helped — her lines and layouts are beautiful — and Kelly Fitzpatrick’s colors made sure I didn’t miss essential details.

It’s great to see a new creative team put forth their version of an existing character’s origin story without some newsworthy, over-the-top detail designed to get mainstream media attention. My favorite character: Kara’s badass friend, Dolly, who has a great T-shirt collection. My favorite moment: the super explosive zit. And I LOVED the scenes of the barn fire, which is not something I ever thought I’d write.

The Better To Eat You With My Dear

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey. Tor, 2017. 9780765395238. 176pp.

Sarah: So you told me wild west, hippos instead of cows.
Gene: Very LGBTQ friendly, and a great western.
S: I was like, yeah, maybe, and then I picked it up and I was like YES!
G: Isn’t it the greatest? Just putting the team together…
S: That was one of my favorite parts. The second person he tries to hire tries to poison him.
G: That’s Hero. The guy in charge, his name is Houndstooth. But first, the world. There’s a timeline of events in the back. It’s based on a thing that almost happened.
S: But later.
G: At some point the US government was going to turn part of the Mississippi River into a marsh and bring hippos in to solve some meat shortage. In this book that happens in 1857, part of the river is dammed to create habitat, and it’s named The Harriet after President Buchanan’s favorite cow (a nice touch). It’s declared neutral territory in the Great Hippo Compromise. A ranch is destroyed, hippos are released into the marsh and become feral.
S: Hippos in real life are vicious and will eat you, so this area is declared lawless.
G: And there’s a big gate to contain the hippos.
S: The area has been taken over by a criminal who runs a riverboat gambling operation. So his influence rests on keeping the hippos there for his illegal empire.
G: He feeds people to the hippos if they mess up.
S: Over the edge and into the water!
G: The government wants it cleaned up. Enter: Houndstooth, and his hippo Ruby.
S: A Cambridge Black, gorgeous, with gold teeth.
G: Sleek, fast, deadly.
S: He’s hired to get the feral hippos out, and the government assumes it will take decades.
G: He’s taking the job for revenge, but we don’t know why or against whom. He has a plan to do it really quickly. He’s got to put a crew together. He’s dapper, has a bag of gold.
S: People don’t know about his background but he’s British, and they keep saying he doesn’t look he would be…
G: And then he sleeps with the guy who hires him. Oh! This isn’t going to be like other westerns!
S: Right. I was wondering if Gailey could sustain that, and the answer was yes.
G: There’s a great moment where he’s looking at photos of the people he’s going to hire, and they’re not described much. The next person is Archie the Con, a very large woman, very sexually desired, on a mostly blind albino hippo. She’s a seductress and a pickpocket. Then he has to go to Hero.
S: They’re retired, sitting on a porch, drinking iced tea. Offers Houndstooth some tea. Hero takes a sip. And then the tea eats through the glass, the bannister, and a rose bush, which was so good, I was in at that point.
G: There’s not a great description of Hero.
S: Definitely doesn’t identify as a woman or a man. Some people don’t get it, but some do.
G: But most get it. This is an alternate history where more folks were like, They’re part of your crew? Awesome!
S: It was. There are lots of generations of westerns where they’re reframed to put the current us into the adventure. And so successive generations add themselves in like this. I love it!
G: Then they go into the Harriet to find the other two people, one a poor gambler, the other the most brutal contract killer in the world. Everyone on the crew has a good entrance.
Doesn’t someone keep asserting they’re trying to pull off a caper?
S: Yes. Houndstooth disagrees, he says it’s an operation. Reminded me of some of my favorite parts of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, some of the little back and forth quips that establish the characters.
G: Then the western proceeds in the swamp, with hippos. And you can’t explain any more, because it would give away too much of the plot.
S: It’s a short book that moves fast.
G: I love novella length stories that don’t get bogged down in explanation.
S: Someone asked me about this after I’d just finished it. I said I had been worried it would be one of those books where the LGBTQ aspect makes it feel like an issue book. This is not an issue book, it’s just a part of it. It’s deliberate and incorporated.
G: It’s just not a big deal.
S: It’s not a problem.

Acid Free

Archival Quality by Ivy Noelle & Steenz. Oni Press, 2018. 9781620104705. 276pp.

After losing her previous job because of a breakdown, Celeste is hired to archive photos at the Logan Museum, a spooky building which houses a collection of medical photos, documents, and more. Things feel weird and spooky right from the beginning. She’s only allowed to work at night. Her boss, Holly, and the Curator, Abayomi, seem both overly concerned and unwilling to share information about the place, despite the fact that someone may have broken in while she was there alone. There’s also a mysterious Board of Directors, and the weird more-than-dreams that Celeste is starts to have.

This is a great readalike for Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost, about a girl who falls into a hole and makes a ghostly “friend.” Librarians reading it may be disappointed that neither librarian in the story has an MLIS, and that the cataloging of the photos Celeste scans isn’t at all technical, but overall this is a good read about a young woman trying to make her way back into the library work world, and the spooky stuff all ends up having a mental health tie-in.

Reign of Fire

The Dragon Slayer: Folktalkes from Latin America by Jaime Hernandez. Toon Books, 2018. 9781943145294. 40pp.

This book contains comics versions of three stories: “The Dragon Slayer” and “Tup and the Ants” from Latin American Folktales: Stories from Hispanic and Indian Traditions by John Bierhorst, and “Martina Martínez and Pérez the Mouse” from Tales Our Abuelitas Told by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy. In the title story, a young girl befriends an old woman who gives her a magic wand. She uses its power (and her own moxy) to become a queen. In “Martina Martínez…” a young woman marries a mouse who falls into some soup. And in “Tup…” a young man scolded for being constantly lazy uses his brains to accomplish more work than his larger brothers, who everyone assumes are hard working.

Hernandez and his brothers have been creating Love and Rockets for years, and it’s amazing to see the level of storytelling craft, drawing skill, and joy that he brings to this graphic novel for kids (and adults with discerning taste). I can’t imagine a library that serves young people, or that has even a basic folk and fairytales collection, that won’t want this on its shelves.

Okra vs. Gombo

Vibration Cooking or The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl by Verta Mae. Doubleday & Company, 1970.

The groovy 70s cover

Sarah: A while ago I was reminded of Gil Scott-Heron. He was very influential, like a pre- hip hop hip hop artist.
Gene: He’s mentioned in an REM song, but I’ve got no idea who he was.
S: Yeah? He was a poet who set his poetry to music. So I go on to a music subscription service to start listening to him, and I’m really enjoying it, then all of a sudden there is a song that centers around a slur that’s very homophobic. I was like, “Huh, I guess that’s of its time,” then thirty seconds in, “I can’t listen to this anymore.” So. Then I read a wonderful book and at almost the very end of it, apropos of nothing, there’s a homophobic slur. It’s of its time, it wasn’t enough to make me stop reading the book, but it really took me out of the flow.
G: It’s this book, Vibration Cooking?
S: Yeah. It’s by Verta Mae, who also went by Vertamae Grosvenor and Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor at different parts of her career. I don’t think anyone would have blinked at the slur in 1970, when it was written, except that you wouldn’t have said it in polite society. If I could have just skipped that page, that would have been great. I don’t know if it’s in the later reprints, too.* But other than that, as a whole, I really enjoyed the book! It was published in 1970, and was written when the author was in her late twenties. It’s a combination of autobiography and recipes.
G: Where did she grow up?
S: In South Carolina. The subtitle of the book is The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl. The Geechee are a people, also called Gullah, in that area. They are descended from slaves from West and Central Africa and have their own unique language and traditions. She talks about the farm where her family lived and where she was born, then how they moved to Philadelphia and had a tough time getting by there. Her family was pretty poor. Then in the middle of a sentence, she’ll put a recipe. Like “Aunt Rose used to cook” and then the heading “COWPEAS,” and then the recipe for cowpeas.
G: Was this book famous when it came out?
S: I don’t think so. The author later wrote a lot of other stuff, was a commentator on NPR, had a PBS cooking show, stuff like that. She definitely had a following.
She became an actress in New York for a while, then moved to Paris, then she was an activist in New York, and she hung out with all of these writers and poets and musicians — in the book she’ll talk about how everyone came over after a show and this is what we cooked.
G: And this is all in there?
S: It’s all in there. She had some cousins, one who ended up in the West Indies, another who ended up in India, and she’ll write their recipes in their stories. It is always a conversational, great story that gives you all the context you need for the food. It makes it so much more enjoyable and friendly. And luckily, there’s an index at the back, because there is no organization to this at all except as a story.
G: Is it even broken up into chapters?
S: Yes, it is. There’s a section called “Away from Home,” another called “’59” when she left New York for Paris, then again in “’68.” And little side stories about raising her daughters, about how she had a hard time catching a cab in New York, stories about how people reacted to her wearing African clothes. It’s a very personal story that brings in personal recipes because that was a part of her life. At the end, there’s an everything left over section, how to cook different vegetables, about spices, there’s a section on Aphrodisiacal Foods.
G: (flipping through the book) Poems in the back.
S: And some letters between her and her cousin.
G: You can imagine a publisher getting this and just saying, “What?”
S: But it’s perfect, a perfect little story.
G: Who published it?
S: Doubleday.
G: So a major publisher. Where did you get this brown-with-age paperback?
S: At a used bookstore. It’s a first edition paperback. I think I’m going to cook some recipes from it, but I got a lot out of it even if I don’t. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it.
G: But you’d recommend it to me for the narrative flow.
S: Yes, for the flow over the recipes. It’s about the central role of food in family and friends and community and identity. And then there’s a homophobic slur. Just skip that part.

*There is a fairly lukewarm apology in the 1986 reprint. She says, “I should have said ‘homosexual.’ I apologize for that […] but the rest stands.” According to a review, the1992 reprint omitted both the original slur and the apology. The 2011 reprint has the slur back again and includes the 1986 apology.