29 March 2008

A Recently Discovered Regret

Wow.  I just discovered that MySpace’s blog doesn’t have a category for reading (books or comics).  I have since elected to include this under "Art and Photography," since literature is art.

Years ago, I was among those who read comic books regularly.  I started as a child reading Marvel Comics’s licensed titles based on G.I. Joe: A Real American HeroTransFormers and, briefly, ThunderCats.  (I said "briefly," because that title didn’t last long.)  I learned a lot of words from those early readings, far more than I ever learned in school.  To this day, I owe a debt of linguistic gratitude to Larry Hama.  I have always appreciated, even as a kid, that he did not dumb down his writing to make it easier to follow.  Every month, I’d get the new issue, and if I had to haul out a dictionary to really understand what was being said, then so be it.  I don’t recall much of what I learned then, other than to say that those words were quickly incorporated into my vocabulary.  The only one I remember vividly was that a dirge is a mournful song; Dirge was one of the Decepticon planes.

Later, like so many others, I was drawn to superhero comics because of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989.  I quickly started reading Batman and Detective Comics and began backtracking to find earlier issues of each.  And, again, I shamefully admit that it was another major event that drew me later to Superman; his announced death in 1992.  For someone who was always looked on by his classmates as some kind of individualistic renegade, I sure was a follower.  Maybe that’s why, even after I heard how great Jeff Smith’s Bone was, even after I had become interested in the artwork I had seen from that title, I never read it.

Oh, I could say that by the time I became aware of it, I was already spending every dollar of my allowance just keeping up with my regular reading, which by that time included all related Batman, Superman and Green Lantern titles, as well as the licensed comics based on Star Trek and Star Wars, which were just coming back into publication.  But the truth of the matter is, I never really felt like I was part of Bone’s audience.  Its audience, I imagined, was either younger readers (I mean, really, look at the guy!) or those comics reader snobs who "only" read independently published titles and are hardcore into their reading.

In any event, while I occupied myself with Superman’s death and return, Bruce Wayne’s back being broken (and his subsequent rehabilitation), Hal Jordan going nuts and killing the entire Green Lantern Corps and stories about Captains Kirk and Picard and Luke Skywalker, Jeff Smith published fifty-five issues of Bone (excluding a handful of one-shot special issues).  They were reprinted, or at least most of them were, by Image Comics in the late 1990s, and have all been collected in trade paperbacks (what you kids today call "graphic novels").  A couple of years ago, Scholastic began re-printing them in magnificent color.

Recently, while pillaging our local branch of the public library for things of interest, I decided to invest some of my time into reading the first of nine collected volumes of Bone.  Somewhere around page three, I was hooked.  I have become increasingly addicted as I have read the subsequent volumes, to the point that as soon as the library opens this morning, I intend to be there to return volume five and claim the copy of volume six they special ordered for me from another branch.  Knowing they have three copies of volume seven on hand, I will likely simply stay at the library and read both volumes consecutively.  They also have volume eight, and I may very well indulge myself to read that one, too.

For those who are unfamiliar with Bone, I will offer a brief synposis and a list of the titles to all nine collected volumes:

Bone follows three cousins, Fone Bone, Smiley Bone and Phoncible ("Phoney") Bone.  Fone is the "good one," Smiley the "naive one" and Phoney the "devious one," to invoke archtypes.  They have been forced out from Boneville because of one of Phoney’s schemes gone wrong and find themselves in the Valley.  The Valley is sort of like a medieval village.  Outside the Valley live the Rat Creatures (evil) and Dragons (mostly good, but not trusted by the people of the Valley).  At some point in the past, there had been a war between those two factions for control of the Valley, and the Bone cousins figure prominently into that war’s resurrection.  While Phoney commences to scamming the Valley people, Fone hooks up with Thorn, a pubescent girl and her Gran’ma Ben.  Thorn, like the Bones, is unaware of the role she is expected to play in the coming war.

Think The Lord of the Rings, as it may have been had it been created by Walt Disney.  The best part about readingBone is that it features all the things a reader desires in material: characters to like (and dislike) enough to want to find out what happens to them, humor and, at times, genuine concern for what will happen next.  Reading Bone in collected volumes has spared me the anguish original, monthly readers surely felt between issues; I have read the equivalent of the first two and a half years in about a month or so.  (For that matter, I plan on reading a year’s worth of original issues this afternoon!)
For those seeking to begin reading this highly enjoyable, if addictive, series, the nine collected volume titles are:
Out From Boneville
The Great Cow Race
Eyes of the Storm
The Dragonslayer
Rock Jaw, Master of the Eastern Border
Old Man’s Cave
Ghost Circles
Treasure Hunters
Crown of Horns
As previously mentioned, there are a handful of one-shot special issues that were published over the years.  For the most part, these have not been collected (as yet).
Bone 1 Tenth Anniversary Edition, obviously, was a reprint of the first issue of the title, though with some added materials.  The story itself is included in Out From Boneville, though the extras have not been republished.  Bone 13 1/2 was an interlude, and it was inserted into The Great Cow Race in its chronological place in the story.  Thorn: Tales from the Lantern had a very limited print run, and it collected Jeff Smith’s early, college years sketches and such.  It is not, therefore, part of the story proper, but may be of interest to fans of Smith’s work and people like me, who actually watch the bonus features discs of their DVDs.  The same holds true for The Art of Bone, though its print run was not as restrictive as was Thorn’s.

Armed with this bibliography, I encourage you, dear reader, to track down Bone.  If money is tight (and I certainly know the feeling), then do as I have done, and check first with your local library.  Thanks to Scholastic’s reprints, they have become readily available for libraries; if not your own, then through a lending program, for sure.  If, however, you discover that you enjoy this title so much that you need to add it to your library, I believe you can order the collected volumes from either Jeff Smith’s website or www.scholastic.com.   And, of course, there are links throughout this blog entry directly to Amazon.

13 March 2008

Amy Winehouse - "Back to Black"

Back to Black
Amy Winehouse
Release date: 13 March 2007
CD list price: $13.98

Much has been made of Amy Winehouse in the last year or so in the United States, and as her star has risen, attention has shifted from her music to her life.  A stint in rehab; her mother publicly worrying over her after seeing recent pictures published; is she or isn’t she going to jail on perjury charges?  Unlike Britney Spears’s recent meltdown or the trials and tribulations of Paris Hilton, Winehouse has made the transition from entertainer to tabloid fodder so quickly that it is difficult to recall a time when she was simply a recording artist.  It is therefore fitting that her Back to Black album opens with "Rehab," a song that seems to have been written in anticipation of how her public image would transform.

Once that’s out of the way, the rest of the album seems free to be what it is: an enjoyable, if not necessarily remarkable, album.  Her vocals are not overwhelming, but they are confident and perfectly suited to her material.  She knows when to emphasize a line and when to let the words shine through.  The arrangements seamlessly drift between jazz and R&B, while the choruses tend to nod their heads to the pop world.  This is not an album for an intimate night for two, and yet it may not be powerful enough for a party.  Could it be shared?  Absolutely, though this might best be heard alone.  Back to Black isn’t jingo-istic enough for a drive home from work, but it might be perfect to play at home once you get there and need to unwind from a stressful day.

01 March 2008

Wii and Gameboy

Last fall, my wife and I talked each other into acquiring a Wii.  Readers of my blog may recall the night of World Series Game Three, when we left during the game to pick up her reserved Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.  We recently discovered a clearance sale at Wal-Mart that benefitted us: for $15 each, we were able to buy a gift pack that included one (1) glove/sleeve for a Classic Controller and one (1) 2000 point Wii card.  That's right, we got a $20 Wii card plus controller glove for $15.  I have recently been reminding myself how bad I am at Super Mario Bros. 3, which was the first thing I downloaded with my share of Wii points.

I also recently re-discovered my old school Gameboy, and I am about a week away from checking myself into Tetris Rehab.  I swear, if someone really did establish a Tetris Anonymous center, I would be among the first to check into it.  Sometimes at night, I see L-shaped pieces and want to rotate them.  I was amazed to discover used Gameboys for less than $10 shipped on eBay.  I don't really have any of my old games for it anymore, so I'm thinking about tracking down some of them on eBay or half.com.  I also still have my Super Nintendo Entertainment System, with the Super Gameboy, allowing me to play Gameboy games on the SNES (truly one of the neatest video game devices of that generation).

The last two days, my wife and I re-visited Mario Party 4, and it didn't take long before we were reminded why that was one entry in the series we didn't play often.  Those boards can be extremely frustrating!  It took me literally over half of one game to get out of the first loop of Toad's board.  Granted, I won that game, but still...  Anyway, we're about to fire up Mario Party 5, so I'm going to leave this blog somewhat incomplete.  Time to go play as Peach, since they stopped letting me play as Donkey Kong with this one.