Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What I'm Reading: Roundup

Let's do another roundup of what I've been poking my eyeballs at lately.

Very Casual: A graphic novel collecting some of the strips and short cartoons done by Canadian underground artist Michael DeForge.  The mode of this I will term smart-ass surrealism.  Some narrative flow in some of the pieces, but often following only a dream-like logic.  At its most coherent it has a sort of 90s Kids in the Hall-style irony, as in the story of a street gang that gets its thrills from littering.  Banal situations such as eating at a diner or going to see a band at a club will include encounters with monstrous chimerical creatures or bizarre violence with no further explanation.  Some cartoons have no real point, just depictions of body morphing with erotic overtones.  If this were scary, one might call a lot of this body horror--limbs being cut off and the wound spouting replacement tentacles or genitalia, for instance--but it's played more for laughs.  Weird stuff for those who are into it, others should stay away.

Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You: Another graphic novel.  For those who don't know, Neil Gaiman has returned to comics with a new Sandman series, coming out now in single issues, and which will surely be collected in graphic novel-format next year sometime.  It is the first new Sandman work in 15 years or more, and a huge event in comics.  Before tackling the new issues, I've decided to go back and read a couple of the old collections I had never gotten to.

I've read Vols. 1-4, so this one was up next.  The Sandman is also known as Morpheus, or Dream.  This is the guy who visits you at night and gives you all those stories in your head.  He is the king of the Dreaming, a land made up of all the various nighttime places we go to and people and creatures we see there.  Vol. 5 concerns a woman, Barbie, who has always had vivid dreams, but has stopped dreaming since a certain man moved into her apartment building two years before.  Barbie misses her old dreams, which all took place in a fairy tale realm where she was a princess.  The people in this dream world miss her, too, for in her absence evil forces in the realm have taken over.  I guess it is no surprise that the man, her absence from this world, and her lack of dreaming are all connected!  Teasing out the connections will involve a trip deep into the fairy tale world, which is a metaphor for traveling into Barbie's psyche, and this adventure has wider implications for the Dreaming, as well, prompting the Sandman to get involved personally.

Of the volumes I've read so far, this was actually my least favorite.  The surface story concerning the journey in the fairy tale world is facile, and although Gaiman does have deeper concerns here, I couldn't find enough in the main story to keep me interested.  I did like Barbie's neighbors in the apartment building who end up joining her in the journey, especially a shy, mousy woman who lives next door who harbors an unexpected secret, and the lesbian couple upstairs are fun.  Still, I hope the next volume returns to the quality of the earlier ones.

Collected Poems of A.E. Housman: I don't know a lot about poetry, but I do have a few volumes that I own.  This one by A.E. Housman I like to get out every winter and read a few pieces from.  Winter seems like the right season, as the poems are almost invariably about death or lost love.  The wording is deceptively simple and precise, but each turn of phrase carries loads of meaning.  Here's a good one that seems fitting for the weather we've had here lately:


The night is freezing fast,
To-morrow comes December;
And winterfalls of old
Are with me from the past;
And chiefly I remember
How Dick would hate the cold.

Fall, winter, fall; for he,
Prompt hand and headpiece clever,
Has woven a winter robe,
And made of earth and sea
His overcoat for ever,
And wears the turning globe.

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