Grab Back Comics started as a website collecting comics stories about sexual assault and harassment. Now it’s been collected in a beautiful print anthology. Tonight, the anthology’s editor, Erma Blood, appears with local cartoonists Amy Camber, Gillian Rhodes, Robin Elan, Tatiana Gill, and Tess LeBlanc. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200, http://thirdplacebooks.com. Free. All ages. 7 p.m.
EJ Koh read her poem “South Korean Ferry Accident” to a room full of weary Bumbershoot attendees back in 2016. It’s a poem that begins with a bit of comedy: “Footage is released to the public: the captain/abandoning the ferry in his underwear.” Not only do we have an oafish captain forsaking the universal pledge to go down with the ship, but he’s jumping overboard in his underwear. It’s an image that brings pratfalls to mind, or a Benny Hill-style soundtrack.
But that image falls away to the real-life horror of one of the worst boating accidents in modern history. And Koh’s personal story becomes intertwined with the tragedy:
My parents are crying in the other room. “Why didn’t
the students jump into the water?
Americans would’ve jumped.”
It’s an immigrants’ dilemma: there’s something to be said for the traditions of one’s birth country, but when they become too constricting — when tradition overrules your chances of survival — it becomes necessary to flee to America. In America, traditions don’t kill you. If anything, too much freedom will kill you in America.
Last year, when Koh read the poem (“The footage is broadcast. The faces are blurred./The voices are changed. They are laughing”) the audience reacted almost as one. Eyes started watering. A few nasal snfffs tore through the audience, and then shoulders bobbed up and down. People were sobbing for these strangers that they’d never know who died in a ferry disaster, and who were being summoned by a Seattle poet for a Seattle audience at a quintessentially Seattle event. It was a tender moment, a special moment, the kind of event that everyone in attendance will likely always remember.
This is the genius of EJ Koh: her poetry combines tradition and freedom and history and hope and biography and tragedy in such a compelling way that audiences can’t help but be moved. Her voice is clear and warm; her eyes catch the little human moments that we often take for granted. Her poems are often slight — brief and simple — but they can clamber around your head like an elephant.
This Saturday, September 23rd, Koh will launch her debut collection, A Lesser Love, into the world at the Hugo House. She’ll read from the book, and then I’ll interview her onstage (I guess this is as good a place as any for a full disclosure: the Seattle Review of Books, has advocated early and often for Koh beginning on the day that we first published her jaw-droppingly good poem “Korean War” two years ago) and then she’ll take your questions.
In person, audiences are often surprised to see that Koh doesn’t seem as intense as her poems. She’s funny; she laughs a lot; she’s charming and humble. But the intensity is there, and it is real. With just a few words, carefully selected and arranged just so, she can bring a room full of humans to tears. She has that power
Matthew Gault at Motherboard writes:
Pepe the Frog creator Matt Furie has made good on his threat to "aggressively enforce his intellectual property."
The artist's lawyers have taken legal action against the alt-right. They have served cease and desist orders to several alt-right personalities and websites including Richard Spencer, Mike Cernovich, and the r/the_Donald subreddit. In addition, they have issued Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown requests to Reddit and Amazon, notifying them that use of Pepe by the alt-right on their platforms is copyright infringement. The message is to the alt-right is clear—stop using Pepe the Frog or prepare for legal consequences.
Of course, the alt-right is fighting back, citing free speech. Nazis love to use the free speech defense. We'll see how that works out for them. Hopefully, it will look something like this.
Heyyyyyyy! An actually useful piece of information has been added to Google searches: now when you look up books, Google will include links to ebook listings at local libraries. Just look all the way at the bottom of the card that comes up when you Google a book title and you'll find it there. I can't remember the last time Google made a change that actively improved my life with no serious setbacks, so this is a welcome development.
As I drive through the bower
of old oak trees
scanning 68th and 20th avenues northeast
I am scared by the moon.
It is so low in the sky this night
I think it will smack me in the face.
I try to turn the wipers on,
but strands of hair white as paste
cover the window like thick rain.
A woman's mouth stretches open
in a silent scream. Bent fingers claw
until they reach my chest.
Some nights I lose my way home.
Sponsor Lori Tsugawa Whaley, a third-generation Japanese American, was raised in a primarily Caucasian community and felt disconnected from her Japanese heritage. While exploring this ancient culture, she discovered a source of truth — the code of ethics known as bushido. Bushido means “the way of the warrior”; it is the set of chivalrous principles that governed the behavior of the ancient Japanese warriors known as samurai.
In The Courage of a Samurai, Lori Tsugawa Whaley brings these concepts to everyday life, showing through examples the kind of ethical and moral choices you can make when guided by principles. As she says, "I believe you were born to live a life of courage, honor, and integrity." Read an excerpt on our sponsor's page.
Sponsors like Lori make the Seattle Review of Books possible. Did you know you could sponsor us as well? Get your stories, or novel, or event in front of our passionate audience. Take a glance at our sponsorship information page for dates and details.
In a long and thoughtful post, Seattle Mystery Bookshop owner JB Dickey explains why he's closing his bookstore at the end of this month. I'm sad the bookshop couldn't find a new owner, but I'm glad that Seattle had so many wonderful years with such a wonderful bookstore.
From his Punch to Kill comics to his work organizing the dearly departed Intruder magazine, Marc Palm is one of the most active members of Seattle’s cartooning community. So when Palm announced on Facebook earlier this summer that he broke his right arm — his dominant arm, the arm that did all his drawing — the community responded with a visceral heartbreak: one of Seattle’s most prolific and enthusiastic cartoonists was going to be out of commission for the foreseeable future. But then Palm did something unexpected: he taught himself how to draw with his left hand. I talked to him in late August about his experiences.
Thank you for doing this. I’ve been following along on your journey on Facebook and I think it's really fascinating. Let me start with a couple of personal anecdotes. I want to get your impression of them.
First, I had a friend who was an artist in high school. His mother likes to tell the story that when he was a kid he used to walk around the house with his hands in oven mitts. He'd hold his hands in the oven mitts right up to his chest because he was so terrified that anything would happen to his hands.
He identified as an artist so much that it was like a fear for him. He felt like he’d have no identity without his art.
And then second, my grandmother was born a lefty. At her school they tied her left hand behind her back until she became right-handed, because they thought left-handedness was a weakness of character.
Is she alive?
She died, a long-time ago. But she had Alzheimer's, and she actually reverted to left-handedness toward the end there. I thought those two stories might give you an idea of what I was thinking about when I heard about your story.
Speaking of which, I want to shut up and hear your story. So to start at the beginning, you bought a skateboard, right?
Well, no. For the last couple of years I've been getting more and more interested in skateboarding. When I was 12, my parents got me a skateboard — a big clunker. Then they got me pads and helmet and all this other stuff to be safe. And I tooled around in my driveway, which was the smoothest surface I had. But even then, I didn't wear gloves. I didn't wear oven mitts walking around or whatever, but I was a very careful child.
I've been a very careful person my whole life, really. So when I was 12 I was like, ‘You know. I think I'm gonna hurt myself. I don't really want to do this.’ Skateboarding was just cool to watch. I was gonna be a fanboy of it.
But then in the last couple years I was just getting more and more into watching it, and admiring it and thinking, ‘Wow, this is cool. Maybe I should give this a shot.’ So, [Seattle cartoonist] Ben Horak said, ‘I got this board I picked up from somebody. I'm never gonna use it cause I'm too scared to hurt myself, if you want it.’
He hands me off this skateboard. And whoever had it before, they actually were a skater. The thing was pretty well ground up, and it worked well. I was kind of tooling around wherever I could.
A couple of other cartoonists and started skating. They were very encouraging like, ‘You're not gonna hurt yourself. Don't worry about it.’ So we'd go find flat surfaces — tennis courts or parking lots or whatever. We call it ‘skate dad parks.’
That's where, inevitably, it happened.
It was the big Gotham Asylum up on Beacon Hill — the hospital up there. We found this great parking lot. No one bothered us. So I was off on one side, and they were on the other, and I just made this turn and there were some rocks, and I just stopped the board. And then I just landed directly down on my wrist, and that's when I eventually broke a chunk off the ... I forget what that is. It's one of the long arm bones.
I had never broken a bone, and I tried my best to avoid it. Until picking up a skateboard.
It was the worst fear that I had. [When I started skating,] other people were like, ‘What if you break your drawing arm ?’ I’d say, ‘Yeah, I know, but it'll be fine.’ Then the worst case scenario happened.
Just to get some background: you're a fairly prolific artist. It seems like you must draw every day, right?
Yeah, I try to. It's definitely in my blood. And I've been doing it for thirty-plus years — just constantly producing and trying to do my best. But I'm not gonna kill myself over a broken arm. I just started going down the process of seeing if I could draw with my left.
My mom has a similar story to your grandmother’s. She was a lefty. She went to Catholic school, and they bound her left arm and forced her to go right. She eventually, grew out of it and went back to being a left-hander.
But while raising me she forced everything into my right hand. She was hoping that I wouldn't be a left-hander because she thinks it’s a curse. The world is right-handed, and she didn't want me to deal with the same problems she had. It's possible that I could have been a left-hander, had it just come naturally.
After you fell when did your thoughts turn to the fact that this was going to really screw up your drawing? How soon was it before you realized?
It wasn't like a big revelation, but it was definitely like, ‘Ugh, fuck. I broke my wrist. I can't draw.’ It was immediate and I tried not to be too bummed out about it. I was more annoyed that now I'm gonna be completely inconvenienced — I only have one hand. I work at the Fantagraphics warehouse and my job is lifting up packages and packing things and now I'm kind of wrecked on that.
I just thought I was gonna have to take a break. Which stinks, because I have a book that I'm working on, and hoping to have done by Short Run. I immediately just realized I had to try to figure something out.
What did that process look like?
Oddly enough, months ago — maybe even a year ago — I was having a little paranoid fantasy, wondering what would happen if I couldn't use my right arm — if it got cut off or I broke it. I was just fascinated with the idea of what my left arm can do that my right can't.
So I tried buttering my bread with my left, and I realized that these two hands had no idea what to do when they're faced with something the other hand usually does. My right hand didn't know how to hold the bread properly, and my left hand didn't know the subtleties of spreading with a certain amount of pressure without stabbing through the bread.
I played around with that. I'd started to be more efficient. I’d remind myself, ‘why don't I just grab the door handle with my left hand because that's where it's at instead of reaching all the way over from my right?’ I was already trying things with my left.’ I hadn't really tried to draw or anything, but I farted around and, like, tried to write my name with my left. It never went well.
So then, a couple days [after I broke my arm] I grabbed a big fat pencil, and I thought ‘maybe I can come up with a cute style,’ because normally my stuff's grotesque. I thought maybe I could actually draw cute things with my left hand.
So I was drawing dinosaurs just to start out. They did look kind of childish, and it was hard to have the control that I wanted. But I saw that I could do something, so I just needed to focus a little harder.
So I changed tools. I went to the smallest micron pen I have. It's a .005. I started going really small and I found that when I was doing details with my left hand, I had a lot of control. But if I made big gestures, or made big strokes, it would get all wiggly and I didn't have the kind of control I wanted.
Wow, that is the exact opposite of what I would figure would happen.
I had a bunch of people encouraging me to try drawing with my left hand. At first, it kind of annoyed me. I was like, ‘You know, this is kind of a cute, fun thing to post online, but it kind of hurts.’
So after I did those dinosaur drawings I put one up right away. I was like, ‘All right, here you go. Everyone that says I should draw with my left, here's the drawings. Fifty bucks, let's go. If you want to support me, put your money where your mouth is.’
‘Or keep your cute little comments to yourself.’ All right, yeah, I could draw with my left hand. So then I just started working on it. As far as being an artist, you're basically dealing with like problem solving: ‘I've got a picture in my head. I need to get it on paper. How do I do that?’
And what was fascinating to me about doing this, was my way of working doesn't come from my right hand. It’s not the hand that does it — it's my brain. I can visualize where things have to go. I've studied enough brush strokes and different techniques. I just needed to be able to get my left hand become a good tool, to get those lines to flow the way I want to.
So yeah, I took my time and really had to be patient and focus on the circle, where before, my right hand had been doing it for thirty close years. I was struggling to draw these little things. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is what it's like for like a normal person who doesn't know how to draw. I could see why they give up. This is hard!’
I realized that this is an enormous amount of work.
It basically was just working through it — figuring out how delicate I have to be, how hard do I want to press on this, what kind of style do I want?
Now I see it as really cool and fun. I'm kind of addicted to it.
Do you draw every day now with your left hand?
Yeah. I go to a coffee shop and sit there for an hour before work and just draw. And that was a great exercise. Every day, I sit there and pump out a new drawing.
And all the drawings I would be posting would take me two days or two mornings — an hour or less apiece. I even picked up speed as far as the amount of time I was working on them. I could do it faster and faster, and get more precise. It's interesting how it's an exponential growth of ability.
I feel my brain swelling.
Yeah, you really got good. I was following your story on Facebook and it seems like all of a sudden, you put up that drawing of of Vampirella, and I was like, ‘Holy shit.’ I don’t know how hard you are on your own work, but even you have to acknowledge that the difference is pretty impressive.
Oh no, that's the thing. It's weird because people come up and say, ‘Wow dude, you're drawing really well.’ And I share in their amazement: ‘Yeah, I know, right? These are really fucking good.’ And it's weird. I don't want to seem like I'm egotistical but I'm surprising the hell out of myself with this.
With that Vampirella one, I was sitting at home and just kind of sketching. I drew a different type of line. I had actually been trying to get to a point like that — I guess, like a looser style. It’s been hard to teach myself to get looser when I've been trying to get tighter and tighter for years. And so my left hand had that looseness that I was looking for.
It's just been really weird and awesome to see it happen. The big drawing that blew my mind that I was able to complete it and make it look as good as what I would do with my right hand was the one with two witches brewing up the bongwater soup.
I use a brush pen usually, but I pulled out a nib pen I hadn't used in years and it worked out great. It was like this cool new toy to play with and get different effects.
There's still a difference between your left-hand and right-hand style, though, right? You've gotten better, but you haven't gotten the same.
No, but I'm definitely getting closer, which I'm not sure like.
It's kind of fascinating — I talked to one of my other cartoonist buddies, Kalen Knowles. He said, ‘What if I told you I like these [left-handed drawings] a little bit more than your other stuff?’ And my girlfriend was getting close to saying that to me too.
It's weird to me because I've been working so hard to get a style that I can be comfortable with, and can produce well with my right hand, for so long. And now I'm coming up with this little bit more naïve, or raw, look with my left, and everybody's like, ‘Oh, I like that better.
It also looks more hand drawn. I guess that's what he was saying; it looks like it has a little bit more of a human hand to it.
And I think some people are drawn to that because it looks like something that they'd be able to do. I've had a couple of people say they like stuff that looks not too polished. If it's so polished and super hyper-realistic, they can't even understand it.
But if it looks like someone drew it, and there's mistakes and there's a wiggly line, then people get that. There must be something identifiable about it.
I've been trying to be cautious or kind of aware of how clean and how good my stuff looks, because I don't want it to look like it's made by a computer. I don't like a lot of digital art a lot of times. I see it as soulless. It's too clean, it's too nice.
So if [art drawn with my left hand is] a little rougher, or hand-drawn, or there's a mistake, that's cool. But I don't want my art to be full of mistakes. I look at a piece of my art and I see all my mistakes — I don't see how good it is. And I think that's the hardest thing for artists — liking your style, liking your little quirks, and all the strange things about it. Hopefully, your tastes match up with your audience.
So the cast is off, right?
Yeah, it came off yesterday. Thank God.
Have you been drawing a little bit? Have you had time to readjust to the right hand?
No, I’ve still got to go through some physical therapy. I have a new splint.
But I'm going to have to [get back into drawing with the right hand] because I've got to finish the vampire book I'm working on. I'm interested to see if my right hand has to learn to catch up now. Will I be able to jump back in? Or will my left hand now become the superior hand?
I'm looking forward to using the left hand to sketch out things, or do my rough pencils, because it has that looseness. And then I'll ink it with my right hand so that I can get a tighter look.
So you’re looking to use both hands in the future? Like, at the same time?
I'm not a gecko. I can't spread my eyes and look at two different drawings at the same time. Not yet. I may well try.
Maybe you just need a head injury.
Be kicked in the head by a mule.
Do you think you're going to finish the vampire book by the time Short Run happens on November 4th? Are people going to be able to see your latest stuff at your booth at Short Run?
Oh yeah, for sure. I have only a few pages left on the vampire book. It’s called The Fang and it's about a female vampire who has a job as an assassin of monsters.
I'm also thinking about coming up with a left-handed publication of some sort. Like the closest thing I'm ever going to do to an autobio comic, with photos, probably collages, and some sort of skate art. A photo of my skateboard, and x-rays from my hand, and then all my left-handed art. I think that's something I should definitely do.
I want to see if I can get, at the very least, a coffee shop to host a bunch of left-handed drawings.
Do you have a book out right now that you think is a perfect example of your right-handedness at its apex, before the accident? So that readers can do a before and after comparison?
Oh yeah. The Punch to Kills are the best I've done. And then, The Fang book is definitely the thing that I've been really excited about doing all this year. It definitely is looser than the Punch to Kills, I think, and a little bit more fun.
So, yeah, there should definitely be stuff for sale at Short Run, so you can look at what I did this way and that way. Choose your poison. Pick your hand.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
A broken glass; a stumble on the sidewalk; a misplaced word that leads to hurt feelings. Most of us screw up on a daily basis, and for the most part we can fix it with a little glue and an earnest apology. What happens when you hit the top of the screw-up food chain, though, and someone dies? Alice Gregory explores the aftermath of accidental death and why we have so little to offer the survivors.
There are self-help books written for seemingly every aberration of human experience: for alcoholics and opiate abusers; for widows, rape victims, gambling addicts, and anorexics; for the parents of children with disabilities; for sufferers of acne and shopping compulsions; for cancer survivors, asexuals, and people who just aren’t that happy and don’t know why. But there are no self-help books for anyone who has accidentally killed another person.
In the wake of Amazon’s announcement that they’re planning to grace another city with HQ2 — an announcement met with either consternation or celebration by Seattleites, depending on inclination — read this reflection by Google staffer Min Li Chan about the tech giant’s impact on San Francisco. Chan has been moving toward Google since she was nine; she’s living her childhood dream. But she’s also watching the job she loves steal the city she loves and lives in.
When the first bus protests erupted in late 2013, my peers and I reacted with bewilderment, certain that we had been unjustly cast as scapegoats for the city’s problems. “Why are they angry at us?” a friend remarked one night over dinner. “We haven’t done anything wrong, we’re just trying to get to work!” That morning, a man had driven by our tech shuttle stop in his beat-up Honda Accord and given all of us the middle finger while leaning on his horn. As my friend and I recounted other instances of aggression we had witnessed or heard about, other guests — close friends who didn’t work in the industry — listened. “But you guys get why this is happening, right?” asked one after we had finished our meal. After everyone had gone home, I turned her question over in my mind. In the calculus of culpability, I had believed that as well-meaning technologists and productive members of society, we were irreproachable. How could we be wrong?
Lisa Marie Basile jumps into the Instagram poetry fray after Electric Literature’s recent evisceration of practitioner Collin Yost. This gets stickier the deeper you go; the Twitter exchange (between Portland writer/artist Izze Leslie and Yost) that sparked this particular flamewar went ad hominem quickly and across multiple social media platforms. Basile steers us onto higher ground with some good (oft-trod, but never too oft) questions about the value of verse.
On one hand, I personally don’t think it’s excusable to pump that sort of drivel onto the Internet — especially because of the fact that those Instagram poets, whose work is heavily tied to the Internet, likely have access to other poets’ work on that same Internet. By reading anything published in a literary journal or a release from a small press (which I think is partly a duty of being a poet) or even work by another poet that isn't published, they must have some semblance of knowledge around what constitutes original writing that doesn’t rely on gimmick or cliché.
But if these poets want to write what they write — and if their readers are getting some sort of emotional response out of it — is that not what matters?
With a Blade Runner sequel coming soon, Michael Schulman has a short history of the making of the original. It’s just as chaotic and fraught as you might imagine: Scripts are written on the sly, there’s a near-mutiny on the set, and Philip K. Dick goes creepily head over heels for Sean Young. Here’s just one anecdote, in which Ridley Scott delivers an unwelcome surprise to writer Hampton Fancher:
Then, around Christmas 1980, Scott’s aide Ivor Powell invited Fancher for dinner and handed him a script. Fancher figured it was a different movie entirely, until he flipped the page and realized it was a re-written Blade Runner. “I stood up and started crying, tears coming down my face,” Fancher recalls. “Ivor put his arm around me. He told me this was going to happen before — he said, ‘I know my man. If you don’t do what he wants, he’ll get someone who will.’”
Days later, Fancher stormed into the production office and screamed, “Why?!”
“Elegance is one thing, Hampton,” Deeley told him. “Making a film is another.”
“Fuck you guys,” Fancher said, and returned home to Carmel.
We don't ususally count our dead in the Sunday Post, even on a week of notable losses. Many are mourning Harry Dean Stanton this weekend, rightly; on the non-human side, we obsessively and collectively tracked Cassini's final flight in our imaginations, through the lens of history, and through images.
But if you grew up in a certain midwestern city, there was one death this week that stung even more sharply: Grant Hart, the better half of Minneapolis punk band Hüsker Dü. Many will take issue with "better half," but Grant would love it. And it's sweet, smartass Grant Hart who always belonged to his hometown — no matter how far he traveled.
I first laid eyes on Grant in December of 1983. Hüsker Dü were sharing a bill with SST Records labelmates the Minutemen at Love Hall, a rundown punk dive on South Broad Street in Philadelphia. Grant was being shown around the freezing venue by the promoter before the show and I remember thinking how "un-punk" he looked in his trench coat, paisley shirt and long hair. He looked like a hippie who was on his way to see Hot Tuna but walked into the wrong club.
Any doubts I harbored were obliterated when Hüsker Dü launched into "Something I Learned Today," the lead-off track from their upcoming double album Zen Arcade. I can only liken seeing Hüsker Dü that night to the daze of disorientation you feel after accidentally banging your head on something very hard. It was punk, it was pop, it was jazz, it was psychedelic; it was an ear-splitting swirl of sound. And at the center of the sonic hurricane was Grant Hart, arms flailing, feet flying, laying waste to every drum and cymbal in his path.
Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.
Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.
You've seen them stacked like mini-skyscrapers driving 99 through SODO. On the Duwamish side, the towering animal-like cranes, whose job it is to move them from one method of conveyance to another. On the other, those hunched-back rail cranes, that pick up and move them in the yards.
There's just something about those corrugated metal boxes that makes us want to repurpose them into something else. Their first job, though, is to move goods. In fact, what you think of when you hear the name "shipping container" is actually called intermodal containers. They come in standardized sizes, but the real breakthrough in their technology came when a Spokanite named Keith Tantlinger who made some important improvements on existing containers (mostly standardization), but invented the twist-lock that today's containers use so that they can stack. It changed shipping forever.
If you read Jonathan Raban's magnificent novel Waxwings — which starts on the bridge of a container ship about to enter the Salish Sea as a pilot boards to guide the ship to harbor in Seattle — you'll know that containers play a part. Containers are story machines, each one full of things we love to think about, dream about, or need to do our work. And when humans make things and need things, no doubt there are going to be many stories around those things just waiting to be explored.
Sometimes the twist-locks seize. Salt air, corrosion, etc. Sometimes you have to get in there and cut the damn things free. But he checked all four corners and they were in the release position. So why couldn't the crane get the container free of the stack? Making sure he was well clear, he radioed for the crane operator to try again, and like before, the container stuck tight to the one under it, like it was super-glued in place. It was weird. And then, a surging hum and the wrench he was holding went flying and stuck to the side of container. Magnets? There weren't any magnets that powerful on the earth. He radioed to pull the crane free. "I'm gonna crack it and see what's inside."
They didn't have the nerve to say it to her face. But her neighbors — at least one of them, and maybe more — sent an anonymous note to her email, threatening her with a lawsuit if she continued with the plans for her new house. "Your plan to build using steel boxes is incongruous with the careful design of our neighborhood," the note read. "Should you persist, there will be lawsuits." She wondered if it was the person who lived in the Tudor, or the craftsmen, or the mid-century rambler, or the eighties knock-off architect's nightmare house? Which congruity of those would she be impacting by building on her own land?
The planning had taken twelve Earth years. Where was the least likely place for Earth radar to pick up their craft landing? They decided in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, and to mask their decent through the atmosphere to be like a meteorite falling. The mothership could go to the bottom of the sea, then, by the time any jets were scrambled to check them out. And then, they would launch their container ship, and it would go right into port, without anybody knowing. The perfect Trojan horse, and nobody could stop them before they were fully distributed throughout the cities, and it was too late.
The sealed container auctions were his favorite. Something about a gambler's sensibility that knew the promise of something was better than the reality of bored nothingness. So, a few thousand dollars and he'd have a container full of goods. Of what? Of shoes, or sawhorses, of cheap-ass electronics or knock-off Stetson hats, electrical panels for houses, or elevator cables, plastic bottles, climbing gear, or who knows what else? But when he opened his latest lot, he found something far more unsettling: a house-worth of furniture and goods. It was a family's life he just bought, and all he could think about was how much they needed their stuff. How much the move — from where? Hong Kong? — had cost them, and he wondered if he could figure out just how to find them.
They wash up on the beaches, sometimes, still. Daddy says it was the great wave that done it, but I know it was the pulse from the sun that killed all of the electronics. Daddy says they used to talk on little boxes, used to use glowing screens to see faces of people far away. One time, he opened the big box on the beach and showed me, with happiness, "This is a laptop, Dumpling. I wish I could turn it on and show you how it worked." We took all the boxes of them, hundreds, and stacked them in my room. I use them like blocks to make other rooms, but I've opened a few. I like to poke at their buttons and see. Sometimes I shoot them with the shotgun to watch them explode, but Daddy doesn't like when I do that because of contamination, whatever that is. So when I saw a new red box come up on shore I had to go get him, and we waded out to it to see what could be inside. Every time it was the thrill of the new. Every time was like a present come to us. Both of us acted like little kids as we walked into the water to see what we were gonna get.
Cienna Madrid's Summer cold has decided to stick around past the dog days. She's sick so we're rerunning this column from October of 2015. Our intrepid advice columnist will be back next week. And please remember to keep sending your questions! Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Ask her at email@example.com.
There's this guy who rides the elevator with me at work pretty often. He always has a big, complex book in his hands — Bolaño, or DFW, or Knausgaard. He's pretty good looking, but I've held off smiling at him because I'm worried his choice of books means he's going to be pretty intellectually limited. Is there a safe way to test him in public before asking him out on a date?
Pat in the Columbia Tower
Here’s what I suggest: Start carrying around a copy of your favorite book in your bag. The next time you’re stuck in an elevator with this handsome stranger, break the ice by saying something like, “I notice you read a lot of very serious books written by unsmiling men, so I thought you might enjoy this change of pace. It’s my favorite.” The beauty is, it doesn’t really matter what your book is – it could be something truly great, like Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild, it could be last week’s TV Guide, or it could something he might actually enjoy, like the latest bullshit pumped out by Jonathan Franzen (if you go the TV Guide route, it helps to tape an unused condom to the inside cover). The point is, you’re being both flattering and assertive. If he’s smart and interested, he’ll read your book or at least continue the conversation. If he’s an intellectually stunted dummy, say “fuck it” and ask to see his abs. They can’t be any less interesting to talk to (and if by some miracle they are, you can always start taking the stairs).
Jamie Ford, the Seattle author who previously wrote a celebrated novel about the International District, returns with a novel about Seattle’s 1909 World’s Fair. It’s the story of a boy who is raffled off to a supposedly “good home” that turns out to be a brothel.
Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333, http://thirdplacebooks.com. Free. All ages. 4 p.m.
Every month, Nisi Shawl presents us with news and updates from her perch overlooking the world of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. You can also look through the archives of the column.
A cover’s the first thing you see when you look at a book. Maybe the spine alone — a wash of color, font(s) spelling out its title and the name of its author (with any luck, legibly). You see more if the book is “faced out,” that is, displayed so the front cover’s facing you, and you’re getting the full force of the artist’s and designer’s skill. What can you tell at first glance?
For starters, expensive treatments such as embossing, cut-outs, and foil or metallic inks mean the publisher thinks they’ll be selling lots of copies. Traditionally, the publisher’s got an in-house team taking care of the cover business; traditionally, authors have little to say about how their books are packaged beyond, if the publisher’s feeling extremely gracious, a chance to nix the chosen art. Which Tor gave me with Everfair; editor Liz Gorinsky showed me a preliminary sketch done by the brilliant Victo Ngai and I pointed out that the human hand in it should be black. And she made it so.
But protagonists’ races aren’t always something you can tell from a cover, alas. “Whitewashing” is the term we use for this problem. For every piece of representative and lushly dark Kai Ashante Wilson or Nnedi Okorafor cover art, there’s a counterexample, such as the weirdly pale version of Lilith Iyapo shown on the original edition of Octavia E Butler’s Dawn. Of course that last book was published thirty years ago; nowadays, a mostly abstract or alphabetic cover like the one on Zen Cho’s wonderful Sorcerer to the Crown is the compromise.
Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with alphabetic cover designs — one of my favorites is the cover for Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, reproduced here on a t-shirt. But I contend it’s shabby of publishers to routinely use graphics to conceal information they think you shouldn’t have.
Because there are times they do exactly the opposite for the information they think you should. Goggles, top hats, and dirigibles on a cover signify steampunk; spacesuits and cratered, airless planetscapes signify “hard” science fiction; busty contortionists in jeans or leather catsuits signify “urban fantasies” about werewolves and private eyes. Delving deeper into this code, specific artists are identified with specific subgenres and even with particular authors: Thomas Canty with high fantasy, Kinuko Y. Craft with Patricia McKillip (I review a classic McKillip re-issue later in this column).
Publishers speak cover art fluently. If they want to.
Another thing you can usually tell from a book’s cover: who else thinks it’s cool. Traditionally, publishers are also in charge of soliciting “blurbs,” as the two-or-three sentences of praise bestowed by big names are called. The results can be edifying. If the book jacket prints a statement from Samuel R. Delany or Junot Diaz saying a debut novel is brilliant, I pay attention; if it’s lauded as amazing by someone who…isn’t…I pass it by.
So yes, often you can judge a book by its cover. But then there are those times when things go horribly wrong. The cover art for the first printing of Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others has a clumsy Ayn Rand-paperback feel entirely at odds with the collection’s ambiguity and subtlety. “There’s a Bimbo on the Cover of My Book” laments a familiar filk song (folk songs for members of the SFFH community). “All too accurate,” one commenter proclaims of the song’s full lyrics.
One way around these messes is to self publish. Another is to publish with a small press such as Tachyon, Aqueduct, or Small Beer. In both cases authors are better able to plead their book’s cases to the judge and jury of the reading audience.
There’s a first time for everything, including AfroComicCon, a Bay Area “comic book, art, media, science fiction, technology awareness, web TV, film, and writing convention.” You get all that for a ticket costing $7 to $30 — depending on which events you opt for. A free-of-charge Youth Community Day is promised also, though no details are available yet. Jaymee Goh and Zahrah Farmer Castillo are two of this fledgling con’s fourteen featured speakers.
VCON, on the other hand, has existed since 1971. This year’s VCON 41.5 is billed as a “relaxacon”: light on programming, heavy on socializing. It’s a format that will likely work both for longtime attendees who just want to hang out with old friends and newcomers who’d like to get a feeling for the con community. Structured only around the length of a movie or the rules of a game, VCON 41.5 could be a revealacon as well.
As noted above, recent covers for Patricia McKillip’s fantasies are almost always painted by Kinuko Y Craft. Except when they’re not; a new reprint of her groundbreaking World Fantasy Award-winner The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (Tachyon) is graced instead by Thomas Canty’s art. And why not? McKillip’s soaring prose, lyrics to songs our hearts have forgotten they knew how to sing, deserves Canty’s accompaniment. The feminist underpinnings of the book’s plot — a self-sufficient woman who refuses to be stripped of her autonomy starts a war she swore never to fight — deserve our attention now as much as they did in 1974, when Beasts was first published. If you’ve never read it, you deserve to. Or if, like me, you read it long ago and have made do since with a tiny but affordable mass market paperback, you deserve Tachyon’s elegant trade paperback edition, at least half as beautiful as McKillip’s story. Which sounds stingy as compliments go, but is actually extremely high praise.
Frankenstein Dreams (Bloomsbury USA), a retrospective edited by Michael Sims, is fourth in his series of Victorian SFFH anthologies. The book begins with a detailed introduction, then proceeds to work by Mary Shelley, author of what’s arguably the first modern science fiction novel, and ends with Arthur Conan Doyle, whose iconic sleuth Holmes epitomized the scientific approach to mystery. In between these two Sims manages to introduce several authors less familiar to modern SFFH readers, or probably to modern readers of any genre. He also takes the somewhat regrettable liberty of excerpting a minor and wholly non-sfnal Thomas Hardy novel, justifying it as an illustration of the anxiety the time’s scientific discoveries provoked. Other excerpts — of Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas, of Shelley’s superb Frankenstein, of Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, and of Stevenson’s Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde — may tempt the antho’s audience to read the complete novels they’re taken from. They stand up poorly to the real short stories appearing here, though, such as Poe’s “The Facts in the Case of M Valdemar” or my favorite, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s “The Hall Bedroom.” Gender issues are addressed in “A Wife Manufactured to Order” by Alice W. Fuller, and racial prejudice in Edward Page Mitchell’s “The Senator’s Daughter,” but for the most part Frankenstein’s Dreams seem to center on explicit monsters and the implicit estrangement of members of the era’s dominant paradigm.
On Labor Day, I argued that we need more blue-collar novelists. The thing that I didn't note in that essay is that there are plenty of contemporary blue-collar cartoonists — not because the comics industry is so forward-thinking but because the comics industry does such a poor job of compensating artists for their work. Unless they're a superstar name or someone who works on a number of different gigs simultaneously, the odds are good that your favorite cartoonist is either A) indepdendently wealthy or B) working multiple angles to make ends meet.
Mimi Pond's fictionalized memoir The Customer Is Always Wrong is about as blue-collar as they come: it's the story of a young woman who works at a diner in 1970s Oakland. Nobody in this book is a jet-setting millionaire. In fact, they're all just barely getting by, and it shows: the people who work and eat at the Imperial Cafe are almost all one paycheck away from disaster. They soothe themselves with drugs and melodrama. They dream of ways out of their cycles of poverty, but those dreams never quite come true.
Madge feels pretty grown up when she scores a job at the Imperial. She's living with roommates, she gets a boyfriend, and she falls for the eccentrics who frequent the Imperial — on both sides of the counter. But soon enough, people start ODing on heroin, or doing too much coke and getting violent, or having brushes with the law. It's a coming-of-age story set in the school of hard knocks.
Tying together all of the anecdotes that make up Wrong is the work: waiting tables is the baseline of the book. Madge walks around with a carafe of coffee in one hand, chatting with customers, learning what she can about the world from the booths of the Imperial. Sometimes the kitchen is slammed and Madge has to try to charm her tickets to the top of the to-do pile. Other times it's slow and she shoots the shit with regulars. It's a book that's intrinsically tied to the dignity — and indignity — of work.
At nearly 450 pages, Wrong is a mammoth-sized comic. You'll have to take your time with it, and that's how it should be. It's a memoir that takes you through the days and nights of its main character, and it slowly transforms Madge in such a way that the reader barely notices until the transformation is complete.
Pond's art is perfect for this kind of serialized novel of a story: her art is cartoony but finely detailed. Madge's face is just a couple of lines, but Pond draws every stave in the row of chairs in the background. This makes the run-down glory of the Imperial, and of pre-tech-boom Oakland, an additional character in the book. You're not likely to read another comic this year that immerses you so deeply in the lives of a cast of characters, and these are lives — endearing, aggravating, tragic — that you don't see enough in modern fiction. Cartoonists like Pond are happily taking up the space that novelists have abdicated.