The Unwritten: Apocalypse #9

Standard

UnwrittenApoc9

Synopsis
The three immortals – Wilson, Rausch and Pullman – are moving toward their respective endgames. But when was the last time they were all in the same room together? Answer: half a century ago, in Oxford, England. And the reasons for what they’re doing now can be found in what they said to each other back then…

Story
The penultimate story arc of The Unwritten: Apocalypse ended in ‘Sang’ Part III (last issue) with multiple endings and dazzlingly knotted plots and threads, in what is increasingly becoming a game of triple crossing and multiple jeopardy – but issue #9 tries setting the record straight, for lack of a better word, as we see a story and read another.
Dropping the current Tom Taylor storyline for the issue, we move back to a younger Taylor/Tallis, as he conveniently joins the mythology enthusiasts of Oxford, the Inklings. Mike Carey is not a stranger to tinkering with literature, and that is pretty much the scope of the series, but this particular twist is especially juicy, adorning Taylor with even more power and resources than we had seen so far. And then Pullman shows up. Followed by Madame Rausch.
The interaction between the different characters, their voices included, is well crafted, both with the Inklings and the fearsome threesome, and the parallel scripts used to show the extent of the characters’ powers are a well-executed example of the possibilities of comics as a medium. Taylor’s voice, however, is the most intriguing aspect of the issue, showing him as a new writer, a naive perhaps, manipulator of stories – with one, significant change in his tone towards the end.

Art
The parallel scripts, of course, only work with the layouts and artwork of the co-plotter, Peter Gross. The pacing is really well done, and two pages in particular really stand out (including the final one). Additionally, Vince Locke’s finishes on the art really help in setting the time scale of the issue, and make the mythopoeic splash page look truly outstanding.
If possible, Chris Chuckry’s colours take that even further, contrasting the pub scenes with the ones showing Rausch, Pullman and Taylor in such a way that the latter are eerily appropriate to the events taking place. Todd Klein’s hand in the typewritten captions is subtle, but necessary to the duplicitous script, and there is one particularly well-placed sound effect that really jumps off the page.
As for the cover, as always by the excellent Yuko Shimizu, it serves as a very distinct reminder that yes, this is the book-shattering conclusion approaching, Tom is not the knight he could’ve been in ‘Sang’ – but there is something more in the image: what has Tom realised, that we haven’t yet?

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
With only three more issues to go, Inklings is a superb intake of breath before the plunge, delving back into the past and motives of the three key players, seemingly revealed at last. As the saying goes, though, the storyteller is not to be believed, only the story – and we’ve seen in this issue that we cannot trust those either; but thanks to the nature of the comics medium, we are able to view multiple sides of the same tale at once, however unreliable any of them may be. So follow the threads of what’s to come, but beware: there is no indication whether they’ll get you in or out of the labyrinth.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #9 is now available in shops and digitally here.

Tens of books

Standard

There is a current trend on social media, mostly Facebook, that challenges people to come up with a list of ten books that have somehow influenced, stuck and hold a special place with them. A friend of mine, Hazel, included me in it, but as I am not usually willing to adhere to ‘chains’, I decided to update the lonely, dusty blog instead.

To actually force myself to provide something meatier, however, I’ve tried to track down the origin of the books too, and therefore to whom I am grateful for the suggestion or gift. So thank you, various people who enabled my reading. It paid off, a bit.

In no particular order:

The Giver (1993), by Lois Lowry. Given to me by my mum, part of a postal reading subscription. Fairly simple, heavily criticised, still to the point (and I am dreading the film adaptation). What if we all were the same, and the price was that we forget our past, for better or worse? And what if you and you alone were forced to remember for everyone?

Blankets (2003), by Craig Thompson. Part of an Italian series that came with a newspaper, introducing to graphic novels from around the world; this version was by Elena Fattoretto (2004). Growing up in a not-officially-Catholic-but-who-are-we-kidding country, the book screamed at me with Craig’s struggle with his belief, relationship to his family, and absolutely stunning artwork. The first book that I remember making me cry.

Comme un Roman (1992), by Daniel Pennac. First read in Yasmina Melaouah’s (1993) Italian translation. A gift from my dad, after I stole most of his Pennac books. A non-fictional essay by a reader for readers about reading, and the source of the excellent Rights of the Reader (also the title of Sarah Adams’ translation), made into a poster by Quentin Blake.

A Monster Calls (2011), by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay, based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd. Suggested by BJ Epstein, my academic supervisor, for a reading group. I fell in love with it, I cried, I was terrified of going to sleep, I found my displaced anger in the boy and the monster, and felt ashamed of it all, and loved it even more.

The Incredible Hulk #377 (1991), by Peter David, Dale Keown, Bob McLeod, Glynis Oliver. No idea where I first read this one, but I’ve been searching a copy as far as I can remember, and finally obtained one this year. How to control and convert multiple angry, out-of-control personalities into one complete (green) being.

Baol. Una tranquilla notte di regime (1990), by Stefano Benni. Probably also a gift from my dad, as I also stole all his Benni books. One of the most surreal, caustic, irreverent, profane, political works by Benni, and a really short read that has yet to make it into English. But it travels with me whenever I move house, and I have been compared to the main character by some of my friends in the past. For yet unexplained reasons.

Hyperion (1989), by Dan Simmons. Recommended by an Italian writer friend, who specifically asked me not to read the translation. I devoured this one and its three sequels over a summer, and I was brought back into sci-fi literature, reminded of what it can really do with notions of genre, canon and technology. And the horror of the Shrike.

L’Allegria (1931), by Giuseppe Ungaretti. Cultural baggage, Ungaretti permeates Italian literary education. One of my favourite collections of Italian poetry, and the first venture into literary translation as part of my undergraduate dissertation. War poetry, but not quite. Hermetic poetry, but not quite. Resonant poetry – quite.

Written on the Body (1993), by Jeanette Winterson. My first purchase in English that was not via my mum or aunt. I cried on the plane back to Italy during a school trip reading it. Poetry based on medical language, my introduction to queer literature and a tagline that still makes me shiver: why is the measure of love loss?

W;t (1995), by Margaret Edson. Part of a module about teachers and teaching I took at the University of Leeds, by Denis Flannery. A one-act play dealing with words, language, poetry, literature, life, death and punctuation, as Professor Vivian Bearing deals with ovarian cancer and the joys of healthcare and John Donne. Emma Thompson’s TV movie rendition is devastating, too.

Honourable mentions: Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Mike Carey, Peter Gross et al’s Lucifer and The Unwritten, Deborah Levy’s Things I don’t want to know, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bà’s Daytripper, Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses.

Now, what does this tell me? I wasn’t exposed to or sought out enough diversity (gender, ethnicity, you name it) growing up, and much of what I did read then did not make as big an impact as what I was immersed in during my university years. I have been addressing the issue, especially of recent with the ReadWomen2014 and WomenInTranslation initiatives, and several translations I read of some of the books above were indeed by women. I am part of the Readers Circle in Norwich, which seeks out the best new books available over the course of a year, and pushes us beyond our comfort reading zones. I am translating a series of poems by Italian women poets for The Norwich Radical, to bring more of their writing into English, and research the field more myself. I am following Malorie Blackman’s work on diversity in YA, and wholeheartedly support it.

But those are the ten books so far. Any further recommendations, as always, are more than welcome.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #8

Standard

UnwrittenApoc7

Synopsis
In “Sang” part three, to find the maanim, Sir Thomas must succeed where all other knights have failed. Which isn’t going to be easy when his own identity keeps shifting, and when the story itself seems determined to create a very different hero.

Story
The ‘Sang’ story arc finds its end, which is of course only the beginning of something much bigger, in issue 8 of the Unwritten: Apocalypse, and the manipulative nature of the series’ creators and characters alike does not give signs of ceasing any time soon. Neither in writing nor in art, and definitely not in plot.
We are given a little more grounding to the events of the previous issue, showing the long term game that Pullman and Madame Rausch have been playing all along – and probably even Wilson – as well as returning to poor Danny abandoned during the first issues in a darkness of his own purported making; and all makes sense, except for when it doesn’t, but even that appears to be intentional, with a new player free from the bounds of time running through the issue.
As Mike Carey continues to prove just how much fun he can have with his writing, making everyone and everything ‘bilingual in medieval bullshit’ (actual quote), he even manages to make Tom a little more likeable, at last, as he is now aware of how little power he and Leviathan actually have in the face of everything swirling around them.

Art
Peter Gross continues in his engraving-like style for the most part in the issue, but with the perfectly executed visual bilingualism accompanying the script: the cast and settings shift, even within the same panel, between ‘real world’ and ‘medieval epic’ on wisps of colour and linework. In addition, though some characters are not actually in the book, their presence is very much felt in the background and borders of the pages, giving an eerie feeling where no added eeriness was necessary – but chillingly welcome.
Credit where it’s due: Chris Chuckry, whose name finally features on the cover(!), has a big hand in depicting those currents of reality/fiction and demarcating the difference between the scenes with Danny, Tom and the small cutaways to Pullman and his ‘agent’. All of which end up inevitably clashing at some point or other. Todd Klein seems to step back a little in this issue, but the title page still looks amazing, and some font choices work really well with the rest of the art.
As we turn back to the cover, as always by wonderful Yuko Shimizu, we also find the muted colours of parts of the issue, and of this number’s two predecessors – but the staggeringly good part is all in the object held by Sir Thomas, the maanim, which Shimizu manages to capture a number of different variations of in a single image, while referencing previous covers in the series’ run!

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
Think of all the ways in which a story gets contorted and convoluted and mis-told and re-told by every voice that retreads the same ground. Think of all the ways that Carey and Gross have done that so far. Think further, and you’ll get close to what happens in this issue, as all possible endings are possible, and most of them happen. In sequence, though not necessarily chronological. Some threads are unravelled, some knots are combed out, some wrinkles are smoothed – and nothing is about to make perfect sense. Welcome to the post-literary maelstrom. Welcome to the (yet) Unwritten Apocalypse.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #8 is now available in shops and digitally here.

Twentyquattordici

Standard

San Martino del Carso

Of these houses
nothing left
but some
shred of wall

Of many
who wrote back
nothing left
nothing at all

But no cross is missing
in my heart

The country most in mourning
is my heart



Dulce et Decorum Est

Piegati in due, mendicanti sotto stracci
Ginocchia nodose, tosse di strega, nella melma bestemmiando
Fino al volgere delle schiene agli spettrali razzi
E verso il lontano riposo ci incamminammo.
Uomini marciano nel sonno. Molti a stivali rotti
Ma sanguinolenti tentennano avanti, mutilati, cecati
Ebbri di stanchezza, sordi anche ai botti
Di stanchi, sfiniti bossoli dietro a loro lanciati.

Gas! Gas! Presto, ragazzi! — Frenesia d’armeggiare,
Sistemando appena in tempo gli elmetti;
Ma ancora fuori si sentono urla e l’inciampare
di chi annaspa, come di fiamme infetti.

Fioco, tra vetri offuscati e densa verde luce
Come sotto un verde mare, lo vidi affogare.

In ogni mio sogno, la mia vista debole lo conduce
a lanciarmisi contro, sempre a soffrire, sempre ad affogare.

Se in sogni soffocanti anche voi poteste marciare
Dietro al carro su cui lo avevamo caricato ,
E vederne degli occhi bianchi nel viso l’agitare,
Quel viso spento, come un diavolo stanco del peccato;
Se poteste dai polmoni schiumanti gorgogliare
Sentire, ad ogni scossa, il sangue
osceno come un cancro, acre come lo scoppiare
Di orrende, incurabili piaghe su innocenti lingue,—
Amici miei, non saltereste dall’ovest all’est
A raccontare a giovaniin preda a disperati ardori
L’antica bugia: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Part I is here.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #7

Standard

UnwrittenApoc7

Synopsis
In a dark land ruled by a crippled king, Tom Taylor searches for the one thing that can save the world – but only the pure of heart can even see it. And it probably never existed in the first place. And maybe the whole quest is a trap that’s just been waiting for him to arrive…

Story
We left the main cast of The Unwritten as they were Dürered up in Tom’s fight with Count Ambrosio, in Peter Gross’ excellent rendition of an engraving, as the writing echoed Arthurian cycles and chansons de geste – and that is exactly where we meet them again in Apocalypse #7: mid-battle, mid-strophe, mid-story, mid-arc, with ‘Sang’.
I retract what I said about Savoy last time, he is, in fact, more despicable than scoundrel, Lizzie is still an excellent character, who shines through her tropes and genre conventions quite easily. There are a couple of entirely surprising, and even shocking, twists (think of a rusty knife in an infected wound), highlighting the complex games of whatever-it-is-they’re-playing of the various demiurges in the issue, from Pullman, to Paulie, to Rausch, to Taylor.. to the plotters.
Carey cleverly appropriates a history of Western literature to suit his (?) needs, dabbling with epics, chivalry, patriarchal systems and lore, to deliver one of the darkest plots since Chadron/Ambrosio and his kids, throwing in some more multilingual switches and referencing ends that still hang loose from before the Fables crossover.

Art
The artwork, moving in parallel with the story, is brilliantly switching between the engraved style and the contemporary Peter Gross, mirroring the flickering of realities in the story in yet another way since issue #1. And we also get the stunning, yet gut-wrenching, finishes by Al Davison for the Paulie and Pullman section, and the goosebump-inducing work by Dean Ormston for Rausch and her ‘children’.
The flickering is masterfully managed by Chris Chuckry and his colours, with the pervasive sepia tones working with the engravings, and some muted but otherwise nicely saturated hues for the contemporary look (even on sepia backgrounds); if at all possible, in a tale this bleak, the Pullman section is particularly gorgeous. And letterer Todd Klein clearly had fun with the lettering, with multiple fonts in captions, personalised speech-bubbles and some excellent thumping sounds.
Where Yuko Shimizu’s cover went sepia-scale last month, it returns in full, blazing glory this issue, as the quest for the maanim continues in an ominous – and fitting – flaming background, and a horse the stuff of nightmares, mounted by an eerily shining knight.

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
This is a twisted issue, in many many ways – one of the reasons why it’s taken me some days to review it – and one that can and might unsettle readers in terms of narrative, themes and plot-points, as well as visual switches in styles and art, with an overarching sense of inevitability and manipulation that does not bode well for the series as a whole (it is subtitled Apocalypse, after all). I have no idea at this point what will happen next, but I do hope there will be a chance to explore some of the more questionable practices pulled out by the demiurges, all of them, this month as the series progresses. I’m onto you, all of you.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #7 is now available in shops and digitally here. Also available is the collected Volume 9, The Unwritten Fables.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #6

Standard

UnwrittenApoc6

Synopsis
“The Fisher King,” part 1 of 3. As Pullman’s cold war against stories turns hot, it’s in stories that Tom must find the weapons and allies he’ll need to beat him. And the best weapon of all is one a thousand knights have quested for…

Story
With issue #6, the midpoint of the series, The Unwritten: Apocalypse begins its next story-arc: The Fisher King. ‘Sang’ returns to the main cast(s), the ‘main’ narratives and the main concern for most involved – Pullman’s plot.
In a two-page sequence, Mike Carey makes sure to show off a little more, by not only featuring some of the mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but making sure their dialogue is ridiculously pun-riddled and crafted. Probably to counterbalance some seriously graphic language (which, at this point in the story, just easily slips into some characters’ mouths) and really serious subject matters, from Sumerian to chanson de geste to Arthurian (with some Twain and Tennyson) via Christianity, the Tommy Taylor books and the joy that is Richie Savoy.
Carey really drags us through a brief history of world literature, looking at incarnations of the same concept in multiple eras, minds and words, eventually settling on some Taylor and Tennyson (a version of his ‘The Marriage of Geraint’ idyll) for the rising finale – and giving an old device and character a new take on life. After a fashion.

Art
Peter Gross returns on full artwork duties, and does some dazzling layouts with panelwork, between using cups, trompe-l’œil, page bleeds and hovering frames – and the final page is a triumph of artistic imitation, with exquisite details worthy of Albrecht Dürer’s ‘The Knight Death And The Devil’ or ‘The Knight and the Landsknecht’ (among many others), and some influences from the Rheads’ illustrations of Tennyson’s poem and even Dean Ormston references.
What Chris Chuckry’s colours bring to the mix are some impressively, given the tone of the issue, softer hues and shading, giving way to superb light/dark contrasts as the story progresses and a key player enters the fray. As for the lettering, Todd Klein clearly loves Pullman and any sound he makes – not forgetting the title page (which, unsurprisingly, also features Pullman).
Cover artist Yuko Shimizu also channels some of her inner Dürer, giving us a gorgeous still life with flying cat and maanim/Graal/cup/Goblet of Fire, also in very soft sepia tones, image once again in sync with the story within the issue.

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
More penises, foul language, Shakespearean puns, creation and destruction myths, recurring themes, cups, trumpets, grails, blood, wit, Pullman and more world literature that you can shake a wooden cross at. If that doesn’t drag you into this great set-up issue for what’s to come, maybe the spectacular cover, astounding interior art and colours, glorious last page or fabulous fontwork will. I am still incredibly impressed with how high this series holds it standard, rippling in the breeze of page turning.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #6 is now available in shops and digitally here. There is also a new interview with Carey and Gross here.

Balls

Standard

***BREAKING NEWS***

After our World Cup crazed news reporters discovered a community of England residents who support another team, we have heard rumours of an even smaller group of people who do not support anyone. It appears, in fact, that they do ‘not care about football, especially not the World Cup’.

Our reporters have tried infiltrating this loose, non-organised group, but have so far not been able to find any significant representative, even though they have searched in pubs, bars, clubs, city squares, town squares, cinemas, gyms, student unions, or any other place that might have a screen (in case they miss a crucial mis-call on the referees behalf, you understand). So we’re not entirely sure who we’re quoting above.

We asked members of the public to comment on the discovery, and were met, understandably, with disbelief. ‘So what do they do every Sunday’, asks Sarah McFooty, ‘and every four years, over summer?’. Andy O’Soccer expressed concern that this group might pose a threat ‘to the sanctity of our nation and our boys. Our boys are out there on the field fighting for democracy, after all’.

Experts claim that the phenomenon can be relatively widespread, but ultimately harmless – until those affected sigh, mumble, mutter or express boredom in any way. Strong reactions may increase in case of trying to justify their stance by referring to social or ethical concerns, or some other poor excuse.

More on this as it develo– OH COME ON, THAT WAS BLATANTLY A FOUL.