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Why were plane tickets to Stockholm in January so cheap? Because it was cooold. Beautiful! But cold!

See that boat over there? It was our hostel, the af Chapman and highly recommended. Went into several bookshops looking for books in English by Swedish authors to get as souvenirs (as I’ve done in the past), but everything seemed to be dominated by Stieg Larsson. Only read the first in the trilogy and although I found it hooking, I still don’t get why the big fuss.

(by Andre)

I’ve been making my way through Fables ever since reading the first volume back in November. It keeps getting more and more addictive. I wonder is Bill Willingham already knows where he wants to go with the story or if he’s just playing it by ear. In the long-term the first option of course works better (think Lost), and it’s especially rewarding as a reader to see certain details being slowly explained over different volumes – why is Bigby always smoking? Why is Flycatch always doing “community service”?

Another thing I really like about the series is how in every volume a different artist is invited to draw a short-story about the past of one of the characters. Favorite so far: War Stories, about Bigby during WWII.

Only volume 4 and 5 are valid for the Graphic Novel Challenge as they were the only ones read in 2011.

There are spoilers all over this post as from this point, so read on at your own peril!


Animal Farm (Volume 2)

We discovered in the first book that Fables who don’t look human and can’t afford to (or don’t want to) look human live on “The Farm”. Now we travel there with Snow White, on one of her regular control trips. She takes Red Rose with her as an attempt at a reconciliation after what happened in Volume 1, and the story develops after they discover a plan by some Farm animals to invade the Homelands and defeat the Adversary.

More than in the first book I was impressed by the double-page scenes where hundreds of characters seem to be moving independently. It’s great to spend 10 minutes on just one of these pages, trying to identify each Fable. It’s like looking at a painting by Bosch.

Still, it was probably my least favorite of the books so far, mostly because there’s not nearly enough Bigby and Snow’s naivety starts to border on stupidity. Everyone could feel the building rebellion except her, the cunning woman who single-handedly runs Fabletown.

It was only after some Googling that I realized that Red Rose is not actually Red Ridding Hood. She was Snow White’s sister in the original story, but (Disney’s fault?) somehow didn’t made it into present-day lore. This is a major issue in Red Rose’s life, especially because Fables physically resiliency increases according to how much they’re remembered by mundanes (similar to fairies and believing in them). It made me wonder about the amount of fairy-tale characters which have fallen into oblivion and give a mental thanks to Bill Willingham for reviving them.

Highlight of the book: Reynard the Fox. He’s cunning, witty, utterly charming and I hope we get to see more of him in the future.

Storybook Love  (Volume 3)

A mundane journalist who’s too smart for his own good, threatens to expose what he thinks is Fabletown’s secret: they’re a vampire society! Bluebeard is for outright murder, but Bigby get his way and comes up with “softer methods” which involve very cleverly crafted blackmail.

The tension between Blackbeard and Bigby, which has been an undercurrent in past books, really comes out here and culminates in Blackbeard’s attempt to get rid of Bigby and Snow by obliterating their memory, dumping them in the middle of some far-away woods and ordering Goldilocks to kill them.

The scenes where both of them are in the woods are beautifully drawn using complex backgrounds and unusual arrangements of the boxes. It was the perfect setting to get to know them a bit better and see their relationship evolve. Another character that also gets some attention and growth is Prince Charming, who starts becoming more than a womanizer. He doesn’t really change, we just get to know him better (didn’t Elizabeth Bennett say something similar about Mr. Darcy?).

The enormous possibilities offered by the Fables world is further exploited in the two short-stories in this volume: “Bag O’ Bones” about Jack’s adventures during the Civil War (you can almost hear the Southern accents!) and “Barleycorn Brides” which can teach you a thing or two about preserving an extinct race 😉

The storyline introduced in Animal Farm about the plan to attack the Adversary is not further developed in this volume, but you do get a lot of juicy character development.

March of the Wooden Soldiers (Fables 4)

My favorite so far. It has action, adventure, romance and tragedy, and above all, a very pregnant Snow. A pregnant heroine in an action comic book: how cool is that?! She’s even coordinates a battle through binoculars, walkie-talkies… the whole shebang! Right after Cuddy from House, Snow is the woman I want to be when I grow up!

The humor was top-notch. Although most fans elected as their favorite LOL scene the “Young Republicans” comment, I beg to differ and offer this one instead:

Bigby: I don’t believe you got mugged. You’re up to something and I don’t have time for it.

Jack: I am not! Look at me!

Bigby: You’re lying now because you always lie.

Jack: Not this time!

Snow: Jack, did you ever hear about the boy who cried wolf?

Jack: Sure Snow. He lives up on the seventh floor. So what?

Snow: Nevermind.

The story starts in the Homelands, with Little Red Ridding Hood riding for her live as she tries to reach the last safe refuge against the Adversary. The Fables trapped in this last Castle know they have no chance to resist the Adversary for much longer, so they plan one last journey to our World before closing all gates to the Homelands.

Ridding Hood is though to have been killing during that last escape, until she shows up in Fabletown with a story of enslavement and escape. Her gazelle eyes fools everyone except Bigby, who smells fowl (pun unintended).

There are a lot of parallel story lines going on in this volume, from the election for Mayor  of Fabletown (Prince Charming vs. King Cole) to the appearance of three ruthless, mysterious, sadistically-funny men who are just the start of a full-blown invasion by the Adversary. The final battle scenes were exciting and I was glad to once again see the Crow brothers, who stole my heart during the story of the Last Escape.

The Mean Seasons (Fables 5)

While “The March” was all action and adventure, this volume is much more subdue, but definitely out to pull at your heart-strings.

Snow gives birth to not-so-human babies, so they need to be raised at the Farm. Bigby on the other hand, is not allowed at the Farm because of his less than pleasant dealings with some of the creatures living there. To top all, both Bigby and Snow have been fire by Prince Charming, the new Mayor of Fabletown.

In the end, they decide, on less than friendly terms, to go their separate ways – Snow and the babies to the Farm, Bigby to an unknown location away from mundanes. I confessed I found it this decision a bit implausible, especially considering Bigby’s character – would he really be able to abandon Snow with 6 kids to raise?!

Though not so good as the previous one, I still enjoyed it more than the first volumes. I got a kick out of seeing Prince Charming’s struggle with the reality of running a Government and thought it a great twist the appearance of Bigby’s father, the North Wind (love the hair!), in the Farm to give Snow a much needed hand with raising her pups.

The ending was a bit of a blow – didn’t see that one coming! – sad in a beautiful way (or beautiful in a sad way?) and it made me go straight to BookDepository to order the next volumes.

This seems to be the time for the book blogging community to make its plans for 2011. It will be the first year ever that I’ll make any sort of reading plans, so to be ready I’ve made a calendar in my Moleskine Passions Book Journal (my precioussss). Like this I’ll be able to keep monthly track of read-alongs and bookclub books. On the page before the calendar I’ve listed the books I know I must read but without a fixed date: anything Challenge-related, the ones Joanna chose for me and joint reads I’ll do with some Bookcrossing friends.

By my accounts, these planned readings will be around 1/3 of all 2011 books. It’ll be sort of a personal experiment, because until now I’m been pretty random in my choices.

I’m also planning to limit my Challenges to three and make them overlap as much as possible. Apart from “One, Two, Theme”, I’ve signed up to the Steampunk Challenge (for which I have no plan, as no specific number of books are needed)  and recently I’ve also signed up for the 2011 Graphic Novels Challenge.

Belgium has a great tradition of graphic novels. Tintin, the Smurfs and Lucky Luke were all born in this small country, and I doubt there’s any city in the world has as many dedicated comics shops as Brussels. Ever since I’ve moved here I’ve been meaning to read more graphic novels, but it’s only now, because of the enthusiasm of so many bloggers out there, that I’ve decided to make it an objective for the upcoming year.

I’ll focus on the Franco-Belgian school and when possible I’ll read them in the original language, which  hopefully will improve my French. This is my initial reading list:

(Question: where are all the Franco-Belgian women graphic novel artists?)

Continue reading Les Cités Obscures (written by Benoît Peeters and illustrated by François Schuiten). In the imaginary world of the Cities of the Fantastic, humans live in independent city-states and each developed a distinct civilization, though all are in some way focused on architectural styles. Visually, Schuiten seems to illustrate just for me 🙂 I’m especially looking forward to reading Brüsel, which is about the way some modern towns have developed (and are developing). He wrote it having in mind the concept of Brusselization, which according to Wikipedia “is a term used by urban planners to describe anarchic commercial property development in a historic city” and originates from what happened here during the 50s and 60s.

Djinn (written by Jean Dufaux and illustrated by Ana Mirallès) is an adult adventure-thriller. The first four volumes make up the “Ottoman Cycle” (perfect for my Istanbul theme!) while the following five are the “Africa Cycle”. An “Indies Cycle” is in the works.

Continue reading  A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Kevin O’Neill), as I’ve only read the first and have the two following books in the TBR (Volume II and the Black Dossier). I’II include them in the Steampunk Challenge. According to Moore, the concept behind the series was initially a “Justice League of Victorian England” but quickly grew into an opportunity to merge all works of fiction into one world.

Le Chat du Rabbin or The Rabbi’s Cat (written and illustrated by Joann Sfar), is a story set in Algeria in the 30s. An old rabbi’s gaunt and bony cat eats a parrot and discovers he can talk. The cat follows the rabbi’s daughter everywhere, so fearing bad influences, the rabbi decides to teach the Torah to the cat. How great does that sound?

Continue reading Fables (written by Bill Willingham, illustrator depends on volume). I’m half-way through the second volume – Animal Farm.

Harzach (written and illustrated by Moebius) caught my eye at the bookshop. The stories follow Harzach, a silent warrior who rides a flying-dinosaur-like creature through a strange, desolate landscape. I though it was a recent release, but it turns out that “these stories had an enormous impact on the French comics industry”. When I was studying art back in the day, Moebius was a favorite among graphic-art lovers.

Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec or The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Dry-White (written and illustrated by Jacques Tardi) are about a Parisian novelist-come-reporter who in the years before and after World War I investigates the mystical world of crime. There’s a movie too!

Fable of Venice (written and illustrated by Hugo Pratt) was bought on location earlier this year. It will be my first Pratt – looking forward to it!

Asterix chez les Belges or Asterix in Belgium (written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo). Now that I’ve lived here for a while I’ll really appreciate the inside jokes. I can already picture the jokes about beer and chocolates 🙂

So this is the plan. Any interesting suggestions? Have you read any of the above?

I went to the premiere of HP7 yesterday and what can I say? I loved it. In my not-so-humble opinion it’s the best of the movies so far. All the isolation and tension of the book was there.

We’re very far away from a children’s story, as we should be, if faithfulness to the increasing darkness of the books is to be kept. I’m sure there will be a lot of talk about the “dance in the tent” scene, and many will be against it, but I found it precious. Yes, it’s not in the book but it just felt right. I’ll need to download that song from iTunes (it’s Nick Cave’s O Children –  I bet it’ll become a top-seller in days!).

I feel very proud to have followed the story almost from the start. We are really the Chosen Ones for having lived in a world where the outcome of The Boy Who Lived was still unknown…

And talking about magical worlds, I’ll move on the Fables.

A friend who’s a big graphic-novels fan came to visit and we took him a tour of the specialized shops, which are many and good around here. I asked him for a recommendation and he directed me to Bill Willingham’s Fables series. Similar to A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Legends in Exile (the first book) is full of more or less obscure references to fairy tales, so how could I not love it?

The Fairy Tale world has been taken over by a still-unknown evil force and fortunately some inhabitants were able to seek exile in our own world. Here they’ve infiltrated our society and live an apparently common life. However, they have their own Government, led by Snow White (who became a very competent bureaucrat), and their own  laws. This first story follows S. White and B. Wolf in their attempt to discover who killed Snow’s sister, Rose Red. Rose’s boyfriend is the same Jack who climbed the bean stalk, while her former fiancé is Blue Beard.

The book as many moments of great tongue-in-cheek humor, most of it involving Snow’s previous husband and incorrigible womanizer Prince Charming, but in the end it’s a very cynical look at what happens after the Happily Ever After: former prices are broke, characters who aren’t human are doubly exiled in an isolated farm, and everyone seems in general not to be very happy with their current situation.

Some of the characters come from Anglo-Saxon tales and nursery rhymes, and I didn’t recognize them until Wikipedia came to the rescue, like King Cole. Boy Blue I only knew from the “Cat’s in the Cradle” song (Little boy blue and the men on the moon…) and Jack Be Nimble from yet another song, Don McLean’s “American Pie” (Jack be nimble, jack be quick, jack flash sat on a candlestick…)

Visually, Fables is similar to other DC/Marvel comics, full of muscular men and voluptuous, red-lipped, perfectly-eyebrowed women, dressed in clingy clothes. I usually have to make an effort to get past this, and suspect it has a lot to do with why most women are a bit put off by traditional comics. I even mentioned it to my friend and he replied “But they’re not human! They never grown fat or old!”. Don’t they? Ok, fair enough, it’s a good argument and it helps me deal better with how unrealistic they all look.

Steampunk: a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. It could be described by the slogan “What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.” It includes fiction with science fiction, fantasy or horror themes.
in Urban Dictionary

I’ve only recently discovered that steampunk it’s actually a genre, but I’ve always been instinctively attracted to that type of atmosphere. I’m interested in knowing more, so decided to go deeper into it in 2011, specially since I haven’t found a novel as good as my favorite steampunk graphic novels and anime movies. So if you have recommendations, please let me know. Already on my radar:

  • Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
  • The Steampunk Trilogy by Paul di Filippo
  • Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
  • Larklight by David Wyatt

What I really like about steampunk is the aesthetic component. If well done it completely stimulates the areas in my brain for imagination, adventure, romance and beauty. Steampunk also fits with my love of art-nouveau and other late-XIX and early-XX century glass-and-metal architecture. Train stations and greenhouses in particular fascinate me and I could be hours just soaking in the environment at Antwerp Central or St Pancras.

Because it’s so visual, steampunk adjusts well to all types of channels: books, graphic novels, movies, anime, design, illustration, fashion and architecture. (Question: on impulse I would say that steampunk would attract more male followers, would that be right? Note to self: investigate)

Most people read/watch steampunk without actually categorizing it as such, but lately it;s been picking up steam (no pun intended :)), and making a name for itself. In October 2009 had a Steampunk Month, Oxford’s Museum of the History of Science had an exhibition on steampunk which ended in Feb 2010, and the TV series Castle will have a steampunk episode (called “Punk”) that promises to be memorable. Reading the advanced reviews really made me want to attend a meeting of aficionados.

In the book blogging world, The Bookkeeper is organizing a Steampunk Challenge, which I’ll join in 2011.

A couple of recommendations

Graphic Novels
These are actually my two favorite graphic novel series of all time, they just happen to be both steampunk.

  •  A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
    Especially satisfying for lovers of Victorian literature as it’s completely full of (more or less) obscure references.
  • The Cities of the Fantastic (Les Cités Obscures) by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters
    Not very famous outside the French-Belgian graphic novel world. Schuiter is the son of two architects and you can tell by his attention to architectonic detail. Think Twilight Zone meets Victor Horta meets Jules Verne.

… and these are all by Studio Ghibli

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