Collecting Riddle-Master with Patricia McKillip’s Riddle of Stars

I’ve always liked this cover.

This hardcover edition from 1979 collects Patricia Mckillip’s wonderful, lyrical, and beautiful RiddleMaster series. Mckillip is the first stylist that I, as a young reader, identified as a stylist while reading fantasy. I know that sounds at least slightly silly as everyone has their own writing style but there are authors that just seem to have that extra layer, almost like a beat, to their prose.

riddle of stars patricia mckillip

Other such writers that immediately come to mind are Catherynne Valente, Rikki Ducornet, and China Mieville.

It wasn’t just about the story being told, it was the how, and like music can, Mckillip just adds emotional weight augmenting by our own standard consumption of the plot and text. This remains one of my favorite fantasy stories and I was introduced to it via this collected edition featuring cover art by Jack Woolhiser. I loved it so much I had spent some time looking for the original art to the cover to hang in one of my homes but to no avail.

I’ve interviewed dozens of authors and one of the handful that I regret never being able to get to is McKillip, if only to tell her how much this series meant to me.

Aside, I’ve always thought it would have been a great choice for a Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli adaptation. It just possesses that mix of YA ambiance with deep emotional resonance that I attribute to Studio Ghibli films, and the studio has successfully adapted many western books into anime and outright cinema classics.

The Best of 2019 (A List of One) : Promare

Whether you’re a fan of film, comics, books,or tv you’ve been inundated with a combo of best of the year and best of the decade lists over the last month.

Hell, even Obama and Quentin Tarantino got lists for you (and as you might expect they are quite good).

I have a list too.

A list of one.

promare

It’s not on any of the dozens of lists I’ve seen or listened to on podcasts unless I go to anime specific lists on sites I never knew existed (and in some cases didn’t want to) and if being completely honest maybe it isn’t a traditional top 10 film of the year in the way a Studio Ghibli film could be or maybe even another animated film from Japan that came out this year Weathering With You – the smash hit follow up by the Your Name director Mako Shinkai – is in some parts of the world and doesn’t have quite that extra layer of meaning that Into the Spider-verse does but what Promare represents is what I want all a movie going experience to be.

In a part of the year that’s film season mostly highlights small quiet moments Promare is everything you want blockbusters to be but almost never isn’t.

It’s fresh, exciting, bombastic, and riding an always on the ascent adrenaline injected narrative displayed on a vibrant criminally uncommon palette that gives you the feeling that you are watching an artist’s attributable mark. It has that thing the aforementioned Spider-verse has, that little extra insider flavor, in this cases some trigger happy Kill la Kill & Gurren Lagann shared DNA that keeps it from making a half billion dollars when by all rights it should.

It’s too fresh for the current general population. People will have to catch up to it. The already initiated will offer them an I’ll told you so while watching whatever’s next after what’s next.

promare

Smurfs! Enter Gargamel and Azrael

Added to the collection today with another copy of Le Voleur de Schtroumpfs which was a minicomic that came with an issue of Spirou from 1959. If you want, you can read about their first appearance and that of Smurfette before continuing.

spirou peyo smurfs

This features the first appearance of Gargamel, who I guess qualifies as the main antagonist of the Smurfs especially if you’re someone who grew up on the original cartoon.

What I’ve always said I appreciate about Peyo’s art is his storytelling. Like a lot of the better Disney comics these could be wordless and you’d get the story and I’ve always been a sucker for cartoonist giving us an effective silhouette to look at.

gargamel art peyo spirou
gargamel smurfs peyo spirou

As you can see we also get the first appearance of Azrael, Gargamel’s cat. Gargamel is almost irredeemable and more than just kind of a bad stereotype even beyond being a dick to the Smurfs – he often wants to eat them or turn them into gold (which is quite the variance of utility within these little blue people) – but he does love his cat and there are stories that show him very much going against his other norms and desires to protect Azrael.

In return Azrael… well Azrael is a cat thus often times will take some unspoken pleasure in Gargamel’s worst or embarrassing moments.

Quentin Tarantino a Batman Begins Guy

Everybody likes Dark Knight.

Christoper Nolan had many great films previous to his 2008 Heath Ledger fueled Mann inspired neo-classic and superhero genre film elevation under his belt but it was Dark Knight that has since made his name a film release event.

One of the great films he made previous to Dark Knight was Batman Begins, which is my favorite of Nolan’s caped crusader joints. This is not a knock or reevaluation of Dark Knight, merely a statement expressing an appreciation of what I think might be the best superhero origin film of all time and an actual Batman film.

It falls apart in the third act in the same way most superhero movies and action films in general did before and often still do.

Marvel has really nailed paying off the perfunctory loud CGI-laden Boom! Bamf! third acts in recent years but even films we look back upon fondly and have near perfect initial acts like say Iron Man ultimately lead to a pretty forgettable finale involving shooting and punching stuff in an often incomprehensible or void of tension manner. A lot of people knock Michael Bay, but all these things tend to end in a Michael Bay way and he’s actually better, often times significantly so, at it then them (I just wish he didn’t think that’s all movies are).

Dark Knight, which many people mistake for perfection, often forgetting the ending is undone by a fundamentally and comically stupid leap regarding who has to be blamed otherwise court cases will be undone and what has to be done… OR SOMETHING, I still would argue is a singular film experience and a platform for one of the great showcases of the century in Heath Ledger’s revolution of a performance.

I just like Batman Begins more.

While not in the majority this is not an altogether rare opinion.

If you listen to the right podcasts, follow certain writers, you will hear and see this opinion at times from people the internet has trained to consider these words as a hot take. For now it’s probably just below being a cool hipster opinion that causes us to secretly whisper think “one of us, one of us” when we hear another repeat. We agree for similar reasons I won’t litigate but I was recently surprised to hear Quentin Tarantino apparently is an adherent to the same take.

Tarantino was recently a guest on the The Ringer’s Rewatchables podcast where the subject was Dunkirk, a film that Tarantino considers Nolan’s finest work and the second best movie of the decade. The subject of Batman isn’t touched on a lot but Quentin, Chris Ryan, and Sean Fennessy quite loosely share their personal favorite Nolan films, and Tarantino goes

  1. Dunkirk
  2. Batman Begins
  3. Dark Knight

I’m not as high on Dunkirk.

I like Dunkirk but not as much as people who LIKE Dunkirk but rather in that way we all like Christoper Nolan films, sometimes very much, but we don’t LIKE them the way a certain crust of Nolan fans do. On this topic though I’m probably what many would consider an odd The Prestige fan. There’s less in that movie that has grown to bother me from the perspective of nitpicking the work of an auteur filmmaker who has a pretty great catalog of films.

Anyway, I highly recommend The Rewatchables pod and not just that episode. It’s been in my rotation since its inception and nearly every one is worth a listen for films fans. If you require someone famous to be in another you want to sample, Aaron Sorkin sat in on their episode of Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid. The Ringer staff tho are quite funny and many of them who rotate in on the pod host other significant podcasts.

Anyway, always good to welcome another member to our blue flower smoking circle.

It’s Zendaya’s World, We Merely Live in It, Tiger

Just a brief thought after coming back from Spider-Man: Far From Home.

In the same way a couple years ago seemed like the year of Donald Glover it feels like were are in the midst of at least the quarter of Zendaya.

I’ve never not been on the Zendaya as MJ train, I thought it was flawless inspired casting in a younger Spider-Man – already the best live action Spider-Man on screen ever – grabbing someone who could play the age and had already worldwide appeal .

zedaya far from home spiderman

As a fan of the comics but not so old where I’m out here for Gwen Stacy there was always a quality to MJ that shined even when she was around Marvel’s flagship character who was often preceded by adjectives like amazing & spectacular.

If Spidey is to represent the young hero with real problems given great power and responsibility, MJ was this out of costume life ideal to aspire to whether she was girl next door, a super model, or girl next door super model to-be. Peter had to have something we’d all give everything for to give his choice to continue to risk his life, even beyond old uncle promises, even more meaning.

MJ is the reason for both his worlds, his spark, inspiration, and muse, and Zendaya embodies that in Far From Home and in real life. The clarity in how she personifies those elements has to be pure allowing for no questions.

We don’t.

Instead of just mining from what Mary Jane Watson was and trying to adapt and fit that into a new Spider-Man universe, we instead got an embodiment of what is now and what the future looks like. She’s ahead of Spidey, that’s why we buy the chase and why he wasn’t there yet in Homecoming – everyone has to catch up to her.

In both our world and that MCU she’s the dream sexy day one come to life perfectly rendered and alive for the 21st century.

She is euphoria.

zendaya sexy body

Join All of Us Into the Spider-Verse

For all ages and (finally) for everyone again.

This was just going to be a quick note that Into the Spider-Verse is on Netflix now and turned into something more (or less given your perspective).

When I was a kid Spider-Man and the X-Men block at Marvel were my go to comics. As I’ve aged I’ve found few of those comics have had run or arcs that interest me anymore – though I did recently note that Ed Piskor’s X-Men Grand Design has been wonderful – and I became resigned to the fact many years ago this was perfectly fine that perhaps I never would feel the same about these characters in a new iteration that I once did.

into the spiderverse
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La La La La La and Zombies? The First Appearance of the Smurfs & Smurfette

What if I told you the first dedicated Smurfs story was a 1950s zombie tale?

Whether a rookie card or the first appearance of a comic character I was trained by guides to value more things than others things in hobbies and recently I picked up some related to the Smurfs, a cartoon that’s reruns was on constant rotation when I was really young.

The Smurfs, however, I think are MUCH older than most think.

The Smurfs were created by Peyo and first appeared in the 1950s, in a French/Belgian comic magazine called Spirou and look largely the same today as they did in their debut.

smurfs first appearance peyo spirou

The image above is the very first time a full Smurf ever appeared in 1958 when they appeared in the storyline La Flûte à six trous (“The Flute with Six Holes”) in a chapter of a continuing story centering around Johan et Pirlouit or, if you are an American and recall the cartoons, Johan and Peewit.

The next issue of Spirou would feature the Smurfs first cover appearance, including an ax-wielding Papa Smurf.

smurfs spirou first cover appearance

I have a few sets of these now but always on the lookout for items like this that combine pop culture items from my life and hobbies that I already am a part of like comics.

The Smurf brand has taken a bit of a hit, to say the least, in recent years with some truly fundamentally bad films but it was still a definite part of my early childhood.

When considering character designs as it relates to iconic characters, they are largely identifiable to their first iterations: Spider-Man, Batman (even with Bob Kane’s shitty art), and even newer character like Deadpool are largely visually the same as they were, even though dozens to hundreds of creators have since added their own spin to them.

Here are the Smurfs. Sixty years later and they look like… the Smurfs. I’m kind of here for Papa Smurf Ax Rampage though.

Speaking of Papa Smurf. Ever see him without his hat?

I got you.

Some issues of Spirou, which was an anthology of many comics, at this time also came with mini-comics within them. One of the earlier ones was this one:

smurfs first full publication  Les Schtroumpfs noirs

Les Schtroumpfs noirs (The Black Smurfs) was released in 1958 (and later published in a collected album and adapted to the cartoon) and besides being a zombie-ish Smurf story it has I think the only time we’ve seen anything challenge Papa Smurf to the extent of knocking off his iconic hat.

I have to admit I never really considered crucial questions like what hairstyle would Papa Smurf be rocking? Do all the Smurfs share the same one? Does the the later appearance of Smurfette usher in a new sense of style to the Smurfs? Peyo had the answer, at least to the first question, almost from the beginning.

Papa Smurf went bald with his traditional strong facial hair. You will notice, as the title indicates, Papa Smurf is black after catching the boom (or BAOM! to be precise). In the animated and recent U.S. Smurf adaptations the ailment makes Smurfs purple, a switch presumably made to be less socially problematic, and is titled The Purple Smurfs.

This mini-comic is actually the first 100% Smurfs publication, not being part of an anthology.

As a comic and manga collector I love getting and seeing these early appearances of characters and properties and being able to experience them in their primal form, and to think that from this Belgian mini-comic, which would fit completely in the palm of a child’s hand would be adapted several decades later into a cartoon that would be part of a time where Smurfs were ubiquitous in a decade’s childhood in the United States.

But what about the most famous Smurf? Their better half?

Peyo created and introduced the Smurfs in 1958 in the pages of Spirou but it would be 8 years later… I’m guessing eight LONG years later if you’re a pre-existing Smurf to be blessed with a better half version of themselves.

… and they have their arch-nemesis to thank for it.

A couple issues earlier Smurfette was created by Gargamel in a scheme to get at the Smurfs and this strip, fresh out of yesterday’s mailbox, is Smurfette’s first full appearance and you will immediately notice something different about her.

first smurfette appearance spirou

Smurfette a brunette?

Yes.

She would not get her much more signature blonde locks for another 8 issues, courtesy of Papa Smurf (I’d say the local expert on unique head fashion in Smurf Village).

Important: Smurfette does debut matching though. White hat, sundress, and kicks, she’s out there.

What I like about just looking at this one page strip in an issue full of many other creator’s strips is that much like with the best Disney comics, Peyo’s storytelling language is universal just with his imagery. When reading it just now it never occurs to you that you don’t speak or read the language within the word balloons.

Cyclopean Baby Momma Drama in Ed Piskor’s Grand Design X-Tinction

I haven’t bought a lot of Marvel or DC recently, not out of some personal or permanent dogma regarding either of the “Big 2” U.S. comic publishers, I just haven’t been confronted with anything that’s either captured my imagination or appealed to me intellectually.

I am, however, or rather was a giant X-Men fan.

That doesn’t make me unique.

Perhaps no other comicbook bloc was more popular in the history of comics as ’90s X-Men. We can talk about Golden Age Superman and Captain Marvel during an era where almost all media entertainment and information, especially for children, were print based but the sheer number of X-Men related titles was nothing short of staggering.

They printed Stryfe’s Strike Filetwo variations of it… and EVERYONE had it. They were stacking so much money I think the current EiC of DC Comics rode that notch on his resume and his relationships forged during the time – he was the X-Men group editor – for close to thirty years now.

It took prime Todd McFarlane on Marvel’s flagship character – and still by far, following licensing money, the most valuable single superhero property by A LOT – for there to be another single comic book that could be talked about in the same air as the ’90s X-Men factory.

And my fandom was not just limited to the Claremont run.

The cartoonist behind X-Men: Grand Design, one Ed Piskor, has said (on his dope Youtube Channel that he shares with fellow cartoonist Jim Rugg: Cartoonist Kayfabe) considers a stopping point for the title to be Claremont’s exit but I still was very much into Fatal Attractions w/ that Joe Quesada and Greg Capullo art and Generation X with sublime early Chris Bachalo scribblings and would love an Ed Piskor take on all those Cable-adjacent events that came after the Claremont X-Men era and condense them into something concise and coherent. I’d buy the shit out of Piskor-remixed X-Cutioner’s Song, Phalanx Covenant, and aforementioned Fatal Attractions. And I LOVE Age of Apocalypse.

Since then though, sans an interesting and odd run written by Grant Morrison TWENTY years ago that brought back that new weird, displaced, un-marvel Marvel flavor that X-Men embodied, I’ve pretty much found myself almost immediately disinterested in every attempt of mine to realign myself with a worthwhile X-Men comic.

Then I saw this baby.

x-men grand design

A literal baby. Baby Cable.

In the midst of peek Scott Summers baby momma drama with X-Men Grand Design: X-Tinction Piskor is playing in my era of X-Men that I typically associate with Marc Silvestri and Dan Green. Silvestri lives just up the coast from me so believe me he isn’t complaining about anything but at time I find myself the guy having to bring up his name with my chest while others go on about Byrne, Romita Jr., Paul Smith, and Jim Lee.

Ed Piskor and I are kindred spirits in at least one regard.

No I have no Eisner Awards (my claim to fame was being a write-in for a Hugo Award for fan writing and finishing top 7 – my mother is very proud) like Piskor but I have seen all of the MCU Marvel films and while I really appreciate the quality control and business acumen of Kevin Feige and everyone on down creatively at Disney for what they’ve created, a not so small part of my fucking soul rebels against any world, even one I prosper in, where the Avengers are hotter than the X-Men. This happenstance is anathema to any possible utopia I can define.

I don’t know if Piskor or any other Grand Design can counter this lesser Avengers-first future we have found ourselves in but he has made a damn entertaining read and it’s one of the best varieties, that kind you union didn’t know you needed until you got it. It’s the comics purple tape dressed in the battle of mutant gingers.

Flatscans have had decades of their X-Men comics, Piskor got something for us too long dormant Omega levels sitting poolside.

x-men grand design

Are You Listening? Read Tillie Walden

The world is alright. I’m hanging out in the backyard all poolside with new Tillie Walden comics.

tillie walden are you listening

Just got an advance copy of the next Tillie Walden project which around here, as it it should be in any locale that enjoys and covets the very best comics, is event level circumstance.

Walden’s Are You Listening? hits shelves this September but it’s accompanying me poolside now and if it’s as good as any of her previous graphic novels it’s going to be one of best reading experiences of the year.

Her On a Sunbeam is one of best pieces of speculative fiction I’ve ever read, a true science fiction tour de force that feels like a topshelf Christoper Nolan film that was completely thought out by an actual human with real human emotions before being released.

I’m a mark for great science fiction but you don’t have to be slanted toward any genre or mode of fiction to enjoy a Tille Walden comics, everything she has released is at least great: The End of Summer, Spinning, I Love This Part, A City Inside. It’s all worthwhile, any of her catalog would be almost anyone else’s masterpiece,

I got into the work of Tillie Walden a few years ago when finding pleasures in american comics was becoming a more infrequent happenstance. This is not a statement I mean to defend or litigate in anyway, it’s a personal cycle, but I was just finding myself more engaged by comics from Inio Asano, Posuka Demizu, Oda-sama, and Kerascoët among others.

Enter Tillie Walden.

For the initiated I’m not breaking news, Walden has awards and accolades that are remarkable for a cartoonist her age and for the uninitiated Tillie Walden is simply your next sequential obsession. I’m an art collector. Original art, not so much prints (they are kind of anathema to me to be honest – though I maybe wrote the longest post about a print ever for the love of DEFIANT Dave Lapham), but I guess I missed out on when Walden sold her originals. That in itself usually won’t drive me to purchase a print but in this case I had to scoop it.

tillie walden art print

I just caught that feeling you get when concluding an experience and wanting more, to have a part of it, that sensation that propels capitalism and had us in earlier days watching cartoons and then begging your parents to buy you the toys of what you just watched. This is a signed print of Lars and Nemo from the aforementioned The End of Summer, her first work, to extend the Tillie art experience in my house.

I can’t wait to dig into Are You Listening?

Send To All – My Love for To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (& Lara Jean’s Boots)

This is a bit of a delayed reaction but I think perhaps even better for it because two full months after Netflix released To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before my crush for it is confirmed as full blown love.

to all the boys i've before entflix

I’m not really into reviews, it’s a trade I was at one time in (if you see my blurb in a favorite genre novel of yours published circa 2006-2012, I apologize) but I do want to highlight some aspects of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before that really stood out to me and had me looking both back and forward with unmitigated joy

As I write this with the summer blockbusters in the back mirror and in the beginning of Oscar season To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is legit one of my favorite movies of the year. I prefer it over Crazy Rich Asians which hit theaters the same week that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before debuted on Netflix and put up incredible box office figures.

Before you come wild at me for putting the two asian american movies of record this year at odds like that, to what may beyour surprise I actually don’t have any influence on scheduling at Netflix or Warner Bros – to my lament the latter actually doesn’t want my opinion on Batman either and their almost zealot-like affection for the choice of an old and busted armored superhero over a young urban detective ninja.

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