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by Chris Barsanti

3 Nov 2007

Having already cut his teeth as an illustrator for the ne-plus-ultra of American nonfiction comics, Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, Josh Neufeld would already be considered a dead-on solid choice for the right guy to do an epic graphic treatment of Hurricane Katrina. Add to that the fact that not long after the hurricane slammed through the Gulf Coast, Neufeld spent three weeks as a Red Cross volunteer in Biloxi, Mississippi, soaking up stories of the storm and its aftermath (which he blogged and then collected as a self-published book, Katrina Came Calling), and you have what seems to be a perfect match. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge is Neufeld’s webcomic, published by one of the more exacting online magazines, SMITH, lives up to its promise by being the exact kind of knowing and humane document the victims of Katrina well deserve—and the rest of us need. Parceled out in a dozen installments a month at a time (it’s now up to Chapter 7, “The Bowl Effect”), A.D. follows five real people, and their assorted relatives and friends, through the buildup to Katrina, and what they went through after.

While the webcomic format is an attractively democratic one, requiring hardly anywhere near the resources that physical printing does, there are some limitations here. SMITH‘s previous comic, the justly acclaimed Will Eisner-nominated war satire Shooting War, benefited from the jaggedly episodic structuring, packed as it was with dramatic close-ups and sharp angles. Neufeld’s more graceful construction may in fact look better on the printed page once some publisher wises up and puts it out there (Shooting War was picked up by Grand Central for publication this month). That being said, Neufeld makes good use of the expanded abilities offered by the web, embedding appropriate links, like to the National Hurricane Center’s archived site for a particular date, and even sticking in MP3s at critical junctures in the story. For all this new media construction, though, Neufeld never lets the format take over from his elegantly elegiac story; all of which is taken, by the way, word-for-word from accounts of the people it depicts. And somehow, even though there’s of course no question about how things will turn out, Neufeld keeps you coming back, month after month, to see not necessarily what happens but who it happens to.

by Nikki Tranter

30 Oct 2007

Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy, Yann Martel’s illustrated Life of Pi, Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father, Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad ... the list of anticipated reads from Australia’s independent Text Publishing house is never-ending. In looking for the Australian distributor of Girl Meets Boy, I was sent to the Text website, and reminded just how invaluable the company is to Aussie readers—especially lovers of foreign literature, and those with tastes left of centre.

Text Publishing is behind the Australian releases of I’m Not Scared and When I Was Five, I Killed Myself, David Denby’s work, works by Athol Fuard and Anna Funder. The company publishes authors as diverse as Gideon Haigh, Linda Jaivin, Patrick Suskind, Alexander McCall Smith, Arnold Zable, Jeanette Winterson, Garry Disher, Shane Moloney, Helen Garner, Tim Flannery, and Mary Roach. And, when visiting the company online, one notices a straightforward approach to self-advertising – no glossy pictures to capture the attention, no bells, few whistles, just an uncomplicated, readable list of what’s new. The books, it would appear, speak for themselves. 

Publisher Michael Heyward notes on the Text website Australia’s “slender and heartbreaking history of publishing independence.” Text, partnered with Canongate, has had a hugely successful year, and, according to The Book Standard, assisted Canongate in doubling profits in 2007. 

His success all well and good, Heyward is not focused on numbers, but “edit[ing], design[ing], and publish[ing] books that readers love.”

Text is online here.

by Nikki Tranter

28 Oct 2007

Five years ago, there I was, sitting alone, away from the crowds, hating The Lovely Bones all by my lonesome. I hated that book so much, I threw it away upon completion. My contention was that Alice Sebold had transplanted Ghost into a poorly-written, horribly sugary teen drama where life (and death) is just heavenly. Her notions of family and pain, especially of the magnitude hinted at in the book, were nothing short of pedestrian – naïve, even. Every word of the thing made me cringe – was I reading the latest literary bestseller full of grand themes and poetic sentences, or a hunk of godawful trash slapped together by someone trying to rip off R.L. Stine?

I was then and remain still flabbergasted at the worldwide response to the book as some kind of gift from above. Every somewhat competent book-judge from Oprah to Michiko caught the Lovely Bones disease—sugar-shock, probably – and the few of us who doubted Sebold’s ability were slammed for so many things, among them sympathising with rapists (I kid you not). I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with a distaste for Bones, but damn if it didn’t seem like Sebold’s fans all chose me to rant at. Never have I received so much feedback on any single book review. Although, I guess they’re right—I should have used a **spoiler** warning. Sorry.

Still, vindication has come at last! My mum rang me this morning to read the Age review of Sebold’s new novel, The Almost Moon, published in the Saturday culture lift-out: “The Almost Moon is easily the worst second novel to follow a good first novel that I’ve read,” writes Michelle Griffin. “It’s almost baffling in its willful embrace of bad choices.” Ooh, wow.

Michelle is not alone. From USA Today to the Guardian and back around to the New York Times Sunday Book Review, most everyone is wondering what the hell happened to their favorite first-time novelist. And they’re doing it with vitriol. Lee Siegel at the Times musters up more grit than Griffin: “This novel is so morally, emotionally and intellectually incoherent that it’s bound to become a best seller.” And this, which I might just print out and peg to the wall:

Even the schlockiest popular novels of yore—By Love Possessed, Marjorie Morningstar, The Chosen—had accurate, if mundane, social and psychological perceptions. Danielle Steel has that. You and I have that! It’s beyond comprehension that Sebold can publish a novel pretending to reflect reality that’s so severed from reality.

Much the same could be said about The Lovely Bones. Man, what was it about that damn book that had the world so transfixed?

Anyway – time has revealed all, and Sebold appears to have much work to do to grab back her place in the book world as a name to watch. Meanwhile, can I say I told you so?


by Nikki Tranter

24 Oct 2007

Loved the cat-slapping going on this week between lovers and haters of the new Gossip Girl TV series. The guys at The Intelligencer think the show is the greatest thing ever invented and that anyone who disagrees is, like, way uncool, while Lesley M.M. Blume thinks the show is not only complete crap, but a terrible influence on its young audience.

Blume, for The Huffington Post, writes:

Along these lines, Gossip Girl seems to tell us that there’s nothing to look forward to, and there will be nothing to look back upon ... except more of the same. We’re not just destined to become brittle materialistic adults; we already are brittle materialistic adults by the time we hit puberty. We have no choice. We’re wired for misery. If we have money, we’re destined to be miserable with it. If we don’t have it, we’re destined to be miserable without it, and spend our lives with our noses pressed up against the glass.

Intel his back:

We know (from photo evidence) that [Blume] hasn’t been in her thirties long enough to actually forget that the whole point of high school (and anything else leading up to the age of 21, at which point everything irrevocably and nightmarishly reverses) is, was, and will always be about getting older as fast as possible.

Hmm, Blume, I think, makes the better argument. The purpose of the Intel piece is to criticise Blume’s “reading” of Gossip Girl. However, it counters but a few of Blume’s key points—just the easy ones. Blume feels sorry for the kids today who have The OC and this new show to reflect their youth, while Blume had Heathers and Clueless and smart movies with smart teens. Ooh, Intel retorts—she’s just a jaded child of the ‘80s who also watched Alf. TV, Intel says, is supposed to be silly and far-fetched—hello?, they practially squeal. What was the argument again—something about reality? Alf fits in ... where?

Blume’s point is, on the whole, that in her day teens acted like teens—as they did in Alf and Growing Pains and Who’s the Boss?, and every show Intel mentions. Kids today, writes Blume, if you listen to shows like Gossip Girl, have lost what it was that made teens teens—innocence, naivete, and all that other good stuff. Intel tries again:

Lesley’s point here is that they try to make Blair’s character on the show act way older than her age, which, duh, is totally correct.

And then you realise they’re just not trying. You win, not through intellienget debate, but by metaphorically poking people in the boob and running off. Take that Lesley Blume! And, by the way, you look like Paris Hilton! It’s the anti-ouch, really, when your rival proves your point for you.

On Gossip Girl—check out EW‘s interview with show producer Stephanie Savage.


by Nikki Tranter

23 Oct 2007

//Mixed media

Terror, Dolls, Madhouses: Three for the Price of Price

// Short Ends and Leader

"Three Vincent Price projects from American International.

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