Time again for the annual entry in which I remind myself how much I like reading things besides monthly comics, magazines, and tweets by self-promoters who pretended to care about anything I wrote exactly once each. Despite the lack of MCC entries about my reading matter, I’m always working on at least two books at a time in my ever-diminishing reading time. I refrain from full-on book reviews because nine times out of ten I’m finishing a given work decades after the rest of the world is already done and moved on from it. I don’t always care about site traffic, but when I do, it usually means leaving some extended thoughts and opinions unwritten due to non-timeliness.
Presented over this entry and the next is my full list of books, graphic novels, and trade collections that I finished reading in 2016, mostly but not entirely in order of completion. As I whittle down the never-ending stack I’ve been stockpiling for literal decades, my long-term hope before I turn 70 is to get to the point where my reading list is more than, say, 40% new releases every year. That’s a lofty goal, but I can dream.
New for this year: I expanded the list to a full capsule summary apiece, because logophilia. I’ve divided the list into a two-part miniseries to post on back-to-back evenings (like they used to do with the ’66 Batman TV show) in order to ease up on the word count for busier readers. Onward!
1. Joseph Maddrey & Lance Henriksen, Not Bad for a Human. A souvenir from Horror Hound Indy 2015. The biography of character actor Lance Henriksen that contains so many lengthy, unedited quotes from him that it might as well be labeled autobiography. Covering the decades from his impoverished, nomadic upbringing to his NYC Method-acting stage days to his biggest moment in Aliens to his starring role in TV’s Millennium to the dozens of direct-to-video crapfests he’s done since then. Along the way he shared a lot of memorable times with better known actors, felt his share of heartbreak, and didn’t learn how to read till he was 30. The author cares way more about the zero-value obscurities in his back catalog than I do, but every so often Henriksen tosses out another weird moment or off-the-cuff thought that makes this a bit different from the usual bland tell-alls. (Fun trivia: Oliver Reed was kind of disgusting.)
2. Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, et al., Fables v. 21: Happily Ever After. The penultimate volume in the series, which was published at roughly the same time the creator found himself roasted alive on social media and lost some fans after conduct unbecoming at a “Writing Women-Friendly Comics” convention panel. The long-running fairy-tales-in-today’s-world series that Once Upon a Time basically ripped off legally remains fascinating on its own if you ignore the giant asterisk hanging over it now.
3. Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, et al., Fables vol. 22: Farewell. The conclusion to the long running series serves as both trade paperback #22 and as an epic-length issue #150. The long-brewing war between Snow White and Rose Red comes to a head in a manner that’s anticlimactic yet befitting previous resolutions-on-a-technicality from past storylines. And we say goodbye to hundreds of characters with the help of one last gang of all-star guest artists like Neal Adams, Bryan Talbot, Michael Allred, Mouse Guard‘s David Petersen, and more more more.
4. Charles Schulz, The Complete Peanuts 1997-1998. The 24th volume in the 13-year reprint series sees creator Schulz getting more impish and a bit daring in his old age as Rerun is suspended twice from kindergarten due to trumped-up sexual harassment allegations (I’m not even kidding), and Charlie Brown fends off dueling advances from both Peppermint Patty and Marcie, who don’t realize he has eyes only for the little red-haired girl who doesn’t know he exists. The final volume was released in 2016 (a Christmas present I’ll be reading in early 2017) and I can’t believe I lived long enough to collect the entire series.
5. Luther M. Siler, Searching for Malumba. A fellow WordPress blogger you can follow on his own site even though he and I disagree drastically on the qualities of Snowpiercer. The title sounds like a memoir by an African missionary, but it’s a collection of blog essays about Siler’s former life as a teacher in the public school systems of northern Indiana and south-side Chicago. He and I also differ vastly on our opinions of strong language, but his sometimes funny, sometimes harrowing, frequently disturbing experiences with actual, disastrously parented 21st-century children are undeniable and scarring, like an expansion pack for The Wire Season Four.
6. Kieron Gillen, Michael Avon Oeming, Manuel Garcia, Travel Foreman, Dark Avengers: Ares. Two stories starring the Greek god of war living and warring in the Marvel Universe. One story has him pitted against his magically aged adult son with touches of authentic Greek tragedy tempered by being kind of boring; the other sees him taking orders from onetime American overlord Norman Osborn and leading a squad of angry military reprobates against another, angrier god in a bit of storyline left over from Incredible Hercules. Thankfully I was a fan of the latter, so that story worked better for me.
7. Michael Chabon, Manhood for Amateurs. Essay collection by the Pulitzer-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, mostly focused on masculinity and parenting, and how much better he is at one than the other. Most of these are keepers, candid and funny and with slightly less SAT vocabulary than usual for Chabon, though I’m particularly fond of one piece in which he talks about what it was like to grow up as a solitary geek who now has four children with shared interests — all geeks, but not so solitary because they have the gift of each other.
8. Martin Pasko, The DC Vault. A history of DC Comics up to 2009 as written by the former comics writer who’s best known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the regular writer on Saga of Swamp Thing before Alan Moore took over and made it legendary?” Pasko covers DC from its early beginnings before Superman, through the tough Comics Code years, to Crisis on Infinite Earths and beyond. It’s more honest than I expected for a company-approved bio, especially in its frank talks of the sad mistreatment of Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, and Batman visionary Bill Finger. This massive coffee-table tome comes with a variety of objects as extras — reproductions of old comics pages, posters, paper merchandise, and more. Pretty keen, if outdated now and kinda peculiar in how it avoids talking about Alan Moore any more than it has to.
9. Mark Evanier, Kirby: King of Comics. The closest we’ll ever get to a definitive biography of definitive comics artist Jack Kirby, co-creator of Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Dr. Strange, the X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, Galactus, Dr. Doom, the Silver Surfer, and Darkseid and his terrible friends over at DC. He rose from early NYC poverty as a scrappy Jewish kid into the non-glamorous world of comics at a time when they were cheap and plentiful and written off as kiddie fare. It was all about cranking out the work just to survive, until a partnership with Stan Lee would change the medium for all time. Too bad he was rarely paid fairly for what he did. Anyway, yeah, fantastic overview with oversize art reproductions for added weight and wonder.
10. Dave Gibbons with Chip Kidd and Mike Essl, Watching the Watchmen. The artist/co-creator of the groundbreaking graphic novel tells his side of the creation story and shares a metric ton of concept art, sketches, thumbnails, promotional pieces, rejected notions, and fuzzy memories of what it was like working with Alan Moore before Hollywood started ruining all his works and his mood. He also gives colorist John Higgins a few pages to provide his own reminiscing. Over half the book is just art, but there’s just enough text to justify its inclusion here IMHO. Fair warning: anyone looking for controversy will be disappointed — Gibbons wanted this to be a celebration of the work, not a tell-all. Also, this was published when the “Before Watchmen” cash-gab sequels were still an unrequited proposal from DC Marketing that he’d rejected and optimistically presumed would never get off the ground. So in hindsight the ending of this book turned out a lot more ironic than he intended.
11. Gene Ha, Mae. A Kickstarter’d graphic-novel prologue to the Dark Horse Comics series about a Purdue student named Mae whose world gets upended when her years-missing older sister reappears one day out of nowhere with a weird outfit, a pair of axes, a forfeited claim to royalty in another dimension, and murderous monsters on her trail. Lovely book in which the women outnumber the men, but it’s a pretty fast read. Longtime MCC readers may recall my copy contains a sketch of my wife by Ha, which remains one of my all-time Top 5 Comic Convention Mementos.
12. Ed Piskor, Hip-Hop Family Tree, Vol. 1: 1970s-1981. A graphic-novel history of rap music’s origins in the boroughs of NYC, covering a wide who’s-who of names in the game, from early pioneers like Kurtis Blow, Afrika Bambaataa, Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons, and Grandmaster Flash to kids who’d grow up to be somebody, like Chuck D (a former graphic-arts major), Run-DMC before they knew each other, and producer Rick Rubin (purportedly a spoiled rich kid whose parents drove him to CBGB gigs so his own Fiat wouldn’t get stolen), plus tangential appearances by Jean-Michael Basquiat, Deborah Harry from Blondie, two members of Talking Heads, future director Ted Demme. and a meanwhile-in-California-when-he-was-young cameo by Dr. Dre. To me it’s all fascinating, anyway.
13. Keiler Roberts, Miseryland. Collection of single-panel quotes, comic-strip memories, and a few multi-page anecdotes written and illustrated by a mother with sharper storytelling acumen than any five armies of internet mommy-bloggers. Most parents can stretch out “My kid said the cutest thing the other day!” to three or four paragraphs and wait for the validating clicks, but it takes practice and discernment to toss out the filler, cut straight to the jaw-dropping parts, lay bare your own flaws when they’re revealed, detour only a few times to touch on your own bipolar issues, then move on to the next bits without waiting frantically for applause or approval.
14. Charles Schulz, The Complete Peanuts, 1999-2000. The 25th volume in the 26-volume series collects the long-running strip’s final fourteenth months, which concluded the same weekend he passed away. He was no less sharp in his final years than he was back in the 1950s, and it shows in a pair of arcs in which Linus and Lucy’s brother Rerun is suspended from kindergarten for “sexual harassment” when he makes the mistake of saying nice kiddie things to girls. Filling out the collection is a complete reprinting of Schulz Li’l Folks, the single-panel gag strip that ran in a local St. Paul paper from 1947 to 1950, till Schulz got tired of being underpaid and unappreciated and moved on to bigger, better-paying things. Mostly disposable except from a historical standpoint, though I laughed a few times at what served as his training ground.
15. Ande Parks and Chris Samnee, Capote in Kansas. A nonfiction graphic novel about the making of Truman Capote’s famous nonfiction novel In Cold Blood. Whereas the Best Picture-nominated film Capote focused on his talks with the two killers, this book focuses on his interactions with the townspeople — some grieving, some skeptical, some starstruck, a few willing to hook up with him. From that standpoint it’s not so redundant, but anyone who’s liked Samnee’s work on Daredevil or Black Widow needs to add this forgotten gem to their collection.
16. Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus. Another in a series by the former Chicago Tribune editor who became a famous author of Christian apologetics. It covers some of the same ground as his previous books, but feigns objectivity a lot less convincingly in reaching the same conclusions. If you’ve read the predecessors, you’re already caught up.
17. Kel McDonald, Misfits of Avalon vol. 1: The Queen of Air and Delinquency. In which four girls of varying dysfunctional temperaments are united to become heroes in our world with powers granted to them by forces from another fantasy world. Our Heroes loathe each other immensely and spend most pages snarling at each other and hating every second of being in this book. Call it “Four Characters and One Reader in Search of an Exit”.
18. Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle, The Kitchen. Gritty ’70s drama about four Irish-American Mob wives trying to make the most of a life of crime while their men are indisposed. Kind of like First Wives Club with more drugs and bloodshed. Recently optioned for film adaptation, which makes sense because most of this, while well dialogued, feels hurried along and sketched-in like a pitch document. Looks great, but no time for the four friendships to develop before they’re mutually torn apart.
19. Lee Cherolis and Ed Cho, Little Guardians, vol. 1: The Zucchini Festival. Collection of an ongoing webcomic by local talents that’s like Switched at Birth set in an old Final Fantasy world. Some nicely paced character building lifts this above the superficial webcomic level that would normally turn me away at the main page. Volumes 2 and 3 are near the top of my stack for 2017.