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Category Archives: reviews

Track-by-Track: Lady Gaga’s Joanne – “A-YO” (Track 03)

lady-gaga-ayoI’ll be dissecting Joanne song by song every day until November, when I debut some much bigger daily content!

A-YO” is a fun, radio-ready clapper that might have done better over the summer months when its nonsense chorus could have been playing at every packed bar of vacationing college students. It’s got a steady bounce to it that feels just right for a smokey dance floor.

The first thing I noticed about the song is that it feels to me like a clap back at some of the newer acts that have co-opted Gaga’s place on the radio as dance pop stars, like Icona Pop and Charli XCX. Gaga has never gone for those trebly, hand-clap kinds of drum loops before, but they tend to mark the songs of those other stars. Here she uses them, but shamelessly sheds all of her typical synths for guitar rock instead (pushing it even more into Charli’s glossy territory).

One unmissable aspect of “A-YO” is the country tinge to Gaga’s clean, up-front vocal. Listen to the first line – How the “I” stays an “ah,” never closing to the dipthong “E”; the throaty A in “wait”; the drawling “aw” in “all”; and, later, the “uh” in other. It’s not a world different from the affect she puts on in “You & I,” but where that barroom stomp got dressed up in a Queen sample to glam it up, “A-YO” is much closer to a rock song.

She’s also pushing the country theme in the lyrics, as she name checks Marlboros, “tearin’ up” the gravel, “city gravy,” and more down South turns of phrase. The vocal twang and vocabulary at first seems like a strange combination with the modern rock guitar solos strewn throughout the song. It’s one of her most guitar-driven tracks of all time – I especially dig the adventurous mid-neck solo.

Once the chorus hits everything becomes obvious: this is Gaga’s take on a line-dance. It’s classic Gaga, especially with its rapid-fire chorus, but all of the production choices push it away from “PokerFace” and nudges it closer to “Achy Breaky Heart.”

It’s an interesting move from Lady Gaga. It isn’t as if one twangy song will get her played on Country radio, but there are some aspects of it clearly calculated for success. It’s a dancefloor cut that isn’t just for dance clubs. The bright, clear vocal takes her out of her clubland weirdo schtick and puts her in a realm of comparison with different artists. Yet, elements of the schtick remain intact, like the repeated words and phrases.

I’m actually surprised this wasn’t selected as the lead single, especially since it’s [spoiler alert!] a much better portent for the unusual remainder of the LP than the more disco-tinged “Perfect Illusion.” But, I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow.

Finally, if you had any doubts about the country thing, here she is playing it on guitar while wearing a cowboy hat and an embroidered shirt.

Children’s Book Review: Mr. Tiger Goes Wild & The Curious Garden by Peter King

We’ve been reading to EV since the first days of her life, but reading to a tiny squirming baby is a lot different than reading to a curious and opinionated three year old.

Peter Brown in a YouTube video for his book The Creepy Carrots.

Peter Brown in a YouTube video for his book The Creepy Carrots.

Back then I read whatever I liked, and baby EV issued nary a complaint unless the language wasn’t smooth and consistent enough to hypnotize her into a lull. As long as I was enjoying the reading, she was enjoying the reading, too.

Three year old EV is a little different. She has a long attention span and a voracious appetite for books, but she’s got some preferences to work around. It’s not so much that she dislikes any one book, but that she likes others a bit too much.

We don’t do any “put it on repeat!” behavior in this house (another post for another time), but if EV is crushing on a particular book it quickly turns into a twice-daily read for a few weeks. As the designated reader for at least another two years, when a new book hits the “Crushing EV” list that means my preferences come into play beyond my typical “is this a good message?” filter.

I don’t want anything with language too simple or silly, or prose too basic. I enjoy books with different character voices where I get to do a little acting or situations that leave some room for imagination so I can editorialize. And, strong graphic design and typesetting can’t hurt – after all, these are books I’ll be spending hours with each week!

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is one book that I was delighted that EV added to her favorites, so much so that finding more by author Peter Brown was my first priority at the library. When we picked up The Curious Garden I expected it to be good, but I did not expect the two books to have such complimentary, synergistic themes.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild & The Curious Garden by Peter King


Mr. Tiger Goes Wild: CK Says: 4.5 stars – Buy it! Amazon Logo

Read Time: <5 minutes
Gender Diversity:
 Male protagonist; society of mixed genders; children exclusively minded by females
Ethnic Diversity: not applicable
Challenging Vocab (to read or to define): loosen, peculiar, unacceptable, magnificent
Themes To Discuss: civilization, wearing clothing, differences between animals and people

The Curious Garden: CK Says: 4 stars – Consider it! Amazon Logo

Read Time: 4-8 minutes
Gender Diversity:
 Male protagonist; no other named characters though some female background charaters
Ethnic Diversity: A set of briefly-seen wordless background characters are of different races
Challenging Vocab (to read or to define): greenery, pruning, delicate, mysteriously
Themes To Discuss: trespassing / urban exploration, pollution, how plants grow, greening

This pair of beautiful children’s books by Peter King have a lot to say about civilization versus nature, and how the ideal state of the world is a balance of the two. Both books have a positive message and enjoyable prose, and each it rife with interesting topics for discussion.

Peter King’s illustrations are a delight. His characters are all vividly colored and have a slight blockiness to their outlines. They seem to be near siblings to Jon Klassen and even give a very slight hint of Adventure Time.

mr-tiger-goes-wild-peter-brownMr. Tiger Goes Wild is the whimsical tale of a town filled with very proper animals who all dress like pilgrims and walk around on their hind legs. Mr. Tiger feels like something about his routine just isn’t right. After bounding around town on all fours and enjoying some very loud, improper roaring, he decides to take things to the next level and abandon his clothing. His neighbors, already perturbed by his running and climbing, decide this is a a bridge too far and ask that he leave town.

Mr. Tiger enjoys a return to the forest, but eventually misses his friends in town. He returns to offer a compromise on the puritanical dress code only to find that many of the town’s animals have adopted some of his more animalistic habits and are happier for it.

EV loves this book – from the moment of its introduction it has been one she is happy to read multiple times a day if given the chance. Me too, thanks to hilarious pages like the when where Mr. Tiger first has his wild idea. At first, she was more enamored with the variety of the animals in the town, the comic style word balloons that made it obvious who was speaking, and the cuteness of Mr. Tiger. As she has aged, she is more engaged with the plot, why Mr. Tiger wanted to be wild, and Mr. Tiger’s return to nature (and then again to society).

EV has repeatedly initiated discussions about why the tiger is even wearing clothes and if it would be okay for her to take off her clothes outside. If you don’t like your books with a side of thought-provocation, then this might be off-putting – but, we love those kinds of books in this house. I think the topic of what it means to be civilized (and what’s just puritanically-derived custom) is perfect for a little wild thing who is learning to tame their toddler urges and interact with the world around them.

Since we love Mr. Tiger so much, The Curious Garden was the first book I plucked from the shelf the day EV got her library card. Like Tiger, it has inspired intense love from both EV and we parental units, but it’s a very different sort of book with its own message about how the best elements of nature still need some cultivation to blossom. Continue reading ›

Children’s Book Review: At the Same Moment Around the World, Linus The Vegetarian T. Rex, and more…

EV and I made our first visit to the library two weeks ago. I wasn’t sure how EV would warm to temporary additions to her library. I shouldn’t have been concerned – we’ve average at least two reads a day on all of the positively reviewed books.

EV had one a clear favorite in this bunch, which I also thoroughly enjoyed (aside from some squinting).


at-the-same-moment-around-the-worldAt the Same Moment, Around the World by Clotilde Perrin

CK Says:  – Consider it. Amazon Logo

Gender Diversity: Plentiful!
Ethnic Diversity: Plentiful, although some Asian characters have peculiar skin tones
Challenging Language: Various country and city names
Themes to Discuss: World cultures, relative development/industrialization of different cultures, agrarian societies, kissing goodnight

EV was slow to warm to this book, which includes a look at a slice of life from each of 24 time zones around the globe. She quickly become obsessed when she realized each page featured a different kid and many small details to hunt.

Now it is her answer to everything. What are you doing EV? “At the same moment!” What do you want for dinner, EV? “At the same moment!”

I find the book delightful. It’s full of kids and teens doing everyday things, like helping to catch fish, rehearsing for a parade, and watching the world from a train. Each two-page spread features a full-bleed illustration that transitions between its two time zones. If you examine the outer edges of the page you’ll see that each image seamlessly continues over the edge of the page to the next – the book forms a continuous loop of art!

The text consists of just two sentences per pages. It is small and can be hard to read against many of the colorful painted backgrounds, at one point reversing out to white against a light background. The book should have added a screened, transparent box behind type and took it up two point sizes. Additional content includes an education spread on time zones (didn’t hold the toddler’s attention) and a fold out map of the world with all the characters connected to their cities (toddler is obsessed with this!).

After a few reads focusing on the words and the main action, EV and I started engaging with the background details of each location. There are many – enough to create multiple runs of “eye spy” through the book if your little reader gets obsessed with it.

at-the-same-moment-around-the-world_int_anchorage-and-san-franciscoPerrin carefully balance her distribution of genders and activities across the different cultures, such that most of the times I felt like it was reinforces a stereotype it quickly reversed. However, the some cultural stereotypes persist: Iraq is the only non-First-World country to have a large metropolitan area depicted, while Europe and America don’t focus as much on agrarian lifestyles.

In total, the book visits Senegal, France, Bulgaria, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Himalaya, Vietnam, China, Japan, Australia, New Caledonia, Russia, Samoa, United States (Hawaii, Alaska, California, Arizona), Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Greenland, the isle of Fernando de Noronha (also Brazil), and the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

There are other books that do individual elements of this better – showing different places and cultures, telling the story of every day tasks – yet the combination of that with the concept of time zones is clever. That might make this a great library check-out before a kid’s first big trip that crosses time zones. If you’re considering adding this to your bookshelf, note the odd dimensions of this book – it is 13″ high by 7″ deep.


There were six other books from this week’s library, including an imaginative dinosaur tale and a whimsical book that I had to edit due to some tacit misogyny! Continue reading ›

Children’s Book Review: Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

This week EV got her own library card.

She was excited by the prospect. Maybe not in anticipation – even as a book-loving three-year old, I don’t think she really understood the concept of an entire building whose purposes was housing books which you could borrow. Yet, once we arrived and she witnessed the seemingly unending shelf of books she could choose from, the excitement became all too real.

I spent a lot of time at the library as a kid, partially owing to the fact we didn’t have the kind of money that made regularly visiting bookstores an option until I was older. My mother made sure I had books as a constant presence in my life, and though I was late to read I’ve been a voracious consumer of printed material ever since.

I don’t have a good excuse for abstaining from the library until now, other than the fact that E and I both really like owning books. However, three years into the children’s book accumulation endeavor and every possible shelf is filled … which makes this collection no different than our CDs, DVDs, graphic novels, guitars.

You get the idea. We like stuff. Or maybe I’m just a luddite, considering I could have a smaller collection of all of that (even the guitars) if I would embrace digital more.

Either way, E is a wonderful curator of great books for EV, and I’d like to start reviewing our favorites here – as well as covering picks from the library. Even if you’re not a parent, everyone has to get a gift for a kid every so often. I’ll do my best to steer you in the right direction, including noting challenging themes and bad behavior in books, which are both pet peeves of mine.

To start out, I want to highlight one all-star book in our collection which not only is parent-selected and toddler-approved, but also our go-to gift for other kids.

Stellaluna, written and illustrated by Janell Cannon

stellaluna-cover-smallCK Says: 5 Stars – Buy It!

Gender Diversity: Female protagonist; supporting characters are female or agender
Ethnic Diversity: Not applicable
Challenging Language: “Awful” (so, none, really)
Themes to Discuss: parents in danger, gross food, obeying adults, assimilation

Stellaluna is a charming, positive story full of female anthropomorphized animal characters that includes several interesting hooks for discussion. We’ve found it to be a go-to re-read, not only for the depth of the tale but for its vocabulary and a clever secondary narrative.

Stellaluna is the story of a baby bat who loses sight of her mother and winds up raised alongside a trio of tiny birds in a nest. She has to endure such indignities as sleeping upright and eating worms (she’s a fruit bat), essentially losing touch with her bat identity while struggling to be more birdlike. She later finds her colony of bats, including her own mother. In the process, she learns to love being a bat, but also the differences between her and her bird friends. Continue reading ›

Review: Netflix’s Stranger Things, Season One

As with the release of any of Netflix’s “bing it all at once” television seasons, this weekend my social feed went from a stray mention of Stranger Things on Friday to a steady stream on Saturday as more and more people began to sample the eight-episode thriller.

I didn’t want to be a late adopter this time around (or: be spoiled!), so I jumped onto the bandwagon on Saturday night – and wound up finishing the entire show within 48hrs!

That’s not just because I love to binge on TV. In many ways, Stranger Things is Neflix’s most cohesive and successful original work yet. While the performances might not be of the raw caliber of acting as those in House of Cards or Orange Is The New Black, they all work perfecting in the unflinching service of this period 1980s thriller.

Stranger Things, Season 1 4.5 stars 

stranger-things-animated-logoThere are very light, “this is the concept, these are the characters, this happens in the beginning of Ep1” spoilers in the first section; a more spoiler-filled take for those who’ve already seen the show follows, below.

CK Says: Watch it!

Stranger Things is a Netflix original that’s obsessed with the 80s work of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and Amblin Entertainment. It’s about a hidden horror, a terrifying secret, and how a group of kids bear the burden of both on the behalf of an entire sleepy town.

While Stranger Things is reverent of those influences, the show rarely feels derivative as it unfurls a sci-fi plot that is as human as it is creepy. The focus is always on the characters and rarely on the fantasy, even though the fantastical element are a seamlessly-executed success.

The opening frames introduce us to Hawkins, Indiana in November of 1983. We briefly glimpse a terrified scientist fleeing through the abandoned, flickering halls of a research facility on the outskirts of town before he is captured by an unseen creature.

The rest of Hawkins seems none the wiser to these events – it could not be more average. The geeky kids play Dungeons & Dragons and are obsessed with Star Wars. The teens are shot-gunning beers and talking about sex without consequence. The parents are stringing together jobs and cooking dinner without worrying too much about where their kids are hanging out and with whom. A surly sheriff hasn’t had to deal with any major crime – the last notable one was in the 20s!

Anything past idle teenage vandalism would be notable in this tiny ville. Yet, it’s also idyllic enough that a missing child can be chalked up to a wrong turn on a hike or deciding to take a Greyhound for an adventure to the city. That disappearance is accompanied by the appearance of a seemingly-mute young girl with a shaved head. She’s desperate to escape an anonymous group of men and women in black who want to haul her back to that same mysterious lab. When she encounters a trio of nerdy kids searching for their missing friend, it acts as a flashpoint that begins to unveil the horror that’s been unleashed on the small town. Continue reading ›

Review: Unfollow, Vol. 1 by Williams & Dowling

No one can ever own or end a concept.

I think about that a lot in my constant state of creator’s decision paralysis, stemming all the way back to when I first starting writing my novel as an eighth-grader and then that summer a comic with almost the exact same concept came out.

I was young then, and I thought, “Oh no! Now they own that concept! They’ve done it so well that no one can do it again. They ended it.”

I’ve thought that many times about a lot of my creative endeavors. People have owned being a boy/girl duet band, blogging about Philly, the theme of my novel again, and many other things. Heck, it’s no so different in the start-up world, where at RJMetrics we saw dozens of other companies with similar concepts get funded and join the fray.

Here’s the thing – concepts are very rarely a zero sum game. There’s room in a single theme for many different variations.

The case and point for me is an actual zero sum game – the “many people enter, one person leaves” theme in fiction. Highlander might be the best example of this for us children of the 80s. There can be only one! Many film fans thought Battle Royale was such an innovative, transgressive take on it that no one else ought to bother. Then, of course, came Hunger Games. Some people called it a Battle Royale rip-off, while others thought it was such an innovative, transgressive take on it that one one else should bother. I loved a comic called Avengers Arena, which many people called a Battle Royale and Hunger Games rip-off, and by that point I knew better than to think it should prevent anyone else from trying the same thing.

Unfollow-tpb-vol01People keep bothering. There is something elemental about concept of a zero sum game where the sum is both power and life. No one owns zero sum games, or superheroes, or zombie apocalypses, and no single work on any of those is so prohibitive a mic drop that no one else ought to make an attempt.

All that matters is that your story is good – that your creation is compelling.

Unfollow, Vol. 1 – 140 Characters 4.0 stars Amazon Logo

Collects Unfollow #1-6 written by Rob Williams and drawn by Mike Dowling with Pahek and R.M. Guerra, with lettering by Clem Robins and color art by Quinton Weaver and Giula Brusco

Tweet-sized Review: Unfollow: a comic for tweeters who’d love a real-world Hunger Games about wealth’s abundance rather than its lack

CK Says: Buy it.

Unfollow, Vol. 1 contains the first six issues of a maddeningly intriguing comic that breathes fresh life into the concept of a zero sum game where there can be only one winner, which we’ve seen used to such great success in Highlander, Battle Royale, and Hunger Games.

Part of its delightful conceit is that there really can be more than one. Larry Ferrell, a Zuckerbergian figure, is facing imminent death and has decided to dispense his $17 billion fortune between 140 people. Their selection isn’t entirely random nor is it perfectly deliberate, and it is extremely public. Some of them are potential future CEOs and world-altering documentarians, while others are bored rich kids and god-fearing one-man militias.

There’s a catch: for every one of them who dies, the remainder of the 140 get to split that person’s inheritance of $120 million. That’s less than an extra million each, so there’s not a lot of incentive for assassination – unless, of course, you plan to slim down the ranks considerably. Continue reading ›

Review: Savage Hulk, Vol. 1: The Man Within by Davis, Farmer, & Hollingsworth

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about audiences and about screaming into the void.

One of my earliest ongoing creative endeavors was writing fan fiction inside the Final Fantasy II (Japan IV) universe. I was writing it just to write it, but then I discovered a few other like-minded folks on the internet and we had a small, shared universe of fiction. Honestly, I have no idea how 14-year-old me put it all together – the details are a blur. It was mostly just that same handful of people who were reading it. No one was writing for attention or exposure. We were all writing for the joy of writing.

The same is true for my songwriting. I spent years writing songs for no one to hear before I started pushing to play them for more people. Even after being in a gigging band for years, to this day the vast majority of my catalog has never been heard outside of our house or this website because I write so darn many songs. I’d have to put out an album a year to keep up and tour constantly.

I have the luxury of doing those things for fun. My fanfic was niche and so is my music, but it doesn’t really matter. I am happy to cast that art out into the void knowing no response would echo back at me.

The problem with doing art for the love of it comes once you’ve actually earned some attention. What happens when more than a handful of people like your writing or your music? Now you have an audience. If you were making art for the love of it, their eyeballs and ears shouldn’t make any difference to you. Yet, it’s hard to avoid their influence, even if you aren’t performing craven acts of fan service to keep them all pleased. Once you’ve seen an indicator that your art is actually being consumed it’s hard to ignore it completely.

Let’s advance that to it’s end state: a popular artist who has followed their own path and pleased fans along the way now wants to do something inherently less popular – or simply something different. I’m not thinking about the dangers inherent in each new release. Instead, consider an independent artist experimenting with a new genre or a big money director wanting to make a decidedly non-mainstream film. J.K. Rowling is a terrific example; after Harry Potter, she didn’t want to write another young readers opus, but that’s what everyone wanted!

It’s a risk. Do they trust fans enough to compartmentalize this work of otherness away from their main oeuvre? You might not be able to afford the detour if it turns too many people off. In Rowling’s case, she released one novel under her own name (The Casual Vacancy) and then another under a pseudonym (The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith). Neither detracted from the fervor for Potter, but the latter earned higher marks from fans and critics, called “a brilliant debut.”

Was it the quality of the Galbraith book that made it more successful, or that it was free of baggage? How would you enjoy the new album from your favorite artist if you didn’t know it was by them?

Savage_Hulk_Vol_1_1_TextlessThese questions occur to me with every subsequent piece of art I purchase or consume from a known artist.

Savage Hulk, Vol. 1 – The Man Within 3.5 stars Amazon Logo

Collects Savage Hulk issues #1-4 written and penciled by Alan Davis, with inks by Mark Farmer and colors by Matt Hollingsworth. Also includes X-Men (1963) #66 written by Stan Lee with pencils by Sal Buscema.

Tweet-sized Review: Alan Davis writes/draws a lovely, clever sequel to X-Men #66, a face-off w/Hulk, in this ode to early-70s Marvel.

CK Says: Consider it.

This Alan Davis Hulk and X-Men story is a love letter to early-70s comic books and it’s possible you simply won’t care. His tale in The Savage Hulk, Vol. 1 – The Man Within branches off from a bash-em-up encounter between the heroes in X-Men #66, the last comic before the hiatus ended by their Giant-Size comeback in 1974.

In a follow-up to that orphaned story, a recovered Professor Charles Xavier feels compelled to design a device that could help Bruce Banner control the Hulk as repayment for Banner’s cure for his mental exhaustion. However, the Hulk is being hunted by the military after causing serious damage in Las Vegas, while Xavier has unwittingly attracted the attention of Hulk’s foe The Leader. Continue reading ›

Review: Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Vaughan & Chiang

E and I had our first DVD player when we lived in Pine Street, just after I graduated college. I suppose it was in a laptop of hers, because we didn’t have a television and I remember watching movies in bed.

I was excited to reclaim some of the films of my youth long since lost on the beta tapes they were captured on, so between that year and the next I filled them all in. Dark Crystal, The Lost Boys, Labyrinth, and more.

The thing about these nostalgia viewings is that you can re-watch the thing you once loved, but it might not produce the same magic. I was so excited to show E The Lost Boys, labelling it as a sort of proto-Buffy as we settled into bed to watch it, but it was laugh-out-loud lame. Yet, there are still new layers to unravel in Labyrinth.

The 80s produced so much of those wonderful coming of age stories, and I don’t think I’m saying that because I was young at the time. Actually, I was ignorant of most of the stuff like Stand By Me and The Goonies, because at the ripe old age of seven I already felt I was too old for their messages. The Lost Boys, at least, had vampires. Yet, looking back there are so many seminal movies in that Amblin Entertainment model set by E.T. and Goonies that are still referenced today, right down to their feel being aped by films like Super 8.

Paper-Girls-vol-01I’ve never seen Stand By Me or The Goonies. I know, I know – it’s sacrilege. Just now I looked them up on Wikipedia to make sure I wasn’t mistaking them for something else.

It’s odd for me to watch this new generation of media being produced by the folks who came of age with the first set – usually a few years older than me, probably old enough to have seen these films in theatres on their own.

The 80s vibe is unmistakeable, but I don’t know all their influences by heart the way I do things that reference David Bowie or Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Paper Girls, Vol. 2 2.0 stars Amazon Logo

Collects issues #1-5 written by Brian K. Vaughan with line art by Cliff Chiang, color art by Matt Wilson, and letters by Jared K. Fletcher.

Tweet-sized Review: Vaughan and Chiang’s Paper Girls tries for all-girls Goonies but maybe foregrounds too many monsters too soon

CK Says: Skip it (for now)

Paper Girls is the newest Brian K. Vaughan jam to hit its first collection, but I think you’d be better off waiting for a second trade paperback before you start reading.

Vaughan is the master creator of critical hits like Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Marvel’s Runaways, The Private Eye, and the still-running deeply personal space fantasy Saga, which is currently the biggest independent comic after The Walking Dead. Vaughan is joined on this creator-owned Image Comics series by artist Cliff Chiang, directly from his run on DC’s Wonder Woman, and uber-colorist Matt Wilson, from everything.

Paper Girls promised a return to normalcy after the devious Saga, focusing on a group of girls on their 1988 paper route. Of course, Vaughan would never go full-normal on us – these girls would surely tangle with something fantastical. Continue reading ›

Review: Black Magick, Vol. 1 by Rucka & Scott

I am a contrary person and at times in my life I have totally given up on certain things that other, normal people find it totally okay to engage in with moderation. For example, I went through a period where I felt slow-dances were “boring, rotating hugs,” and used such time to rehydrate for the next uptempo set of songs.

There was a period in my life where I had completely given up on movies. They were necessarily assembled by committee and that meant they couldn’t be perfect. Who would want a story spoon fed to them visually for two hours when they could read the same material four times as fast?

Our movie collection makes obvious that I overcame my discrimination, though if you example that large library you’ll see that the films they largely fall into one of two camps. One is special-effects or period films like Star Wars or Braveheart, which present a reality I could not otherwise witness. The other are the finely coordinated works of auteurs like Wes Anderson. Some are both, like Primer and Donnie Darko, or most of Christopher Nolan’s films.

I still don’t see the point of watching a two hour comedy or drama that it took hundreds of people to produce unless I am watching it for some spectacle, whether that’s visual or in caliber of performance.

Yet, the sheer scope of film cannot be denied. That widescreen window on the world and its beautifully pushed colors – that is a thing to covet and convert to other mediums. It is why television shows and advertisements and comic books yearn for that stamp of cinematicism.

black-magick-vol-01That wasn’t always the case for comics. I’m not sure when it started – perhaps with David Finch’s widescreen take on The Ultimates, which ultimately informed Marvel’s The Avengers film. Now it has infected the entire medium. No more caption boxes or thought bubbles, because movies so rarely have narrators and voice-overs. Massive establishing shots with no text, despite the fact that each panel tells the geography of a scene in miniature. Glossy colors that cram in reflections and lens flares, because only movie magic can help you suspend your disbelief.

Every comic book wants to be its own film, but very few of them actually feel like one.

Black Magick, Vol. 1 4.0 stars Amazon Logo

Collects issues #1-5 by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott, with color assistance from Chiara Arena.

Tweet-sized Review: Black Magick v1: spellbinding cop procedural w/dose of magical ritual, but only half of Act 1…I want the whole play!

CK Says: Buy it.

Black Magick is an entrancing, deliberately-paced dose of witchy mystery, like Homicide: Life On the Streets crossed with The Craft, by a pair creators at a newfound apex of their powers.

Not a word more can be said for this book without talking about artist Nicola Scott’s grayscale, ink-washed artwork. It is a sight to behold. Black and white major label comics are few and far between, but this isn’t true black and white – her flood of gray inks have tone and depth. They give her figures a sense of texture and weight that would be hard to replicate with typical digital coloring. Chiara Arena contributes only occasional splashes of color – a bloodshot eyeball, a burst of flames, or a green mist of spellwork.

Scott’s world is filled with so much detail and organic motion that panels seem to sweep from one to another like a strip of film passing across the bulb of a projector. At points, I honestly forgot I was reading a comic book with static pictures and tangible pages. Scott’s art transported me. Continue reading ›

Review: The Private Eye by Vaughan, Martin, & Vicente

Lately, I trust journalists less than ever before. Or, maybe I trust them, but I don’t trust the stories they’re telling.


Last week during the gun control filibuster on the Senate floor I compiled the names and demographic information from all the participating Senators, and my friend Lauren created an interactive infographic with the information. I did not read a single media story that named all of the participants after the fact.

I know this is a theme in conservative American politics right now – the bias of the mass media. I’m not talking about bias. I’m talking about facts.

The past few weeks have been full of big new stories nationally (Orlando and gun control) and locally (sugary drink tax and the DNC), and the biggest of those stories have been missing so many facts. They’re all headlines and quick hits. Hot takes with no depth. No quoting from primary sources. Lots of people coming away with incomplete ideas and parroting them as reality.

Those same weeks have also been full of truth. I become deeply invested in last week’s filibuster from the floor of the Senate and did not consume a single pundit’s take on it. I watched it live and was my own pundit. Yesterday’s sit-in in the House circumvented pundits even further – it couldn’t even be broadcast by networks because the House was out of session and cameras were off, so representatives broadcast it directly to the public via Periscope, cutting all all possible middlemen.

Of course, the next day journalism swept in – but, as a first-hand witness to the events in question, I found the subsequent coverage lacking. Where were the names of the participants, the lengths of time they spoke, the information they shared? I put more information together about the filibuster with data visualization from my friend Lauren than I saw from any news site!

I don’t trust journalists or I don’t trust the stories they tell, but I can hardly blame them. After all, I have a journalism degree and I never set foot into that field. I went CorpComm because I wanted job security and a standard of living, and that was before online outlets were effectively subsidizing their print editions and running on pay-per-click ad units. But I still believe journalism should represent unfiltered truth with a neutral point of view, unless it professes itself as opinion. I had a lot to say about the filibuster, but none of it made its way into the data.

What if journalists didn’t have to worry about the funding and the hits, and could focus on terrific journalism? There are some outlets today that fit the bill, and I don’t think it’s coincidence they produce some of the most thorough reporting. I know it’s hard to picture state-run journalism, because so often it’s journalists who expose the flaws in the state, but that’s one version of what I’m talking about. Instead of asking journalists to make personal sacrifices to do what they love and write for maximum eyeballs, imagine a minimum number of reporters guaranteed on each beat, with job security, fair pay, and a retirement plan.

Do you think the journalism would get better or worse? Does it take sacrifice to want to dig as deep as journalists dig? Or, would the skill and commitment increase?

The-Private-Eye-hardcoverThe Private Eye 3.0 stars Amazon Logo

The Private Eye collects the 10 chapters of a complete web comic story by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente.

Tweet-sized Review: The Private Eye finds Vaughan & Martin a bit too clever for their own good; I liked the world better than the story

CK Says: Consider it.

The Private Eye is a much more interesting world than it is an interesting story – and, it’s a pretty decent story.

Private Eye is an Eisner and Harvey Award Winning comic story conceptualized by Brian K. Vaughan and created in collaboration with Marcos Martin and his wife, colorist Muntsa Vicente. It was initially released beginning in March 2013 as a web-only comic via Panel Syndicate, with its 10 chapters released across 24 months. Each chapter was available as a DRM-free as a pay-what-you-will download.

You can still purchase it that way, or you can opt for a gorgeous $50 hardcover version released in December that includes the complete Vaughan/Martin email chain conceptualizing the story and their method of release (complete with fretting over what to call the website and how to make a profit from it).

The story of Private Eye depicts an America where the press has taken over peacekeeping for the police thanks to a landmark omni-leak of every possible piece of data. The event, called “The Cloudburst,” exposed everyone’s online information to everyone else. It wasn’t the leaked account balances or private nudes that did everyone in, but the search histories. It turns out that was as close as you could come to knowing what was going on inside someone else’s head – their deepest fears and desires. A lot of those heads were pretty dark places. Continue reading ›