Consuming vs. Creating

I wish I could find the exact quote; I read a book once, a good few years ago (I can’t even remember what book it was). I have no recollection what the book itself was even about, but I do remember this: the author quoted someone who said something like “if you aren’t actively creating, you’re just a consumer”. That simple, harsh truth really stuck with me.

Back then I realized that, for a variety of reasons at that particular moment in my life (okay… decade of my life) I was barely creating anything. I was solely consuming in all meanings of the word- consuming food, entertainment, and material goods mindlessly. I wasn’t using my creative mind in my job, in my hobbies, or in my day to day life. I was spending way too much time scrolling endless junk articles on my phone. I’d lost my teenage penchant for writing poems and playing with visual art.

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^Ignoring my friends for my phone? >.>

I don’t want to come off as preachy- technology is super useful, and we use our cell phones for so much more than distraction seeking. Plus, it’s fun and recharging to do mindless things once in a while, and I have abandoned the term “guilty pleasure” because if you love something, why should you feel guilty about enjoying it? Speaking of which, read this awesome blog post by @biblionyan on the topic of guilty pleasures!

But that’s the thing; this “guilty pleasure” pastime of scrolling and losing myself in click-bait wasn’t actually enjoyable for me. It was just a habitual, unfulfilling distraction I automatically turned to because it was easy and gave me a hit of dopamine.

I knew I wanted to spend more time creating again and really using my free time to learn new things and develop new skills, but for some reason this mindset just didn’t stick. I’d read an inspirational book, or watch a documentary, and feel motivated- for a couple of days. Then I’d fall back into the same stale routines.

Happily, I have now gotten to a place where I am creating and living so much more again. I am writing, drawing, painting, dancing, studying, traveling, and learning new skills like public speaking. I’m seeking out new opportunities rather than hiding from them. This has come about in the last two to three years. How did I get my creative spark back? Why hadn’t I been able to reignite it sooner?

My anxiety and depression were holding me back.

I unpacked about my struggles with anxiety and depression in a blog post recently, which you can read here. Long story short, after years of battling these issues, talking to counselors, and trying lots of methods unsuccessfully to manage, I finally tried medication prescribed by my doctor, and it helps me so much. Life is exciting and fun again. I feel like the old self I once knew and lost somewhere between adolescence and adulthood.

The passion for my job at the library, which I knew was lurking inside me, finally bloomed. I worked on building up my self-confidence from my lowest low. I started seeking out new opportunities instead of waiting to be asked. I began using my creativity more in work projects, and at home.

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Feeling lifted out of the muck, I sought out new hobbies: handbell choir, dance classes, sewing, yoga, cosplay, crafting, dabbling with ukulele, volunteering at the SPCA. I even helped out with some small roles in a local web-series created by-nerds-for-nerds. Speaking of which, my dorky fangirl self, who had been hiding in a sort of shame cave, fearing judgement of others, emerged proudly once again.

I started creating visual art again, something that I had largely abandoned in the height of my anxiety and depression. Before long it became a familiar habit. I get a regular urge to create art now, and when I get into my flow several hours can pass without my realizing.

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I’ve since started sharing my art in small local galleries & markets, and online. Sharing my art and creative projects with the world brings me joy.

I think that everyone has the capacity to be creative in their own way. Sometimes we get bogged down by a narrow idea of what “creativity” means, but we can be creative in so many different ways- at our jobs, around our homes, through the clothes and accessories we wear, or in our gardens, for example. Right now I am slowly but surely working on a goal of being more creative in the kitchen with baking and cooking.

Speaking of infusing creativity into our daily lives, recently I came across this extremely interesting Ted Talk by Ingrid Fetell Lee about the roots of joy.

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She presented her insights about some of the universal triggers of joy as discovered through studies of people all around the world- things like bright colours, soft shapes, fractal patterns, novelty, abundance, a feeling of light and air.

Two take-aways that stuck with me:

  1. Why,  if these playful, colourful, and creative expressions bring us joy and increase our happiness and productivity, do we design so many aspects of our homes, offices, hospitals, schools, and streets in uninspiring, predictable shapes, and shades of beige and grey?
  2. Why do we judge people who embrace colour and creativity in their own lives, in what they wear, how they decorate and so on, by labeling them as kooky, emotional, unprofessional, or “girly”?

I think we can learn so much from people who incorporate fun fearlessly into their lives (or rather, refuse to let go of it just because they are getting older). I’m fascinated by people like Iris Apfel, Yayoi Kusama and Elizabeth Sweetheart who present themselves however feels right to them, and don’t give a flying fluevog what society thinks of them for being different. Thanks to social media like Instagram, it’s easier than  ever to find unapologetically creative people and bold sartorial inspiration.

A potential struggle for being creative is the busy lives we lead- there were times when I thought “how will I possibly have time to finish this personal project”? But as with anything in life, you make time for what is important to you, what makes you happy and fulfills you. I work on art during my work breaks sometimes, and because I consider my art time important for my well-being, I will pass up invitations or events on occasion if I know I haven’t had time to paint in a while. I am lucky to work at a library where I have the option of using my creativity on a regular basis such as illustrating the Joke of the Day, making fun book displays, or drawing pictures to accompany my power-point slides!

Yes, I still check my phone, yes I still watch Netflix and play video games, but when I do I always aspire to be mindful and intentional with this use of my precious time, and avoid getting lost in zombie-like distraction. Time is the most important commodity we have, and in this often cruel and unfair world I’m privileged to be a healthy woman living in a safe country where I have the gift of free time to explore my creativity. I don’t want to squander that.

Freeing myself from depression and intense anxiety has enabled me to enjoy my life and creativity to the fullest. I am glad that the days of dragging my feet through life are behind me. After 10 years of waking up with sighs of fatigue and defeat, sighs of contentment are a welcome change. There are so many things I want to do with my life that I don’t know where to start, so I am dipping my toes into everything.

I wish I could share this wake-up call with the world (well, that’s what a blog is for, I guess) but I think that, first and foremost, it’s something that you need to truly want for yourself.

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Beasts of Burden- A New Comic Fave!

A lovely woman at the Comic Hunter shop in Charlottetown PEI highly recommended this book, and it was an easy sell for her because I love dogs, I love comics, I love dark and creepy stories, and I love it when someone shares their favorite reads with me!

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If you aren’t into animal stories, I’d suggest you still give this one a chance, because this series is more than meets the eye. While it’s full of sniffing-sleuth shenanigans and humour, the series focuses on arcane paranormal activities, strange creatures, and carnage!

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I felt there was a very good balance between each story, flowing from disturbing tales into more (relatively) lighthearted stuff and with bits of charm and laughs throughout. Jill Thompson’s gorgeous watercolour illustrations are perfect for this comic- together with Dorkin’s writing the characters really come to life, each with their own distinct personalities. I have a fondness for Pugsly!

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Highly recommended!

 

 

*note: this review also appears on my Goodreads 🙂

Spoiler-Free Review: Displacement by Lucy Knisley

Dustin and I are enroute home to Alberta from our 2 week vacation visiting my parents in NB.

Our flights got changed unceremoniously at 3am last night, so while we got a lot more sleep than we were expecting, we now have a really weird mishmash of flights and a 7 hour layover in Toronto.

To look at the bright side, though, I’ve got a ton of ebooks downloaded from Hoopla and Overdrive, and lots of time to catch up on my reading!

Lucy Knisley is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read several of her graphic novels, which are gorgeous, comedic, and full of honest, sometimes uncomfortable, reflections on life.

I enjoy the messy truth of an honest memoir, and Lucy never disappoints. I am currently drafting a comic memoir of my own, and Knisley’s work played a big part in opening my eyes to the versatility and potential of the comic format for memoirs.

ANYHOO, without further ado, here is my review of Displacement (as posted on my Goodreads).

Another fascinating personal memoir from Lucy Knisely- this time on a cruise ship with her grandparents who are in their 90’s and facing debilitating physical and mental health problems.

Lucy doesn’t censor her thoughts, even when they don’t cast her in the most positive light. She struggles with her inner criticisms, her candid thoughts, and her desire to understand her elderly grandparents.

As with her other works, this beautifully illustrated comic memoir is a mixture of self reflection, emotion, reminiscence, people-watching, existential pondering, and comic exasperation.

I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of Lucy’s situation on the ship paired with snippets from her grandfather’s war journal.

Yes, it is hard to confront aging, infirmity and death, but Knisley does it with love and honesty. It’s always a treat to read her work.

Librarians, ghosts, mental-health & diverse characters: A Spoiler-Free Review of Archival Quality

Yesterday I was examining our library’s New Book display, as I am wont to do, and I noticed this book:

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Graphic novels are one of my passions, so poked through it and soon realized that this book was SO relevant to my interests that I had to read it immediately.

It’s a book featuring:

  • diverse characters
  • ghosts and creepiness
  • a librarian as the main character
  • reflections on mental health

So, I scarfed it down on my lunch break!

Weir and Steenz have created a compelling mystery buoyed along by a wonderfully morbid setting and interesting characters. The style of the graphic art is lovely, and for that alone I’d be glad to have this book on my shelf.

Capture33^A poignant observation from the beginning of the book: If I had to visualize it, I’d say it makes me think about the walls that protect beach towns from flooding. The water rises and then retracts, and the wall holds, but it leaves line marks. You can tell it’s been there. You know it’s coming back.

There were a few places that the story fell a bit flat (some plot points needed further explanation or illustration, and the ending felt a tad rushed to me) but overall I enjoyed this story.

I give it 4 glaring skulls out of 5!

Graphic Novels for Pride Month!

June is Pride Month!

Graphic novels are a huge interest of mine, so i’d like to share some awesome LGBTQ+ graphic novels to check out if you haven’t already! 🙂

 

Heathen by Natasha Alterici, Charles Martin, Rebecca Rutledge and Kristen Grace

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Love is Love by Marc Andreyko, Phil Jimenez, et al.  (anthology, tribute to victims of Orlando nightclub shooting)

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Are You My Mother? By Alison Bechdel

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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

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Wet Moon by Sophie Campbell

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The Bride was a Boy by Chii

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Anything That Loves edited by Charles “Zan” Christensen

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Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse

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Transposes by Dylan Edwards

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Moonstruck (Series) by Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle and Kate Leth

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Husbands by Jane Espenson et al.

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Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, Jenn St. Onge, Joy San and Genevieve FT

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Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir by Nicole J. Georges

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As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman

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Kim Reaper by Sarah Graley

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No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics edited by Justin Hall

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Adrian and the Tree of Secrets by Hubert and Marie Caillou

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Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele

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My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi

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QU33R edited by Rob Kirby

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100 Crushes by Elisha Lim

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Beyond: The Queer Sci-fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology edited by Sfe R. Monster

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Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

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Dar: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary, Volume One by Erika Moen

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On Loving Women by Diane Obomsawin and Helge Dascher

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Princess Princess Ever After by Katie o’Neill

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Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince

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Sunstone series by Stjepan Sejik

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Snapshots of a Girl by Beldan Sezen

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Wandering Son by Takako Shimura

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Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag by A.K. Summers

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Go for it, Nakamura! By Syundei

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My Brother’s Husband series by Gengoroh Tagame

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Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

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Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash

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The Backstagers by James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh

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Kim & Kim by Magdalene Visaggio, Eva Cabrera, and Claudia Aguirre

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Spinning by Tillie Walden

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The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal by E.K. Weaver

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Taproot by Keezy Young

 

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Spoiler-free review: The Tea Dragon Society

This charming story was even better than I imagined! When I saw the cover I knew I would love this book. I got what I was hoping for. The art is gorgeous, the characters are diverse, and the tea dragons are ADORABLE.

Like Princess Princess Ever After, The Tea Dragon Society is short, sweet, and full of moments that make you feel all warm and fuzzy.

It only took me half an hour to read, and yet I felt like the characters were very well represented.

Yup, I adore this book and I am going to recommend it to everyone, of every age, at the library where I work.

Can I just say that I really want a Rooibos dragon of my own?

“Japanese comics are very explicit”

The following is an email I received recently from a co-worker (shared with permission):

Hello,

I had a patron make a comment about a new manga series we received, called Trinity Seven. The patron told me that most Japanese manga are quite explicit and that these items should not be out for children to see. The items in question do have warning labels on them, however the covers are very suggestive and they were displayed on one of the panels facing the stairs…

The manga in question were on our New Titles Display on the second floor of the library, which is a quiet floor and houses our teen and adult collections.

The series, Trinity Seven, does indeed feature titillating cover art:

However, I very strongly disagree with the sentiment that “most Japanese manga are quite explicit”.  Certainly some are explicit, very much so. There are tons of explicit manga out there. But there are also tons of manga that aren’t explicit- manga on a wide range of themes and topics. My library has manga titles for all ages.

Just as with other comics and graphic novels (or books, or audiobooks, or DVDs!) , manga are a format, not a genre. Manga are generally quite heavily influenced by Japanese style and culture, but within the world of manga there are titles in any genre imaginable.

Family friendly, romance, horror, action, mystery, informational, slice-of-life, humour, fantasy, I could go on and on.

When we visited Japan last year (BEST 3 WEEKS OF MY LIFE, YO), I saw manga comics and characters everywhere- in advertisements, as mascots, in cafe and restaurant themes, informational signage, decor, art installations, convenience stores, and in the hands of people young and old.

Here are just a few manga series that I have enjoyed that might challenge what many people think of when they think of manga:

 

Tokyo Tarareba Girls 

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The sharp new comedy from Akiko Higashimura, creator of Princess Jellyfish!

I spent all my time wondering “What if?” Then one day I woke up and I was 33.”

Rinko doesn’t think she’s that bad-looking, but before she knew it, she was thirtysomething and single. Now she wants to get married by the time the Tokyo Olympics rolls around in six years, but that might be easier said than done! 

By Akiko Higashimura.

 
Akiko Higashimura is one of my favorite mangaka. If you haven’t read Princess Jellyfish yet, you should- it’s hillarious. Similarly, this newer series is also just as hilarious and is filled with a cast of interesting, mainly female, characters. It’s refreshing to see main characters who are in their 30’s, as many manga focus on the high school demographic.
 

A Silent Voice

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Years ago, Shoya Ishida led his peers in tormenting a hearing-impaired classmate, Shoko Nishimiya. When she transfers schools, Shoya finds he has gone from bully to bullied, and is left completely alone. Now Shoya struggles to redeem himself in Shoko’s eyes and to face the classmates who turned on him.

This emotional drama is one of the most critically-acclaimed manga of the decade, earning an Eisner nomination and accolades from teachers and the American Library Association. An animated film adaptation from Kyoto Animation has swept the globe, arriving in US theaters in October 2017.

“A very powerful story about being different and the consequences of childhood bullying … Read it.” —Anime News Network

“The word heartwarming was made for manga like this.” —Manga Bookshelf

By Yoshitoki Oima

The unique plot of this manga drew me in. It’s certainly different than the types of stories I usually read, but it touches on important themes of bullying, isolation, shame, and wanting to make things right.

OISHINBO

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The best selling and most beloved food manga of all time!

Created by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki 

As part of the celebrations for its 100th anniversary, the publishers of the Tōzai News have commissioned the creation of the “Ultimate Menu,” a model meal embodying the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine. This all-important task has been entrusted to journalist Yamaoka Shirō, an inveterate cynic who possesses no initiative—but also an incredibly refined palate and an encyclopedic knowledge of food.

 

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Oishinbo is one of the first manga that I read which challenged my own preconcieved notions of what manga could be. It is funny, informative, and well written. For those who want to learn about Japanese food and culture, this manga is highly recommended. Fans of films like Jiro Dreams of Sushi and The Birth of Sake will love Oishinbo.

 

Happiness

 

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The latest foray into the darkest corridors of adolescent dread—with vampires—from manga master Shuzo Oshimi (The Flowers of Evil).

Nothing interesting in happening in Makoto Ozaki’s first year of high school. HIs life is a series of quiet humiliations: low-grade bullies, unreliable friends, and the constant frustration of his adolescent lust. But one night, a pale, thin girl knocks him to the ground in an alley and offers him a choice. Now everything is different. Daylight is searingly bright. Food tastes awful. And worse than anything is the terrible, consuming thirst. The tiny shames of his old life have been replaced by two towering horrors: the truth of what will slake his awful craving and high school itself.

By Shuzo Oshimi

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I absolutely adore vampire stories, and Happiness was certainly a happy find for me. I love the unique art style of Shuzo Oshimi, and this vampire tale feels more realistic than many I’ve read.

Fans of horror should also definitely check out the works of Junji Ito!

 

Neko Ramen 

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Saved from a hard life on the streets by a caring ramen shop owner, former kitten model Taishou now takes pride in his noodles and shows little tolerance for dissatisfied customers. Original.

by Kenji Sonishi

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This is a manga I happened upon in a bookstore and simply had to read. It has a special kind of absurd humour- I especially love how Taishou’s main customer, Tanaka, breaks the fourth wall from time to time because he realizes how completely absurd Taishou’s various shop-improvement ideas are (not to mention the fact that he is a cat… running a ramen shop… something that Taishou doesn’t seem to notice or care about!)

Neko ramen features lots of small story arcs and yonkoma (4-square panels), so it is a convenient manga to read if you want something you can put down and pick up again easily on work breaks, between bus rides, etc, but if you’re like me you’ll devour each volume in one sitting!

Yotsuba&!, 

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Hello! This is Koiwai Yotsuba, Yotsuba Koiwai…um, YOTSUBA! Yotsuba moved with Daddy to a new house from our old house waaaaaaay over there! And moving’s fun ‘cos people wave! (Ohhhh!!) And Yotsuba met these nice people next door and made friends to play with (one of ’em acted like one of those bad strangers Daddy told Yotsuba not to go with, but it was okay in the end). I hope we get to play a lot. And eat ice cream! And-and-and…oh yeah! You should come play with Yotsuba too!

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Yotsuba took me by surprise. I read it because I wanted a quick read and my library had multiple volumes. I got hooked on the stories of her antics, especially because they gave me real, true belly laughs. Yotsuba feels more like a real kid than any child I’ve read in print. Kids truly say and do the darnedest and most unexpected things.

 

My Brother’s Husband 

 

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ABOUT MY BROTHER’S HUSBAND, VOLUME 1

Yaichi is a work-at-home suburban dad in contemporary Tokyo; formerly married to Natsuki, father to their young daughter, Kana. Their lives suddenly change with the arrival at their doorstep of a hulking, affable Canadian named Mike Flanagan, who declares himself the widower of Yaichi’s estranged gay twin, Ryoji. Mike is on a quest to explore Ryoji’s past, and the family reluctantly but dutifully takes him in. What follows is an unprecedented and heartbreaking look at the state of a largely still-closeted Japanese gay culture: how it’s been affected by the West, and how the next generation can change the preconceptions about it and prejudices against it.

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This is a sweet, sad, and thought provoking story. Curious young Kana, asking questions without a filter as children do, acts as a provoking force for Yaichi in addressing topics that might be considered uncomfortable to discuss in Japanese culture today.

 

My Neighbor Seki

 

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Toshinari Seki takes goofing off to new heights. Every day, on or around his school desk, he masterfully creates his own little worlds of wonder, often hidden to most of his classmates. Unfortunately for Rumi Yokoi, his neighbor at the back of their homeroom, his many games, dioramas, and projects are often way too interesting to ignore; even when they are hurting her grades.

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My Neighbor Seki is one of those manga I bought on a whim, and I’m glad I did. I definitely identify with Rumi, the student who just wants to pay attention in class but keeps being distracted by her classmate’s Rube-Goldberg type creations. The humour is magnified by Rumi’s incredulous inner dialogue, the obliviousness of the teachers, and the silent but ever-escalating antics of Toshinari.

 

The session I am holding at the Alberta Library Conference on Friday is called There’s a Graphic Novel for Everyone (Yes, Even You!), and covers Manga in several parts, but I could also easily imagine creating a There’s a Manga for Everyone (Yes, Even You!)– maybe something I can consider submitting for next year’s conference!

I love learning about new series, especially ones that are unique or unconventional, so please leave me a comment if you have any recommendations, dear readers!

Nelvana of the Northern Lights

Today I checked out Nelvana of the Northern Lights by Adrian Dingle, edited by Rachel Richey and Hope Nicholson.

I’m glad that this book was made so that the general public have a chance to learn about Nelvana, a part of Canadian comics history and one of the first female superheroes.

The introductions give an interesting look into the process and passion of those who helped get this book into print. I’m greatful that the introductions put into perspective that this series is a product of its times- unfortunately there are some culturally insensitive caricatures within the series. As Benjamin Woo States in the intro, it is ‘tempting to imagine an alternate history where the character could have continued to mature with its readers and the country as a whole… What if we had sixty years of Nelvana comics to look at, instead of the handful of stories that were actually produced?’