Both the husband and I are die-hard comic fans. We have a cupboard upstairs filled with old comics, everything from "Donald Duck" (dating as far back as the 60´s), to Swedish comics like "91:an Karlsson" (set in the Swedish army), action-adventures in "Agent X9", and of course, "Fantomen" (= the phantom). When my little sister started university here in Luleå some 20+ years ago, one of her hazing assignments was to find a Donald Duck comic from 1967. She came straight here and got one - no problem.

Lately, I have been enjoying the comics of Noah van Sciver. I am not sure how I discovered him, but somehow I happened upon his blog and was immediately hooked on his diary-comics (love this!), which he does a month at a time, when he feels like it, I guess. He does autobiographical really good, because he doesn´t make the character Noah van Sciver particularly heroic or cool or anything. He is basically a looser who struggles with a lot of things in life, and who can not relate to that? I say character, because even if it is autobiographical, an autobiographical self is a subjective portayal. I am sure everyone has a slightly different image of themselves than other people has.

In April he started doing a comic about a character called Fante Bukowski, a struggling Next Big American Writer of His Generation, living in ratty hotel rooms, hammering out his stories on an old typewriter, feeling misunderstood and sorry for himself - and naturally, he sucks at writing. This was just brilliant! I wrote van Sciver fan mail. I think any artist can identify with Fante - if not, I suspect there is some serious hubris going on!

I ordered a couple of his Blammo comics, number 6 and 8 (reading them was a bit like being a little girl again and having the latest issue of  Fantomen, as they are roughly that size), from his Etsy store. They took a few weeks to arrive, having to pass through customs and all that. I was charmed to find a drawn thank you note on yellow note paper. Wait, I thought, is that like, Yellow Legal Paper? I googled it and no, it doesn´t have the right size, but for a European like me, Yellow Legal Pads belong to the mythology of Great American Writers. Perhaps saying they write their first drafts on it signals humility in the US, where you no doubt can buy this stuff in any supermarket, but for us... I tell you, if Fante Bukowski was Swedish, he would import Yellow Legal Pads from the US, to get in the proper creative mood. The only Swedish artist I ever heard used yellow notepaper is Ingmar Bergman; perhaps he had a Fante Bukowski deep inside, too? 

The stories in Blammo are a mixed bag, some of them are a bit absurd, like a Monty Python skit, some are touching, and some satirical. Having thus whet my appetite, I ordered "The Hypo" (which is sold in Sweden, I bought mine via bokus), a very ambitious work about Abraham Lincoln in his younger years, struggling politically, professionally, socially, and battling severe depression. This is a powerful story, and a side to the revered president I certainly had never heard of. It is very impressive how van Sciver does it all himself: story and drawings. I am impressed by his skill in both areas.

Damian Melven has recently made a short film about van Sciver´s work in his series "Sketched Out". And I have not had enough of it - I just ordered "The Lizard Laughed" from Oily Comics.

"The Hypo" can be found in one Swedish library (Malmö) but any local Swedish library can borrow from them if you request it. I am considering donating my copy to the local library, if they will have it. I think more people should have a chance to discover van Sciver. I just have to get over my possessiveness about it, so give me a few days...

Random page from "The Hypo".

This paper doll of Lincoln´s wife is just too charming! 


The Shining

I have just finished reading Stephen King´s "The Shining". The only other thing I have read by King apart from "Cujo" in the 80´s, is his excellent book "On Writing" which I have read twice, with a few years of experience in the meantime. Ok, everyone´s process is different, but King seems to be fairly accurate about how I function, at least - although I didn´t know it the first time I read him. He has some good advice, if you are bent on writing a book yourself. (And why shouldn´t you? Everyone has a story.)

In the mountains, no one can hear you scream...
I decided on "The Shining" in particular because I had read rave reviews about the sequel, "Doctor Sleep", and because Priya seems to think it´s one of the best books ever. I have not seen Stanley Kubrik´s film with Jack Nicholson and I understand it differs quite a bit from the book. 

It took me more than two months to finish "The Shining", which must be some kind of record with a novel, for me. It wasn´t that I didn´t like it. It wasn´t that it was badly written - gosh no, King knows his stuff and he has a lesson for you on every page if you are a student of his. It was partly because I had a pretty busy summer, and partly that the main character, Jack Torrance, was a bit predictable. Crap childhood, history of abuse, mood swings, temper control issues - perhaps characters like these were not regulars of crime and other fiction in the 70´s, but Torrance has certainly had many, many followers in books, on film, and television. The chemistry between Torrance and his wife Wendy and their psychic son Danny, is also pretty familiar. Fear and love is a bitter brew; many of us can relate, and not just through fiction either. These character feels real because they are, there are versions of Jack Torrance in every village, on every block, in every extended family - I hope you are lucky enough not to have one in yours. 
...his father´s attitude was strange. It was a feeling that he had done something that was very hard and had done it right. But Danny could not seem to see exactly what the something was. His father was guarding that carefully, even in his own mind. Was it possible, Danny wondered, to be glad you had done something and still be so ashamed of that something that you tried not to think of it? The quesiton was a disturbing one. He didn´t think such a thing was possible... in a normal mind. His hardest probings at his father had only brought him a dim picture of something like an octopus, whirling up into the hard blue sky.
In short, what happens is that Jack takes a job as a winter caretaker of the summer mountain resort The Overlook. The family gets snowed in for months in the Colorado mountains, in a house brimming with tragic history and the dangerous shadows these events are casting. As they settle in, King tells the background story in flashbacks. Like I said: well written and realistic, but familiar. Then the spooky stuff starts, and that cheered me up a bit; I finished the last half of the novel within a week. King is really good at making the most improbable things absolutely believable. Also, I fell head over heals for the wonderful Mr Hallorann, who comes to the rescue in the end. 
Jack wasn´t out there anymore. She was hearing the lunatic, raving voice of the Overlook itself.
For me, this is a story about rage, and by rage I mean anger that grows bigger than what you were initially angry about, until it is out of control or even controls you. Wendy and Danny keep repeating that it wasn´t Jack doing those things he did, it was the house, the Overlook, the ghosts that made him do it. But I keep thinking that Jack had all that rage in him when he came. The Overlook didn´t make Jack Torrance any different, it just worked with what was already there. And of course, that is King´s point (or so I imagine): that the people who love us are capable of infinite indulgence, forgiveness, and hold hope for us even when we are hopeless. To the point of self-sacrifice; Wendy and Danny see what´s coming, and yet choose to stay.  

I kind of wish I had read this when I was a bit younger. Perhaps it would have taught me something that could have been useful to me. But that´s easy to say in retrospect. Now, I am much eager to go on with "Doctor Sleep", which, I imagine is about the grown-up Danny and how he (hopefully) breaks his father´s curse.