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Posts from the ‘Comics’ Category

2017: the year that was


Because I’ve had my head down for a lot of this year I haven’t had much time for posting, but since it’s almost the new year I thought I might pull together some links and news.

The big news for this year was obviously the publication of my first YA novel, The Silent Invasion, which was released in Australia in April. It’s done well so far – it topped the bestseller lists in August and it’s just been longlisted for the Indie Awards (something I’m particularly thrilled about) – which has been great, especially since the second book in the series, The Buried Ark, will be out in April. If you’d like to know more about the series I wrote a piece about the inspiration for it to coincide with the publication of The Silent Invasion.

The other big news was the international publication of Clade by Titan Books in September. It’s had lovely reviews in various places, not least The Guardian and SFX, and I’ve done a number of interviews about it, most significantly for the fabulous Eco-Fiction and the Chicago Review of Books. I also did a long interview about climate change and fiction for Five Books, something that was doubly wonderful because I love the site so much (if you’ve never seen it I urge you to check it out: it’s an extraordinary resource).

I also published The Death of Neutrino Man, a comic I created with artist Melanie Cook from a script I wrote a couple of years ago as part of a project sponsored by iF Book (an experience I wrote about at the time). You can buy it for 99c at Comixology or read it online for free. I’ve got a couple of other comic projects cooking away, so hopefully there will be more soon.


On the non-fiction front I wrote a couple of longer things, most notably a review essay of Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne and a piece about the place of fiction in the Anthropocene, both of which were published on Sydney Review of Books. I also wrote about fish intelligence in The Monthly, which I’m delighted to say was shortlisted for the Bragg Prize for Science Writing and has recently been republished as part of Michael Slezak’s excellent Best Australian Science Writing 2017 (which would make an excellent Christmas present). And just a few weeks ago I published another ocean-themed piece in The Monthly, this time about the kelp forests of Australia’s other reef, the Great Southern Reef. And finally I’ve just written an appreciation of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles career for The Neighbourhood Paper.

I’ll have more news about future projects, in particular The Buried Ark and my new adult novel in the new year. In the meantime I wish you all a very happy holiday season and all the best for 2018.

Best Books 2016

Spiotta.jpgIt’s that time of year, so because what the world needs is yet another best of the year list (surely it’s time we all went meta and started producing lists of the best best of lists?) I thought I’d pull together a quick roundup of some of the books I loved this year (if I get the time I’ll also put together a few music picks).

If you’d like to get a head start you can check out the Best Books features in The Weekend Australian (Part One and Part Two) and Australian Book Review, both of which include some of my selections as well as those of many other smart, interesting people, or indeed the features in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, which I’m not part of but are terrific. And you can also hear me in conversation with Jonathan Strahan, Gary Wolfe and Ian Mond about our favourite science fiction and fantasy books of the year on The Coode Street Podcast’s Year in Review episode.

As I say in The Weekend Australian, my favourite book of the year was Dana Spiotta’s Innocents and Others, the follow-up to her fabulous Stone Arabia. I’m a huge fan of Spiotta, and like all her books Innocents and Others is just thrilling as a piece of literary art: beautifully written, strikingly intelligent about the questions of friendship and art at its core, wonderfully oblique in its approach to narrative. If you haven’t read it I recommend it very much (in fact I recommend all her books).

Barkskins.jpgI also hugely admired Annie Proulx’s monumental Barkskins, a book that forces the reader to confront the scale of the destruction humans are visiting on the world around us, and which, in its final, wrenching sections, embodies more than a little of the incoherent grief so many of us feel. It’s also a book that makes a useful companion piece to three of the best non-fiction books I read this year, Roy Scranton’s Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable and Horatio Clare’s slim but often profound search for a vanished bird, Orison for a Curlew.

I was also deeply impressed by Colson Whitehead’s speculative reworking of the history of slavery, The Underground Railroad, Frances Spufford’s gloriously poised and entirely delightful riff on the eighteenth century novel, Golden Hill (a book that deserved much more attention than it received), Ann Patchett’s characteristically smart and expansive Commonwealth, Paul Beatty’s Man Booker-winning The Sellout, and the fifth volume in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, Some Rain Must Fall (like many people I’m torn between being unable to wait for the sixth and regret that it will be the final volume).

Amsterdam.jpgI’m not sure it would be correct to say I loved Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone, but other than the Proulx I’m not sure any book affected me more this year: I found its portrait of grief and mental illness and their generational legacy deeply distressing and extremely powerful. Something similar is true of Han Kang’s intense and deeply disquieting The Vegetarian, while Elizabeth Strout’s hugely impressive My Name is Lucy Barton is distinguished by the pain that lurks in its silences. And although Steven Amsterdam’s The Easy Way Out approaches its subject with a real lightness of touch, its exploration of the ways in which assisted suicide affects those who must facilitate it is hugely intelligent and very moving.

Other novels I enjoyed very much include David Dyer’s wonderful Titanic novel, The Midnight Watch, Sarah Perry’s exuberant The Essex Serpent, Mike McCormack’s novel in a single sentence, Solar Bones, Ali Smith’s Autumn, J.M. Coetzee’s delightfully strange and darkly witty The Schooldays of Jesus and Kirsten Tranter’s beautifully pitched study of grief, Hold. And while I came to them late (and I don’t think the stories are necessarily best served by being presented in collected form) I was hugely impressed by Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women.

Dark Emu.jpgIn terms of non-fiction, my pick of the year is Bruce Pascoe’s brilliant study of pre-contact Aboriginal agriculture and technology, Dark Emu. There aren’t many books I think every Australian should read but Pascoe’s is definitely one of them. I also very much admired Amy Liptrot’s Wainwright Prize winner, The Outrun, Frans de Waal’s Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are?, Jennifer Ackerman’s The Genius of Birds and Kate Summerscale’s brilliant The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer. I also hugely enjoyed Bruce Springsteen’s foray into memoir, Born to Run, and although I read it under sad conditions, Simon Critchley’s wonderful Bowie, a book that along with Hugo Wilcken’s study of Low is, for my money, the best of the small library of Bowie books I’ve read in the past couple of years (if you’re interested you can check out my essay about Bowie, ‘Loving the Alien’, which is also in this year’s Best Australian Essays).

I’m biased, obviously, but of the science fiction and fantasy I read my favourite was the first instalment in my partner Mardi McConnochie’s new series for middle grade readers, Escape to the Moon Islands. Like all her books it’s warm and funny and wonderfully original and I can’t recommend it enough (it also has a talking parrot).

In second place was Garth Nix’s Goldenhand, which saw Nix return to the Old Kingdom with triumphant results, but it was a close-run thing with Guy Gavriel Kay’s wonderfully expansive sort-of sequel to Sailing to Sarantium, Children of Earth and Sky, and I also very much enjoyed the conclusion to Paul McAuley’s Jackaroo duology, Into Everywhere, Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station and Charlie Jane Anders’ exuberant Anthropocene fantasy/sci fi mash-up, All The Birds in the Sky. And while it isn’t strictly speculative, I also hugely admired Nike Sulway’s Dying in the First Person.

There’s not really any competition for comic of the year as far as I’m concerned: that crown goes to Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s stunning Vision, but I also loved Adrian Tomine’s short graphic stories, Killing and Dying.

Wolf and a Dog.jpegAnd finally, although my experience of it was tinged with great sadness, I loved my friend Georgia Blain’s final novel, Between a Wolf and a Dog. Georgia’s death a fortnight ago from brain cancer leaves a huge hole in so many people’s lives, but it has also robbed us of one of the most important voices in contemporary Australian literature: Georgia’s writing, both fictional and non-fictional, was always distinguished by her preparedness to speak plainly and truthfully about her own experience, the lives of women and the demands and contradictions of family and love, and to my mind at least she was one of the bravest writers I have ever known. Worse yet, it came at a time when Georgia’s work seemed to have found a new freedom and expansiveness, qualities that are very much on display in Between a Wolf and a Dog, and which I am certain will be everywhere in the book she completed in her final months, The Museum of Words, which will be published next year. I wrote a short piece about Georgia and her work for the Fairfax press, but there have also been beautiful tributes to her from Charlotte WoodSophie Cunningham and Jane Gleeson-White, and a terrific piece about her and her mother, Anne Deveson (who died only three days after Georgia) by Anne Summers. As Sophie says, she was magnificent.

Brisbane Writers Festival

brisbane writers festivalJust a quick note to say I’ll be appearing at this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival, which runs from Tuesday 3 September to Monday 9 September.

I’m on three panels. The first, Fables and Folktales, also features Kate Forsyth (who just wrote a lovely review of Beauty’s Sister), Donna Hancox and Angela Slatter, and is fairly self-explanatory. The second, A Sense of Wonder, which also features Ashley Hay and Bianca Nogrady, is about science and communication, and the third, Future Imperfect, which also features Sean Williams and Antony Funnell, is about science fiction and the future. Fables and Folktales is at 2:30pm on Saturday 7 September, A Sense of Wonder is at 4:00pm on Saturday 7 September and Future Imperfect is at 2:30pm on Sunday 8 September.

I’m really excited about the panels and about the Festival in general, which seems to have gone out of its way to develop a program that isn’t ashamed to schedule literary writers like Philip Meyer and Ruth Ozeki alongside speculative and comic writers like Matt Fraction (writer of the brilliant, brilliant Hawkeye), Dylan Horrocks and Marjorie M. Liu. The latter are all appearing as part of the Well Drawn event on Sunday 8 September, and I’m very much looking forward to catching their sessions.

Information on the Festival and details of all events are available on the BWF website. More information about my sessions and ticketing is available on my profile page.

Recent Reviewage

Shining GirlsDeep in the final stages of the second draft of my new novel, so no time to post, but thought I might link to a few recent reviews. First up I’ve got a long piece on Patrick Ness’ The Crane Wife in the Sydney Review of Books, in which I talk a little bit about about folk tales and the way contemporary writers tend to (mis)read them. It was a fun piece to write and I’m really pleased to be a part of the SRB, which – much to the credit of its editor, James Ley – seems to have come into the world pretty much fully formed, delivering one fantastic piece after another.

Over in today’s Weekend Australian I’ve got a piece on Lauren Beukes’ science fiction-inflected riff on the serial killer novel, The Shining Girls, and going back a few weeks, a longish piece on Jami Attenberg’s The Middlesteins and Michael Kimball’s Big Ray, both of which feature obese characters. And if you’re interested you can also check out my reviews of Ron Rash’s Nothing Gold Can Stay and Sean Howe’s excellent and extremely entertaining history of Marvel Comics, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.

I’ve got several more pieces due out over the next few weeks, as well as a story I’m really pleased with, so will link to them as they appear.

Even Superman gets remaindered

Superman remainder


Inside the imagination of China Miéville

At Perth Writers’ Festival a few weeks back I had the pleasure of hosting a conversation with the depressingly brilliant, charming and multi-talented China Miéville. If you’re in Australia and you’re free at 11:00am tomorrow, it’ll be screening on Big Ideas on ABC 1, otherwise you can check out a preview below and watch the full interview or download video and audio versions of it from the Big Ideas website. It should also be available to Australian viewers on ABC  iView later this week as well.


Prometheus in green

If I were to make a list of my all-time favourite comic panels this one, depicting Bruce Banner caught in the blast of the gamma bomb from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Incredible Hulk #1 would be right up there. It’s got all the dynamism and drama of Kirby’s art at its best – there’s something immediately iconic about the image of Banner with his arms thrown up as the bomb he’s created explodes behind him – but it’s also a reminder not just of the way Cold War anxieties fed into the early Marvel comics, but of the way their imagery and grammar drew upon the legacy of the monster and horror comics of the 1950s.

Hulk #1

Grant Morrison’s Supergods

Frank Quitely, All-Star Superman

I’ve just posted a review of Grant Morrison’s Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero on my Writing page, the original of which ran in The Sydney Morning Herald last week.

I suspect Morrison’s name may not be familiar to a number of you, but to anybody who reads comics it’s likely to be immediately familiar, and, if only because he’s been so immensely influential, the prospect of a book by him is likely to be of considerable interest.

I have reasonably complex views about Morrison’s work. There’s an intellectual brilliance and a joyousness to his affection for the pulpier aspects of the superhero in his work I find it impossible not to respond to, qualities that in combination have made him responsible for many of the truly electric moments I’ve had reading comics over the years. I’m very happy to say his runs on Doom Patrol and Animal Man remain amongst my favourite comics ever. And there’s a slightly daffy warmth and wildness to books like All-Star Superman which is, at its best, very touching. But I also feel he’s a writer whose best work (with the honourable exception of The Invisibles) tends to be within existing mythoi.

This isn’t necessarily a criticism. Indeed in many ways it’s a function of what makes him so good when he’s at his best. Because at the heart of his work is a fascination with the things that make comics tick, the pulpy energy and urgency and sheer imaginative wildness, all of which he clearly understands at a deep, intuitive level, and all of which are very much on display in Supergods.

Anyway, I’ll let you read the review for yourself. But I’ll also say that if you’re a comics reader, or even just somebody with an interest in the form, it’s a book that’s very, very worth your time.

When Genres Attack

Just a reminder that if you’re in Sydney over the weekend you might want to head over to Shearer’s Bookshop in Leichhardt for When Genres Attack, a pre-Sydney Writers’ Festival event exploring a series of hot-button issues to do with genre, literary status, women’s writing and the state of literary culture generally. It’s an event I’m really excited to be part of, not just because they’re a series of questions dear to my heart, but because I’ll be sharing the stage with the irrepressible Sophie Hamley and two of the smartest writers I know,  P.M. Newton (author of one of my favourite books of last year, The Old School) and Kirsten Tranter (whose debut novel, The Legacy, I’m in the middle of as we speak and am enjoying very much). If you’d like a taster of the evening Kirsten’s written a fascinating piece about the way setting up oppositions between genre fiction and “literature” impoverishes our understanding of both for the Shearer’s Bookshop Blog.

The event kicks off at 7:30 tomorrow night. Tickets are $7.00 and are available from Shearer’s Bookshop on (02) 9572 7766. It’d be great to see you there.

20th Century Ghosts

Over the last couple of days I’ve been reading (and loving) Joe Hill’s debut collection, 20th Century Ghosts.

I suspect Hill – who also happens to be the son of Stephen and Tabitha King – isn’t likely be familiar to a lot of literary readers, which is a pity, because he’s a seriously good writer. While I’ve only read about half of 20th Century Ghosts, it’s one of those books which fairly hums with energy and intelligence.

If I’m being honest about it part of what I like about 20th Century Ghosts is its subject matter. While I’m not suggesting for a moment there aren’t brilliant literary short stories being written, the literary short story (like the literary novel) feels increasingly mannered to me, a form distinguished by its careful, competent evocation of things we already know rather than the sort of excitement and danger I want writing to be about.

That’s obviously a conversation for another day, not least because at least part of the pleasure of 20th Century Ghosts does actually lie in the sort of subject matter literary stories tend to explore, in particular the awkwardness and loneliness of adolescence. But while that’s sometimes that’s an end in itself – ‘Better Than Home’, for instance focusses on a young boy whose sensitivity to sound underlines the mingled tenderness and neglect that characterise his relationship with his baseball player father – more often that alienation is evoked through the incorporation of elements of the surreal, such as Art, the inflatable boy in the ominously-titled ‘Pop Art’.

But the real joy of 20th Century Ghosts is its playful appropriation and subversion of the tropes of the Horror genre it inhabits, and more particular the pulpy, pop cultural version of it that arose in the 1950s and 1960s.

This is most overtly the case in the collection’s thrillingly clever opening story, ‘Best New Horror’, which manages to work not just as a genuinely chilling horror story, but as a elegant and uncomfortably acute satire of the both the niceties of literary culture (“people … who dreamed heartbreaking dreams about one day selling a poem to The New Yorker“) and the sub-culture that surrounds Horror fiction (“sweaty little grubs who get hard over corpses”).

As genres go, Horror is, of course, one of the more disreputable. Lurid, cannibalistic (in both senses of the word), often just gross, the very nature of its subject matter makes it uncomfortable and unpleasant reading. Yet its capacity to embody not just the deepest, most atavistic elements of the subconscious but also the most deep-seated anxieties of the culture it inhabits also lend it an immediacy and power more elevated forms often lack. Like SF it estranges by making metaphor literal, but unlike SF it also plays overtly upon the elision of the boundaries between life and death, human and inhuman, real and imaginary.

All of which brings me to another book I’ve been reading recently, Jim Trombetta’s lavish study of the pre-Comics Code horror comics of the 1950s, The Horror! The Horror!

Given the last publishers abandoned the Code earlier this year, The Horror! The Horror! is a historical artefact in more ways than one: not just the anxieties and the culture they were embedded within have long since vanished, but even the moral panic that suppressed them has subsided, if only to be replaced by different fears. Yet it’s also a wonderfully vivid and often marvellously immediate portrait of a cultural form that flowered only briefly before being pushed underground.

For me it’s also an exercise in nostalgia. Although I’m obviously too young to have read any of these comics in their original form, my childhood reading was augmented not just by the black and white reprints of old E.C. comics that could be found in Australian newsagents in the 1970s, but by several fabulous books about the history of comics my parents gave me as a child (the best of which, Les Daniels and John Peck’s Comix: A History of Comics in America is readily available in cheap second-hand editions via Amazon and AbeBooks).

But either way The Horror! The Horror! is a delight. While Trombetta has some acute (if sometimes rather over-theorised) things to say about the social and cultural conditions that gave birth to the horror comics of the 1950s (the idea of the passion for zombies as a response to the Korean War was new to me, for instance) and the campaign to suppress them (Trombetta rightly points out that the same culture which wanted to ban the weird horror of kid’s comics was also explicitly retailing its own officially-sanctioned nightmares about nuclear war and Communist infiltration) he largely lets the comics themselves do the talking, reproducing not just a host of covers but dozens of stories in full.

Viewed collectively it’s difficult not to be struck by the sheer energy and delight of the work on display. Partly that’s about the fact many of the artists and writers are ones who would go on to make their name as the architects of the Silver Age comics on the 1960s (the book’s magnificent cover is by the young Steve Ditko, who would go on to create Spiderman and Doctor Strange (who’s apparently getting a movie soon) with Stan Lee). But it’s also about the form itself, its fertility and openness to the charge of the forbidden and unsettling, and – something its detractors were right about – its explicit sexual overtones. Like the pulp fiction of the pre-war era the very nature of the industry, its speed, its dependence upon formula, allow the best of the work produced to mainline the deepest anxieties and fantasies of the culture it inhabited.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying it’s a book that’s very worth tracking down (the edition I have comes with a DVD of Paul Coates’ famous 1955 report on the industry, though that report is also available online and is embedded below). If you’d like to know more about it you might also want to read Graphic Novel Reporter’s interview with Trombetta, or you can feast your eyes on the images in the promotional video below.

Jack Kirby, Jonathan Lethem and Philip K. Dick

Dr Doom and Silver Surfer

Click to embiggen.

Via io9, a reminder that yesterday (28 August) would have been the 92nd birthday of the legendary Jack Kirby. To celebrate, they’ve assembled a gallery celebrating just some of the characters Kirby helped create over the years, from Captain America to the Fantastic Four, Spiderman and the Uncanny X-Men. It’s worth a look, if only to be reminded of just how significant a role Kirby has played in the creation of late-20th and early-21st century pop culture.

Pleasingly, Kirby’s birthday also gives me an excuse to link to Jonathan Lethem’s fabulous piece about Jack Kirby and the illusions of adolescence, and the mention of Lethem in turn gives me an excuse to link to Forward’s recent interview with him about Philip K. Dick and Lethem’s upcoming novel, Chronic City.

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F%*k Superman

BatmanIf you’ve got a couple of minutes to spare you could do a lot worse than checking out Brazilian cartoonist Eduardo Medeiros’ delightful riff on Batman at Hellatoons. Forget Christopher Nolan’s single-minded Dark Knight, this is the real Batman: a foul-tempered crank in an ageing Cadillac, and it’s hilarious.

Page 1 is here. (Links to subsequent pages are above the image).

Thanks to io9.

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The greatest covers ever. ‘Nuff said.


Click to embiggen

If like yours truly your adolescence (and much of your 20s, come to that) was misspent rereading old issues of The Uncanny X-Men and Fantastic Four, you might be interested to know Marvel have assembled a collection of their 70 greatest covers. The list, which is based upon an online poll of readers, is part of Marvel’s 70th anniversary celebrations, and is accompanied by a list of Marvel’s 70 greatest comics.

I’d have to confess to being a little non-plussed by the winner, Todd McFarlane’s cover for The Incredible Hulk #340 . I can think of half a dozen covers off the top of my head which are more iconic and, quite frankly, more striking. And while the selection seems to be less biased towards recent covers than one might expect, I’m a little surprised Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko’s work from the 1960s isn’t better represented (and, though it’s less iconic, the very striking work John Byrne was doing on Fantastic Four and Frank Miller on Daredevil in the 1980s). And how on earth how did the cover of Avengers #4 miss the cut? How can you get more iconic than the return of the original Super-Soldier himself, Captain America?

But all that said, I’m pleased to see the #2 and #3 spots go to Amazing Fantasy #15 (the first appearance of Spiderman) and a comic that remains one of my all-time favourites, The Uncanny X-Men #141. And as always I’m pleased to be reminded of just how much I love the old Silver Age comics, which still possess a joyousness and archetypal power the much more sophisticated work of recent years struggles to match (find me an image to match that of Bruce Banner caught in the glow of the Gamma Bomb, or the Sub-Mariner hurling Captain America’s body into the Arctic Ocean and I’ll eat my words).

And if you have a few minutes to spare after flicking through the images on Marvel’s website, do yourself a favour and read Jonathan Lethem’s piece on Sam Raimi’s Spiderman, or his wonderful essay about growing up with the Fantastic Four, or, in a slightly different vein, his bleak but to my mind accurate piece about Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. I promise it’ll be time well-spent.

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Watching the Watchmen: Part 2

watchmenOn the weekend I linked to the wonderful credit sequence of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen. Now are offering a blow by blow guide to the many visual gags and references contained in the credits. It makes delightful reading, though I also suspect the attention to detail the article unpacks, and its deliberate echoing of the visually encoded and layered complexities of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s original graphic novel is one of the qualities which makes the film itself such an oddly enervating experience.

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Watching the Watchmen: Part 1

I’m planning to write something about Watchmen in the next couple of days, but one of the things I won’t be able to do is avoid echoing the view of critics as disparate as The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane and io9’s Meredith Woerner that in many ways the best thing about the film is its marvellous credit sequence. It’s certainly not the first time the heroes of the Golden Age have been lovingly invoked so their nostalgic glow can be undercut by a later, and darker reality — you only have to look to Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay or Alex Ross’ Marvels for two examples — but I suspect for sheer compression and beauty there’s nothing to equal Watchmen‘s montage of three-dimensional photographs and their sense of gathering darkness and loss, not least because of the inspired choice of Bob Dylan’s ‘The time’s they are a changin’ as the backing track.

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