There are so many great comics with women as creators and as protagonists. I have chosen twelve titles (listed in alphabetical order below) that I think are worth checking out no matter what time of the year. Along the way, I have tried to pick a diverse set of tales for you to enjoy. If you’d like, you can read one every month (especially as most of these are series, you’ll have plenty of time to complete the list by next March).
The extraordinary true story of Odette Sansom, the British spy who operated in occupied France and fell in love with her commanding officer during World War II–perfect for fans of Unbroken, The Boys in the Boat, and Code Girls
It is 1953. Thomas Wazhushk is the night watchman at the first factory to open near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a prominent Chippewa Council member, trying to understand a new bill that is soon to be put before Congress. The US Government calls it an ’emancipation’ bill; but it isn’t about freedom – it threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land, their very identity. How can he fight this betrayal? Unlike most of the girls on the reservation, Pixie – ‘Patrice’ – Paranteau has no desire to wear herself down on a husband and kids. She works at the factory, earning barely enough to support her mother and brother, let alone her alcoholic father who sometimes returns home to bully her for money. But Patrice needs every penny to get if she’s ever going to get to Minnesota to find her missing sister Vera. In The Night Watchman multi-award winning author Louise Erdrich weaves together a story of past and future generations, of preservation and progress. She grapples with the worst and best impulses of human nature, illuminating the loves and lives, desires and ambitions of her characters with compassion, wit and intelligence.
Welcome to Katherine’s bookshelf, and another deep dive into home economics. Steel yourself. Stuffed vegetables, casual sexism, and some very surprising surprises lurk within. It’s exactly what it looks like from the cover: a home economics textbook from 1960.
I’ve got more pictures from the inside of this one, because the production values are quite high, quite 1960s, and quite informative, actually. Let’s start at the beginning, the table of contents:
This book gets bonus postmodern-ironic appreciation points for using the word “attractive” three times in the table of contents alone. The entirety of Unit I can be summarized as “any problems you have in life are because you haven’t tried to fit in with other people hard enough, and you better be able to deal with babies, because that’s your job, now and forever” – which is a sentiment that I find to be really messed up. Unit II continues the concentration on diet and health found in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book and ads some instruction for not giving everybody food poisoning, as well as some updated (1960) advice on a balanced diet: eat a vegetable or fruit once in a while. They’re good for you. Don’t be deceived by the title of Unit III, Part 4 – they mean your budget allotted to you for groceries, basically, although the home decorating advice is hilarious, and there are some neat tips about house cleaning. Then there’s Unit IV: Making Yourself Attractive, which certainly sounds – and is – awful and condescending. Yet… this is the most useful and relevant part of the book. I’m not even kidding. Parts 3 – 6 are actually indispensable for clothes shopping. As it happens, if you take care of and repair your things, you have to buy replacements less often, which means you can afford better quality things, and replace them even less often, resulting in a virtuous cycle of saving money in the long run. That’s why I definitely do darn my socks.
In this vein of pragmatism, and the ultimate point of home economics education, here’s a nifty Google Ngram that tracks the frequency of the phrase “home economics” against the names of a few vitamin deficiency diseases. (I didn’t include scurvy, because it was well-known and discussed in the age of sail, as well as a cure found – fruit – even if they didn’t know why it worked. If I’d kept scurvy in, it would have flooded the results, but there is a bump in the early 1900s, right as vitamins are discovered.) I did, however, include rickets, pellagra, and beriberi, and there is, indeed, a nice boost in frequency right at the same time. In large part, the purpose of home economics was to provide a formal education with the sophistication and authority of logic and science in how to be a housewife, in the hopes that this information – especially about nutrition – would improve public health.
Double stuffed squashes.
One thing I really have taken away from my old cookbooks is that American palates have gotten MUCH more used to spicy foods, even in just the last forty years. Very interesting.
Polyvinyl Records started circa 1995 and was explicitly connected to the blossoming “Midwest Emo” scene of the time. The founders were based out of Champaign, Illinois, which is exactly where the Kinsella family and others were creating this sound. Mike, Tim, and Nate Kinsella were all a part of music in the mid 90’s and would soon become the godfathers of Midwest Emo in bands like Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc, and American Football.
The Kinsellas weren’t the only ones contributing to this sound. Bands like The Promise Ring, Braid, and Rainer Maria come to mind as well. This was Emo music being made with similar DIY intent to what was happening in Washington D.C a few years prior (with bands like Rites Of Spring and Embrace), but with less fury and more melody; less drama and more nostalgia. This movement was also a bit before the mainstream Emo bubble of the early 2000’s (with bands like My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and Paramore). Those efforts often had fancier production value and more boisterous attitudes than the 90’s Midwest Emo, but many of them cite the 90’s efforts as influences on their own sound.
A lot of labels helped kick start this side of the Emo scene, but Polyvinyl is where so many of these bands have called their home at one time or another, and thus Polyvinyl lives as a hub for this type of information. Today, Polyvinyl is as strong as ever supporting numerous bands and not all of them identify as Emo or even Emo-adjacent. They’ve supported Experimental and Indie Rock as well as Electronic and Folk, so to minimize their identity to specifically Emo would do them a disservice. So much of their roster are incredibly talented and, combined with their marketing skills and PR presence, they are one of my favorite record labels to explore.
Below, I’ll talk a bit about music that we offer that is published through Polyvinyl.
To put it lightly, Deerhoof are one of the greatest Rock bands of all time. I dare people to find valid arguments against this. The Magic released in 2016 and is their 14th out of 18 studio albums since 1996. With so many albums, our system doesn’t offer all of them, but this is my favorite from the selection. This band is unstoppable. They exude creative energy at all costs and make it look incredibly easy. Very quirky, very fun, very energetic, and superbly inventive songwriting. They intersect so many influences, but this is a Rock band at heart while sounding like no one else. I’m not kidding, they are one of the greatest Rock bands of all time. Go see them live sometime and you’ll know.
Shugo is a multi-instrumentalist with an affinity for whimsical song writing. I’d consider Shugo a folk musician, but the sounds he brings to his records are diverse. He routinely builds robotic instruments to play percussion or piano and employs numerous musicians to play things like accordions, kazoos, Theremins, or horns. On TOSS, Greg Saunier of Deerhoof is playing drums, connecting the Polyvinyl family members. Shugo is influenced by classics like The Beatles and The Beach Boys and makes those sounds very modern with heartwarming and fun soundscapes. There is even a track here that sounds like it came straight from a Tom & Jerry episode.
Owen is the solo project of Mike Kinsella. A lot of people that write off the Owen catalog as too simplistic, but I wonder if its my favorite material from Mike. Mike helped coin the Midwest Emo style in the 90’s and that is still present here, but its stripped back just enough to make something that is remarkably cleaner than a lot of Midwest Emo records. We offer a lot of Owen material, but I revisit At Home With Owen the most. I will admit, it is overly simplistic, but its emotional clarity has an easy time finding my soft spots. The album art is a tight fit as well: it’s peaceful, mysterious, and a little lonely. Wading through those emotions brings catharsis for me.
The further I research for this article, the more I realize just how much Polyvinyl music I listen to and consider important. If I go on much longer, this will take up too much space, so I’ll wrap up with a few more recommendations gauntlet style.
Time ‘N’ Placeby Kero Kero Bonito – Kero Kero Bonito is half British and half Japanese and somehow sounds exactly like the combination of those scenes. This Pop music fits into the British PC Music crowd like Hannah Diamond and GFOTY, but also the J-Pop classics like Perfume and CAPSULE.
[USA]by Anamanaguchi – This is their most recent album where they have evolved to their most mature form. This band combines chiptune and Nintendocore with traditional rock instrumentation for 8-bit fueled Rock epics. Extremely colorful, bright, and dramatic. Not a lot of bands out there keeping the chiptune vibe alive and these guys treat it with finesse and expertise.
Everything you see here (except a few) are accessible through our catalog! Just click on the links in each blurb and you’ll find them through Hoopla (or YouTube)! Here is a link to both a comprehensive list of Polyvinyl releases and their official website. Check out these lists for more great tunes.
Most Kentuckians are familiar with Daniel Boone and many have even been to Boonesborough, the fort Daniel and other settlers built on the outskirts of what is now Harrodsburg. The stories and legends about Daniel Boone are numerous, especially in regards to his dealings with the indigenous settlers who already called Kentucky home. One story that gets less attention, but is no less important is the kidnapping of Boone’s daughter Jemima.
On July 14th, 1776 Jemima Boone and her friends, sisters Elizabeth and Frances Callaway were enjoying a rare break from chores and canoeing along the Kentucky River. They were attacked and abducted by a party of Shawnee and Cherokee Indians (a quick note: Pearl uses the term Indians over Native Americans on guidance from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian). Attacks and abductions like this were not uncommon. European settlers encroached on valuable hunting ground that sustained several tribes and indigenous settlements, and attempts at treaties and peaceful coexistence were unsuccessful, so in an effort to deter permanent settlement Cherokee and Shawnee tribes began policies of attacks and kidnapping. To a certain extent this was working, and by 1776 there were fewer than 200 settlers in Kentucky, comprised of white Europeans, slaves, and free Blacks.
After their abduction girls were quickly marched north through various Shawnee towns in an effort to throw off rescue parties. Not content to be passive captives the girls began using subtle non-compliance to leave clues for rescuers. Jemima began tearing her dress and leaving scraps behind. They dug in their heels and left footprints whenever possible. The plan worked and a rescue party made up of Daniel Boone and other men from Boonesborough caught up to the girls and their captors. What followed was a fast skirmish that left two Native men dead, including the son of prominent leader Blackfish.
The fallout was swift, a few months later Boone and others were captured by the Shawnee. Boone was adopted into the tribe and given the name Big Turtle. For months he lived and worked among the Shawnee, assumed dead by those back in Boonesborough. His family left the state. Boone eventually escaped and made his way back to Boonesborough, pursued by the Shawnee (and also the British, who had a somewhat tepid alliance with the Shawnee and the Cherokee). A standoff ensued with the folks at Boonesborough narrowly persevering. Conflict was far from over, but this was a turning point for the settlers, confirming their grasp on this stretch of “wilderness”.
This was Matthew Pearl’s first foray into non-fiction, but it’s written much like a thriller. It’s an engaging read about a part of history little remembered. Jemima Boone’s kidnapping was well known in the 18th and 19th century, it inspired James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, as well as famous works of art, but her name is now more of a footnote than a plot point in our understanding of early America. The same can be said of Native leaders like Dragging Canoe and Hanging Maw, names we don’t often hear in history class, but whose decisions and interactions with European settlers shaped the frontier. Pearl does a great job at helping the reader understand the struggle between indigenous tribes like the Cherokee and the Shawnee and European settlers who moved in and threatened their livelihood. This is a great read for anyone who is interested in learning more about the early days of Kentucky.
The Great Gatsby has been one of my favorite books since I first read it as a high school junior sitting in a classroom in the same town Daisy and Jordan grow up in. Heck, I even had my senior prom at the hotel where Daisy gets married in the book. After reading Gatsby I wanted more about Daisy I wanted her backstory. And ever since The Great Gatsby ended up in the public domain last year I’ve been looking forward to Gatsby retellings that didn’t fall flat, like the first two that I read. However, Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor was everything I wanted in a Gatsby retelling including the title being taken from my favorite line in the book. She gave me not only Daisy’s backstory but Jordan’s as well and in the process turned it into a mystery. Through the pages of Beautiful Little Fools, you see not only 1920s New York but WWI-era Louisville.
Beautiful Little Fools gives the reader the story before Gatsby, Gatsby as seen from the women of the novel and what happens after Gatsby. Cantor made Beautiful Little Fools a mystery giving you the point of view detective working the case. Cantor writes Detective Frank Charles as the way I imagined a 1920s police detective to be. The author gives readers this wonderful retelling and doesn’t take away from the source material nor try to make any changes to Fitzgerald‘s characters. If one isn’t familiar with the original story the reader can still enjoy Beautiful Little Fools as its novel, however, you will be spoiled for the ending of The Great Gatsby don’t say I didn’t warn you.
For the past couple years, more and more books have been getting published that feature climate change as a core aspect of the plot, so much so that “climate fiction” or “cli-fi” is recognized as a genre. When I first started reading cli-fi, it definitely felt more real than my usual space opera fare, but still something in the distance, not an immediate possibility. I’m not sure if something changed, but Sim Kern’sDepart, Depart! felt so real I found myself wanting to Google news coverage of the hurricane in Texas that left the main character, Noah, a climate refugee.
Noah barely escapes the flood and finds himself in a shelter in the Dallas Maverick’s basketball arena, crammed in with countless others having the worst days of their lives. Noah is able to build a community there, but he has to make hard decisions about what might have to be sacrificed in order to survive. He remembers hearing stories of his Grandfather, who escaped the Holocaust only by making similar sacrifices, and wonders how much he should let his ancestor guide him.Depart, Depart!explores intersections of climate change and class, race, and gender, and finding community after feeling like everything you know has been washed away.
A quick and timely read, LFPL only has this novella available as an ebook, linked directly here.
View Sim Kern’s full list of published works on their website, here.
Welcome back, true believers and fellow travelers! I know it’s been a long time but your intrepid author is still on the case, dropping science on those four-color and/or black and white narratives you love so well.
First off, some definitions which will be useful to know for this installment’s conversation:
Canon, in comics, is the official body of stories that are considered to be the “true” history of a fictional character, team, or world.
Continuity is the accumulated history of a character or shared universe that is accepted by the publisher and the community of readers. It is often coherent in the way that a life story seems to be. This means that there may be odd stories or character quirks that exist but are explained or ignored in favor of consistency.
Copyright (defined by the U.S.P.T.O.) is “a form of protection provided by U.S. law to the authors of original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression.”
Legacy characters are ones who take on the identity of a previously established character. Often this is due to the age, disability, or death of the original character.
Reboot (or Continuity Reboot) is when previously established continuity is ignored in part or completely. Some feel that rather than the old continuity being destroyed, the current run simply recounts the tales of an alternate universe version of the same characters (however this interpretation is generally not accepted by the publisher as the new comic is now put forward as the “true” continuity with the older version ceasing to exist).
Rebrand (or Retool)is when a character changes without the rest of the continuity itself changing. It may be as simple as a costume change, more general as a new set of powers, or as complicated as a total change of the character’s identity. There may be no good reason for the change, other than for marketing purposes.
Retcon (or Retroactive Continuity)is the changing of some past event in a comic by a current plot line. It typically involves some kind of alteration or nullification of the previously understood continuity. However, a clever retcon will fit seamlessly with the past continuity though the understanding of events will change.
Let’s look at continuity using the case of everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. The character has been either in high school, in college, in the adult world, married, unmarried, a journalist, a billionaire tech innovator, a clone (yes, a clone!), bonded with an alien symbiote, et cetera, all while remaining in copyright and under the control of one publisher, Marvel Comics. Spidey has stayed primarily in his late teens or early 20’s for most of that time, though in August it will have been 60 years since his first appearance (Amazing Fantasy #15). Spider-Man’s many changes are not that unusual for the comic business (for instance, the Barry Allen version of The Flash clocks in at 65 years since his debut, 23 years of which he was canonically dead).
OK, let’s talk about the function of narrative. Narrative is the pithy way to say, “how a story is told,” or “the way in which meaning is conveyed from author/publisher to audience/consumer.” In order to do so, narrative takes many possible pieces of information and compresses them in a way that can be (relatively) easily translated. Typically, there are five elements of narrative: setting, characters, plot, conflict, and result (some would say “resolution” but one possible outcome is just that something happens and nothing is truly wrapped up tidily).
Disjunctures in narrative are where the various issues surrounding continuity arise. These innovations, breaks, or interruptions may eventually be enfolded into the ongoing mythology of a series (oh, wait, there’s Pink Kryptonite, too) or may lead to larger adjustments (so, uh, Thor Odinson isn’t worthy to wield Mjolnir? But Jane Foster is? Ok, let’s roll). Or more drastically, there is no connection between two versions of a character in the same fictional universe (ex: Jack Kirby and Neil Gaiman’s versions of Death*). As well, another creative team may decide that they just need to start from scratch but use a cool name that is too good to pass up (I’m looking at you Kamala Khan). Many times, the characters will be linked in some manner (most common is a passing of the mantle) and so a legacy character is born.
Keep in the back of your mind that copyright often makes this complicated in the case of older comics. This is because once copyright protection expires (or if it was not appropriately established in the first place), a different publisher or creative team can swoop in and do what they want with the character. This sometimes means there are competing versions of the same character at the same time on the market. That’s not a problem when you are enjoying the stories (or collecting) contemporaneously but can make it a nightmare when trying to delve into the history of a long-standing property.
A perfect case in point would be British comic Marvel Man (alternately named Miracleman), made popular in later years by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman stories. Originally, the title was published from 1954-1963 by L. Miller and Sons, a British producer of comics, magazines, and cheap paperbacks. Mick Anglo, the creator of the character, who left employment with L. Miller and Sons, also published some tales on his own in 1960-1961. L. Miller and Sons went out of business altogether in 1966 and the character languished for almost 20 years.
In 1982, Quality Publications put out a new version of Marvel Man with Alan Moore as writer and Garry Leach (and later Alan Davis) as artist. After two years and complaints from Marvel Comics, the character’s story ended abruptly without being resolved. Quality then licensed the character to two indie publishers in succession, Pacific Comics, who quickly went out of business, and Eclipse Comics. When Eclipse got ahold of the character, they changed the name to Miracleman to avoid legal action by Marvel Comics and hired Neil Gaiman to be the writer.
It gets pretty murky after that because Eclipse went out of business in 1986. Todd McFarland, a popular creator at the time (his most famous creation being Spawn), purchased the rights to the catalog of Pacific Comics in 1996. Neil Gaiman disputed McFarlane’s ownership, contending that as the name had changed and he had crafted a completely different version of the character, he was a co-owner of Miracleman and had not surrendered his interests at the time of Pacific Comic’s sale.
After years of legal action, the original creator, Mick Anglo, was deemed the true owner of the character in 2009. That same year, Marvel Comics purchased the rights from Anglo. Eventually, they released the entire series in an oversized trade paperback edition, retaining the title Miracleman. And finally, just this past year, Marvel decided to bring the character into the mainstream Marvel Comics continuity in their new Timeless series, the trade paperback of which is scheduled to be released this February.
Along the way, the character was distinctly different under each era of publication, though subsequent incarnations did incorporate elements from the previous iterations. The comic has had six publishers, some in the UK and some in the United States. It was its own independent universe for most of its run but now is a part of a larger multiverse. It has been released in multiple sizes, carried different numbering, and two separate names over the years.
As you can see, totally a nightmare but totally worth reading (*ahem* LFPL currently owns volume 1 of the Marvel reprints).
Reboots and rebrands are more controversial. They may well be the thing needed to give a shot in the arm to a flagging character or group. The new direction or new look can also come with new artists or authors, spinning exciting new stories. Sometimes it is a small thing, such as a character with a goofy or outdated costume gets upgraded into a much cooler outfit. But the changes involved often are met with resistance by the regular readers, who have a vested interested in the continuity they have come to know and love.
The modern issue with rebooting is that (in a market that has seen a noticeable downturn in sales for individual issues over the last decade or two) reboots are becoming very common. The reason for this is that — due to collectors’ habits — a new first issue for a title generates a big bump in sales. But the practice also leads to burnout on the part of regular readers and contributes to attrition of those readers over time as they drop titles or even whole publishers.
Despite all that, I do love new takes on old characters, especially a well-done retcon. One in particular that I enjoy is the Captain America storyline, The Winter Soldier, by Ed Brubaker. I don’t want to spoil it for you but I will tell you that this run is the basis for several of the MCU blockbusters that have come out and for The Falcon and Winter Soldiertelevision series.
*Both denizens of the DC universe, Kirby’s Death is known as the Black Racer, who, hilariously, is just a guy using skis to zoom through the air while Gaiman’s Death is the cute GGF (Goth girlfriend) that generations of fanboys have lusted after.
As a teenager, I was afraid of him. Then in my 20’s/college years, I was leery of the fandom surrounding the whole Gonzo ego bit. Then, when I was in my early 40’s, he blew his brains out. I could now trust him. I read most of his books and the bios too. Eventually, I could do Gonzo as good as Johnny Depp.
And then in my mid-40s, other people burned me out on him. No one around me could understand the greatness or complexity of this man. They only told me about his flaws. There were many. So when this book came out five years ago, I passed on it. I wasn’t ready. Recently, I saw a clip of Hunter criticizing Jann Wenner that was so honest and brutal, yet caring, and I knew no one living could talk like that. So I am ready.
I am the same age as Hunter’s son, Juan. I had a very close, but at times difficult, relationship with my dad. He was a tough guy who worked manual labor and fought in two wars. But, he was nothing like Hunter. I suspected Hunter would be someone to avoid at all costs, because he was mean, angry and always boozed up or high on cocaine and other drugs. And my instincts were right. In my 20’s, I read his second (and most famous) book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and didn’t get it. On the first page I missed his use (maybe?) of hyperbole when he listed his drugs for the trip. I thought no one could use all that weird mix of drugs, and why would they want to? Obviously, I didn’t KNOW Hunter.
So after he died, I read his first book, Hell’s Angels, and loved it. In the beginning he quotes heavily from Nelson Algren’sWalk on the Wild Side, a favorite of mine. Toward the end he gets into his Gonzo style serendipitously in order to meet a deadline. So I reread Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, got its Mark Twain humor, and realized that Hunter had written a perfect, unique book. When I have insomnia and know that I won’t sleep, instead of fighting it, I read Vegas in its entirety. It is so funny.
This book? Wow, there is so much. Hunter was an absent dad, off chasing fame, drugs, adventure, and other women. So that led to a broken marriage, then divorce, fights, then more madness. A megalomaniac with drug abuse and a large collection of fire arms is not a good combination. But he could write like no one else from the mid 60’s until his habits caught up with him by the Reagan era. He still wrote until the end, and there were flashes of brilliance at times, but he wasted himself and his talent by the 80’s.
Juan states from the start that this book is a memoir and it is. Thus, we learn about his life and the way Hunter interacted in it. There were angry hurtful times but by the end there was forgiveness and growth, and even love. Much like my own father and I, Juan and Hunter were poles apart. But there were things that they both loved, such as guns. But even with that common interest they were very different, Hunter being the irresponsible one. He even accidently shot one of his many female assistants.
And eventually, Hunter’s vices caught up with his body too. I didn’t know specifics of this and his suicide on February 20, 2005 at age 67, but I had always wondered. Juan has an entire chapter titled “The Last Day.” Hunter had planned this suicide and wanted all of his immediate family there. He had been through two brutal operations which he had to face the problem of being an alcoholic in a hospital. So like one of his top heroes, Ernest Hemingway, Hunter shot himself at home. His body and mind had given out and he lacked the will to fight it any longer.
There is also a long section about Hunter’s return to Louisville for a celebration of him put on by Ron Whitehead in 1996 that included Johnny Depp, Warren Zevon, and Douglas Brinkley. It was a wild ruckus, and I don’t regret making the choice to not attend.
Sure, Hunter was a wild, out of control, drug addled freak. But I don’t need my literary heroes to be saints. His first three books are as good as any writer’s top three books. And they are all different from each other. So forgot the image, and read this book to see how complex a man he was. Then go read his stuff from 1967-1979.