Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Books Worth a Look XIX

Instead of catching up on reviews of the books I've read since June, I'm going to change my book-review policy. As editor of Media Diet, I can do that. No longer shall I review every single book I read, publishing review roundups every month. From now on, I shall only review books I really think beg mention -- perhaps bundling like-themed books in topical reviews, as I am about to do today. Of course, I might change the policy again in the future, but I think it's safe to say I'm not going to grandfather in the books I read in July, August, September, October, and November any time soon. Better to look ahead than behind and all that. Without further ado, the new-school approach to book reviews:

Little Lit: It Was a Dark and Silly Night edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly (Raw Junior, 2003)
I cannot compare this volume to its two predecessors -- Little Lit and Little Lit: Strange Stories for Strange Kids -- because I haven't read them. In fact, I've totally ignored and dismissed them. Why? One, children's books are expensive and pretentious enough without donning the mantle of a postmodern comic book. Two, most comics are childish enough; there's no need to resort to children's book trappings to tap into the youth market. Yet, considering Little Lit III in the light of Spiegelman's adaptation of Joseph Moncure's Wild Party and Peter Kuper's redux of The Metamorphosis (reviewed below), perhaps this is another way for comic books to enter the book trade. The roundup of creators clearly indicates such: Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, J. Otto Siebold, and Spiegelman hisself. Regardless, when I can buy a Siebold softcover for $6.99 (20 pages) or an issue of Tom Strong for $2.99 (36 pages), the economics of this book ($19.99 for 50 pages), parenting, and the children's book market strike me as most mercenary. The Snicket and Richard Salas pairing, however, bodes well for the read. Salas' dark yet dainty artwork, paired with Snicket's intelligent morality tale (there are two lessons in this nine-page piece) work quite well together. It may even be arguable that Snicket nudges Michael Chabon out of the slot reserved for the first postmodern fiction author to script a comic book (Chabon penned a piece for JSA All Stars #7 in January). The offering by Siebold and Vivian Walsh is their basic fare, only shorter and with more word balloons (add another moral lesson). William Joyce shines with his Winsor McCay-meets-R. Sikoryak bit of visual fabulism. The four-page Basil Wolverton reprint is a nice touch, Joost Swarte is beautiful in such a large format, Patrick McDonnell stretches himself slightly, and Barbara McClintock and R. Sikoryak add nice puzzle parts (Yum! Interactive books!). All in all, not a bad read. Still, children don't need children's books-cum-comics to get into comics, and the adult comic as children's book reeks as postmodern pretense. Like Dan Zanes' children's records, are they for you -- or your children? Better to buy your child a proper kids' book -- or an edition of Blab, Raw, or (harf!) Taboo.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, adapted by Peter Kuper (Crown, 2003)
I had my doubts about this hardcover graphic novel, novella, novellette, or short story -- whatever -- and I'm still not sure whether I'd rather read Kafka's original text illustrated by Kuper or this comic adaptation. Regardless, Kuper, cofounder of World War III magazine and Atonio Prohias' successor as artist-writer for Mad's Spy Vs. Spy, adds some refreshing aspects to the existential tale even if he doesn't totally improve on it. Opening with an introduction in which Kuper pairs Kafka's turn-of-the-century considerations with Winsor McCay's Sunday funny-page surrealism, the book retells the story of a traveling salesman turned dung beetle -- and his family's reaction. Largely a story of economic survival, as well as existential angst, the book includes several pleasant cartoony moments, including the Richard Salas-esque p. 44; nice Robert Crumb nods on pp. 65, 66, and 75 (keep on truckin'!); and some pleasing panel placement on pp. 27, 48, 49, 58, 70, and 72 (not to mention the typography on p. 42). While I'm not sure the tome rates its pricy format ($18 for 80 pages), it's substantially better than most new-schol Classics Illustrated fare. For Kafka completists, Kuper fans, and adult comic readers who seek a gateway to literature. If you haven't read Kafka's original story recently, do so -- now. Just as I did William Hope Hodgson's House on the Borderland after reading Richard Corben's adaptation.

1 comment:

book publishers said...

House on the borderland is a modern masterpiece, beautiful piece of work.