A small nook — only three books — but you wouldn’t like a large nook and I’m not sure there’s any such a thing anyway.
But first, the weather, and Speed Bump captures the moment, because we seem to have a boatload of monarchs here all of a sudden, and while most of them don’t seem as absent-minded as this fellow, Coverly has the capsule right, which I know because my local FB friends are posting photos of empties from their porches and window frames.
If you’re between New England and Mexico we’ll send some your way, but the trees have to stay here, and the leaves seem a little slow to turn this year, which is good news because it means that Genocidal Asshole Day Weekend should be excellent. (Be aware that, if you come up any later than that, most of the touristy places will have closed for the season.)
Having started off with two classic artists, let’s lead with Michael Jantze’s new collection of Norm comics, “The Norm 4.0,”, since he’s also got a nice graphic style.
If you haven’t seen the Norm since he left daily syndication some years ago, you need to catch up. He and Reine had finally tied the knot and they have since had a couple of kids and settled into family life.
Jantze has been chronicling these further adventures at GoComics, but collecting them here makes them feel more like a book than a collection of strips; perhaps a scrapbook.
When I interviewed him back in 2002, he explained that the strip was conceptually based in tone on “Annie Hall” and “The Garry Shandling Show,” in which the narrator explained things as they unfolded. He also likened it to jazz in that it was somewhat improvisation.
He preserves that feel, and the collection is a nice mix of those face-to-face conversations and others that require you to do a little pondering on your own.
He makes some serious points, but there’s a lot of fun in here as well, because Norm has grown up without growing old.
That is, he’s a competent father and a thoughtful husband but there’s still a lot of kid in him. Sometimes that’s a point of humor, but it’s mostly a gentle mood that makes him a fun dad and that keeps his relationship with Reine tender.
Even in the face of major conflicts.
In her intro to the collection, Lynn Johnston notes that
Michael’s characters have grown and changed — not an easy process for a cartoonist. Keeping everyone the same forever means never having to redesign faces, hairstyles or backgrounds. Keeping everyone the same opens the door to merchandising and licensing opportunities — but it also means doing the same gags over and over and over again. This is often a bigger challenge than letting characters grow!
I agree with her and it makes me a little sad for some other family strips in which, indeed, nobody grows and things become not so much “stale” as “writ” — the same gags over and over, and, more than that, a certain weariness with, and perhaps even hostility towards, each other.
Not that Reine doesn’t want Norm to take out the garbage, but only once in this three year collection, and she simply wants it to happen. She’s not making it a test of his character or of their relationship.
Which is just fine, even with two kids, two dogs and godknowswhatelse.
This one is worth having. Details here.
Meanwhile, Paul Gilligan’s “King of the Mole People” would make a good present for the middleschooler who also likes “Big Nate” and the “Wimpy Kid” books but maybe is just one step shy of being focused enough for “Artemis Fowler.”
Gilligan is best known in these quarters for Pooch Cafe, but this is a complete departure except for his sense of silliness, which is here intact.
Not to spoiler too much — because you’ll give it to your kids, but you’ll want to read it whether you read it to them or steal it when they’re not looking — it’s the story of a nerdy kid who wants to be popular in school but isn’t and also happens to be the very reluctant king of some kind of stupid, mud-covered mole people.
Kind of a reverse superhero: Instead of Clark Kent having to cover up how magnificent he is under that wimpy disguise, our protagonist’s secret life is even worse and more depressing than what he deals with in school.
It’s not as heavily illustrated as most “hybrid” or “illustrated” novels that combine text and graphics much as Gilbert & Sullivan combined speech and music. It’s mostly text, with small illustrations every few pages to keep things rolling.
Which means, by the way, that you could read it aloud at bedtime without having to keep showing the pics, and I say that because, as a grownup reading this, I started out feeling that it was pretty much like every other kids’ book in the pile until it clearly wasn’t, by which time I was hooked by some very, very silly turns.
Not every good cartoonist has the chops to also write children’s books, but Gilligan has something going here, and I note that Amazon calls it the first in the series, so apparently his publisher agrees.
This last one is short because it’s an announcement, not a review. Regular readers here see a lot of Clay Jones’ political cartoons, and they will have a chance to see a lot of his cartoons all over again: He’s made a deal to put a book together which he says will be out in time for the holidays.
If I had more details, so would you, and if he had more details, so would we all. Meanwhile, watch his blog and this space.