The New York Times reported that after nearly 90 years, a novel from Harlem Renaissance’s Claude McKay has been published for the populous. It’s a quick but interesting under-200-page read with an introduction spanning the book’s history and journey to fruition including the fact that Lafala, the protagonist, is very similar to an actual person. So here’s the real question – why wasn’t it published?
Marseille’s protagonist, a West African man once full of the spirit to dance living in the Jazz Age, becomes disabled when he attempts to be a stowaway on a freighter headed to the United States. He is caught, locked in the frigid-aired toilet room, feet soon frostbitten. His feet are amputated and replaced with cork stumps. Despite this horrific sacrifice, the court’s power is on his side. Finding himself newly wealthy after a generous court settlement, he reunites with the beautiful, lively, queer, and culturally diverse people of Marseille, the port city of France. His newfound fortune even though he is disabled, however, offers newfound opportunity for the greedy and the prejudiced to take advantage. But does Lafala play the fool once more?
This book is highly relevant to today, and the element that seemed to make it the most (let’s say) dangerous (I mean dangerous in the way that they probably viewed it at the time, and not the way I view it) was that it displayed queerness casually, openly in a time where queerness wasn’t accepted in the same way it is today. The story weaves even more dangerous ideas about the rise of socialism, and how it is not only a movement to shift the economy but an oddly backward racial representation game as well. Add that to the fact that the book pursues pleasure at its forefront for characters who are usually oppressed, then yeah, I guess you’ve got a risqué novel.
Even though the novel is short, it’s so substantial in concepts – black history, queerness, disability, global politics. In the history of literature, it also embodies an example of the stowaway narrative akin to the slave trade.
Beyond it seeming only like a novel full of important ideas, though, it doesn’t skimp on plot intrigue. It is also a novel with a meaningful story and complex characters that are neither fully good nor bad at heart. Especially Lafala, who isn’t presented as merely a victimized black, disabled man but a flawed human being who feels deeply. He is someone for whom you can sympathize even if you cannot empathize. He leads a romance with a Moroccan prostitute, Aslima, that is both tragic and in its own way – at times – beautiful. In fact Aslima feels as much a part of the story as Lafala. Romance in Marsielle is a novel that proves that you can achieve something that covers a wide variety of concepts in a concentrated, succinct manner.
To me, rating this book doesn’t seem pertinent – only because it’s important to history, and for that reason alone, it’s worth a read. Still, in the act of fairness, I have left my overall score at the bottom.
If I am to criticize anything about the formal aspects of a Romance in Marsielle – it would be in the style. It is written simply with you feeling some parts more than others.
It seemed like there was some missed opportunity to do more with the language to help the reader with the sensory experience. Perhaps, though, having a sensory experience in a novel is not important to you.
If you enjoy some gritty, dark reads and complex characters, check out this triple threat!
In the backdrop of Philly, a town that survived the grim cocaine epidemic of the 1970s-90s, one homicide detective named Jimmy discovered something horrible while working a case. After Jimmy’s death, his son, JJ, reluctantly picks through his father’s old journal, and reveals the haunting secrets of that fatal case. Killadelphia explodes on the page with noir-ish artwork that feels like True Detective meets true horror. The panels are gritty, muted, with attention paid to shadows. The comic is stunning and I became unable to tear myself away from learning more with each page turn.
Oh, Harleen. Nothing like a love story about murderers to get you all warm and fuzzy inside. Though to be honest, the burgeoning love story between the doomed Harleen Quinn and Joker isn’t what gets me going in this comic set in Batman’s Gotham City. For me it’s the care put into the panels – each one pulling you into the unfolding horror while also economically being able to tell story. There was a two page spread in particular that floored me in its ability to cover a series of interviews with Arkham Asylum’s most infamous in a dynamic yet succinct way. The best parts of this comic are the art (minus Joker) and the exploration of how – the often portrayed as a dingbat – Harley Quinn is actually Harleen, an intelligent, funny, charming psychologist who takes on the dangerous task of becoming a researcher at Arkham Asylum. Do I really care about Joker in this? Not really. Is he drawn like an Abercrombie model? Kinda. Does it fix the fact that the Joker is an asshole? Not really, and I refuse to fall for this artistic trick! But you, prospective reader, might think he looks sexy. That’s fair.
Dead Eyes is the kind of comic that should be made into a streaming service series. It has all the flavor of a gangster show and the production wouldn’t have to spend a fortune on special effects. Dead Eyes is just a man in a mask who knows how to punch. This popular 90s masked Bostonian version of Robin Hood rejoins the fight present day when his moral obligation to take care of his sick wife supersedes her desire to ensure his safety. His day job at the local Walmart might not pay enough to provide for his wife, but his return to the streets may help him get the money he needs. In the process, he may even help save innocent lives. That is, so long as enemies from the past don’t ruin his pay day.
Happy New Year to all! To kick off this new year, I took a look at Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor, a comic based off the BBC show which has an annual Christmas special to ring in the newest season. It made me think, considering the newest season of Doctor Who is on the horizon, it’s the perfect time to review the comic.
For a little background if you are unfamiliar with the Doctor Who cannon, Doctor Who is a Timelord, an alien with two hearts, who can travel through space and time using a T.A.R.D.I.S. (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) cleverly disguised as a police box that’s bigger on the inside. The Doctor can reincarnate into different forms male or female (hence the number associated with the doctor) and often travels with human companions on adventures to different time periods and planets.
I consider myself a big fan of Doctor Who, though I admit I haven’t read one of their comics. Reading the Thirteenth Doctor’s team-up with the Tenth Doctor was a perfect introduction considering it returns to the beloved 2007 Doctor Who episode, Blink. On top of winning several awards, this episode was rated second best Doctor Who story ever by readers of Doctor Who Magazine. Several publications praised its ability to weave timelines, merge the horror and sci-fi genre, and delight with strong performances all around.
The thing about the T.A.R.D.I.S. is that it tends to take you where you need to be rather than necessarily where you want to be. For the Thirteenth Doctor’s companions Ryan, Yaz, and Graham, though their intended destination was Woodstock 1969, they ended up in late 1960s London instead – the place the Tenth Doctor and his companion at the time, Martha, were stranded during the episode, Blink. In this comic just like in Blink, the Tenth Doctor’s T.A.R.D.I.S. was stuck in 2007, and they have to reach out to people in 2007 from 1969 in order to bring the T.A.R.D.I.S. back.
Now in 1969, the Thirteenth Doctor is in a predicament. She does not wish to wrongfully influence her former self, but she must also try to understand what has brought her to this destination. She crosses paths with Martha Jones – a meeting which adds more depth to the Martha-Doctor relationship – an aspect I enjoyed because I think Martha gets a bad wrap. In the context of the show she is easily seen as a rebound from a previous companion. She gets ignored and treated poorly even though she is often the one keeping the Doctor on track.
As Ryan, Yaz, and Graham track down the Tenth Doctor running around with his timey-whimey detector machine (yeah, that’s really what he calls it) and while the Thirteenth Doctor follows the lead at Martha’s shop, both parties overlook the creature they cannot see, the thing that lurks in the shadows – the beings known as The Weeping Angels. The Weeping Angels in the words of the Tenth Doctor are ancient beings that “can zap you back through time and make you live to death.” They turn to stone when people look at them, and can only move when no one can see them. The concept of making someone suddenly live in the past to never return to their present is a chilling and sad one. It is what made “Blink” such a powerful, gut-punching episode.
I love that the writer, Jody Houser combined such a beloved episode in this comic. I am interested in continuing the story. I do wonder if it leans to heavily upon the reliance of the Tenth Doctor’s fan base for readership. This comic does have a learning curve to it, and the more you have watched Doctor Who – particularly the seasons with the Tenth Doctor and the Thirteenth, the more likely you will enjoy the comic. It is, most assuredly – a comic for the fans. It possesses all the aspects people love about the show – the fun dialogue and characterization, the time period adventure, and of course – the wibbly-wobbly timey-whimey stuff. The panels are minimalist design, but even in the minimalism, the panels still possess lots of personality. If you are a Doctor Who fan, this comic will likely get you excited to consume more Doctor Who, and will make you want to revisit the old episodes that you love.
Though it may seem important to remember everything from the past, there is a difference in remembering over accepting the past as fate people are doomed to repeat. In Rain Falls on Everyone, for one young man, Theo, a Rawandan who fled his country’s genocide as a boy, remembering the past has been wrought with post-traumatic stress. Now an adult in Ireland, he understands what it means to be different – neither part of Ireland nor Rwanda. Not until he crosses paths with a woman he works with, Deirdre, and they find a chilling connection through a dangerous drug gang may they unlock the blockages that keep them from moving forward. Though this book has a slow burn in the first act, the story heats up nicely to an emotional, thought-provoking conclusion.
Chonghaile wraps the audience in a blanket of both beautiful and haunting imagery. One moment you’re picturing Galway, the passersby, the beauty of a girl Theo sees in a coffee shop window – then the next moment you are sucked into images from the past – Theo’s bloodied family members, a machete raised high, a scream – all in the way we might personally experience PTSD spilling into our heads like water out of a leaky faucet. Chonghaile brings us back and forth from Theo to Deirdre’s perspective. At times that can be confusing, but once you get used to the way the story bleeds in and out, the experience becomes immersive. Seeing both Theo and Deirdre’s viewpoints not only provides deeper insight, but it also plays into the structure of two individuals from different backgrounds coming together to a mutual understanding, the understanding that all the main players in Rain Falls on Everyone may be suffering in their own way.
The theme of the past catching up with you and the definition of home becomes the centerpiece of this book. There is a distinct, confusing, heart-breaking guilt that Theo feels underneath his adoptive parents’ choice to leave Rwanda. When in the middle of things, it can be difficult to know what is right when a more pressing urge to survive surfaces. Survival becomes Theo’s newfound predicament in Rain Falls on Everyone with the drug gang. But what does it mean, despite everything, to finally find home? Is home the place you are raised or is it the feeling you find in a person or group of people that make you care? These are the questions that Rain Falls on Everyone asks.
I was halfway through the novel, and I was still receiving background information, which made me fear that the story may not come to a satisfying conclusion. I stuck with it, however, and all the pieces fell into place, satisfying me and enlightening me on Theo, the larger story, and all the mess that may influence everyone’s future.
Clar Ni Chonghaile, though born in London, was raised in Galway, Ireland and moved back to London after she turned 19 to become a journalist for Reuters. Though she didn’t spend her entire life in Ireland, I still consider her an Irish writer, especially regarding Rain Falls on Everyone which takes place almost entirely in Ireland, and its clear the landscape and the people of this island are a part of Clar’s identity. People are also not one thing. People are multi-faceted, hailing often from a variety of places like the book she wrote explores. Her work has been praised by other journalists and writers, and her writing style will likely interest you if you are a fan of recent history and if you appreciate detailed, immersive imagery.
Welcome to the unveiling of Comic Quips a review series for comics and graphic novels. This series expands upon a review series called Book Spotlight where I review groups of 2-3 books that explore something in common. But comics, to me, are their own special category, and they deserve their own special spotlight.
I wanted to start Comic Quips off with a BANG (Or perhaps a POW?) with a Q&A. Christening the Q&A with her comic, My Life to Live, is Chloe Brailsford.
Chloe Brailsford is a comic book artist with whom I had the pleasure of attending University of Texas at Austin. We were fellow film students who had a screenwriting class together, and I quickly realized through that experience how well-versed Chloe had been in film. I remember the distinct references she would make to the french filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard. I realized from that experience how I should consider looking into foreign and art house films. I remember sitting at the Fine Arts Library at UT watching Godard’s Pierre le Fou. It was so wildly different than anything I had seen before. It was an experience that expanded my perspective entirely. I bring all this up because when I read My Life to Live for the first time, I thought back to that distinct moment sitting in the library.
When I purchased a copy of My Life to Live, I was happy to see Chloe’s love for cinema converge with her love for drawing. The two merge beautifully, skillfully in a story about a former criminal connecting with art on a profound level. It’s atmospheric, immersing you in little details that will make you want to revisit panels. It’s chic and studded with leather jackets. It’s an homage to great figures in film, while also feeling personable, with a sweet relationship between two women at the heart of it. In everything that it is – it feels very Chloe, an artist with a clear, distinct voice, who I am so happy was willing to offer her words on My Life to Live.
Q: What do you find special about MY LIFE TO LIVE? What does it mean to you?
A: On a purely technical standpoint, MY LIFE TO LIVE is the longest comic I have done (five times longer than any previous, at twenty pages), and the first time I feel like I truly “published” something. In that regard, this book means a lot to me! I usually burn out on projects if I don’t complete them fast enough, but that I managed to pull through and create this thing that other people now have in their possession and have read is a wild feeling which I can’t quite compare to anything else!
From the standpoint of narrative, I feel like this book is the most ME thing I have ever done, in that it hits at almost all of my narrative obsessions (those dealing with identity, nostalgia, transformations, the power of art, love, etc.), as well as certain fixations I have with aesthetics (like, ya know, babes in leather jackets). I am really happy that I was able to make something that presents all of this in such a short space – and I’d like to believe it accomplishes its goals! I think the book leaves enough room for the reader to come to their own understandings apart from everyone else; from every person I have talked with, it seems like no one person is getting the same interpretation as anyone else, which is really cool!
Q: When did you realize you wanted to make comics?
A: When the SPIDER-MAN DVD came out (2002, I think, when I was eleven or twelve), there was this special feature where all these different artists who worked on his books over the decades were chiming in with their ideas on the web-head, and it would show a lot of the art of the specific artists as they were being interviewed. What I saw blew me away, especially the drawings of John Romita, Jr., and so, following that, I would consistently ask for comics for Christmas and my birthday, and I bought a lot of sketchbooks to like GO. It was then that I wanted to draw comics!
But like…life is funny! I saw SIN CITY in theaters opening day (April 5, 2005), and I feel like my brain blew up. Here was something that could achieve what comics could, AND MORE??? And so I studied cinema for ten years, and fell out of comics hard. It wasn’t until I was almost done with film school (in 2015), that I really got back into drawing – and like, I realized how much more satisfaction I got from drawing than I ever did making movies; that kinda clenched it!
Q: What was the process like to get this comic made – from idea to publication? How long did it take?
A: The short answer is: four months. The long(er) answer is that I had been artistically stagnant for a while, and some of my friends really pushed me to keep trudging through. So I signed up for my first ever comic convention and told everyone I saw that I was gonna have a book out; I kept telling myself, “Look here, lil’ Chlo, you’re gonna get this book done or you’ll disappoint not only yourself, but everyone else, too.” Unfortunately it took a while for me to get started, but I thankfully hit upon a notion that made everything easier: maybe I should make a story about the thing I’ve poured the largest portion of my life into – movies!
From there it was just about… figuring it out and getting it done. Four months is kind of a long time to be working on a single twenty-page book, but part of that was my busy life, and the other part was my methods for creation (which I’ll go into below). As I said earlier, I have a tendency to get bored working on stuff if it takes too long, but the deadline – the knowledge that I NEEDED to get something done – was enough to keep me motivated. My friend had recommended a local print shop, and so, once the book was done, I called them up and got the dang thing printed in about a week, right before my first ever comic convention a week later!
Q: Do the designs for the characters come first, or their personalities, desires, and story come first, and then you start designing?
A: Piggybacking off my answer for the last question, one of the primary reasons my stuff takes so long is because there is literally no forethought before I put pencil to paper. I never know the narrative I am going to tell, who the characters are, what they look like, etc., until I have already drawn them – and then I am stuck with those looks because I am too lazy to change them for any reason. Hahaha
So like, I was watching Wong Kar-wai’s FALLEN ANGELS one day, and the opening shot really just struck me. I was like, “Yeah, I’ll put that in my book at some point.” Then I laid out a page, and I basically replicated the opening shot, but with different people, and was just like, “Whelp, I guess this is the beginning of my book!” It’s all very intuitive, for better or worse. (Also, that shot arrangement is in the book three times for narrative purposes)
I would get little ideas here and there about characters to show up, and how the narrative would proceed (I think the ending changed three times before I drew it and then redrew it), eventually culminating in what you can now read. Honestly, it only took twenty minutes to actually write the dialogue and captions, because the book was drawn before I did any of that, and so I had already built the entire thing.
Also, more in relating to your question, I don’t really think I can come up with a character’s desires separate from their design; design is what tells me about the character – how they think about the world around them, how they interact with others, and how they think about themselves. I think my characters either know exactly who they are, or they have specific goals to achieving that; like me, this mostly comes through in clothing, something I have been obsessed with since I was four years old. Once a character is dressed in a way that suits them, they can totally just be themselves.
Q: What do you like about the medium of comics for artistic expression that you don’t find in other mediums?
A: Tbh, it’s totally about the feeling of the hand moving across the page, and the satisfaction it brings. It’s also that it can be a totally solo endeavor; I was not ever super good about getting people to work with me on movies, and I got kinda disheartened when I would write so many movies and never push them to get made – maybe because I worried about relying on others. Sure, comics are often a collaborative medium like movies, but to tell a full narrative, you can literally do the whole thing yourself. AND you can have all the production design and costuming and hair and makeup in the world and spend next to nothing. But then again, you can just draw or paint and get that satisfaction, right?
Spending time focusing on comics meant I had to learn how to develop panels that flowed into each other, and pages that told stories in and of themselves. I have a very formalist approach to filmmaking and theory, and I try to apply that to comics, too (whether I fully do or not is another matter entirely). I like how comic pages work, and how the page turn from one to the next can literally be awe-inspiring – it can riddle the senses with excitement and anticipation that BOOM! explodes once they reach they next page – in a way that painting and drawing can’t really achieve (due to them telling a story in one image). I worked really hard on page-turns in this book to maximize the effect and feeling that a reader could experience.
Essentially, a lot of people talk about comics in the way of “I have so many stories I want to tell,” and like, I DO get that (I mean, I realized after it was done that my book was a story I had been trying to tell across various mediums for years), but for me it’s more about stirring emotion in the reader almost solely through the telling; still, though, I have to say that the design of each page, each page turn, and the formal desires of the work MUST be in service of something, and that’s the impact of the narrative, itself. I would never want to create a substantial page turn that meant nothing!
Q: Do you have any favorite comics? Comic book artists and/or writers?
A: I do, although I am substantially less knowledgable about comics than I am movies (that’s probably much to everyone’s delight, though, because I feel I can’t be half as pretentious about comics the way I used to be about movies).
The creators who most inspired the look and vibe of this book were José Muñoz and Carlos Sampayo, whose works, in particular ALACK SINNER, about a private investigator in NYC in the seventies and eighties, have such a rich look that I almost can’t even read them because I get too sucked into the images. You can FEEL Muñoz’s hand in every line – a feeling that makes me just want to drop the book and go draw, myself. Those are my favorite types of artists.
I also really love Bill Sienkiewicz, whose use of multi-media and uber-expressionist forms really capture the imagination. He’s one of those artists that you just look at the work like, “OMG HOW DOES HE DO THAT?!?” And he’s also a super friendly guy, to boot!
Some of my favorite individual books are BATMAN: YEAR ONE (Mazzucchelli’s linework and Richmond Lewis’s colors are just… WHEW), ELEKTRA LIVES AGAIN (one of my favorite collabs between Frank Miller and Lynn Varley), THE AGENCY (really fun and wild erotic comics by Katie Skelly), GORO issue 3 (where Sarah Horrocks creates maybe the most perfectly-moving comic book ever), and PHONOGRAM.
Q: On the first page you throw out shout-outs…what about their work influenced or inspired your comic?
A: There’s kind of a lot there. I’ll go into a few specifics, but mostly, these are artists who have shown to me new, exciting ways to tell and structure stories in ways that I don’t see from maybe more mainstream names. Film-wise, Wong Kar-Wai was easily the biggest part of the book, since the centerpiece of the book is Alice going to see his movie FALLEN ANGELS in a repertory theater – and I replicate a number of images from the film into the book. The entire front cover is a massive Godard homage, from the image itself (taken from an actual super famous shot of Godard studying a film strip through sunglasses), to the title (MY LIFE TO LIVE is the English translation of one of his most popular early works, VIVRE SA VIE); a bit of the theater sequence is also derived from his movie MASCULIN FEMININ. Hong Sangsoo, whelp, he’s my favorite living filmmaker, and he has multiple movies where he uses multiple title sequences (which, lemme tell ya, really throws you off on the first viewing). Jacques Rivette – my favorite filmmaker, period – has had more influence on how I take in and engage with stories than maybe anyone else, and the ending I feel like kind of reads like the abruptness of several of his (also, this idea of the past remaining with you comes from one of my faves of his, CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING).
With comics, obviously I have already detailed what Muñoz and Sampayo did for the book, but also Katie Skelly, Sarah Horrocks, and Erika Price are wildly independent artists whose utilizations of the comics medium have inspired me so very deeply, from something as simple as the formatting of the book itself, to the depths they reach in crafting the medium to their wills, whether in an intensely personal, almost destructive way (Price), a wild and zany way (Skelly), or a way that says, “Y’all, here’s everything I love, and here I am” (Horrocks, though, to be fair, all of these descriptions could probably describe any other of these three). In their own ways, each of them is rigorously formal in their approach (with Price being perhaps the most obvious, due to how she utilized numerology in terms of panel-count per issue), and that kind of approach to art is one I get behind incredibly willingly.
Q: How do you develop your own line style as an artist?
A: This is a kinda funny one for me to answer, because I swear I am about to tear my current methods down and change up everything I have done.
But the answer is years of practice. This book, as well as almost everything I have inked since 2015, was inked with Micron pens, each of which has a specific line weight associated (therefore they don’t really have any bend to them; the smaller the number, the thinner the line). When I started inking with them around the time I was finishing film school, I wasn’t sure what I was doing, kinda being intuitive and seeing what worked. So like, I would use like a super thick line-weight (like an 08) for bracelets, but maybe use a much smaller one (like an 01) for the actual skin. It looked…weird. Over time, I kinda got the shit down to a science, in that basically the more external the layer, the thicker the weight. So like facial/skin detailing is an 005-01, the edge lines of the body are an 02, the shirt is an 03, a jacket might be an 05, and then I mostly use 08 or a brush-tip pen for filling in heavy black spaces (detailing on any shirts or jackets will use smaller line weights). Really, I developed it this way because it was the only thing I could do that looked more or less right (the hardest thing for me to decide is which pen to use for hair!! I had a tendency of using 03, but I think I go back and forth between that and 01). But also, all of this is for full-body work. The closer you push in (like, in a close-up panel), you might bump each line-weight up a notch to compensate for your closeness to the characters.
Now, though, I am trying to rebuild my methods by using dip pens with nibs and like an actual ink bottle, as well as brushes. We’ll see what comes of it! I am almost worried that I have my “style” for linework SO down that it won’t even look too different!
Q: Did you have any location – like a specific city – in mind when building the world for this comic?
A: Very much so! In April, I took a trip to NYC, where I think I took one thousand pictures. It was a lovely trip, and it left a huge impression on this book – not that there is anything I pulled as a direct source (most of the signage in the book is a nerdy reference to a filmmaker or Charli XCX or something), but there where billboards everywhere, even on top of buildings (one major one I saw was a billboard for a Sprite/Lemonade hybrid drink and I wanted to cry because it looked so beautiful).
While there isn’t THAT much of it visible in the book, I wanted there to really feel a bit of hustle and bustle crowd work, and to make sure I was trying to do a good job of depicting different faces.
I will say that, though nothing is ever specified, and it’s technically supposed to be the exact same city, the end of the book just feels to me like LA – and probably because you go from characters watching a foreign film at a repertory theater to watching a Hollywood production – and you even get that Hollywood glitz and glam!
Q: This comic deals with identity in a lot of ways – identity on and off screen, in a relationship, and even secret identity – how do you get across theme along with so many ideas efficiently in a comic?
A: I don’t know! Haha. I’ve been obsessed with identity stuff for uhhhh a super, super, almost disturbingly long time, and so I think a thing like that is going to shine through as a primary theme in almost anything I do. To answer your question, I think a lot of it comes down to one’s approach to narrative – what drives the narrative forward, and the consequences of the narrative actually happening. So like, this is a book that I always describe as being about “the transformative experiences one can have when engaging with art.” So, okay, you have 1) a transformation, 2) the power of art; if there’s a transformation in my works, it’s likely one to do with 3) identity, and so that’s where that comes from; and if we’re discussing a transformation of identity, what about 4) the part of you that you’ve moved on from? Does it go away? Or does it linger over your life, almost something inescapable, which you can give control of your life to, or which you can choose to recognize and learn from and then not do again? I think themes wrap themselves up together with a big bow – there’s no one theme present, but I AM telling one story. Even one as short as twenty pages has enough room to throw little bits of things in here and there (whether explicitly or implicitly) that can give the reader big clues and a greater reading experience – one to really think about – even if those things are not fully fleshed out. Getting the brain going – THAT’S the goal.
Q: What’s next? Will there be more of MY LIFE TO LIVE?
A: As of this writing, I have about sold out of the first print run, but I am attending Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle in March, and so I might print more to sell there, as well as to have for others around me who’ve yet to snag up a copy. This story, though? I’m done with it. Oh, by no means am I done with its themes, which, like a bunch of artists I admire, I’ll probably tackle again and again in different ways, but this narrative about Alice and Claire, it’s been told. Some people have asked about the ending, in that it kind of might feel like a cliff-hanger; personally, I don’t think so. I think it was just the right spot for it to end to hit all my major themes! So no more MY LIFE TO LIVE!
That said, I’m trying to figure out the next work; as always, it’s being a pain, where I’ll get excited about an idea, and then move on, and then come back, and then think of something else, and on and on and on. Trying new things artistically kind of both helps and hinders that, in that it could give me a lot of inspiration, or if I am not motivated to sit down and draw because I am intimidated by them, I feel like, because I don’t know these tools yet, I’ll NEVER be able to come up with a narrative where they’ll be useful! I am hoping to settle on something soon, though! Whatever I do, it’s gonna be in color. And like, I don’t know if it’s gonna be the next book, but know that there will eventually be a book I do called SUPER POP!, because that title is super siccc.
For all the latest on Chloe and updates on My Life to Live, visit her Twitter and Instagram
Discovering Ithaca, the homeland of Odysseus, becomes the goal of one downtrodden youth, Jason Lowry, when he has a fateful meeting with a girl at the swamp outside of his town in Ireland. The two lost souls seek an escape from poverty and neglect in exchange for adventure and whims in this heartbreaking yet often humorous story. Though Ithaca is subtle in plot, it is well-crafted in wit and its deep look into the mind of a young boy with an absent father.
Jason is an 11-year-old in pursuit, a boy trying to understand his father’s identity in the middle of his own problems. He and his mom cannot pay for any of their bills. She sinks to emotional manipulation to skirt payment. She spends her time with a new suitor that robs Jason of any kind of proper role model. Jason’s only escape is his own mind and his time with this girl from the swamp. Much of his pursuit in the novel is meandering. The book is very sensory, and more about the boy’s point of view, how he views everyone and his world. The meandering nature and the strong point-of-view reminded me of Salinger’s Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye. Jason is much younger than Caulfield, however, and still possesses a level of innocence – though Jason isn’t entirely innocent either, and does resort to meddling kid shenanigans.
The quest for Ithaca becomes the symbol of the quest for the seemingly impossible. The lines between Jason’s quest and Jason’s escapism blur until you find that wanting to understand and wanting to escape may be one in the same. If you’re looking for a book with strong character, voice, and style, Ithaca is a great choice. The language and personality swept me up. I gobbled it in just three days.
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The Once and Future King has all the ingredients of a rousing epic, though T.H. White’s particular depiction of King Arthur’s legend had its highs and lows. For me it teetered between tear-inducing poignant in substance but tedious in style.
You might be locked into the Meryln’s worldly teachings one minute along with Arthur’s ongoing debates on civilization and morality yet tuned out of the pacing at which quests, battles, and conflicts are told. You might be locked into the drama of Arthur’s secret affairs with the former queen, and the sordid relationship of Lancelot and Guinevere yet less interested in Gareth, Gawaine, Pellinore, Pallomides, Grummore, and the lot of them. Yet in its richness of characters, the book also offers something special. It offers the chance for the reader to go back and revisit the side stories, analyze, and decide which one is their favorite. For me it was the Questing Beast, because that was such a fun imaginative, mysterious creature that was never quite described the same way – a barking, reptilian, cat-like-but-huge monster (with feelings!)
There is a great deal of literary value in reading this book. This epic lies the foundation for many types of stories – stories of star-crossed lovers, stories of the underdog turned hero, revenge stories, tropes you find in fantasy novels. If you aren’t into reading the entire book, there is still value in flagging sections to read and discuss in a book club or a classroom. There is a great deal of symbolism, ethics, and history to dissect.
In its style, the book goes in and out of being self-aware. Not in the modern sense of breaking the forth wall, but rather it will go off on tangential opinions on Medieval Europe’s customs, its geography, its architecture in relation to the story. The writer also makes anachronistic conceits, but that can be the best thing about telling a story set in the past. You can use the historical context to craft a cautionary tale or the historical context can provide inspiration for the reader to seize their future. Arthur’s goal as a king – or his most epic quest – became shaping what we now would call “civilization” which readers can reflect on in the present and think, of course he was right in wanting to move away from brutality of Middle Age warfare to something new. But he had to be willing to be brave and bold to try new things. That seems to be the most enduring quality of the heroes we love – they learn and they do differently, because in learning and applying new ideas, the world can become a better place.
A modern reader can still get value out of this book. If you want to learn more about Arthur’s legend, love Medieval England, or are an English teacher who wants to dig down deep into the hero’s journey, it’s worth a read. Beyond the hero’s journey, it will leave you thinking about the morality of war, and what it means to be civilized and just. Here is a lovely quote to leave you with on the last few pages of the novel:
“There would be a day…with a new Round Table which had no corners, just as the world had none – a table without boundaries between the nations who would sit to feast there. The hope of making it would lie in culture. If people could be persuaded to read and write, not just to eat and make love, there was still a chance that they might come to reason.”
Who would have thought the island called Ireland – posed in the frigid Atlantic – with little for geographic defense beyond some rocky islets called skelligs would have survived so much? That’s a cheery thought to start on – but thematically relevant (oh, just wait). When I think of the Irish in a historic sense, I think of an enduring people – able to survive numerous invasions – nine invasions to be exact from the Vikings all the way to the French. They survived famine. They survived civil revolts. Now, they laugh. If we do pass on the anxieties of our past through the human genome, then how could you not laugh after your ancestors have endured so much? But I’m not here to pontificate inherited trauma, I’m here to share with you my adventure with my sister and mother in Ireland. This is us:
I had a goal in mind to journal while on this adventure, a goal which I mostly accomplished until my journal got wet during the walk through the Blarney Castle grounds in Cork. Imagine what would have happened if I decided to put the small backpack housing my journal under my raincoat? Learn from me. Instead of boring you with the whole shebang, I’ve decided to highlight only portions I wrote in my journal. Sometimes in my ferocious scribbling, I forgot to add certain interesting bits from the day, so I have added them after “What did I miss?”:
October 6, 2019 – (Commenting on the Toronto Pearson Airport) “You don’t have faux marble tables to sit at and order food from in the US. Instantaneous food. Sparkling or tap water. Latte or cappuccino. The choice is yours. You could actually spend time with your loved one at [this] airport… Or you could just sit at a tablet, be anti-social and play some app casino-style games (I did this for a bit). It felt weird – being treated so well in Canada, and also for having such low expectations for airports from inter-state travel. Why should we expect such less? We even were fed on the plane [like a full meal, with repeated runs for beverages]. I cannot remember the last time I had a meal included. I took one of the complimentary blankets.”
October 7, 2019 – “The first cab driver we received gave us his life story in the course of the 20 min drive to the Ashling Hotel. It was great. He played soccer – apparently pretty well – because it took him out of the country. He settled in Ireland with his sweetheart and considered that ‘one of the best decisions’ in his life. He talks with such joy and charm that it’s difficult not to immediately feel warm and accepted.” (A little later in the entry…) “We finished off the first day in Dublin at a literary pub crawl. Two actors – who have been part of what is now a 30+ year tradition – led the crawl. Their reasoning for leading the pub crawls: ‘We’re out of work actors who could use some pub money.’ Though they [jokingly] claim to be ‘out of work’ they were quite enjoyable. They waxed poetic on Beckett, Shaw, and I particularly enjoyed the Wilde impersonation [the] guide Frank performed.”
What did I miss? Before the pub crawl we walked around Dublin to explore the Book of Kells and the Long Library at Trinity College. The Book of Kells holds well-preserved liturgical writing from monks in 800 AD, all handwritten and illustrated with beautiful Celtic artwork. The Long Library is an 18th century library that is still in use today! Some of my favorite books on display were the 19th century medical textbooks which had elaborate, haunting pictures of human anatomy.
After the pub crawl we witnessed two boys taking a break from their studies to fetch pints at Davy Byrne’s Pub. In Ireland the drinking age is 18, and if I recall they were 19. They had a Physics test the next morning and two Irish mothers who were on the Literary Pub Crawl with us began to chastise them for being out while they should be studying. The entire scene played out like a play in that the boys and the mothers were positioned at a perfect viewing diagonal from our seating position. They stood or sat at the bar while Alisa and I sat with our pints and for the mum, Irish coffee, at a corner table. The sincerity with which the boys defended their position to be out (“because sometimes you study as much as you can. There’s only so much…”) and the level of unbridled sass emanated from two women who didn’t know these boys personally but felt a level of responsibility for regardless – that was something worthy to become a paid public performance. Frank, the tour guide walked through the scene, gestured to it and said “Welcome to Ireland!” with a glint in his eye and a chuckle in his voice, and I couldn’t possibly think of a better start to the adventure.
Then after a chat with Frank, in a remarkable show of kindness, Frank invited us back to meet with him again at Davy Byrne’s after we rounded the island back to Dublin. We had a chance to speak with the Irish mothers after the impromptu one-act play too. They gave the reasoning behind their relentless chastisement of the teen boys. “We raised boys…” one commented while the other followed with “they were little shits,” and so they felt it was their duty to spread wisdom to these teens. Bless the Irish. They wear themselves open, unafraid to share their true feelings. It’s remarkably refreshing. Not only were they so candid, they offered lots of friendly suggestions on where to visit along our road-trip west – notably one place called Doolin – the town known for its traditional Irish music. Also tip, when you’re drunk or tipsy you tend to not remember things as well, so don’t listen to that voice in the back of your head that says “Oh yeah right, I’m different. I’ll remember” – write it down, dummy. I almost forgot the name “Doolin”, and thought they were talking about Dulane which is in an entirely different direction than Doolin which could have, you know, been problematic.
October 8, 2019 – “The drive to Galway was long while the time to learn how to drive correctly was short. Drive on the left side. Simple enough. But nothing could prepare a midwestern or Southerner from the States for the distinctly tiny Irish roads.”
What did I miss? On the way to Galway we made some pit-stops including Athlone to Sean’s Bar, the oldest bar on in Ireland (circa 900 AD). Before bars were their own thing, bars were called “public houses” – they were essentially like hallways in houses where people gathered to drink.
Then we went to an old sixth century monastic site called Clonmacnoise which later became a burial ground. This was just one example of Irish endurance. The monks who settled here had to face much hardship. Clonmacnoise is positioned right along the Shannon River. It was an excellent settlement position in that it was right along the main train route in Ireland at the time, but living conditions were intensely windy, cold, and I bet – often rainy. They survived numerous invasions until the place became ransacked entirely. The beautiful stone-carved crosses survived inside the Clonmacnoise museum. Along with the stone crosses, you can find interesting facts about how the monks survived – ways that felt surprisingly innovative for their time.
While in Galway we explored the downtown area full of locally owned restaurants, adorable shops. We went to one special bookshop in particular, Charlie Bryne’s. There I decided I should start a new tradition – buy at least one book from a local author in every country I travel to in order to immerse myself in another culture through the written word. I ended up purchasing two books written by Irish authors, because I couldn’t help myself. One book I swallowed in three days – Ithaca by Alan McMonagle – a book that will be getting a Book Spotlight review soon!
While staying in Galway, we ventured to the nearby Connemara National Park, and went on a hike that was well worth the uphill climb.
October 9, 2019 – “I love Doolin. It’s the first place we lost GPS signal and [it] felt like we were on a real adventure with real stakes. We went in a recently excavated Doolin Cave that had fossils of sponges and worms outlined in limestone. Life preserved in rock…”
“I love the countryside – as tacky as that sounds – of course an American would say that until he/she got bored and moved onto something else. But I really loved it. Being here eliminates my anxiety, depression. I feel like I could be content with this kind of disconnection. It isn’t a true disconnection, [it’s like feeling] connected to a culture [in the bacterial sense? I like to think I mean in the bacterial sense]. I’m surrounded by life here – the green pastures, the mossy trees, the swampy bog – all teeming with life, all connected…”
October 10, 2019 – “From Galway we traveled to Limerick – only passed through for a meal. There we received our first negative greeting. Two local girls – one of them looked to be a mother [more likely an older sibling, in retrospect] another just out of school in her school gown (I’ve noticed the girls in the Irish Republic have to wear long skirts [floor length] as part of their schoolwear)… It was interesting hearing their perspectives on Americans from an impersonation. It went like this “Everything is so green here, it’s so boring…” Spot on. Sounds pretty much like the typical, unappreciative American to me. Our second transgression was in Bruff, a small town outside of Limerick. This was a real town – a town not invented primarily for tourists, a town with living, breathing – well perhaps smoking – people who discussed the “fookin game” or the “fookin weather” – a town of Irish people just living their lives and we intruded upon it…”
What did I miss? I was writing the October 10th entry in Killarney, a town essentially designed for tourists – made entirely of shops, lodging, and restaurants – so I had a certain level of resentment for tourist towns at this particular point in time which I think is why I focused on Bruff in that it just felt like a normal town. Back to the transgression in Bruff, we went to this one bar for a quick drink to wind down the evening. The bar we went into first was all men – maybe five. One female bartender. As soon as we entered this bar, you could hear the shift in attention. The men conversed sporadically, but it felt tense. You could tell that they were conscious of three American women, who knew nothing of rugby, were taking up space.
Bruff led us to the Cliffs of Moher which were spectacular. For those with small children, I advise caution. It is very windy, very muddy, and there isn’t much railing – but it’s so worth it. The views were breathtaking, and yes these are the cliffs featured in Harry Potter, Potter fans. Also consider the drive around Dingle peninsula. It feels like something unique to Ireland. The temperature and environment changes, for a second you may be fooled that you are close to the Pacific – until you step outside your car.
From Killarney we went through the Ring of Kerry, a circular road which takes you around through some scenic parts of Ireland. I took on driving for this one, because at this point in time I weirdly fell in love with driving in Ireland. Nothing like tiny roads and the fear of falling into a ditch, a rock wall, or a sheep to make you want to keep driving? I guess that’s how it was for me. It was thrilling, and it was fun. Sharing the road on streets that looked like one-ways where you are only (what feels like) inches away from the oncoming traffic became second nature.
After we had our fun in Killarney we made our way to Cork, the home of the popular Blarney Castle. Endurance. Remember that theme I mentioned? Also remember how I just said how much I loved those narrow, winding, hilly roads? Well, my body – when sitting in the back seat – didn’t. On the way to Blarney, I vomited – like held-my-hands-to-my-face-and-asked-to-suddenly-pull-over spewed onto the rain-coated asphalt in front of my sister and mother as cars passed by honking. I have a very romantic notion of myself as a Tommy from Rugrats but maybe I’m just a Chuckie.
But Blarney was worth the vomit.
You may think the rain would have made Blarney a miserable experience, but it actually made it better. There is something about seeing a medieval castle in the rain that makes it easier to picture the medieval environment in its glory days – because even in its glory days it had to have been gloomy, harsh. The gloom actually made all the views more vibrant, the contrast between the dark sky and the bright green grass looked stunning. We topped off the Blarney experience with the most tourist of touristy things to do which was kissing the Blarney Stone for which you are suspended upside-down as you lean back and kiss a stone. Millions of people have kissed this stone. Cue “ew” noise from all germaphobes reading.
Legend has it that when you do kiss this stone, you obtain the gift of eloquence. When you hear someone use the term “you’re/that’s full of blarney” it means what you think it means – full of flattery, or as I also like to call it – bullshit. If you kiss the Blarney Stone you will become a good bullshiter. Because the world needs more bullshiters!
After Blarney, it felt like a little slice of home when we went for a pint at a place that sells microbrews and pizza. Much like Texas, Ireland has a brewery culture too that is alive and well in Cork. We got nice and toasty there and started telling dark stories from the past…as you do.
Now for the most exciting albeit most embarrassing part of our journey – our time back in Dublin at the Jameson Distillery – a place where we proceeded to enjoy Jameson, lots of Jameson, along with other whiskey cocktails. In our drunken state, we decided to get some grub and meet up with the Literary Pub Crawl guide Frank, the guide who we promised to meet with again at the end of our trip. P.S. the gift of eloquence does not work when you’re drunk. Exhibit A, my conversation with the other tour guide beside Frank:
Me: "I don't know if this is a compliment or an insult..." (Already off to a great start) "But has anybody ever told you that you remind them of Rowan Atkinson. Like from Black Adder." Tour Guide: *Under his breath* Oh I love Black Adder... Me: "I love that show. Because you just have that quality-" Tour Guide: You should stop while you're ahead. (Because wow among other things wrong with this conversation, Andrea, maybe don't compare an Irish actor to a British one, especially for a show about the history of the British)
Beyond that infraction, we all proceeded to goof off in the background on the pub streets of Dublin as the tour guides finished their current tour. I may have touched Molly Malone’s boobs. Now, before you ask – she is a statue.
And finally – after our last day of drinking we ended our trip in Ireland on a somber, one might say sobering (Because indeed I was definitely hungover) note. We visited Kilmainham Gaol, a jail infamous for jailing (and death sentencing) revolutionists with a rich history that deserves time to dissect.
Just kidding about it being our last day of drinking, we headed over to the Guiness Factory where we learned how to pour Guiness the proper way; you have to let it rest to get the lovely foam at the top!
You could say this entire adventure started with a pint, and ended with a proper pint. We had an overall experience that was – by all regards – properly Irish. I loved it. I miss it. I’ll most certainly be back.