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Monday, 9 October 2017

Introducing Aesthetics: A Graphic Guide by Christopher Kul-Want & Piero

I return to a non-fiction title because I wanted something a bit different, and thought that with an introductory title I could find out whether the subject as a whole was something that I could see myself reading into more. Aesthetics sounded close enough to my prior studies that certain concepts would be less obtuse, but unfamiliar enough to still be interesting.


Introducing Aesthetics: A Graphic Guide provides a brief history of the development of aesthetics as a philosophy. It covers a period from the Roman Empire to the late 20th century, looking at philosophers ranging from Plato to Nietzsche to Baudrillard.
Introducing Aesthetics really needed to be longer. At 171 pages that are about half the size of the average paperback, and around half of each page dedicated to illustrations, there's only really enough room for the barest of explanations of each concept that is discussed. And considering that over 2000 years of thought is being covered, that's really not enough space to adequately cover the material that it wants to cover. While you do get a general idea of how and why art has moved from having a singular objective Subject to a fragmented sense of self that can never be in possession of the entirety of a scene's contexts, it's not an especially clear route at times.
In addition to that, I wasn't all that fond of the art style used for the illustrations. It's an odd style that is kind of half-caricature, and instead of quirky it just kind of came off as ugly. In addition, whenever there were reproductions of particular artworks, the quality of the print wasn't particularly great.

While a general idea can be gotten from reading Introducing Aesthetics: A Graphic Guide, there is just too much material that the author is trying to cover in too few pages. I wouldn't mind looking into the subject of aesthetics again, but with perhaps more room to explore and expand concepts. 2.5/5

Next review: Anime and the Visual Novel: Narrative Structure, Design and Play at the Crossroads of Animation and Computer Games by Dani Cavallaro

Signing off,
Nisa.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Doctor Strange: Season One by Greg Pak & Emma Rios

Doctor Strange: Season One has been sat on my shelf for perhaps longer than it should have. First, I'm pretty sure this was a present, so it's a bit embarrassing that I've left it this long. Second, I have been meaning to look into Doctor Strange comics a bit more ever since watching the film with Benedict Cumberbatch, which even he couldn't ruin for me.


Doctor Strange: Season One recounts the origins of the eponymous Doctor Strange. When a talented but arrogant surgeon loses the use of his hands after a car accident, he travels to the Himalayas to seek the aid of a sorcerer known as the Ancient One. Whilst training there, he meets and butts heads with a fellow apprentice, a martial artist named Wong. Together they must fight Mordo, a former student turned to evil by the power of the demon Dormammu.
This version of the Doctor Strange origin is decently written, if not exactly hugely original. The story only really starts when Strange arrives at the Ancient One's mountain home. After the initial confrontation with Mordo, the bulk of the story focusing on Strange and Wong's rocky enemies-to-friends relationship. While the whole head vs heart thing has been done countless times before, it's always fun to see when it's done well. It coincides nicely with Strange's development into a decent human being too.
The best part of the book though has to be the artwork. Emma Rios has taken what is a decent enough but unremarkable retelling of Doctor Strange's origin and makes it a wonder to behold. You could really tell that Rios enjoyed the full-page panels full of magical energies and god-heads, because they're a sight to behold, with such care and detail. The character designs are also interestingly angular, which is kind of unusual considering that a lot of comics aim for clean lines.
The main story is followed by the first chapter of Matt Fraction's run of The Defenders. It wasn't bad, per se, but I couldn't help but feel that it was a bit out of place after the weirdness of Doctor Strange.

A decent enough story elevated by some absolutely top notch art. Certainly enough to make me seek out both more Doctor Strange comics and more works by Emma Rios. The issues of The Defenders tacked on to the end felt more than a little out-of-place though. 3/5

Next review: Introducing Aesthetics: A Graphic Guide by Christopher Kul-Want & Piero

Signing off,
Nisa.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

I hadn't realised just how much I had missed the witches until I picked up Witches Abroad to read. Adding to my enthusiasm was the little gleeful grin that my husband gave me when I told him what I was reading next.


When Desiderata Hollow, a fairy godmother, dies without training a successor, her wand finds its way into the hands of Magrat Garlick. With the wand comes a set of instructions to prevent a servant girl from marrying a prince. And under no circumstances is she to be accompanied by Granny Weatherwax or Nanny Ogg. Those instructions go down about as well as was to be expected, so the three witches make their way to the city of Genua, sowing chaos and poorly understood foreign words in their wake.
I'd forgotten just how much I love the witches together. I mentioned it as the prime strength of Wyrd Sisters but the chemistry between these characters is just so good that I feel I have to repeat myself. It's made all the better by taking them out of their normal environment, as they become pretty much the worst two old ladies you could take on holiday along with a long-suffering relative/babysitter. So a really good place to start from.
When you add to that a truly unnerving villain in the form of Lilith, the rival fairy godmother, it leaves me struggling to find fault at all. I love villains that are firmly of the belief that they are the good guys, no question, but they're so difficult to pull off. Most of the time it ends up being a villain who acknowledges that they do bad things but justifying that it's for a good reason. It takes a special kind of author to write a villain so self-absorbed that questions of morality are just ignored entirely, and Lilith is a prime example of what happens when it's done right.

With the great chemistry between the witches, a really well-written and creepy villain, and his regular hilarious writing, there's nothing that I can really fault with Witches Abroad. Eagerly awaiting their next installment now. 5/5

Next review: Doctor Strange: Season One by Greg Pak & Emma Rios

Signing off,
Nisa.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Go Get a Roomie Volume 1 by Chloe C

After a comparatively brainy read, I felt like picking up something a bit quicker and lighter. Go Get a Roomie certainly fit the bill, and it has been so long since I was up-to-date with the webcomic that felt like a nice way to reacquaint myself with the series. 


Go Get a Roomie follows a young woman known only as Roomie, who lives by couch-surfing with friends that she meets at her regular dive, Jo's Bar. When heading back after a few too many beers, she accidentally finds herself crashing with a lazy introvert named Lillian. Finding Lillian to be unaffected by Roomie's charms and tendency to initiate physical intimacy, Roomie finds herself confused, but oddly endeared by her strange new roommate. 
I'd forgotten just how meandering Go Get a Roomie was in the early stages of the comic. There are a few extras in this volume, mostly artwork and guest comics, but there was a little tidbit in there stating that Lillian was never intended to be one of the main characters, instead just being another of Roomie's friends from the bar. It kind of illustrates what I think could put some people off, which is that the plot is obviously written without an overall plan. The first couple chapters in particular can seem disjointed, with some strips feeling episodic even within their own chapter. It does start to feel a bit more coherent, around about the time that the art starts to clean up as well weirdly enough, after Lillian starts accompanying Roomie outside her house though, so if you have the patience you would be rewarded for sticking around. Honestly though, even in the really disjointed stuff at the beginning, there's a lot of good character work, with the two mains being utterly charming in their own diametrically opposite ways. And it's kind of nice to see loads of queer characters just kind of doing their thing, whatever that may be, instead of the tired "coming out" stuff that seems to be so prevalent in LGBT narratives. 

A bit disjointed at the start, but definitely worth reading as it has a buttload of charm and humour. Worth it for the abundance of queer characters alone. 3.5/5 

Next review: Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett 

Signing off, 
Nisa. 

Friday, 29 September 2017

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

As you can probably tell by just glancing at my blog that I have a tendency to read fiction over non-fiction. Not necessarily because I dislike non-fiction, but perhaps because I am pickier about the topics that I read about in the non-fiction "genre". While I'm willing to maybe pick up something unfamiliar in a fictional frame, there's a part of me that remembers all the dense and incomprehensible textbooks from university that presupposed a certain level of prior knowledge whenever I glance at the non-fiction section. This time though, I decided to bite the bullet, and settled on a subject that I at least have experience of.


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking focuses on the role of introversion and extraversion in society, particularly focusing on the obsession that Western cultures have with extraversion. With such a focus on charisma and the ability to sell yourself in the workplace, Quiet discusses the ways that introverts can use their more understated talents to get ahead, and why being the loudest person in the room doesn't guarantee that you're the best person for the job.
As is probably obvious, I am firmly in the introvert camp, and so was hoping that this might give me some insight into promoting myself better without having to change my core antisocial nature. While I may have a ways left to go, Quiet was certainly an interesting starting point. Starting with the origins of what Cain refers to as the "Extrovert Ideal", she then looks into how this focus of extraversion can lead to disastrous results, how introverts can flourish in business by relying on innate strengths, when it is appropriate to act in an outwardly extraverted manner and how the two personality types can benefit from each other. Admittedly, a lot of the points in principle seem kind of obvious to me, having experienced a lot of this firsthand, but the psychology and neuroscience behind it is fascinating. Like, it's not especially surprising that introverts are risk-averse compared to extraverts' more high-risk, high-reward attitude, but the fact that this is down to how each personality-type processes dopamine, amongst other things, is really interesting. And if you wanted to look further into a specific aspect of the overall subject, Cain has provided a detailed list of works that she has cited, so if she doesn't go into quite the level of depth that you would like then she's provided the means to do further research.

While Quiet more or less affirms things that introverts are already aware of, it does go into the reasons behind why introverts behave the way they do, and it provides a springboard for further study if the subject interests you. 4/5

Next review: Go Get a Roomie Volume 1 by Chloe C.

Signing off,
Nisa.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Fashion Beast by Alan Moore, Malcolm McLaren, Antony Johnston & Facundo Percio

It's been quite a while since my last comic, so I fancied something that was a little bit out of left field. In this case, that meant Fashion Beast, mainly because the artwork looked absolutely gorgeous, but also because I have a pretty good record with Alan Moore's work so far and I was interested to see how one of his lesser known works held up against the hard-hitters that I'd read, like Watchmen or V for Vendetta.


Fashion Beast follows Doll Seguin, an androgynous coat checker barely scraping by at a popular club, decides to take a chance auditioning as a "mannequin" for a world-famous, reclusive fashion designer after losing her job. Making an unexpected impression on the mysterious patron of the House of Celestine, she is initially delighted by the world of glamour that she now inhabits, miles away from anything she could have imagined in the nuclear winter outside. But she soon finds that all is not well, and that the secrets that inspire its head designer to create beautiful clothing could be the very things that tear the fashion House to the ground.
My first reaction to Fashion Beast upon finishing it was a deep breath, because it's quite a lot to digest over a lunch break. Having thought it over a bit, I find myself puzzling over it. In some ways, I like it and my initial reaction still applies as it tackles a lot of big ideas, like beauty and celebrity culture, the corruption of the creative process, gender identity, the class divide, and mental illness. It mentions on the blurb that Fashion Beast came out of an unproduced film script for a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which would explain how it ends up feeling almost mythic in proportions, despite the comparatively small scale of the plot.
But then you look at some of the individual components and it starts to fall apart a bit. The characters, while vivid, are not for the most part written with much in the way of depth. This can make some of the emotional highs and lows come across a bit flat, as there hasn't been enough character build-up to warrant the change. The same could be said about the setting, which has an intriguing premise that isn't built on enough. Throughout the comic, you get glimpses of the outside world through radio segments warning about an impending nuclear winter, but it never seems to actually feel all that imminent. In the sections where the action is cooped up within the fashion house that makes sense, but even in the sections out in the poorest areas of the surrounding city it doesn't feel any more immediate. If anything, all the talk about a nuclear winter does it make it really obvious that Fashion Beast's story was written in the 1980s with the cold war still firmly in place.
The artwork is pretty much perfect though. It manages to combine the glamour of high fashion with the griminess of the surrounding post-nuclear world and somehow manages to make it all look weird and utterly gorgeous. I might have to look out for more of Percio's work if this is anything to go by.

Fashion Beast is a bit of a strange one. If you read it as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, then it does work with that kind of fairy tale/mythic tone. If you look at it with more of a critical eye for depth of character and setting, then it may well disappoint you. Probably not Alan Moore's best, but the potential is definitely there, and I would love to see an expanded version of this if that's ever considered. 3.5/5

Next review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Signing off,
Nisa.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Death Masks by Jim Butcher

As some of you may have noticed, I have something of a tendency to group my Discworld and Dresden Files reads together. In this case, I am following Reaper Man with Death Masks, which felt kind of thematically appropriate somehow. And honestly, I was looking forward to the next Dresden Files so much after the series had its ante upped during Summer Knight that I couldn't have resisted for long.


By the time Death Masks starts, the war with the Red Court of Vampires has been going on for a couple of years, with progress on either side more or less grinding to a halt. With this in mind, Dresden is approached by Count Ortega, who puts forward the following offer: agree to a fair one-on-one fight with him and potentially end the war for good, or he'll send hired guns after Harry's friends and former clients. On top of that, he is hired to find the Shroud of Turin after it has been stolen. While what seems like a comparatively mundane case soon proves to be anything but when demonic beings known as the Denarians show up, with Michael and his fellow Knights of the Cross determined to keep Harry out of harm's way.
I don't really know how Butcher intends to top Death Masks, because I loved this from start to finish. First, the reader is introduced to new characters that I can't wait to see more of. There's Butters, the night-shift mortician blaring out polka, who is surprisingly calm about the fact that the supernatural is real now. There is Ivy, a little girl who contains the entirety of written knowledge but still insists on sticking to an appropriate bedtime. And, my favourite, there is Sanya, the newest Knight of the Cross, one of God's chosen few, who still maintains a position as an agnostic and has little time for the old fashioned trappings of the Order.
Second, it develops some of the existing side cast nicely. Michael doesn't come across nearly as sanctimoniously as he does in Grave Peril, as he is balanced out by the other Knights of the Cross. Susan, while still far from my favourite character, doesn't feel like dead weight anymore; turns out she just needed to be turned into the undead to contribute something to the series beyond a target for Harry's emotional pining. And, be still my beating heart, I get to see more Johnny Marcone being more than capable of standing toe-to-toe with supernatural foes, as well as an unexpected emotional side.
Third, it introduces some great villains in the Denarians. They are seriously scary already, and I doubt that I've seen even a fraction of what they're capable of. The idea of an entity that takes over people through their own temptation is really unnerving, as is the fact that they're at such an obviously higher power scale than anyone Harry's had to fight before, with the exception of the Fae. Count Ortega is also an interesting villain, but he does kind of pale in comparison to the Denarians.

I really have no complaints with Death Masks. The pre-existing characters have been well-developed, a terrifying new enemy is introduced and it sets up so many cool plot threads to expand on. My favourite Dresden Files so far, and I'm really excited to see where the series goes from here. 5/5

Next review: Fashion Beast by Alan Moore, Malcolm McLaren, Antony Johnston & Facundo Percio

Signing off,
Nisa.