Here's some good news on a downright gloomy day. We just got word from the good folks at Short Run Comix and Arts Festival that the National Endowment for the Arts awarded them a grant for their 2016 festival. (It's been a good couple days for Seattle's standing in arts awards.) A quick search of the paperwork reveals that Short Run was awarded $15,000 by the NEA. Other local winners include SIFF, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, the Seattle Opera, and, on the literary side of things, Town Hall Seattle, which also picked up $15,000. Congratulations to all the winners, but especially congratulations to Short Run, which has never recieved a grant this large before. We can't wait to see what you do with all that sweet, sweet NEA cash.

Windows into the future

Published December 08, 2015, at 12:00pm

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper review Multiple authors's Future Visions.

Is it even possible to build a good story collection with corporate backing? Microsoft invited a bunch of SF writers to the Research Labs, and asked them to write inspired by what they saw. Is it all corporate hackery?

Read this review now

Phobias Incorporated

Father Giuliano, the drama instructor, fainted
every time he saw blood.
When a nun in the class, newly acquainted
with stagecraft,
fed a hand to the band saw, Giuliano was the one
who had to be treated. My mother
applauded the hero.

                                              At the first clap of thunder,
she ran to the bureau for the rosary.
All through a stormy upbringing
under the kitchen sink after dark,
I repeated my lines. No wonder I link priest and parent,
twins in a Siamese startlement: Blood and Thunder,
Thunder and Blood. Pray for us…
at the hour of death

                                              The real drama begins with
a thud — my sister — not claustrophobic, not
acrophobic, plunging from bed,
riding the nightmare bedrails. Her elevator shaft
endangered us all, marked women,
dumb waiters adrift on a sunken Titanic. Days
I rode up and down, wherever the tenants were going
for fun, not pushing the panic button.
I was afraid of cats.

                                              It's a circular story
and that's where I leave it: the Siamese leap
sucking breath, old wives'
tales, the alley cats my sister brought home
sheltered from storm,
early death of a hero and always
the drawn blood informing
our several lives.

Just got a press release that ended the day on a happy note:

Artist Trust is excited to announce that the recipient of the inaugural Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award in 2015 is writer Anca Szilágyi. The Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award is an unrestricted award of $10,000 given to a Washington State artist who is engaged in storytelling through their work in various artistic disciplines. The 2015 award recognizes an outstanding literary artist working in fiction.

It's been a good year for Szilágyi; she's headlined readings all over town, she's seen a lot of work published, her story "Cauliflower Tells You" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and now this. If you're unfamiliar with her work, try "Cumulus", an audio version of her story "Bastille Day", and "Skitter," which has the terrific opening line: "Another tooth plinked into the tea glass and Harush blinked at it twice."

Congratulations to Szilágyi, and a heartfelt thank you to Artist Trust for giving such a sizable award to fiction writers; ten thousand dollars is a significant sum, one that can make a genuine difference in the life of a writer.

Every 16-year-old in Sweden is getting a copy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All be Feminists.The book, which was adapted from a TED talk Adichie—the author of Americanah, Half of a Yellow Sun, and two other works of fiction—gave in 2012 will be distributed to the country’s teens by the Swedish Women’s Lobby and publisher Albert Bonniers. The Swedish translation was released on December 1.

What a wonderful idea. I hope schools in America will follow Sweden's lead. If you haven't yet read We Should All Be Feminists, I'd encourage you to read my review of the book.

A mystery in our own back yard

Escaped serial killers, wives behaving badly, psychics getting embroiled in police work, and all in our own back yard? Gregg Olsen brings it all in his second book in the Waterman/Stark series.

We're so pleased to have him as a sponsor this week, and you can read a full chapter from his new book Now That She's Gone on our sponsor page. You'll be glad you did.

It's because of sponsors like Olsen that we were able to sell-out our initial run of sponsorship slots. Like us, people are sick of low-quality internet advertising. Focusing on high quality sponsors who offer interesting work. It's all part of our drive to make internet advertising 100 percent less terrible.

Crow quill pen and bible black ink

Published December 07, 2015, at 12:00pm

Martin McClellan review Molly Crabapple's Drawing Blood.

Molly Crabapple has spent years illustrating and writing about protests and political outsiders overseas. What happens when she turns her pen to writing prose about her own life?

Read this review now

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from December 7th to 13th

MONDAY Your week begins at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. Tonight, they’re hosting Christopher T. Bayley, author of Seattle Justice: The Rise and Fall of the Police Payoff System in Seattle. For all its political faults, one thing you’ve got to give Seattle: in comparison to east coast cities, it’s remarkably free from corruption. (Many would argue that this lack of corruption is why it’s very hard to get major infrastructure projects done in this town. Sometimes it takes a little grift to grease the wheels.) Tonight, Bayley will talk about the exception that proves the rule: a payola scheme that rocked the SPD.

TUESDAY It’s a very special night for this here blog. Dock Street Salon at Phinney Books is always a fun time: a short reading from a pair of guests, followed by a lively question and answer session, occasionally with some free libations to spice up the conversation. Tonight’s guests are, uh, Martin McClellan and Paul Constant, the co-founders of the Seattle Review of Books. We’ll read some of our stuff, and then we’ll talk about whatever you want to talk about: book reviewing, the Seattle literary scene, holiday gift recommendations. We hope you’ll come and talk with us. It’ll be a lot of fun!

But our rule around here is that if an event in this column features a SRoB connection, we provide an alternate, non-SRoB-affiliated event for the sake of fairness. So our ALTERNATE TUESDAY event is at Elliott Bay Book Company tonight. Short story author Elizabeth Tallent is reading there. She hasn’t read in Seattle since the publication of her last book of stories, in 1993. Her newest collection is titled Mendocino Fire. This, then, is a generational event. If you haven’t heard of Tallent, chances are it’s because you weren’t paying attention to literary fiction two decades ago. Here’s an interview with Tallent to help get you up to speed.

WEDNESDAY Tonight, I couldn’t choose between two events. One is a fun genre event, and the other is a celebration of Northwest fiction history. The first is Noir at the Bar at the Alibi Room This is an opportunity for the Seattle crime fiction opportunity to show off what they’ve been working on, with readings from Robert Dugoni, Ingrid Thoft, Danny Gardner, Sarah Chen, Frank Zafiro, Brian Thornton, and Michael Pool. The MC for the evening is Will "The Thrill" Viharo, a prolific pulp novelist who recently moved to town.

Meanwhile, Tess Gallagher will be reading at Elliott Bay Book Company. She’s presenting Beginners, a new collection of Raymond Carver stories. These are the stories that would eventually, in edited form, appear in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, but they’ve been “‘re-established’ by longtime Raymond Carver scholars William L. Stull and Maureen P. Carroll.” I don’t know if “de-editing” a story collection is a good idea or not, but it’s certainly an interesting one.

THURSDAY Beloved local travel writer (and marijuana legalization advocate) Rick Steves reads at Broadway Performance Hall Tonight, he’s examining the idea of "travelling as a political act.”

FRIDAY Here's a very special event: “3 for 3,” happening at the Hugo House. Songwriters from The Bushwick Book Club, the local music organization that writes new music in response to works of fiction, will perform songs inspired by Seattle writers: David Laskin’s family historical narrative The Family, David Lasky and Frank M. Young’s excellent musical biography comic The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song, and Donna Miscolta’s novel When the de la Cruz Family Danced. Besides the fun of seeing local writers and local musicians teaming up to create something new, this evening is also a fundraiser for STYLE: Songwriting Through Youth Literature Education. (Lets just take a moment to reflect on the awesomeness of that acronym. Good job, style. That shit is tight.)

SATURDAY It’s time for a new edition of Margin Shift’s reading series. Margin Shift is a poetry collective including writers like Maged Zaher, Don Mee Choi, and Jane Wong. Tonight’s reading includes the Denver poets Sueyeun Juliette Lee and Joshua Ware, as well as excellent Seattle poet EJ Koh. (Please note the Margin Shift has moved their reading series to Common AREA Maintenance in Belltown.) If you love poetry, you’ll be here tonight.

SUNDAY Town Hall Seattle hosts a very special taping of a holiday-themed episode of ”That Stack of Books,” a podcast hosted by beloved Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl and former radio host Steve Scher. For this one, they’ll discuss holiday gift recommendations. As we’ve said many times before (and will continue to say forever and ever) books make the best gifts, and a book recommended by Nancy Pearl is a very special book indeed.

The Sunday Post for December 6, 2015

Jury Duty

A remarkable story of jury duty, told by a black man. Very honest, very raw. Very anonymous, for obvious reasons.

There are twelve of us left. The first thing the prosecutor did during voir dire was ask all the men of color whether we trusted cops. Every black man had a story: police harassment, spurious arrests, intimidation. They were all eliminated. I was asked if I had any experiences of this kind, and I said no. It was the truth. Perhaps this was the time to mention that having witnessed the murders of Eric Garner and Walter Scott on video made personal experience unnecessary. I didn’t mention it.

In the end, only two men of color make it to the jury, and I am one of them. The other is Latino. There are two Latina women, one African-American woman, and one Asian woman. The remaining six jurors are white.

Brophy’s Behaivor in the Spotlight

What's that you say? I haven't mentioned Iris Murdoch in a few weeks? Time to remedy that! Brigid Brophy was a British novelist who had a very close relationship with Iris Murdoch. Her daughter, Kate Levey, has been exploring this:

In her private notebook, and dated 1961, my mother, Brigid Brophy, wrote

A person whom I adore
Is a novelist whom I abhor
Was ever a woman of literary integrity
In such a fix before?

The subject of Brigid’s ditty was Iris Murdoch. Brigid and Iris loved each other passionately, sexually, seriously, but also fatally. They could not reconcile their different attitudes to the nature of their love; on that topic there were deep rifts in expectation and in ambition. The resultant emotional tumults damaged the pair profoundly. Theirs seemed to Brigid insuperable problems; such they proved to be, thus eventually when Brigid found no remedy, she broke away from Iris.

One day left to read three poems from Nicole Sarrocco

We're so thrilled to have Chatwin Books as our sponsor these last two weeks. They're here to bring you Nicole Sarrocco's book of poetry Karate Bride to make sure you're familiar with her her work -- her debut novel Lit by Lightning has just been released.

Sarrocco's poetry are little stories, startling, direct, accessible, graceful, and eminamently well-handled. We're so excited to have her here, and have three poems on our sponsor page for you to read.

We sold out our first run of sponsorships thanks to sponsors like Chatwin Books. We couldn't do what we do without them, and if you take the time to look at what they're offering, you're partnering with us in our attempt to make internet advertising 100 percent less terrible. And, you'll discover some great work in the process.

Rahawa Haile’s short stories of the day, of the previous week, for December 5, 2015

Every day, friend of the SRoB Rahawa Haile tweets a short story. She gave us permission to collect them every week. She's archiving the entire project on Storify

The Help Desk: Is we getting more illiterater?

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. 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. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

Please settle a bet. My friend says our culture is spiraling toward illiteracy. He thinks we're devaluing language to a point where we'll soon only communicate through pictures, or video. I think we're more literate than ever before. I read more every day than I ever have in my life. Of course I read more websites than books, but I'm of the opinion that reading is reading. So who do you think is right? Are we becoming illiterate, or are we more literate than ever?

Fran, Redmond

Dear Fran,

Sure, more people may be able to fulfill the most basic definition of literacy but I disagree with you that "reading is reading." Like butt implants and Bible interpretations, reading varies wildly depending on the source. Is it great that a higher percentage of Americans can functionally read words, a necessity formed by our texting, emailing culture? Yes, but that doesn't mean they're critically engaging with what they read, or that the writing our culture is currently producing inspires intellectual curiosity (I'm specifically thinking about the sad state of journalism, which would best be encapsulated by a gif of people eating popcorn at the site of a grisly car crash. Also beautifully summed up today by this debacle). As for your friend, please tell him or her that their argument is based on a false premise: words are not a cash commodity that can be devalued or replaced. For instance, there will never be a picture that can convey specific words like "lugubrious" and "malady" or even "uranium," which in pictorial form just looks like moldy bread. Since you are both wrong, I win your bet. You owe me a critical 500-word essay responding to an interesting article you've read recently and your friend owes me $20 and a gif of people eating popcorn at the site of a grisly car crash.

Please send both to



"Barnes & Noble Wants to Become More Than Books"

Oh, hey — here's a terrible idea:

To that end, [Barnes & Noble Chief Executive Ron] Boire is leading a push to rebrand Barnes & Noble as more than just a bookstore by expanding its offerings of toys, games, gadgets and other gifts and reshaping the nation’s largest bookstore chain into a “lifestyle brand.”

You might argue that Barnes & Noble won't be able to survive by just selling books. I would refute your argument by pointing out that Barnes & Noble stores are already stuffed to the rafters with cheap plastic crap. The last Barnes & Noble I went to was painfully light on stock and crammed full of junk that nobody needs.

Here are some observations:

  • People go to bookstores to browse. Online retailers suck at replicating the act of browsing.

  • If you're only going to carry bestsellers and the most popular books of the moment, you'd better be an airport bookstore or Amazon Books. People browse because they expect to find something they didn't know that they wanted. If your bookstore looks like it doesn't have any books on the shelves, people won't browse there.

  • Nobody in the history of the world has said "let's go to the lifestyle brand and buy some things." Nobody cares about your "lifestyle brand" except the people you're paying to create your lifestyle brand.

When Barnes & Noble eventually goes out of business — which, after reading this story, may be sooner rather than later — a bunch of writers will vomit up some think-pieces about the death of the book as a reason for Barnes & Noble's demise when, in fact, they should link to this rebranding story. Lack of focus is how businesses die; this is what killed Borders, and it's what will kill Barnes & Noble, too.

Now is the time to apply for the Clarion West summer workshop. Yes, it does cost money to apply (though it costs less to apply now than it will cost later on) but Clarion West is maybe the best education organization in America for aspiring sci-fi and fantasy writers. And their mission statement is so goddamned good:

Speculative fiction — science fiction, fantasy, horror, magic realism, and slipstream — gives voice to those who explore societal and technological change, along with deeper considerations of underlying archetypes of human experience. Although there are fine science fiction and fantasy writers of all ethnicities, races, and genders, historically the field has reflected the same prejudices found in the culture around it, leading to proportionately fewer successful writers of color and women writers than white male writers. Within the limitations of the workshop, Clarion West is dedicated to improving those proportions.

They do offer scholarships, too. If you're interested in being a writer of speculative fiction, this could be the best investment you'll ever make.

NaNoWriMo Week 6: Now you finish your novel

Even if you made 50,000 words and finished NaNoWriMo, your novel isn't finished yet. You knew this already, right? You know what the haters say: that NaNoWriMo unleashes thousands of terrible novels into the world. It's as if some evil force were holding those poor people captive, forcing them to read every cliched phrase that comes in front of their eyeballs. It's as if they have no taste.

But, of course, the little secret of NaNoWriMo is that it doesn't unleash terrible novels into the world. It releases terrible first drafts into the world. It's an order of magnitude more ridiculous to be scared of first drafts than it is to be scared of novels so the haters round up to make themselves look anything other than silly (to be clear: they are silly. There is no sustainable argument against people doing NaNoWriMo if they choose to).

Ignore those posturing sourpusses. Remember this: not every novelist will be great, but every great novelist started out writing poorly. While the haters complain and don't write their novels, you'll be working on yours to make it better. While the haters yammer on to anybody who will listen about how publishing is failing, you'll be working on your novel. While the haters are apoplectic about that new famous writer who is a terrible prose stylist but selling millions, you'll be working on your novel. And when you publish, they'll turn up at your book release party and tell you how much they admire you, and how they can't can't believe you did it, where did you find the time? And you'll just smile.

If you finished your draft during NaNoWriMo: Nice work! You deserve the good feelings you have. You really did accomplish something notable, and proved to yourself that you could write a novel. Now: put it away in a cupboard for a month or two. Set an alarm, maybe for February, for when to take it out again. Believe it or not, you'll forget more than you can imagine about this book.

If you didn't finish your draft during NaNoWriMo: Heed these words: there is a big difference between not-finishing and failing. You have not failed, you just didn't finish one goal. It's okay to not make a goal, but if you still want to write, let's set some other goals that work better for your life. You already have a start! How many words did you write? Any movement forward is a net positive.

Now here's what you need to do now: write every day, but slow down. Walter Mosley, in his great book This Year You Write Your Novel, talks about staying in the "dream" of your story. He says that you need to write every day to keep that dream alive, and I agree. Set your pace lower — 500 words, 250 words if you must — but make some progress every day. Free yourself from that 50,000 word number, and focus on the smaller daily reach. Then, stop when the book is done, not when you reach a some arbitrary internet month number. Stop when you feel right about closing all the loose ends. Then put the book in a drawer for a few months to clear your head.

Now that you have a first draft done, you need to know how to finish it. The best advice I ever got on this was from Maria Semple, during a class at Hugo House (You should take a class at Hugo House if you are in Seattle. It is an invaluable resource for writers. Perhaps, he humbly offers, this one). She outlined her strategy for drafting, something that always confounded me before she offered this very smart framework. It saved me from myself, and enabled me to finish my novel.

So, what is a draft? It is one pass through your manuscript, from front-to-back. Each draft has a different goal to it. Maybe you will find that you prefer yours to be different than what is offered here, but creating a framework, and sticking to it, offers the kind of constraint that allows you to be productive. Give hers a try, then tweak as needed for your own needs.


You've already done it, right? That was what NaNoWriMo was for. Your first draft is shitty and stupid. Getting it done was your main task. Semple said "A bad novel is better than an unwritten novel. A bad novel can be improved. Not writing a novel is to lose the war without a battle."

So, good for you, you got it finished! Now put it in a drawer and wait a few months. You need the time to let the story slip from your head. You have to wait until you're just a bit excited to read it again. There will be an itch, a wonder, that inhabits you after a bit of time. You will start thinking about your novel. It will start filling in the cracks of time in your life. This is the time to approach the second draft.


Print it out. Find an armchair. Perhaps, rent yourself a hotel room. Somewhere you will not be interrupted, and can sit inside the world you've created. Put your computer away. Sit with a pen, and read.

The pen is for quick marks only — you are not editing here, you are reading and making marks when things stand out to you. Limit them to just a few, such as:

  • Checkmark when you really like something.
  • B when something is boring.
  • W for wording, when something is garbled.
  • C means confusing.

This is the only time in writing your novel that you will be able to experience it like a reader will. Do not take notes. Or, rather, only take very short notes in margins. Trust yourself, that if you think of something brilliant, it will stay with you. You will remember.

Something amazing will happen here: the themes will start to emerge. You probably won't even really know what they are until now. That's because you need to read the book to find out what it's really about. If you see a theme pop up, write it in the margin quickly. Just one word — "Flowers", say, or "ink", or "boats" — if you can.

The second draft is the longest draft. You are implementing the questions and issues from the marks you took. Think of it like a knot — one of Maria's favored images — in the first draft you took string and put it on the table in a very loose shape. Now you are correcting the lay of it so that it will work when, in later drafts, you pull it tighter.

Fix those big issues, punch up the themes. Work through the whole book from front-to-back, and when you are done, you have finished the second draft.


Now you pump up the details. You make it authentic. You know how writers always advise to not do too much research too early? To not fact-check yourself as you're writing, because that can be a black hole of time when you should be writing? Now is when you do it. Now is the time to revel in it.

Answer all the questions. Read that book about foot binding. Look up if that car model was introduced the year your book was set, or the year after. Google the best-seller list from when your protagonist was nine, so you know that she can be reading the book you said she was. Find out if the Lilac Vegetal your villain wears is more floral or more woody. And my favorite: use Wolfram Alpha to research the weather on the days you set your book, if, like mine was, they're in the past. Use Google Ngram viewer to find out if that term you think is anachronistic was actually in use at the time.

Maria never lets anybody read her work before finishing the third draft, and I think that's smart. No agents, no friends, no partners. This is when you share your work. But of course, you are not done yet. You've only pulled the knot tighter.


The fourth draft is all about theme. In your second draft you wrote them down, and so you were more aware of them. But how can you draw them out? Without making them on-the-nose, how can you bring them to life? How can they color a scene? What little metaphors can you tuck in corners where close readers will find them, little puzzles to unwrap?

Those are the jobs of the fourth draft. Extend the intellectual life of your book. Pull the knot tighter still.


Now you're into line editing. You loop, and loop, and loop. Infuse it with life. Kill cliches. Replace vagaries with specifics. Read the work out loud to yourself to find the clunky passages. Every time you go through is one draft. Keep going until the things you change start making the work worse, rather than better. Keep going until you can't pull the knot any tighter.

There is no set time for how long this should take. NaNoWriMo, in one way, is a glorious lie. It's a brain trick to get you to make a first draft, and now that you've done that, you see what's ahead. You see what novelists go through to bring a work into the world, and if you want to join their ranks, now you have a fundamental understanding of how to get there.

We can't wait to read your book. Make sure to send us a copy when it's long-last in print, okay?

Against the Bad Sex in Fiction Award

We're generally in favor of awards here at the Seattle Review of Books. We don't put too much truck in them — awards are not the end of a certain type of literary conversation; they're the beginning. But (as long as they don't overly favor straight white men) awards are fun, and it's nice to publicly recognize the hard work that goes into the writing of books.

There's one award we don't much like, though. That's the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, which was just given out at the beginning of this month. We're all for criticism and for pointing out bad writing— of course we are — but we don’t believe in shaming authors who dare to write about sexuality. The Bad Sex in Fiction Award would be acceptable if the organizers also gave out an award for the Best (or maybe Hottest?) Sex Scene in Fiction, but they don’t. They only ridicule, they never commend.

The thing is, sex scenes are incredibly hard to write. We’ve talked to some authors who have said they’re the single hardest scene to write. If you’re too vague it can sound abstract and puritanical. Get too explicit and you’re writing erotica, a label which carries with it a whole other set of expectations. Write a bad sex scene and, well, critics will mock you for it and you might just win yourself the most notorious award in the literary field, the closest thing to The Razzies that exists in the book world.

Quite frankly, we want to read more sex in our fiction: more sex scenes, more adventurous descriptions of sex, more vibrant depictions of all kinds of human sexuality. Sex in fiction is not just for titillation — though it is for that too. Sex also tells us about characters, it advances the plot, it develops the theme. And it helps to normalize sex! We don’t need another cultural outlet to inform us that sex is something embarrassing and bad. We’ve got plenty of those already.

Look, of course there are bad sex scenes. And they shouldn’t be celebrated, and bad writers shouldn’t be coddled. But by singling out bad sex scenes for shaming — why not an award for the most ridiculous scene of violence? — the organizers of this award are sending exactly the wrong message to authors.

So here’s the thing: if you’ve read an especially good sex scene this year, tell us about it. Tweet at us. Send us an email. Let us know on Facebook — either post it on our wall or, if you’re the bashful type, send us a message. We promise to keep your identity private, but if you turn us on (heh) to some good examples, we’ll share them with our readers. Let’s celebrate good sex in fiction, not shame the bad sex.

Portrait Gallery: Ellen Swallow Richards

Each week, Christine Larsen creates a portrait of a new author for us. Have any favorites you’d love to see immortalized? Let us know

Today is the birthday of Ellen Swallow Richards. She was an American chemist and author, the founder of the Home Economics movement, the first American woman to earn a degree in chemistry, the first woman admitted to MIT, and the first woman to teach at MIT.

She was a feminist (some say the first eco-feminist), and was an environmental scientist who studied air quality, groundwater, soil, and food. She authored books about science for use in the home, particularly about nutrition and sanitation, bringing a scientific rigor to what once was the realm of hand-me-down tales.

You can see all of her books on, but, you the one you might find most interesting is The Chemistry of Cooking and Cleaning: A Manual for Housekeepers.

We're big fans of Seattle poet EJ Koh, and we think you should be big fans of EJ Koh, too. If you need an introduction, you should read this interview with Koh published in Hoctok. I especially like that the interview is broken up with Koh's poetry; it's surprising that more literary interview outlets don't liberally intersperse their interviews with actual examples of the writers' work. Seeing an author's thoughts and words in such close proximity to each other provides a more immersive experience for the reader.

Michel Houellebecq and the limitations of satire

Published December 03, 2015, at 1:06pm

Paul Constant review Michel Houellebecq's Submission.

Michel Houellebecq has long been regarded as France's most brilliant satirist. His latest book imagines a France under Islamic rule, and it violates a very important rule of satire.

Read this review now

Thursday Comics Hangover: A vision of normalcy

Every once in a while, a truly individual voice will emerge out of the morass of conventional superhero comics. These occasions are always a surprise — nobody could have predicted that Swamp Thing would become a convergence point between art and commercial comics until Alan Moore and Steve Bissette landed on the book, and nobody expected much of Daredevil until Frank Miller was allowed to get experimental with the character. It’s too early to draw a comparison Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s The Vision to those two examples, but two issues into the series, it’s already clear that the book is something special.

The premise of The Vision is that the Avengers’ resident density-controlling synthezoid has constructed a nuclear family (his wife, Virginia, and his two children, Viv and Vin, look just like him, purple skin and all) and moved to the suburbs. This has been done with this character before — in the 1980s, Marvel produced a couple of limited series centered around the married life of the Vision and Scarlet Witch — and superhero comics often flirt with suburban life as a source of comedy. But King is doing something very different here, and it doesn’t read like any other superhero comic on the stands today.

In the first issue, Virginia made a choice to protect her children, and in the second issue she constructs an elaborate fiction to hide the truth of what happened from Vision. The pair sit awkwardly on a couch, dressed like preppy humans in a clothing catalog, and they begin to understand the complexity of married life. “They could hear the stutter and roll of a skateboard riding through their street,” the captions explain….

…the lazy caw of birds yelling in the wind. The bland, passive roar of a 757 cutting into a cloud. These are the noises of their every day, the banal background to their new home. They used to sound so pleasant.

The Vision drops a godlike, aloof figure into the American suburbs of John Cheever, but it’s not interested in easy satire. Instead, it deals with the discomfort of what happens when you finally get everything you ever wanted, and the vertiginous moment when you realize that life just keeps going after you achieve your dreams.

Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s art perfectly resonates with the hollow echo accentuated in King’s script. He’s not interested in making the Vision and his family look human, but they’re not superhero-idealized, either. Instead, they look like they’re trying to behave like humans. They move with a kind of uncomfortable emulation, except for the moments when they take to the skies. When they fly, they’re graceful and lean. It’s one of the few times they’re not trying to pass for normal.

We’re only on the second issue of The Vision, which means things could yet go totally wrong. But the first issue ended with one of the darkest twists I’ve read in a Marvel comic, and the second issue is cloaked in an appealing sense of impending doom. You get the sense as a reader that if King and Walta are allowed to make future issues of The Vision as uncomfortable and full of yearning and quiet moments as these first two issues, you could be watching the start of something truly memorable.