Literacy 2008: Exhibition Round 1: Fox Bunny Funny

I’m not including comic books in my meager 26-book challenge for the year — not because they’re not art or they’re not as worthy, but simply because I already read 26 comic books a year. But I still like spouting off my opinions about things, so they’ll go into the exhibition rounds.

Fox Bunny Funny by Andy Hartzell

Selling Points
Indie comic! Cartoon animals! No words!

Apparent Audience
Illiterate LGBT people.

Actual Audience

The world is rigidly divided into foxes, the oppressors; and bunnies, the victims. This book tells the first half of the life story of a fox who empathizes a little too much with the bunnies.

I am 100% genuinely and sincerely behind the idea of indie comics. Being a bad artist myself, I’m envious of and impressed by the people who aren’t. When someone can take his artistic talent and expand it into a full story, that’s even more impressive. Having the courage to make it personal and meaningful is even more impressive than that.

All that said, 99% of indie comics just leave me cold. I’m just too much of a cynic to remember the beauty of personal expression, when they so often are nothing more than variations on the theme of “life is hard for me because I’m different.” They never seem to appreciate that life is hard for everyone, because everyone is different, and the paradox that feeling alienated is the one thing everyone has in common.

The book takes what could’ve been another trite, self-absorbed “journey of self-discovery,” or passive-aggressive complaint about being excluded, and instead shows the universality of alienation and societal oppression. The lack of words and the use of cartoon animals avoids making the theme too narrow in focus — the characters become symbols, the scenes become reminders of events we’ve all experienced.

And it’s much deeper than its title or a first glance at the characters suggests, but also much much lighter, darkly humorous, and more accessible than you’d think from reading reviews that mention symbolism and allegory and sociopolitical commentary. The pacing is inspired, the characters’ expressions are perfect, and there are clever design touches throughout, ranging in subtlety from obvious jokes and funny-animal parody to something as simple as the use of negative and positive space. There’s an attention to detail and world-building that goes all the way to developing what seems like a passive-aggressive religion for the bunnies, where their victimization in this world is rewarded with dominance in the next.

Occasional lapses in the universality of it, where it’s too easy to just say that it’s an allegory for growing up gay. Which is a shame, because the potential audience for the book is so much wider than that, and there’s a lot in it that invites all kinds of different interpretations. The entire last chapter is extremely interesting visually, but also seems to lose direction somewhat — I’ve got my own interpretation of what the book is saying, but I don’t feel extremely confident that what I’m seeing is what’s really there. And the very end of the book struck me as being sincere and genuine, but also a little trite, when compared to what precedes it.

More wisdom and insight than I’d ever have expected from a comic book like this, told with confidence, sincerity, and good humor. It’d be an outstanding book even if the art weren’t excellent.

Literacy 2008: Preliminaries: Lost Horizon

(I read this book over the Christmas break, so it doesn’t count towards the 26 books I’ve resolved to read in 2008. But I have a corollary resolution to post something on this blog every day this year, no matter how short or irrelevant, so I’m cheating and rolling back the date.)

(I’m also cheating by shamelessly stealing Joe’s book review format.)

(Okay, the real post starts right now.)

Lost Horizon by James Hilton

Selling Points
The First Paperback Ever Published!

Recommended By
A list of “If you like ‘Lost’, you’ll love these books that inspired it!”

A plane carrying four people escaping from a civil war is hijacked, taking them to the utopian lamasery of Shangri-La.

The main character of Conway is so well-developed, it’s a surprising jolt to those of us whose only exposure to the 1930s is Hays Code-era movies. “Oh yeah,” you’ll realize, “I guess people back then were capable of intelligence and subtlety after all.” He starts out as a comically heroic stereotype, almost a mythic hero to his former schoolmates. Over the course of the book, you learn that he’s got no interest in being a hero, or in any of the trappings of the west of WWI or the British Empire. And you discover along with him that he’s mastered zen without realizing it.

Every other character starts out as a stereotype, and remains so. For every passage that challenges your condescending attitude towards popular literature and entertainment of the 30s, there’s another passage that just reaffirms it. And it’s impossible to gauge how impressive the climactic reveal of the secret of Shangri-La would have been when the book was written, since it’s such common knowledge now.

Kind of like if Jurassic Park had been written in 1933: An easy but not insulting read, there are plenty of moments of depth, and you’ll probably learn something new. But you can totally tell it was written to be turned into a movie.

Unliterate no more

gtdcover.jpgSince I failed miserably at every single resolution I made last year, I’m going to take it simpler in 2008, and only choose one.

Someone on a message board announced he’s challenging himself to read a book a week this year; I read too slowly and am too easily distracted for that, so I’m aiming for 26 books, or one every two weeks. So I declare 2008 to be The Year of Reading an Unremarkable Amount, Which Is Still Going to Be Quite Challenging For Me. Mark your calendars.

My ongoing resolutions — lose weight, and stop smoking — are still in effect, but I’m going to stop pretending that those are to-do list items I can check off. I’ll keep them in the “necessary life transition” category. I should probably throw “spend less time at work and get more accomplished in the hours I do work” in there somewhere.

The first book for the year is Getting Things Done by David Allen. I’ll get around to it sooner or later.