Autodidact: self-taught


Ice Haven by Daniel Clowes

by V. L. Craven

Ice Haven by Daniel Clowes

The hamlet of Ice Haven is home to the typical small town dramas–lovelorn teenagers, neighborhood rivalries, children taking their boredom out on one another, etc–when a young boy goes missing.

David Goldberg from Ice Haven by Daniel Clowes

Ladies and Gentlemen, David Goldberg, life of the party

You’d think this sort of thing would stop the city cold, but, as in real life, most people remain chiefly concerned with their own artistic, emotional or sexual frustrations whilst the Goldberg case played out on the periphery of their lives.

For such a short work, Clowes has given us a vibrant cast of believable characters. There’s the pseudo-narrator, Random Wilder, who fancies himself to be a poet and to be in a feud with Ice Haven’s poet laureate Ida Wentz. Ida’s granddaughter, Vida, is a budding writer visiting from out-of-town and becomes interested in Mr Wilder’s poetry. She publishes a journal no one reads.

There’s Charles, Carmichael, and Paula, who go to school with the kidnapped boy, Mr Life of the Party up there. Charles is a hopeless romantic in love with his step-sister and he only talks to his younger friend George. Carmichael is an unpleasant little boy with a mean streak who gives Charles a book about Leopold and Loeb (there’s an excellent strip about that murder in the book). This leads Charles to think perhaps Carmichael has killed David.

Ice Haven Leopold and Loeb strip

Leopold and Loeb were real people. Real, scary people.

Violet is Charles’ step-sister, they’ve just moved to Ice Haven and she’s miserable. She’s in love with an older boy named Penrod who lives elsewhere.

And Mr and Mrs Ames, the detective’s sent to work the case of the missing boy. Their marriage is not in the best state.

Then there’s Harry Naybors, a comic book critic who is a little meta for my taste, but we live in meta times, my friends.

The entire book is 88 pages of stylistically different comic strips, which combine to make a somewhat linear novel (with a couple detours through the mind of an anthropomorphic stuffed toy and the first human in Ice Haven in 100,000 b.c.)

Daily Writing Will Save Me (Ice Haven by Daniel Clowes)

I have never thought this in my life. Ever.

It’s full of honest moments with very human characters, but the truest section was ‘Seersucker’, which perfectly capture the thoughts of many writers (and probably most humans), with such classic quotes as:

‘Today I must begin a schedule of focused and lucid daily writing. I must clear my mind of all distractions… I’ll never be able to concentrate fully until I finish cleaning the birdbath….After this, I’ll eat a quick dinner, and then straight to work!’

‘My life is fading away. The days speed by in a blur. How can I have wasted so much time? How much could I have accomplished if I had put my time to better use?…I have to fill every remaining second with intensive study and work… Today I will begin with Wells’s Outline of History and Sarton’s Six-Volume History of Science . From there I’ll branch out into various subcategories, like botany and ancient China… As soon as I finish this [household chore] I’ll go straight to the library…’

The ending was both surprising but fitting and gave everyone their moment. Ice Haven is definitely going on the re-readable shelf, I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys off-beat stories that make you think.


Poe in Fiction (part the first)

by V. L. Craven

Poe didn’t leave us with an inordinate amount of work so rabid fans must look elsewhere for their Eddie Poe fix. Happily, talented writers often include him in their stories. Here are the first two I could find. More reviews will be forthcoming.

Batman Nevermore Batman: Nevermore by Len Wein and Guy Davis: This five issue series takes place outside of the Batman canon and features Poe as a young reporter in Baltimore during a string of horrifying crimes. At the first two of the crime scenes, the police see a figure that looks like a giant raven near the scene and therefore dub them ‘The Raven Murders.’ The victims both belonged to the Gotham Club, an exclusive club for gentlemen (of the smoking room variety, not pole-dancer variety). Poe goes to the club to interview them about an upcoming costume ball (Masque of the Red Death alert) and meets M. Valdemar, Roderick Usher and Arthur Gordon Pym. Also in attendance is a young man named Bruce Wayne. The series incorporates many of Poe’s plots and themes, both from his fiction and poetry. It’s entertaining even for those of us who’ve never read a Batman comic and should please Poe fans, as well. (There’s only one thing that may irk some, which is that our man is portrayed as a weakling, whereas, in reality, he was quite physically fit.) Still, I give it 8/10.

In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe

In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe by Jonathan Scott Fuqua, Steven Parke and Stephen John Phillips
I prefer to review things I enjoyed rather than slagging off something I didn’t, however, since this falls into the category of ‘Poe in fiction’, here goes.:
The only good thing about this…thing is the cover, which is above. The premise is that Poe’s talent came from demonic sources/his dead father and if he leaves Baltimore it fails. It turns out that the demons are all in his head and he could have been creative anywhere. Fuckin’ hell. But that’s only the crap icing on the crap cake, because the plot and graphics are execrable, as well. Rather than a straight up graphic novel, the ‘characters’ of Poe, Mrs Clemm and Virginia, are played by actual people. Poor sods.
The ‘plot’ includes the infuriating idea that Poe was in a love triangle with his aunt and niece. What a load of tosh. Look, I know, when someone says something’s dreadful, it’s human nature to be tempted to see if it’s really as bad as all that, but please, heed my warning: don’t. Just… don’t. 0/10.

Seriously… just don’t.

Wikipedia has a list of  other work  that feature Poe as a character, some of which are on my shelves and will be reviewed upon being read.



God Save the Queen by Mike Carey

by V. L. Craven

[This post is from a previous blog]

Mike Carey is the author of the Lucifer series, which I love and which is why I picked up this one. It was interesting enough–I was curious about the legend of the land of Faerie after reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke–but I should have started with a more textbook explanation. This jumps in as if the reader already knows that the land of Faerie is supposed to run alongside the world we live in and you can visit if you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it).

In this story, the queen of Faerie, Titania, has been displaced by a rather unpleasant sort of fairy. Meanwhile, in our world, a young woman begins hanging around with some dodgy types who do heroin but require some of her blood to mix it with for reasons that later become apparent. Doing this drug (which is a special faerie sort of heroin) allows the drug users to return to Faerie. Which is something you really want to do.
The young woman vows to help Titania regain her throne while learning some very interesting things about herself and her parents.

Overall I enjoyed it, though some of the facial expressions didn’t seem to match what the characters should have been feeling, to my mind. Perhaps they just weren’t responding to the situation in the way I would have done. I give it three and a half stars.


Greetings from Hellville by Thomas Ott

by V. L. Craven

I’m not entirely sure what to say about Thomas Ott’s Greetings from Hellville other than I liked it, it’s horror/creepy and there’s no dialogue.

Yeah, that’s about all I can say about it. I would like other people to read it, which is why I’m attempting to write a review of it, but it’s difficult. It’s a collection of four stories, each a few pages long, that tells a creepifying tale.

Chiefly, it reminded me of Peter Kruper’s Mind’s Eye comics, where a story is unfolding before you, innocuous enough, but the reader really doesn’t know where it’s going.

OK. So I gave it a shot. Let me know if you check it out. It’s really one of those books where you press it on people and say, “I don’t know how to describe it–just read it and tell me what you think.”

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