Making Passion, Making Life – A Review of Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor

Scott McCloud's The Sculptor

Simply incredible.

Whenever a book moves me so thoroughly that it becomes an instant favourite the moment I close the back cover, I am compelled to sit down and write a review to sing its praises. With the Sculptor, I’d initially just sat here speechless, absorbing how remarkable of a read-in-a-single-sitting book it is. But now I know how to explain how positively it affected me.

Ruminate

Ruminate

I was fortunate enough to see Scott McCloud give a keynote address at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in 2015. I don’t attend much public speaking (I should change that) but I can fervently say Scott is one of, if not, the best I’ve ever seen. I can still recall many of the intricacies of his 40-some-odd minutes–how he championed the medium of comics, how it’s changed modern media and how it isn’t just about men in tights–but mostly I want to say I remember walking away that day feeling like I met a man who truly understood passion. Not only that, but a man who helped me understand my own passion better, as well.

Scott talked about the craft, but mostly he talked about what the craft meant: what it could do, how it could do it and where it could take you. There are things in life that are worth devoting yourself to whether or not they get you any farther along in the end, because without them you might not feel the need to make it to the end anyway. The Sculptor is a book that conveys that sentiment, in all the touching, serious, sad, tragic and real ways imaginable.

Life flashing before your eyes.

Life flashing before your eyes.

That is to say, in the only ways that are worth living for.

-B.W. Gladney

From My Childhood & Me, Thank You Darwyn Cooke

New Frontier This is not a review of DC: The New Frontier, not really; it’s a Thank You letter to Darwyn Cooke. Since I want to expand on this and say just how much Cooke’s New Frontier has meant to me, itself a perfect love letter to the medium of comics, I need to go back to the beginning.

When I was growing up my mother kept an evolving journal about my school days, updating it every year with highlights or accomplishments from each new grade. Stuff like “Started Playing Hockey” in Kindergarten, or “Went on First Skiing Trip” in Grade 6 would pop up alongside more menial notes like my new height or weight. When I

Spoiler alert! Batman needs a chiropractor.

Spoiler alert! Batman needs a chiropractor.

was in Grade 1, aged six, one of the new entries read: “Started Collecting Marvel Comics”. My heroes were Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man and Charles Xavier’s Uncanny X-Men.

(For the purposes of this story, it’s important to note that I never “got into” the DC comic Universe, entirely. My older brother started following Batman during the very famous “Knightfall” arc and, by proxy, I too fell in love with the Dark Knight. But sadly, that’s where my knowledge of DC began and ended.)

As I grew older, the hobby of collecting comics went on hiatus and those heroes waned in place of things like parties and girls and Bob Dylan and the Ramones. But it was a period of my life, like many childhood memories, that sticks with me like an ember that just won’t ever go out. Nostalgia is a funny thing, like that. It can make you very euphoric and melancholic all at once—pining for youthful innocence often involves a teary smile. Eventually that ember erupted into a blaze once again during my second year of University and I got back into “Collecting Marvel Comics”. I also branched out and picked up more “intellectual” comics like Sandman, Fables, Watchmen and DMZ. While these titles brought me to new horizons, it was having my beloved Spider-Man and X-Men back in my hands that really, truly made me feel like a kid again.  But I realized I had missed a lot. I had considered striking up a full relationship with the DC Universe, but there was so much Marvel I had to relearn! Anyone who knows the world of comics knows that even taking one year off means you can fall very far behind in the canon of characters. I became a True Believer once more and like a sponge I dove in and got back my encyclopedic knowledge of the Marvel comic universe. All was well again. Except I didn’t know what I was missing until now.

If you’ve made it through that long-winded intro, let me get on track. A short while ago, as the comic community still reeled from the recent loss of noted legend and visionary Canadian cartoonist Darwyn Cooke, I did what I’m sure manyBatman-Superman did (with a sharp pang of guilt, I must admit) and bought my first Darwyn Cooke work. I knew Cooke’s artwork from being a comic fan and mildly involved in the community and it was as gorgeous as it was playful and classic. I knew that to get into his stuff I would have to “cross the floor” so to speak and delve into the somewhat unknown DC universe. Aside from the caped crusader, I just didn’t know much about DC as a whole–but Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier is considered a verifiable classic by all accounts, so I figured it was a good place to start with his work. It didn’t just end up being a good place, but the best place.

20160812_175510DC: The New Frontier is more than just a love letter to comics—it’s a study of ideals: courage, determination, persistence in the face of overwhelming adversity…in essence, everything cliché about the Golden Age of Superheroes. But Cooke’s clichés are malleable. He takes these archetypal paragons of virtue and doesn’t pander to what we know about them, that they’re lawful and virtuous, instead he dissects them and shows us that they have conflicts within themselves much larger than the monsters they face. How does a superhero deal with a fellow crime fighter who himself breaks the law to stop crime? Or what is their reaction to violent justice in retaliation to brutal injustice? How one goes about saving the world is never cut and dry. In New Frontier there is constant conflict, both physical and emotional, but it’s not overtly political or politicized—it’s just human. A shape-shifting alien from Mars struggling to understand Earth, an Amazonian goddess struggling to find a country or a Superman struggling to justify what he and his peers do—it’s all just human. This is the shining thread that flows throughout the entirety of New Frontier.

American television–an apt tutor of US culture for the martian J’onn J’onzz?

Like I said before, I didn’t know much about the DC Universe. I didn’t have the knowledge of these characters, built up from childhood, to have that familial connection with this story as I read it. But it didn’t matter. Darwyn Cooke’s love brimmed over from every page and infected me like manufactured nostalgia. These characters, familiar DC strangers, became my characters. Their conflicts became my burdens. Their successes became my joys. In short, I felt like that six year old kid again, reveling in a world so new and fragile and full of hope. Yes their world had problems that needed more work, but it was refreshing to see that in a world of superpowers, it’s the human element that often does the best job of fixing things.

20160812_175723And though it’s too late for him to know how I feel, I want to say Thank You to Darwyn Cooke. For making me feel that youthful, nostalgic joy of storytelling heroism, as if I had cracked a comic book for the very first time.

-B.W.Gladney

Guns, Grit & A Guffawing Good Time: A Review of The Sisters Brothers

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There are rare literary lottery moments when there comes a book so captivating, so entertaining, so utterly can’t-put-done worthy that I not only want to shout about it from the rooftops, but feel compelled to. Even before I finished trekking my eyes from cover to cover, delighted by following the adventures and misadventures of Eli and Charlie, I thought:  “It is now my sworn duty to tell others about this fantastic piece of literature.” The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt is that book. Continue reading

Catching Up with Novel(las), New Year’s Resolutions & An Epic

I’ve been on quite a website sabbatical. It began when I started my first NaNoWriMo in November 2013 and when my second NaNoWriMo rolled around in 2014 I wondered why I hadn’t sooner returned to updating this thing in the slightest, other than a post about Free Comic Book Day. I had probably been satisfied in convincing myself the writing I had been doing was enough to clear my conscious of any thought of creative stagnation. But it was no real excuse, so here I am, back to take another swing at it. Hopefully, with any luck, I will start to keep this site up date, posting new snippets of work as I continue creating.

NaNoWriMo crest.

NaNoWriMo crest.

To Begin with a Recap: I took part in a couple NaNoWriMos, the second one of which finished as a novella while the first turned into a project much longer than 50,000 words and is currently sitting at 116,602 and will still likely grow a bit in the editing process.

The second project, the novella, was my first try at writing an epistolary work. I’ve read very few of these but the process has always intrigued me as difficult, challenging and exciting. I wrote a historical fiction about a Continue reading

Free Comic Book Day – Why It Matters

The greatest day in May.

The greatest day in May.

Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) is the first Saturday in May and it’s a glorious Saturday indeed.  Nerds, fans, readers, watchers, cosplayers and the curious and well-versed alike head to participating comic shops in North America and around the globe to get free comics.

Comic publishers specially produce comics just for FCBD and retailers then give these titles away, free of charge, in an effort to promote comics culture.  It’s not just about getting free stuff (though that’s always a good thing), it’s about heading out and supporting local shops, helping promote literature (more on that below) and enjoying the nature of creativity, daydreaming and overall nostalgia found in the adventure of comics.  FCBD is a big deal to nerds, collectors and fans, but I want to show you why it should matter to you. Continue reading

Rebuilding Future Rubble: A Review of DMZ

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I first started reading DMZ almost seven years ago, early into my second year of university. I had, at the time, just recently started reading comics after nearly a decade-long hiatus and I found myself, an English & Creative Writing major, trying to get my hands on anything and everything I could absorb and dissect.  The Iraq War was still relatively fresh, Barack Obama had yet to make Presidential history, we were post 9/11 but pre financial crisis and here was DMZ – a fresh series that came along with a tragic and terrible vision of a future not so different than the present we were living. And that was frightening: Continue reading

Always Keep Your Dizzy Eyes Forward: A Review of Let the Great World Spin

ltgws cover

It is an odd, sheltered and commonly nascent thought when considering how many people we are tangentially connected to throughout every waking day that we will never discover, meet or know.  But they’re far closer to us than we imagine. That’s what Let the Great World Spin is all about, in my eyes: the people we affect or those who affect us without either ever knowing full-well what is occurring.

McCann’s National Book Award-winning novel is set up by the real life August 7, 1974 “artistic crime of the century”, when Philippe Petit walked a high-wire between the World Trade Center Twin towers. This is the main backdrop in front of which stands the rest of the events in the story, featuring a dozen or so characters and how their lives are interwoven, spliced, juxtaposed and paralleled in and around the great city of New York. But it’s really only a novel insofar as a dozen random people in an elevator are a novel. Continue reading