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Monday, 11 July 2016

Not a misery memoir

Today I shall be talking about two books that were the subject of a talk I went to about a month ago. These books are Nicola Streeten's Billy, Me and You; and Una's Becoming/UnBecoming. Both have left a profound impression on me and I want more people to know about them.

Streeten's Billy, Me and You is about her grief that came after her son died at the age of two. I was
initially afraid that the book would be about her son's death but, other than a brief contextual description at the start, it is resolutely not about Billy. It is about her grief, and that's something I have previously found difficult to separate. The book covers the immediate emotions; her relationships and attitudes to other people; her career; her relationship to her next baby; changes to the placement of Billy's things in the house; support groups - most other stuff in her life really (because grief of that intensity affects everything you do).

She wrote it about 13 years after Billy's death, which (I think) has given her the emotional space to write a more complete book. Grief in the first few years is very different to grief eight or ten years down the line, and probably makes for a better narrative as you are not in the immediate grip of sadness and terror.

The drawings are scratchy and wobbly, definitely unpolished. I think Streeten referred to them as rough and ready (although maybe I'm misremembering). For me, they work expertly well at depicting her grief, because that feeling is rough and ready. The art is raw and it leaves you feeling all over the place. Some days you are fine, other days it's like everything is falling apart and the messiness of the art conveys that.

Streeten uses a lot of visual metaphor, which connects the reader to the story far more readily than prose. For readers, it is cathartic. It certainly helped me process my feelings.

Una's book is a very different thing. It is precise and measured. It is careful and thoughtful. It takes a more intellectual approach to the topic of trauma. Becoming/Unbecoming is also autobiographical. It is about growing up female in Yorkshire in the 1970s when the Yorkshire Ripper was active. Una was raped several times in this period (not by the Ripper); and had to endure the slut shaming and institutional misogyny that was pervasive in British culture at the time (and still is, although the internet has given women a platform and a way to be heard en masse, which is covered by the book).
Becoming/Unbecoming discusses her peers' attitudes to women and girls, the silence surrounding sexual assault, the mistakes made in the Ripper case, and the mess that is society's approach to sexual violence and women.

It is not a book about her attacks, and no sexual attacks are drawn. It is likely to be upsetting though, so please be careful when reading.

Una has a fine art background. Her drawings range from simple yet precise depictions of people, to the most elegant drawings of trees and emotions. Una's artwork made me want to start drawing. I'm amazed at how she conveys so much information about a person with just a few pencil lines and some colour. Like Streeten's book, Becoming/Unbecoming is rich with metaphor. It's there in the visual narrative waiting for you to think about and decipher it. Some pages use the standard comics presentation of panels, and other others use one or more (separate) pictures accompanied by prose. This method forces the reader to think more - you cannot just glide along, reading the surface of the story, you need to become engaged in it.

There is an interview with Una here, on the the F Word website. Una's own website is here.

The title of this post is 'Not a misery memoir' because these books are not. If you describe the subject matter - grief and sexual violence - you would expect to be reading about the gritty details, but neither book gives that. They provide a dignified voice to these subjects, and examine, from a certain distance, how these events impact on both the main subjects' lives, but also on those around them and on wider society.

Billy, Me and You:
ISBN: 978-0-956559-94-4
Price: £12.99

ISBN: 1908434694
Price: £14.99
Publisher: Myriad Editions

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Mouseguard: Fall 1152

Writer and artist: David Peterson
Publisher: Villard Books

What's it about?
Mouseguard is a series about a mouse civilisation. They have towns, artists, blacksmiths, and guardsmice who patrol outlying areas, act as guides, and protect citizen mice from predators,thieves and insurrectionists.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Temporary hiatus

It pains me to say this, but this blog will be temporarily paused for a little while.  This is because I have the most delightful three month old baby to look after!  He's been a long time coming and it turns out that babies really do require 24 hour care (who's have thought it!).

This means I have barely any time to myself, let alone to write comic reviews. I will be returning to this blog in the future,but I may change the way I write the posts so that I can feel enthused about doing them.

Thank you all for reading over the last few years, and please do keep popping back in, because there will be more posts in the future! Just not for the next few months 

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Meanwhile: Pick Any Path. 3,865 Story Possibilities

Just a short post for you today.  I recently came across a Choose Your Own Adventure comic book, named Meanwhile: Pick Any Path:

Art and writing: Jason Shiga
Publisher: Amulet Books
ISBN: 0810984237
Price: £9.99

The book uses a series of lines and tabs to guide you through the adventure, starting with a choice of vanilla or chocolate ice cream that will lead you through to a variety of different scenarios, some surreal, some not.  Amazon lists it as part of the top 10 graphic novels for teens, but this I disagree with. It's more suitable for an 8 year old.

It's beautifully presented with lovely glossy paper, is available in hardback, and feels like a nice present.  Shiga has a website where you can read his webcomics (mature readers only).

I have real difficulty with these sorts of books, I prefer a structured narrative and being led through the story, hence the lack of a real review.  Instead I skimmed through it and can see that it is imaginative and ideal for kids who do like these things.  It has received praise from people I respect, so I am happy to recommend it.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

A guide to Marvel's significant events

We've posted a guide to DC's continuity changing events so I think a guide to Marvel's big events is well overdue.

Marvel's big events aren't about cleaning up storylines or changing continuity, but more about the spectacle, the event itself.  They have a major impact in the Marvel Universe, but they don't necessarily change history (unless the event is specifically about time travel, or changes in reality).

We won't list every single event Marvel has done, but we'll go through the ones that have had the most impact on the current universe.  We'll also include things that aren't necessarily events but are quite important in Marvel's history.  We'll put a logo next to each book denoting the main character or team that the event or storyline deals with.

The titles of each event will link through to the book's Amazon listing (where possible).  You could also buy them digitally from Marvel Unlimited, where you can buy individual issues or a year's subscription and get access to their entire digital archive.  Or you can buy the books from a comic shop - we have a list of recommended shops here.

If you are confused by any of the jargon in this post please have a look at our glossary.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Comics about Immigrants

A comics site called Women Write About Comics (WWAC) has recently written about five comics on the theme of immigration.

It's quite a political post as it's written with the UK General Election (7th May) in mind, but don't be put off  by that as the suggestions given are really rather good.  One of them is Anya's Ghost that we reviewed here, another is the current Ms Marvel series, published by Marvel Comics, which is excellent.  There are also webcomics listed.

I highly recommend you check out the WWAC site as well as the above linked article.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Tiny Titans: Welcome to the Treehouse

Writer: Art Baltazar and Franco
Art: Art Baltazar
Publisher: DC Comics

What's it about?
The Tiny Titans series is written for kids aged, at a guess, 5 to 10 years.  The Titans of the title are the Teen Titans, but aged about 7 or 8, attending primary (elementary) school.  They don't solve crime or fight monsters - they go to classes, get the bus to school, hang out together at lunch and tease each other.  It might sound mundane, but if you are 7 that's what your life is.  These stories have superheroes doing the same thing.  The teachers are villains from the DCU but there's no nastiness here.  It's light hearted and it's adorable.