Saturday, January 29, 2011

Beagle Haiku that Brigitte Posted on Facebook

Katie the Beagle
Knows few words we say to her,
But knows we love her.

My response to Chaser, the incredible Border Collie; he knows more than 1000 names of things.

--Brigitte Darnay

Perhaps this is why Katie the Beagle inspires so many haikus. She's a beagle of few words, so poetry of few syllables is just right.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Booty from the MSU Comics Forum

Yesterday I zipped out to East Lansing to swing by the annual Michigan State University Comics Forum. Over the past few years the MSU Comics Forum has become one of the best events on the calendar each year for anybody interested in comics. Alas, I got out there a bit late and missed the first couple of sessions, but I did get a chance to attend one creators' panel (with Joe Foo, Jeremy Bastian, and Nate Powell, moderated by Jay Jacot -- more on their work later) and to spend some time in the Forum's Artists' Alley, which had a really nice assortment of mostly Michigan-based comic artists.

As usual at this sort of thing, there was more cool stuff than I had dollars, and alas, a some really cool items from some great artists went unpurchased. Alas, you just can't buy all the cool comics. (Trust me, I've tried!)

But I was pleased with my stack of treasures when I returned with them, and am doubly so now that I've read them all. So, without further ado, here's a list of my booty:

(Oh, wait. One last bit of ado: apologies in advance for some of the blurriness in the pages I scanned below to give you a taste of some of these treasures. Rest assured the fault lies with me, and not with the artists.)

Let's start with this nifty bookmark from Ryan Claytor's Elephant Eater Comics:

"What's that, you cheap #%&%*&@?" you say, "You had all of Ryan's swag in front of you and you came back with a freebie bookmark?!"

As regular Patio Boat followers know, I've plugged Ryan's work frequently and enthusiastically, and honestly I already have all of his books (you should, too!) so Ryan went home without any of my cash this year. But I wanted to mention him at the start because he did much of the organizing of this year's event. He also created the nifty poster at the top of this post, featuring media superstar Katie the Beagle. (Um, "featuring" Katie the Beagle if you look closely enough. That's close enough for me, anyway, and that poster's goin' up on the wall!)

If you want to be a cheap #%&%*&@, too, and check out Ryan's work for free, you can do so at his website, where he's rolling out his latest issue of And Then One Day at a steady one-page a week clip.

Next up: a 24-hour comic from Jay Jacot:

For those who haven't encountered them before, 24-hour comics are comics that are written and drawn in a single 24-hour stint, usually at a "24-Hour Comics" session with a gathering of local comic artists. The resulting comics can sometimes be a bit sketchy -- as is the case with The Chase: A Twist of Fate -- but since the purpose is often shaking artists out of their usual process, that's hardly surprising. I always find them interesting to read because they tend to have a really raw and fresh vibe to them.

If you haven't seen Jay's work before, I'd recommend checking out his sci-fi detective Tao of Snarky comic, either in the Tao of Snarky compilation, or at his website where he's publishing pages from his new Snarky comic at a page-a-week pace.

What's next? Why it's The Amazing Cynicalman by Matt Feazell:

This wee eight-page Cynicalman chapbook was a freebie for drawing Cynicalman on a post-it note, a blatant bit of Artists' Alley self-promotion that worked just dandy. I hadn't picked up a Cynicalman collection in a couple of years, and this one had a couple of strips that genuinely cracked me up. You can check out Cynicalman yourself at Matt Feazell's website.

Now we come to a couple of items from Megan Rose Gedris. The first is a graphic novel, Yu+Me: dream, Vol. 1. This collects up the first four volumes of her Yu+Me: dream webcomic, a romance that chronicles the coming of age of a high school girl in Catholic school who discovers that she may be a lesbian. This collection is filled with interesting characters, some beautiful images, and some very compelling storytelling.

The web comic ran from 2004 through October 2010, and the story is now complete on the web. I really liked this book a lot, so I'm sure I'll check out the webcomic to see how it all turns out.

Since I bought a volume of Yu+Me: dream, Megan was kind enough to throw in a chapbook with the first ten pages of her new webcomic: Meaty Yogurt, the tale of a girl growing up in a small town.

This one really caught me up, too, so I can tell that Megan Rose Gedris's various webcomics are going to get a lot of traffic from me in the next few weeks.

Now, for something completely different, the Tales of a Checkered Man webcomic by Denver Brubaker, the adventures of a middle-aged aspiring superhero.

I picked up a little two-dollar chapbook with the first 23 strips of this webcomic, and a few of them cracked me up. Check it out for good-natured almost-superheroic fun.

This seems a good time to break up this list of reviews with a bit of discussion of the web and comics. This is a great time to read comics. The growing popularity of webcomics has given all sorts of artists a platform on which they can publish essentially for free. And more and more artists and storytellers are rising to that challenge. Every year I grow more and more impressed at the depth and breadth of the talent that is out there toiling in a world beyond superhero comics and the comics page in the newspaper.

Don't get me wrong ... I love my paper comics. But one of the big pieces of hype about the Internet in the 90s was that it would unlock a new platform for artists of all genres and democratize creativity. But it was one thing to speculate that the web might do that back in 1995, and it's another thing entirely to stand here in 2011 and watch it happening in independent comics. There is a new generation of artists out there who are doing some amazing things, and part of the reason is that they have always been free to draw their story the way they wanted. I can't wait to see what the next fifteen years brings from them.

And now, with that little pep talk over, it's on to another webcomic collection: Desmond's Devastating Dozen by Joe Foo.

This limited-edition book (hand signed and numbered with a sketch by Foo, natch) collects up a dozen of Foo's favorite panels from Desmond's Comic, the adventures of a wolverine who works as a character in a popular video game. The webcomic updates once a week on Tuesdays, and I can see I'm going to have to add another regular Tuesday stop to my lunchtime comics browsing!

Now, just when you think you've seen everything that can possibly be done with Zombies, we get Apooka: The World's Most Adorable Zombie written by Jon Hickey with art by Mike Roll.

I suppose this is perhaps more of a children's picture book than a comic in format, but there's no denying that Apooka is cute as the Dickens. Apooka is not a webcomic, but you can pick up an adorable copy of your very own of this book or its sequel via the web at the Apooka online store. This is without a doubt my favorite zombie book that I have ever read. (Though I must confess that I haven't yet read Night of the Living Trekkies, which I picked up from the Science Fiction book club last month. We shall see who remains my top zombie after that.)

We come now to the girl who put the "Booty" in this post's title, Cursed Pirate Girl: The Collected Edition, Vol. 1 by Jeremy A. Bastian, which collects up the first three issues of the Cursed Pirate Girl comic.

Before we go any further, click on the page below and check out the enlarged version:

So why did Cursed Pirate Girl put the "booty" into this post's title? Because when I came to Jeremy's table I picked up the book, paged through a couple of pages, and realized that I was three dollars short of the purchase price. So I grabbed my jacket, walked outside, and strolled around East Lansing in January in single degree temperatures until I could find an ATM. That's right, the art in this book is so cool that it made me wander around Michigan on the coldest day in January so that I could find enough booty to buy it. Now that I've had a chance to see the entire book, it was well worth it. Anybody who knows how I feel about Michigan in January knows that this is the highest compliment I can possibly pay to any artist. Any further praise I could heap on this imaginative and brilliantly detailed comic would just be redundant.

Speaking of the Interent and comics, this book has an Internet story of its own. The money to fund this printing was raised through Kickstarter, an Internet site that lets fans collect up enough money to fund an artistic project. One of the great advantages of established publishers is their ability to provide writers and artists with an advance on a project. Kickstarter creates an alternate way to raise the sort of capital that you need to make full-time work on a project possible for most folks. It might not be the right path for a lot of projects, but in this case it's been a huge success.

Finally, despite my Michigan-Winter defying love for Cursed Pirate Girl, we come to my absolute favorite of the treasures I brought home: Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell, the keynote speaker for the 2011 MSU Comics Forum.

Swallow Me Whole was released in 2008 and won the 2009 Eisner Award for Best New Graphic Novel. When I came to Nate's table he had a little pile of them on the front with a sign that said, "Winner of the 2009 Eisner Award." I looked at the sign, looked at him, and said, "Wow, this book won the Eisner Award? That's commendable. I guess I should buy a copy."

This is the dorkiest thing I have ever said to any creator in any forum. Really. Winning an Eisner Award is "commendable"? Good heavens.

Um, sorry, Nate. My bad. But thank you for talking to me kindly after that opener, nonetheless. And thank you for creating such a fabulous book. Swallow Me Whole is a graphic novel about a teenage girl and her family as they deal with mental illness. What makes this book so moving and powerful is the way that Powell uses the artwork to reflect the inner landscape of the characters. It's well worth seeking out.

And that's it for now. Thanks again to Ryan Claytor and everybody else who worked to make this year's MSU Comics Forum such a great event. I'm already looking forward to 2012!

Friday, January 14, 2011

My (Hopefully) Final Words on Civil Debate, Fox News, Tuscon, Etc.

They'll be brief. Frankly, I considered writing another long blog entry on the topic, but the mere thought of doing the research for it by taking another dive into the political rhetoric of the last few years made me want to take a shower. So here instead are a few quick thoughts:

1) I think we should all ask ourselves some questions about what people who purport to speak for our political candidates or points of view are saying, and how they are saying it. Is what they are saying acceptible? Responsible? Admirable? Is it Christian? Would Ronald Reagan or John F. Kennedy have said such a thing? (To pick a respected spokesman for both the right and the left.)

If it falls short of those criteria, why are you permitting it? Speak up, and speak up to the people who claim to be speaking for you. Because if you stand by silently, you are as guilty as those who are speaking on your behalf.

2) The Ol' Boiling-Frog Analogy is one of the most overused analogies in the world of rhetoric -- the frog that will sit quietly in a pot of warm water as the heat is turned up to boiling. It may apply here.

One of the things that I have done occasionally over the last seven or eight years is to go on what I call a "news ban" for a few weeks or months. I pretty much avoid all TV and radio news, and mostly all printed news other than the local weekly paper (The Spinal Column) and an occasional newsmagazine or Sunday paper.

The truly jarring part is entering back into the world of broadcast news. When you see the cable news channels with fresh eyes, it's truly appalling. Local television news is sadly not much better. If you truly think the rhetoric of the past few years has been acceptible, you might want to step out of the loop for a few months. You might find that you have a different opinion when you look again.

What we choose to put in our own heads makes a big difference in who we are. If we choose to fill our heads with garbage ... well, there's a well-known programming axiom -- Garbage In, Garbage Out -- that applies. The Information Age comes with personal responsibilities. In an era in which we each can choose what goes into our head, we each have a personal responsibility to choose wisely.

3) If you get a chance to catch Obama's speech this week at the Tuscon Memorial, it's worth your half-hour.

And that's it. I'm going to head home, have a large well-earned martini, grill a big steak, maybe watch a movie or two, and take a blessed break from broadcast news for the next few days.

Have a good Martin Luther King, Jr., weekend, everybody.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Few Thoughts on This Weekend's Events in Arizona

I've been trying for a couple of days to write down my thoughts about the murder of six people this weekend during the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona this weekend. I've found myself at a suprising loss for words.

My first thought when I heard about it was, "I'm surprised this didn't happen sooner." This makes me very sad.

My second thought was, "Yet again."

One thing that's been lost in the media accounts is that this really isn't an isolated incident. It's just the first recent incident that claimed a national politician. Political shootings seem to be in style recently: six people died at Kirkwood City Council shooting on Feb. 2, 2008, and in December 2010 a gunman opened fire at a school board meeting in Florida.

Most disturbing perhaps is the way this hostility has trickled down to the local level. Even before last weekend's shooting I've heard concerns from a lot of local politicians -- both Republican and Democrat -- about the possibility of this sort of shooting around here. Indignant citizens are nothing new in politics. But there's been a vibe in the air lately that's different, more threatening.

This is hardly a concern that's unique to Michigan. Just to cite an example I came across yesterday, I read an account by a former councilman in South Portland, Maine, who let himself be bullied out of office by death threats and what may have been an attempt to sabotage his car (This incident is inspiring me to speak up... by David Swander Jacobs.) His experience was four or five years ago, but this weekend's shooting made him think that the time to remain silent about what he'd experienced had passed.

The problem has been out there for a while, but it's been growing. Threats and bullying are nothing new in politics, but the current toxic atmosphere and constant barrage of threats, implied or otherwise, is something we haven't seen in this country in a long, long time.

I don't think we know much yet about the motivations of Jared Loughner, the shooter in Tuscon. From the little I've read, his politics seem more "crazy grammar police" than right or left. But I do know that he's not an isolated data point. He's part of a trend, a trend that seems to have declared "open season" on politicians.

I've been involved in political campaigns for 20 years and running public meetings for 10 years, and I've never personally seen anything like the vitriol that spewed forth from the right over the last few years. And yes, I'm talking about Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and their ilk.

When crackpots say they want to poison the Speaker of the House (Beck, here) or talk about beheading journalists (O'Reilly, here), or put gunsights up over a list of political enemies (Palin, here) we call the police. When talking heads are paid millions of dollars do this on TV, we call it "Fox News."

Those three examples took me about three minutes of Googling to find. There are hundreds more out there. Out of a sense of balance I had intended to put up a similar comments from a mainstream liberal commentator, but frankly I couldn't find one.

I'm not talking about right vs. left here. And I'm not calling for an end to heated political debate. But debate in a civilized society has its boundaries. I'm talking about indecency vs. decency. It's sadly apparent that one side of the political spectrum has chosen to be disproportionately represented in the "indecency" column.

What can be done about it? I don't really know, but I have a couple of ideas. For one thing I don't intend to let some things pass by silently that I might have let pass before. I generally have thought that a good old-fashioned shunning is appropriate for most of the vitriol peddlers, and that pointing out their misdeeds only brings attention to them.

But now I think it might be more important to point out that what they're doing is wrong.

I'll also try to be more mindful of my own words in the future, and to encourage everybody I know to do the same. I've always tried to measure my words in public forums. Mulling the events of the past few days and the atmosphere of the past few years has made me even more determined to be responsible for what I say.

We are all leaders by example, doubly so in difficult times.

I don't know if any of that will make a difference. But I do know that the vast majority of people I know are good and decent. The time has come for decent people to say, "Enough."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Colts-Katie-Kaylee Haiku: Playoff Edition

In which our NFL-Beagle-Granddaughter haiku correspondent discovers that a short poetic format is perfectly suited to the length of the Colts' 2010 NFL Playoffs run:

Katie & Kaylee Still On a Roll!

Colts end a complex
Season. Beagles and grandkids,
Though, are fun year-round.

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Saturday, January 8, 2011

My Winter Wimpiness Knows No Bounds

It is a beautiful Winter day outside. The sun is shining, sparkling off a blanket of fresh snow. The two little girls next door are skating on the rink shoveled out from the lake in front of their house. Snowmobilers and four-wheelers are zipping across the smooth ice. And Monique has set off in her snow boots to walk across the lake and meet up with some friends.

Yet all I can do is look at the ol' Weathertech STX 7000 weather station, see that it is 13.7 degrees outside, and think, "My God, it's cold out there. What are all you people, nuts?!"

I'll be making something warm for breakfast, then having it with a nice latté as I read the paper and listen to the radio. What do those four activities have in common? You do them inside! Where it's not twenty degrees below freezing!

I'm pretty sure Katie the Beagle is with me. She's curled up underneath a blanket on the couch.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The 2011 Reading List

This year I'm going to try a new variation of last year's reading-list project. I enjoyed tracking and reviewing my book reading last year, but it got to be a bit of a chore at times. And frankly, I think it also kept me from blogging about other things that might have been of more interest to you, gentle reader. And here at the Patio Boat blog, it's all about you, gentle reader. Or about Katie the Beagle. Or maybe the Indianapolis Colts, if Mary Campbell-Droze has seized the haiku helm.

Anyway, the point is that I don't particularly think the blogosphere has been hanging on my every word about every book I read last year. Nor did I think the blogosphere should have been hanging on my every random review word. It was pretty much an exercise to force me to take a closer look at my own reading habits. I did, however, think that the exercise benefited me, and so I'd like to continue it this year, but in a more manageable manner.

So for 2011 I'm just going to put current books that I'm actively reading in the sidebar, and I'll compile the "finished" list here on this post, along with any brief review I feel like adding. I'll also add any "On hiatus" or "Gave up" books, so as not to clog up the "current" list with books that I'm not actively reading.

And if I read something truly review-worthy, I'll just post a full review when and if I feel like it. So, here it is, the 2011 Reading List:

On Hiatus
--High Seas Cthulu (2009), ed. by William Jones -- A collection of Lovecraftian short stories set on the high seas.
--The Children of Hurin (2009) by J.R.R. Tolkien -- Sadly somnabulant.

Gave Up

--Eric (1990) by Terry Pratchett -- Rincewind is back, and up to his usual tricks, this time mixed up with a bunch of demons from Hell. Hardly the most significant Discworld novel, but a fun, quick read.
--Atomic City Tales, Vol. 1: Go Power! (2002) by Jay Stephens -- Collects up a batch of comic zines from the 90s. I rescued it from a discount bin, but alas it really wasn't my cup of tea, despite a few fun bits.
--The Callahan Chronicles (1997) by Spider Robinson -- Collects up all of the original Callahan short stories that were actually set in Callahan's Saloon in the collections: Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (1977), Time Travelers Strictly Cash (1979), and Callahan's Secret (1986). One of my favorite short-story series, and always a good re-read.
--Off the Wall at Callahan's (1994) by Spider Robinson -- A collection of quotes from Spider Robinson's Callahan's series. Strictly for completists.
--I Shall Wear Midnight (2010) by Terry Pratchett -- A Discworld novel about young with Tiffany Aching. Pratchett is still writing great Discworld novels, despite his health problems.
--Deathworld (1960) by Harry Harrison -- Classic planetary sci-fi by a true master: a gambler finds himself on the galaxy's deadliest planet, a planet that is quite literally trying to kill its human inhabitants.
--Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific (1957) by Robert Leckie -- Leckie's memoir of life as a Marine during World War II, including battles at Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, and Peleliu.
--The Complete Peanuts: 1955 to 1956 (2005) by Charles Schulz; Gary Groth, ed.
--Yu+Me: dream, Vol. 1. (2009) by Megan Rose Gedris (Review)
--Cursed Pirate Girl: The Collected Edition, Vol. 1 (2010) by Jeremy A. Bastian (Review)
--Swallow Me Whole (2008) by Nate Powell (Review)
--With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa (1981) by Eugene B. Sledge.

Colts/Katie/Kaylee Haiku, Week 17 ...

... in which our intrepid haiku correspondent celebrates the Colts tying the NFL's consecutive-years-in-the-playoffs mark, and greets 2011 by examining the resolutions of a beagle and an incipient toddler:

Happy 2011!

Kate vows to nap more;
Kaylee's learning about feet;
Colts tie playoff mark.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The July to December 2010 Reading List

Here's the final 2010 July to December list. (The 2010 January-to-June list can be found here:
The January to June List)

John's reading list for July to December, 2010:
--The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb (Review)
--The Stainless Steel Rat for President by Harry Harrison (Review)
--The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell by Harry Harrison (Review)
--The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus by Harry Harrison (Review)
--Somebody Owes Me Money by Donald E. Westlake (Review)
--Stardance and Starseed by Spider & Jeanne Robinson (Review)
--Usagi Yojimbo, Book 1: The Ronin by Stan Sakai (Review)
--Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O'Malley (Review)
--Scott Pilgrim, Vols. 1-4, by Bryan Lee O'Malley (Review)
--Marvel Visionaries: Stan Lee by Stan Lee and a cast of all-time-great comic artists (Review)
--The Stainless Steel Rat Returns by Harry Harrison (Review)
--King Conan, Vol. 1; The Witch of the Mists and Other Stories by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Ernie Chan, and Danny Bulanadi (Review)
--The Bloodstained Man by Christopher Rowley (Netherworld, Book 2) (Review)
--Dr. Horrible and Other Horrible Stories by Zack Whedon and a host of artists (Review)
--The Year's Best Science Fiction: 25th Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois (Review)
--The Under Dog; and Other Stories Featuring Hercule Poirot, by Agatha Christie (Review)
--How to Life Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (Review)
--Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe (2009)by Bryan Lee O'Malley (Review)
--Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour (2010)by Bryan Lee O'Malley (Review)
--If Death Ever Slept (1957) by Rex Stout (Review)
--Prisoner's Base (1952) by Rex Stout (Review)
--The Windup Girl (2009) by Paolo Bacigalupi (Review)
--The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Review)
--Knights of the Dinner Table: The Bag Wars Saga (2010) by Jolly R. Blackburn, Brian Jelke, Steve Johansson, and David S. Kenzer (Review)
--All Clear (2010) by Connie Willis (Review)
--The Red Box (1937) by Rex Stout (Review)
--And Four to Go (1958) by Rex Stout (Review)
--Cuba: My Revolution (2010) by Inverna Lockpez & Dean Haspiel (Review)
--High Seas Cthulu (2009), ed. by William Jones (Review)
--The Children of Hurin (2009) by J.R.R. Tolkien (Review)
--Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, et Simone Beck (Review)
--This Time Is Different (2010) by Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff (Review)
--Where There's a Will (1940) by Rex Stout (Review)
--Not Quite Dead Enough (1940) by Rex Stout (Review)
--Sweet Tooth in Captivity (2010) by Jeff Lemire (Review)
--Witchblade, Vol. 1: Witch Hunt by Ron Marz and Mike Choi (Review)
--Spider-Man and The Human Torch (2009) by Dan Slott and Ty Templeton (Review)
--Conan the Barbarian, Issue #100 (1979) by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, and Ernie Chan (Review)

The 2010 Reading List Wrap-Up

I enjoyed listing and reviewing the books I read this year. I don't intend to keep it up comprehensively in 2011, but don't be surprised to see occasional plugs for things that I particularly enjoyed reading in the future. I'm not really sure what, if anything, I learned from the exercise. After all, I could've told you all beforehand that I tend to read tons of older mysteries, sci-fi and fantasy from past and present, graphic novels, and the occasional bit of history, biography, or non-fiction.

It feels to me when I look at the list of books in full that it's skimpy in terms of non-fiction and heavy in terms of "fun" reading, so it is worth mentioning that my I still read considerably more in terms of sheer words from newspapers, sports web sites, work e-mails, indexing projects, magazines, village information packets, and other sources than I do from books. And I tend to do my book reading late at night before I go to sleep. So, it's no wonder my "book" reading skews towards less dry material.

All work and no play makes John a dull boy, indeed. Fortunately, there's lots o'fun still in my reading habits.

And with that, I present the Final Review Ragout (of 2010, anyway)

Where There's a Will (1940) and Not Quite Dead Enough (1944) -- Yeah, more Nero Wolfe re-reading. Where There's a Will was one of Rex Stout's last pre-World-War-II mysteries in which three overachieving sisters hire Wolfe to sort out their brother's murder and the puzzling bequests in his will. It isn't the best of the corpus, but it's a fun enough read.

Not Quite Dead Enough collects two Nero Wolfe novellas -- "Not Quite Dead Enough" (1942) and "Booby Trap" (1944) -- set during World War II. During the war Archie served Uncle Sam as a Captain in Army Intelligence assigned to assist Wolfe as he unraveled security problems on the home front. This assignment wasn't Wolfe's first choice. He initially tries to get in good enough shape to join the infantry, claiming, "I am going to kill some Germans. I didn't kill enough during 1918."

Much of the first novella involves Archie's attempts to persuade him to accede to the Army's request that he joins their intelligence efforts instead of volunteering for the infantry. The second novella has Wolfe and Archie hip-deep in a series of murders spawned by an industrial intelligence plot.

Both books were packed with good stuff. It's also worth noting that I've been reading them on the lovely new Kindle that Monique bought me for my birthday several weeks ago. I've been trying to go back through and re-read the Wolfe books in more-or-less chronologic order, and the Kindle made it a snap to pick up these two that I couldn't find among my collection.

Sweet Tooth in Captivity (2010) by Jeff Lemire -- The continuing post-Apocalyptic story of a young boy with antlers who was one of the first born after a strange plague of some kind led to the end of human births and to the beginning of an era in which all babies are animal/human hybrids of some sort. Several people whose opinion I respect really love this comic, but for some reason it's come up just a bit short for me. I might pick up the next volume, though.

Witchblade, Vol. 1: Witch Hunt by Ron Marz and Mike Choi -- I'd never picked up a Witchblade comic before, and I discovered that it was much better than I expected. The basic premise is that NYPD detective Sara Pezzini has been blessed or perhaps cursed with a mystic blade and armor that she uses to defend our world against otherworldly threats. This volume collects up issues #80-85 of the comic, which is where Ron Marz came onboard as writer. I picked it up because I'd heard a couple of good reviews of the comic, and this was a special $4.99 re-issue designed to lure new readers, so I reckoned it was worth the gamble. (Alas, the binding of this issue fell apart as I read it ... perhaps a $5.09 price point would've supported a bit more glue.) The art is lovely, the writing is sharp, and I'll undoubtedly be back for more.

Spider-Man and Human Torch (2009) by Dan Slott and Ty Templeton -- Collects up a fun five-issue mini-series that reviews the relationship between Spider-Man and the Human Torch over the years. One of the best features of this was that each issue reflects the comic style of the decade during which it was set. The late 1970s-ish issue that revives the ill-conceived Spider-Mobile and in which Spidey saves the day with Hostess Fruit Pies is truly tremendous. It's a good read for any Spidey fan.

Conan the Barbarian, Issue #100 (1979) by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, and Ernie Chan -- Okay, it's not quite big enough to be called a graphic novel and qualify for a review-ragout review, but I wanted to review it, anyway. And since this is my blog, I can do whatever the heck I want.

I picked up this original double-length comic in a sports-card-and-used-comic-books store in Glens Falls. Having re-read much of the original Marvel Conan the Barbarian saga recently, I think this was probably its creative peak. Roy Thomas, John Buscema, and Ernie Chan had all been on the book for years at this point, and this comic really benefited during its first ten years from Roy Thomas's writing and direction as he moved Conan forward through his career. Just 17 issues later Thomas would be off the book; Conan would become an itinerant, directionless do-gooder; and the comic would lose its truly epic sweep. In issue #100 Conan's long run as a pirate and companion of Belit, the Queen of the Black Coast, came to an end. Really and truly this is one of my all-time favorite comic books, so I'm genuinely pleased to have an actual copy.

Comic Series

I thought it also worth mentioning in this wrap-up a few of the ongoing comic-book series that I read consistently this year, and will continue to read in 2011:

The Amazing Spider-Man (Marvel) -- This book was really erratic during the "Brand New Day" era of the last couple of years as a rotating cast of writers and artists worked on it. I'm pretty optimistic, however, about its direction in 2011 now that Dan Slott has taken over as the full-time writer. I really enjoyed his run on She Hulk a few years ago, enjoyed the Spider-Man/Human Torch miniseries he wrote a couple of years ago, and have enjoyed the first few issues of his run. I'm more optimistic about this title than I've been in quite a while.

Fantastic Four (Marvel) -- Jonathan Hickman's been taking this venerable super-team on a wild ride for the last year or two. This has been one of the best comics on the market lately, and I truly look forward to seeing where it goes.

Knights of the Dinner Table (Kenzer) -- The ongoing "adventures" of a group of friends sitting around the table playing Dungeons & Dragons in Muncie, Indiana -- a cast that has has grown from the original five to include dozens of quirky and unforgettable characters. I've reviewed this series elsewhere in this blog before, so let me just say that KODT is simply the funniest comic on the market today. If you aren't reading it, you should be.

Usagi Yojimbo (Dark Horse) -- Stan Sakai's samurai rabbit series has really grown on me since I first picked up a collection a couple of years ago. Each new issue goes to the top of my pile.

Conan (various incarnations) (Dark Horse) -- Dark Horse wrapped up their Conan: The Cimmerian series by Tim Truman and Tomas Giorello with issue #25, the conclusion of a great adaptation of "Iron Shadows in the Moon" and will publish two ongoing Conan series in 2011. Truman and Giorello will start a new King Conan book with Conan's adventures after he seizes the thrown of Aquilonia. Meanwhile, Roy Thomas -- my all-time favorite Conan comic writer and the man who first brought Conan to comics -- will pick up Conan's earlier adventures as the writer for the new Conan: The Road of Kings with art by Mike Hawthorne. I believe a good year portends for Hyborian Age.

Red Sonja/Queen Sonja (Dynamite) -- I've enjoyed the various Red Sonja titles from Dynamite over the past few years, though it all seemed to have gotten a bit muddled last year. Still, I look forward to seeing if they can sort it all out in 2011. Dynamite's been an interesting company in terms of having a really good business plan. In addition to signing some books by big-name comic creators, they've brought quite a few classic characters (Lone Ranger, Green Hornet, Sherlock Holmes, Zorro, The Phantom) back to comic-book life with solid creative teams, great covers, and persistence. Somebody at that company has a plan, and it's been fun to watch it play out.

The Unfinished List

These are books that I began reading at some point this year, but haven't yet finished for one reason or another.

High Seas Cthulu (2009), ed. by William Jones -- A collection of Lovecraftian short stories set on the high seas. I enjoyed the couple of stories that I read, but somehow it got set to the side. I'll try to pick it back up again this year.

The Children of Hurin (2009) by J.R.R. Tolkien -- Frankly, it kept putting me to sleep. In defense of Tolkien I was using it as late-, late-night reading, and there's something about the cadence of this "Elder Tales" tome that just lulls me into the arms of Morpheus. Given my occasional problems with insomnia, this may be a good thing. I'm sure I'll finish it off eventually, but I suspect it'll be two pages and a night's sleep at a time.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, et Simone Beck -- I've been taking my time and cooking through this a chapter or so at a time. I've spent quite a bit of time with the butter sauces (mmmmmn ... butter) so it may be time to move along to other taste treats. I liked this one so much that I asked Santa Claus for Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 2 (1983) so as to continue down this delicious path.

This Time Is Different (2010) by Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff (2010) -- This study of economic crises over the last 800 years has been really interesting, and I've already learned a ton about where our 2008-09 disaster fits in historic context. I set it to the side during the election when I was about halfway through, but look forward to picking it back up later this week.

On Deck

Eric (1990) and I Shall Wear Midnight (2010) by Terry Pratchett -- I Shall Wear Midnight finally arrived from the Science Fiction Book Club last month. But I've been loath to start it because I resent the fact that I don't know how many more of these Terry Pratchett will be able to write due to his struggle with early onset Alzheimer's.

My favorite writers should not age, get sick, and die. They should just go on and on, writing books for my enjoyment. In an admission that reality does not always accord with that decree, I bought Eric for the Kindle, so that I now have two as-yet unread Discworld novels in my greedy little hands. Sure, there are still more than a dozen more that I haven't read, but I hate the fact that at some point soon the count of Terry Pratchett novels will hit its final number.

Still, if Pratchett's mortality saddens me, one of the true joys of reading is knowing that there are books by a favorite author that I haven't yet read. I've been savoring that feeling by carrying my unread copy of I Shall Wear Midnight around the house, and after I finish it off, I'll take great joy in knowing that the final tale isn't yet told.

And indeed, there are plenty of great books that await me in 2011. So that's it for the reviewing, and now ... back to the reading.