Winter Break 2013 or Neil Gaiman in Three Formats

Happy New Years, friends! Trying to sum up the last year has been kind of daunting today, so I’m biting off a more manageable portion, also known as the week between Christmas and New Years.

After visiting four family units in an 18 hour period, I was ready for a bit of a rest. So I broke out the reading material for a bit. The first major recommendation I have is to check out Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman. It is an illustrated story perfect for reading aloud at bedtime. In fact, I read it aloud to Brad in two sessions. The story is about a father explaining to his children why it took longer than expected to obtain milk for their cereal. The father encountered several obstacles between obtaining the milk and returning to his breakfast-less children including but not limited to pirates, volcanoes, prophecies, clever ponies, and vampires that most certainly do not sparkle. The plot kind of reminds me of something that might happen on Doctor Who, the humor is endearing, and the characters rather whimsical. This was a highlight of my vacation.

The other reading choice I made was to pick up the first couple of volumes of Neil Gaiman’s classic run on Sandman. I finished the first volume and really enjoyed it, especially after having read Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing this past fall and familiarizing myself with shared secondary characters including John Constantine and Etrigan the Demon. I’m sure the beloved Sandman has been analyzed by many far cleverer than I, but I can tell you what I thought about it. Preludes and Nocturnes was a collection of stories told in a variety of horror genre styles that details how Sandman, one of the Endless, was imprisoned in a summoning circle meant for his elder sister Death for 70 years and how he escaped and regained his objects of power. The first thing I noticed opening the book was how much Sandman’s basic features resemble Gaiman’s own wild black hair and taller, thinner form. To me that was a neat commentary on the power of an author to inspire innumerable dreams and to offer a much needed respite from the shackles of reality.

Second, my early impression is that Sandman has mellowed out since his early years. Like a lot. After Sandman is released from the summoning circle, he tracks one of his objects of power to an Arkham inmate. Doctor Destiny does some truly horrific things and inspires terrible acts using Sandman’s Ruby in active pursuit of bringing about the end of the world. In response, Sandman mercifully returns him to Arkham Asylum with no extra punishment. At sometime prior to being imprisoned, Sandman fell in love with a mortal queen named Nada. Nada also falls in love with Sandman, but once she realizes he is one of the Endless and that a union between a mortal and an Endless could only end in suffering, she rejects him. His response at that time is to eternally damn her to hell for spurning his love. So, madman get’s sent back to a mortal prison and cautious lady get’s to suffer in hell for eternity. Someone has definitely had some anger issues in the past but I am definitely looking forward to the rest of the series and should be able to sit down and finish The Doll’s House soon.

Finally, I was treated to a final dose of Gaiman inspired media today when I listened to BBC Radio 4’s radio drama adaptation of Neverwhere. As one who had not previously read Neverwhere, I enjoyed the plot immensely as well as the voice actors. James McAvoy as Richard Mayhew and Benedict Cumberbatch as the Angel Islington were my personal favorites. This version has definitely motivated me to track down and read the book as soon as possible. It also inspired me to question why anyone who has mistakenly found themselves in a fantasy setting and inadvertently become the subject of a hero’s journey would ever consider returning to the real world. Since watching Rockadoodle as a child or reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, this choice has bugged me. That may say more about me than I realize, though. In any case, you can listen to this radio drama in six episodes online at the BBC Radio 4 website.

In summary, my winter vacation has been greatly enriched by the storytelling of Neil Gaiman in a variety of formats, literary, visual, and audio. I enthusiastically recommend each of these to my friends. You really can’t go wrong with Gaiman and no matter your preference in format, he probably has told a story in it at some point. With that, I’ll sign off of here and try to catch some sleep before returning to the Fish Room in the morning. Maybe I’ll see Sandman but hopefully not the Beast of London in my dreams tonight. Sweet Dreams!

In Celebration of Will Eisner Week: My Adopted Love of Graphic Novels

After reading on Tumblr that this week is Will Eisner Week in celebration of the man and all novels graphic, I decided it would be a great excuse to write about my adopted love of comics. I say adopted because, like any good kid of the ’80s-’90s I had always loved superhero cartoons (Batman: The Animated Series, X-men, and The Amazing Spiderman) but I was mostly unaware of any comic that wasn’t printed serially in The Morehead News. It wasn’t until I took a Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing elective while in Upward Bound that I ventured into Neil Gaiman’s Sandman #19 A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was impressed that it had won major awards in categories traditionally restricted to prose formats. I was intrigued by the enhanced storytelling garnered from the combination of art and word and ink, and panel.

In college, a friend lent me my first superhero graphic novel, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. While it wasn’t the Batman I knew and loved from the Animated Series, I did appreciate the medium as a potential for exploration of grim dark futures and What-ifs. In the early post 9-11 years, grim dark wasn’t difficult to accept in entertainment. The two distinct Batmans, initially quite opposed in my mind, forced me to connect the plausible dots between continuity and conjecture. I realized for the first time that flawed heroes are more interesting than the perfect action figures from childhood. I didn’t learn these storytelling motifs from English class, I picked it up in a graphic novel.

I can’t remember if it was before or after Brad and I began dating that he introduced me to Marvel’s 1602, pretty much my favorite what- if of all time. How can super humans and super science in the Renaissance not win me over? The only timeline point I’m really certain of is that he probably started taking me seriously as a dating prospect when I asked him about Batman– I’m not sure what specifically, but it definitely changed things– conversations stretched on into hours and group superhero cartoon-viewing plans were made that eventually would involve only the two of us. Half a year of mutual pining could have probably been avoided if I’d been as interested in Dr. Doom as I was in Batman, but hey, we still both agreed to include the local White Crow Comics in the itinerary for our first date.

Despite taking the occasional advice of a co-worker and reading classics like Watchmen and V for Vendetta, I didn’t really start reading individual comic issues until DC’s Identity Crisis came out. I met the Question and Renee Montoya by following 52 and as a result began exploring Gotham’s other characters which led me to one of my current favorites Batwoman. The art style, intense color and ingenious use of alternative panel layouts makes for incredibly dynamic storytelling. I love that Batman deals with the themed human villains and Batwoman patrols the mythical/magical beat. The most recent story arc, World’s Finest was a team up with Wonder Woman to defeat Medusa and the Mother of all Monsters. I’m kind of wondering if the next story arc will have an Egyptian bent given the final spoiler in the last issue. Then maybe a return of Isis? Only time will tell, but I feel pretty confident I’m only reading too much into a single panel.

These days I also follow Captain Marvel and Kelly Sue Deconnick’s run on Avengers Assemble as well as most of the Adventure Time titles. My husband is the major collector but he keeps me in mind when planning his folder. I have had (male) friends tell me I only read the girl titles, and while they do speak to me first, I also like to support the need for the comic industry to at least think about female readers and creative teams. The only real miss I’ve had has been Sword of Sorcery. I love the world building of Gemworld but I think the story is just better suited for younger readers.

Obviously, comics and graphic novels are a major component of Brad and my entertainment diet and hopefully always will be. This week I’ll do a few more posts about recent comic news and next weekend will be the local Lexington Comic Con, of which there should be lots of Errant Easel coverage. I hope you’ll chime in with your thoughts as well. Looking forward to celebrating Will Eisner Week the Errant Easel way!