It’s an interesting bunch of stuff – melting together a whole bunch of comics, some picture books with my kids, some novel reading between it all, and some D&D stuff. YOu can get a weird constellation chart of my year from seeing what I’ve been imbibing.
Jumping from Dashiell Hammett to Frank Miller to some Netflix origins in Hilda and The Witcher. There’s also a guide to being autistic amidst my reread beginning on The Walking Dead, and two books written by my brothers, and then a reread of Hush I’d forgotten I did.
Covid keeps us from wandering into each others’ houses and admiring our book shelves, so here’s a digital peek at mine, or at least the pile I make when I’ve finished books and am too lazy to return them to their alphabetised spot according to medium/genre.
In 2020, I’ve set the challenge to read 84 books, so let’s hope the year affords me more mental energy, less social media, and plenty of pages through my fingers.
A new decade – didn’t really start like we imagined, but I’m still gonna try and find the good amongst it all…somewhere. Here’s some list action: let’s roll!
Hmm, I’ve read some really bloody good comics this year, and it was a hotly contested run to the top of the pile.
Okay, so not from this year, but I did make time to read MISTER MIRACLE by Mitch Gerads and Tom King and I really did love it. It’s a superhero comic that plays with the intergalactic when it’s really just about the family unit, and fatherhood in particular. Completely up my alley, so that was cool. And at the very start of the year I read LAURA DEAN KEEPS BREAKING UP WITH ME by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell and Mariko Tamaki and it’s a bloody masterpiece. It’s just a high school romance story about a young woman who keeps falling into a toxic relationship, and then she slowly starts breaking out of that. I read someone mention that it’s a lesbian story that isn’t about coming out or prejudice, and how refreshing that is, and that seems like a nice take on it. I also dug the book because it has some absolutely stellar pieces of comic work going on in it.
Oh, and I borrowed from my school library all of the “Sunny” series, and the third instalment is SUNNY ROLLS THE DICE, and it is really superb. The comic is about Sunny, a young girl in the late 70s just trying to figure life out. In this volume, she plays D&D, and thinks about where she fits in socially, and how she thinks she should operate, and finally how she wants to operate and what she wants to become. It’s got a lovely message, is a joy to read, and I really love this series a whole bunch.
Okay, but actually from this year: my good friend Paul Allor was doing the lord’s work with GI JOE alongside Chris Evanhuis, making the franchise feel fresh and epic, but also zooming way in on PTSD for one masterpiece of an issue. I dug the scope of Alex Diotto and Curt Pires [with his father Tony Pires] on the Kirby inspired OLYMPIA, and the world-building rule-breaking of Justin Osterling and Kurtis J. Wiebe on DRYAD. We got the completion of BLACK STARS ABOVE from Jenna Cha and Lonnie Nadler and it was a beautiful and emotive piece of fiction, which stood in quality contrast to another Lonnie book, this time with Zac Thompson and Sami Kivela, making a brilliant Western cerebral puzzle with UNDONE BY BLOOD, or THE SHADOW OF A WANTED MAN. HEDRA introduced me to Jesse Lonergan and his beautiful and intelligent page design, whereas FAMILY TREE reminded me what geniuses Phil Hester and Jeff Lemire are. Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber made me care about SUPERMAN’S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN for a minute in a 12 issue maxi series that was smart, genuinely funny, and the kind of thing that can make you a better creator just from having read it. Gerads and King reunited, with Evan ‘Doc’ Shaner, to tackle a personal fav, Adam Strange in STRANGE ADVENTURES – and the results so far have been very intriguing. Mike Huddleston and Jonathan Hickman intrigued and delighted me with the cerebral sci fi wildness of DECORUM.
Phillips and Brubaker released a new book, PULP, that’s naturally amazing, but is that rare chord where I can see the masters at play, and yet understand that this one just wasn’t for me. It’s better than most everything else from the year, but it’s not me seeing the two play at their peak while also being in my wheelhouse from them – I’m more of a Kill or Be Killed and Fatale guy than I am The Fade Out or Pulp.
I must cop to being thoroughly stoked that DAREDEVIL is a top tier book at present. Chip Zdarsky is a funny/goofy guy, but he writes painful really damn well. Pair him with Marco Checchetto and other artistic friends and the result is something that plays Matt Murdock exactly how I like him, down.
I really bloody enjoyed Elsa Charretier and Matt Fraction delivering more volumes of NOVEMBER. It’s a well thought out, intricate, delicate ode to women in crime fiction that feels pieced together just exactly right, in every single way. I love that this got pushed to four volumes because it means there’s just more for me to enjoy next year.
But the book of the year is from the same team that gets it most every year from me, and that’s RECKLESS from Phillips/Brubaker. A crime OGN about a criminal handyman that’s equally gorgeous as it is brutal is something I just need more of in my life. This book really tickled me in every possible way it should, and feels like something I’ll definitely come back to in the future. Not to mention they’re making this a series character, so the next OGN lands next year.
I don’t read with lightning speed, nor can I elect to only keep my reading current as there’s still a whole world of books I wish to catch up on, so this year I’ll have two top choices:
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
I’m slowly working my way through certain masters that I dig – I don’t want to rush them, so I drip feed them into each year. I finally got to this masterpiece and it really is a brisk and diamond tipped read. Sam Spade takes the case and from there the narrative hurtles along through twists and violent turns. By the time you hit the end, you barely trust anyone anymore, and you’re left exasperated and empty-handed, like many of the characters.
I can see why it stood out at the time, and has stood the test of time. Now I just need to make the time to watch the Bogart flick.
The Elder Trials: The Raven’s Prophecy by Marc Lindsay & James Lindsay
Yeah, my brothers, they’re novel writing superstars. I really enjoyed this young adult fantasy novel that puts our lead character, Astrid Mace, into a series of trials to prove her worth. The friendships forged, and obstacles overcome, made this an instant favourite for me from their immense catalogue.
An absolute banger of a year for quality TV, and I really struggled to make one choice, so let’s look at the short list first:
#BlackAF – now this was a show I did not see coming. My wife put us onto it, and I was hooked from the first episode. I think what I loved most was how much of it was them being parents on screen, in the open, like most of us are behind closed doors, or at least behind our kids’ backs. The brutal honesty of it, and yet still the immense love, was the truth that made me respect this show, and then there’s the fact it’s genuinely laugh-out-loud funny stuff.
One show that very very nearly took the top spot wasn’t something I knew was coming, or existed…
Ted Lasso. Another show that’s hilarious, well structured, scripted, and just flat out honestly emotional. I never would have expected so much raw soul on the screen from the ads for this show, but what we get here is a deconstruction of a man, and many of the supporting characters, in a way which makes you examine your own life and path.
This was the sleeper hit of the year because I had no warm up to it, most others didn’t seem to watch it because it’s Apple+, and because it is so excessively good. I desperately want to rewatch this show, to study it, to feel those emotions again, and to laugh. That’s all I needed from 2020 – creative fuel, laughter, and the ability to draw out emotions and then stab them with a sword until I’d leaked them out everywhere.
And while I loved this show, I think it benefits from that new apple shine, which is why I couldn’t place it above the other emotional laughfest I spent the start of the year knowing would appear right here on the list:
The Good Place dropped its final season, and it wrapped up everything so perfectly. It did everything Lost thought it was gonna do, and I love this show for being absolutely perfect. Also; it hit right in the sweet spot of global Covid collapse and personal mental collapse, and as such the final episode just turned me to water. I hadn’t had a cry like that in a very very long time [if you are wondering which exact moment, it was the Chidi moment].
For a show that kept its quality at 100 the entire run, and actually maybe improved itself over that time, I couldn’t not place it here where it deserves to be in that final victory lap.
I didn’t get a lot of time to hit the cinema this year, but there were some things I caught in the home Netflix Screening Arena that I really enjoyed.
THE OLD GUARD
Genuinely loved this flick, and anyone digging on action flicks needs to get down on this, stat. That it’s build from a comic is gravy, and that comic scribe Greg Rucka got to write the screenplay makes me near on giddy, but the flick itself is the show, and it’s a good good show. Unkillable warriors, across time, taking on jobs to fix things in the world, when what they really need to fix is inside them all along.
This was the winner for me from the year. A Pixar flick that’s a take on fantasy/D&D world building and is used to tell a story about trying to get one more day with a deceased father – yep, totally my jam. I thought this flick had a lot of laugh, a lot of really clever and awesome moments, and a whole lot of heart. Another thing from 2020 that made me bawl. I think the script suffers from some underlying sexism – the mother isn’t named on screen, is she? And the boys don’t consider that the mother would also want to see her dead husband [though the fact she’s moved on and is dating Officer Colt says a whole lot about her mental health, which is actually kind of nice].
I really enjoyed SOUL, also, and the themes in that are spectacular, but ONWARD gets me for rewatchability, and for that specific dagger of emotion that got me right between the ribs. Which isn’t to say Soul isn’t probably the “better” flick of the two. It’s interesting because it’s got some laughs, but not as many as Inside Out, nor does it have that visual flare…in fact, this feels like the most adult thing Pixar has ever done. Which is probably a damn fine thing, because kids need to see content like this.
Give me every emotional Pixar flick over a Cars flick any day of the week – and I dig that franchise, but it’s comfort food for those who already eat pretty mushy food.
And I’m still trying to work out if THE MIDNIGHT SKY might be the “best” movie I saw all year. This George Clooney pieces sees him act and direct his way through an emotional sci fi concept where the world has already died, and he’s just about the last man standing, in an Arctic ice station, awaiting his own death, but not before he warns a returning space shuttle to turn around because there’s no point in landing.
The genre aspect of it is handled with erudite simplicity – more along the lines of Contact or Sunshine – and the emotional core is made of pure plasma. This is the kind of flick that’ll make you take as much stock of your life as Soul does. The themes about humanity, and quality of life, and what we do next are all expertly and deftly presented. The narrative is mostly pretty simple in its arc, but the way Clooney shoots most of it kept me captivated the whole way through. This is a beautiful movie that will haunt you long after it ends.
I think this year was a tricky one – ONWARD is the one I’ll watch the most, but SOUL might be the one with the best fuel in the engine, and then THE MIDNIGHT SKY is the one executed the best for what it’s going for.
Podcasts took a hit this year due to lockdown meaning I lost my commute for a few months, and from there my listening never truly recovered. There are some classics I’ve kept up with, Off Panel, Word Balloon, ComixLaunch, but I’ve also lost some steam with old faves like This American Life, The Constant, and DragonTalk. I don’t know why, some podcasts just weren’t grabbing me this year.
But there were two I put into my list that kept me going through morning exercise sessions and school trips on my own and they are:
YOU’RE WRONG ABOUT
A show that looks into history and the things we think we know about, but we only know the one sentence sound bite, and there’s so much more below the surface. It’s fascinating and I recommend the eps on The Stepford Wives, Sexting, The Challenger Disaster, and Alpha Males.
It also led me to realise that capitalism is the reason and the cause of all of life’s problems. Interesting.
And the other show I’ve really enjoyed having in my world is:
Aussies Tegan Taylor and Dr Norman Swan discuss Covid news daily, debunking things, fleshing out things, and helping me form opinions that I can walk into every day with knowing they’re better informed.
If this is what I’ve been able to excavate out of this cursed year, I can only imagine the quality that awaits us all on the horizon of the blessed 2021…
I recently read RECKLESS from Phillips/Brubaker and absolutely loved it on every level.
Rather than write a review about it, which I don’t have the time to make good enough, I have written a very shirt piece about one thing I learned from reading it and I shared that to my Patreon as a public/free post.
SHE is the sci fi hardcover comic from me and Chris Panda being published by ComixTribe which you will be able to buy through your local comic shop in 2021 – click here for preorder info
The team behind this book ran a hugely successful Kickstarter earlier this year, and now we’ve solicited the book through Diamond so you can ask your local comic shop to preorder it for you if you didn’t get in earlier.
Shops can use order code: DEC201383
The book aims to land on February the 24th, 2021
I loved making this comic, and it came out as one of the most gorgeous items I’ve ever had a hand in creating. Chris and Tyler [the publisher at ComixTribe] cooked up a die-cut cover where the mask faceplate is a hole, and there’s a vellum page with She’s projected face mask, and then the first page is her face in close up. Makes for a serious entry to the book, and also a selfie opportunity if you shove your mug in there.
Preorder SHE: AT THE TOWER OF ALL THAT IS KNOWN Vol. 1 right now from your LCS and I’ll stay right here and continue work on Vol. 2
I’m very excited for the next 12 days, because I’m involved in something very very cool:
The 12 Days of Patreon
This event sees 12 creators [I’m one] share each others’ awesome Patreons, and also share gifts for everyone in each post – the only thing is, you gotta be a Patron to get your hands on it all. It’s all coordinated by the creators of the Conceptual Heist comic, Jay D’ici & Jenny Godin.
I’m giving away a bunch of PDFs of my comics, as well as a D&D adventure, and Noirvember, my book of noir essays. Everyone else is also offering similar levels of awesome, and you can have it all, just be a Patron to one of us and you see all the posts and the links.But once you’ve sampled this fine array, hopefully you’ll dig in and become a Patron for more than one of us.
It all kicks off December the 1st – learn all about Boum, Marco Rudy, Laurence Dea Dionne, Caroline Layne, John Lees, Pegamoose pals, Conceptual Heist, Yves Bourgelas, Anouk, Jim Zub, and Aditi Mali.
There is a cavalcade of talent in this book, Vita Ayala, Kelly Brack, Steph Cannon, Melissa Hudson, Brian Level, Jed McPherson, Lonnie Nadler, Eric palicki, Emily Pearson, Pat Shand, Cody Sousa, John Ward, Rio Burton, Daniel Dwyer, Val Halvorson, Matthew Hann, Fracesco Iaquinta, Leonie, O’Moore, Raymond Salvadore, Chris Shehan Ariel Viola, and then there’s me partnering up with J Paul Schiek!
Here’s the cover from Adam Gorham and Cassie Hart.
PLANET HEARTBREAK is the story I wrote with J Paul Schiek illustrating, and it’s really beautiful stuff from him that expertly brings to life a heartfelt and emotional tale that deals with some weird aspects of massive intergalactic ideas, and I think you’re gonna dig it.
Here’s a page from us:
Everyone’s really brought something special to each tale, so go ahead and check it out. We all put a tonne of heart and soul and whatever other body parts we could steal into the mix on this one. Enjoy.
BLACK BEACON is starting in HEAVY METAL #303 – out on November 25, with order code SEP201284
This huge sci fi tale from illustrator Sebastian Piriz [HEADSPACE, DISASTER, INC.] and writer Ryan K Lindsay [ETERNAL, NEGATIVE SPACE] will run through issues of the anthology magazine into 2021.
The story is about Earth receiving a message to travel across the universe to a location where a new level of connection and understanding can be forged. But when a team arrives, they find they are too late to the party and it’s all sideways, so it’s as if CONTACT took us to SAGA.
Niko is the historian of the group who lands on the Dyson Sphere and tries to piece together some kind of understanding of what’s happened, who is there, and why they should leave as soon as they can. Along the way, she’s going to meet some very interesting lifeforms, get into some deadly situations, and learn some truths that are absolutely intergalactic.
Sebastian and I are really excited about sharing this story as we think it’s beautiful, important, and deeply wild. You should have a blast reading this, but be left with a little something to chew on while you wait for the next instalment.
BLACK BEACON, a tale of intergalactic iniquity and universally unsettling truths. Starting this November in the pages of HEAVY METAL #303
We can also let you know that in March of 2021, BLACK BEACON will get its own release in single issue format at a $2.99 price, where the back matter will be filled with lore, extra material, art stuff, and it’s going to be awesome to put these out into the world. Hit up your store now with preorder code OCT201430
Here’s the unreal cover with the Heavy metal Elements dress design.
I dig Goodreads. It’s a social network all about books and reading. What’s not to love?
Well, it’s owned by Amazon. Who I fairly openly hate/distrust. I often wonder, if I hate Amazon this much, as well as many other monocorps, then shouldn’t I hate Google? I mean…I probably should, and yet I don’t. Maybe it’s Bezos. Maybe seeing one guy get insanely rich and just seem so dug in on not being community minded really lays me low. It’s probably that. Anyway, TL;DR Amazon can jump, buy from your local independent book seller. And yet, Goodreads….
I use Goodreads. I’m not an active member of the community, but I track my reading there. I don’t really know what other people are doing there, but I do my thing on there as a reader. I also don’t mind it as an author, I’m not behiolden to the review scores, but it’s another place I can try to gauge interest, I suppose.
As a reader, this year I set myself the goal of reading 52 things. I track novels, comics, and even picture books with my class/kids, so it’s not impossible to make the list. And the site is a great place to assemble the list, and if people are watching and get a good reading recommendation, all the more power to them.
However, I think I can also track this stuff on my own site, and I probably should. You should never have all your content held on another platform you can’t control. Take it from someone who remembers reading comics on MySpace and wrote for the site The Weekly Crisis. You want your own copies, and you want to do your best to own how/where you share them.
I use WordPress, and even with that I worry at times that maybe they get bought out and my site gets junked. Who knows?
I’m considering doing more to keep my reading pile tracked on my site, I just need to work out the perfect format for it.
As a writer, I recently just looked into getting my latest comics put on there, SKYSCRAPER and SHE. I found they’d already been added, but I needed one added to my author profile, and with both of them there, I was able to edit the entries with covers and such.
All this activity [and there’s always peripheral writerly duties that take up our time], got me thinking – is this helpful to me? Will any new readers find my work through Goodreads? Will I get a proper gauge on what people think based on reviews/stars there? Is it a good catalogue of what I’ve written?
I already keep a Writing Catalogue of everything I’ve written on my site because I think that’s important to maintain on your own. But the thought of someone finding my work on Goodreads intrigues me. I don’t “find” much there, but I will admit if I look for something on there and find it has a great star rating then I am definitely more inclined to be intrigued by the book and want to buy/read it.
This then got me wondering, do many other people use Goodreads to track, shelve, rate, review books they’ve read?
I know I will continue to do it, I don’t seem annoyed enough yet to dump Goodreads in the same way I have Facebook [and have been all the better for it]. But I will also try to keep the data I put there also on my own site, so I have my own source of what I’ve written, and what I’m reading.
If you’ve read my work and are Goodreads-inclined, then by all means mark them off as read.
Alright, four columns into the reread at this stage. Still enjoying it, still remembering fond memories as this volume was read a few times back in the day, and so now a decade later I have new thoughts as I trundle through it all.
THE WALKING DEAD VOL. 4 – THE HEART’S DESIRE
We open on Michonne. A character who certainly grows into a favourite of mine, so it’s interesting to look at her silent Yojimbo introduction. They’re definitely looking to set a mood as she strolls casually amongst the zombies, with her own two armless captives chained to her, and easily slices another zombie’s head off. For an openly overly-talkative comic, this is something new, something different.
We then cut back to the main event: Dexter was telling everyone to get out. Luckily, a zombie horde stumbles into the scene, setting off chaos, and the people all band together to survive. Rick even shoots a zombie to save Dexter’s life, and he stupidly responds by telling Rick it was not a smart move and it doesn’t change anything. It’s an explicit way to both telegraph and excuse what comes next, and while it helps with clarity, I think it might have been stronger to leave Rick in doubt as to what Dexter would have done next before taking his brutal choice of survival for this volume.
Rick shoots Dexter in the head during the heated battle, playing it off like a stray bullet, despite Tyreese having seen it go down.
Would it have made Rick seem even more deranged, or evil, or something if he just took the advantage without Dexter blatantly telling him he should have…yeah…but Rick isn’t the hero of this story. He’s the protagonist, and there’s a difference.
But I get why it’s handled the way it is.
The fight subsides, things go back to normal, the group lets Michonne in, and it all gets to take a breath. Rick shows some remorse, and realises he’s a hypocrite, but that doesn’t mean anything’s necessarily going to change.
The next issue opens with a 5 page sequence of zombie disposal at the fenceline, and it’s interesting enough, but way more interesting to note that’s nearly a quarter of that month’s issue put to task on housekeeping. It also speaks to Glenn’s character, which helps, but it started me realising that Glenn doesn’t really do much anymore. He was integral at the start, he was the runner, the guy on the frontlines, Lately, he’s just moseying around, and coseying around with Maggie, and it’s an indication of the book in general: it’s less high stakes lives, and more regular stakes lives in a high stakes world. I think this is partly what set it apart from other zombie fiction, it settled in for the long haul, it slowed down, and went where the characters would emotionally go for a time, before ramping up the external threats again.
It makes me think of THE STAND and the section on body removal in Boulder, Colorado. All stuff to consider when at the end of the world.
Coming at this book a decade and a half after I originally started it means I’m coming at it with a stronger feminist lens. I’m interested to see if I notice growth, because so far I’ve lamented the relegated positions of the women in this comic, and seeing Andrea here sewing new clothes out of prison garb just continues the trend. Following it up instantly with Lori being pregnant and emotional, and then Patricia sitting in emotional despair and being chewed out by Otis isn’t helping it all.
Now, granted, Otis is being a massive dick, so that’s not a great portrayal either, and it plays into its own stereotype of toxic masculinity at play – and last issue we dropped a C-bomb, this one drops the N-word, and I didn’t remember either being in the books vernacular. So Kirkman doesn’t mind making all kinds of people, and genders, look weaker, but it just seems to stand out more that every woman in the crew is fairly similar, and played out in a similar way. Michonne is the one to break that mold.
The next scene is Tyreese getting cosy with Carol before being interrupted by Michonne, and a loose love triangle forms as Tyreese instantly kind of falls for Michonne’s charms because she knew of his sports career – flattery is a set of blinkers for the male ego. So, again, here Tyreese isn’t exactly a male role model either, but he is positioned between Michonne and Carol who seem cast in the Madonna-Whore roles around him. It’s good drama, but lazy gender roles.
Around this point you start to see the embedded nature of this book as one big soap opera. We jump to Maggie and Glenn reaffirming their relationship, and Dale and Andrea deciding to stick around a while longer. It’s all little life decisions, set amidst a zombie apocalypse.
Contrast this to 18 straight pages of dudes being dudes in the Z-days as we see farming banter before a bunch of fellas decide to set off with weapons to clear out some zombies. Most of this sequence is Allen as the A-plot as he’s finally surfacing from his funk and wanting to help, but being decidedly unhelpful as he completely fucks the clearance up, spooks himself, and then gets himself bit. Rick is the B-plot as he charges into action to save Allen’s life by amputating his leg, in a sequence that’s fairly brutal and grounded.
18 pages, whereas the montage of women before it usually got one page each – Patricia, Lori, Andrea, Maggie, and Carol and Michonne. All 1 page scenes, and then nearly a full issue just to watch Allen kick an own goal, and I gotta be honest, I don’t really care about Allen at all. I feel bad saying that, the dude’s in a bad way, but I just don’t care. Rick charges to action, Herschel shows off his brains, and elsewhere for a single page Lori and Carol talk about needlework, scrapbooking, and quilting, and that’s no joke or hyperbole. I’d rather explore Lori and what it’s like to be a mother to one, and pregnant with another, in the zombie days, but she gets barely any panels, and Allen basically gets his own issue in which to die. It’s a touch topsy turvy.
Rick goes to Lori, and he seems a little shaken by it, but he’s there to ask Lori to check in on Allen. Rick is fine to be the point man when it comes to lopping a brother’s leg off with an axe – and don’t even get me started on the sterility/hygiene issues of killing zombies with an axe and then busting your mate’s leg off with it moments later – but when it comes to some emotional support he throws his pregnant wife at the problem. And when we cut to Allen, there are some men standing around, but it’s Andrea down holding his hands.
I’m assuming in the coming zombie apocalypse that 2020 is no doubt waiting to roll out as a fitting finale, men won’t be allowed to express emotions then either. I don’t want to sound like a hater on this comic – I think the premise, the execution, the art, the pacing, it’s all top shelf. I enjoy reading this book, and will continue to, but seeing the male/female engagement with this whole Allen thing just bums me out a little, I won’t lie.
Time to cut to Tyreese in the gym with Michonne. Oh, cool, she’s blowing him with little build up or fanfare, and then Carol witnesses it and doesn’t do a thing. The love triangle gets sharp and dangerous, and the one guy is just a witless fool stuck between the silent seductress and the even more silent “housewife” he’s completely destroying. He’s got no agency in this, apparently [though many will tell you, deciding to not make a choice, is you making a choice], and it could be an interesting power interplay between Michonne and Tyreese, were it not for me already seeing so many lazy female characters on display and this then compounding on it.
Thank goodness we cut to Maggie and Glenn, as they’ve snuck off to have young sex all day. At least their relationship feels equal, and maybe Maggie has more power than Glenn. He’s fairly stable and genuine, and she’s a little more emotionally mobile and yet has most of the deciding power in their movement forward. This is the best written relationship of the book, and that’s probably why it resonated with readers.
There’s an unnerving sequence of Michonne talking to herself, or someone else who isn’t there, and when called out on it completely lies about it. Or worse, maybe isn’t aware of what she’s doing. This is followed by Carol and Tyreese in bed in a truly heart-wrenching scene where you can see Carol going through the motions of trying to resolve her feelings after what she saw, wishing she didn’t have those feelings, and then steering into the skid of those feelings, all in 2 pages. It’s a really great scene, packed full of emotion and the kind of fragility that feels real. It feels like proof Kirkman can handle this stuff sometimes.
The comic wanders through some small set pieces – farming, babysitting, medical visits – and it sounds silly and pointless, but it’s all really good “small world building.” And it serves to slow us down as a reader, to invest into the new lives of the people, so we can understand, maybe build context and connections, before it’ll be torn apart again soon [we can assume].
There’s a fantastic conversation between Lori and Michonne where Lori realises those old conversation starters from the past – You work? How many kids? Where you from? – don’t work anymore, and in fact they usually just drag up bitter memories. It’s a visceral reminder that these characters are stuck in the present, which is why they’re so invested in the relationships they build here, it’s all they have, and all they can stomach.
Carol gets a bit of a bum steer in character development as she commits suicide. And does it in front of her daughter, no less, which is a horrifying thing for the kid to see, but a truly terrifying thing to consider a mother doing. It paints a new pit for Carol to exist in as it’s a much stronger action for her to have taken. I’m reluctant to label mental health issues as weakness, and the male cast get their share of them over time, but Carol hasn’t been given much else to do except be a cliche housewife lost in the apocalypse, be someone’s girlfriend, and someone’s ex, and someone’s mother. She isn’t a fighter, or a protector, or a leader. So dumping the emotional baggage on her, without any of the extra loaded responsibility tells us a bit more than we want to hear. It takes all of this leadership and problems and decisions for Rick to snap, but all Carol needs is to be present, and to feel knocked back by a man, and she’s ready to end it all.
The suicide attempt is even worse on reflection as I can see it’s merely a spark to set off a 23 page powderkeg of a sequence between Rick and Tyreese. They don’t check on Carol, I assume Rick’s left a woman to deal with such things, and instead they get into an argument that develops into a fist fight that develops into the airing of many bottled grievances. The fight is worthy of ‘The Quiet Man’ in how it drags out and moves around, and the resulting pouring forth of vitriol and previous secrets is great for the drama playing out alongside this bloodshed. It’s a big moment for the group, and in showing that it proves how little of a moment Carol and her problems [and solutions] are to everyone/everything. Which is a shame.
Rick is badly damaged from the fight, and he blacks out, but thankfully he can wake up to the exceptionally wide eyes of Carol, still alive, and now throwing herself at Rick. It’s a sad swerve for her character, in a series of decisions that make her look like a car scrambling not to fall off the cliff at every single moment.
Rick is informed he’s no longer the leader, they’re going to share that role between many dudes instead. In story, they address why no women are included – they even mention it twice, but just saying that no women wanted to step up doesn’t excuse why the writer didn’t want any women to step up. It’s clear he didn’t write many women that were built to be able to, many of them timid, happy to do the washing up, and the few who should were either pregnant [Lori] or so new to the group they weren’t in the right place to offer [Michonne].
I’ll say it again, I’m not setting out to harp on this book, but it’s fascinating how much you see the issues when you have your mindset open to seeing them.
Rick then gets about half an issue to talk to the group, clearing his head out loud, and then declaring that they are the walking dead. It’s a good moment, I still remember having read it the first time. It’s a good beat to end the trade on, and I believe it also ends the second HC, and the first omnibus.
This volume is good, it’s all little fights, no big bads, no major zombie outbreaks. The humans are finally slow and steady enough to reveal that they’re their own worst enemy nearly all of the time. I’m certainly keen to keep reading, and I’m very interested to note all of this gender work here just to be able to track if/when things improve in later volumes. Will the book grow? Only time will tell.
This post originally appeared on my Patreon – enjoy.
I recently read PRINCE OF CATS by Ronald Wimberley. I got the latest oversized Image Comics release, it’s a beautiful beast of a tome, and I dug so much of the book. It’s a telling of Romeo & Juliet that gives us Tybald as the lead, it puts it in the Bronx, and plays with structure, and the ways in which comics can show action and emotion. It’s also written in iambic pentameter. It is a very good piece of work.
In the back matter, there was a line that completely captivated my brain for a week after reading it.
“…I asked myself why it had never before seemed strange to me that the children of Shakespeare’s Verona were so reckless with their lives.”
This concept of really thinking through the characters and their actions and motviations after you’ve read it is a powerful piece of brain fuel. Taking those thoughts into action by building new context for the story and thus commenting on modern concepts is beautiful. There are cliches and tropes, and there are archetypes, and classics, and often we take aspects of them for granted. But to consider what they told us, and why they might be doing it, and laying it like a sheet of vellum over modern times, and looking for where lines balance, and where they maybe tangent to create something new…that’s art.
When we write, we have to consider why our characters would do something. Are their actions real, are they earned. It helps to consider that of the characters we read, and what we’re really seeing in each thing that seems like it’s part of the landscape and we should consider what it is telling us about the landscape.
Every component in a story is a strategic choice, even the subliminal stuff. When we write, what we say, what we leave out, what we put into bold, it’s all building the whole. Then we interact with those things as the reader, and if we’re lucky, we use it to influence the inflection of our own creations down the line.
PRINCE OF CATS is going to work its magic in my brainpan for a long time to come.