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Zot! The Complete Black & White Collection by Scott McCloud

Cogolj3cB8gXEthAl52IhcKIKW2pmYA+Gl!w8rbMsYH!BRIAG5OUet9tcq9F2XjffXkZsjELHH1dotzfe59Az0QlsOj5uNIjDVK!VrUaAbeWsW1OYzkgsRAdZgmVYczuThe first two-thirds of Zot! (1987 - 1991) are certainly enjoyable enough. Scott McCloud creates a fun, thoughtful, and zany superhero pastiche featuring the invulnerable teenaged Zot and his Earth-pal, Jenny.

Zot fights surreal foes who are rarely menacing, except in their ability to provoke existential crises. The 'villains'  often embody abstract concepts, and rare do little more than rant and, er, make art. These portion of Zot! are oddly charming, although not spectacular - perhaps because, as a superhero epic, we're expecting more in the way of action. Or, at the very least, palpable tension.

The superhero stories pick up some assistance from the notes at the end of each arc. I'm generally not so fussed about this sort of whatnot, but McCloud is nothing if not a thoughtful creator. Especially as a reader that's not familiar with art and its history, having McCloud explain his influences and ambitions was surprisingly useful. Similarly, McCloud draws thoughtful connections between Zot! and its autobiographical inspirations as well - how his personal life changed his work (and possibly vice versa).

If Zot! stopped two-thirds of the way through, it would've been an educational read, and an enjoyable one. And that's about the end of it.

But... then there's the final third of the collection, the 'Earth Stories'. Which elevates Zot! to being one of the best comics ever created.

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Pygmalia: Pygmalion

This year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on Twitter @molly_the_tanz 

PygmalionIt’s Low Hanging Fruit month here at Pygmalia, hot on the heels of me totally flaking out of a July column, but don’t judge me too hard… I’d never seen Pymalion, and quite frankly I didn’t know it existed until April, as I was idly browsing the “English” section of my local video store. After noting the Criterion case, I rented it immediately. Um, by which I mean, I noted it starred Second Hottest Actor Of All Time Award-Winner Leslie Howard* as Professor Henry Higgins, I rented it immediately. What? I’m only human.

Pygmalion (1938)

I grew up on musicals, and as I first saw My Fair Lady during the pre-Internet age, I think I can be forgiven for not going down the Google-hole to discover that the dialogue and the staging were taken from the 1938, Bernard Shaw-scripted black and white film, Pygmalion. To be fair, I did run out and buy myself a copy of the play at a used bookstore, the same one I still have, and read it several times—but as to finding out about the Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller version, that took me until this year.

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PK Interview: David J Howe and Stephen James Walker of Telos Books

Death-of-the-Day-380x0The UK has a fantastic small press scene. To celebrate the people behind the imprints - and help out the writers that are looking to them for publication - we've quizzed a number of editors about the nuts & bolts of their submissions process. This week, our guests are David J Howe and Stephen James Walker, from Telos Publishing.

Pornokitsch: Thanks for taking part! Could you tell us a bit about Telos, and the books that you publish?

David J Howe and Stephen James Walker: We are Telos Publishing Ltd, a small independent press run by David J Howe and Stephen James Walker.

We have two imprint areas: the main press, which specialises in non-fiction, particularly guides to film and television; and Telos Moonrise, edited by Sam Stone, which presents fiction in a number of different genres - horror/fantasy/science fiction/crime/romance/erotica - mainly for the e-book market, but also in paperback editions.

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Review Round-up: Half Bad, The Rest of Us and Princess Decomposia

Three recent and upcoming books - all Young Adult (I suppose?) and all recommended (definitely). 

The Rest of UsI'm not going to 'review' Patrick Ness's The Rest of Us Just Live Here (2015) - for reasons that will become immediately clear to anyone reading it. So feel free to add however many grains of salt to this that you want. But... as well as being the typically Nessian magnificence about coming of age and learning to grow comfortable with yourself, The Rest of Us is also a continuation of his crafty conversation about the lessons of genre fiction. 

A Monster Calls described the power of stories to heal; The Crane Wife showed their darker side, arguably a book about the dangers of living a fantasy (literally and figurative). More Than This was, amongst many other things, a beautiful reflection on the role of science fiction, imagination, aspiration and escape. And now The Rest of Us Just Live Here turns to fantasy. By following a group of 'normal' kids in a hilariously stereotypical contemporary fantasy (one where the high school burns down regularly and all the oddly-named 'indie kids' are off saving the universe everyone), Ness nails the point: you are the hero of your own life.

This is a theme that's not only critical to convey to a young adult audience but also a philosophy that's in direct conflict with the subtly objectivist foundation of virtually every fantasy. In real life, there are no sidekicks, no extras, no un-Chosen. We're all special and (unlike the weirdly Randian message of The Incredibles), everyone being special means everyone is. Rather than a book that glamourises accidents of birth and the glory of predestination, The Rest of Us emphasises the unheralded heroism of being 'ordinary' and having, well, agency.

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Pygmalia: Watch and Ward by Henry James

This year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on twitter @molly_the_tanz. I’m woefully under-read in comics specifically, but any and all recommendations are welcome!

This month’s entry is not only our first novel, but our first audience suggestion! Back in January, BenjaminJB mentioned Henry James’ 1871 novel Watch and Ward contained a wife-training element, and boy howdy yes it does. Thanks, BenjaminJB! I think.

Like last month, Watch and Ward doesn’t directly reference the Pygmalion myth… but it is in many ways a flattering, and even romantic treatment of Thomas Day, real-life Pygmalion wannabe, so we’re going with it.

Watch and Ward (published in 1878) - Written by Henry James (later disowned by him)Watch and Ward (1871)

I’ve never read Henry James before, so Watch and Ward served as my introduction to his writing… which is interesting, because apparently James at least partially disowned this novel later in life. It does read like an early novel, and its being written for serialized publication in The Atlantic Monthly makes for a necessarily episodic feel to the action, though not in a particularly good way.

Watch and Ward is the story of Roger Lawrence, a well-to-do dandy who wants nothing more than to marry a nice lady and settle down happily. He settles his affections on a young lady, Miss Morton, even though it’s obvious she doesn’t love him, which she shows by declining his advances on several occasions. Proto-Nice Guy that Roger surely is, he tries one final time, only to depart, humiliated, after she reveals she is engaged to someone way richer (and presumably less soppy) than Roger. Nice guys finish last, am I right, my fellow MRAS? Anyways, after this Roger “would now, he declared, cast his lot with pure reason. He had tried love and faith, but they would none of him.”

It’s important to note that Roger is at this point currently staying in a hotel in town—and before he even goes out to call on Miss Morton, a seedy man in the lobby tries to touch him for one hundred dollars. When Roger declines the man’s desperate pleas, he declares if Roger doesn’t help him, he will “slit his throat.” Roger doesn’t believe the threat, and dismisses the fellow.

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Ross & Rachel & Ron & Hermione & Jessica Rabbit

Ladbrokes Bingo_Valentines Cards_Lord of the RingsAnother survey - this one on behalf of Ladbrokes Bingo - this time investigating 2,000 cinema-goers and how they feel about loooooooove. As before, they've very kindly let me poke about with the numbers and draw my own conclusions. And boy, are they fun.

Background: the 2,000, are split across all ages (18+), equally between men and women, and, generally speaking, they're pretty genre-agnostic (equal fans of romance, comedy, sf/f/superhero, action, crime, etc). So, you know, people.

The bulk of the questions, again, this being about looooooove, have to do with favourite couples and romantic moments. What I found particularly interesting is how these split by age and gender.

I suppose it shouldn't come as huge shock but my top-line conclusions are: some of these 'timeless' romances... aren't. And when it comes to 'romance', men and women seem to have slightly different ideas. Oh, and - men are creepy.

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New Releases: The Bloodbound by Erin Lindsey

The BloodboundErin Lindsey's The Bloodbound (2014) was published last year as an Ace paperback original. The first in a new series, it is a traditional fantasy epic with a delightfully contemporary twist. 

The Oridian empire is greedily devouring its neighbours. The King of Alden, rather nobly, decided that Alden shouldn't start for that sort of thing (also, there were treaties and such) and leads his country personally into battle. And his reward for doing the honourable thing? The armies of Alden are getting absolutely thumped.

Alix Black, one of the scouts in Alden's forces, has a great perspective on the battle - not only can she see her own side getting thoroughly beaten, she can also spot how the King's brother is very much not riding to his aid. Clearly inspired by her liege's chivalric naivete, Alix sprints headlong down into the fray.

And that's how The Bloodbound starts: treachery, recklessness and mayhem.

Nor does it slow down from there. Granted, the book isn't wall to wall warfare, as the early pages might indicate, but Alix has a wonderful knack for getting into trouble (in her defense, that's apparently a Black family tradition). After the initial battle, Alix is reappointed as a member of Erik's (the King's) bodyguard. Through her eyes the reader gets a front-row view of the political and military action, as Erik tries to juggle an invading army, his own retreating army, and the betrayal of his brother (and his army). Add to that assassination attempts, espionage and a hint of black magic, Erik and Alix have their hands full.

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New Releases: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

SculptorThe phrase 'graphic novel' is frequently abused; by people who want to give an oversized story from a regular series more weight or validity, by snob booksellers who think they have to legitimise the buying of comics (I'm looking at you, various branches of Waterstones); by people who think a trade paperback just doesn't sound glamorous enough.

I would like all those people to look at The Sculptor and then take a good hard look at where they're going wrong in their lives. This is the real deal.

Scott McCloud's history in comics is one without a single mis-step. After creating one of the single finest runs on a character ever in Zot! (the initial colour run was brilliant, but the black and white second series is a masterclass) and going OTT mental in the one-off DESTROY!! he went on to take the medium to pieces and reassemble it in his groundbreaking Understanding/Reinventing/Making Comics series of books, creating other original material and some Superman stories along the way. There's also one of my favourite ever TED Talks in there somewhere. And now we have a new novel in The Sculptor, weighing in at just shy of 500 two-colour hardback pages.

The Sculptor is David Smith; young, talented but too unwilling to compromise. After pissing off his one influential sponsor, David has been struggling to get his work in front of the people who can then get it in front of the world. And David needs his work to be seen. He'd give his life for his art, and The Sculptor is the story of how he comes to do so (that's not a spoiler, by the way). An encounter with a strangely human Death gives him a chance to make a deal. And because The Sculptor has at least a little bit of a morality tale in its DNA, of course he takes it. 200 days in which to create sculpture like no one has ever seen before, then that's it.

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Review Round-up: The Five Star Books and Comics of January

Zita the SpacegirlLast year I tried to do a monthly round-up of my favourites and, er, un-favourites of each month. This had two goals: to get reviews off the blogging plate and to create some sort of personal 'record' that I could refer back to later in the year. 

That said, I felt a little guilty about un-favouriting things. And, as I was working on various awards ballots and best-ofs and whatnot, I realised my favourites list was equally inaccurate. So I'm going to try something a little different.

I think star ratings - be they Amazon and Goodreads - are pretty ridiculous. They're fun (crowd-sourced wisdom!) but frustrating as hell. If you're following me on Goodreads (and why would you? Is there anything less interesting?) you'll see that I do two ratings: 5 stars or ... not at all. That's not a 5 or zero - that's a 5 or abstain. Either I'm recommending a book for some interesting reason or not. This pretty much matches my reviewing 'approach' for Pornokitsch: I can either find something interesting to talk about in a book, or I can't. That's not the book's fault, of course - more an expression of my own privilege as an amateur reviewer. 

Anyway, I think it'd be more useful - certainly for me - if, instead of 'liking' and 'unliking' books, I turn this round-up into a list of books I five-starred, and why. As with all things, this is subject to change and whimsy. See "privilege", above.

With no further ado, the ten books from January - from spacegirls to the steam room:

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The Best and Worst Books of October

Books books books. October was the busiest month so far - NYCC, lots of travel, podcasting, you name it - so let's stop dilly-dallying and get to the action, shall we?

vesperLots and lots of series

My Lloyd Alexander kick continues. I reread Prydain (lovely, but pitched younger than I remembered - probably because I haven't reread it since I was 10), read Westmark for the first time (spectacular) and rereading the Vesper Holly series (so much fun).

Lots and lots and lots and lots of historical romances - more on that here.

Scott Sigler's Galactic Football League. Made it through The Champion (#5), and curious what will happen in the two yet-to-be-published volumes. FOOTBALL VS ALIENS. HOO-RAH!

Kate Brian's Private series - currently through The Legacy (#6). Those wacky rapscallions! 

...and slowly continuing the Edward S. Aarons "Sam Durrell" series, up through Assignment - Stella Marni (#4). So far, the even numbers are weaker and the odd numbers are amazing, with #3 (Assignment Suicide) the best of the lot. That said, there are still 44 books to go in the series, so I'll hold off on drawing too many conclusions.

But enough of that silliness, let's get to the fun stuff.

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