A Graphic Novel Feast


This line is far more exciting the second time he says it.

Order of the Stick is a stick-figure comic -hence the name- set in an explicitly Dungeons and Dragons rules-inspired world featuring very genre-aware characters. It also features an actual long-term plot, character growth,intelligent villains and heroes, unique characters unconstrained by alignment along either axes (quite deliberately). It has dumb gags and heroic sacrifices, but also brilliantly executed plans and counter-plans and frequent reminders that heroic sacrifices, no matter how stirring, don’t matter if far too many people die in the process.

I started reading it last night and am currently on Strip 611. (Granted, I’m in the middle of the sea and have little else to do, but even so. These aren’t 3 panel strips. They’re whole pages, sometimes several, per strip.)

fablescrossover fablesinheritthewind

I also finished Fables 83-121 in the day or two before that. It remains great, and also incapable of being reviewed properly without spoiling the entire grand narrative of the first 80 issues. The storyline is still based on our beloved Fables in exile-they were driven out of their Homelands by the Evil Emperor, who is no longer their Emperor and whose Evils have been forgive-in their completely out of character interpretations. That is to say, Bigby (Big Bad, get it?) Wolf, Snow White, Jack Horner (of the beanstalk), Rose Red, King Cole, an assortment of witches. This set features as antagonists the Literals (part of)  and the mysterious Mr. Dark, a personification of the powers of darkness. Sub-plots galore, too, few of which make sense without prior acquaintance with the characters.

I remember wondering why I would ever want a tablet when I could have a smartphone and an e-reader, but reading gorgeous full-coloured comics on an iPad is a truly magnificent experience. Too bad it’s also ridiculously expensive to do so legally.

Fables also stands as an example that you can enjoy a book tremendously without either buying into or endorsing the author’s politics, in this case Bill Willingham’s stated view that Fabletown is an allegory for the state of Israel.

Habibi by Craig Thompson is also exquisitely gorgeous, but the tale it tells is far more heart-breaking. From wikipedia:

The 672-page book is set in a fictional Islamic fairytale landscape, and depicts the relationship between Dodola and Zam, two escaped child slaves, who are torn apart and undergo many transformations as they grow into new names and new bodies, which prove to be obstacles to their love when they later reunite.The book’s website describes its concept thus as a love story and a parable about humanity’s relationship to the natural world that explores such themes as the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam.

The scale is truly epic: “many transformations” seems far too commonplace a phrase to use for what they have to go through as they struggle to find happiness with each other in a world that is not simply uncaring, but feels actively malevolent. But oh, the poetry, and oh, the calligraphy! Deserts seem to breed beauty and misery on either hand.

Buy it. Read it. I got the hardcover, which might have been a mistake considering that I have had to lug it over 5 flights/chopper rides with the rest of my overweight luggage in the last month, but you will appreciate having a nice heavy volume to keep on your shelf. (Assuming, that is, that you do not share my current nomadic lifestyle or homelessness.)

PS: Also, here. Pretty pictures.

Disillusioned with Discworld

I just don’t like Granny Weatherwax that much as a main character. She is, first of all, a leader who does not know how to lead. For someone who is described in the text several times as someone who has a phenomenal grasp of “headology” (psychology) she doesn’t really seem to know that much. She doesn’t know how to negotiate with people, she just knows how to manipulate them from above, and in any realistic situation that should present a number of difficulties, but they simply never come up in the books.

Ever noticed how conservative (in a very British nanny sort of way) Terry Pratchett is? Several of his protagonists have “practicality” as their chief virtue. I didn’t mind this in Sam Vimes, because even though he grumbled a lot he always seemed genuinely nice to most people. But with Granny Weatherwax all her kindness is off-stage: this is even lampshaded in the book, when Magrat is complaining (with some reason) about her, Nanny Ogg reminds her of all the nice things she’s done, which we don’t actually get to see.

I re-read “Men at Arms” yesterday because I didn’t want to continue with Maskerade (or study), and the more I think about it, the more Granny Weatherwax seems almost like the anti-Vimes. She bullies everyone else; Vimes gets bullied more often than not, although he finds ways to deal with it.  She knows what other people are thinking but doesn’t seem to know herself particularly well; Vimes is exactly the reverse, although in a less extreme way. None of this is necessarily a reason to dislike the books, of course… I think my biggest problem is simply that I’m (yes, still) too fresh out of high school (which had many similar characters, different only in that they weren’t as smart and couldn’t do magic, thankfully) to be able to appreciate a bullying old woman as a central character.