Comic Book Review – Paper Girls Volume 1

Paper Girls Volume 1 (Image Comics)

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan  |  Artist: Cliff Chiang
Purchase this book here!

PaperGirls_Vol01-1I had no idea what Paper Girls was, not even who wrote or drew it. I just saw the cover and thought that looks interesting. To my joyous surprise, I learned it was written by Brian K. Vaughan (Saga, Y the Last Man, Lost) and illustrated by Cliff Chiang (Wonder Woman, Tales of the Unexpected). I also had wondered what the title meant by “Paper Girls” and found it was so clear I should have figured it out: They are girls who deliver papers.

Paper Girls is a story set in 1988 and begins with its focus on Erin, a 12-year old paper girl going about her route in the pre-dawn darkness of November 1st. She runs into a trio of fellow paper girls who help her deal with some neighborhood bullies and things get…weird. Mysterious shrouded ninjas. A fleshy Cronenberg-esque device hidden in the basement of a home under construction. Pterodactyls. These are just some of the things our protagonists come across in the first arc of the series.

I hadn’t planned to read this right in the wake of finishing Netflix’s Stranger Things, but I’m very glad I did. It ended up being the perfect compliment and spotlighted a bit rougher edge to the 1980s. The girls in this series are a great balance between childhood badass posturing and vulnerability in the face of the unknown. It’s always grating if a series tries to present a tough girl or guy without layers and dimensions, but here we get to learn a lot about how each of these characters thinks as they put through some extreme and bizarre situations.

Vaughan is able to balance some pretty wild elements with grounded real life problems. While there are strange masked creatures wandering the neighborhood he takes the time to have a paper girl deal with her alcoholic step-mother. The visuals by Chiang are remarkable. He creates the sense of those early morning dawn hours so perfectly. And setting the story the morning after Halloween allows many characters to appear in costume and adds to the visual strangeness of the story.

The actual meat and potatoes plot of the first five issues is pretty crazy. I won’t go into a ton of detail but the series definitely goes places I wasn’t expecting. It was also refreshing to pick up a comic I had zero hype or real knowledge about and be delighted to find such a well-told story. Image Comics has become one of those companies that I am willing to do that more and more with. Their move to a home for stand alone creator-owned projects makes them a fertile soil for some of the best non-superhero comics work out there right now.

Much like Vaughan’s Saga, there is an immediate sense that this is the first chapter in a much larger and sprawling story. Tonally we’ll end up with something very different, more grounded but still with those more outlandish elements. If you are suffering from a lack of Stranger Things and wanting a wonderful companion piece, find this volume.
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Great Books You Should Read #1

The Truth About Celia by Kevin Brockmeier

celiaI became a lover of Jorge Luis Borges’ writing in college. If you’re not familiar, he was an Argentinian writer who trafficked mostly in short stories that evoked magic realism and played with the ideas of authorship, fiction, and meta-reality. Brockmeier doesn’t get as deeply academic as Borges would, but still touches upon the same ideas. The Truth About Celia begins with the mysterious disappearance of the title character, the daughter of science fiction author Christopher Brooks. The book’s structure is that of a collection of short stories written in the seven years since she vanished that revolve around that tragedy. Some are directly about Celia other opt to explore more fantastical spaces.

At one point, Brooks latches onto the medieval legend of the green children of Woolpit, a supposedly true event where two strange green-skinned children showed up in a village speaking an unknown language and only consuming particular foods. The fictional author Brooks composes a story where his Celia is one of these lost children, tossed through time into the past. Another story involves the toy phone in her bedroom ringing one night and Brooks engaging in a series of conversations with her.

Celia is a very sad story, but a very rewarding one. It’s not a novel about the investigation of a child’s disappearance and very little closure ever comes in the book. It is a story about how people cope with tragedy, particularly parents when they lose their children. Brooks’ fiction becomes his tool to his heal his pain and invent infinite lives for his daughter.

 

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Wind-Up-Bird-ChronicleI picked this novel off the shelf at a bookstore my sophomore year of college knowing absolutely nothing about it. Over a decade and a dozen books later I consider Japanese author Haruki Murakami one of our greatest living writers. Murakami is unlike anyone else you will ever read and has always felt more like film than literature. He’s about setting a mood and examining characters in their spaces. He’s about hinting at mystery and fantasy but never letting the lens explore it too closely.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle begins with protagonist Toru Okada’s cat running away. Okada begins searching his neighborhood and discovers the boarded up house next door and it’s well. Poking around the property leads him into encounters with a psychic prostitute, a teenage girl obsessed with the macabre, a veteran of World War II, and a truly evil politician. The novel operates as a series of interconnected vignettes and has a lot of Murakami’s common tropes. His main characters are wanderers and observers, they are passive to the point of frustration at many moments. But within that passivity is a sense of peace and stillness. Characters exist in the moment, conversations become the chief action of the story.

 

Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

Blood-MeridianI was in the dorms the summer between my sophomore and junior year when I read this novel. I was blown away. It was my first encounter with Cormac McCarthy and I knew I had read one of the great American works of literature. Surprisingly, this is a variation on the story of Davy Crockett. That is never clear but if you are familiar with some of the tropes you begin to see them underneath the surface. The story follows a character known only as The Kid born under mysterious signs who encounter a powerful figure known as Judge Holden. Holden becomes a recurring figure throughout the novel and might possibly the Devil. The Kid ends up working to help expand America into the west by exterminating Apaches. The landscape becomes a surreal nightmare plane seen through the eyes of the Kid. Blood Meridian is one of those pieces of literature that you must imagine nearly killed the author to write. It is supremely intense, violent, and sprawling. It outright spits in the face of the romantic Western genre by making us seeing the horrible brutality and biblical horror of a lost time.

Podcasts You Should Be Listening To #2

Tanis (Pacific Northwest Stories, Hosted by Nic Silver)

tanisWhile I really don’t enjoy found footage horror films, when the genre is applied to literature or, in this case, audio drama, it works much better in my opinion. The premise of Tanis is that journalist Nic Silver is attempting to uncover what Tanis, a word mentioned in a myriad of sources, is. Is it a person, a place? Why are famous occultists obsessed with it? How does it connect to other urban legends and modern horrors? If you are a fan of slow burning, very creepy, conspiracy theory stories Tanis will provide you with many hours of entertainment. Currently, Season 1 (12 episodes) is available with Season 2 on its seventh of 12 total episodes.

 

Filmspotting (WBEZ Chicago, Hosted by Adam Kempenaar & Adam Larsen)

filmspottingThis was the first movie podcast I ever listened to starting way back in 2005. At the time it was Adam and Sam Van Hallgren hosting, but the latter has moved on to a producing role. No matter the hosts, the film has always maintained a high level of discussion about film. Kempenaar is an instructor at the University of Chicago and Larsen spent over a decade reviewing films for the Chicago Sun-Times. Both men have a very deep knowledge of film and work to spotlight picture beyond what has currently opened at the cineplex. This podcast has probably been the biggest inspiration to my love of film introducing me to filmmakers like Wim Wenders, John Cassavetes, and Robert Altman. Even if you have an extensive film knowledge you will learn something from listening to this series.

 

How Did This Get Made? (Earwolf, Hosted by Paul Scheer, June Diane-Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas)

how did this get madeInspired by Mystery Science Theater 3000 and a plethora of books detailing the “worst films ever made” these three comedians and actors set out to make a series where they explored travesties of cinema in depth. Episode One spotlighted Burlesque; Christina Aguilera and Cher’s gaudy passion project. From there they have looked at films like The Last Airbender, Masters of the Universe, and Zardoz. Some particular highlights have been A View to a Kill, Glitter, and the god awful sequel to Saturday Night Fever, Staying Alive. A very high energy podcast that has very charismatic and witty hosts that make watching bad films a pleasure.

 

With Special Guest, Lauren Lapkus (Earwolf, Hosted by…?)

lauren lapkusLauren Lapkus had become a staple on Comedy Bang Bang thanks to her variety of characters. When she decided to start her own podcast instead of hosting she opted to make the host rotating and to play a different character on each episode. This lets the guest come up with the concept of the show, the topic of conversation and even the basics of Lapkus’ own character. In fact, Lapkus doesn’t know any of this information until they start recording the episode and loves being made to improvise it all on the spot. A nice surprising podcast that never fails to present something unique and funny.

Daniels – Selected Music Videos Part 2

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Foster the People – “Houdini” (2011)

Daniels seem to have a very positive working relationship with the band Foster the People, with this being their second video together. Here the band plays themselves getting killed second into the video. They are turned into elaborate puppets controlled by the music studio. Very quickly they turn into a late 90s style boy band and everyone involved in the production couldn’t be happier.The marionette motif would turn up again in Swiss Army Man as part of Paul Dano’s education on life to Daniel Radcliffe.

The human body is a durable and pliable object. Slow motion is mixed with explosions and violent movement by the human body. The narrative is not overly complex but does have a clear structure. It should be noted Daniels are characters in the video but played by actors.

The Shins – “Simple Song” (2012)

Very overtly comedic with some sentimentality woven through it, Simple Song is probably the most complex video and my personal favorite of Daniels. Once again, the band are characters in the fiction of the video. A family gathers to watch the video of their deceased patriarch played by band frontman James Mercer. The story cuts between present day, where the adult children violently search the house for a deed, and the past, where we learn why these children have such a strong hatred of their late father. The line between past and present is blurred and eventually characters meet their past and present selves. In some moments the past is represented through home video footage, which I believe is standard film footage digitally filtered to appear like the older style of media complete with tracking line and static.

As always, and becoming more frequent and honed in their work, are the explosions of debris and dust with bodies flailing through the air. We briefly glimpse a singing corpse, tying back to the animation of the dead in “Houdini” and looking forward to Swiss Army Man. The video’s themes are heavily influenced by the work of director Wes Anderson, particularly The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited.

Tenacious D – “Rize of the Fenix” (2012)

While there are the touches of Daniels’ personal style in this video, it is more heavily influenced by Tenacious D’s established comedic tone which was developed alongside their longtime collaborator, Liam Lynch. The premise of the video is that of a rough cut, not intended for public viewing yet. The video starts out normal enough but about a minute in we begin to see unfinished special effects, placeholder effects & art, and exposed green screen. Some images even have their stock photo watermarks stamped on them. Digital crowds of fans are obviously cut and pasted.

The lyrics and visuals of the video emphasize the slight negative aftermath of The Pick of Destiny’s poor performance at the box office. Tenacious D, having a very good sense of humor about themselves, don’t shy away from playing it up as if they are desperate for a comeback. The grand finale of the video where finished effects begin to return reminded me strongly of the work of digital animator Cyriak Harris. A music video where Daniels bring together technique and narrative in perfect synthesis.

Passion Pit – “Cry Like a Ghost” (2013)

Return to the woods and the nightmare of the aftermath of the party. The female protagonist exhibits spontaneous dance and movement. Reality blurs as the intensity of the party increases. Much darker, very little humor in this video. The focus is balanced between the dance of the character and the tragic story around her.

Right away the tone of this video stands in stark contrast to the majority of Daniels work at the time. It seems to go back to pieces like “Underwear” and “Pigeons”, but with more refined technique. Thematically the video deals with the dark side of the late night party atmosphere. A young woman has somehow ended up in the woods and reflects back on what brought her here. She engages in a series of meaningless one-night stands and consumption of alcohol. Her emotions are volatile and erratic. The exact chronology of her encounters becomes more blurred as the video progresses. Daniels never seem to pass judgment over her and the ending of the video leaves her next steps a bit ambiguous.

The story of the video is expressed through two modes. First, the central figure is overwhelmed with the sense of dance and gives into her body’s commands. She dances through scene after scene which is the second element. Through both practical and digital effects, the bars, clubs, and bedrooms erupt from all directions and form around the dancing young woman. Eventually, it culminates with three of her encounters acting as backup dancers to her central performance.

DJ Snake + Lil Jon – “Turn Down For What” (2014)

Likely the most iconic and well known Daniels music video. Here we have the core elements of what most viewers associate with the duo: Powerful and destructive human bodies, sexuality as a dangerous weapon, and lots and lots of dance. The central figure is operating outside societal norms and people react with real terror. However, they become infected with the same frenzy. The dark humor of the video places it as a funnier compliment to Daniels exploration of the dark side of the party scene.

Joywave ft. Kopps – “Tongues” (2014)

Daniels inverts some of their tropes in this NSFW video. We return to the woods where a group of people shed their clothes and dance about in the woods. They are stalked by hunters whose weapons launch clothes onto their victims. The nude revelers manage to turn the tide and begin stripping down their assailants. There’s even a star-crossed romance between a hunter and a nudist which turns into a B-horror film to bring the video to a close. A very interesting divergence from Daniels’ work up to this point. However, the explosion of clothes harkens back to the performance of Daniel Kwan in “Underwear”.

Patreon Update – July Blog Stats

patreon_logoViews and Visitors

Growth in views from June to July was 17% (June: 592, July: 716)

Growth in visitors from June to July was 8% (June: 426, July: 464)

55% of views came from Google Plus

29% of views came from Google searches

23% of views from Facebook

 

Posts

The top five most visited articles for July were:

  1. Games for Two: Lost in R’lyeh & Sushi Go! – 52 views** (64 views total)
  2. Just People – 45 views
  3. Batman: The Killing Joke – 36 views
  4. On the Soul of Arya Stark – 30 views
  5. Rolling Dice and Shaping Minds Part 1 – 26 views

** denotes post was published in June, though the views came exclusively from July.

 

Analysis
Beyond the top five posts, there were many more posts with views in the high to mid-20s. There was definitely carry over from the previous month’s posts. In addition, posting on topics that were very relevant in July (Batman: The Killing Joke, Stranger Things, Swiss Army Man, etc.) generated interest. In the top five were three posts that didn’t focus on a single property but were more personal and about the synthesis of ideas (Just People, On the Soul of Arya Stark, Rolling Dice, etc.).

Conclusion
For August, I will be decreasing the frequency of posts. With the school year back in session I wake up around 5:30 and don’t return home until around 3:30. Writing on posts will be limited during the weekend and have to be concentrated due to that small window of time. As seasonal breaks roll around, temporary increases in frequency may occur, but posting will become a more scheduled, focused endeavor. This means in August’s report I expect to see a significant drop due to less content being published. I would think the numbers in August will begin to show what my normal view rates will look like from now until December.

After looking at the data from June and July, I have planned to highlight content that will be current and relevant. There will also be a slight bump in more personal holistic posts, but still direction based on what personally interests me rather than viewing data as a focus group.

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The Childhood of a Leader (2016, dir. Brady Corbet)

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By the final dizzying moments of The Childhood of a Leader, I was completely overwhelmed in a satisfying way. The film takes place in the temporary rural home of an American diplomat stationed in the French countryside at the close of World War I. His wife and child, Prescott, waste away the days with French lessons, performances at the local church, and malaise. Prescott has a series of tantrums with the film structuring this three fits as its chapters, with an epilogue that brings everything together decades later.

The film is the directorial debut of longtime child and indie actor, Brady Corbet. It is very apparent that Corbet’s work under directors like Michael Haneke and Olivier Assayas has been a masterclass in filmmaking. This is one of the strongest debut films I’ve ever seen. The cinematography is astounding, the performances are subtle but carry much weight, and every single aspect of the film is crafted with care. Add to this the nerve shattering score by veteran composer Scott Walker and you have a film that brings together a number of genres but defies to be defined by any of them. This is a horror film set in an alternate history of our world…or is it the mix of the real and the deluded visions of a troubled young boy?

It’s hard to pin down The Childhood of a Leader. The film keeps itself enigmatic to encourage the viewer to explore and think about what’s happening on screen. The two ways I saw to read the film during this viewing were as the literal story of a young boy at the center of world history who would rise to power one day. There’s also the idea that we’re dealing metaphor. The American Father, The French Mother, The English Reporter. All three seem oblivious to this ranting, tantrum-ing, seething child until it’s too late. With each tantrum, he increases his hostility and potential to do harm to those around him.

From the opening moments of the film to its conclusion, there is an unsettling tension building. Walker’s score for the film plays a major role in building that, but its juxtaposition to the dim visuals on screen following Prescott from behind as he runs through the woods, roams the empty halls of his house or wanders naked into the middle of his father’s meeting with important policy makers is what keeps the film at the edge. We never descend into complete horror until the final moments, but every second up to that point is fraught with terror. Highly recommended and with much potential to reveal more with subsequent viewings.