July 17, 2015
I have, admittedly, been trying to turn my kids into nerds since slightly before they were born. Comics and graphic novels have been part of our bedtime routine since before they were age-appropriate, and there was a mushy time a year or so ago where it looked like my intentions had backfired and the elder child was having nightmares about Bone‘s rat creatures. (I am not the world’s best mom – maybe only second or third best.)
But this year, all of those sewn seeds have taken root and flowered in a most spectacular way. It helps that the comic market for the under-ten set has exploded. It also helps that some of the best and brightest comic creators in the world are trying their hands at children’s picture books with wonderful results. Even mega-best-selling and award-winning children’s book franchises like Mo Willem’s Piggie and Gerald books are essentially gateways into comics. You’d have to be childless under a rock not to be swept into – well, not just comics, but excellent comics.
I brought my two daughters – now 7 and 4 – to the Toronto Comics Arts Festival this year, where for the first time they led the way. They spent every penny of their own hard-earned money on books, sketches, bookmarks and buttons. We still have books on the shelf we haven’t tried yet, distracted, as they are, by their favourites.
I’ve learned a lot. #1 thing is that what I like and what they like are two very different things. This sometimes leads to fights at storytime, power struggles over whether we’re going to read Moomintrolls or whether I have to drag myself through Power Ponies again. Nevertheless we agree on a number of gems, a lot of them new, so I’ve assembled a little roundup below.
Kid’s Rating – 5 stars
Mom’s Rating – 5 stars
These are short, simple and thoroughly tongue-in-cheek comics about the titular hero (played by Kochalka’s cat, Spandy) and her self-appointed sidekick, Spoony-E (played by Kochalka’s son.) I was reluctant to buy them because they didn’t seem to have much substance to them, but they are hilarious. Good old slapstick, absurd premises taken seriously, and innocent fun make this pretty much the ideal small-child indie.
Kid’s Rating – 3 stars
Mom’s Rating – 4 stars
I wanted to like this one. A high-fantasy adventure starring a stubborn, resourceful girl of colour with a pet dragon and a mission to save her sisters? Sign me up!
And it is amusing – for me. The kids? Well, the younger one liked the dragons and action. But most of it went right over their heads. Princeless draws a lot of its humour from subverting existing Disney/comic/fantasy tropes about the roles of women and princesses – tropes my kids know nothing about. The idea that a princess needs a prince to come save her? Yup, my kids heard it first here. It’s possible that kids better-acquainted with Disney will get the jokes, but mine were just lost.
Kid’s Rating – 4 stars
Mom’s Rating – 3.5 stars
This is a beautiful book. So beautiful that my kids refused to read it for the first few months because the strange creatures and eerie setting were “scary.” I was enchanted and eventually just started reading it myself, and, like cats, my children wound up on my lap reading along. They loved it.
But a few pages in, I found myself frustrated with the storytelling. The plot moves too fast and there isn’t a lot of character-building. My kids didn’t care. The images and ideas were perfectly-paced for them. I can see how this book has captured their imaginations, even if I felt it could have been written better. A surprise little-kid hit.
Kid’s Rating – 5 stars
Mom’s Rating – 3 stars
Strip-style comics about a group of friends doing pretty ordinary things. These are funny, I guess – funnier to the kids than me. I found the comic a bit mean. The characters are all sort of jerks to each other. My kids don’t care. They think these are hilarious. The friends never seem to really hold any grudges and they do all kinds of interesting things together… so I guess I should chill out about their jerkiness. Maybe that’s just “real.” Anyway, I’m torn on this one. The kids love it but the interactions leave a bad taste in my mouth.
Kid’s Rating – 5 stars
Mom’s Rating – 4.5 stars
This was an unexpected hit. This is the story of a “lame” monster who lacks the self confidence to monster properly. The town he is meant to be terrorizing is pretty disappointed in him and send up a doctor to “fix” him. Adventures ensue.
Author Rob Harrell is probably better known for having inherited the abjectly terrible daily syndicated strip, Adam @ Home, which immediately put me at my guard. But the art in Monster is so lush and the world so fantastically fun that my reservations were swept away. The humour is occasionally pretty lame in a way that was over the kids’ head, but it didn’t distract too badly. My only major complaint is the total lack of any female characters at all. The kids have no complaints and have read this thing into the ground.
Kid’s Rating – 4 stars
Mom’s Rating – 3 stars
Gon is a wordless comic (like Andy Runton’s popular Owly) about a baby dinosaur in our own world, living in various biomes and befriending and/or terrorizing the animals there. My elder child, obsessed with nature and animals, loves these to pieces. They are gorgeously-drawn and expressive, featuring lots of really interesting real-life animals we never see.
On the other hand, I find wordless comics – even Owly – exhausting to “read” to the kids. These are dramatic performances, not readings. I look forward to my kids being willing to sit alone with these, rather than wanting my involvement.
Kid’s Rating – 4+ stars
Mom’s Rating – 3-4 stars
Okay, not exactly high literature, here. But it would be misleading for me to suggest my kids are reading all these great books without owning up to the fact that we have read 10+ volumes of pony comics to pieces over the last two years. They love them. They can’t get enough of them. They rush to the pony shelf first thing when we get to the comic shop. Le sigh.
But, okay, as far as mainstream brands go, MLP is really not bad. The “mane six” ponies are well-developed, strong, interesting characters with relatable strengths and weaknesses. They go on incredibly epic adventures of every conceivable kind. The comics give more nods to adult readers than the cartoons do – they are probably written for the adult fan base, not younger kids. Lots of visual geek gags including some incredibly meta Discord/Q (from Star Trek) jokes. MLP’s major weakness is a big racial blind spot (yah yah, the ponies are a rainbow of colours. But they are also all white. Zecora the Magic Negro Pony is a zebra and there are indigenous bison. The clear implication is that ponies are white, white, white.) Later seasons of the cartoon have tried to de-white the state of ponyness, but it’s still pretty lame.
But wait, there’s more! A lot more. If you’ve fallen out of touch with comics and think Marvel/DC is all there is to offer, I really recommend you get yourself to a comic book shop – any comic book shop – with haste. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what we have on my kids’ bedstand here, let alone what is available in stores. Some of the most imaginative work in any genre is being done in this medium, in my humble opinion. It’s worth catching up.
June 29, 2015
June 2015: I have to remember this month. It has been a serious banner month for me as a writer, and I’m only just beginning to really digest it all!
I’ve had two stories published!
The first, “Sigrid Under the Mountain,” is in the Summer 2015 issue of The Sockdolager. This is a light and funny story about a feisty and rather cranky woman just trying to live an ordinary life in a world filled with magic, monsters, heroes and villains. “What’s the point of marrying a great, celebrated hero if he won’t even keep kobolds from harrying your cow?” Indeed.
The second, “The Posthuman Condition,” is in the Summer 2015 issue of Kaleidotrope. This is the story of Jesse, an unpaid intern at a transhumanist nightclub, having the worst night of her life. It lands somewhere between splatter horror and cyberpunk with a dose of myth thrown in. TW: suicides. “The God of Post-Man: Who Chooses the Posthuman Condition? A Folly by Jesse Bauman. And Friends.”
I’ve also sold three short stories this month!
I have sold my alt-history Revolutionary-era Quebec novelette, “More Heat Than Light,” to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. This will be my second appearance in F&SF and I’m OVER THE MOON about it. Publication date unconfirmed, but possibly early 2016.
I sold another alt-history, “Eleusinian Mysteries,” to Luna Station Quarterly.This is the story of a Javanese-Dutch mapmaker who discovers a map of a city on the moon, and a secret Dutch East India Company plan to travel there. Publication date September 2015.
The third sale is still a secret, but I hope the TOC will be announced soon! I like having announcements. This is a thing I could serious get used to…
April 30, 2015
I looked at political imprisonment in some short work this week! And let me just recommend both the anthologies I read – Octavia’s Brood ed. Brown & Imarisha and Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up To No Good ed. Nelson & Merriam. Both have a bookload of smart, interesting ideas. Just a sample at Apex!
March 31, 2015
The F&SF blog has posted an interview with me about my piece “La Heron”. This one was really fun to answer and gave me a chance to rant a little about women in martial cultures, high vs low literature, the total plausibility of brawling nuns, and so on. Anything pique your interest? Comment here or there! I like discussions.
March 19, 2015
I will be at Ad Astra Toronto next month – April 10th-12th 2015 – participating as much as I could possibly manage to participate, so as to maximize the fun I will get out of this, the rare convention I am actually able to attend.
My panel and reading schedule is as follows:
Deconstruction: What Happens When You Take Tropes Apart
Friday, April 10th, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Panellists: Gail Z. Martin, KW Ramsey, Leah Bobet, Me
Genre fiction thrives on tropes, from the stalwart hero, the damsel into distress, and all the way to the nefarious villain, but what happens when a show takes those tropes and turns them on their head. Join us as we discuss how and why to do this and examine when it’s done right and when it’s done wrong.
Giving It Away For Free: But You’ll Get Great Exposure!
Saturday, April 11th, 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM
Panellists: Chantal Parent, Chris Warrilow, Erik Mohr, Me
“I’ve got a cousin who could do that for peanuts, why should I pay you so much?” Sound Familiar? Advice and anecdotes from professionals who have been treated unprofessionally.
Genre Crossing: Please Watch for Slow Moving Pathetic Fallacies
Saturday, April 11th, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Panellists: Ada Hoffmann, Karina Sumner-Smith, Nancy Kilpatrick, Me
Sometimes you just want to read, write or direct a paranormal romance during the robot uprising on the medieval planet of urban fariy hipsters.
New Toronto/Ontario Writers Reading
Saturday, April 11th, 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM
Panellists: Elaine Chen, Malon Edwards, Tonya Liburd, Me
Four up-and-coming Toronto writers will be reading from their newly-published work.
How to Sell SF to General Readers as Literature
Saturday, April 11th, 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Panellists: Derek Kunsken, Erik Mohr, Leah Bobet, Me
It is nearly impossible to get a non-genre reader to even look at a book – much less read it – unless HBO has kidnapped it for a mini-series. So how do you prove that SF/F is more than pulpy star-ships and elves with perfect hair?
Interactive Fiction: No Coding required!
Sunday, April 12th, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Panellists: Alice Black, Leah Bobet, Matthew Johnson, Me
Thanks to tools like Storium and Twine, the ability to make interactive stories is now available to everyone. Find out how to get started without having to write a single line of code.
Intersection Between SF and Contemporary Issues
Sunday, April 12th, 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Panellists: Adam Shaftoe, Cathy Hird, Derek Newman Stilles, Me
Panelists discuss SF stories that take on problems of the present, and old SF that has incidentally come back around to address what ails society today.
And just a reminder that I am that rare thing – an extroverted writer – so don’t be shy about coming to talk to me at the Con! As you can see, I like conversation.