Holiday pick: Emily Brontë’s lone novel

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A leather-bound copy of Wuthering Heights. Cover art by Jessica Hische, cover design by Jo Obarowski, book design by Patrice Kaplan.

So this is what I decided to read for the holidays. I’ve been wanting to read novels from the Brontë sisters since I haven’t heard anything about their works and I find it a real treat to go into a novel blind, not having any notion of what it’s about or what to expect. I’m also very interested to see how one sister’s writing style differed from the others, so I was really excited to start reading this one.

Unfortunately, the only thing Christmassy about Wuthering Heights is that you’d probably enjoy it best during a snowstorm. (At least I would imagine so; we never get any snow here and it’s been all sunshine for days now.) This is one dark and gloomy book, but don’t get me wrong – I am enjoying it immensely.

You know how some neighborhoods have that one weird family that everyone wants to avoid? And everyone has some story or speculation explaining why they’re like that? That’s precisely what this book is. I like how the novel opened with Mr. Lockwood’s first encounter with the strange characters living in Wuthering Heights. I found myself quite confused, just as the protagonist was, by their unnatural, almost uncivilized mannerisms and queer interactions. Lockwood would later find someone who could shed light on the grim events that had transpired on the premises in decades past, and the story just gets more and more addictive from there. Every chapter reveals a part of the family’s dark history that aids you in understanding how their relationships deteriorated over time; and the more you find out, the more you want to know.  Stories about old secrets of old families are always fascinating, especially if they’re weird. So although I’m only nine chapters in, I can already tell this will be a very good read.

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Weekend find

I found this book in the graphic novels section and suspected it to be an illustrated novel (meaning it’s still mostly text but it has some pages with illustrations on them). It turns out I was right, but I’m happy the misclassification drew my attention to it. I’m always on the lookout for good fantasy stories and this one shows a lot of promise – I really can’t wait to read it.

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The Trilogy of Two – the first novel from Lebanese-born author Juman Malouf.

“Identical twins Charlotte and Sonja are musical prodigies with extraordinary powers. Born on All Hallows’ Eve, the girls could play music before they could walk. They were found one night by Tatty, the Tattooed Lady of the circus, in a pail on her doorstep with only a note and a heart-shaped locket. They’ve been with Tatty ever since, roaming the Outskirts in the circus caravans, moving from place to place.

But lately, curious things have started to happen when they play their instruments. During one of their performances, the girls accidentally levitate their entire audience, drawing too much unwanted attention. Soon, ominous Enforcers come after them, and Charlotte and Sonja must embark on a perilous journey through enchanted lands in hopes of unlocking the secrets of their mysterious past.”

The protagonist dies (and that’s not a spoiler)

I just finished reading Daytripper, the 2011 Eisner Award winner for best limited series, written and illustrated by Brazilian twins Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. I must say, I didn’t expect to be THAT entertained by it. Partly because it’s about everyday life, partly because I haven’t read anything from the duo before so I didn’t really know what to expect.

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Daytripper deluxe edition from Vertigo Comics. Collects all 10 issues of the award-winning series.

First of all, let me praise Vertigo Comics for producing such a beautiful hardcover volume. I’ve always liked their deluxe editions but this is definitely one of my favorites as far as physical appearance goes. The art on the dust jacket is very inviting – colorful in a most soothing way, dynamic but gentle on the eyes.

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The design for the hardcover is the exact opposite, being black and white, but it is equally delightful. I like the clean white surface with the Bá’s illustration of Brás de Oliva Domingos, the book’s main character.

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I also like the black spine, accentuated by silver lettering, which gives the book its simple elegance.

Now, on to the story. Or, more accurately, stories. The book revolves around Brás who works as an obituary writer for a local newspaper. He dreams of someday publishing a book and following the footsteps of his father, who happens to be a world-renowned Brazilian writer. Sounds normal enough, right? Except each issue tells a different story from a different point in Brás’ life, and what makes it more interesting is that he dies at the end of each chapter. (Yes, you read that right.)

In one issue, Brás struggles with his job and his relationship with his father, and then he dies.

In another issue, Brás is a kid without a care in the world, and then he dies.

In another issue, Brás is a successful writer, recognized by everyone, and then he dies.

And each of his deaths happen at the most inconvenient, unexpected moment. You might find it weird, unappealing or even nonsensical, but taken as a whole, the book expounds on the fleeting nature of our existence, invites us to question the things we value, and ultimately dives head-first into the discussion on what living life really means. It is one of those rare works that can be considered a must-read for everyone – truly an emotionally-charged masterpiece.

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My favorite quote from the book: “There is no one way to live or to die. Will the choices you make to do the former affect how you’ll do the latter?”

Check out more from the creators on their blog: http://fabioandgabriel.blogspot.com/

Meet the Marches

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A leather-bound copy of Little Women, which includes the follow-up volume, Good Wives. Cover art by Jessica Hische, cover design by Jo Obarowski and book design by Patrice Kaplan.

I’m taking a break from all the horror and dystopian fiction I’ve been reading with this classic from Louisa May Alcott. I’ve only read the first 10 chapters but what a pleasant read it has been so far. There is something so delightful about tales that remind us of simpler times – back when you and your siblings were all staying under one roof with nothing to do other than think of silly ways to keep yourselves from getting bored. Back then, your imagination gave life to the most mundane objects. Your biggest problem was to fit in with the other kids and being scolded in front of the class felt like the end of the world. We’ve all been there, and that’s what makes the book so charming.

It’s easy to see why Little Women is a classic: it appeals to everyone, and everywhen. Any child who reads it could definitely relate with the March sisters; their squabbles, their unbreakable bond and their deference to their “Marmee.” Adults, meanwhile, can appreciate the book’s myriad of lessons even more, having lived long enough to know their truths. Reading the novel feels almost like you’re getting a lecture from your parents all over again, and you can’t help but get a bit nostalgic as you go through each chapter. At the center of it all is family, and Alcott definitely went straight for the heart with her masterpiece.

The Mignola novels

If you’ve never picked up any of Mike Mignola’s works, you’re definitely missing out. Who is he, you ask? Well, you might have heard of his insanely successful comic book series Hellboy, which already has two big-screen adaptations and countless comic book spinoffs which continue to do extremely well in today’s market. Considering the fact that very few comic book titles even reach issue 100 these days, what he has done with Hellboy, and the world he has built around it, is beyond impressive.

Last weekend I finished reading one of his lesser-known works; an illustrated novel called Baltimore, or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, which he co-wrote with Christopher Golden.

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The story revolves around three strangers who were summoned at a rundown tavern by our protagonist, Lord Henry Baltimore – a soldier who had a run-in with a vampire during an ill-fated campaign which forever changed him. As they await his arrival, the three acquaintances swap tales of their own encounters with evil and how each one came to know Baltimore.

Every chapter is in itself a short story and this makes the book very engaging. Mignola is a genius when it comes to horror/fantasy, borrowing from classical literature as well as folktales and mixing them with his own ideas, creating stories that are both familiar and new. In this novel, Mignola pays homage to classics including Hans Christian Andersen’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

And did I mention the book has pictures? Mignola’s art fits the genre so well. His simplistic illustrations and effective use of light and shadows complete the dark atmosphere of the book. Whether he’s drawing monsters, people, buildings or landscapes, his art never fails to enchant his work with his trademark eeriness.

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Baltimore is the first of three illustrated novels by Mignola which was released in 2007 and was later on continued as a comic book series. In 2012, he and Golden released two more illustrated novels: Joe Golem and the Drowning City and Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism. I read Joe Golem a few years back and it was one of the first few novels I read when I was starting to seriously get into books. While Baltimore drew inspiration from the classics, Joe Golem closely resembles Mignola’s Hellboy series, pitting a humanized golem against occult forces and a god-summoning cult leader.

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I have yet to get my hands on the third Mignola novel so for now I’ll be satisfied with the idea that there’s at least one good book that’s still out there waiting for me to snatch it up. Hopefully I’ll find it on one of those random days in a random bookstore at a time when I don’t expect to find anything good. (I love it when that happens.)

You may check out more of Mike Mignola’s art on his amazing website.

Halloween in June

I’ve been picking up a lot of horror books lately – both graphic novels and classics. Here are some of the titles I read last month.

Archie Horror

You read that right. Archie as in Archie Andrews. As in Betty and Veronica. As in Jughead, Reggie, Moose, Midge and the rest of the Riverdale crew. Some very creative minds at Archie Comics got together and launched the imprint Archie Horror. Its first title, Afterlife with Archie, debuted in 2013 with Escape from Riverdale, a five-issue story arc. In the series, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Francesco Francavilla gives the childhood favorite a fresh take as they pit Archie and the gang against flesh-eating zombies – And it’s brilliant.

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The first four issues of Afterlife with Archie in over-sized magazine format.

Also released under the Archie Horror franchise is The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Written also by Aguirre-Sacasa, and this time with artists Robert Hack and Jack Morelli, the series gives another childhood icon a dark makeover. How dark? Witch covens and devil worship…But with teenage/high school issues. Unfortunately the series was delayed a few months so it’s only on the third issue of its first story arc. Each issue, however, has so far delivered solid content, art and story-wise. Can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

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The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, issues 1-3.

Dracula

And here’s my sixth novel for the year. I tell you, no movie can ever capture how good this book is. Bram Stoker’s Dracula has so many things going for it – mystery, adventure, dark fantasy.

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A leather-bound copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Cover art by Jessica Hische.

This is horror done right. I like it when the author throws a veil over the monster; You can guess what it is through the silhouette but you won’t know what it really is until the veil comes off. And that’s what’s so good about this book. You get bits and pieces at first and then Stoker reveals the true nature of Count Dracula at just the right moment. Things only get interesting from there and before you know it, you’ve been taken for a ride. Truly a must-read for horror fans.

Beyond pitchforks and torches

I’ve been a fan of horror for as long as I can remember. As a kid I liked wrapping myself up in a blanket while watching scary movies – lights out, of course. And if it started raining hard, all the better.  It’s not that I wasn’t scared. That’s the thing: I was very easy to scare. I dreaded being the last one downstairs at night because that meant I had to switch off the lights and run upstairs to my room before any monster shows up.

But that’s the fun part about getting scared: you always get a rush out of it. So every time I get my hands on anything horror, I get excited. Even more so when I picked up this novel. And why not? Frankenstein’s monster is one of the most iconic antagonists in fiction. Everyone knows about the stitched-up abomination with metahuman strength and intimidating stature. But before I read the book, most of what I knew about the creature came from those movies which always culminated in a classic pitchforks-and-torches scene. And then there’s Lurch from the Adams Family, though you’d probably want to tip your hat to the gentleman rather than run away from him.

I found it curious that in most other media, Frankenstein’s monster is always portrayed as the tall, slow-talking man with deep-set eyes, a flat head and zombie-like complexion. Nothing interesting, really. Yet here we are, still talking about Mary Shelley’s masterpiece two centuries later.

I suspected there’s more to the story than angry mobs and a one-dimensional fiend, and that added to my excitement about reading the novel. I wanted to find out just how diabolical the monster really was. I wanted to know how this bane of society earned its place among the greatest monsters of all time.

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A leather-bound copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Cover art by Jessica Hische.

And what a worthy creation this book is. I was hooked as early as the opening chapter.  I liked how Shelley told the tale through Victor Frankenstein’s letters. The eerie atmosphere was set up brilliantly with the protagonist’s tone of desperation and regret. More than a horror novel, Frankenstein also has that feel of mystery to it.

I can only imagine how it was for those who read the book back when it was first published. It must have been such a treat to read it with no preconceived notion of what it’s about; of what the monster was. Or perhaps to have read the book without even the slightest notion that there was going to be a monster in the story at all. To wonder why the letters were written with such distress and urgency, and to finally find out what monstrosity Victor Frankenstein had created.

And that’s just the beginning. Throughout the story you get to see the creature evolve from an innocent, even benevolent being, to the most horrible adversary you could ever face – vindictive, hateful, diabolically brilliant, nigh-indestructible. It really is no surprise that this story continues to persist even in other forms of media, from TV shows, to movies, to comic books. But what they say is true: the original is always the best.

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Classics Illustrated #26.

Here’s a vintage comic book which I picked up soon after I finished the novel. Although I like the poster-esque cover art, it is a good example of how the book has been misinterpreted and misrepresented in other media.

The cover depicts the monster frightened, fleeing from a man on a sled. In the story, that man is no other than Frankenstein, out to destroy his creation. But the monster was far from frightened. The chase was a sadistic machination of the monster himself in order to torture his maker. He eluded him, staying just beyond his grasp so as to frustrate and ultimately break him. To make him feel powerless. To make him feel utterly helpless for being unable to avenge the death and destruction brought about by his own creation. But on this cover, it seems the monster is at a disadvantage.

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To the creators’ credit, the comic book did attempt to cram all the important details of the novel into its 30-something pages. But as you would expect, it is painfully stripped down. In the photo above, you see one of my favorite scenes depicted where Frankenstein and the monster hold a conversation, almost a debate, in a cave far up the mountains. But alas, the dialogue fell flat in this interpretation. (Though I find it funny how the monster invited Frankenstein to his cave and the brilliant scientist just went along, safety and reason be damned.)

This is precisely why we shouldn’t be satisfied with just reading or watching simplified adaptations of novels. You will almost certainly lose out on the best parts. At its core, Frankenstein urges us to examine the dangers of knowledge for knowledge’s sake and cautions us against the sin of hubris. Do not be dissuaded by what you see in the movies. It is a brilliantly written book, entertaining and engaging through and through.