I would be over the moon if Wayne State’s mascot was the sea cucumber.
On the bright side, I think my virtual desk is in Australia. I approve.
Yet again, I got a little obsessive and tracked the number of books and movies I’ve consumed in the past year. Why? Well, if nothing else it’s an easy way to remember what I’ve seen when asked, “What was the best book/movie you’ve seen/read this year?” Also, it amuses me. This year showed a slight increase in all categories… And now, on to 2013!
Fiction Magazines, Chapbooks, and Zines:
Back to Swimming
Despite swimming being “highly recommended” as exercise while recovering from my stress fracture, the last time I’d actually gone to the pool was back in January. Happily, Charlie gave me the nudge that I needed to finally start moving forward again, and we’ve been hitting the pool 2-3 times a week before work. My overall speed isn’t where it should be, but that’s what happens when you take six months off, right? All in all, though, it’s felt great to finally get back to the pool and start swimming some laps. My mile time might need some improvement, but I’m also glad that I can swim a mile without stopping again.
There are a lot of things that I love about our condo, but one of the few things that has driven me crazy since day one was that there’s no air-return on the upper level (where the living room/kitchen area is located). With an 11-foot ceiling, that’s meant that hot air easily travels up there and then just stays put. We’d bought a fan to turn on when it gets too warm as an emergency measure, but this month we finally sprung to have a ceiling fan installed. I’m not going to lie, the installation was problematic and actually took two appointments with an electrician (plus someone to then repair drywall and re-paint) but now that it’s done? It’s fantastic. It’s been a transformative shift to our upstairs. Just having the air moving has made all the difference, and the fan itself looks great to boot. (Amusingly, when I first turned it on, for about five minutes it blasted hot air down at me, to the point that I almost started to majorly freak out. Later it hit me that it was finally getting all that trapped heat out of the top of the room that a fan on the floor would never touch.)
The End of Physical Therapy
I actually really enjoyed my PT sessions, which I often joked stood for “personal trainer” rather than “physical therapy.” Jackie definitely worked me over good each week, and she’s pretty great to boot. But I won’t deny that I’m glad it’s over, because it means that the long saga of the stress fracture appears to be finally over. I got a six-mile run under my belt towards the end of July, and finishing it with no problems was a huge relief. Of course, in an effort to remind me not to be too cocky, I then went and broke my little toe at the end of the month by stubbing it on a chaise lounge, so I’m back off running for the month of August. Ah well!
Rediscovering Debbie Dreschler
Debbie Dreschler’s two graphic novels from back in the day—Daddy’s Girl and Summer of Love—were hard to read. Not because they were badly created (they weren’t) but because the subject matter was rather disturbing and emotionally raw in places. Since Summer of Love Dreschler more or less vanished off of the comic book scene, so I was pleased as punch to recently discover her website and her blog. Her website shows the professional illustration work she’s been producing since then, and it looks great. Even better, she’s also got some adorable greeting cards for sale. (I might have bought a set.) Her blog has been serving up some sketchbook drawings of hers involving local wildlife, and all I can say is that she just gets better and better with time. (Debbie Dreschler: a fine wine of cartooning.)
We went on a short vacation near the end of the month to Lost River, West Virginia, where we did… absolutely nothing. It was marvelous. Lots of sitting by the pool reading books (E.M Forster’s Howards End and the amusingly-named Showcase Presents: Showcase Vol. 1 were both read, plus another large chunk of Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar), some swimming, a massage, and eating all sorts of foods that are perhaps not great for me. But it was vacation, we got to relax, and the only schedule we had to worry about was when we’d scheduled our massages and what time our dinner reservation one night was set for. (And when I say “worry” I mean “we didn’t worry one iota.”) Any trip where you can accidentally break a toe and still think, “What a great time” is a good one.
I tried a little experiment where for each week of the month I added an item to the list, with the fifth slot reserved for any particularly fantastic week. Bizarrely, several of entries for this month ended up involving travel in some way, but it’s strictly coincidence. Anyway, with that in mind…
I enjoy Wes Anderson’s movies (which reminds me that I still need to finally see Bottlerocket and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou one of these days), so seeing Moonrise Kingdom was a given. Bill Murray’s and Jason Schwartzman’s presences were almost a given, but it was nice to see him working with a lot of new-to-Anderson actors; Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton were all great, but the kid actors stole the film over and over again. Just a charming film from start to finish, with an ever-increasing level of insanity as it progresses. By far my favorite film of 2012 to date. Also, for about two days I wanted to live on an island off the coast of Rhode Island. (Fortunately sanity reasserted itself quickly.)
Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle
Guy Delisle’s travel graphic novels are fantastic; he’s a cartoonist who’s in the past written about taking trips for work to China (Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China) and North Korea (Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea), as well as—thanks to his wife’s job at Doctors Without Borders—living for a year in Burma (Burma Chronicles). Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City places Delisle and his family in East Jerusalem as his wife works in Gaza and Palestine. I love Delisle’s comedic tone mixed with moments of serious reflection, and Delisle does a nice job of making you feel you are there with him thanks to little details like trying to find playgrounds for the children, or going through security whenever he returns to the country after a business trip. There are a few moments that are head-scratchers (how did he not know what Yom Kippur was before moving to Jerusalem?) but on the whole I’m enjoying it a great deal. I’m reading just small chunks at a time to make it last longer; it’s been four years since Burma Chronicles so I want this experience to stretch out as much as possible.
It’s taken me 10 years, but this time I finally made it—briefly—to Silverdocs. Silverdocs is the AFI’s documentary film festival, held at the AFI Silver in Silver Spring, Maryland. Every time I’ve heard about it, I’ve wanted to go, and every time it comes and goes without my presence. This year with Silver Spring just around the corner, Charlie and I finally made it up to the festival at the end to catch a showing of Beauty is Embarrassing, which is about artist Wayne White. (You’re probably most familiar with him via his design on a lot of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse; in fact he even voiced several of the puppets, like Randy and Dirty Dog.) The documentary was fun (and I hadn’t made connections until seeing the film to some of the other people and projects he’d worked on, like the Smashing Pumpkins video Tonight, Tonight, or his collaborations with people like Gary Panter and Mimi Pond), although the Q&A afterwards was dreadful and we should have left as soon as it ended. But still, it was a blast to finally make a showing, and I am now determined next year to see a lot more. (I might even take a day or two off from work and go whole-hog and spend a day or two seeing the documentaries, workload willing.) It was a good time.
This American Life #467: Americans in China
Oh look! Another travel story. (Well, sort of.) This episode of This American Life (one of my favorite radio programs, although I primarily listen to it via the podcast) spotlights Americans living in China, with two main stories. The first story about a Chinese-American man who grew up in the United States to Chinese immigrant parents, then moved as an adult to China, was good… but it was the second story that really grabbed me. It was about Michael Meyer (no, not that one), a writer who lives in Manchuria in a tiny town called Wasteland. It was a fascinating story about living in a remote, rural community as an American, and I was entranced for its entire 17 minute portion. Meyer does a great job of dipping you into that culture and making you feel like you’re there, which is exactly what I want from my travel writing. It turns out it’s part of a book that will be published later this year titled In Manchuria: Life on a Rice Farm in China’s Northeast. I will absolutely be buying this book.
Potential Work Trip To Somewhere I’ve Never Been
No details yet, because I don’t want to jinx it (and because it could easily not happen in the blink of an eye) but if everything lines up just right, I get to go on a work trip at the end of August to a country and continent I’ve never visited before. Fingers crossed!
I’ve always found a row of matching books, lined up just so, to be extremely aesthetically pleasing. A small part of me enjoys it because of the completest gene in me (although over the years I’ve managed to beat that down a great deal), but there’s also something about the overall design sense with the series of matching spines that makes me think, “Yes, yes, that looks lovely.”
It doesn’t have to be overly ornate. For example, I’ve always liked Small Beer Press’s Peapod Classics line (which sadly only had three books and then appears to have stalled out), and not just because they’ve selected good books for the line. The cover design is simple but effective, and having Kevin Huizenga provide the cover art is an added bonus.
And to be fair, it’s not even just books. DVDs, magazines with spines, anything with a nice design sense has always been appreciated. It’s why I’ve found the Criterion Collection’s shifting from one font to another to be frustrating (and I’m not even a big Criterion geek), and why other publications have managed to stick around in my home because they look so good.
I say all this because as a big ol’ comics geek, it’s always pained me to see some truly hideous design work on what should be two of the nicest lines in comics; DC Comics’ Archive Editions, and Marvel’s Masterworks. These lines reprint the company’s oldest and most classic comics; the original runs of books like Superman, Batman, The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, and so on. We’re talking about superhero comic royalty. How bad are they designed? I own exactly zero of these books.
The original Marvel Masterworks design was ghastly; a fake marble background with a foil stamped frame in the center and the artwork crammed into that small portion. They’re ugly, and while the redesign a while ago shifted to a black and silver look that isn’t as bad, it’s still not terribly attractive. The artwork is larger, so that’s good at least, but it’s still not an attractive or eye-catching look.
I’m not letting DC Comics off the hook here with their Archive Editions, though. They’re also uninspiring; a single image of a character (or sometimes a group of characters), the inverted triangle and circle, and a pin stripe background. Once again, there’s a lot of space wasted here. It’s not energetic or exciting, and they don’t make me want to buy them at all.
Kurt Busiek (via Dan McDaid) recently pointed out online where Jon Morris presented his ideas for a redesign of the DC Archive Editions. The entire post is here but I’ll just show you one or two of his (many) mock-ups.
These are already so much better it’s not even funny. I love the big image on the top, with room for four additional smaller ones. (Sure, the images in these mock-ups could use some brightness and contrast touch-ups, but you get the idea.) The books have room for creator names, what they reprint, additional material, and even two more images on the back. And when lined up on the bookshelf?
Well, be still my beating heart. Quite frankly? If DC announced they were redesigning the Archive Editions to look like this (plus a small, initial-orders only printing of the original design for any new ones for people who want a complete set – Marvel does this for theirs, which is a nice touch), I’d start buying the new editions. As these are expensive books, it’s probably just as well that DC shows no signs of doing so.
The sad thing is that DC does have a nice design for their black and white, low-cost Showcase Presents books. It’s simple but effective; a small band up along the top, room for an entire cover on the front, and they look nice when lined up, as seen on the top two rows on the photo below.
And who knows? Maybe someday they’ll redesign the Archive Editions line and I will finally spring for them. My bookshelves are sad that we aren’t getting them, because they sure would look nice. My wallet, on the other hand is just fine with that.
I used to think, back in the day, that no one could possibly be as stupid as a character in a newspaper comic strip soap opera. (Not that they’re all stupid, of course. I still miss Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For.) Now that I am near the very end of my 30s, though, I’ve come to the grim conclusion that yes, people really can be that stupid.
On the bright side, it’s acceptable to point and laugh at a fictional character in Apartment 3-G.
With any luck, this story will conclude with Nina giving birth to an alien. Or perhaps Nina will decide that babies need to eat human flesh and she feeds herself to her offspring. If only she’d read those books!
There are times when I read something that just makes me nod a lot and think, “Yes, that is so perfect I wish I’d written it myself.” Case in point, Lucy Knisley’s latest webcomic, “Being Awkward vs. Awkward Situations.”
There’s lots, lots more—those are just the first three panels—so check it out. (And then while you’re at it, if you love travel stories or descriptions of food—or if you’re like me, both—buy a copy of her graphic novel French Milk. It is awesome.)
A Bride’s Story by Kaoru Mori
I utterly missed out on Japanese comics creator’s last series to be translated into English, Emma (the story of a Victorian era maid) but it’s nice to not be too far behind the times with her new series A Bride’s Story. It’s set in the 19th century and details a woman in the Silk Road area (near the Caspian Sea) who is the new bride to a young man in a neighboring tribe. It’s half relationship drama (and in a good, non-melodramatic way) and half anthropological study of that time and place. I just finished the first volume and was completely and utterly sucked into it. Also, it’s gorgeously drawn, an immense amount of detail packed into each page and on even what might otherwise feel like small, trivial details. I’m dying to pick up the next two that’ve been published in English to see what happens next. Absolutely charming.
Fra’ Mani Salametto
I picked up this dry salame for when guests were coming over, at Arrowine in Arlington, and I am so glad that I’ve had some leftover because it is divine. Soft, delicious flavor that just explodes in my mouth with each bite. Right now I’m slowly rationing out what I have left, but it’s good enough that I will definitely buy more. One of those slightly expensive foods that’s worth every penny you pay for it.
In the past month or so, we’ve bought new blinds for the bedrooms (that better block light, a job the old ones did not quite handle properly), ordered new carpet for the stairs, and today a magnetic knife rack arrived. They’re all little changes, but it’s a real pleasure to get these things taken care of and have our home feel that much more… well… homey.
Back to Exercise
After a month off of exercising post-marathon (thanks to the delightful stress fracture in my right tibia), last week I finally got back to the gym… for five days in a row, no less. The things I’m limited to are a little boring, but I have caught up a great deal on my podcasts. And I keep vowing I’ll make it to the pool (for both lap swimming and pool running!) soon, honest, no really. It has felt good to do so. This week might be a little less energetic but there will be more exercise on the horizon, too. Time to use the non-busted parts and have them earn their keep. And speaking of stress fractures…
Being Halfway Done With My Air Cast
As of today it’s been three full weeks in the air cast! I find that hard to believe myself. I’d mentioned it already on Facebook and the like, but in short I developed a stress fracture in my right leg sometime in February, didn’t realize I had one, ran a marathon on it, then realized that the pain I was having was not a pulled muscle and went to a specialist to figure out the problem. I’ve been told that I’ll be in “das boot” (as I’ve named it) for six weeks. So, halfway done! Once I’m out of it I’ll get to go to PT to slowly ramp up returning to running, but that’ll be a slow process (in more ways than one) for a while. But it’s nice to be about to tip into the realm of over 50% complete with the truly annoying part of this little adventure.
Once again, I went and tracked how many movies, books, and graphic novels I saw/read over the course of the year. Last year’s tally had me at at 31 movies, 21 books, 1 fiction magazine, and 124 graphic novels. This year? 31 movies, 24 books, 13 fiction magazines, and 110 graphic novels. Two increases, one decrease, and one exactly the same. Not bad overall… And now, let the counting start all over again!
Fiction Magazines, Chapbooks, and Zines: