From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Guttersnipe: Partisans

The other week my friend Brendon Bennetts visited. Brendon is a comics writer and professional improviser and has the best comic timing of any human being I have met in person, which mostly manifests itself in waiting until I have my mouth full and then saying something devastatingly funny. In the aftermath, while I fight to breathe, he smiles gently.

We are both New Zealanders (though I live in Australia) but, despite the New Zealand election being held on November 8th, our major topic of conversation was the American election and our fervent hope for an Obama presidency.

When this waned, Brendon asked if he could borrow some of my comics.

“Oh, sure,” I said. “Alias is good, or New X-Men, or you might like New Frontier, actually, or–”

“Not superheroes,” Brendon interrupted.

Brendon thinks that most superhero comics are immature and uninteresting. I maintain that many are totally awesome, and also wicked sweet. I consider this anti-superhero stance to be something to batter down whenever possible, like unto the Hulk smashing the Juggernaut — especially since Brendon is the man who introduced me to Warren Ellis via The Authority — but I was so exhausted by watching a debate on healthcare in Arizona (imagine, we marveled. There are countries where people aren’t automatically entitled to healthcare!) that I caved and ransacked my shelves for non-spandex offerings:

Polly and the Pirates, by Ted Naifeh, Oni Press. (Local Bookstore | Amazon)
Fantasy Classics and Gothic Classics, Eureka Productions. (Amazon)
Rapunzel’s Revenge, by Shannon and Dean Hale, and Nathan Hale (no relation), Bloomsbury. (Local Bookstore | Amazon)
Tales From Outer Suburbia, by Shaun Tan, Allen & Unwin. (Local Bookstore | Amazon)
PS238: To the Cafeteria: For Justice!, by Aaron Williams, Dork Storm. (Local Bookstore | Amazon)

“There,” I said ungraciously. “I hope you choke on them. With your EYES.”

Polly and the Pirates

Polly and the PiratesPolly and the Pirates is a delightful tale about a young lady at a girl’s boarding school who finds out that her mother was not “the most graceful and proper lady there ever was”, but the notorious Pirate Queen Meg. She discovers this when her bed is hoisted through the open dormitory window, and onto the pirate ship Titania.

Hijinks ensue, and by that I mean daring escapes, swashbucklery, derring-do, a French pirate named Pamplemousse, and some intervention from Joshua Norton, Emperor of the United States of America.

Naifeh’s art is delightful, his imagination unbounded, and Brendon made giggly noises quite revolting in a person of his grave mien.

Fantasy Classics/Gothic Classics

Gothic ClassicsI love comic adaptations of literature classics. This is how I got through the works of Dickens (I love Dickens! I just prefer his works as comics, or plays, or charming musicals, rather than the endless verbiage he actually produced).

These anthologies, from the Graphic Classics’ series, present a number of stories, including vampire tale of Carmilla, Frankenstein, and the delightfully weird Rappaccini’s Daughter, abridged by various authors. The art, like the abridgments, ranges from serviceable to excellent, but they’re definitely worth getting your hands on for an entertaining way to acquaint yourself or a young friend with the classics.

Bonus: Sensibly, The Mysteries of Udolpho and Northanger Abbey are side by side, so the reader can acquire a knowledge of the Gothic tropes Austen merrily mocked in the latter, and thus presumably increasing one’s enjoyment, without actually having to wade through Ann Radcliffe’s tortured prose.

(“This plot is very complicated,” Brendon observed, with classic understatement.)

Rapunzel’s Revenge

Rapunzels RevengeThis YA book provides gorgeous artwork and an entertaining feminist take on the fairy tale. With a fictional setting that plays with all the best tropes of the Old West while acknowledging the actual ethnic composition of that West; endearing, flawed good guys; selfish, human bad guys; and a controlling, horribly believable villain, it is a must read for anyone who loves fairy-tale retellings.

Oh. Did I mention that the heroine has weaponised hair? She uses it to whip, lasso and acrobatically disable prison bars, evil-doers, and a huge freaking sea-serpent.

Tales From Outer Suburbia

Tales From Outer SuburbiaIn this book, Shaun Tan writes and illustrates fantastic stories set in the wildernesses of suburbia. There is a water buffalo that offer wordless advice. There is a deep-sea diver asking for help. There is the secret room in the inside of every house. There is the blind reindeer who comes once a year for the offerings of the heart.

It’s an unusual YA book -– it’s not quite a comic and not quite a picture book, and Shaun Tan’s short stories interact with his illustrations in startling, beautiful ways. In places, the pictures illustrate the narrative; in places they provide it, or add the details Tan’s spare prose has left to them to vividly convey, in lush colour or stark black and white, in precise linework or murky smudges. Twice, the illustrations provide a conclusion in a rush of visual information, and it’s amazing both times: a heart-squeezing glimpse into quiet, gorgeous, imagined worlds.

(“Wow,” said Brendon, blinking hard.

“Ah,” I said. “Page 15.”)

PS 238: To the Cafeteria: For Justice!

PS 238 To the Cafeteria For JusticeThis comic is about superheroes.

HAH! In your FACE, Bennetts! Read it and ENJOY!

Actually, it’s about the children of heroes and villains as they attend grade school. Hidden beneath an ordinary school, they take lessons from teachers who have retired from fighting superevil to take on a much more dangerous and challenging task; training the students to safely and discreetly use their powers.

All of the students except Tyler; he doesn’t have any powers, and is thus mildly concerned about surviving to graduate. Especially since his classmates keep insisting on doing things like dragging him along to their latest space station.

The printing quality isn’t always the greatest, but Williams’ cute, quirky style and excellent comic expression do a great deal to make up for the occasional murkiness, and the dialogue is just lovely; kid talk, without being baby-talk.

“Well?” I said.

“Yeah, it was good,” Brendon conceded, and put PS 238 down with the care it deserves. “Hey, let’s go look at Obama macros.”

“Oooh,” I said. “Let’s!”

Karen grew up in New Zealand, taught English in Japan for a couple years and is now living in Australia and writing a dissertation on superhero comic fandom. On weekends, through the power of the internets, she turns into a teenage boy at a special school for mutants and fights evil-doers. The rest of the time, she can be found blogging at Girls Read Comics (And They’re Pissed), or at

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