Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Wizard Comes to Town

Mercer Mayer seems to be known today mostly for those Little Critter books. There's a bunch of them. But he's been around for a while, and has done all kinds of books. He's adapted some fairy tales, invented lots of characters (I like his little monster series and wish they were still in print). One of my favorites is called The Wizard Comes to Town. It's about a boarding house run by Mrs. Begg, where comes a wizard to board; he goes by the name Z. P. Alabasium. Alabasium causes a bunch of trouble in the house, with unexpected weather, an infestation of various demons, and boarders floating around randomly. Begg first tries asking him nicely to leave. Then she involves the authorities. It doesn't go well for them.

The constable came and knocked on the door. "Open up, this is the constable." 
Suddenly the constable turned into a ram. "Baaaaaaaaa," he said and ran down the stairs.

Soon Begg realizes that she has no choice but to take matters into her own hands. She finds a witch kit in the attic and puts it to use.

I've had blizzards/snakes and lizards. I've had rain and wind to bear./
She summons a horde of monsters that forcibly removes Alabasium from the house. They deposit him in a dump. Everything returns to normal at the house...only for the boarders and Begg herself to find themselves bored. Nothing unusual is happening, until a new boarder shows up.

Pretty good stuff. That is all.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Best Stories in the World: Wolverine Creates the World

I love this story so much...

It starts before stuff, when pretty much everything in the world was under water. Wolverine survived by leaping from stone to stone. He worried that things would get worse, and that would be the end of his wandering. So he called all the water animals together, and asked them to dive down below to bring up some land.

Otter went first, but he couldn't find any soil. Then Beaver dove down, but he couldn't stay under water long enough to find anything. Then Wolverine told Muskrat to go, but Muskrat said he'd go only if Wolverine tied a strap to his leg. Wolverine complied. Muskrat was gone a long time, long enough that Wolverine pulled the strap back up only to find that it had come untied from Muskrat's leg.

And everybody thought that was the end of dry land. From this point on, I'm just going to quote the story directly:

But just when he had given up, Muskrat surfaced. His mouth was so full of ground that he couldn't talk. Nor could he breathe. Wolverine put his lips to Muskrat's ass and blew as hard as he could. Out came the ground from Muskrat's mouth, more and more ground, heaps and heaps of it, seemingly without end.

This ground is the very earth we walk today.

I first encountered this particular version of the earth-diver tale (which is how mythologists refer to it; it is the story organized around motif A812) in Brian Swann's Coming to Light, a collection and contextualization of native North American stories. It also appears in Wolverine Creates the World, by Lawrence Millman (which may or may not be about to be reprinted later this year as Wolverine the Trickster). It's a story told by the Innu people of the Labrador Peninsula in Canada. They call Wolverine Kwakwadjec, in case you were wondering. Millman--who's not an Innu--tells us that Wolverine stories are "much closer to dirty jokes" than the cycles of trickster myths common in other parts of native North America. Also unlike most myths, Wolverine stories lack ritual context and prohibitive storytelling conditions.

The earth-diver story is not confined to North America. The folklorist Alan Dundes wrote an interesting analysis of it in Freudian terms. It appeared originally in American Anthropologist, where it sparked some debate (there was a response to it in the next Volume of the journal, and then Dundes wrote a rejoinder), and shows up in the collection Sacred Narrative, which the author edited. Dundes sees the earth-diver as a story told by men to compensate for their lack of procreative power; they postulate a cloacal theory of birth and pregnancy envy. Which, you know, might be true in some sense.

So why is this one of the best stories in the world? Go back and reread the italicized part if you need to figure it out.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Batman versus Superman

Here's a topic that will probably always get me to link to it: That page in All-Star Superman 10.

Then there's this thing, claiming that nobody cares about people disliking BvS. I'm willing to look past the title, even though I very much do care what people think about this movie.

And here's an example of why I care.

And another example: discussions about superheroes don't get more interesting than this one, from site I've come to like quite a bit. Yeah, it's got that Morrison/Quitely page from All-Star Superman 10 once more. Still inspiring people. If you're reading along, make sure to check out the comments on that article, since they make a counter-argument that's also worthwhile.

Still haven't seen Dawn of Justice. But that preview of Rogue One looks cool.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Comics out Loud

-->  It’s hard to read a comic out loud. Storybooks are easy. One picture per page, and the words match. Strangely, with a storybook the hardest parts to read are the pages without words, when the narrator and the characters are silent. What do you do then? I make sound effects. 

When I was a kid, the comic I read the most was The Mighty Thor—in particular, numbers 337-382, the Walter Simonson run. It’s still my favorite comic story. I had to buy the omnibus edition when it came out in 2011, and his new Ragnarok series draws me to the comic shop the day each new issue goes on sale.

Despite owning the omnibus, I’ve never done more than flip through it until recently. I know the story well enough that I don’t need to read it straight through. I flip through it, looking at specific moments and battles. It’s a fantasy comic, much moreso than it is a superhero comic, and it rewards this kind of revisitation. But a few weeks ago, I go lucky when my five-year-old son asked me to read the whole thing to him. I’m not sure what prompted this request, but I wasn’t about to refuse.

Now, understand that my kids ask me to read comics to them quite a bit. After the first time, I’ve said no about seventy-five percent of the time. We’ve read a few Super Dinosaur, Transformers, and Uncle Scrooge, but not many of them. But they’re all a bit of an ordeal. You’ve got to point to the panel you’re reading, often back and forth between multiple speaking characters in the same panel. And characters frequently speak off-panel just to complicate things further. The sound effects often sound altogether wrong when uttered. Then, in some comics, you’ve got to differentiate between thought bubbles and word balloons. And if you do voices…

Storybooks lack that complicated structure—even though many of them are almost exactly like comics, lacking only word balloons.There's usually just one or two pictures per page spread, and often I can read through the words quickly enough. With a comic, there are so many pictures per page that it's hard to keep his attention on a single panel at a time. He often asks about what's going on in a panel on the bottom of the recto whilst I'm still reading narration for the first panel on the verso. Sorry for the obscure diction. That just happens sometimes.

So, yeah, I do voices. My Odin is a lot like John Houston. Thor is an octave lower than my own. Balder is soft and light. And the warriors three are probably what you'd expect: Volstag bellows everything. Fandral is my attempt at Errol Flynn. Hogun is Charles Bronson (I don't remember where I came across the information, but I'm fairly certain that Kirby had these men in mind when he designed the characters). I do my best fox impression for Loki, even though it makes no sense. And for reasons I don't understand, I make Beta Ray Bill sound like John Hurt. Nobody has an English accent. I don't even want to describe what it sounds like when I read the women's dialogue.

Then there are sound effects. What I have found is that, strangely, these almost never work for me when I read them out loud, so I end up just making a noise like what I think the thing would sound like.

So far, we've read nearly 500 pages of the omnibus. Lots more to go, but it's a fascinating, challenging experience.